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Monday, December 30, 2013

Best Of 2013

Why should newspapers, magazines and websites have all the fun with end of year "Best Of..." lists? Join me and share with others your "Best Of 2013", using my categories and/or any you want to invent.

Best time away: Our second trip to Kripalu Yoga Retreat. A quiet, idyllic setting, worthwhile personal enrichment classes, stimulating conversations with well read people - how can you miss?

Best concert:  Heart. For more, see- http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2013/07/rockin-heaven-down.html

Best book club meeting: Discussing "Founding Brothers" by Joseph Ellis, something I would not have chosen to read on my own, arguably the best reason to belong to a book club.

Best discovery: The Lakota Wolf Preserve in Northern New Jersey. At the start of our improvised fall vacation, my sister told us of this. The couple running it personify the notion of living a vision, which always awes me.

Best ethnic meal: As our project to eat the cuisine of every country in the world approaches it's third anniversary, Babur Garden, an Afghani restaurant in nearby Ocean, NJ was the hands down winner for this category in 2013. Next update on that project coming in March.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Ishmael And The Bass Drum

"Call me Ishmael."

Book geek and music nerd that I am, I was recently perusing a Goodreads list of memorable first sentences from literature while listening to Pandora. As I came across the compelling start of "Moby Dick", out of nowhere, the drum introduction from "Be My Baby" began pounding. And somehow in my addled brain, the two matched up. After all, each starts something majestic, right?

Mind you, the Ronettes tune was not playing on Pandora that very moment and, the song opens with six bass drum thumps vs. Melville's four syllables. But the longer I stared at that Goodreads list, the more song introductions began racing through my head, each lining up with an iconic opening sentence. Anything like this ever happen to you? Just asking.

So, I've already begun testing the reverse syndrome. Early today, I played the two measure (eleven notes if you're counting) introduction to "Daytripper" on my guitar. Any guesses which first sentence came to me? If you write me back (online or off) and the first sentence you match with that particular Beatles intro is the same as mine, let's you and I take it to the next level, OK? First - You match up musical intros with all those first sentences from the Goodreads list. Second - We compare lists. Last - We both get our meds adjusted.

Friday, December 27, 2013

My Grade (So Far): Logic

logic: reason or sound judgment, as in utterances and actions.

Though it's not logical to think anyone has, it would make my week if some reader told me they'd kept up with this whole series, grading themselves on all 23 attributes I've presented to date. And since it's impossible to know if you're telling the truth, why not just lie to me? It's a white lie that harms no one and makes this needy blogger feel good.

Using the definition, how would grade yourself (so far) on logic? As someone who has led more with my heart than my head, I guess I've been in "C" territory a good part of my life with this attribute. If I could start over, would I reverse that model? Although leading with my heart has led to some rough patches and I'm anxious to give myself a few more "A's" and "B's", I don't think I would. See what I mean? Even my answer to that question is not real logical. Yeah, it's a "C" for Pat on logic, at least for this marking period.

Next question: How much effort am I (are you) willing to devote to improving my grade for logic? Compared to my other attributes needing work, logic is more worthy of effort than charm but less worthy than generosity. Bottom line: I'll be needing those extra lifetimes, thank you.  
  

Thursday, December 26, 2013

#18: The Mt. Rushmore Series

Which last words spoken in movies would go up on your Mt. Rushmore? My four are so iconic I'm guessing most people will identify two or more of the films ending with these words without additional context or clues. In chronological order -

1.) "There's no place like home."

2.) "After all, tomorrow is another day."

3.) "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

4.) "Well, nobody's perfect."

Since I didn't get past 1959 here, another mountain or two might be in order. But prior to beginning construction, I first need to know your Mt. Rushmore of parting words.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Magical Eve

If you celebrated Christmas when you were younger, what do you recollect from back then about this day before the holiday?

My wife and I have been hosting Christmas Eve for my siblings and their families (most recent count = 21) and others (this year = add 4) for about 30 years. Whenever I find myself getting a little tense or crabby preparing for today, I try to recall the sweet anticipation from Christmas Eves of long ago when the four of us were growing up. Doing this invariably chases away the Scrooge in me.

A little before midnight on this day, once my parents had gone to bed, the four of us would rendezvous near the tree, located in the dining room adjacent to the bedroom my brother and I shared. We called it "camping out". For hours we'd stare at the wrapped presents, guessing what was in each. I'm sure my parents heard us whispering (they slept about 15 feet away on a converted porch) but they were too tired from their preparations to get out of bed and also knew we wouldn't dare open anything until they told us we could. What exquisite torture those hours were. Sometime around 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. we'd begin drifting off to sleep one-by-one. It was always a point of pride, a contest of sorts, to see who could stay awake longest.

Occurred to me as my younger sister left just a little while ago that around this time on this day more than a half century ago, four children were getting ready to camp out. Are Mommy & Daddy asleep yet?

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Completism

How does completism show up in your life?

Though I've never felt an obsessive need to own every Hummel figurine or collect every commemorative Presidential plate or see Bruce Springsteen every time he goes on tour, throughout my life, completism has had me in its grip in other ways.

At one time, I had to own every Poco recording. Completism is inherently illogical - the Beatles had a much greater musical impact on me and, it would have been easier and cheaper to own every Beatles recording, yet I continued purchasing mediocre Poco records just so my collection would remain complete.

My completism about seeing every Woody Allen film is equally mystifying. What else besides a mild form of compulsion can explain wasting time searching out movies that disappeared without a trace, but only those directed by Woody?

Author completism? You bet. But until I hear back from some of you (to re-assure me I'm not alone on the bell curve here), think I'll hold onto how completism afflicts me in that domain.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Scanning The Dial, Searching For Wonder

Remember that scene from "Big" when Josh (Tom Hanks) impetuously and continually changes the car radio station driving Elizabeth Perkins to distraction?

Recently when I find myself stuck turning over the same idea in my head, I pretend I'm Josh and begin scanning an imaginary radio. Clumsy metaphor aside, as a creative strategy it seems to be working - my dry spells have gotten a little shorter. What strategies work for you when your creativity stalls? How often do you find yourself, as I do, getting fixated on a single idea or solution to the exclusion of alternatives? You know, like leaving the same radio station on all the time. And how do you get out of that loop?

Another useful creative strategy that scene from "Big" reinforces for me is staying alert to wonder. Though it's easy to forget to scan the dial, it's waiting to be searched, each discovery with the potential to fill you with wonder. Why not?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Christmas Story

It's difficult to know when to let go.

Though it doesn't take much effort during the holidays to send a note or card to people who have slipped away, my internal conversation about doing so has shifted a little this year. Petty as it is, I've been trying to recall how long it has been since I've had any meaningful interaction with some people. By trying to maintain contact, however minimal, am I beginning to look needy, foolish or even worse, low-tech? Then, Hallmark cliches began playing in my head ("friends for a season, friends for a reason", etc.) and the ghost of Christmas future whispered - "Next year Pat, send out a group e-mail; it's easier, free, and people can block your e-mails without you knowing." 

Maybe that's my answer to a similar holiday dilemma from the ghost of a Christmas past.
http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2011/12/tis-season-for-decisions.html

Technology; helping me with the ghost of Christmas present- gotta love it.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Modified Policy (For Use By Mr. Id Only)

When a finished book has wasted precious hours of my life or yours, aside from being snide and contributing to the increasingly ugly public discourse, what do we do with our disappointment?

Any regular reader of this blog knows I've avoided naming those books and their authors. But after recently coming across this groaner - "Stimulated by the elixir of hope, I breathed deeply the crisp air of freedom" - I've decided to modify my policy slightly. Effective immediately, I will permit my doppelganger Mr. Id to out truly bad writing using these guidelines:

*The book was finished. The sentence in italics above is close to the end of a novel of lifeless prose, one in which the dialogue largely serves a redundant purpose - reminding the reader what happened earlier in the book. Why didn't I stop sooner? Based on a promising start and the subject matter, I kept thinking the author would find a way back - didn't happen. For the record, I'm not one of those people who feel compelled to finish every book I start. Still, any future snark (under Mr. Id's moniker) will be confined to books I finish. Fair is fair.

* The title and author will remain unnamed. (Even Mr. Id has compassion)

* Examples will be provided. "We are never allowed to forget that some books are badly written; we should remember that sometimes they are badly read, too" - Nick Hornby. Tired cliches like "It just wasn't my cup of tea" or "It just didn't hold my interest" are just more bad writing as well as bad reading. Mr. Id will specify what it was about the unnamed book that made it a waste of time.

All to what end, you ask? Although I don't let him out often, Mr. Id needs to come out of his cave every so often. Join him if you like but please follow the guidelines.  

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Too Much Persuasion?

How often do you find yourself crossing the line from keeping an open mind to being too suggestible? With all the information bombarding us how does anyone avoid crossing this line routinely?

On some days (e.g. yesterday), this dilemma bedevils me. Early in the day, while in a waiting room, I read a New Yorker piece by Frank Rich. Then, mulling over his premise on the drive home, a familiar sensation overtook me - I'd been persuaded. Was it Rich's convincing writing? Were my views on this subject wishy-washy to begin with? Or using Buddha's maxim, was I ready student waiting for a teacher to appear? Much ado about nothing. Still, all day my focus was off - practicing was scattered, had trouble concentrating on my reading, couldn't land on a blog topic and gave up after staring at the screen for a while.

One of my mentors often used an expression she'd learned via a discipline called appreciative inquiry - "I'm finding myself persuaded by your position". Moved by her vulnerability every time she said this to someone, I subsequently began using it myself in an effort to be more open minded. On some days (e.g. yesterday), finding myself persuaded by a position, I reflect that my mentor's expression might have caught me in a suggestible moment. A moment, perhaps, when I was too easily persuaded.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Power Of Habit

Adhering to the discipline of reading a non-fiction book alongside each novel I've finished over the past four years has resulted in several nice surprises - "The Power of Habit" (2012) by Charles Duhigg is the latest.

Citing research from the field of neuroscience that gets more sophisticated and astonishing with every book I read, Duhigg claims habits can not be eradicated. Instead, they must be "replaced" with new ones. As someone who has struggled more with un-learning old habits vs. learning new ones, his central premise rings true. In Duhigg's formulation, a simple model (cue-routine-reward) describes how habits take hold in individuals, organizations and societies. I was most engaged when the author got to the macro level, possibly because of how persuasively he'd built his case at the micro.

In a slightly defensive but very brief appendix the author uses the model to deconstruct a habit of his own but this is not self-help or how-to. I enjoyed the learning and didn't miss the advice. Timing? Very possible.  

 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Just Four Letters

"What would I do if I weren't afraid?"

In matters large (e.g. procrastinating on a major decision), medium (avoiding an unpleasant recurring situation), or small (postponing sending out a blog I'm not completely satisfied with), if I remind myself to ask the question above, I usually find a way to push through. How do you get unstuck when temporarily immobilized by fear?

I don't recall when or where I first saw the question that opens this post - probably when immersed in self-help literature in the early-mid 90's while developing adult ed courses. I do know that question alone has been as helpful to me as entire books. And though the words are simple, doing the work behind the question can be hard. Few of us want to admit how often fear gets in our way and we're even less inclined to identify what we're afraid of. More likely? To save face, we manufacture other factors hindering us.

I started this blog hoping to generate an online dialogue; I've since adjusted my expectations. Of late, I'm satisfied when someone tells me they've discovered a useful morsel here. So any insight that occurs to you while considering this question, please let me know, online or off.  The energy I get hearing from you can be useful ballast when my own fear slows me down a little.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

NO Klahoma

Of the States you've visited, which one holds the least appeal as a place to live?

Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii and Mississippi are four I haven't yet visited. My beloved New Jersey is out of the running. Of the ones remaining I have visited, I'm removing from consideration Arkansas, Idaho, Missouri, North Dakota, Tennessee - don't recall staying overnight there. So comparing those with others that got a better look-see seems unfair. Give those five a "*". Forty left.

Among those forty, at least for me, there is some competition for this dubious honor. Extreme weather takes care of a few, politics several more, prohibitive distance to a cultural center or large city a few others. But I did ask for one and can't very well expect you to commit unless I do, right? Cue the Rodgers & Hammerstein...

Oklahoma appears to be in no danger of inheriting me, and not because of the groan inducing pun disguised as post title. Tulsa is a very nice small city mentioned in several terrific songs, the setting of some good Westerns and books. Visit it if you're out that way. Just don't look for OK as a return address from me, OK?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Words That Can Haunt Me, Part 9: Ideals

As someone who once imagined he had capital "I" ideals, it's uncomfortable admitting this word can now haunt me.

My ideals and my politics have always been closely connected. And my politics have not measurably shifted. So why does it seem as though my ideals have slipped? Are ideals inextricably linked to youth? Although people don't refer to me as a cynic or even a pragmatist (at least to my face), I was in my 20's the last time I recall being called an idealist. How well have you held onto your ideals?

On a bus trip to Washington protesting the Keystone pipeline, the event organizers circulated several petitions related to other environmental concerns. They also distributed form letters that would be sent to elected officials outlining additional issues. Aside from reading the petitions and form letters, all that was required of me, if I chose, was a signature and address. How easy it was to have ideals under these conditions.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Goodbye Alice

Another giant of contemporary literature, Alice Munro, has published what she says will be her last book - "Dear Life" (2012). These twelve stories, including four she describes as "...autobiographical in feeling though not, sometimes, entirely so in fact",  are representative of her best work - exquisite miniatures that reveal the universal via the everyday.

After finishing the book, using the five stories briefly described on the book jacket as a model, I set myself to the task of writing descriptions for the remaining seven to include in my book journal. Then I began fantasizing about other bookworms doing something similar. So, if you get around to reading this collection please send me your brief descriptions. In return, I'll send you mine, one nerd to another. It would be fascinating to see which details each of us extract from the stories to include, no?

If this is indeed Munro's coda, I will sincerely miss her. Glad she has a significant back catalog I haven't yet gotten through.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Songs To Live In

Finishing my preparation early today for a performance tonight, I began reflecting on how long I've lived in some of these amazing songs. Each time I explore "Embraceable You", it reveals something new, a gift jazz improvising continually bestows.

And there is a never-ending supply of these gems. A few months ago I became entranced with a Jimmy Van Heusen ballad called "But Beautiful". As I began experimenting with it, I discovered how elegantly the enchanting melody lays on the guitar. I've now lived in this tune long enough; tonight it's ready to be played in public.

Frank Conroy's 1993 novel "Body and Soul" (incredible song, by the way), although taking place in the world of classical music, has probably gotten closest to nailing the musical rapture I'm trying to describe here. But inadequate as this attempt may be, in a few hours I'll be inside this music and sharing that with others. For that, I'm grateful.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Name Game

If someone's last name is also a common first name (e.g. Barry or Lewis or Thomas), what is your view on first names? Though usually good with names, when first and last are interchangeable (James Barry, Henry Lewis, Scott Thomas), I've more than once found myself reversing the two and calling someone by their last name. This ever happen to you?

With a last name like David or Ryan or Terry, I'd advocate for a first name you don't often hear as a last - Sam David, Jacob Ryan, Eileen Terry. And though I'm more partial to traditional names, when someone's last name is a ubiquitous first name (e.g  Michael), this is an ideal time to get a little bolder with the first - Juliet Michael or Ian Michael or Yvonne Michael. Your thoughts?

Which brings me, politics aside, to Chris Christie. Come on, this is the best someone can do?        

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Hearing Stories

How do you prefer to tell your story?

Everyone has a story. Most people want to tell their story to others - it's the human condition. On a recent visit to the 9/11 memorial, I was mesmerized listening to "Story Corps", a long running project sponsored by National Public Radio. The faces accompanying those stories made that experience very powerful. I suspect the method many people prefer when telling their story is conversation. That got me reflecting - How skilled am I recognizing when a conversation has moved from the mundane and become someone telling me their story? How skilled are you recognizing that shift?

Despite being an extrovert, I'm more inclined to tell my story via writing, hence a lifelong habit of journalling and since early 2011, this blog. Another preferred method, also less direct than conversation, is telling my story via music. But my frequent frustration with those methods, usually related to how skillfully I'm telling the story, can lead me to conversation. When reverting to that, I hope someone is really listening. But the method any of us use is just the means to the crucial end - the story itself. So it occurred to me recently that the sooner I stop judging myself for how skillfully I'm telling my own story, the better I might get at really hearing the stories of others. Your thoughts?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Hiatus From Nihilism

I think I understand why author Cormac McCarthy is so widely praised by his peers. His prose is muscular and unsparing and does not insult a reader's intelligence. Using little exposition and exceedingly terse dialogue (a fair degree of it in Spanish), McCarthy's characters are free of sentiment. You don't empathize with them because McCarthy doesn't try to make you "feel their pain". When they die, often gruesomely, you move on quickly; someone else will die soon after.

Soon after finishing "Blood Meridian" early this year, I decided to take a break from McCarthy. When the opening credits for "The Counselor" showed his name as the screenwriter, although I figured it unlikely ABBA would be on soundtrack, it's just a movie, right? It'll be over in less than two hours.

In my lifetime, I've probably walked out of fewer than five movie theaters. Even at home, I rarely turn off a film before it's over. And I didn't walk out on "The Counselor". But weeks later, with scenes from this brutal nihilistic movie still in my head, I wish I had. If you thought the ending to "No Country For Old Men" (based on a McCarthy book) was unsettling, avoid "The Counselor". About that hiatus from McCarthy's books? May be longer than originally planned.  

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Not-So-Brave New World

Given the shortcuts and quick fixes invented throughout history, what do you imagine might be in store for us in the future?

* In the tradition of Readers Digest and Cliff Notes, how about a computer app providing enough detail (plot, characters, etc.) that others could be persuaded you read the book everyone's talking about? Is this already available? OK, how about combining that technology with a voice simulation device so you don't even have to talk. Instead, the device spits out the convincing particulars using your voice. Voila - you're well read and articulate!

* Given how common stomach band surgery has become as a weight-loss technique, can drive-through therapy be far behind? Would you like some fries with that insight?

* Now that song lyrics are routinely displayed on stages using those small screens, how about avatars for the musicians backing up the singers who can't be bothered memorizing words?

Got more where that came from but I'd like to hear some of yours first.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

My Grade (So Far): Independence

Independence: The quality or state of not being influenced or controlled by others in matters of opinion or conduct.

Using that definition, how would you grade yourself so far on independence? How much emphasis did your parents place on independence? If you're a parent, how important is it that your children are independent?

My self-grade for this attribute is not easy to nail down. I value independence in theory but in practice have difficulty resisting being influenced, if not controlled, by others. And I feel influenced by the opinions of others much more than their conduct. How about you?

Stand apart or fit in? Raising me, my parents clearly favored the latter. I tried to favor the former raising my own daughter while continually reminding her of the cost associated with that approach. My grade (so far) for independence? A definite work in progress - "C/C+".  

Thursday, November 28, 2013

No Time Like The Present

Today is the perfect time to give thanks to those who regularly read my blog. It would be difficult to over-state how energizing it is when someone tells me a post has provoked, moved or amused them.  

Though the stats provided by my hosting site are comprehensive, they are not viewer-specific. This means I can know for sure specific individuals are reading only if they publicly comment or, for those who know me personally, contact me some other way offline. Based on the stats, many others are reading and do neither; among that group it's not possible for me to determine who I know. So to those who wish to remain anonymous, whether I know you or not, thanks for reading. If you ever emerge, I welcome your feedback.

One grovelling plug to accompany this Thanksgiving message: If any reader thinks a particular post will be of interest to someone else, please forward it using the e-mail icon located at the bottom of the screen near my name. And thanks in advance for considering this.

Final item of thanks today is for the newest addition to my family - a healthy girl born on October 15 to my niece/Godchild and her husband.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

#17: Mt. Rushmore Series

Which four musical solos deserve to be enshrined on your Mt. Rushmore?

Hope you'll forgive me for spending way too much time thinking about this particular iteration in my Mt. Rushmore series. First, I had to be sure not to duplicate any instrument. Second, the solos had to come from a piece featuring a vocal. And last (!), I wanted to include at least a few things some of you may not have heard so you'll be tempted to seek out these amazing performances. Apologies to any youngsters reading for the codger-like flavor here.

1.) Clarence Clemmons (Tenor Sax) on "Jungleland" (from "Born To Run" by Bruce Springsteen): No doubt the most widely played of these four tunes - don't let that discourage you. This is the most majestic sax solo on a rock record (probably not improvised) I've ever heard.

2.) Carlos Santana (Guitar) on "You Can Have Me Anytime" (from "Middle Man" by Boz Scaggs): Not the most famous Carlos solo. For my money, deserves as much attention as the better known ones.

3.) Don Brooks (Harmonica) on "Song For Martin" (from "True Stories and Other Dreams" by Judy Collins):  Less a solo than a featured role between the vocal verses but you've simply got to hear this guy's playing. If his harmonica and this lyric are not perfect together, I don't know what is.

4.) Carmine Appice  (Drums) on "Lady" (from "Beck, Bogert, and Appice"): Carmine was never a critical darling, probably because of the bombast of his first well known band (Vanilla Fudge). Put that aside and listen to his brief solo near the end of this short rave-up. Whew!

You don't need to put as much thought into this as I did. But do share your Mt. Rushmore with me, especially if you're a lot younger than I. Always good to get juiced by a solo.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Yes I'm 64

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDt26gJYVB4

Instructions: 1. Get out your copy of Sgt. Pepper's; 2. Load youtube clip (above); 3. Use my words to sing along; 4. Write some verses of your own; 5. Rinse and repeat.

Now that I'm older, losing my hair, seems like yesterday
Playing music with my pals summer blew past, Sgt. Pepper's first song to last
If I had known how years would race by, I'd have asked for more
Hard to believe it, hard to conceive it, Yes I'm 64

Friends are older too
And if you don't speak up, they might not hear you

I played that album til it wore out, bought a second one
Learned the words and sang them til my voice was gone, all day, all night, all the year long
Now on most days lights go off by twelve, some nights well before
Hard to believe it, hard to conceive it, Yes I'm 64

Every summer since I've searched for albums that could top that one, haven't found it yet
Not through all these years
Names that are still with me - Rita, Kite and Shears

She's Leaving Home and Fixing A Hole, Lucy in the Sky
George sings one, Ringo too (with help from his friends)
Pepper's Reprise comes near the end
Paul's Getting Better, John says Good Morn, heard the news and more
Hard to believe it, hard to conceive it, Yes I'm 64   

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Key Learnings: Year 64

Solipsism alert: This once a year series is a favorite because it keeps me focused on growth and (mostly) obviates a tendency to feel sorry for myself on my birthday.

What did you learn between your last two birthdays? Reviewing my key learnings from years 62 & 63, I'm pleased to report most of the lessons have stuck. Below are three from year 64 I hope will do the same.

* Inspired by Daniel Pink's "A Whole New Mind", I've added a new page to one of my journals to capture pertinent metaphors of my own or ones others invent. My favorite this year? A friend described empowering his employees as "...turning over the oars..." Nice, Dennis.     

* Another friend turned me onto a website called "Sound Recorder" which will allow me to cull favorite tracks from my ridiculously large collection of LPs and add them to my I-tunes library. OMG!

* Thanks to my wife's course of study in Positive Psychology, I've codified an old awareness by folding it into an existing discipline. My journal now includes regular (vs. sporadic) entries on gratitude. It's remarkably easy to find things to be grateful for when I keep the awareness in the forefront vs. background.

One of my most treasured public comments came as a response to last year's post in this series. So, ignore the birthday bit - just share some of your recent key learnings with me and others. Maybe doing so will help yours stick better too.

Friday, November 22, 2013

A George Bailey Goal For Year 65

After reviewing the goals I publicly declared here on this date the last two years (a day before my birthday), it dawned on me - time to develop a goal putting more emphasis on others.

A model I've found useful for turning goals into more than words is to make them specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic and time framed = SMART. So...

Every week for the next year (time framed/measurable), I will acknowledge out loud or in writing a contribution one person has made that has enriched my life (specific/action oriented). Realistic? I think so. I've already begun composing a list (surprise!) of 52 people to acknowledge to ensure I'll reach this worthwhile, more outward-focused goal.

I'm calling this my George Bailey goal, in honor of the character Jimmy Stewart played in "It's A Wonderful Life". Why not join me over the next year and acknowledge a few George Baileys from your life? Most of us have plenty of them, don't we?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

.333 For The Year

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2012/11/goals-for-year-63.html

With just three days left, looks like I'll fall short on two of my goals for year 63. But that's a .333 batting average for the year - Ted Williams territory - and the book I finished early today that got me to the one goal I did make is a nearly unqualified winner - "Beautiful Ruins" (2012) by Jess Walter.

This novel was a pretty sure bet from the start. My wife loved it and the librarian who recommended it has rarely let me down. And, sucker for romance that I can be, the last sentence ("And even if they don't find what they're looking for, isn't it enough to be out walking together in the sunlight?") made me gasp with pleasure. The sweep, style and architecture of "Beautiful Ruins" brought back "A Visit From The Goon Squad" by Jennifer Egan, a book that still has me reeling two years later. Like "...Goon Squad", "Beautiful Ruins" explodes with rich characters - good (Pasquale Tursi, Lydia Parker), "bad"  (Shane Wheeler, Pat Bender), ugly and uglier (Gualfredo, Michael Deane).

If any of you have read this winner or pick it up in the future, I've got to know who you'd cast in the Debra "Dee" Moore/Moray/Bender role. Of course I've already got someone picked, need you ask?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Getting There Without Siri

Those of us who can afford them are generally happy with many technologies modern life offers. For example, I have no interest in going back to washing dishes by hand. How about you?

Aside from the obvious environmental cost attached to our growing dependence on convenience, what other downsides have you observed? Though I've come to rely on Mapquest and the GPS app on my wife's cell phone as much as the next person, I'm beginning to question the wisdom of doing so. On several recent occasions, instead of heeding my instincts in an area familiar to me, I mindlessly obeyed what the tools instructed me to do. End result? I got completely screwed up.

Yes, in the pre-GPS etc. years, relying on directions provided by family or friends could be frustrating or worse. And I'm no Luddite (although my texting daughter might disagree) and these technologies can be very useful for the directionally-challenged. But when driving alone, I'm reverting to paying more attention to my instincts. When my wife is in the car with me? Stay tuned re that.      

Sunday, November 17, 2013

My Twitter Tryout

What to say with just 140?

Would "minds narrow" warnings (like "lanes narrow" highway signs) help me avoid bigots?

Spaces count, right?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Beyond A Synaptic Spark

Join me in a harmless fantasy. Based on more than superficial exposure to their craft, you're confident two creative artists from differing fields would be excellent collaborators. For example, a composer and a filmmaker or a conceptual artist and an author or a sculptor and a playwright. For which two artists would you enjoy brokering an introduction? Let your imagination run free and share it with me and others.

A few years ago, after enjoying his music for a long time and his lyrics since "West Side Story" made me want to own a purple shirt and dance in the streets, I read Stephen Sondheim's two part memoir - "Finishing The Hat" and "Look I Made A Hat". Based on Sondheim's comments in those books about the craft of lyric writing, arranging to introduce author Julian Barnes to Stephen Sondheim so that they might collaborate gives me gooseflesh.

I'm confident if I could get these two giants together, their joint efforts would be superb. Reading Barnes's most recent book ("Levels of Life"), it was hard not to hear Sondheim's dark score from "Sweeney Todd". But beyond that unmistakable synaptic spark was even more. Sondheim's approach to lyrics and Barnes's prose are of a piece - elegant, simple and concise. Sondheim simply must read "Flaubert's Parrot" or "Arthur and George" or "The Sense Of An Ending"; any of those Barnes novels will inspire him.

So, I arrange this introduction and then not long after, a Broadway musical opens: "Before She Met Me" - Music & lyrics - Stephen Sondheim; book by Julian Barnes. I won't even ask for a broker's fee. Who are you going to get together and what will their joint effort be?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Is There A Nice Way To Say This?

Simple words pack a great deal of punch. Fear, grace, trust - each speaks volumes with one syllable. And then there is "nice".

"Have a nice day", "what a nice guy", "buy her something nice". We're way past cliche here. Though there are surely people who would relish being called nice, my guess is most of them would prefer being called gracious or kind or enjoyable. Don't each of those alternatives conjure more specific behaviors than nice?

A good friend of many years is the most decent and even tempered man I've ever met; my wife is a person with a rock-solid core of integrity, generosity and non-smarmy charm; the new neighbor I just met strikes me as straightforward. Are these all euphemisms for nice? Am I splitting hairs? Didn't I start out saying simple words pack a great deal of punch? Perhaps, probably, yes. But tell me your preference. Being described as nice (or... it's two syllable equivalent - "pleasant")? Being described more specifically? Or...if someone can't come up with something better than nice, not described at all?

Enjoy your day and be sure to get her something thoughtful.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

It's "About" The Heart

"The heart against itself": William Faulkner

Finishing "The House On Fortune Street" (2008) by Margot Livesey, all I could think of were Faulkner's words the year he won the Nobel Prize. Four pages from the end of this stunning book, I paused to emotionally inoculate myself. Then I completed it and took a long cleansing walk.

How do you respond when someone asks you "What was that book about?" As with any terrific novel, I might have difficulty being so reductive if asked this question about Livesey's book. It's about everything really. Or at least everything that matters. It's also full of beautiful language and those insights that talented authors seem to have an ample supply of - "My own theory is that we only suspect people of our own faults, which is to say you're too honest to suspect...deceit".

"... a detective story of the heart." Spotting that phrase on the book jacket I wondered if whoever wrote it was also thinking of Faulkner's words after reading "The House On Fortune Street". When you finish it, tell me what word jumps out for you.

Monday, November 11, 2013

My Unsung Hero

Thank you, Dad. Thank you, veterans.

I cannot recall another film that hit me as hard emotionally as "Saving Private Ryan". Though I haven't yet summoned the nerve to watch it a second time, the early scenes of the landing at Normandy Beach are fresh in my mind fifteen years later. I also clearly recall what I thought watching it - my Father lived this.

Because my Dad died shortly before "Saving Private Ryan" was released, it's likely my reaction to this movie was intensified by that recent loss. Yet even now when I try describing the film to someone, my throat tightens up. No doubt these feelings are tied to my strong admiration for my Father. In every important sense, he was my hero.

It's unlikely I will ever experience anything close to what my Dad did as a 26 year old. Every thing good I am as a man, I owe to him.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Questions And Possibilities

"I dwell in possibility...": Emily Dickinson

Creativity, leadership, self-help - however one categorizes "The Art Of Possibility" by Rosamund Stone Zander & Benjamin Zander, it is worth any discerning reader's time. Each of the twelve practices outlined by the authors is approached via their complementary disciplines - psychology and art. I recall first being exposed to this potent mix in the early 90's when developing a leadership course and learning the Harvard Business Review endorsed poetry as a viable leadership tool.

"It's all invented." That simple but powerful sentence, the core of the first practice, helps set the tone for all that follows in "The Art of Possibility". The Zanders are strong believers in constructivism, i.e. "We don't see the world as it is, but as we are." As with nearly every worthwhile book I've read about leadership, a crucial part of the fabric are questions a thinking person must continually ask themselves. For example:

"What assumption am I making that I'm not aware I'm making that gives me what I see?" or...
"Who am I being that they are not shining?"

And though the crux of the latter question is aimed at a leader/subordinate relationship, I transplanted it to my role as a parent, sibling, friend. I've always tried to be the kind of person who helps others flourish. It's possible I could be a lot more effective doing so if I periodically asked myself this question. Why not try it with me and tell me how it goes?
         

Saturday, November 9, 2013

You Read It Here First

As claims-to-fame go this is embarrassingly pathetic. But remember you read it here first - The 21st century public restroom experience is ripe for a comedy routine. Feel free to forward this post to a favorite comic.

All that currently stands in the way of the experience being hands-free are automated doors and toilet paper dispensers. When those two technologies are (inevitably) installed, all we'll have to touch when using a public restroom will be our clothes and private parts. Will a technology be subsequently developed making even that unnecessary?

How many of you have put your hands under a faucet as I have for a few seconds before realizing there was something quaint you forgot to turn to get the needed water? Ever waved your hands in front of a towel dispenser and then waited in vain? Oops. I'm still not used to the automated soap thing or those deafening hand dryers. And guys, excuse the indelicacy but don't blame me if I leave something in the bowl or urinal, OK? I'm bound to forget now and then given how many public toilets don't require the use of opposable thumbs. Worst of all, what about hybrid bathrooms with one or two of the technologies but not the others? Come on.

This post was inspired by my local public library, a place I love for many reasons, not least of which the restroom is so 20th century.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Anchoring In A Post 9-5 Life

With respect to hours, the second half of my full time working years were significantly more routine than the first half. And one aspect of a predictable 9-5 working life I came to appreciate was how easy it was to integrate important disciplines into a schedule like that.

For example, though I'd always been committed to staying fit, establishing an exercise regimen with the erratic hours in my first 20 years working full time proved very challenging for me. The 9-5 routine was much easier to use to my advantage. Scheduled to begin work at 9:00? OK, take a few minutes to journal before starting. Driving home from work at 5:00? OK, exercise before getting ready for dinner. I quickly discovered this technique of anchoring one thing to another was highly effective in making disciplines stick. Recognizing how these disciplines had become essential to my mental health, as I prepared to transition out of full time work in early 2010, I planned ways to keep them all humming after my 9-5 life ended.

One discipline I've struggled to fully re-integrate is my meditation practice. It's possible this is so because unlike journalling (where there is an end product) or exercising (where fitness can be measured) or practicing guitar (where new songs are added to an existing repertoire), the benefits of meditation are more difficult to quantify. So even though I know it helps me, being unable to identify a tangible benefit may have put it back further in my mental queue. In addition, the 9-5 anchoring technique I used for this discipline was pulling into a parking space wherever I worked and then meditating in the car. Though I'm committed to finding a new anchoring technique to help me fully re-integrate my meditation practice, spending more time in the car is not in the cards.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Electing To Eat At Home

Given my political stance, having breakfast at the local diner on Election Day was unwise. Since the likelihood any of the regulars from there read my blog is close to zero, it's probably safe to ask - Do these people consider their loud political conversations might be potentially offensive? And, do they think about other patrons unable to avoid overhearing them who don't share their views?

I'm as opinionated as the next obnoxious person; my siblings would likely say more so. But in public places, I try hard to make sure my loud talking doesn't spill into the political arena. Not long ago, my wife and I were having dinner out with a couple who largely share our political views. How often do you do the opposite? In any case, when one of them began getting a little loud, I was hyper-aware of other diners and tactfully shifted the conversation to a more neutral subject. Some would call this cowardice; I consider it courteous and this from someone not widely touted for that particular social grace.

Is the trend toward loud & public political posturing worse now than ever? Having never been a "those were the good old days" type, I suspect not. But next Election Day, especially since it's a mid-term, I'm staying away from the diner.

Monday, November 4, 2013

A Woman Of Grace

It's been difficult to stop thinking about my Mother since finishing "The End Of Your Life Book Club" (2012). Though author Will Scwhalbe had more years with his Mom - she died at 75 years old, my Mom was 57 - losing a beloved parent is never easy.

But the path my thoughts have taken is a little disturbing. Though sad and wistful as I finished the book, a couple of unsettling questions have been bubbling up for a few days now.
How much do parental messages about security affect the dreams of children?
Where do our dreams for our children end and their dreams for themselves begin?

From a very young age, my Mother saw me as a teacher. It's likely that having lived through the Great Depression she would have had difficulty envisioning anything for her firstborn that didn't offer job security. Did I dream of teaching as a profession? I don't know. Would it have mattered if I didn't? I don't know that either. See what I mean about a disturbing path?

As often happens, a conversation with my grounded wife about the way we raised our daughter is helping me return to earth. Also occurred to me that Schwalbe's wounds are fresh and deep making his reverence for his Mom wholly understandable. I've had 36 years to heal from my loss. Doesn't excuse my churlish questions but I think Mom would forgive me; she had that kind of grace, even if her son didn't inherit it.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Getting To Know Her

Over the last few years, there have been several spooky coincidences related to my reading life. The most recent occurred when midway through "The End of Your Life Book Club" (2012) author Will Schwalbe writes movingly of "The Painted Veil" by W. Somerset Maugham, one of the books he and his dying mother Maryanne shared during the last two years of her life. Maugham's was the last novel I finished and also the subject of the last post I wrote about a book just five days ago.

Not long after, Schwalbe mentions JR Moehringer's "The Tender Bar", the subject of my August 10 post called "Memoir Moratorium". That didn't seem particularly odd or coincidental until I realized Schwalbe's book could easily be categorized as a memoir. So I was reading a memoir that mentions both the last novel I read and the last memoir I read, both of which I'd blogged about. Never mind that I'd already abandoned my memoir moratorium; this is a book club book - doesn't count.

"Reading is not the opposite of doing, it's the opposite of dying." Don't you love that? And wild coincidences aside, Schwalbe and his mother selecting Muriel Barbery's "Elegance Of The Hedgehog" to read together ensured "The End of Your Life Book Club" will remain with me. "...Hedgehog" is among my favorite books of the last five years and also the subject of still another blog post of mine. It was nice getting to know Maryanne Schwalbe through the books she and I enjoyed.    

   

Friday, November 1, 2013

Whose Idea Was It Anyway?

Though very dark and not for every taste, "Prisoners" is hands-down the best film I've seen in 2013. If the director, writer or one of the six or seven principal actors does not get nominated for an Academy Award, something is seriously awry in Tinsel Town.

Every scene featuring the detective played by Jake Gyllenhal had me wondering how much creative collaboration went into his character. Was his detective's excessive eye-blinking in the script? Or, did it come from Gyllenhal? Accidentally or intentionally? Did the Director first suggest it? Or, did the Director notice the first time Gyllenhal accidentally blinked a great deal (was there something in his eye during a take?) and then ask him to make that tic a part of this high strung character? I'm endlessly fascinated how accidents and collaboration contribute to the end product in creative art. In what creative field did the most recent example of these phenomena occur to you? I've seriously lost track how many articles, books, etc. I've nerdishly devoured about Lennon & McCartney or the Gershwin brothers' accidents and collaboration.

Recently watched "Howard's End" for the second time. In a crucial scene near the end, Anthony Hopkins does a motion with his hand to cover part of his face after he's confronted with a deceit. It goes by in an instant, so subtle it's easy to miss. I pulled down my copy of the EM Forster novel - nothing in the book like that hand motion. Screenwriter? Hopkins? Director? Accident? Collaboration?    

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Day Of Transformation

I require neither an excuse nor permission to be weird. But October 31 is the one day each year even the most buttoned-up can let it rip. So, how can you transform yourself tomorrow?

* If you've lived in a well-established neighborhood for a long time and have paid enough attention through the years to how the neighbors dress etc., how about a party where everyone dresses as someone from that neighborhood? Then award a prize to whoever does the best job simulating a neighbor. After my wife and I had lived in our first home ten years, I suggested this. Though it didn't go anywhere that first time, once we're in our current house for five years (2015), I'm planning to revive my idea. In the meanwhile, steal it for your own neighborhood. Or, have a family party and use the same concept.

Suggestion re above: Learn from me, OK? The next time I suggest this I'm leaving out the bit about opposite gender stuff. Think that was too much for some of the men in neighborhood #1.

* Why not use Halloween to dress up as a person of the opposite gender you admire from history? I could see myself as Elizabeth Cady Stanton or Susan B. Anthony or another of the earliest feminists. Why the opposite gender? Why not? It's Halloween - What other day of the year would you try this?

* Too tame, you say? Get your disguised self into Greenwich Village. Try to stand out there.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Force

It's taken some self-control to avoid making every blog post relate somehow to my love of music. Because of two recent interactions, I'll ask you indulge me for two paragraphs today.

In a conversation, a friend told me about hearing Terry Gross interview Graham Nash on NPR. My friend described how moved he was when Nash said he was never the same after the first time he heard "Bye Bye Love". In my 50+ years associating with musicians, I have never known one who did not have a musical moment like this. If you're a musician, please tell me about yours. My own? The drum break just before the last verse of "He's So Fine". If put on the spot in an interview, the opening pulse of "Where Did Our Love Go", the background hand clapping on "I Want To Hold Your Hand" or the harmonies of "Surfer Girl" could be epiphanies #2, 3, 4. And don't tell me epiphany is too strong a word; these were life-altering experiences for me.

The next interaction was the last guitar lesson I gave my 14 year old nephew, an intuitively gifted musician. He's not a prodigy but he has all the necessary tools - brains, ears, instincts, memory, passion, chops. Listening to him play, I remembered myself at his age, the age I took up drums. Driving home from my brother's house, I pulled over to the side of the road and wept with gratitude for this force that has sustained me all these years.  

Monday, October 28, 2013

I Repeat - First, The Book

Finally, a classic that grabbed me in a big way. What was the last classic that did that for you?

"The Painted Veil" (1925) by W. Somerset Maugham is a straightforward tale of the human capacity for growth. Each of the three main characters are human, wholly believable and the words each speak mesh beautifully with their characters.

When it became clear Walter Fane was about to succumb to cholera, my experience with death scenes from other classics I'd recently finished gave me pause. Happily, Maugham does not agonizingly prolong the scene, thereby making it more poignant. And the brief reunion Kitty Fane has with her erstwhile lover Charles Townsend near the end of the book is occasion for one of the great send-offs in all of literature: "You really are the most vain and fatuous ass I've ever had the bad luck to run across".

Re "The Painted Veil" - only two things I'd change: A few sentences during Kitty's final scene with her Father and... next time I'd read the book before seeing the film; couldn't get Ed Norton, Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber out of my head -  I hate that.
http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2013/06/first-book.html

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Word That Haunts My Grade (So Far): Humility

Humility: The quality or condition of being humble; modest sense of one's own importance, rank etc.

Based on the definition, the attribute of humility straddles two of my blog series and presents a few dilemmas.

a.) If used in "My Grade (So Far)" and I give myself an "A", doesn't being so immodest automatically contradict that grade? So for now I'll go with a modest (aka humble) "C" without saying I'm being clever doing so - too immodest.

b.) But humility is also a good candidate for word #8 in "Words That Can Haunt Me". I've used that series infrequently because any word geek who claims to be haunted by a lot of words is a bit suspect, no? Still, in my experience, authentic humility is hard to come by and even harder to attain. False humility is disingenuous; lack of humility is obnoxious. Where is the middle ground? Isn't middle ground a "C"? See what I mean about a haunting dilemma?

So, consider this a two-for-one deal. And tell me about your relationship to this tricky word.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Caught Short, Again

Some recent public statements Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has made prompted me to dig out a few old journal entries of mine. To get some needed context for this post, it might help to do a Google search using Scalia's name and some keywords like gay or evolution.

In the late 1990's when part of my job was matching instructors for training classes, there was one request I didn't have the heart to assign to someone - a mandatory all day class on diversity for 50 Administrative Law judges. And it was on a Saturday; judges do not get paid extra for attending training on Saturday. I knew this group of people was not going to be happy. So I taught the class myself.

Scalia's recent statements brought that challenging day of teaching into sharp focus and my journal helped me recall some of the highlights. Early in the day, as I was conducting an activity about prejudice, one participant said to me and his colleagues "I don't need to be here; I'm a judge and have had all the prejudice taught out of me." Although my journal entry didn't include my response, I do remember being caught short. How would you respond if someone you knew said they've had all the prejudice taught out of them?

Based on his accomplishments and intellect, Antonin Scalia has earned a place in history. His range of influence is immense. I've tried to imagine how I'd react if he were in a class of mine and made his recent statements. I'd probably be caught short, again.        

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

More Recognizable Cannibals

In my experience, many ruthless characters in fiction are either sociopaths or so malevolent they strain credibility. In her exceptional novel "The Woman Upstairs" (2013), Claire Messud upends that paradigm. Unlike the evil types that populate many books, both artist Sirena Shahid and her equally manipulative husband Skandar are wholly believable. Characters this nuanced linger longer in the memory, a bit like actual memories of people I've known like them. People who have done some minor damage to me.

"How angry am I? You don't want to know. Nobody wants to know about that". So begins and ends the book in the inimitable and instantly captivating voice of Nora Eldridge, a 42 year old never married 3rd grade teacher. Nora's entree into the Shahid wonderland comes after their son Reza is bullied at her school. Soon after, Nora's own postponed artistic dreams are re-kindled when Sirena alluringly asks her to share a rented space so they can both create. Now pick up the book and see where this talented author takes you.

And when you finish it, tell me either online or off, about people you've known like Sirena and Skandar. How did you feel after those people were done with you? What warning signs did you ignore early in the game, like Nora does and I have, that later on embarrassed you? In the future, I'm thinking I'll take my chances with the guy who eats the liver, fava beans and fine Chianti - easier to spot.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

#16: The Mt. Rushmore Series

Which four lines of movie dialogue are indelibly carved into your brain? I'm embarrassed to admit limiting myself to four requires super-human effort but respect the parameters I must. Mine are listed in approximate chronological order of release date of the film.

1.) "Is it safe?" From the day I heard Laurence Olivier repeatedly ask Dustin Hoffman that question, I have never once heard a dentist's drill and not thought of that scene from "Marathon Man".

2.) "As you wish"  "The Princess Bride" is brimming with memorable lines ("My name is Inigo Montoya..." "It's inconceivable!", etc.), many lifted directly from William Goldman's book. But has anyone ever topped "As you wish" as a euphemism for "I love you"? At the end of the film, when Peter Falk says those magic words to his grandson (a pre-"Wonder Years" Fred Savage), who but the cold-blooded can resist tears?

3.) "What separates us from the animals is our ability to accessorize"  I never said the line had to come from a great movie. I've quoted this gem (might even have pretended a few times it was my own) from "Steel Magnolias" more times than any other line of movie dialogue with the exception of  "What we have here is a failure to communicate". So at present, Strother Martin is slightly ahead of Olympia Dukakis.

4.) "Whatcha got in the chippa?" Joel & Ethan Coen have created so many quirky characters. But for a memorable line, it's very normal sheriff Frances McDormand's deadpan question in "Fargo" that goes on my Mt. Rushmore. I purposefully didn't Google the name of the actor who plays the lunatic she's speaking to. But he's just as creepy as the character Javier Bardem played in "No Country For Old Men", wouldn't you agree? Those Coen Brothers get the weirdos so right.

Though I cheated and slipped in a few extras here, give this nerd a break OK? Besides, now it's you turn.      
  

Monday, October 21, 2013

Home Again

Scorecard for the just completed impromptu vacation?

Company and conversation? A  ("Just The Two Of Us")

Food? A-  Managed to visit two new countries - Uzbekistan (!) and Korea - and, did really well with other on-the-fly while on-the-road choices. Gotta love Yelp.

Music? N/A  The I-pod remained uncharacteristically silent, partially because of the good conversation and partially because we had...

Books on tape? C+  Luminous Alice Munro short stories, offset by a terrible (if popular) book with an Eastern deity in the title. Yikes!

Camping? B-  Great for the two nights we got a campsite in Robert A. Treman State Park, not so great when the two other NY State Parks we visited were closed for camping ahead of posted schedule.

Other? B+  Gorgeous fall colors, an unexpected and wonderful visit to the Lakota Wolf Preserve, invigorating hike at Treman State Park, rainy day spent in a book store. On the "-" side - Our night staying in the main section of Geneva, NY - yikes, part 2.  Recommendation: Stick to a drive through the lovely historic district.

Not bad for extemporaneous, huh? How does the scorecard from your last improvised vacation compare?    

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Leaving Out The Cryptic Frills

What price do we pay for excessive caution?

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2013/04/learning-from-walking-wounded.html

The most powerful human experience I've had this year resulted in the post directly above. When someone recently commented on it offline, I re-read it and knew immediately why it had missed the mark. My caution had turned this intense experience into cryptic crap.

Based on stats this blog hosting site provides, I have a fairly accurate idea how many people read me regularly. This alone should be enough to allow me to throw caution to the wind. My wife, my ideal and most faithful reader, has only chastised me twice about encounters we've had together that became subsequent posts, meaning dozens more have escaped her discerning eye - too cautious, cryptic, circumspect - boring.

So, where is the line? Back in early April, a group of strangers listened as a burly, tattooed ex-Marine told a small part of his story. Later, when we were alone, that same man told me much more in a non-stop 50 minute monologue. I wasn't surprised. Among that group of strangers we'd been the only two men in the room and I'd revealed my own raw emotional state in front of the group before he spoke. In addition, when the session ended and we passed in the hall, I'd invited him to approach me offline. That's the real story, leaving out the cryptic frills of my first cautious attempt. The quotes in the original are verbatim.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Treatise Re A Barnyard Epithet

I'm still unsure if Harry G. Frankfurt is putting readers on or trying to make a serious philosophical case with his 2005 book "On Bullshit". If anyone has read it, I'm curious to hear your opinion. Either way, it was an educational read and a fun ride.

"One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit." How can anyone resist a book with that first sentence? Frankfurt's primary sources include the Oxford English Dictionary, Saint Augustine's "Lying" & a 1985 essay called "The Prevalence of Humbug" by Max Black. Each gives the author important and specific reference points to "...begin the development of a theoretical understanding of bullshit..." For this Princeton Philosophy Professor, bullshit is not tantamount to lying. Near the end of his brief volume, after persuasively presenting distinctions between the two, he makes this claim: "...Bullshit is a greater enemy to the truth than lies are".

Along the way, Frankfurt cites an anecdote showing philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein's disdain for imprecise language as well as quoting the poetry of Ezra Pound as he builds his case. Tongue-in-cheek, serious scholarship or something in between? You tell me. Whatever it is, how's this for a provocative ending? "Our natures are, indeed, elusively insubstantial - notoriously less stable and less inherent than the natures of other things. In so far as this is the case, sincerity itself is bullshit".          

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Electronic Bread Crumbs

This post might amuse readers who regularly use the public library. Others? Depends on your interest in following or leaving trails. Anyone prone to any degree of paranoia, skip this one.

For almost four years, a significant trail of electronic bread crumbs has been left in books I've borrowed from the public libraries in my county. Instead of discarding the computer slips issued by each library, I've made a point of leaving them in the returned books. Yes, my name is on the slips but so what? There is no other revealing information on there. And in the spirit of a kind of secret society of readers, I've paid attention to the names of others who've left their slips; maybe I'll run across the name of someone familiar to me. Far fetched you say?  Not so fast.

Several months ago, I had a long conversation with a reader new to the area who had left a phone number at my town library. This person had asked the librarians about local book clubs, they thought of my involvement with several and then passed the phone number onto me. Although the conversation was pleasant, I'd forgotten it had ever happened until today. Here is the paraphrased phone message:

"Hi Pat, you probably don't remember me but we talked some time back when you told me about local book clubs. I joined one a few months ago and after borrowing this month's book, I noticed a computer slip still in it with your name. Would you like to come to the meeting?"

Like my brother-in-law says all the time - "you just can't make up this stuff!"  

Monday, October 14, 2013

Enhancing Creativity

What sources have you found to be effective in enhancing your creativity?

During my adult years, I'd estimate about 25% of my non-fiction reading has been related to creativity, creative people and their process. Given the distance between cause and effect in this domain, it's unrealistic to expect I'd have seen any direct or immediate link from this reading to an enhancement of my own creativity. Still, my attitude remains - How can it hurt? Consequently, books or essays like this continue to have immense appeal for me. What have you read on the subject of creativity that you felt had a clear, if not immediate impact on your own?

How about people you've known? What useful guidance have you received from them? On first consideration, permission strikes me as a more apt word than guidance to describe how others have enhanced my creativity. And unlike with my reading, here the links are unmistakable. I can draw a straight line from some of my proudest creative moments to people in my life who have honored and supported my efforts.

Other effective sources? To this point, my experience with formal educational pursuits aimed at enhancing creativity has been a mixed bag and because it's a lot more expensive than reading, I've been more reticent. But if you have ideas, please share them with me or anyone else reading.  


Sunday, October 13, 2013

A Secret Revealed

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2013/03/a-secret-synaptic-spark-for-now.html

Every so often, a reader reminds me of something I wrote earlier, like the promise made in the post above earlier this year.

If you love good literature, read Ben Fountain's "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk". More importantly, if you love good literature and Bruce Springsteen's music, try reading this book without hearing Springsteen's anthemic songs playing in your head.

OK, "Born In The USA" was the obvious, maybe even cliched catalyst for this synaptic spark. But in the scene in Fountain's book when Billy visits his family briefly during the whirlwind tour his decorated unit is doing to pump up support for an unpopular war, "My Hometown" was inescapable for me. During the fight scene late in the book when Billy's unit and the bouncers at the stadium go head-to-head, I heard Clarence's sax solo from "Jungleland" & part of "Incident at 57th St." Over the closing credits to my imaginary movie made from the book? "Better Days", without question. By the way, Billy Lynn is played by Paul Dano, in case you were wondering.

I'm such a bookworm (dork), music lover (geek), film buff (nerd), right? Anyone who has read this terrific book, if Bruce isn't singing and tearing up his guitar in the background who is? And thanks to the faithful reader who reminded me to reveal this six month old secret.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Being Tested Redux

What is the most difficult moral dilemma you've ever faced?

Woody Allen finds a few ways to pose that provocative question to each of us in "Blue Jasmine". To start, if you were fabulously wealthy like the eponymous character played by Cate Blanchett in the film, what are the chances you would expose a spouse's financial chicanery? Like many people, I've railed sanctimoniously about Ruth Madoff's level of responsibility for her husband's thievery. But if Pat were in Jasmine/Ruth's moccasins, what would he do? What would you do?

Then Woody ups the ante with a moral dilemma more common to all economic groups. If you were sure the spouse of a good friend or sibling was having an affair what would you do? Back in my naive "black is black" and "white is white" days, I recall playing a board game called "Scruples" that posed a similar question. My self-righteous answer then, before I was smart enough to sometimes see shades of gray? "Of course, I would tell my friend (or sibling) about the affair!"

Mostly, "Blue Jasmine" made me happy I haven't been tested like Allen's characters; yet.            

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Improvised Vacations

Thanks to our ineffectual elected officials, this year only Congaree in South Carolina will be added to the list of National Parks my wife and I have visited. Our putative destination tomorrow was Smoky Mountain; that will have to wait until 2014. But the camping gear is ready, bike rack is on the car, I-pod is loaded with tunes. Only thing missing this moment - an actual destination.

Stay tuned. Next post could be as soon as tomorrow or...several days from now. Our semi-improvised itinerary is pointing north; upstate New York or somewhere in New England - good direction to head in the early Fall. If any readers up that way want to make us an offer, I'm listening. And since departure time is still up in the air, catch us before we leave and you could have two charming visitors; I'll even play guitar for our dinner. If you have Internet service, sweet!

Where did you go on your last improvised vacation? What forced you into improvising? How did it turn out? No stories involving showers or hotel proprietors named Norman, OK?

Mudbound

Though the assured prose and unique use of six narrators grabbed me immediately, about 80 pages into "Mudbound" (2008), my guard went up. As the tale of two families in Jim Crow Mississippi right after WW II began its slow build, I felt a familiar sensation; novels like this often take a toll on me.

I was right to be concerned. About 70 pages later, the oldest son of the black family in Hillary Jordan's stunning debut describes in flashback the liberation of Dachau; I had to stop reading for a while. Horrifying as that experience was for Ronsel Jackson, he has returned home to a country prepared to torture him further. As Act Three in Jordan's classic structure began, only her undeniable skill as a writer propelled me forward. Nobody can enjoy what they read in a book like this. But anyone open to them can learn important lessons.

"What we can't speak, we say in silence". Even though that sentence is nine pages from the end of "Mudbound", they could have easily been the final words. I don't believe it's a coincidence the words have the familiar ring of Martin Luther King: "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter."  Nor do I believe it's a coincidence this talented author has the youngest son of the white family speak the words at the top of this paragraph.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Shortcut This Time, Please

"How much are we willing to reveal about ourselves?"

Except when I'm out of Internet range, if "Reflections" land is quiet two days in a row, assume something jarred me. For these two days just past, the question above from a NY Times op-ed piece was the trigger. Then, observing the sea of gray hair and hearing aids while at a free jazz concert the following day, the deal was sealed. How did these two seemingly unrelated things temporarily silence the bigmouth blogger?

How would you answer that question? Having revealed myself to an alarming degree here since March 2011, you already know my answer. So, my atypical cyberspace quiet this time was initially triggered when that question helped me first fully recognize the extent of my semi-public psychic nakedness. From there it was a short distance to reflecting on what drives me to reveal myself willingly and voluntarily.

Connection to the gray hair & hearing aids? With the question and subsequent reflections keeping my face red, those visual cues reminded me again there are fewer years ahead than there are behind for me to at least approach some good answers. So, despite my clear skill at plodding and postponing gratification, I'm disappointed the only answer I found after two days of processing is a question that contradicts those complementary abilities: Where is the shortcut to Nirvana?

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Spin The Word

Let's play spin the word. Without using a dictionary to parse your response, answer the following:

a.) You're an attentive parent. Which would offend you more - someone referring to your child as coddled or doted upon?

b.) You occasionally lose your cool when playing sports. Would you prefer your teammates call you competitive or intense?

c.) Your tastes in food, music, etc. are well known to people close to you and largely unchanging. Would you be more likely to refer to yourself as predictable or an open book?

Pay close attention and tell me the next time you run into a potato vs. potahto scenario similar to a-c above. I'm curious to know if the next tomato/tomahto situation you encounter is one not already on my list. And as far as that list is concerned, call me thorough or quirky - I've heard both. Just depends on who is spinning the word.

Friday, October 4, 2013

February 2, February 2, February 2

Of the many silly movies I've seen, Harold Ramis' "Groundhog Day", starring Bill Murray, has returned to my mind more frequently than any other. Case in point:

Whining about how my planned trip to Smoky Mountain National Park next week will likely be cancelled because of boneheaded politics, a new friend helpfully commiserated. Then he added - "Imagine those people who were already camping in Yosemite or elsewhere and were told to pack up and leave a park!" In a flash the central premise of "Groundhog Day" came to me - How many times have I made this same mistake over and over? While busy feeling sorry for myself, others have been so much more inconvenienced than I.  And how about all those Federal employees on unpaid furlough?

Pat whines; friend speaks; "Groundhog Day" flashes; Buddha intones -"When a student is ready, a teacher appears"; perspective returns. Until the next time.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

A Cranky Minority

You notice someone reading a book you've read and ask how they're enjoying it. What other circumstance readily comes to mind where you initiate a conversation with a total stranger?

Direct from codger-land comes my next question: If the same stranger is using a Kindle or a Nook, what are the chances of you initiating that conversation? Though reading is a solitary act, even a superficial conversation with a stranger can deepen my enjoyment of a book. And perhaps equally important, a visible book title acts as a socially permissible entree for human connection, no matter how brief.

In a galaxy far away, I recall being in the distinct minority when those loud boom boxes were everywhere on the streets. Even when the music temporarily pummeling me was not to my liking, at least I was sharing an experience. When the Sony Walkman soon after became the polite and default way to retreat into a private concert, I got a bit wistful for the chest rattling bass of those boom boxes. Minority status could soon be mine again vis-a-vis my current posture re Kindles etc. There are worse things.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Your Place Or Mine, Barbara?

I doubt it's a coincidence that the writers I most want to meet came to me via non-fiction.

I clearly recall my first experience like this, right after reading Anna Quindlen's 1993 book of essays "Thinking Out Loud", which I finished around the time of its publication. I began by writing her a letter of introduction - never sent. And though I've subsequently read and liked some of Quindlen's fiction, I can't this moment remember an instance when my gateway for wanting a tete-a-tete with an author was a novel. For example, my first experience with the late David Foster Wallace was trying to crack his breakout novel "Infinite Jest". Had no luck with that and his short stories are equally inscrutable. Yet, two of his books of essays made me want to look him up; seriously.

Immediately after finishing "This Is How" by Agusten Burroughs last year, I tried communicating with him via his website. Wisely, his firewall is avid fan/stalker/nut proof. Oh well. Regular readers of this blog know of my unadorned admiration for the non-fiction of Christopher Hitchens. Though I'd have been hard-pressed to hold my own in a conversation with him, that didn't prevent me from fantasizing about exactly that scenario while Hitchens was still alive.

Now, directly on the heels of completing "Nickel and Dimed" (2001) by Barbara Ehrenreich, a few years after reading her 2008 book "This Land Is Their Land", I've added another candidate for that dinner all serious readers have imagined. If you had that dinner and only writers were invited, who would they be? How many would be, like mine, primarily from the world of non-fiction? For the record: If E.L. Doctorow, Toni Morrison or Philip Roth want to discuss their fiction with me, I am so available.            

Sunday, September 29, 2013

NYC - Just Like I Pictured (& Heard And Smelled) It

Having spent the last two days bombarded by the sights, sounds and smells of NYC, I've decided - when low on inspiration, it's time to hop on a train and just walk around the city. If nothing grabs me while I'm there, all those solitary hours reading, writing & daydreaming on the train are often an effective portal.

Rebel Bingo - That NYC sign went directly into a notebook I started many years ago after buying a t-shirt emblazoned with the phrase "fill dirt and croissants". On the train home, "rebel bingo" begat "jock strap and black tie", "tapioca topiary" & "tupperware gridlock" in my addled brain. Because adjective/noun word combinations are more common, my own long list of these jarring juxtapositions combine two nouns. More jarring, right? Why not let your brain roam and send me a few of yours?

Also, after hearing a passer-by mentioning a marriage that was "on the rocks", I began to unexpectedly channel the late George Carlin while walking the streets of NYC. Flashing to a wedding ceremony I recently saw being conducted on a jetty near my home, I wondered - If those newlyweds split up will others say their marriage is "off the rocks?" What common phrases have you reflected on lately? How about "swan song?" Come on, get jiggy.    

I'll leave out which NYC smells took my mind where. Use your imagination - that's what this post is meant to inspire in you. NYC does it for me.
             

Saturday, September 28, 2013

My Grade (So Far): Eloquence - Your Call

eloquence: the action, practice, or art of using language with fluency, power, and aptness.

To date, I've introduced twenty attributes in this series, grading myself publicly on all but wit, this May just past. However, based on the definition, it seems wholly appropriate that you complete my current report card for eloquence. When compiling my grade, please take all three factors mentioned into consideration and do the same when grading yourself, a practice I've encouraged all along. Public or offline comments can then be one grade (i.e. yours for me) or two, if you want to share your self-grade. A nice bonus for anyone going public would be sharing a rationale for your self-grade.

From the start of this series in February 2012, my primary consideration selecting attributes has been to make each one unique enough to avoid overlap. My aim? Helping ensure anyone that chose to do the needed introspection each month would do fresh work. An unintended by product of making the attributes so diverse has been my own grades being diverse. Anyone with straight A's at this point? I'd like to see that water-walking trick soon, OK?

And my biggest challenge from the start has been to be honest about the grade I think I deserve (so far) while keeping false modesty in check. If you've done any of this work with me, how have you dealt with that challenge?    

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Birthday & Christmas In One Package

It's no exaggeration to say the teaching assignment I'll begin early next year is a dream come true.

The first continuing ed course I'll deliver is called "One Thing Leads To Another: Popular Music In The 20th Century".  Ever since my proposal was accepted, my mind has been singing. As I now begin the design, all my musician friends can expect their brains to be picked. Lurkers in the bell curve blogosphere who'd like to weigh in, musician or otherwise, consider the following:

* For the first course, I'm looking for connections that link songs and artists throughout the century; nothing is too far fetched. Joe Jackson & Duke Ellington; Steely Dan & Horace Silver; the Beatles & Meredith Wilson, etc.
* Because I'll be playing as well as lecturing in the first course and beyond, songs lending themselves well to solo guitar (without voice) are especially welcome.
* Later courses will build on the first and touch on several genres (blues, country, rock, jazz, R&B) so let your creativity run amok and then share your ideas with me. Sorry, no royalties; can't afford it on the pittance I'm being paid.

More on this in the coming months. What a nice early birthday gift.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Intelligent And Revealing

"The harder I work, the luckier I get" - Mark Twain

I wonder why Malcolm Gladwell did not use those pithy words as the epigraph for his 2008 bestseller "Outliers"? Or at minimum, to open his chapter called "The 10,000 Hour Rule"? Twain's aphorism has always had the ring of truth for me. And Gladwell's examples of outliers who have assiduously applied that 10,000 hour rule, from Mozart to Bill Gates to the Beatles, further fortify Twain's words for me.

Having never had much use for the over-used "genius", I also appreciated how Gladwell deconstructs that hoary cliche. He doesn't deny the role of innate talent but his persuasive research makes a nuanced case for the other factors contributing to success.

But what I've most liked about Gladwell's books is how he doesn't hide from topics he covers. For example, the essay "Something Borrowed" from "What The Dogs Saw" (2009) is about confronting the probability that all writers (including Gladwell), sometimes unknowingly borrow from other writers. He asks - Should a charge of plagiarism ruin your life? Here, in section two of "Outliers" (entitled "Legacy"), he skillfully yet courageously teases out the way cultural norms impact success. In less skilled or polemic hands, this could have easily deteriorated into stereotyping. Gladwell not only avoids that, in the epilogue he uses his own family history to support his convincing premise. In my experience, except for memoirs, non-fiction this intelligent and revealing is hard to come by.  Your experience?      

Monday, September 23, 2013

#15: The Mt. Rushmore Series

Which four learning experiences would be on your personal Mt. Rushmore? Formal or informal, in or out of a classroom, for credit or strictly for personal enrichment - anything goes; it's your mountain. Mine are listed chronologically; yours need not be.

1.) High school English with Mrs. Cavico: Forced to identify a single educational experience leading to my lifelong love affair with words, this has to be it. Specifically, I recall Mrs. Cavico's rapturous praise for Keats, Byron, & Shelley; their poetry spoke to me almost as potently as music.

2.) Freshman English with Mr. Larsen: Just a few years later as an undergraduate, this man's palpable love of literature (he described caressing the bindings of library books) ensured my permanent infection. He introduced me to John Barth, Ken Kesey, William Styron; I'm forever in Mr. Larsen's debt.

3.) Organizational Behavior with Dr. Toby Tetenbaum:  Fast forward to summer of 1997, the middle of my graduate studies. Having worked as an adult educator for over ten years, this course offered practical insights that immeasurably enriched my next fifteen years of teaching, coaching and living. Just yesterday, I relied on something from Toby's syllabus working with a group.

4.) One Day University (Various Instructors): Beginning December 2007, my wife and I have attended at least one event a year sponsored by this new (since 2006) learning organization. My next time on "campus"? This Saturday. Visit their website and try not to get hooked.

My peak musical learning experiences, including a week spent at the National Guitar Workshop the summer of 2002, would fill a second Mt. Rushmore. When you comment, online or off, include those experiences also. What could be better than learning combined with a passion?

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Remembering The Bad Guys

Looking back, aside from your parents, what early lessons did other adults knowingly or unknowingly teach you?

When recalling the fathers of childhood friends, it's difficult for me to identify specific traits for the fathers I felt comfortable being around. No such difficulty for those who made me uncomfortable. When those men weren't sullen, they were angry. Sullen or angry, they often spoke to my childhood friends with indifference or disdain. More than once I heard a friend called "stupid" or worse. I also vividly recall being embarrassed when one father openly disrespected his wife and then not at all surprised to later learn he was carrying on with a divorcee.

I knew even then my own father was unlike this second group of men. Though he had a temper, only my family saw that side; my friends mostly enjoyed being around him. Although I'm sure it happened, I don't recall my father disrespecting my mother either. They argued, mostly about the four of us or money, but ugly words were usually not part of the deal. Those early lessons I learned from sullen, angry, and disrespectful fathers made me appreciate my father in ways I'm still reflecting on over 50 years later. And here's hoping my daughter's childhood friends will remember being comfortable around me, even if they too can't identify a specific trait of mine to support their memory.

Friday, September 20, 2013

If Only...

Early in my adult life, someone wise advised me about the folly of bemoaning "if only..." about anything. And that wise counsel has comforted me many times over the ensuing years.

With respect to creativity however, "if only..." is a tape I find challenging to fully erase. This is especially true when I'm exposed to people who are more inclined to stand apart than they are to fit in. Or when I recognize how my thinking is converging on one answer or solution rather than diverging and seeking out several alternatives. At times like these, my internal conversations can sound something like this:

"If only I didn't have such a need to fit in then..." or..."If only my brain diverged more often than it converged then ..." .  How do those sentences end? "...my creativity could flourish"

How familiar does this sound to you? In what domain of your life are you sometimes plagued by "if only"?    

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Sense Of An Ending, Part 2

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2012/06/sense-of-ending.html

I was dismayed when another commitment prevented me from attending a book club meeting to discuss Julian Barnes' "The Sense Of An Ending" last September. I really wanted to hear what smart readers had to say about this 2011 novel that had moved me so much I gifted it to both my sister and wife last Christmas.

Early today, fifteen months after finishing it the first time and writing the above post, almost exactly one year after that missed meeting, I re-read the book - a different club picked it for a meeting held this afternoon. Though in the past I'd used my book journal or any notes taken to refresh my memory when attending meetings to discuss other books I'd previously read, the glow of Barnes' novel was still so fresh I relished the idea of re-reading it. And it was an improbably richer experience the second time. You know that old magical thinking bit that goes something like this? "If only everyone could read/hear/see/be exposed to (fill in the blank), the world would be a better place". The brilliance of "The Sense Of An Ending" makes me wish my blog had enough reach that using that evangelistic hyperbole would bring this book to every thinking person.

If able to narrow down my choices, I'd use Barnes' exquisite prose to entice you. But his book is bursting with sentences, paragraphs, pages worthy of quoting. One reader at today's meeting, an artist, compared the surgical concision of Barnes' writing to the way abstract painters leave out enough in their work so our imaginations can roam free. Hearing her insightful remark reminded me why I like listening at these meetings more than speaking.    

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Reminiscing Re Routines, Rituals & Riffs

Thirty years married today; five and a half additional years as an exclusive partnership. And my wife/partner and I have routines, rituals and riffs to spare. Doesn't every couple that's been together for even a few years have at least some of these? If ever there was a risk-free post to comment on, surely this is it.

* I'm responsible for picking up and disposing of dead birds, rodents, etc.; my wife is responsible for changing flats on our bicycles.

* She makes sure the natural peanut butter gets stirred; I make sure neither of us is ever caught without toilet paper in the bathroom.

* Our oldest riff? The way we fold sheets together. Started on our first visit to a laundromat in 1978; repeated as recently as a few days ago. We laugh every time.

Knowing we'd be back late from our hike at Bear Mountain today, early this morning I considered posting something somber written a few days ago. But during the hike a whole passel of these silly routines came to mind, bringing me unexpected but genuine pleasure. The somber post can wait. There are worse things than having an epitaph that reads "Here lies a good man who made sure the toilet paper was always there."

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Very Mild Terror

Two and a half years of blogging and over 600 posts. Sometimes I feel on fire, sometimes I'm stuck, but either way money is not part of the equation, thank goodness. What must it be like for people who depend on creating something to support a family, especially when they get stuck?

During the years music was my sole means of support, no one depended on my income. In addition, although I scraped by a living, I mostly performed music others had created. Consequently, the terror of creative block never entered the picture during my lean years.

Nowadays, a very mild form of that terror is with me routinely, though these meager musings have nothing to do with my livelihood and no one holds me accountable for continuing. Some days when I feel on fire, instead of rejoicing, my mind skips unaccountably to days I've been stuck. On others I reflect - How well am I harnessing this heat? But even when my notebook of ideas feels a little thin, I breathe easier knowing there will be no parallel thinning of my bank account. No such luxury for those creative people much braver than I.          

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Which "We" Are We Talking About?

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2011/03/what-do-you-call-this.html

The first book mentioned after I began blogging in March 2011 was "The Painted Drum" (2005) by Louise Erdrich. Though that novel marked my initial exposure to Erdrich, I knew I'd return. What author new to you has most recently grabbed you that way?

"Small trees had attacked my parents' house at the foundation."

With the first foreshadowing sentence, "The Round House" (2012) had me immediately. Then just three pages later comes this - "And so, you see, her absence stopped time." Before any "action" occurs, Erdrich's pitch-perfect tone propelled me forward. Only once, with the vigilante act concluding the penultimate chapter, did I temporarily fall out of the author's spell. But then Erdrich masterfully puts the moral universe back on its axis in the last chapter, especially her final three pages and concluding sentences.

"We passed over in a sweep of sorrow that would persist into our small forever. We just kept going."

Those last four words are nominally about the fictional Coutts family of this novel. But based on the harrowing legal legacy our Supreme Court has constructed since the early 19th century to abrogate the rights of Native Americans, the "we" in that sentence carries added weight. You'll need to read the book and let me know if you agree Erdrich had that legacy on her mind with both the first and last sentence of "The Round House".        

Friday, September 13, 2013

Our Autos, Ourselves

The sticker on my windshield reminding me I'm overdue got me reflecting: Is there an equivalent in human terms for the necessity of regularly changing the oil in our autos?

First thought: How about the way many of us get our teeth cleaned every six months? Threw that out as not quite the same as an oil change - more like getting the car washed, isn't it?

I also discarded my second thought, the idea of getting periodic total blood transfusions, as too radical. But the strong parallels between the two processes, i.e. out with the old, in with the new, makes it a better fit than teeth cleaning. How about fasting? Nope, that's more akin to not driving for a few days.

Because no reasonable physical equivalents come to mind, I'm thinking something behavioral is called for. How about this? At the same time each of us gets our oil changed, we dump past resentments and replace them with positive thoughts. Pretty sure toxic thoughts I've held onto have done as much damage as the dirty oil sitting in my engine right now.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Take 3 And...Print!

OK, last chance to get into the movie business.

I first tried getting you to imagine your own life as a feature length film back on May 15. To grease your creative wheels, I even humiliated myself in that post, providing some choice cinematic moments from the life of yours truly. Despite my self-abasement, no one took the initial bait.

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2013/05/action.html

Tried a different tack on July 5 asking instead for nominations of people other than yourself fit for the role of hero or heroine of our imaginary film. Comments from the second post at least produced one notable hero - a drill sergeant a la "Officer and A Gentleman". And that reader even provided casting - Denzel Washington as the sergeant and Brad Pitt as the grunt - nice. Other nominees from Take 2? A pyromaniac bassist and a cat. Come on people, work with me here.

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2013/07/take-2-andaction.html

So, if your own life has provided too few ready-for-closeup moments and nobody you've known comes to mind as a hero or heroine, how about a villain? Who in your life has been despicable enough to qualify as the bad guy in our film? No names or identifying markers are necessary, just give me and others some juicy details so we can get a vicarious thrill. If just one person responds to this post, I'll spill the beans on my personal Mephistopheles; you won't be disappointed.