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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

My Next Musical Life

With my most recent partnership on indefinite hiatus, I'm reflecting what my next musical life will look like.

At this point I've worked alone (both as an acoustic singing act and playing jazz guitar), been in a couple of duos, one quartet, several quintets, one sextet, one septet. Does that count as 6 musical lives? Or should I count the venues as musical lives? OK, in arbitrary descending order I've played a few larger places, supper clubs, catering halls, hotels, bars (big & small), coffee shops, backyards, dumps. That's 8 musical lives without counting venues I've forgotten or ones too embarrassing to admit. Got other ideas for criteria I should use to calculate which musical life I'm on? Maybe which instruments I've worked with?

So for the sake of musical life symmetry, I'm thinking a trio. Need to seek out a stand-up bass player; haven't done that yet, at least  professionally. Venue? Still working on that. And about that whole nine lives thing? Think I'm revising those parameters.   

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Those Inspiring Voiceovers

Like many people, I've anticipated favorite books of mine being made into films. Who of you has ever done the opposite, i.e. watched a film and then been motivated to seek out the book it was based on?

Because books and film are among my favorite leisure activities, this happens to me fairly regularly. I clearly recall my reaction watching "The River Runs Through It" on its release in 1992. I was struck by the script all along, but as the movie drew to a close, the voiceover moved me to tears. I then paid close attention to the credits (I know - I'm a geek) and noted the source material was written by Norman Maclean. Although it took me almost 20 years, last year I finally read Maclean's novella/memoir. Although it had a little too much detail about flyfishing for this landlubber, it was otherwise excellent - an equal to my love of the film.

A few weeks ago, watching "The Shawshank Redemption" for the 2nd time, I decided to put aside my Stephen King snobbery and seek out his short story ("Rita Hayworth And..."). I just have to know if some of the wonderful narration (voiceover by the character named "Red", played by Morgan Freeman) was King's writing or the work of the screenwriter. What has been your experience with this? Did a subsequent reading of a novel live up to your experience of the film? Did you then continue with that author?
 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Beyond Either/Or

As I often do before beginning a post, I took a look at entries in my blog droppings notebook for an idea of what to write about. I noticed several of the nascent ideas I'd jotted down posed either/or notions to explore. For example, after a recent conversation I'd written the following: "When reacting to conflict, which do people default to? Going with the flow or pushing back?"

Though posing that particular either/or could be fruitful (as could others I'd captured), it also occurred to me I'd succumbed to a little binary trap. So I went back through my notebook and tried changing any either/or I found there so that each had at least one additional alternative. Don't laugh - an hour zoomed by; it was much harder than I imagined it would be. And though I was not wholly successful and didn't finish the exercise, it raised some good questions for me, and hopefully for you.

How often do we trap ourselves in either/or land when trying to problem solve or understand our world? How often do we trap, or try to trap, others in an either/or land we create? Given how many inescapable either/ors bombard us (odd/even, man/woman, left/right, etc.), how do we stay mindful enough to escape unhelpful either/or thinking and recognize there is often a third (or more) way? 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Saturday Sermon

Holding myself accountable for blogging most days has given me a newfound respect for many things, including a few professions. Maybe the biggest surprise to me has been the new respect I find I now have for members of the clergy.

How much effort does it take to develop and deliver a sermon or homily every single week? Consider:
* You're often speaking to many of the same people each week (How soon can you recycle stuff?)
* You're drawing your material from the same (admittedly rich) source material each week
* You're speaking in a very quiet space, so aside from an occasional crying baby, no one interrupts you. Net result: Every mispronounced or misused word is heard; lapses in logic or flow are noticeable; etc.
* You're speaking for 10-15 minutes non-stop AND you have to draw a compelling conclusion

Look at that list. How consistently well do you think you could do this? I've been in front of people as a musician, teacher, speaker most of my professional life. But when I think about meeting all the requirements on that list, it gives me real pause. There are additional parallels with blogging - staying fresh, remaining relevant, keeping people interested/awake. Thank goodness I don't rely on donations to keep this gig.    

Thursday, February 23, 2012

My Grade (So Far): Ambition

With more years behind me than in front of me, lately I've been reflecting on some key attributes and how I'd grade myself on those attributes given my life choices to this point. Since I can be as linear as the next person, I'll start at the beginning of the alphabet. So for the first entry in this series, "A" is for ambition.

Ambition: An earnest desire for some type of achievement or distinction, such as power, fame, wealth, etc.

Making an attempt to put both false modesty and wishful thinking aside, given the above definition, Pat gives Pat a "C" for ambition to this point. How would you grade yourself on this attribute at this point in your life? Of the three components my dictionary cites, the "fame" piece of ambition has always had the most appeal for me. Which of the three has the most appeal for you? Or, has ambition manifested itself for you in a way not cited in this particular definition?

Next attribute in the series: Bravery. Homework, anyone?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Madame Bovary Cultural Vegetables Canon Fatigue Blues

These past few weeks I've got the "Madame Bovary Cultural Vegetables Canon Fatigue Blues".

I decided when I retired I was going to read at least one book by all authors often cited as part of the literary canon. For the two years since, I've done pretty well - tackled Dickens, Tolstoy, Joyce, Dostoyevsky, etc. But I was discouraged late last year when Flaubert's "Madame Bovary" fell flat for me - blues, part 1.

Then, one of my book clubs picked EM Forster's "Howards End" for March. Initially, I was pleased. Aside from Forster's inclusion in most versions of the canon, I loved the film of the same name. But, the fact that the book was chosen for me began to (irrationally) annoy me. Somehow it felt as if I was being force fed cultural vegetables - like high school. Yeah, I know I could just skip the book club meeting but anyway - blues, part 2.

So, even though I borrowed "Howards End" a few weeks ago, somehow several other books (all contemporary/nothing from the canon), have since usurped it in my queue - blues, part 3.

Think I've got the beginnings of a good three verse blues here. What key should I pick for that blues ? Has to be "D" for dumb.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Creative Jolts

I yearn for those creative jolts.

For almost 50 years now, the bulk of my creative jolts have happened while playing music. If I'm really happy with something I've done and it coincides with a listener picking up on the same creative moment, zap! How about you? Whether you consider yourself creative or not (a separate blog for sure), what experiences have you had where something you've created brings you into a kind of communion with someone else? The most meaningful musical compliments I've gotten in my life have come at these moments. Praise is nice but it's so much sweeter when I'm being praised for something I felt hit the mark.

Over the past 11 months, this blog has given me a few creative jolts. Talking with my wife a few days ago, I found myself overcome describing to her some of the more recent comments I've received on-line and off. One of the nicest was when an old friend described my posts as "...little presents I look forward to...". Because the post that prompted my friend to say that was one I was particularly proud of, zap!

Now if I could figure out a way to combine my playing with my blog, maybe I'd get an occasional double jolt. OK, that's greedy; forget I said it.      

Sunday, February 19, 2012

And The Nominees Are...

OK, we all know the two US Presidents honored this month and I'm guessing most also know the other two enshrined on Mt. Rushmore. I suspect fewer people can easily recall the two other early presidents that have State capitols named after them. Drilling down to those honored on coins or currency or further still to the ones with airports named after them and the general consensus about historical greatness gets even muddier.

This blog is not written by a presidential scholar (surprise!) But in this month when we celebrate our leaders of the past I'm curious to know which of the 44 (if we count Grover Cleveland twice) you would say deserves no celebration. And just to be sure I don't ignite a flame I'm uninterested in extinguishing, I'll ask no one nominates any President still living (Jimmy Carter, George Bush elder or junior, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama). That way all of us non-presidential scholars can have a little fun with this and be free to defame whichever dead president we choose. Last, offer the reason you think the President you nominate deserves no celebration; keep it simple and as non-flammatory as possible, please.

Based on what I got from James Loewen's 1995 book called "Lies My History Teacher Told Me", I nominate Democrat Woodrow Wilson who did not effectively use his powers to curtail the terror wrought by the Ku Klux Klan in the early twentieth century. Your nomination?

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Raw Materials

Among the many ways I count myself fortunate, the fact that I've never been faced with the responsibility of caring for an aged or debilitated parent is near the top of the list. And though I've publicly lamented losing both my parents too soon, I'm not at all sure I'd have had what it takes to meet that responsibility.

I have friends in my life who have done that and others who have done the arguably more demanding task of caring for a disabled child. In response to my limp admiration of their sacrifices, my friends have often said something like "...you do what you have to do..." Do you think you could "...do what you have to do... " if you were in these situations? "Do what you have to" makes it sound easy; it so obviously is not easy.

Raising just one non-disabled child was sometimes beyond me and she was not a difficult child and there were two of us raising her. When I recently suggested an afternoon outing to a good friend, his demurral was based on his devotion to his aged mother. Ever since, I've been unable to escape my own selfishness for more than a few hours. I've done good things for others in my life but today I don't feel I'm made of the same raw materials as this friend.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Back To School

Rewind to grade school. If you're anywhere near my age, the rewind mechanism could break down doing this exercise but try anyway. What was your favorite subject? Did having it as a favorite coincide with getting good grades for it? Has that interest in your favorite grade school subject stayed with you?  If no, why not?

Next question is for regular readers of my blog only. What do you guess was Pat's favorite grade school subject? Hint: I didn't discover my passion for music until 9th grade. Ready? Spelling. And yes the good grades coincided. In fact, spelling was the only subject where I got consistent "A's" from grade 1 through 8. I'm not sure what to make of the fact that spelling is no longer taught, but my own interest, notwithstanding its banishment from school curricula, has remained.

Maybe it's more accurate to say my interest in spelling has broadened over the years and become a general but profound love of words. I am proud my young adult daughter is a good speller. More importantly, she wanted to be so without ever being graded, making her motivation purer than my own.

So, how about you, has your earliest "favorite" stayed with you? Where did having it as a favorite take you in your life? How has your favorite subject shifted form, if at all? Let's go back to school, just for a minute. Feel free to check my spelling.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Me Against Me

I may have to turn in my gender card admitting this, but competition has become a bit tiresome to me.

It's not as though I don't enjoy winning; I do. But the competing piece tends to bring other stuff to the surface that I want to be done with. Like losing my temper. Or, if I'm teamed up with someone in a competitive situation, being impatient when that person doesn't do their part. Or, being inflexible about "rules" when it's only a game. Anyone recognize themselves looking at Pat's competitive mirror? Sometimes it feels less like I'm playing others and more like it's me against me.

I realize I'm responsible for my temper, patience, and flexibility. So my first step is just to recognize when I'm crossing the lines. But the more I reflect on the whole competition enchilada, the more I'm inclined to just avoid the situations as much as possible. For example, lately I'm enjoying board games more if they are creatively based vs. knowledge or skill centered. Now I'm working on enjoying tennis with my new partners given that they beat me more than I do them. It's possible by the time I get this all worked out, I won't remember why I cared to start. Non-therapeutic insights, anyone?

Monday, February 13, 2012

A Real Time Bulletin/Question

How do you assess when you've crossed over the line from extreme focus to being a bit obsessive? I have a  practical and up-to-the-minute reason for asking this question. 

Today was a near perfect day. I was up reasonably early, did some volunteer work, played guitar for a few hours, meditated, journalled, exercised, ran a few errands, communicated with some folks, ate well but not too much. Got about 5 or so hours of energy left - next? That's where my question comes in. I've been very focused all day but... I'm reading two books now that I haven't opened yet today. And, I hadn't yet started my blog until a few moments ago and wondered as I began writing this post: Would I get to any reading today? Have I crossed that line?

Recently, someone close called me "driven". Although at the time I didn't think I was put off by the word, it has remained in my head since. I guess I've concluded now that driven has the whiff of obsessed around it. Am I over-sensitive? Splitting semantic hairs? Is one man's driven another man's focused? Where does focus end and obsession/driven start? I might have to go to sleep after I post this. Unless...  

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Learning From James & Mary?

I suspect I could learn something about tolerance & compromise if I could somehow listen in on the private conversations of James Carville & Mary Matalin. How do these smart people from opposite sides of the political spectrum keep their relationship from fracturing? How many people do you know who prove, rather than disprove, the old adage "opposites attract"?

Though I claim to be open-minded, I'm not sure that applies when it comes to my choice of life partner and that person's politics. How about you & your partner? Although my wife and I are different (if not "opposite") in several ways, we are closely aligned in our politics. I once heard that old adage amended to "opposites attract if values are aligned". That's more consistent with my experience. Yours?

Still, James & Mary seem to make it work. What do they do that I haven't learned to do? Or, is it just show business? I won't allow myself to be so cynical. Instead, maybe one or more of you can offer me some additional insight. If not, I'll add "opposites attract" to the heap of adages belonging in the trash, James & Mary notwithstanding.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Lost In Lethem Land

David Foster Wallace, John Updike, and now Christopher Hitchens are gone. So I'm thrilled to have recently discovered "The Ecstasy of Influence", a book of non-fiction by Jonathan Lethem. Given how thoroughly I enjoyed the essays of those three giants no longer writing, I'm looking forward to getting lost in Lethem land a lot in the future.

The essays in "Ecstasy..." cover a dizzying array of topics and range in length from half a page to 40 pages - that one happens to be about James Brown. Like all the talented writers I admire, Lethem is persuasive as a reading evangelist.  I have yet to read a book of essays and not come away with at least a few new authors to add to my list. Updike led me to Anne Tyler; Wallace persuaded me to return to Kafka; Hitchens convinced me to sample the work of his friends Martin Amis & Salman Rushdie. Lethem's suggestions? Among others, he reminded me I'd forgotten to look up Italo Calvino, an author highly esteemed by another terrific essayist - the always provocative Gore Vidal.

I hope someone will pick up Lethem's book and tell me what you think; he's a writer that begs to be discussed. Even when I was a little out of my depth, I felt smarter just reading him. If you don't have much  time, just read a few of his essays recalling 9/11. A little more time? Try the title essay and "Postmodernism As Liberty Valance". I'm guessing you'll get lost in Lethem land a little bit too.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Giving Oxygen

Recently, I listened as a friend recounted a jarring adolescent experience. After my friend finished, another listener reacted to the story with a comment that struck me as flippant, even mildly dismissive. My friend didn't outwardly appear to be put out by the comment but the scene has re-played in my head ever since.

I think it was Stephen Covey (author of "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People") who I first heard say that listening deeply to others is like giving them oxygen. When I sense someone is sharing a story about their pain, a trauma, or even adolescent discomfort, my initial instinct is to lean in. More than a few times, I've heard others ask "What good does it do another person if I sympathize with them?" Of course, the answer is it does no good at all. The past is past; pain cannot be undone.  

But that question ("What good...?) always strikes me as beside the point. A better question might be "How can it hurt me as a listener to let someone tell their story?" Good listening often requires little response; it costs nothing to be silent. And silence after someone has told their story is preferable to drawing glib conclusions, making judgments, problem solving.

What kind of listener are you? I have an old friend who I've heard tell stories of mis-treatment he endured as a young boy in school. Each time he tells it, the pain of the memory is apparent. I hope I've been a good friend by giving him the oxygen he needs.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Dinner With The Minor League

I'm guessing at least a few of you have played that parlor game naming people from history you'd invite to an imaginary dinner party. It's a harmless way to have fun or get a conversation going.

But who would make your dinner party from the AAA farm team? I'm referring to people alive now; far from household names; people you find fascinating. It will surprise no regular reader of this blog that I have a ready list of names.

Just a taste of my list and then it's your turn:
1.) Terry Gross - Peerless radio interviewer (NPR)
2.) Phil Schaap - Encyclopedic jazz historian (NYC area radio)
3.) Will Shortz -  Word geek extraordinaire (NY Times crossword puzzle, etc.)

Come on, turn me on to someone cool - share your treasure with me (and anyone else who reads this).

Monday, February 6, 2012

Parlez Vous German? Russian? Romanian?

Aside from the little I recall of high school French, English has been pretty much it for me. And despite an abiding fascination, I haven't yet had a compelling reason to put in the time needed to learn a 2nd language.

But over the past several months my blog stats have shown a steady and significant increase in the number of views I'm getting from several countries outside the US; unfortunately, France is not one of them. So I'm now looking for a little assistance from anyone who speaks Russian or Romanian. I've already tried, with a bit of success, to entice my German viewers by sneaking German words into the title line of a few of my posts. But aside from glasnost, perestroika and Smirnoff's, I have little other Russian at my disposal. Romanian? I'm lucky I can even locate the country in my Atlas. If Transylvania hadn't made Dracula into a local hero, I'd be in even more trouble with that one.

I realize my newfound motivation to become multi-lingual might strike some as a bit self-serving. Indulge me. All I need are some useful words/phrases I can slip into title lines so that key word searches will bring me closer to my comrades in Eastern Europe. No cuss words or sexual propositioning stuff, please. I have a clear memory of the little seen "Birthday Girl", a Nicole Kidman film from some years back, and I don't want any of those guys coming after me. Phrases like "Good day", "How are you?" or "Where do you recommend I go in New Jersey for a good bowl of borscht?" are just fine, thanks.    

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Turning Down The Volume

Since watching a 2011 documentary called "Buck" a few months ago, I've found myself speaking about it to others more than any film I can recall, though in the past documentaries have often had limited appeal for me.

The film is about the actual person Nicholas Evans used as his model for the bestseller "The Horse Whisperer". It's possible "Buck" has stayed with me because of my volunteer work at a farm that specializes in therapeutic horseback riding; I've already mentioned it to several of the instructors there. And each time I describe to someone Buck's humane way of treating animals & people, I'm finding my own propensity for volume more annoying. Whispering, real or metaphorical, is powerful & soothing. The film depicts how Buck chooses to live his life and to heal his wounds - quietly. I aspire to the same.

In my last full time job, I had lunch with one person regularly. He claimed to thrive on my intense energy; his calm grace was balm for my hectic soul. The next time we have lunch, it wouldn't surprise me if I mistakenly called him Buck. If it turns out he's an experienced equestrian, I'll be a little spooked.    
  

 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

I Want My Times

Since I'm on the road early tomorrow and away from home most of the weekend, the thing on the front of my radar tonight is - Will I be able to easily locate the weekend NY Times?

For those who read the weekend Times, what is your routine?  What do you usually read first? Come on, every Times reader has a routine. On Saturday, after the front page headlines and following any stories of interest, I often skip right to the "Lives" essay on the back page of the magazine. Then a relatively new column in the magazine called "Riffing"- love that. Sometimes I'll read parts of Saturday Arts & Leisure, sometimes not. But I almost always jump next to the Sunday Arts & Leisure (delivered Saturday, but you knew that). Read about music & film there and sometimes drama. One thing never changes on Saturday; I read the book reviews last and look forward especially to the essay on the back page of that section.

OK, now it's Sunday. What's first for you? Headlines, then stories again? 50-50. Sports? For me, not on Saturday or Sunday. Travel? Real Estate? Cars? No, those all came on Saturday too and I probably skipped them; maybe I'll read a travel headline or two. Financials? Much more likely I'll read the Saturday vs. Sunday but I do like "Corner Office" in Sunday financials. I savor three things every Sunday - much of the Metro section, "Modern Love" in the Styles section, and Sunday Review especially those remarkable visuals that make even the most complex issues understandable. And yes I have favorite columnists in the Op-Ed part of the review but I want to hear yours first. Come on, don't be cagey.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Avoiding Crossing The Creepy Line

First things first: I am not a stalker, creep, or as my daughter periodically used to call me if I complimented any of her teenage girlfriends, a "perv". That aside, I have a dilemma. And this post, by necessity, must take the form of mostly questions. Remember: I'm a man (despite the androgynous first name), friendly by natural temperament, and I walk a lot.

What are your recommended guidelines when, while walking on the street, I encounter a total stranger and wish to avoid being perceived as a stalker, creep or perv? Assume said stranger is a woman (any age) or child. For example: If eye contact is made, who should initiate a smile? How long should said smile last? How broad should said smile be, i.e. teeth or no teeth? If teeth, how many? Uppers? Lowers? Both? How long should total eye contact, with or without smile, last? Are words other than "hello" appropriate? Who initiates said "hello"? If said stranger reciprocates with words aside from hello, what is my maximum number of allowable words to say in return? What words are forbidden? 

I have many other questions, including allowances recommended for regional differences, special protocols involving teenagers of either sex etc., but I'll be pleased if anyone takes the time and starts with those above.