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Monday, June 27, 2011

Blogging Away The Blues

Because I've used a journal for many years, I've known for a while that writing is an effective method for managing stress; much of the literature supports this. And now, since beginning this blog in March, I've noticed my moods dip much less frequently. Call it blogging away the blues.

I'm not sure why this is so. The private disciplines I've integrated into my life - journaling, exercise, practicing guitar, meditation - have become almost as much a part of my days as eating & sleeping. Now, blogging. Perhaps the public nature of this newest discipline helps keep the blues at bay?

I believe Werner Erhard was credited with saying "Why is the booby prize". So instead of musing more on any "whys" of mine, tell me what you've discovered helps you with the blues. After all, it is Monday, even if it's not stormy.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Can This Be Right?

In my April 27 post called "Daily Poetry", I wrote about the magic of language, especially simple words. This past week I was reflecting on something quite different, words that just don't seem right somehow. See if you agree with my three choices (I've got a lot more) & then tell me some that don't sound right to you.

Guanothe excrement of birds or bats. Can this be right? To me it sounds more like a condiment. "Yes, I'll have my taco with guano".

Prosaic = dull, unimaginative. Can this be right? To me, this word sounds like the exact opposite of what it means. "Wow, that is a stunning and prosaic piece of sculpture".

Natty = neat in dress or appearance. Can this be right? Try complimenting someone by saying "you look very natty tonight" and see if they don't think you're insulting them.

I've always been a word geek. I would really like to know which words have made you ask "Can this be right?"      

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Tyrannized By Technology

No one who knows me would describe me as a real tech savvy guy. I didn't use a cell phone until last year and my daughter constantly makes fun of me because I struggle with I-Tunes, Facebook, etc. However, today I gained a deeper understanding of how insidious communication overload has become.

The power went out for a few hours while I was home alone - no working computer, no telephone, low battery on my cell. My first thoughts: 1.) I'm thrilled to be out of reach. 2.) I have an excuse for not answering any e-mail. 3.) This time is mine. Each of those thoughts helped me to see more clearly how technology has tyrannized me a bit. And I'm a semi-Luddite! Not profound but I don't think I fully understood it before this afternoon. I picked up my acoustic guitar. A few hours later I realized I'd been lost in my playing. Although I play pretty regularly, I don't think I've been that lost in a while. Occurred to me that technology and communication overload may be robbing me of a bit of focus there. Any of this sounding familiar?

Decided I'm going to pretend there are regular power failures and see if I can loosen the grip of technology a bit. Pretty sure my daughter is going to think I've gone off the deep end.
 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Historical Figures Via Film

Although my experience with films about historical figures has been mixed, last night I thoroughly enjoyed "The Last Station", a film about the final days of Leo Tolstoy. If anyone who reads this posting has seen it, I'm curious to know your reaction.

Aside from the exceptional lead performances throughout by Christopher Plummer & Helen Mirren, I was most moved early in the film in a scene featuring James McAvoy and Plummer. McAvoy plays a young secretary/assistant who, upon finally meeting Tolstoy, finds himself overcome with emotion when the "master" asks about his writing. The always dependable Paul Giamatti also has a crucial supporting role as a longtime friend to Count Tolstoy and nemesis to the Countess.

What was the last film, based on a historical figure, that you liked a great deal? How about one that really disappointed you? For me, "The Last Station" is now among my favorites in this genre. And, I'm really looking forward to someone making a film based on Hillary Mantel's 2009 novel "Wolf Hall", which simultaneously de-constructs the life of Thomas Moore (the "man for all seasons") while re-counting the life of Thomas Cromwell. Which historical figure are you waiting to see depicted via film?  

Today, In My Perfect World...

* DJs would be required to announce to their audiences if they'd never spent any time practicing a musical instrument

* TVs would not be allowed in restaurants

* "Inspirational" e-mails would cost senders a fee for each person they sent them to

* Use of the word "genius" would be limited to once per person per decade

* Any questions a caller has to later answer for an operator after answering the identical one previously for a voice mail prompting system would result in cash being paid to the caller

* Christopher Walken's next starring role would be in a romantic comedy

And today in your perfect world?     

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Confession From Pygmy Land

Just finished Christopher Hitchens 2007 book "god Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything". An old friend recommended it to me after reading a statement about "Eastern teachings" in my June 9 post on authenticity. The title of the book alone will likely prevent those who would be most incensed from ever reading it. But I was riveted as Hitchens dissected the big three (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) and slaughtered numerous sacred cows: Mother Theresa and Joseph Smith from the West; Mahatma Gandhi & the Dalai Lama from the East. Now for the really sacrilegious part, although Hitchens would scoff at that word while I'm guessing a devout reader will be (appropriately) appalled: I got de-railed when Hitchens referred to himself as a "pygmy" (in the intellectual sense ) on page 151.

My secular humanist voice cried - How could someone with Hitchens' exceptional intelligence be so glib? Though calling himself a pygmy might have been a throwaway line, I detected no irony or false humility. I also believe I read it with proper context. Surely Hitchens knows his intelligence puts him off the bell curve. My blog is accurately named reflections from the bell curve. Again, no irony or false humility from me either. If someone as smart and un-ironic as Hitchens refers to himself as a pygmy (even if it's just a throwaway line), there is trouble in pygmy land for me.

How about the things this book said that should have outraged  me you ask? I'm a sinner. Surely I'm being overly sensitive and reading too much into a single simple word you claim? Guilty as only a lapsed Catholic can be. But, when I read a book by someone I know is smarter than me, I don't want that person to call himself a pygmy even in a half-hearted way. Call this a confession from pygmy land.     

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Zeitgeist of Justin Bieber

In a bald-faced attempt to increase the readership numbers of my blog, I put Justin Bieber's name in the title line above. To anyone who used a keyword search with Bieber's name and who has now stumbled onto this posting, hello. Please peruse previous postings - some are even more alliterative than that last phrase. To any "regular" readers, I apologize; please logoff before you get angry about this shameless act. (At least I did this on a Monday which has been a lighter day for views.)

Now about that zeitgeist thing. Ok, that word is in the title line because I'm really curious if my steadily increasing view numbers from Germany (!) are real or a fluke. So, quiet German readers (if you're out there): Please post a comment and tell me what drew you in. I'd prefer English, but use German if you must. And remember - I know what Weltanschauung means so don't be cute.

That's it. Justin Bieber fans: Most of my postings are this short so keep visiting.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Son Of My Father

My Father Edward Lowell Barton died on October 2, 1997; he was 79 years old. I am proud to be the son of a man like my Father. As on Mother's Day, my challenge today is remaining brief and not being maudlin. Below are just a few lessons my Father taught me. I encourage you to tell your father what you've learned from him; it's a gift he will not forget. I'm very proud to say that what I've written here I told my Father while he was still with me.

* My Father's loyalty to my Mother taught me to have a profound respect for women. I consider this one of my best traits. 
* Though my Father did not have a great deal of formal education, his love of learning was contagious. Happily, I was infected.
* My Father was a WWII vet; landed at Normandy, 2nd wave of D-Day, Infantry. I was in college when the Vietnam War was raging. I clearly recall a conversation after I got my lottery number and we both realized there was a chance I could be drafted. Though I was ashamed of my fear, I was also certain I was not military material. When I told my Father I was considering Canada he said  "Patrick, you do what you have to to stay out of this war". My Dad was a proud American and a patriot in the real sense of the word. I learned from that conversation the real meaning of unconditional love. I'm still working on that one.

Happy Father's Day, Dad. 

Seduced By The Muse

So far, my life's creative output has fallen short of my expectations. Lately I've been reflecting on the possibility that I may have allowed myself to be seduced by some romantic idea of artistic inspiration, like waiting for a muse (or something) to visit me. As I waited for inspiration, valuable time was lost. Sound at all familiar to anyone?    

In an article I read years ago, the late John Updike said he completed at least one page every day, meaning at the end of each year he had over 300 pages written - a book. So does that kind of discipline trump the notion of a muse? Some would argue (I don't agree) that Updike's writing is cold or cerebral. Did the same discipline that helped him produce such a staggering output also make his output clinical?

Since mid-March I've often thought of Updike's approach as I attempt to post something every day on this blog. It's been very humbling; I've missed several days and this is not even close to a page. And, I have no illusions about my "reach" vs. someone of Updike's talents, stature & discipline. On the other hand, I'm feeling a great deal better about my creative output (sic) and I'm no longer as seduced by the muse.    

Friday, June 17, 2011

"You've Gotta Hear This" (etc.)

How many times have you made a statement to someone similar to the title of this post or.. had someone say something similar to you? How often have you been disappointed by another person's reaction to something that knocked you out? How often do you suppose your reaction to something that knocked someone else out disappointed them?

Whether it's a song, book, movie, piece of art or architecture, view, etc. I'm often unsatisfied in these kind of circumstances. I'm guessing I'm not alone. When I'm passionate, I'm looking for a similar level of intensity in the other person's reaction to what I'm passionate about. I know the experience I'm having is subjective.  Despite that, I keep trying - "You've gotta hear/read/see this!"  Why haven't I given up yet? Why haven't you?

Perhaps when I'm convinced a song, book, etc. is this special, logic & sense become temporarily irrelevant. I tell myself it's not an opinion. I say it's not just my "taste". This movie or piece of art or photograph is transcendent, period. Irrational? Probably, but I dare you to deny you're not just a little frustrated when this happens to you.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Words That Can Haunt Me, Part 4: Grace

I've been paid many compliments in my life. Some of those compliments have been deserved, some not. I can't recall anyone, even people who care deeply about me, ever calling me gracious.

Not long ago at a book club meeting, I listened to a woman thank the group for the insights she was taking away from that meeting based on what others had contributed about the book. I had noticed this particular woman's quiet grace at earlier meetings so her words to the group did not surprise me. But I was moved and humbled in equal measure. When I later spoke with the leader of the group about the graciousness of this woman, the leader told me she'd had the same thought.

More recently, I was asked to give a presentation at a retirement dinner for a woman who was my secretary for 7 years. While preparing my remarks, the word grace kept popping into my head. I recalled how year after year my secretary had acted in a quietly dignified way. She never raised her voice, rarely lost her cool, & invariably found nice things to say of others. Grace.     

Monday, June 13, 2011

Blessed With A Passion

Although I find the word blessed an over-used one, I can't think of a better verb to describe how I feel about my passion for music. Which passion of yours do you feel this strongly about?

My young life revolved around Boy Scouts and sports but by early adolescence, music had me by the throat. I was first hypnotized by the Beach Boys, Temptations, Supremes. Then the British Invasion hit. My junior high school friends started a band and drafted me as the drummer although I had never played a musical instrument; I was a goner. Boy Scouts - done; following sports - over; school - an annoyance between band rehearsals.

Fast forward 45+ years: It takes a great deal of self-control to not blog EVERY day about music. Like many people, I've often been asked "What do you do?"  My answer in the years after my singing voice gave out would vary depending on what daytime work I was then doing as a main source of income. But often I felt a little disconnected from the question. What I "did" often seemed beside the point vs. who I am. I'm a musician. And I'm blessed with a passion for music that has never abated; not one bit.

"If there were no music, then I would not get through"
from "I Don't Know Why" by Shawn Colvin  (With killer guitar solo by David Lindley)   

Sunday, June 12, 2011

My Ideal Reader

After three months (and yes, I'm still looking to migrate to a new hosting site!), I'm getting my rhythm a little. Some of you have helped. So far, the most consistent positive feedback I've received is about the brevity and variety of the postings; these seem to work for people who have communicated with me. With critical feedback I haven't yet detected any patterns or themes coming from different people, except how bad blogger's comment feature can be. And, I have one fierce critic who has commented on global aspects like tone as well as the content of specific postings. I treasure this person's feedback.

Anyone who puts writing into any public sphere (no matter how many people read it), must have an ideal reader in mind. From the start, my ideal reader has been my wife. Although she never liked the name of this blog, she continues to be who I most rely on to keep me tuned up day-to-day. When I ask questions here, which I do often, they are usually questions I'd like to hear my wife answer. And when I challenge myself to be more, it's not false modesty or any need for affirmation that prompt me to do so. It's because I want her to hold me accountable to be more.

My ideal reader is a window to look through to help me see others reading this blog. As long as she continues to tell me I'm reaching her, I'm confident I'll reach others. And, I will continue to use your feedback.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Another "F" Word

Some of the offline reactions I received about my June 7 posting called "Repelling Toxic People" have reminded me how really difficult it can be to forgive.

In the early 90's I did a lot of training on stress management. My preparation for that training involved an immersion in the literature where I quickly noticed several strategies for coping that were repeatedly suggested. One of those coping strategies was "Be quick to forgive". It was easy for me to remember this and to remind students but not so easy for people to actually do. I noticed women seemed to have more difficulty forgiving themselves than men did; I didn't discern a noticeable difference with respect to which gender was more willing to forgive others. Although these were my own un-scientific observations, my view has not changed much since. And like many others, I also struggle with this "F" word.

 D Patrick Miller's "A Little Book of Forgiveness" (1994) is the most helpful book I've uncovered on this subject. What resources or tools have you discovered to help you? I've got one person in my life who unknowingly helps me mark my growth with forgiveness. When I fully forgive this person, I will know I've evolved a bit. Then, I'll have to forgive myself for holding onto that poison for as long as I have.   

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Quest For Authenticity

My daughter just returned from an intensive yoga training program. When she described the part of her program involving a "Vision Quest", I found myself reflecting on my own lifelong quest for authenticity.

In the Albert Brooks film "Defending Your Life" the characters are able to watch a video of their life after they die. Since first seeing that film, I've many times wondered about my video. For example, how much time would the video show me constructing a persona and then acting out that role vs. the time I spent being authentic? How about your video? In my experience, many people (including me) are heavily invested in ego, which also serves as an impediment to authenticity. My daughter's yoga program, emphasizing many Eastern teachings, stressed this point. 

At some point, I'm confident I'll return to my quest for authenticity in this blog; it's a rich topic to explore. But right now I'd like to know: How many people have you known that you would call authentic? I'm also interested to know what you've learned by being with them or just watching them. What behaviors have you noticed are common to those you would call authentic? And, where are you in your quest?

Laughing Until It Hurts

It's been too long since I laughed until it hurt. I've often wished I could find a way to re-create those moments at will. How cool would that be? When was the last time you laughed until it hurt?

I think I have a good sense of humor. (Don't most of us think that?) I may be a little too politically correct sometimes and I'm not as quick to laugh at myself as I'd like to be, but I do love to laugh and to make others laugh. However, those laughing until it hurts moments are too far apart anymore and I'm really not sure why. I refuse to believe it's because I'm losing some of my sense of humor; that's just not funny.

As I started writing this posting, I was able to clearly recall the last time. About two years ago (don't laugh!) my wife and I and two old friends saw "39 Steps" on Broadway. At the end of the 1st act, my sides hurt so bad I remember saying I hoped the 2nd act wouldn't be quite as funny. If I'd known then how long it would be until the next time I laughed until it hurt, I would have welcomed that delicious pain.  

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Repelling Toxic People

My March 21 post called "The George Bailey List" asked you to identify people who have significantly enriched your life. Following a recent unpleasant interaction with a particularly toxic person I've known for some time, I thought about the opposite proposition, i.e. who in your life vexes you? More to the point, how do you neutralize people like this?

Since that interaction I've been reflecting on a concept I'd like some help with. You know those invisible fences preventing dogs from lunging at innocent passers-by?  How could that technology be adapted to help repel toxic people? I've been having some sadistic fun imagining a scenario where a nemesis approaches me and my invisible fence zaps them. And the idea of putting a collar of some type on toxic people also has appeal, don't you think? Permission granted to steal this concept as long as I get to try your prototype.

Please don't go all spiritual on me about this. I realize it's within my power to "rise above" toxic people. But sometimes I (a regular, does not walk on water person) have trouble with the whole rise above thing.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Experimenting With Circadian Rhythms

What do you notice is different when you mess with your "normal" 24 hour patterns? Lately, because of the flexibility in my life and schedule, I've been able to experiment more with my circadian rhythms.

For example, I've been going to sleep and getting up at different times and I've also purposefully varied the number of hours I sleep from day to day. With the change in sleep patterns, my meal times have become fairly unpredictable; I find I'm eating a little less. For many years if I tried to read at night, I'd fall asleep easily. Since starting this experiment, that doesn't happen as often even when I have an early a.m. commitment. I also find I'm writing more in my journal and otherwise.   

4:00 a.m. is kind of magical. Even when I played music for a living I would rarely be up at that hour. The other day I took a walk at 4:00 after reading and playing my guitar through the night. I felt really alive. The next time you have a chance (a weekend, a vacation, etc.) try experimenting with your circadian rhythms just a little. Then tell me what you notice.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Waxing & Waning Of Gratitude

Yesterday I found it easy to be grateful for many things in my life. As I sat outdoors enjoying the stunning spring weather, I was able to quickly list in my journal over a dozen things I'm grateful for. I've done this kind of gratitude inventory many times in my life; I know it's a healthy thing to do and I feel terrific when I do it.

Though I'm feeling no less grateful today, I know yesterday's gratitude inventory (or earlier ones I've constructed) will not necessarily prevent me at some point from slipping back and temporarily forgetting how fortunate I am. How often does your sense of gratitude wax & wane?  What patterns have you detected when this happens? What makes this slippage hard for me is the guilt I feel when my sense of gratitude doesn't lift me from whatever is going on at the time. It's a tough cycle: I know I am very fortunate but sometimes that's not enough to lift me and then boom = guilt; I feel worse for being ungrateful.

Any of this sound familiar? Strategies?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Took The Wind Out Of Me

I had difficulty centering myself enough to blog last night. When I finished Anna Quindlen's 2010 novel "Every Last One" at about 8:00 p.m., I wasn't sure what I would do next. At the risk of over-dramatizing, all I felt I could manage right away was taking a shower.

This isn't the first time a book or movie or piece of music took the wind out of me. I'd like to know about similar experiences of yours. Hours later, I continue to process my reaction to fictional events from a book. But here's something really weird: Quindlen is among the authors to whom I've written one of the "unsent letters" I spoke of in my last (Tuesday, 5/31) blog posting. And when I wrote that earlier posting, I hadn't even started "Every Last One". I spent the bulk of yesterday reading the novel, stopping several times when I broke down. OK, another weird thing: I knew nothing about this book - never read a review, no one recommended it, etc. I picked it up in what I've come to call a "library drive-by". Amanda Quick's novel ("Second Sight") had been recommended to me. When I read the jacket for that book while at the library, I decided against it; Quindlen's books were right there - I grabbed one I hadn't read based on my past enjoyment of her work. Somehow calling all this weirdness coincidence seems inadequate. Your thoughts?

So I showered then journalled then watched an inane movie then slept then got up and ate then did some errands. Then I decided blogging might help me process further. When something hits you like this, what is your way of processing? When a book (movie, music) takes the wind out of you, who in your life are you most likely to discuss it with? I can't recommend this book to many; it's so much work to process it.