Wednesday, February 6, 2013

George Lockwood: A Life of Achievement

In a pivotal scene in the 1997 movie As Good As It Gets, Helen Hunt's character Carol insists that Jack Nicholson's character Melvin give her one compliment. He hesitates, hems and haws and stammers something nonsensical. Carol doesn't understand how it's a compliment.

Then Melvin blurts out: 'You make me want to be a better man'.

That scene has always stuck with me over the years and it is particularly relevant today as we mourn the loss of our cherished father, grandfather, husband, uncle and great friend to so many. Throughout his life, Dad made us all want to be better men and women. I would like to take a few minutes to tell you about Dad and why he deserves such praise.

Everyone here today knows something about the life of George Lockwood, from his early life on a dairy farm in a small town in upstate New York to his career heights in the world of journalism. What is perhaps lost or unknown is a simple fact: Dad made choices that always propelled him forward in life.

Though he knew disappointment like all of us, Dad possessed an indomitable spirit that was impervious to failure or wallowing in self pity.

His mother Evelyn encouraged him to pursue achievements beyond their little farm in Westerlo, New York, but she could not have known that he would end his days having travelled the world many times, received a Pulitzer Prize in his 30s, raised four independent children and inspired colleagues to be their very best for more than four decades in his chosen profession of journalism.

These days, the entire field seems beleaguered and unreliable. The newspapers are going the way of the dodo bird. The public is skeptical of the press - and rightfully so. With Dad at the helm of a news organisation, however, accuracy and objectivity always held sway.

I remember many occasions as a child listening to Dad talk about the importance of objectivity in journalism. Facts always mattered, and not just any facts, but the relevant facts that told an entire story. As an expert editor, Dad would strike even the most innocuous sounding word from a reporter's piece if it slanted the article in any way. He reminded me how the use of the passive voice could be a subtle way of showing bias.

How did this translate into his parenting style? Well, he was strict and demanding there, too. Audrey, Cary, Noah and I were expected to be respectful of our elders. He surely encouraged us to participate in family discussions and he always made sure we were present for the many Milwaukee Journal parties he and my mother hosted at our house over the years. The difference was, we were to act as adults, not as whiney brats. He expected us to speak in turn, allow others to express their opinions and accept that no two opinions were alike. Today I attribute my calm resolve to Dad's numerous lessons about the rules of good conversation.

Many outside observers note that Lockwoods wear their emotions just below the surface, never too overt nor repressed. The common trait we all share, to one degree or another, is patient resolve.

Audrey may pound her fists in righteous indignation over this or that bigoted politician, but in her most personal moments, she carefully listens and respects others' often wildly divergent views from her own.

Cary, on the other hand, is the cool cucumber in the family. For my entire life, I have watched him go about his business quietly, intently and with an unparalleled focus. And yet, don't you dare get on his bad side, because then the beast can emerge.

Noah is sometimes mischaracterised as belligerent. It is a word that I think makes him bristle to this day. Nevertheless, what I see in Noah is a passionate desire to be himself and to express himself without kowtowing to others.

And then there's me. In my early years, I lived in the shadow of three siblings, each with big and brash personalities of their own. I sought, quietly and resolutely, to carve out my own unique personality. I've spent nearly three decades as the world adventurer and lover of language. I've gone from my late teenage years and early 20s living in French speaking countries, to teaching English in post-Communist Slovakia to now a resident of Sydney, Australia.

You may wonder what these brief stories have to do with Dad. In a word: everything. All that we are and all that we do as his children are because he paved the way for us. When I was a kid, I would roll my eyes when Dad gave his 'roots and wings' speech at the dinner table. I mean, how many times did he have to tell the damn story before it sank in? I get it, Dad, you and Mom created a foundation for us so we could take flight as independent adults.

Today, I am grateful for the repetition. I think of it often when I must make tough decisions about the course of my life. More than five years ago when I was struggling a bit personally, I recalled Dad's words and they helped me make the biggest and best decision to date.

I recognise that it takes courage to uproot oneself at age 41, but do you know what Dad said when I told him I was moving to Sydney? 'When can your mother and I come visit?'

Over several decades, I have also come to know Dad's colleagues and friends. Without exception, they gush their admiration. My partner Steve was overjoyed he was able to spend time during Dad's last year getting to know him. Just months ago, during our Thanksgiving visit to St Joseph, Missouri, Steve pulled out his iPad to show Dad how comics had migrated to the new and exciting electronic platform.

Steve demonstrated how to tap, pinch and swipe the screen. It touched me to watch someone take such an interest in Dad, but I quickly understood why: Dad always took an active interest in others. This is what I most loved about Dad. He had a way of inspiring others to rise to every occasion.

As my family mourns the loss of our wonderful father, grandfather and husband, I am reminded of Aristotle's great-souled man, as described in his Ethics. He is the man of high integrity and values, who pursues his goals valiantly, but neither boasts nor shies from the recognition of his achievements. If ever there were an embodiment of these ideals, Dad surely possessed them. In his words and deeds, Dad lived by his principles. All of us celebrating his life today are living proof of his radiant light extending out to each and every one of us.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


On Facebook, I have not hidden my admiration for a new writer making news recently. Hugh Howey, author of a series of dystopian science fiction novellas called Wool, did the unthinkable in the publishing world: he not only turned down two seven-figure offers from big publishing houses, but in the deal he did sign, he managed to retain his eBook rights. That alone has caused me to start calling him Trailblazer Hugh.

Now, ordinarily, this would be fascinating news because it is precedent setting for writers all over the planet. What makes Hugh’s story rise to the heroic for me is one simple fact: he’s living his dream. He not only has written a compelling work of fiction which I highly recommend, but he’s done it on his own terms.

What’s more for me is it has kick started my motivation to resume writing my book, from which I took a long break. Writers who don’t write often have their excuses for not writing, and mine are no different: I moved house, I started a new job, I found a partner whom I love dearly, etc. Sure, these may be legitimate reasons for a time, but did any of those things stop me from writing? Did they take up so much head space that I was incapable of continuing? No and no. 

The simple fact remains that I just stopped. I wasn’t blocked or stymied or self conscious about my writing skill. I didn’t run out of ideas for my book. I didn’t even engage in the self flagellating that some writers do, i.e. I’m no good and no-one would want to read my drivel. Quite the contrary. I am brimming with ideas and have a story to tell that I think people will want to read. But dammit, I stopped writing it for at least 18 months. And now I’ve resumed. It feels great.

So what changed? Why now? I assure you, it has nothing to do with a New Year’s resolution. I’ve never made them and I’ve never reneged on them. 

What changed is Hugh Howey came into my life. Yeah, that sounds creepy, like I’m stalking him from halfway across the planet. I first encountered Howey on, sheerly by accident. His Wool books came up as a suggestion after I’d bought several of George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire novels, better known as Game of Thrones. I clicked on the link for the first Wool novella, read the synopsis and thought hmmm, that seems interesting. Then I saw that there were several novellas in the series collected into one Kindle omnibus edition, for the unbeatable price of $5.99 USD. I thought why not, six bucks is no big outlay for a book by an unknown author.

The rest is history. I raced through each story, anxious to find out what happened next. Since this isn’t a book review, I won’t reveal anything about the plot of Wool. Buy it yourself and find out what the hubbub is all about. 

After reading the first few novellas, I was curious to find out more about this Hugh Howey character, so I found his website: He posts there regularly about his most awesome life as a professional writer. Now that sounds a bit adolescent, I realise. What 30-something man has an ‘awesome’ life, especially in these days of recessionary America. Hugh does. If you watch his YouTube videos, you get a real sense of his delight over his current fortunes as a writer. He’s like a kid in a candy store. God bless him for it.

I’ve since become a Facebook friend of his and I follow his Twitter feeds. He genuinely enjoys his fans and responds to them personally. I avoid filling his wall with gushing words of fan-induced praise, knowing that his primary goal is his writing, which brings me back to my own writing and why I’ve begun again. It’s Hugh’s simple advice, encapsulated in one word: finish!

Yes, it’s all so easy. Finish. Get the draft done. Then fix it. It’s advice that writing instructors for centuries have been giving. It all seemed so abstract to me until Hugh said it, but because he said it and in such simple and friendly terms, it has motivated me to do it.

I will finish my book.