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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Helping Others Fall Forward

Being human, I've made my share of mistakes as a parent. But today I had a flash of pride after realizing that I'd largely avoided most of the variations of the "...something to fall back on..." conversation while raising my daughterHow many of you heard some version of this well meaning if ill advised phrase growing up? Something like "Get a college degree so you'll have something to fall back on."

Although I've toggled most of my own life between practicality and dreaming, I wanted my parenting style to err on the side of my daughter's dreams. I worked purposefully to make my language expansive vs. limiting. For example, from the start, I thought and spoke of college as a means she could use to enhance skills in her chosen field vs. a degree she could use for something else when she "fell back". For me, the stench of inevitability always seemed attached to those words, even when disguised as guidance.
       
I propose we eliminate these unsubtle words of discouragement when speaking to others. How about "fall forward" instead?

Friday, March 28, 2014

Once, Twice, Three With Charisma

If you've ever spent a fair amount of time around a person you would describe as charismatic, what effect did that exposure have on you?

The few times I've been near people like this have elicited disparate reactions in me. Although I don't normally consider myself overly suggestible, in my first instance of day-to-day interaction with a powerfully dynamic individual, the influence on my work behavior and overall demeanor was very noticeable. More than once my susceptibility to being so influenced by someone prompted me to muse on the spell cast by famously charismatic people like Hitler. Had I lived in Germany during the Third Reich would his evil charisma have ensnared me? Impossible to know, but my own reaction to the spell of a decent but powerful and intense person that I did know gave me pause at the time.

More recently, my contact with an equally dynamic individual has been more encouraging. Around this powerful person, I feel motivated and energized instead of suggestible. This time, charisma has brought out a better side of me, inspired instead of influenced. If my first brush with undeniable charisma had occurred when I was very young, it would be fair to call my more measured recent response a kind of wisdom. Unfortunately, that earlier brush was not that long ago. So for now, I'm going to hold back on patting myself on the back until I see how it goes the next time charisma comes knocking.  

Thursday, March 27, 2014

#21: The Mt. Rushmore Series

Which four movie Directors would you enshrine on Mt. Rushmore? Don't have four who excite you? Fair enough, make your mountain smaller. Mine are listed alphabetically.


1. Woody Allen - I've got ambivalence to spare about Woody Allen human being, but it would be disingenuous to leave him off this mountain of Directors. Three of my favorites - "Hannah and Her Sisters", "Crimes and Misdemeanors" and "Another Woman"; several more come quickly to mind.
2. Robert Altman - Not every Altman film works for me and he's definitely not for every taste but "M*A*S*H", "Short Cuts" and "Gosford Park" earn him a place on my Mt. Rushmore.

3. Peter Weir - Smaller output than Woody and more conventional than Altman but their equal in every other way - "Witness", "The Truman Show", "Fearless" - a Director who gets the best from actors.

4. Billy Wilder - In his day, who else was directing as consistently with as much range? "The Apartment", "Some Like It Hot", and "Sunset Boulevard" are wildly different yet each is unmistakably Billy Wilder. And, they all stand up a half century later.

Come on movie nerds, don't leave me standing all alone here in geekland.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

My Grade (So Far): Refinement

refinement: fineness or elegance of feelings, taste, manners, language, etc.

Among the things giving me pause prior to grading myself for refinement is that pesky "etc." from the dictionary definition. Seems to me elegance of feelings, taste, manners and language is quite enough to think about, thank you. Anyway, what grade would you give yourself (so far) for refinement?

This attribute strikes me as the first one in this series that has a whiff of class. Being raised by working class parents in Irvington NJ, once a suburb of Newark though that word always struck me as more fitting for upscale towns like Westfield or Millburn, elegance and refinement weren't often on my family radar. My parents emphasized good manners. But aside from Easter Sunday, spent at the home of relatives in Caldwell (definitely more elegant than Irvington), those manners didn't get enough out of the home practice to get very fine. With fingers to spare, I can count on one hand the number of times my family ate out during my childhood. OK- cue the violins.

Fineness of feelings? Taste? Language? Even without the Oliver Twist sob story accompanying the manners piece, when I consider those three additional criteria and throw in the "etc.", I have to go with a "C" (so far) for Pat for refinement. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Life And Other Gifts

Aside from your life, what are some of the other gifts your parents gave you?

Taking more note of my parent's birthdays each year has alone made blogging worthwhile. Because my Dad would have been 96 today, his gifts to me are front and center.

* He loved to read. As a child, I recall wondering why anyone would choose to read "The Lives Of A Cell". At 64, that choice deepens my admiration for him.

* He played the ukulele. Surely this had a pronounced impact on my subsequent passion for music, especially when he'd accompany my Mom's singing.

* As I grew into a surly, disagreeable and far left of center adolescent my Father slowly modified his less-than-politically-progressive politics and accompanying language, showing more respect for my unformed opinions than I ever gave his more experienced views.

I miss him. And I'm so happy he knew how much I loved and admired him because I repeatedly told him so. People sometimes say words are cheap.  What's cheap about reminding people how much they mean to you?  

Sunday, March 23, 2014

I'll Take Serbia, Thank You

Based on the number of countries now covered (48), if we maintain our current pace, sometime around March 2023 my wife and I will have eaten the cuisine from every country in the world. Our latest culinary trip was to Trinidad/Tobago. What was the last outside-of-US cuisine you sampled? Would you return?

In addition to the adventure and fun of this three year old project, the educational by-products have also been a gas. For example, while researching the at-home meal we were preparing for friends accompanying us to Trinidad, we noticed the significant Asian Indian elements used to prepare several popular foods from the Caribbean island nation. That mystery led me to the low tech Almanac where we learned (or perhaps re-learned) that India supplied indentured servants to Trinidad in the 19th century. More interestingly, we also discovered that the modern-day population of Trinidad is almost equally divided between people of African and Indian descent. All this because we were making roti (yum!) and callaloo (yuck!).

48 countries represents about 25% of the total. The equally low tech world map hanging in our hall tells me if we'd started in NJ, traveled due east and covered about 25% of the circumference of the globe, our current location would be somewhere near Belgrade (Beograd). Due west? The middle of the Northern Pacific ocean. I'll take that as a sign and make Serbian the next cuisine we sample.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Another Balancing Act

In your view, what is the ideal ratio of time spent looking inward vs. outward? Like me, I'm sure you've known people who find introspecting or even being alone very difficult and others who appear lost or off balance when forced to face the outside world and engage with others.

For me, this balancing act has been a lifelong struggle. As an extrovert, I derive loads of energy from my interactions with others. At the same time, the Socrates dictum "Know thyself" drives me to look inward incessantly. I've trained myself to pay a lot of attention to the outside world for creative fodder. Yet I've also learned repeatedly how important it is to the creative process to be able to readily access feelings so those feelings are often as important to me as the outside world.

When my full time job was leadership development someone once asked what I considered the most important leadership trait. My answer? Self-awareness. That response probably reveals that whenever my balance is off, it's likely I'm erring on the side of too much inward and not enough outward. How about you?

Friday, March 21, 2014

Spending Time With My Better Side

Thanks to those who took note of the recent atypical quiet in bell curve land. The last time more than two days went by without a post was September 2012 when I was cycling through Tuscany and without a laptop.

These last few days have been challenging, but there has been a clear silver lining. Someone I love needed my undivided attention and it was re-assuring to learn I am capable of letting go of my self-absorption long enough to devote total focus, i.e. no stopping to blog. It was nice to see my own fundamental decency made manifest. Although I can usually recognize this trait in others, it took my recent test to help me see it more clearly in myself.

In addition, the events of the past few days reminded me again how crucial it is to remain grateful for my continued good health. How often do you take that gift for granted? I rarely claim to be prescient but my gratitude for a lifetime of good health is an exception to that rule - I've known since a young age what a gift that is. The past few days just brought that gratitude into sharper relief.

When was the last time you recognized you'd spent time with your better side?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Aiming For Minimum Wage

Preparing again today for a workshop about music that I start delivering tomorrow, I paused to do a quick estimate of the time and expense I've devoted to this. Based on my compensation, when I factor in development and prep time + I-tunes purchases, my hourly rate currently stands at about 40 cents. Labor of love, indeed.

Knowing full well in advance how much attention I'd give these workshops, I willingly signed on to do several more; I'm not looking for sympathy. And clearly no one becomes a musician or a teacher to get rich. Those things do not however, preclude me from reflecting about whether 40 cents an hour is selling myself and my expertise a little short. Ever felt under-valued like I'm feeling this moment?

When in front of the group tomorrow, none of this will matter. I'll play my guitar, talk about music, put on some recordings, engage people with my passion. Who knows? By the time my last workshop rolls around in August, maybe I'll be up to the minimum wage.      

Monday, March 17, 2014

No More Random Ranting

random: proceeding, made or occurring without definite aim, reason or pattern.

Given that definition, how is it the secular among us aren't using the word random a great deal more often? Seems to me a high percentage of life situations could accurately be called random. No? Try this - Think of the last significant event that occurred to you. What was the definite reason?  Absent strong religious convictions, when can any of us ever be that certain of the reason something occurred?

How about proceeding with definite aim? Though there have surely been times I've acted that way, my guess is there have been almost as many circumstances when I have not. How about you? How often have you proceeded randomly?

After overhearing random used a few times in a conversation several days back, I started writing a post bemoaning over-use of the word, something I first took note of as my daughter was growing up. Thank you again, Mr. Webster for saving me from my sanctimonious self.

Friday, March 14, 2014

They Say It's Your Birthday

Tomorrow marks three years since I began this blog. With a nod to Ed Koch, I'll start by asking regular readers - How am I doing so far? What would you like to see more of or less of to keep you engaged?

After re-reading my first post, I feel good about how well I've adhered to my mission. My plan over the next year is to re-read my 2011 post before I write the 2014 iteration for that same date. I'm curious what might have shifted in me over the ensuing three years and would be interested to hear your reaction to those shifts as I report them. But I'm far more interested in how you've changed. So please consider making a comment even if you've so far resisted doing so.

I will continue my efforts at minimizing duplication; thanks to those of you who have remarked on this - the search feature on blogger is a huge help. Moving into year four, I know you'll forgive me an occasional slip. For anyone unwilling to cut me some slack, be prepared to tell me what you said or did three days or three months ago. If you can manage those shorter bursts, then we'll begin working back to three years ago.

Most of all, thanks to those who have hung in there with me. And cue the Beatles song "Birthday".

Another Teacher Appears

"Two competing forces have dominated my life: a great need to please others and an equally powerful desire for expression, a tumbleweed that has grown in mass and velocity with the passing years".

I read those opening sentences from "Writing Is My Drink" (2013) by Theo Pauline Nestor standing in the public library. Less than a minute later I left with the book in my hand. Less than one hour later, after copying nine sentences from the introduction, which is just eight pages, I went and purchased my own copy. Less than four hours later, with significant highlighting and margin annotating included, I finished, except for the "Try This" suggestions closing each chapter. I'm saving those for my re-read.

I'm so glad I didn't read this wonderful book before starting my submission for the AARP/Huffington Post memoir contest. And I wish I'd found it early in the year, before beginning to write those 5000 words. Yes, you read those two sentences correctly. The familiar formula contributing to this Jekyll/Hyde contradiction?  Quality of Nestor's memoir + Pat's inner critic = high likelihood of procrastination/endless re-writes. If I'd read "Writing..." first, that February 15 AARP/Huffington Post deadline would likely have come and gone with no submission from Pat.

Based on comments received re some earlier posts about procrastination, I know that issue plagues some of you sometimes. If you promise me you'll shun your inner procrastinator and read "Writing Is My Drink", I'll promise to pay less attention to my immobilizing inner critic. To sweeten the deal, I'll also work harder on something Nestor and I appear to share based on her first sentence- that silly need for approval. In the meanwhile, any long form prose I write in the future will be enhanced having read this book much the same as my lyric writing has steadily improved since finishing Stephen Sondheim's "Finishing The Hat" over four years ago. Thanks to Theo & Stephen for sharing their gifts.      

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Smiling & Avoiding Cliches

I'd guess no one who knows me well would describe me as jaded or world weary. At the same time, I'm not often surprised by human behavior among us non-sociopaths on the bell curve. After all, I've been around for a little while.

Having said that, I freely acknowledge I'm caught short each time I encounter a person who appears to not yet have learned the benefit of smiling regularly. Like most of us, I've had my fair share of blue moments and when I'm low it's not unusual for others to pick up on that. I do try not to wallow; I'm not always successful. However, I did learn long ago regular smiles get me further than perpetual scowls.

So when I recently found myself compelled yet again to extol to someone the value of a positive demeanor (almost choking as I uttered the cliche "sometimes you have to fake it until you make it"), my departing posture toward this person was light on the usual Pat-style empathy. Instead, I found myself reflecting how predictive it is that this individual continues having difficulty in relationships.

Of course, then I felt guilty for my less than charitable reaction. Aside from saying ten Hail Marys (without a priest's admonition to do so), my main takeaway was relief no one has ever told me I had to fake it until I make it. When did you last encounter someone like this? What was your counsel to them?  

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Crab Is Back

Asking a question of a speaker is not rocket science, wouldn't you agree? Good questions give speakers an opportunity to deepen your understanding of their area of expertise. Ask for additional information on the subject or about something related to the topic that was not covered during the presentation. Ask for expansion on a key point or clarification of a different point or even repetition of another point. Most speakers are happy to do so, especially if a key point from the presentation is part of the question - shows the person asking was really listening.  

But how many times have you known immediately when an audience member opening their mouth has no intention of actually asking a question of the speaker? When I hear sentences starting with "Don't you think...?" or "Are you trying to tell us...?" or "Isn't it a fact...?", I shut down instantly. Here we go - another audience expert about to show the rest of us how smart he or she is. Q&A? Nope, because the "A" goes missing, replaced by showboating, hot air & tangents. Do these dunces know how obvious they are?

In my experience, this kind of nonsense is so prevalent I'm not unhappy when Q&As are dispensed with. Give the expert the extra air time. And save this crab some aggravation.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Stay Tuned: One Stop Shopping For All Attention Spans

So much competition for our attention. But, so many people with varying attention spans. The solution? A clearing house offering quality alternatives using ascending increments of time. Under a future banner called "One Stop Shopping For All Attention Spans", watch this blog for suggestions vetted by yours truly.

1. Have one minute or less or the equivalent attention span? A useful word or pithy quote will be offered.

2. Two-five minutes is all you can spare or concentrate on? A worthwhile song is on its way.

3. More than two-five minutes but less than ten? Could be a quality blog post, magazine article, essay, poem, or jam. Re the latter - Grateful Dead recommendations are unlikely.

4. Ten minutes to one half hour? A TED talk, a symphony movement, longer articles and essays.

5. One or two hours? Short story, play, film. For the non I-tunes folks, please make yourselves (discreetly) known and I'll suggest a complete recording.

More than two hours exceeds the mission of this undertaking but I'm glad to assist, under separate cover. One Day University events, Teaching Company Courses, and a world of literature awaits.      
 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Request For A New Question

1. "How do you make money?"
When was the last time anyone asked you that question? When did you last ask someone else?

2. "What do you do for a living?"
How about that one? Since it's the same question as #1, I've often wondered why it's far more likely I'll be asked and also ask others the question this way.

3. "How do you make meaning?"
If your experience is similar to mine, you've rarely been asked or asked others this question. Yet, this is the one I hunger to be asked. I suspect this is true for many of us. So, how do you make meaning?

Asked another way, what do you do for a life?

I'd like it if others began asking me that question. And it seems fair to make this request, given how many times in 64 years I've been asked what I do for a living. Even if others were to begin asking me this question tomorrow and I lived another thirty years, the question about life will still never catch up to the question about money. But I'd like to get started anyway. Care to join me?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Blogger From Another Planet

I don't remember the last time two novels I finished back-to-back gave me such reader's whiplash.

Both authors are women, write in English and each has a pitch-perfect ear for dialogue. But in every other significant aspect, "Push" (1996 - Sapphire) and "How It All Began" (2011 - Penelope Lively) could have been written by people from separate planets for people from different planets. And despite my whiplash, both books genuinely moved me. Perhaps I'm from the planet in between?

To be very clear: Though hard-pressed to say which author scored a bigger triumph, I can recommend "How It All Began"  almost without caveats. Recommending "Push" would be more complicated. Though both authors use family dynamics to help frame their stories, Lively's cast is almost unfailingly polite; Sapphire's almost unfailingly profane. Dysfunction? Very small "d" in the London of "How It All Began"; bold, capital "D" in the Harlem of "Push".

The author's writing styles mesh beautifully with milieu and characters. Proper English for those inhabiting the world of Charlotte Rainsford, the retired schoolteacher at the center of Lively's novel; highly colloquial street language (spoken and written) for the voice of Precious Jones, the illiterate 16 year old dominating "Push".

"How It All Began" is gentle even when it stings. "Push" is remorseless even when it softens. What was the last reading experience you had anything like this?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Today In Three

A little after 3:00 this afternoon, I put down the curriculum I was working on to write in my journal. As I was dating it, I noticed the time of my entry would roughly coincide with today's date. Although this happens periodically, it usually stops me short - my attention was very focused.

There are over 800 tunes in my I-tunes library. I'd estimate around 95% are in 4/4 time. At the same time I was making my journal entry, the Anne Murray waltz "Could I Have This Dance?" began playing in my shuffle rotation. Now I stopped writing to savor the magic unfolding.

No mystical third coincidence appeared to give this story additional drama. And I was more than satisfied with a song in 3/4 playing at 3:04 on 3/4. After several moments passed, I finished my journal entry and knew today's post had to pay tribute to this magic. I considered trying something cryptic, like writing all three word sentences using arcane musical references. After starting this post that way, I abandoned the approach soon after realizing I'd much rather hear about the most recent magic you've experienced.


Referee Pat

How much inconsiderate, unpleasant or inappropriate behavior could be mitigated if penalties comparable to football could be routinely meted out? Referee Pat suggests the following:

Someone who keeps you waiting all the time? Delay of game. Someone with an ill-defined sense of personal space? Offside. Five yards for both of those in football and $5.00 sounds like a fair penalty to me for these minor infractions.

How about people who don't mind their own business? I call ten yards for interference; $10.00 sounds about right. How about people who have trouble keeping their hands to themselves? Offensive holding, like interference, is also a ten yard penalty in football but $10.00 doesn't strike me as near enough for the comparable behavioral violation. Referee Pat goes for ejection from game on that one.

What parallels and ideas for penalties come to you?  

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The 2014 Olgas

Though disappointed my February 2013 call for nominations generated little response, the show goes on. The first ever Olgas, a bell curve alternative to the Oscars, are hereby awarded to the following:

1.) Best book with a 2013 copyright not yet the recipient of a major literary award: The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud

2.) Best non-award winning movie released in 2013:  Prisoners 

3.) Best recording newly exposed to in 2013: Guitarist Frank Vignola's rendition of the Gershwin classic "Our Love Is Here To Stay"

4.) Best newly sampled ethnic restaurant: Babur Garden (Afghan cuisine) in Ocean, NJ

5.) Best new web series: http://www.youtube.com/user/bottomlessbrunch

Although one blog was nominated, nominator was related to the immensely talented author of that blog. Therefore, exercising mythic humility, judge has decreed no Olga will be awarded for that category in 2014.