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Friday, June 29, 2012

An Overdue Thanks/More Feedback Welcome

While doing some mindless mowing today, I began reflecting on how busy people are & all the distractions competing for our attention. Decided I've been remiss in not saying thanks more to the folks who read this blog. I wish I could be sure everyone who has gone out of their way to encourage me saw this particular post. Even more thanks to that group.

Recently, my daughter suggested the paucity of responses to questions I pose could be because many people might be hesitant being public about some of the issues I raise. Her insight rings true. I've noticed posts that touch on lighter topics are those that tend to get more comments. Also, several people have chosen to share some amazing stuff with me, but have done so offline. That said, I welcome feedback from anyone on ways you think I could enrich the online dialogue. I will not give up.

Even without a robust dialogue, the response I've gotten has far exceeded my expectations. Time is precious. Each moment you have given me has been appreciated. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

What Does Your Crystal Ball Say?

How many articles have you read predicting which future jobs will be in demand? From someone short on crystal balls, I submit the following yet-to-be created jobs. Admittedly, all are far less profound than the ones you'll see in those articles and clearly not as lucrative.

1.) Professional eavesdropper: Since many of us eavesdrop frequently if unintentionally anyway, why not make it a paying job? This person's supervisor? A professional metaphor thief.

2.) Publicist for the non-famous: Based on how much garbage we are unwillingly exposed to about non-talents like Kim Kardashian et al, why not pay someone to publicize the daily goings-on of someone like my late Dad or Mom? Immediate benefit: An improvement in the public discourse. Put another way: Would you rather make money being Snookie's publicist?

3.) Human tattoo billboard: If the current trend in tattooing continues unabated, how far away can we be from this, really? Unlike #1 or #2, this one is probably not that far-fetched.

What are your ideas? Anything goes. Yes, of course I've got more, and not all are snarky or cynical. Kinder, gentler list available upon request.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

To Search Or Not Search?

As a blogger, the effectiveness of Google and other Internet search engines is both a boon and a bane. Boon?  Fact checking, provided I use reliable websites, is fast and easy. Locating answers to trivia is a snap.

But if I have no facts to check, I purposefully stay away from trolling the Internet most of the time, especially just prior to posting. The vastness often stifles me more than it stimulates me. If I'm considering a topic and a search says "ten billion results found", my enthusiasm is dampened. Continuing in the bane-vein, more than once I've had a question ready and then discarded it after stumbling on a similar one elsewhere in cyberspace. I realize the chances of anyone noticing a duplicate question are probably nil but..

Over the past 18 months, I've purposefully sought out essays related to the influence artists in all fields have on one another. I've discovered artists feel flattered when they influence others but unhappy when they feel that influence has crossed a hard-to-identify line and become co-opting of their ideas. If smart people like Malcolm Gladwell or Jonathan Lethem have trouble identifying that line, or have themselves been accused by others of crossing it, this tiny blogger feels an obligation to be hyper-vigilant. So for me, the Internet is more bane than boon. If I make a mistake and unintentionally step on someone else's stuff, at least my integrity remains intact. I'll save the searching for restaurants, directions, and finding friends on Facebook.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Zen-Challenged Blogger

A few people who regularly read and comment on my blog might call me to task for this unZen-like question; oh well. What insight do you wish had come to you earlier in life? 

Aside from a few wayward years, I've largely been a fairly diligent student. And when I first began studying jazz guitar in the late 70's, I had the good fortune to study with the late Harry Leahey, arguably New Jersey's foremost jazz guitar teacher. At that point, though I'd been supporting myself with my guitar for several years and playing the instrument for over ten, playing jazz was new to me. With Harry's exacting & excellent instruction, I worked very hard to become what I understood a jazz guitarist should be. After Harry died, I continued my study with three other excellent teachers.

Fast forward to the summer of 2002. That year I realized a long-postponed goal and attended a weeklong National Guitar Workshop, enrolled in the jazz section. When featured instructor Pat Metheny, a giant in jazz guitar, talked about growing up loving the Beatles and how he used harmonic concepts he learned from them playing jazz, I felt the hair on my neck stand up. For all the years I'd studied and played jazz guitar, somehow I'd let myself put aside earlier musical concepts that weren't labelled "jazz". That included most of what I'd learned playing the Beatles, the Temptations, the Beach Boys, etc. from the time I was 14. In that flash of insight as Metheny spoke, I suddenly realized how I'd hindered my growth as a musician. No teacher from Harry on had ever laid this dogma on me; it was my invention. 

I've spent the last ten years fully embracing all the music that is in me and integrating it all into my playing; I'm such a better musician for that. But I do wish I could have gotten this insight earlier. Would be very nice to know I'm not alone in that. If you share, I promise I will not contact the Zen police.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Simple Sentence - Hard Lessons

Who in your life have you met that did not learn the hard way? Are you one of those rare individuals yourself?

One of the most difficult things about being a parent is watching someone you love fiercely learn the hard way. Each time I see my daughter stumble with something that could have been avoided, I can clearly recall my own missteps as a young adult; I had my fair share of those. Often, I find myself thinking - I hope she gets through this part of her life more intact than I did. And I'm so grateful she talks to her mother and I.

"Life is difficult". That simple first sentence of M Scott Peck's 1978 "The Road Less Travelled" was something I needed to internalize when I was my daughter's age. I hope she or someone else reading this post gets some solace remembering Peck's words the next time a lesson is learned the hard way.






Saturday, June 23, 2012

Tonight

Because of an initial decision to keep posts brief, I've avoided blogging about current events. I never wanted to add to a glut of superficial news coverage.

But avoiding the just announced Sandusky verdict feels wrong. Writing this moment about anything other than my disgust with this predator and my empathy for the damaged lives of his victims seems cowardly.  Had I not been watching TV moments ago, I would likely have learned of the verdict when I read tomorrow's NY Times. Then as a normal Saturday wore on, my dismay would have had a chance to diminish; perhaps later in the day I'd have chosen to write about something far less significant. But I was watching TV. So, I could only do one of two things: Not blog at all or write about this travesty.

In my years teaching workplace respect, the most important distinction I came to appreciate was that intent is far less important than impact. If your actions damage another person, the fact that you meant no harm is meaningless. I'm incapable of imagining what was inside the twisted mind of Jerry Sandusky over the years he committed his crimes. But as he spends the rest of his life in jail, I hope someday he begins to understand the impact his actions have had. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

My Grade (So Far): Enthusiasm

Enthusiasm: Lively, absorbing interest; excited involvement

Based on the definition above, I'm confident my grade so far for this attribute is an "A". How about you?

I'm not claiming to be equally enthusiastic about all things. However, I've noticed that people who are interested tend to be interesting the same as people who are often bored tend to be boring. For this reason alone, I work hard at maintaining a lively, excited interest; I believe I've succeeded. In my experience, the only downside to my enthusiasm can be an occasional over-reaching for attention. But my strength in this attribute has otherwise been very beneficial.   

I have no illusions that anyone, including my family, pays close enough attention to my blog that they will recall the grades I've given myself so far in this series. But, lest anyone who reads this post thinks me immodest, my report card so far is: C (for ambition), C (for bravery), C-/D+ (for charm), and B+ (for determination). So far, I'm on the bell curve. What about you? How do you suppose others would grade you, so far, on the five attributes I've selected? Which of the five has been of the greatest use to you?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Dueling Books

"The true test of a first-rate mind is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time and still function." - F Scott Fitzgerald

I'm not claiming to be a "first rate mind". But at present, owing to "god Is Not Great" by Christopher Hitchens (2007) and "Fingerprints of God" by Barbara Bradley Hagerty (2009), I am holding two contradictory ideas. And though I'm still functioning, I've got cognitive dissonance to spare.

Hitchens died late last year; I finished his book last June. As I rifled through Hagerty's equally persuasive book earlier this month, I wished Hitchens had reviewed "Fingerprints of God." How would that incisive mind and militant atheism have dealt with Hagerty's compelling research? Man, if ever I needed to start my own book club, now is the time.

But instead, indulge me in some harmless wishful thinking. Based on the intentionally light title of this post, someone reads it. That same person then reads both books. Finally, that person relates to me how they're managing the contradictory ideas. How I'd love to have that conversation.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Mr. Id Calling Hy Koo

Time crawls; no theme emerges. Precise words, searing images, elude Mr. Id. Will three paragraphs be enough?

Japanese poets berate American doppelganger. "If 17 words overwhelm you, try syllables."  Mr. Id concedes his verbosity.

Then: Inspiration, like lightning, strikes. Cliches ("lightning strikes"), puns, ephemera can suffice. Five, seven, five must remain.



Friday, June 15, 2012

Hot Flame/Slow Burn

Watching a sizzling sex scene in a recent HBO movie called "Hemingway & Gellhorn" the other night reminded me that everyone has their favorites. Which are yours?

Film geek that I am, I've got dozens. For many years, two of my favorite scenes both had Ellen Barkin - probably no coincidence. The first was in "The Big Easy" (1987), playing opposite Dennis Quaid. I won't be graphic but suffice it to say, although Quaid was on screen for the scene, he was not part of the action. I knew it was a winner because it singed my wife's eyebrows as well as mine. Phew! Not long after, Barkin was in another scorcher in "Sea of Love" (1989) with Al Pacino. This time the characters did do the Tango, albeit mostly clothed. Yikes!

Now get ready to alert the nerd police. Two of my all time favorite sexual scenes in movies are Robert Redford washing Meryl Streep's hair in "Out Of Africa" (1985) and Daniel Day-Lewis removing Michelle Pfeiffer's glove to kiss her hand in "Age Of Innocence" (1993). I'm no prude; I've got loads of other Barkin-type scenes that remain hot flames in my memory. But those two slow burn moments really got me. You got any of those up your sleeve I might have missed?

Can This Be Right Too?

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2011/06/can-this-be-right.html

It's been almost a year since I asked "Can This Be Right?"  But words like this just keep popping up. In this version, let's go with a theme, shall we?

Fulsome = offensive, sickening, disgusting. Can this be right? It sounds like its exact opposite, i.e. "What a charming, fulsome man."

Pulchritude = physical beauty. Wait a minute! Can this be right? Change this to an adjective ("pulchritudinous") and it should mean what fulsome means, don't you think? I got this idea from my wife - the noun is one of her favorite "Can This Be Right?" words.

Comely = pleasing in appearance, fair. Try picking up someone by saying "Your face is so comely." I dare you. I double dare you. How can this be right? It sounds like...oh, never mind.

Come on, weigh in. I know there are words that make you scratch your head and ask, can this be right?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

An Outdated Strategy

Given the range of human ability and temperament, it's likely every profession will have a share of people who give the rest of that profession a bad name. For every corrupt cop, there is somewhere an unethical lawyer or incompetent doctor.

When encountering people like this, what is an honorable professional posture? I come from a family of teachers. I'd like to claim we agree on effective methods to weed out substandard teachers - we do not. Hell, we can't even agree on whether teachers need regular supervision. Imagine our conversations about the wisdom of tenure, the efficacy of Unions, performance reviews. When any profession embraces "circle the wagons" as a default posture, how do the good guys, i.e. most of us, have any hope of maintaining the public trust? How do we resist becoming complacent and cynical when we let the losers do their damage and remain silent? 

How many times have you heard this - "You don't/can't/won't ever understand what it's like to be a (fill in with a profession)."  No I don't. But so what? Because I don't understand what it's like to be a financial adviser, you as a financial adviser get to excuse, ignore or condone the crooked ones? And how is that helping the situation? I'm not naive and have myself overlooked lousy performance in colleagues and subordinates more than once in my life. But it's very possible circling the wagons has outlived any usefulness it ever had as a strategy. Your thoughts?       

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Sense Of An Ending

After receiving some feedback, I recently did a quick tally to see how many of my posts have featured, not simply mentioned, either a book or author. I was surprised to discover it has been fairly rare. So sitting stunned late last night as I finished "The Sense of an Ending" (2011) by Julian Barnes, I knew today's topic. Not blogging about it wasn't an option; had my ratio felt too out of balance, I might have postponed.

Caveat: If you're around my age and in a vulnerable state, wait to read this until you're feeling a little more grounded.  But whatever your age, put this book on your list. It is brief but exactly as long as it should be. It is wise but not at all heady. Saying what it is "about" could cheapen the experience but here's a short list: Memory, regret, youthful arrogance and impetuousness.

Given my mild obsessive streak, I've purposefully avoided counting how many books I've finished since ceasing full time work in March 2010 - reading, writing and guitar (again) are now my work; it's been liberating. So reading this book reminded me of great days when my full time work mesmerized me. Of the novels I've read these last 2+ years, "The Sense of an Ending" clearly stands in the top rank.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Whoppers Welcome

Although I've never broken a bone, I have my story ready if my streak of good fortune ends: "I was skiing a double black diamond on the Swiss Alps when I swerved to avoid what looked like a Yeti."

Admit it, aren't you dying to hear a good story when someone you know turns up in a cast? Aren't those stories about tripping on a toy, etc. getting old? Who gets hurt if someone tells a whopper, at least as the first response to the inevitable "What happened?".  I say let the truth wait for 5 minutes so that everyone, fibber included, can experience a vicarious thrill. I will not be offended if you fib, provided it's a good one. FYI, I like stories involving wild animals.  

Think of this as a way to manifest some dormant creativity. And don't wait for the accident or mishap - start inventing some good stories now so you're ready and appear credible. Because you know people are going to ask. Now about that scar on my neck. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Chickens, Eggs, Passions, Work

Do we move toward our passions in life or do those passions develop based on the way our life evolves?

Reading a description of natural phenomena that have developed over the course of 350+ million years got me started on this latest chicken and egg exploration. I began reflecting on people who choose geology as a field. Given the long view they study, I'm guessing a serious geologist might find my pre-occupation with the modern era tiresome. I'd also bet as a group they would tend to have better perspective than I given how present and future focused I can be. But even if I'm wrong on both counts, is a passion about the distant past part of what drives people toward geology? Or, does that passion develop as a person becomes enmeshed in the field? How about you and your passions? Chicken or egg?

While reading "A Widower's Tale" (Julia Glass) I was further struck as a character considers his oncologist mother. He wonders if his mother was drawn to that work because she was always adept handling worst-case scenarios. Or, did her work shape and strengthen a skill he believed was there from the start? So, why did the chicken cross the road? To lay this egg somewhere in the middle?       

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Recipe For More Melting

What is it about young children that invariably makes me melt? And what prevents me from being similarly disarmed by adults?

Although I'm generally an upbeat person, it occurred to me soon after I had one of those melting moments yesterday perhaps I've become a bit closed to adults. I realize having had more difficult experiences with adults in my life than I have with children is a contributing factor. But at what point do those difficult experiences create a reinforcing loop? Becoming as open to adults as I am to young children can only yield benefits, don't you think?

For now, I'm content being aware of my discovery vs. establishing any goal related to it. But I am curious to know how much of yourself you see in this. The next time you melt interacting with or even just watching a young child, pay attention to that unguarded, open feeling. Wouldn't it be great to feel that way more often?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

John, Paul, George & Ringo

Of the feedback I've received since starting to blog, the piece that's been easiest for me to discard was  "...forget  the Beatles, get more contemporary..." or something like that. Though I've posted exclusively about the Beatles just once prior to today, that's more about embracing variety than any indication of the intensity of my passion for the band.

So, what is your favorite cover of an original Beatles song? Although I've probably asked more than 500 questions here since March 2011, I confess, Beatles nerd that I am, this question is in my top ten. I'd love it if you'd provide a YouTube link, as I have at the bottom for one of my favorites; then we Beatle geeks can listen without searching. I promise most of you won't be real familiar with this particular favorite of mine so please let me know what you think.

And while I'm at it I'd also like to know: What song did the Beatles cover that you liked the best? No need for YouTube links on that piece, I have all their recordings. If you tell me yours, I'll share one of mine and then we can argue about it. Forget the Beatles, indeed!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yWkLVmaWu1E

Monday, June 4, 2012

My Eclactic Career (An Almost Re-Invention)

For the 40+ years I worked full time, my job path could be kindly characterized as eclectic. A less kind description? Erratic, albeit stable. I went from briefly being a 5th grade teacher to a few iterations of self-employment (musician, small business owner) to five years in retail and then government. In my 20's I loosely thought of music as my career. I was almost 50 before the word career felt as though it applied to me again.

Using Oprah-speak, I could claim to have "re-invented" myself several times. I heard myself using that phrase today in a conversation to re-assure a young person who feels a little un-moored vocationally. But re-inventing strikes me as implying purposeful career decisions; I feel a bit disingenuous using the expression to describe myself. Eclectic or erratic seem more accurate. Or, somewhere in between - "eclactic" anyone?

And you? How much of yourself do you recognize in my story, present or future tense? Or is my story so far from your experience or values that you have trouble relating at all? If you're a parent of young working adults, how comfortable are you with the possibility that your children may re-invent themselves several times over their working lives? If you're an adult, young or otherwise and on a career path of any kind, how close are you to re-inventing yourself?  

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Requesting Assistance

My guess is most long term relationships have at least one bone of contention that has been rehashed many times. What is yours?

After 34 years, my wife and I still don't agree on how loud music should be playing when we have guests. We usually don't argue about this, per se. But we have not reached a meeting of the minds. Now the issue has moved to iteration 2.0 - our daughter is more aligned with her mother than her father. I may need to bring in reinforcements. Perhaps I could get my guitar playing/King Crimson loving brother to be here whenever we have company? Anyone in cyber-space who shares my view that "background music" is an oxymoron care to assist me here?

Find a middle ground, you say? I've tried; really. I've given up my coffin-sized speakers. On Pandora, I've created stations using artists like Norah Jones, who rarely sings above a whisper, and only play my "Guitar Heroes" station when I'm alone. And oh, the hypocrisy I'm forced to endure! If  "Candy's Room" or "You Really Got A Hold On Me" or "Roxanne" comes up on my I-tunes shuffle, who is the one who says "Turn that up!", notwithstanding the delicacy of the conversation? My wife. How much can one man take?         

Friday, June 1, 2012

You've Seen This Cartoon, I Promise

A while back someone spoke dismissively about my practice of taking notes on the books I read. I was put off by the remark but figured my pique would pass quickly. I was wrong. Now since I don't think of myself as over-sensitive, what about this offhand remark has made it replay so incessantly in my head?

Earlier today I came across a comment on a post I wrote last year about "...toxic people..." The insightful comment suggested we all need to look at what is toxic in ourselves before thinking of others in that way. Reading that led me to one possible reason that offhand remark has lodged in my craw. As I easily recalled times I'd been dismissive, obnoxious or judgmental about other people's practices or habits, I had a vision of myself as a cartoon character. You can readily visualize this panel: A thought "bubble" above Pat's head. Inside the bubble, a light bulb coming on.

When was the last time an offhand remark made about or to you had a disproportionate impact? How much of yourself do you recognize in the person who made the remark or the way it was delivered? Though the blog comment I referred to in the second paragraph was written sometime ago, today was a good day to stumble on it. I'm grateful to the person who wrote that comment for helping me connect my previous ruminations about toxic people back to myself and the additional link to that lingering offhand remark made to me. I started this blog knowing I'd get help like this and hoping others might derive a similar benefit.