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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Celebrating Joni

With apologies up front to one faithful follower of this blog (who tells me to get out of the musical "past"), I feel compelled to join the legions of people who have written rapturously about Joni Mitchell.

Thanks to my brother, I just watched a concert DVD called "Painting With Words & Music" (1998). Although I've admired Mitchell since 1968 and own most of her recordings, this was the best 90 minutes I've spent in front of my TV in years. The span of material covered goes from "Big Yellow Taxi" & "Woodstock" (both substantially re-worked from the versions on her 3rd release - 1970's "Ladies Of the Canyon") to "Comes Love" (mis-named on the DVD credits as "Nothing Can Be Done"), the jazz standard written in 1939 that she would later record on "Both Sides Now" in 2000. The Mitchell recording that gets the most attention here (with 4 songs) is 1976's  "Hejira". This fact alone made me ecstatic; "Hejira" is among my favorite of her records.

The band is wonderful, especially on the nicest surprise - Mitchell's cover of Marvin Gaye's "Trouble Man". Although I missed hearing any songs from "Blue" or "For the Roses" or especially from "Mingus", given the caliber of her musicians, these are minor quibbles. Join me in celebrating Joni, one of the treasures of 20th century music.    

Friday, April 29, 2011

Contagious Intelligence

When someone who lives with us or we work closely with gets sick, we are more prone to getting sick. When we are with other people and they start yawning, we often start yawning. Lately I've been reflecting on the possibilities & benefits of contagious intelligence.

What if we purposefully and consistently surrounded ourselves with the smartest people we could find? How could it not rub off in some way? It is possible this is the reason I sometimes pick books to read that are out of my reach. Once I get past my internal conversations about my lack of complete understanding, I feel better; smarter, even. And the times I'm able to put aside my defensiveness, posturing, and need to be right, I'm grateful if someone I know corrects me making an error of any kind. Infect me with your intelligence, I want to say. Given my ego, I've discovered I learn better in an environment where I don't know anyone so that silly stuff doesn't have as much chance to get in my way. How about you?

What suggestions do you have to help me & others increase the risk of contagion? When/where/how are you most susceptible to it?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Daily Poetry

In Barbara Kingsolver's 1988 novel "The Bean Trees" the main character, a young girl from rural Kentucky, is surprised to learn that an educated man she admires thinks her language is poetic. In particular, the man cites her use of the word "hogwash". As I read this brief passage, I began recalling some daily poetry I've heard recently. Listen and you'll come up with plenty of your own examples.

* A new friend told me she doesn't comment on blogs but likes instead to "lurk"
* My daughter described the melody of a song as "haunting"
* Another friend described some difficulty in his marriage as a "squall"

I get such pleasure hearing words like these and love it when I can recall and use them myself at the right moment like my friends and daughter did. Poetic words are often simple; skilled authors like Kingsolver remind us of that. I've been collecting these little jewels in a journal for several years. Even if you're not a word geek like me, I'd still like to hear which words are daily poetry to you.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Celebrating 1000 Views/Request For Help

Today, I am celebrating. The "stats" feature on this blog site has tallied over 1000 views since my first entry on March 15. This exceeds my expectations; thank you to anyone who has read even one post.

I genuinely appreciate the people who have commented after any post, especially given the hoops the hosting site gives you to jump through. Apologies to those who have been frustrated trying to get a comment to stick; I've communicated with the hosting site about this. Bottom line: You have to keep hitting enter/"post comment" until a password (a series of random letters) appears in a text box at the bottom of your screen. Once you re-type in that unique password and hit enter a final time, your comment will post. Thanks also to all who have given me feedback about the blog format & content. Now, my request.

If you've read enough to form an opinion, please tell me: If this blog were a book, what section of the bookstore would it belong in? I'd welcome your answer to that via e-mail, phone call, smoke signals, etc. For anyone I don't know personally (I know from the stats there are at least a few people in that category since the blog has had views from outside the US!), your input will have to be via making a comment following this post; sorry. From the beginning, I've been aiming for a tone that avoids negativity or whining, excessive advice giving, pseudo-intellectualism, embarassing confessions. I'm also curious to know how well any of you think I've stayed away from those traps.

Last: To those who have signed on as "followers" - thank you, thank you, thank you.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Levels Of Communication

Before we first played, a new tennis partner of mine asked me what "level" player I was; I had no answer since I've never had a tennis pro (who have criteria they use to evaluate these things) observe & then "grade" me. A few years ago when I attended a National Guitar Workshop I was asked a similar question about my level of playing. I was able to answer that a little better because the workshop brochure supplied some guidelines for identifying your own level. And I know there is a rigorous and fairly accurate process for determining what level of chess player someone is; this assists players in matching themselves with players at a similar level.

I'm thinking there's a business opportunity here (steal it if you like): Think of the benefits there could be if there were criteria or a brochure with guidelines or a rigorous process that could help each of us learn what our current level of communication was. Then, depending on our personal goals, we could seek out others below, at, or above our own level. And how about a shop where we could each go to get a communications "tune-up" to keep us operating at optimum level? There could even be niche businesses, just like the shops where they work on only domestic or foreign cars. So one shop would be for generalists in communication,  another that just specializes in the use of words, another for listening or writing, etc.

How many levels? How to upgrade to a higher level? Who does the assessing? All good questions - your ideas? 

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The "F" Word

No, not that "f" word. I'm talking about flexibility.

At a family gathering today (now there's an "f" word for you - family, but that's enough blog material for a  year, isn't it?), I said I wouldn't describe either my sister or I as flexible. I was quick to say I don't think either one of us is rigid or even necessarily real inflexible (I was probably being kind to myself there.)

When my sister asked me what then I meant by flexible, I took my cue from the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI). The MBTI would not use the word flexible to describe a person who likes to be in control more than not (me), i.e. directing others more than not (as opposed to being directed by others - me again). Putting aside the MBTI, what's your take on this particular "f" word? How closely do you find it to be aligned with the concept of control? Where do you put yourself on a flexibility continuum?

The MBTI is something I've studied and used in my work for many years. I like it because even though it doesn't use labelling/judging words like rigid or inflexible it provides other useful distinctions I've found to be helpful in my endless journey to self-awareness. Aside from weighing in on your view of the "f" word, I'd also like to know which of you has had experience with the MBTI and what it has taught you.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Returning To An Earlier Love

From 1978 ("The World According To Garp") through 1998 ("A Widow For One Year"), I read six books by John Irving; he was a favorite author of mine (and many others) during those years. But midway through "Widow...", I began to notice how often (through his characters) he takes swings at his critics. In addition, the quirkiness of some of Irving's characters began to become a little tiresome for me; I decided to take a break. In the fall of 2008, while renting a vacation home, the only book lying around that had any interest for me was Irving's "The Fourth Hand". After finishing it, I thought I was done with him for good.

So when my book club recently selected Irving's "Last Night At Twisted River" (2009), I first thought I'd skip reading it and not attend the meeting. I'm so glad I changed my mind and returned to John Irving. He is still swinging at his critics; his characters are still quirky. But I quickly re-discovered what had always drawn me to him - he revels in these characters he creates, including the unpleasant ones (in "River..." that would be the relentless sheriff). And Irving uses those characters in the service of his gift: he is a master storyteller. Try not to be moved when the son whispers "she bu de" in Korean to his father near the end.

Returning to this earlier love has me reflecting on others I might return to. How about you? Who (or what) have you left behind that is calling to you? Pay attention to the signs.


p.s. Thanks to my friend Sue for suggesting that I occasionally "review" a specific book. Although this hardly qualifies as a review and I've mentioned several books and authors in passing in this blog over the last several weeks, Sue's suggestion inspired me to go into a little more detail about one book/author. I'm curious if any of you have other ideas for me. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Rare Reversal?

In my experience, people are usually disappointed when novels are adapted to film; I largely share this viewpoint. Which of you has experienced a rare reversal, i.e. when a movie adapted from a book is better than the original?

I recently re-watched "Jaws", a terrific action movie with three exceptional lead performances, including a young Richard Dreyfuss. As I watched it, I recalled the Peter Benchley book the film was based on. For any of you who read and remember that book, I'm curious if you would agree that this is indeed a rare reversal. More to the point, which novel to film adaptations represent a rare reversal for you?

How about a "less" rare reversal (at least I think it's less rare)? What was the last song you heard remade that you felt surpassed the original? I know this is an apples to oranges comparison but it intrigues me, I'm interested in your views, and after all, this is my blog so I can ask whatever I want. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Words That Can Haunt Me, Part 3: Wisdom

One of my gifts is my memory. Most of my life, I've been able to recall much of what I've been exposed to when I've later needed that information. I've always enjoyed learning; the facts I learn seem to stick with me.

The dark side of my gift is the way I've sometimes let my good memory get in the way of becoming wise. It's an easy trap I've fallen into: Being able to recall facts has contributed to me sometimes overlooking the value of experiences. At other times, my good recall has been a poor substitute for me learning as much as I might from my interactions with others. Since wisdom is about the extracting of essential kernels from knowledge AND experience, the word sometimes haunts me.

What is wisdom about for you? And equally important, which of your gifts has a dark side that might create un-wanted consequences?   

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

"You Say Tomato..."

Words are tricky things, aren't they? When Ira Gershwin wrote the lyric to "Let's Call The Whole Thing Off" (containing the phrase in the title line above), he used differences in pronounciation to get to his larger point about how tricky the whole business of communication is. To that I say "amen".

For example, I was recently describing to someone how I've tried to be purposeful in my life. I started by describing how I'd planned several cross country trips to coincide with times when I was preparing to change jobs because one of my goals since graduating college has been to visit every one of the states. As the conversation continued, I gave other examples of times I've tried to be purposeful.

Later in the same conversation, this person described someone they knew and how selfish that person was. When I asked what she meant by selfish, the examples given sounded quite similar to some I had used describing my purposeful decisions. When was the last time you recognized how tricky words can be, i.e. how your tomato can be someone else's tomahto? Please share them with me and others who might be reading.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Joy In Surprise

A few years ago, a guitar student gave me a CD by a group called the East Village Opera Company. Although I appreciated the gift, before listening to it, I remember thinking that opera as a musical genre had limited appeal for me; my expectations were low. What joy I got in being surprised. The CD played continually in my car for weeks.

I recently listened to "Nessun Dorma" from that CD. While the music filled me up I thought back to that joy in surprise and wondered how many times other of my expectations might have prevented me from experiencing joy. With the song still soaring, my thoughts jumped to forgiveness; it occurred to me that allowing myself to be surprised by people could assist me in becoming more forgiving. I'm certain doing that will bring me more joy.

I pushed "rewind" and let the song bring me back to the joy in surprise. When have you discovered joy in being surprised?  Where in your life might you look for other ways to be surprised?           

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Revisiting March 20 (Courtesy of Ben Franklin)

Of the posts I've published to date, my March 20 one entitled "Toward More Meaningful Conversations" has received the most views so far. In light of that, as I was recently listening to a Learning Company CD on Ben Franklin's "Poor Richard's Almanac", I felt compelled to re-visit that earlier post.

Franklin suggests in "...Almanac"  that we can enhance conversations by replacing statements beginning with "I believe...." or "I think..." with "It is possible that....".  It is possible this one simple language change will be the most important conversational tool I've learned this past year. On March 20 I alluded to the pitfalls involved when expressing opinions in a conversation. Franklin's 18th century wisdom will help me avoid those pitfalls and bring my own conversations to a new level. It is possible it could do the same for you. I am reminded of the Buddhist expression "When a student is ready, a teacher appears".  What have any of you learned recently about more meaningful conversations?

Thanks to all of you who have viewed this blog, given me feedback, talked to me about anything I've written, or have joined these conversations by adding a comment after an individual post.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

When I Don't Get It

I don't think I'm alone when I say some times I don't get it. For example, I was walking through an art gallery yesterday and there were several exhibits that defied any explanation I could offer. When this happens, my internal conversation often ends up matching the kind of day I'm having. Because yesterday was sort of an in-between day, I didn't get as discouraged about my lack of understanding as I would have on a bad day or as glib about it as I would have on a good day. But as I struggled to understand what I was looking at, I began to wonder about the conversations some of you have when you don't get it.

This also happens to me quite a bit with poetry. And even though I've spent many years studying and playing jazz, I've had moments there as well. My wife will challenge me when I'm listening to something she finds un-listenable; even when I agree, I sometimes don't admit it. I recently read that "Finnegan's Wake" by James Joyce is considered a book only scholars actually read. I was relieved to know that; I've been unsuccessful reading "Ulysses" and have had my fair share of trouble even with Joyce's short stories.

I'm reasonably sure my intelligence puts me somewhere on the bell curve. In other words, I'm not as smart as the top 5% of the population, nor am I as limited as the bottom 5%. So I'm left wondering: When I don't get it, how many other people don't? How often will any of us willingly admit that we don't get it? And how does not getting it make us feel?


   

  

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Silencing The Inner Critic

Most of you have heard the adage "the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step". I've found it to be equally important to silence my inner critic as I'm taking that first step. I've also found silencing the inner critic very difficult to do.

I made a commitment when I started this blog on March 15 to post something every day. On the occasions my inner critic interfered with me doing that, I've asked myself  "What's the worst that could happen?"; that question seemed to help me get past the critic and onto my first step. What do you ask yourself when you're trying to silence the critic? I know there are many resources to assist with this; I'd like to know your strategies.

The reasons many of us have these critics are as unique as we all are. Those reasons are not as important as the tools we each develop to silence them.
      

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Command Of A Craft

"The curved metal eyes of the stoplights never shut..."
 from "Lark & Termite" by Jayne Anne Phillips (2009)

A few weeks ago I was listening to Jeff Beck playing "Cause We've Ended As Lovers". Beck has an uncanny amount of control on the electric guitar. A short while later I noticed the phrase above in Phillips' 2009 novel (just one of many in that book), and I found myself inexplicably thinking of Jeff Beck. As I searched for a common thread, I realized both had grabbed me with their command of a craft. When was the last time you were struck by this? How useful is the distinction between being talented vs. being in command? In which craft do you feel in command?

Soon after finishing "Lark & Termite", I began thinking of two of the teachers in my life who went way beyond being skilled or talented. Then a few days ago I saw the documentary "Waiting For Superman". When the data presented in that movie showed the difference extraordinary teachers can make, I found myself thinking again of Jeff Beck, then Jayne Anne Phillips, then my two teachers.     

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Entertain? Educate? Challenge? Or...?

Over the last year I've spent more time reading than I have in any previous year of my life. The only guideline I've adhered to is to toggle between fiction and non-fiction. Aside from that, I've let each book tell me where the journey will take me next.

I'm interested to know how others who enjoy reading make their choices given we are each allotted a finite amount of time. I have to assume that finite time vs. the massive number of books sometimes overwhelms others, as it does me. So, are your choices books that you think will entertain you based on what you've read or heard about them?

Or, do you gravitate more toward books that have a distinct educational flavor? Or, do you regularly select books that you're reasonably sure will challenge you as a reader, again based on the information you've learned about them? I know these three categories are arbitrary and not mutually exclusive (many entertaining books educate etc.). My interest is in starting a conversation about your choices.

Perhaps your reading choices are largely a function of your mood. Maybe your choices are often about what others recommend to you regardless of entertainment, education, or challenge.When you decide on your next book, jot me a note about what prompted your choice. Or go back to this posting and comment.        

Monday, April 11, 2011

Walking Any Fine Line

You've been given a deadline. You have an approximate idea how long the task will take to complete. You wait until the last minute to do it.

Although I don't consider myself a procrastinator, I have still followed the script above many times in my life. For me, it's a fine line between procrastination and the edge I get completing something when time is running out. I've often felt this edge helped me to focus more on the task. How often have you told yourself this same story? How do you know when you're crossing over the line into procrastination? More importantly, how closely aligned are the standards you use for the word procrastination when you apply it to others as the standard you use for yourself?

After I identify any fine line I feel like I'm walking, my next step is to rely on people I trust to tell me when I might be crossing that line. I'm interested today in hearing about any fine lines you walk and the strategies you use to help you know when you're crossing them.       

  

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Proposal for Additional Intelligent Design

Variety is the spice of life, I know. And the element of surprise makes life interesting, without a doubt. But I'd like to propose some intelligent design that is sort of a middle ground. How about if life could be just a little more predictable? How about if we knew that the relative complexity of our days would follow a pattern like the New York Times crossword puzzle?

On Mondays, life would be very simple. Then each day of the week would get a little more complicated leading up to Saturday when we know in advance to put on our seatbelts. Sunday? The day of rest - this is intelligent design. Imagine how effectively we could plan. We could inoculate ourselves from some of our stress if we knew the relative difficulty we'd be facing each day. Maybe the six days could be divided up (or even all seven days to accommodate non-believers) so that not everyone's Monday would be the easiest and Saturday the hardest. That might help work to get done more evenly. There could even be a provision where someone could "exchange" their hardest day with someone else if that hard day happened to fall on a birthday or something.

I'm really excited about the possibilities.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Sacred Places

Many people I know associate the word sacred with the places they worship. One of my most memorable spiritual experiences was far away from my own place of worship: I was in Glacier National Park. As I walked up a glacier, hiked through the park, and drank from a pond, I knew I was in a sacred place.

The devout people I've encountered are fortunate; many places are sacred to them because of their profound faith. A few of my friends have told me of pilgrimages they've made to holy cities like Rome or Jerusalem and how just being in those places put them in touch with the divine. I am not devout. I have not made any such pilgrimages. But the times when I have been in places that felt sacred, a sense of quiet comes over me and I feel small and infinite at the same time. What happens to you when you are in a sacred place?

And how closely related are the sacred places to the state of grace we're in at the time? 

  

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Earning It

In the movie "Saving Private Ryan", the Captain of the platoon (played by Tom Hanks) lies mortally wounded. His dying words to Private Ryan (played by Matt Damon) are "earn this". It's a powerful moment at the conclusion of a brutal film. Those two words have remained with me ever since.

How much of what each of us are given do we earn vs. take for granted? I have had a supportive family and friends for most of my life. I've tried to be grateful for those people and for my other good fortune. But to me, simple gratitude is not the same as earning what has been given to me. To earn it, I have to go beyond being grateful; I have to remain worthy. That's where I've sometimes come up short. How about you?

One friend who reads this blog regularly told me I sometimes sound depressed here; I am not depressed. On my more pensive days (like today), I'm aiming for authenticity without morbidity. But I'm interested knowing your view on all days about whatever I write here. If I wait to write on only my sunny days (and during just the sunny hours of those sunny days), I believe I'll sacrifice some authenticity. I don't want that to happen.  

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Message I Discarded

First and foremost: I believe much of what we learn and internalize early in our lives comes from the messages our parents teach and pass onto us. However, I also believe we choose which messages we will retain as we become thinking adults.

One message my parents taught me that I discarded was that childern should be taught to behave through the use of physical discipline. Even before we became parents, my wife and I agreed we would not discipline any children we had this way. I recognize this might strike some as an indulgent baby boomer approach to child rearing but I know the choice to discard my parent's message was purposeful.

 I believe being physically disciplined (although never abusively) contributed to my adolescent and young adult tendency to resolve conflict in a physical way. By choosing to not discipline my daughter physically, I think she will make better choices how to resolve conflict than I did when I was her age.

What messages have you discarded? Why did you choose to discard them? What benefits have you realized by discarding them?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Creativity

"Novel associations that are useful."

For me, creativity is a driving force in life. And of all the definitions I've been exposed to, the one in italics above has stuck with me the longest. How do you define this elusive quality? How do you express yourself creatively? Over the past 3 weeks, this blog has become the most recent means for me. As with all creative endeavors I've undertaken, some days I'm more satisfied with what I've created than others.

How do any of us evaluate the merits of one creative endeavor vs. another? Many times I've heard interviewers ask authors, songwriters, artists etc. which of their works was their "favorite". Often the answer given is some variation on "...they're each my 'children' so asking me to name a 'favorite' is unfair..." For those of us on the bell curve who might never be interviewed, please weigh in: "What is your 'favorite' thing you've created?"  I'm listening and interested.


    

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Search For Holden Caulfield

Of all the characters created in 20th century fiction, Holden Caulfield is surely among the most memorable. When author JD Salinger wrote "Cather in the Rye", he captured with Holden's unique voice the alienation many of us feel during the awkward years of adolescence.

Because Salinger would not allow any of his books to be adapted to film, Holden Caulfield has not been represented on the screen. Since "Catcher in the Rye" has been popular since the early 1950's, the search for a screen version of Holden Caulfield should include at least one actor who was popular during each of the last 6 decades. I'll start: For the 1950's version, I nominate James Dean.

Aside from your nominations for a Holden Caulfield from the 60's until the 00's, I'm just as curious to know which other "famous" fictional characters, so far not depicted, are you still waiting to see in a movie?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Seeking Fearless Friends

Among the traits I most value in a friend is fearlessness. I seek out this trait in others because, like many of us on the bell curve, I've too often let fear get in my way.

Observing someone being fearless energizes me. I once watched a work colleague teaching a class and saw how unafraid she was to confront adult students who tried to twist her words into something different. I walked away knowing I would have more courage the next time I was faced with a similar situation.

In my experience, people who are routinely fearless are often quiet about this trait. And, they are surprised when you use the word to describe them. I have also noticed that the fine line between being fearless and honest but hurtful is an easy one to cross.

What has been your experience with people you would describe as fearless? And what quality or trait do you seek in friends?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Advice: An Over-Rated Commodity

It's taken me most of my life to reach this conclusion: advice is an over-rated commodity.

On the giving advice side, I've found it a surefire way to get frustrated. Since I'm often invested in the advice I give, when someone ignores it, I wonder if I was unclear or unconvincing or un-something, otherwise why would the recipient ignore me, right?

On the receiving side, I find most advice disappointing. People mean well  (I mean well when I give advice) but advice is often offered without a request - I'm sure I've offered my fair share of this unsolicited variety. But, even solicited advice I receive often falls short.

In the meanwhile, here's some (solicited) advice a friend has given me about this blog: "Give more advice." What to do? Take my friend's advice and offer advice? Seems harmless to do so because using this medium I can't really know if anyone ignores my advice hence, no frustration for me. On the other hand, what's your advice?    

Friday, April 1, 2011

On The Record: The Beatles At Their Best

I gave way too much thought to this post, But, going on the record and calling "Rain" the Beatles at their best is serious business for an un-repentant Beatles geek like me. My case follows.

1.) Although this is clearly a John Lennon song - and he is my favorite vocalist of the four - the song still has a collaborative air about it. To wit: The signature background vocals (McCartney & Harrison); the unmistakable Harrison influence with those chiming open strings; McCartney's wonderful lead guitar work disguised as bass playing. And Ringo - OMG!!
2.) Because this is "mid-period" Beatles, the lyric is about more than love. Not that there is anything wrong with early Beatles songs about love; what an empty world it would be without "This Boy". But the lyric here is more intriguing than many songs released around this time.
3.) The psychedelic experimentation after the last chorus ends (and Ringo thunders back in with Paul at his heels) is interesting but... it goes on for only about 20 seconds during the fade. Compare that to many lesser talents from the era who just went on & on with that stuff, wearing out their musical welcome.

For this post, I fully expect (no, I demand!) your comments. When were the Beatles at their best for you? What makes your choice a "best"? Let the debate begin.