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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.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Simple Model - Hard Work

According to an often used model of communication, true intimacy is attained when we withhold nothing from another individual. Over your lifetime, how many times have you been truly intimate with someone?

Nothing is quite a bar. Each time I come across this model, I'm lost in my head for a while thinking about my communication with the people important to me based on the seven stages described. The model is a fluid continuum (often shown as a concentric circle) with "ritual communication" - like you might have exchanging platitudes with your mailman or a clerk at a store - on the outer circle and true intimacy at the center. Moving from the outside to the center are "small talk", "planned activities", "shared bits and pieces", "shared feelings" & "shared hopes and dreams".

In my reflections, I often start by thinking about my routine communication with my sisters and brother. Sometimes the exercise ends right there but if any energy remains, I might move onto my adult nieces, in-laws or close friends. By then I'm usually so exhausted it's time for a silly movie or a nap. Then I steer clear of books or articles about communication for a long time, just in case that model is cited.      

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Bookworm And His World

It would be difficult to over-state how much the Great Courses offered via the Teaching Company have enriched my life. If you've never been exposed to the remarkable quality of this CD lecture series, visit their website today.

Because I'm in my car far less than when I worked full time, it takes me a lot longer to finish listening to a course these days - it's the only reason I miss driving as much. And though I could listen at home or on my I-pod while at the gym, there's always music competing for my attention in those circumstances. At present, I'm about 30% through "Classic American Literature" - 42 CDs, comprising 84 one hour lectures. Yesterday I missed my exit because the lecturer had me so riveted discussing Walt Whitman. What a bookworm's feast!

If any of you know this company's work and want to recommend a title to me, please don't. After finishing "Classic American Literature", I'll be starting "The Western Intellectual Tradition - Descartes Through Derrida" (18 CDs, 36 lectures) and then circling back to "Buddhism" (12 CDs, 24 lectures). By then it could be 2016 and I'll have forgotten what you recommended anyway. Besides, I already own several more my hungry ears are anxious to return to. What a world!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Bibliophile, Film Historian, Wordsmith

How many unique business cards have you had over your whole working life? Between the years of full and part time self-employment and all my bands and other musical adventures, I've had over twenty. I've still got one of most of them stored with my journals; quirky, I know. How many of yours have you kept?

Recently, I concluded the time had arrived for my first post full time work card. It was fun and enlightening deciding how to re-invent myself this time around. How many descriptors would I use and in what order would they appear? Did all the descriptors necessarily have to be money-making endeavors? What would you put on a business card if you were re-inventing yourself?

I finally settled on "guitarist, educator, blogger". The order has little inherent logic, not even an alphabetical one. And so far in my post full time work life I've made more $$ teaching than performing, though I do spend more hours playing guitar. Still, despite the $$ and my formal training as an educator, guitarist just feels like it belongs first right now.

I also originally thought of using writer vs. blogger - who would know the difference, right? Anyway, since the initial run was able to be a modest one hundred cards, it will be easy and inexpensive to re-invent myself as a writer (or anything I want really) on subsequent printings - cool.
   

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Book Club Report

Remember doing book reports in school? Did you enjoy doing them - like yours truly- or dread them? Or..something in between?

Being a serial book club surfer for the past four and one half years, I feel justified giving my first book club report. Please submit yours. A few suggested guidelines, which you can freely ignore:
* You've been in at least three book clubs
* You've attended at least two meetings for each of the three
* You finished the selected books

My blog; I get to go first -
"At today's meeting, the overwhelming majority of people present to discuss "The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao" (Junot Diaz -2007) either disliked or had significant difficulty with the book. Among the reasons cited: "...too much untranslated Spanish...", "...footnotes were distracting...", "...the violence, language and sex were too graphic..." The distinct minority opinion - shared by only the moderator and this reporter - was nonetheless respected. Moderator led the conversation competently, piggy-backing on the brief comments participants made at the opening of the meeting to help the discussion remain organic. Pontificating at the meeting was minimal as were generalizations and cultural stereotyping, with one notable exception. Bottom line: The club is a keeper". 

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2013/01/a-book-to-savor.html

Monday, September 1, 2014

What Holiday?

Unions have never occupied a big part of my own working life. I've been self-employed, worked in retail, and most of my years with Government were spent in management paying mandatory Union dues while reaping no benefits, not even cost-of-living increases. There were several instances when the wages of Union employees reporting to me were higher than my own.

That aside, my reflection today is neatly encapsulated by the title of this post. With the ever-diminishing influence of Unions assisted and accompanied by the prevailing political posture demonizing anyone represented by a Union, public or private, does it strike anyone else as mildly anachronistic that we still celebrate Labor Day? Put another way, do you suppose the Governors of Wisconsin and New Jersey, to name just two big fans of organized labor, are displaying flags and enjoying a barbecue today? And if so, why?

My bitter tone here may be a type of mourning for men like my Dad who would have been at the mercy of some unscrupulous people if he hadn't had a Union watching out for him. And I'm not so naive as to imagine there are no corrupt people embedded in Unions (and a few in concrete - RIP Jimmy). I also think Teacher's Unions have long protected some people with no business educating our children. But on balance, I'll take my chances with politicians who respect the concept of collective bargaining over their opponents. So, happy Labor Day to my long gone Dad and all the other working men and women whose hard labor helped build many of the mansions housing their most outspoken critics.