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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Mr Id's Post Party Depression

Call Mr. Id unrealistic but when attending a party with more than 25 people, he expects to have at least one stimulating conversation, especially after staying several hours. How does Mr. Id define stimulating? At minimum...

* A reasonable amount of give and take.

* Other conversants demonstrating some interest in Mr. Id's views or, at least pretending to, especially after Mr. Id has asked numerous questions aimed at eliciting theirs.

* Minimal eye contact or, at least a temporary cessation of staring at the TV.

Mr. Id has additional obnoxious criterion. But within recent memory, Mr. Id attended a party where even the baseline minimum noted was consistently out of reach. Revealing more would be indiscreet. Mr. Id can be a crank but does not wish to be indiscreet. Besides, he likes parties.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Literary Time Machine

Aside from a selfish and illogical desire to live forever, here's an additional delusional reason I want to be alive 100 years from now: To facilitate discussions circa 2115 about literature of the late 20th and early 21st century. I'm dying to know what discerning readers of the early 22nd century make of the novels from our era that are still being read.

After stopping full time work, I set several guidelines for my reading life. Among those was returning to the established literary canon to read something by any author I hadn't yet sampled. So far, this is not going so well. Could be my picks; could be timing; could be I'm hopelessly stuck in my own time. But whatever it is, often while reading something from the 19th or early 20th century, I'm a bit flummoxed. Just two days ago, I found myself saying aloud "Answer the question!!" to yet another character giving a maddeningly indirect answer to a very straightforward question posed by a different character. In that moment of reading frustration I began wondering about those 2115 readers. How will they perceive the speaking and writing rhythms of our time? I want to hear those people discuss the dialogue and characters of Toni Morrison, Philip Roth, Anne Tyler. That is, if those three current giants make it to the canon.

As always, my hope is some of you will shed your light on this subject. I once had a work colleague, an English Lit major, who was horrified when her college professor first extolled and then assigned John Updike's short story "A&P". After completing the assignment, hating the story, and forsaking any future with Updike, she was anxious to get back to Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Henry James, etc. My trip in the literary time machine? The exact opposite. My recent visit to Victorian England in the late 19th century had me aching for late 20th century noise, like ... John Updike. And though I'm not giving up on the canon, now  those 2115 readers are in my head.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

My Grade (So Far): Amiability

amiability: the state of having a friendly or willing disposition. 

Of the 17 attributes covered in this series to date, this is among the most difficult for me to nail down and settle on a grade. So far anyway, my amiability has often been driven by my moods. And managing my moods is a perpetual struggle. How familiar is my struggle to you?

Because I've rarely had difficulty being amiable with children, a new technique I've been experimenting with is to occasionally pretend people I'm interacting with are eight years old. Not by acting condescendingly or trying to dumb down conversation, just approaching some interactions with adults using the open posture I bring to children. The technique has given me a boost in amiability and also helped rein in the judgaholic a bit.

Still, those moods of mine get the better of me. Watching me interact with someone recently, my usually amiable wife said "What was up with you back there?" Replaying the scene she was referring to in my head, I realized I'd forgotten to use my new technique. The result? Another "F" for amiability that day. With that lapse fresh on my mind and my new technique still a long way from being ingrained, guess today I'll have to go with a "C" for amiability, at least so far. How about you?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Yesterday's Gone

Since beginning in March 2011 I've purposefully skipped posting any day my mind did not feel up to the task. Yesterday was my first day skipped because the body was not up to it.

Healthy as I've always been, being brought so low physically reminded me how easy good health can be taken for granted. Each time a basic task felt out of reach and I got frustrated, I tried to re-frame it and regain a measure of gratitude, confident today would be better.

And today is better. As I opened my laptop, the blog topics in my queue from before Monday faded before the simple fact of being upright and able to sit long enough to type a little. I'm grateful for several things. My continuing good health, the books that kept me company yesterday, having a partner nearby. Three things to avoid taking for granted. I'm also grateful yesterday is over.      

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Grip Of Inertia

Lazy is not a word anyone has ever used to describe me. Still, inertia is a frequent if unwelcome companion of mine. How much does inertia intrude on your life?

For me, this close relative of laziness is insidious. I usually know when I'm being lazy but days can go by before I recognize inertia has had me in its grip. It's a toxic recipe - finite time + hard to detect inertia = lost productivity. Even if I'm not (necessarily) procrastinating, somehow not much of note gets accomplished. Then presto - a lot more time has gone by.

"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." That ancient maxim has given me inspiration many times when I've found myself hobbled by inertia. I start; I feel better. And if that doesn't work I may try using a question from Stephen Covey's book "First Things First": "Is this the best use of my time this moment?" Doesn't work every time but what method does? How do you escape inertia's grip?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

#12: The Mt. Rushmore Series (Two For One)

Which four highly memorable misfits from literature would be on your Mt. Rushmore? Because none of mine have yet been depicted on film, this iteration of Mt. Rushmore is a two for one deal; yours need not be. My granite figures are listed chronologically by release date of the book.

1.) Holden Caulfield from "Catcher in the Rye":  In April 2011, I asked who people would cast as this unforgettable misfit from JD Salinger's 1953 masterpiece if it ever made it to film. My favorite reader response to that early post? Jesse Eisenberg - brilliant!

2.) Ignatius Reilly from "A Confederacy of Dunces": Given this character's despicable personal habits, it's difficult for me to imagine anyone except John Belushi playing Reilly in a movie. Since John Kennedy Toole's hilarious book was not released until 1980, we need Marty McFly to hop in the DeLorean and mess with the time/space continuum.

3.) Dolores Price from "She's Come Undone": I've been a little stuck for who to cast as Dolores ever since Wally Lamb created this lost soul in 1990. Now that Melissa McCarthy is a force to be reckoned with, my search is over.

4.) Oscar Wao from "The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao": To do justice to the eponymous character of Junot Diaz' 2007 novel, MISFIT needs strong emphasis. Before sharing my choice, if you've read this marvel of a book, please tell me first who you'd cast.

But more significantly, which four memorable literature misfits belong next to Washington et al?        

Thursday, June 20, 2013

That Not So Funny Feeling

You meet someone new, either one-on-one or in a group situation. Almost immediately you get the clear sense this person has a visceral dislike for you. What happened?

It's possible some of you have never had this experience. I have, more than once, and do not believe I've been paranoid, clinically or otherwise. Further, I suspect my experience is not at all unique. When it occurred again not long ago, I wondered - what just happened? Out came my journal and, as is often the case, any answers I approached were rapidly superseded by additional questions to myself. Any of these ring a bell?

What did this situation share with similar situations from the past?
How much of the other person's reaction to me could simply be bad chemistry?
What part did I play in helping create that chemistry?
How can I learn from this?

Of course, it's unrealistic to expect everyone we meet will like us. In my case, with charm not being a strong suit, I would be delusional to have that expectation. Still, I'm on the lookout for patterns in these situations to help me reduce future incidences of that not so funny feeling.  
 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Seasonal Sound

Setting aside the stunning weather, sounds alone signal for me the glorious transition between spring and summer in New Jersey.

* Even when not my cup of tea, any music coming from cars with the windows down invariably makes me smile.

* The bells of a passing ice cream truck? I'm ten years old again.

* Try sneaking up on someone wearing flip-flops. When else in the year does the sound of footwear so clearly mark a change of season?

Which sounds help you mark this time of year? Listen closely, then share with me and others.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

First, The Book

Here's something annoying about being a movie geek. When I see a movie adapted from a book before reading the book, I frequently have trouble visualizing characters the author describes without seeing the actors who portrayed the characters. How do you escape doing this?

Most novels I read end up being cast in my head; doesn't matter if they ever end up as films. And if they do get made, my casting choices rarely match the end product - also doesn't matter. The process of imagining someone in a role based on an author description is fun and fodder for my creative mill. But reading "The Heart is A Lonely Hunter" (Carson McCullers) recently for the first time, I found it difficult to get Alan Arkin, who portrayed John Singer in the film, out of my head. Same thing happened to me a few months ago while reading Jacquelyn Mitchard's excellent novel "The Deep End of the Ocean". Though I tried not to get distracted, I found the faces of Michelle Pfeiffer, Treat Williams and Whoopi Goldberg occasionally interrupting the narrative line of that book as I read it.

The silver lining? When a movie closely adheres to a book, like the film adaptations of both the McCullers and Mitchard novels, story and characters stay with me longer. I guess that's a fair trade for being a movie geek. Still, David Mitchell's "Cloud Atlas" is in my current reading queue, to be finished before watching the recent film. Which is your preferred order?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Bloomsday Post

"Some books are meant to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read but not curiously and some few to be read wholly with diligence and attention.": Francis Bacon

Although I might add an additional category for books meant to be spit out before going too far, Francis Bacon's words resonate with me. "A Passion For Books" (1999) by Harold Rabinowitz and Rob Kaplan fell solidly into Bacon's second category; I swallowed it. What was the last book about books that captivated you?

But...perhaps you'd want just a taste? That would be easy to accommodate. Among the 60 selections are essays, short stories, lists, cartoons, a bibliolexicon and a bibliobibliography. The contributors include notables like Flaubert, Philip Roth, Susan Sontag. Tone ranges from light (Roger Rosenblatt's "Bibliomania") to educational (Ben Zevin's "The Bible Through The Ages") to somber and emotional (Solly Ganor's "The Book Action"). Length? One page to twenty one; something for every taste.

Easy to envision someone tasting this book lover's treasury though I swallowed. Chewed and digested anyone?

Friday, June 14, 2013

Asking Again: Can This Be Right?

Of my posts with a discernible theme, the three I've written under this heading have prompted some of the most lively conversations. So once again: Join in and share with me and others some words whose meaning just doesn't feel quite right to you.

1.) ordnancecannon or artillery. Can this be right? How can such an innocuous sounding word be so deadly? Did some evil military linguist make this up so killing and maiming people would sound less horrible?

2.) enervated: without vigor, force, or strength; languid. Without fail, every time I've used this word, someone asks me "Are you sure that's correct?" And I'm talking about smart people, like my wife.

3.) avuncular : of, pertaining to, or characteristic of an uncle. Try and convince me this word doesn't sound like it should apply only to uncles who are perverts. I ask you, how can this be right?

If anyone doesn't want to wait until next June for three more of mine, glad to share offline several from my long list. At this point, with one post per year and three words in each, I've got better than a ten year supply. 

    

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Come on, Girls - Help Me Out

For just a moment, put aside the whole optimist/pessimist, glass half full or half empty conversation and answer this question: Which do you find yourself doing more often -chastising yourself for the things you don't do or congratulating yourself for the things you do?

I pose this challenging question because although I more often chastise vs. congratulate myself, I don't have a clear sense of how others on the bell curve would answer this. And though I was mindful while raising my daughter to congratulate her more often than chastise, I often wonder how much impact my parenting had on her regarding this. Those of you who are parents, which tendency do you see as more dominant in your children?

A special plea for an online response to this question goes to my sisters, both of whom invariably have interesting and sometimes provocative (albeit mostly offline) things to say about my posts. Come on, girls - help me get a more robust online conversation going, will ya? 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Haunted And Happy

Near the end of the Woodstock/1960s exhibit at the Bethel Center For The Arts, anyone who wants to can record their thoughts about that tumultuous decade or tell a story about where they were when the concert took place. Though I passed on that opportunity when visiting the exhibit recently, the summer of '69 has been playing in my head ever since. Which summer of your life do you recall most vividly?

My location that summer? The Windsor Hotel in South Fallsburg, NY, about 15 miles from Yasgur's farm in nearby Bethel. My job? Playing drums with my college quartet called "Sky". My companions? Bob (Farfisa organ), Sandy (Gibson guitar), Bruce (Fender bass). We were there all summer, including the weekend of the legendary concert, playing top 40 cover tunes to entertain the teenage children of hotel guests at this past-its-prime Borscht belt hotel. My pay? I do not recollect. I do remember the snarled traffic on the road leading past the Windsor and I remember it was a great summer, notwithstanding our abysmal living quarters. If you're old enough, what is your summer of '69 story?

Walking through the exhibit, I wondered what might be going through the mind of the teenage attendant I kept running into who worked there. Day in and day out he gets to watch us geezers and geezettes peer at hippie artifacts, wipe away tears, gaze at Carlos, Sly & Jimi doing their magic. What does he make of this codger spectacle? And which event (summer or otherwise) of his life will someday be codified in an exhibit? When he's walking through it will he also feel haunted and happy at the same time?   

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Welcome To A Life

It's so refreshing to read a memoir where the author doesn't mythologize her parents.

Before beginning "Don't Lets Go To The Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood" (2001) by Alexandra Fuller, I read the jacket. My first thought? I hope this doesn't turn out to be one of those tales about noble white people. I'm so tired of celebrities and authors claiming to have been raised by the enlightened. Have no famous people had parents like mine, i.e. good and decent even if they were not ahead of the curve vis-a-vis racial matters? Turns out, Fuller's parents were like that - what a relief. The author doesn't draw a great deal of attention to this - it's likely I noticed because her candor about these non-heroic but loving people stood out in contrast to all the insufferable celebrity garbage about larger-than-life, unfailingly progressive parents.

In addition to the author's complete lack of sentimentality, her matter-of-fact descriptions of life in Zimbabwe (nee Rhodesia), Malawi & Zambia made this book a welcome read. Her life from two years old to twenty was no stroll through the suburbs but the writing never made her difficulties feel exceptional; it was simply her childhood. Because Fuller doesn't distance herself from the reader, either by making her parents mythic or by turning her childhood into a vision quest, anyone can feel authentic drawing parallels to their own life, no matter how different it is from the one described here.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Triggers

Wonder how much heartache could have been avoided if I were as skilled recognizing the things I do or say that trigger others as I am recognizing what triggers me?

Family interactions are fertile ground for this nonsense, possibly the place where we each fail the most predictably. Each time someone shares with me a mother/daughter, father/son, brother/sister story that caused them pain, my own family of origin stories come rushing back . And no matter how ancient the story, I can often identify what was said or done by a family member that triggered me, even if no significant pain followed.

Interesting how I have to work harder to remember the part I played in those family dramas. But play a part I did so putting effort into recognizing what triggers others remains important work. Each time I hear a new story and remind someone how we each trigger others as much or more than we are ourselves triggered, I'm the one most benefiting from that reminder.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Song Is You

There's always something there to remind me - always...something. No matter what, I can't get you out of my head. It's the same old song all day and all of the night.

As time goes by, there's no easy way. I've got you under my skin; goin' out of my head. I can't help myself - crazy...witchcraftWho can I turn to? Only you.

Day by day, night and day, every time we say goodbye I need you - more today than yesterday. You and me against the world; just you and mealways and forever.    

Thursday, June 6, 2013

A New York Post: Risking The Risque?

It's been over two years. I've written about 550 posts. Though I've given it way too much thought, it's still not clear to me why some get a lot more attention than others.

Recently one regular reader, and someone different who reads only on days I post to Facebook, both told me they decide which ones to read based mostly on the title. So although many of the titles from my "top ten" don't strike me as real provocative, I'm strongly considering giving crassness a shot now and then. Just saying.

This could go awry. And with no desire to have porno search engines easily find my blog, the craven attempt (above) at a sexy title is mild, right? Now, if any NY Post headline writer stumbles onto this post (gotta love those keyword searches!), maybe you'd consider helping out this needy, marginally-attention-seeking, doesn't-want-to-be-XXX blogger by giving me about 550 grab-by-the-throat titles in case this pathetic try doesn't yield the desired results?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Socrates, Primates, Questions

"The unexamined life is not worth living"

With that epigraph from Socrates, I was confident William Boyd's 1990 novel "Brazzaville Beach" was going to be up my alley. Over two years later, Boyd's tour-de-force keeps returning to me, "...like a spar of driftwood".

For example, when yesterday I began reading Alexandra Fuller's 2001 memoir "Don't Lets Go To The Dogs Tonight" about her childhood in Africa, something jarred me. I found some of Boyd's vivid descriptions of the continent in my notes from his book: "Rabid energy and bustle...brutal frustrations and remorseless physicality..." This kind of stuff is sprinkled throughout. 

As masterful as Boyd's language is in "Brazzavile Beach", it's just the icing. He nails all the traditional elements - compelling and believable story, multi-dimensional characters, pitch perfect dialogue - but then ups the ante. The main narrative involves researchers in the field of primatology so Boyd sets up many of his chapters briefly describing a relevant scientific concept - catastrophe theory, the neural clock, Fermat's last theorem, etc. It's not a showoffy gimmick. Each concept connects to both the primates and the human story being told. And his descriptions are such that even a science nincompoop like me understood. 

Hope Clearwater, the narrator of this gem, has also stuck to me. How can I resist someone who extracts the following from her experiences? "I have taken new comfort and refuge in the doctrine that advises one not to seek tranquility in certainty but in permanently suspended judgment." Questions are much more interesting than answers, aren't they?         

Monday, June 3, 2013

A Sneaky Third Wheel

My guitar playing can be a great source of relaxation for me. At other times, especially following a public performance when I've been satisfied, my playing acts in exactly the opposite fashion. Instead of being relaxed, I am exhilarated. This second state also occurs, if less frequently, when I'm alone playing. Do you experience a similar dichotomy with your passions or hobbies?

If only this were the whole story. For me, whether sitting alone playing, jamming with others, or performing publicly, frustration is a sneaky third wheel. Even though I'm aware of the importance of containing negative self-talk, when I flub the execution of something I know I'm capable of, frustration sometimes gets the better of me. As soon as that happens, I'm in trouble for several self-defeating moments. And then it can be easy to lose sight of the relaxation or exhilaration nearby and the whole thing rapidly deteriorates.

Where in your life do you find yourself battling this sneaky third wheel?
    

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Touching The Untouchable

"Uncle Patrick, are you a Buddhist?"

Even after answering "No" to my 14 year old nephew's guileless question, doing a blog post on the topic of religion didn't immediately occur to me. Considering my format of three or four brief paragraphs, in that moment, this forum just did not feel suitable. I also guessed his curiosity about why there were several CDs about Buddhism on the floor of my car would be satisfied by my one word answer. 

"So, why do you like learning about Buddhism so much?"

His second penetrating question brought me somewhere else. Because of his age, and still thinking this would not go on long, I tried to strip my second answer to its essence. "I'm attracted to a spiritual belief that puts emphasis on living in the here and now". Then as the conversation deepened more, I realized something magical was occurring. Listening to carefully considered words coming out of my mouth, I was landing on some powerful insights about my 63 year religious evolution. But more importantly, nothing I said was at all sarcastic, dismissive or judgmental about the faith in which my nephew is being raised.

It's possible my epiphany will not resonate with many. Anyone whose faith is strong or those who struggle less than I with attempting to deconstruct other beliefs instead of building a positive case for your own belief, might well be saying right now "What's the big deal, Pat?" But as I processed that unexpected conversation, something stirred in me. The post itself waited until a little clarity about what I'd learned about religion emerged more fully. What was the last interaction you had that triggered something similar in you about this often untouchable subject?