Now Novel Prompt #1

A character is moving to another city. She visits her favourite public place and sees something that makes her want to stay. Describe this in 500 words, using third person POV (he/she). Then rewrite in first person, using ‘I’.

Why: Rewriting third person scenes (especially emotional ones) in first person helps you find your character’s voice.  You’re telling the reader what your character thinks as your character, not an observer. When you rewrite in third person (if you prefer this POV), some of this immediacy will carry over.


Mrs. Jones, the mother of Jeremy Jonathan Jones, Jr. and the wife of J-J Jones, Sr., moved with her son and husband from a small town in western Pennsylvania that nobody ever heard of to Washington, D.C., which everybody heard of.  Decided to visit every monument and museum she could before she got herself too settled in and came to view such things as too “tourist-y.”

Before the family actually packed up and left, however, a certain dread had kept her from really embracing the move.  The voice of the small town girl in her tried to warn her about the dangers of the big city, especially a city where it’s all about power and politics.  And that voice of fear was winning.  She was convinced the move was a mistake.  She worried about what Jeremy would be exposed to in this new, hostile environment.

She went along with the move, but only for J-J Sr’s sake, what with his new job working for the government and all, but she was not going to enjoy it.

Until she did.

The only prior visit she had ever taken to D.C. was when she was in high school, on a school trip, and at the time she could not imagine that there was anything duller in the whole world.  Colonial-this and Civil War-that and the whole place just seemed so in-the-past distant and over and done with.

But that was then.  This time around, with a fresh set of eyes and having a son and a different outlook on the world, so much of all the history and all the culture, and all the different cultures, so much of what she saw meant so much more to her.

“You know,” she told someone about it afterward, “on my high school trip, everything was all planned for us and there was not a whole lot of room for asking questions and I’m a naturally curious, questioning person.  Being able to seek out what I want to see and find out what I want to know, to learn, that has made all the difference.   I like it here.”


I’ll tell you, Jeremy and J-J Sr. were looking forward to moving out here to D.C. but I had my reservations, coming from a small town in western Pennsylvania and all.  That small town girl voice inside my head warned me about Washington and it all being about money and power and the like.  So, yes, I definitely had my reservations, what with the dangers of the city and Jeremy and what he would be exposed to.  I was worried and nervous and filled with a bit of dread,

But I went along with the move, for Sr.’s sake, his new job with the government and the opportunity that presented itself to him.

I wasn’t happy about it but I put on a brave face.

Once we arrived here I thought I would get out and see some of the sights around town before I got too settled in and got to be too much of a local.  It seems like once you live in a place for a while, you never get out and see the things that visitors to your city see, all the attractions and monuments and sights.

I had been here once before, just once, on a class trip with my high school.  That trip was just dreadful.  Everything on that trip was planned and we were rushed along from museum to museum and I could not imagine that there was anything duller in the whole world.  Colonial-this and Civil War-that and the whole place just seemed so in-the-past distant and over and done with.  There was no opportunity to see anything that I might really want to see, just follow the schedule and make sure to keep up.

This time around, though, I was left to my own devices and you know, I was fascinated by what there was to see, really fascinated. Some of the museums show some of the contributions that all the different people, all the different types of people, from different backgrounds and all, made to our country.  I had no idea.

The more I saw, the more I was amazed.  There’s so much history and culture and even Jeremy was hooked after a while.

I’m glad we moved here.

What this Blog is All About

You’ve probably often heard someone say (if only in the movies) that “It’s only business. Don’t take it personal.”
If it isn’t personal, it isn’t important. All the important things in life are personal.
That’s what this is all about.

What Sports Can Teach

People often tout such things as “teamwork” and “sacrificing the individual for the greater good” and “overcoming adversity” as benefits of playing sports.  Like bad tasting medicine, the things that sports can teach you are often portrayed as something to be endured on the path to learning some tough lessons.

There are other, less painful things that sports (and a good coach) can teach.

The first of these is Focus.

Focus is an interesting subject.  It involves something called attentional field.  Attentional field is made up of everything on which you could focus.  Attentional field includes all those things that are subjective, inside of you, such as thoughts, emotions, and physical responses, plus those things that are objective, outside of you, including sights and sounds.  Focus is the ability to attend to internal and external cues in your attentional field (see here for details.) Focus is not just something that you have or do not have, it is something which can be taught, developed, and nurtured. Focus, or attention, can be subjective (internal) or objective (external) or a blend of both. A good coach will recognize the particular type of focus best suited to each individual athlete she or he coaches.

We have all seen coaches who, after an athlete has made a mistake, refocus that athlete on what is coming up, not allowing the athlete to be defeated by the mistake but rather to intensify their efforts towards what comes next. For other athletes, the reverse is needed. After they do something, good of bad, they need to be directed back to it to review it and to internalize the lesson which can be learned from it.

For some athletes it’s internal focus and for some it’s external focus.  A good coach can nurture either.

Whether internal focus or external focus, the focus must be tuned toward what needs to be done in any given situation.

Some time ago, I was watching on during a session at the Michael Jordan Flight School camp in which campers picked at random were given the opportunity to win a pair of Air Jordans by sinking a free throw in front of the whole crowd of campers and onlookers with the condition that if they missed the free throw they had to do some number of push-ups.  For most of the young kids, it was a daunting pressure-packed free throw.  One camper, however, displayed a bit of cockiness and upped the ante.  Make the shot and his whole team would win a pair of shoes.  Michael responded without missing a beat, “And if you miss, the whole team does push-ups.”  The camper, after first checking with his teammates, agreed.  Before shooting the free-throw, he confirmed with MJ the terms, “The whole team gets shoes.”  And MJ confirmed, “Or the whole team does push-ups.”

The young man missed the free-throw, which provided Michael the opportunity for a teaching point.  “You missed the free-throw because you were focused on the reward and the consequence.  You should have focused on your shot.”

Preparation is the second thing sports can teach us. Preparation serves as a strong aid in developing focus.

Preparation, though, is not simply creating a script to follow come game time. It is the actual process of getting ready that prepares more than any tangible plan that might come from that preparation. As Eisenhower once said “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” Or, as someone once told me, “A well-prepared person expects nothing and is prepared for anything.”

As one advances to new skill levels and moves through higher and higher arenas of competition, one spends more time, proportionally, preparing than performing. This holds true as one progresses from youth sports to high school sports and on to the collegiate level. Finally, at the highest levels of competition, the amount of time spent in preparation grows to hours for each minute of game time. This is something lost on most fans. All of this preparation feeds the athlete’s ability to focus and provides the confidence needed to succeed.

Focus and preparation would be meaningless, however, without Purpose.  Purpose engenders the motivation to focus and to prepare, not just in the larger sense of purpose, on the grand scale, but also in all those day to day situations.  Life, in general and the season as a whole are not the only things that demand purpose, but each practice and each workout along the way do, too.  When asked, with all that he had accomplished in his career, what more did he still wish to accomplish, Hall of Fame bound coach Bill Belichick replied “I’d like to go out and have a good practice today. That would be at the top of the list right now.”

Which is why he is headed for the Hall of Fame.

My Golden Birthday

Yesterday was my birthday. But it was not just any birthday, it was my Golden Birthday. I turned 59 years old and I was born in ’59.

I know, I know. Golden Birthdays are supposed to be when your age is the same as the day of the month of your birthday.

Those are wasted if you’re born in the first few days of the month, such as I was, on a day you do not enjoy and cannot remember.

For me, though, my Golden 59th Birthday was one I enjoyed and one I will remember. It started with a dream I had in which I was taking a nap and in my dream I awoke to find my family there and I enjoyed it so much and it felt so good just to have them around. And then, later in the day we all got together to celebrate MY birthday at dinner.

It was, literally, a dream come true.

Another good thing about my 59th birthday was that I realized so much more now than when I was three how much I have to be thankful for. My wife, my kids, my mom and dad and brother and sisters, all the people around me through the years, all the blessings and all the good fortune, most of it unearned by anything I did.

So, for this, my real Golden Birthday, I am thankful. And I’m glad it didn’t show up until I was old enough to appreciate it.

My kids, born in ’94 and ’98, have something to look forward to.

For a long time.

On Fasting

I’m a Roman Catholic. For Catholics and others, the Lenten season is a time of self-denial. Often Catholics give up something for Lent, with chocolate being the typical choice, it seems. This custom, like other customs, has value in it. Customs or rituals provide a framework, a familiar pattern to follow that takes us outside of our mundane every day lives and allows us to be a part of the larger community. But Lent is different in that it is personal. The idea is (or should be) for us to challenge ourselves in some way that results in us needing God’s help. The best Lent is not one in which we have persevered on our own, but one in which we have sought, and received, God’s help. That is, to pray.

So it is with fasting. A successful fast (if you can call it that) is not one of self-achievement, but one in which you seek, and are given, a helping hand.

Further, the purpose of fasting is not self-denial or self-punishment. Consider Isaiah 58:5-9.

  1. “Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
    only a day for people to humble themselves?
    Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
    and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
    Is that what you call a fast,
    a day acceptable to the Lord?
  2. Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
    to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
    to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
  3. Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
    when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
  4. Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
    then your righteousness will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
  5. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.”

Let’s take Isaiah’s words to heart this Lenten season.

P.S. This would have been Dad’s 88th birthday. Happy Birthday Dad!

Sundays

Sunday has got to be the saddest day of the week.

Why is that?

Perhaps it is because the end of Sunday marks the end of the end of the end, or at least the end of the weekend. Another week in the books, so to speak. One more week closer to the grave.

One of the saddest songs written, in my opinion, is Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” It’s a poignant look at what a man can miss when he makes the wrong choices in his life.

Well I woke up Sunday morning
With no way to hold my head, that didn’t hurt
And the beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad
So I had one more for dessert
Then I fumbled in my closet through my clothes
And found my cleanest dirty shirt
Then I washed my face and combed my hair
And stumbled down the stairs to meet the day

I’d smoked my mind the night before
With cigarettes and the songs I’d been pickin’
But I lit my first and watched a small kid
Cussin’ at a can that he was kicking
Then I walked across the street
And caught the Sunday smell of someone fryin’ chicken
And Lord, it took me back to somethin’
That I’d lost somewhere, somehow along the way

On a Sunday morning sidewalk
I’m wishing Lord that I was stoned
‘Cause there’s something in a Sunday
That makes a body feel alone
And there’s nothin’ short of dyin’
That’s half as lonesome as the sound
Of the sleepin’ city sidewalk
And Sunday mornin’ comin’ down

In the park I saw a daddy
With a laughin’ little girl that he was swingin’
And I stopped beside a Sunday school
And listened to the songs they were singin’
Then I headed down the street
And somewhere far away a lonely bell was ringin’
And it echoed through the canyon
Like the disappearin’ dreams of yesterday

Maybe it’s the look back at the week and at how life has gone up until that point and the regrets that go along with such reflection that makes Sundays so sad.

For some, perhaps it’s because the work week is about to begin and the fun times are over, I don’t know.

It brings me down just thinking about it.

What do you think?

2018

Thinking over this whole New Year’s Resolution thing and, after talking about it with my daughter, I agreed with her that oftentimes these “resolutions” end up being too vague, too intangible, and often they either fall by the wayside or are so meaningless that they’re, well, meaningless.
What we came up with, instead, was the idea of a list, a To-Do list, if you will. It might not be original; many people, (including a friend of my daughter who suggested it to my daughter) do some variation of this, but there were a few things we liked about this idea.
First, it’s tangible. This helps so much more than the “I want to be more…” or whatever that sounds great at the outset but loses its meaning when there is no real action attached to it. Without being something you can act on, it is just an idea. An idea which gets left in the back of some closet of your memory once you have real things to deal with in your life.
Second, it’s specific. That gives you some yardstick to measure how you’re doing. It means that at the end of the year you can take an accounting of yourself and your year and either celebrate your accomplishments or dedicate yourself to doing better next time.
Third, it lets you bite off more than you can chew. A good list will include more than you can accomplish in a year. By including more than you can do, you will reach further and do more than you would do with a safe or reasonable list. Sure, you have some undone things still on your list, but the list of things youhave accomplished will be all that much longer.
After all, as I have often said, it is not who you are or what you are or where you are or where you’ve been that are important. It is what you do that is important.
So, with that, here is my list of 2018 accomplishments I am shooting for (in no particular order):

  • Send a book manuscript out for publication.
  • Run a half marathon (I ran a marathon once, but that was a long time ago. Basically, I’m starting out fresh.)
  • Travel to Italy. (My sister and I had planned to go and I have not done anything tangible toward that. Not yet.)
  • Read the Book of Isaiah.
  • Resurrect the St. Raphael’s Thanksgiving dinner at St. Martin’s Parish on North Capitol Street in D.C. This was one of my family’s favorite things to do, to help out with the Thanksgiving meal at the church and to distribute dinners to those who could not get out to the church. It lapsed into inactivity because the coordinators were not able to continue and no suitable replacement leaders volunteered. They need someone to step up. I can do that.
  • Learn to paint watercolors.

Ok. So that’s my list, at least for the momoent. I just now started it so there might be more things to add once I have had a chance to think about it a bit.

A Response to Mark Lewis on College Transfers

In “Transfers – The Sanity Of Sitting Out” Mark Lewis dismisses those who disagree with him as “a multitude of people [who] are quick to jump on the bandwagon calling for a solution that they quickly prove they’ve given very little thought to.”  Ouch.  Now, Mr. Lewis’ position is understandable and reasonable, given that he has spent decades doing what he does.  However, doing something for over a quarter century doesn’t give one a broad view of the matter, just a very, very familiar and entrenched view of one aspect of it.

Mark presents that aspect of the recruiting and transfer situation very forcefully.  But in order to do that, he leaves out some facts and distorts others.

He starts off by equating the right to leave with being an employee, and specifically, an employee of the athletics department.   “…coaches are employees and athletes are not.”  While it is true that coaches are employees of the athletics department and can leave without penalty, so can faculty and so can student advisers, who are employees of the university but not of the athletics department.  So can referees, members of the media, national evaluators,  and others associated with the sport who are certainly not employees of the university nor of the athletics department.  So can the hot dog vendor, the trainer, the statistician, any volunteers, alumni, and just about everyone else.

Except the athletes.

He harps on this employment notion that he has, as though becoming an employee is the only path to freedom. “Classifying athletes as employees has big picture ramifications that are often overlooked and far outweigh the possible advantages such a move might bring,” he claims.  I agree that the student-athletes are not employees, that, as students, they are in a different class altogether. What they are is much more like customers of the school, hoping to buy an education, or at least to buy a degree.

Fortunately, he does get back to “the actual topic at hand…transfers.”

Mark labels the notion of college athletes exploring other opportunities as “insanity” while at the same time decrying their lack of research and due diligence.  He disparages anything that an athlete learns the hard way as screw-ups on their part.  Oftentimes, though, the reality of the situations they find themselves in is something they could not have anticipated, never having experienced before in their lives college athletics, the particular coach they have, and the whole rest of their situation.  Sometimes, despite their best effort and an intense amount of forethought, they still get it wrong.  As the economist John Maynard Keynes once said “When I’m wrong, I change my mind. What do you do?”

As far as penalizing transfers, the question I have is “WHY?”  You suggest that penalizing transfers will discourage them from making a bad choice in the first place, but that does not stand to reason.  If that were the case, it would already be having the desired effect and we would not be seeing these “elevated transfer rates.”  When a prospective student-athlete makes a decision about where to go and that decision works out poorly, their penalty is already being paid.  If they had known their choice was going to make them unhappy, they would have not made that choice in the first place.  Do you really think a high school-aged person decides to go to College X so they can be unhappy for a year or more and then spend another year sitting out?

Well, you say, they should have known.

Uh, no.

What you have in the recruiting process are coaches, on one side, who have been through the drill hundreds, if not thousands of times, who have information locked in their heads about other recruits and a whole host of other factors.  Also, a large part of coaching success is the ability to get other people to do things they, by nature, would not do of their own accord.  Part of the job of a coach is to get their players to forget about their self-interest for the sake of the team.  The better a coach is at that, the better they are on gameday.  On the other side you have young, inexperienced people who’s success on the court or the field depends, in part, on their abandonment of their own self-interest.

Not exactly a formula for ensuring that the athlete’s long-term interests are fulfilled.

The fact of the matter is that the playing field is anything but level, it is tremendously tilted toward the coaches, recruiters, sponsors who are acting in concert to determine the futures of the student athletes they covet.  As today’s arrests and charges show (see Bleacher Report’s article here ) these “advisers” often cannot be trusted to have the athlete’s interests at heart.

Mark does, I think, raise some good points, though.  His point about some athletes spending way too much time in self glorification on social media, time that would be better spent researching options (or studying) is certainly welcome.  He also refers to the possibility of an athlete’s coaches and teammates being harmed by being kept in the dark if the program is not informed about the athlete’s intentions.  To be sure, if an athlete is contemplating leaving their program for another, they owe it to their team and to themselves to not only inform their team but to also to be engaged with the coaching staff to see if there is a solution that will keep them in place.  It certainly would not be unreasonable for programs to require advance notification before an athlete talks with other teams.  Nobody needs to be kept in the dark.

Now, once they do transfer, there are some good reasons for a student to spend some time focused on their new learning environment and not on athletics.  However, the NCAA seems to not have the educational aspect of this at all in mind when they force a transfer to sit out a season rather than a semester.  Clearly the intent is punitive, not to help the student athlete.  To me, it seems reasonable to have the student spend some time, say a summer session, at their new school to help them become acclimated before becoming an active, playing member of their new team.

Additionally, given the huge role that coaches and recruiting coordinators play in this “shameful reality of the ever growing number of transfers,” it seems appropriate that they be induced to go after recruits that are less likely to want to roam after a season or two.  Given the hundreds or even thousands of athletes that some of these coaches have coached over the years, and given their ability as motivators and their ability to understand the psyche of their players, encouraging coaches to recruit with an eye towards player retention will help.  Specifically, penalizing the coach and/or the program in the case of a transfer (say with the loss of a scholarship or the coach sitting out some games) will help coaches select players that will want to be around for more than a single year.  That way, the decisions we’ve been seeing might find the focus, patience and emphasis that they warrant.