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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Re: Hitting, Aiming, Missing

One distinct advantage to having an actress daughter is being turned onto worthwhile films even a geek like me might otherwise have skipped. "Obvious Child" - starring the precociously talented Jenny Slate as an "almost 30" year old experiencing many of the issues young adults grapple with - is such a film. Who keeps you on your toes vis-a-vis good movies not featuring your own demographic?

"Obvious Child" is not for everyone. It's profane, New York-ish, and politically liberal. It's also very funny, somber in exactly the right places, and spot-on accurate in its portrayal of the evolving relationship young adults have with parents. Because I watched it on a day spent with my daughter, it's possible I was primed to be favorably disposed toward scenes with the main character and her parents. But the most moving scene was a shot of just the main character's face entering anesthesia and the funniest was a dinner the main character shares with her two best friends as they riff on feminism and relationships.

"Obvious Child" was not aimed at me. But it is so far superior to the tired ("Last Vegas"), distancing ("Bucket List"), or mildly depressing ("Robot & Frank") dreck that Hollywood routinely tries to jam down the collective throat of baby boomers. The young characters in "Obvious Child" have much more appeal than the lecherous (Michael Douglas "...Vegas") fabulously wealthy (Jack Nicholson - "Bucket...") and senile (Frank Langella - "Robot...") asses populating many films ostensibly aimed at lifting me up. Note to Hollywood execs: Your aim is off.

Friday, November 28, 2014

My Grade (So Far): Influence

influence: the capacity or power to produce effects on others by intangible or indirect means.

Given the dictionary definition does not specify whether the "effects" are good, bad or indifferent, settling on a self-grade for influence can be problematic. And the word power in that definition points me toward some of history's most notorious characters, some of whom have been highly influential and highly toxic.

But since my last post on Wednesday touched on influence from a posture of abundance, my reflections about this attribute over the last few days have been more benign. How many people would you say you've influenced in a positive manner over your lifetime? What has been your method for exerting that influence? Who has been the most influential for you, in a positive way? What's the difference between being influential and being persuasive?

My grade (so far) for influence? For the time I've spent educating others, I'll give myself an "A", for my misbehavior and the resulting bad effect it had on some others I give myself an "F", and for all the stuff in between I'll take a "C". How about you?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Making A Difference

Although I'm clearly more optimist than pessimist, it's still easy for me to get discouraged thinking about how much of a difference I make in the world. Other optimists  - sound at all familiar?

Recently heard an anecdote that has helped me frame my dilemma in a more positive light. A couple I know have patronized the same skating rink for several years. After some lobbying, the proprietors of the rink agreed to play music provided by the husband, a serious jazz aficionado. One of the younger regulars who also skates there told the husband how much he has grown to appreciate Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. "You never know who is paying attention", this friend first commented to his wife and then later to me when sharing his story. So simple, so true.

There's a corollary to my friend's pertinent takeaway. It can be relatively easy to subtly yet profoundly influence others. Now if the optimist and the teacher in me would just remember this framing the next time I begin getting discouraged about making a difference. If you have a story illustrating my friend's takeaway or my corollary, why not share it? Your stories are yet another means to help fortify that framing.    

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Wrestling Since The Learner's Permit Days

In what area of life do you find yourself most often wrestling with impatience?

Fresh on the heels of yet another example of irrationally losing my patience with a driver, I'm thinking it may be high time to let go more when behind the wheel. One of the late George Carlin's best bits riffed on this human foible when he asked how it could be so many of us characterize other drivers as either a "MANIAC!" (e.g.  driving too fast, switching lanes furiously, running yellow lights) or... an "IDIOT!" (e.g. driving too slow, switching lanes without blinker, stopping for yellow lights). Ah yes, perspective.

Also, since the sorest spot in my 36 year marriage is when my wife and I are in the car together, there's another reason to begin flexing those Buddhist muscles. More serenity, less impatience - has to make our joint driving time more pleasant, right?

And, if you're one of those saints who doesn't lose your patience with others (driving or otherwise), lest you think you've escaped, here's your question: In what way do you test the patience of others? I'll accept comments from someone who claims to not lose their patience and also not test the patience of others only if that person provides visual proof of walking on water. Otherwise, own up, OK?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Key Learnings: Year 65

Before beginning to compose this birthday post each year, I review entries contained in a few of my writing buckets including my regular & book journals and any blog posts that uncover the word "learning" in a keyword search. I do this to help ensure more recent lessons don't end up carrying more weight because of their proximity. What have been your key learnings over the past year? As you consider that, pay attention to your thoughts. Do the more recent learnings loom larger? How far back is the oldest?

* I learned this year how hard it is making the transition from short form to long form writing. Beginning in early 2014 with my 2000 word submission for a magazine contest and continuing through the rest of this year as I slowly chipped away at something much longer, this was a humbling learning experience. And it fortified my resolve not to publicly bash books I don't like. I haven't yet earned the right to do so.

* From many of the adult students who took courses I taught at some local community colleges, I learned to trust my sense of humor more.

* And most recently, I learned a profound lesson from a good friend's comment on my blog post marking the day my Mother died. He said "...many good and loving people never make headlines but ...they do make a difference."

Your turn.  

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Goal For Year 66

For the past three years - via a blog post - I've "publicly" declared a goal (2011 & 2013) or goals (three in 2012) on this date, the day before my birthday. Five goals over three years. What I've learned or re-learned via this exercise:

* It's a good thing no one is holding me accountable. My batting average is .200 so far.
* Either the goals were not realistic to start or... I've taken my eye off the ball too frequently.
* I'm very pleased I began this process.

Had I not publicly declared my 2011 goal (expanding my repertoire on jazz guitar to 300 songs), I'm certain I'd have not made the progress on the instrument I have since then. And even though I adjusted that number down in 2012 - and did not make the lower number either - my playing has never made me happier. Journey, not destination.

Another 2012 goal - getting the number of national cuisines my wife and I have sampled up to 64 by November 2013- was not accomplished. But we're fast approaching that number. And though I also missed my one goal from this date last year - acknowledging a different George Bailey each week - the joy I've derived and given contacting the folks that I have far outweighs the disappointment about not reaching the goal.

So, I'm making this year's goal really easy to get me into Hall Of Fame territory (i.e. 2 for 6, aka .333). After reaching 1000 published blog posts (at my current pace - near mid-April, 2015), I'm going to host a party. Live music, family, good friends and blog readers (provided I know who you are), delicious eats. Why not share with me and others - online now or at that party - your goal(s) for the next year?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Still Playing Forward: Jennifer Egan

Feel free to put today's post - detailing a now-obsolete dilemma - into the over-thinking bucket.

Three years ago, I was so blown away with Jennifer Egan's "A Visit From The Goon Squad" (2010) I could not stop raving about it. I blogged, I effused, I bought it as a holiday gift for several people. But I also avoided trying any of Egan's back catalog - didn't want to risk disappointment. See what I mean about over-thinking? Yet .. I'm guessing the more honest of you might admit having had a similar experience with an author.

"Look At Me" (2001) is not quite as dazzling as "...Goon Squad". But that's like saying "In My Life" is not quite as amazing as "If I Fell". When talking about craft at this level, who cares? This earlier novel is so rich with ideas, spectacular prose and memorable characters, saying what it's "about" feels superfluous. But for the record, it's a thriller, a meditation on identity, an exploration of the toxicity of celebrity. And it was so prescient about 21st century terrorism the author was obligated to add an afterword soon after its release. Read the middle of page 445, double check the copyright and try not to marvel at Egan's fertile imagination.

I'm now more convinced than ever that Egan belongs alongside Toni Morrison as a forward on an all star basketball team of contemporary authors. When you read her work please tell me if you agree.

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2012/05/attention-sports-fans.html

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

It's Patrick

What is one thing about your first name that has occasionally bedeviled you?

Patrick is not a name tied to any wildly popular song that people can annoyingly sing to me as I often have to women named Sherry, Donna & Susan. Actually, if my name has ever been the title of a song I've never heard of it. There are some sexual epithets that rhyme with my name but given the many male monikers that double for genitalia, I happily accept those obnoxious rhymes.

The pun possibilities using the shortened version of my name (care for a ... of butter?; please don't ... me down; are you getting this down ...?) have not always been 100% welcome but here as well, I've fared better than the Matts, Arts, and Phils of the world. Patricks from history? Got a saint and a Revolutionary War era patriot. The bad guys? Not as widely known. Villains from books and film? Not that many.    

If YouTube had never been invented, I might have escaped relatively unscathed. But with people able to indefinitely watch "It's Pat" - a Saturday Night Live bit from the early 90's - I'm now strongly re-considering a lifelong habit of using the shortened version of my name. Call me Patrick, OK? Yes, I know it rhymes perfectly with hat trick but the hockey reference can at least be useful as a metaphor. What possible metaphorical value can be attached to that Julia Sweeney character?  

Monday, November 17, 2014

Marie Elizabeth Rose

At twenty seven, another thirty years represented more than another lifetime for me. So when my Mother died on this day in 1977 at age fifty seven, it was very difficult emotionally but there was an odd disconnect for me cognitively. I knew fifty seven was not old but it also didn't seem that young.

Today my Mother's oldest is almost sixty five, her two girls are sixty three and sixty two, her baby boy is over sixty; that disconnect is long gone. My oldest niece is not far from forty, my daughter is twenty five, most of my friends are older than my Mother was when she died. And irrational as it is, her premature passing now feels more unjust each year. It's been thirty seven years.

On the day my Mother was buried, one of the goons who fire bombed that Birmingham church - killing four schoolgirls in the process - died in prison. I remember and note this because that monster's death making the news that day nauseated me then and still makes me bristle. Someone good and kind and loving left this world on November 17, 1977 - a person worth recalling who never made headlines.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Next Best Thing

"In order to retain the loyalty of those who are present, never speak ill of those who are absent": Stephen Covey

Despite his politics and fundamentalism, the late Stephen Covey's writing has exerted a significant impact on my development as a person. Three of his books - including the runaway bestseller "Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People" - are so marked up I've considered buying 2nd copies. After hearing myself quote him yet again recently with the words opening this post, and then soon after reviewing my notes from those three books, I stopped to reflect - Who introduced me to this man's work? Before that, a few questions for you.

Who first led you to an author that subsequently influenced your life? Have you acknowledged your debt to the person who helped you discover a treasure that could have easily escaped your attention? If no, why not?

With respect to the work of Stephen Covey, my next step was searching out a work colleague from the early 90's. Colleagues the two of us once shared and Facebook helped me find her and send a message saying thanks for a gift given to me over twenty years ago. Most of us will likely not get to meet or interact with authors who've had an impact on our growth. So, why not the next best thing? If you proceed, share with me and others the author who has influenced you, who turned you onto that author, and your path to acknowledging the gift given to you.

Friday, November 14, 2014

All That Furniture

Most of us have at least one intense interest we enjoy sharing with others. When discussing your interest how tuned in are you to when others have tuned out?

Though using "tuned in/out" in the question might be groanworthy coming from me, it's still an apt image. Even my wife and daughter sometimes get that "I'd rather be somewhere else" look when my riffing about music has gone on too long. When was the last time you saw that look? When was the last time you felt yourself giving that look? Do you think the other person had any idea you had checked out?

When I'm the recipient of this mild torture - instead of the torturer- these situations often start out as a capacity issue, like getting a delivery of furniture suitable for a fourteen room mansion while living in a studio apartment. I might enjoy looking at the furniture for a while even if I have no good place to put it. But if more delivery trucks continue arriving or the furniture begins to look unappealing, capacity ceases to be the main issue. Your experiences with all that furniture?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

#28: The Mt. Rushmore Series (1930's version)

A reader recently reminded me of a promise I made in the August iteration of this series. That reminder was welcome for two reasons: Pleasure someone was paying close attention and an opportunity to think carefully about the music of the 1930's.

So, here is my Mt. Rushmore of timeless songs from arguably the richest musical decade of the 20th century. In fact, there are so many great tunes from those ten years this Mt. Rushmore is subject to future demolition and complete re-construction. As with the 1920's, I purposefully chose four different songwriting teams.

1.) Embraceable YouGeorge & Ira Gershwin (1930): The Gershwins oeuvre could easily take all four Mt. Rushmore slots for the 20's & 30's, making it difficult picking just one tune per decade. Of the hundreds of versions of this particular Gershwin chestnut, my current favorite is by Dianne Reeves.

2.) My Funny Valentine: Rodgers & Hart (1937): This song is great on every level but I'll confine my praise to this Lorenz Hart rhyme: "Your looks are laughable, unphotographable". Who has ever topped that? Favorite versions: Sarah Vaughn with the lyric, Miles Davis without.

3.) Over The Rainbow: Harold Arlen & Yip Harburg: (1939): From the octave in the melody that splits the word "somewhere" to the unexpected notes concluding the phrases in the middle eight, this is a song that begs to be played as well as sung. The undisputed best take without the wonderful lyric? Jeff Beck's.

4.) All The Things You Are: Jerome Kern & Oscar Hammerstein II (1939): It is hard to over-praise the musical magic of this tune. And Hammerstein's lyric came up to the same bar.

Your turn: Which four songs from this impossibly rich musical decade would you enshrine?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Rare Sure Thing

The single factor that has most dissuaded me from ever seriously considering living in a 55 and over community is the restriction some of them have about young children. There are few non-musical sounds I enjoy more than the screaming laughter of children.

As three young boys bounded into the local coffee shop a few days ago with the adult accompanying them saying "shush", my internal conversation went something like this -
* Is there such a thing as being too exuberant?
* What price do we pay by tamping our enthusiasm out of consideration for others? Is there an age limit regarding that tamping?
* What does it mean to be "polite" in a public space?

I wonder how many times I "shushed" my daughter when she was around the same age as those boys in the coffee shop. I wonder if back then some neutral adult observer watching me had an internal conversation anything like mine. I wonder what your conversations (internal or otherwise) about childhood laughter, exuberance and enthusiasm - and what happens to those things as we learn consideration and politeness - sound like. Why not share them here with me as I continue my wondering? I'm sure about few things but I am sure anyone reading this was a child at one time.  

Monday, November 10, 2014

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like...

I can hear the groans already but hear me out, OK?

It's not because I'm one of those early shoppers; I rarely hit the stores until the last minute. It's also not because I'm anxious to put out decorations; I dislike when anyone does that before mid-December. For me, it feels like the holiday is upon us because I'm currently re-involved in a massive book my daughter gave me for Christmas 2007 - "We Tell Ourselves Stories In Order To Live" - a 2006 omnibus edition of the collected non-fiction of Joan Didion from 1961-2003.

I've lost count how many times I've returned to this brilliant leviathan. Because my wife or daughter (or sometimes both of them) gives me a tome of this size nearly every Christmas, I first devoured quite a bit back on 12/25/07.  I know I've re-read John Leonard's stunning sixteen page introduction alone at least ten times because my dated notes in the margins tell me so. Each return to an essay or longer piece uncovers a new treasure I'd previously missed. Didion's intellect, powers of observation and writing energize and demoralize me, often in the same moment.

Some years I can easily wolf through my doorstop disguised as gift. "Ten Years In The Tub" (2013) by Nick Hornby, for example, was a manageable 464 pages consumed with time to spare last December 25. Given its intellectual heft and 1200 pages, Didion's book exceeded my single day capacity; it deserves more processing time anyway. But on Christmas 2005, I'm guessing my wife may have regretted her gift to me. "The Beatles" by Bob Spitz is 855 pages - I don't think I stopped to eat that day. And our Christmas eve leftovers are really good.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Walking A Similar Path

So far, my need for support groups has been minimal. Even when my issues have felt onerous, they were unrelated to addiction, enabling an addiction, or an intense grief I couldn't shake. Whenever I've been stuck, it's usually been clear to me that I'm not alone in that struggle.

It is equally clear to me how valuable support groups are for exactly that reason. I'm deeply moved each time I hear someone describe the solace they get just knowing other "normal" people have walked a similar path. There is something incredibly soothing when someone tells their story to a group and others nod as they speak.

Continually hearing about the power of support groups reminds me to use one if a day comes when I'm struggling and feeling alone in my struggle.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Seeing Home A Little Differently

Telling others aloud how much I care about them is one of my better traits. Both my parents died knowing how much they meant to me, making this part of my life largely free of regret. At the same time, I've often noticed how great literature suggests there is significant power in the unspoken word. What was the last novel you read that clearly illuminated this important lesson?

A week later, I can see how that particular lesson had never fully landed with me until I finished processing Marilynne Robinson's "Home" (2008). In her unhurried, contemplative and richly wise prose, Robinson's characters speak softly and simply but what they don't say is often as revealing and loving as what they do. I suspect this book by this gifted author could be a game changer for me.

I will not stop telling those I love how I feel. But the lessons of "Home" about unspoken words will remain with me a long time. In my experience, those kind of lessons have a way of somehow working themselves into a life. What has been your experience?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Minimizing Moping Via Naikan

Thanks to my wife's influence and ongoing education in positive psychology, beginning early this year I added a new element to my journal - each entry there has been accompanied by a statement of gratitude. Even on days when I've repeated myself or noted something mundane to be grateful for over the past ten months, adding this simple step to my routine has helped minimize my moping. Those of you who have tried something like this, even if you haven't yet fully integrated it into your life, please share with others any benefits you've derived.

Some days, like today ("I'm grateful the people I worked with in my last full time job still value my expertise") the entry flows easily. On those days when no obvious "event" stirs my gratitude (and I'm trying not to repeat an earlier entry), I try using a Japanese tradition called "naikan" I first saw attributed to Ishin Yoshomoto. Naikan suggests we each spend time noticing our immediate surroundings and then acknowledge our gratitude for something as basic as the chair we're sitting on. According to this tradition, training yourself to do this helps your life become a small set of miracles, i.e. we become mindful of all the things that go right vs. being preoccupied with the few things that go wrong. I've found it very easy to find things to be grateful for when I remember to use naikan.

I'm curious to hear how this goes for you, online or off.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Catching Up A Bit

In which domain of your life has your ego most limited your growth?

Although it's clear ego has sometimes limited my musical growth, in that domain it is often difficult to make a distinction between how much ego has gotten in the way vs. how much innate musical talent I had to start. That lack of clarity does not apply, however, when considering the intellectual domain.

As a young man, my ego could not abide even non-showboating people who struck me as smarter than I. Out would come that silly sarcasm, the defense mechanism that screams "insecurity". Continuing through my late 30's, I rarely challenged myself intellectually. My interests remained narrow, reading choices were predictable, I did not actively seek out people much more accomplished than I - like I sometimes would with musicians - ego kept me complacent. In the 90's I went on a long diet of only non-fiction which continued through my Graduate program. Noticing the end notes and research cited in all those books was my first genuine wake-up call. By then it was 1998 and I was approaching 50.

It would be nice but untrue to claim the last fifteen+ years have seen a wholesale shift. The biggest difference is I now know I'm nowhere near as smart as I once thought I was. And though there's time left to catch up a bit, I am now smart enough to know that won't occur if I continue holding onto ego. At least that piece seems to have sunk in. What has been your richest insight about ego vs. growth?
   

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Gain Hour, Lose Skirmish

Whenever I feel like I've made progress on mitigating the effects of mindless routine, something invariably reminds me how insidious those routines can be. See if you relate.

For many years, I've relied on the weekend NY Times to stay reasonably up-to-date. But until this morning I didn't fully appreciate how heavily I also relied on the Times to remind me when daylight savings goes into effect. Yesterday's Times did not include their usual front page reminder (with a clock visual) that I've apparently become quite dependent upon. And probably because I went directly to bed after being out late last night without checking e-mail or otherwise paying attention, today I arrived at my 10:00 a.m. destination at...9:00 a.m.

Big deal, right? Of course not. Still, an aphorism about neurotic behavior has been ringing in my head since this specific mindless routine caught me short earlier today: "When you always do what you've always done, you always get what you've always got". 

BTW, today's Times also eliminated the front page after-the-fact reminder (with that clock visual) they've printed for as long as I can remember. Are they messing with me?

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Three For Three

Although it's too soon to call it a streak, it's fair to say I'm climbing out of the slump. After months of either walks or outs, i.e. novels that have been OK at best, the last three I've finished have all solidly hit the ball.

1.) Discerning readers might disagree whether author David Mitchell hit a single or a double with "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob DeZoet" (2010). But none would argue he scored a hit with his tale of commerce, cruelty and politics as the 18th century draws to a close.

2.) "The Dinner" (2012) by Herman Koch is as funny as it is dark and the marvelously unhinged narrator sometimes reminded me of myself - a little scary. For my money, a solid triple, despite the distinctly bitter 21st century aftertaste.

3.) I'm still reeling from Marilynne Robinson's "Home" (2008). Just sample the first thirty five pages and tell me the last time you read dialogue this perfect. This one goes into home run territory along with "A Visit From The Goon Squad", "Elegance of the Hedgehog" & "The Human Stain". And like all three of those contemporary winners, "Home" will no doubt find its way back to my blog whenever an exemplar is needed.

How about you? In a slump? Climbing out of one? On a streak?

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2014/01/2nd-attempt-to-capture-sports-market.html