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New Jersey, United States

Monday, January 16, 2017

Straight Into The Top Fifty

Although possible, it's doubtful "My Name Is Lucy Barton" will ever be displaced from its new place among the top fifty novels I've ever read.

"It interests me how we find ways to feel superior to another person, another group of people. It happens everywhere, all the time. Whatever we call it, I think it's the lowest part of who we are, this need to find someone else to put down." 

At one hundred ninety one pages, Elizabeth Strout's remarkable 2016 novel is a model of concision. As the book nears its end, the author begins drawing impressionistic sketches via her use of increasingly shorter chapters. Each sketch is an exquisite miniature revealing how little any of us ever know of what another person is thinking or feeling, even those with whom we share a lot of history. And each of Lucy Barton's insights - like the one above - are as quiet as they are rich, delivered without flourish or metaphor. There is not a false note in this entire book.

"All life amazes me." Arriving at that final sentence, I wrote "amen" and then returned to page one to begin re-reading this jewel. What was the last book you felt compelled to re-read immediately after finishing it? 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Big Room

Writing about the National Parks, I struggle to control my use of hyperbole.

It took about an hour today to wind down eight hundred feet - the equivalent of eighty stories - and arrive at the Big Room at the base of Carlsbad Cavern. The Big Room is the size of sixteen football fields. Walking around its perimeter and trying to process what we were seeing took longer than walking the mile long serpentine path that got us there. The Big Room is indescribable. Go on the website for Carlsbad Cavern National Park; try to contain your amazement. Then multiply that by one hundred to approximate the experience of being in this sacred place.

At the summit of our hike at Guadalupe Mountains National Park yesterday, we ran into four college students who are hiking all the National Parks reasonable driving distance from their hometown of Houston. After they gave us suggestions about what to see in Big Bend National Park - our next destination - we shared with them our goal of visiting all fifty nine parks. They asked us which has been our favorite so far. I answered Acadia National Park in Maine; my wife said Glacier National Park in Montana. That was before either of us saw Carlsbad Cavern. The more National Parks I visit, the more picking a favorite seems as much a fool's errand as controlling my hyperbole writing about them. Each one is a unique treasure.        

Friday, January 13, 2017

Preserving The Republic

Continuing a tradition established three years ago, January 13 is the date I set aside each year to ensure the preservation of our republic. If you doubt the power of one person making a difference, consider this: The two brilliant constitutional amendments I proposed here on 1/13/14 and 1/13/15 were responsible for subsequent Congressional action. And my incisive logic for revising the Second Amendment resulted in the heated battles you later saw on C-Span.

So, brace yourself for this year's indisputably astute modification to the way we run our great nation. And then comment on my sage advice or ... suggest your own changes. How can it hurt?

1.) Using the most widely respected and notable leaders in the field of geriatrics, ask them to arrive at a range representing the average age of onset for dementia in the US population. Be sure the group submitting their consensus is politically and culturally diverse.

2.) When the age range is submitted subtract eight years from the lowest point of the range. For example, if the expert group says the average age range of onset is 72-76, our baseline number becomes 64 (i.e. 72-8). That baseline now becomes the oldest age for anyone to be elected President, given a maximum of two four year terms is the limit. Our Constitution has a minimum age for the top job, so why not a maximum?

3.) As medical advances are made mitigating the effects of dementia, re-convene the group on an as needed basis to re-calibrate the age range.

I'll be back next January 13 to dazzle all.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Hitting A Triple

Most of the literature says the Wi-Fi in our National Parks is reliable. But I've been surprised to learn differently after arriving at a few of the parks over the last several years. Which makes near future reflections from the bell curve - the road iteration - an open question.

Now if things do go well in cyberspace, the next witty communique will be coming from either West Texas (Big Bend or Guadalupe Mountains National Park) or Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico. Much as I love skiing and don't mind New Jersey winters, being in warm weather for ten days has a lot of appeal right now; it was punishing to walk this past weekend in NYC. And I never miss scraping ice off my windshield, do you? Besides, being able to visit three National Parks in one trip is catnip to a goal-oriented, love-to-scratch-things-off-a-list guy.

When you get a chance, look at a map of this part of the U.S. Although I've been out that way previously, it still astonishes me to see the distances between towns. Also, while doing our research, the city website of Carlsbad, New Mexico made it easy for us to decide how long we'd spend there. It said - "There are no events planned at this time." OK, I guess one night will do it.

Which National Park is next on your list? 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Kosher? Only This Bell Curve Maven Knows

Which group - aside from those with which you have a strong ethnic, racial, religious affiliation -  exerts a significant impact on everyday expressions likely to pop out of your mouth?

Oy vey, is this easy for me. Had I gone to school among only Baptists or been raised in rural North Dakota, what would I have grown up calling the schmucks, klutzes, and schlemiels I encountered? How about later in life when I had to schlep stuff around or wanted to kibitz with others? For me, the word shtick has always nailed it better than that oh-so-English expression "bit" and also sounds less hoity-toity than "trope".  When trying not to be crude, doesn't substituting chutzpah for cojones - or its English equivalent that rhymes with halls - work really well? There is no better word for torturous lounge music than schmaltz. Kissing ass = bad visual; schmoozing = harmless. Doing a good deed sounds nice but not as lofty doing a mitzvah, don't you agree? 

Continue my kvetching? Only a nebbish (aka schnook) would risk his readers - especially the goyim among them - doing so. I'd prefer to sign off and remain your bell curve mensch. Shalom.      

Sunday, January 8, 2017

A Sadness More Honestly Earned

The majority of my extended interactions with young adults energize me. I walk away from most of these conversations with optimism for the future and the sense that these folks are on a path that will lead to some degree of fulfillment. What are some of your key takeaways talking with people who are in the early stage of their adult lives?

Possibly because my predominant sentiment is so positive, the infrequent conversations I do have that leave me with the opposite feeling - call it mild dread for the person speaking - really linger. When I detect a clear wistfulness in the personal or career story of someone much younger than I, it gives me real pause.

The most recent story I heard tinged with regret from someone very young brought me immediately back to another one very similar in tone - if not specifics - from many years ago. I was still a young adult myself when the new husband of a friend told me how he already knew how his entire life was going to look. As that conversation continued - becoming more like a confession when he used the word "trapped" - I recall reverting to silence. To that point, I had been speaking of my passion for music - my main source of income then - my cross country driving and hitchhiking adventures, my spiritual goals, etc.

It's very possible I was crowing in that long ago conversation before a feeling of sadness for this young man overtook me and I shut my mouth. In the most recent conversation there was no crowing from this slightly wiser sixty seven year old; my coaching hat was on my much balder head this time. And the sadness I felt was more honestly earned.  

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Chicken and Egg, Early 2017

How would your life have been altered had those most responsible for your development expected extraordinary things from you?

That hypothetical question has had me in a grip for some time. If it strikes you as unanswerable, consider this: In 1834, Transcendentalist Caroline Dall's father scoffed when his friends questioned his twelve year old daughter attending Emerson's lectures. He responded -  "I expect her to write abstracts."  How to measure the impact of a bar set that high? Who has ever expected so much of you?

My parents expected all four of us would complete a college education though they themselves barely made it through high school. By their Depression era standards that was an exceptional expectation; I can never repay them. And as my wife wisely coached me as Dall's at once inspiring and dispiriting tale became a recent topic of conversation, my latest dilemma is classic chicken and egg territory. That is, is it first the bar being set too low for some of us or ... is it that extraordinary is not a word meant to be used in the same sentence with some of us?

If I occasionally expect extraordinary things from others in the future, perhaps this iteration of my incessant navel-gazing will serve a purpose. When did you last expect something extraordinary from someone close to you?