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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".

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Against The Current

Being contrary for a good portion of my life has often cost me dearly. I can think of only one instance in my life when being contrary has paid a dividend: my resistance to ever getting involved with drugs - any drugs.

I realize many people besides myself have resisted drugs so calling this decision contrary might seem ill-named. But during the impressionable years of my late adolescence and then into college & young adulthood, drugs played an outsize role in the musical culture surrounding me. Nearly all my important relationships were with other musicians - drugs were everywhere. Although during those years I had the de rigeur look of a musician (no contrary impulses there), somehow the drugs never enticed me. To this day, I can offer no reasonable explanation for my resistance aside from being contrary. Still, I remain grateful I did resist.

When in your life did you swim against the current? How do you explain your resistance? What is your present day perspective on that resistance - grateful? regretful? proud? confused?

Friday, May 29, 2015

Christopher And I

Some novels take me a great deal longer to process. How frequently does this happen to you? How much of a factor is what you share with a narrator?

Since completing Mark Haddon's stunning 2003 debut "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time", I've been searching for a voice anything like the one belonging to 15 year old autistic Christopher John Francis Boone. I've been knocking around young narrators, pinball-style - Holden Caulfield from "Catcher In the Rye", Scout from "To Kill A Mockingbird". At this point, the closest analogue I've recalled is Jack, the five year old narrator of "Room" (Emma Donoghue). Though Christopher and Jack are ten years apart, their narration shares a critical element - the smallness of their world.

But unlike Jack's world - small because he and his mother are prisoners in a tiny room - Christopher prefers his world to be small; he functions best that way. When midway through the novel he ventures out in search of his mother, the author - through his narrator- gave me a visceral experience. The scary larger world was revealed to me through Christopher's disabled brain; it was harrowing.

I wonder how much sharing characteristics with a narrator influences my final reactions to any book. Regardless of how much Christopher and I share, "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" is an exceptional novel.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Disneyland Turned Upside Down

"How do I get the most out of my program? Develop tolerance for ambiguity."

The above is taken directly from a Road Scholar brochure. This September my wife and I are taking our first trip with this group - formerly called Elder Hostels - a visit to two National Parks in Alaska. I can't recollect ever before being told to prepare for a vacation with a statement anything like this. It's Disneyland turned upside down. As pumped as I was reading our itinerary, this instruction took me up another level.

In your life, what strategies have you successfully used to develop more tolerance for ambiguity? I clearly recall the first person who immersed me in this notion, although her term for it was "living in the question." For a long time, I struggled to emulate her brave example. But the more we taught side-by-side, the more value I saw in the approach. She turned my head each time she said things like "I'm comfortable not having an answer at this moment."  How many people you know would say something like that? I've known one. Good thing, right? If not, that Road Scholar brochure might have landed very differently.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Re-Thinking Originality (In My Voice)

"Adam was the only man who, when he said a good thing, knew that nobody had said it before."  - Mark Twain

For about fifteen years I've given credit to my therapist from the early 2000's for a stunning insight  - "Don't waste time comparing your insides to other's outsides." When I came across exactly the same insight in Anne Lamott's 1994 book "Bird By Bird: Instructions On Writing And Life" - gleaned from her therapist - at first I naively wondered: Did we share therapists? Since Lamott has lived in the Bay Area all her life, I decided that was unlikely and concluded the insight is possibly something mental health professionals pick up in their training.

And in the end, it doesn't matter at all where the insight originated. It helped me and it helped Lamott. A bit later in her terrific book Lamott kicks off a riff about originality in writing and the near impossibility of saying something completely new. I returned to our shared therapeutic insight and reflected. Is originality - in writing, in general - perhaps a bit over-valued? If it's true that adults learn best through spaced repetition, doesn't it logically follow that if a similar idea is re-formulated by a different author (or a different therapist) , the likelihood of that idea (or that insight) being retained increases?

As someone who works diligently at not claiming the ideas of others as my own this is no idle matter. Whenever I begin a blog post, a song, an essay, and it feels at all derivative, I quickly abandon it. It may be time to re-think that a bit. I'm not Adam but I do have my own voice.  

Monday, May 25, 2015

When Easy Does It Doesn't

People mean well. But in my experience, when dealing with someone in crisis, many well meaning people often get it wrong.

Statements like "you're going to get through this" or..."I went through something similar years ago" or... "snap out of it"  roll off the tongue automatically and easily. And though a person in deep pain may respond to these bromides, more often than not, I've watched pat phrases like those fall flat. It's hard to resist suggesting easy answers, answers you're convinced would work for you. But this isn't about you. It's about the person who aches. Getting yourself to where the other person is can be hard and keeping yourself there is even harder, especially when that person seems to be talking in circles. If those circles frustrate you the listener, try imagining how trapped the speaker feels.

I've felt grossly inadequate every time I've dealt with a person in crisis. The only time I'm sure I might do more damage than usual is when simple solutions begin occurring easily to me.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Defying A Stereotype

Though there's little chance I'll end up a talking head on Fox News, after being recently castigated for my "knee jerk liberalism", I started reflecting on a few of my conservative bona fides:

* Clearly I'm fiscally conservative, at least personally. Financial risk and I have never seen eye-to eye.

* Though I'm no prude, and I came of age in the 60's, free love and open marriage have never had any appeal. That gives me some conservative chits, no?

* My wife and I raised our daughter with clear boundaries and did not try to be her friend. For me, democracy and parenting are mutually exclusive. What's liberal about that?

I've got several more but it's your turn. Whether you identify as liberal or conservative, in what domains of your life do you defy the stereotypes attached to those labels?

Friday, May 22, 2015

Bashing & Kicking Cans & Mahatma

I've known very few people who don't occasionally bash politicians. And it doesn't seem to matter on which side of the aisle a basher resides. What's the most recent thing an elected official did that annoyed you? Notice how fast you came up with it.

My biggest gripe has often centered on how easily politicians seem able to kick a can down the road. As our nation was being born, our representatives - authors of the Constitution - somehow managed to postpone the thorny issue of a "home of the free" that sanctioned slavery. In my view, the current can being kicked the hardest relates to climate change. These days, many ex-climate change deniers have shifted their message - "OK", they say, "the science is convincing. But prove to me it's man made." Remind me now - how does that matter? If it's real, can't we do something aside from posturing? Why exactly are we delaying?

But then my reflections shift to cans I've kicked down the road. How many times have I postponed or put off or procrastinated about giving needed attention to something important? You? It could be my gripe about can kicking politicians is disguising a deeper discomfort with a shared human condition. I'm reminded of Gandhi's wise words: "We must become the change we wish to see in the world." Here's hoping I remember that the next time I begin bashing.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

What Audience?

I'm reasonably sure no regular readers of this blog are bigwigs in drug research. But just in case I'm wrong - my patent pending # is KR061154.

The drug I'm preparing to market is the answer to my prayers and a dream come true for anyone else prone to performance choking.  No more moments in front of an audience when musical passages that flowed effortlessly when I was alone practicing come out sounding like garbage. No more instances of being ahead 5-0 (and 40-love) in tennis and then losing ignominiously 7-5 a short while later. Although my IPO document has retail at $100.00 per pill, focus groups suggest a much higher price point. How much would you pay?

As my pharmaceutical panacea enters final trials and FDA approval, I've settled on an alternative therapy for musical performances prior to the miracle drug's final release. I'm going to pretend there is no audience.  

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Keep Swinging

I swung and missed twice. But on the third swing the ball sailed out of the park.

Since reading "Tolstoy and the Purple Chair" soon after its 2011 release, I have longed for a discussion to rival the richness of Nina Sankovitch's book. Both my earlier attempts at moderating book club discussions were so disappointing. But earlier today a good friend and I spent two and one half hours exchanging treasured sentences ("It is a gift we humans have - to hold on to beauty felt in a moment for a lifetime"), discussing the muscular language ("...chisel away at imprisoning sorrow...") and comparing how many books we'd each read from the list of 365 the author provided, books she herself finished over her "year of magical reading ". And still, my friend and I barely scratched the surface. When we parted she said "we need another two hours." What was the last book discussion you had with someone that similarly transported you?

My ardent evangelism about "Tolstoy..." deepens each time I re-read my notes - seven double sided notebook sheets for a book under 230 pages. Those notes are nearly even divided between the author's luminous sentences  - "The only balm to sorrow is memory; the only salve for the pain of losing someone to death is acknowledging the life that existed before" - and my own journal-like entries describing how the book reached me at a molecular level.

Breaking my lifelong reluctance to ever contact an author, in September 2011 I wrote a note to Sankovitch on her blog and included the link (below) to my own post about "Tolstoy..." Though she never responded directly, the number of views that post has subsequently gotten suggests she has forwarded it to others. I'm pleased. When someone has taught me valuable lessons and given me such pleasure how can it hurt telling them so? Of the hundreds of books I've mentioned here over the years, "Tolstoy and the Purple Chair" is solidly in the top 25. Today's discussion? In the top 10.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Words That Can Haunt Me, Part 11: Exploration

"We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and to know the place for the first time."

TS Eliot's wise words have been a source of both solace and frustration for me since I first stumbled onto them years ago. If you've ever shared my ambivalence about exploration, today would be a good day to tell me about it.

For better or worse, exploration has been a dominant theme in my life. One of my clearest childhood memories is my mother routinely telling me - "Patrick, you are too serious." What does a pre-adolescent do with that observation? Of course, I can't recall my feelings upon hearing her words. However, based on my subsequent behavior and life choices, it's pretty obvious I didn't equate seriousness with exploration. Are those two words strongly linked for you?

Fast forward to early 2011. Seth Godin's 2010 book "Linchpin" speaks of blogs as an effective way to "explore" 21st century technology and potentially "connect" with others in cyberspace. Over four years flash by and serious Pat reflects - How close am I to arriving at where I started? When was the last time you felt close? When exploration wears you down, what do you use as an antidote?

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Alone In A Group

I'm not in the habit of spending time alone in groups. I usually meditate alone and attend the theater with my wife or friends. But today, after meditating in a group setting early in the day and then seeing "Danny Collins" alone in a movie theater, I began reflecting on elements the two situations shared.

* Although the activities themselves were solitary, I was surrounded by others.
* Aside from my breathing while meditating, all the sound I heard in both settings was not of my own making.
* Both situations were ideal for tuning out the monkey mind that plagued me yesterday.

In addition, though I didn't realize it immediately, having time to process the film on my own was a welcome change. What did you notice the last time you were alone in a group?    

Friday, May 15, 2015

My Grade (So Far): Flexibility

flexibility: a willingness to yield; pliability.

Aside from someone saying I lack a sense of humor, there are few things as likely to upset me as being told I'm inflexible. In my experience, many people have a similar tender spot with respect to how others perceive them regarding this attribute. So, how would you grade yourself (so far) on flexibility? If the ten people who knew you best were asked to grade you, what would your report card look like?

A willingness to yield. Yield on what? A different place for dinner than what I envisioned? No problem. Taking a different route to a destination or...playing a board game other than what I suggested or...re-arranging the furniture? Sure, yes, absolutely. When it comes to things of minor consequence to me, I'm Mr. Flexibility - a solid "A" student.  

But that's only half - or less - of the story. Where in your life do you draw the line about your willingness to yield? I have immense difficulty even finding that line. Until I'm closer to locating it, I'll take a "C" for flexibility, so far. If ever the bell curve applied to an attribute, this must be it. I've known so few people who warrant an "A" for flexibility given that definition. And I'm grateful I've managed to largely avoid people on the other end of the curve - those toxic folks who have earned an "F". You know, the ones who are really inflexible - not you or I.     

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A Useful List

Obvious as it is, I routinely forget that the flip side of being grateful is remaining mindful of things I take for granted. Or, more specifically to this reflection, the skills of people close to me that I take for granted. How often do you fall into this trap?

Preparing for an upcoming speaking engagement, I realized how much easier it would have been earlier in my professional life had I relied more on my wife's skills in this arena. Not only is she an excellent public speaker, she has keen organizing instincts including effective ways to ensure a speech stays focused on the audience's needs. And she has a sharp sense of humor.

Where else in my life have I taken for granted the skills of others who would have been more than willing to assist me? How have you felt when others have tapped into your skills? I've felt terrific under those circumstances. So, what prevents me from doing this with others more often? Maybe I'll construct a mental list (OK, I'll probably write it down) of some of the skills of people close to me so I can refer to it as needed. Of course it will be incomplete but it's a start. Who would be on your list? And which of their skills that you might have taken for granted would you include?

Monday, May 11, 2015

Starting In The Middle

Creating a fresh family story is not easy. But Karen Jay Fowler does exactly that in her 2013 novel "We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves". Among the reasons I've never developed a taste for mysteries or thrillers is not being real fond of the frequent twists and turns. But the capital "S" surprise Fowler reveals about 25% into her novel was so organic, I felt compelled to continue reading instead of feeling tricked or manipulated. To avoid getting cheated, beware discussions or notices about this book containing spoilers.

Narrator Rosemary Cooke, a kindergarten teacher, begins her family's story in the middle. Her father bails her out of jail when she becomes collateral damage following a tempestuous college classmate's cafeteria meltdown. Her father's surprise at Rosemary's arrest, it turns out, is predictably clueless. Both he and her mother don't connect this middle event to the maelstrom they constructed, one that dominated the start of Rosemary's life. And Fowler skillfully reveals that start in tantalizing, bite size pieces right alongside sketches of how this unique family story ends. The architecture is thrilling.

As I finished "We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves", I began reflecting: What percentage of the stories I've read or seen portrayed - on film, stage or TV -  have been about family dynamics? How about you? Perhaps more significantly, what percentage of those stories have felt as fresh as Fowler's? If you pick up this worthwhile and well written novel, please let me know what you think.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

My Preferred Musical Preposition

After more than a half century playing music, it sometimes surprises me to realize how infrequently I've felt simpatico when playing with others.

When someone asked me "how did it go?" following a performance some months back and I replied "I was playing against him", it dawned on me: I've often shared a stage - or sometimes just a space - with musicians who have limited awareness of give and take. And competition and ego have gotten in my way more than once.

Then I flashed to people with little regard for their volume and the impact that has on musical communication. In those situations I'm also not playing with someone, more like alongside them. Or maybe for them in some musically perverse fashion?  Under those circumstances, I've tried increasing my own volume - and in the process - sacrificing subtlety and sometimes an audience.

But those moments playing against, alongside or for oblivious musicians - and the times I've been equally insensitive - fade much faster than moments of musical synergy. Two weeks ago, a grounded guitar player and I played just two songs for a reasonably attentive audience. It was really nice playing with him.

Friday, May 8, 2015


The role our parents have in shaping each of us vocationally is undeniable. But the older I get, the degree to which I was shaped gets muddier.

I picture a line ranging from parents on one end who try to replicate themselves vocationally to those on the other end who are totally hands-off, i.e. apathetic about where their offspring will land vocationally. Where on that continuum did my parents fall? Where do yours?

I do know that my parents - children of the Great Depression - placed a high premium on security and stability. More than once during the years when performing music was my main income source, my Dad told me I needed to "...think about a pension..." Both my parents were wonderfully supportive about my music; they would often come to see me play. Still, there was another - sometimes conflicting - message that often leaked through their smiles; be safe and avoid risk.

Where is the middle of that line I spoke of above? How close did my parents get to it? How close did yours? How can parents know when they've struck an appropriate balance between helping children capitalize on their aptitudes vs. directing their children toward a vocational box that could later become stifling and/or hard to escape? At sixty five, answering these questions for myself from a vocational perspective is a fool's errand. But my reflections and quest for a balance will continue for as long as I'm a parent.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Boy Can't Help It!

After over four years of blogging, I'm pretty tuned in to how often people I know visit this bell curve. So for that group who check in faithfully, I apologize for this past week's emphasis on reading. Until someone pointed it out, I didn't realize how my focus had narrowed over the previous five posts.

But that observation got me wondering. If you were a blogger - and you wanted to be as eclectic as I've tried to be - what subject (s) might unknowingly push to the front of your queue more often than others? Do you find those same subjects dominating your conversations? What strategies do you use to push yourself to step outside those familiar areas? How important is it to you to do so?

About twenty or twenty five years ago I recall noticing how my newspaper and magazine reading had gotten a bit narrow over my lifetime. That is, if an article of general interest was far afield of my experience, e.g. engineering or accounting or dentistry, I would routinely skip it. I'm not sure what triggered my realization but I do remember thinking at the time that I wasn't doing myself any favors being so exclusionary in my reading habits. Though I did not subsequently take up reading Architectural Digest, I am also no longer as inclined to be as dismissive when encountering an unfamiliar subject. And that small shift has made me happy over the ensuing years as well as helping me better relate to people with different interests.

Consider the crux of this post to be your answers to the questions posed in paragraph #2. Ignore the fact that I somehow reverted back to reading - yikes!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Struggling With A Distinction

When a book does not move you at all, how well are you able to articulate a specific reason?

When the critical elements - plot, characters, dialogue, imagination, architecture - are all solid and I'm still not involved, before discussing the book with others - or blogging about it - I owe it to the author to articulate why I'm unmoved. Recently, my struggle has been teasing apart a distinction - Is the author's prose quiet or is it inert?

Although I enjoy authors who use their startling command of language to construct stunning metaphors, I have equal respect for simple unadorned writing. I love Toni Morrison and William Styron and equally adore Jim Crace and Kazuo Ishiguro. I'm reasonably sure prose need not draw attention to itself for me to be moved. But the prose does need to come alive. How to better articulate that?

Guidance, anyone? If you do respond - online or off - please give me at least one example of prose that struck you as quiet and contrast it with something that struck you as inert. I'd like to compare your experience with mine. Maybe other readers would as well.

Monday, May 4, 2015

One Sentence At A Time

Putting aside all the earlier years of my reading life, in the past five years alone I've returned to Emerson's seminal essay "Self Reliance" at least ten times. Two of the Learning Company's Great Courses series I regularly listen to while driving feature it; not long ago it was the selection for a "classics" book club I attend; an anthology of Emerson's essays, lectures and poems is within reach of the laptop I'm using this moment. I doubt that I'll ever stop learning and re-learning from "Self Reliance". What became clearer for you the last time you read it?

"In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty."

How can anyone who fully internalizes that notion not be lifted? How many times have you caught yourself stumbling onto an insight that struck you as profound? How likely would you be to share it with others? Do you wonder - as I frequently do - if the insight is really your own? If you decide that you heard or read it elsewhere, what are you saying to yourself? And, how much does the world miss when that "alienated majesty" is not shared?  

It's no exaggeration saying "Self Reliance" represents a lifetime journey, one sentence at a time. If any of you join me on the trip, please share your alienated majesty with me.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Goal: Remember Clive James; Forget The Standells

"Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing. Those who lack humor are without judgment." Clive James

Whenever jarred by a quote like the one above, I'm compelled to copy it, usually into my journal. But then what? How soon will a conversation or interaction present itself so that the idea has a fair chance of remaining in my memory, able to be retrieved later as needed? Though it's ludicrous, I don't want ideas this rich to ever leave my brain. Unfortunately, I've historically been more likely to retain useless ephemera - frustrating.

But I'm happy to report this blog seems to be assisting me in my quest to retain more pertinent information than who recorded "Dirty Water". It's possible that is so because I'm now routinely writing stuff down in more than one place. More significantly, when someone comments online or off, the ideas I do want to recall seem to be dropping in and staying put longer.

So help me in my absurd quest to remember Clive James's notion, willya please? Talk to me about your own common sense and your sense of humor and any links you've detected between the two. And in your experience have you noticed those lacking a sense of humor also lack judgment?  

Friday, May 1, 2015

#32: The Mt. Rushmore Series

Of the age-old debates occupying great minds, perhaps none is as significant as - Which was better - the book or the movie? Though my own bias clearly favors books, to construct these match ups for Mt. Rushmore #32, I had to grudgingly acknowledge two exceptions.

Also, for the bomb included in pairings #2 & #3 below, imagine a very small head of Andrew Johnson and Warren Harding next to either George, Thomas, Abraham or Teddy's much larger visage. For #4, forget we're even talking about Mt. Rushmore, OK?

1.) Terrific book (William Styron) made into nearly great film (Director: Alan Pakula): Sophie's Choice

2.) Awful book (Peter Benchley) made into pulse-pounding film (Steven Spielberg): Jaws

3.) Fantastic book (Tom Wolfe) made into execrable film (Brian De Palma):  Bonfire Of The Vanities

4.)  Unintelligible book (William Burroughs) made into a stomach-churning film (David Cronenberg): Naked Lunch

Presidential scholars and other great minds - please weigh in.