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Saturday, February 28, 2015

When Next I Face Immense Stupidity

Because this month will end up having the fewest reflections from the bell curve - 15 - since August 2011, that earlier month's Sinatra-like retirement from blogging has been on my mind quite a bit. BTW, my cyberspace quiet this month - having been out of Internet range the first week - was less expensive than that earlier hiatus.  

Each time I discuss the Mr. Hyde that surfaced publicly on August 15, 2011 - prompting my arrest and then a two week silence on the bell curve - I'm struck by how many people share similar experiences. Someone says or does something so outrageous you simply snap. Happened to you? I'd had my share of impulsive, ill-advised moments before that summer day over three years ago. But until then, I'd never really connected to the word "primal".

I've since paid more attention to things that trigger me and worked on devoting less energy to those triggers, all of which pale in comparison to the stupidity I reacted to that day. I do want to be smarter if ever faced with a similar situation. What I haven't figured out yet is what smarter would look like.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Either/Or, Three Years On

Last March I asked readers who journal to join me in an exercise, i.e. to re-read their journal entries from three years back and see what has shifted for them since then. Thank you to those folks who have shared the results of this exercise with me over the ensuing eleven months.

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2012/02/beyond-eitheror.html

For my part, the blog post directly above - related to the trap of either/or thinking - is one I could benefit re-reading every month instead of every three years; there is so much work to be done here. And a comment on that post about a "middle way" served to remind me why I began blogging in the first place - to learn from others.

Multidimensional problem solving suggests generating a minimum of six solutions for each challenge we face. In my experience, the biggest obstacle to using that approach comes when pressure and its evil twin stress enter the picture. Under those circumstances, I sometimes struggle arriving at just two solutions - an either/or - never mind six. But even when I get the two, I'm often frustrated when neither seems to work. How adept are you at generating multiple solutions to problems?

In the meanwhile, as long as I continue searching for third alternatives, at least I'm resisting either/or. I'll remain patient about #4-6.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Old Stuff

I've met very few people who don't enjoy some activity related to old stuff. It also seems to me lots of couples share a passion for similar old stuff. How closely do you and your partner fit this model?

I know several couples who routinely spend the whole day antiquing together. Store to store they go, two peas in a pod. I've also heard folks describe what a charge they get out of watching "Antique Road Show" together. For still others I've known, Saturday mornings are carved out for garage or yard sales.

Though my wife and I part ways on those examples above, whenever we find ourselves alone with time on our hands in a new place, even money you'll find us side-by-side if a pile of musty books is anywhere nearby. And on the rare occasions she's able to convince me to tag along when she goes antiquing with others  - zero chance she'll get me to a garage or yard sale - she never has to look far. I'm either by the books or the old LPs, one pea in a pod, but just as happy with my old stuff as others are with theirs.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Recalling A First

Which of your "firsts" seems especially clear in your memory? Your first day of school? A moment perhaps, like your first kiss? Or an event, like the first wedding, funeral or concert you attended? Maybe a person? The first adult who mentored you, teacher who inspired you, coach who challenged you? What helps any of those "firsts" stay clear in your mind?

Yesterday, my 15 year old nephew played guitar publicly for his first non-family audience. This reflection began as our conversation prior to his first performance sent me back 51 years. I'd painted my first drum set yellow and black a short while before the gig; our quartet (guitar, organ, sax, drums) played for about two hours including a brief break between sets; my Father drove me there and picked me up afterwards. We played in a VFW hall; got paid $12.00; the first song I ever sang in front of a non-family audience was "What I'd Say".  

Why the italics? In the mid 80's I somehow misplaced a log where I'd faithfully recorded details of every performance of mine beginning with that first one in 1964. Aside from where I'd played and how much $$ I'd made (either as band member or solo performer), I'd also made notes about the night's performance - how the band (or I) had been received, songs that had killed or bombed, which solos of mine I'd liked or regretted. The italicized details about my first paying gig are the fuzzier ones because that log of the initial 20 years of my musical life has never re-surfaced. Even so, I remember that gig far better than my first kiss.

I started a new playing log soon after realizing the first was gone. Though the years in the original included those when playing music was my sole livelihood and most of my road time, having a record of the 30+ years since has taken some of the sting out of that first loss. And I'm hoping my nephew starts his own log to help him recall his musical life 50+ years from now.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Great Epigraph - You Tell Me From There

Only one thing I can say for certain about "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet" (2009) by Jamie Ford - I love the Duke Ellington epigraph the author chose: "My poor heart is sentimental, not made of wood; I got it bad and that ain't good."  

Talk about a roller coaster. I was up, then down; drawn in, turned off. But I never stopped turning those pages. Anyone glancing at the notes I made while reading might be tempted to prescribe medication. Lots of questions; few answers. Here's my first impression note, about one third through the novel:

"Serviceable prose with brief chapters that propel the story along; will be an easy read - Is that a good thing? Or, an indication that I'm unchallenged?"  After reading less than 25 pages more, here I go again:

"Against my better judgment, I was moved by the scene at the Seattle train station when Henry tries to get Keiko to wear his button. Am I letting sentiment (there's that Duke Ellington word) take sway over sense? Does it matter?"

And so on, although it did get even more Sybil like as the end neared. Like the Duke song said "I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good". 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Who Could That Be At This Hour?

When was the last time you got caught in a 20th century loop?

Arriving home late last night, I belatedly remembered it was my niece's birthday. My options by century:
20th - phone call, e-mail; 21st - text.

So far, so good. Because I wanted to hear her voice, I initially discarded e-mail and text as options. But then my brain inexplicably journeyed way back. Even the phone call got ruled out because ... I grew concerned the late night ringing might disturb my niece's newborn! So 1985.

Of course, despite my inadvertent time machine adventure, the first two discarded options still remained until midnight. But my cell phone was (predictably) without a charge and AOL had been flaky for me all day. At that point I swear, leaving a voice mail on her cell using our so 20th century landline did not even occur to me.

This pathetic saga ended earlier today. Happy birthday a day late is better than none at all. And it was nice hearing my niece's voice.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

#30: The Mt. Rushmore Series

By my reckoning, there are not many well known tunes using a U.S. State by itself as a song title. Many States are mentioned in song titles (e.g. "Kentucky Woman", "All The Way From Texas", "Jersey Girl", etc.), and virtually every State is mentioned in a lyric somewhere. That makes this Mt. Rushmore unique for this series - a finite sample to select from. Here are my four, ordered chronologically.

1.) Georgia: A two for one deal on this State song. First, the great Hoagy Carmichael standard, most famously done by the incomparable Ray Charles. Then much later, a terrific Boz Scaggs tune from his blockbuster album "Silk Degrees".

2.) Ohio: An angry classic by Crosby, Stills, Nash & composer Neil Young. (Neil did another State too, remember? Maybe on your Mt. Rushmore?)

3.) Colorado: Beautiful ballad written by Rick Roberts. My favorite version is Linda Ronstadt's.

4.) Illinois: Lesser known but equally stunning ballad from Dan Fogelberg's album "Souvenirs". Anyone care to waltz?

New York, New York is disqualified from this iteration of Mt. Rushmore; Kander & Ebb refer to the city in that winner. Perhaps a future Mt. Rushmore will be classic city songs, but first I want to hear some of you weigh in on this State version - no fair using Google.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Posterity Pile-Up

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2013/08/ahposterity.html

For those who have waited patiently since August 2013, George Doggett is the person who has staked his claim to posterity via a urinal. I doubt anyone will question my sincerity here - people more creative than I would have difficulty inventing something like this. But create I must, so - weird segue directly ahead.

What does Doggett have in common with -
a.) Stephen Hawking
b.) Martin Luther King Jr.
c.) Alan Turing

Give up? Each of the noteworthy people above - as well as "American Sniper" Chris Kyle - have recently been bizarrely commingled in my addled brain with urinal man; told you it was a weird segue.

Oscar season, lots of biopics, favorite funky movie theater, too much water during film = posterity pile-up using the facilities afterward.

p.s. Just in case: The plaque in question is located on the far left wall in the men's room of the Beach Theater in Bradley Beach, NJ.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Pat Shazam

I miss the days when people used me as their own personal Shazam app.

My sisters in particular used to rely heavily on me when a song came on the radio and they couldn't recall who did it. I miss their desperate late night telephone calls. "Patrick - Who sang 'Expressway To Your Heart'? - I can't believe that DJ never announced it!" Or..."Patrick - Save my marriage, please - tell my dim husband the name of that Betty Everett tune is 'The Shoop-Shoop Song' not 'It's In His Kiss' ".

And then there were the friends who would call (no texting in those ancient times) to see if the Ides of March or Count Five or the Standells ever had more than the one hit they'd just heard. These were substantive questions that I took very seriously. It's been so long.

Why the self-centered ruminating? On my recent vacation - with no phone service, let alone Shazam or Google - a brief return to my glory days. When I asked folks about songs inextricably linked to movies in their minds, someone offered "Up Where We Belong" but couldn't remember the film. "Officer and A Gentleman", replied yours truly. Then, no one could recall the duo who sang it. Although I quickly saved the day there in no tech land, I challenge you to retrieve those two names without Google. If you do so, you can hang with Pat Shazam.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Now That The Red Face Has Dissipated

During the years I used the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI) as a tool to assist others, my biggest challenge was helping people understand the instrument was about preferences not absolutes. For example, during my rigorous certification process, I was instructed that my own preference for extraversion - i.e. deriving energy from interactions with others or the external environment - did not mean I was without introverted tendencies. After I was deemed "qualified" to de-brief the MBTI with others, I would often use my own introverted passions - reading, playing solo guitar, cycling - to help explain this crucial distinction. This was especially useful when the instrument's results did not "match" people's perceptions of themselves.

ambivert: a person whose personality type is intermediate between extravert and introvert. Since the copyright on my dictionary is 1984, it's more than a little embarrassing to admit the word ambivert was unknown to me until a few months ago. So after my face returned to its normal hue and I reflected a bit, my responsibility was clear - Extract and pass on a lesson, even if it's one I've re-learned many times over my 65 years: Beware the world of either/or.  What was the last hard lesson you re-learned?

It's difficult to avoid being labeled or labeling others. Back in the day, I would often say to my customers "none of us is either/or (i.e. extravert or introvert); we all have the ability to flex our preference and tap into our other side". Nice bromide, but it would have been much better had I been armed with the word ambivert to assuage any smart people uncomfortable with yet another label.

I do have one cynical question: How is it the people who promote and market the MBTI, aligned closely with the group who administer the certification process I went through, don't educate us "experts" about ambiverts? 

Friday, February 13, 2015

My Grade (So Far): Thrift

thrift: economical management; economy; frugality.

Prior to grading myself, I must admit I'm relieved my dictionary does not list "cheapness" as a synonym for thrift. Having been raised by people who were children of the Great Depression, my relationship with money has always been...complicated. And though I've never considered myself cheap or stingy, I suspect at times my "economical management" might have made me hold onto dollars a bit too tightly. In particular, I've never been too good spending on myself.

That aside, given the definition, I'm comfortable giving myself an "A" for thrift, at least so far. Aside from the modeling of my parents, coming of age in the 60's probably contributed to this strength. Possibly the biggest benefit derived from my lifelong thrift is the way it helped me save enough to pay for my daughter's college education, a source of genuine pride. What is your grade (so far) for thrift?

Having received just one suggestion (for optimism - covered in December 2012) in my last request for additional attributes to cover in this series, it may be time to wind down. Thrift represents the 35th attribute covered since the series began in February, 2012. If no other suggestions arrive and/or no ideas occur to me over the next few months, I may issue a final report card. In the meanwhile, I'd love it if a few of you joined me and shared your self-grades for some or all of the 35 I've covered.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Building A Life, Building A World

compatible: capable of existing together in harmony.

Clearly there is compatible and there is COMPATIBLE. My wife and I are compatible. How about you and your partner? How many couples have you run across that struck you as COMPATIBLE?

I'm guessing Joan Didion and her late husband John Gregory Dunne were COMPATIBLE. If you've read Didion's 2005 memoir "The Year Of Magical Thinking", I think you'd agree. These two people worked side-by-side in their home for the nearly 40 years they were married. When they weren't facing each other over their respective writing desks they were travelling the world together as reporters.

A few years ago my wife and I visited the Lakota Wolf Preserve in northern NJ, a fascinating place run by a couple who struck me as COMPATIBLE.  My evidence? Just the two of them - and about 40 wolves - occupy that remote place, where they've operated a self-sufficient business for many years. My latest COMPATIBLE example (i.e. the direct inspiration for this post) is the couple who together run the even-more-remote Virgin Islands Environmental Resource Center from where we just returned. Outwardly, what these three couples appear to have done is built a world unto themselves.

The life my wife and I have built together is wholly satisfying to me. And I'm sincerely happy for anyone who finds someone with whom they are COMPATIBLE. Still, in this instance I'm happy to share the bell curve with the great majority of people I've known. How about you? Is COMPATIBLE for you?  

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Whose History Is It?

What does the the word "riot" conjure for you? How about the word "quell"?

I'd like to meet the individual who wrote the brochure I read while flying to the Virgin Islands. I'm still not sure why this person's version of events in the history of the Islands provoked me as it did. After all, I was supposed to be in vacation mode, right?

Giving the writer the benefit of the doubt, I'll concede riot is a common enough term when people speak of an uprising, a revolt or a rebellion. In this case, the riot being described was one started by the enslaved people on the Islands. I might have missed or even excused the word riot had the author not coupled it with a statement about the "...authorities quelling it..." What does that mean? There was no mention of the use of force for this "quelling". Did the riot get settled with conversation and donuts?

I read quelling but I envisioned crushing. And though writing the rebellion was "suppressed" would be just as loaded as calling the uprising a riot in the first place, at that point my mental re-write was not about objectivity. Whose history was the writer trying to convey?

Monday, February 9, 2015

Characters That Breathe

"Nora felt as far away from these two women as silence was from sound."

The last few novels I finished did not contain a single sentence approaching that kind of elegance. Author Colm Toibin consistently breathes life into "Nora Webster" (2014) without flourish. Study that revealing sentence carefully - no word longer than two syllables. Or try this:

"...they belonged to a time that was over and would not come back. It was the way things were; it was the way things had worked out."

That's Nora musing about letters her recently deceased husband Maurice wrote her when they first met. Not an ounce of cheap sentimentality - two words longer than a single syllable. Toibin's assured prose spoils me the same way Stephen Sondheim's masterful lyrics do. Strained or hackneyed metaphors in literature or cheap rhymes in lyrics (e.g. "time" and "mine") begin annoying me.

"Then he lifted his head and looked brave and determined. 'I don't take photographs of people anymore', he said calmly". That stopped me cold. Nora's teenage son Donal, an aspiring photographer, responds to a question about the lack of people in his current pictures. In two simple sentences, a gifted author conveys all that needs to be said about a boy who has lost his beloved Father. What was the last novel you finished where you could feel the characters breathe?

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Re-Entry

I freely acknowledge the irony of using a blog to describe how happy I was being technology-free for ten days. But this particular vacation re-entry has additional non-ironic elements.

It's deliciously difficult to be in a rush when the speed limit everywhere is 20 MPH. Add in the primitive roads and there were several instances when walking to a nearby beach on the Virgin Islands was much more sensible than driving. Though not dreading it, I'm also not looking forward to being on a 55 MPH road later today.

Working alongside people willing to invest vacation time reclaiming ruins and improving trails in a National Park guarantees interesting and unforced conversation about environmental issues. It's not hard to have these kinds of conversations back at home but it is a little harder. Also didn't help that the first conversation I overheard on the train ride home last night was two people comparing Instagrams.

Perhaps my most challenging point of re-entry will be leaving a place of profound quiet that ensured zero information about celebrities reached me. Because we arrived home late, my wife and I had limited choices about where to grab a bite. We settled for pizza at a local bar - four different TV stations going at once, full volume. Ah, civilization.