Your Basket Awaits

20130930_072618_173rd Ave NE

“That kid,” Courtney said, “just wouldn’t give up.”

After getting done with our Bible study last night, the stunning Mrs. Clark and I went to pick up Jack from childcare in another part of the church. We found him sitting on the steps of the stage, sweaty and tired. Courtney smiled big while pointing at the basketball hoop.

“He shot baskets for an entire hour to get the ball in. And he did it.”

Jack is short, and the basket is high off the ground.

Nevertheless, he has the determination and drive of three 8-year olds. Jack doesn’t let something like a short pair of legs and a prosthetic get in the way of a goal. He finds a path. He locates a loophole. He goes around the obstacle.

And just about every time he makes that basket.

I think it’s clear that we can learn from this, or at least be reminded that getting around the obstacle is often a matter for the mind to command. How else could Sherry raised hundreds of pounds on her back during her power lifting days? Her head led and her body followed. I thought of this the other day when I was watching the movie Captain America; halfway through a run, a group of men stood by a tall flagpole. “Whoever brings me that flag gets to ride back to base with Agent Carter.” While all the biggest and toughest men tried hard to climb the pole to get the flag, not one of them succeeded. The beautiful Agent Carter simply sat in her seat and smiled at each attempt. Then after all the others had failed, Steve Rogers – the smallest of them – walked over to the pole, pulled a pin which dropped the pole to the ground, untied the flag and gave it to the officer before hopping in the back of the Jeep.

Brain over Brawn.

Life is full of walls. We all see them and grumble about them. I needed to see and hear about Jack’s determination to throw that ball through a hoop to know that I have to keep knocking those walls down. Push towards a goal. Think it through. Thing around it. The path may be unfamiliar or unexpected. Keep pushing. And for the love of all that’s holy, never ever give up.

Your basket awaits.

Advertisements

Sixteen Seventeen Eighteen Nineteen

Two from the Seventies and two from the Eighties. Two about girls and two about boys. What do they have in common? Their numbers are in sequence!

Christine Sixteen by KISS

Seventeen by Winger

Eighteen by Alice Cooper

19 by Paul Hardcastle

Letter To Kathi Goertzen

1008558685_0e13eaca4c_z

Photo courtesy of Steve Lacey

In 1985 I had to visit the Public Defender’s office in Seattle’s Smith Tower (a story for another time). As I walked through the lobby, a TV reporter and her cameraman were waiting patiently for something. The reporter was chewing gum, blowing bubbles, and tapping her high heels on the ground in a marching pattern while she held a mic.

That reporter was Kathi Goertzen of KOMO TV News.

I pretended not to notice someone famous was in the building. I mean, come on…it was THE Kathi Goertzen! I was nervous. When confronted by an intersection in life that includes famous people, I usually embarrass myself somehow unless I go underground. Even if I didn’t have the guts to talk with her, I simply couldn’t get over that visual of a toe-tapping reporter blowing bubbles.

At the time I was working overnight at Shoreline Family Shell in Shoreline. It was a job worthy of a thousand goofy stories; I worked with a crew surrounded by subplots. Even though it was right on State Route 99, the station was also very boring overnight, save for the occasional tweaker or coke head gassing up while yelling at some presumed threat. Those were the ones who paid me in – for real – wads of crumpled money, silver certificates, or bags of wheatback pennies.

This job also came at a very low time in my life.

Things weren’t going right. I had worked just about every job, and lost my fair share of them too. The future just wasn’t clicking, and I seemed to be floating on open water without a port in site. Any sort of future seemed shackled to jobs where the manager scheduled me for just enough hours to not give me benefits like health insurance. In short: my life was stagnated.

One night in the gas kiosk I started thinking again about that chance meeting at Smith Tower with Kathi, and somehow the notion of writing her a letter seemed like the right idea. Maybe I just needed something to lift my spirits and help me forget that my career was stalled. But I couldn’t just write something like, “Hi…how’s it goin’? I really like you on the news and stuff…” No, I needed a hook, something that would convince her to read a letter written by a pump jockey from Shoreline. Something fun to write. Something – more importantly – fun to read. So Kathi Goertzen of KOMO TV4 received an award so wonderful, so prestigious, and so legendary that no one outside of my circle of friends had ever heard of it:

The Cutest Woman in TV News Award

In the hand-written letter I first described how we had crossed paths at Smith Tower, and then the fictional account of how she had won the award at random. Names of female newscasters of the era were written on pieces of paper: Kathi, KING TV’s Jean Enerson, and KIRO TV’s Susan Hutchison. In a big bowl, Byl the Cat stirred them around with his paw before a name was chosen. My friends and I then pledged loyalty to the winner and watched the news together while eating pizza. Of course it was all hooey, and probably not believable; I just wanted to write her a letter.

I also wanted to deliver it by hand. My friend Jamie tagged along, and we headed downtown on a Monday afternoon. I knew we probably wouldn’t be allowed to give it straight to Kathi, but it would be worth a shot.

“I have a letter here for Kathi Goertzen,” I said holding it in front of me. The person at the front desk gracefully took the letter and thanked us. Knowing that crazies probably walk in off the street all the time, we dutifully announced that we weren’t crazies.

“That’s alright,” she said. “We have a dog that sniffs all her mail.”

By the end of the week she replied to the letter. It is probably buried in my archives somewhere (aka “plastic bin in garage”), but I recall most of the correspondance. She thanked me for the honor of being chosen. “Words can’t begin to describe my surprise and gratitude.” She also sent her regards to Byl the Cat for being so instrumental in her “achieving such a great honor.” What a ham.

“It is true,” she wrote, “that I chew gum while on assignment, much to my producer’s dismay.”

She went on to say that she hoped we would continue watching her and drinking beer, even though beer was never mentioned in my letter. “I hope to be here for a long time, unless my ratings plummet.” Thankfully her ratings never did.

Her letter was like a single-page double-spaced Helvetica-typed piece of happiness.

I always hoped to get a letter in reply, but didn’t expect that it would raise my spirits so much. I felt that I had a knack at something, and that there might be a future yet for a guy who to that point had just been floundering. As might be expected, things did get better.

But the story doesn’t end there…

After 9/11, I felt tremendous thankfulness for the people who had helped me through my earlier life, especially the times when I was either broke or floundering. I thought it would be a great idea to write some letters. For example one went to the high school teacher who introduced me to so many great films like Bullitt and Citizen Kane. Another went a friend’s parents who treated me like their own son. It seemed important to let these folks know that the things they did in the past were still appreciated, and that I was thankful for even the small acts of kindness they had shared.

And once again, I got to thinking about Kathi Goertzen.

I remembered 1985, when my stalled life was tied to that brief and goofy correspondence with someone famous – the one shining beacon of normalcy for the whole year. Should I write to her? Kathi’s email address at KOMO was on the station’s website. But what would I say? I didn’t know right off, but it just seemed like the right thing to do.

“I don’t expect you to remember,” my 2004 email to Kathi began. I went on to explain the embarrassing tale of how I had concocted a story in 1985 about Byl the Cat choosing her as The Cutest Woman in TV News with his paw. But I also wrote how the brief correspondence we had really brightened my day and helped my future look reasonable and positive. In the final paragraphs the described how I had finally turned my life around for the better, and eventually got a degree from WSU – willingly tying that letter from her to a turnaround that got me on the right track in life.

A couple days later I got a gracious reply, thanking me for the email and commenting on the humor behind the “award” she received. “You really give me too much credit,” she wrote, “for what you had inside all along.” Always a class act, that one.

On August 12, 2012 we lost Kathi to brain tumors which she had been battling for 14 years.

Throughout her fight she remained as positive as she was back in the day, even as the tumors kept coming back and taking more away. Her words of encouragement to me and others in the past turned back on her, as thousands of well-wishers and fans like me continued to support her as a long-time local favorite personality.  I chuckle a bit when I think back to the mid 1980s, and the whole idea of sending off a letter to Kathi. As much as I groan and shake my head about the contents of that letter now, I’m glad I did it. What it has shown me is even the small intersections in life can be important, and influential later on. You may never know how much impact your words will have on someone, so make them good words. And you may never know when an award might come your way.

Rest In Peace Kathi; you still win.

Note: I originally wrote this story in 2010.  In 2011 I shared it on Kathi’s Facebook page, and got a comment back from her.  “This is so touching!” she wrote. “I’m going to share your story with my daughters.”  It makes me happy that she was able to read it before she passed away.

The Unexpected Discovery

028807-R1-10-9 (2)a

“I need you to take me over to Charlie’s house,” David said from the top of the stairs.

It was 7:30pm and the stunning Mrs. Clark and I had settled into a movie in our sweats.

“It’s late Mister,” I commented. “Why do you need to do that?”

“Because I need to wish him a Happy Birthday.”

Sherry and I looked at each other.

“He had a party,” David continued. “And I wasn’t invited.”

Not only was he left off the guest list, he was the only one of his group of friends who wasn’t there.

He found out because a friend from school was online with him over the Xbox playing a game, while talking about the party he had just left. Our hearts sank. David started to cry. He wanted me to take him to Charlie’s to make sure his friend hadn’t forgotten about him. For many possible reasons, David had fallen off the radar with his friends. But this seemed different. Impolite. Especially since the rest of his crew was there. These were kids he hung out with at school. We didn’t know how to react, other than to say we understood how it felt.

And that was really true.

Both Sherry and I had experienced this growing up. Being 11 is hard, because friendships seems to be in ebb and flow. I had just made friends in sixth grade and became better established in the school dynamic, only to have that security torn away by a move to junior high for seventh grade. I hated the next two years. Groups formed. I wasn’t in them. Because I was presumably odd, those groups weren’t open to me. I was socially awkward, which made matters worse. These were the loneliest years of my time in school. To hear David’s story that night brought all of the bad feelings back.

I think the worst thing is that the situation was unexpected.

David didn’t know it was Charlie’s birthday. Then, suddenly, he knew in the wrong way and at the wrong time. I know the feeling, like a blow to the head. The routine is quickly derailed, and the predictable is replaced by the sad curiosity of “What did I do?”

Even now I’m blind-sided by this feeling.

The other day I made a congratulations comment on a friend’s FB post, which described how the friend had gone through a tough time in starting a company and struggling through a dark time during the early days. Part of my comment was about a picture I had seen of the person during that time, displaying an act I thought was inspiring; the photo’s subject seemed to portray how a person can be in hard times but still have a good attitude about the world around them. I even mentioned how the image had stuck with me all these years, and that the person had really done well for themselves.

The reply from the friend was both unexpected and awkward.

Without acknowledging my comment with a thank you or kind greeting, the friend publicly criticized an apparent mistaken impression over the picture I had seen – indicating that it was nothing more than assistance in friend’s ad campaign. And that was it. No “I see how that might have been taken that way,” or “Thanks very much.” Maybe the comments needed emoticons. Maybe the friend was having a bad morning. Either way I was stunned and knocked off guard. This was the third time I felt this way after leaving a comment for the person; after the first two times I tried tailoring my interactions to match what I saw as a unique dynamic. Third time has changed that. Now I think I might have been wrong about what I thought was friendship. I initially apologized in a follow-up comment, for getting the impression wrong, but eventually went in to the post and deleted my comments completely. Clearly, whatever I wrote didn’t sit well; it was better to just make it go away. And clearly, the friendship I thought existed wasn’t as strong as I thought it was. Public criticism wasn’t necessary. I was embarrassed and humiliated by the whole thing.

Much in the same way that David was by finding out online that he hadn’t been invited to a birthday party.

Both Sherry and I assured David that we understood the situation fully, and didn’t think it was fair for him to be left out. We are helping him to understand how to “on the radar” and how to extend himself with friends. They are tough lessons for a boy who likes having things done in a certain way, and someone who needs help understanding the notion of “taking one for the team” when his friends want to do an activity he doesn’t. Part of me wishes I would have been able to take him over the Charlie’s that night, not because I wanted him to confront but just to say Happy Birthday and move on.

Hopefully he and I can both learn some good lessons about unexpected discoveries.

Jan’s Visit

Jan Lillywhite [1971]

“I dreamed about my Mom last night,” the stunning Mrs. Clark said this morning. “I remember you mentioning that people have been visited by family and friends like that after they die.”

She was right.

I was truly encouraged by this news. People told me to expect a “visit” from Jan Lillywhite in dreams. I believed them immediately; that type of visit had already happened to me in the past. In 1994 I lost a coworker to AIDS; about a year later I dreamed about him – a far-more healthy him than I knew. He was upbeat and smiling. We had a great conversation for what seemed in dream time like hours. I got a chance to once again see his huge glimmering smile, and hear the signature laugh that I can still hear in my ears today. “Gavin I miss you,” I told him. “I miss you too,” he replied. “But don’t worry; it’s not bad on the other side. It’s actually kind of cool.” I never dreamed of him again, which led me to believe his “visit” was a sort of closure to his passing.

“Did she talk to you?” I asked Sherry about her Mom.

“I don’t remember,” she said. “It’s all a bit blurry. But she was the Mom I remember in her 30s.”

This didn’t surprise me. That time in Jan’s life would have been the most active and motherly. She was pretty, smart, had two awesome kids, and drove a really sweet Lincoln Mark III. If there was an era of Jan that would be the best to “visit” her daughter in a dream, the 1971 Jan would have been one in the top five to help bring closure.

I hope they can strike up a conversation the next time Jan stops by.

Patriot Day 2013

3580196369_c1e62633b0_b

The American Flag is a symbol.  Ask around and you will hear a number of adjectives.  Freedom. Honor. Sacrifice. Opportunity. Service.  There are others, some not so great.  Imperialism, Colonialism. War.

This is my flag, no matter what.

Today it represents Patriot Day, which rose out of the ashes of the Twin Towers that collapsed in a fiery cloud on September 11, 2001.  It was my Pearl Harbor. My JFK.  I remember exactly what I was doing and where I was.  Now we mark September 11 as a Day Of Remembrance,  So many died that day, and even years after when the man-made materials in the Twin Towers waged a war on the lungs of the emergency responders.  This was the ultimate sacrifice, knowing that the act of saving the life of another might take their own.

We remember. We won’t forget.  And we still cry.  God Bless America.

Day 1-14: Good Intentions

Paper Laptop - Imagination Wins

Recently I joined a group of bloggers who help each other through hurdles like Writer’s Block.

It’s something that can impact most anyone.  Sometimes the subject matter is elusive.  Occasionally, the words just don’t come.  Other times, those words come together in disjointed sentences which need so much rework that it almost seems like a lost cause to do so.  Any of those situations can put a writer into terror, especially the professionals.  If it happens a lot, the notion of writing down anything becomes a painful point.  It’s easier to sit and read the writings of others than it is to craft something of your own.

But life shouldn’t always be easy.

Just because writing can be hard doesn’t mean we give up.  I’ve been writing for a long time, and started in short stories and then free-form poetry.  I can think of maybe a dozen times since 1978 that I’ve had trouble coming up with a subject or sentence. It happens.  I go around the obstruction and move on.  Sometimes it means changing the subject, while other times it’s a matter of approaching the subject from a different side.

Two things made me more prolific: The ability to type at the speed of my thoughts, and blogging.

When I first began to write it was by hand.  I thought so quickly that I would create incomplete sentences and miss words, because my brain assumed I had already written the words down. My fix for that was two fold: First I would write anyhow, and do it as fast as I could regardless of spelling or mess.  Second, I would transcribe to good paper with my Mom’s Royal typewriter; from that I developed a fast-hard strike that I retain to this day.  I can’t believe the keyboard on my computer at work has survived my beating for the last 5+ years!

I discovered blogging about six years ago, and was taken in almost immediately by the medium’s ability to compose and post quickly.

I now  post on several of my own blogs, each one based on my interests.  In the last month I’ve shared deeply about my mother-in-law’s final days and then her passing in late August.  It was a therapeutic time for me, because after writing about it I heard from others who had experienced the same sorts of feelings and frustration with hospice care.  As I wrote, the tears would flow.  It was something hard which had to be done.  And and if the subject is hard, sometimes the emotions attached to it make words come easier – at least for me.

I discovered that the more I write, the easier it is to write more.

While it’s sounds like an impossibility, consider if something is already being done that it is easier to answer a related issue which pops up. It’s like watching the retired Seattle Mariner Edgar Martinez stand at home base, waiting for the pitch.  He would stare at the pitcher and move his bat – back and forth in a circular motion – to keep its movement constant.  He hit most everything he swung at.  Something that is already moving can respond quicker to the task at hand.  The same method is especially true with writing too; if the words are already flowing for one reason, it’s easier to get them out for another.  In the end, writing is all about practice and, at least for me, having several interests gives me several outlets to keep the words coming.

This is the first post of 14 day’s worth, for a class called Blog Your Brilliance, where I set my intentions from the class.

Since I already blog, my hope is to continue fine-tuning what I do.  I love to write. I love to find new ways to describe old things.  I need to work on my craft and tailor a style, even though I’ve been at it for 35 years.  I also want to share more of myself, not just stories from the past but also what I am feeling or dealing with in life. We are never too old to try, to learn, or to change.

Working on this will make my Writer’s Block a temporary distraction.