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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Ah...Posterity

There's a kind of unspoken hierarchy for which names enter posterity. At the top of mine are those whose birthdays become holidays - King, Lincoln, Washington, Columbus. It's easy to argue which honor is greater after that. To me, a city (Madison, Jackson, Jefferson City) seems logical for the #2 spot. But, Lenin & Stalin got demoted from there in a fate more historically embarrassing than the two for one special Lincoln & Washington now endure sharing Presidents Day. So, it's arguable that someone's name becoming part of an often-used word (e.g. bowdlerize) deserves #2. Given the Lincoln/Washington bit, maybe #1.  

From there it's an open field. My arbitrary placement in the posterity sweepstakes after holidays, cities, and names becoming words goes something like this - airports, universities/schools, streets, buildings, statues. What would you add? Because significant philanthropy often confers posterity, including things like wings of hospitals, rooms in museums, etc. makes sense for ranking #9. Then? The current fad marking names on public benches comes to mind; could be a stretch. Near the bottom? Sandwiches? But with most of those names shifting when a delicatessen changes hands, we've probably left posterity-land at this point.

Which brings me to the Bradley Beach Theater. When next you visit the men's room in this quaint relic from the mid-20th century, try to think of anything except the human drive for posterity when standing at the urinal. If you're a woman, wait until the coast is clear, sneak in and take a look at the strategically placed plaque. Oh, if only I'd had the imagination to make this up. In a future post, I plan on naming a holiday after this person; it's the least I can do. First, back to the theater to record the name.      

Friday, August 30, 2013

Curtain Up On Act Three

If the central premise of Daniel Pink's book "A Whole New Mind" (2005) turns out to be on the mark, I could be in for a rewarding Act Three.

According to Pink, those who are right brain dominant will help lead the way as the information age is superseded by the "conceptual age". Each of the six "senses" he identifies as critical to success in this new age- design, story, symphony, empathy, play, meaning - share elements more quickly accessed via the right hemisphere of the brain. And though the detail-oriented, sequential left hemisphere that helps us all decode text remains vitally important, Pink cites convincing research to make his case that much more attention needs to be given to the right hemisphere's facility to see the big picture, take in information simultaneously and provide context. Each of us needs a "whole new mind" - the already valued left and the under-valued but increasingly important right.

"The wealth of nations and the well being of individuals now depend on having artists in the room". Sentiments like that guarantee an author has my attention. Also, any book that extols emotional intelligence, the value of MFA's and the importance of having a high "metaphor quotient" is hitting the right notes. But in the end what won me over was the thorough research and the practical portfolios concluding each of the chapters on the six senses - loads of good ideas for enhancing each. I've already begun applying one idea from the "meaning" portfolio and will be using another from the "story" portfolio in a near-future post; stay tuned for that. Let me know what you extract if you pick up this worthwhile, educational book.                                      

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

My Grade (So Far): Discernment

discernment: the faculty of discerning; discrimination; acuteness of judgment or understanding

***Quick detour: Remember how annoying it was learning new words as a kid if the dictionary defined a noun using the root of the same word as a verb or adjective? Man, I hated that.***   

How would you grade yourself so far on this attribute? Part of the difficulty giving myself a fair grade here is how open the definition is. Judgment or understanding about what, exactly? So, I'm going to pick three things that strike me as important enough to be discerning about. When you comment, online or off, let me know which things you picked and your grade. Feel free to pick more or less than my totally arbitrary three.

My grade (so far) for discernment re people:  A solid "B". Still make periodic mistakes but very happy with my lifetime batting average.

My grade (so far) for discernment re literature:  Definitely on the upswing. It's taken me a good part of my life, but I've earned my current "B" for discernment here. And I believe an "A" could be in my future.

My grade (so far) for discernment re food: 63 years old - spent almost half my life in "D" or "F" territory - picky, provincial and poor. Then many more years trying new stuff but discerning? Hardly - a "C" at best. Since becoming a vegetarian in early 90's my grade has slowly risen to a high "C"/low "B". Grade point average? Looks like a "C" or "C-". But with some luck, there'll be enough years left to legitimately earn a "B" or better.

Two "B's" and one "C/C-" for discernment. Cyberspace teachers - What goes on my report card?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Keeping The End Open

Which project undertaken in your life took you the longest to complete? If you're still working on it now, how long have you already been at it? What is your projected completion date?

On my first cross-country driving trip in 1972, one of my stops was the Crazy Horse Memorial in South Dakota. 41 years ago, my lack of imagination prevented me from picturing what visionary sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski was attempting even though at that point he and his family had already been carving away the mountain for almost 25 years. By my next visit to the Black Hills in 2000 Ziolkowski had been gone 18 years, but enough progress had been made I could now see what he'd devoted his life to. The short film about this project shown at the visitor center left me weeping. If you're unfamiliar with the memorial and this man's singular dedication, visit the website. Try not to be astonished and humbled.  

Ziolkowski has crossed my mind many times over the past 13 years, most recently when I was tempted to abandon one of my own long running, albeit much more mundane projects. Accepting no government funds, Ziolkowski decided from the outset the Crazy Horse Memorial would have no projected completion date. For now, I've decided this great man's approach is worth following. Declaring my project finish open-ended could be what's needed to re-energize me, as long as I avoid procrastination. How would a strategy like that work (or not) for you?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Egypt 54 - France 39

Of stuff mentioned to date on this blog, I'm most frequently asked for updates on the "eat around the world" project initiated March 23, 2011.

Early this year I merged two pieces of geography - the number of countries that have viewed my blog vs. the number of sampled cuisines. On January 8, that score was Mongolia 47- Iran 22, a gap of 25 countries. After France became sampled cuisine #39 yesterday (tomato coulis, eggplant a la Provencale, bouillabaisse, peaches au gratin), the gap narrowed to 15 countries. Late in July, with my family's help, four countries (Australia, Columbia, Israel and the Philippines) got knocked off in one stuff-our-faces feast. And because my siblings are geography geeks like me we enjoyed facts, laughs and mild disagreements along with the Australian ginger beer & creamy fish, boliarepa, tu bi' shvat cake & singkamas/jicama salad. FYI, spellcheck really doesn't like that last sentence.  

Given the interest in this project, my wife recently suggested starting a separate blog devoted to it. Although her idea has appeal, at present, sustaining two blogs at once is a little daunting. So for now, my original commitment of providing an occasional update will have to suffice. But keep your restaurant recommendations coming. Next stop? Russia via Manalapan, NJ.  

Friday, August 23, 2013

Mr. Id & Mt. Rushmore

Mr. Id needs to know - Which often-heard insincere phrases would you enshrine on this 14th iteration of Mt. Rushmore? In no particular order, your favorite crank nominates the following:

1.) "Let's get together sometime".  Oh baloney. If you really want to see someone that phrase is superfluous. Get out your calendar, high or low tech version, and make a date.

2.) "Stay in touch". Double baloney. How many times has someone said this to you and then happily reciprocated when you did exactly as they asked? How many times have you said it to others and really meant it vs. just flapping your gums?

3.) "I'll try". Baloney triptych (Mr. Id has been waiting months to use that word). Possibly the most insincere words ever uttered, tantamount to "I have no intention of bothering."

That's Mr. Id's version; what is yours? And don't waste time moaning about how it should be four phrases to match the four presidents. Mr. Id is way too contrary to follow any insincere blogger's rules.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Revisiting An Hypothesis

Few films of the past 20 years have stayed with me like "Remains of The Day" (1993). And though the acting and directing were exceptional, Kazuo Ishiguro's story, from his novel of the same name, is what most lingered.

After completing Ishiguro's 2000 novel "When We Were Orphans", I now feel compelled to return to his earlier book. "...Orphans" spoke to me on a few levels; the screenplay of "Remains..." had a similar effect on me. The two stories share superficial elements (time frame, main character is a solitary English man) while also exploring common larger themes (moral ambivalence, the ephemeral nature of memory, the difficulty of meaningfully connecting). "...Orphans" is largely metaphor-free but the writing still shimmers. It's difficult for me to picture anyone getting through the last chapter unmoved.

Over the past five years, I've felt oddly distanced from several novels by Asian authors, including one prizewinner. To this point, my working hypothesis was that these books, well written with one notable exception, didn't have enough noise to engage me. Yet "When We Were Orphans" is an exceedingly quiet book and I was fully engaged. Now that "Remains Of The Day" is in my queue, guess it's time to re-visit that hypothesis.          

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Time For An Intervention

My subscription to Rolling Stone lapsed many years ago. So being routinely unfamiliar with popular songs and artists regularly mentioned on their final page is understandable if a tad on the old fart side.

But when a mainstream middlebrow non-music magazine like Time lists "13 songs of Summer 2013" and not a single song or artist is on my musical radar, it's time to get back in the game. I fully recognize at my age the word hip is more likely to be used discussing anatomy needing attention than music my peers and I listen to. But as a lifelong musician, it bothers me being this out of touch. I need a music intervention.

My daughter helped me create a few Pandora stations featuring young artists. My brother tries to keep me up-to-date, periodically making CD mixes for me with current songs by contemporary artists. And my wife discovered a good local college radio station. But more help is needed. Time magazine ahead of me musically? I'm in trouble. Your suggestions are welcome.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Lacuna

Although it's a job I'd love to try, reviewing books would be difficult for me. One of the hardest things would be finding new superlatives for something like "The Lacuna" (2009) by Barbara Kingsolver. Simply put, this novel has it all.

"...you can't really know the person standing before you because there is always some missing piece..."

The dictionary defines lacuna as "a gap or missing part; hiatus". Though the italicized phrase above was selected for inclusion here before beginning this post, I didn't realize Kingsolver had used her central conceit making this wise observation (just one of many in the book) until I started to write; such is the elegance of her prose. Reading her reminds me how artless some lesser authors can be.

"The Lacuna" also assumes a reader is paying close attention, an author trait I began appreciating more when tackling Hillary Mantel's "Wolf Hall" a few years back. Though the architecture of Kingsolver's book can be challenging, the rewards for not being spoon fed are significant.

Over the last 20 years, there has been just one book my wife, both my sisters, my oldest niece and I have all agreed was a masterwork - "Poisonwood Bible" by Barbara Kingsolver. For my money, "The Lacuna" is in the same league.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

2.5

If you were software, what version of yourself would you be at this point?

Conventional wisdom says our basic personalities don't change a great deal after adolescence. How consistent is that with your experience of those you've known that long? I feel incapable of assessing how much my sisters and brother have changed over time; family of origin dynamics interfere with my objectivity. Yet they're the only people I've had regular contact with since we were all adolescents. So challenging the conventional wisdom about how much others change after adolescence leaves me with a limited sample.  

But, I do not feel at all like Pat 2.0, i.e. one version pre-adolescence and the same version ever since. My path to energy, main means of gathering information, method for making decisions, and preferred orientation to the world have not shifted enough for others to experience Pat 3.0; maybe not even version 2.8. But in each of those four important domains, especially my path to energy, I've learned to flex well enough to lay claim to Pat 2.5; my siblings may disagree. If so, I hope they weigh in.

My four nieces and my daughter make up the small universe of people I've had regular contact with since all were adolescents. If any of the five read this post, maybe I'll initiate a future conversation about which software version of each of them I currently experience. And all my long time post adolescent friends? That could be fun or disastrous depending on my presentation. If you try this with anyone, let me know how it goes. Tell them Pat 2.5 was asking.
   

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Silver Linings In A Hacker's Cloud

Why they would bother is beyond me but it looks like some hackers decided my blog was fair game early in August. When it seemed possible all my work and your comments could be lost, I converted everything to a Word document. Fortunately, thanks to some savvy PC assistance, it now appears the hackers were foiled. But before knowing the coast was clear, while beginning to re-format this massive Word document, a few things became clear:

* Although there's been steady improvement, there's still too much "I" in my writing.
* The posts getting the largest number of public comments are usually those touching on lighter themes, especially when part of a series like "Mt. Rushmore", "My Grade (So Far)", etc.
* I would likely benefit from an objective second opinion selecting which posts to send to my Facebook network. Applications for Facebook liaison are being accepted.

Other silver linings to this erstwhile hacker's cloud: Re-reading reminded me of a few of my public commitments still needing attention and should also help me avoid repeating myself too much in the future. Aside from a few favorite quotes and excessive mentions of Jennifer Egan's novel "A Visit From The Goon Squad" (can't help it, honest!), I think that's going pretty well. But please let me know your thoughts on that as well as offering other feedback; self-editing has limitations, maybe a little like being one's own attorney.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Not Recognizing Myself

Anger, envy, gluttony, greed, lust, pride, sloth  

In my view, there are several traits more heinous than these; that's a different post. But among the classic seven deadly sins above, which has caused you the most pain? Any of them ever had a hold on you so much you didn't recognize yourself?

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2011/08/avoiding-mirrors.html

The post above from August 9, 2011 describes how anger has gotten the better of me from time to time. The bland example used there of getting harmlessly angry at inanimate objects like my computer is particularly ironic. Because just six days later, the focus of this deadly sin switched.

On August 15, my anger took aim at a total stranger in an eruption so intense, I was arrested for the first time in my life. The potential consequences of my primal outburst were so dire, I was immobilized for weeks. And though my worst fears have not materialized, it's no exaggeration to say my behavior on that day two years ago tomorrow still makes me wonder who I was that day. Any of those deadly sins ever had that effect on you?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Go Away Anthony

Who are these people pollsters say would vote for Anthony Weiner? Do you personally know anyone who admits they would vote for him?

I've made serious mistakes in my life; who hasn't? In a few days, the two year anniversary of my biggest blunder will arrive. I'm still mortified about my behavior that day and that has me reflecting on Weiner's chutzpah. How does he convince himself he's capable of managing the biggest city in the U.S. when he has so much difficulty managing his behavior? I have not been back to the location of my meltdown and worry someone will recognize me if I walk nearby. Weiner's visage is hard to escape.

I realize it sounds harsh but where is this man's shame? There must be a less public way he can make a living. The people supporting his candidacy can surely give him some job leads, no? I haven't even been tempted to add to the endless puns made about him. Please Anthony - go away.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Memoir Moratorium

After finishing J.R. Moehringer's touching book "The Tender Bar" (2005) earlier this week, I've decided to declare a memoir moratorium.

Moehringer's book is worth reading. If you're new to memoirs, this would be a good introduction. It's  full of memorable characters - indomitable mother, irascible and abusive grandfather, wayward uncle holding court for the colorful inebriated cast inhabiting his Long Island tavern. I recognized some of that cast from my own years playing tender and not-so-tender bars.

But I'm temporarily abandoning this subset of non-fiction because the amount of learning I extract from memoirs seems to be on the decline. Many of these books are moving, well written and funny; Moehringer's nails that hat trick. Still, my geeky need to learn, at least at present, appears to be taking precedence.

Almost exactly two years ago, a memoir called "Tolstoy And The Purple Chair" by Nina Sankovitch lifted me from a serious dip. So I'm sure I'll return to the genre - keep your recommendations coming despite my declaration; nothing is forever and lists are meant to be filled.


p.s. A month later and still having major problems with this blog site from my home PC; thank goodness for the public library.             

Friday, August 9, 2013

Peer Group Poop

A facetious comment my oldest niece recently made about spending too much time with folks out of her peer group (i.e. with old farts like her parents and me), has me reflecting on the downside of hanging around with my peer group too much.

* How can a distance of more than a few miles be a "long drive"? In one of my book clubs, someone actually marveled at the fact that I live about 15 miles away; my home and the club are in the same county. This is not an isolated example; I regularly hear stuff like this from people my age. 

* I understand the motivation to save money on "early bird" specials. But when a restaurant doesn't offer those deals, isn't meeting someone for dinner at 5:30 a little early? By the time dinner is over, the live music at most places hasn't even started. What happens at 7:30?

* If one more person my age says Saturday Night Live isn't as funny as it was in its heyday (a word I loathe), the epithet Dan Ackroyd used to level at Jane Curtin may slip from my lips. I also wonder how many of the old farts speaking of the "golden years of SNL" recall how much bad stuff there was between the classic bits.

What peer group poop would you rather do without? All ages welcome.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Yogi And Me

I'm grateful for my abundant energy; it's a clear gift. At the same time, I recognize how energy like mine can sometimes wear others out. For those sharing this particular gift of mine, what techniques help you shift into lower gear from time to time?

Yoga as a technique has been a mixed bag for me. Nowadays, I purposefully choose only gentle yoga classes; struggling with the more challenging poses of moderate yoga is a foolproof way for me to remain at 45 or 78 RPM, even with the meditation ending most sessions - oh, that competitive instinct. But given the widely varying definitions different instructors have of the phrase, even gentle yoga sometimes winds me up more than down. This is especially true if I'm singled out for attention - oh, that ego.

If she reads this post, my daughter the yoga instructor might chastise me for being so un-yogi like; competition, ego, etc. Still, my practice will continue; the quiet I feel moving into 33 or 16 RPM as some classes end makes it worthwhile.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

"Ouch" Insights

"Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering": Carl Jung

Aside from reference books, no non-fiction book I own has gotten more repeated use than "The Road Less Travelled" (1978) by M. Scott Peck. His final book, "The Road Less Travelled And Beyond: Spiritual Growth In An Age Of Anxiety" (1997) is a fitting coda, expanding on many of the themes introduced in his earlier work.

Because he was a Jungian, I was favorably inclined toward Peck from the outset. And though not normally drawn to writers with overt ties to organized religion, the way Peck wove Christianity into all his books never distanced me. One of the most memorable sections in "...Beyond"  describes what Peck calls the "stages of faith". I clearly recognized myself as someone in stage three; Peck terms this the "materialistic" stage.

For me, wise writers often produce "ouch" insights; you know, the kind that sting a bit. Each time I return to Peck's 1978 debut, I find a new one; many seem to occur when the Jungian and the Christian intersect. In his last book there's this: "Those who object to values being taught fail to see that we have already interjected a basic nihilistic value in to school curricula". What was the last "ouch" insight you pulled from a book?            

    

Monday, August 5, 2013

Gender Patterns

Looking around the room at my last book club meeting, I suddenly flashed to my three years of Graduate School and being the only man in that cohort of thirteen. The last writing workshop I attended? Same thing except the ratio there was 25:1. 

Of the adults I personally rely on, women far out-number men; been that way as long as I can recall. My lunch dates with colleagues from my last full time job? About four women to every man. My most important intellectual mentor? A woman.

The biggest exception to this pattern is my musical life. Yet even in that domain, where my associations with men outnumber women, many of my favorite bands included women. And my last musical partnership, the longest of my life, was a duo that lasted seven years - just me & another good friend who happened to be a woman.

I'm guessing having two sisters as best friends has something to do with all of this. Men with sisters or women with brothers, what gender-based patterns, if any, do you detect in your life?       

Saturday, August 3, 2013

A Scary Fantasy

Considering the actual number of hours spent, which has given you more comparable pleasure in your life? Film or literature?

I love both and have trouble imagining my life without either. But after wasting two hours last night on another mediocre movie, I was annoyed. Had I been in the middle of a great book right now, the question posed above would not have occurred to me. But the novel I'm reading is about 350 pages. At minimum, that represents about seven hours of my time. Despite its award winning status, unless something shifts radically, the novel falls solidly into the "OK" category, like that two hour movie.

Am I coming down on the lowbrow side and answering my question on the side of film? More analysis is required. But I am clearly re-considering an old story I've told myself about what a waste of time it is re-watching pleasurable films. Since I've justified re-reading books that have taken (on average) three times as long to read as most films last, claiming to be above re-watching "Tootsie" is pretentious hogwash. Time to throw that story away and grab "Out of Africa" the next time I'm at the library.

Anyway, although it is a scary fantasy, a better question to ask might be: If you are a bookworm and film buff like me, what would you do with the hours you spend doing both if suddenly you could not? 

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Existential Farmer

"Mommy, can I watch the farmer?"

Imagine the reaction of farmer Pat hearing this over two years ago. Yes, at the time, I was wearing a baseball cap and moving fill in a tractor. And I hadn't run into any fences, at least during the minutes before the question was asked. Still, what a disconnect for a boy raised in Irvington, NJ. My first public swimming experience was no watering hole or lazy creek; it was the all concrete Boylan St. Pool in nearby Newark. Farm animals? On TV only. Tractors? Made of plastic. Hay? You mean the kind that causes fever, right?

Recalling that incident while driving the same tractor today, I reflected on how often in life others, especially strangers, see us in a wholly different light than we see ourselves. When was the last time this happened to you? Aside from the beguiling innocence of the question, I also recalled how liberating it felt to be somebody different for a few seconds. What was expected of farmer Pat? I didn't know - how nice that was. Uh-oh; farmer Pat was now on an existential journey in a tractor.

I wonder how the same innocent question would land with me now after doing farm work every Friday morning for two years. Though I'm not sure, at least I'm back near planet Earth.                 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

In Case I Forget January 3, July 24, September 4

Near Mother's or Father's Day this year, a NY Times op-ed piece mused over the fact that there is no siblings day. Given the muted response received last year when I proposed this date as "National Book Day", here's an alternative proposal for holiday-free August: "National Siblings Month".

This is not a call for marketing folks at card companies to jam another superfluous, guilt-inducing non-event down our throats. But for those of us who mostly enjoy our siblings, I think this has real potential. Remembering birthdays and/or anniversaries is not real hard but what happens when those sibling markers pass unrecognized? Guilt, apologies, etc. But even the most addled of us can remember a whole month, right? And except for the Kennedys, nobody has more than 30 siblings so most of us could easily manage some simple communication to acknowledge each of ours over a whole month. Spread it out week by week, get it all done with one e-mail, whatever.

Any regular reader of this blog knows how I value my brother and two sisters. It's possible that's why that NY Times piece landed with me and I sincerely hope this proposal resonates with someone. If so, please let me know, online or off.