Having dreams is what makes life tolerable.

This week began as a blank slate. Literally. I had nothing to work on, nothing to write about and a project I’ve started has unexpectedly stalled. So I started sifting for story ideas, and somehow, something made me think of Bracken Kearns.

Kearns played hockey in Toledo for only one season, his first professional season in 2005-2006. He didn’t make it to the NHL until the fall of 2011 – when he was 30 years old. His was a story of perseverance and setting goals and staying a certain course – even if that course went through six seasons, two minor leagues and seven different teams.

Something prompted me to call the San Jose Sharks media relations department Monday afternoon to put in a request to speak to Kearns. It was something I’d thought of during the spring, if the Sharks happened to meet the Red Wings in the Western Conference Finals, but that didn’t happen.

Within a day, the Sharks media relations office put me in touch with Kearns. And the first thing I told him? “You’ve got a great story of dedication and perseverance, and people in Toledo want to know how you’re doing in the NHL.”

***

I have a bit of a personal stake in writing about Bracken Kearns, as well – and I didn’t really mention this to anybody as I was pursuing this article.

I got laid off from my job at the Portland Press Herald on Oct. 13, 2011, and I was really, really down – I’d just lost what I thought was the best job ever, covering college and pro hockey and making a good living doing so. Someone else decided that all the work I did and the investment I made in 13 years in journalism didn’t matter anymore. And it felt like after I got laid off, that it didn’t matter that I still had goals I wanted to reach and dreams I wanted to fulfill as a reporter.

I was down. Really down.

A week later, I read about Kearns *finally* being called up to the NHL with the Florida Panthers – it was such an inspiration! His pursuit sent a message to me – to never give up on something you love to do – and it reminded me of one of my favorite movie quotes:

“Having dreams is what makes life tolerable.”

“… the Pennsylvania we never found …”

It was a dreary day in Toledo today, 12 degrees and a light snow coming down as I made the drive home. As I turned onto Michigan Avenue, the Billy Joel CD my husband bought me for Christmas (along with Billy Joel concert tickets) flipped to “Allentown.”

It was one of my favorite songs growing up, probably because it was one of the first music videos that MTV played in heavy rotation. It had a cinematic flair to it – and it told a story, something that’s lacking in music videos today. (Yes, they still make music videos – go to Vevo.com.)

(Though I have to say that when I was seven years old, the dude dancing around in his underwear with a flaming baton in that video freaked me out a little bit. One of the funniest passages in the book “I Want My MTV” is Billy Joel discussing the video.)

But I listen to the song nearly 30 years later and it resonates with me on a different level, living in a Rust Belt city that’s gone through despair and is trying to re-discover its identity.

And I realize why it resonated with my parents, who grew up in western Pennsylvania – “Allentown” isn’t just about a town in eastern Pennsylvania. It’s the story of a town that once thrived on industry, on coal mining and working in the steel mills, in the plants and factories, of immigrants who wanted to provide a good life for their children, but a town that lost its identity with the changing economic and industrial times. Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Buffalo, Toledo, Detroit, Youngstown, Erie – you can say that for just about any Rust Belt city. Especially Detroit – a place that was once vibrant and the hub of American manufacturing, but is now a shell of itself. And I hope that Billy Joel comes in and rocks “Allentown” when he’s at the Palace next month, because somehow that will resonate with Detroit, too.

***

Sidebar: Billy Joel sang one of the best renditions of the Star Spangled Banner in 2007, before the Super Bowl.

I remember watching this and thinking, these guys are playing in the game of their lives – no better way to explain it than when the camera held for a few seconds on Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday and Chicago Bears defensive tackle Tank Johnson.

It’s not Real (World) anymore

The Real World is in its 29th season. It’s 29th season!

It’s one of two television shows that I followed from my teenage years into adulthood – that and “ER.” I cried during the final three hours of “ER,” both the retrospective and the series finale, but I don’t think I’ll be shedding any tears once the latest cycle is over. MTV might think it’s onto something by putting seven strangers picked to live in a house … and bringing their ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends in after thirty days.

Find out what happens when they stop being polite …

Hot tubs, crying, twerking in your nightie with no undies, making out, making up, hitting a roommate with a metal frying pan … and exes having sex. And fights.

This is what the “Real World” franchise has come to?

Watching the season debut made me think of some of the notable moments of the Real World. And not just the notable moments that made the mainstream news:  Stephen slapping Irene as she got in the car to leave the Seattle flat, Ruthie drunk driving and Ruthie getting her stomach pumped in Hawaii, Pedro’s wedding in San Francisco (the first televised civil union), Tami announcing she was pregnant to her housemates during a rock-climbing outing in Los Angeles, and Julie and Kevin’s fight over race relations on a city street in New York – the first, the best season of “The Real World.”

So it got me thinking …

The Real World was so much better when Elka proclaimed that she was a virgin in Boston. And when Kaia and Ruthie made out in Hawaii.

The Real World was so much better when Melissa danced topless at a strip club in New Orleans. For money. And when Karamo told M.J. in Philadelphia that he was gay.

The Real World was so much better when Sarah, Dan and Flora spied on Mike’s shower threesome in Miami.  

Trishelle’s pregnancy scare in Las Vegas – everybody was talking about that. Even the guys on ESPN’s PTI brought up — and that’s when it crossed the threshold.

I had a boyfriend in college who professed that he hated the show and tried to convince me everything that was wrong with The Real World.

This wasn’t something to be angry about – it, strangely, was the gallivanting that we wanted. To live in a co-ed house, to go out to fantastic clubs and parties and on a trip to somewhere warm and exotic, to be able to sit in a room and confess to the world how you really felt about the people who lived with you and the problems you confronted.

But the intrigue wore off. After that, The Real World tumbled downhill. The “formula” continued to be recycled: hot guy, hot girls, thrown together in a fabulous house and given a job and had their lives taped. And it lost its luster.

Still, it’s like a drug. I’m going to keep watching.

An ode to a great pair

I’m so sorry, but this relationship has to come to an end.
We were together for nine months. Together through snow, rain, in sun, down in the dry heat of Arizona and through the city of Hartford, past the civic center – and you didn’t laugh at me when I started singing Brass Bonanza. Almost everyone else does.
Our first 5K? We made it!
Our first five miler? That was bliss. Frigid, drizzly bliss. We’d finally outdistanced ourselves and broke a barrier. This was the beginning of a long future.
But looking back, going that distance was the pinnacle of our relationship. Because it started to hurt. Literally hurt. My right heel was in constant pain for about two weeks and we had to be separated because of it. I looked at you longingly in that time, knowing we would be back together soon.
When that time came, I tried to put something more into this – a hard heel insert in my right shoe – to make these miles a little less painful.
Then, when we went to Phoenix together, something else happened. Two little holes on the outer edge of the fabric that’s kept it whole. Still, we went out two more times on the roads, and made it work for just a couple more weeks.
Finally, someone else consoled me, but was frank with me.
This, Dina at the running shop told me, bending you in half so that the top of the heel met the top of the toe, isn’t going to work any longer. You need something more stable, something that you can invest in.
I needed about an hour to make up my mind.
So I’m letting you go. I’m giving you up and finding a newer, brighter, firmer future in something like you.
I’m putting you in the shoe donation box at Dave’s Running, because I know that way you’ll find a good home in a new life.
It’s been fun. It’s been real. It’s time for me to move on to something new. Thanks so much for the memories, and for helping me realize that I can be a better person. And that I can run five miles.

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I just finished reading John Green’s “The Fault In Our Stars” at the recommendation of Jeremy, whom I refer to as my cousin because we share the same last name. And it’s not a common last name.

Jeremy is using this book as part of his high school English curriculum and it’s a sharp deviation from the books I was told to read during my four years of high school, such as:

“Night,” Elie Wiesel

“Native Son,” Richard Wright

“The Glass Menagerie,” Tennessee Williams

“A Farewell To Arms,” Ernest Hemingway

… to name a few.

Though I cried and cried when Catherine died in “A Farewell to Arms,” it wasn’t a novel I clamored to read again. Nor were the “classics” that were listed on our syllabus each semester.

I can think of one book from all of the assigned high school English classes that I absolutely loved.

Not J.D. Salinger’s “A Catcher in the Rye.” Not Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird” – though both had the intrigue and life lessons.

It was “A Separate Peace,” by John Knowles.

Because there were elements I could relate to.

Friendship, loss, going through the same experience together, growing apart, growing up. Rivalries – at one point Phineas and Gene became frenemies, which changes the course of their friendships – and their lives.

John Knowles told the plight of the teenager, even though it was 1942.  It was more relatable than going down the Mississippi River on a raft or punishing a woman for committing adultery.

Anyhow, it got me to thinking: we need to incorporate more YA fiction into the educational curriculum … because this is what students relate to. There was a really good piece in last week’s editions Washington Post about the graphic novel as an educational tool and the author’s premise came down to this: don’t rule out a book just because it’s not of “the norm.”