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Wednesday, February 26, 2020

To Be Continued

If you read The Overstory (2018) and were anything less than knocked out, best to stop reading now. Actually, non-readers, those who eschew novels, and anyone who was unmoved by this masterwork, be advised: At least a few more near future reflections about Richard Powers's tour-de-force will be necessary because ...

* The usual brevity of my posts is inadequate for a book of this superhuman scope.
* I'll be processing this novel for a long time. Writing about it will help the glow remain with me.
* Every additional post I publish about The Overstory increases the likelihood of connecting with the kind of discerning readers I yearn to interact with, virtually or otherwise.

OK, so pick your domain. Like a plot that keeps you involved? Rich, multi-dimensional characters? Provocative ideas, imaginatively delivered? Enjoy prose that stops you in your tracks with surprises that feel organic? Dialogue that sounds like real people talking and an innovative architecture?

Aside from providing all of the above, The Overstory helped me see a healthy future for the novel as art form. Enough gushing for one post.

To be continued.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Words For The Ages, Line Thirteen

"The more I know, the less I understand" - from The Heart of the Matter

Although Don Henley was speaking of a love affair gone wrong, for me that lyric contains a universal truth with the potential to far outlive its place in a mournful pop song. It jumps right out of its vessel, carrying it with the ability to stand alone as a timeless aphorism like the twelve earlier lyric phrases I've used in this series. Just eight simple words for the ages. 

Upon hearing The Heart of the Matter in 1989, my reaction was immediate and intense. I was first struck by the way Henley and his co-writer JD Souther extracted learning from the searing pain of heartbreak. Til then, my own lyrics about the same subject were maudlin, at best. Approaching my fortieth birthday and my only child's first, I vowed to avoid playing any of my own past or future heartbreak songs until those songs matured past mawkish self-pity. 

And the more I listened to The Heart of the Matter, the wiser the song grew. Those eight words are immediately followed by "All the things I thought I knew, I'm learning again" and soon after that, the capstone - "It's about forgiveness."  I felt a shift listening to those three words unlike anything a lyric had ever delivered to that point. What terse phrase from a song lyric has had a similar effect on you?

Friday, February 21, 2020

The Crabby Capitalist

Aside from driving the engines that can propel modern economies, what are some tangible benefits to consumerism?

I suspect this question might strike ardent capitalists as misguided or naive - at best - or stupid and not worthy of a response. I suppose that's fair. But this crabby - and less than ardent - capitalist has trouble identifying benefits outweighing the most pernicious downsides to consumerism. To wit:

* The stuff we end up throwing away. Into the landfill go things unable to be repaired, newer versions of older toys, outdated fashions, etc.

* The way we accept the assault of messaging. How often do any of us stop to consider what we need vs. what we're continually told we should want? What price do we pay when we allow ourselves to be persuaded that a certain pen, purse, or car will confer some sort of status? And what happens to our relationships with others when we forget that status is imaginary?

* The day-to-day creep of consumer-driven decisions. Is it safe to say that some of us take - and then sometimes stay in - a job that we don't like much partly because of what we want to buy? Anyone not independently wealthy needs work in order to make money to live and meet basic needs. But in my experience, consumerism can distort even that simple proposition.

Irony may intrude on today's crabby rant since I'm now considering the purchase of an analog watch. Yeah, another defunct Fitbit - less than three years old - headed for that landfill, vs. the last analog that lasted more than ten years. Though I sometimes enjoyed knowing how many steps I'd taken each day (was I somehow persuaded that was critical info?), that's not reason enough to re-buy yet another device that ... a.) needs to be regularly charged and synced periodically to a laptop or Ipad and ... b.) can track my whereabouts. Or, maybe I'll forego the new watch. Ever notice how many clocks there are everywhere?

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

A Toast To Longer Weekends

It's official. Ten years after leaving the world of full time work, the number of days each week that others expect me to be in a specific place at a specific time - two - is the exact reverse of what it was for many years. Put another way, my weekend is now five days, vs. the too-brief two day weekend I endured for about four decades. 

My most recently deleted commitment - a day of teaching guitar at a studio I'd been since 2002 - puts Thursday in good company with four other days where my calendar remains blank until I decide to add something. I can indulge my passions, hang out with people I care about, do nothing, without a thought to any schedule. I can exercise or meditate, volunteer or get involved with an activist group, take a nap or a meandering walk, ignoring the clock. I can teach a music class or do social justice work with Beyond Diversity no matter how much I get paid. If I want to.   

I don't yearn - yet - for a seven day weekend. But each time and place specific commitment I've been able to shear over these ten years has made me newly grateful for my good fortune.           

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Being Inclusive


Over the thirty years I've been involved with Beyond Diversity, every project has taught me at least one important lesson about my own assumptions. What methods do you use to help keep your mind open?

In my most recent project, I assisted by doing individual interviews with staff from an educational organization about to launch an extensive anti-racism initiative. The first step in the initiative asked staff members being interviewed to select a group affiliation with which they most strongly identify. I was assigned to interview those folks who most strongly identify as conservative.

Though I had confidence in my ability as an interviewer - and the simple prompts Beyond Diversity provided gave me an adequate framework for the forty-five minute interviews -  I did wonder if my own left-of-center views would interfere with my ability to remain fully present. I was pleased that concern ended up being a non-issue, but more pleased with my takeaway during the debrief I had with the founder of Beyond Diversity after one particular interview. The insights this interviewee had about her alienation from her colleagues were intelligent, nuanced, and convincing.

Feeling unheard and excluded is a common lament voiced by women, people of color, folks from the the LGBQT community, and the disabled. And for me, the systematic and historical silencing of those voices is an ongoing injustice in need of redress. But, in any non-political organization, voices are also in danger of being silenced when norms of that organization - particularly the views of its leadership - begin communicating a political stance, assuming agreement from its staff. Any organization wishing to declare itself inclusive needs to consistently monitor its communications to ensure all voices can be heard and respected. If not, the minority voices - conservative or otherwise - will either retreat into the closet or leave to find a more welcoming work place.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Those Drums

"You can offer no finer gift or higher honor to the world than to find out what your 'drum' is and then play it for all it is worth." - from Teach Like A Pirate by Dave Burgess

Weeks ago, a reader included that quote in a comment made here. Ever since, I've reflected on all the rich 'drum' stories waiting to be told. Reflection gave way to fantasy as I imagined how energizing it would be to get thousands of responses to a few prompts:

* At what age did you discover your "drum"? Or, are you still searching for it?

* Describe one of your best moments when you played your 'drum'  "... for all it is worth."

* Recount a drum story about someone you know who offered their "... gift ... to the world."

* Of people you've known well, what percentage would you say play their drum for all it is worth? What prevents any of us from doing so?

Back on earth, i.e. fantasy aside, do me a favor, please. Whether you respond here or not, try using one or more of these prompts when the next good opportunity presents itself. I suspect the ensuing conversation will be gratifying. Then, tell me and others about those drums.     

Monday, February 10, 2020

Words That Can Haunt Me, Part 16: Attention

Is it possible to separate the need for attention from the need for approval? How many people have you known who crave one but not the other?

Although I never had any illusions about my need for attention, I was probably fifty years old before anyone challenged my elaborately constructed "I could care less what other people think" persona. Though it initially enraged me, that individual who first pointed out my need for approval did me a big favor. Once my ego healed, I found it easier to identify triggers that led me to seek attention. And the less attention I sought, the less approval I needed.

I've made progress and I've got a long way to go. Sound familiar?