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The book that changed my life

I was fifteen at the time.  During the summers my mother would drop me off at the library once a week, and it was there that I got personally acquainted with a number of literary classics (not to mention music that you wouldn’t hear on Top 40 radio).  On one such visit I browsed some shelves I’d never noticed before, the Self-Help section. It must have been the title of this particular book that caught my eye, because the author was completely unknown to me, and the hardbound library copy itself was an unattractive little tome that looked beat-up and long dismissed.

“I DARE YOU!” the cover shouted at me, challenging me to pick it up, I felt.  The author, William H. Danforth, turned out to be the founder of Ralston Purina.  I think the cover may have even included the familiar checkerboard logo seen on their pet food.  The opening pages were enough to convince me that I should borrow this one to take home. I wouldn’t be disappointed.

I read this short but powerful book in less than a day, eager to devour all of its wisdom.  The pet food mogul was a master of friendly but forceful persuasion and I couldn’t wait to put his advice into practice. For a teenager who had been taught reading and writing in school but had never heard a word about the power of positive thinking, this unassuming, forgotten little find was an eye-opening miracle written just for me.

Skip ahead to a more recent year.  I was meeting with the pastor of a local church to discuss a video project he wanted me to produce.  I had attended his church many times and had always been impressed by his comfortable, confident style and authentic, agreeable personality.  This was a man who earned your respect through his humility and a readiness to laugh at himself and his imperfections.

We talked about the message he wanted to convey in his video, concepts of enthusiasm and empowerment, which were partially inspired, he said, by something he’d read many, many years ago.  “It was this little book called “I Dare You!”, said the pastor.  For a moment I wasn’t sure I’d heard right, but as if to finish his sentence, I added “By William H. Danforth!”  “Yes!” the pastor said, and we looked at each other in amazement.  Almost at the same time we both said, “How do you know about that book?”  As fate, kismet or divine providence would have it, we had both discovered it quite randomly as teenagers but were forever changed by it.  From that moment, the pastor and I knew we were coming from the same place, we developed an instant rapport and, as you can imagine, the video project went extremely well.

Over the years I have read countless books on personal growth and management, written by self-help greats and not-so-greats who make their living telling others how to do things better.   But it was this little book, stumbled upon accidentally, that first opened my eyes and told me that I not only had permission to dream, but also had the power to make those dreams come true.

Perhaps, unlike the pastor and myself, you’ve already heard about this magnificent book.  If not, I dare you to discover it for yourself and see what it does for you.

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The Wilder Willy Wonka

After repeated exposure to the recent AT&T TV commercial based around the song “Pure Imagination”, I find myself thinking of Gene Wilder a lot these days.  First of all, what a lovely melody and how readily it evokes a simpler, childlike time (props to its composers Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse) (and apologies for saying props).  But it’s the genuine, unashamedly tender voice of Gene Wilder that delivers it straight home to the heart.   Favorite scenes from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory immediately come to mind, and it’s not long before I’m reminiscing once again about the many wonderful moments this gifted actor/director/author has given us since the sixties.

Gene Wilder’s early association with Mel Brooks resulted in some of  cinema’s greatest comedic characters, including the timid accountant Leo Bloom in The Producers and the reluctant mad doctor in Young Frankenstein (Wilder’s voice and manner are uncannily revived in the new Broadway musical version courtesy of the remarkably versatile Roger Bart).   Other favorites including  Blazing Saddles and Silver Streak also endeared Wilder to the moviegoer’s funnybone.

His marriage to Gilda Radner in 1984 was sadly short-lived upon Radner’s death to cancer a mere five years later.  He has since founded the Gilda Radner Ovarian Cancer Detection Center in LA as well as Gilda’s Club, a support group with branches throughout the USA. Wilder himself was diagnosed with lymphoma years later but has completely recovered after chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant.

At 77, he continues to be active in charities and has written a highly personal memoir, “Kiss Me Like a Stranger: My Search for Love and Art“, as well as novels and a 2010 collection of stories, “What Is This Thing Called Love?

Today, June 11th, is Gene Wilder’s birthday, so what better day to tip a colorful top hat to the original Willy Wonka, who mixes it with love and makes the world taste good.

With anxiety and anarchy so prevalent in the music of today’s youth, it’s always a breath of fresh air to hearThe Best of Jaci Velasquez songs of hope, faith and enthusiasm sung by the voice of a teen angel. From the first time I heard Jaci Velasquez I knew this was a talented young artist who would be around for awhile and invite repeated listening. What amazes me now is that her songs are as fresh and inspiring today as they were in 1996.  Over the years, her voice has only continued to mature and refine.  Though she has since taken time off from music for family and acting, I’m pleased to learn that she’s working on new songs as we speak.  “On My Knees: The Best of Jaci Velasquez“, features her impressive collection of  radio hits, each and every one capable of restoring peace of mind on a busy day.