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New Jersey, United States

Friday, December 9, 2016

Thanks From The Big Head In His Tiny Puddle

It's been a while since I've said thanks to folks who read this blog, no matter how regularly. Every time someone tells me they've gotten something from a post, my already over-sized head swells. I'm especially grateful that a few years back my daughter discovered the widget on blogger allowing people to follow me via getting an e-mail each time I publish. Since adding that widget to my interface, I've seen a significant spike in views. Welcome to new readers who found me that way.

And sometimes, especially after reaching a personal milestone in total views - as I did this past week - or, if an individual post gets a fair amount of attention, I find myself reflecting what it must be like to have the reach of an artist like Paul Simon. When someone attains that level of notoriety, how do they remain grounded? It must be so difficult for folks in that rarefied realm to distinguish sincere admiration for their work from the sycophancy of the crazies. No wonder the famous often marry the famous.

Excuse the idle speculation from the bell curve. The big head in his tiny puddle says thanks and, as always, sincerely welcomes feedback on how to keep you reading.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

19th Century Cambridge; 21st Century NJ

What's become clearer to you since we last spoke?

Emerson frequently used that fantastic question when he encountered people on the streets of Cambridge. When I need either an emotional lift or an intellectual jolt, few things work as reliably as spending time with the Transcendentalists. Which group of American thinkers has ever rivaled the freshness of their ideas or their moral bravery?

"What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us."

Feminists almost a century before women got the vote, abolitionists thirty years before the Civil War, naturalists, educational reformers, advocates. More than a few times, I've fantasized about having conversations on these visionary subjects with people like this. Would I have had what it takes? Would you? At minimum, this blog has been a method I've used regularly to sort out what's become clearer to me. What has become clearer for you recently?

"Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large; I contain multitudes."

Monday, December 5, 2016

No Wine Or Whining Book Club

After seven years and lessons learned from eighteen clubs, I've concluded the best way to continually deepen my appreciation for books I've read is to try starting my own club. Added advantage: No one can ask me to leave.

I'm aiming for perfection. Here's how that would look:
* Six to ten people at most meetings.
* Discussions about "likable" fictional characters and grandchildren's hobbies are minimal.
* Challenging and provocative books are welcome alongside engaging or entertaining ones.

With all the remaining variables my responsibility, I'm feeling positive about the potential. If the club is successful, drawing more discerning readers as time goes on, great. If the club doesn't get off the ground or is gasping for air after several meetings, the buck stops here.

Wish me luck and let me know offline if you're interested. Readers who don't live locally and those I don't know personally, stay tuned for periodic updates.   

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Pop Culture Triptych - Volume 3

Even with the number of words available and the hundreds or thousands of song lyrics we've heard over our lives, the four words below can still only conjure three possible songs in the minds of most people.

I say huckleberry and you say ....

I say unphotographable and you say ...

I say Joe DiMaggio and you say ...

Oh yeah, I've got a long list of these unmistakable references from pop songs . But I'm just greasing the wheels. In your mind, what word or name is so inextricably linked to a specific song that there is only one plausible response? No phrases or sentences, and the word can't be part of the title of the song. Fair is fair. Bring 'em on.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Lists, Cafes, Synergies

The NY Times "100 Notable Books Of The Year" is a list that reminds me how time zips by. This year I didn't read a single novel of the fifty from that list. There are two - "The Nix" (Nathan Hill) and "Nutshell" (Ian McEwan) -  that will be moved up on my own list now that the Times has endorsed them. Both had been previously recommended to me by my reading posse; that's some group, right?

At least I got to two the Times featured on the non-fiction side. "When Breath Becomes Air" by Paul Kalanithi was the subject of my August 9 post. Not a happy book but clearly a notable one. And most recently, I was enchanted by the company "At The Existentialist Cafe" (Sarah Bakewell). I picked up Bakewell's latest book based on loving "How To Live", her 2010 biography of Michel Montaigne.

"Ideas are interesting, but people are vastly more so." That sentence seems to shape Bakewell's writing approach. Just as in the Montaigne book, "...Café" is an educational but lively romp with people at the center. In this book, she showcases the thinkers who informed and then shaped what became known as existentialism. And in a wild coincidence, at the same time I happened to be reading Bakewell's account of Martin Heidegger, Jean Paul Sartre, and Albert Camus, I had reached the point in a Great Courses series on philosophy where I was listening to lectures on the same three giants! Did this visual/auditory synergy make Heidegger's dense writing more comprehensible to me? If only. 

Still, the eye to ear repetition of parallel information can only be good for my brain. Bakewell saves her highest praise for Simone DeBeauvoir, Sartre's lifelong intellectual companion. I was tempted to add DeBeauvoir's magnum opus "The Second Sex" to my reading list after finishing "...Café" until that damn NY Times list came out.


Friday, December 2, 2016

Message From 2016: Daddy Wants Your Tally

Over a lifetime, each of us on the bell curve have prolonged contact with several groups of people, usually beginning with our immediate families. For many of us, that first group is frequently followed by our classmates, neighbors, and friends made outside of school or neighborhoods. Later in life, other common groups may include extended family, work colleagues, parents of our children's friends, and people from groups encountered via work interests, hobbies, or otherwise.

Considering all those groups - and add in anything I've overlooked - how many total people would you guess you've had prolonged contact with over your lifetime? For those of us thirty five and older, a guess is probably the best we can do. But if Facebook and other social media platforms continue to thrive, in 2056 when my millennial twenty seven year old daughter is my age her guess will be much more grounded than any of our 2016 versions. She'll be able to scroll through her networks - how many will she be juggling by then? -  and tally how many individuals she actually had prolonged contact with over her sixty seven years. Will she bother? Almost certainly not, unless I can figure out a way to have this blog post appear on the screen of whatever device she's carrying forty years from now. If anyone can help me with that, I'd be grateful.  

My daughter - like many in her generation - grew up with this technology and has embraced and adopted each social media platform as it was introduced. Consequently, her network is massive. And that has helped her career, allowed her to stay in touch with many people from earlier years and - at times - exhausted her. Still, I'm a little embarrassed to admit I envy her ability to do that tally anytime she wants; I like more precise numbers.      

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

You May Say That I'm A Dreamer

Attentive readers might have noticed that I infrequently indulge in fantasy and encourage you to join me. Ready to participate in today's harmless dream?

When was the last time a stranger said "good morning" to you? Held open a public door for you? How about another driver waving you into traffic as you were waiting to exit a parking lot? Given the current ugliness of much of our public discourse, lately I've found myself fantasizing that a few of those simple acts of common courtesy have been accompanied by a civil political discussion. Scoff if you will but when I have the presence of mind to imagine a reasonable conversation when some stranger is gracious to me, it gives me a small measure of solace.

On some days the screaming, the name calling, the petulant tweeting are so wearying that a basic kindness - no matter how mundane - catapults me to fantasy land. There are surely worse things.