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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?