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New Jersey, United States

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Good Enough

"I'm an excellent driver."

Remember Dustin Hoffman repeatedly saying that in "Rain Man"? Which mundane activities are you convinced you do well? Or excellently? Try limiting your answers to activities that would be difficult for others to refute.

For example: Are you a good (or excellent) parent? Are you good (or excellent) at sex? Are you a good (or excellent) conversationalist? How many people do you know who would say they were average (or worse) at any of those three things? Consider that number for a moment. So, what does it mean to be good (or excellent) at parenting, sex, conversation, driving?

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

#45: The Mt. Rushmore Series

If you read my last post, at least one of my selections for this iteration of Mt. Rushmore might not surprise you. That aside, as always, I'm curious which four duos - musical or otherwise - belong on your mountain. And for any nitpicker quibbling about there being only four Presidents on Rushmore and eight people here, you need a new hobby. In alphabetical order, my four duos are ...

1.) Abbott & Costello - If they'd only done "Who's On First?" and then disappeared, these two would  deserve a place on my monument. Has there ever been a better straight man than Bud Abbott?

2.) John & Abigail Adams - I'm sure their marriage was as imperfect as all marriages. But if historian David McCullough's account of this ahead-of-its-time partnership is even close to accurate, Abigail Adams was a feminist before there was such a word. And her husband was lucky to have her as his closest adviser.     

3.)  Ella Fitzgerald & Joe Pass - Although they made just one recording together, these two jazz titans created a template - yet to be surpassed -  for all vocal/guitar duos that followed.

4.) Simon & Garfunkel - If just a portion of the quoted statements I've seen attributed to Art Garfunkel are true, he's an arrogant ass. But he's got the voice of an angel and was fortunate enough to partner with one of pop music's true craftsman. When work begins on my mountain, I'm requesting Art's visage includes a gag in the mouth.

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Joy Of Re-Discovery

When was the last time you re-discovered a piece of music or song that had once knocked you out but then somehow slipped away? What brought it back to you - the radio, someone playing it in a live setting, a movie soundtrack?

Given the size of my collection of recordings, many songs are bound to slip away. Factor #2: I'm far more likely these days to listen to my I-pod or Pandora radio vs. spending time in front of my stereo, a habit that consumed countless hours in my past. Third: Most of my car time is now spent listening to lectures from the Great courses series. Net result? Great songs go dormant.

But without fail, each time I begin developing a music course - starting with constructing a playlist that purposefully avoids being a "greatest hits" regurgitation - old gems get unearthed. If you were observing me when this occurs, you might be tempted to recommend medication. I whoop, I cry, I go into a musical trance, all frequently in the space of moments. Then I upload whatever kicked my ass onto my I-pod.  

Having regular opportunities to re-discover music that has enriched my life may be the greatest benefit of doing these courses. My direct inspiration here was recently being re-floored by a stunning Paul Simon song called "Teacher" from his 2000 CD entitled "You're The One". Check it out - you won't be disappointed.    

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Is Ouija Moving Toward "C" or "T"?

My parents have been gone for some time. Although I'm not sure if she voted, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford were on the ballot in 1976, the last Presidential election of Mom's life. And the last time my Dad was around to vote for President was 1994 when Bill Clinton was running for re-election against Bob Dole. I don't recall either of my folks ever telling me who they voted for. Did your folks tell you about their politics? The only clear recollection I have was hearing my Father repeatedly say politicians were not to be trusted because they didn't look out for the "...little guy ..."

I believe a candidate's positions on issues mattered to my folks; they were not superficial. But they weren't real sophisticated or urbane either. So, my guess is Mom would have voted for Ford; I suspect a Georgia peanut farmer would have been a little exotic for her. Also, Ford was experienced and had that guy-next-door demeanor. Dad? Probably would have chosen Dole; Clinton's sexual shenanigans would likely have put him off. Plus, Dole was a WWII vet just like Dad. Despite my guesses, I never got a clear sense my parents voted strictly Republican. One of my siblings might disagree but I think the party affiliations my parents had were flexible, especially when contrasted to what seems to be the norm nowadays. Anyway, let's face it, Republicans and Democrats were not as far apart then as they are now.

What got me started on this was all the brouhaha about people voting from the grave this year. Is it time for me to break out the Ouija board and get the definitive word on Mom and Dad's' choice for this election? How about you? Anyone from the other side you'd like to hear from about this year's circus?    

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Pop Culture Triptych - Volume 2

Although I got only one public comment last month for the first iteration of this new series, it was a doozy - check out the link below. But several people did respond offline to that maiden post so I've now got some good ideas for future installments. Thanks to those offline folks and to Mr. or Ms. Anonymous. So ...

I say novel and phonies and you say ...

I say novels and Baltimore and you say ...

I say novels and Scotland Yard and you say ...

Keep your ideas coming, OK?


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Introducing Willy And Babs

What makes us English speakers routinely add an "e" sound to the end of so many names? John becomes Johnnie, Ruth becomes Ruthie, Scott becomes Scotty, etc. Why not an "a" sound instead? Jack = Jackay. Or, how about "i"? Kim = Kimeye. "O" or "u", anyone? Jeanoh or Georgeooh have just as nice a ring as Jeannie or Georgie, don't you think?

It's also weird how we often elongate one syllable names but just as regularly shorten those that are two, three, and four syllables. We do this even for names that sound bizarre when shortened like Eileen becoming "I". Worse than that, we truncate an elegant name like Victoria to Vickie. And how does Maureen become Mo? Where did that "O'" come from? How has your name been shortened or elongated? Does it ever annoy you? Don't even get me started on how being called Patty traumatized me in my macho years.

I'm requesting you submit your favorite case study in how this re-naming thing can get really out of hand. I'll start with a respectably named couple, William and Barbara. From there it's a short distance to Bill and Barb. But there are those among us who might go further. Allow me to introduce you to Willy (or Billy) and Babs (or Barbie).   

Monday, October 17, 2016

Caressing Those Vibrant Verbs

During my years in Graduate School - when non-fiction comprised my whole reading diet - I decided to start implementing at least one idea from every book I finished. Many of the disciplines resulting from that resolve remain with me to this day. How do you ensure something you learn from a non-fiction book sticks with you?

"Writing From The Bones: Freeing the Writer Within" (1986) by Natalie Goldberg is packed with worthwhile ideas. The format of very short sections - the largest is about four pages long - invites the reader and aspiring writer to browse, find something to try, then return later. Weeks after finishing Goldberg's book, I still haven't settled on which idea I'm going to permanently incorporate into my writing practice. At present, the top contender comes from her section entitled "The Action Of A Sentence" where she suggests an ingenious activity to help writers unearth more vibrant verbs.

The creative people from whom I seem to learn best often demystify their process. In his memoirs, Stephen Sondheim describes composing as analogous to making a hat. In one section of her useful book, Goldberg extols the importance of details in writing. Her pertinent and demystifying metaphor about how those details help the finished product shine is to compare the details to the quality ingredients you use when "Baking A Cake". And then Goldberg puts on the icing by quoting Nabokov - "Caress the divine details". Caress? Now there's a vibrant verb.