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Friday, August 28, 2015

Two Weeks Of Radio Silence

North to Alaska for the longest time away from home since a cross-country drive in 1999. And the longest break here on the bell curve since the August 2011 fiasco that resulted in my first (hopefully only) arrest. No, I wasn't in jail but blogging during that nadir of the past five years seemed superfluous.

The folks from Road Scholar (a re-branded version of Elder Hostels sans the eau de old fart) tell me that Wi-Fi service is available in Denali National Park, our first destination. However, there is no guarantee of service at the second stop - Kenai Fjords National Park - so the laptop is staying home and the bell curve remains quiet until September 12, give or take.

Remember the hit "How Can I Miss You If You Won't Go Away?" I'm hoping that soothing sentiment will sustain anyone having trouble coping over these two weeks of radio silence.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Featuring Buzz & The Insights

Although my calculations show my compensation for the continuing ed courses I teach - factoring in development and prep time -  to be hovering around .02 per hour, the joy of teaching about music makes it so worthwhile.

And I get such a buzz when interaction with students is prolonged. A student from my most recent class - a course about the intersection of music and film - contacted me about an article in the Arts & Leisure section of the NY Times that ran the day after the class ended. This student mentioned how pleased he was to recognize a few films cited in the Times article that had also been featured in my class. His e-mail then went on to say he "...planned to watch..." the films to re-capture the "...passion..." he'd heard in my presentation. As an educator, it rarely gets much better than that.

Getting better acquainted with repeat students also provides insight as I develop future offerings. One student - an avid Bruce Springsteen fan who has attended five of my classes - has turned out to be a terrific resource on the Boss. Between this student, a good friend from Florida who compiled for me a two CD set of what he feels are Bruce's best post "Human Touch/Lucky Day " songs, and a neighbor who has seen Springsteen over 200 times (!), my preliminary research for an upcoming ninety minute presentation on Bruce is ahead of schedule.

Of course, your brain is ripe for picking as well. I'm good on Springsteen music and lore through the mid-90's but if you've got something more recent (and juicy) for me, let me know. Following the Bruce offering, development then begins on "It's Only Rock N' Roll (But I Like It)" - ideas for me? To any of my former students, thanks for the buzz and the insights.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A Limited Time Offer: Your Recommendations

Fourteen hours on the plane to/from Anchorage and an eight hour train ride getting to the first National Park - I'll be visiting the library at least once before this Friday. How many books do you need when taking a trip with as many traveling hours as this?

In this, our Kindle age, I'm not speaking of the physical objects you'd carry. I'm talking about which subjects you'd want to cover and what might be your fiction to non-fiction mix. Would you tackle a long classic with that much potential reading time? Are times like this for trying to catch up on a favorite author's work or sampling someone new? For a bookworm like me, these are no idle matters.

And for those regular visitors to my blog who might have a handle on my reading proclivities: What recommendations do you have for me? Newer copyrights only, please; my list of older stuff is plenty long. If I end up not liking what you suggest, no one will be the wiser - I only blog about books that move me. So if you suggest a winner and I write a post about it, you'll get the credit. Such a deal.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Authors To Savor

Even bookworms like me rarely have two peak reading experiences close in time. But fresh on the heels of raving over Neil Gaiman's "The Ocean At The End Of The Lane", I'm obliged to gush again about "The Maid's Version" by Daniel Woodrell. I honestly don't remember the last time two nearly back-to-back novels I've finished unequivocally floored me like these did.

Aside from both being published in 2013 and under 200 pages, the books are fairly dissimilar. Gaiman's novel is an English fable about a boy/man and the three mysterious women who first act as his protector and later his memory. Woodrell's book has a reportorial tone telling its story of a fire in a Missouri town and the have/have not divide. Aside from the prologue and epilogue, "The Ocean..." moves in a linear fashion with a small cast; "The Maid's Version" jumbles the chronology and has a much larger cast with exquisitely drawn miniatures. Gaiman's language sparkles; Woodrell's is matter-of-fact and idiomatic.

With so many authors still to sample that I haven't yet read, reading a second book by any author is not a decision I make lightly. There is no question I'll be returning to Neil Gaiman and Daniel Woodrell. If any of you have recommendations written by these two superb craftsmen, please share with me and others.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

An Instrument With A Story

Sitting down earlier today to practice, it dawned on me: Two Guild guitars - a Starfire electric & a G-41 acoustic - have remained an essential and unchanged part of my life longer than anything aside from my two sisters and brother. What parallels do you have in your life?

I bought both instruments in the early 70's soon after giving up the drums for good. Both long pre-date my thirty seven year relationship with my wife. Each has outlasted every job I've had, car I've driven, every place I've lived, pet I've owned. One table - given to me by my long gone Mother - has possibly been with me longer than those two guitars. But except for dusting, I don't touch that table. I never think of it and when away (I suspect you'll be relieved to hear this startling confession), I don't miss it. And though the table has some sentimental value, if it were to suddenly go missing, that would be the end of that story.

The G-41 is ending its useful life. Despite a noble repair attempt, ever since I dropped it a few years back, it has never been the same. Of late, it has become quite difficult to play. I know I'll need to soon purchase a new acoustic. But that's not the end of this story.

Friday, August 21, 2015

When A Student Is Ready...

"Adults learn through spaced repetition."

I'm not sure where in my evolution as an adult educator I was first exposed to the statement above. But time and again the simple truth of it has been demonstrated to me, both as an educator and a learner.

Since first reading it in 1997, I've tried to fully internalize the four agreements Don Miguel Ruiz detailed in his book of the same name. And to help me remember them, I've carried a cheat sheet with my journal, something I'm rarely without. The four agreements Ruiz suggests we make with ourselves are - 1.) be impeccable with your word; 2.) don't take anything personally; 3.) don't make assumptions; 4.) always do your best.

The only comment I've received thus far on my post yesterday - entitled "Judging Bell Blues" - reminded me of my Ruiz cheat sheet. I suddenly realized it had been a while since I looked at it right after reading the comment. What a gift that comment was - another example of how we learn via spaced repetition. So, if you already have the four agreements fully internalized, reading this post can't hurt. If, like me, you needed a reminder, I'm pleased to serve that purpose and grateful to both Ruiz and the reader who inspired this post. If this is your first exposure to the four agreements and you're a seeker, write them down (maybe in a journal?) and rest assured of one thing - they will turn up again, probably when you need them most.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Judging Bell Blues

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2012/08/the-judging-bell.html

Three years on and I've still got the judging bell blues. If you read my post above from 8/20/12, I'm still curious where you'd place yourself on the 1-4 judging scale I suggested therein. And even more significantly, have you made any inroads?

My own progress dealing with this devilish issue has been minimal. I'll give myself a little credit for going public three years ago but getting my judging mind to shut off for long remains very hard, bells notwithstanding. In a conversation with my wife recently, I heard myself defending some harsh judgments I'd made of others. When she suggested the price to be paid for incessant judging - people retreating from those of us who do this - her insight rang true. Perhaps this was already obvious to you; for me it was a teaching moment.

Seems now I've at least got the "what" and the "so what". Now what? Well, that long-running technique I mentioned back in August 2012 - saying the word "judging" aloud whenever I fall into the trap - appears to have outlived its efficacy. What do you do to keep the judging bell blues at bay?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Be Careful, Mr. & Mrs. Jones

Naming children is fraught with potential mishaps.

When my sisters were in grammar school, they had a friend named Nancy Ann, a fairly common girl's name in the late 50's-early 60's. Her last name was Cianci. I've often wondered if her parents ever said that full name aloud before sending their unsuspecting daughter into the world.

How about initials? My wife and I tried steering clear of some of the obvious not-optimum combinations when we were picking names. First names starting with "B" or "T" seemed wise to avoid. For a similar reason, Star Wars also helped us put first names starting with "O" further down our list. It goes without saying that had we had a son, Martin would not have been in the running. And with all due respect to the parents of the Governor of my beloved State, even considering the seldom-used first name of Barton for a boy seemed like a cruel joke.  

If like me, you've ever tried using people's initials to help recall names, I'm sure you've stumbled across a few that have given you pause - Tom Vincent, Barbara Smith, Valerie combined with any last name starting with "D".  It can get much worse. For obvious reasons, I'm hoping my daughter prints and saves this post.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Fiction Readers Alert

Anyone reading this who is also a regular reader of fiction, I'm demanding the next 178 pages in your current queue.  

Please immediately buy or borrow "The Ocean At the End Of The Lane" (2013) by Neil Gaiman. I simply must have people, preferably loads of them, with whom I can discuss this book. My wife and the other four women comprising my reading posse are already on notice but five will not suffice. I plan on steering all my current book clubs toward this novel; no method I invent to do so can be too devious.

When you finish it, please communicate with me via a comment here, an e-mail, smoke signals, Pony Express. I'm so anxious to chew over this book with any discerning reader, I'll even answer text messages.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Your Grade (So Far): Maturity

After three and a half years and thirty nine attributes, it may be time for final grades. But before wrapping up the long-running "My Grade (So Far)" series, David Brooks has persuaded me - via his excellent book "The Road to Character" (2015) - to take a fresh look at maturity, a virtue/attribute I'd heretofore judged to be over-rated. The link at the bottom is for an old post about this word; think of me eating crow as you read it.

Unfortunately, the dictionary lets me down here, defining maturity as ... 1.) the state of being mature; ripeness and ... 2.) full development; perfected condition. Brooks has something much richer in mind extolling maturity in the "humility code" that closes his book . His vision inspires, terrifies and exhausts me.

"The person who struggles against weakness and sin ... will become mature. Maturity is not based on talent or ... gifts that help you ace an IQ test ... It is not comparative. It is earned not by being better than other people at something, but by being better than you used to be. It is earned by being dependable in times of testing, straight in times of temptation."

Using that formulation, how would you grade yourself (so far) for maturity? I'm not sure I can land on my own grade yet; need more processing time. I do know I'm a long way from an "A" but want one real bad and am willing to work for it. You?


http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2011/10/over-rated-virtues.html

Friday, August 14, 2015

Caution And Clarity

When the occasional on or offline comment from a reader prompts a re-read of an old post, I've been mostly pleased about how I've avoided revealing details easily tied to specific interactions. Also, unless the humor of an interaction has been at my expense, I've tried exercising caution there as well.

Still, these re-reads have also taught me how exercising extreme caution can sometimes interfere with clarity. Many writers of note struggle with a similar tension.  And when any writer - famous novelist, esteemed essayist, unknown blogger - tries resolving that tension by being less cryptic, things can get ugly quickly. My current battle is trying to decide if avoiding any ugliness is enough reason to be cryptic. That is, where does cryptic end and unclear start? I welcome your thoughts, especially if you refer to a specific post of mine that you found unclear.

Those occasional re-reads have also reminded me how circumspect I've been about protecting the identity of readers. But unlike my concern over clarity, there is no tension - creative or otherwise - about that practice. In his will, Eugene O'Neill specified his autobiographical masterpiece "Long Day's Journey Into Night" not be publicly staged until many years after his death. Good enough for Gene, good enough for me.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Intersecting Roads

I'm so glad "The Road To Character" (2015) by David Brooks was not released until four years after the inception of my blog. First, my entire series called "My Grade (So Far)" - begun in February 2012 - would likely have never gotten off the ground. Second, several posts from "Words That Can Haunt Me" wouldn't have been published either. In both cases, I would have worried about readers wondering if I'd cribbed some of the provocative ideas from  "The Road To Character".

To be clear: I'm not making an immodest claim to be in the same ballpark as David Brooks. He's a widely respected NY Times columnist, accomplished author and trenchant social critic. Read this book and you might join me as a convert. In addition to previous experience with his work, my own interest in "The Road To Character" began months ago when the Times ran an excerpt from the forthcoming book as an op-ed piece, including the intriguing notion Brooks uses to begin -  his distinction between "resume virtues" and "eulogy virtues". The author goes on to illustrate how modern life has slowly moved us off the road to character - elevating resume virtues and downplaying eulogy virtues - via meticulously researched biographical essays. The broad parallels to my blog occurred to me while reading his vivid depictions of these flawed people.
 
I freely admit to what Brooks calls the most venal of sins - pride - when several of his eulogy virtues (e.g. honesty, humility, generosity) overlapped with attributes already featured in "My Grade (So Far)". There was also a sweet pain when this talented author extolled grace, among the first of my haunting words.

So, even though I'm not in the same ballpark, is it ridiculous to claim I'm playing a similar sport? Track, perhaps? Clunky metaphor continued, I'm obligated to say Brooks is clearly a champion long distance runner and yours truly a sprinter who hasn't yet entered a competitive race. But ... there's still time.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

My Scofflaw Sister

Over your lifetime, how much do you suppose you've forked over in cash for parking or traffic infractions? How much for other minor screw-ups or non-felonious scrapes with the law? A new friend told me she's never gotten a ticket in over 40 years of driving, never mind laying out the kind of dough I have for some other boneheaded mishaps. Ever since hearing of my friend's life of exemplary rectitude, I've been trying to devise a method to undermine her perfect record.

Then, as I stood next to her chortling, a librarian extorted .20 from my sister for two overdue books - inspiration struck. How hard could it be to get several library cards in my new friend's name? I know her address as well as a few other particulars & I'm sure she trusts me enough to give me any remaining pertinent information required to get those cards without me having to reveal my nefarious scheme. Imagine how quickly I could sully her flawless name, never mind the ensuing financial ruin. If you like, steal my idea to use on one of your equally righteous friends.

And all this because of my scofflaw sister. I just pray my brother-in-law doesn't read this post; he used to be in law enforcement.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Open The Cabinet (Just A Little)

Who would you nominate for Secretary of the Arts?

Put aside the lamentable fact that there is no such cabinet level position and fantasize with me a little. What would be an optimum age for this person? Should experience as a professional artist (in some field) be a requirement or is expertise in the business end of the arts preferable? Or should our first Secretary of the Arts have both those qualifications on their resume? What are some good questions to ask this individual during their confirmation process?

Think of the message we'd send to the world setting this precedent. Lest I alienate fiscal conservatives, make this a one-person show - no new Department needed. Put some already existing entities - like the NEA - under this person's bailiwick. But have the position report directly to the President.

What do you think? Before revealing my first nominee, I need to hear yours.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Woody Assists The Completist

Soon after seeing "Irrational Man" - Woody Allen's latest film - it suddenly dawned on me. For better or worse, the Woodster's metronomic output is one way I mark time as the years accumulate.

On the one hand, a film like "Hannah And Her Sisters" - one of my favorites - has an odd way of bringing into sharper focus a year (1986) containing no major milestones in Barton-land, i.e. relatively quiet on the home front and stable on the vocational side. And even a not-so-favorite like "Husbands And Wives" helps me better situate 1992, a year that might otherwise fall into the easily-confused-with-others category.

It works the other way too. "Bananas" (1971) - the year I nominally became an adult, aka graduated from college. "Annie Hall" (1977) and "Deconstructing Harry" (1997) - the years my Mom and Dad died. "Interiors" (1978) - met my future wife and lost my singing voice, "Zelig" (1983) - got married and bought a first home, "Crimes And Misdemeanors" (1989) - birth of my daughter. "Celebrity" (1998) - finished graduate school. "Anything Else" (2003) - began my last (and possibly best) full time non-musical job; "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger" (2010), finished that job & full time work life and my wife and I moved into our current home.

Too soon to know if 2015 and "Irrational Man" will end up being grouped with the bucket of films from that last paragraph or with those from the one preceding it. But as long as Woody keeps making one every year and my semi-obsessive completist bent to see all his movies does not fade, seems I've got a reliable way to keep the years from blurring too much. What cultural markers assist you in a similar fashion?

Friday, August 7, 2015

Elevating My Motivations

When finishing a book as powerful as "Behind The Beautiful Forevers" (2012), my processing often
interferes with the next thing I try to read. Katherine Boo's startling debut created an additional barrier as I started reading a new book - intense guilt.

I recognize feeling guilt about unrelenting poverty in the developing world - Boo lived in a Mumbai "undercity" for over three years to research this moving non fiction account of the downside to globalization - is a silly a middle class indulgence. But denying my guilt does not make it go away. "The poor blame one another for the choices of governments and markets, and we who are not poor are ready to blame the poor just as harshly."  I'm sure this talented author was aiming higher than inducing guilt in readers. But that sentence - from the end notes - had that effect on me as I closed her book. And I'm not even particularly susceptible to blaming the poor.

Does guilt motivate you? I guess it has moved me to action more than once and perhaps the same thing will happen now that I've read "Behind The Beautiful Forevers". Still, I welcome the day when I'm motivated by something more noble.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

#35: The Mt. Rushmore Series

This iteration of Mt. Rushmore is more about aspiration than actuality, at least for me. Which four countries are you most interested in visiting at least once? Though I've opted to enshrine four I haven't seen, you can immortalize one or more that you have, provided you include a rationale for your return visits.

1.) Greece: My first visit could be as soon as next summer. Will be great to experience a place that has always intrigued me though who knows if I'll be using Euros, drachmas or beads as currency. Stay tuned.

2.) Kenya: My fascination with Kenya goes back farther than my longing to visit anywhere else in the world. But if things don't settle down there soon, this could be the only country on my monument remaining an aspiration.

3.) Sweden: I missed getting to the land of many blondes while travelling around Europe on the EuRail system in 1982. More than thirty years later my desire to visit hasn't waned at all.

4.) Thailand: Unlike the others above, Thailand would not have been on my Mt. Rushmore ten years ago. But friends and relatives have raved about it so much, some earlier contenders (e.g. New Zealand) have been bumped back to 5th place and beyond.

Can't settle on just four, you say? All right, build a bigger mountain if you must.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Bart, Beyonce & Liberace

File today's post under "S" for superficial but respond anyway, please. In your view, which single name celebrity has most earned or... not earned that distinction?

Hard as I've tried, today's question demonstrates my marginal success ignoring these people. When a patron made fun of a Cher song playing at my local coffee shop, I found myself reflecting/riffing on her single moniker and decided she needed a first name - Thyme. Or, better yet, how about an Asian last name? How does Ing sound to you, Cher?

From there it was a short, pathetic leap to Sting. New first initial? B., of course. New last name? Ray. Then onto (the) Edge from U-2, surely the most ludicrous single name any person - celebrity or not - ever adopted. Yeah, you know where I'm going with this, don't you? Cliff as a first name, Of Tomorrow as a middle and surname.

Do me a big favor, OK? Weigh in on this nonsense so I can sleep better tonight. And from here on, it's Bart to all of you. Just Bart.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Becoming Part Of Some Solution

How will gun owners and those who choose not to own guns ever reach agreement about protecting people from mass shootings? Is there a middle ground on this issue? If so, I haven't heard it reasonably articulated. If you have, please educate me and others. I'd like to begin becoming part of some solution.

Neither my wife nor I have ever owned a gun. And I'm grateful we were aligned on this issue raising our daughter. But more than a few people close to my wife and I are gun owners. As a result, I've been part of many conversations about gun ownership. And though most of those conversations have been fairly civil, I don't recall a single one where the opposite sides came to a place that led me to feel less vulnerable. Is it unreasonable for me to expect that? If no compromise is reachable at this very local level, how do I hold onto any hope that compromise at the State or National level is possible? How do you?

Though I'm discouraged and worried, I'm not planning to give up - too much at stake.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Batting Cleanup: National Conversation Day

To date, the three clever ideas I've proposed on this date for an August holiday - a month noticeably bereft of even one - have been met with either apathy (2012, 2014) or an accusation of insensitivity (2013). But given the absence of any reader-suggested alternatives, I'm obnoxiously obligated to try again.

How about this? Heretofore, how about designating August 1 National Conversation Day? Before I outline a few carefully chosen and flawless protocols, let's agree on an appropriate color we'll wear on August 1 a la Valentine's Day red. How about blue without the red and white? Stay tuned for the brilliant reason for that suggestion. The protocols...

1.) Any political conversations initiated on National Conversation Day must be with people who do not share your views. This may help us all escape our echo chambers for at least one day a year.
2.) Forbidden subjects on National Conversation Day: the weather, food & families of origin. Special verboten category for civil engineers and my family only: roads & bridges.
3.) All conversations about music, books, film or words with the inventor of National Conversation Day must continue until both parties are blue in the face.

I welcome comments on my latest amazing idea, additional protocols for National Conversation Day or best of all - suggestions for another celebration we can have each August 1. You've got 365 days to mull it over. Took a lot of self-control to not sneak a blue pun into this last paragraph.