Saturday, October 21, 2017

Challenges, Choices and Lessons

This is a guest post from Robert the "Beast" Vettese. Beast plays for the Virtua Wings of Steel, a sled hockey team. As he works on his college essays, he has graciously allowed me to post his English essay as he shared his thoughts on life's challenges and the lessons we can learn along the way. This young man has wisdom beyond his years. Please feel free to comment after reading this inspirational essay.

Challenges, Choices and Lessons
By Robert Vettese

 The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. When I was younger my sledge hockey team was the best in the country. Season after season we went undefeated in our division. In every national tournament we went undefeated too. Years of hard work really does pay off.
Some of our guys went on to become Paralympic gold medalists in the 2010 Paralympics in Vancouver. The work they put in was valuable and made them who they are today, representing their country in one of the best ways they possibly can, competing for a spot on the Paralympic team. With only twenty-eight spots they worked and trained to make the team.
We always thought that we could be the best team in the country. In a couple years later we lost many of our good players because of college or aging out of the youth program. In 2012 we had our first game as a younger team. We were playing as hard as we possibly could. We lost that first game but we just brushed it off because that was just one game. As the season went on we soon realized that we were not the best anymore. We were upset with our performance and just gave up. As the seasons went on we soon realized that we did not need our older players to be a team. We challenged and pushed our own limits; we bonded together, learned about each other. As the saying goes “ We win as a team. We lose as a team.”
Now still competing and competing in national events across the country, we continued to win some and lose some.

The competitions increased and skill levels began to change, but as they changed so did our mindsets. We always believed that we would be the best not facing bigger challenges like losing our games. Throughout these five years we have grown closer together not only as a team but as a family.
We try to face our failures with good attitudes, not knowing if the next game would be a win or a loss. We learned that life changes every second. The challenges we face help us improve and progress as a whole. Failure is going to always be a part of life. Failures can be hard to settle for, but they give us something to improve upon. Just like when you failed that geometry test you really tried your best on. You took your time and studied. You failed that test. The test you took the most time on. It shows what you need to improve on. Take it step-by-step, question-by-question. Improvement is always needed.

The last ten years of playing sledge hockey have really helped with so many things in everyday life. Winning for years may help with the positives and look forward to the medals-the smiles from all the young kids, the push to remaining the best. The work we go through trying to get the drills right are challenging. We might do them wrong but with every wrong there's a right. The learning curves that we all face are obstacles we can overcome, just like failure and challenges. It happens to all of us, hoping to achieve great things like my teammates representing the greatest country in the world, going for gold, but in order to achieve those goals is a challenge, hard work, and dedication.
The sledge hockey community has a quote; “Everyday I face a challenge, and how I face those challenges is with a smile and a good attitude.” Challenges are a true part of life. We get the rink on time. We go out on the ice every week pushing ourselves working to the best of our various different abilities. That's what really matters. The work that you put in may not seem like a big difference, but it will affect your outcome later in life.

Tragedy hit us in April of 2013, the end of the season fundraiser. It was a warm day. Everyone is smiling and having a good time. Volunteers were outside selling 50/50’s, all the kids in their team jerseys helping out. We ended off the night with a good note. Kids lined up  thanking everyone for coming to the fundraiser.
It would be one of the hardest time that we all faced. Just a few short days later we lost the team’s greatest role model. Her name was Jessica Shaw. Well known with the happiest smile. She filled the team with laughter, fun, and joy. She was my teacher and role model. She looked forward to the seasons and games and especially the joy on all the kid’s faces. I can remember many things she told us. Mostly she would say “Come on! Get moving!, You're not finished.” Of everything that she told us there's one thing that sticks in my mind the most. She always said, “Believe in yourself! The fun is not over yet.” She cared for us. She was the girl on the team that we looked forward to becoming. Jessica inspired each other to trust ourselves, and become the best we can be. She didn't care if you were upset or if you had a bad day. She was there to cheer you up - teasing me on the ice, and complaining about my singing. She was there just to have a good time. She loved all of us. We strive to live up to want she wanted us to be and to just have a good time. You might feel down on the scoreboard but just keep playing until the buzzer rings. Play for fun. No matter what happens just remember, “Not every victory shows up on the scoreboard.”
Challenges are what make us who we are and with the people we might meet on the way, have their inspirations shape us. They make us trust ourselves, and believe in what is possible not what is impossible.
Finally, what I've learned is that you may be the one person in the crowd, the one person that stands out, being who you are, with the brightest smile cheering on the young kids watching them take on the big kids and watching them get slammed into the boards. But it helps them develop, becoming the best they can be and even better. You watched them fail, fall and lose all hope, but you kept them going. It may be just the words "Come on! The fun hasn't stopped yet!" that keeps them moving, giving their all.
I remember when I was just a small kid getting hit on the rink against the boards, and boy did it hurt. It's helped me knowing that no matter how small you may be you can take on the big things, as you’ve grown up many things get harder.  Did I give up? No. Because they are just bumps in the road. Like blips on a radar they help get you to where you’re going. Challenges are there to lead you, not fail you. You have the choice to sit there and quit and lose hope or you face that challenge. You make the choice.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Comic Books of My Childhood Continue to Come to Life, Again

Wonder Woman the movie starring Gal Gadot and Chris Pine was wonderful and an awesome delivery pumping life into another character I relished reading on four color pulp. While other girls were reading Nancy Drew or Bobbsey Twins books I read comic books. Superman was my all-time favorite, the variety of characters and their personalities were so engaging to my childhood perspective of the “real” adult world, except I knew there was no real-life caped hero, Mighty Mouse taught me that little fact.

The DC and Marvel comic universes have successfully delivered pop culture comics from pulp to film much to the extreme pleasure of those of us who would rather fall in to the thrilling fantasy of graphic depictions with text filled bubbles of dialogue and tagged blocks of portending action than the chapters of mysteries to be solved by Nancy Drew.

The cinematography in this film tells the story as much as the clever dialogue. It has taken Wonder Woman’s iconic Amazonian battle ready stance and transformed it right in front of your eyes as if it was slipped from the paper to the silver screen.

The setting in World War I Europe gives the look and feel of chaos and hopelessness – it’s muddy, messy and there is lots of hunger and pillage at the hands of invading Germans hoping to rage on and scurry any plans for a peaceful armistice.

Through all that chaos arises the powerful image of Princess Diana of Themyscira clearing a path for resistance fighters who have been hunkered in bunkers waiting for an opening to advance on the enemy. Wonder Woman makes that opening for them while fending off bullets with her magic cuffs and shield.

This film is a good springboard to the upcoming Justice League movie that unites Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, AquaMan, the Flash, and Cyborg to save our planet from a catastrophe. It’s a most fitting theme for the current times.

See the movie Wonder Woman. Gal Gadot is a charismatic Demi-goddess and believable in her portrayal as sincere strong woman who has hope for peace in our world. Chris Pine as Steve Trevor is eternally handsome and heroic and just plain funny at the just right times.

This movie is not just about “girl power”, it is about strength, conviction in truth and respect for humanity. If that sounds too deep, there are a few chuckles along the way that remind you we are all very human.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Somethings I Really Want to Say About Mother’s Day, Again

Like many moms, I’ve experienced some pretty different and interesting Mother’s Day gifts over the years. On this day Moms will be given gifts that might have Mom give pause and think to herself, “hmmm, did I drop you on your head or some something when you were younger?” She might really want to say out loud, “WHAT were you thinking?” She will smile anyway, you’re her kid.

There are also Moms who will get the kind of gift that will bring tears of joy, genuine gratitude and maybe even pride.
If you are lucky enough to have mom still with you this Mother’s Day, I want to say there are cues and clues your Mom might offer when and if you ask what she would like for Mother’s Day.
Some moms are coy. When asked what is wished for on Mother’s Day, they wave you off and say with a breathy sigh, “Oh, honey, you don’t have to get me anything.” This is a lie.
You might not really have to purchase anything gift-wise, but you’d better have at the very least a pretty and elaborately designed die-cut Hallmark card with gooey sentimental verse, in the mail, and delivered no later than the Saturday before Mother’s day. You get extra points if it’s delivered Thursday or Friday giving her more time to show it off and admire it. This also indicates that there was forethought in this particular selection. Moms like it when their kids think about things in advance. It shows good training.

That same question to a different Mom might get you this response, ”Please, you don’t get me anything, just a card if you want.” THIS would be MY response and it is not a fib. I really don’t want the card, but if you feel you must, don’t waste the stamp, because I know you are going to stop by anyway, I will still proudly display it in recognition of your thoughtfulness and good training. You are, after all, my kid.
Pay very close attention if, when asking that same question, you get a response like this, “Just once, I’d like to stay in bed all day, drink my coffee with the Sunday paper and my book, have some Chinese food delivered around 2 o’clock and just decadently hang out in some solitary time.” THIS is what I really want. You asked. I answered. Don’t make a screwed up face because it’s not what YOU want.

This decadent self-indulgent wish can only be achieved if the house is vacated. If you counter the suggestion that this could be achieved in the living room, this is a fantasy on your part, even if the house is empty. There are too many ‘to-do’ things in plain sight of moms that are simply not in anyone else’s field of vision.
If you offer to make dinner, make the meal she requests. If it’s meatloaf and baked potatoes, make her meatloaf and baked potatoes. A counter suggestion for something you would find more tasty undermines your own offer in the first place. 
Another thing I want to say is, “Don’t expect your partner to buy your own Mom a Mother’s day card.” If you’re already buying a card for your wife, include your own Mom’s while you’re at it, unless of course your wife forbids you from making the selection. That also indicates good training.
Mother’s Day shouldn’t be a complex ordeal. It is simply one day that officially and maybe a little superficially honors Mom. It is the occasion to honor the gift of our own mother. It is the opportunity to shower her with a little more love, care and warmth that we might not take the time to do throughout the rest of the year. No material gift can match our love for Mom, but it does attach meaning and significance to the occasion in our own small way.
Here is one final sentiment that I really want to say about Mother’s Day. My own Mom is dead but I remember her every Mother’s Day with purchasing the card I would have sent to her and I give it to my Mother-in-law. She loves it and proudly displays it, right next to the one purchased from her son and I. Of course, I mail it so that it arrives by Thursday.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Judas and Survivor Game Changers

There’s been more than one real life situation where I have known secrets about people relatively close to me and others, sexuality being the least of them. A secret confided to you is a sacred trust. A secret you divulge because of personal gain is reckless and irresponsible. It’s betrayal.
Survivor, Game Changers pulled out the last scripted reality stunt for me last night. Survivor is one of the few TV shows I tolerate watching with my family, as they are entertained far more than I, watching grown-ups ‘play’ a ‘reality’ game of ‘survival and strategy’ on a tropical island. The end of the game is $1,000,000 prize voted by a jury of the last survivors to the winner who best played the game.
When the first season of Survivor aired, my first thought was, and still is, that a million dollars was simply not enough money to live so exposed in front of a film crew documenting such base human behavior. While the prize hasn’t changed over the last 17 years, obviously the producers have figured out the show’s motto, “outwit, outplay, outlast” is not as important to success and ratings as tugging at the emotions of the viewer by throwing in weekly melodrama that will foster feelings for the villain or the underdog and with scrupulous editing and scripting there are always villains and underdogs. Always, for why else would people keep watching this supposed Reality Show of everyday folks competing with survival strategies to win a million dollars?

I am a cynic. After watching the Tribal Council where Jeff Varner outed Zeke Smith as deceiving his fellow survivors by not disclosing that Zeke is transgender, I immediately slipped into my skeptic mode. I can’t be sure if the disclosure itself was planned or scripted, but Zeke’s reaction felt to me as a look more stoic than shocked or blindsided.

The household booed my reaction. How could I think that the emotions weren’t genuine? How could I think that such a thing would be scripted? I’ll tell you how.

First the immunity Challenge, lost to Zeke’s Nuku tribe, a puzzle spelling out one word, Metamorphosis. Varner is arranging the letters.
Then during the Tribal Council Zeke was extremely poised, almost cool compared to the rest of the Nuku tribe. I believe Zeke was the only one truly prepared for the reveal. I can’t be sure if Varner was truly as desperate for his Survivor Life as he said or if he was prompted by the producers.
Outing someone with their permission is not outing, it’s relaying information. Outing someone against their wishes, I think, would evoke some very traumatic response – in Varner’s own words, “it’s an assault”. The only one truly NOT emotional was Zeke and Jeff Probst.
I went so far as to compare the scene to being aired on the last Lenten Wednesday, known as Spy Wednesday, the day Judas betrayed Jesus. Maybe that’s a stretch, but still coincidental.

However, after the show ended, a coordinated public relations campaign between, Probst, Varner, Smith and representatives from GLAAD, the LGBT advocacy organization, aired. Social Media traffic revved with even Jeff Varner and Jeff Probst posting on Twitter espousing support and tolerance.

Also, Late Wednesday, the Hollywood Reporter published a lengthy guest column from Zeke. It is thorough, thoughtful and well written. He described his transitioning process, how competing on “Survivor” helped him prove his “manliness” to himself and what it felt like to be outed on national television. His honesty was inspiring.

Whether or not Zeke Smith wins $1,000,000 on Survivor, he should certainly make that much in book sales. I am confident there’s one in the works.