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Monday, December 4, 2023

Sharing the Wealth

You walk away from an experience - any experience - and feel on fire with excitement and/or energy. Call it having a buzz or being pumped up or psyched. Doesn't matter. For today's reflection, begin by taking a minute to recall the last time this happened to you. Then, briefly describe the circumstances. 

Maybe it happened right after a stimulating conversation, a great workout, an encounter with a piece of art. Or something else. It also doesn't matter what set you on fire. I know you know this feeling. It's universal and one of life's greatest gifts. 

Now, a favor, please. After describing the experience, take some time to see if you remember doing anything immediately after to harness that energy. Think carefully. What did you do? Maybe you tried prolonging the moment somehow? How? Did you perhaps talk to someone about it? If yes, what specifically made you select the person you did? If no, why not? Did you imagine that holding onto it without sharing would help preserve the excitement? Did that work? In my experience, attempts to re-create moments like this are fruitless. However, that hasn't stopped me from searching for ways to harness jolts like these.  

And that's why I'm curious to hear about the way this magic has touched you. Perhaps by re-living your experience and briefly living with the questions above, you might uncover some useful harnessing technique you can share. Maybe your story alone will inspire me to seek out what gave you that juice. Maybe someone reading your response to this post will gain a useful technique, an idea for an energizing experience, or both. What's the downside to sharing this kind of wealth? 

Friday, December 1, 2023

Final Open Letter to Thomas Pynchon

Dear Thomas; I've tried. Really, I have. 

After failing on at least three separate occasions to crack V - your critically acclaimed debut novel from 1963 - I decided to switch tactics. Did some research and discovered in 2012 that one of my all-time favorite literary critics - John Leonard - had read you widely enough to quote passages from all three of your earliest books - including V - in his 1990 review of your novel Vineland. Although Leonard's review in Reading for My Life intimidated me, months after reading it - and writing you the first open letter on my blog - I tried V, again. Still only managed to get as far as page 61. But the remaining 402 pages of V was not the end of my Pynchon-quest. 

Reflections From The Bell Curve: A Bookworm's Catnip

Although I can offer no plausible explanation for my behavior, after noticing The Crying of Lot 49 (1966) cited in the appendix of Kenneth Davis's Great Short Books (2022), I began lobbying a reading soulmate to help me prolong my quest. At just 152 pages, I guessed it wouldn't be difficult to coerce this discerning, adventurous reader and good friend to join me even if doing so might result in us crying in lot 49 ourselves. But she signed on, we invited another serious reader to join us, and the Pynchon-A-Thon was scheduled.  

The good news: 1.) We all finished The Crying ... and conducted our Pynchon-A-Thon amicably. 2.) The quest has ended, even though I took the easy way out via reading your shortest book, by a wide margin. I have one final question for you before I depart Pynchonstan forever. In 2014 - while still licking my V wounds, but years before being persuaded by Kenneth Davis to ask others to join me in my quest - I saw the film adaptation of your 2009 novel Inherent Vice. In your view, how well did director/screenwriter Paul Thomas Anderson get your book? I know I asked you a similar question about John Leonard in my first open letter in 2012 but please indulge me. My two reading friends may also be interested, if indeed they are still my friends.

Reflections From The Bell Curve: Open Letter: Thomas Pynchon


Wednesday, November 29, 2023

A Welcome First

In a few weeks, my wife and I will fly to Arizona to spend the holidays with my daughter and son-in-law, who re-located to Southern California over the summer. In addition to spending time with them - along with our son-in-law's family, who are joining us - we'll visit the two National Parks located there and later connect with friends to celebrate the new year. That's a lot to look forward to but not the coolest part.  

This will be the first time in my seventy-four years that I'll not be spending Christmas eve and Christmas day in New Jersey. Though not 100% certain, this might also be the first time I'll be out of my beloved home state as a new year begins. (During my young adult full-time musician years, it's possible there was a New Year's Eve gig or two that put me elsewhere in the Tri-State area.

When I first realized a few weeks back the new ground being broken here, it caught me off guard. Being with my sisters and brother on Christmas eve or Christmas day - or both - has been a thread of love and continuity throughout my entire life. I'll miss them all. And the impossibility of a white Christmas and the weirdness of being in short sleeves outdoors this time of year also crossed my mind, briefly.

But the closer this particular first has gotten, the more welcome it has become. I'm grateful to be travelling as often as we do and pleased that cool new adventures continually present themselves. What first are you looking forward to? If you don't have one planned, why not start doing so today?  

Sunday, November 26, 2023

A Flickering Light

If you have a meditation practice - no matter how long you've had it - how has it helped you? How do you know it does? 

As a goal-oriented individual who has meditated faithfully for almost thirty-five years, these are not idle questions. I have continually mused about the benefits I derive from my practice - not to mention how to meaningfully measure those benefits - and I'm genuinely curious to hear any answers you have.

It's possible the time has now arrived for me to shift my focus away from those questions. In place of musing about benefits I derive via visiting myself on most days by sitting and paying attention to only my breathing, I've decided it's probably more useful to instead ask myself this: What is the downside to continuing to regularly meditate? How many of you with a practice - especially anyone as goal-oriented as me - have considered this?

I'm a bit chastened it's taken me so long to reach such an obvious formulation. Those of you with a regular practice might not be surprised to learn this self-evident insight came to me after returning from a recent meditation, not the first time I detected a flickering light under those circumstances. Might that be one of those benefits I've yearned to identify?     

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Key Learnings: Year 74

On my birthday every year since the inception of my blog in 2011, I've asked you to join me and reflect on one or more key things you've learned over the past year. Although reader response to this annual post has been muted, I'm grateful both for the things some of you have shared and also for comments you've made about a few of my key learnings over the past twelve years. 

* In my 74th year I learned a powerful lesson about compassion. One of the short videos used in some of the social justice workshops I co-facilitated this past year was my entry point for this key learning. Each time I watched that video I felt myself expanding as the narrator described what he calls the "angel that resides in all of us". How do we each activate that angel? Simple - take an action on behalf of someone else that has no possible payoff or benefit to you. In several of these workshops, it was clear to me that the message of that video had landed just as profoundly with one or more of the workshop participants as it had landed with me. 

* Good news should travel fast. In addition to being a key learning, hearing those words at an event centering on environmental stewardship was also healing for me. As the speaker emphasized how critical it is for environmentalists to share success stories, I immediately internalized her words. Then I decided it was time to commit to a search for promising environmental news any time I feel eco-grief.

Please consider sharing a key learning of yours with my readers and me.       

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Goal for Year 75

It's that time again, at least for me. Even if you're not beginning a new year of your life tomorrow like I am, why not join me here and declare a goal you'd like to achieve between now and next November 22? We can keep each other company as we mark progress. If you're feeling ambitious you can declare more than one goal. I'm sticking with one primarily because on November 22 over the past twelve years, I've had more success in those years when I've focused on a single thing.  

Remember: Make your goal specific & measurable, include at least one action step, keep it realistic, and state your time frame. Constructing a "SMART" goal greatly enhances the likelihood you'll reach it. 

Before my 75th birthday on November 23, 2024, I will participate in or initiate at least ten jam sessions as a way to ensure I can improvise confidently on any one of the 319 jazz standards I've memorized since November 2011. 

Wish me luck. And good luck with your goal, birthday aside.  


Saturday, November 18, 2023

Ooh Poo Pah Do

Today's challenge is for the musically hearty only. That said, I'm reasonably confident at least one old friend will throw his hat in the ring if he happens to read this post. This friend is ... 1.) the undisputed world's greatest non-musician music geek i.e., his insatiable lust has translated into a digital library with over 20,000 tunes and ... 2.) the person who first planted today's deranged notion in my head in May of 2022.  First, just a few, ahem, notes.

* I've limited the challenge to ten tunes even though I collected twenty-five over the eighteen months since my friend suggested a post like this. Consider yourself fortunate I limit the length of my blog posts. If you had any idea how many of my driving hours were occupied as I compiled a master list in my head, you might want to recommend medication. 

* For those who like keeping track, the scoring rubric for the challenge is at the bottom of the post. The song list itself is ordered by level of difficulty, easiest to most difficult. Only one recording artist is represented twice.  

* As always, using Google (etc.) is cheating. We're on the honor system here.  

Identify the artist who had the biggest hit with each of the following song titles. I've purposefully concatenated this ludicrous list to help you appreciate how pop songwriters have planted nonsensical ear worms into our heads for decades. Are you ready? 

Tutti Frutti - Da Do Ron Ron - Mony Mony - Da Doo Doo Doo Da Dah Dah Dah - Do Wah Diddy Diddy - Papa Ooo Mow Mow - Be Bop A Lula - Sha La La - Bony Moronie - Bim Bam Boom. 

Scoring Rubric: 1-3 correct = Congratulations, unlike me, you haven't wasted much precious brain space by allowing useless flotsam like this to reside in your memory. 4-7 correct = Caution, your conversations with others may be occasionally at risk. 8-10 correct = Danger, your social circle could soon end up being limited to just my geeky non-musician friend and me. Final caveat: If you noticed the song title preceding that list of lyrical gobbley-gook, or even worse, you know who recorded that one hit wonder, you're in serious trouble, socially.  

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Project Counterpoint

Care to join me in my latest project? After responding moments ago to a revealing e-mail from an old friend, I've decided that each time I find myself bemoaning one of my failures, flaws, or foibles - here on this blog, in an interaction with another person, or when alone with my thoughts - I'm going to pause and search for some counterpoint.

For most of my adult life, I suspect most people who have known me well would say I'm pretty adept at looking at myself critically. Which is exactly what happened when the naked vulnerability in my friend's e-mail touched me. Reflexively, I found myself pointing out my own flaws. I know an empathic response to someone else's pain is generally more helpful than problem solving or minimizing. But as I sent my response, I felt a tiny shift. Why is it easier for me to recall my failures, re-assure others by citing my flaws, use my foibles as examples of what not to do?

The counterpoint will be to search for successes and strengths, starting now. Instead of searching for even one more minute for a third "s" word to match the symmetry of the three "f" words that came to me while writing that e-mail, this moment I congratulate myself on the success I've had sustaining this blog for almost thirteen years and 2,300 posts as of November 11. Recalling that success today or some strength in the coming days if I'm wallowing in one of those "f" words is enough to get me started on this worthwhile project. I look forward to hearing from anyone who wants to join me. And, if you've got a third good "s" word for me, bring it on.