That's GOOD Stuff . . .

Ah. That rare moment when an advertising campaign steps back in to the box with a full count, the bases loaded, and two "away" in the bottom of the ninth and then CRUSHES what the pitcher throws at it and the crowd (even the other team's fans) go wild.

Why would you live your life in fear - when you can, instead, really LIVE for "good"?

Well done, Allstate. Well done.


Motivation and Inspiration . . .

Easily among the most confusing image (in terms of what
it means or what it should invoke) I've ever seen.
I read this article yesterday about the ten most INSPIRATIONAL books for business folks. Note that I put INSPIRATIONAL in all quotes (Ooops, I Did It Again) as to differentiate from a more typical book of lists for business folks that might contain MOTIVATIONAL books. So here - dear reader - is the question . . . what is the difference between inspiration and motivation?

I am not going to consult the dictionary here (yes, I know I should) but I'm going to venture that inspiration is the catalyst. It is what gets the ball rolling. It is that proverbial first step in the proverbial 1,000 mile journey. It can be a person, place, thing, thought, implication, or pressure/force being exerted. It is the "birth" of action. I'll also presume and argue that motivation is what keeps you going. It is the finish line on the horizon, the pants that almost fit again, the dude that vowed to marry you if you just lost fifteen more pounds (and you should really marry that guy - he's a keeper). It can also be a person, place, thing, or thought but it is more likely an implication, pressure, or force being exerted.

Why am I talking about inspiration versus motivation today? And WHY did I share the above photo? (Seriously, folks, take a minute and check it out and ponder it and then put your best idea of why in the comments below (And to be proactive there is NO right/wrong answer since there is NO reason.)) Simple - at any given moment in your life you are governed by motivations. To be a better (insert religion or following here). To be a better (spouse, parent, friend, family member, car financing co-signer, etc.). To finish what you started. To not pop the buttons of them pants, gurrrl. Whatever. We have a million motivations for a million actions and they are strong and they are insistent and they are, in many cases, the things that define who we are.

But here's the problem - we spend so much time on motivation (my biggest one the last 143 days has been finding a job, not letting my child find out I have no job, not going broke, not having an emotional fit in front of friends and family, not popping the button on them pants, gurrrrl) that we don't bother to look for inspiration. How many things on any given day could inspire us and help us be happier or more dutiful or more successful in following our motivations (to make this super cheesy) if only we paid attention?

So here's the thing - I got inspired yesterday. Truly. I can't tell you what the inspiration is yet or what it means (I need to spend some energy and talk with some stakeholders in my life first) but I will share it as soon as it goes from inspiration (the genesis) to motivation (the driving force) which should be very soon.

In the meantime - please take a few minutes each day (if not hour) to just look around, see and hear and touch and feel and smell and taste life. See what might inspire you. And figure out what the heck is up with that picture up there. It is so odd.


Seeds of Happiness . . .

Hands down (and without a doubt) my favorite small business in the world right now has got to be Seeds of Happiness. I first learned about them from a friend/former colleague and the more I look, the more I love.

The company was founded by a man (who seems really happy to be doing what he loves and making people happy by doing it) struggling to help friends cope with cancer in the family and then evolved to make other family, friends, (first) and (eventually) perfect strangers all smile and be a little happier via lumps of glazed clay

The mission of the organization is clear in how they do business:

  • Affordable
  • Good portfolio of products (all of which seem customer demand driven (not a bad way to innovate, entrepreneurs) 
  • Small

and every time I check their site they have at least one limited-time campaign to tie their business to charity (right now you can buy One seeds for Boston bombing victims and/or tornado seeds and help Moore, Oklahoma victims). Both examples drive the mission of the organization - providing the smiles that bring happiness to the world. You can also get a discount if you've served our nation. I mean HUGE companies with "fantastic" customer cultures and known commitments to being good corporate citizens don't even do these things - and they could probably far better afford to.

I am no entrepreneur (I think I have good ideas, I have a strong work ethic, I'm dedicated to my tasks and will be smarter and harder working than just about anyone on the payroll but I like going to work for someone else and the security that comes with being part of a team and in that environment) but if I was to start my own business, I'd want to have something not that different from Seeds of Happiness - and by that I mean one that makes people happy and gives back (I won't blatantly steal the idea of selling clay smiley faces and smiling memorabilia).

PLEASE think about where and how you spend your money. Who you "give" (hand over?) your hard earned pennies to and what they do with it and what you get in return does for you and those around you. You can support big companies that don't seem to really feel any bond with those around them or you can engage with small business that really, truly want to make the world a happier place.

Also - buy me one of these, ALL of these, and maybe one of these. Pretty please? It will make me smile!


Dinner with a Friend . . .

Look at you jumping in Kansas City. You crazy. Cray. Zee.
There is a phenomenon you will see at any time at any airport in America (perhaps even the world) - and it goes like this - person(s) wait, just outside of security, for another person(s). The arriving person(s) round the corner and first come in to view. Eye contact is made. People move toward each other. Paces quicken. Music swells. Auntie Anne's pretzels are dropped. Hugs. Kisses. Tears (that's moisture from the eye versus the physical ripping of materials). Face touching. Etc.

There can be a million "reasons" for why people do this but I'm going to argue that, at the end of the day, it is about the fact that a person is there - for the first time in X long - in the flesh. Can be touched, seen, heard, smelled, and (in some odd contexts) tasted (I'm just covering all five senses, calm down). Whatever photos, phone calls, web chats, texts, e-mails, or word of mouth of how someone is/has been can now immediately be compared/contrasted to the expectation like so many mother cats inspecting their kittens (by LICKING THEM - I might point out (smile)).

I had one of those moments (minus the licking, pretzels, and tears (eye moisture)) last night.

My once-enemy, freshman roommate, fellow antagonizer, and - by now - lifelong friend Thomas J .Kelly (he'd want me to tell you to "like" him on Facebook,"follow" him on Twitter, etc. - for what that is worth) was in Kansas City and I drove up and had a walk, some dinner, and some Starbucks with him last night. It was one of those things I "had" to do - you see Tom Kelly is one of a handful of people that knew me "when" and still knows me "now". To say Tom has seen me at my highs and lows is an understatement and you see, dear reader, Tom Kelly has feared me to be at a severe low for a long time.

How worried was he and one of our other college besties (term used with complete irony and an eye roll) about my state? I had to update the header of this here blog at 2 A.M. this morning because I made a joke about crack (the drug) in the old header (drafted in 2009, I might add) that had them worried I may have a drug problem* (super awkward moment as a physical inspection of my arms showed the faintest hint of where I gave blood just five days ago). For the 9,000,000th time, people - My ONLY vices are fried corn snacks, reading, and Etsy browsing. I was worried there would be a litany of concerns and woes but there were only a few and they were easy. A welcome disparity between my fears and my reality.

It is not that Tom is a worrier (he is) it is that he knows me well enough to know that I can tell you all day, every day that I'm "fine" but if he can't four-of-the-five-senses it - it is just words. I'm HAPPY to report that I passed the running-through-the-airport sniff test with near flying colors (Tom's summary (and I'm quoting here) was "You are clearly fatter now but you seem much happier and much more alive than the last time I saw you."). And, for what it is worth, he seemed happier and more alive, too (he has had a lot of ups and downs himself since I last saw him but he's still living the only dream I ever knew him to have as a comedian and entertainer on the island of Manhattan).

We talked, laughed, caught up, talked about friends current and former, shared family happenings, and even strategized the cost/benefit analysis of eventually moving to Middle America. We vowed to talk more often. I promised to make more social trips east as soon as the smoke settles on my marriage, house sale, job hunt, and general fret. He opened the door to an eventual trip to Wichita.

He promised to take good word back to others concerned about me. I promised to be a better communicator about how I really was versus just telling folks what they wanted to hear. He did the same. And as he walked away I put the car in drive - relieved to have passed the exam while being completely honest and open the entire time. Now I just need to get skinnier again - if only to make it comfortable while doing the run/hug thing.


Soft Body . . .

When you move THAT slowly and have a body THAT soft
you have to carry around a hard shell. Literally.
I put my foot, ankle, shin/calf, knee, and a quarter of my thigh in my mouth last night. I didn't MEAN to do it. I didn't WANT to do it. My heart was in the right place and my most charming self thought he was next up to speak. This is what happened:

ME: "Eh, thanks. I'm fat again for sure but I'm at least back to monitoring what I put in my mouth and trying to walk and exercise a little bit and lose some weight again."

HER: "Well. It is working nicely. I need to get back at my weight again."

ME: "What are you talking about? I think you have lost weight since the last time I saw you and you have a very pleasant soft body. No one REALLY wants washboard abs and the 'gun show' in their sleeves anyway." (laughs at own jokes)

HER: "Soft body? Wow. Well. Good seeing you." (wheels shopping cart away post haste)

APPARENTLY "soft body" is offensive. I'd allow (happily) that you COULD take it to be offensive or take umbrage at it if you were very sensitive or looking for a reason to be sensitive and bothered. I'm not criticizing the woman for feeling this way. I guess I just need to tighten up how I talk to people.

I was not being creepy/lustful. I was not commenting on her "soft, ample curves, heaving bosom, and luscious apple booty" (and if I ever say that to a woman I'm asking her NOW to kick me in the junk - twice). I was not being critical by saying "Yeah. Get ye' to a YMCA or something." (and, again, ladies - foot to the junk with severe malice). I was not straight up lying to her "What are you talking about - I know baby oiled competitive body builders that would kill for that physique" (please do NOT kick me if I ever say that to you - you're too muscular, gurrrrl). I was just being casual in acknowledging her self criticism while downplaying it with a few jokes.

I'll say this - if you told me I had a soft body, I'll happily smile at you and realize you're being kind and gentle and charming. Euphemistic, I might argue. You tell me I'm soft bodied and I'll give you a hug. If only to feel your heaving bosom against mine and your apple booty below my creepy hands. I kid.


In Memory of Sincerity . . .

This poor guy lost his mother at 4:30 AM this morning. I'm not entirely sure why he shared this news with the world via Facebook (I've been told that grieving and mourning are subjective and personal but I promise you that you'll NEVER learn of the death of someone I love in a way that allows you to "like" the news.) I digress . . . my concern is not with this guy. It is with his "friends." You see there is a far greater loss here, people - We collectively lost sincerity by the time the second person "liked" this update. 

And I'd also like to clarify that of the 72 comments, 31 were nothing more than "Sorry." (or something close to it. Only eight total people offered to do anything other than pray, send thoughts, or something completely passive like that.

UPDATE (05/28/13 at 9:16 AM CT) - A friend of mine posted to Facebook that her mother has a clot in her lung and, perhaps, some in her legs. She got several comments of support but no "likes." Perhaps I was premature in declaring sincerity dead. 

Mental Crush . . .

DISCLAIMER - I have the permission of the person discussed below to write/post this content.

I spent about an hour on the phone with an old friend the other day. She called me out of the blue. She apparently "Googled" me not that long ago and - after finding my number - she spent about a week getting completely caught up on my life since we last saw each other nearly a decade ago (in almost painful but not "creepy" (shut up, she probably reads this blog) detail thanks to social media and the information age and it seemed she had a confession to make.

When we were friends, ages and ages ago, we were only ever friends. She didn't find me all that attractive at the time (she was quick to remind me - just what the ol' ego needs these days) but she always appreciated my sense of humor, my caring ways (stop laughing - I can be a good person), the way I carried myself (something about confidence) and - perhaps most importantly - my intelligence (her word, not mine). I felt entirely the same . . . we were best off as friends, clearly.

Anywho . . . we chatted a bit longer and I heard all about her husband and their two kids (fraternal twins) and her family and her job and her "perfect" (her word, not mine - I am smart and cynical enough to know "perfect" truly does not exist) life and I thought I knew why we were talking but then something truly odd happened. Turns out my long-lost friend had a confession to make . . . She has apparently developed (in the present tense, the year 2013, NOT the late-90s/early-00s when we knew each other) a mental crush on me.

I was not entirely sure what to say - it was a little flattering, I guess (she quickly clarified this was in NO way a challenge to her marriage or family nor was she pining for me in any way (we both knew that's not true - she's ONLY human (I kid, I kid)) but she "just" felt like as she got to "know" me "again" through all my random social media things (Twitter, Facebook, my two blogs, my LinkedIn profile, general "Google" results, etc.) and she realized that I'd continued to develop in the ways she had always appreciated and that I was a fantastic father which made it all the more obvious that I was the man she'd thought I might eventually be all along.

Here's the thing . . . it was a little flattered and a lot concerned/confused/annoyed . . . and I said as much. She didn't "know" me. I never really share the negative or the upsetting stuff in my life (okay, fine, maybe I do but not proportionally . . . I'm a curmudgeon and a half in real life) and I don't even know, half the time, how truly accurate most of the crap I say/post/share even is anyway (I don't eat nearly as much Cheez-Its, Triscuits, or hummus as I talk about eating . . . I eat MORE).

I guess the assumption was that if she got a QUANTITY of information about me (and, let's be honest, there  is a BOATLOAD of stuff out there that has been forced upon all of you) she would have a QUALITY impression of who I am today and who I was then.

She MAY be right. If you take all the digital overload and plot it out on a graph and then take a hot air balloon up 30,000 feet (which you should NEVER do) and look down you'll probably see a straight line between who I was when she "knew" me and who I am today. I may actually tell an accurate and full story of myself from that height but there is no chance I really "look" that way from here on the ground.

So I tested the theory. I took all the information she shared about herself in the hour or so on the phone and I  Googled her name and tried to line it all up. She left out a bunch of stuff . . . including the fact that she has a serious penchant from recipe sharing on Pinterest (including lots of bready/doughy goodness despite claiming to be Gluten Free by choice). She Tweets a lot about loving her volunteerism despite telling me how much she despised a few of the groups she's involved with. Her LinkedIn profile seems to be a job or two behind reality. She had a "delicious salad" for dinner, according to her Tumblr account, the night we chatted - but she told me she had deep dish pizza on the phone (heartburn complaint with context). Finally - she "hates" JC Penney but agreed with me that it's the greatest store ever.

So - yeah - digitally or otherwise, we are never really FULLY honest with each other. We never really KNOW what is fact, fiction, stretched versions of the preceding, or what is just made up or left out for color commentary.

I'm a little bummed to realize that this woman (like the rest of her proud/divine sisterhood) doesn't really have a crush on ME. She can't. She doesn't really know me now nearly as much as the idealized version of me that she gleamed from a two dimension, clickable version of myself she spent a few days with.

Too bad, too . . . her Goodreads reading list was impressive. She's even better read and more enthusiastic about the written word than I had remembered. Presuming she's really read/aspires to read the list presented, at least.


Seasonal Playlists . . .

If you follow me on Twitter (and if you don't - for shame - I'm fantastic at it (one of the nine best in alllll of Wichita (he says with half embarrassment and half bizarre pride)) you know that I have a "Song of the Day" tweet that goes out - well - every day.

 I love music. A lot. I probably listen to music three or four hours a day and I like to pick out things that appeal to me for various reason. To that end - the daily songs are all songs that I really enjoy that I'm not at all afraid to admit I like (even when I should be).

Here's something you might NOT know (yet): 1) I DO organize the songs in to quarterly playlists (many followers have suggested that I do it and I'm also proud to have beaten them to the punch) and 2) The illusion is betrayed/the fourth wall broken as you will see that I (gasp) schedule the Song of the Day Tweets sometimes as much as a month in advance. I know, I know . . . for shame. Anywho - follow me on Twitter (seriously - you won't regret it (unless you are intelligent, engaged, sensitive, hate the term "giggidy" being used to describe women in their 50s, 60s, and even 70s, or have things better to do with your time than read my every Tweet). In the meantime . . . you can subscribe to the playlists through Spotify and I'll be sure to post the new playlist when I start Summer 2013 in late-June.

Please to enjoy.

SPRING 2013 -

WINTER 2012/2013 -

AUTUMN 2012 -

SUMMER 2012 -

SPRING 2012 -


Fast 6 . . .

I wanted to take a few minutes to suggest a little "art house" picture that was showing for one night only here in Wichita . . . it's call Fast & Furious 6.

It is the delightfully charming tale of a dysfunctional family that join together to prevent world terror with the blessing of an operative of the US government. It is truly a tale for our times and something that will leave your stomach in a knot over how glib you are to the world around you.

I kid, I kid. Fast 6 (as fans like me like to call it) is the latest (hope you are sitting down - SIXTH) installment of a film franchise that spans twelve years and a million eulogies. And yet here - on the cusp of crossing over just about any other standing movie franchise except some of the horror films and Harry Potter (correct me if I am wrong here) with a seventh installment - it is speeding up and getting better.

Let me clarify what I mean by "better" . . . it is getting more and more deft and doing what it does - make the absurd enjoyable and making street criminals the heroes (who are - by now - hackers, surveillance experts, sniper-caliber shooters, weapons experts, not just fast and agile drivers but true trick drivers, hard abed lovers) in the process. I HONESTLY believe the "fast" franchise is the best franchise ever and I will happily debate it with anyone who wants to question.

Lest you think I've lost my mind in endorsing Fast 6 as a truly great film - here are a handful of the things I loved about the movie (and this doesn't even include the really absurd stuff that could be considered "spoilers"):

  • Number of times a person jumps from either a speeding car or an airplane to a speeding vehicle (if my count is accurate) - 9
  • Number of baby oil jokes - 2
  • Number of times a sterling silver crucifix has emotionally changed hands in the first five films - 4
  • Number of times it changes hands in this installment - 4
  • Number (approximated) of miles long the runway at the end of the movie would have to be to make sense - 80
  • Number (approximated) yards from the end of the runway the runway chase ends - 20, maybe 30
  • Number of times Dwayne Johnson's physical stature (for being bigger or smaller than his fight opponent) is a joke - 6
  • Number of people killed from the core "crew" of the franchise in each installment of the franchise - 1
  • Number of people killed from the core "crew" of the franchise in this film - 1
  • Number of twists and betrayals in each installment of the franchise (including this one) - 1
  • Number of times that twist is either someone turning out to be a law enforcement officer under cover as a bad guy or a bad guy undercover as a law enforcement officer - 1
  • Number of scars "Dom" and "Letti' have - INEXPLICABLY - in the same spot on their body based on a coral reef incident - 1
  • Number of nods/inside jokes in this movie to a joke from each of the previous films - 1
  • Number of technologies/chase elements/action sequences in this one that give a nod to each previous film - 1
  • Number of minutes two concurrent hand-to-hand combat sequence in the London "tube" (without any interference from observers or police) - 7
Along the way we have characters come back from the past and we even get a crucial piece of the Fast Furious puzzle (How does Tokyo Drift really fit in to the grand scheme/timeline/character development of things?). Why am I telling you all this? Simple - because, like with ANY good sequel you need not have seen any of the prequels to enjoy the current one. (Editor's Note: That is sarcasm but works well in the world of mindless "popcorn flick" franchises.)

I will be seeing Fast 6 at least two or three more times while it is still on the big screen. I'll own it the day I can buy it. And somewhere between now and then, I'll start obsessing over the release date and details for Fast 7. Do us ALL a favor - take two and a half hours this weekend and get to the multiplex and see Fast 6 so you can FINALLY see what all the excitement is about and you can join me in my giddy delight for each new chapter in this book of cars and "family."


The Politics of Giving . . .

I got in to a bit of a "snit" with someone the other evening over a recent "scandal" (my word, not any one else's) that has come out of New York City. It seems, dear reader, that David Koch has resigned from the board of WNET-TV (New York City's Public Television station).

While the specifics of him quitting are not entirely clear (one piece I read argued it could be based on his interest in buying other media outlets and the conflict of interest that might arise) it is widely speculated that he removed his name from the trustee list over some programming that he felt (rightfully so, I might add) poked him directly in his eye and - in doing so - took delight in biting the hand that was feeding the station and PBS at large. You can read a fantastic piece in The New Yorker for background. You can also listen to an interview with the always living Diane Rehm (which aired on NPR, a "kindred spirit" to PBS, I might point out). For that matter you can watch the entire documentary that is believed to be the "last straw" here as well. But don't do ANY of that yet - stay with ME, pally-boy!

Now - many of you may be wondering - who is David Koch. Good. The less you know, the better, because this story - in my opinion - is not really "about" David Koch. I'll clarify that he's a billionaire (many times over) and that he has substantial corporate and political interests and involvements and that, perhaps as importantly, he is a genuine, marked, and unquestioned philanthropist (you can question his motives but the checks have never bounced). That is technically all you need to know about David Koch because, for me, the story here is not about him quitting it is about expectations. For the point of my easy point making - let's pretend that the rich dude in question is John Smith (and not even the famous one). Yes? Good? Good. Let's go.

SO - John Smith is worth $34B. He has given at least $23MM to public television in the last 15 years or so. He was in negotiations to give another "seven figure" gift in the near future (according to one source). Money, I might add, that is sorely needed by public broadcasting. I don't care if you believe tax dollars should support public broadcasting (like I do) or that they should not (like Mitt Romney does (meh)) - let's agree that in lieu of governmental funding we (the concerned and supportive public (listeners and viewers)) need to give money otherwise, the programming we love goes away. I don't know about any of you but I, unlike John Smith, can not give $24MM - $99MM in a 20 year span to public broadcasting (as much as I would love to). As a matter of fact - statistically - just 1% of 1% of the nation's population could. And very few of them (1% of the 1% of the 1%?) DO! And for that - I truly thank them. I don't care their motives or their wants or what they feel they are entitled to . . . I want the content they fund.

BUT there are people that SHOULD care what they want, what they are motivated by and what they are entitled to - the development staff and leadership of outlets taking the money. Plain and simple. It starts and stops with them. I have dabbled in development. I've made "the ask" plenty of times and I've sat across from very wealthy people and asked for their money . . . it is HARD. Because you know that they know that they know that you know that they know that you know that they don't have to give their money to you - they could give it to ANYONE. But you have to go in with ethics, a clear ask, a strategy for what is "in it" for them that meets everyone's expectations, and that is in line with the mission and vision of the organization. It is not up to THEM (as the Scrooge McDucks that might otherwise swim in their golden coins) to be the heavy on all that. They sign the checks and enjoy whatever comes back from it. And SOMETHING comes back from it. It might be warm and fuzzies. It might be tax benefits. It might be knowing they are creating jobs and opportunities. It might be the furthering of a mission that needs extension. It might be all of the above. It might be that they simply expect to not have their home address criticized in a way that makes them look like all that is wrong in America as relates to tossing around money for influence.

It should NOT because they know they can have edit and review privileges on a piece or content or that they can record a disclaimer or a criticism of the program that airs in conjunction with the programming. If you - as the asker - can't prevent every bit of the above and manage the expectations all the way around and work with the leadership of the organization to (while not interfering with journalistic integrity on the other side of the house) ensure that your donors are not trashed in the finished product - you are not good at what you do. Plain and simple.

NO small bakery can sell cupcakes and mock every one of their clients and their "need" for another cupcake and expect to thrive and grow as a business. No small bakery can custom make every single product for the client and expect to grow and thrive. Small businesses have to hit that sweet spot (see - bakery, sweet spot, that's PUNNY, yo) between the wants and needs of the customers and the wants and needs of the business owner. Development for a non-profit is not much different. It simply is not. You can't take John Smith's cupcake money and mumble about him being fat on his way out. Why? John Smith can get a cupcake ANY WHERE. Literally. He's got $34BB. He can have Betty Friggin' Crocker herself exumed, re-animated, and put to work (was she a real person?) on a cupcake if he wants to. He might never get that cupcake but he can TRY.

David Koch (let's go back to him for a second) essentially "owns" Lincoln Center and most of the artistic pursuits that are in residence there. Why? Because he loves classical music (or so I've read) and orchestras hardly ever perform concertos that mock him from the string section. He can feel good and do well while giving to an orchestra.

And John Smith can do the same with an orchestra, public television, setting up a C-PAC, Super-PAC, corporation, advocacy group, think tank, hired assassin, shaved ice stand, mini-golf course, office tower or Betty Friggin' Crocker Bakery. It is his money. He can give it (or not) how he wants and he can get (or not) what he wants in return.

I'm running long here (wake up - I'm still typing) but the point is this . . . if there is a bad guy in all of this it is WNET-TV. They took money from FOUR directors who lived in (or had people in their family that do) a specific address and then they aired a piece (that they could have avoided or pre-empted - NOT destroyed or interfered with) that talked about that address like it was the Bates Motel or whatever the hotel was The Shining was set it. Then they let the customer jump over the bakery counter and whip up his own cupcakes while criticizing his own paper-wrapped goodness and the ones sold before him.

What will come of all this? Well they lost at least one director and, presumably, his money. And every other rich dude (John Smith is in a minority of the minority but he is not "alone") and lass who has a choice on where to put their money (see list of options above - there may be more) will think twice about public broadcasting (radio or TV) as an option and they will, instead, get their desired reward (political influence or otherwise) in any other way they purchase. And people like you, and me, and the rest of the folks that can't write those big checks (coffee mugs or not) are going to lose the media outlets we hold most dear and have to, instead, read a paper, listen to a radio station, or watch a TV station owned by John Smith and his rich, rich, cupcake loving buddies.

I don't like David Koch's politics (I've never met him but I know folks that know him and other members of the Koch family and they seem to think they are enjoyable folks in real life). I don't like that he has such an advantage over me to influence politics. I don't like that there are ways for David Koch (and George Soros and all the other men and women all over the political spectrum - this is NOT about David Koch) to use the legal and political system to then further distance their advantage. And I certainly don't like any cupcakes a billionaire baked. But I can't and won't criticize them (regardless, again, of their motives) for giving money to a cultural institution or a non-profit or medical research or whatever in a way that allows the rest of us to benefit in the long run. If we can't at least take their money with a smile and a "thank you" we can at least stop with the "rich get richer" crap that we FORCE them in to if they can't at least get the warm and fuzzies that come with a nice performance of Vivaldi while chomping on some cupcakes.


Grit . . .

If you look up "grit" in the dictionary you will find five different meanings (at least that is what my copy of the good ol' MW shows). One is (when capitalized) a political affiliation in Canada. Three variances on the expected - references to granules, sandpaper, and stones. The final one is the nuanced which is a "firmness of mind and spirit."

That's the one you probably expect this blog post to be about - carry on. Chin up. Believe in the best. Work for the best. Chase the girl/guy/mistress/fantasy football draft pick. Never give up. Never surrender. There - you're right. But this post is NOT about that . . . it is about the sandpaper grit . . .

Let me elaborate . . . sandpaper comes in many different "grits" - which is to say the density of the particles that serve to refine the surface applied to. A very coarse/rough grit of - let's say 20 - is good for removing bulk materials (rust off metal, initial pass of finish on a surface, etc.) and a very fine/smooth grit of - let's say 200) is 10x as refined as the "very coarse" and is good for things like sanding one layer of a top coat for irregularities. Every visible substance on earth (including bubbles and panes of glass) have grit, technically. It could be a decimal .0000000000000000001 versus a whole number but it has some roughness to it. It COULD be used against something.

Why am I rambling on about grit in a spirit and zest that only my junior high shop teacher might enjoy or appreciate? Because I think the average person out there has no idea what their grit is or how to use it.

Again - NOT talking about character and resolve - I'm talking about the ability to know what we're capable of and to handle ourselves accordingly. Some of us are coarse (me). We'll just gnaw the scenery, and shake stuff up, and push and shove to reach goals, and - if needed - leave (figurative) bruises and skids. A portion of us are very fine. We are good at making the shiny ready to shine even more and we're goodness and refinement. A vast majority of us are somewhere in the middle but while I think the "very coarse" and the "very fine" know their grit - I don't think the average person has any clue because they don't think of themselves as the sandpaper. They see themselves as the piece of furniture just bought at the tag sale because it is brimming with "potential." Screw that. Be the paper. Let elbow grease and resistance be your calling card. Remove the bad. Make way for the good. Enable betterment. Let the potential of that hardwood armoire that has been painted six times over and has "updated" hardware come through because you reminded it of what it really was and still is.

I guess maybe this post was about character and resolve after all.


Mi Shebeirach . . .

The first prayer I memorized when I started going to Temple was the Mi Shebeirach (Prayer for the Sick). It was not that the prayer had any more significance to me . . . rather that the slow pace made it easier to lock in on the Hebrew and, candidly, a good chunk of it is in English. I do appreciate it though.

I like it because it is not just a prayer for one person or what is wrong with them but is a request for a renewal of mind, body, and spirit for everyone. I share it today (set, somewhat ironically, over images of Mother Nature at her most tranquil, peaceful, and beautiful) - without further comment . . .

Translation . . . 

May the One who blessed our ancestors --
Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
Matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah --
bless and heal the one who is ill:
(___________ son/daughter of ________.)

May the Holy Blessed One
overflow with compassion upon him/her,
to restore him/her, to heal him/her,
to strengthen him/her, to enliven him/her.

The One will send him/her, speedily,
a complete healing --
healing of the soul and healing of the body --
along with all the ill,
among the people of Israel and all humankind,
soon, speedily, without delay, and let us all say:  Amen!


25 Favorite Movies of All Time . . .

I posted the other day with my review of The Great Gatsby and referenced that Moulin Rouge is one of my top 20 movies. One of you very curious readers sent me a note asking what the OTHER 19 favorites are/were. Well, dear reader, here you go (in order - I might add) and I added five more films for good measure.

A few disclaimers - these are movies I really enjoy (that whole if you were on a deserted island - blah, blah, blah). I'm not arguing any of them shining achievements in cinematic history (although a few of them might just be) and I am OPEN to feedback and criticism here.

Without further delay . . .

25 Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001) - I'd be a liar if I didn't admit to loving Kevin Smith's stuff. Mallrats is another favorite but this one . . . this one is the best (in my opinion) of his collection.

24 The War Room (1993) - A movie about the man/campaign that made me fall in love with politics. Random bonus - my first "real job" boss, Richard Strauss, is at 0:56 in the trailer.

23 Only the Lonely (1991) - I love everything John Candy ever made but this one is my favorite. Easily.

22 Black Swan (2010) - Beautifully made narrative of a narrative that follows the narrative of the narrative where the viewer winds out the potentially crazy one.

21 Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986) - How the 10 year old me wanted to spend his teen years. And almost did.

20 The Best Man (1999) - A great movie about love, friendships, and becoming adults.

19 National Lampoon's Animal House (1978) - So many things to love about this movie.

18 Mary Poppins (1964) - Easily one of the best musicals of all time. And Julie Andrews is well - giggidy.

17 The Great Muppet Caper (1981) - I love all the Muppet movies but this one is my favorite.

16 Fast Five (2011) - Common, suhhhn. You know this is the best one but only by a few inches. And the greatest action movie franchise of all time gets another chapter later this week.

15 Midnight in Paris (2011) - I am not a huge fan of all of Woody Allen's movies but I enjoy him. This one, set in the City of Eternal Light and ripe with historical fun is a keeper.

14 Hudson Hawk (1991) - Yep. I said it. I think this movie is clever AND funny. And I'll bet, deep down, Dan Brown thanks it at least a little bit for inspiring him to write The DaVinci Code. Maybe.

13 The Incredibles (2004) - I like every Disney/Pixar film except Cars (sorry, folks) but this one is my favorite. Why? Because it was (up until recently) the only one that could have been a live action film.

12 Unbreakable (2000) - This movie was so good it almost made me want to start reading comic books/graphic novels. Maybe the best "hero" story ever told.

11 The Family Stone (2005) - The greatest holiday movie ever made and one of my favorite yarns ever cast.

10 The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) - Family. Can't live with 'em, can't fake cancer to live without 'em.

9 Spirited Away (2002) - What makes your identity? Your soul/spirit? Your values? Your loyalties? Your name?

8 Moulin Rouge (2001) - Even doomed love is worth feeling and sharing, right? Sure it is.

7 Scent of a Woman (1992) - It may have been that I was Charlie's age when this came out or it could just be my love for a great monologue but I truly believe this movie helped form who I am.

6 The Big Chill (1983) - Greatest "circle of friends" movie of all time and the greatest movie soundtrack of all time. Sidenote - Kevin Costner plays the corpse.

5 Big Fish (2003) - I just posted about this movie a few weeks ago but I can't suggest it enough. Wonderful little movie.

4 Sneakers (1992) - This movie and all the technology seemed so absurd (to me) when this movie came out. Yet. Today . . . it is just a great movie with a fantastic cast.

3 The Hours (2002) - The novel is great, the score is amazing, this film is nearly perfect. It will leave you very sad but in a way that makes you want to be happier.

2 The Big Lebowski (1998) - I have always loved noir, pulp fiction, Shomer Shabbos, the Coen brothers, and hilarity. Combine them ALL? Fo-sho!

1 The Goonies (1985) - Yep. I said it. The Goonies is my favorite movie of all time. And I've seen thousands of 'em.


Cheating . . .

I don't know who the intended audience for this was but I'm presuming it was education for women who might distrust their husbands. It's entertaining (for allll the wrong reasons). Come for the sweeping generalizations, presumptions, and accusations. Stay for the fabulous acting, air-tight writing, and moral of the story . . .

And, lest any of you get the wrong idea, NO - this is not autobiographical . . . it is HILARIOUSLY bad!


There are No More Political "Scandals" . . .

What a few weeks we've had for politics in America. We've got Wiener apparently shooting a TV commercial, Mark Sanford is back in office, AP reporter phones are being tapped, and the IRS apparently has a political agenda. In the meantime our Governor and Legislature here in Kansas can not seem to get a budget resolved publicly, our Congress and President can't seem to end the sequester, and - gasp - the Leader of the Free World does not hold his (and eventually her, I hope) own umbrella.

Let me be clear on my own politics . . . I'm a registered Democrat. I voted for a third party candidate for the first time in my life in 2012. I was way, way more liberal when I moved to Kansas than I am now (I would dare say I'm a true "moderate" at this point if you graphed out all my positions and looked at the graph from 30,000 feet away). I'm also a life-long political lover and once aspired to fill my professional days helping politicians better communicate and educating younger people on the impact of communication on political efforts. If you combine all that and net it out here's the point . . .

There are NO more political "scandals." A scandal, by its definition, is an action or event that causes public outrage. And, by now, there is no more real "outrage" because we're no longer surprised, upset, or offended by any thing our elected officials do. Sure - there are short moments of outrage (the guy that was having sexual affairs with under-aged pages and the (proven to be false) allegations that a congressman killed his mistress come to mind) but even those are fleeting because each "side of the aisle" takes those moments and immediately picks an incident from "across" the aisle and either raises or lessens the context of "this" moment to be more/just like "that" moment until we go . . . a consensual affair between an (alleged) 23 year old employee who initiated and the President and a Congressman who (allegedly) had actual sex with young boys is discussed as being one-in-the-same by calling both victims (and, yes, I'll agree that Monica Lewinsky is probably a victim of Bill Clinton's power) "interns" and pretending both men who had the sex are equally monstrous in intent and deed.

How about THIS . . . we stop with the finger pointing, the escalating/deescalating to make "this one" the "same" as "that one" and we actually start to hold those that we elect and entrust to be our the best version of us we can find in any one jurisdiction and when they betray, misuse, or just plain waste that trust we immediately hold them accountable (at least vote them out the next time we can if not encourage them to be help responsible in the moment of their contempt). And let's STOP trying to imply that President Obama not holding his own umbrella (there are photos of 50 years of Presidents having umbrellas and other things held for them and if he DID hold his own umbrella people would complain about that, too) is the same thing as people in his administration snooping on reporters and making lives difficult for political opponents.

To make it all the same ensures that nothing will be taken seriously and that there will never again be a political scandal that Americans can really "unite" behind to get more from those who should lead by example versus follow by mutual guilt.


My New BFF, Ólafur Arnalds . . .

No time for a "real" blog post this morning but here is a song from a guy that I've been listening to a TON lately (with some SERIOUS spins of the new Vampire Weekend in the mix too the last few days). Please to enjoy . . . and have a GREAT weekend.


Amy's Baking Company . . .

My Twitter feed ERUPTED Tuesday afternoon with talk of Amy's Baking Company

The business, based in Scottsdale, Arizona appears to be owned/run by a husband and wife that, um, have cut some corners on the way to success. I have not spent as much time and energy on this as many (more on that in a minute) but I have picked up they were stealing tips from their wait staff ,resold baked goods from other bakeries (a fairly standard practice for some restaurants - including several higher end places that don't want to keep a pastry chef on staff but I don't think many places that call themselves a "baking company" do this . . . I could be wrong) and they are apparently people who went on a reality TV show to "save" their failing business and then refused all advice and help from a self-appointed expert who, in his defense, does have some substantial restaurant success despite having a personality that is less than glowing.

It should also be pointed out here that some of what I've read implies that both Amy (of Amy's Baking Company fame) and her husband Samy (of Amy's husband and co-owner of Amy's Baking Company fame) both have some criminal activities in their past and perhaps even some jail time (at least for her, from what I've read).

I give the back story here for a simple reason . . . I don't know Amy or Samy. I clicked on the first Tweet I saw and thought it was an interesting/funny situation and I Tweeted accordingly but then I clicked over to their Facebook page, read a little deeper and promptly deleted my Tweet. Why? I don't care about Amy or Samy all that much but, I gotta' say - I "felt for" them in a weird way.

The PR/marketing guy in me cringes. It should be simple . . . you have had problems with confronting customers and with legal issues and with "trolls" in the past. You (accordingly) are not "people people" so you should probably stay behind the scenes (if you have to be at all involved in) a restaurant and you should certainly not do your own marketing (Facebook, etc.). More over the MINUTE you see your Facebook page is exploding you should just shut it down. It takes a dozen (or so) mouse clicks and you can put a new one up when whatever storm is blowing in gets past you almost as easily/quickly. More over you should NOT go to places like Reddit or Yelp if you are not open to criticism. Yelp EXISTS for criticism (positive and negative) and Reddit is, well, Reddit. It can go up and down rather quickly. 

I'm NOT defending Amy and Samy. If you steal from your employees, you deserve criticism of your ethics and business practices. If you are a bakery and you sell other people's things at a mark up without disclosing that, you deserve a finger wagging from the folks that have bought "your" cupcakes. If you post photos of other people's food as your own, you should take the criticism for lying and stealing. Fine. Those you've wronged can be upset and hold you responsible for THOSE errors but the personal attacks and the antagonizing seemed undue. 

I have to ask WORLD . . . do we NOT have more important things to do? Can we NOT come up with a better use of our time than mocking and chiding two strangers in the heat of Arizona? And I'm not talking about the people that have worked or eaten there (the few hundreds . . . maybe a thousand or so) in the real world and had an actual bad experience. You people do your thing. Unabashedly.

But the rest of you - the minute you REALIZE a person (people) is (are) emotionally unstable and are otherwise in full blown crisis . . . do you NEED to mock them? Do you HAVE to "like" when they are mocked? And I'm talking about people calling them ugly, telling them God doesn't love them, people begging that they not reproduce, people posting things about their past that have nothing to do with their bakery or business practices. 

Imagine - if you would deign - if you were friends with Amy or Samy. If you loved Amy or Samy. If you were family with Amy or Samy. OR if someone you were friends or family with or loved WAS (analogously) Amy or Samy. Would it still be funny? Would you still mock so freely? Would you spread the word as far and wide as you could for others to delight in thousands and thousands of strangers dumping on people you cared about digitally? 

About a month ago two bombs went off in Boston. The world rushed to empathy (and some of you to making it your own, personal crisis). I got myself in trouble for sharing a re-Tweet of the latter where I blocked the identities of the person that sent and re-sent it. The person that sent the Tweet saw my annoyance at the general behavior (either my Tweets or my blog post) and took umbrage/felt singled out. They felt they had the right to defend themselves and that they had been attacked (they had not been attacked and I support their right to defend themselves if they didn't like anonymity). More importantly (in this context) I had a few people chide and or straight up attack me on behalf of their friend. Seemed fair, candidly. Someone they cared about felt attacked. They protected. I'm fine with this (including the criticism and this is not about them being wrong, etc.). BUT - I saw that same person who felt attacked by my Tweet a month ago and some of their defenders relishing (my word, not theirs) in the torment being heaped upon some strangers a thousand miles away.

Why is it we would feel it is unfair when it is US being mocked? Why would we rush to the defense of someone we know? Why would we not even hesitate to be the attacker/cheerer/etc. when it was a stranger? Even if we felt they "deserved" it (again, for things they never did to "us" directly)?

I know people think I'm a "bit too much" and that I need a "filter" but the good/bad news with me is that I won't say anything about you behind your back or through the protection of a keyboard that I would not say to your face. I don't go out of my way to be cruel. I don't think of myself as overly critical, etc. But I truly struggle in this "age" of digital communication. 

These digital tools (social media, websites that allow for commentary, blogs, etc.) allow us to behave/act and speak in ways that we would not do in person. NO ONE is walking in to Amy's Baking Company later today and telling two strangers they should not have children. NO ONE is going to thumbtack old criminal case filings to the front door like so-many Martin Luthers. NO ONE is going to stand up in a small restaurant and give a physical "thumbs up" (like") to someone just straight up trashing a stranger. But there is a specific comment on Amy's Baking Company's Facebook page that is not even all that funny and nearly 5,000 (as I am typing this) people have "liked" it. The bakery has 48,000 (as I am typing this) people "like" it . . . and by "like" I mean they want to keep posted as each train falls off the track and the train wreck grows. 

You're better than that, world. You're smarter, funnier, and more talented than to heap your witty, witty banter on people who are not listening, not open to criticism, and not an actual threat or offense to you (again, if you've been harmed by Amy and Samy - you are exempt from my holier-than-thou crap). I get that we all like to glob on to things (and when it is empathy, compassion, love, and the spirit with which we draw air is the motivation I am allll for it) but . . . please . . . let's just leave Amy and Samy alone. They clearly have enough problems as it is. 


Shavuot . . .

One of the lesser heralded (in America, anyway) Jewish holidays started at sundown last night - Shavuot.

The day (which is celebrated across two days) is a celebration of the day the Jews were handed the Torah from G-d.

As is my custom on the blog, I'll give you the cheat sheet from my Jew School learnings and give you my ten favorite things about the holiday/significance. I will, as always, guarantee you find at least one of them interesting.

At LEAST one. Here we go . . .

  1. Shavuot means, indirectly, week of weeks (49 days (7 x7 (etc.))). Shavuot (the occasion) and the Hebrew word for seven both have sheva at their root. Jews have marked 49 days (a week of weeks) since Pesach (the night the Jews fled Egypt/slavery). It took that long for everything to settle down (sand and the parted sea, etc.) enough for the words (as tablets via Moses) to be passed down and for the Jews to be marked as the "chosen people" accordingly. 
  2. It is customary, like all of you who waited with baited breath and your scarves on for the latest Harry Potter book, to pull an all-nighter on the first night of Shavuot and really study the Torah and immerse yourself in it. Imagine those who first received the words trying to wrap their heads around them. Tradition (cue the Fiddler on the Roof), I suppose. The goal being the rules/commandments are how to live a life but there is lots - LOTS - of room for interpretation there.
  3. As is always the tradition (see the Fiddler link and watch it . . . great musical movie making) there are great foods associated with the holiday and this is my first (that I can think of) DAIRY (I heart cheese.) holiday of the Jewish calendar. It is believed Shavuot is a dairy holiday because the word was handed down on Shabbat (the Sabbath) and no animals could be slaughtered so people ate cheesecakes and blintzes - or at least that is what folks do now. If you need me I'll be gnawing on a brick of cheese (How would that be different than any other day, you ask? It wouldn't.). 
  4. Random cheese-is-like-Nostradamus-predicting-9/11-stuff here . . . chalav (which means dairy) has just three letters in the Hebrew alephbet (remember there are no vowels and ch is one character) that, if you combine their numeric values equal 40 . . . as in years of wandering through the desert.
  5. I believe this is the first Jewish holiday I've learned of where there are no "bad guys." Not that Jews are a put upon people (that is sarcasm) but this holiday is all about being the chosen people with no one around to question or poke or prod. Just Jews, hanging in the desert with the word of G-d.
  6. Shavuot has a lot of the same traditions and mandates as Shabbat (perhaps because the first one fell on a Sabbath) so fully observant Jews don't work, use electrical appliances, spend money, create or extinguish light, etc. (editor's note - this blog post was finalized and scheduled Tuesday at about 3:30 PM CT) but you CAN cook and bake (no Kitchen-Aid) and carry stuff in public. 
  7. The mandate for recognizing Shavuot is pretty simple and Bobby McFerrin is totes on board . . . be happy. Not only do observers have to be happy but they have to make those around them happy. Overcook food, give to/feed the needy, buy a gift for your spouse and children, get fresh flowers for the home, etc. I can get behind this. I am deciding today and tomorrow are going to be my happiest days of 2013 and that is actually a bit of a coup/statement. 
  8. If each holiday "belongs" to a book/story in the bible, Shavuot belongs to the Book of Ruth. No. NOT the Oprah Book Club selection by Jane Hamilton the ACTUAL Book of Ruth - Who is not only the greatest convert in the history of the faith but she is the great-great-Grandmother of King David (himself sorta' a big deal). Her story/book is full of the sorta' topics that might make it an Oprah selection, by the way. Check it out.
  9. Like with many once BIG holidays that have sorta' faded a bit in prestige, Shavuot is tied to a day of pilgrimage . . . specifically a counting/ending of the barley harvest and a planting/beginning of the wheat harvest. That is why you will see lots of wheat and fields of grain symbolism in Shavuot materials. 
  10. THIS . . . 


Green Light . . .

Is the green light hope, life, desperation, a goal, a challenge,
or one of the most overly debated literary elements of all time?
Nearly a decade after first reading the book, having watched two of the other five film adaptations of the novel and with a delay of at least six months (the movie was supposed to come out in December, 2012) for this highly anticipated version - I've now FINALLY seen The Great Gatsby. Twice.

It's not my favorite movie of all time (probably would not even crack the top twenty) but not only is it not nearly as "bad" as many reviews/critics would have you believe but I'll argue it is actually a great adaptation that does exactly what it should . . . leaves you feeling sad. And that is perfect. And here is why (skip directly to "Now . . ." four paragraphs down if you just want my thoughts on the movie) . . .

Let's be very clear, Baz Luhrmann is a director that likes to take dark, sad forbidden love source materials and make them glimmer and sparkle if only to remind the viewer, in the end, that the stories he tells are dark and sad. Perhaps you are familiar with a little play called Romeo and Juliet or the story of an ill prostitute and a true romantic in Moulin Rouge! (which IS in my top top twenty), or the epic class and cultural struggle of Australia and the tale of unconventional matching for dance glory in Strictly Ballroom (okay, fine, this one is not an exact match for my argument but if I ignored it I would be discovered (smile)). So - long story long - Luhrmann was right at home making one of (if not THE) Great American Novels (all caps to show respect) in to a movie.

I'll presume you are familiar with the source material (and if you are not, as a friend recently pointed out - you should have gone to school in the United States (smile)) but, just in case, Jay Gatsby (as in the "Great" one) a mystery to all and "known" to none lives in and throws lavish parties at his mansion on Long Island. His coincidental neighbor, Nick Carraway, is a newbie to the "New York Scene" who deals in bonds on Wall Street. By chance, Carraway is cousins with Daisy Buchanan, a rich socialite who married Tom Buchanan, an unfaithful rage-aholic polo player from one of America's richest (fictional) families. We learn that Gatsby once knew and loved Daisy Buchanan and goes to great lengths to reconnect with his former love through Carraway. For the rest - read the book and THEN see the movie (no shortcuts in life, folks).

There are no errors with the casting, in my opinion. I was not a huge fan of how much he marginalized Jordan Baker and Daisy Buchanan (played by the strikingly beautiful Carey Mulligan) was left to her most vapid and emotionally flat self as any take I'd seen on the character (which she deserved - let's be clear). I hate to open a can of worms here but Leonardo DiCaprio's as Jay Gatsby is far, far better than the job Robert Redford did (sorry, Old Sport) and if you don't get genuinely giddy when DiCaprio first reveals himself as Gatsby (tuxedoed, broad smiled and fireworks exploding) you're not really open to the charm of the character anyway. Tobey Maguire was fine as Carraway (I thought the "Golly shucks" looks in all his other movies that annoy me were right in this film as a young man truly wowed by his surroundings) but I thought Sam Waterston (who played opposite Redford) brought more (needed) moral compass to the role. I did not recognize Isla Fisher (who I really only know from her "work" in Old School, for whatever reason and do not care for all that much) in the small but very important role of Myrtle Wilson - which she played well. Finally, I thought the best character in the movie (by acting alone - he barely spoke) was Richard Carter as Herzog . . . Gatsby's assistant who knew all the secrets one could possibly know.

Now . . . the real reason for a review - the movie itself. The movie, just like the book, starts out at a breakneck pace. The scenery, the shot selection, the colors, the music, the pomp, the mood are all fast and fun and the dialogue felt a little forced in spots. This makes sense - we're just building lies at this point. No need for slow, drawn-out reflection or ease of telling the truth. This is just rampant joy with no responsibilities. Everything about the first third of the film is straight up beautiful (except, as it should be, the wasteland between the beauty of Long Island (ha ha ha) and the beauty of the island of Manhattan (ha ha ha)). No expense spared majesty and Jay-Z as the maestro for the film's music did his job impeccably. By this time next year Lil-Weezy (sp?) will probably be doing soundtrack compilations, sadly.

It is not until Gatsby and Daisy are reunited that the movie even takes a breath. And that scene breathes. It is fantastically awkward as any time old lovers are reunited should be. From there, as with the minutia of trying to juggle lies and emotions, the movie slows way down and gets almost sticky slow in some points. You'll notice that the sun stops shining as much. Leaves start to fall. No large groups or noises can be found (as Jordan Baker points out, importantly, early in the film small parties are hard - you can't hide). But there is work being done in this part of the movie/story/novel/tale. And you, as a viewer, are at once trying to figure out a solution and trying to ignore that you've read the book and you know how all this ends.

The third/final segment of the film is short and tight (like in the book) where all the lies come tumbling down and - like with any good Labor Day Weekend blow out - everyone notes the party is over and flees Long Island en masse. The sadness sets in. The truth comes back in to the sun. The loss mounts. No one is fully spared (not even Carraway who had developed a genuine friendship with and appreciation for Gatsby).

The last 10 minutes, for me, are not the greatest example of Luhrmann's work. There are a few vehicles that he employs that I don't really think fit and I don't see the need in (specifically the use of font on the screen which has been argued to show that, by that point, the story was only in the mind of a rambling drunk) but I don't think I could pretend to have an idea to better wrap up the tale. It just didn't feel "perfect" to me.

There are, as I mentioned, a few problems I had with the movie . . . first, this movie was one of several I've seen lately that has elements that seem forced and contrived ONLY for 3D usage (let's allow for some movies to just be in 2D, please) and I found myself watching scenes thinking "Yep, that's for 3D only." Second, there is a scene where Gatsby and Carraway are standing outside talking and moisture keeps appearing/disappearing/re-configuring on their lapels (something only fellow hyper-observants will probably notice), third, I wanted a twist in the adaptation to allow SOMEONE to end out happy (maybe Herzog is), and finally (yep - just four real gripes) I wish Beyonce had been left off the soundtrack. There. I said it.

Overall, if you're looking for a summer blockbuster that will leave you begging for another installment - go see Iron Man 3 (or just wait for Fast 6 and see it with me) but if you are looking for a movie that explores love, truth, lies, fidelity, friendship, and wealth with an eye toward avoiding all of the above except truth and friendship while making a beautiful, sweeping adaption of the Great American Novel with a cast full of people who, 30 years from now, will probably be toasted as among the best in their generation (a la Redford) - go see this movie. Then give the same amount you spent on your tickets to a charitable organization of your choice. For no apparent reason other than the fact that The Great Gatsby will remind you that all the world really needs more of is truth, friendship, and good deeds for the right reasons.


Mother's Day . . .

The two women in this world that I love the
most and that, by grace, love me the most.  
On Mother's Day in 1997, I sat next to my mother at a restaurant table. Her mother (my favorite grandparent and one of my favorite people to boot) was to directly across from her, my father across from me. I had just come home from my junior year of college two days before. We drove the three hours to see my Grandmother and to have Mother's Day dinner.

It was a "mom and pop" place and I was not impressed with the menu (I'm not a food snob by any stretch but nothing struck my fancy) so I picked the best option I saw - the chicken with mashed potatoes and steamed veggies. When it was delivered my plate was drowning in gravy (that was not mentioned on the menu at all). I mean DROWNING. I hate . . . HATE gravy. I grumbled about it. My mother asked me to not make a scene and I turned and calmly told her she was "The most hateful and annoying person I had ever known."

Her eyes, steely grey and ocean blue at the same time anyway, bulged in her head and and she stared me down and whispered "You will not ruin this meal or this day. Shut up and eat." and went back to the story she was telling her mother. I didn't offer an apology. There was no implication she wanted or needed one. My father stared speechless and disappointed (he yelled at me for a good 45 minutes of the three hour ride home and again several times in the following days). My Grandmother didn't hear (or chose to ignore).

My mother and I had been tepid in our relationship, at best, for years prior to this plate of food. After the incident, we did not speak (I truly don't remember a single word between us) for three and a half months despite me being in her home for that span. The silence was made louder Labor Day weekend with news that her mother had terminal cancer eating her body and would not make it to the holidays. My father called to tell me. My mother declined to let me offer support, condolences, or even share a word. I didn't deserve it from her.

Nearly two months later, on Halloween morning, we buried my Grandmother and my mother and I finally really spoke more than a few passing words. I apologized. She accepted. We vowed to never let crap like that happen again. We haven't.

I tell you this story not because I'm proud (I'm not - I'm mortified and no matter how many years go between that moment and "today" and no matter how many times she tells me she forgives me or not matter how close we become I'll never forgive myself) or because there is any value in you to see what a horrible, small, uncaring person I can be if gravy touches my food. Nope. I tell it to show you what an amazing mother I have.

The strength with which she carries herself, the love she has inside her, and the impossibly wonderful grace that she yields and blesses the man-hand (my father, two brothers and myself) she was dealt and the women in our lives with. Etc. She's truly amazing.

Here's the thing - as my ex-wife, brothers, parents, friends, and anyone that KNOWS me will tell you . . . Despite my willingness to give the proverbial shirt off my back to anyone that I care for and even keeping in context that I am a generally good, loving, caring, and encouraging person, I'm not easy to love. I don't handle it well. I don't like kind gestures, flowery words, inquisitions to my general feelings or dealings, and I don't really go out of my way to ask for help, support, patience, kindness, or love.

Of all the people that have ever tried to love me, my mother (and my daughter - because the love between a dad and his newborn through nearly seven month old is largely about giving to the child anyway (thankfully)) is the only one that has ever really figured "it" out and the only one that I've ever really let love me accordingly. My father is amazing too but he sometimes pushes the issue more than I like (smile).

My mother (to my chagrin) knew that she had to keep a stiff upper lip that moment at dinner. She had to fight back any urge to punch me/set me on fire and she had to let me sweat an entire summer under her roof and even the weeks and months of her losing her own mother. She had more important things to worry about in each of those moments and the entire span of those nearly six months . . . her mother, her husband and other sons that were not emotionally damaged, the children in her classroom, groceries that needed buying, friends that wanted to have fun, and, in a small percentage of remaining energy (as is her way) herself. With her mother gone she probably opened up some bandwidth and she could take me and all my crap on again.

I'm a far better person today than I was in 1997. Shoot (yeah, I just said "shoot") I'm a far better person today I was in 2007. Or 1987. Or 1977. I'm a better person for a million reasons the MOST IMPORTANT of which is that I was fortunate enough to develop in the belly of and then live under the umbrella of a woman who is truly fantastic in every sense of the word.

She is wise, loving, caring, giving, funny, strong, focused, centered, emotionally diverse, well regarded, loved, forgiving, and gracious. She's everything I might be in my best moments but she's those things all the time.

My mom doesn't read my blog (I'm shocked YOU do) but I'm still going to wish here what I did in card, and gift, and what I will in voice later this morning . . . HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY. And I'll pass the same wish on to any of you ladies that have children who are rough on you but you suffer them anyway . . . we don't deserve all the love you give but we sure do appreciate it.


Respect . . .

The one on the left is mine. The other two, mercifully, went
back to their teacher after a few hours of "perspective."
My maternal Grandmother was a teacher. I have four uncles and three aunts that taught (all retired now). My parents were both educators (my father spent most of his career as an administrator but had some classroom time). I have several cousins and cousin-in-laws that are teachers. My younger brother and his wife are teachers. One of my best friends from high school and her husband both teach.

I have lots of educators in my life. And I respect them very, very much - especially the ones that spend their days, weeks, months, and academic years with children under the age if . . . oh . . . let's say 18 (I am pretty sure I could teach at the collegiate level).

WHY do I respect teachers more than just about any occupation a person can enter in to?

Forget about the low pay, the public disdain for the calendars they keep and the work they do, the constant threat to funding for things like physical confines and accouterments to let them actually do their work, the blurring of the expectations for them to be educators/role models/proxy parents/social workers, and the constant changing requirements for state testing, accreditation, tenure, etc. (Note: This is not a political post so no need to "educate" me on the roles of teacher's unions and crap professionals in the torment good teachers face . . . I totally get it.).

Nope. It is way more simple than that . . . they spend their days with CHILDREN! 20 of them at a time (at least). For several hours. In a room. With no outside support for a good bulk of that day. RESPECT!

Now - I don't want to imply I am not the "right man for the job" when it comes to kids (I want to plainly and not even all that modestly declare it) but I do want to say that I spent just three hours walking around the beautiful Botanica gardens with three kids (one of which was my own) and I about stroked out. NOT because they were bad kids (they were not - all three of them are extremely typical kids). NOT because the boy in the group told me that my daughter was his best friend, very pretty, and gives him hugs (I respect the kid a great deal for having knick knacks big enough to tell a girl's dad all these things (smile)). NOT because the other girl asked (every 30 seconds (honest timing)) if they could go to the "playground" yet. Nope. None of that stuff is why I respect teachers or why I could not supervise children (and let me clarify here I don't think a field trip has anything to do with teaching).

Nope. I RESPECT teachers because they are willing to be RESPONSIBLE for our children. I had three kids, inside a fence, with hundreds of other kids, dozens and dozens of other adults, a hundred employees, and a (presumed) security force all meandering around and yet I was petrified that one of my three kids would get lost/separated, get hurt, break a rule, make a faux pas, or otherwise show me to be a horrible chaperon. But teachers aren't skurred. They aren't hesitant. They KNOW they can handle three kids . . . plus twenty. And not just to be responsible for them in a classroom or at an oversized garden. Nope. They are comfortable being responsible for teaching them (one final note - my ex and I believe that it is OUR responsibility to educate our child and prepare her for the world and that teachers and schools are there for structure, context, support, and direction in our efforts to ready our daughter but many parents do NOT feel this way in terms of who is "responsible") letters, numbers, social norms, vocabulary, reading, science, algebra, human anatomy, and how to keep hormones in check during the first "change of life."

I am a responsible person. I am very comfortable being "in charge of" colleagues, budgets, marketing strategy, sales goals, communications, and a million other big and little things. I am co-raising my child with her mother. I'm very comfortable in all the responsibilities I take on in my life. But I RESPECT them for the responsibilities they take in theirs. Truly admirable.

PS - Get to Botanica today, Wichita people. It is beautiful.


Choose To Think . . .

Trust me on this - give this video 9:30 and be better off for watching it. Then, as is the advice of David Foster Wallace - choose to think.

Will you think about "me" or will you think about the other people around you and the context of their lives as context to your life? I struggle, mightily, to opt for the second choice and I resent myself (truly) when I take the easy/lazy way out with the first. Parenting helps but it is still hard work . . .

As DFW points out - none of the decisions we make in terms of thought and behavior are really about intelligence  dogma, religion, creed, or rights. They are about human instincts and experience. They are about noticing that this is water.

And - remember - "Have a nice day." (In a voice that is the absolute voice of death.)

PS - Big thanks to former colleagues Courtney and Rob for bringing it (and by "it" I mean WATER) to my attention.


Howdy, Neighbor . . .

We joke that this guy"looks like" a criminal yet . . . for over
a decade no one actually saw it in his face or actions.
A news story you might (sarcasm) have heard about is the escape/freeing of three women and a young girl in Cleveland, Ohio that have been held captive (and presumably horribly abused more than just mentally) for over a decade. We hear this story and we immediately have a reaction of "how the h-e-double hockey sticks does this happen"? And yet it does. All the time.

Not this exact situation but ones not that dissimilar. People held captive. People abused. People misused. Women. Children. Men (why not - it happens). People plotting and preparing and carrying out horrible crimes. And in every one of these situations, when the news crews show up (and they ALWAYS do) they talk to the neighbors and they hear the same thing . . . "they seemed like a regular person" or "you could knock me over with a feather to hear this" or "he was always so nice to me" or "if I had known, I would have done something."

Let's recount a few things as relates to this Cleveland situation (note - some of this may be fact, some fiction, and some in the middle) . . . Ariel Castro would regularly attend neighborhood barbecues and was a "nice guy" while there. Neighbors saw and reported women in leashes in the back yard of Catro's house and police were called, went to the house and never went inside (I heard this on the radio but I've also heard accounts that the women were only outside a total of two times in a decade so I'm not sure which is true - or more sad). Castro attended vigils and search parties for at least one of the women he held captive. Former neighbors have repeated hearing knocking from the windows and home. The windows are almost entirely covered/boarded up/nailed shut on the house. Castro was seen as a "good guy" that would "help people out" yet he was brutally abusing and raping women, chained in the basement and second floor of his home for over a decade. Which is it?

I don't blame the neighbors. Really, I don't. Sociopaths are who they are for a reason. But I have to say this . . . animals like this guy would have had a much, much harder time doing this (especially for this long) 30 years ago. We KNEW our neighbors once upon a time. We went IN their homes. We BORROWED and LENT things. We DINED with them. We HUNG OUT with them. We watched out for each other's kids. Collected the mail while the other vacationed. We paid attention and we weren't (as) afraid to say something when weird stuff was going on next door. I read a fantastic book on this phenomenon called Bowling Alone a long, long time ago.

I know, I know. It is "impolite" to involve yourself in your neighbor's life and business and home. It is "rude" to ask questions or raise issues. It is "wrong" to think there may be a criminal in the neighborhood. It is "presumptive" to think that someone next door may be verbally, physically, mentally, sexually, or all-of-the-above abusive to their own family. It is "best" to mind your own business and be glad your home is not part of these horrible activities and that you and your family are safe.

No. It is not. I'm not saying you have to bust your neighbor's balls every time the lawn gets beyond four inches. You don't need to watch the lingerie dry on the clothesline. You don't need to call the cops every time you hear a noise. I would not encourage you to intervene on behalf of your fence-sharers every time you think you have something to add. That is not going to help either (none of that crap happened all the time 30 years ago either). But if you don't at least know your neighbors by face (name is way, way better) and if you don't know their approximate activities and if you don't get a generally "good" vibe from them you should pay at least enough more attention to put the unease to rest or to verify you have something to worry about.

In the last 72 hours, I've confronted teen aged boys throwing/breaking glass bottles in the vacant lot across the street from my apartment (including watching them pick up the pieces with their bare hands and carrying the shards a full block before they found a trash can) and I've tracked down the landlord of the slum house next door to me filled with dirty 20s hipster hippies and their bad, foul smelling pot. No. I'm not a grumpy old man insisting people stay off my lawn . . . I'm a middle-aged man and father that wants a neighborhood free of broken glass and sticks and seeds filling the air. Conversely - if my neighbors needed help with something or if those boys had fallen down and gotten hurt - I would quickly/readily help all of them out. Our neighborhoods are our responsibility.

It is simple, people. Let's all step a little out of our own heads. Put the smart phones away for a second. Exchange a "hello" - maybe even help carry the groceries to the house for the older woman next door (with no alternate agenda, ya' pervs). It is not a sacrifice. It is the right thing to do.

Would these women who've endured horrible quality of life have been discovered sooner? We'll never know. And that is the point.