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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Real Estate/Real Life

In real estate, conventional wisdom says it's about location, location, location. What about in real life? I vote for balance, balance, balance.

* I continually reach for a balance between planning for the future and enjoying moments as I live them.

* I search for ways to have my innate need to reach decisions be balanced with spontaneity.

* I recognize how much more satisfying my interactions are when I communicate in a balanced fashion.

Where in your life is balance missing? What steps are you taking to rectify that?  

  

Saturday, September 29, 2012

For Members Only

Who are these people?  

There is more than a 1 in 2 chance you're a baby boomer, about 1 in 7 you're either Gen "X" or a millennial. Odds are better than 1 to 4 you've known me longer than my wife has. About 15% of you play guitar; another 15% worked with me at my last full time job. 10% of you went to high school with me, a different 10% had the same parents as I or went to school with my daughter or are married to one another. 5% of you had dinner with me within the last week; another 5% can not ever read this post.

Any ideas yet? 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Head Scratchers, Anyone?

What was the last acclaimed film you watched that left you scratching your head?

A few weeks ago, for the first time, I watched "All The King's Men". Among the four films that mess beat for best picture of 1949, I've seen only "The Heiress". No matter; I defy anyone to watch just these two movies back-to-back and defend the Academy's choice. Was everyone drunk when they voted that year?

Although it did not win an Academy Award, "Night of the Hunter" (1955) is such a highly touted film I've felt a bit of a fraud calling myself a movie buff having not seen it. Until last night, that is. Oh...my...God. I challenge people who speak highly of this movie to keep a straight face while watching the acting in this "classic". Robert Mitchum has a few good moments but much of the script (written by James Agee!), particularly the tripe Lillian Gish says at the conclusion, is just awful. And the two main child actors would fit well in any train wreck Ed Wood ever made. Yikes.

We've all seen movies we don't like and others that were bad but won no awards or acclaim ("Larry Crowne", anyone?).  But these two are revered. HOW CAN THIS BE SO?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

My Grade (So Far): Imagination

Imagination: Ability to meet and resolve difficulties; resourcefulness.

Although the definition above is the last of six cited in my Random House dictionary, #1- #5 were not terribly useful. Also, though I've always equated imagination with creativity, that word does not appear in any of the six definitions. So, using the above, how would you grade yourself so far on imagination?

Although I give myself a "C+" to this point, this is an attribute where I've seen a steady arc of growth over my life. Resourcefulness never felt innate for me as I believe it is for my wife and others I've known.  But I do envision my grade continuing to improve. How about you? How resourceful have you been meeting and resolving difficulties?

Aside from being confident a "B" is in my future, another bright spot is feeling I did pretty well raising my daughter to have imagination, per this definition. She is much more skilled at meeting and resolving difficulties and resourceful than I was at her age. Of course, her mother gets at least equal credit, maybe more. And it's good to know I've still got lots of time.

Don't forget: Any suggestions for future attributes in this series ("J" to Z" left), are welcome.
   

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Live From The Count Basie Theater: A Small Victory

Because of a tendency to get self-critical after seeing a great live musical show, I thought about writing a blog post earlier today given I was going to see Joe Jackson at the Count Basie Theater tonight. He is among the most accomplished of contemporary musicians and his shows are always first rate.

Now I'm glad other tasks called and I was forced to wait. Because although Jackson's show was predictably terrific, instead of being demoralized, I'm energized as this day ends. And though this is a small victory for me, it's an important one. It's possible having my nephew and brother there kept me more in the moment; their excitement and enthusiasm buoyed me. Or, maybe my recent enjoyment of my own guitar playing helped me make this shift; doesn't matter. It feels good to feel good.   

With all that exposition out of the way, is there perhaps a real blog report coming? Yes there is: Tonight's show featured many selections from Jackson's latest recording, "The Duke", his tribute to the eternal Duke Ellington. In addition, he and the excellent six piece band performed a healthy sampling of his original work, including four songs from the bestselling "Night and Day". Jackson began and ended the show solo, starting with Duke's "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing" and finishing with "A Slow Song".

Monday, September 24, 2012

Congratulations, Tiffany & Sudesh

What's the first thing that comes to mind when you read the above, a message I saw on the sign board of a local catering hall?

Having lived long enough to remember when an Irish/Italian wedding generated a fair degree of controversy, I found myself reflecting on the cultural barriers that have begun to fall in my lifetime. I'm not naive. I know many Americans still marry within their own ethnic group. Even interfaith marriages are still unusual enough that finding a Rabbi who will officiate a ceremony involving a Jew and someone from another faith is not easy.

But when I look at the NY Times wedding section, and yes, I know New York is very different from Boise, I am no longer surprised to see in those pictures many combinations reflective of the US mosaic. When I do, as when I passed that catering hall sign, I'm proud of what we're becoming as a nation.          



    

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Quiet Dinner With Pogo

When was the last time you played the role of the "obnoxious other" we all find easy to criticize?

I've lost count how many times my wife and I have been dining somewhere while a crowd of others intruded on our quiet conversation. Sound familiar? But comeupance is rarely far away if you pay close attention. While dining with a group of eight recently, I paid little attention to how loud our conversation was until glancing briefly at the faces of a couple alone nearby. Their faces registered a look I recognized - a look I'd leveled at others many times in the past. Pogo's words rang loudly in my ear: "We have met the enemy and he is us."

On our way out of the restaurant, I apologized to the couple. They taught me a second lesson I hope I'll remember the next time I'm in the reverse situation: They graciously said the noise hadn't disturbed them.
    

Friday, September 21, 2012

Considering Anne Tyler

Among authors I count as favorites, articulating what I enjoy about Anne Tyler presents the biggest challenge. Which favorite author presents a similar dilemma for you?

It's possible some of my difficulty is related to the lack of "big" action in Tyler's beautifully written books. Her characters are vividly drawn, although their lives are rarely dramatic. Families are typically at the core of her work but dysfunction with a capital "D" is usually not central to the stories. And like many novelists, Tyler often features a city in her work; in her case, it's Baltimore. Yet even her well constructed descriptions of the idiosyncrasies of Baltimore do not draw attention to themselves.

I've greatly enjoyed all Tyler's best known work: "Dinner At The Homesick Restaurant" (1982), "The Accidental Tourist" (1985), which was nicely adapted to film, and her Pulitzer Prize Winner "Breathing Lessons" (1988). But based on the back-of-book notes I began making years ago, "Saint Maybe" (1991) and "Amateur Marriage" (2004) are the two novels that landed hardest with me. Asked to recall much more than what is contained in my notes however, and I'd come up short. But I do remember something about the experience of reading all her books - re-reading the first few chapters immediately after I finish. I have trouble letting go.       

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Third Rail Conversations

I've been trying to remember the last satisfying or useful conversation I had about politics.

Now since I am the only constant in all the conversations I have, it's logical to begin by reflecting on what I bring to the table i.e. what must I change to make these conversations work better? One thing I know would help is asking better questions of others. Although I'm pretty skilled doing this when discussing other topics, when someone agrees with me in a political conversation, I ask too few questions - I go into ditto mode. Psychologists call this "confirmation bias" - seeking out only the information that matches our beliefs.

When someone disagrees, even my non-leading questions can sometimes be tainted by body language or a vocal timbre that is unwelcoming. So even if the question is a pure one, my posture is saying "I don't really care about your answer". Another response I have when facing disagreement is shutting down - also not conducive to satisfying conversations.

How much of this sounds familiar to you? What help can you offer?                         

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

#3: The Mt. Rushmore Series

Having just returned from heaven on earth, the third installment in this series is a given. Which four places that you've visited make up your Mt. Rushmore? My list goes from the most recent I've visited back.

1.) The Tuscany region of Italy - History, amazing food, stunning beauty
2.) Glacier National Park, Montana - A place that can only be described as sacred
3.)  Bermuda - Terrific beaches and friendly natives
4.)  Acadia National Park, Maine - Been there three times; could easily return a dozen more

It's hard restricting this list to four. But I'm reasonably sure #1 will remain among my top four no matter where future travels take me.         

Monday, September 17, 2012

Gotta Have A Ball

For many years my sister has been saying I was born the wrong sex. Aside from the exercise benefits derived from cycling, tennis & skiing, I have little interest in sports. I own no power tools and have zero interest in cars. I neither hunt nor fish. Since adolescence most of my enduring friendships have been with women. I cry often and easily. The Marlboro man I'm not.

Even my passions rarely match marketing or demographic profiles. I don't care for military biographies or spy thrillers, have never read Popular Mechanics, GQ, or Maxim. Action is my least favorite film genre; rap and metal leave me cold. So imagine my surprise and marvel at the delight I felt while in Tuscany this past week when I happily reveled in a slogan introduced to me by two guy's guys who were part of my bike touring group. Their slogan -  "Gotta have a ball."

On a stunning beach in Talamone, jumping from a 10 foot cliff into the crystal blue water, a ball was tossed. What a thrill it was catching it. And in that moment I was transported to the joy of my childhood when hanging out with my friends playing ball was pure magic. Words to live by - Gotta have a ball.  

Friday, September 7, 2012

Ciao For Now

Having now visited together in 2012 more US states than in any year since our cross country driving vacation of 2000, my wife and I are capping a year of travel with a visit to Italy. Later today we fly to Rome and will then spend eight days with Vermont Bike Tours cycling by the sea near Tuscany. My wife has fantasized about a trip like this since reading the bestseller "Under The Tuscan Sun" years ago. We will not be living there nor renovating an old house in a quaint Italian village as author Frances Mayer did. But given our level of activity, we do plan to eat and drink as much as she, albeit over a shorter period.

My only previous visit to Italy was 30 years ago, part of a solo vacation taken using the Eurail system; Genoa, Pisa, and Venice were my three stops. One striking memory captured in my journal was the contrast between the orderliness of the last train station in Austria vs. the joyful chaos at the first stop after crossing into Italy. I also had an uncomfortable interaction with a woman on an Italian beach when the fabric gave way under my butt on a beach chair I'd thought was public. I stood helplessly mute as she screamed at me in a language I do not speak and then meekly walked away - ouch.

Would enjoy hearing your impressions of Italy and/or any embarrassing cross-cultural mishaps of yours on our return August 18. Until then, ciao for now!


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Words That Can Haunt Me, Part 6: Cynicism

I'm exhausted by the rhetoric coming from both conventions these past few weeks. What happened to the engagement and enthusiasm I used to feel when a presidential election approached?

I clearly remember when the word cynic was a derisive term to level at others. It now seems to be more a word of self-description, at least when considering politics, American-style. What has most contributed to my increasing cynicism? Is it simply related to getting older? Is it the nagging feeling I've heard the same bromides too many times?  Is it tied to a sense that the whole process is broken at some fundamental level? Is it the inescapable 24/7 news cycle? If this word haunts you as it does me, I'm genuinely curious to know your reasons, no matter your side of the aisle.

And while on the whole aisle metaphor, that part clearly contributes to my cynicism. How did we end up with just two "electable" choices, anyway? Red/blue, elephant/donkey - what happened to the other five colors on the spectrum and the remainder of the animal kingdom? In my mind, I've composed a keynote speech and platform for a third political party. OK, add temporarily deranged to the list of words that can haunt me, at least until November 7. After that, I'll still be left with cynicism but somehow I doubt I'll be alone.

 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Attention, Aretha: Authorized Alternatives Ahead

Two parts to this post, both inspired after hearing "Respect" at my local coffee shop.

Part 1: "R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Find out what it means to me; R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Take care, _ _ _"

OK, fill in the three blanks above; no fair peeking at the Internet, either. If you promise right now to comment on Part 2 of this post, I'll reveal the answer below to this mystery of greater significance than anything contained in Dan Brown's novels.

Part 2: Now, I'll start us out with three other words and logical rhyming phrases Aretha is hereby authorized to use as alternatives for R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Then, it's your turn to do the same.

a.) "V-O-L-C-A-N-O: Get so mad, I want to blow"
b.) "T-R-I-P-L-E-T: Wanted two, then out came three"
c.) "D-I-G-N-I-T-Y: Choose the way I wish to die"  (I know it's bleak; lighten up, will you?)

Did you offer another? OK, the blanks in part 1 are for T-C-B. But the mystery doesn't end there does it? What does that mean? I'll only reveal the answer to that if you promise to forward this blog post to ten people. Five? Two? Your mother? Oh, all right. (T-C-B = "Taking care of business"). Only a music geek like me will admit to knowing this piece of utterly useless information.  

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Lessons

Last week at the stable where I volunteer, I watched four people, including a very persistent teacher, get a severely disabled child onto his horse. The facts of this situation were similar to those I've seen many times over the past 18 months, except for the significant resistance this child made to getting on the horse this particular day. As I then began my regular duties, the scene continued to replay in my mind.

How many times in my life have I resisted doing something that was of clear benefit to me? How many times have I allowed fear of an unknown control me? What would have happened if instead a strong and persistent teacher did not permit me to cave into my fear? I have seen "The Miracle Worker" several times; I'm deeply moved each time Anne Sullivan refuses to allow the young Helen Keller to quit. I'm sure part of what moves me is recognizing that the times I've given up, I've given in to fear.

Less than 15 minutes after watching the scene described above, this same child was sitting up proudly on his horse. With the teacher's words of instruction and encouragement loud enough I could hear her across the wide paddock I was clearing, the child lifted out of his seat and posted. Although too far away to see his face, I know he was happy; his laughter told me so.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Distracted Guest

When trying to focus, how successful are you tuning out your surroundings? Which distractions pose the biggest challenge for you?

In most situations, I have little difficulty tuning out. Even in a noisy environment like the subway, I've been able to briefly get to a single point of focus in a meditation. When reading in a public place, I can usually tune out conversations or street clatter. The distraction that poses the greatest challenge for me is music. If music is audible, that's where my attention lands. Except for Muzak, "background music" strikes me as an oxymoron.

And though my distraction is most pronounced if it's jazz or 60's-80's rock n' roll, music I wouldn't necessarily choose to listen to also pulls me in to the exclusion of doing something else. When I was still working full time, people who knew me well would often ask why there was no music on in my office. Easy - very little would get done. Unless it was something that had been played to death, if something familiar played, I'd be listening for what I might have previously missed or mesmerized by a favorite lyric. Something unfamiliar? I'd wonder who did it, listen for unusual harmonies, analyze the structure.

So if you're not playing an endless loop of "Stairway to Heaven" when I'm a guest in your home, expect less than my full attention at least part of the time. Sorry in advance.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Fish And His Closed Loop

In your interaction with others, what percentage of your time is spent in the company of people in the same approximate economic bracket as yourself?

Like a fish, I can be oblivious to the water surrounding me. While in a rundown section of Brooklyn yesterday, my mind wandered to an interaction I'd had the previous day with someone much more affluent than I. It dawned on me: Even though I was not uncomfortable in either setting, both situations were exceptional for me. I'm rarely very long in the company of people widely dissimilar to myself economically. My estimate? More than 98% of my time is spent with people in my economic bracket.

Of course, being in the broad bell curve range of "middle class" contributes to this. And since much of my life is built around my family, all of whom are in approximately the same economic boat, the closed loop is further reinforced. What impact does this have on the way I view the world? Whenever my wife and I see a Broadway show I often find myself looking around at the audience. I wonder: When was the last time many of these people meaningfully interacted with anyone who can't afford to attend something like this? But my judging mind need not go much further than looking at the person occupying my own seat.