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My most recent single release - "My True North" - is now available on Bandcamp. Open my profile and click on "audio clip".

Friday, October 31, 2014

Early Autumn

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Air Guitar Amnesty

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

"Well, That Explains The Hostility"

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 26, 2014

My Grade (So Far): Compassion

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Keeping It Ad Hoc

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

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

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

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Imagine This Day, Only Different

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Where Is That Nutcracker Again?

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

That Old Devil Stress

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 20, 2014

New Dance Partners


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

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

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

Friday, October 17, 2014

End Of The Slump

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

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

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

Thursday, October 16, 2014

#27: The Mt. Rushmore Series

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

1.) Euthanizing a beloved pet.

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

3.) Being arrested.

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

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

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Right Time And Place

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

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

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

Monday, October 13, 2014

Calling Ponce de Leon

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

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

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

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Forever Proud

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

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

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

Friday, October 10, 2014

Healing Words

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Thanks For The Memories

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Bell Curve Focus Group

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

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

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

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Still Searching


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

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

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

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Assistance With Creeping Fuddy Duddyism

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

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

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

Your able assistance is sincerely welcomed.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Edward Lowell Barton

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Appreciating A Basic Need

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

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

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

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