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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Watching A Toddler Sashay

Ever watch a toddler sashay? When did you last sit and listen to the birds? How would you describe the texture of peanut butter on your tongue?  

Inspiration is everywhere. This simple truth has become more apparent to me since I began blogging. Even on the occasional days when I don't publish, everyday sights, sounds & tastes that might have previously escaped me have come into sharper focus. Those that make it to my blog log sometimes become the topic for a post. And sometimes they remain a seed indefinitely, waiting for the necessary nourishment. Still others end up in songs. The best part is I'm paying more attention, most of the time.

I'm convinced being consistent in these reflections - in place of trying to be at all profound - has helped me better notice things like that sashaying toddler. What a gift that has been. What everyday event most recently inspired you?

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Listomania

For an inveterate list maker like me, knowing when I've crossed the line into ridiculous behavior is not always easy to discern. If you share this affliction of mine, I'm curious to hear how you know when your lists have overtaken you.

Considering the damages wrought by other afflictions, list making is relatively harmless. Still, when I'm caught in one of my list making loops, hours effortlessly disappear. Instead of practicing my guitar, I'll start improving my latest repertoire list (don't ask). In lieu of reading, I'll begin making notes about a book list distributed at a meeting I attended. Where do my notes on that book list end up? Onto my list of book clubs, where else? In place of going for a bike ride, blogging, meditating, I'm revising a current to do list.

And the list in that previous paragraph of ways this affliction can anchor itself to more productive disciplines only hints at the albatross I bear. That is, those examples represent only the tip of the iceberg, a portion of this cross I carry, a small piece of my Achilles heel. See what I mean?

Friday, June 26, 2015

5-4, 6-3: Game Over

Though I rarely agree with their positions, I'm obliged to admit the right wing in America has in recent times become very adept at staying on message and branding. Even people who mostly share my politics routinely refer to the Affordable Care Act as "Obama-Care".

I do often reflect on why the message mavens on the right don't attempt to re-brand existing laws that benefit them or their followers in a similar fashion. For instance, why not Roosevelt-Security instead of Social Security or Johnson-Care instead of Medicare? Or more pertinently, when a disabled right winger finds their life marginally improved because of some provision required by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), what are the odds that person would start petitioning Fox News et al to start calling that law the Bush (Senior) Disabilities Act?  

Now that the Supreme Court has ruled twice on the Affordable Care Act - with Chief Justice Roberts siding with the majority upholding the law in both cases - it's of little consequence how anyone tries to label it. It's the law of the land, like Social Security, Medicare, and the ADA.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

How About NOT Chewing The Scenery?

Being an indiscriminate film nerd, I'm not often surprised by movies. I realize cutting back on my gluttonous consumption might help assuage that situation, but then non-blockbuster jewels like "Mr. Turner" might slip by.

It was Director Mike Leigh - who rarely strikes out - that led me to this film. But it was Timothy Spall's uncanny portrayal of the renowned 19th century British artist that surprised me. There were several instances when I felt compelled to rewind the DVD simply for the pleasure of watching Spall - hardly a household name - as he minutely changed his facial muscles to convey Turner's joy or torment. Several of these exceptional scenes had little or no dialogue; just the camera with Spall's expressive face and eyes, sometimes accompanied by a grunt. I know this won't appeal to some but for me it was like listening to a simple but exquisite trumpet passage played by Wynton Marsalis; no bombast or pyrotechnics. Less can be so much more.

Around 2000, I was involved in the production of a film about workplace diversity. As my colleague and I sat in the recording studio watching the actors work from scenarios we'd invented, I remember being amazed at the minute changes these folks made from take to take to breathe life into their characters. Sometime later, my wife and I got to watch our daughter do a similar thing, on those occasions when she would allow us to observe her process, changing a barely noticeable gesture as she rehearsed. It was awe-inspiring to watch her become someone else, not unlike like watching Timothy Spall become "Mr. Turner". What was the last acting performance, film or otherwise, that similarly awed you?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Paranoia, Hibernation and Mr. Id

Over four years and almost 1100 posts, Mr. Id has filled the shoes of his obsequious alter ego approximately twenty times, obnoxiously pontificating on subjects as diverse as dog shit, rap, and most recently, Bill Cosby's shenanigans. That Cosby diatribe was published in December 2014, making these past six months the longest absence to date for the arrogant doppelganger. It appears few have missed him.

Though Mr. Id is a snarky miscreant, he is not a paranoid, snarky miscreant. However, the positive trend in views of this blog during Mr. Id's most recent hibernation has given him (and his approval-seeking meek partner) some pause. Is there a correlation between Mr. Id's extended absence and the uptick in views? Though said uptick has been modest - glacial when compared to the trends of off-the-bell-curve bloggers or the increase in Twitter followers of the famous-for-being-famous crowd - Mr Id's milquetoast twin pays attention to this silly stuff.

Given the paucity of comments to his past rants, it's difficult to get a wholly accurate read on the effect Mr Id's occasional presence has had. But if the current viewing trend continues, Mr. Id may be seeking out a new outlet for his creativity. Maybe he'll pretend to be a musician and become a DJ?                    

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Fours Years Later In My Perfect World

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2011/06/today-in-my-perfect-world.html

I maintain all the provisos from that June 22 2011 post above would still make for a more perfect world. But over the ensuing four years, my design for that world has continued to expand. So...

* In his next featured role, Owen Wilson will play a serial killer.

* A technology will be developed making it impossible for cell phones to ring in movie theaters, concert halls, and public libraries.

* Bloggers fitting a certain profile will get the audience they deserve. Criteria available on request.    

* Someone will offer a course called "Nepotism For Nobodies: Helping Your Child Get A Fair Shot In Show Business Even Though You're Not Famous".

* English-speaking people all over the world will begin pronouncing the word "flaccid" correctly.

And four years later, in your perfect world?

Monday, June 22, 2015

When Words Sting

If you've seen the movie "Whiplash", I'm curious to know your reaction to the bandleader, played by JK Simmons. Specifically, have you ever had a teacher or coach as relentless as the character Simmons plays in his Academy Award winning role? How did you react to that kind of teaching?

Though I saw "Whiplash" a while back, I've reflected on this character from two different angles ever since:

1.) As a teacher/coach: How much more effective would I be if I demanded only the best from my students?
2.) As a student/learner: How much better of a musician would I have become had I had a teacher as unforgiving of mediocrity as the character played by Simmons?

The lifelong story I've told myself is how I wanted to be a great musician, like the young drummer played by Miles Teller in the film. The reality is, of course, more nuanced. Though there's no way of knowing for sure, I suspect I'd have buckled had I been subjected to the kind of maniacal pressure the Simmons character applies to his college musicians. And those reflections point to my "good enough" posture as a teacher. Are the two related? I'm not sure. If you're a teacher and a student do you see a correlation?

For months now, one line of Simmons' dialogue has remained with me from the teacher and the student angle: "There are no more harmful words in the English language than 'good job' ."  I don't know yet what I'll do with those words but the sting they left tells me to pay attention to them.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Another Saturday Night

For me, Saturday night has long been synonymous with music. All these many years after my time as a full time musician has passed, Saturday remains the night I'm most likely to be performing somewhere.

Soon after I began playing my guitar at home earlier tonight, I stopped. Playing the instrument felt odd; I wasn't sure why. Considering the number of solitary hours I devote to guitar, this was a bit confusing. But I shrugged it off and began reading instead.

Then just prior to sitting down to write this, I tried returning to the guitar. But this time when I quickly stopped I was able to identify the reason. It's lonely playing in an empty house on a Saturday night. The solution? Off to the local bar featuring live music - this Saturday night is still young.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

My Poetry Guide

How often have you felt dense about how much poetry you understand?

I have Dr. Arnold Weinstein to thank for helping ease the insecurity long attached to this dirty little secret of mine. If a scholar as accomplished as he can admit Emily Dickinson has occasionally eluded him, surely I'm not as dense as all that.

Each of Dr. Weinstein's five Teaching Company lectures plumbs a different aspect of Dickinson's sometimes inscrutable verse. I always knew Dickinson was revered but her garbled syntax often kept me at a distance. How great it is to have Weinstein guide me through her style. And even better than feeling a bit more educated is my new sense of now being ready to tackle other poetry.

If you've never tried any of the Teaching Company's Great Courses, you're missing a real treasure. If you have tried any, tell me and others about some favorites.

www.teach12.com

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

My Grade (So Far): Spontaneity

spontaneity: in a person, the quality of acting upon sudden impulses.

Given the dictionary definition, how would you grade yourself (so far) on spontaneity? Although I've always tried to keep a degree of spontaneity in my life, that definition gave me a little pause at first glance. Even though impulsive didn't turn up as a synonym for spontaneous, I wasn't ready to grade myself until I was sure the coast was clear. Listed synonyms for impulsive: rash, quick, hasty, impetuous but no spontaneous. Whew!

Spontaneity is a challenge for a goal-oriented planner like me. For those reasons, it's an attribute I've taken purposeful actions to cultivate. I try to emulate people who appear to live in the moment, ready to indulge their whimsy. I have conversations with myself about letting go, especially when I find habit or routine deadening my edges. I make sure to spend time with children, the masters of spontaneity.

Like many of the attributes covered previously, there's room to grow with this one. I'll give myself a "B" so far and keep looking for new strategies. Ideas for me?

Sunday, June 14, 2015

How Can This Possibly Be Right?

Each of the previous installments in the "Can This Be Right?" series included three words that leave me scratching my head every time I hear or run across them in print. Today's word needs a post all to itself. See if you agree. Better yet, share one or more of your own with me and others.

A group of three musicians is a trio. Four musicians = quartet. Three children born at the same time to the same woman are triplets. Four children = quadruplets. A series or group of three plays, novels, operas, etc. closely related in theme, sequence, or the like is called a trilogy.

So, what are John Updike's four novels featuring Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom or Richard Ford's four novels featuring Frank Bascombe called? That's right, a tetralogy. If this is not a case that makes you ask "Can This Be Right?", try this experiment. Type the word tetralogy on your PC and watch as Spellcheck underlines it in red. Then find it in your low tech dictionary (don't depend on the Internet, please) and scratch your head along with me. Come on! Why not a quadrology? Or, at minimum, some word that has qua or quad in it? Like quartet, quadruplet, quadrant, quarter, quadraphonic, quadrangle, etc.

But tetralogy? How can this possibly be right?

Saturday, June 13, 2015

This Lucky Oscar

Sometime ago I shared with a good friend my view that most long lasting partnerships and/or marriages I've encountered have struck me as either shoe with matching sock or odd couple. This friend challenged my binary formula by asking me which I would pick to describe my own thirty seven year partnership.

Though the challenge hasn't prompted me to completely abandon my reductive view of the relationships of others, it did set in motion some serious reflecting about the way others perceive the dynamic of our partnership. I didn't check in with my wife before publishing this but my sense is we're more odd couple than shoe and sock. I further suspect others might also see us that way. But we're not an odd couple in classic Oscar and Felix fashion. For example, it's easy to discard the slovenly vs. fastidious split of Neil Simon's creation. Neither my wife nor I is either slovenly or fastidious.

From where I sit, our odd couple-ness is more ... nuanced. As I imagined another couple observing us dispassionately, this snippet of conversation came to me:

Her: "What the hell did she get herself into?"
Him: "How the hell did he get so lucky?"

What do you hear when you imagine others discussing your partnership?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Connected To A Place

Have you ever traveled to a new place and immediately felt so connected to it you could picture yourself easily re-locating?

My wife often says she felt this way the first time she visited London. Recently a friend told me about her niece - born and raised in Houston - who re-located to Anchorage soon after her first visit. No other person or relationship was involved in the decision; she fell in love with the place and told her parents she couldn't imagine living anywhere else. Work? She'd find it once she got there. And I've known more than a few people who told me they made only one visit to the place they subsequently moved to after stopping full time work. I've also noticed some striking similarities in the language these folks use to describe this experience.

My closest experience is a distant and vague memory from my first cross country driving trip in 1972. Something about Salem Oregon spoke to me. I wish I'd been more disciplined back then about writing in a journal. It would be nice all these years later to read my own words about why that particular place exerted such a pull on me. If you've had this experience, what connects you to your special place?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Etta & Otto & Russell & James

Although my initial hope for a robust online conversation via this blog has remained mostly unrealized, some other nice unanticipated things have taken place. One that brings me great joy is when someone gets turned on by a book or film they've learned of here.

Because Emma Hooper's startling debut - "Etta & Otto & Russell & James" - has a 2015 copyright, it's possible you might learn of it here first. That would be so cool because this book deserves as much of an audience as possible immediately. Without any flourish, the young author tells a tender, wise, and moving story about friendship - in and out of marriage - and our universal need to both remember and forget. I'm confident saying this novel will remain with you.

When you do read it, please let me know ...
* Who would you cast in the main roles?
* Who would you hire to do the soundtrack for this wonderfully musical book?
* How much of the book did you go back and re-read as soon as you'd finished?

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Miracles

"Why who makes much of a miracle? As to me I know nothing but miracles - To me every hour of night and day is a miracle, every cubic inch of space a miracle." - Walt Whitman

Cynicism is such a lazy way of looking at the world. I try recalling Whitman's words whenever I feel myself getting cynical. How do you keep up your guard?

I also try to avoid perpetually cynical people, although I've noticed they don't necessarily refer to themselves that way. What euphemisms have you noticed cynics use to describe themselves? Realistic? Pragmatic? Mature? I know many people who are not cynics that have all three of those traits. And I've met a fair share of others who would use those descriptors in place of cynical but would also readily scoff at Whitman's notion. The latter are the folks to whom I give wide berth.

But when I am in the company of a cynic, Whitman's words can still lift me if I remember to look on that person as a miracle. If I choose not to, shame on me.        
   

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Eat The World Update

Thanks to the party we hosted a few months ago, 2015 is already the best so far in our "Eat The World" project. Our next culinary visit is to Myanmar via Cafe Mingala on the upper East Side. But after that stop and another NYC restaurant featuring the cuisine of Georgia, it appears many of the remaining countries (approximately 115) we will be cooking at home. So if you know of any offbeat NJ or NYC ethnic restaurants you think we might have missed, be sure to contact me. You'll be saving this designated sous chef some time.

And, now that we've sampled the food of seventy five independent nations - for the first time since the inception of the project in March 2011 - the number of countries covered in our eating adventure has exceeded the number that have stumbled across my blog. When last I checked in early April, Bangla Desh was country sixty four in that quirky queue.

I'm tempted to add Singapore to the tally when my wife travels there later this month. But someone already called me out about counting the non-vegetarian dishes from our recent repast. I'm duly chastened - Singapore will not be added until both of us eat that part of the world.  
           

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Preparing For (Almost) 50 Years

Over your lifetime, which magazine have you read most faithfully?

Considering my abiding interests, it's surprising no magazine about books or film has ever been of more than passing interest to me. Though I was briefly subscribed to High Fidelity and Guitar Player both quickly lost their luster. Books I've geekily consumed about those three interests of mine? Different post.

But in a startlingly clear high school memory, I recall asking a classmate who'd won a current events contest how he knew all that stuff. He told me he read Time each week. Except for a few very thin years when even a magazine subscription was a luxury, I've read Time faithfully since not long after that high school conversation.

Culturally, Time has always struck me as mainstream, a bell curve magazine if ever there was one. Since mainstream has somehow become linked to the "liberal media" in today's over-heated political climate, I'm guessing Time's earlier reputation as politically moderate would be challenged by some. However, when I want to confirm my own left leaning bias, I'll choose Rolling Stone or Mother Jones as source material over the politics of Time. And I suspect people on the opposite side of the political spectrum as I would be just as likely to eschew Time to buttress their politics. They've got US News and World Report or National Review to confirm their biases. 

My loyalty to Time has never been connected to politics or culture anyway. I think I've been steadily preparing for the next current events contest.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Smarter By Thursday?

It's important to regularly remind myself where I fall on the bell curve, intelligence-wise. Last week's entry detailing a brief history of physics in "Smarter By Sunday: 52 Weekends Of Essential Knowledge For The Curious Mind" was such a reminder.

Of the ten pages, perhaps 10% of the content was at all familiar to me. Of the remaining 90%, I understood little. Just five days later, my retention of new information gleaned from the entry is marginal at best. And though it was written for non-physicists, my paragraph-to-paragraph struggle was still humbling.

I realize there are many kinds of intelligence. I haven't struggled as much with other entries in this book. So, if I remember how I felt trying to absorb this entry whenever arrogance grabs me, at least I've learned something.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Working On My Tell

If you know in advance you're going to be spending time with a new group of people do you ever plan to try out new behaviors? When was the last time you did so and what old behavior did you modify?

One of the main reasons I look forward to meeting new groups is the opportunity those situations present to do this. When no one knows me, expectations are mostly neutral, making it easy to shift my persona. There's no chance anyone will think "That's not like Pat at all". It's liberating.

My latest experiment under these conditions has been working on better controlling my non-verbals, what poker players and con artists call a "tell". As others speak, I try hard to keep my face impassive and my head stationary. An additional benefit I've noticed not allowing my head to nod in assent or move to-and-fro in disagreement is how sometimes it helps me listen a little better. If you try it, I'm curious to know what you discover.

It recently occurred to me that my propensity for changing jobs quite a bit during my full time work years may have been partially motivated by an unconscious wish to try out new behaviors routinely. Does this wish resonate with you at all?

Monday, June 1, 2015

#33: The Mt. Rushmore Series

About three years ago my family was having one of our typically provocative conversations. The scintillating dialogue at dinner that night was about ... nuts. When my oldest niece's husband said "walnuts wouldn't even make my top five", a light illuminated the dim recesses of my brain. And thus began the Mt. Rushmore series.

Thinking it beneath the intellectual heft of this august series, I promptly discarded that original inspiration. Then over this past weekend I was privy to yet another animated discussion about ... nuts; this conversation did not involve my family. A sign, perhaps? In alphabetical order:

1.) Cashews
2.) Macadamias
3.) Pignoles
4.) Pistachios

Who said I lacked gravitas?