Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

Fans of historical fiction in 2022 will love how easy it is to dig into this book about the plague in the Midlands of England in 1666. It’s a tight, beautifully written masterpiece and with Covid (mostly) behind us, we’ll relate to the feelings that people in England had when they didn’t know how to control or prevent the plague from spreading. We lost a lot of friends and neighbors during Covid, but it’s hard to imagine losing fifty percent of our town!

I believe this book can even be a part of your healing journey if you’ve lost loved ones during Covid.

There are a lot of things to love about this bestseller. The story has great pace and timing, the characters are as real as it gets, and there’s a lot of interesting historical stuff scattered in. Probably the hardest part of the book, the most emotionally difficult for me anyway, was reading about how the plague came to town on a bolt of cloth that a tailor was using to make clothes for people. As the tailor dies, he urges his landlady to burn everything but since his patrons have already paid for their clothes, and they’re relatively poor folk, they are loathe to burn so much valuable cloth. The townspeople come and pick up their new items after he expires. It reminded me of the ignorance we saw in our own times when it came to the spread of Covid. People ignoring the most basic warnings.

But there are also stories of immense courage and self-sacrifice, too.

It’s a beautiful book, perhaps the best one I’ve read in a year.


Indie Book Review April 2022

The End of Ending by Josh Noem

Josh Noem is the editor of The Grotto ( a publication of Notre Dame University, and a student of theology, a graduate of Notre Dame’s MDiv program. I met him about a month ago at the South Bend Public Library where we were both showing our books at a convention. He was kind enough to gift me an autographed paperback copy of his award-winning debut novel, The End of Ending.

This is a novel about baseball, beer, and a love that is stronger than death. Noem includes an interesting cast of characters in the fictitious city of Andover, Indiana, including a courageous Native American brewer from South Dakota, several Catholic priests, (some drunk and some not,) some confused coroners, and some migrant field laborers. The unique mix of characters represents Indiana (and South Dakota) well, and Noem holds his mystery lightly, like a sparrow or a tiny frog cupped in his hands, not wanting to open his hand to the world too quickly.

I’m not sure what to say about the overall plot except that there might be zombies… But not the kind you probably think of if you’re a Walking Dead fan. Noem’s vision of an afterlife on earth is beautiful, shimmering like a rain-soaked diamond under the lights; a baseball diamond, that is.

For Noem, baseball is a metaphor for eternity and beer signifies community, and I affirm both of these ideas. However, I was a little disappointed, since the cover image is a photo the author himself took of the South Bend Cubs in action at Four Winds Field, to find that there wasn’t a single professional baseball player among the cast. I guess the cover led me to believe I was getting something like Bull Durham or The Field of Dreams, but Noem fell short of making this a real baseball story.

That’s not so much a criticism as a warning to readers; if you hanker for baseball as I do in March, before the White Sox go on a 1-9 slide, this isn’t that book. But if you love baseball and beer, and you love literature more than the former two things, then you’re in the right place. If you’ve lost a loved one and are looking for a glimpse of hope that you’ll see them one day in the Great Outfield Beyond, The Park Without a Fence, then this might just be the book for you.

Next time Noem comes out with a new novel, I’ll buy it. I’m hoping it has more baseball in it, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it does, because if there’s one thing I know about Josh Noem, he is a baseball fan. But whatever he decides to do, it is bound to clean up even more literary awards, because Noem is a slugger. Here’s a link to Noem’s website. And a link to The End of Ending on Amazon.

Book Review: The Drifters (1971) by James A. Michener

I’ve read a lot of books by James A. Michener, who became famous in the 1940s with the popular success of his book South Pacific, which was turned into a Broadway musical. He went on to write at least forty more novels, and I’m sure I’ve read at least half of them.

I thought I was done reading Michener because even though I enjoy historical fiction a lot, he has some weaknesses. For example, he’s not likely to kill off a character, when perhaps he ought to. Twice in this book, I thought the narrative would be stronger if he allowed one of his main characters to die. He works with strong archetypes, and he seems to think that he needs those archetypes to explore all the topics and themes from cover to cover. Perhaps he’s not wrong about that, but since the characters are archetypes, they are easily replaceable, as Michener has shown he can do when he writes a saga that spans millennia rather than a couple of years.

A few months back I was in my local bookshop and I purchased two books about the hippie era from 1958 to 69 or so. One was by Jack Kerouac, which I reviewed two months ago.

What I appreciated about Michener’s take has to do with his generational perspective: he was 60 years old in 1967, and he was trying to understand the new generation. He wrote the Drifters as the late 60s was happening. He was a journalistic novelist trying to figure out what made these kids tick. What did they like about their music? Why were they dodging the draft? Something his generation couldn’t comprehend. It’s one thing to examine the Boomer generation from the perspective of Gen X, or for Millenials to try to understand their Gen X grandparents, but it’s very interesting to get a take on that era from someone who came from the G.I. generation.

Although Michener was only born 8 years after Hemingway, it would be a mistake to think that Michener was of the same generation as Hemingway; Hemingway was part of the Lost generation. To give some context, the Lost generation had similar generational values to the Gen X generation. Michener was born only 8 years after Hemingway but outlived him by 36 years. What would Hemingway, who died in 1961, have thought about the late 1960s? What would he have written? Would he have understood the kids better from a visceral place, where Michener was only able to put it together intellectually, by listening closely to his subjects?

Why the comparison between Hemingway and Michener? Both writers GEEKED OUT about Pamplona. A central theme in The Drifters is courage. The draft dodgers weren’t evading Vietnam for lack of courage, and Michener illustrates this candidly in his take on the running of the bulls.

What about a comparison between Kerouac (1922-1969) and Michener? Both born technically in the G.I. generation, Kerouac was very much a tail-ender, and like someone born in 1979, who has elements of Gen X and Millenial in their makeup, Kerouac seems to relate better to a later generation… or, like someone born an entire generation too early, was out of place in his generation and related much better to the Boomers.

The Drifters is one of Michener’s best novels. He worked hard to understand the Baby Boomers’ generational values, and articulates them well through the voices of his archetypes, even as he marvels at how different they are from previous generations. As a storyteller, Michener sometimes fell into the trap of the rabbit trail and the geek-out, and I’d say this is a spoiler but I still have 80 pages to go and Michener could still surprise me at the end, but when the opportunity to kill off a character presents itself, he gets T-Rex arms and backs off with the hatchet.

If you want to understand the Boomer generation from the perspective of someone who came before them, this novel is an excellent 800-page adventure that, after setting the stage in the United States, drifts from Torremolinos, Spain, to the Algarve region of southern Portugal, north to Pamplona, and on to Africa, touching on the current vibes in Mozambique and Morrocco. For lovers of history and geography and intergenerational understanding, it is A+. A fast-paced plot with twists and surprises, it is not.

Book Reviews Jan 2022

The Unbroken Web by Richard Adams (Author of Watership Down). A fantastic collection of Stories and Fables from cultures around the world, retold by Adams. I love how he set each story in a scene so the storyteller has a specific person as an audience, and often a dialect as well. The book contains 20 stories. If you enjoy reading folktales and like mythology, this book is for you. FIVE stars.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. There are always classics I haven’t read, and I try to get to a couple of them every year. The satirical nature of this book crosses 150 years and a language translation pretty well, and while perhaps the wit is more elusive for me than Mark Twain’s work, Flaubert still resonates. I appreciated the footnotes and recommend people get a copy with additional contextual help. If you consider yourself a well-read reader but haven’t read Flaubert yet, this book is for you. Four and a half stars.

Scarlet, by Stephen R. Lawhead. This is the 2nd book in Lawhead’s trilogy retelling of the Robin Hood myth. I really like the direction he took with the myth, and the second book is all right, although he switches to first-person for much of this book and it doesn’t feel as strong as book 1. If you’re a Robin Hood fan this series is for you; several of the recent movies about Robin Hood haven’t been worth watching. Someone should make a Robin Hood movie from Lawhead’s version. I think I’ll keep my eyes out for book 3 and see how he wraps it up. Four stars.

Job: A Comedy of Justice, by Robert A Heinlein. Science fiction with a main character moving through life trying to get home to Kansas, but ends up shifting to alternate universes over and over, constantly finding himself with US Dollars that no longer work. Since the main character is from a version of the USA that is very religious, he tends to have conservative worldviews and the book digs into concepts of heaven and hell. I enjoyed the premise at the beginning and felt it went off the rails later on. If you like sci-fi and have a fascination with end times and the rapture, this book is for you. Three stars.

INDIE author. Blood Sapphire’s Revenge, by Dr. Bruce Farmer. I listened to this on Audiobook while walking, which isn’t my preferred method but I wanted to give this indie author a shot on my reading list, as I know his publisher. Here is a book for Tom Clancy fans. I felt the description of guns and so forth overbearing at times, the bad guy is holding a semiautomatic blah blah — he’s shooting at you, who cares what kind of gun. The author relies a bit too much on coincidence for characters to bump into one another. There’s a fair amount of graphic content, both violence and sex. If you’re a Tom Clancy fan and like to know exactly what kind of weaponry people are using and how they are training, and you like it gory, this book is for you. Go for a print version rather than audiobook, the sound quality is solid but the reading is stilted. Three stars.

How do I publish my book? Episode 1.

New Authors often email me with questions about how to publish their book.

Here are my answers to a few questions that were sent today.

How do I get an ISBN number (how to get one, how much it costs, how long it takes)?

The answer to this is also the basic answer to all the other questions below! If you’re a first time author I suggest publishing through KDP Amazon. It’s easy to set up your account, connect it to your bank, upload your product and your cover design, and so on. Well, it might not feel easy the first or second time, but let’s say it’s streamlined and you just have to follow the steps in order. They may feel confusing or complicated and you may feel stuck at some point in the process, but at least you can trust that the steps are all listed in the right order, so if you troubleshoot one step at a time you’ll get there. If you’re stuck in part of that process, email me and ask me to write a second blog about whatever the problem is.

As far as the ISBN goes, for authors who create an author’s account with Amazon, one of the coolest benefits is they’ll give you their own ISBN. It doesn’t allow you to publish on other platforms, it’s really only for Amazon use. But if you’re writing a book to share with family and friends primarily, and you just want to upload to a place where you can sell and print copies all in one place, you can use this platform and get an ISBN immediately, and better yet, it’s free. There will be a box that you check when you go through the process. It says something like “give me a free ISBN” Check it. Keep moving. There are reasons why serious authors might want their own ISBN. You’re probably not at that point yet, (I have 12 books out and I’m not at that point) so my advice is don’t worry about it. You can always un-publish your book from Amazon and redo it later with a different ISBN if you really need to.

Yes, it’s possible to buy your own ISBN, or even a block of 10 of them, but that’s a lot more hassle, it costs money and might take more time, too. It’s a good solution for publishers. If you’re only likely to make one book, stick with Amazon and save yourself the headache.

* barcode (similar questions to previous line)?

Once you have an Amazon ISBN you need to leave space on your cover design for the barcode. There’s a template you can download which will give you exact specs for the cover dimensions and image resolution. It will show your graphic designer exactly where the bar code will be printed (and how big it will be) once you upload your cover file. When Amazon prints it, it will be automated. It’s always in the lower right corner of the back of your book.

While I’m on the topic of the cover design, I’ll add that if your book is under a certain amount of pages, they will not include a spine in the graphic design — don’t try to put writing down the spine. The template will tell you what that cutoff is. I always wait until my book is formatted for printing to tell my cover designer the last thing she needs to know: width of spine according to how many pages are in the book. So you may be ready to upload your Word-doc paperback MS before you have a completed cover design. That’s okay. Save what you’ve uploaded and return later. You’ll want to select a normal format for your book, 6×9 or 5×7. I suspect that if you have a wonky size the third-party printers might take a bit longer to fulfill orders. Also it will just fit people’s bookshelves better if it’s standard.

* pricing* ?

Amazon will guide you with this during the setup process as well. You will be able to set your price on ebook and paperback and even hardcover now. You will be able to buy your own copies of the book at wholesale price and they will tell you what that wholesale price will be once your manuscript is uploaded, as the page count is the key factor in the printing price. I don’t mind sharing that my cost of books ranges from around $2.50 per copy for my shortest one up to about $5.50 for my longest book. I usually shoot for a retail price of about 3x of the wholesale cost for paperbacks, because when I sell through a local bookstore they take a cut too and that way I still net around 30% of the retail price.

How much should you sell a book for? Ah. I think people will often pay $15 or $20 or even more for an autographed paperback if they know the author or are meeting them at a special event. You may want to price the e-book at $0.99 if you just want readers, $2.99 if you want the best deal (70%) or $9.99 even if it’s a short book just because it’s unique. I can’t really guide you on this much more than that.

How do I officially copyright the book to [my name]?

Again, you can go to the copyright office for this, but you really can just put (c) with the year and your name. There’s a concept called Poor man’s copyright, and I think some authors still do this: print the MS, mail it to yourself, don’t open it. Just file it. This way there’s a government issued date on the file (the postmark date from the Post Office is a dated, official government document) and if there’s a question in court you can have the judge open the file and see that you had the material before anyone else did, with the government’s proof on it. I don’t know if this holds up in court but it seems like it ought to. Yes, you can send the MS to the copyright office if you’re really concerned.

* “All rights reserved” paragraph* I’m no lawyer so I’m hesitant to say what you need. What I would do is grab a book in a similar niche published by a major publisher, and copy what they did. I do this for my interior layout too. If you’re really worried someone will steal your work, don’t worry. That’s a lot more rare than you think. Are you getting the picture, I might be kind of sloppy about these things? Yeah. Maybe I am.

name/location/website of printer*?

I’m not sure if this question is where to put the name in the manuscript, or if the question is asking if I know a good printer. Answer: Publishing through Amazon it’s all taken care of. You don’t need to find a printer at all. Amazon puts some of that information in the back of the book themselves, it will say “Printed in the United States.” When you set up a title on Amazon, they will have it printed by a third-party. It is print on demand. This means you can get 1 copy or 10,000 for the same price per copy. The difference is in shipping! If you buy 1 copy the shipping may be $3 to $6 but if you buy 10,000 it will be pennies per copy. Rule of thumb: I used to buy 200, now I buy 20 at a time. Start with a smaller amount. If you sell it out quickly, that does NOT mean you should buy more the next time, because as a first-time author selling your first 50 copies to your friends and family is great, but the next 50 are going to be harder to sell. So if you sell 50 in a week, don’t go and buy 500. You’ll most likely have them in your basement gathering dust within a year, and don’t say I didn’t warn you.

date of publication (month and year or only year?)… Yeah, only year is necessary. Put the month if it is significant to you.

and anything else you normally do on the copyright page — or elsewhere in the book in the realm of “boilerplate”?

Again, I don’t think I’m the best person to answer this. If you want boilerplate find something from one of the biggest publishers that’s in a similar vein to your work; if it’s fantasy find a fantasy book and see how they do it. Or maybe check out there for other peoples’ more thorough blogs on that specific topic.

Maybe this blog isn’t that helpful. I haven’t googled all the links, like where is the copyright office. I did put in the KDP link, so start by setting up your own account and many things will become clear; you can always come back to this blog and say– what did Adam say about this next step? My main point is, most of it isn’t that hard, you just look things up and wrangle your way through and do it one step at a time.

What about Audio books?

Aha. I added that question. Maybe you don’t realize that more than 30% of books are now consumed in audio format. If you want to connect with readers who prefer audio and you don’t want to mess with figuring out how to record it… Lucky for you, I am now offering my services to read audio books. I have the equipment: a small studio, a great microphone, and the proper software to edit the audio files. I will help you upload it to your own Author’s Republic account, which is kind of like the Amazon of audio books. Author’s Republic lists your audiobook on 50 platforms and collects the cash from each of those platforms and dumps them all into your pot. They keep 30%.

Good luck publishing your first book!

Book Review: December 2021

The Dharma Bums, by Jack Kerouac (1958)

I’ve never read Kerouac before, but his book On The Road is considered groundbreaking in American lit., and Kerouac coined the term “Beat Generation”. He fits somewhere between jazz and rock-n-roll. Decided to pick this one up for $2 at Fables Bookstore. It was shocking content for the time, because there’s a brief 0rgy scene. By today’s standards, not explicit. After reading this book I do recommend that serious writers read at least one Kerouac novel. His prose is beautiful, and even though the plot is nonexistent and character development is minimal, Kerouac is a master of the stream of consciousness style of writing. Not for you if you don’t like stuff without a plot.

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, by Michael Chabon (2007)

I got this one from my brother-in-law Brandon, swapped him for another book. I have read Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay previously. This book has an interesting premise. What if many of the world’s Jews were sent to Sitka, Alaska, following WWII, in a sort of ghetto environment, waiting to be allowed into other nations after 50+ years? This is a noir-ish detective story with a mix of non-religious Jews, as well as Chasidic and Tlingit communities and a chess theme. I appreciated the unique cocktail that mixes up, particularly the sidekick character Berko Shemets, who is half Jewish, half Native American. I would really have liked to read more of Chabon’s notes on the back story which he alludes to frequently. If you liked Chabon’s other work you’ll like this too. Try Kavalier and Clay first.

The Dharma Bums (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)

Work in Progress: Satchel Pong Chronicles #3 Sneak Preview

Things are moving rapidly. After sitting in my files for a couple years, I finally released Satchel Pong and the Great Migration on April 5. (Satchel Pong Chronicles, book 1)

Satchel Pong and the Search for Emil Ennis (book 2) is now uploaded to Amazon and available for pre-purchase, as of yesterday. It releases May 3.

I am in the process of drafting he third book in the trilogy, which doesn’t have a title yet. Here is an excerpt from the work I did on it this morning, (April 20, 2019) presented raw and unedited (though there will be few typos if any). I enjoyed what I got today so much I wanted to share it early! If this piques your interest, scroll back up and hit the links to purchase books #1 and 2! (Note: in the manuscript this is presented in italics, to show that something is happening on a sub- or super-conscious level.

Spoiler alert: it’s worth a brief note, but I don’t think this excerpt gives much away, really. I think it’s isolated enough from the plot that about the only thing you’ll know after reading it is that I did not kill off Emil Ennis, the title character of book 2. At least not yet.

From Satchel Pong Chronicles Book 3:

Emil saw things. Someone had installed a third eye, right in his forehead, tapping through his skull. He could see backwards along the alchemical connection, which ran into the longitudinal fissure with nodes connecting to both hemispheres, then dropping through the corpus callosum and, painfully, shoving other nerves aside, raw, drilled into his medulla. Nothing, none of the nodes touched his speech; he would be able to articulate nothing of what he saw or felt with this eye. At least not initially. He would have to forge new connections, synapses.
After this brief introspection, his eye swiveled about and looked out at the world, the skin on his forehead as thin as an eyelid, light came through to the eye beneath, painting upside-down pictures of everything from people and machines to the Great Furla itself upon a retina— these were upside-down images his brain had not yet learned to invert. Those tiny leaves pointed toward the ground, roots pointed skyward. He looked down at the sky, where his third eye could see the waves on which voices carried when a Wireless set was in use. There were other waves, too, carrying things he never imagined existed. There were colors he had never seen before. And all was upside down. He would have to forge new connections to turn these scenes right-side up, and other connections to be able to verbalize anything he saw. But he knew what he saw, and saw what he knew— and things he did not know. Even those things, he felt in his core, in his chest, in his toes, in his liver— in his marrow. He felt them.
It would be alchemy that gave him this ability, he thought. An Alchemist has been at work on me again, and has embedded another mod. May that Maria Rheon be damned by the Furla— !
— Or, it is a manifestation of the Way.
Taleb O’Bandery?
— Look again, Emil Ennis. Look inside.
Emil looked into himself again. Deep in the medulla, the lizard brain… there, he found it. The chameleon, that’s a sort of lizard, isn’t it, isn’t it? It lives in some far-flung land— doesn’t matter— There it was, as a totem, an unspoken power— a wisdom he possessed, lightly, lightly, wisdom held on fingertips— a knowledge around which a tail curled— It was the insight to turn one’s skin into the color of the surroundings, to reflect light from behind you to a viewer in front of you, to wink out like a light, to be shrouded, to shroud oneself as though under an eyelid, to wink slyly and to have others find oneself invisible. Can this be taught? Or must it be discovered for oneself?
— It is neither, and both. You must be exposed to the concept, but you must find your own way to a silence beyond visibility.
What is happening now?
— Now, you should rest. You will need meat from a large beast; a donkey, a yak, or caribou. You need blood to replenish your marrow, to replenish your own loss of blood, to revive the very air in your lungs.
Am I dying?
— Look inside and see if you are or not.
The chameleon-eye swivels, looks, winks. Life winking out? No. The wizard-lizard within winking wisely.
Taleb, bring meat. Goose is greasy, it’s not ideal, but it will work in a pinch. Tuna. That is a thick beast, and food from my home. Tuna— toro nigiri would be best, I feel it, I know it— I crave that dish, the fat from a good tuna belly. But Goose will work. Fat, meat, raw flesh, liver pate. Foie gras would work— goose or duck—
— Sleep, Emil Ennis, rest and sleep. Food is coming.
Yes. I will sleep. Then I will awaken, and eat and revive a little.
— If you must preserve yourself, simply disappear for a while.
I don’t think that is needful. I just need to sleep, sleep a while, to sleep—

Encouragement as Confrontation

I was talking to a friend this morning who was admitting that perhaps he isn’t very good at confrontation. He’d prefer to avoid conflict, and admitted that it may come from a certain theological background (he grew up Mennonite).

In the course of the conversation, I said to him something like “You know, encouragement IS a form of confrontation.” I surprised myself with this statement, because I’ve never thought about it this way before. But I’m convinced that I’m on to something!

When we’re having a tough time, we need to be encouraged because without some outside help, we’re going to get stuck in negative self-talk. Encouragement tells us we can go another mile in the marathon. It tells us we can get back up, dust ourselves off, and get back on a horse. Someone who encourages us confronts the self-defeating negativity and says “NO” to it.

We may not see it as a confrontation because it may be preemptive. Ideally, we’re getting encouraged even before our brain says “I want to quit, I want to give up, I want to be comfortable.”

When was the last time you told someone they are pretty? (And really meant it.)

“Oh, I’m not — I’m not as pretty as so-and-so.”

You know you’re getting enough encouragement when you can just say “thank you” after being confronted with some truth about yourself. Encouragement is just an exercise in confrontation that says “I believe in you. You can do it.”

Get lots of mini-interventions, it’s like health food for your brain… and your soul. And give them out, too.

Are you Overpaying for Power?

A recent run-in with my utility company raised an interesting metaphorical question.

The utility company has a basic “Customer Charge” everyone pays. That charge is $14/month. I did not know this, because the statement simply said

“Customer Charge — $70.”

I had to call in and simply ask what that was for. That’s $14 x 5, for the five residential units in your building, I was told. But. There are not, nor have there ever been, five residential units in the building. Before we purchased it, there were three apartments. In 2008 we reconverted it to a single-family dwelling. And we never noticed the over-charge, because it wasn’t detailed on the bill. Until this month.

For nine years, I’ve been overpaying for my power. Now I come to a decision: will I be able to make an acceptable bargain? What do I want? Can I negotiate (with a huge company) for a repayment (they are currently resisting pretty hard) or will I need to request intervention? If so, the possibilities are 1) File a Consumer Complaint with the State Attorney General’s office and request mediation 2) Small Claims Court 3) Let it go. That perfect girl is gone… Uh. No. Number 3 is out.

Now to extrapolate principles for the metaphorical/philosophical question… how do you know if you are overpaying for power?

We all wield some sort of power. Related words include “influence” and “authority” and “control”. Even self-control is a certain sort of power. The lack of it subjects us to being ruled by other things: our own fleshly desires in the form of addiction, for example. I think it’s fair to say that the weakest human being still possesses some sort of power, as long as they are breathing. Even people we might consider dispossessed of power have a little. You can throw yourself in front of a line of tanks. You can willingly and peacefully resist oppression. You can take violence to the street (not recommended.) Your power in that case lies simply in your own willingness to die rather than to accept another day of relative powerlessness. You’re saying “I won’t overpay anymore. Give me liberty or give me death!” Over-payment — that’s when we’re giving more than we’re getting.

Some questions have to be addressed before we can get to over-payment, though. First, how much power do we need? Are we managing a building with five residential units, or one? Second, is what we’re giving up equal to what we’re getting? It’s a simple cost-benefit analysis that we may not be doing. For example, I have a certain amount of power over my children. As they grow towards adulthood, I begin to lend them some of my own power, so they can get a feel for using it. The longer I attempt to hold all the power in my hands over their lives, the closer I’m going to get to having them throw their bodies in front of the line of tanks I’m driving. The longer they over-pay, the closer they’ll come to revolt.

Some politicians still want to use Machiavellian power tactics: Sly and cunning, two-faced, deceitful tactics to get what they want and give nothing in return: an example would be getting a wall built and getting Mexico to pay for it. This is an old-school approach to power. I heard someone on the radio comment the other day that the new broadly held assumption in the field economics is that the best principle is to seek a win-win. Seeking a win-win means everyone’s paying a fair rate for the power they get in a relationship. Nobody’s tricking anyone. Everybody is empowered, and therefore happy.

Look at where you have power, and where you don’t. We need to ask ourselves, am I paying too much? (Or too little, not taking responsibility?)  Am I getting tricked? Am I tricking someone else, no matter how subtly? Healthy life balance includes getting the power equation to equal up like a proper algebraic statement. Where Pw = power and Pm = Payment, we want to come up with Pw=Pm.

If you are over-paying, it’s time to respect yourself enough to ask for some restitution and equalization.

How does your hero act when he or she is NOT in the game?

I couldn’t pick a better sports hero for my kids to follow than Femi Hollinger-Janzen. Like any soccer player worth a good nickname, he’s known as just plain Femi.


Femi is a backup striker for the New England Revolution in North American Major League Soccer. He has a grand total of 2 career goals in the MLS (stat page). He also happens to be a graduate of the small school where all three of my boys will attend this fall. Since going pro, Femi has made visits to the school; my kids have gotten to meet him.

I wouldn’t say I know Femi’s family well, but his father, Rod, is executive director at AIMM, an organization I partnered with a few years ago when I took a trip to Congo to lead some seminars on leadership coaching.

Last year, I took my son JJ, a budding junior high soccer player, to Chicago hoping to see Femi play against the Chicago Fire (the nearest MLS team to us geographically.) Normally I root for Chicago sports teams. I was born in central Illinois, after all. But on this day we were New England fans. Alas, Femi was injured, and he did not even make the road trip to Chicago with his team. This did not stop a whole section of people from our small town from chanting FEMI-FEMI-FEMI. (Ok, maybe we weren’t that boisterous, but we did hold up big pictures of his face on cardboard stock.) We had a great time with Femi’s parents and other people from our hometown and from Africa, at a Mediterranean restaurant after the match. Mmm. Kebabs. Kebabs made the whole trip worth it.

New England plays in Chicago again this August 5th (Saturday) and we’ll be in the stands. I’ve told my boys that you won’t often get to see a professional athlete from your own very small school play a major sport in person.

Of course we know that Femi might not get in the game at all. His stats show that he’s started only one of New England’s twelve games  so far this year. Will he get to sub? Might he score a goal or an assist?  Or will he get injured, God forbid, during warm-ups? The whole thing could be a bust. But we’ll have fun anyway.

As I think about what I hope my kids will learn from watching a professional athlete from their own school, I’m reminded that Joe DiMaggio once said, when asked why he hustled so hard to make a difficult play in the outfield, on a day when the New York Yankees were getting blown out, “There is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first time. I owe him my best.”

First, I don’t want my kids to think that they could do what Femi has done: star at Indiana University. Get drafted. Make the team. Make big bucks. (The internet tells me Femi makes just over $50k. This is a decent salary in our town, but not big bucks.) Femi is one in a hundred thousand, and the coaches at our school knew his potential when he was 12. My kids aren’t likely to be professional stars.

I do want my kids to think about how they owe their best to whomever is watching. Whatever job they’re doing. Whatever project they’re making or class they’re taking. Every move they make, every breath they take, Sting will be watching them…

I mean, uh, God, of course, though I don’t want to put that out there in any sort of heavy-handed way, for my kids, or for you, dear readers. But then, isn’t character all about what you do when nobody’s watching? I don’t know what kind of character Joe D. had off the field, but he sure knew what to do with a baseball bat and glove when people were in the stands.

Then a second question comes to mind: what if you aren’t in the game at all? How do you live life at your very best, when you’re sitting on the bench? This is harder than anything, for an injured athlete, for anyone who has a passion they’re not able to exercise. Your character gets tested more when you’re NOT in the game. A lot more. How does your hero act when they can’t get in the game? When they’re injured? And how do you act, when you can’t do what you’re great at, be in the spotlight, when things have all been taken away from you?

Somebody’s watching you, it may be your kids, or your neighbor. People know when you’re sidelined. Are you going to whine about it? Or are you going to do what it takes to stay sharp, to be ready at a moment’s notice, “Just like a minuteman” as the band Stavesacre said. (Click the link to Stavesacre video if you want to know what kind of positive rock I use to get fired up.) Here are the lyrics:

I have to be ready
Said the minuteman
One mind when I hear my name

Cause all of it matters
The war and the battles and
This life is a means to an end

To inspire a dream
That when realized you attack
What kind of loving is this?

But I still believe, and baby I’ll fall or I’ll stand
But this time I finish, I finish
I want to be ready just like a minuteman
One mind when I hear my name

She offered her hand
She whispered “be a man”
But when I woke from sleep
There was only me
But I’ll be ready…
I’ll be ready…

All that I want to know
Is why would I want any more?

–“Minuteman” by Stavesacre, from the Speakeasy album