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Friday, July 31, 2015

Solitude

How much solitude is optimal for you?

My solitude is precious to me, especially for reading. But even in social situations - which should be catnip for an extrovert like myself - I often long to be alone soon with my thoughts. And when involved in lengthy solo projects at the stable where I volunteer, I sometimes find the re-entry interacting with others a little jarring. I often think of my Dad at times like this and wonder if his solitary physical labors ever gave him a sense of peace. Putting aside your fatigue, do you get any psychological boost doing this kind of work? Do you think it's related to the solitude?

Playing my guitar, writing and riding my bike all give me a lift, with the latter providing the richest opportunity for pure reflection. That reflecting time is likely the main reason I value solitude so much. I don't foresee a cabin in the woods in my future, however. Much as I value my time alone, I'm happy with the balance of my life in this domain. Each time I make a choice to withdraw, I'm grateful there are people to whom I can return.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

just a little wine, thanks

With the screen format I've been using for a while, in the upper left is a toolbar entitled "popular posts". See it?

Though that toolbar conveniently directs readers to as many as ten older posts - the most popular since the blog's inception or those from either the last thirty or seven days - I have a little whining to do. My most popular posts are not necessarily the ones I'm most proud of.  

I recently reflected on a parallel dilemma in my life as a performing musician. The most well known songs are often more likely to get an audience response, even when my own performance of that popular song doesn't make me happy. Is a similar frustration at work when a recording artist appears reluctant to play their biggest hits at every concert?

If anyone thinks they can assist me in overcoming this barrier in Blogger's interface - letting me direct readers to my best posts instead of my most popular - I promise not to whine again.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Back To James And Mary

What have been some of your observations about what occurs when two people who are initially unaligned politically end up establishing a longtime romantic partnership, married or not?

In my experience, it's much easier to predict what will occur if two people start out politically aligned and then later one of the partners has a significant change of heart. And I'm reasonably certain if my wife and I parted ways politically things would follow that same predictably rocky path.

But how many romantic partners do you know who hold onto their original, opposing political view without subsequent major fireworks? Though I don't know what their individual politics were before they married (and more importantly, I also don't know how much their opposing views are show business), I don't know a single couple like James Carville and Mary Matalin. On the other hand, I have many times observed one partner from unaligned partnerships like theirs adopting the other person's politics early on in the relationship. What I haven't yet discerned is any consistent reason for the shift that one person makes. Keep the peace? Not upset the children? Partner has persuaded partner? Shifting partner's views were not that grounded or informed at the outset? Some or all of the above?

Your observations?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

New On My Radar

Lately, when passing those flashing radar signs telling me my speed, I've fantasized that warnings like these would be just as useful for me if they signaled a looming personal transgression instead of the vehicular variety. For example...

* I'd benefit seeing a big red "P" when I'm about to lose my patience with someone or..
* How about a flashing "C" reminding me to remain civil even if provoked?

Since patience and civility seem to be in short supply on the roads anyway, money could be saved by test marketing my ideas first on our local streets before trying them out during face-to-face interactions; I'll volunteer to test both prototypes. And while in fantasy-land, how about this - use the numbers already on the radar signs to let drivers know how many feet they are from the bumper of the car in front of them. This part alone could save my marriage.

Aside from "YOUR SPEED = 35 MPH", what kind of radar warning would be helpful to you?

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Wanted: Presidential Advisers - No Experience Required

Although disinclined to open up a political can of worms, I am curious. If you were in a position to do so, on what one issue would you lobby the President to focus more attention as his second term draws to a close?

It could be inflammatory but I feel strongly President Obama should begin more aggressively using the bully pulpit to speak from the heart about race. Even his most obnoxious critics have had trouble demonizing his measured posture about this issue over the last seven years. Can we afford to wait for the election of the next African-American President before facing this gaping wound in the American psyche? I don't think we can. What do you think?

It also strikes me as naive - if not ill-advised - to suggest that it need not be an African-American President initiating a more robust dialogue. Would a white President have chastised the police when they hassled Henry Louis Gates at his own front door? Could a white President have said Trayvon Martin might have been his son? Despite the predictable backlash after he spoke following both those incidents, I was heartened the President stepped into the fray. I was also deeply moved at the remarks he made in Charleston recently. I think it's reasonable to say his words had more poignancy given his heritage. In the view of this blogger cum Presidential adviser, many of us will benefit if President Obama spends political capital continuing this conversation.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

So Long Seth

What percentage of movies that you've seen would you call forgettable?

Part of the preparation process for an upcoming class I'm delivering about the intersection of music and movies has been to look through my 1993 edition of Leonard Maltin's movie guide. Since buying it, I've used the book to jot in the margins the title of every film I see, along with the date. I'm only up to "L" in Maltin's book and there are already dozens of films for which I have zero recollection. Nothing. Not the face of any actor, not a glimmer of the story. In some cases - unless the title gives it away - I couldn't even say if the film that occupied this couch potato for ninety minutes or more was a romantic comedy, an action yarn, a serious drama. If the entries in the margins weren't my own handwriting, I would swear - under oath - I've never seen that movie, your honor.

So began this reflection on time squandered on certifiably forgettable films. Next, came the internal chastising - Why not practice guitar, read Proust, or exercise instead? Moving right along, let's have a neat rationalization: Everyone needs mindless escape from time to time. Finally, a resolution - no more films involving the Farrelly Brothers, anything directed by Brian DePalma or within striking distance of Seth Rogen. Gotta start somewhere, don't I?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Hunger And Gratitude

When did you most recently feel really hungry?

I'm not sure what triggered it, but the last time this happened to me I found myself feeling really grateful. Driving home from teaching and realizing I'd gone without eating for about eight hours, I began thinking about stuff waiting for me in my refrigerator. And in that moment, gratitude for my good fortune filled my thoughts and superseded my hunger. Because soon, I would be home satisfying that hunger.  

In 65+ years, I can't remember ever being hungry for an extended time. You? I resolved in that moment during my drive to be grateful the next time I feel hungry at all - the feeling is not going to last long.
   

Monday, July 20, 2015

Your Technology Tolerance Threshold

Though I've been chastised a bit for my old fart complaints about the way technology intrudes on modern life, I suspect even some folks who have directed that criticism at me have a certain tolerance threshold regarding technology. How many of my critics are willing to admit when too much (technology) is too much?

Would you say seeing a family of four each staring at their own device while at a restaurant (vs. interacting with one another) doesn't make you wonder if things are a bit out of hand? When you see kids on their bicycles texting and not paying attention to automobiles, do you never wonder what will happen when they finally get behind the wheel of a car? When people post what they had for lunch on Facebook or take selfies in front of a museum exhibit or have an extended conversation about some celebrity's Twitter feed, what is your gut reaction?

The irony of a blogger railing about these things is not lost on me. At the same time, whether you decide me having a threshold is an oxymoron of sorts or you chastise me for being a crank/Luddite, I submit anyone claiming they have no threshold is being disingenuous. Where do you draw the line?

My Glass Half Full Experiment

Which of your traits most attracts others? If you asked this question of people who know you reasonably well, how closely do you think their answer would match your own?

(Anyone thinking this too narcissistic, feel free to conduct the experiment substituting the word "repels" for "attracts".)

At this point in my latest experiment, I've identified a trait, conducted my first three interviews, and compiled a preliminary list of other people to ask. I've also worded the question to make it as clean as possible -  "Which trait of mine do you think most attracts others?"

Results? Look for a post in about three months entitled "CURIOUS, NOT NARCISSISTIC". Those who choose repels vs. attracts, feel free to entitle your report "CURIOUS, NOT MASOCHISTIC".

Saturday, July 18, 2015

My Virtual Book Club

One clear downside to belonging to multiple book clubs is the backlog of titles I'm accumulating. My trusted reading posse of five keep recommending books to me and unfortunately, the book club selections and their recommendations rarely overlap.

This dilemma is fresh on my mind because I just jammed through Jeffrey Vandermeer's spooky and fresh novel "Annihilation" (2014) in one sitting, close on the heels of lumbering through a groan-worthy book club choice. My recent batting average with book club selections is not making me happy. Further compounding the situation, as compelling as "Annihilation" was, it wasn't even the first choice from my growing backlog.

But ... I often enjoy hearing what people in the book clubs have to say, even when I'm not fond of the selection. What to do? Take a book club hiatus, catch up a bit on my backlog, ask my posse to remain silent for a while and then return to the book club fold? Or, remain hopeful that a reader (or two) of my blog finishes "Annihilation" and lets me know their reaction?

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Water Is Fine (Really)

Over the four and a half years this blog has existed, directly below is the only post - of almost 1100 published - written by someone aside from yours truly.

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2012/10/a-guest-post_9.html

Despite my open invitation, no one else has yet stepped up to offer a reflection from this bell curve. A fair number of people have offered topics to me and though I subsequently turned a couple of those ideas into posts, most suggestions have languished in my notebook. The two blocks: 1.) A concern about doing justice to someone else's idea given my commitment to brevity. 2.) Feeling like I've given enough previous attention to the topic even if not from the angle suggested.      

So, time to renew the invite. Like my only guest so far, anonymity is yours, if you wish. The payoff for dipping your toe into my pool is very low but, aside from an occasional odd anonymous comment, so is the risk. If not now, when?  

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Another Tale Bites The Dust

" I became known as Lily Casey, the mustang-breaking, poker-playing, horse-race winning schoolmarm of Cocosino County, and it wasn't half bad to be in a place where no one had a problem with a woman having a moniker like that."

I'm never certain how I'll react reading about people like Lily Casey, the grandmother of author Jeannette Walls and the subject of her 2009 "true life novel" entitled "Half Broke Horses". Sometimes people who defy convention inspire me. Other times, I'm skeptical and they annoy me. And any story like Casey's, no matter how many liberties an author takes, has the potential to propel me into a short tailspin.

Aside from fear - and what else is there, anyway? - what blocks any of us from marching to our own drummer? If most of what Walls recounts about her grandmother is true, I'm compelled to re-evaluate people I'd previously thought of as fearless. More significantly, I'm re-thinking the story I've told more than once about unconventional Pat.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Any Other Crabby Listeners Out There?

Few things annoy me as predictably as public speakers and musicians who rely on their charm and/or notoriety to "wing it". Unless asked to speak or play extemporaneously, what excuse does someone have to not prepare or rehearse?

Not long ago, I watched yet another arrogant, under-prepared individual try to bluster his way through a fifteen minute speech. He didn't appear to be working from notes. But even if he was, his remarks had no discernible theme - certainly not one related to the event - the speech had no flow, the whole debacle demonstrated no respect for his audience. Sitting there, I was reminded of a Kinks concert from many years ago. Each time those clowns flubbed a song - or depended on the audience to fill in a lyric they didn't take the time to memorize - I got more incensed. I paid money for this? Despite loving their music at the time, I never bought another Kinks record.

I'm not expecting perfection. Seams show, mistakes are human, and I actually don't enjoy speeches or
performances so buttoned up they strike me as sterile. And it's also possible my crankiness about off-the-cuff performances is connected to my own propensity for being hyper-prepared. But it seems to me there is a subtext to the sloppiness these improvisers foist on us, the listeners - "You are not important enough that I would spend time preparing or rehearsing."

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Smirnoff's, If You Please

Had I not overcome my silly objection to the title, Jonas Jonasson's 2009 whimsical and satirical novel - "The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared" - could have slipped by.

I suspect Allan Karlsson might invert Socrates oft-quoted maxim and suggest instead that the unlived life is not worth examining. The eponymous 100 year old in Jonasson's delightful book has little use for introspection, no patience for bad manners, and zero interest in politics, especially when they interfere with his nourishment or vodka intake. Allan saves Franco's life but not because he is politically aligned with Spain's mid-century right wing - killing someone wasn't part of Allan's demolitions assignment. He incurs the wrath of Stalin but not due to an anti-Communist rant - Allan suggests comrade Joseph re-think his mustache. He has an immediate dislike of Richard Nixon but politics are not in play - Nixon neglects to offer lunch.

Jonasson's book is light in tone and spare in language. The writing draws no attention to itself. The dialogue between Allan and his merry posse - assembled one-by-one following his climb out the window - is wonderful and often as not, delivered in single syllables. But make no mistake - this talented author has a lot to say. He just puts it all in a breezy package that goes down easily - a romp through the 20th century, Zelig-style right alongside a madcap road trip chronicling the six weeks following a never-meant-to-be 100th birthday party. And Allan's reason for disappearing from his nursing home? How do you celebrate a milestone like that without vodka?

Friday, July 10, 2015

Humbled By The Dictionary

fanatic: a person with extreme and uncritical enthusiasm or zeal as in religion, politics, etc.

So far, so good. Although I love music, literature and film - perhaps extremely - I'm able to be critical about each of my three passions.

fan: an enthusiastic devotee or follower [short for FANATIC].

Uh-oh. Mind you, music, literature and film are not included in the dictionary definition for fanatic. But, of course there is that troublesome and vague "etc."; stay tuned re that distinction. And, perhaps you already knew fan was short for fanatic. My recent aha about these two linked words reminded me again how my language shapes my reality, a word to world fit if ever there was one.       

A friend tells me he's seen Bruce Springsteen live over 100 times. In Pat's brain out comes the pejorative label "fanatic". Does this friend have an uncritical enthusiasm for Springsteen's music? Impossible for Pat (or anyone) to know. Back when Springsteen's music meant more to me, I saw him live five or six times. Was I a fan? I suppose I was.

Dictionaries can be very humbling tools, don't you think?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

My Back Pages

https://www.facebook.com/SydneyUrshanPage/videos/574887372647634/?pnref=story

The song is one of Bob Dylan's best - "My Back Pages". The staying power of that song's refrain - "I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now" - is undeniable.

The vocal batting order doing the six original verses Dylan first sang on "Another Side of Bob Dylan" - but using the Byrds arrangement from their album "Younger Than Yesterday" - is hard to top: Roger McGuinn, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Dylan himself, George Harrison. The guitar solos - first Clapton after verse three, then Neil Young after verse six - are both models of economy and taste. And then it ends with a final repeat of that incredible refrain.

I'm grateful to an old friend for sending this to me and happy to share it here with anyone who hasn't yet seen it. I'm certain I'll watch this performance many more times and equally certain it will never cease to move me. Let me know your reaction.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Words That Can Haunt Me, Part 12: Approval

On a scale of 1-10, with one representing "I don't care at all" and ten representing "I care so much I can get immobilized", how important is the approval of others to you?

Since starting to attend a few writer's groups a while back, I've been re-thinking where I fall on that continuum and the corresponding impact on my creativity. In these situations, someone in the group typically offers a prompt and then each of us writes for a few minutes. Each person then either reads aloud what they've written or passes. Sometimes people comment on what others have written, sometimes there is silence. As this process unfolds, I'm honestly relieved no one can see my scribbles or worse, hear my self-talk.

I never comment publicly on the writing of others. If something moves me, I'll tell the writer privately. And so far, I've always read my responses to the prompts. But later when I'm alone re-reading what I wrote and then read, I often wish I'd passed. It doesn't appear to matter how little is at stake for me here; a "1" is far out of reach. What price do I pay needing any approval in situations like this?
               

Monday, July 6, 2015

For My Future Reference

Have any of you ever known a person whose life has not been touched in some way by alcoholism or substance abuse?

To me, the near universality of this human experience is notable. In my own life, I've had family members, friends, work colleagues & neighbors who have struggled. Often as not, I've been uncertain of an approach to take with these people. Speak to them of what I've observed? Avoid the person and issue? Offer help? What kind of help? A support group? A counselor or therapist? An intervention? Though I've studied the subject a bit and even briefly taught courses on alcoholism & substance abuse, having someone in your life is altogether different than teaching about some vague "others". Even knowing that an addict needs to hit their own bottom before they're ready to climb out feels like a platitude when it's someone important to me.

In my experience, even though most of us have had to deal with this issue, few of us agree what action to take; often we strongly disagree. Some of us believe alcoholism is a disease; some do not. Some of us believe stopping is a matter of will for the alcoholic or addict; some of us believe stopping is about more than will. But disagreements or discussions of different beliefs are of no use to the person struggling. So, how best can I be of use? Because I don't need it right this moment, this is a good time to ask for your help.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

#34: The Mt. Rushmore Series

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2015/02/30-mt-rushmore-series.html

I was pleased a reader reminded me of a pledge made in the February Mt. Rushmore post above about enshrining four city songs. Remember - All four of your nominations must be songs having only a city name as their title. In alphabetical order, mine are...

1.) Baltimore: A Randy Newman gem from his "Little Criminals" LP. Love the Glenn Frey/JD Souther background vocals. Twenty dollars to any reader who can tell me - without using Google - what Frey & Souther called themselves as a pre-Eagles duo.

2.) Kansas City: A simple but effective Rock N' Roll/Blues classic. This one has a special place in my heart and on my mountain. It was among the first songs I ever performed publicly.  

3.) New York, New York: Although this Kander/Ebb composition is most associated with Sinatra, I prefer Liza Minnelli's version from the Martin Scorcese film of the same name.

4.) Philadelphia: Springsteen's "Streets Of..." got more attention but...extra words. And this Neil Young tune from the same film is just as haunting and the song title fits the criteria -  only a city name.    

This monument was tough to erect, given how many great city songs there are. Which four would you enshrine? For the record (ahem), honorable mention on this iteration of Mt. Rushmore has to be the all time greatest song enumerating multiple cities - "Dancing In The Street", with a bass drum simulating a cannon.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Letting Politics Get In My Way

Have you ever had what you would describe as a difficult friendship? If so, what made that friendship hard? How did you sustain it?

Since finishing "Buckley and Mailer: The Difficult Friendship That Shaped The Sixties" several days ago, I've been reflecting on my own friendships. How many friendships have I abandoned when the going got a little rough? What exactly made me run? In his recently published book, author Kevin Schultz convincingly argues the opposing political views of Buckley and Mailer helped forge their friendship. More often than not, politics get in my way. Not pretty but true.

Reading a book about intellectual giants like Buckley and Mailer is bound to be humbling. But their moving correspondence was a genuine surprise. And I also re-learned a valuable lesson about embracing difference in my friends. I hope it sticks with me through the next political rough patch.    
       

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Foresight Vs. Hindsight

Yes? No? Or... it depends?

Those were the three options available to each person in "A Question Of Scruples", a board game released in the early 80's. The game presented moral dilemmas like "You are buying a house from an old lady. She is asking much too little. Do you tell her?" Any player not answering yes or no had to explain why they would equivocate. My wife and I enjoyed "...Scruples" several times with friends and I thought it had been quickly relegated to the garage sale pile because of an unwise decision to try playing it once with my family.  

Recently - after recognizing how often I've ruminated here on perspective, spin, balance - it dawned on me: Equivocating is not a dirty word; it is inescapable. No wonder "...Scruples" did not catch on with me or the buying market. And yet, and here is that perspective again, my recent reflections also helped me recall how impatient I was with one friend from that time who answered almost every dilemma with "it depends". With thirty years of living behind me, what I then called wishy-washy now seems more like...discernment, good judgment, perhaps even wisdom.

I know; hindsight is 20/20. Still, this bell curve 65 year old blogger looks forward to the day his foresight doesn't need corrective lenses.

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2011/07/re-framing.html