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Entries in inspiration and observations (83)


Zero to Done: An Off-the-Wall Roundup of Blogging Techniques, Motion Pictures and Philosophies that Got Me Through April

Comedian Lilly Singh aka Superwoman inspired my A-to-Z Challenge Letter B post titled "How to Bounce Back Like a Boss." / Photo: The FotographerzToday marks my fifth consecutive year completing 26 days of blogging as a participant in the annual A-to-Z Challenge. This time around, I had zero interest in writing blog posts revolving around one central topic – hence my Mixed Bag of Tricks theme for 2015. Still, getting through the entire alphabet would have been impossible without a little bit of structure, which I attribute to dozens of April blog prompts that Sara Lancaster at No. 2 Pen suggests for companies seeking tips on writing daily content. Although I did not utilize all of her 30 blog ideas, here is a summary of the roles they played in my editorial calendar.

Sara believes you know what to do on April Fool’s Day (Prompt #1), so I took this opportunity to highlight Foolish Acts People Pull at Movie Theaters Across America for Letter A. By combining her suggestion to write ten actionable tips that help your readers do something better (Prompt #4) with the push to talk about a website you really like (Prompt #27) – what makes it cool, different and worth a visit -- I put a spotlight on depression for Letter B by showing readers three ways to Bounce Back in Life Like a Boss, based on the practices of an actress and Youtube comedian I think is one of many women who rock.

Upon her recommendation of doing a blog post on topics that are recognized in April including National Autism Awareness Month, National Poetry Writing Month, National Arab American Heritage Month and National Child Abuse Prevention Month (Prompt #3), my Letter C poem asking Who Cries for the Little Children? merged two of these subjects while highlighting movies starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Denzel Washington.

The A-to-Z Challenge blog post I wrote for Letter D lists rude behaviors at the movie theater that make you want to scream.The post I wrote for Letter D was under the same direction of helpful tips for readers (Prompt #4), providing three ways to Dodge Those Douchebags at Movie Theaters. It could also be could be considered a sequel to the April 1st discussion about people behaving foolishly at the multiplex.

One of Sara’s other suggestions include asking your readers to send in questions (Prompt #6) and then turning them into Q&A style blog posts. Since I have dozens of Co-Host introduction questions leftover from the ladies and gents who were a part of my Mighty Minion Bureau, I just answered them in video and then posted some in a playlist titled “A-Z Extras!” for Letter E.

While mentioning infographics (Prompt #2) Sara recommends doing a blog post summarizing how you created and promoted your infographic. Luckily, I was already working on one to send to the folks involved in a disaster relief initiative I conducted. So for Letter F, I just posted an abridged version of that infographic showing an overview of my American Red Cross Fundraiser from Start to Finish.

The topic for Letter G had to be switched at the last minute due to technical difficulties, a lack of research materials and my own sudden bout of stubbornness. While I must say that Netflix was a life saver, I skipped the prompts for that day’s blog post and decided to just wing it. This led to a discussion on Getting in the Game, where DVDs are concerned. Back on schedule, providing tips for readers on doing something better (Prompt #4) seemed to be one of my go-to recommendations from Sara. However, rather than making a list style post for Letter H, I decided to teach readers How to Have a Heart, using a movie with Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson to illustrate some points in paragraph form.

The companion books to Spike Lee Joints such as Do the Right Thing are featured in my A to Z Challenge post for Letter X.In another recommendation, Sara says to write a post demystifying any misconceptions people have about your business (Prompt #9) and she has another tip of posting a roundup of links to interesting articles you’ve read (Prompt #19). By now, it had become hard to write and schedule my posts in advance so making a link roundup of sorts highlighting 15 Insane Misconceptions about Indie Films that were already addressed by industry experts, saved me a lot of time on Letter I.

Writing about being a Jack of all Trades, for Letter J, was another one of those random blog posts I just whipped up at the last minute without utilizing any of Sara’s prompts. When Letter K rolled around it was time for my (bi)weekly Monday Movie Meme, so the focus was on Random Acts of Kindness, which had been loosely inspired by one of my Mighty Minion Bureau assets Vidya Sury.

Whatever topic you blogged about two years ago, Sara wants it to be revisited with a twist (Prompt #28), so I based my Letter L post about Leaning on the Film Festival Circuit was influenced by a post I wrote in 2014, asking readers to X out of the Cineplex for once. Sara also recommends reminding your readers about tax day or sharing your views about it (Prompt #15). Since I doubt anyone in America wants to be reminded about taxes, my Letter M post discussed concerns about choosing between Making a Living vs. Making a Difference.

Among Sara’s many suggestions for April, the one where she says to visit Psychology Today and find a piece of research that you can relate to your business or clients (Prompt #29), had piqued my interest for Letter N. Using that particular prompt, I wrote some Notes on Psychological Nuances that might help me make a TV show I’m working on -- about emergency preparedness -- more interesting because the subject matter isn’t exactly sexy.

The Bourne film series is highlighted in my A-to-Z Challenge post for Letter O.Sara also recommends joining a leads group and writing about every person and business in your group (Prompt #11). Since I’m not a member of many business related organizations, I used her tip to feature the ladies in my Mighty Minion Bureau in my Letter O post while also describing why the Jason Bourne movies led to me classifying them as “Operatives.” 

Sara suggests that businesses look up the lyrics of a popular song on the radio and then blog about how it inspires them (Prompt #13). I frequently listen to J. Cole’s music, so my blog post for Letter P uses his song “Love Yourz” as the basis for some Perspectives on Switching Career Paths.

Writing the blog post for Letter Q was less about going along with any prompts and more about supporting adequate representation of the LGBT and Queer communities on the silver screen. Letter R was all about those actionable tips for readers again (Prompt #4) and this time I listed six alternative Running Routes Aside from the Rocky Balboa Steps in Philly.

Since April 22nd is Earth Day, Sara asks how you’re doing your part (Prompt #22). So for Letter S, I took this opportunity to put a spotlight on the fact that we are all filthy creatures, which is the kind of Shit I Don’t Like about Society. In another tip, Sara suggests to write what you learned about a business mistake you’ve made (Prompt #23), my Letter T post includes some lessons on The Time I Played at an Empty Movie Theater.

The vampire fantasy film series Underworld was the subject of my A-to-Z Challenge posts for Letters U and V.One of Sara’s most interesting tips include identifying the top keywords for your website and playing around with headlines for them (Prompt #12). My analytics reports some crazy keywords that are searched by people who land on my blog including phrases like “Ving Rhames in the Shower,” “Why Denzel Did Not Become a Doctor,” and “Rihanna You Can See My Heart.”

Thankfully, there were some keywords I could work with such as “Underworld Father,” which I used for Letter U to provide some Unorthodox Parenting Advice from the Father in Underworld. Playing around with Sara’s recommendation to make a list of 100 things that are relevant to your business or blog (Prompt #24) was also fun. Using this prompt, my Letter V post was an exercise in putting together a piece comprised of 100 words or less. The result is a spotlight on actor Bill Nighy’s statements about what the makeup department did to turn him into Viktor the Vampire for those Underworld movies. This may very well be one my shortest A-to-Z Challenge posts ever!

For Letter W, I was inspired by something I heard comedian Corey Holcomb say, to illustrate my points in When Your Way Ain’t Working. Returning to Sara, I used her tips on making a list of books you want to read and why (Prompt #30) to highlight why companion books to Spike Lee Joints are the Xanax of My TBR Pile, for Letter X. Sara’s recommendation on writing about song lyrics that inspire you (Prompt #13) was, yet again, the basis for my Letter Y blog post about reminding people that YES, You Can Do Anything!

Z is for ZeroAs you can see, I didn’t follow Sara’s prompts to the tee but rather used them to generate ideas that would fit my blogging needs when necessary. The ideas behind some of the pieces I wrote were either inspired by other sources or based on whatever approach I thought would be best to take at the time, including this post for Letter Z.

Writing and/or arranging 26 blog posts that vary in topic and each coincide a different letter of the alphabet is hard enough. The real challenge (within a challenge…go figure!) lies in keeping these posts interesting on a daily basis. Yet, I somehow managed to get it done. I won’t try to speak for anyone else but I’d say that’s not too shabby for someone who blogged without a theme this year.

Congratulations to every blogger who made it from Letters A through Z during April!


Yes You Can! What Drake, Sports Movies & 94 year-old Track Stars Know About Battling Complacency

“You can still do what you want to do. You gotta trust that shit!” – Drake in ‘Too Much’ (feat. Sampha)

Drake performing "Too Much" from his album NOTHING WAS THE SAME on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.Lyrics in rapper Drake’s song titled ‘Too Much’ (feat. Sampha) remind me of how we tend to live life on autopilot – not necessarily complaining but not really enjoying our days on earth either. It’s as if we’re just going through the motions and basically waiting to die. It’s a said reality that also has me thinking of Benjamin Franklin’s quote about how most people die at 25 but are buried at 75.

The more I learn about American history and that of the world at large, the more I start to think that people from generations past seem to be much more resilient and ambitious than those of us living in today’s time, despite the fact that they had less resources than the luxuries we enjoy now. What happened to modern-day women and men? Why are so many of us quick and content to just throw our hands up and be asleep at the wheel on the highway of life? I recently watched a TV news report about a 94 year-old man named George ‘Scotty’ Scott, competing in the Penn Relays – the longest running race in the world. He ran with men and women between 75 and 98 years-old!

When the newscaster interviewed George following the Master’s Men’s 75+ 100m dash, he said “I just do the best I can.” Chances are, however, that only a few among the rest of us go to bed every night with the same amount of satisfaction for how we spent our day. Complacency is a choice that prevents far too many people from living up to their full potential. Each day we are lucky to receive on this earth is an opportunity for us to create the kind of lives that we can look back on and smile.

Hilary Swank as Maggie in MILLION DOLLAR BABY.If you ever feel like you’re stuck on a bumpy road that doesn’t line up with your abilities, values and passions, know that you don’t have to sit back, grin and bear it. Anything in life is possible if you believe in yourself enough to try.

That goes for aspirations big and small across the board such as traveling, home ownership, starting a family, landing some type of dream gig, fitness training, healthy eating, learning sign language, teaching Yoga or whatever floats your boat. An underprivileged waitress named Maggie believed that, with the proper training, she could become one of the world’s most boxing champs, in the sport drama film Million Dollar Baby starring Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman and Clint Eastwood. Despite having no moral support from home – even being ridiculed by her own mother – Maggie still put her best foot forward.

A teenage boy named Daniel ‘Rudy’ Ruettiger pushed himself to the limits in the pursuit of playing football for Notre Dame, in the biographical drama Rudy starring Sean Astin and Jon Favreau. He was too short and surrounded by people who had very little expectations of him and of themselves, yet, that this not deter him from shooting for the moon. Maggie and Rudy share the common thread that is an unrelenting quest for all that life has to offer beyond the limitations that society and/or their circumstances place on them. Deep down, they trusted themselves in having what it takes to give life their best shot.

Y is for YouAlthough the results of Maggie’s and Rudy’s efforts may not have turned out exactly as these two bold characters had in mind, they still preferred these journeys over the alternative of growing old with regrets, wondering what could have been. Drake wasn’t lying – you CAN do what you want, go where you want and be who you want in life. Just like those 90 year-olds at the Penn Relays, Maggie in Million Dollar Baby and the main character in Rudy, you just have to trust that you have what it takes and then do your very best to make that happen.

Does watching sports movies motivate YOU in any way?

Are YOU the master of your own destiny?


The Xanax of My TBR Pile: Companion Books to Spike Lee Joints!

Jeff Balsmeyer's storyboard from Do the Right Thing: A Spike Lee Joint; companion book to the Universal Pictures film.Popping a Xanax -- the miracle chill pill for symptoms of stress and anxiety -- will dissolve all your worries, according to NYMAG. Although I’m no medical expert, I would argue that listening to music is also an effective alternative solution for those of us trying to get out of the funky mood we find ourselves dealing with from time to time. Speaking of alternative remedies, reading books can be just as beneficial to combatting periods of stress and anxiety, as music.

Besides being cheaper than Xanax, books last longer and have more user-friendly side effects. This is one of the reasons why I look forward to each title in my (growing) TBR pile, such as books written by famous director Spike Lee; chronicling what it took to get a number of his films including She’s Gotta Have It, School Daze and Malcolm X off the ground. I’m currently working my way through one of them and enjoy Lee’s journal entries about how the movie characters were developed, viewing pages from the storyboards for a major scene and learning about the impact that making his film(s) had on actors.

  • Spike Lee’s Gotta Have It: Inside Guerilla Filmmaking (1987)
  • Uplift the Race: The Construction of School Dace (1988)
  • Do the Right Thing: A Spike Lee Joint (1989)
  • Mo’ Better Blues (1990)
  • By Any Means Necessary: The Trials and Tribulations of Making Malcolm X (1993)

At times on this blog, I’ve been clear about my frustrations with the experiences I’ve had so far pursuing a career in the film industry. Sometimes just the mere thought of going through the stages of production budgets, casting, location scouting, post-production, etc. again makes me want to hurl. That’s not to even mention the uncertainty that comes when a movie is in the can and there’s another uphill battle of distribution, promotion and all that comes with getting people to watch it. So, I have a good feeling that reading the companion books to Spike Lee joints will help me take a step back to understand that every single film production comes with its own sets of challenges.

Something borrowed...For some reason when I read about other people’s movie making journey, especially someone as accomplished as Spike Lee, there’s a new sense of excitement for how they put a film together out of ideas in their heads and legal pad scribblings.

Suddenly, movies don’t seem too far out of reach and are fascinating again like they once were before I was logging hours of video footage into a cohesive document for the editing stage, and sitting in empty movie theaters.

Thanks to people like Spike Lee who pull back the curtains on show business from time to time, I have a good reminder that movies -- although a grueling undertaking from start to finish – are a powerful medium when treated as such. So the next time I’m feeling bad about filmmaking and the many challenges that come with this path, it’s nice to know there’s relief at the library or bookstores like Barnes and Noble rather than the nearest pharmacy.

X is for Xanax


How many books are in YOUR TBR pile?

Regardless of genre, what movie would YOU recommend to cure stress and anxiety?

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