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Monday, June 30, 2014

Messing With A Maxim

"The unexamined life is not worth living." : Socrates

As someone who spends a fair amount of time in his head, I've lately been questioning the value of adhering to this oft-quoted maxim. How about this? "The unlived life is not worth examining". Isn't it just as important to live fully, a driver in our lives as opposed to a passenger? If we don't approach each day as if it might be our last, what exactly will we examine?

I'm not advocating mindless activity for its own sake. But a comment received on my last post reminded me how self-indulgence (aka excessive examination) can remove me from work waiting to be done with others. My astute reader's observation about helping other people as an antidote to the blues left me chastened. How did this simple but powerful truth temporarily slip my mind? Too much examining and not enough doing, perhaps?

It's unlikely my propensity for introspection will ever completely disappear. But it's high time to begin tossing around those words of Socrates. Which maxims are you messing with at present?

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Still Blogging Away The Blues

Over three years during which the blues have been more a passenger than a driver. I cannot recall any period of comparable length during my adult life when this has been so. I've got more energy, feel more creative, laugh more easily (including at myself) and most significantly, I pay a lot more attention.

Blogging has opened me up in so many ways I'm concerned what will close if I stop. The discipline now feels as critical to my mental health as playing guitar, exercising, journalling, meditating, reading. The blues haven't disappeared but if I wait until I'm out of the wallowing phase before writing, they're good blog fodder. And those post-wallowing posts usually help any remaining blues dissipate a little quicker. What technique or discipline have you most recently discovered to lift you when you're low?

Too early to declare complete victory but not too early to be grateful. I knew as early as my June 27 2011 post (below) blogging was good for me. Didn't know that early on just how good. Thanks to every one of you who has hung in there with me, through moping posts and otherwise.

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2011/06/blogging-away-blues.html

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Pat At Bat - You On Deck

How many of us are satisfied if one out of every three decisions we make turn out well and the other two are duds? What if one of every three of our relationships is a winner and the others go nowhere? If we start three projects and only one gets successfully completed, what goes through our heads?

If a baseball player bats .333 over a lifetime he gets into the Hall of Fame. So how come up til now going one for three has not felt so good? I've decided using the Hall of Fame guideline will help make some of my expectations more realistic. Effective immediately, I'm headed for the Hall of Fame when...

* One of every three blog posts gets a reaction of any kind (online or off) from anyone.
* I surmount the technical challenges presented by one out of every three new songs learned on guitar.
* I talk myself out of losing my patience or my temper one out of every three times.

Please join me in the exercise by sharing a few of your ideas; Cooperstown beckons.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Your Modifications To My Minimalist Manifesto?

Though it may be duh-worthy, my preference for minimalism, at least with respect to my favorite art forms, escaped me until quite recently.

As happens regularly, this dim insight came into sharp focus following a conversation with my wife. She was describing her mild impatience with the speeches that masquerade as dialogue on "The West Wing" and Adam Sorkin's follow-up "The Newsroom". I heard myself agreeing with her view and also bemoaning my similar impatience with some of David Mamet's work. BTW, the absurdity of a never-was blogger being impatient with the work of two creative giants does not escape me.

But when I stopped to further consider what's likely to move me in drama, Sam Shepherd's plays first came to mind - spare, lots of space. Music? Even when I'm awed by a talent like Joe Pass on guitar or Bird's hot alto, something about the leaner playing of Jim Hall or Miles' post-bebop cool trumpet captivates me more. Film? Epics like "Lawrence Of Arabia" or "Gladiator" are amazing; much smaller films like "Stone Boy" or "Rabbit Proof Fence" or "Winter's Bone" linger longer. In literature, supple metaphors and shimmering language dazzle (when reading Updike, Pat the minimalist retreats a bit), but simple sentences with one syllable words are likely to find their way into my book journal. Try finding a last sentence packing more punch than the one that ends "A Lesson Before Dying" by Ernest Gaines.

Other minimalists, please weigh in with some of your favorites. Everyone else - bring on your recommendations for the spectacles, the anthems, the big showy masterpieces - plenty of room for modifications in this minimalist's tent.  

Monday, June 23, 2014

My Grade (So Far): Versatility

versatility: capability or adaptability to turn easily from one to another in various tasks, fields of endeavor, etc.

Based on that definition, how would you grade yourself so far for versatility? Like many extroverts, my default mode when it comes to tasks and endeavors has often been pursuing breadth vs. depth. Until I was about 40, that personality trait could sometimes make it difficult to identify when I'd crossed the line from versatile to dilettante.

Still, after a steady twenty five years dialing down my extrovert while simultaneously focusing my passions, I'm comfortable giving myself a "B" (so far) for versatility - room to grow but clearly an attribute that has improved based on the steps I've taken.

I'm especially curious to hear from anyone who would call themselves an introvert. How does that personality trait - which usually moves people to prefer depth over breadth - affect how you perceive your versatility? Oh, OK extroverts I want to hear from you as well - as if you needed further encouragement.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Horse With No Box

Cliches often gain their initial traction because they contain some kernel of usefulness or truth. Then the words are repeated so frequently we stop hearing them. And then sometimes, a cliche so hoary it usually induces groans returns like a flash of light, begging us to pay attention.

"Thinking outside the box" probably began losing its luster for me in the 90's. Many of the training classes I conducted during those years had exercises designed to demonstrate how "thinking outside the box" enhanced creativity, managed stress, ensured world peace. Then several years ago, I began noticing how much more trouble I had reading music featuring notes above or below the staff. Not long after, I detected a similar difficulty among my guitar students. Soon it dawned on me - those higher and lower notes presented more challenge because they were not enclosed by a box, i.e. the staff.  But I quickly moved on, arrogantly leaving "thinking outside the box" buried in the cliche graveyard. Until yesterday.

I'm at the stable where I've worked as a volunteer for over three years. Until recently, a paddock about 100 feet square was contained by fencing. My task yesterday? To mow the old paddock area plus an area almost the same size adjacent to the old paddock; that second area hasn't had fencing for much longer and I assisted a while back to clear and seed it. So far, so good, right? I start mowing in that second area and when I get to the perimeter what happens? I turn the mower around and go back the other way. Back and forth I go in that second area three or four times before it occurs to me to continue on the mower (in a straight line!) to the old paddock area that used to be contained - as in, there was once a box. Except now, there is no box.

Thinking outside the box has now been officially resurrected - no italics, no quote marks to indicate ironic distance. Based on where this flash of light struck, I'm also re-considering that one about the horse returning to the barn, with Pat in the role of Mr. Ed.      

Friday, June 20, 2014

A Post Teaching Post

One of the nicest by-products of teaching beginner's guitar is how often I'm around children. Teaching beginner adults has its joys, but children usually come without the excess baggage we grown-ups tend to lug around. The openness children bring to music lessons energizes and humbles me.

Enthusiasm is always contagious; childhood enthusiasm is magical and when related to music, it's captivating. Big smile, shy grin, robust laugh, quiet giggle - my day is made. I've frequently reflected how wonderful it would be were I able to be disarmed by adults as easily as I am by children. Do you have similar difficulty dropping your guard around adults? Kids seem to bring out the parts of me I like. And the music sweetens the deal.

Even my judgmental side behaves when I'm with children - another reason I like hanging out with them. But right now I'm alone and here comes one of those nasty judgments. I just don't get people who say they don't like children.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Three Years Of Shameless Pandering

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2011/06/zeitgeist-of-justin-bieber.html

The post above from June 20, 2011 was the first of many shameless attempts I've subsequently made to boost my readership. Just to be clear: Short of reneging on my mission or going XXX, I'm open to most any idea you can think of to attract more readers, especially those who will help jump start a robust online conversation. In the meanwhile, a big thanks to those of you who read and comment already.

Starting out, I naively thought the significant number of views reported from other countries meant I'd gone instantly global. I've since learned about "bots" that scan the blogosphere 24/7 and the effect that has on artificially inflating viewing statistics. But despite some initial disappointment, this geography geek turned that into lemonade. The sixty-one foreign countries that have turned up to date in my stats (FYI, Russia is now in the lead with almost 2000 views - all bots I'm pretty sure) are put to use in my project to eat the cuisine of every country in the world. When my wife and I are looking for a new country to sample, out comes the list of bot-initiated countries that have stumbled onto my blog. Voila - Cameroon here we come.

Later this month, one of the modules offered in a writing course I'm taking is about blogs. I'm hopeful the suggestions made in that module will assist in boosting my readership. Or, at least provide ideas to bring me up a notch from shameless pandering to pathetic grovelling.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Bibliophile Or...?

How many books are on your current "to read" list? Which people most influence what goes on that list? What is the percentage of fiction vs. non-fiction?

For a bookworm like me these are not idle questions. The first year after I stopped working full time the number of books on my list went down - that was a first. Unfortunately, the trend has not continued. Because I'm now reading more than ever, I'm continually discovering new authors - many of them are really good. And the five women that most influence my choices are a dependable crew.

So, I've got the significant back catalog of all these new authors and my crew - enough to keep me busy but not enough to make my list scary. However, here come the goals:
* Read a non-fiction book alongside every novel.
* Read at least two "classics" each year, written before my birth and by authors I've never read.
* Keep up with the books selected by my multiple book clubs, including one I no longer attend meetings for. But, the moderator of that club happens to be the newest member of my crew.

I'll leave it up to you to decide if I've crossed a line from bibliophile to something less flattering. I've got a book waiting for me.

Monday, June 16, 2014

A Semi-Eerie Bloomsday

What are the chances the book I'd finish closest to Bloomsday would take place in Ireland? Also, a large part of the action in "The Secret Scripture" occurs during the time James Joyce began gaining notoriety. A third Bloomsday connection - the central role played by the Catholic church in Sebastian Barry's 2008 novel.

"For history, as far as I can see, is not the arrangement of what happens, in sequence and in truth, but a fabulous arrangement of surmises and guesses held up as a banner against the withering assault of truth."

Roseanne Clear is Presbyterian - strike one. She resists an arranged marriage with a man over twice her age and instead marries into the clannish McNulty family - strike two. Father Gaunt catches her speaking with a man who is not her husband - strike three. Throw in the political and religious conflict arising from the birth of Ireland as an independent nation and add a second narrator's voice. Dr. William Greene is a psychiatrist at Roscommon Regional Mental Hospital - Roseanne has been institutionalized there for over sixty of her one hundred years.

Now if "Philomena" had been the most recent movie I'd seen, that would have been really odd. Read this terrific book, see that wonderful film and then tell me if you don't agree I'm having a semi-eerie Bloomsday.  

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Proud Father, Grateful Son

If you are a father, what about your children makes you the most proud? What about you made your own father the most proud?

My daughter graduated college in May 2011 and was living in NYC by August that same year. Of the many ways she's made me proud, her drive to be on her own is perhaps at the top of the list. It's not that I looked forward to not seeing her every day or wouldn't miss kissing her while she slept. But her mother and I tried raising her to look at the world as an exciting place to explore and to think of challenges she'd encounter as opportunities to grow. The fact that she wanted to tackle the world and support herself with minimal help so soon after graduating told us she wasn't unduly afraid of what she'd face.

Although I'm not certain how my Dad would answer, I'd guess me being the first of his children to get a Graduate Degree would be near the top of his list. And Father's Day is a good opportunity to thank him for the role he played in that milestone. I started Graduate School in September 1996; Dad died in October 1997. My final year was paid for via my inheritance. Thanks Dad.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Back and Fourth: Can This Be Right?

Although several people have commented on enjoying some of the series I've created via this blog, it's safe to say no one has enjoyed them as much as I. And the "Can This Be Right?" series, although arriving just once a year, might be my favorite. Please join in and share some words that make you scratch your head each time you hear or see them in print.

1.) gainsay - to deny. How can this be right? I say it and you gainsay it? It doesn't even sound like a verb. Every time this word appears in print, not a frequent occurrence I grant you, the dictionary comes out.

2.) limpid - lucid; completely calm; without distress or worry. Come on! If I equated going limp and being calm as the same thing, maybe I'd remember what limpid means. Fat chance.

3.) risible - having the ability, disposition or readiness to laugh. Of the twelve words used to date for this series, risible might be in a league all its own. Try using this word in a conversation - I'm guessing laughter will not be among the reactions you get.

Guano, natty, prosaic; fulsome, pulchritude, comely; ordnance, enervated, avuncular. Even after deconstructing those nine words in the first three installments, two of them still give me pause each time I run across them, let alone try to use them. "Though she was a comely woman, her natty attire had an enervating effect on the fulsome man she called her husband."  Can this be right? 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Spotty Signal - Awful Movie

Coming to you from Blue Mountain Lake, upstate New York. How long this Internet connection is going to last (and whether it will work at all tomorrow) is anyone's guess. So, having been frustrated when faced with similar situations over the past three years, this will be brief.

Didn't think it could get much worse than the music they play at my local theater. I agree to go there only when my wife assures me we will sit down just as a film starts and I can avoid being subjected to another execrable instrumental rendition of "Hey Jude"; no exaggeration - this is painful stuff.

But I would have gladly endured an hour of that musical torture in place of the film we last saw there. "The Other Woman", starring Cameron Diaz and Leslie Mann, is so bad I wonder how it got made. Don't waste your money, please. That's all folks.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Continuing The Quest

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2011/06/quest-for-authenticity.html

Three years on, the questions I posed about authenticity in the post above remain vexing to me. Until I learn to transcend ego, this is probably unavoidable.

On the plus side, blogging has clearly assisted me in my quest. An anonymous comment received on my May 25 post about thoughtfulness was affirming, especially since "public" authenticity, like in a blog, runs a high risk of being cringe-inducing. The comment encouraged me to stay the course.

As with almost everything, fear is the biggest barrier. My fears about being authentic are often masked by a need for approval. An excellent suggestion from "Writing Is My Drink" (Theo Pauline Nestor) is helping me break through that need. Nestor recommends an automatic writing exercise using "This is what I think..." then not censoring yourself as you complete that sentence stem in ten minute bursts. Though I've done similar stuff in the past, my last two bursts, though very raw, have been revealing.

The next step? Publish something here, placing authenticity above need for approval, politeness and political correctness. Am I afraid? You bet.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

What Are You Looking At?

Imagine you're sitting somewhere people watching. What would cross your mind as you walked by?

Living near the ocean, my wife and I have ample opportunity to people watch. And like many people, we're not above being snarky. Recently our whispered comments prompted me to wonder what snide remarks I'd make about me (or us) as I (or we) came into view.

Why doesn't that guy trim those eyebrows?

How long do you suppose he's owned that pair of glasses?

How's that for a shoe and matching sock?

Maybe the next time we're walking on the boardwalk I'll look for someone looking at us and approach them to ask what they were thinking. What do you suppose are my chances of getting an honest answer?

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Song Is You (Reprise)

Music, you are everything - every little thing. I'm alive, I'm still here because time after time through the years you make me feel brand new.

The two of us - laughing, crying - walking on sunshine, walking in the rain. It might as well be spring, everyday. Summer wind, autumn leaves, winterwood - you and I- yesterday, today, tomorrow.

Maybe, if time is on my side, I will survive one hundred years. The last song in my life? I love you, I want you, I remember you.


http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-song-is-you.html

*A year ago today my sister responded to the spirit of my original post (above), writing me an e-mail using song titles without a single filler word. Would love it if someone else gave it a try, online or off.* 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Paying An Important Debt

Tomorrow morning I'll climb out of my comfortable bed, put on dry clothes, brush my teeth. I'll have some juice before leaving the house, drive to a local coffee shop to pick up a breakfast sandwich and cup of coffee.  I'll eat my sandwich and drink my coffee en route to my volunteer work at the stable. I'll spend the next few hours there doing what needs to be done.

Around 1:00, I'll return home, take a shower, have some lunch. I'll spend the afternoon reading or writing or playing my guitar or some combination of the three. My wife and I will have dinner, maybe go see a movie.

I don't know what my Father climbed out of on the morning of June 6, 1944 but I'm guessing it wasn't real comfortable. Wouldn't be surprised if he skipped brushing his teeth. If his clothes were dry when he put them on, they didn't stay that way for long. Food? K-rations, perhaps. Juice, coffee? Unlikely.

I can't imagine what the rest of my Father's day was like on Normandy Beach seventy years ago. But writing this post has reminded me to try - I owe him that.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Keep Me Guessing (And Get Those DJs A Real Job)

Breaking tradition, today I feel compelled to blog about a book I've not yet (quite) completed. 

Stunning prose excepted, what I've enjoyed most about "Harvest" is how unsure I've been from the start where author Jim Crace has been taking me. It's thrilling to be less than 20 pages from the conclusion of his 2013 novel with little idea how it will end. It's usually OK when films about underdog sports teams or inspiring teachers end exactly how you expect them to end. But books that formulaic or predictable annoy me more than DJs who think they're musicians.

If any of you have read "Harvest" and can recall, please tell me what you thought was going to happen and when you thought it. And then tell me if you were right. As soon as this post is published, I'm returning to page 188, right after Walter ingests the wild mushrooms. I won't spoil the ending for anyone who hasn't read it as long as you promise to point me toward another book of this quality that will keep me guessing without manipulating me like a cheap thriller.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Stepping On Dreams

What was the last line of dialogue from a film or book that landed hard with you even if you had trouble immediately identifying why?

"I don't see a lot of money here."

It's been months since I saw "Inside Llewyn Davis". And though I immediately recognized the precision of that line of dialogue above upon hearing it, it's taken me a while to process why it shook me up so much. Like all concise writing, there's a world in those eight simple words. After a promoter listens to one of Llewyn's songs, he offhandedly makes this remark - a soul is crushed, a dream minimized.

At first, it was a short distance from that brief scene in the film to recalling instances when people have wounded me with unthinking words. Then my reflections shifted: How many times have I similarly discouraged others by being insensitive, sometimes in the name of "honesty"? How many times have you? In my experience, when something lingers like this, and turns up in my dreams, the work to be done is probably mine.      

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Giving Ourselves Permission

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/search?q=Unsent+Letters

Of the three communications I've initiated with authors since writing the post above (one via US mail, two via author blogs), only Theo Pauline Nestor ("Writing Is My Drink") responded directly. And though her response was wisely terse, it felt sincere.

Soon after re-reading my post, I realized my public "confession" three years ago about unsent letters acted as a catalyst and gave me permission to do something I'd long resisted, i.e. telling an artist what their work has meant to me. The letter I sent to author Amy Bloom about her novel "Away" is dated June 2, 2011. Later in the year I also contacted Nina Sankovitch ("Tolstoy and The Purple Chair") via her blog, attaching my post (below) about her remarkable memoir, which had assisted me to climb out of a serious dip. Although I didn't receive a direct response from Sankovitch, that post immediately became a highly viewed one, making me reasonably sure she read it and possibly forwarded it to others. Good enough.

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2011/09/literature-as-lifeline.html

Next: A short note (short for me anyway) to Barbara Ehrenreich's blog right on the heels of finishing "Bright Sided" (2009) - terrific, if sobering book about positive thinking. Glad I gave myself permission to begin doing this. What have you resisted giving yourself permission to do?