Thursday, April 26, 2012

Caroline's Courage

Some of the greatest people in the world make their greatness look so easy. It matters not what area in life at which they excel, it comes so naturally to them. I have been privileged to know so many individuals for whom this is true. Of course, it is not always easy, but from the outside, it appears to be just that simple. One person who fits that description is the fabulous, Caroline Gaynor. I have been lucky to call her a friend for just under four years now. It seems as though she never stops amazing me. In sports, there are "Wow" moments which athletes display which shows the kind of talent which they possess. With every next cycling event or triathlon in which Caroline races, she provides wow moments. Besides performing at the top of her game each time out, she has one of the biggest hearts in the world. She frequently gives back to the world by racing and raising funds for countless organizations. She often volunteers for many non profits, organizations, and universities. Caroline is a true rock star!

It has often been said that one can learn best about an individual at the most difficult moments in life. It is during those moments of adversity in which people show their character. Those moments define those individuals. Caroline Gaynor is a champion in every sense of the word. She has volunteered to guide various blind and visually impaired athletes for road races and triathlons. She has been the eyes for those who can not see and she has helped them see the finish line. She has guided blind athletes to national championships and to record setting performances in the Ironman Triathlon distance. At IM Arizona, Caroline once again volunteered to guide a blind woman through the 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run. Unfortunately for Caroline, on that day, her body hit a wall and screamed, "No more." Knowing that someone was relying on her, Caroline refused to back down. She instead showed the toughness and courage which makes her one of the most amazing inspiring people I am privileged to call a friend. Please log on to the following site and read Caroline's reflections about her experience in Arizona.

Monday, April 23, 2012

No Solo

A month ago, I posted about Collaboraction and Teatro Vista teaming up to present Yo Solo Festival this coming summer in the city of Chicago. Various types of artists will be on display. Among these will be several writers/actors performing one person shows. I was intrigued by the possibility of writing and performing a one man show. I wrote one before, but as the piece went through a festival for playwrights and later, as it received performances, I felt it would be best to have other actors in the show. As I would also be starring in the piece, I felt most comfortable with the idea of playing off other talented individuals. There is a part of me which enjoys being up on stage and having others living in this world which we are offering to the audience. I love playing off of others and hopefully, offering something to them to use when in their craft. Still, the opportunity to get on a stage and share stories while having all eyes and attention on me intrigued me. After some consideration and knowing time was running out for the submission deadline, I wrote a proposal and submitted it. I was excited. I was nervous. There was a part of me which also second guessed my submission. Maybe I should have included this story or that one. Maybe, if selected, I can alter the plot in this fashion.

Last week, I received word that the fine folks at Collaboraction and Teatro Vista were appreciative of my submission, but had decided not to include my piece in the Yo Solo Festival this coming July and August. I was disappointed. I wondered how I could have written a better proposal or improved the story, but those ideas quickly left my mind. I was okay with the decision. I was not angry. I knew it was a long shot attempt anyway. I am grateful for the advice I received from some wonderful trusted folks in the industry. I am grateful for those who inspired and encouraged me to send in my work. I also am excited that this piece will not die here. I will have the chance to write it the way I wish to in order to continue pursuing an avenue for it. I thank the two wonderful theater groups for allowing me to send in a piece. I look forward to one day working with them. Congratulations to the writers whose pieces will be included. I hope many of you will get to see some of those pieces over the next few months.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Male On Monday Matt Miller

I always enjoy spotlighting my friends. I always enjoy sharing links to online posts which discuss the great work my friends do to make this a better world for all. I am so excited to pass this along to you so you may read what a wonderful author had to say about actor, model, spokesperson, triathlete, and producer, Matt Miller. It is such a joy to know and be friends with such a tremendous person who indeed makes this a better place for all of us.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Matt Swan Is Excellence

I walked into a classroom and sat down. Shortly there after, the instructor began to speak. He introduced himself, made some jokes about his name, then said we could call him by his street name. Students laughed. Truthfully, I have not stopped laughing since. I also have not stopped being appreciative of that instructor. His name is Matt Swan. I ended up taking several classes taught by him. I also took several semesters of work study credits by working at the student run radio station. Matt is a funny, charming, amazing instructor. He is tremendous. The most influential thing he ever did for me came after I graduated college. Before I get to that life changing moment, let me write about how I took a media writing course taught by Matt where I had the opportunity to write TV and radio commercials, radio dramas, and screenplays. At the end of the semester I had to choose a final project. I could create a marketing campaign for a product, storyboard a movie or TV show, or write a thirty minute film script. Truth be told, I did not have interest in any of those, however, a film script would open up the language to me as I would be allowed to have my characters use curse words. I selected that project. With so many other final papers to write in several English classes, I put off the film script until the last possible moment. For inspiration, I watched Aaron Sorkin's Sports Night which had become my favorite show at the time. The fast paced dialogue sounded more like music than speech. I decided I was going to write my dialogue in a similar fashion. I typed out thirty-one pages in one night and printed it out. I walked over to Matt's office and turned it in. The following school year, I had Matt for another class so I was able to get feedback on my script. Matt had given me an A on the script calling it one of the most memorable screenplays he had ever read. The formatting could use some work, but on a creative level, he loved it. I was glad. I took it home and was proud that I had one script to my name. Of course that would be the only script to my name. Now, fast forward to a year after college. I could not land a radio job anywhere in the country. I was depressed and getting more miserable by the day. Matt called. He asked about my radio career and I had to report that it was not moving in the the direction I wanted. He then suggested I write a full length version of the script. I said no thanks. He insisted. He was almost angry that I would not listen. Finally, I said I would at least try it. I talked it over with friends. How hard could it be? I started to write. After a couple years, I showed it to some friends. They hated it! I wrote another draft. Then rewrote some more. Draft after draft. I kept trying. Maybe this draft will be it. No. Maybe this draft. No either. By that point, I had concluded that it was time for me to take acting classes to better understand my writing from an actor's point of view. While I took these courses, I had an opportunity to write theater pieces. Eventually, I had written a couple. Then one was selected for a writing festival. sitting in the audience were Matt and his wife, Judy. A year later when my first ever play was produced, Matt and Judy once again made the drive to Chicago to watch me star in the piece I had written. Before I knew it, people were taking notice of my writing. What about that original script? I completed the full length feature and actually had the guts to pitch it to a studio which has produced movies with top notch Hollywood stars. Nowadays, I write plays and films. I write because Matt Swan inspired me. I write because Matt Swan forced me to do so and in many respects, he redefined my passion in life.

It is with a great sense of pride that I congratulate Matt Swan on his recognition by Northern Illinois University. Excellence In Undergraduate Studies. He is a beloved teacher. He is a tremendous friend. Matt Swan was the single reason and driving force why I started to put ideas to paper. I love Matt for how he influenced my life. I share this URL with you so you may learn about the man who brought meaning to my life in an artistic sense.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Sunday Munch

Fifteen years ago today, I walked into the WKDI studios in DeKalb, Il. I stood there next to my great friend, Stephen. He and I met the morning duo of Jesse The Body and The Idiot DJ. Two men who hosted from 9a.m. to 12p.m. In a few hours, we would meet the lovely and talented music director of WKDI, Iva-Marie palmer who also hosted Aural Gratification Show from 3p.m. to 6p.m. Stephen and I were there to host the 12p.m. to 3p.m. shift. It was our first ever radio program. Nerves were wild. Anxiety was in full bloom. For me, although I had never hosted a radio program, I had been a guest on a couple and I had been a regular caller on several. One thing is for sure, I had been dreaming of this moment for years. I had been wanting to host a radio show since I lost my eyesight and discovered AM talk radio. The first person who caught my attention was Spike O'Dell then of WGN Radio in Chicago. I soon learned about Mike North on WSCR The Score. Over the next several years, I listened to and befriended many radio personalities. Over the years, I was lucky enough to have the guts to reach out to them and receive some wonderful advice. Dan Bernstein, Julie Swieca, David Kaplan, Jay Marven, Les Grobstein, and so many others took me under their wings. As I developed an understanding and love for sports, I was driven by a desire to report on games and athletes. I studied stats, history, and facts. I also made it a point to learn about those radio personalities who came before me. There were many whose style or on air tactics were not to my liking, but I listened to them because I owed it to myself to understand who they were and what made them successful. I felt it was my responsibility to learn about the history of radio and the media especially if one day, I would criticize an athlete or coach for not knowing about their sport.

Stephen was my eyes helping me by reading song titles and pressing all the buttons. When it was time, I was so scared, I struggled to speak. He had to help me. I looked at this opportunity as my arrival to the big time and I could not blow it. He viewed it as fun party time and an excuse to hit on women. Eventually, I made it beyond my initial fear and fell into a comfort zone. I was lucky enough that as the year came to a close, I would have the summer months to go home and study up on my on air skills. By the next semester at the radio station, I was more prepared. It also helped that David Kaplan of WGN Radio insisted I reach out to his friends at the NIU Sports Information Department to get on the press list for all athletic events. I did. The second I started dropping Kaplan's name, per his suggestion, people in the athletic department started opening their doors to me. The SID office offered to help me since I came highly recommended by Kap. The football coach, Joe Novak, was the first coach who gave me time. He understood the benefits of allowing me within his circle as it would help bring some good press to his then struggling team. Joe appeared on my show weekly during my entire time at WKDI. Soon after, other coaches and athletes began to learn about me. I began to get to know volleyball players, women's basketball players, and so many others. In fact, one time, I was stunned when a couple individuals stopped me in a bar and offered to buy me drinks because they knew that I was always at their games and I spent plenty of time speaking highly of their sport while I was on the air. As time flew by, Stephen felt it was time for him to depart. At that point, Iva-Marie stepped in as my co-host. After a year of great fun, spectacular guests, and a wonderful ride with Iva-Marie, she went on to pursue other ventures. I then was introduced to Tiffany Frazer who readily became my new co-host. A year went by and it was time for Tiffany to focus on other interests so I was left to try the radio thing as a solo host. Thankfully, friends such as Jorge, Shannon, and Ayrianna happily stepped in whenever I need them. For the most part, I went at it alone. I continued to book local and national personalities. Of course, the all time best moments included having the amazing, Spike O'Dell on the show several times. The other highlight was having the opportunity to befriend then interview my boyhood hero, Chicago Bears hall of fame player, Dan Hampton. Although the show was a sports driven show, I enjoyed the balance Iva-Marie and Tiffany brought to the show. I only wish my interests expanded outside of sports more so I could have booked other guests from other arenas of entertainment. As it is, I eventually started having Alison Keilty on as my movie expert. I would also land musicians and record producers from time-to-time. However, thanks to a friend, I had an opportunity to book William H. Macy and Peter Krouser who at the time were on ABC's Sports Night by Aaron Sorkin, but I passed on the moment. I've always kicked myself for that decision especially considering where my life has taken me since those days. Still, the memories of being on the air, attending press conferences, traveling to various states to cover college teams and even some professional international players, coaches, and musicians are fond memories I carry with me always.

A friend frequently states that after one does the media job for a while, one kind of can not go back to being just another fan. I have to admit that he has a point. As I watch fans and even some friend continue to hero worship current and past coaches and athletes, I find myself shaking my head thinking, if you only knew who these people are away from the cameras, public image, or marketing campaign. I fully understand people feel a need to hold on to hope therefore they embrace the Michael Jordan, Lance Armstrong, and Tiger Woods of the world, but what happens when the house of cards comes crashing down? What happens when a situation similar to Joe Paterno is exposed? I do not ever feel disappointed or let down by these public figures because I have been around them. I understand that they are the best in the world at their craft, but it does not also mean they are the best human beings in the world. Then again, I do not need them to be. I only ask they entertain me and if I'm in a position to interview them, treat me with respect. Please understand that when I host and report, I am doing a job. I am not there to be an arm in your public relations factory. I did have some problem with that during my reporting years because some individuals thought I was going out of my way to belittle them in order to make a name for myself so they took me aside and scolded me. Other protectors also took me aside and tried to put me in my place. Thankfully, as mentioned before, my friends in radio, newspaper, and television supported me and said I was not out of line. In fact, one coach did say to me that he felt I was tough and would push the limits every so often, but he felt that I was fair. He did not like when I would question him or his players, but he learned to appreciate that I was not doing it to be a jerk. He also said it helped that he would hear me on the air praising him and his players at other times.

To this day, so many coaches, athletes, and media personalities remain my friends. I am so grateful to all of them. I can think of moments when each one gave me advice or took the time to be a guest on my program. There are cases when I listen to a presser and think of how much I want to be there asking follow-ups. A nationally respected columnist once singled me out in a press room to compliment me for asking some unusually tough questions. He appreciated that I did not allow the person to bully me and that I then followed up with even more poignant questions which resulted in honest raw remarks. The columnist said that the only aspect of the exchange he did not like was that he was not the one asking it nor was he courageous enough to stand his ground as I had done. It is one of those moments which stay with me and why I miss being a member of the press. Some days, I wish I was back, but then there are plenty of other days where I am glad I am not. Besides the lasting memories and experiences, I also remember the feeling of attempting to book guests. In fact, in 2006, when my very first theater piece was produced in Chicago, I was interviewed by people from the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, and a local TV station. One of the individuals complimented me for what she considered bending over backwards to make her job easier. she said not too many interviewees do as I did. I explained to her that having interviewed people for a living previously, I understand what it is like chasing the interviewee and needing to meet deadlines so if there is ever a chance where I can make her life easier by altering my schedule to fit hers then I would gladly do so.

Reflecting on my years in radio, I would happily do them all over again! Mostly, I miss the times I spent with Stephen, Iva-Marie, and Tiffany entertaining each other and the listeners. I miss the back and forth with guests, coaches, and athletes. I miss the all access passes to said coaches, players, and cheerleaders. The places I was fortunate enough to visit and the opportunities to better understand coaches, players, and other talented people were well worth it. I think to some extent, I can no longer be the kind of fan I use to be. I still root for certain coaches and athletes, but I fully grasp who they are. While I may not be successful at all times, I do my best to compartmentalize the person in the public eye and the person I know him or her to be out of the public eye. In truth, so long as they are not breaking laws or endangering other lives then my concern is that they perform to their highest potential to afford me the experience of witnessing championship level play.

Thank you to every person who ever listened to my shows and to every person who ever took the time to answer my questions. If one day I am afforded the chance, I hope you will be there again. If not, I hope you will be present when I do my best to take you on a journey and in the process hopefully evoke an emotional response through my theater pieces and screenplays or even through my marathons and triathlons!! May the Sunday Munch live on forever!!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Mary Did You Know

I have never seen Mel Gibson's film, The Passion Of The Christ. I have seen clips here and there. I have heard plenty about it since it was released in 2004, but I have never had enough interest to sit through it. Then again, with all the subtitles in the film, I would need someone there with me to read the dialogue to me. I do not know if anyone would want to undertake that responsibility for the duration of the movie. Still, I ran across this song several years ago. I found it to be a beautiful emotionally charged song. From time-to-time, I will listen to it. Today, is as good a day as any to pause and hear the beautiful lyrics, voice, and instruments. To those who celebrate the holiday, Happy Easter! Even if you do not celebrate or believe in the holiday, I hope you take the time to listen to this song.