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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Best Of 2014

Would enjoy hearing about your 2014 highlights. Use my categories or make up your own.

Best novel not read for a book club: "Let The Great World Spin" (2009) by Colum McCann.

Best concert: Lyle Lovett & His Large Band at the Count Basie Theater.

Best discovery: A word game called Bananagrams.

Best film and film title: Birdman Or...The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance.

Best scene on network television: Hipster chick & Wendell discovering dead body in episode entitled "The Pugilist Break" on ABC's "Forever".

Happy new year!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Chicken/Egg - Singer/Song

My current chicken vs. egg dilemma began while developing my summer course on timeless songs. It deepened following the offline response to three Mt. Rushmore posts on that same subject. Then, after recently reading composer Otis Redding's comment about "Respect" never again being "his" song after Aretha Franklin's version was released, I decided it was time to turn this particular headache-inducing dilemma over to you. Please consider the following:
1.) Over The Rainbow
2.) I Will Always Love You
3.) At Last

For #1: Is the first version of this Harold Arlen/Yip Harburg tune - sung by Judy Garland in 1939 - so iconic that the song was destined to be timeless? Or is the song itself so well constructed it would have endured as well as it has for these last 75 years no matter who first performed it? Ringo Starr, even?

For #2: Is Whitney Houston's version of this song - first a country hit for composer Dolly Parton years before - so iconic the performance catapulted the tune into timeless territory? What will happen to this tune if Whitney's posthumous reputation fades a bit? Will others still be recording it 30 years from now? 50 years?

For #3: Is Etta James' 1960 version of this 1941 Harry Warren/Mack Gordon song - also a top ten hit for Glenn Miller in 1942 - the only one that can be called iconic? Was this tune just waiting for Etta to re-discover it 18 years later thus extending its appeal an additional 50+ years?

Singer or song? Six months is a long time to wait to lay an egg, even for a chicken like me.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Caution Re Search Engines

Although I've referred to confirmation bias a few times in my blog, ever since a good friend sent me the link below I've been re-considering how modern technology reinforces that bias. For any thinking person, this is surely a sobering wake-up call.

http://www.delanceyplace.com/view_archives.php?2683&p=2683

My first deep immersion in confirmation bias occurred in the early 90's while doing diversity training. Several years later I read Peter Senge's brilliant book "The Fifth Discipline" in preparation for delivering courses in leadership. According to Senge, uncovering our "mental models", is a critical element in building learning organizations. From the outset, his premise resonated with me probably because I recognized the way we construct our mental models is wholly consistent with the insidious phenomenon of confirmation bias. That is, we seek out (largely) data supporting our viewpoints and "filter" out (or give less credence to) data that refutes those viewpoints. And that subtle but unmistakable weeding out process helps us believe our mental models are the "truth". Sound familiar?

Based on that scary article above, I'm now committed to using search engines in a more discriminating fashion. After you read it, please tell me (and others) about your takeaways. I've never doubted I'm an unwilling victim of confirmation bias. But thanks to that good friend who thought to send me the article, perhaps I can mitigate the effects of confirmation bias just a little. This can only be a good thing for my mental models and, in turn, my development as a thinking person.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

ISBN 978-1-32-027062-5

To this point, what has been the most thoughtful material gift you've ever received?

Since the start of our love affair in April 1978, many of the wonderful gifts my wife has given me have stopped me cold. But right now I'm having difficulty imagining ever again unwrapping something as meaningful as I did several hours ago. My wife assembled a lifelong goal, handed me a dream.    

ISBN 978-1-32-027062-5 - my unique, legal copyright. Ten sections - each with a monthly heading, March through December -  containing the 203 blog posts I wrote in 2011. Lying on the couch in this room is my first book. Except for the comments, which I'm pleased my wife decided to include, every word between the covers came from inside me. And so did the words on the cover.

"Reflections From The Bell Curve, 2011" : Patrick J. Barton  

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Costly Fuel

"Anger gives you a certain power. It's fuel. But it's costly fuel. It burns quickly and destroys everything around it and as you get older, if you don't let it go, it burns you up." 

Since first reading it in "Moving To Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life" (2008) I've relied on that passage many times when my anger is getting out of hand. Though author Wynton Marsalis was referring to his anger about lingering racism in the book, you needn't be a target of racism to learn from these words. Have you ever struggled letting go of that costly fuel? I have; it's possible that explains why his words have remained useful to me for over six years.

Bad temper, foul mood, over-reacting - just a few euphemisms I've hidden behind when anger hijacks good sense. And though I've clearly gotten better managing my moods, as recently as today I felt a toddler-like temper tantrum percolating. After isolating myself, out came my journal, which has the passage above affixed to it via a post-it. Laugh if you must but it worked. Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Big Finish?

Although not superstitious, I'm relieved the last novel** I'll likely finish in 2014 was a big winner; would've been a drag to end the year with something just OK. What was (or likely will be) the last book you'll finish this year? Winner or groaner?

"Everything I Never Told You" (2014) by Celeste Ng, tells a wholly believable story of the effect a family tragedy has on the surviving members. The last novel I read using this theme that struck me as equally authentic was Anna Quindlen's "Every Last One" (2010). Not coincidentally, I finished Ng's book in one sitting just as I did Quindlen's back in 2011 (book journals - gotta love them).

In particular, Ng's debut expertly etches the relationship between three siblings. Nathan Lee is the oldest; his whiplash ambivalence toward his younger sisters - dismissive to tender to mean to protective, often in a span of minutes  - felt so familiar I stopped several times while reading. It was easy to recall myself at Nathan's age - a self-centered and casually cruel college freshman older brother. This book has much to recommend it, not least of which is prose that never calls attention to itself and characters as real as your friends and neighbors. Let me know your reaction when you read it.

** More good news: I specified last novel above because I'm eagerly anticipating my yearly doorstop disguised as Christmas gift. Traditionally, these leviathans have been non-fiction and my wife and daughter have yet to strike out on their pick(s) for me. Stay tuned for news on this year's tome.**           

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Holidays, Time, Success

The blur of time going by gets to me some days. What are some common triggers that get you thinking about this phenomenon?

In this particular instance, these thoughts began sweeping over me while writing little notes to friends on our holiday letter. Another year ending; no doubt this happens to many people around now. Add in my introspective nature and a recent conversation about the elusive concept of success and presto - a little dip in the holiday mood, perky music and festive decorations notwithstanding.

After almost four years of blogging, I've learned to wait until my low points have passed before publishing a post reflecting on any melancholy; the really mawkish stuff ends up in my journal instead. The nadir of this particular dip was about a week ago. The result? Two quiet days in a row from Pat on the bell curve and several long naps. What are your go-to strategies? A week later and the blur of time feels less onerous. And, some kind words an ex-colleague said about me in a speech at his retirement celebration this past week helped me re-calibrate the word success, again.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Calling Other Non-Damaged Goods

Many cliches are harmless enough. What damage has the hackneyed expression "think outside the box" ever inflicted on anyone?

For me, however, the "tortured" artist cliche has lately become more bothersome. Biographies about miserable and misanthropic individuals who have created towering art fight for space on bestseller lists. Historical fiction (sic) is rife with stories about poets, musicians, architects, etc.  who are abusive serial philanderers or... alcoholic narcissistic gamblers or... insanely controlling and still in the closet. Recently, I found myself fairly agitated by an innocuous discussion about the eccentricities creative "types" supposedly share.
  
Where does being without the tortured badge leave me? You? I've never had the courage to call myself an artist despite a lifetime spent creating.  But lately I've been reflecting - Is it possible I never claimed that community because I've been without the badge? Put another way - Did the cliche so fully take hold in me that it turned into an exclusionary stereotype?

I challenge you to pay closer attention to future conversations about artists and creativity. Notice how frequently this confining cliche - in all its permutations - is mentioned. Then tell me about it.  And, if you know any non-tortured artists, tell them this non-tortured blogger would like to hear from them. I'll take it from there.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Pets R' You (2014)

While waiting for my daughter's dog at "doggie day care" yesterday, I began reflecting: Have the norms for other pets changed as much over the last thirty years as those linked to having a dog? Pet owners - please don't go dog-shit on me; I haven't had a pet since the mid-80's. So I was wondering...

* Are there "kitty day care" centers? If yes, do the cats care if their owners forget to claim them?
* What percentage of holiday cards do you receive where the picture includes pets? How many include pet signatures? When you get a picture card that no has human beings - i.e. only animal(s) - do you wonder what happened to the owners?
* Aside from dogs, what kind of clothing is currently available for other pets? Are tropical fish owners living in cold climates satisfied with adjusting the water temperature of their tanks or...lobbying for a new designer line?

I'm also a little curious about comparable laws for pets (aside from dogs) related to poop-scooping but that's where I came in. Those laws - very thankfully - went into effect after my last dog died. Given that services and viewings for pets were also not commonplace in 1985, I'm guessing that last dog of mine is residing in either doggie-limbo or purgatory. So my final question is: Can any of those pre-1985 pets get retroactively admitted into animal heaven? Just asking.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

#29: The Mt. Rushmore Series (1940's version)

Which four songs written in the 1940's would you enshrine on Mt. Rushmore? So far, I've offered my four - with sparkling annotation for each - from the 1920's (in August) and 1930's (November). Don't leave me alone out here. And no fair saying you don't know when a favorite song was written; Google long ago made that an obsolete excuse.

1.) Take The "A" Train - Billy Strayhorn (1941) - Although arguably Duke Ellington's most well known tune, it still sounds wonderfully fresh. For my money, Billy Strayhorn was Duke's most reliable collaborator.

2.) At Last - Harry Warren and Mack Gordon (1941) - Etta James' massive hit did not occur until many years after Warren & Gordon wrote this gem. "I Only Have Eyes For You" and "The More I See You" are just two more of that longstanding team's winners.

3.) Round Midnight - Thelonious Monk (1944) - If you're interested to know of the others who get co-credit with Monk for this amazing & complex ballad, use Wikipedia. This song is so much fun to play.

4.) But Beautiful -  Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke (1947) - If I'd constructed this Mt. Rushmore just five years ago, this chromatic giant wouldn't have had a spot - it's a recent discovery for me. Thank you to Shawn Colvin for leading me to this treasure.

As with the two earlier iterations of Mt. Rushmore timeless songs, I've opted not to repeat any composers in this decade either. Ignore that guideline when you offer your choices. But do offer something, willya please?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Trying To Get It

Though I've worked alongside and had them as neighbors a good part of my life, denying there's often been a missing element in my relationships with black people would be dishonest. That missing element? Genuine and sustained conversation about race and privilege.

I've got many of the badges I've sometimes noticed white people wear as racial bona fides. For example, black folks have shared important moments in my life - one of the speakers at my retirement celebration was a close colleague for over twelve years. He and his wife have been to my home for dinner; they're not the only African-Americans my wife and I have entertained. If that colleague or any other black person with whom I've had close and prolonged contact reads this post, I sincerely hope they are not hurt by what I say here. At the same time, I would be surprised if any of them were taken aback.

A few months ago, NY Times op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof began a provocatively titled series: "When White People Don't Get It". Kristof's words have stung me, angered me, educated me. Most of all, they've lingered with me. Several times, soon after finishing his column, I started then abandoned a blog post - my insights felt meager. But with every breaking story, avoiding race in my tiny corner of the blogosphere has started to feel evasive and dishonest. And once again, I suspect I'm not alone on the bell curve. Anyone in my mostly white world want to talk about the last genuine conversation you had with a black person about race and privilege?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Reading About Reading

"All criticism is a form of autobiography."

From that first sentence of "How Literature Saved My Life" (2013), author David Shields had me. His brief volume is a stimulating dissertation on great books as well as a thoughtful and humorous meditation on loneliness. It is also a list maker's dream.

Over the past several years, I've lost count how many books about books I've finished. Most have been worthwhile and surprisingly, not as redundant as you might imagine. And I've tried not to get defensive when any book-to-book overlap reminds me of gaps in my own education (e.g. "Remembrance of Things Past"). Shields' book was refreshing because his picks of "...works I swear by..." from the oeuvre of oft-cited authors (Cheever, Nabokov, Orwell, etc.) was not a list of their "greatest hits".

I also share the author's unabashed admiration for the late David Foster Wallace. Coincidentally, just days before stumbling onto "...Literature..." in a library drive-by, I'd similarly run across Wallace's "This is Water". The latter is a transcript of a commencement address Wallace delivered in 2005 at Kenyon College. Given Wallace's tragic 2008 suicide, it was difficult reading the final sentences of Shields' book.

"I wanted literature to assuage human loneliness, but nothing can assuage human loneliness. Literature doesn't lie about this - that's what makes it essential."

Thursday, December 11, 2014

And Now, A Word From Our Friendly Sponsor...

It's silly but I get really juiced when people make public comments on this blog. I treasure the offline reactions many of you have shared with me but a main goal from the outset has been to initiate cyber-conversations. When that happens, even with just one person, it sustains me for days.

Recently, several "anonymous" comments have contributed to an overall slight increase . Do I know these mysterious people? If no, how did they learn about my blog? If new people are finding me because regular readers are telling others, thank you, thank you, thank you. New and regular readers: If you know of anyone who may want to join a conversation about a specific post, please consider using the e-mail icon at the bottom left of the screen to forward the post - thanks again.

And remember: Your feedback is welcome. Some of your suggestions have been so helpful. I'm grateful to all of you.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Mr. Id's Rosy Vision

Mr. Id is not interested in adding to the noise surrounding Bill Cosby's fall from grace. And, if any of the allegations turn out to be true, his bias is clear - victimized women in these situations deserve to be heard.

That said, Mr. Id does wonder how this sordid story can be called "news".  There is nothing at all new about it. Why haven't the media developed a boilerplate that allows the next powerful sexual predator's name to be inserted into this redundant story the next time it happens? Cynical as it may be, is there any reasonable person who doubts this will happen again soon?

Mr. Id has also largely resisted the notion of a rosy past magically superior to the present. But in this instance, he wouldn't mind returning to the days before 24-7-365, TVs-as-big-as-movie-screens, Internet-everywhere news. Or, if we have to have all news, all the time, Mr. Id has a proposal:  How about if stories like this are identified as "old news" so we all know in advance we can skip reading about, listening to, or watching most of it? Now that would be rosy.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Meeting #1: Bell Curve Book Group

While still writing my book journal entry about Colum McCann's 2009 novel "Let the Great World Spin", I put his latest ("Transatlantic" - 2013), in my mental queue. No need to add the second book to any list. "Let the Great World Spin" is so exceptional there is zero doubt I'll be returning to this gifted author.

When you read a novel describing actual events from your lifetime, what effect does it have on you? McCann uses Philippe Petit's 1974 tightrope walk between the Twin Towers to frame about a dozen stories, each in a unique voice. Those stories expertly depict the madcap diversity of NYC with wealth & despair alongside grit & influence while faith & grief & wonder hover nearby. Penthouse on Park Avenue, phone booth on Wall Street (remember - it's 1974), projects in the South Bronx. There are judges, hookers, support groups, priests, hackers, Irish & French & Guatemalan immigrants. And, in the short passages featuring Petit opening the first three sections, I found myself wandering around my young adult years, trying to recall how his feat of daring registered with me at the time.

My journey to the past was brief; I was too involved with the book. This is a perfect storm of a novel - immediately and thoroughly engaging, unquestionably literary, over too fast. If one of my book clubs does not select it soon, it's time to start my own group. Come to think of it, if you've read McCann's masterpiece, let's get started right now. Which of the voices in this book spoke loudest to you?

Monday, December 8, 2014

War And Tiny Pieces

Good intentions, uncooperative muse.

That about sums up my November of long form writing. Although I took the month off from regular volunteer commitments, tried limiting the social interactions, retreated to the library (laptop in hand) several times, I don't have a great deal to show for all that dedicated time. As I frequently coach others - time to adjust the expectations. How often do you find yourself wishing you were a little better at taking the advice you dole out?

Spending so much time staring at a blinking cursor did remind me - again- to be grateful writing is not my livelihood. And even though my "book" is still a very short story, extra solitary time is always therapeutic. Finally, all those popping kernels - most of which didn't mesh with my opus - might well turn out to be useful. Song fragments, blog posts, ideas for future classes - grist for the mill. In my experience, creativity is as much about incubation as it is inspiration. I'm committed to remaining patient with my process.

So, even though the muse apparently didn't get the memo about November being National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), it was time well spent. Big thanks to the folks who asked about my progress.                          

Friday, December 5, 2014

Who Was That Jackass?

Begin, again.

Sour, preachy, pedantic. I've been each of these more than once in my life. Yesterday I was all three at the same time for over an hour in the presence of several people I hardly know, while ostensibly discussing a book. When you behave badly, how good are you at diagnosing what triggered you? What strategies do you use to prevent getting triggered in the first place?

Ironically, I began joining book clubs in 2010 to work on...
* listening more than speaking
* remaining open and inquisitive
* improving my questioning skills

Begin, again.

Let me guess. You're wondering where the guy is with the white collar, right? But I'm wondering about the last time you were as big a jackass as I was yesterday and what triggered you. If you join me in my public confession booth, I'll come clean with what triggered me and you can give me my penance.    

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Jeremy Latino?

After watching the 2000 film adaptation of Nick Hornby's wonderful 1995 novel "High Fidelity" a few months ago, I began a ranting post about the decision some genius made to move the location from London to Chicago. As if American audiences couldn't tolerate the main character being a Brit. BTW, the film was otherwise pretty good and Jack Black was sensational singing Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On".

But, soon after I started my tirade about boneheaded choices Hollywood types regularly make, three terrific actors from an earlier era popped into my mind's eye - Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, Natalie Wood.  That would be Marlon the Asian (an exotic "oriental" in "Teahouse Of The August Moon"), Paul the Native American ( a "half-breed" in "Hombre"), and Natalie the Latina (Puerto Rican Maria in "West Side Story"). At that moment I realized my whining about a white guy being an American instead of a Brit was small potatoes, Hollywood-wise. What is your nomination for the most egregious miscasting from those bad old days when white people portrayed almost all people? Asked a different way, how did Chita Rivera keep a straight face playing alongside Natalie Wood?

Although we're still not out of the woods  - note the distinct Chilean visages of Glenn Close, Jeremy Irons, Meryl Streep in the mid-90's film adaptation of Isabel Allende's "House Of the Spirits" - we've clearly come a long way. Zorro nowadays, thank goodness, is Antonio Banderas; RIP Erroll. So hold me to this - If I go on a future toot about a minor detail some filmmaker botches adapting a good book, remind me about George Chakiris playing Natalie Wood's Latino brother, OK?                

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Nearly Endlessly

"...endlessly inventive..."

Coming across that hyperbolic phrase in a music review recently, I paused. Praising something to entice others is a key element in many reviews, but is it possible to be endlessly inventive? Endlessly anything?

For nearly endlessly introspective yours truly, this is no idle reflection. Just two examples from the creative domain came to me immediately: 1.) Whenever I begin improvising on guitar and hear myself returning to something tried and true ("licks" in musician-speak), I realize the extemporaneous moment has passed. 2.) When I come up with a "new" idea for a blog post and a keyword search reveals I've been there (done that), I wonder - If keyword search were not available, would I even know I was not being endlessly inventive?

How about an endlessly inventive life? Anyone? When you re-tell a story for the hundreth time (accompanied by wholly appropriate groans from any longtime partner), do you find yourself longing for fresh material? What examples of endlessly anything can you offer this nearly endlessly inquisitive blogger?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Atlas Riffing (Redux), Silver Linings

For me, novels that don't connect with the ball can be tolerable if they at least feature an unfamiliar locale. At minimum, very OK books give me an excuse to get lost in my Atlas. The James Michener fans I've known have told me this was a large part of his appeal as an author. When was the last time a novel introduced you to a place that intrigued you even when the plot, characters or writing left you cold?

The first and best book club I ever joined once did a three month "exotic places" theme that took me to a speck of an island in the South Pacific (via "Tattoo Artist" by Jill Cement), the Amazon forest ("State Of Wonder" by Ann Patchett) and the Congo ("Brazzaville Beach" by William Boyd). And in those three cases, the ensuing Atlas riffing and book were worthwhile.

Several recent trips I've made have not been as successful as those. But it's still been instructive getting lost in my Atlas. If not for a few of those mediocre books, I might still be having trouble keeping straight the seven countries that all used to be part of what was once called Yugoslavia or having a vague understanding of the conflict in that part of Eastern Europe. Actually, the only reason I know Yugoslavia doesn't exist anymore is because of a few fair-to-middling books. Now there's a silver lining, right?

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2011/12/atlas-riffing.html

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Re: Hitting, Aiming, Missing

One distinct advantage to having an actress daughter is being turned onto worthwhile films even a geek like me might otherwise have skipped. "Obvious Child" - starring the precociously talented Jenny Slate as an "almost 30" year old experiencing many of the issues young adults grapple with - is such a film. Who keeps you on your toes vis-a-vis good movies not featuring your own demographic?

"Obvious Child" is not for everyone. It's profane, New York-ish, and politically liberal. It's also very funny, somber in exactly the right places, and spot-on accurate in its portrayal of the evolving relationship young adults have with parents. Because I watched it on a day spent with my daughter, it's possible I was primed to be favorably disposed toward scenes with the main character and her parents. But the most moving scene was a shot of just the main character's face entering anesthesia and the funniest was a dinner the main character shares with her two best friends as they riff on feminism and relationships.

"Obvious Child" was not aimed at me. But it is so far superior to the tired ("Last Vegas"), distancing ("Bucket List"), or mildly depressing ("Robot & Frank") dreck that Hollywood routinely tries to jam down the collective throat of baby boomers. The young characters in "Obvious Child" have much more appeal than the lecherous (Michael Douglas "...Vegas") fabulously wealthy (Jack Nicholson - "Bucket...") and senile (Frank Langella - "Robot...") asses populating many films ostensibly aimed at lifting me up. Note to Hollywood execs: Your aim is off.

Friday, November 28, 2014

My Grade (So Far): Influence

influence: the capacity or power to produce effects on others by intangible or indirect means.

Given the dictionary definition does not specify whether the "effects" are good, bad or indifferent, settling on a self-grade for influence can be problematic. And the word power in that definition points me toward some of history's most notorious characters, some of whom have been highly influential and highly toxic.

But since my last post on Wednesday touched on influence from a posture of abundance, my reflections about this attribute over the last few days have been more benign. How many people would you say you've influenced in a positive manner over your lifetime? What has been your method for exerting that influence? Who has been the most influential for you, in a positive way? What's the difference between being influential and being persuasive?

My grade (so far) for influence? For the time I've spent educating others, I'll give myself an "A", for my misbehavior and the resulting bad effect it had on some others I give myself an "F", and for all the stuff in between I'll take a "C". How about you?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Making A Difference

Although I'm clearly more optimist than pessimist, it's still easy for me to get discouraged thinking about how much of a difference I make in the world. Other optimists  - sound at all familiar?

Recently heard an anecdote that has helped me frame my dilemma in a more positive light. A couple I know have patronized the same skating rink for several years. After some lobbying, the proprietors of the rink agreed to play music provided by the husband, a serious jazz aficionado. One of the younger regulars who also skates there told the husband how much he has grown to appreciate Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. "You never know who is paying attention", this friend first commented to his wife and then later to me when sharing his story. So simple, so true.

There's a corollary to my friend's pertinent takeaway. It can be relatively easy to subtly yet profoundly influence others. Now if the optimist and the teacher in me would just remember this framing the next time I begin getting discouraged about making a difference. If you have a story illustrating my friend's takeaway or my corollary, why not share it? Your stories are yet another means to help fortify that framing.    

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Wrestling Since The Learner's Permit Days

In what area of life do you find yourself most often wrestling with impatience?

Fresh on the heels of yet another example of irrationally losing my patience with a driver, I'm thinking it may be high time to let go more when behind the wheel. One of the late George Carlin's best bits riffed on this human foible when he asked how it could be so many of us characterize other drivers as either a "MANIAC!" (e.g.  driving too fast, switching lanes furiously, running yellow lights) or... an "IDIOT!" (e.g. driving too slow, switching lanes without blinker, stopping for yellow lights). Ah yes, perspective.

Also, since the sorest spot in my 36 year marriage is when my wife and I are in the car together, there's another reason to begin flexing those Buddhist muscles. More serenity, less impatience - has to make our joint driving time more pleasant, right?

And, if you're one of those saints who doesn't lose your patience with others (driving or otherwise), lest you think you've escaped, here's your question: In what way do you test the patience of others? I'll accept comments from someone who claims to not lose their patience and also not test the patience of others only if that person provides visual proof of walking on water. Otherwise, own up, OK?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Key Learnings: Year 65

Before beginning to compose this birthday post each year, I review entries contained in a few of my writing buckets including my regular & book journals and any blog posts that uncover the word "learning" in a keyword search. I do this to help ensure more recent lessons don't end up carrying more weight because of their proximity. What have been your key learnings over the past year? As you consider that, pay attention to your thoughts. Do the more recent learnings loom larger? How far back is the oldest?

* I learned this year how hard it is making the transition from short form to long form writing. Beginning in early 2014 with my 2000 word submission for a magazine contest and continuing through the rest of this year as I slowly chipped away at something much longer, this was a humbling learning experience. And it fortified my resolve not to publicly bash books I don't like. I haven't yet earned the right to do so.

* From many of the adult students who took courses I taught at some local community colleges, I learned to trust my sense of humor more.

* And most recently, I learned a profound lesson from a good friend's comment on my blog post marking the day my Mother died. He said "...many good and loving people never make headlines but ...they do make a difference."

Your turn.  

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Goal For Year 66

For the past three years - via a blog post - I've "publicly" declared a goal (2011 & 2013) or goals (three in 2012) on this date, the day before my birthday. Five goals over three years. What I've learned or re-learned via this exercise:

* It's a good thing no one is holding me accountable. My batting average is .200 so far.
* Either the goals were not realistic to start or... I've taken my eye off the ball too frequently.
* I'm very pleased I began this process.

Had I not publicly declared my 2011 goal (expanding my repertoire on jazz guitar to 300 songs), I'm certain I'd have not made the progress on the instrument I have since then. And even though I adjusted that number down in 2012 - and did not make the lower number either - my playing has never made me happier. Journey, not destination.

Another 2012 goal - getting the number of national cuisines my wife and I have sampled up to 64 by November 2013- was not accomplished. But we're fast approaching that number. And though I also missed my one goal from this date last year - acknowledging a different George Bailey each week - the joy I've derived and given contacting the folks that I have far outweighs the disappointment about not reaching the goal.

So, I'm making this year's goal really easy to get me into Hall Of Fame territory (i.e. 2 for 6, aka .333). After reaching 1000 published blog posts (at my current pace - near mid-April, 2015), I'm going to host a party. Live music, family, good friends and blog readers (provided I know who you are), delicious eats. Why not share with me and others - online now or at that party - your goal(s) for the next year?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Still Playing Forward: Jennifer Egan

Feel free to put today's post - detailing a now-obsolete dilemma - into the over-thinking bucket.

Three years ago, I was so blown away with Jennifer Egan's "A Visit From The Goon Squad" (2010) I could not stop raving about it. I blogged, I effused, I bought it as a holiday gift for several people. But I also avoided trying any of Egan's back catalog - didn't want to risk disappointment. See what I mean about over-thinking? Yet .. I'm guessing the more honest of you might admit having had a similar experience with an author.

"Look At Me" (2001) is not quite as dazzling as "...Goon Squad". But that's like saying "In My Life" is not quite as amazing as "If I Fell". When talking about craft at this level, who cares? This earlier novel is so rich with ideas, spectacular prose and memorable characters, saying what it's "about" feels superfluous. But for the record, it's a thriller, a meditation on identity, an exploration of the toxicity of celebrity. And it was so prescient about 21st century terrorism the author was obligated to add an afterword soon after its release. Read the middle of page 445, double check the copyright and try not to marvel at Egan's fertile imagination.

I'm now more convinced than ever that Egan belongs alongside Toni Morrison as a forward on an all star basketball team of contemporary authors. When you read her work please tell me if you agree.

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2012/05/attention-sports-fans.html

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

It's Patrick

What is one thing about your first name that has occasionally bedeviled you?

Patrick is not a name tied to any wildly popular song that people can annoyingly sing to me as I often have to women named Sherry, Donna & Susan. Actually, if my name has ever been the title of a song I've never heard of it. There are some sexual epithets that rhyme with my name but given the many male monikers that double for genitalia, I happily accept those obnoxious rhymes.

The pun possibilities using the shortened version of my name (care for a ... of butter?; please don't ... me down; are you getting this down ...?) have not always been 100% welcome but here as well, I've fared better than the Matts, Arts, and Phils of the world. Patricks from history? Got a saint and a Revolutionary War era patriot. The bad guys? Not as widely known. Villains from books and film? Not that many.    

If YouTube had never been invented, I might have escaped relatively unscathed. But with people able to indefinitely watch "It's Pat" - a Saturday Night Live bit from the early 90's - I'm now strongly re-considering a lifelong habit of using the shortened version of my name. Call me Patrick, OK? Yes, I know it rhymes perfectly with hat trick but the hockey reference can at least be useful as a metaphor. What possible metaphorical value can be attached to that Julia Sweeney character?  

Monday, November 17, 2014

Marie Elizabeth Rose

At twenty seven, another thirty years represented more than another lifetime for me. So when my Mother died on this day in 1977 at age fifty seven, it was very difficult emotionally but there was an odd disconnect for me cognitively. I knew fifty seven was not old but it also didn't seem that young.

Today my Mother's oldest is almost sixty five, her two girls are sixty three and sixty two, her baby boy is over sixty; that disconnect is long gone. My oldest niece is not far from forty, my daughter is twenty five, most of my friends are older than my Mother was when she died. And irrational as it is, her premature passing now feels more unjust each year. It's been thirty seven years.

On the day my Mother was buried, one of the goons who fire bombed that Birmingham church - killing four schoolgirls in the process - died in prison. I remember and note this because that monster's death making the news that day nauseated me then and still makes me bristle. Someone good and kind and loving left this world on November 17, 1977 - a person worth recalling who never made headlines.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Next Best Thing

"In order to retain the loyalty of those who are present, never speak ill of those who are absent": Stephen Covey

Despite his politics and fundamentalism, the late Stephen Covey's writing has exerted a significant impact on my development as a person. Three of his books - including the runaway bestseller "Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People" - are so marked up I've considered buying 2nd copies. After hearing myself quote him yet again recently with the words opening this post, and then soon after reviewing my notes from those three books, I stopped to reflect - Who introduced me to this man's work? Before that, a few questions for you.

Who first led you to an author that subsequently influenced your life? Have you acknowledged your debt to the person who helped you discover a treasure that could have easily escaped your attention? If no, why not?

With respect to the work of Stephen Covey, my next step was searching out a work colleague from the early 90's. Colleagues the two of us once shared and Facebook helped me find her and send a message saying thanks for a gift given to me over twenty years ago. Most of us will likely not get to meet or interact with authors who've had an impact on our growth. So, why not the next best thing? If you proceed, share with me and others the author who has influenced you, who turned you onto that author, and your path to acknowledging the gift given to you.

Friday, November 14, 2014

All That Furniture

Most of us have at least one intense interest we enjoy sharing with others. When discussing your interest how tuned in are you to when others have tuned out?

Though using "tuned in/out" in the question might be groanworthy coming from me, it's still an apt image. Even my wife and daughter sometimes get that "I'd rather be somewhere else" look when my riffing about music has gone on too long. When was the last time you saw that look? When was the last time you felt yourself giving that look? Do you think the other person had any idea you had checked out?

When I'm the recipient of this mild torture - instead of the torturer- these situations often start out as a capacity issue, like getting a delivery of furniture suitable for a fourteen room mansion while living in a studio apartment. I might enjoy looking at the furniture for a while even if I have no good place to put it. But if more delivery trucks continue arriving or the furniture begins to look unappealing, capacity ceases to be the main issue. Your experiences with all that furniture?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

#28: The Mt. Rushmore Series (1930's version)

A reader recently reminded me of a promise I made in the August iteration of this series. That reminder was welcome for two reasons: Pleasure someone was paying close attention and an opportunity to think carefully about the music of the 1930's.

So, here is my Mt. Rushmore of timeless songs from arguably the richest musical decade of the 20th century. In fact, there are so many great tunes from those ten years this Mt. Rushmore is subject to future demolition and complete re-construction. As with the 1920's, I purposefully chose four different songwriting teams.

1.) Embraceable YouGeorge & Ira Gershwin (1930): The Gershwins oeuvre could easily take all four Mt. Rushmore slots for the 20's & 30's, making it difficult picking just one tune per decade. Of the hundreds of versions of this particular Gershwin chestnut, my current favorite is by Dianne Reeves.

2.) My Funny Valentine: Rodgers & Hart (1937): This song is great on every level but I'll confine my praise to this Lorenz Hart rhyme: "Your looks are laughable, unphotographable". Who has ever topped that? Favorite versions: Sarah Vaughn with the lyric, Miles Davis without.

3.) Over The Rainbow: Harold Arlen & Yip Harburg: (1939): From the octave in the melody that splits the word "somewhere" to the unexpected notes concluding the phrases in the middle eight, this is a song that begs to be played as well as sung. The undisputed best take without the wonderful lyric? Jeff Beck's.

4.) All The Things You Are: Jerome Kern & Oscar Hammerstein II (1939): It is hard to over-praise the musical magic of this tune. And Hammerstein's lyric came up to the same bar.

Your turn: Which four songs from this impossibly rich musical decade would you enshrine?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Rare Sure Thing

The single factor that has most dissuaded me from ever seriously considering living in a 55 and over community is the restriction some of them have about young children. There are few non-musical sounds I enjoy more than the screaming laughter of children.

As three young boys bounded into the local coffee shop a few days ago with the adult accompanying them saying "shush", my internal conversation went something like this -
* Is there such a thing as being too exuberant?
* What price do we pay by tamping our enthusiasm out of consideration for others? Is there an age limit regarding that tamping?
* What does it mean to be "polite" in a public space?

I wonder how many times I "shushed" my daughter when she was around the same age as those boys in the coffee shop. I wonder if back then some neutral adult observer watching me had an internal conversation anything like mine. I wonder what your conversations (internal or otherwise) about childhood laughter, exuberance and enthusiasm - and what happens to those things as we learn consideration and politeness - sound like. Why not share them here with me as I continue my wondering? I'm sure about few things but I am sure anyone reading this was a child at one time.  

Monday, November 10, 2014

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like...

I can hear the groans already but hear me out, OK?

It's not because I'm one of those early shoppers; I rarely hit the stores until the last minute. It's also not because I'm anxious to put out decorations; I dislike when anyone does that before mid-December. For me, it feels like the holiday is upon us because I'm currently re-involved in a massive book my daughter gave me for Christmas 2007 - "We Tell Ourselves Stories In Order To Live" - a 2006 omnibus edition of the collected non-fiction of Joan Didion from 1961-2003.

I've lost count how many times I've returned to this brilliant leviathan. Because my wife or daughter (or sometimes both of them) gives me a tome of this size nearly every Christmas, I first devoured quite a bit back on 12/25/07.  I know I've re-read John Leonard's stunning sixteen page introduction alone at least ten times because my dated notes in the margins tell me so. Each return to an essay or longer piece uncovers a new treasure I'd previously missed. Didion's intellect, powers of observation and writing energize and demoralize me, often in the same moment.

Some years I can easily wolf through my doorstop disguised as gift. "Ten Years In The Tub" (2013) by Nick Hornby, for example, was a manageable 464 pages consumed with time to spare last December 25. Given its intellectual heft and 1200 pages, Didion's book exceeded my single day capacity; it deserves more processing time anyway. But on Christmas 2005, I'm guessing my wife may have regretted her gift to me. "The Beatles" by Bob Spitz is 855 pages - I don't think I stopped to eat that day. And our Christmas eve leftovers are really good.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Walking A Similar Path

So far, my need for support groups has been minimal. Even when my issues have felt onerous, they were unrelated to addiction, enabling an addiction, or an intense grief I couldn't shake. Whenever I've been stuck, it's usually been clear to me that I'm not alone in that struggle.

It is equally clear to me how valuable support groups are for exactly that reason. I'm deeply moved each time I hear someone describe the solace they get just knowing other "normal" people have walked a similar path. There is something incredibly soothing when someone tells their story to a group and others nod as they speak.

Continually hearing about the power of support groups reminds me to use one if a day comes when I'm struggling and feeling alone in my struggle.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Seeing Home A Little Differently

Telling others aloud how much I care about them is one of my better traits. Both my parents died knowing how much they meant to me, making this part of my life largely free of regret. At the same time, I've often noticed how great literature suggests there is significant power in the unspoken word. What was the last novel you read that clearly illuminated this important lesson?

A week later, I can see how that particular lesson had never fully landed with me until I finished processing Marilynne Robinson's "Home" (2008). In her unhurried, contemplative and richly wise prose, Robinson's characters speak softly and simply but what they don't say is often as revealing and loving as what they do. I suspect this book by this gifted author could be a game changer for me.

I will not stop telling those I love how I feel. But the lessons of "Home" about unspoken words will remain with me a long time. In my experience, those kind of lessons have a way of somehow working themselves into a life. What has been your experience?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Minimizing Moping Via Naikan

Thanks to my wife's influence and ongoing education in positive psychology, beginning early this year I added a new element to my journal - each entry there has been accompanied by a statement of gratitude. Even on days when I've repeated myself or noted something mundane to be grateful for over the past ten months, adding this simple step to my routine has helped minimize my moping. Those of you who have tried something like this, even if you haven't yet fully integrated it into your life, please share with others any benefits you've derived.

Some days, like today ("I'm grateful the people I worked with in my last full time job still value my expertise") the entry flows easily. On those days when no obvious "event" stirs my gratitude (and I'm trying not to repeat an earlier entry), I try using a Japanese tradition called "naikan" I first saw attributed to Ishin Yoshomoto. Naikan suggests we each spend time noticing our immediate surroundings and then acknowledge our gratitude for something as basic as the chair we're sitting on. According to this tradition, training yourself to do this helps your life become a small set of miracles, i.e. we become mindful of all the things that go right vs. being preoccupied with the few things that go wrong. I've found it very easy to find things to be grateful for when I remember to use naikan.

I'm curious to hear how this goes for you, online or off.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Catching Up A Bit

In which domain of your life has your ego most limited your growth?

Although it's clear ego has sometimes limited my musical growth, in that domain it is often difficult to make a distinction between how much ego has gotten in the way vs. how much innate musical talent I had to start. That lack of clarity does not apply, however, when considering the intellectual domain.

As a young man, my ego could not abide even non-showboating people who struck me as smarter than I. Out would come that silly sarcasm, the defense mechanism that screams "insecurity". Continuing through my late 30's, I rarely challenged myself intellectually. My interests remained narrow, reading choices were predictable, I did not actively seek out people much more accomplished than I - like I sometimes would with musicians - ego kept me complacent. In the 90's I went on a long diet of only non-fiction which continued through my Graduate program. Noticing the end notes and research cited in all those books was my first genuine wake-up call. By then it was 1998 and I was approaching 50.

It would be nice but untrue to claim the last fifteen+ years have seen a wholesale shift. The biggest difference is I now know I'm nowhere near as smart as I once thought I was. And though there's time left to catch up a bit, I am now smart enough to know that won't occur if I continue holding onto ego. At least that piece seems to have sunk in. What has been your richest insight about ego vs. growth?
   

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Gain Hour, Lose Skirmish

Whenever I feel like I've made progress on mitigating the effects of mindless routine, something invariably reminds me how insidious those routines can be. See if you relate.

For many years, I've relied on the weekend NY Times to stay reasonably up-to-date. But until this morning I didn't fully appreciate how heavily I also relied on the Times to remind me when daylight savings goes into effect. Yesterday's Times did not include their usual front page reminder (with a clock visual) that I've apparently become quite dependent upon. And probably because I went directly to bed after being out late last night without checking e-mail or otherwise paying attention, today I arrived at my 10:00 a.m. destination at...9:00 a.m.

Big deal, right? Of course not. Still, an aphorism about neurotic behavior has been ringing in my head since this specific mindless routine caught me short earlier today: "When you always do what you've always done, you always get what you've always got". 

BTW, today's Times also eliminated the front page after-the-fact reminder (with that clock visual) they've printed for as long as I can remember. Are they messing with me?

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Three For Three

Although it's too soon to call it a streak, it's fair to say I'm climbing out of the slump. After months of either walks or outs, i.e. novels that have been OK at best, the last three I've finished have all solidly hit the ball.

1.) Discerning readers might disagree whether author David Mitchell hit a single or a double with "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob DeZoet" (2010). But none would argue he scored a hit with his tale of commerce, cruelty and politics as the 18th century draws to a close.

2.) "The Dinner" (2012) by Herman Koch is as funny as it is dark and the marvelously unhinged narrator sometimes reminded me of myself - a little scary. For my money, a solid triple, despite the distinctly bitter 21st century aftertaste.

3.) I'm still reeling from Marilynne Robinson's "Home" (2008). Just sample the first thirty five pages and tell me the last time you read dialogue this perfect. This one goes into home run territory along with "A Visit From The Goon Squad", "Elegance of the Hedgehog" & "The Human Stain". And like all three of those contemporary winners, "Home" will no doubt find its way back to my blog whenever an exemplar is needed.

How about you? In a slump? Climbing out of one? On a streak?

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2014/01/2nd-attempt-to-capture-sports-market.html

Friday, October 31, 2014

Early Autumn

There are so many reasons I look forward to this time of the year. What are some things about early autumn that make it special for you? Mine include...

*  taking in the symphony of color on a long drive.

*  being pelted by a leaf shower on a breezy day.

*  feeling my feet putting on socks in the morning. Somehow it feels better this time of year than it does on mornings when I have to, like a summer work day, or on mornings when I know it's smart to do so, like most winter days.

I also like being at the mercy of the shifting temperatures throughout the day. Every so often, after making the necessary costume change, I'll allow my imagination free rein and pretend I'm someone else. Kind of like my own private play where I'm playing several different parts. Don't judge, OK? After all, today is Halloween.    

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Air Guitar Amnesty

Over the years, I've been unkind to many air guitarists. Perhaps the only impostors I've been less tolerant of are movie actors posing as guitarists. Many of those clowns don't learn enough about the instrument to even look approximately right when they're pretending to play. Perhaps it would be more fair to blame their directors but still.

Then a little while ago my unkind intolerance of guitar poseurs came back to bite me in the ass, twice. As I expertly accompanied Ian Anderson on air flute playing along with his solo on Jethro Tull's "Aqualung", my wife looked at me strangely. "Do you realize", she asked, "if your hands were in that position the flute would just fall to the floor?" Seriously chastened, I let Ian finish his solo without my help.

Soon after, my career on air trumpet came to a similar ignoble end. It appears all these years I've been augmenting the playing of Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard and Wynton Marsalis using the world's only six valve trumpet. Another minor detail - How was I holding up the trumpet when the fingers on both my hands were busy moving valves?

Now under review: My technique on all remaining air instruments. In the meanwhile, I'll be more charitable to the next air guitarist I spot unless they're also doing that silly Carlos Santana grimace. That's going too far.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

"Well, That Explains The Hostility"

After recently enduring an incomprehensible mess entitled "Under The Skin", I've decided a new evaluation tool is now required for yours truly, the indiscriminate film geek. Effective immediately, if a movie does not contain a single line of dialogue worthy of easy later use for a common life experience, that movie will be relegated to the cinema trash heap, never again to be mentioned.

I offer the following three everyday life situations, accompanied by useful film dialogue for each, in support of my wholly arbitrary evaluation tool.

1.) For use when feigning surprise if faced with any obvious fact or circumstance: "I'm shocked! Shocked!" - spoken by Claude Rains near the end of "Casablanca".
2.) For use when showing dismay any time a rude driver fails to yield to you in a crosswalk: "Hey! I'm walking here!" - spoken by Dustin Hoffman (aka Ratso Rizzo) near the beginning of "Midnight Cowboy".
3.) For use when re-assuring someone of your affection while strongly taking exception to their point of view: "I love you but you don't know what the hell you're talking about"- spoken by the adolescent protagonist to his young girlfriend in "Moonrise Kingdom".

When you respond with your line(s) of dialogue please include a situation where anyone could find easy use for it. As memorable as "I love the smell of napalm in the morning" is as dialogue, I doubt my life is ever going to present a scenario for its use.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

My Grade (So Far): Compassion

compassion: a feeling of deep sympathy or sorrow for the misfortune or suffering of another, accompanied by a desire to alleviate the pain or remove its cause.

Using that definition, how would you grade yourself (so far) on compassion? Since I'm more comfortable feeling sorrow for the suffering of others vs. sympathy, I'm relieved the "or" separates those two words. So far, so good.

But before settling on my grade, let me register some disquiet about the second part of the definition. Is it fair or honest to call ourselves compassionate because we feel "desire" to alleviate pain or suffering? Isn't acting on that desire the real measure of our compassion? Does that part of the definition bother anyone else?

So, using the definition exactly as written, I'd give myself a "B" (so far) for compassion. But if it's true actions speak louder than words, I'll take a "C" and add compassion to my list of worthwhile attributes still needing work.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Keeping It Ad Hoc

I'm happy with my decision to stay out of the book club my wife started a few years ago. The seeds of that decision were likely planted not long after the only ballroom dancing class we unwisely tried to take many years ago.

However, my ad hoc membership still brings with it several significant benefits:
 * Because most of the meetings are in our home, I get to regularly see three women friends who are in the club. And they all bring great eats!
 * Because the club reads only current non-fiction, I don't struggle as much making my next non-fiction choice as I did before the club began.
 * When I get around to reading one of their books (most recently - "The Great Work Of Your Life" (2012) by Stephen Cope), my wife and I can then rationally discuss it at our leisure; no dance steps required.

There is one disadvantage - I'd love to hear the discussions about the terrific books selected, especially since my wife and three friends are all so smart. But my participation in this book club will remain ad hoc. In this instance, marital harmony trumps intellectual stimulation.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Imagine This Day, Only Different

For readers who've indicated I ask too many weird, difficult or heady questions here, I suggest you abandon today's post right now.  

When was the last time you tried to imagine how a particular day would have gone if you had completely different interests?

Driving from 8:30 a.m. until 9:15, I listened to the playlist for the final day of my Beatles class. From 10:00 a.m. until noon, I taught that class, playing twelve recordings and doing one live performance of Beatles music. Driving from 12:30 p.m. until 2:00, I listened to "Looking Into You: A Tribute To Jackson Browne", a new two CD set of other artists doing Browne's music. From 3:00 until 5:00 I practiced my guitar, working on about fifteen songs from my repertoire, part of a project started in November 2011 to learn 300 jazz standards. From 5:00 until 9:00, I taught four guitar students.

And then, as I drove home a little while ago, I tried imagining what this day would have been like if music were not my lifelong companion.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Where Is That Nutcracker Again?

Among the tenets of Eastern philosophy I've been exposed to, the one that most eludes me is letting go of my attachment to outcome. I'd sincerely welcome hearing from anyone who feels they've begun to crack this nut.

There's irony to spare here. If I could let go of more of that attachment, it's clear I'd be happier, experience less stress and be more creatively prolific. All that is required? Shutting off the critical part of my monkey mind, ignoring the people on the bus, pushing aside all the unforgettable artistic masterpieces I've spent my life admiring. If I could do those things my next ten songs would flow freely, the book I've had in my head for three years would have been finished soon after my first flush of inspiration, every aborted blog post would have been published without angst. And all that's in my way? Attachment to outcome. Oh yeah, I almost forgot Beethoven, John Updike and some bloggers who shall remain nameless lest you abandon needy and anonymous me to seek them out.

I'm aware of only one student of Buddhism who regularly reads my blog. I hope he'll choose to offer some insight here. In this instance, I'm reasonably sure I'm not alone on the bell curve.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

That Old Devil Stress

What techniques help you best manage your stress? Which technique offers clear evidence it's helping you?

Before I began teaching adult education courses about the subject in the early 90's, my approach to managing stress was erratic. My journal was used primarily for whining when I was low and my prayers often centered on things I wanted to happen. I didn't fully understand the deleterious effect of negative self-talk or the healing power of humor. Except for somewhat regular exercise, my toolbox was a little light.

Buddha said "We teach best what we need to learn most." In order to feel more credible, as soon as I began teaching about stress, I decided to fully integrate some techniques often cited in the literature: regular journalling & meditation (any prayers I said from there on would be for others), paying attention to my self-talk, adding a lot more intentional humor to my life.

Twenty five years later and I still have little clear evidence any of these things work. Maybe the effectiveness of each in managing my stress is beside the point. Each gives me pleasure - good enough.

Monday, October 20, 2014

New Dance Partners

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2011/10/dance.html

Three years after writing the above, this "new" neck of the woods now feels a lot more like home. How long did it take you following your last re-location to feel this way?

And that dance I spoke of on October 20, 2011? As probably to be expected, new location-wise, there have been ups and downs. New dance partners for my wife and I from our neighborhood? We've hosted two holiday parties but, possibly because we're older than many, so far not so great, although I did find one tennis partner. Via the gym? Even less luck there - political issues. Through our volunteer activities? My wife has fared better than I in that arena via her involvement with Habitat For Humanity. Connecting with new folks via book clubs? That's worked out pretty well. Met one couple we really enjoy that way and three of my women friends also joined the club my wife started. Other clubs? A mixed bag as far as opportunities to initiate that dance.

In January we'll be here five years. The music plays and the dance continues.

Friday, October 17, 2014

End Of The Slump

It's been three months since I finished a novel I'd not read before that was good enough to write about here. Now if only every novel slump could end with something as assured as David Mitchell's "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet" (2010). Whoa - what a ride.

During my current class on the Beatles, when I began riffing on authors with craft comparable to the Fab Four, Mitchell was the first author that came to my mind. It's possible a different name would have come to me hadn't I recently finished "Thousand Autumns..." but the comparison is no less apt for the timing. Mitchell's command of this material is stunning and the sweep of his book is thrilling. The ten pages making up the last chapter of part III (eighteen pages before the end) contain some of the most breathtaking prose I've read in years. The scene: Two high-ranking officials of the Japanese government match wits in a deadly game with an outcome that will seal the fate of many innocents.

"Thousand Autumns..." is a much more straightforward narrative than Mitchell's tour-de-force "Cloud Atlas". At the same time, it is not a casual read. Mitchell's work shares an important quality with authors like Barbara Kingsolver, Hillary Mantel, William Boyd - all of these gifted writers have respect for the intelligence of their readers. Which authors that you enjoy share that quality?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

#27: The Mt. Rushmore Series

When I began the Mt. Rushmore series more than two years ago, one of the first posts asked which four peak experiences from your life you would enshrine. In a more somber vein, which four experiences from your life do you hope never to repeat? I'm eliminating the obvious from my version of this Mt. Rushmore to mitigate the moroseness a little. In no particular order, one time for each of these was enough, thank you:

1.) Euthanizing a beloved pet.

2.) Firing an employee who appeared incapable of telling the truth.

3.) Being arrested.

4.) Embarrassing myself by agreeing to sit in for a guitarist far more accomplished than I.

I've tried gamely to extract some learning from each of these episodes. At the same time, if testing that learning involves having to relive any of the four, I'll pass.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Right Time And Place

It's 10:00 a.m EST on 10/14. Based on how long it generally takes me to write a blog post, at 10:14 a.m. I'll either be typing or getting ready to publish this one. At 10:14 p.m. I'll be in a hotel in NYC with my two favorite people watching "Forever".

How often do you take note of the intersection of date and time? I don't pay attention to this magical confluence nearly enough. It feels like today it was meant to be - writing and spending time with my wife and daughter - two things that give me immense pleasure.

Is this what the expression "right place at the right time" is about?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Calling Ponce de Leon

Beginning with the first application I received for membership to AARP upon turning fifty, reminders about my approaching status as a coot have been routine. I clearly recall my indignation trashing that first AARP application - how dare someone suggest imminent codger-hood?

Of course, denial has had no effect on the inevitable. Senior citizen discounts, surveys lumping my age in with the final demographic, movies with adult diaper jokes, etc. have all continued the onslaught. And each new marker has arrived with a distinctive eau-de-old-fart aroma. To be clear - None of this has come close to superseding my continuing gratitude for good health and a full life. But, I'd be dishonest to claim I haven't enjoyed periods when outside reminders about curmudgeon land cease, however briefly.

Which brings me to last Saturday. My Medicare card arrived in the mail.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Forever Proud

The day after tomorrow (Tuesday October 14), at 10:00 p.m., my daughter is making her first appearance on national network television. Unless cut at the last minute, she'll appear in the opening scene of the ABC series "Forever" as the premise for the episode entitled "The Pugilist Break" is being set up. Although she won't be happy I'm announcing this in a post before the show is broadcast, don't I owe it to my minions to give advance notice? If someday she's fortunate and becomes a parent, and then doubly fortunate to have a child as determined and focused as she, then she'll appreciate how my pride knows no bounds. Besides, this is my blog not hers.

If you're a parent, at what age did your children first show an interest or passion in what later became a major focus of their life? If you're not a parent, what is your recollection of a childhood interest or passion that subsequently became a major focus of your life? Since the 5th grade my daughter's focus on the performing arts has never shifted. In my experience, people with that kind of focus are not easily dissuaded from their dreams. If you then add talent, intense discipline and good education and mentoring, it's a potent mix.

BTW, she's the redhead in that opening scene looking at an apartment with a real estate agent.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Healing Words

Cheesy as it may be, more than a few times I've been truly moved by words on a poster or bumper sticker. For example: "Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring and integrity they think of you."

Spotting those words on a large poster behind a desk recently I felt compelled to engage the woman sitting there in a brief conversation. When was the last time words inspired you to initiate a conversation with a stranger? What were the words that moved you?

I had two thoughts prior to speaking to that woman. In the hopelessly naive vein - If she embodies the words on her poster even 20% of the time, she is making the world a better place. In the practical arena - I much prefer interacting with someone like her, however superficially, vs. someone who publicly displays a hateful or divisive sentiment on a poster or bumper sticker.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Thanks For The Memories

A recent gratifying conversation with an old subordinate got me reflecting about others I've supervised over my working life. Man, do I miss supervision - NOT!!

How many performance assessments have you been responsible for over your working life? Supervision has many definitions. But unless you've been eyeball-to-eyeball with an adult doing their performance assessment, I submit your supervisory mettle has yet to be thoroughly tested. Many people have trouble telling their own children they've done something less than extraordinary, let alone telling another adult their job performance is worthy of a "B" or (gasp!) a "C". Until you've been faced with an adult who rejects the idea of bell curve distributions (i.e. not everyone always deserves an "A" for job performance), call it babysitting, not supervising. Significantly compounding this problem: The appalling number of cowardly supervisors who give nothing but "A's" to avoid conflict, remain popular, and lessen their workload.

And as difficult as honest (vs. perfunctory) performance assessment discussions can be, that same conversation with my old subordinate also reminded me of a supervisory situation I've faced and wish on no one. In my view, a person in the position of being forced to tell an adult they no longer have a job who doesn't struggle mightily delivering that news does not have the empathy to be an effective supervisor in the first place.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Bell Curve Focus Group

Thanks to folks who shared which Beatles songs they felt best captured the magic of the Fab Four. Of the nine suggestions made, six ended up on my final playlist for the "The Magical Musical Mystery Tour", the course I begin teaching Thursday.

Before designing this class, I was hesitant to admit how many books about the Beatles I've read in my life. What an odd turn of events - having all that ephemera in my addled brain now actually reveals an upside. The balance I'll be aiming for is keeping the trivia in its rightful place while ensuring the music is front and center. As someone who used to play all twelve songs from "Rubber Soul" end-to-end (the U.S. version), this won't be real difficult.

What continuing education course about music would entice you to attend? Since I'm now being asked to develop additional courses, what focus group could possibly top the people who read my blog? Your compensation? To be negotiated.  

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Still Searching

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/search?q=Always+Searching

When I appealed to all of you to turn me onto some new songs (vs. remakes) three years ago, the offline response was pretty good. Thanks to those folks for their suggestions. But the search continues. Of the 2011 posts I've revisited to date, this one is most worthy of recycling - it's about music, after all. What songs that you previously hadn't heard have really rattled your cage since I first asked?

In addition to my daughter turning me onto the Black Keys (we later saw them at Madison Square Garden), I have readers to thank for two terrific songs I might not have otherwise come across: "God Willin & The Creek Don't Rise" (Ray La Montagne) and "I Won't Give Up" (Jason Mraz). If you don't have these and at least a few Black Keys tunes in your I-tunes library yet, you're missing out.

My young guitar students have also kept me from veering too far into musical codger-land. And though I wouldn't yet call myself a Taylor Swift fan, anyone who begins writing such infectious songs at her age is worth paying attention to. Keep your ears and mind open and your typing fingers ready - when you hear something you think might have slipped by me, let me know. I'm still searching.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Assistance With Creeping Fuddy Duddyism

First, my current quandary. Second, some questions in the hope you can assist me to work through this.

1.) I earnestly want to avoid the early onset of fuddy duddyism. On the other hand, there are some old fashioned values & traditions I do not want to jettison. These include:
* Having dinner & other conversations vs. dueling cell phones and incessant texting.
* Keeping hand-written thank you notes alive. Even an e-mail thank you is (arguably) better than no acknowledgment of a gift or other courtesy.
* Treating dogs as animals.

2.) How do you maintain a reasonable balance between some modern norms and values or traditions that strike others as quaint or fuddy duddyish? What is a polite way to deflect a discussion of a dog's bowel movements? How did the word genius become so devalued that it is used without irony to describe Kanye West?

Your able assistance is sincerely welcomed.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Edward Lowell Barton

When my Mom died in November 1977 at age fifty seven, I was a selfish, immature and broken twenty seven year old. Despite his grief, I remember the self-centered request I made of my Dad at the time -"Give me twenty years before you go; I can't handle something like this any sooner." What a jackass I was.

Remarkably, Dad nearly granted that asinine request. He died on this day in 1997, nineteen years and eleven months after Mom. By then I was a less selfish, mostly mature, fairly whole forty seven year old. And though I've paid tribute to him here on Father's Day, Veteran's Day & Pearl Harbor Day, early today I realized that for the past three years, October 2 somehow slipped by.

If either or both of your parents are gone, what do you miss most? I miss my Dad's curiosity about and interest in words, his deep experience as a carpenter and his speaking voice. If your parents are still with you, why not tell them what they mean to you before they're gone? I have few regrets because I always did so. But how I wish they were still here so I could say those words over and over.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Appreciating A Basic Need

When was the last time you were grateful for your ability to communicate?

Though I usually think of myself as someone who doesn't take much for granted, recently I was forced to stop and think hard about the question above. Watching a severely disabled adult act out at the stable where I volunteer I wondered what he was trying to communicate. Was he afraid? Uncomfortable in the saddle? Not understanding what the instructor was asking him to do?

The lesson had to end ahead of time. The young woman who had been leading the horse was pretty shaken up. When she later asked me how the instructor and I had maintained our composure when the student was acting out, I heard myself say "Imagine how frustrating it must be for someone who can't communicate their basic needs to others."

In that moment I discovered something I do take for granted. Then I was grateful.              

Monday, September 29, 2014

Moments From A Day To Remember

A week after attending the largest march of my life, a few reflections:

* Unlike other events of this type I've attended , one thing that stood out for me about the People's Climate March in NYC last Sunday was the diversity of the crowd. I saw people as young as five and as old as eighty or more; white, black, Latino, Asian; folks in wheelchairs and people from a group home for the developmentally disabled. It was inspiring to be part of something that seems to cross so many boundaries.
* Both my wife and I have since been chastised by a few folks whose only salient takeaway about the march, courtesy of the Fox "news" coverage was, "Why would all those environmentalists leave so much garbage?"  Note to Sean Hannity et al: The NYC police department purposefully limited the number of trash receptacles along the entire march route so potential terrorists would have fewer places to conceal a bomb.
* Some special moments: The minute of silence at 12:58 p.m.; a marcher playing a mournful soprano sax rendition of "Amazing Grace"; the creativity of the signs. My favorite: "Insisting the world was flat didn't make it any more true."

If you attended, please tell me about your special moments from this day to remember.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

My Grade (So Far): Audacity

audacity: boldness or daring, especially with confident or arrogant disregard for personal safety, conventional beliefs, etc.

Given that definition, how would you grade yourself (so far) on audacity? This one has given me more food for thought than most of the previous 31 attributes from this series.

Specifically: Which adjective (confident or arrogant) deserves more weight when considering how boldly I've disregarded personal safety? Can skydiving, para-sailing, white water rafting and other activities I've tried reasonably be said to disregard personal safety? How about chasing a shoplifter down the street? Confronting (and then chasing) a petty thief lifting a friend's wallet from her purse? Assaulting the individual who hurled an anti-Semitic slur at non-Jewish yours truly? Which of these bold acts were confident, which were arrogant and which gives me more chits for audacity?

And then we arrive at the much more problematic "...disregard for conventional beliefs..." part of the definition of audacity. Just wading through the persona I've constructed around being "unconventional" gives me a migraine.

If only the definition had stopped with "boldness or daring" - would have made it much easier to give myself a nice "B" had those messy nuances not been in the way. I'll take my "C", keep the stories about my disregard for unconventional beliefs to myself and add this attribute to the pile needing attention.       

Friday, September 26, 2014

A Dwindling List (!!) And Then...

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2011/09/something-had-to-give.html

Despite the best of intentions, I haven't yet returned to read a second book by any of the five "new" authors mentioned in the September 26, 2011 post above. If any of you are looking for an exceptional title to try, any of the five novels mentioned therein is well worth your time.

That aside, the new guideline I established in that same post - using my gut reaction to every book I read to decide if more of an author's work is worth my time - kept my "to read" list manageable for the next year and a half. For a semi-compulsive list maker like me this was liberating. Now if only my local librarian had never turned me onto Goodreads.  

Before Goodreads began making their spot-on recommendations to me in early 2013 (favorite so far - Jane Smiley's "Thirteen Ways of Looking At The Novel"), the remote possibility briefly existed that one day I might be able to scratch every title (if not every author) off my list. Perhaps only other semi-compulsive list makers will appreciate the potential rapture an event like this represents.

Meanwhile my posse of five trusted readers shows me little mercy - they too keep making book recommendations. Is there no peace?    

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Time For A Tune Up

Among the feedback tools I've been exposed to, I've yet to discover anything that can top a 360 degree assessment, provided it is skillfully and sensitively debriefed. Since the first one I had completed on me, I've many times reflected how much better we might navigate our lives if each of us were required to periodically ask 10-15 people whose judgment and fairness we trust to anonymously score us on our communication and other critical interpersonal skills. How do you think your self-score (an integral part of any 360 assessment) would compare with how others perceive you on these three sample items?

* Is sensitive to the feelings of others
* Is tolerant of views different from his/her own
* Listens well

What other items would you put on your 360? Who would you pick to give you the feedback? In my last full time job, the high potential employees who were my main customers were all required to submit to a 360 upon entry to the program. Their universe of responders included employees, supervisors, peers and customers. And though many of the debriefing conversations I conducted were difficult, the growth I subsequently observed in these folks was often startling. Many would ask to repeat the experience a few years later.

We get our automobiles tuned up regularly, don't we? My last 360 was about eleven years ago - time for a tune up.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Three Years On

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2011/09/better-late-than-never.html

Three years ago, I asked which of your talents you considered innate and when you first realized this was so. Then I primed the pumps by citing two innate talents of mine. Given the significant number of views the post above has received over the ensuing time, I've reflected frequently on the muted response to it. Are you more modest than I? Do you consider your talents more learned than innate? Are the questions posed not provocative enough, is the post unclear, or did a lot of Internet robots (vs. actual readers) stumble onto it rendering the number of views and my wondering meaningless?

And why am I asking? Well, a reader recently chastised me for giving myself too few "A's" in the series called "My Grade (So Far)''. So I used talent, skill, and aptitude and did a search to see if that feedback held up. Among the posts that turned up those keywords, the one above most convinced me I've been reasonably fair to myself. It also reminded me of a pledge I made in March to re-visit some of my 2011 posts to see what has shifted for me (and you) since then.

On that note, three years on I'm happy to report my sense of my innate musicality has deepened. I still have days of frustration and performances that disappoint me. But the more new guitar students I'm exposed to, the more grateful I am for what was there in me to start. And, I'm still waiting to hear from you about your innate talents.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Let He Who Is Without

If you haven't done so, be sure to read "Original Sin", the cover article by Matt Bai from yesterday's NY Times magazine.

I've never had much sympathy for men caught being unfaithful to their wives or partners. When politicians get snagged in sexual shenanigans, my lack of sympathy has sometimes curdled into self-righteousness. Bai's article helped persuade me how foolish that sanctimonious posture is.

More important, this article makes a compelling case about how the press hounding of philandering elected officials has effectively turned modern-day politics into a sideshow. According to Bai, one result has been a steady decline in the quality of people who choose to run for office ever since the monkey business that ended Gary Hart's career. As I carefully considered how acting holier-than-thou about straying politicians can have the perverse effect of creating a market for some of the garbage that passes for news, I was seriously chastened. And if, in turn, the barrage of sordidness contributes at all to what currently passes for our legislative branch, perhaps it's time to re-visit that familiar biblical phrase.

I'm curious to hear your thoughts when you read the article. It was a genuine eye-opener for me.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Proposal To Retire A Word

normal: conforming to the standard or common type; usual; regular; natural. 

What percentage of people do you think could agree about what is "normal" with respect to most human endeavors? Let's start with some verboten stuff many of us were taught to avoid in polite conversation. What is normal with respect to sex? How about money? Politics? Religion? See what I mean? What a slippery word.

Recently, when asked if I thought some behaviors a grieving person was exhibiting were normal, I dodged the question. What is "usual" or "regular" or "natural" when facing grief? I'm an emotional wreck at wakes or funerals; I've been with people who can't shut up during a wake, and they're not talking about the deceased. And I've seen numerous other reactions, as I'm sure you have. Which of them is normal aka usual, regular, natural?

And what about timing? Who gets to decide where the markers lie and declare when a new normal is in order? In my almost 65 year old body, the normal I experience is quite different than the normal I felt at 25. More information about that puts me in over-share land so allow me to close with a proposal: How about we retire normal?

Friday, September 19, 2014

Ron, Serena, Junot & Oscar To My Rescue

I seem to be in the midst of a good novel slump. Of the last five contemporary novels I've read for the first time, only Ron Rash's "Serena" (2008) really grabbed me. The other four (published between 1994 and 2014) all had reasonably compelling narrative lines, little groan-inducing prose and characters that mostly held my interest. Good enough to finish but not good enough to recommend to a discerning reader.

As someone who likes finishing things, page turners like those four novels have their place. But getting through an entire book and not wanting to jot down a single sentence leaves me a little chilly, like listening to a technically dazzling guitar solo without hearing one phrase that makes me smile. And those magical sentences often don't even draw attention to themselves: "Nothing more exhilarating than saving yourself by the simple act of waking". That gem is from "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" and is fresh on my mind because I luckily got to re-read Junot Diaz' 2007 stunner in the middle of the anemic .200 batting streak I'm in at present.

Had a novel slump of your own recently? Which books put you back on track?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Look For The Guy With The Beard

www.peoplesclimate.org

This Sunday I hope you'll join me and about 100,000 friends in NYC for the first ever People's Climate March. All the details you need can be found at the link above. If you want to meet up, I'm the guy with the beard.

It's humbling to reflect on how infrequently in my life I've taken a stand or tried to get my voice heard about issues I claim are important to me. What prevented the teenage Pat from mustering the courage to march with King in Washington? If not for the concerts drawing attention to them, many of the dire humanitarian situations around the world would have likely slipped by while I was making a living and raising a family. Somehow, the American foreign policy misadventures that aroused my indignation were not upsetting enough to get me acting in a public way.

And if my wife weren't involved in this march, it's possible this event could have ended up being another item on my sorry list. I'm happy that will not be the case. What current issue moves you to act? If it's climate change, here's your opportunity to draw attention to it. Added bonuses: Weather is supposed to be wonderful; you'll be in NYC; your favorite blogger will be there - the guy with the beard.    

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

All You Can Eat Answers

Ever get into one of those cycles where many of your thoughts are questions? How long did your longest cycle last? Is this an occupational hazard for philosophy scholars?

If I share a few questions from my current cycle, will you join me? Promise?

* Aside from fear, what prevents me from trying anything?
* Which paralyzes me more - fear of approval or fear of failure? What other fears are there? 
** If it's fear of approval, what prevents me from trying anything when I'm alone? 
** If it's fear of failure, why does the question "What's the worst that can happen?" sometimes help me transcend my fears and other times not work at all? 
*  Is asking why something doesn't work always a waste of time?

And the triggering event for this cycle? How badly do you want to know?
 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Who Gets You?

How many people in your life would you say really "get" you? Does your spouse or partner get you? Your siblings? Parents? Children? Good friends? Are the pieces of you that others don't get the same for the different groups? 

Years ago someone asked me how well I thought I knew my brother. My response? "Not very well at all."  I didn't feel then, and still don't, that any of us can know someone well unless we ourselves feel known well by that other person. There are significant parts of me I've chosen to conceal from my brother and wouldn't be surprised to learn the same is true for him - each of us has an incomplete picture. I love my brother, enjoy his company & can rely on him unconditionally. He and my sisters are, along with my wife and daughter, my best friends.

But if I were listening to any of my siblings describe me to others, I'm not sure I would recognize the person they were talking about, aside from the facts each could recite about my life - my education, my work, my hobbies, etc. At the same time, I also would not be surprised if they were equally befuddled over-hearing me describe them to someone else. 

So, I guess the last question must be, how many people in your life do you think you really "get"? And, would they agree that you do?  

Friday, September 12, 2014

#26: The Mt. Rushmore Series

Only serious film buffs need weigh in today and provide their four suggestions for this iteration of Mt. Rushmore. Which four side-by-side performances non award winning and non-romantic deserve to be enshrined? Mine are listed chronologically by release date of the movies.

1.) Tom Hulce & Ray Liotta in "Dominick & Eugene": Probably because "Rain Man" was out around the same time, had two bigger stars and shared a few key plot elements, this gem and acting tour-de-force didn't get much attention. Too bad - it's well worth seeing; Jamie Lee Curtis has also never been better.

2.) Al Pacino & Robert De Niro in "Heat": Though I've never been a big fan of cops and robbers, this film (which I just watched for the second time) is strong beginning to end. And the one brief diner scene shared by the main cop Vincent (Pacino) and the main robber Neil (DeNiro) ensures its spot on Mt. Rushmore.

3.) Laura Linney & Mark Ruffalo in "You Can Count On Me":  Not the first mention of this remarkable movie on my blog. No matter - I can't recall a better depiction of a sister and brother. (With a special shout out to my own sister based on her enthusiastic evangelism of the Mt. Rushmore series.)

4.) Cate Blanchett & Judi Dench in "Notes From A Scandal": A recent conversation with my wife about this tense psychological drama was the inspiration for this post. How did both these performances get overlooked?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Magical Musical Mystery Tour

Having now developed and delivered several continuing ed courses on music, I've learned that approximately fifteen recordings is about the right number to have ready for each two hour block of instruction. And therein lies my current nearly immobilizing dilemma - My six hour Beatles course begins in early October; I have about a month to settle on which 45 Beatles recordings to use.

As with my previous course, I'd like your help. But this time there are so many requirements for what I'll include (leaving the paralyzing choice of what to exclude), one terse blog post will be wholly inadequate. I'll start with my first three non-negotiable requirements today and then continue over the next few weeks if the on or offline response warrants it. If the Beatles are not important to you, my condolences - you need read no further:

* Except for "This Boy" please suggest no songs with a "fadeout" ending using only repeated material.
* Lennon/McCartney or Harrison compositions only, please. Songs superbly covered by the Fab Four are excluded (separate course) and don't get me started on "Octopus Garden", OK?
* If you suggest a less-played Beatles song (e.g. "And Your Bird Can Sing", wherein the Beatles played guitar harmony before anyone knew what that was), please supply a rationale. Though it need not be a musical rationale, something more than "I love it" would be helpful.

Any near-future posts re this subject will be titled appropriately so those not interested in the Beatles can avoid them. Again, my condolences.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Lighthouse And My Posse

Virginia Woolf's "To The Lighthouse" (1927) is widely considered a classic of modernist literature. Along with her contemporary James Joyce, Woolf is often cited by other authors as an important, groundbreaking artist - a writer's writer.

I'm struggling with "To The Lighthouse". And each time I put off returning to it, my internal conversation gets more convoluted. I think of the many people who would suggest giving up. Even my posse (the five discerning readers I most trust) might coach me in a similar fashion. One of that posse once told me she feels no obligation to give books a second chance. It's not as though I've never given up on a book.

Then I reflect on how many books took me more than one pass to crack and the riches I discovered by persisting. I begin fantasizing about having a conversation with several of the really smart authors who put "To The Lighthouse" in their Top Ten.  Maybe those authors wouldn't mind if I invited my posse to join the conversation?

Monday, September 8, 2014

Selling Milk Vs. Raising Children

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2014/08/helping-rescue-damaged.html

Although my August 27 post above got just one public comment, the offline response has been exceptional. This same post also climbed into my "top 10" most popular (out of 900 published) faster than any other before it, without an assist from Facebook.

As I mulled over how people responded to that post, several questions occurred to me. A sample:
* In the grand scheme, which strikes you as more important - fishing or raising children?
* How critical is your hairdo to your mental health?
* If your local retailer did not have a license to sell milk, how likely would it be for you to stop patronizing the business?

Here in my beloved State, fishermen, beauticians and milk retailers all need licenses. Parents do not. Given the number of children damaged by ill-equipped or unprepared adults, does this seem like an assault on common sense to anyone else?

It will surprise no regular reader to know I've developed some baseline licensing requirements for parents. I suspect at least a few of you have ideas about this as well. You go first.