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New Jersey, United States

Friday, December 15, 2017

Four Years On


Although watching "Mudbound" was almost as difficult as reading it, I'm so glad Hillary Jordan's important novel was made into a film and released now. Movies reach so many more people than books.

The screenplay by Director Dee Rees and Virgil Williams expertly captures the multiple narrative voices from the novel using voiceover. Wisely, the language in those voiceovers is frequently lifted directly from the book. The ensemble acting, directing, and texture of the film are all first rate.

I sincerely wish there was a way to guarantee every white person in the US watched this film. Might not change a thing but I'm a little light on ideas to ease racial tension, although Twitter suddenly and happily crashing might be a good start.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A Lucky Guy

After adjourning our last meeting of the year earlier this evening, I began reflecting on the benefits I've derived running my own book club since January. If you've ever had a similar experience, I'd enjoy hearing how you've benefitted.

* Doing the research before each meeting provides a legitimate reason to indulge my interest in authors and the writing process.

* Facilitating the meetings - as long as I remember to keep my facilitator hat on - ensures I will learn what others took from the book. And, because I select only books that have moved me - for better or worse - more often than not, my appreciation for the books grows after the discussions, especially when the questions I prepare hit their mark.

* Because my wife is in the club, our conversations - before and after the meetings - are another way to deepen my understanding of each book. For example, Anthony Doerr's 2014 novel "All The Light We Cannot See," which was tonight's selection, is infused with vivid detail about the natural world. On my first pass, I didn't pay as much attention to that element of the novel as my wife later did when she read it. But following one of our pre-meeting conversations, I took time to tune in to that while reviewing my annotations and notes. Wow. If you've not read "All The Light ..." - but plan to do so soon - be sure to luxuriate in that piece of this author's gift.          

It's very possible looking at these books via the lens of my partner of forty years might be the biggest benefit of all.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The State I'm In

Which other US States could you envision living in?

Although New Jersey has been home since childhood, recently I've been more seriously considering States that entice me enough to re-locate. Given the moving history my wife and I have had over our forty years, we're about due for a change. So having visited all but three of the other forty nine - with my first visit to Hawaii weeks away - I've got enough data, right? Why not use my flawless taxonomy and join me in some harmless daydreaming? I've listed just four for each level; feel free to list more.

States that have significant appeal (alphabetically): Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon

States that could work in a pinch: Connecticut, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Virginia

Not a chance: Florida, Kansas, North Dakota, Oklahoma

Where will Hawaii land? Although I'm looking forward to visiting, I suspect being that far away from my daughter guarantees it will not make level #1 (unless she moves there and I'm enthralled). Too early to speculate on either Alabama or Mississippi until after my first visits to each, two probable 2019 vacation destinations. But the year-round heat of the deep South - or the extreme cold of Alaska or Minnesota for that matter - means those States will probably never get higher than level #2,  even if both knock me out.        

Saturday, December 2, 2017

That Old Devil Confidence

Although this post may be a bit whiny, it would have been far worse if my daughter hadn't called just before I approached my laptop. You can thank her for saving me from myself via a comment, if you decide to continue reading.   

How many of you battle over-confidence and its closest relative, arrogance? No? How about the flip side, i.e. the immobilizing insecurity that sometimes plagues people who struggle with confidence? My search for a sane and sustainable level of confidence is rarely off my already full plate. It's utterly exhausting. Maybe one of you can offer some useful insights to dislodge me from today's monkey mind, prompted by a perusal of the NY Times "Notable Books of 2017". A few disclaimers first.

* I know the list is subjective.

* I also know the NY Times doesn't hire just anyone to compile these lists.

* My frame of mind was above average before reading the list: Good night's sleep, beautiful day, I'm looking forward to my playing gig tonight. Ready?

I read the list. Of the fifty novels noted, I've finished three. How does the confidence gauge look? OK - at least I've read a few. Seconds pass. Of the three, only one ("Ill Will" by Dan Chaon) would have made my notable list. Confidence level dips toward empty, fast. Next question to self: What did you miss in the other two novels, Pat? Phone rings. Daughter rescues blogger from prolonged navel gazing and you from an insufferable post.

OK, bring on the insights. That is, unless you're a walk-on-water-never-struggle-with-the-balance-between-confidence-and-insecurity type. And don't forget to thank my daughter.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Required Reading For Principals

Watching the documentary "Waiting For Superman" soon after its release in 2010, I clearly recall being incensed at one scene. A room full of tenured New York City school teachers are playing cards, watching TV, sleeping. The voiceover describes how this idle group has been deemed unsuitable for the classroom but instead of being fired, they are hidden away, collecting a full salary. That scene - along with an unflattering portrayal of AFT President Randi Weingarten later in the film - persuaded me at the time to accept the filmmaker's point of view, i.e. unionism run amok is poisoning the public school system. Shame on me for being so gullible.

More significantly, thank goodness my retired schoolteacher sister suggested "The Teacher Wars: A History Of America's Most Embattled Profession" (2014). Dana Goldstein's compelling, balanced account was needed ballast for the agitprop of "Waiting For Superman". Although never out of the spell, "The Teacher Wars" was most educational for me when Goldstein covered some of the turmoil in the 19th century. Without books like this, where would I learn how the 14th amendment divided some early feminists and how that is connected to teaching? Without authors this insightful guiding me, would I understand the differing educational visions of Booker T Washington & W.E.B. Dubois and the legacies each created in the African-American culture? I doubt it.

And, in the second half of her excellent book, in a fair and factual way, Goldstein does address some of the problems teachers unions have either created or exacerbated. In a perfect world, "The Teacher Wars" would be required reading for every public school principal and administrator in the country. But I'll settle for those folks internalizing only the final message of the epilogue - "Be Real About The Limitations Of Our System". Everyone else: If you swallowed the Kool-Aid that 2010 documentary was serving, you owe it to yourself to read this book as an antidote.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Still Wondering


Has there ever been a thinking person who hasn't wondered - at least a few times - if they've made a difference in the world? Without spending a lifetime in therapy, who can know when they've crossed the line that separates this understandable human wonder from an unhealthy pre-occupation?

Though I wasn't surprised, until an attentive reader pointed it out, I didn't realize I'd used the same title - "Making A Difference" - for two blog posts published a few years apart, including the one above from exactly three years ago. However, after reading both, I was surprised to discover the posts had a common thread - teaching.

A few days after reading those posts, I heard someone describe their work as  " ... not real meaningful or anything that contributes to the world ..." I flashed to my early years teaching sexual harassment, close on the heels of the Hill-Thomas hearings. Given the current news tsunami, in that moment, I was proud of the time I spent educating others about this important topic. Did I make a difference? I don't know. But, the work felt very meaningful at the time. That's coming in handy right now; today has started out as one of those wondering days.


Thursday, November 23, 2017

Key Learnings: Year 67

What did you learn - or maybe re-learn - between your last two birthdays?

On my last seven birthdays, I've tried to identify some key things I've learned over the previous year and shared them publicly here. This exercise is always more fun when others join me; I hope a few of you will do so again.

* From my daughter I learned how a Mark Twain motto I've lived by - "The harder you work, the luckier you get" - may have interfered with my ability to see the importance of serendipity in everyday life.

* From Susan Cain's excellent book "Quiet" (2012), I learned to better appreciate the dissonant aspects of my extroverted personality.

* Via a long conversation with a new friend, I learned a way to re-frame some lingering regret I've long held regarding some earlier-in-life choices.

It's especially appropriate today to say how thankful I am for all I've learned over the last year.