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Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Pointing In

Foremost among the things eleven + years of blogging has taught me is how important it is to use my own shortcomings whenever trying to point out how misguided we as humans can sometimes be. It's possible this pointing in vs. pointing out - as difficult as it can be, especially for an egotist like me - is one of the reasons comics often get their biggest laughs using themselves as the butt of their jokes.

I've aspired to be a good improviser on guitar for a long time. But only quite recently did I begin to understand why that aspiration has continually eluded me. And that understanding came to me as I prepared to write a blog post, one that could have easily ended up in the "pointing out" camp if I hadn't stepped back. 

My aspiration to be a good improviser on guitar has at its root one simple fact: I have not spent enough time studying, de-constructing, and then assiduously copying the great solos of world-class improvisers. I have spent thousands of hours practicing my instrument, studying many other aspects, all of which have helped make me a better overall guitarist. But because I haven't devoted important time to great solos - guitar or otherwise - I've ended up with average improvisational abilities. Painful lesson? You bet. But arriving at it honestly beats using examples of aspiring songwriters or memoirists I've met to make the same point. Pointing out their shortcomings is lazy. Better to state the obvious: Unless an aspiring artist from any field is working from recognized models while honing their craft, that artist is bound to come up short, just as I have as an improviser.        

Acclaimed novelist Ernest Gaines was once asked the best way to become a writer. His elegant answer: "Read, read, then read some more".  There is no shortcut, magic bullet, or other way. Take it from me, the one pointing in: Study, deconstruct, copy. Then be patient and await your emerging voice.  

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Always on the Lookout

Although it was not easy doing so, I recently decided to abandon my list of 100 favorite books for a few reasons:

1.) My favorites keep shifting as my reading discernment deepens.

2.) Like many of you, a favorite from a different stage of life - especially those cherished when we were young - can sometimes lose its luster on a re-read. 

3.) There are simply too many great books. Limiting my list to 100 has outlived its usefulness.

Even casual readers of this blog might appreciate the trauma induced for this semi-obsessive list-maker via this abandonment. Although I could have avoided that trauma by expanding my list to more than 100, after finishing Jonathan Franzen's towering, most recent novel - Crossroads (2021) - I instead settled on a strategy that seems more sustainable, given the likely number of reading years remaining for me. My list of 100 favorite books has now been officially superseded by 100 favorite authors, with Franzen occupying slot #27. BTW, this list - like the one it is superseding - is not hierarchal. 

Why is this strategy more sustainable? Because finding seventy-three more authors worthy of my list before I run out of time is unlikely. Why not abandon the list without replacing it? Next question. How does an author ascend to these lofty heights? There must have been at least one string of three consecutive knock-me-to-the-ground books I've read - novels or non-fiction (though not necessarily read chronologically by publication date) - before that author can climb into my top 100. Directly below is a blog post from 2016 marking Franzen's sophomore entry in that trifecta. His first entry was for The Corrections, which kicked my ass upon its release in 2001, a decade before I began blogging. My list of the twenty-six authors preceding Franzen? Available on request. But I'd prefer instead if you would share with others which authors are on your list, no matter its size. I'm always on the lookout. If you do share, please include at least one title by any author you name. Thanks. 

Reflections From The Bell Curve: A Home Run

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Another Maxim to Toss

What did you most recently learn about yourself? I'd like to claim I react to these frequent late-in-life learning experiences by saying "better late than never" to myself. Instead, what I'm more inclined to say as Act Three continues to unfold is "How the hell did it take you so long to figure this out?" 

Case in point: Preparing a joint speech for our daughter's recent wedding taught me three things that could have made my lifetime's creative output more rewarding and my life in general a little easier:

* Collaborating on creative endeavors usually improves the quality of an end-product. 

* When collaborating, avoid writing down too much. It dawned on me as we worked together over several sessions: When I write something down, I'm heavily invested in my words. That means I'll fight to keep what I've written, even when changing my words could result in a better end-product.

* I'm a much better public speaker when I resist the temptation to improvise my remarks.

Bottom line: This old dog can learn new tricks, despite the hoary maxim claiming otherwise. And I am grateful the old dog keeps trying, steep learning curve notwithstanding.   

Sunday, August 7, 2022

RIP: Headline in Advance

It's safe to say that when my time is up, the NY Times will not be featuring me on its obit page. That inescapable reality has not prevented me from occasionally fantasizing what the headline of an obit in the Times would say. Why not join me today in some harmless fantasizing?

Pat Barton, world-renowned vehicle packer and refrigerator organizer, dies at 102 (Told you it was a fantasy, didn't I?)

Each time I pack a vehicle of any size, whether it's to help someone move or when going on vacation or, most recently, de-camping from the resort where my daughter was married, anyone observing me marvels at my world-class skill doing so. It's no mystery how this dubious talent came to be - many years packing rundown vans and/or U-hauls during my rock n' roll road era. So much for skeptics who've said my dissolute young adult life conferred no long-lasting benefits.  

My equally extraordinary ability to fill a refrigerator to its total capacity is of a piece with that packing skill but comes in handy far more frequently. Anyone who doubts this talent is worthy of a half page NY Times obit, invite me to your next Thanksgiving dinner and try not to be dumbfounded watching me do my magic. 

Your turn.     


Thursday, August 4, 2022

Pop Culture Triptych: Countdown from Fifty

My Pop Culture Triptych series - initiated in 2016 but dormant since 2018 - got a recent boost in the days leading up to my daughter's wedding. Challenging my daughter, wife, and soon-to-be-husband to come up with a song title containing the numbers eight down to one as the big day approached - without using Google - I formulated a way to revive my moribund series by counting down from fifty, in threes.

Here's the challenge to readersWithout using Google, identify a song, movie, book, TV show, etc. - i.e., any item of pop culture ephemera - that uses in its title one or more of the descending numbers beginning at "47" going backwards. I will then follow any reader contribution(s) with three items using the next three descending numbers, i.e. a triptych, beginning wherever the last contributor leaves off. I promise NOT to use Google. If there is a long-ish delay in my response, that simply means I'm having trouble coming up with a piece of pop culture containing one or more of the next three descending numbers. But together, we will get down to "one", I promise, no matter how long it takes. Every post in the newest variation of this series will countdown from wherever I'm obligated to begin based on reader input. I'll wait at least a month between my posts to publish the next three descending numbers to give you time to think and join the fun. (Be sure to read the comments of other readers to maintain the orderly countdown.) The more of you who participate, the faster we will get to the end, i.e., a piece of pop culture ephemera having the word "one" in its title. Ready?

50: Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover - hit record by Paul Simon

49: 49 Bye-Byes - closing LP cut from Crosby, Stills, and Nash 

48: 48 Hours - blockbuster film starring Nick Nolte & Eddie Murphy

Your turn. Start at "47", anyone. Give me one, two, or three (a triptych) items, but no more than three, please. 

Reflections From The Bell Curve: Pop Culture Triptych - Volume 1

Reflections From The Bell Curve: Pop Culture Triptych - Volume 6

Monday, August 1, 2022

Recycling at its Best

Exactly ten years ago today I proposed August 1 be declared National Book Day. My unassailable rationale and a few guidelines for kicking off that new holiday are included in the blog post for that date, appended below. I even provided a two-year window so things could get started by August 1, 2014.

When the expected groundswell of popular support didn't begin materializing over the next year, I was undaunted. Instead, on each subsequent August 1 since, I have proposed a different new holiday for this barren month. Remarkably, none of the ten - including National Book Day - has yet taken off. More's the pity for greeting card companies - barely limping along in the e-card era - and the liquor industry; both are missing out on a golden marketing opportunity.  

As I frequently used to tell those folks who used me as coach, when anyone says "no" to any idea you propose, resist the temptation to hear "never".  Instead, re-cycle any idea you believe has value as many times as it takes until you hear "yes".  And so, ten years to the day since first proposing National Book Day, I'm pleased to report this holiday is currently being discussed in committee in the U.S. Congress. OK, not really, but don't you think it should be?     

Reflections From The Bell Curve: August 1, 2014: National Book Day

Sunday, July 31, 2022

... and After

Well, the drugs helped, kind of.  

I made it through playing Just the Way You Are on guitar as my beloved daughter walked toward her soon-to-be husband as the ceremony began. Passing her hand to his, a wise strategy suddenly arrived to help me conceal the flood: I grasped his head with both hands, whispering in his ear. I'll spare you the message. As others spoke during the ceremony - including the moving vows the bride and groom wrote - my weeping was subsumed by loud sniffles in the room. The five piece brass band escorting the newly married couple from the ceremony into the cocktail hour returned my composure, briefly. Onto the reception.

Our brief speech following the toast by my daughter's best friend had four parts. I held it together as my wife delivered part one. Part two? I paused a lot, took deep breaths, stuck to the script - so far, so good. My wife took part three and part four was brief enough that I almost got through the section about home unscathed. Almost.  

The two of us dancing to Til There Was You, the lullaby I sang to her as an infant, toddler and beyond? Don't ask. The good news? By the time that dance occurred, my jacket and tie had been on the back of a chair for a while, my shirt drenched from ninety minutes of non-stop dancing. Who would possibly notice my unstoppable tears given the state I was in at that point?