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Friday, May 30, 2014

The Ebb And Flow Continues

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/search?q=The+Ebb+And+Flow+Of+Friendship

Although not much has changed with respect to my older friendships since writing the post above, reading it brought into focus a few of the newer relationships I've developed over the ensuing three years. What has shifted for you with respect to friendships, old or new, over the same period?

My most valued new relationship has been built around a shared love of reading. Soon after moving in early 2010, I began attending my first ever book club. By the time I'd completed the first few selections made by the librarian who moderates the club meetings, I knew this person was going to be part of my life. And though it took more than a year for our relationship to transcend those meetings, I was confident it would happen. As our after meeting conversations deepened, we took the next step and arranged to have dinner with our respective spouses. The four of us have since done so several times, including a culinary trip to Russia - loud ethnic music, OK food, terrific company.

Even better, although not at all surprising, my new friend and my wife get along so well my friend has joined my wife's book club, which I've wisely, if reluctantly steered clear of.  It's a full circle via reading. The ebb and flow continues.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Mental House Cleaning

How frequently do you find it necessary to do some mental house cleaning? What strategies do you use?

Though clearly not fastidious about the cleanliness of my home, I'm also not a slob. Most of the time, my home looks lived in but clean enough that an unexpected visitor isn't cause for acute embarrassment. That said, one of the benefits of regularly entertaining others is knowing a thorough cleaning is bound to occur now and then.

But how about mental house cleaning? What could be an equivalent trigger to remind me it's time to clean my head like the people I'm about to entertain reminding me to clean my home? Based on how long it takes whenever I finally get around to it, seems clear I'm waiting too long between mental file dumps. Before ceasing full time work, I periodically took a "mental health" day. More often than not, those days ended up filled with tasks and errands and my head remained as cluttered as that kitchen drawer we all have.

In my experience, even a regular meditation practice, though undeniably beneficial, does not obviate the need for occasional mental house cleaning. Meditation is about getting clear, open and quiet and works optimally when you let go, don't think or judge. Mental house cleaning is more active; you sift through what's no longer needed and discard it. For me, even if the extra space and sense of order I sense after mental house cleaning is imaginary, it's worth the effort expended.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Money & Mistakes - A Messy Mix

The three paragraphs that follow contain:
1.) A brief exposition setting the context for...
2.) Some picayune quibbling accompanied by a mea culpa leading to...
3.) A ringing book endorsement
(Newcomers: Feel free to skip directly to paragraph #3. Patient relatives and others: I hope you'll slog through the first two but you may also skip to paragraph #3 without undue guilt)

Of the many short-lived part time jobs I had while trying to earn a living as a musician, the one that has had the longest lasting ill effect on me was my time spent as a technical editor. My job for those months (weeks?) was uncovering errors of any kind in the technical documents I read. Anything was fair game - spelling (pre-Spellcheck years), punctuation, tense, redundancy, etc. and I was paid by the number of items subsequently deleted or modified. Imagine my attention to detail.

Fast forward about 40 years. I'm reading an otherwise compelling novel and find myself noticing the excessive use of one adverb. Somehow at about page 200, I'm removed from the narrative.  I begin questioning what I'd previously thought were supple metaphors and superb storytelling skills. The picayune quibbling continues - that long dormant technical editor sucks out some of my reading enjoyment. My book journal entry reflects this silliness. The following day I re-read the nearly perfect final two chapters and powerful epilogue and even with that adverb there realize what a ninny I've been.

"The Other Typist" (2013), the debut novel of Suzanne Rindell, uses a Poe-worthy unreliable narrator to tell a chilling story that will linger with you long after silly paragraph #2 has found it's rightful place in the blogosphere graveyard. Rose Baker has in her hands the fate of the men whose confessions she types working as a secretary in a busy 1924 NYC police precinct. Odalie Lazare enters her dull life and nothing is ever the same. Here's hoping two things: First, you read this book and we share notes about the skillful way Rindell drops clues along the way to her stunning denouement. And second, Rindell's second novel gets the editor she so richly deserves.

Monday, May 26, 2014

#23: The Mt. Rushmore Series

Don't some foreign words or expressions belong on a Mt. Rushmore of sorts? My current favorites are listed alphabetically. I avoided common food and fashion stuff and didn't duplicate any foreign language. But ignore my guidelines and just tell me which four foreign words or expressions you'd enshrine.

1.) hoi polloi - from Greek, meaning literally, the masses; I love rhyming expressions!

2.) je ne sais quoi - French for "I don't know what". What a great way to describe the indescribable.

3.) sotto voce - Italian is the lingua franca (couldn't resist) for many words and expressions having to do with the voice, in or outside of music. This iteration of the Mt. Rushmore series was inspired when I recently used sotto voce in a conversation and a third person overheard me, meaning I was not speaking sotto voce.

4.) zeitgeist -  "spirit of the era" in German. Try coming up with an equivalent English word or expression using less than nine letters, I dare you.

Full disclosure: I'm only a little embarrassed owning up to a project I completed in late 2002 that assisted me with this post. Beginning early that year, I went through all 1568 pages of the 1984 edition of the Random House College Dictionary underlining all my favorite words, foreign or not, covering one letter each week. I still own that same dictionary and twelve years later, lucky readers of this blog get to share in the fruit of my folly. I hope you'll chime in with your version of a foreign language Mt. Rushmore.    

Sunday, May 25, 2014

My Grade (So Far): Thoughtfulness

thoughtfulness: the state of being occupied with or given to thought; contemplative; meditative; reflective. 

Given that definition, how would you grade yourself so far on thoughtfulness? Of the twenty eight attributes covered to date in this series, at least for this part of the definition, this is my most unambiguous "A". But, there's another part to thoughtfulness.

thoughtfulness: the state of being considerate of others.

What's your grade so far when approaching the same attribute from this very different angle? Though I wouldn't call myself inconsiderate, I've got work to do when the focus of thoughtfulness shifts from reflection to consideration. I"ll give Pat a "C+" (so far) here. And this piece clearly deserves any attention I give to it.

Although some might argue the two parts don't carry equal weight, that's the tack I'm taking. So, Pat gets a "B" (so far) for thoughtfulness. How about you?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Anticipation

Prior to stopping full time work, Fridays preceding three day weekends were simultaneously delicious and unnerving.

I'm guessing the delicious part needs no explaining. The unnerving part goes hand-in-hand with my lifelong predilection for allowing goals to interfere with moments. Before early 2010, many of the "to do" lists I constructed as a three day weekend approached were scary. Musical goals, reading/writing goals and exercise goals stood in direct opposition to home maintenance, family responsibilities and a host of necessary yet utterly mundane matters. Any of this sound familiar?

The internal conflict created by these opposing forces sometimes shut me down. On a good three day weekend, I'd bounce back sometime on Saturday. On a bad one, Monday would arrive with the goals AND the other stuff having received zero attention. Anyone sharing my "to do" affliction knows the torment of seeing nothing scratched off a newly developed list. The horror.

Today, like most of the Fridays preceding three day weekends since 2010, feels wholly delicious. Still, it's easy to recall that old unnerving feeling. My antidote? Letting a wise song lyric seep into my goal-oriented brain - "These are the good old days." Would have been good to use this during the full time work years, right? But hey, better late than never.

Closing The Open Book

How would you feel if someone read your journal? 

I've done my share of stupid stuff and other stuff I'm not real proud of. And some of that stuff has made it into my journals. But, there are no smoking guns hiding there - lots of pebbles, no boulders. Even the Mt. Sinai no-nos I've violated and subsequently recorded haven't been the irreversible or permanent damage variety. So when recently asked the question that opens this post, my immediate answer was I'd be OK if almost anyone were to read my journals. I'm an open book, etc.

Days later, my answer feels like only part of the story; the other parts are not as glib. I'm reflecting on the need for boundaries, the value of privacy, the importance of mystery, all of which today strike me as the antithesis of blogging. Excessive transparency can be cringe-inducing.

Bottom line: It was a question that called for more thought than I initially gave it. When you've given it enough thought, I'd like to hear your answer.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Helping Reverse A Parochial Paradigm

Despite calling myself a film buff, my choices can sometimes be parochial. And though I've frequently enjoyed foreign films, movies in English remain my default, even when I suspect the loss of another 90 minutes of my life to something of little merit.

A movie as powerful as "Downfall" (2004) could help me reverse my limiting paradigm. The film begins and ends with an on camera interview with the elderly Traudl Junge, Adolf Hitler's personal secretary from 1942-1945, serving him right up to the day he and last minute bride Eva Braun committed suicide together. In between the two interviews is a mesmerizing dramatization of the ten days leading up to Germany's surrender as Hitler and his goons buried themselves in a Berlin bunker. Bruno Ganz' ferocious portrayal of the Fuhrer is so other-worldly I forgot I was reading sub-titles - language became superfluous.

This is not a movie you enjoy; it's an experience you have. Central to it is the horror all of us have been appropriately taught never to forget. Then, near the end, there is an excruciating scene involving the six children of the maniacal Joseph Goebbels, standing by as his wife does the unthinkable; I'm certain I will never forget those few minutes of film. That's not a claim I could make for the entirety of several movies I've seen recently, all of them in English. What was the last movie you saw that grabbed you like "Downfall" grabbed me?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

What A Difference A Book Makes

Although I finished it last November, the magic Jess Walters captured in "Beautiful Ruins" (2012) came rushing back reading my book journal as I anticipated a book club discussion. And though the subsequent discussion wasn't as rich as I'd hoped, it was still satisfying to return to the sprawling chronology of the novel and also to hear other readers speak of characters so vivid they felt like friends we'd all had.

Listening to the discussion of "Beautiful Ruins", it was difficult to avoid contrasting my experience with that book and the novel I finished yesterday. Despite glowing cover blurbs by such notables as Colum McCann & Ann Patchett, and a book jacket description that suggested Marquez-like mastery, beginning at about page 60, the word inert took hold in my brain. I plodded on for an additional 277 pages solely because the book was selected by a club new to me. The prose was serviceable - no groan-inducing metaphors or references to excessive flatulence. And, anyone who completes the writing of a novel deserves kudos for their tenacity. But nothing came alive for me.

After stopping full time work, I decided to discontinue a lifelong practice of finishing every book I start. What percentage that you begin do you give up on? Compulsive list maker that I am, I've kept track for about four years now; my abandonment ratio currently stands at about 5%. Although the most recent novel I finished was a suitable candidate for abandonment, at least finishing it was closely followed by a re-visit to "Beautiful Ruins". What a difference a book makes.      

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Who Needs A Crabby Musician?

http://carolfredette.com/

Since moving to Monmouth County in early 2010, I've attended over a dozen uniformly excellent free jazz concerts at the Manalapan public library. Today's show featured vocalist Carol Fredette, supported by an exceptional trio led by pianist Dave LaLama. Each time I sit there enthralled by world class musicians, the same thought crosses my mind - Why are there empty seats?

And, both today and at the last show I attended (the remarkable Marlene Ver Planck), following lukewarm audience responses to some songs not as widely known, I've been a little annoyed on behalf of these wonderful musicians. Silly as that is, today my churlish brain also began silently chastising the audience: How often do you people get to hear something this extraordinary for nothing? Come on. 

Much as it can get to me, when people treat my music as auditory wallpaper, it's understandable - with no musical notoriety no one is otherwise paying to see me. But Carol Fredette is performing at the Iridium in July (check out her website); Ver Planck plays concerts worldwide. It's free, people - lean in, clap after a soloist takes a turn, give the less familiar tunes the same attention you do "The Way You Look Tonight", please?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Throwing It Up And Out

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/search?q=Escaping+Celebrities

When I asked for help escaping celebrities three years ago, several people offered guidance. The most helpful suggestion was to periodically go on a "media fast". As my discipline implementing that suggestion continues to improve, I welcome any additional ideas - nothing is too far-fetched.

In the meanwhile, I'm offering a reward to the person who invents a RETCH, a device that can help all of us Reduce Exposure To Celebrity Hype. I've sent a request for proposal to Scientific American, written a scholarly article for Harvard Business Review, and contacted several organizations aligned with the cause including Volunteers Offended by Media Information Trash.

I'm hopeful the RETCH prototype is ready for me to try before the next time Alec Baldwin leaves home.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Gonna Need A Wider Boardwalk

Talk about close to home. In "Close To Shore" (2001), Michael Capuzzo describes the panic that ensued when a rogue great white shark killed four people and seriously injured one more in early July, 1916. The second victim was devoured in the surf of Spring Lake NJ, a town two miles from me. My wife and I routinely take walks on the beach there.

Capuzzo has a solid sense of pace. His chapters toggle between those devoted to the era and people who lived or vacationed in the three NJ towns where the attacks took place next to chapters about the rogue white and early 20th century ichthyology. By the time the first victim meets his gruesome end (in Beach Haven, Long Beach Island in three and a half feet of water), my heart rate was accelerated. The eyewitness accounts the author cites are terrifying and stomach-churning in equal measure. I was not at all surprised to learn Peter Benchley based his bestseller "Jaws" on the incidents Capuzzo relates.

The last three attacks (two fatal) all took place on a single day - in fresh water - eleven miles inland in the Matawan Creek, information revealed on the book jacket. Anyway, mentioning it doesn't qualify as a spoiler - Capuzzo has skill to spare as a storyteller. He describes the terror gripping people at a time when beach recreation was a fairly new phenomenon at the same time he uses early 21st century science to make some startling conjectures about the future. Now each time a walk at Spring Lake crosses my mind, I hear Roy Schneider telling Robert Shaw "...we're gonna need a bigger boat...".

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Booby Prizes, Chickens, Eggs

What gets in your way first? Distractions? That sense of being overwhelmed? Laziness? Non-clinical depression? Which of those four elements (and the host of unnamed others) are chickens vs. eggs for you when it comes to diminished productivity? Or (GASP!), is productivity of little or no concern to you?

On a sliding scale of positive to neutral (?) to unflattering, people have variously described me as actualized, goal-oriented, driven, intense, inflexible. Each of those descriptions has probably held some grain of truth at different points in my life.

So, when this actualized/goal-oriented/driven/intense/inflexible blogger feels unmotivated, leading toward unproductive, it's usually difficult to identify which of the four elements above (and the host of unnamed others) came first. You? It probably doesn't matter a great deal, but this particular chicken/egg question is on my mind and I'd like to know your thoughts.

Actually, asking these questions/this post stands at the nexus of this day of meandering productivity. Early this a.m., I had occasion to read a journal entry from a few weeks back chastising myself for lack of progress on my next long form writing project. So, was the distraction of my journal entry the chicken followed by the egg of laziness? Or, was feeling overwhelmed about the project the egg that came before a short dip in mood (aka non-clinical depression) chicken? Or was one of that host of unnamed other elements the chicken? The egg?

Werner Erhard: "Why is the booby prize".

Sunday, May 11, 2014

"Must Be A Hair Ball!"

My mother-in-law ,Willie Kay Rowe (nee Roop), was someone easy to love.

She knew from the start I was around for good and always made me feel welcome in her home. Aside from her easy laugh and grace, she was a formidable Scrabble opponent. When I took too long on my turn, something that still drives her daughter to distraction 36 years later, Willie Kay was patient. I'm also pleased to report my conversion to vegetarianism did not occur until after I'd sampled her Southern-style biscuits and gravy numerous times. Timing is everything.

Early on, I recognized several traits Willie Kay shared with my Mom - intense devotion to family, an unmistakable core of decency and kindness, generosity of spirit. And they both loved to laugh. When I met Willie Kay my Mom had been gone just under a year and her laugh had started to fade a little. From 1978-1987 Willie Kay's laugh helped fill that space, especially when she'd say "must be a hair ball!" whenever I repeatedly cleared my throat. Now? Part of Willie Kay's legacy is mine each time my wife laughs - it's a sound no one can resist.  

I miss her.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Not There - Until It Is

Most of us have had the experience of suddenly noticing something a great deal once it has become part of our frame of reference. The car that suddenly starts appearing everywhere after you begin driving one, the "new" word appearing in everything you read after you learn what it means, etc. What has been your most recent experience of this phenomenon?

I had no idea blogging was held in such low esteem before I began. If I had, given my need for approval, it's unlikely I'd have ever started. But start I did and ever since, few days have gone by when I haven't noticed something in print that bashes or belittles blogging - the NY Times is particularly disdainful. Over the past three and a half years, my empathy for people who sell used cars has appreciably increased.

Some days the discouraging words stop me cold. Then my logical mind reminds me it's not personal and I'm back on the horse. I also remind myself the critics of blogging were braying long before I began - just like people were driving that car or using that word, other things that escaped me until they didn't.


This post is lovingly dedicated to my sisters. The three of us have discussed this phenomenon - psychology calls it schemata (in our frame) vs. scotoma (a "blind spot" in our frame) - for many years. Take two, girls.    

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Assist With A Dorky Dilemma

One hit wonders in popular music are so common entire books are devoted to the subject. Although far less common, avid readers can easily cite examples of authors who produced just one exceptional novel. Why then is it so difficult for even a movie geek like me to readily identify a parallel from film, i.e. an actor who made a huge splash in a well known movie and was subsequently not seen again?

I purposefully did not scour the Internet before beginning this post because I wondered, inconsequential as it may be, if anyone else, especially other film nerds, can name even one instance like this. I'm not talking about an obscure performance, no matter how excellent, in a little seen movie. What I'm wondering is, without research, can anyone come up with a comparable one-off film performance as enduring as "Vehicle" (the only hit by the Ides of March) or "To Kill A Mockingbird"  (Harper Lee's only novel) from a widely seen film? The closest I got, and it's weak, is Kathleen Lloyd's turn opposite Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando in "Missouri Breaks". Lloyd pretty much disappeared after that mess but the movie doesn't really stand up against "Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye" (the Casinos) or "Invisible Man" (Ralph Ellison) anyway.

I really want your help with this dorky dilemma. Shed some light on why you think there are so few parallels. Or, give me an example if you have one. Just promise me you won't use Google.  

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Smart And Foolish

Aside from awe, what is your predominant feeling when encountering art of towering brilliance? I veer from genuine gratitude to pure joy to mild despair, sometimes within a span of minutes.

 If it hadn't been a book club choice, it's doubtful I would have ever chosen to re-read Thornton Wilder's 1938 play "Our Town". Although I can't clearly recollect my young-in-life reaction when first reading it, I'm sure it wasn't a favorite - too little Drama. The younger Pat was too literal a reader to understand how much is contained in Wilder's three short acts. Much kinder than saying I was dense.

After re-reading this masterpiece (and letting my mild despair dissipate), a few things became clear:
* Wilder was a remarkably wise 41 year old. I'm also guessing he would not have objected to being called a Buddhist.
*  Requiring young students to read "Our Town" is smart & foolish in equal measure. Smart because it is a timeless piece of art; foolish because the lessons can not be fully apprehended by most young people. Smart because the few young people who grasp its brilliance might be inspired to create more great art; foolish because some young people who read it may unwisely decide to abandon reading.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Noisier Than Thou

For about two hours, it buzzed like a gigantic mosquito. In my mind, a blog rant began to take shape. And then I wondered: What modern day noise do I regularly create that might likewise disturb someone else's need for quiet? What is your contribution?

Following my father's example, I usually resist using my car horn. But I have succumbed on occasion and added to the modern cacophony. I've also talked myself out of snow blowers, weed whackers and punishing outdoor stereo speakers. But...until I retire my loud lawnmower and replace it with the old fashioned noiseless type, it's hypocritical to chastise those who choose blowing over raking or shoveling and boom boxes and big speakers over ear buds. In classic denial mode, knowing all this has not prevented me from going on a toot about ubiquitous modern-day noise. How about you? When was the last time you got all noisier than thou? Was it before or after your car alarm went off for no reason?

Every time that neighbor gets out the leaf blower to clear his lawn, closely followed by his half of the street (no exaggeration!), my wife listens to me complain. She patiently tolerates my nonsense, usually. I'm hoping she doesn't read this post - I want to hold onto my righteous indignation.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

A Moment

The moments are few and far between. But on those occasions when my public guitar playing briefly transports me, all those hours of solitary practice are suddenly worth the effort.

My own musical moments of near rapture almost never match up with what anyone who is listening responds to. But last night, even that rare confluence occurred. During my first set, I was near the beginning of a second chorus of "How Insensitive" when a brief and very simple improvised phrase made me laugh with joy. As I looked up, someone in the middle of the noisy room smiled and nodded at me.

The memory of a second set that disappointed me will soon fade. That moment is mine forever.          

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Re-Connecting

Since March 15, the date marking my fourth year of regular blogging, each day I've re-read my 2011 posts before beginning to write. The objective has been to see what's shifted for me over the ensuing three years. If any of you keep anything like a journal, maybe you'll join me and tell me what's changed for you over the same period.

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2011/05/connecting.html

Before today, nothing I wrote in 2011 struck a nerve. But re-reading May 3 has me in a more reflective place -
* Later in 2011, reading EM Forster's novel "Howard's End", I was startled to see the quote that opens my early post ("Only connect"). My subsequent book journal entry about Forster's novel contains a digression about the link between connecting with others and vulnerability.
* During the 2011 holiday season, continued musings on those links prompted me to write a post about friends who have let me go and how desperate I might seem to them for trying to remain connected. I then quickly moved from existential angst to practical considerations, deciding who to remove from my address book so I could avoid sending nonreciprocal holiday greetings.  
* My default posture (i.e. remaining vulnerable in order to connect more meaningfully with others) has taken a few other hits over the last three years. But until I discover a better way to connect, I'll take my bumps.

What's changed for you since 2011 with respect to connecting or re-connecting?            

Thursday, May 1, 2014

OMG! Read This ASAP, Then RIP

FYI, though the CEO might be MIA, COO and other VIPs will be there. Avoid the GWB. RSVP & BYOB.

If midtown TGIF is SRO, take the A to IHOP in SOHO for teleconference. BTW, WIFI there is DIY, waiters are often AWOL, BLTs are marginal.

Program: CIO = progress on SEO; CFO = review of P&L; EEO officer = advice on CYA . WC is the breakout room for AFL/CIO discussion re the FMLA - LOL!


PB via "Hair" & "Good Morning Vietnam"