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New Jersey, United States

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Turning The Tables

"Individuals who are realized in their own lives almost never criticize others. If they speak at all, it is to offer encouragement. Watch yourself. Of all the manifestations of resistance, most only harm ourselves. Criticism and cruelty hurt others as well."  - from "The War Of Art" (2002), Stephen Pressfield.

Timing is everything. If I hadn't read "Big Magic" - Elizabeth Gilbert's amazing book about creativity - just a week before, Stephen Pressfield's would have been the best book about that subject I'd read in the last ten years. The universe is clearly speaking to me about my own creative journey.

"Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has a genius, magic, and power in it. Begin it, now." - Johann Goethe

Some of the recent spooky occurrences in my life - "Into The Wild" mysteriously appearing in my mailbox, the only Ann Patchett novel I've ever read ("State of Wonder") turning up in both "Big Magic" and today's "By The Book" feature in the NY Times, Stephen Pressfield using the same Goethe quote featured in the Great Courses lecture I'm currently listening to -  have gotten my attention.

"There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny. This second we can turn the tables on resistance." -from "The War of Art". I'm ready. How about you?

Saturday, August 27, 2016

A Chord That Rocked My World, Not The World

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0tcfbgQsYtM

My brother - a person whose musical taste is nearly impeccable - has long been trying to convince me that "A Hard Day's Night" represents the Beatles at their best. Not their best song, per se, but the tune that nails their magic like no other. Though unpersuaded by his choice - my nominee for the Beatles at their best is "Rain" - I've always agreed with his contention that the opening chord of "A Hard Day's Night" is etched into the public consciousness like few others in the musical history of the past half-century.

So imagine my dismay when I recently played just that opening chord for a group of thirty adults and not one person reacted to it. How could this be? This dependable musical cue I'd considered iconic had worked just as planned in all my previous classes. But, this time - no recognition, no response! Just seconds into that hubris-filled moment, my baby boomer bias slapped me silly. I suddenly realized that in 1964, the people in this class were no doubt busy making a living, some of them raising families; that chord did not rock their world. I'd known before starting this audience would be older than I, but that explosive chord eliciting no response had not crossed my mind.

Then driving home after the class I recalled how excited I was to expose my Mom to John and Paul harmonizing on "If I Fell" in 1964; she was forty four years old. "Oh that's nice, Patrick, but the Lennon Sisters harmonize so much better." And, on the spot, I decided the theme song from "Shaft" - "iconic" high hat and wah-wah guitar notwithstanding - would get less attention on day two of my class than in previous classes.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Reliable And/Or Predictable

When you are able to rely on someone does it logically follow that you'll be able to predict their behavior in most circumstances?

Here's my dilemma. I value my reliability but I don't value being predictable. And, more often than not, I feel the same about other people, regardless of whether I know them personally. Surprise and delight me and be where you say you'll be when you say you'll be there. Keep it fresh and keep showing up.

My perpetual challenge is remaining mindful about the tension between these two closely related traits. Although my dictionary doesn't list predictable as a synonym for reliable, trying to tease apart a distinction between the two attributes is thorny. If you consider yourself reliable, I'm curious to hear the strategies you use to resolve this tension. Or perhaps you value predictability more than I, in which case there is no tension.

Thanks to a tennis partner for an uncredited assist with this post. The bad news for me: After posing my question at the top to him, his mind was so engaged he forgot to over-think his game. He then walloped me 6-1 in our first set.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

School's Out (& In)

Remember how you felt as a kid when school was about to adjourn for the summer? What was the last thing you anticipated that filled you with that intensity of delight?

Next Monday I'm headed for a week long guitar camp in upstate New York led by the amazing Robben Ford. And unlike the National Guitar Workshop experience I had in 2001 - while still working full time - because my time has been my own for the last six and a half years, my confidence about my playing is at an all time high. Also, a goal I announced here on the day before my 62nd birthday - getting my solo jazz guitar repertoire up to three hundred songs - is now over 2/3 complete. So in addition to feeling confident, I'm feeling more prepared than I did in 2001, thanks to almost five years of focused concentration living inside these timeless songs.

Being guided by Robben Ford, having my guitar in my hands for five straight days, being around so many other guitarists - many of whom, I'm certain, will be awesome - I'm vibrating, not unlike how I felt as the end of June approached during childhood. Though I'm taking my laptop, the jam sessions, the nighttime concerts, and the ad hoc interactions with other guitarists will take priority over blogging. If I do publish any posts next week, be prepared for unadulterated gushing. Now, cue the Alice Cooper.      

Monday, August 22, 2016

Bigger Than Happenstance

When did a book last choose you?

On the day "Into The Wild" mysteriously appeared in my mailbox last week, I had just returned from the library with three books. All were non-fiction because my recent reading diet had disturbed my ratio a bit in favor of fiction. My wife had an odd theory about why Jon Krakauer's gripping 1996 account of the final two years in the life of Chris McCandless had turned up. But the excellent 2007 film adaptation of "Into The Wild" has lingered with me, non-fiction was next in the queue, and Krakauer's "Under The Banner Of Heaven" (2003) remains in my top fifty non-fiction of all time, i.e. this mailbox gift chose me. I consumed "Into The Wild" in one sitting.

I'll guess what the practical among you might be thinking. Coincidence, kismet, convenience. I'll stick with my theory: this book chose me. Early on, Krakauer disavows claims to objectivity as a biographer because he recognizes in his subject a younger version of himself. I remembered feeling exactly that way watching the reckless behavior of McCandless in the film. And during my 2015 experience with the wild and rugged majesty of Alaska - in a locale not far from the one described in the book - many of the young locals I met were Pat, circa 1969. It was weird and invigorating. These 21st century hippies have a freshness and vitality to them that was hard to resist, even for some of the staid members of our Road Scholars entourage. Like McCandless was, they are fiercely alive. Their energy and idealism ideally suits the austerity and primal environment they've chosen as their home. I left Alaska inspired by their commitment and wistful to return. Then "Into The Wild" chose me.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Figuring It Out, A Sentence At A Time

"I don't know what I think until I write about it."  - Joan Didion

Though most are not as pithy as Joan Didion, many people I've known who keep a journal (nee diary) - no matter how erratically - share her view on the value of writing.

My brief Internet search didn't point me to any reliable estimates about the percentage of people who do journal, but there is a fair body of research outlining the benefits of doing so. I don't need that research to know how much more difficult my lowest periods would have been had I never begun a journal. What has been your experience? How much does your writing help your thinking?

I never suspected blogging would supersede my need to keep a journal. I knew I'd still need a place to wallow in self-pity periodically as well as to privately scribble my impressions of people, familiar and new to me. But I have been surprised the number of journal entries I make has not diminished much over these five and a half years - figuring out what I think, a sentence at a time.          

Friday, August 19, 2016

More What?

"Wait, what?"

That was my reaction upon learning of a surprising and unconventional decision made by a young woman I know. In that moment, I realized the word "what" is missing far too frequently from my present life, especially when accompanied by that raised inflection indicating someone has been genuinely surprised by something I've said or done. Effective immediately, I'm aiming for more what in my life. And as long as the what is attached to surprising someone - including myself - I'll accept it in any tense, e.g.

"You're going to do what?"

"You're doing what?"

"You did what?"

Care to join me? Better yet, tell me and others something you're planning to do, are doing, or have done lately that prompted a what? from someone in your life.