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New Jersey, United States

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Ohana - As Promised

Aloha!

Even though using that greeting feels inauthentic because I'm no longer holding a mai tai lounging on a stunning beach, I know you'll forgive me. Had the ship's WiFi cooperated, I might have dazzled you with a description of the cliffs off the coast of Kauai while watching the herd descend on the buffet. Take pity on me and other weary travelers. I planned to issue a bulletin from the National Parks we visited, Pearl Harbor, and the Kaloko Cloud Forest - the lu'au beckoned. Life can be harsh. 

I didn't need to spend the past ten days in Hawaii to realize how fortunate I am. But my gratitude grows each time I travel. If you've been lucky enough to visit this paradise - or do so in the future - I'd enjoy hearing about your experience. Aside from the obvious natural beauty ...

* I will never forget how energized the cultural diversity of this place made me feel.

* With fourteen more letters to work with, I look forward to my first game of scrabble with someone who knows only Hawaiian.

* Mea culpa: I can no longer assert National Parks as a guaranteed repository of out-of-state license plates - two for two without a single non-Hawaii plate. Actually, even with my obsessive eagle eye searching everywhere - streets of Honolulu, hotel parking lots in Maui, out the window of our tour bus on the way to Pu'uhuona O Honaunau (try pronouncing that - I dare you) - it was the Aloha state without exception.

There's so much more. But to my Road Scholars ohana and anyone else visiting the bell curve today, it's your turn now.     

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Synaptic Sparks Of Wonder

"Wonderstruck" is a rare example of a film that persuades me I've made good use of my time even though I've been passively looking at a screen for almost two hours.

Though Julianne Moore is the name that will draw most people to this movie, the three child actors forming the core of the film - and Director Todd Haynes - create magic that transcends the need to have a star to recommend it. And though I suspect dislodging the faces of those young actors from my mind's eye will be difficult, I've already added Brian Selznick's eponymous book - which he adapted for the screen - to my "to read" list. Because even if reading a book before seeing a film adaptation is my preference, extending the glow of this story takes precedence this moment.

Meanwhile, synaptic sparks nearly overtook me as I was transported watching "Wonderstruck".  First: I heard Louie Armstrong singing "What A Wonderful World". Next: Several scenes from Simon Van Booy's "The Illusion Of Separateness" (2013) began overlapping with the movie as it toggled from 1977 to 1927. As the film ended, for reasons that will be obvious to any of you that have seen it, I clearly recalled my emotional reaction watching the stage version of "Children Of A Lesser God".

Put this one on your "to see" list. Then, let me know where your mind travelled.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Over And Over, Again

Considering how many people outside of Punxsutawney ever pay attention, does it strike anyone else as odd that of all the movies ever made about holidays few have come close to being as good as "Groundhog Day?"  What would be your nomination for a holiday film that is the equal of Harold Ramis' goofy 1993 masterpiece?

Although I'm not a big Bill Murray fan, "Groundhog Day" is on the short list of films I've watched more than once. Of the several priceless bits in the movie, my favorite is probably Sonny & Cher warbling "I Got You Babe" on the clock radio that awakens Murray's character as he endlessly repeats February 2nd - brilliant choice. What alternative song would you pick as a way to aurally depict a nightmare you can't escape? My top nomination would be one of those treacly ballads Michael Bolton screamed during his brief but painful popularity, closely followed by anything from the repertoire of I-get-paid-by-the-note Kenny G.

Musical snarkiness aside, which bit from this modern-day cinema classic plays over and over in your mind? And, if you were able to repeat a single day from your life which one would you choose?

Monday, January 29, 2018

Completism Run Amok

Being able to eliminate an author's name from my list because I've read all their work fills me with compulsive glee. When the author has been gone long enough that no more posthumous stuff is likely to surface? Sweet, if ghoulish.

Though I may have read Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood" many years ago, I can't be 100% sure; my book journals are a fairly new habit. But after recently completing that  - to help me decide if I'll use it as a modern-day "classic" for my book club - I way-too-carefully examined Capote's catalog. His oeuvre looks substantial, but I soon discovered significant overlap among the books listed. Many titles are simply collections of earlier pieces, all of which I was pretty sure I'd read. Turns out, Capote was less prolific than many of his peers. And the closer this obsessive completist got to scratching a name from his list, the more unhinged he became.

Still, even after satisfying myself that I had read all of Capote's work - the complete short stories, the novels and novellas, the non-fiction, even the "unfinished" and supremely bitchy roman-a-clef "Answered Prayers" - I didn't rest. Inside my own copy of "In Cold Blood" was an insert I'd saved, a new introduction written by Mark Singer, issued when the Book Of The Month Club used Capote's 1959 masterpiece as a selection in 1986, two years after his death. The insert mentioned Lawrence Grobel's 1985 book - "Conversations With Capote"- unread and staring at me from my bookshelf. What could I do?

Suggestions for medication?

Saturday, January 27, 2018

When I Most Need Help

Motivated by a reader comment, I recently re-read "The Four Agreements" (1997) by Don Miguel Ruiz. It's a straightforward and worthwhile read, anchored by four easy-to-remember tenets that - taken together - can help construct a solid foundation for anyone looking to build an authentic life: 1.) Be impeccable with your word. 2.) Don't take anything personally. 3.) Don't make assumptions. 4.) Always do your best.

In the weeks since my re-read however, a question about books of this type - many of which formed a significant chunk of my reading diet throughout the 90s - has plagued me. What prevents me from fully utilizing the sensible tools suggested in "self-help" books when I'm most in need of help? Put another way, when I'm angry or feeling threatened or under stress, why do I feel less able to recognize the benefits to be derived from these tools? Absent anger or threat or stress, the tools seem to be easily at my disposal. If any of you who have read more than one book of this type has made a similar observation about yourself and wondered what gives, it would be comforting to know I'm not alone. It's possible that comfort might extend to other readers of this blog.

I don't have to reach back to the distant past for illustrative examples of how my impulses frequently over-ride the common sense help offered by these books. Just last Sunday, in a pique of irrational anger when my wife and I missed a train to NYC, no self-help tool came to my aid. Later in the same day, I did it again. The threats? Those are mostly ego-driven although that often seems clearer to me after the fact, i.e. those "learned" tools are absent while I'm feeling threatened. Stress? Same thing, a great deal of the time.

Am I better off having read many of these books? Without a doubt. But on middling or low days, I yearn for a time when my bad behavior is more noteworthy than my good behavior. That would make me feel like I've turned a corner toward lasting growth and utilized the many tools I've learned of via all this reading. In the meanwhile, I begin, again.  

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Starting A Writing Practice

Over the holidays just passed, my wife and daughter and I pulled out the photo album from our 2000 cross-country driving trip. Those pictures - and the wonderful captions my wife added to the album - came vividly alive after I located a joint journal we kept during that five week journey. If any of you has used a technique like this to help preserve precious moments from your family life, please share it with me and others. Reading the words of my (then) twelve year old daughter and my (then) fourteen year old niece was priceless, truly. What a treasure.

How often have your own words helped you discover something about yourself? In my experience, writing is an optimal way to more clearly recollect events and the most reliable route to discovery. Though I'm not advocating any sane person attempt to maintain the number of writing vessels I do, I believe the benefits to be gained by the practice of writing can be as significant as those that flow from meditation or yoga. And it doesn't matter what form your writing takes. Begin writing and I promise you, past events will be sharper and you'll begin discovering.

The solipsistic irony of this suggestion coming from a blogger doesn't escape me. But when one of my writing vessels alerted me to the fact that publishing a blog post today would mean I'd done so on January 23 for seven consecutive years, only one subject seemed appropriate for such a milestone. If you decide to begin a writing practice of any kind, promise you'll share your first discovery with me.  

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Book Club Report: Year One

I'm pleased to report that year one of the No Wine Or Whiners book club exceeded my expectations. We've averaged about eight people per meeting, and the month-to-month toggling from novel to non-fiction is working as I anticipated it might - our percentage of men is higher than any other club I've been involved with. Our first meeting in 2018 was a 50-50 gender split; unusual, in my experience.  

My favorite part? Four of the five women who make up my reading posse are involved to varying degrees; my wife missed just one meeting. I'm prospecting all the time because, from the outset, I was confident the club would have drop-offs on our maiden voyage; 2017 had at least one. But as long as I continue to paint an accurate picture so prospects know what to expect, with a solid first year behind us, I'm now also confident the club will continue to thrive; our core is solid.

Gathering all those best practices from the twenty or so clubs I was part of from 2010-2016 turned out to be a wise strategy. Some of the feedback sheets returned to me after the December meeting also gave me ideas for selections for the coming years. Of those that I've since read, Lily King's 2014 novel "Euphoria" is now in the queue this fall. Books good enough for No Wine Or Whiners could easily become the subject of a future blog post, so for readers not in the club, stay tuned for more on "Euphoria". Me? I've got a rich conversation to look forward to.