I wonder about a bookstore…

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Would you support this small business in Lake Orion? Or would you browse, leave, and order books on Amazon for 20% less with FREE 2-day shipping? Please answer *honestly* below. I’m curious. And serious. ūüôā

That new building at 120 South Broadway? I walked by it yesterday. Would an indy bookstore REALLY survive in our community? Your dollars would determine its success.

Amazon will always be cheaper — and open 24/7. You are probably a Prime member. Just click and the books arrive at your door. So easy, right?

Lake Orion: Where living is a vacation. ūüĆě

What if LO was also a place of culture, curiosity, and enlightenment?

Would you pay for that?

A letter to Terry Bradshaw

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With the Super Bowl coming up tomorrow, the time is right to share these two artifacts from my younger days — a colored-pencil illustration and a printed letter to former Steelers quarterback¬†Terry Bradshaw. If you watch Fox NFL Sunday, then you are likely familiar with Bradshaw’s unique mix of humor and insight.

Growing up in the 1970s and early 80s in Pittsburgh, PA, my brother and I quickly became fans of the hometown Steelers and their roster of now-legendary players including wide receivers John Stallworth and Lynn Swann, defensive tackle “Mean” Joe Greene, linebacker Jack Lambert, fullback Franco Harris, and center Mike Webster. Please see the end of this blog post for critical health information about Webster, who tragically died at the age of 50.

These men that we cheered on felt less like all-stars and more like the tough blue-collar laborers who spent their days in front of blast furnaces in Pittsburgh’s steel mills. The members of our football team were symbolic¬†neighbors.¬†Here is an example of those everyday heroes. These are the members of the formidable defensive line known as the Steel Curtain: Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, Dwight White, and Ernie Holmes.

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Although I never played even one season of touch football as a kid, cheering on the black and gold was almost a cultural requirement if you lived in Pittsburgh at that time. After all, under the watchful gaze of coach Chuck Noll, the Steelers won the Super Bowl in 1975, 1976, 1979, and 1980. They were the first NFL team to win four championships.

It must have been close to 1980 when I created the illustration pictured above — and the letter seen below. Despite the time and effort that were invested in these two pieces, I never mailed them to their intended recipient. Sorry, Terry. I hope you can forgive me.

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The sheer number of spelling errors is laughable given the fact that I became a high-school teacher and earned a master’s degree in English literature and composition. But at least you can see that even as an elementary school student I was dutifully editing my initial draft. The erasures are evident, but my “corrections” may be just as bad as — if not worse than — the mistakes that came before them. I was really trying hard, though.

What I find especially charming is the question that concludes the letter:

isn’t it niec Terry _____?”

The superscript¬†yes no¬†and accompanying arrow bring to mind the stereotypical folded paper note passed to a love interest across the classroom. Such missives often seek an answer to this question: “Do you like me? Yes or No.”

I’ll never know if Mr. Bradshaw would have found value in my artwork or composition skills, but as a man in his forties I take pride in the fact that I created these offerings — and that I was thoughtful enough to keep them as part of my small collection of childhood memorabilia. I still enjoy expressing my creativity, and I love to explore the possibilities of the written word. Those two interests have only grown.

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This Sunday the venerable Tom Brady¬†(age 41) and the much younger Jared Goff¬†(age 24) will take the field at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta with their teams, the Patriots and Rams. Although I may watch part of Super Bowl LIII, I’ll still be rooting for the Terry Bradshaw and Pittsburgh Steelers of my youth. The game seemed much simpler then, more like a true athletic contest than a media-saturated “event.”

But I recognize that somewhere in New England and Los Angeles there are young boys — and girls! — excitedly drawing pictures of their gridiron heroes and penning sincere letters of admiration. I hope that the parents of those children encourage them, and that they search out stamps, envelopes, and mailing addresses. But before you send off their illustrations and fan mail, please take pictures of their finished work. Years from now, you’ll be grateful that you did.

The Brothers Bishop¬†(1980) — Pittsburgh, PA

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The importance of Mike Webster (1952-2002):

If you have seen the 2015 film Concussion, which stars Will Smith as the real physician Dr. Bennett Omalu, then you are likely aware of Mike Webster’s name. In that sobering movie, Webster is played by actor David Morse; his portrayal of the declining physical and mental health of the former Pittsburgh player is haunting. If you enjoy football, I strongly encourage you to watch this film.

Mike Webster, who was a Hall of Fame athlete and recipient of four Super Bowl championship rings, played for the Steelers from 1974 to 1988. But the man known as “Iron Mike” eventually suffered unbelievable horrors because of the game he loved. As a center, Webster’s body — including his head — was hit repeatedly by opponents. The innumerable collisions caused what is now recognized as CTE or chronic traumatic encephalopathy. The condition, which forensic pathologist¬†Dr. Omalu was instrumental in identifying, is unforgiving in the way that it destroys the brain.

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After his career ended in 1990, Mike Webster’s life began to unravel. The best description of what occurred to him can be found in his New York Times obituary.¬†In that article, Webster’s downward spiral into homelessness, addiction, and psychological trauma is described. Mike Webster went from an on-field superstar to a divorced, confused, shame-filled, and broken man in less than ten years. He died at the age of 50 of a heart attack.

The damage from concussions is very real. And those injuries harm not only the physical body, but the mind.

Please investigate the topic of CTE, and please use good judgement when deciding how you, your friends, and/or your children play sports that can result in repeated blows to the head. Short-term success is no replacement for long-term suffering.

Note — The photograph of the players who formed the Steel Curtain was obtained from the Heinz History Center. The photographs of Terry Bradshaw and Mike Webster were borrowed from the website of Behind the Steel Curtain. The publicity image for the Super Bowl was found on the website of the Tampa Bay Times.

Disney Characters Journal

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Perhaps the most vibrant notebook that I own, the Disney Characters Journal is the third to be featured from the group that I affectionately call The Fantastic Four. Why choose this name? The set of four unique journals was designed and constructed by a pair of my former students, Meagan and Kathryn. If you missed the first two blog posts in this series, please see the following:

  1. “Let’s Make It Count” Journal
  2. Many B’s Journal

This notebook’s front and back cover feature dozens of Disney characters — including both heroes and villains — that were carefully cut from multiple sources and then assembled into collages that sit beneath a veneer of packing tape. This process likely took hours.

Before I share the journal’s first entry, please realize that it was penned on June 4. There is no significance to this particular date, but the fact that it lies less than ten days before the end of the school year (and thus on the eve of summer vacation) means two things:

  1. I was likely exhausted from months of instruction and innumerable weekends spent critiquing essays, and…
  2. I was surely giddy with anticipation that a decrease in work-load was right around the corner.

So if you sense an excessive level of optimism in the following passage — as though I was channeling the spirit of Walt Whitman — these are the reasons why. Not four cups of coffee. But I do enjoy coffee, especially dark roasts. Anyway,¬†I created this entry (which is followed by a transcription) in either my 1st- or 2nd-period class during a five-minute free write with my students. It was Thursday, June 4, 2015.

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Beginning a new composition book today. I like starting off, embarking on a new writing adventure with limitless potential in front of me. My pen directs the course. My mind pushes it forward.

Summer rises up ahead, a bright orange-yellow glow that beckons for a marriage of reality and possibility. So much intellectual freedom. So much openness. So much joy. Barriers previously noted have been withdrawn, and my senses expand wildly as I imagine the possibilities of the spaces in front of me. Every day becomes worthy: it is full of possibilities, tantalizing the spirit, coaxing out the best from the soul, provoking the imagination.

Days are investments — conscious efforts glazed with the unexpected. Releasing so much that could be!

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This journal’s Disney theme was not accidental.

Although I am not a mouse-ear-wearing fanatic, I do have a history with the company that has brought dozens of legendary characters to life through animated features, live-action films, and theatrical productions. For a semester during my undergrad years I participated in the Disney College Program Internship in Orlando, FL. Rather than attend classes at Michigan State in the spring of 1996, I spent five months immersed in Disney culture, tradition, and hospitality. My students — including Meagan and Kathryn — knew this.

Pictured below are my identification card and name tags. You might notice a yellowish hue to the latter; that was caused by long exposure to the bright Florida sun.

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During my internship I enrolled in a series of classes taught by Disney executives that dealt with such topics as marketing, communication, guest service, and hospitality management. I was also taught about the rich history of Disney culture, learning about such concepts as the two-finger point (never a single finger, as that could be perceived as rude) and the understanding that all Cast Members exist “on stage” and thus they constantly inform the Guests’ experience.

Although the classes were instrumental in helping me understand Disney philosophy and gain some awareness of how large corporations function, the real learning occurred at my work location. For 40+ hours per week I served in a retail shop situated on the ground floor of the Hollywood Tower Hotel, which is more commonly known as The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror¬†to park attendees. The tall salmon-colored building looms ominously at the end of Sunset Boulevard in Disney’s Hollywood Studios (one of WDW’s Orlando theme parks).

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After Guests plunged multiple stories in a fright-filled elevator car, they were deposited into a hallway that led to my gift shop. There we offered them picture frames, bellhop caps, and all manner of custom-themed products that you might find in an upscale hotel: monogramed towels, guest books, door hangers, disposable cameras and film (it was 1996, after all), and small collectibles. Our biggest seller? T-shirts featuring various Twilight Zone-inspired designs and slogans. We sold hundreds of t-shirts every week.

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While working in my location, I wore the costume seen below. It featured a double-breasted suit, white dress shirt, tie, and striped suspenders. The young ladies between Mickey and me were two other MSU students who were also participating in the College Program Internship in the spring of 1996. They are wearing the costumes that were used at their work locations. Please note that although Cinderella Castle stands in the background, I did not work in the Magic Kingdom.

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Now let’s shift gears. What follows is this journal’s second entry, which was written on the same day as the one featured above (June 4, 2015), but during the next class period. You will notice a significant shift in tone and content, because an event loomed ahead that was causing me considerable nervousness: reading students’ names at the graduation ceremony held at¬†DTE Energy Music Theater.

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Turning the page to the next class! Sitting in third hour now. Graduation is coming up next week. Wednesday evening at DTE in Clarkston will be our destination. We’re there for a relatively long span of time: about three hours. I’ll be ready. I am under less stress than last year. Should not have any trouble with getting my names ready. Middle of the alphabet. Won’t have to wait nearly as long as last year. Felt dizzy last year, but I am optimistic that that was a consequence of incredible levels of stress being revealed at a time of heightened challenge — an especially demanding situation requiring considerable focus and public presence. I know I will be calm next [week?]. Like the SEALs

  1. Goal setting
  2. Rehearsal
  3. Positive self-talk
  4. Controlled breathing

Results will come from these steps.img_4917 2A few observations…

First, the optimism of the first entry has been replaced with a realism shaded by caution. I am clearly apprehensive about the upcoming ceremony and the fact that I will — for a short time — be reading students’ names before an audience of close to one thousand people.

Second, the wordy sentence dealing with “an especially demanding situation” refers to an event that profoundly changed my life. During the previous school year, in April of 2014, I began experiencing surges of acute anxiety in my classroom. These unannounced waves of fear and paralysis occurred when I was leading instruction, and they normally overwhelmed my senses. I was often forced to stop speaking and regroup, which was deeply humiliating because I was typically standing in front of dozens of teenagers. A symbolic narrative documenting what occurred that month — and during the three years that followed — can be found in¬†The Ranch Hand, which was my first blog post. That composition stands as one of the most honest pieces I have ever written.

Third, the reference to “SEALs” (and the four steps that follow it) emerged from watching a History Channel feature called The Brain: Mystery Explained. In that documentary, which you can watch a portion of right here, the narrator explains how U.S. Navy SEALs manage fear and stay focused in incredibly stressful situations. They rely on goal setting, rehearsal, positive self-talk, and controlled breathing. As soon as I watched this program, I latched onto the four-part series as a way to try coping with the periods of anxiety that were disrupting my professional life.

My last observation…

Although I worked for The Mouse over two decades ago, I am aware that modern life rarely plays out like a Disney movie. Instead, the moments of joy, comfort, and belonging that enliven us exist alongside those that are filled with sorrow, distress, and loneliness. Navigating these highs and lows shapes our character. 

I would like to thank Kathryn and Meagan — my former Honors English 10 students and current college undergrads — for providing me with this journal that features another kind of character. The colorful faces on its front and back cover keep me smiling even long after I filled its pages with my thoughts.

Since I was 16 years old I have been journaling because it helps me process the events and emotions that I am experiencing. When something excites me, I write about it. When something terrifies me, I write about. When I face a challenging decision, I write about it. Nearly thirty years of journaling have shown me that it yields relief and insight.

If you are struggling with soul-testing lows — or surging to great heights and wondering how to capitalize on those peaks of creativity or vision — consider picking up a pen and recording your thoughts on paper. Not for an audience, but for you. In time, you may realize that the small world inside you is actually a castle full of wonders.

Curious to learn more? Please see my Getting Started Page for a few suggestions.

img_4917Note — The image of The Hollywood Tower Hotel was obtained from the website of WDW Theme Parks. The photograph of the inside of the Tower of Terror’s gift shop was borrowed from insidethemagic.net.

Postscript to a meal

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If dessert marks the close of dinner, then a thank-you card serves as its postscript — an after-the-event affirmation of hours well spent and company fully valued. In this era of instant messages and time constraints, however, the thank-you card is often disregarded as either unnecessary or anachronistic. These beliefs could not be further from the truth. Rarely will a tweet or emoji-punctuated text make a memorable impression on a host. But a card featuring a personal greeting almost always will.

This blog post documents the process of preparing one such card for transit.

Two nights ago I enjoyed a wonderful evening of food and fellowship in the home of a dear friend. She and her husband — a man talented in both the woodworking studio and the kitchen — prepared a hearty meal of parmesan-encrusted chicken, cold corn-and-pepper salad with citrus vinegar dressing, steaming brown rice with peas, and freshly-baked cheese-herb bread pulled from a cast-iron skillet. Two other guests (my best friend and his wife) agreed that the fare was delicious.

After the meal, the five of us retired to the great room, where we sat in front of the fireplace and traded accounts of recent travels, memories of family courtships, and updates on hobbies ranging from photography to hatchet-throwing. As can occur on evenings spent indoors while wind rushes through snow-draped trees, time seemed to slow. Meanwhile, digestion proceeded steadily within our bellies. And before we knew it the hostess produced parfaits of fresh raspberries, brownie bites, and fluffy whipped cream. Our discussion continued as spoons clinked lightly while teasing the chilled dessert from tall glasses.

After returning home that night I dove into my supply of cards in search of the right thank-you to honor such a wonderful evening. The one I selected is pictured above. This card, which I purchased for $1 at Trader Joe’s, features artwork by printmaker Yoskiko Yamamoto¬†(pictured below) of The Arts & Crafts Press in Tacoma, WA. Yamamoto and her husband, Bruce Smith, founded TA&CP in 1996. All of their publications “have been letterpress printed and bound by hand.” Please check out ArtsAndCraftsPress.com for an amazing selection of limited-edition woodblock prints, stationery, coasters, calendars, and more.

The Arts & Crafts Press

To my pleasant surprise, I realized that the hanging lamp on this card features a mission-style design. The same aesthetic is found on the beautiful handmade furniture in the host-couple’s great room. (The husband built it!)¬†Mission furniture emerged in the United States in the late 1890s, and got its name from California’s Spanish-style missions. The furniture’s focus on simple horizontal and vertical lines — often showcased in oak tables, chairs, and chests — contrasts with the ornate Victorian furniture that had long been popular at the time.

Mission furniture, which is linked to the Arts and Crafts movement, was produced by several famous artisans including Gustav Stickley (1858-1942), an American born from German immigrants. A number of fascinating resources exist for learning more about this influential furniture manufacturer including The Stickley Museum in Fayetteville, NY and the 20th century estate home that he designed (now a National Historic Landmark) at The Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms in Morris Plains, NJ.

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My first step in preparing the card was working through a rough draft of the greeting by scribbling initial thoughts on a tablet. I almost always do this so that I do not make silly word-choice mistakes or run out of room when writing on the card itself.

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Switching from print to cursive (which I find more smooth and formal) I then edited the draft even further while transferring it to the card’s interior. Observe the date in the upper-right corner, something that I believe every hand-written missive should possess so that the recipient — who is likely going to keep it — can place it accurately in history. Note — The salutation is unfinished in this photograph, but was completed prior to inserting the card into its envelope.

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With the greeting composed, I next needed to choose a stamp to apply to the white envelope. I had a full sheet of “O Beautiful” stamps, which the U.S. Postal Service released on July 4, 2018. Each row of the stamps corresponds to a line from “America the Beautiful.” What we know today as one of our country’s most patriotic songs was actually first a poem published in 1895 by poet and social activist¬†Katharine Lee Bates (1859-1929). The bright and varied colors of these stamps make them perfect for white envelopes.

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I chose the fourth stamp in “The Fruited Plain” series (second row from bottom) because it contained a collection of purples, greens, and golds that was similar to the colors in Yoshiko Yamamoto’s woodblock print. There is no reason that a stamp needs to coordinate with a card, but I found the parallels in palette to be very pleasing.

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Postscript (or “PS) — The next time you are invited to a home-cooked meal, please send your host a card or brief note to recognize the occasion. He/she will appreciate the hand-written message of gratitude, and I suspect that you will feel a surge of pride and accomplishment for honoring the time, care, and attention that the host invested on your behalf. A thank-you card is always a sign of good taste.

Note — The photograph of Yoshiko Yamamoto was obtained from a 2016 article on the website of¬†Spaceworks Tacoma. The photograph of Gustav Stickley was found on the website for The Stickley Museum¬†in Fayetteville, NY.

Guest Spotlight — AB’s Q&A-a-day Journal

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This compact but powerfully-designed journal belongs to Alex Bergquist, who is a person of pleasing contrasts. Although she is a passionate skier and outdoor enthusiast, Alex is also a committed reader and a student of culture and history. Thus it is not surprising that an individual who harbors so many diverse interests would also be attracted to personal writing and the reflection that it fosters.

The¬†Q&A-a-day guided journal, which is¬†a product of the Crown Publishing Group’s Clarkson Potter¬†lifestyle division, encourages the user to pen a brief response to a single daily question. What makes the notebook unique is that its goal is to motivate the writer to re-visit its 365 questions over five successive years.¬†Consequently, a fully-completed volume will contain 1,825 short responses — each limited to four lines of text.

Alex remarks, “[E]ach day probably won’t seem profound, but the purpose of the journal is to see how much can change over five years, even in small areas of life without consciously being aware.” She continues by noting that, “I’m very eager to see the progression in this time of life right after graduating from college!” Alex graciously shared not only images of the inside of her journal, but photographs of several of her initial entries:

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The question for January 3 is What are you reading right now?

What books are currently part of Alex’s life?

Having finished the first two novels in Lisa McMann’s The Unwanteds series, she is now working through the third installment —¬†Island of Fire (2013). It holds an 85% 5-star rating from 210 reviewers on Amazon.com. Lisa McMann — a Holland, MI native who moved to Phoenix, AZ in 2004 — is the author of several other series including The Vision Trilogy,¬†The Wake Trilogy, and¬†The Unwanteds: Quests. Island of Fire and its predecessors hold a special place in Alex’s heart because they were gifted to her from her grandfather.

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Liza Mundy’s 2018 national bestselling¬†Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II is also part of Alex’s current reading routine. Mundy’s non-fiction account of the 10,000+ women hired by the U.S. military to break German and Japanese codes carries a 72% 5-star rating from 422 reviewers on Amazon.com. More about Liza Mundy and her books — including a young-adult version of Code Girls — can be found at LizaMundy.com.

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The third book in Alex’s rotation is Jodi Picoult’s novel¬†small great¬†things¬†(2016).¬†With 79% of more than 8,000 Amazon reviewers providing it with 5 stars, the #1 New York Times Bestseller’s track record is certainly impressive. The book’s¬†press release notes the following: “With incredible empathy, intelligence, and candor, Jodi Picoult tackles race, privilege, prejudice, injustice, and compassion — and doesn’t offer easy answers.”

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If you are curious about Alex’s Q&A-a-day¬†journal and desire to know more about the kinds of daily questions that it poses, here is a selection from the first two weeks of the year:

  • January 1 — What is your mission?
  • January 2 — Can people change?
  • January 3 — What are you reading right now?
  • January 4 — The best part of today?
  • January 5 — What was the last restaurant you went to?
  • January 6 — Today was tough because _____.
  • January 9 — Was today typical? Why or why not?
  • January 10 — Write down something that inspired you today.
  • January 11 — Today you lost _____.
  • January 12 — What is your favorite accessory?
  • January 13 — Where do you want to travel next?

Although 2019 is already underway, can you pick up the journal¬†now¬†and still find great value in it? Absolutely! Simply begin responding to the guided questions on the date that you acquire it. Then take comfort in knowing that the notebook will carry you into January of 2020. In effect, you can already prepare for one of next year’s New Year’s Resolutions — continue your habit of daily writing!

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Note — The image of Island of Fire¬†was borrowed from Simon & Schuster’s TheUnwantedsSeries.com. The image of Code Girls was obtained from Liza Mundy’s website. The cover of small great things was found at¬†barnesandnoble.com. The author of this blog post took the photograph of the back cover of the¬†Q&A-a-day journal.