The Latest: 'Eyes' see hope; a sophomore smash

Open Your Eyes: 10 Uncommon Lessons to Discover a Happier Life

Jake Olson and McKay Christensen

Nelson Books; 206 pages

Shakespeare wrote that some people are born great and some achieve greatness, while others have greatness thrust upon them. "Open Your Eyes: 10 Uncommon Lessons to Discover a Happier Life," tells the story of a boy who might qualify for all three categories. Jake Olson, a Huntington Beach resident, is an avid golfer and varsity football player at Orange Lutheran High School — and also an author and motivational speaker who lost his eyesight to cancer at 12.

I have never met Jake, but some of my colleagues have interviewed him, and he sounds like a remarkable, resilient young man. Is that a case of being born extraordinary, or do achievement and circumstance enter the picture too? I will say only this: Midway through reading "Open Your Eyes," I went in for a checkup at the optometrist and realized, when my contacts were out, how helpless I felt groping my way to the examination chair. We cling to our comfort zones more than we care to admit.

The most gripping passages in "Open Your Eyes" detail the co-author's world of visual impairment. The first chapter describes the days and hours leading to the surgery when Jake lost his remaining eye, and any parent — or person, frankly — may fight back tears at the scenario. With the clock ticking toward the moment when Jake would be able to see nothing at all, the USC football team granted him his wish to see a game up close and join in a postgame locker room celebration.

Well, what would you or I choose to see last? As you read this, your mind may be flashing through images: your spouse's face, the house where you grew up, a favorite vacation spot. To face life without vision may require an intense faith in God (a theme throughout "Open Your Eyes," since Jake's family is devoutly Christian) or simply a dogged curiosity about what the world has left to offer. Jake seems to possess a strong helping of both.

"Open Your Eyes" alternates third-person passages by businessman and consultant McKay Christensen with personal accounts by Jake and his parents and twin sister. Along the way, we glimpse the hardship of Jake's everyday life (he describes struggling to find his plate and glass at the dinner table, among other things) and also get insights into how to play sports by relying on non-visual senses.

For example, here's the co-author talking about golf: "I have ... learned that your feet are 10 times more sensitive, and accurate, than your eyes in understanding the undulations of greens or putting surfaces. The feet can feel the breaks without being tricked by lines, coloring or other visual distractions. The eyes can prove to be very unreliable in reading putts; you would just never suspect that."

Those intimate portions aside, "Open Your Eyes" functions as a typical self-help book — making the title's promise of "uncommon lessons" a bit of a stretch. The 10 chapters, which sport upbeat names like "The Winner Within" and "Lead from the Heart," deliver the expected advice about setting goals, thinking positively and trusting in a higher power. (Anecdotes, always a staple of inspirational books, range from Christensen's daughter learning to ride a bike to mathematician George Bernard Dantzig using a can-do attitude to solve famously impenetrable problems.)

But even if they're common lessons, they're valuable ones, and for that matter, easy to forget. Amid the repetition and frustration of everyday life, we can lose sight all too quickly of our full capabilities. And sometimes it takes a person like Jake, who goes without a blessing we've long taken for granted, to open our eyes again.

—Michael Miller



Nick Waterhouse

Innovative Leisure, 10-track LP

I've started to notice a trend in the music I've been listening to lately, and it all revolves around 1960s soul, jazz and rhythm and blues.

There's Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, early Mayer Hawthorne and to some extent Gary Clark Jr. Nick Waterhouse is the latest to join this group after I caught wind of him while listening to KCRW one morning.

As I listened to Waterhouse's latest album, "Holly," I didn't know that he was only 28 and born and raised in Huntington Beach.

The 10 tracks on the 30-minute LP are among those rare examples that prove, quite definitively, that Surf City is capable of producing more than surf and punk music. Though his music doesn't fall into either of those categories, he takes characteristics from the genres and incorporates them into his work.

Waterhouse may be in his late 20s, but the man has an old soul, a soul that makes you want to dance, and the track "It No. 3" is a perfect example of that. The verses of the song mainly comprise Waterhouse's voice and a simple drum beat. However, once you get into the instrumental choruses, your ears are treated to a harmonious culmination of a saxophone, a repetitious and spellbinding keyboard note and surfy guitar riffs.

"This Is A Game" is a punchier, faster track with the same elements as "It No. 3," but this time around, Waterhouse trades off solos with his sax player and keyboardist. If you don't feel like dancing or doing the twist, then I don't know what else to say.

Other songs, such as "Dead Room" and "Ain't There Something That Money Can't Buy," prove that Waterhouse can compose catchy tunes, but he also shows that he can slow things down to a more relaxing, almost noir-like pace.

"Let It Come Down" and "Hands on the Clock" transport you to a dimly lit jazz bar where everyone is smoking a cigarette and sipping on an Old Fashioned. Waterhouse's vocals on these songs — well, frankly, all his songs — are warm, comforting and smooth.

I met up with Waterhouse earlier this month on a night he played at the Hollywood American Legion Hall and watched him and his band in the empty venue as they sound-checked before the show. Listening to them play live was just as good, or possibly better, than listening to the album.

We talked about how "Holly" was more of a cohesive and thought-out album than his debut LP, "Time's All Gone," which he said was more like a compilation of 45 rpm records.

The inspiration for his music, Waterhouse said, came from his family, especially his father, who moved to Huntington Beach in the 1960s and talked to him about venues like the Golden Bear and the Rendezvous Ballroom.

"They knew that place in a time before it was what we know now culturally," he said.

Waterhouse explained that the surf and punk culture was never his scene, but the music could have influenced his sound nonetheless.

"Maybe I got it from them," he said. "Maybe it was all so bad that it just made me want to go the other way."

—Anthony Clark Carpio

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