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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Is "Esque" Good Enough?

A while back, someone I once worked with remarked that my blog postings struck him as "...vintage Pat...". Ever since, I've periodically re-visited this remark, no doubt made with little forethought. Such is the curse of a good memory combined with a lifelong habit of writing down morsels I think might later be useful.  

At first, I decided what he meant to say was that my blog is "Barton-ish". A little time went by, and I felt as though I was selling myself short. Instead, I concluded what he had really meant to say was my blog is "Bartonian". That elevated Henry James-like adjective stuck with me for a while.

Most recently I arrived at "Bartonesque". Now I'm getting closer to the real intent of what my ex-colleague meant, I thought. The new low I've sunk to? Soliciting your suggestions for turning me into an adjective, provided said adjectives are not profane.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Holding Onto Vs. Being Held By

How do you know when you're holding onto something mindfully vs. being held by it mindlessly?

From the moment I first became aware of her, I had a visceral dislike for former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. That dislike persisted the entire time she held office and then continued afterwards. I never gave much thought to why this was. Although I didn't care much for her politics, her imperious manner or her hairdo, I just held on to my dislike and carried on.

Last night, watching "Iron Lady", something odd was happening inside me. Whenever I felt any sympathy for Thatcher, I fought it. It then dawned on me - I was no longer holding onto my dislike for her, I was being held by it. I was fighting what I was feeling because of something I'd convinced myself was worth holding onto many years ago - very silly, indeed.

Today I've been reflecting on where else in my life, closer to home, I've let this happen. Work to be done. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Jury Is Out

Although not visible to readers, over the past two weeks this site changed the interface we bloggers see. For one thing, instead of being able to see only the number of views for my "top 10" posts, I can now see that same number for every post I've published. At this point, I'm unsure how I feel about all the new data readily available to me.

Though I've tried staying away from my "stats", this new interface puts them more in my face, making it potentially easier to get discouraged if the numbers are disappointing. I realize I can adjust my expectations. I also know myself well enough to know that is easier said than done.

On the other hand, I'm hopeful I'll be able to discern patterns looking at the more robust data. Maybe those patterns will help me discover new ways to connect with more people or, better ways to connect with you.

The jury is out but the judge keeps on blogging.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Fasting To Slow Down

A while back a friend responded to one of my posts and said he regularly goes on a "media fast" to help him avoid taking in so much information about celebrities. At the time, his idea struck me as a worthwhile way to escape that particular onslaught.

Being totally out of reach of the 24/7 news cycle during the time I just spent at Mammoth Cave has given his idea much broader appeal. I realized Sunday that I hadn't read a paper or news magazine, looked at an Internet news feed or TV news show, or had one conversation about current events for an entire week - to no ill effect. I've decided I can afford to fast completely one day every week from all news and still remain reasonably well informed. Added bonus: On that one day, avoiding celebrities is 100% guaranteed.  

I'm not yet sure which day of the week I'll abstain and/or whether it's critical I use the same day week to week; small potatoes. Care to join me? In any case, I'll report on how it's going from time to time. I'm feeling healthier already.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Mr. Id On Pat's Grade So Far: Charm

Mr. Id gives Pat a "C-/D+" for charm up to this point in his life. But this does not concern Mr. Id, nor should it concern Pat.

Why, you ask? Because Mr. Id recommends Pat not expend a great deal of effort trying to raise this below- the-bell-curve grade. Unlike ambition (2/23) and bravery (3/19), charm strikes Mr. Id as an over-rated attribute. More than a few times, Mr. Id has noticed those who are frequently called charming have a whiff of insincerity, if not obsequiousness, about them. Charm and smarm strike Mr. Id as appropriate rhyming words.

Mr. Id acknowledges Pat could probably have been more successful had he attempted to be more charming when first meeting people. First impressions being lasting ones, he's blown it more than once in those circumstances. Mr. Id also recognizes how Pat has made his wife's life difficult not being more charming at times. But the attributes graded in this series must be prioritized and this is just the letter "C", i.e. there are still 23 letters/attributes to go. Which attributes deserve the most attention? Mr. Id thinks improving Pat's charm is a steeper climb and has less (ultimate) bang for the buck. Your view? And, notwithstanding Mr. Id's disdain for it, how would you grade yourself on charm at this point in your life?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Sating That Lust

If you have the bug, what do you think is at the root of your wanderlust?

Like many people I know, my early life had next to no travel. Aside from a few adolescent adventures in Atlantic City with high school friends, hotels were unknown to me until my mid 20's. Prior to my first cross country driving trip in 1972, the only other states I'd ever been in were neighboring New York (NYC only), Pennsylvania (equally nearby Philadelphia only), Delaware & Maryland (en route to Washington DC) - all for school sponsored trips. My first airplane ride (two seater) didn't occur until I was almost 23.

Since that first driving trip across the US, my wanderlust has steadily grown. I love NJ and have never had a mailing address outside the State. But the bug to wander has burrowed in deep. Recently, someone asked me the same question posed at the top of this post. I have difficulty identifying how I was infected. 

2012 is shaping up as a good year to sate my lust: My first extended visit to Kentucky just finished; Denver (#2) in May; Virginia & Massachusetts (lost count on my visits to both) over the summer; Tuscanny (#1 for that area - 2nd visit to Italy) in early fall.  If you've got this bug, what's your next adventure?   

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Being More Fully Human

I'm convinced certain people seem to send out the message "I'm here to help". I'm just as convinced I'm not one of those people.

I watched this dynamic at work this past week. On a service trip to Mammoth Cave National Park, there were 22 of us working side-by-side; one individual had some slight mobility issues. Wherever we worked or hiked, a kinder soul than I appeared at that individual's side to help minimize struggles. When I complimented her late in the week, the kind soul's response did not surprise me. She said to me "You would do the same thing". In my experience, grace and her type of unselfish unwillingness to help others often go together. How consistent is this with your experience of people?

I met several highly educated, well travelled, accomplished people on this trip. The one who will remain most firmly etched in my memory? No contest - the one who inspired me to be more fully human.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

A Future Filled With Parks

Beginning tomorrow, I'll be unable to access the Internet for a week, making this my longest break from blogging since mid August. That break was precipitated by an unplanned fiasco; this one is a planned service trip to Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky - much nicer circumstances.

My wife and I are on a mission to visit as many National Parks as possible; we were inspired watching the Ken Burns series last year. We'll spend this week rehabilitating trails, removing non-native plants, and assisting Park Personnel with other chores. And we get one day in the middle to explore the caves.

I haven't counted (yet) but my guess is after this trip we'll have visited about 25-30% of the National Parks. If we plan well and our $$ holds out, we've got a shot at seeing most of them. Which parks are on your "want to see" list? Which ones that you've seen would you recommend we put at the top of our queue?

I should be back online next Sunday and will look forward to seeing your recommendations.  

Friday, April 13, 2012

When Gratitude And Clarity Coincide

What a gift it is when I'm grateful for my good fortune at the same time I'm feeling clear about my life's purpose. How often in your life have gratitude and this type of clarity coincided? The state of grace mystics describe in their writing seems similar to what I've experienced on these occasions.

The last time this happened to me I wrote more than 30 pages in my journal over the course of about 12 hours. Re-reading that journal entry puts me close to the exhilaration I felt that day. What do you do so that you can re-live these moments later? Who do you tell about the experience? I tried describing my last experience to my wife. Although I knew the words would be inadequate, like describing love or a passage of great music, I still felt compelled to share it with her.

Though sometimes I yearn to be able to re-capture moments like this at will, I know their power is conferred by their uniqueness. Tell me about yours; it will help me remain patient and open until my next one arrives.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Small Pleasures

What are your favorite features about where you live? Aside from being very near the ocean, the fact that most businesses in my town are small & locally owned is at the top of my list.

I enjoy interacting with people who live in the community. I prefer patronizing a neighborhood coffee shop,  local hardware store, independent bookshop vs. giving my money to a Starbucks, Home Depot, Barnes & Noble. I know this all has little impact on the success of these ubiquitous chains. But I feel so much better and I'm glad my little town affords me the choice. I've never been a fan of malls. Since moving here, I haven't set foot inside one; this makes me very happy - small pleasures.

Late last year shopping for the holidays, I spoke with many local merchants. Most were very gracious & appreciated when I said I made a point of shopping locally. What kind of reaction do you suppose any of us would get if we communicated with the owner of a big chain? Maybe I'll try Herman Cain, owner of Papa John's Pizza. What was his phone number again? Ah, it just came back to me: (999) 999-9999, right?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Sacred Profession

Coming from a family of school teachers (all 3 siblings + one niece), and having done a fair share of adult education & guitar teaching, it's gratifying when I see others acknowledge the role of teachers in their lives. How many of you have taken the time to do so?

"If there is more important work than teaching, I hope to learn about it before I die". That sentence is from author Pat Conroy's 2010 memoir "My Reading Life" from a chapter devoted to a high school English teacher. Reading it, I recalled my own high school English teacher Mrs. Cavico, who encouraged me to continue writing poetry. Which teachers encouraged your passions or influenced your vocational choices?

"For me, teaching is a sacred profession." That's from Stephen Sondheim's "Finishing The Hat" (2010) and refers to the role Oscar Hammerstein played in Sondheim's early years as a lyricist. After you entered the world of work, which teachers were critical in your early development? Most of us have heard the word "mentor" used for this context. People I've known who have been acknowledged as mentors to others invariably say it has been among the most rewarding experiences of their professional lives. I'm convinced this is so because effective mentoring involves teaching. In the years I taught others about being effective mentors, the ones who "got it" often struck me as people who would have been good  teachers, had they chosen it as their sacred profession.    

Monday, April 9, 2012

Two For The Price Of One

Don't you love it when two of your favorite leisure pursuits, hobbies or passions coincide? I get this buzz all the time because music is a frequent subject in film.

Which movies about music have moved you?  Before it was made into a great film, I recall how moved my wife was when she saw "Amadeus" on Broadway; just her description of the language in the play stirred me. I've suggested "The Rose" & "The Fabulous Baker Boys" to my daughter. As an aspiring actress who sings, these are films I think she must see. Great performance of a single song in an otherwise non-musical movie? Tossup - Meryl Streep (yes, she sings well too, damn her) doing "You Don't Know Me" in "Postcards From The Edge" or Dooley Wilson singing "As Time Goes By" in "Casablanca".

For the unadorned joy pop music brings to life, "That Thing You Do" has few equals. Musical biopic? Not my favorite category, but I'd start with "Bird" then onto "Ray". Documentary? "Straight, No Chaser". Mockumentary? "This is Spinal Tap". Beatles story? "Backbeat"Comedy? That could be the easiest choice - "A Mighty Wind".  Jazz film? "Round Midnight". Country? "Tender Mercies". Folk? Back to "A Mighty Wind". Opera? Not qualified to answer except, "Amadeus" got to me just as it did my wife.  R&B? Coming up dry; sorry. Most recent? Probably "Nowhere Boy" but remember I'm a Beatles geek. Oldest? Hedging my bets - "The Wizard of Oz" is not a movie about music. But it is a musical featuring one of the greatest songs of the 20th century sung by one of the finest singers of  the era ("Over The Rainbow" - Judy Garland) and it also has "If I Only Had A Brain" so 1939 is as far back as I'm going.   

It's not easy to get two for the price of one but I stand by all of the above as examples of both the music & the movie working. I know this post is longer than  usual but come on, movies & music - what did you expect? Do me a favor, weigh in - I need your help with a great R&B movie and since the only movie I've ever liked that featured rap starred a white guy (!), i.e. Eminem in "8 Mile", I really need help there.     

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Go Ahead, Make My Day

Which habit has eaten so many hours of your life that more than once you've thought "enough already"?

Soon after I packed books during our last move, I asked my wife to stop gifting me any more books about film. No doubt, I'll remain a movie buff indefinitely but clearly I know as much as I ever need to about such an ephemeral subject. Everyone needs mindless distractions, you say. True - and I've got plenty of others. Here's the question: Which one can you let go with no discernible loss to your quality of life? You don't have more than one? Great, when next I see you remind me - I'd like to see that walk-on-water bit you do.

Recently my young adult daughter decided she was jettisoning her Facebook jones; stay tuned re that. My brother has alluded to YouTube as the ultimate time-sucking vortex. "Angry Birds", anyone? But hasn't modern technology also provided many worthwhile pursuits, like...reading and responding to blogs? Tell me what you think; this is about quality of life.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Anthropology For Dummies

"The freshly created space where once there had been a joint was now a gelatinous infinity of torture."

That sentence is taken from early in Lisa See's 2005 novel "Snow Flower & The Secret Fan". Since reading her book months ago, I've been unsuccessfully trying to understand how cultural practices that torture women continue to exist. Lisa See asserts the custom of footbinding has still not been totally abandoned in parts of rural China. When the author described agony seven year old girls endure to meet an ideal of beauty that includes having feet that never get beyond a size two, I squirmed. And I was only reading a book; I'm incapable of imagining that kind of pain.

Yet as agonizing as footbinding is, women in other parts of the world endure worse. To any reader who majored in anthropology- Is there a culture where men are subjected to intentional mutilation? Creating eunuchs through the castration of young boys is part of an ancient past. Yes I know I'm being culturally insensitive so take your pick of epithet - narrow American, clueless Westerner, hopeless ethnocentrist. Guilty, guilty, guilty. But I still don't get how intentional mutilation of women persists in our modern world. In this particular instance, throw whatever epithet you want at me; I'm comfortable being ignorant.    

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Replacing (Not Retiring) A Word

Aside from missing many of the people I worked with and some of the work I did from 2003-2010, I love being retired. But that word retired and the stereotypes that often accompany it are getting on my nerves.

I can hear you out there: I don't stereotype, you protest. Nonsense, that's the same as claiming you're without prejudices. We all stereotype from time to time and we all pre-judge situations or people frequently; it is otherwise near impossible to make sense of all the information coming at us. Can anyone reasonably claim the word retired has never conjured some picture in their head? Crossword puzzles? Florida? Green shoes or belt on a golf course? Gray and/or thinning hair? (For the record, I fit that last stereotype).

So, much as I dislike euphemisms, and at the risk of appearing over-sensitive, I'm retiring the word itself. I'm replacing retired with "ceased full time work". Just 4 syllables vs. 3 so it's almost as easy to say as "GWB" is instead of "George Washington Bridge" . BTW, ever noticed how both of those are three syllables, even though one is 3 letters and the other 3 words? I've always wondered why traffic reporters bothered in the first place; it's not like they're saving any breath. Pat, who has ceased full time work, signing off for now.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Buzzed By Civility

Every time I patronize my local convenience store, most people, including me, go out of their way to hold the door for others. It's a civil gesture albeit an easy one to extend to others. Is the fact that it is so easy why it's so prevalent? What are other situations where each of us can add more civility to the world? Do they have to be as easy as holding a door? How willing are we to be more civil to one another?

Sometimes I'm not as civil when driving my car as I could be. How about you? And though I'm not someone who cruises parking lots searching for a spot "close" to wherever I'm headed, on occasion I've gotten into one of those silly waiting games/power struggles with another driver over a space that is opening. The civil route? Let the other driver have the space. Does it really matter who saw it opening "first"?

Do you recall how many people thought they felt a difference in the level of public civility immediately following 9/11? How sad it is if I need something that horrific to remind me to work more purposefully at this. I love how I feel at that convenience store - there's got to be other ways I can get that buzz. Your ideas?        

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Upend That Cliche

How many times have you heard "It's such a small world"? You know the story - Someone runs into someone they know while skiing in the Alps, snorkeling in the Bahamas, walking in NYC, etc. The next twenty times you're out, pay attention to how many people you see who you have never before laid eyes on. Then remember to upend that cliche and use this alternative: "It's a really big world."

Not convinced? OK, how about this one - "The time just goes by so fast."  Attended any dance recitals  where the person you came to see was on stage for 3 minutes over the span of 4 hours of endless tutus? How about swim meets held in a steamy indoor pool? A grammar school play on the last night when the cast is thanking everyone including the janitors? I defy you not to think - "Time goes by really slowly."

By now, any regular reader of this blog knows I have a big collection of these groan-inducing cliches I'm prepared to de-construct. But I'd like to know instead which ones make you want to run away.