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New Jersey, United States

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Ouch

"If I cannot see some good in all of us and hope that the pain we all share will come to an end, what kind of man am I?" 

How often do you ask yourself a question as difficult as that? I sincerely believe the world would be a more civil place if we each tried to see more good in others. And I know I'd like myself a little more if I routinely integrated that kind of grace into my life.

"We are none of us innocent."

Pointing the finger at others is so much easier than looking at ourselves, isn't it? How much healthier I'd be if I considered my complicity in the injustices of the world instead of demonizing the folks who have been publicly declared guilty of wrongdoing. Why expend energy in such a negative way?

"It must be a terrible thing to know you've been a bad parent, but it's worse to know you have been an ungrateful child."

Ouch. The quotes above are from John Boyne's unsparing novel A History of Loneliness (2015). The narrator and central character - Odran Yates - is an insular Catholic priest who has tended a library as the cancer in the Church has metastasized and the payoffs to purchase silence have been authorized by Rome. The architecture is masterful, the prose is solid, the story is compelling. But I recommend it only to those unafraid to look inward.      

Saturday, April 20, 2019

A Seder With My Tribe

Although I have no clear recollection of specifics, I'm reasonably sure the Seder I just attended was not my first. After all, over my almost seventy years, more than a few Jewish people have been important to me. I certainly have fond memories being the guest of friends at bar mitzvahs for their sons.

I do know this particular Seder will remain with me. I struggled to maintain my composure several times; I was not alone. The modern relevance of the ancient words from the Haggadah was striking. It was comforting to know that the twenty adults sitting around that table, none of whom I knew just eighteen months ago, shared some important values with me. We all abhor oppression and injustice, celebrate tolerance, believe people deserve to be treated with dignity. I was honored to be there. (Added bonus: Every so often, a Hebrew word was either recognizable or easily pronounceable; I relished jumping into the shared readings at that point.)

On some days, the incivility of modern life can wear me down. You? This affirming Seder gave me a lift I plan on holding onto for as long as I'm able.    
 

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Got Three Words?

Compromise, laughter, trust.

All day yesterday, as my wife and I celebrated the anniversary of our first date in 1978, I'd planned to close the day publishing a blog post about our reasonably healthy long term partnership inspired by a NY Times feature called What We've Learned.

Compromise, laughter, trust. 

After several false starts, I gave up around midnight and then resumed trying first thing this a.m. But my usual model of asking questions (e.g. What have you discovered are the critical elements to help a long term partnership thrive?) and aiming for three terse paragraphs just wasn't working. I'm grateful beyond measure for the life my wife and I have shared for forty one years. And, like all long term partnerships - like yours - we've struggled. Still, for me, at least this moment, three words nail it.  

Compromise, laughter, trust.

Got three words that nail it for you?  

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Tuning Up Our Planning Mojo

My reactions on those infrequent occasions when I've re-visited blog posts written on the same date from years back have been unpredictable. I've been both pleased and embarrassed about my writing. I've been proud I accomplished things I publicly committed to and chastened by my lack of progress. I've wished I'd had courage to say more and wished I'd kept my opinions to myself. Through all those ups and downs, one thing has remained constant: I'm glad I started this blog and have stuck with it.

https://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2012/04/future-filled-with-parks.html

Case in point: Although our National Park mission - declared in the post above from April 14, 2012 - has moved forward, re-reading it reminded me we're going to have to pick up the pace over the next several years. Since that 2012 visit to Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, we've visited about a dozen others. (A few favorites over the seven years: Denali in Alaska and Big Bend in Texas.) But somehow, no parks got included while planning our 2019 trips. There are two we've yet to visit that are within reasonable driving distance - Cuyahoga Valley in Ohio and Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee - so 2019 is not yet a lost cause.

Still, most of the six remaining National Parks in Alaska we haven't yet seen will be a real challenge unless we get our planning mojo working more efficiently. If I happen to re-read this post seven years from now and we still haven't made it to Kobuk Valley - not to mention American Samoa - the post I publish on April 14, 2026 could be a bit more wistful than this one.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Testing Pat's Theory Of Relativity

Because today's post has several parts, it's longer than my usual length; I hope you'll indulge me. Those parts include a disclaimer, a link to a website you'll use in assisting me to test a theory, and a request involving that theory.  

The disclaimer: Knowing the capitals of the fifty United States is neither useful nor important. And memorizing those capitals early in life - with assists from childhood dinner conversations - does not make a geography nerd like me smarter than anybody who could care less, my family's obnoxious braggadocio aside. This post is specifically aimed at folks who could care less. But, each of you will need a list of those capitals to help test my theory so here's the website to keep handy.

https://state.1keydata.com/state-capitals.php

Theory: I submit, interest aside, there are three levels of familiarity with State capitals and each level has an easy-to-predict percentage of people who could correctly identify the capital, willingly or not.

Level 1.) are capitals that the majority of people, would be able to name. Included in my level 1 are Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Phoenix and a few others. But my tally needn't be the same as yours. Look at all fifty and you decide how many of the capitals belong in this easy-even-for-the-uninterested-to-guess group. Use yourself as a representative example. If the capital seems really obvious to you - I'm assuming you could care less - it's probably the same for many others. All I want is your help testing my theory. Your sample of people to ask needn't be bigger than three. If two of your three get the easy capitals right that would be a majority, i.e. my theory has been proven. And, you don't have to test the uninterested/unwilling with all your level 1 capitals; just say Georgia and if two of your three say Atlanta, that's good enough for me.

Level 2.) are capitals that the majority of folks would not be able to name, i.e. this level includes those capitals that just one of your sample of three would get right (unless you're as nerdy as me and go for a bigger sample.) Included in my level 2 are many, though not all, of the capitals from the "groups of four" - four capitals ending with the word City, four that have the same first letter as their respective State, four named after a President. FYI, two of those - Oklahoma City and Jefferson City - straddle two of those groups. Also included in this level - this is the kind of trick us memorizing nerds use all the time - are the five capitals with two words (not including those ending in City), and a few others that are arguably more memorable (e.g. Columbus, Ohio?). My total for level 2 is around twenty two capitals. But, before making a final decision about what belongs in your level 2, consider level 3. Also: Note the caveat, because where the folks in your sample are from can skew your results if you're not careful.

Level 3.) are capitals that the overwhelming majority of all people, including your sample of three (that would be none), would not be able to name. I've got about twenty one here. Important caveat for this level: Be sure to consider where the folks making up your sample were raised and/or have spent a good part of their life residing. This is important in validating my theory. Included in my level 3 is the capital of my own State because few people in Oregon or North Dakota or Kentucky would ever guess Trenton is the capital of New Jersey the same way few people in New Jersey would ever guess Salem or Bismarck or Frankfort for their respective States. Albany and Harrisburg go in my level 3 for the same reason, i.e. unless you were raised or have resided in a nearby State, I maintain your guesses for capitals would be New York City or Buffalo for New York and either Philadelphia or Pittsburgh for Pennsylvania. But again, use that list and you decide. Just test my theory.

OK, now my request:  My pending offer from the Einstein Foundation for the Continuing Study of Important Theories by Certified Geniuses (EFCSITCG) stipulates my compensation - proving or disproving my theory -  is tied to the amount of data I collect. So, please get back to me ASAP with your results. Apologies to those folks who are accustomed to the periodic posts I put on my Facebook wall being much briefer than this. Given my current shortage of funds, and the potential windfall from EFCSITCG, enlisting help from Facebook friends today seemed financially sensible.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Confessions Of A Page-Numbering Book Geek

It's official - Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind - is now the book that took me the longest time to finish over the nine years of my post full time work life.

How do I know this? Because of the start and finish date noted in my book journals. Was Sapiens the longest book I've read since initiating those journals in 2010? Nope - Anna Karenina was twice as long. Was Yuval Noah Harari's 2015 masterwork the most technical? It was not - that distinction arguably belongs to the superb - and longer - The Emperor of Maladies: A Biography of Cancer (Siddhartha Mukherjee - 2011). Was Sapiens the most dense? In my view, Collapse: How Societies Choose To Fail or Succeed - Jared Diamond's equally excellent 2005 volume - owns that label. BTW, Collapse is also longer than Sapiens.

Did my attention wander while reading Sapiens? Not once. Was my life unusually busy? No. Was I reading other books at the same time, did I misplace it a few times, was the pace lumbering or the prose unsatisfying? None of the above. Have I dragged this out long enough?

In the end, it would have been wise for me to purchase Sapiens and mark it up. Instead, I took over thirty pages of notes; writing down that much took a lot of time. And, each time I re-opened the book, I re-read many of my notes; there was so much I wanted to remember. The longest break in the book warranting no notes? Twenty pages. How do I know this? I write down page numbers. I know this is geeky - note the non-ironic title of this post.

I cannot recommend this book enough, especially for fans of non-fiction. I promise you: There are startling insights as well as potential learning for almost everyone on nearly every page, all wrapped in an easy-to-understand and digest package. But do yourself a favor: Buy a copy and save some time.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Free At Last

Nine years ago my full time work life concluded.

A partial list of mundane things I don't miss includes having to rise each morning at about the same time, dealing with rush hour traffic, wearing a tie. Speaking of ties, which mysterious elements in the fashion universe coincided to help codify that utterly senseless business convention?

But different mundane annoyances comparable to those above are part of my post full time work life as well. And those past annoyances were as easily tolerable as the current ones. What I miss least about the daily grind - and have worked to avoid since April 2010 - is pretending to be interested in conversations about things of no value. Infrequently, one of my "business" conversations comes back to me in some detail. These rewinds can make me laugh out loud at myself. How did I keep a straight face back then? Conversational flashbacks like this sound familiar to anyone who has left the world of full time work? Those of you still working full time: When was the last time a work conversation bored you so much you wanted to scream, sleep, or pummel the others involved?

Has every conversation I've had since 2010 been valuable, rich with ideas, scintillating? What do you think? The biggest difference is how I now search for value and how easy it can be - with all my time my own - to find situations that are likely to yield that value. No more excuses, no more pretending, no more acronyms or abbreviations. Free at last.