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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Tell Me You'll Miss Me

Headed to the Virgin Islands for a second National Park service trip with the Sierra Club. No Internet service in the campground means silence on the bell curve until around February 9. Your assignments during my absence:

* Suggest an attribute I should use as the 35th and final one in "My Grade (So Far)" upon my return. One reader paying close attention (bless his heart) noticed I skipped that series in December.

* In my continued grovelling for the readership of sports fans: Give me Super Bowl highlights or...supply an apt metaphor to connect books and bowling for my future use. No residuals.

* Shovel my driveway.

In our mission to see all the National Parks, next in the queue this year is a re-scheduled visit to Smoky Mountain, missed in late 2013 during the last Federal government shut down. Which National Parks have you most enjoyed? Which is next on your list to visit? If you say you'll miss me, I promise I'll miss you when you go away.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Balancing Fear And Love

Why isn't there even a small percentage of as many songs about fear as there are songs about love? Aside from love, what other emotion do we human beings share as much as fear?

I know why I avoid fear as a topic for my own songs. I'm afraid. How will listeners respond? And yet - despite not being particularly timid or fearful - it's not at all difficult to think of fears I share with many people. Wouldn't it be logical to turn those commonalities into lyrics? But fear gets in my way.

It's possible this odd reflection is connected to seeing "A Delicate Balance" a while back. For some reason, my processing of Edward Albee's penetrating dialogue - which has not stopped since seeing the play - is today tangled up with the balance of fear and love in song. So many gifted lyricists have been such troubled human beings. How did they avoid writing about fear?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Project Payoff

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2012/01/finally-payoff.html

Of the projects written of here since 2011, I received the most help from readers for the post above. On behalf of my daughter, thank you.

In all, she ended up with 44 film performances - accompanied by my geeky notes about each - to check out as part of her continuing education as an actress. And each time she watched one, we talked about it. Although we didn't see eye-to-eye every time (e.g. she was not as moved as I by Faye Dunaway's brittle performance in "Network"), our conversations were uniformly wonderful.

Even better, the project made me a more discriminating viewer; my daughter educated me about the nuances of her craft. Who in your life similarly helps you pay more attention to a craft that interests you but one you're not sharply attuned to? In turn, my daughter's coaching further prompted additional reflecting about people who likely guided me as a young musician. Who in earlier life acted as a guide for you with respect to an abiding passion of yours?

A project with more payoff than I originally envisioned. Cool.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Kismet And...Gravy

Friends have played a big role in the "eat around the world" project my wife and I initiated in March 2011. We've visited ethnic restaurants with some of them, cooked in our home for others, and one couple even brought an entire Chilean meal to us. The Swedish appetizers we concocted to take to friends tonight - who are cooking us a traditional Canadian dinner - brings our tally to 54 countries.

To celebrate the project's upcoming fourth anniversary my wife suggested we gather all our cuisine co-conspirators. Circulate a list of the countries not yet sampled (a mere 140 remain), ask those folks to bring something, add some live music, see how far around the world we get. And since I'd already decided to host a celebration marking my 1000th blog post - which should be published around the same time as that anniversary - and this project was itself inspired by an early follower of the blog, a gourmet cook... kismet, no?

Although we're a bit behind on Africa and have had some challenges finding vegetarian fare for me when visiting Eastern Europe, our trip continues apace. Adding a party to the mix is gravy, no?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Deux

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2015/01/bonjour.html

Still need convincing re Francais?

Apres the soiree, mademoiselle directed her chauffeur to exit the cul-de-sac at chez Miller and cherchez a toilet and bidet; the entree had upset her stomach. "Mon Dieux!" he wailed, " my limousine!" 

The debacle worsened as en route home several gourmets also felt similar effects from the crudite, pate and puree. Etiquette among this nouveau riche melange - friends of the debutante - began disappearing.

The coup de grace? A former enfant terrible, now a connoisseur and masseuse (and also working as a sous chef while writing a roman a clef using nom de plume)directed the ensemble and mademoiselle to his nearby cafe housing several toilets, one with a bidet. His savoir-faire - putting aside the outre toupee - saved both the femme fatale and the blase gourmands not to mention the decor of that limousine. This denouement made the elite group look forward to their next quiche, souffle and flambe. Tres magnifique!                      

Pour vous, mon cherie, a la mode. PB

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Beware Book Cover Cliches

"Don't judge a book by its cover".

My daughter did the reverse of the above by selecting Michael Chabon's "Telegraph Avenue" (2012) to give me as a gift. She looked at the art, read the short cover summary and a few of the notices and decided I'd like it. It's wonderful to have someone who knows me so well. What a book.

Music, race, and endearingly imperfect people are a few of the key elements here. But avoid any reductive views at all costs; read this novel. Chabon's reach and prose are so thrilling, if I didn't own the book I would have purchased a copy after finishing. The last novel I read that had as many stunning passages as "Telegraph Avenue" was the "The Human Stain" by Philip Roth.

Relevant sidebar: A new reader recently told me after reading my over-the-top praise of Jeff Beck's version of "Over The Rainbow" here, she tried listening to it and was equally transfixed. Making her a convert to Beck's gift gave me immense pleasure. I sincerely hope someone will try "Telegraph Avenue" for a similar reason. Admittedly a much longer investment of time than a recording, but so worth it.

p.s. Putting people aside, I'm not convinced that hoary cliche at the top of this post is good advice when it comes to actual books. You?  

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Progress Report/Re-Calibrating

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2012/01/too-much-vs-not-enough.html

Though it happens infrequently, sometimes an old post like the one above gets some renewed attention. But as encouraging as the attention was, after re-reading it I was more pleasantly surprised to note the progress I've made over the ensuing three years getting a lot more live music into my life. And still I remain curious to know: What do you have too much of? Not enough of? Avoid treating this as a scarcity issue or a reason to feel guilty. Instead, consider it a prompt to re-calibrate. I'll go first.

Currently, I've got too much old stuff. Although I'm in no danger of being on reality TV, my garage has several boxes filled with curriculum materials for classes I haven't taught in more than fifteen years -too much. And much as I love my books, I've got too many of those as well.  Not enough? Thoughtful and honest feedback. I can be as thin-skinned as the next guy and have been called over-sensitive more than a few times. Still, being out of the world of full time work for almost five years has significantly diminished how often others tune me up.

Closing with the glass half full, I'm also thrilled to report genuine progress with respect to the amount of information taken in re celebrities since that earlier post. That particular 2012 "too much" has been officially downgraded to "more than I need but less than before". Nice.  

Monday, January 19, 2015

Constellations

" We never tell the story whole because a life isn't a story; it's a whole Milky Way of events and we are forever picking out constellations from it to fit who and where we are." 

"The Faraway Nearby" (2013) by Rebecca Solnit is filled with striking observations like that. Which "constellation" best fits who or where you are at present? My most prominent constellation has the stars that have brightened my life since stopping full time work in early 2010.

Half a decade - New home, some new friends, new interests and projects. For example: Solnit's wonderful book was suggested by one of those new friends. And I originally met this person via one of those new-since-2010 interests - book clubs. Now this new friend and I have initiated a project - a meeting to discuss each book we recommend to one another. Since the dictionary defines club as "a group of persons", maybe my friend and I are a "cl"?

Whatever we are, I'm thrilled to have discovered someone who can help me deepen my understanding of a book as rich as "The Faraway Nearby". And I'm also grateful for most of the events that have made up the "Milky Way" of my life.  

Sunday, January 18, 2015

A Test Worth Cramming For

Having recently discovered our young adult daughter could not recollect the two word movie phrase her mother and I have repeatedly said to each other for almost forty years, I've decided to develop an inheritance test. I submit the below for your consideration as a first draft. Please forward your suggestions via a comment here or offline. To my younger readers and those others lucky enough to still have your parents - some cramming may be in order once this is finalized.  

1.) Recite the movie line your parents have most frequently said to one another during their life together.  
2.) Name a favorite song for each parent. Parental option for deciding percentage to leave each of multiple offspring: Bequeath more for those who identify artist who recorded the song(s).  
3.) Describe how and where your parents first met, including the name of the town. Missing the State or Country automatically eliminates you from the will.
4.) Identify which author each parent has most widely read. No points given for authors of books read to you as a child.
5.) Missing no more than three, list the countries your parents spent any time in together. Forgetting the United States means an automatic 25% reduction in inheritance.

Special clause for test developer's progeny: What was the name of your Father's blog, circa 2011-2015? 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Sinatra And Balance

"Do-be-do-be-do." Frank Sinatra

Though I've never been a fan, Ol' Blue Eyes may have unwittingly stumbled onto something quite profound in his coda for "Strangers In The Night."  Promise you'll stay with me for just two paragraphs?

My wife often describes her brother as the most "doing-est" person she knows; I agree. His tireless productivity getting practical, useful and potentially profitable things done sometimes brings me up short. And yet - though I've certainly had my moments - lazy is not among the insults others have routinely hurled at me and my goal orientation is a clear strength. In other words, I'm OK in the "do" domain.  

Moving to the "be" piece of Sinatra's formulation, I don't recall ever having heard anyone describe a person as the most "being-ist" person they know. Have you ever heard something like this? But here's where my addled brain decided Frankie's toggling between those two simple words was more than a crooner's tic. Isn't it feasible (if unplanned) those five syllables are an incantation of sorts about the wisdom of leading a balanced life? Do - be - do - be - do. Act - breathe - act - breathe - act. In recent years, I've given a great deal more focused attention to the "be" piece after becoming increasingly aware of my own struggles with balance, some of it no doubt tied to that goal orientation. For the action-oriented, please notice: The incantation ends with "do".

So, let's all sing along, shall we? Do-be-do-be-do. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

The "W" Word

"The quality of shared pain is central to what it means to be a human being.": Paul Brand

" Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional." Buddha

Each time someone tells me their story - whether in a memoir or essay, or a friend describes damage done to them - the words of Paul Brand and Buddha are reinforced for me. I'm also frequently put off, though rarely surprised, by the rush to judgment of some who listen to the same stories. In my experience, a favorite pejorative of some empathy-impaired folks is to label those who choose to share their pain as "whiners".

Clearly, some folks spend way too much time on the pity-pot. My own patience for those folks is as thin as anyone's. But equally clear is how some people seem to struggle with Buddha's distinction. To describe or write of your pain is not the same as wallowing in your suffering. Listening to people fond of the "w" word, I invariably wonder - When this person faces their inevitable pain, what will be their coping mechanism? Stoicism? Silence? Isolation? Do these methods ease or prolong that optional suffering?

Or, will the human beings quick to label others as whiners share their own pain when it inevitably arrives? What have you observed? What do you do?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Bonjour

Parlez vous Francais madame et monsieur? Non? Au contraire.

Try getting through a whole day sans Francais. Breakfast - Perhaps a crepe at a local bistro? How far into the day before the first double entendre or risque comment is spoken or faux pas occurs? Gauche colleague? Or...vous? Or, do the bon mots of the chic bon vivants in your workplace - such sparkling repartee - fill you with joie de vivre?

Lunch, mon ami? Buffet or soup du jour? Will your entourage tag along or will you rendezvous with a favorite raconteur for a tete-a-tete?  Maybe just ask that protege to meet you for an apertif? You two have such rapport and he can discuss ballet, Shakespeare's oeuvre or haute cuisine with such elan. 

If later in the day cliches begin inducing ennui, voila! Call your fiance! Speak of the melee you and your beau saw at last week's Rangers game or how the current cause celebre already seems tres passe. There's also Springsteen's latest tour-de-force, your resumes, and that menage a trois your frightful neighbor with the scary decolletage brags about - declasse, non? 

Moi? I'm headed for a soiree. Oui, I did RSVP. Entre nous, the discotheque at chez Miller gives me deja vu. Au revoir. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

XXIX

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2014/01/xxviii.html

Since Congress is now considering the 28th amendment to the Constitution that I proposed one year ago (see link above and the featured story on the front page of today's NY Times citing that link), I strongly suggest you weigh in right here with your ideas for the 29th. This blog of mine has considerable reach.

My idea for XXIX: Time to abolish the electoral college and elect our President via the popular vote. Back in 1787, when the aristocrats of Virginia were angling to maintain their influence and power, I guess the electoral college made sense to them. But ever since, there have been several instances when the candidate getting the most votes lost the election. In 2000 you'll recall - with Florida's electoral college votes being the deciding factor - the Supreme Court got to decide who the next President would be. Huh?

I honestly do not understand how this antiquated concept has endured this long. Do you? What are your ideas for XXIX?  BTW, just kidding about Congress and the NY Times; had to make sure you paid attention for another paragraph.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Can This Be Right? (1st Winter Edition)

Inspired by Mark Forsyth's 2011 book "The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through The Hidden Connections Of The English Language", I've decided "Can This Be Right?" needs to be a biannual series, effective this year. Since I've already compiled a list of more than forty words that neither look nor sound like what they actually mean, at three words per post, I'm good until around 2021. And please remember - I want to know which words make you scratch your head.

1.) approbation: approval, commendation, sanction. Can this be right? Although lots of words sharing prefixes have similar meanings - e.g. propensity and proclivity - approbation and approval just don't feel linked somehow. I've got a visual to help me with this confounding word - an ex-con getting a medal.    

2.) bagatelle: something of little value; a trifle. Come on! How can this be right? How many people have you heard use this word correctly? Were they standing in line at the supermarket or waiting to pay for their breakfast?

3.) redoubtable: that is to be feared; formidable. As with previous complimentary adjectives featured in this series (e.g. comely, natty), I'll bet money a smart football linebacker would be confused or perhaps think you were being insulting calling him "redoubtable". If you doubt this, try using the word on a dimwitted 6'8" 275 pound wrestler and then call me from your hospital bed. You might then ask yourself - Can This Be Right?   

Saturday, January 10, 2015

I Must Surrender

First was "501 Must See Movies" (2004). Next - "1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die" (2008). And now, the coup de grace: "1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2nd edition)" (2010). Notice the subtle but unmistakable escalation in the stakes as each successive tome entered my library.
* First book: "501...must...".
* Then: "1000...before you die". But, the parental "...must..." was absent.
* And now? "1001...must...before you die."

It will surprise no regular reader of this blog to know these three doorstops are a dream and a curse for an unrepentant list maker such as I. The first two were gifts from loved ones and each obsessively occupied me for weeks because, obviously, they required full annotation; I'll spare you my tallies. But what strain of masochism took hold of me as I bought the third for myself late last year? Non list makers: Of this type of book, have many have you browsed through while in a book store? Have you ever done unofficial counts of the recordings, films, books, etc? List makers: How many of these have you fully annotated?

My request of all sane people and list makers reading this: Please remind me regularly to steer clear of "1002 Places To Visit Before The Grim Reaper Pays You A House Call".

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Virtue Of Confusion

Several years ago, after noticing I was drawn to people who admitted they were "confused", I chalked it up to getting older. Why wouldn't I be drawn to confused people, right? Isn't confusion a given as we age?

Well, maybe. But the more I reflect on it, the more my posture toward confusion shifts. And when stacking up confusion against certainty, the former strikes me as preferable. As long as I'm confused - and it's not physiological - I'm living in the question. When I'm certain, I'm living in the answer. Seems to me, especially in politics and religion, there's way too much certainty and not enough confusion. Your thoughts?

I once heard someone say it was better to have lots of questions with few answers than lots of answers with few questions. Nothing confusing about that.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Moving In The Right Direction

When was the last time you took a look at a long held prejudice of yours? What triggered that look?

With few exceptions, I haven't given rap or hip-hop a fair shot. I've long rationalized my prejudice by saying music is - by definition - melody, harmony and rhythm. Since rap rarely has the first element and sometimes doesn't have the second, I've let a musician's snobbery help justify my bias. I now have Shawn Taylor to thank for helping me begin to shed this prejudice.

As a Christmas gift, my oldest niece gave me Taylor's extended essay about the first album by hip-hop artist A Tribe Called Quest entitled "People's Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm". Taylor's 2007 essay about Tribe's 1990 record is part of a series called "33 1/3", each essay featuring a writer discussing one album that transformed them in some way. Taylor's piece was so passionate, well-written and convincing that I've now purchased the first rap/hip-hop album of my life. After giving it the same fair shot I've given to many subpar albums by my rock & jazz favorites (a reverse prejudice of sorts), maybe I'll write a post about it.

But, like the the album or not, write a post about it or not, Taylor's evangelism had an effect. I'm not over my prejudice yet but I'm moving in the right direction.  

Monday, January 5, 2015

Nourishment And Creativity

Imagine how rich life would be had each of us been taught early in life to connect our need for nourishment to creativity. At Monday's breakfast, read a Shakespeare sonnet. Lunch, listen to a Bach fugue. Dinner, gaze at a Monet.

Since we must eat to survive, why not routinely couple it with protein-rich art? Couldn't three exposures most days increase the chances our own creativity would awaken? How about dedicating a few meals each week to flexing those muscles? Thursday lunch - take a stab writing some simple verse. Saturday breakfast - try some water colors. How healthy would this be? Many of us think regularly about what we eat - Why not connect that to what others or we ourselves create?

Integrating the creating part of this concept into a life has one significant challenge - the inner critic that whispers in some of our ears. If you'd heard what mine said as I typed "try some water colors", you'd have had a good laugh. At the same time, the greatest success I've had integrating new disciplines into my life has occurred when I anchored one habit or routine to another e.g. writing a daily gratitude statement right after brushing my teeth. Since eating is a non-negotiable, it's surprising I didn't think of this one sooner.  

Sunday, January 4, 2015

One Nerd Leads To Another

"The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through The Hidden Connections Of The English Language (2011) is educational, funny and geeky - just my cup of tea.

I've already posted a comment on author Mark Forsyth's blog www.inkyfool.com which is just as smart, snarky and nerdy as his book. In turn, I'm hoping he'll take a peek at my yearly series about confounding words called "Can This Be Right?" and make an erudite, facetious and wonky comment.

Still, even if Forsyth ignores me, his book has convinced me to turn "Can This Be Right?" into a semiannual event. And Mark - just in case you're lurking around my tiny portion of cyberspace this very moment - I know I could have used "biannual" event. I may not be as bright or clever as you but I am every bit as dorky.

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2014/06/back-and-fourth-can-this-be-right.html

Friday, January 2, 2015

My Two Holiday Symphonies

"To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury and refinement rather than fashion...to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common. This is to be my symphony": William Ellery Channing.

Twice over the holidays just past, I've felt what Channing calls the "spiritual...growing up through the common" while spending a lot of comfortable, unhurried time with good friends. What a gift it is being with people who bring out the best in me. Which of your friends does this for you?

What makes these recent situations even more special is how much I enjoy both people from each of these two partnerships. Between the day after Christmas and New Year's Eve, I batted four for four. Then, further sweetening the pot was my wife's company.

Although the first part of Channing's formulation has always had a concrete appeal to me, the symphony he conjures is more than a metaphor for me today. The time with these four friends shared a magic similar to what music brings to my life.      

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Continue - Stop - Start: 2015

Although it took almost three years, late in 2014, I finally got started on my original songs - with my daughter as vocalist - a project first committed to as the "start" component in the 2012 iteration of this stop-start-continue model. Only an unfortunate bagel-cutting accident a few days ago interfered with beginning the recording process. So...

In 2015 I will continue working on that project and I will also...

Stop looking at my blog stats at the end of each month. After almost four years, every three months is often enough. Need to reduce my solipsistic preoccupation with those numbers. Finally, I will...

Start the long range planning needed for our hike down the Grand Canyon, a trip that had to be postponed this past September.

Though several of you have shared offline with me your stop-start-continue plans since this series began in January 2012, why not challenge yourself further and go public? Added benefit: Your plans could well inspire others.

Let's all have a great year.