It happened again the other day. Someone referred to me as “Big Guy” in the most affectionate of ways.
But even so, a part of me dies every time it happens.
I’ve been trying to figure out a way to explain how it feels. Here’s the best I can do.
It would be like referring to the woman who lost all her hair from chemo as “Baldy,” or to the veteran who lost his leg in battle as “Gimpy,” or to the plain looking person as “Beautiful,” or think about your biggest insecurity and then think about how it would feel to have someone refer to it in place of your name.
A select few from these groups would actually welcome such nicknames as a comedic coping mechanism, but I suspect the majority would wince, at least internally, like I do.
I’ve been overweight my entire life, and I am reminded about my size by people at every turn, as if I didn’t know. Some are overt with their reminders, some are covert.
Once, I walked into a public restroom and a guy who was combing his hair while staring at himself in the mirror apparently felt the need to say something to me. “Dang, I didn’t know they made shirts that big.”
“Well, now you know.”
A couple of years ago, I was inside a minor league clubhouse waiting to interview a player and two of his teammates pointed in my direction and snickered. They could have been laughing at the way I dress, or any number of other things, I guess, but I had my doubts. Instead, I envisioned them sharing a laugh about the clichéd overweight sportswriter who was standing in the corner.
Hypersensitive? Probably. But when you’ve experienced enough snickers, it’s hard not to develop a complex.
Another time, I went on a dinner train ride with a singles group from church. Part of the evening entertainment included a murder mystery in which passengers get involved, trying to solve the clues. A member of the cast took one look at me and began referring to me as “Big Beefy Guy.” That was eighteen or twenty years ago, and I still remember it.
I rarely say anything to the people uttering such comments or nicknames because most of the time, I trust that their intentions are honorable, or, at the very least, that they are oblivious. But be mindful of the words you use to address others. They cut and slash and wound in ways you never see.
Okay, music aficionados – what do the groups ANTHRAX, Aerosmith and Over the Rhine have in common?
Certainly not musical genre.
All three groups, or at least one member of each group, sells his or her own blend of brew.
ANTHRAX drummer, Charlie Benante, recently began selling “Benante’s Blend” on his website. Aerosmith drummer, Joey Kramer, has been selling his organic blend “Rockin’ & Roastin” for a while now. And Over the Rhine sells an organic blend on its website for “artists, writers, musicians, day dreamers, and night walkers!”
If you click on any of the links in the last paragraph, you’ll find that passion for the drink runs deep. I’m most drawn to Over the Rhine’s passion. Their coffee was inspired by their “love of good music, good conversation, good laughter, good living, and best kept secrets.”
Coffee tastes better in community, even if it is unfamiliar community. I think it’s one of the reasons so many of us visit coffee shops. I wrote about this in Common Grounds: Contemplations, Confessions and (Unexpected) Connections from the Coffee Shop.
Here’s an excerpt:
C. S. Lewis once said, “We read to know we are not alone.” I think we visit coffee shops for the same reason. We want somebody to ask us how our day is going. We want to hear someone say our name. We want to be pampered, even if we have to overpay for a cup of coffee to experience it. Even the slightest interaction can help us feel noticed.
How about you? Are you a coffee lover? If so, how important is the communal aspect of the drink to you?
On April 24-25, I’ll be teaching two workshops and meeting with conferees at the Wordsowers Christian Writers Conference in Omaha, Nebraska. If you are not already registered, you still have time.
You’ll have a chance to pitch your ideas to publishers such as Focus on the Family, The Upper Room, Nazarene Publishing House, Wesleyan Publishing House, Cross River Media Group, Bible Advocate magazine, Now What? magazine, Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas and AMG Publishers. You can register here.
One of the leaders of the Wordsowers group, Kat Crawford, conducted an interview with me a few weeks ago about some of my current writing projects, and the writing process in general. Here’s a portion of that interview:
Kat: What prompted you to write and freelance edit full time?
It wasn’t anything mystical. I just had a strong desire to do so. As somebody who is painfully shy, writing has been my primary means for communicating the way I feel. Once I realized that doing so touched others on occasion, it awakened a desire to do it professionally.
On the editing side, it’s a natural progression for somebody who is trying to make a full-time living in the industry.
Kat: You have a new book coming out soon. I know you have the title. Do you have the subtitle yet? Why did you write this particular book?
The book is called Common Grounds and the subtitle I will probably use is “Contemplations, Confessions and (Unexpected) Connections from the Coffee Shop.” A subscriber to my email list sent that idea to me, and I love it.
I wrote this book to see if I was the only one. Am I the only one who is still shy about approaching a woman I am interested in, even though I am forty-eight years old? Am I the only one who just needs to be around people sometimes, even if we don’t have a conversation? Am I the only shy, large person who tries to blend in wherever he goes?
Deep down, I knew I wasn’t the only one in any of these cases, but knowing something and feeling it are two different things. As such, I believe this book will resonate with people who have similar questions about their own insecurities and struggles.
I visited thirty coffee shops to find out the answers to those questions, and more. I wrote about what I observed and experienced. If I’ve done the math correctly, I spent $136.42 on coffee and a few donuts, which is a small price to pay for the commonality I felt between the patrons, baristas, and myself. And standing on common ground gave me strength in the most unexpected of ways.
“His middle name is Lee? So he’s named after you?” someone said to me at a family gathering last year.
“We'll, as you know, it's a common middle name in the fam﹘”
“No, he’s named after you,” said my niece, Brooke.
Those five words, spoken about her son, still make me emotional. I’m a never-married, 48-year-old who never expected to receive such an honor.
I tried to be a father-figure to Brooke when she was growing up. Looking back, my methods were often flawed, and I would do many things differently if I had a chance to do it all again. But those five words tell me I might have done a few things right, as well.
Brooke was born with cerebral palsy in her lower extremities. I’ve lost track of how many surgeries she endured ﹘ eight, nine, ten … somewhere in that neighborhood. I cried three seconds after they wheeled her off to the OR, every time, wishing I could take her place.
I attended her school plays and concerts, watching as she struggled with her walker to take her place by the other kids. One such memory is on replay in my mind. She was five or six when she rolled her way onstage to sing “Must Be Santa” with her classmates. She cut her eyes back and forth, spotted us in the crowd, waved, grinned and began to sing.
She was tiny, even at that age, which allowed me to lay flat on the floor, and lift her over me. She would spread her arms like a bird as I said, “Brooooookie Bird.” She giggled with delight.
She had this Raggedy Ann doll she called Dee Dee. She liked to lay on the floor next to me while I tossed Dee Dee straight up into the air so she could try to catch her.
“Higher,” she would say.
I’d toss Dee Dee a foot or two higher.
She laughed even harder when Dee Dee hit the ceiling. Hearing her uninhibited giggle did something to my soul every time I heard it. I would have thrown Dee Dee to the moon if it would have made Brooke happy.
Fast forward eight or ten years, and we are sitting in my car in front of her middle school. She’s about to go inside to perform in another school concert, but we were locked in a battle. I was responsible for getting her there that day, and she tried to pull a fast one on Uncle Lee. She had on more makeup than Tammy Faye Baker in her heyday.
You probably won’t believe this, but my bathroom wall still contains a speck of pink goop from that day, which means it’s been there more than a decade. I told her that a while back, and she said, “Eww, you haven’t washed it off yet?” She couldn’t understand when I told her I will never wash it off, but she will one day when her son does something in which she’ll want to have a tangible reminder.
Before she performed in her school concert that night, I made her go into the bathroom and wash off her masterpiece. She wasn’t happy, but she did it anyway. She has always shown me respect, even when she disagreed with me.
Fast forward ten more years, and Brooke is being wheeled off to another OR ﹘ this time for the birth of her son. And yes, I cried again three seconds after she was gone.
The next thing I knew, I was staring at my namesake through the nursery window, and I realized I really do get to do it all over again.
I have good news! "Common Ground: Contemplations, Confessions, and (Unexpected) Connections from the Coffee Shop" launched on the Kindle platform yesterday, and it is available for just $0.99 cents for a limited time.
The book will be exclusive to Amazon for 90 days, after which I’ll release e-versions for Kobo, Nook, iBooks and the rest of the major e-readers. I also plan to release a print version at that time.
Can you do me a couple of favors?
If you have a Kindle (or use the Amazon app on your tablet or phone), will you download a copy of the book today (here's a link)? A good sales day will help it climb the charts, which will allow new readers to find the book.
And then would you consider reading the book over the next seven days (it’s 30,000 words, so it’s not too long) for the purposes of leaving a review on Amazon.com (here’s a link to leave the review)? Reviews are the social proof that prospective readers need to give new books a chance. Without reviews, sales tend to stagnate quickly.
You don’t have to leave a long review. Just two or three sentences is fine. And I’m not asking you to leave a positive review, necessarily, just an honest one. With that said, if you see a typo in the book as you are reading it, would you shoot me an email to let me know so I can fix it?
I’m so excited about the launch of this book. As I mentioned in my previous email to you, the idea for it stemmed from wondering if was the only one. That might sound like an incomplete sentence, but it isn’t. Deep down, we all have hidden battles. I figured that if I uncovered a few of mine (which makes me feel more vulnerable than I ever have), then you might be able to relate.
In the coming weeks, I'll be giving away a few Starbucks e-gift cards in celebration of the book's release. To be eligible, all you have to do is join my free email list. By doing so, you'll hear about the best deals on my books as well as being eligible for future giveaways.