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Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Words For The Ages, Line Fourteen

"The only truth I know is you."

If the rock n' roll era has produced a more consistently excellent lyricist than Paul Simon, that person remains unknown to me. Dylan is more prolific and arguably, more influential. Joni Mitchell can be more fearless and Elvis Costello can be more trenchant. But for my money, much as I often admire the lyrics of those three giants - and others - Paul Simon sets the bar that much higher.

One could reasonably ask why it then took me over three years to settle on a phrase from Simon's oeuvre to enshrine as words for the ages. And, why not a phrase from one of his iconic songs instead of this jewel from the more obscure Kathy's Song? Short answer? Because I spend too much time thinking about stuff like this. Beginning in May 2017, each of my fourteen selections for words for the ages has aimed for -

* A lyrical phrase that can stand alone. If surrounding or nearby rhymes are needed to prop up or complete a phrase, and especially if those rhymes make that phrase too long, I reject it.

* A universal truth. I daresay anyone reading the words opening this post who has ever loved another person would agree these are words for the ages.

* A phrase I believe most people will have no trouble remembering, both because of its brevity and its use of simple language.

All that aside, the purpose of this series from the outset has been to hear which lyrics you'd select as words for the ages. Today, tell me which terse Paul Simon phrase strikes you that way. Meanwhile, I've got a few dozen other lyricists to occupy my addled brain until next time.           

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Important Unfinished Work

Each time I learn another piece about someone from my Road Scholar tribe, my gratitude for having made these later-in-life friends deepens. And the added dimensions I've gotten from the life stories of these newer friends has reminded me how important it is to keep probing my older friends about their stories to see what hidden treasure I've yet to discover there. What did you recently discover about someone you've known for a long time that blew you away?

When Congressman John Lewis died last week, I learned that one of my Road Scholar friends had served on the board of the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund for years. This friend informed me that John Lewis had faithfully introduced the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Bill to Congress each year. Had it passed, the act would have permitted conscientious objectors to direct the portion of their taxes that goes to the military to nonmilitary options at the discretion of Congress. Learning this not only enhanced my respect for the important unfinished work Lewis dedicated his life to doing, it also made me proud to be the friend of someone who aligned himself with an effort like this.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

A Year Of Home Runs

"Wasn't friendship its own miracle, the finding of another person who made the entire lonely world seem somehow less lonely?"

Over what remains of my life, I strongly suspect I'll never again read a book about friendship that will top A Little Life. But before you begin reading it, be advised: The intensity of Hanya Yanagihara's 2015 novel can be emotionally exhausting. If you avoid catharsis when reading, this book is not for you.

"I know my life is meaningful because I'm a good friend. I love my friends, and I care about them, and I think I make them happy."

And though the prose is - like that passage - utterly straightforward, this is now the most marked-up book in my collection. I kept underlining, folding down pages, returning to re-read my annotations, stopping long enough only to collect myself. How can a book of over eight hundred pages have not one clunky sentence? As painful as it could be, the richness and depth of the characters compelled me to continue. A Little Life might be my most immersive reading experience of the past ten years.

"...the only trick of friendship, ...is to find people better than you are - not smarter, not cooler, but kinder, and more generous, and more forgiving - and then to appreciate them for what they can teach you , and to try to listen to them when they tell you something about yourself, no matter how bad - or good - it might be, and to trust them, which is the hardest thing of all. But the best, as well."

When my niece read that passage at my June book jam, A Little Life went in my queue. I'm pleased - despite my caveat about its intensity - I took the emotional plunge. It's been a banner year for novels - four home runs so far: The Overstory (Richard Powers), The Good Lord Bird (James McBride), So Long, See You Tomorrow (William Maxwell) and now A Little Life. And still five months left. Cool. 

Saturday, August 1, 2020

National Movie Day (Beginning 8/1/21, I Hope)

Because of the runaway success of the eight brilliant ideas I've proposed here every August 1 since 2012, this month no longer stands alone as the only one without a major holiday. Yet, much as I've been gratified to see my stunning prescience appropriately rewarded - I'm now on permanent retainer with Hallmark for the additional business created by my holidays - I will not rest on my extraordinary laurels. It's now time to complete the trifecta.

Effective immediately, I declare August 1 National Movie Day, following National Book Day, which was announced on 8/1/12 with an effective date of 8/1/14, and National Music Day, announced on 8/1/19. (Links establishing these now widely celebrated holidays at the bottom of this post. If you doubt the power and reach of this blog, you need only compare the particulars outlined in each of those posts - or look at the other six announced on each August 1 -  with what subsequently ensued all across the U.S. Some have even been adopted by other nations.) 

The specifics for National Movie Day follow. Unlike the previous eight, this holiday will be administered on a state-by-state basis. Here's hoping we can begin the festivities a year from today.

1. In every movie theater of each individual state, only movies bearing that State's name, or ones in which all the action takes place in that state, will be played on August 1. Any movies played on State TV stations and all streaming services will adhere to the same protocol.

2. States having both a previously released feature film and a song with only its name can also play movies from bordering states. For example, with both an Alexander Payne film (2013) and a Bruce Springsteen song, the state of Nebraska can also play films from Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

3.  Movie theaters in any state with neither a feature film nor a song bearing its name (no additional words) are prohibited from selling popcorn on August 1. How many of those movie and song barren states can you name without Googling it? 


Thursday, July 30, 2020

The Gift Of True Intimacy

Many years ago, in a book from a series entitled Innovations in Clinical Practice: A Source Book, I was exposed to a model that helped me immeasurably to better understand communication patterns I'd noticed interacting with people close to me. The model - which can be found on pp. 377-78 of volume one - uses seven concentric circles. The outermost circle - called ritual communication i.e. the everyday platitudes we routinely exchange with others - moves toward the innermost, called true intimacy i.e. where two people withhold nothing from each other. In between the two are small talk, planned activities, shared bits and pieces, shared feelings, shared hopes and dreams. 

The model is an elegant, fluid representation of how each of us make many choices every day about what we will communicate and how vulnerable we will be with others. In healthy relationships, as trust grows, we move closer to the innermost circle. And then sometimes, we back up. Over the years, I've grown more mindful about which circle I'm in while interacting and also more purposeful about choosing my direction. When someone appears to be getting me, I'm more inclined to step in. I know this model has helped me pay closer attention when I sense someone wants to move in a circle with me. It's not hard; the words people use reveal a great deal.

I'm grateful a recent chance look at this model reminded me what a gift it is to be in that innermost circle with anyone for any length of time.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Essential Revisited

essential: absolutely necessary; indispensable.

As the Covid-19 crisis drags on, each time I find my patience wearing thin, I try to remember to ask myself: When did I most recently pause to acknowledge my gratitude for or show my appreciation to the essential people who have been helping me prop up my daily life since mid-March? When was the last time you paused to do this?

Because I'm flawed, this strategy works some days better than others. But lately my reflections on the word essential  have been shifting. What do you imagine when thinking of someone indispensable? Put another way, how likely are you to think of a hedge fund manager as absolutely necessary? How about your favorite sports star? A corporate lawyer?

Now before the uber-capitalists, sports fans, or anyone who spent hard years getting through law school comes for my blood, let me clarify: All of those people deserve to make a living wage, enough to provide food, shelter, and clothing for themselves and their loved ones. Still, consider this: Don't the folks who empty bed pans and stock the supermarket shelves, you know, the essential people we're all depending on these days, deserve the same?

I'm not talking about a fair wage, or equitable pay, or even proportionately equivalent remuneration for all working people. Although that would be fine with me, were I to advocate any of those things, the dreaded "S" word would soon be hurled my way. But if other essential workers - e.g. police and fire personnel, nurses, doctors - can live comfortably raising a family on what they earn, isn't it reasonable for nurse's aides and supermarket cashiers to do so? If your answer to that question is "no, that's not reasonable" please explain it to me. Treat me like a dunce; I promise I won't get offended.

In the meanwhile, thank you again essential workers, for helping the rest of us to get through this.

Friday, July 24, 2020

A Worthy Goal

About two years ago, Won't You Be My Neighbor moved me so deeply I felt obligated to evangelize about it here, soon after seeing it. Yet, as touching as that earlier documentary about Fred Rogers was, the recently released It's A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood - with Tom Hanks as Rogers - is even richer. And before they begin, I'll beat the cynics to the punch. It's undeniably true no one would - nor is it likely anyone ever will - describe me as stoic. A good Marine I'm not. Overly emotional at times? Guilty as charged.

Still, I challenge anyone with a pulse and even a scintilla of good will to watch this new release and not get choked up at least once. Aside from Hanks - and who else could possibly play this role? -  a rock solid script, and the always reliable Chris Cooper in a small supporting role, Matthew Rhys hits it out of the park as a damaged, misanthropic writer unable to resist Rogers's empathy and humanity.

Fred Rogers made the world a better place. He personified grace. Aspiring to emulate his model is a goal I'm proud to call my own. Begin again, Pat.