Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Motivation? You don't need no stanking motivation... or do you? And, some inspiration from a Don Levering poem might help the cause

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre -- 1948

Don’t know what to tell my collaborator and friend Matt Kelsey about motivation. I’ve been thinking about it since I read his post Monday but I don’t have an easy answer. And that’s both a coincidence and an irony because I’ve been doing some reading on motivation and planned to write some on the blog about it later this week.

Matt, of course, is not alone in this. You could graph motivation across the arc of most lives. You’d see times when it spikes and times when it bottoms and times when it plateaus. In some ways, it’s a blessing to not be motivated because it probably means your basic needs are being met. I just finished a wonderful article in the latest Rolling Stone about people who live in their cars under the safe parking program in California. One story of a father who raised two kids for eight months in a leaky Winnebago was the essence of motivation. Each day the three took a long hike along a creek to the grocery store to buy fruit and vegetables with food stamps. They called it “The Journey” and he told the kids it was their jobs to clear leaves out of the creek so it could continue to flow clean.

Been there. Contrary to what a lot of comfortable burgers think, the food stamp life is nothing but motivation. And, when you stop being motivated by it, you’re dead.


So, you put in a full day of work, you earn what your family needs to survive, you come home and rock back in the Lazy Boy and you let go. Good for you. What more do you need?

Well, unfortunately, in Matt’s case that’s not enough. Why? Because Matt is a writer and writers are never satisfied unless they’re writing. Folks who do beadwork aren’t happy unless they’re making jewelry. Folks who can shape furniture out of wood aren’t happy unless they’re building.

The world is full of us, putting in our eight hours by day, stealing time at night for our art. You can teach writing all day long, but when it gets quiet at night, you’d better do some writing of your own. Donna Bachmann teaches art all day. We have often talked about this. Unless she squeezes out time when she’s not teaching to DO art, she loses her edge – as an artist and a teacher. This is the burden talent has visited on Matt Kelsey.

So, to Matt the only advice I have is personal. When my motivation has waned, the reason was usually that I had stopped paying attention. I had stopped seeing. One thing I’ve noticed playing ball is I hit better on nights when I’ve been studying the moon just before I stepped into the batter’s box. 

Here’s a poem I read this morning from a new book by my college buddy Donald Levering. The book is titled “Sweeping the Skylight” and if you’re interested, go to finishing line press. This is what I mean by paying attention, noticing, seeing…

The Wreck
By Donald Levering
He’s asking the driver
of the bus the nearest stop
to a certain body shop
where the car his wife had wrecked
is being fixed.
He turns to invite us
all into his fear.
Who gets out of a car with it
still in gear?
We learn that this is not
the first of her mishaps
to put him on alert.
Running water for dishes
she’d flooded the kitchen,
and before that,
she’d caught her hair on fire.
Half a block he’s quiet, then
The Chrysler can be repaired…


Monday, June 25, 2012

Motivation meter down to zero

So I need help, guys.

I work a very demanding 8-5 job, and when I come home, I'm drained. All I want to do is sit in my easy chair and read a book or watch TV. There is plenty of stuff that needs to be done, including writing and editing work and things around the house, but I don't have the energy or the motivation to do it.

(The effort to start up my computer and write this very post was almost overwhelming.)

The funny thing is, last year I worked the same day job and I also had a blog project that required me to write every day, from January 1 to December 31, and I never missed a single day.

Just a few months ago I was motivated to be productive every day. But when the project ended, my motivation to work went with it.

What do I do? Seriously, I'm asking. How do I work a full day at the office, come home and still have the energy to be productive?

Any advice would be welcome.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Tommy John surgery and the Royals meet Robert Johnson at the crossroad... and the deal goes down

A surprisingly intelligent discussion of the epidemic of Tommy John surgeries on the Kansas City Royals is happening on the Kansas City Star Web site this morning beneath an article about the phenomenon by Sam Mellinger.

The article and the comments pivot on the question of whether the Royals are just victims of very bad luck -- four blown elbows in one year on one staff -- or whether the Royals are mismanaging pitchers. As Mellinger points out, its probably impossible to know which -- or either -- but the question is a perfect debate in a city starved for competent management.

A third cause could be incompetent draft and trade protocols. For a team with little success across a long period of time, eyes naturally focus on the short term rather than the long. You spin the wheel and you takes yer chances. You draft on the basis of what a kid might give you for two or three seasons after a couple of years in the minors. If he gets the big club to .500 for two years then blows out his elbow, fine. Two years winning as many as you lose will hook the fan base back in for a decade of decline.

But, think for a moment beyond the Royals. The pitching arm is one of the most interesting elements of any element in sport. It gives the sport of baseball much of its drama. It provides a novelist's touch to what is otherwise a very long, repetitive and somewhat uneventful season.

Every time an overhand pitcher fires the ball to the plate, he tries to rip his precious arm off his body. That is the long and short of mechanics. Some mechanics are better than others -- some motions more graceful, some more scientific, some more deceptive. But all motions tear at the basic fibers that hold the arm to the body.

Our barely upright ancestors who could no longer throw a rock or a spear for food, died. Today, we visit Dr. Yocum and miss a year on the mound.

Everyone who pitches knows the reality of this. Eventually -- before you are out of high school -- you will realize you cannot lift your arm very high the morning after you pitch. Eventually you will find it nearly impossible to arrange your arm under your head to sleep. Eventually, you will tune into every creak and crack in that precious arm every minute of the day as if you have ear buds wired to it.

Opps. Was that my arm? My shoulder? My elbow? What did I do? Damn, I knew I shouldn't be out here cutting limbs, mowing grass. I knew I shouldn't reach for my kid in that position.

Every pitcher will develop an intimate relationship with his arm. They will talk to each other, plead with each other for one more inning, one more cutter. They'll curse each other. They'll find a medication or a routine that helps them make peace. If they are big time, Dr. Yocum will become their therapist and save their relationship.

But the story line is set. You can find the plot a thousand places in literature but I prefer Robert Johnson's version. You know every time you rock back on the rubber this could be the time, and you make a deal with what you know. You do it anyway. You fling your arm in an insane arc toward the plate because you love seeing the look in a hitter's eye when he's swinging in a different time zone. Because you love the power of the hill, being the center of attention, being in complete control of the motion of the game. Nothing happens until you're ready. When you rock back, all the eyes are on you, everything starts to spin, the next few seconds tell the tale.

Or, if you're very lucky, you do it because it puts food on the table. You have a very short window of time to make all the money you'll need for the rest of your life. You have this gift; you can throw a ball 97 miles per hour, with movement. You will use it.

And that's the deal you make with the devil. For Robert Johnson, it was the ability to find the blues in the frets of a guitar. In this case, which is the beauty of the story line, the devil is human anatomy, it is nothing less than your own personal human anatomy. It is a deal with human DNA, with human evolution, with god. It is a deal you make with yourself.

So it comes down to love or greed and what you're willing to do for either. And, of course, the fragile ulnar collateral ligament.


Monday, June 18, 2012

On Bruce Chen's humor, Humberto Quintero's "Chinese eyes", political correctness and Lee Judge... racism, I'm afraid, is simply racism

Courtesy MLB TV

The problem with writing a column that seems to touch so many people is that you want to come back tomorrow and do it again. And, you can’t. This has been true since the first column I wrote in the early 1970s, and it’s true today.

As Red Smith said, all you have to do is sit down at the typewriter and open a vein.

To touch people, you have tap into something real. And something crystal clear as death doesn’t happen – thankfully – every day.

Alas, it's time to shift gears and move on. I’ve had this unsavory issue on my mind a while, so I might as well get it on ‘paper.’ Bruce Chen pinch hitting for the Royals yesterday stirred it up. His line in the Kansas City Star about “looking for a pitch to drive” was baseball funny.

What wasn’t funny were the antics of Royals catcher Humberto Quintero June 9 after a game Chen pitched. Tony’s Kansas City reported this, as did John Landsberg on Bottom line. And the Kansas City Star mentioned it briefly.

Chen, who has a fine sense of humor, was being interviewed after the game and Quintero, who apparently has an odd sense of humor, was standing behind him making “Chinese eyes.” Ugh. And in a Monarch's uniform, no less.

Come on, you’re saying, don’t make a big deal out of this.

Well, dammit, it is a big deal. Racism is racism. Doesn’t matter what color the person is, or what color the target.

I’m sure Mr. Quintero was just having fun. Boys will be boys, you know. Lee Judge issued the most milquetoast response ever along those lines. Well, you know, the locker room is not a very politically correct place, he wrote in response to a post on his discussion thread.

"Humberto is from Venezuela and I don’t know if cultural differences played into the incident, but I can tell you a major league clubhouse is not the most politically correct place on Earth."

The cartoonist Lee Judge would never give the boys in Washington the same tepid pass that baseball writer Lee Judge offered so casually here.

(Mr. Judge might also take something good from this warning of Red Smith's about "Godding up" ballplayers.)

Particularly offensive is the phrase “politically correct.” This phrase has become code for a certain kind of thinking. Politically correct means we have to be polite because our mothers are listening. Politically correct is something liberals force us to be, as they police our language and – by extension – our thought. Politically correct is Big Brother; Sister Mary Nell; Mrs. Morton, our second grade teacher; Oprah; Emily Post; the Nanny State.

So, any time we want to excuse racism, we say, ‘Well, I know this isn’t politically correct, but…”

What Mr. Quintero did was not politically incorrect. It was racially insensitive, which is the nicest way I can possibly put it. And it went away far too easily.

There’s a great Buddy Guy song: “Damn right I have the blues.” OK, you’re damn right I’m off the hook on this.

Several years ago, when he was maybe 12 years old, I took my son to a baseball game at Kauffman Stadium. My son is Korean. He was playing organized ball at the time. He had the makeup, I think, to be a fine catcher.

As we walked across the parking lot a group of African-American boys roughly the same age came up beside us. Without provocation they launched into “Chinese eyes”, karate chops, gibberish, and all kinds of foolishness. It took me completely by surprise and my son pretended not to notice but he most certainly did. I watched the Great Stoneface appear and I don’t think either one of us enjoyed the game much. I imagine a few speeders and a couple of drunks have also seen the Great Stoneface when they rolled down their windows in his various jurisdictions. It was not the first time I had seen the Great Stoneface and it wouldn’t be the last, but it was a hard thing to see it on the way into a ballpark.

Probably he doesn’t even remember this incident, but I do, and Mr. Quintero’s “Chinese eyes” brought it back to me with uncomfortable clarity. Maybe that’s why I hated to see it so easily dismissed by everyone involved.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

I see my light come shining... a lesson learned about life and death in the eyes of a rascal

Discovered something yesterday in the midst of welling tears and sadness.

We decided the time had come for our old girl. A rascal by name and demeanor, she had carried on rather valiantly 10 years after her sister, plagued with one infirmity after another but well cared for by Drs.Sundahl and Gloor. Before my hip replacements I used to look at her as she eyed a perch, set her feet, considered the pain and finally leapt to safety and thought, “If you can do it, I can.” She did and I did.

God, that cat was tough. As the arthritis worsened, her resolve turned to steel. Despite it all, her blood tests kept coming back “marvelous.” She kept eating, peeing, scratching in the box in the middle of the night loud enough a few times to bring me out of sleep, 28-ounce, 34-inch ball bat in hand, ready to do damage on any unfortunate intruder. Her last morning on earth, the old girl demanded her breakfast in the loud irascible voice of her youth.

Alas, the vocal chords were willing but her 19-year-old hip joints and spine were not. Cats hide pain like hit-by-pitch ballplayers, but there was no hiding this. She hurt and she was tired. We knew it was her time.

I held her head in my two hands as she lay on the towel for the injections. The first eased her pain and made her drowsy. If I had any misgivings about our decision they were dispelled by the look of relief in her eyes. Then came the fatal needle. It took a long time to administer.

I stroked her cantankerous head between her ears and looked into her eyes. Her life oozed away. And that’s when I discovered something I could never reason by myself.

I knew precisely when it was over. I knew an instant before the doctor, who was listening to her heart in the stethoscope, told me. She was there, then she was gone. I saw life leave just as clearly as you see someone walk through the screen door.

I thought in that moment, no wonder people believe in the soul. I saw the evidence with my own eyes. I saw life; then I saw no life. Her body was there. She was not. I don’t know if I’m describing this so you can understand, but I knew the instant her soul was gone. I knew the instant life left.

I realized something important. We are not our bodies. I am thankful to the old girl for teaching me such an important lesson with her last breath.

I have always thought Bob Dylan’s prescient song, “I shall be released,” meant to tell me something special. “Any day now, any day now, I shall be released…” Released from what? From prison? Well, what I watched yesterday morning was my old Rascal released from the prison of her painfully arthritic old body. I understood life as I suddenly understood death.


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Royals announce new marketing campaign; complain mainstream media using "This is our time" to serve own agenda, not MLB All Star Game in Kansas City


Press Release
For Immediate Release - no embargo
Contact: Monte J. Crisco, vice president for public relations
May 10, 2012

Subject: “Our Time” Marketing Campaign misinterpreted

The Kansas City Royals Baseball Club Vice President for All Operations, Edward G. Heavybottom, announced today the Royals Baseball Club plans a new marketing campaign to clarify their 2012 marketing campaign “This is our time.”

“In light of the fact that many in the Kansas City media have misinterpreted our 2012 marketing campaign, 'This is our time,' we plan to initiate a new campaign beginning today,” Heavybottom said.

“The original campaign was meant to only refer to the placement of the All Star Game in Kansas City,” Heavybottom said. “’This is our time’ was only meant to denote this is the year in which the All Star Game will be held in Kansas City. We did not intend for this campaign to be construed as referencing the development of our ball club, which would be significantly premature.”

Heavybottom also said the campaign was not meant to refer to Kansas City, either.

“The campaign was meant only to refer to a statement of fact,” Heavybottom clarified. “It is our time to host the All Star Game. That is a fact. It is unfortunate those in the mainstream media have chosen to misinterpret this campaign to serve their own agendas.”

The new campaign, he said, will focus more on amenities at Kauffman Stadium, including a new 5-story Ferris wheel to be constructed beyond centerfield and 50-cent hotdogs after any inning when the Royals score more runs than the opponent. Precise wording will be announced soon.  The club is hoping to feature a prominent rap star in the 50-cent hotdog campaign but negotiations have not been completed.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

MLB Draft note to AM610 radio talkers: What the Royals need now is not anger; they need players who hate to lose... and a little pitching, well, maybe Billy Martin, too

Billy Martin circa 1979 at Royal's Stadium... Photo/Lofflin

Anger is what the Royals need. Lou Piniella uprooting bases. Billy Martin spitting garlic juice in umpires' faces. George Brett ballistic.

Listening to a couple of radio talkers on AM 610 last week. Of course they were arguing over what the hapless Royals need. They need guys who get mad, get angry, get thrown out of games, come into the game with attitude, Al Hrabosky-esque.

Maybe you need angry people in football. Not in baseball. If you’ve ever played the game, you know the immediate danger anger poses in your ability to put a bat squarely on a ball or make a good pitch in a jam. Baseball and angry just don’t go together.

But, what the Royals do need, are players who absolutely hate losing. They haven’t had such players in a quarter century.

Most of the players they’ve brought through the minors in this most recent five-year plan knew about winning. They won at every level they played. Until they got to the majors. It usually takes a couple of months in the major league uniform to beat winning out of them. They go from expecting to win, to trying not to lose.

Luke Hochevar’s comments in the Kansas City Star this morning about another dismal pitching performance illustrate the mindset. “It was a 1-0 count,” Hochevar said, “and I was trying to go curveball middle down for an aggressive first strike — and it just hung up. It didn’t break or do anything. He put a good swing on it.” The blame here is on the ball. “It just hung up…”

Nothing speaks more eloquently about the dismal Royal’s franchise. At Kauffman Gardens yesterday I made sure to apologize to the grand old man who is buried there in the midst of his other fine gift to the city. At least this one -- the garden -- has people with expertise ... and financial backing ... to keep it lush and elegant.


Photograph: John Lofflin... Billy Martin, they say, liked to eat a clove of garlic before a game to punish the umpires he argued with. He figured they would think twice before letting a close call go against him.