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Friday, March 30, 2012

Not The Cleavers, But...

Although we've had our bumps, when I reflect on my relationship with my brother and two sisters, I feel pretty lucky. Somehow we've managed to avoid the most common pitfalls that can drive families apart. 

Based on recent stories friends have shared, I suspect coming from modest means has helped us more than hurt us. How many families have you heard of that disintegrated over money? Since we became adults, I believe it's also helped that none of us have lived together for more than a few months at a time. Until two years ago, each of us lived 45 minutes to an hour away from the other three; close, but not too close.

The thing that gives me the most pleasure? How we're all there for each other's kids. Last night my daughter and I began rehearsing songs we'll perform at her cousin/my niece's wedding in July. It's full circle - I sang and performed at my sister's wedding (mother of the July bride) 30 years ago August. Would be good to hear some nice family stories from any of you. Seems like lately I've been bombarded with the other kind.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Time For A Trade

Of the factors that occasionally block my creativity, needing the approval of others is the one that bugs me the most.

I frequently reflect on how liberating it would be to not care at all about what others think of what I create. When I hear a musician ignore conventional harmonic guidelines, like Andy Summers does in his guitar solo on the Police song "Driven To Tears", I'm exhilarated by his bravery and demoralized by my own musical timidity. On more than one occasion, I have agonized about something I create for a blog. Often, I'll skip posting that day rather than risking disapproval.

If my wife reads this post, she will no doubt think a phantom has taken over today. Over our 34 years together, she has many times commented on how little I care what others think. And when it comes to my general appearance (grooming, clothes, etc.) and my lack of tact, her assessment is largely accurate. Perhaps it's time for a trade - i.e. begin seeking approval in those domains (saving my wife some embarrassment in the bargain) and shed my need  for approval in the creative arena.    

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Enough Pre/Se-quels & Re-Makes Already

Is anyone really looking forward to "Pirates of the Caribbean, Part 6: Jack Sparrow Is Senile"? With so many great books not yet adapted to film, is "Rocky Boxes Rambo", the best Hollywood can do?

I respectfully request your list of terrific authors who have been under-represented on film to date. I'll go first but only if you promise to join in. My criteria, which need not be yours, is choosing authors who have had very few films made from their substantial catalogue yet each is a fairly traditional storyteller.

1.) Barbara Kingsolver - Suggestion: Start with "Poisonwood Bible" - can't miss. "The Lacuna" or "The Bean Trees" are also a sure bet. Casting suggestions available upon request.
2.) Anne Tyler - How about "Saint Maybe"? "Ladder of Years"? "Digging To America"? Lots more where that came from.
3.) John Updike - Here are mysteries to ponder: How come a sequel-crazy Hollywood does not run with the 3 later Rabbit books? Why didn't they follow the witches of Eastwick after they became widows? I mean Cher, Michelle & Susan (not to mention Jack) are still with us. "Bech: A Film", anyone?

Yes, I have a longer list but it's your turn now. And as much as I like Elmore Leonard, John Irving & Philip Roth, their books (leaving aside the ubiquitous Stephen King) have had quite a run; it's time for our choices, right? I mean who really cares what happened in that galaxy far, far away even a longer time ago?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Check In: 11/24/2029

Given my lifelong good health, current condition, and family history on my father's side, my odds for a long life are better than average. However, upon reaching age 80 here are a few modifications I'm planning:

1.) Return to the beer drinking levels of my 20's
2.) Pay no attention to the fat content in my diet
3.) Eat as much dessert as I please

If anyone remembers this 17+ years from now and observes me reneging on this reckless pledge, feel free to punish me in any way an 80 year old can be punished; good luck with that. Since I'm likely to have forgotten it myself, any chastising I receive will probably add some welcome excitement to my 9th decade.

How about you? What "healthy lifestyle choices" are you looking forward to abandoning after you've exceeded actuarial expectations? Come on, own up.      

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Staying Out Of The Advice Business

Since watching "Higher Ground" several weeks ago, I've been turning over one short scene in my mind. In the movie, a thoughtful meditation on faith, the main character is a deeply religious but conflicted character played by Vera Farmiga; the film is also Farmiga's directing debut. In the scene, she is being counselled by a pastor;  it is an unsettling conversation.

How often in your life have you been counselled by someone with an agenda superseding your best interest? I can recall a few instances from my own life; it's possible my general resistance to taking advice, however well meaning, is rooted in those instances. That scene in "Higher Ground" has nothing to do with being gay. But since watching it, I've imagined the damage that might have been done by well meaning counsellors (clergy, psychiatrists, family) before there was some degree of acceptance about being gay.

Not long after I realized I had little use for advice in my own life, I mostly stopped giving it as well. That scene from "Higher Ground" has strengthened my resolve to stay out of the advice business. If/when I'm tempted to give some, my new resolve is to be sure I'm speaking from the other person's best interest.            

Friday, March 23, 2012

12 Months:12 Countries

Of all the projects or goals I've posted about since starting to blog last March, our plan to sample the cuisines of all the countries in the world has gotten the most attention. That project is one year old today.

Since I posted the 6 month update (link below), my wife and I have picked up the pace a little. We've now hit 12 countries from four continents; Asia is leading with five of the 12; six if you count Turkey as being in Asia vs. Europe. To date, the undisputed leader for my wife has been our visit to Mexico (El Mezon in Freehold). For me, it's a tie between Mexico and our visit to Lebanon (Ilili in NYC on my birthday). Thanks to all for your recommendations and suggestions. Either Sri Lanka or Hungary is next in the queue.

As we get further along, we'll surely need your help with some harder-to-find cuisines. In the end, if we can't find a Liberian restaurant (for example), we're going online for a recipe. If any of you want to join us on our next culinary trip, post a comment, write an e-mail, give a ring, send a smoke signal; we'll make it happen.   

 http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2011/03/world-traveling-via-food-to-be.html
http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2011/09/requested-update-from-march-23.html

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Raising The Bar

The more widely I read, the more I want to write and yet the more nervous I am about my public writing.

Strange admission coming from a blogger, right? My desire to read and write is nearly as strong as my parallel desire to listen to and play music. Although I don't recall it, perhaps I was once nervous about playing in public too. This past weekend, I played publicly on Saturday and was largely happy with my performance. I then heard jazz trumpeter Warren Vache play on Sunday. If the order had been reversed, my weekend would have been a parallel to today's reading vs. writing experience.

Earlier today I was engrossed reading essays from Christopher Hitchens last book - "Arguably". Hitchens was a formidable intellect and terrific writer, comparable in his field to Vache in music. Reading Hitchens  made me want to write. But I discarded a couple of blog ideas I'd had before I began reading; Hitchens had raised my bar. So, I wondered: How would I have viewed my performance or what would have changed in my playing if I'd heard Vache on Saturday and then played on Sunday? What techniques do you use to raise the bar with your passions?             

      

Monday, March 19, 2012

My Grade (So Far): Bravery

My dictionary cites courage, valor, & fearlessness as synonyms for bravery; quite a list - I'm glad I decided to write this post on a good day. Given those synonyms, you go first. How would you grade yourself on bravery at this point in your life?

So few of us are ever really tested on this attribute. And of those three synonyms, the one that gives me the most pause is fearlessness. I have met people who have acted fearlessly in some situations but I don't know a single person without some fear. Do you? This is a very high bar indeed. So, given the above synonyms, Pat gives Pat a "C" for bravery at this point in his life. For anyone keeping track, that's two C's so far for me (first was for ambition, in my 2/23 post). What's on your report card so far?

Lest anyone thinks I'm being falsely modest, upon request only, I will relate for anyone interested an instance where I believe I did act bravely. But I don't believe an occasional brave act entitles me to a higher grade than "C". The good news? As with ambition, there's time to improve my grade or yours.



        

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Saint Who?

At the risk of sounding out of touch with multi-culturalism, I'm afraid the concept of ethnicity has never had much resonance for me.

Take today, i.e. St. Patrick's Day. I have good friends of Irish descent who take this holiday very seriously. Me? Though I share the saint's name, unless someone reminds me, I don't even remember the whole green thing. And I've never attended the parade honoring my namesake; honestly don't care if I ever do. My father's side (albeit 6 generations ago), was the Irish side; my mother's grandparents were from Germany. Two of my least favorite ethnic foods? Irish & German! Even before I became a vegetarian, I detested both corned beef & sauerbraten, never mind boiled potatoes or sauerkraut - yuk!

Except for liking beer, more of an Irish stereotype than a cultural norm, I can't think of anything related to either side of my ethnic background that means much to me. I don't tear up hearing "Danny Boy"; Wagner is not on my musical radar. I've been to both Germany & Ireland; both very nice, but, no ancestral tugs. My wife's ancestry is largely British and she is an absolute Anglophile - loves London, British humor & film,  the skinny men, etc. I feel no such pull toward anything Irish or German. How about you? How strong is your ethnic identification?

p.s. To my German readers: Don't abandon me. Sauerbraten & Wagner aside, please recall all the neat German words I've sprinkled into past posts. 
 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Love That Stew

As an undergraduate, one of my favorite psychology courses was called "Group Dynamics". Many years later getting my Masters, courses I took in organizational behavior (OB) covered similar fascinating terrain. Since retiring from full time work, my preferred place to watch the human stew cook is a book club meeting. I'm part of that stew.

One OB theory suggests our behavior in groups will often replicate the role we played in our family of origin. My behavior at many book club meetings? Textbook, as they say. And the more I learn about the family background of others in my clubs, the more support I see for this particular theory. I'm planning on testing some other OB theories going forward. For example, at my favorite club, I estimate about 20% of the members say almost nothing from meeting to meeting. I'm going to initiate some offline conversations with  these folks. Got to be some good stories there, don't you think? Of the estimated 20% who take up 75% of the air time meeting to meeting, I know plenty.

For the other 60% from that club who do about 25% of the talking? Going to leave that stew cook a little longer. Pretty sure it's going to taste good whenever I get around to sampling it.     

 



 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

An Anniversary Celebration

Tomorrow begins my 2nd year of blogging. I hope you'll celebrate with me by posting a comment, online or off, or otherwise communicate with me about what you've liked, what you haven't, what to change, what to keep. Or anything you can tell me that will keep you taking a peek every now and then.

I did not post "...every day..." as I aspired to when I began last March 15. But I've been so pleased what this new discipline has brought to my life, not least of which has been great conversations with many of you on topics introduced here. And stating that goal last March was my way to help maintain a commitment - 254 times as of today. For me, goals are as much about the journey as they are the destination.

I'm especially gratified by those who have paid close enough attention to ask for updates on other goals or projects mentioned here. Thank you also for the critical and supportive feedback; keep it coming.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Wanted: More Hours

At the end of a day as rich, productive and satisfying as today, I sometimes find myself enmeshed in magical thinking: It would be so nice to need less sleep.

Despite having energy people frequently comment on, I'm on the bell curve as far as how many hours of sleep I require for optimal functioning. And though I'm fortunate to have no sleep issues and can function well for a day, even two, without 7-8 hours, about a third of my lifetime will be spent like most people - asleep. Intellectually, I realize it's fruitless to envy the small minority who sleep far less than most of us. But as today draws to an otherwise satisfying close, here is my sincere, if unrealistic, wish: I want more hours awake.

Over the years I've tried numerous techniques to extend my waking time. Each has worked for a brief while but after a few days, a week at most, I'm a little frayed at the edges. Soon I'm back on the bell curve. Who else, magical thinking aside, is occasionally disgruntled by this? Would be consoling to know I'm not alone.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

First, Forget The Foie Gras

I'm sorry, I just don't buy it. If you want to backpack across Europe right after you graduate college, before joining the workaday world, what is stopping you, other than you?

I was listening to NPR the other day and one of the stories claimed it's no longer feasible for recent college graduates to undertake this right-of-passage. The stated reason? Economics. Oh baloney. Unless you put yourself hundreds of thousands of $$ in debt to go to college (and whose doing was that?) or you expect your parents to finance the trip, what is so radically different about the economic situation now than it was when I graduated? In constant dollars, youth hostels cost no more now than they did in 1971. Yes, inflation has made stuff cost more but that goes for everything, not just backpacking trips. So what's different?  Work hard the summer after you graduate, save all that $$, and go. Come back when you're out of $$.

My wife's niece and her future husband did exactly this just a few years back. At the risk of sounding more cranky than I already do, I'm going to guess that the producers of this NPR story either talked to the wrong young people (maybe some whose version of backpacking includes hotels, foie gras, and other amenities?) or their research let them down. I recall several people telling me I was foolish to hitchhike across country in the late 70's. I didn't listen and I'm glad for having followed my own instincts vs. the conventional wisdom. When someone wants to indulge their wanderlust, they find a way.    

  

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Mr. Id & Caviar

Mr. Id has trouble when an enormously successful and popular artist whines about not getting unanimous critical respect. Does this annoy anyone else beside Mr. Id?

Ever since reading "The World According to Garp" in 1978, Mr. Id has spent many hours enjoying the subsequent novels of John Irving. But beginning with "A Widow For One Year" (1998), Mr. Id noticed how often Irving's characters snipe at literary critics. It got so annoying Mr. Id swore off Irving, returning in 2010 to read "Last Night At Twisted River" only because it was a book club selection. Had Irving grown up and stopped his sniping/whining in the ensuing years? He had not. The book was otherwise terrific, by the way.

Musical examples, especially in pop music, abound. Mr. Id will use Billy Joel, though he could just as easily use the Eagles, another bunch of whiners. It's easy to find plenty of music critics who liked Billy Joel's music in his heyday and even now he (and the Eagles) have no shortage of fans (including Mr. Id), and yes, money. But a few months ago, Mr. Id heard an interview with Billy Joel, who hasn't released an album of popular music since "River of Dreams" (1993). He's often stated since then that he's no longer interested in making that type of music. So what comes up in this interview? How "Rolling Stone" never gave him the musical credit he's due! And this is not the first time Mr. Id recalls hearing or reading this nonsense.

Is it fair to say that people like Irving, Joel, etc. want their caviar and want to eat it too?

Not The Desert Island Scenario!

Just finished Jill Ciment's 2005 novel "The Tattoo Artist"; it's a riveting read by a talented author with a lot on her mind. Forgive me, Jill: The ideas in your book deserve serious attention and conversation. But when I searched out Ta'un'uu & Tarawa in my Atlas and saw how isolated they are, I'm afraid I got stuck on something much more frivolous. I thought about how much I'd miss listening to music if I were as stranded as your narrator. I'm guessing you won't be happy where that led me next, so Jill, please stop reading. All others -proceed (caveat emptor).

Yes, a terrific book has led this dunce to the infamous "desert island" scenario, updated for the I-tunes era. Like Ciment's narrator, you will be on this speck in the South Pacific for 30 years. Which 20 songs would you want on the one CD you're allowed? OK, here's a bonus - if you send me an actual CD with your choices, I'll send you my CD; we can be on the island together. For anyone needing my mailing address, post a comment here and we'll figure something out. But I'll also be happy just knowing your 20.

Sorry Jill; loved your book.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

That Greener Grass

What job has ever crossed your mind as one you think you might enjoy doing? What about it appeals to you? Since few jobs are without drawbacks, what might those be?

Probably because of my love of reading, I've sometimes fantasized about being responsible for writing the short descriptions on book jackets. Think how many good books I'd get to read! On the other hand, if I didn't like a book, I'm getting paid to write something that will entice others to read it.  

Also thought being a radio disk jockey would be a blast. Listening to and talking about music all the time - whoa! But unless I could choose all the music, all the time, we're back to the same issue as with books.  Even worse, suppose a station I worked at switched formats to one of those tight playlists? I'm already tired of many great songs because of serious over-exposure; if it were my job to play those songs...

OK, I also imagined myself writing movie reviews. But you get the idea now. How about that fantasy job of yours? Is your own grass maybe looking a little greener now?  

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Shirley On The Bell Curve

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2012/01/finally-payoff.html
I'm 8 films into the project I asked for help with in my January 24 post; thanks for your suggestions.

Following a conversation with a good friend about the somber nature of the questions sometimes posed in my blog, and with the voice of my mother ("Patrick, you are too serious!") echoing in my head, I just realized something. Of the films I've thusfar recommended to my daughter, only one has been a comedy ("My Cousin Vinny"). I hear both my friend and my mother saying - lighten up, Pat.

Admittedly, excellent comedic acting (the goal of the project being great acting) is not as easy to come by. The history of the Academy Awards is itself very spotty recognizing comedies. But surely ("My name is not Shirley"), I can do better than one out of 8. And although I've made numerous attempts at humor in this blog, surely (uh-oh), I can do better here as well. You let me know, OK Shirley?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Variations On A Theme/Names On Benches

Noticed how many public benches nowadays have names stenciled on them? What passes through your mind seeing one of these?

Over the last few years, while walking alone, I've found myself sometimes wondering about the story behind a name. Did the person ever sit there? Do they or did they live near by? What motivates someone to have their own name stenciled on a bench? If someone else was responsible, what was their relationship with the person whose name is on the bench?

I saw "Shawshank Redemption" for the 2nd time a few weeks ago. Passing several of these benches yesterday, a poignant scene from that film when the old convict (played by James Whitmore) carves his name on a crossbeam came to my mind. Notice the most common graffiti around us are names? Ever put your own handprint or name into wet cement? What other variations on this old theme have you noticed?    

Saturday, March 3, 2012

When Too Much Is Too Much

Too much garlic! Too much oregano! Different for every person, you say? OK, how about technique? Is too much technique subjective like too much garlic or oregano? For which art forms can you have or use too much? For which art forms is there no such thing as "too much"?

I've heard people say things like "...if I notice a writer's technique it distracts me from the story..." But  writing technique comes in many shades so, which type of technique is it that distracts? Too much dialogue? Too much exposition? Too much descriptive or metaphorical language? Or... are there too little of any of those (or other) techniques on display? Same idea, different medium. If you're engrossed in but then suddenly notice you're watching a movie because of technique (think of Alfred Hitchcock or the Coen Brothers), has that technique gotten in the way? Too much garlic?    

An often re-told anecdote describes Duke Ellington's reaction to a pianist with dazzling technique. Duke was heard to say - "My, you play a lot of notes!"; supposedly the pianist didn't realize he'd been insulted. I've played with people with dazzling technique. Putting the Duke's bon mot aside, I've yet to hear anything except compliments paid to those musicians. So, how much technique is too much for a musician? How often have you said to yourself  "he's so fast, I'm distracted?"  Ever heard the expression "she was chewing up the scenery" to indicate an over-use of technique in acting? What equivalent expression have you heard or used for a musician? How about for a photographer? Visual Artist?

Lots of questions today. I'll weigh in when I get a reaction or two. Got jazz guitarist Joe Pass on my mind.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Using The Signs

How easy it is to become used to things that are all around us. But while driving recently it suddenly dawned on me - I can make better use of signs to remind me of important stuff needing my attention. 

STOP:  Being judgmental
YIELD: To others with a different view
CAUTION:  Ambiguity ahead

If I remember to apply this new concept only each third time I see one of these ubiquitous signs, I'm batting .333 - hall of fame territory. I'll be thrilled to succeed just that often. What other signs are worth paying more attention to? What would you add to the sign? I think I'm onto something here - join me.