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Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Musevangelist

The design phase of each new music course elicits the proselytizer in me. As I decide which songs support which teaching point, my zeal grows daily. I scour my music books and the Internet with Talmudic intensity for apocryphal anecdotes as well as useless ephemera. Will the first exposure to "Til The End Of The Day" bring rapture to at least one unbaptized student as it did me in 1965?

Communing with a classroom full of music acolytes is intoxicating. Although never certain how any given song will land, I'm confident the total experience will stir passion, even ecstasy in some. When music soars -  no matter the genre - the divine is nearby.

Of the many blessings my post full time work life has given me, my role as a musevangelist is near the top of the list. What gives you similar joy?

Friday, February 26, 2016

Connecting: 1911 - 2016 - 2121

How did you connect with your current partner?

Because I met my partner of thirty eight years at work, my experience supports the research that has long claimed a majority of us meet in this way. But recently I began reflecting on the impact the Internet has had on mating rituals. How many contemporary novels have you read - or films have you seen - that address this shift? Does your experience with what popular culture is depicting strike you as proportionate to what seems to be happening? In my wholly unscientific and tiny sample, the number of people who connect with a partner via the Internet has overtaken the meet-at-work model. What does your recent anecdotal experience tell you?

Then, while still musing on this shift, I started reading "Ethan Frome", an Edith Wharton novella written in 1911, one hundred and five years ago. And that confluence propelled me into a mating rituals time machine. In Wharton's era, I'd guess people met their partners primarily in their hometowns or nearby, perhaps via church or introduced by family, friends, neighbors. At work? Less likely - women had not yet entered the workforce in big numbers. As the 20th century evolved and we became more mobile, geographical proximity became less crucial. Also, work came into play. Now the 21st century has brought the Internet into the mix in a big way. Care to join me in the time machine? How will people be connecting with partners one hundred and five years from now?

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Bird & Julian

Though I saw it only once upon its 1988 release, there is one scene from "Bird" - Clint Eastwood's biopic of legendary alto saxophonist Charlie Parker - that has never left me. After hearing one of Parker's superhuman feats of improvisation, another saxophonist throws his instrument into a river. I have yet to meet a musician who has not had a similar impulse at least once over their playing life. It's an occupational hazard.

I'd wager there are authors who'd be tempted to ditch almost finished manuscripts after reading "The Sense Of An Ending" (2011) by Julian Barnes. I've now read this staggering piece of literature three times over four years. The first time - using a library book - I took more than three pages of notes. For the second reading I used post-its in my own copy to highlight different passages than my initial read. This go round I annotated additional different sections with pencil. The notes, post-its and annotations probably account for 25% of the text. And there are still many jewels left. Like Parker did for saxophonists, Barnes effectively resets the bar for novelists.

If you love books, this is one you must read. If you're working on your own book, I'd suggest waiting until you're published before reading "The Sense Of An Ending".

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A Fascinating Intersection

If we withhold something from the person with whom we are the most intimate, is that relationship necessarily compromised? Or, are we each allowed to hold onto secrets without fear of damage to intimacy?

Reflections on these questions - embodying a long search for the balance between trust and mystery - most often come to the fore when others describe their secrets and lies to me. Infrequently, I'll get wistful when hearing these stories. I wonder: Do therapists ever catch themselves relishing the hidden mysteries their patients reveal to them? What does your self-talk sound like when you're tantalized by a secret a good friend has kept from their partner?

Before anyone's imagination runs amok, this post is not a cryptic confession. In fact, I recently realized there is virtually nothing my partner of thirty eight years does not know about me. And that realization - likely catalyzed by a dishy, superficial, unnamed memoir - sent me down today's rabbit hole. I'm not soliciting confessions either - just your thoughts on the fascinating intersection of trust and mystery.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Beauty And Mystery

"Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life." Rachel Carson 

It's difficult to over-state how rejuvenated I feel after spending an extended period in nature. In addition to the feeling of renewal, some of my most profound moments of clarity have taken place while outdoors, especially in places of intense quiet.

Although not temperamentally suited to a Thoreau-like life of isolation, each time I commune with the earth it feels like it takes a bit longer re-acclimating. Do you detect a similar pattern in your re-entries? My next prolonged experience with nature can never come too soon.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Travel And Learning

What book comes to mind when you think about time you've spent away from home?

For me, it's easy to recall books I've read while travelling. Over forty years ago, on the road with my rock n' roll band, I finished "At Play In The Fields Of The Lord", a brilliant Peter Matthiessen novel seared into my memory. In the mid-90's, after reading "The Fourth Hand" while at a friend's house in Maine, I decided I was done with John Irving. On my last vacation, I plowed through Maggie O' Farrell's "The Vanishing Act Of Esme Lennox" in one sitting. Each book is clearly linked to the time away from home. Does this happen to you?

"My Life On The Road" - Gloria Steinem's 2015 memoir - is now forever connected to alligators in Florida's National Parks, vibrant art in the streets of Miami, a $19.95 pitcher of Margaritas my wife and I were unable to finish. Steinem's books invariably move and teach me. During my adult ed years, her 1993 book "Revolution From Within" was a beacon for me and my students. "My Life On The Road" is filled with hard-earned wisdom. My richest takeaway? The value of using the circle as an organizing principle, as many traditional cultures do. As someone who has rarely questioned the merit of hierarchy as an organizing principle, I'm grateful to Gloria Steinem for reinforcing an alternative - it's a powerful lesson she passed onto me from her lifetime of travel and learning.      

Friday, February 19, 2016

I'm Busy For The Rest Of My Life

I'm busy for the rest of my life.

From twenty feet away, the words themselves deeply resonated with me. But as I got up closer and saw that Peter Tunney had used pages from the dictionary as the building blocks for the inspirational collage highlighting those words, I was dumbstruck. Which contemporary visual artist most recently took your breath away?

petertunney.com

Walking around the gallery, I kept wishing my artist friends were by my side so that we could experience Tunney's magic simultaneously. Each of his pieces filled me with joy from afar and wonder up close. I can't recall the last time I was so moved by an art exhibit.

Visiting Tunney's website may or may not whet your appetite. But if you ever get a chance to see his work up close - his home base is NYC, specifically Tribeca - be sure to do so. Then, let's talk.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Last And Most Deadly Sin

Although I do battle with anger and pride can also get the better of me, envy is the deadly sin that most often sorely tests me. Which of the unlucky seven challenges you more than the others?

The green monster usually appears when I'm in a creative slump. If not in a mindful state at those low points, envy can be my default reaction when exposed to great music or writing. Soon, a reinforcing loop begins. My envy of the talent of others leads to negative self-talk and from there it's a short journey to creative paralysis. It's easy to recognize how fruitless my envy is, but not simple to avoid it. There is so much amazing talent in the world.

As ignoble as it is, I also envy those people tortured by their envy of other people's money or possessions. I'd prefer that to my own version of this deadly sin.                    

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2015/12/more-than-halfway.html

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2016/01/words-that-can-haunt-me-part-13-pride.html

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Tao Of Ough

Without looking it up, what's your guess how to pronounce "slough"?

Let's use words starting with "t" as a starting point. Does the ough in slough sound like the ough in thorough, thought, through, tough, or trough?

This Carlinesque reflection was inspired when my wife and I came across and differently mispronounced this word unfamiliar to both of us. Crossword and scrabble geeks might scoff at our ignorance but only those from that nerdy group who can come up with a better pun than the title of this post are allowed to gloat and take a bough. Just the same, let's all be kind to people learning English, OK?

Sunday, February 14, 2016

A Lingusitic Smorgasbord

There's so much to cherish about our National Parks. Aside from the traditional reasons, one additional thing that invariably juices me is the variety of languages I can hear in just one day. It's like being at the UN, outdoors.

The first people we met today were Swiss; I learned this asking where they were from after overhearing what sounded like German. Then during our first activity - a ranger-led hike through the Everglades - in just our group of about twenty people there were folks from China, Denmark & Germany as well as several US States. Later, on a short afternoon boat ride I heard some kind of Slavic language, French, Japanese & Spanish all being spoken.

Among my favorite memories visiting London the first time was when my wife and I sat in Hyde Park for a few hours and tried keeping track of how many different languages we thought we heard people speak as they passed by. In my experience, the National Parks offer a similar rich diversity. Even as someone who has spent a lot of time in multi-cultural NYC, the linguistic smorgasbord at the National Parks still dazzles me.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

An Energizing Goal

After our current Florida adventure concludes, my wife and I will have visited fourteen of the US National Parks together. With Rocky Mountain on the schedule for later this year, at this rate, it's still possible we'll accomplish our goal of seeing all fifty seven. Will we both still be ambulatory when we reach the last one? Open question.

Realizing our ambitious mission will require purposeful planning. There are still six more National Parks in Alaska we haven't seen; a few of those are really remote. There are also two in Hawaii, one of the three States in the US neither of us has yet visited. Finally, giving new meaning to the expression "off the beaten track", there is a National Park located on American Samoa. If someone asked you to quickly locate that US territory on a map, how successful would you be?

But the National Parks are such a treasure; having this goal energizes both of us. What are your travel goals?

Friday, February 12, 2016

Karl & I Have A Question Or Two

"Where do I find the time for not reading so many books?" - Karl Kraus

Here's my small "d" dilemma. I liked "The Gathering" (2007) by Anne Enright enough to read more by this prodigiously talented author. But my list of authors to read again is so out of control. How do I prioritize? How many authors are on your list? How do you prioritize? Help!

My dilemma has lately produced an odd side effect. When encountering authors with simply serviceable craft, a kind of perverse relief ensues as I recognize their back catalog - or future work - is not going on that ever-swelling list of mine. Before you recommend medication for me, first examine your own line of thought when you finish a book and say "meh". After your initial annoyance having wasted your time, aren't you even a little relieved you can scratch that author from your list?

After deciding several years ago to base any future I might have with authors by using my last experience with their work as the sole judge of that future - whether it was my first or tenth exposure to that particular author - I really thought my list would start becoming more manageable. But books like "The Gathering" keep appearing, written by authors new to me. And old favorites like Anne Tyler and new favorites like Jennifer Egan keep not letting me down. Darn it, anyway.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A Grateful Adult Child

For those of you who have or had parents as reliable as mine, when did you last reflect on how much that one factor contributes to good mental health?

Although the unfailing reliability of my parents is rarely completely off my radar, this critical trait of theirs often seems to come into sharper focus when my daughter and I reminisce about her early years. When she speaks of how her mother and I were where we were supposed to be - at the time she expected us - it's easy for me to recall the stability and predictability my parents provided during my childhood; I always felt safe. Feeling safe as a child - the most vulnerable time of life - has no down side. If your parents were consistent like mine, i.e. you shared my childhood experience of feeling safe, I hope you're grateful.

But before allowing yourself to treat the reliability of your parents as a given, consider an alternative. Observe the walking wounded among us. Listen carefully as they speak. Encountering broken people and hearing their childhood stories is a humbling reminder of how fragile the edifice of good mental health really is. As a parent, I'm heartened by those conversations with my daughter. And as a sixty six year old child, those same conversations refresh my gratitude for my parents, again.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Merchants Of Doubt

Although I'm not sure how widely available it is, "Merchants Of Doubt" - a documentary about how climate change denial is funded in the U.S. - is a film begging to be seen. When you locate it, be prepared for the sober, if vitally important, central message.

The movie expertly depicts the way special interests trying to delay meaningful political action around climate change are using the tobacco industry playbook. Those highly effective techniques - like paying a few rogue "scientists" to obfuscate and ensuring their mercenary views are endlessly repeated on talk radio - are identical to what cigarette companies did to delay government action on products they knew were lethal. Meanwhile, big energy is exploiting the very same climate change they deny is happening. To cite just one egregious example used in the film, Exxon is counting on melting polar ice to facilitate future exploration for oil.

We were the first country to put a man on the moon. Imagine how well we could lead the world if we put resources behind this critical issue. Instead, we're the only country in the world denying there is an issue as real scientists and concerned people are forced to devote energy fighting well funded merchants of doubt.  

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Thrill Is Never Gone

"Old musicians never die - they just go from bar to bar."

It probably started when I came across the unused coffee mug my sister gave me years ago with that painful pun. Later that day, soon after noticing the 1928 copyright of "Ain't Misbehavin" - a Fats Waller tune I'd been memorizing - I inexplicably flashed to an obscure band called McKendree Spring that I'd loved during my undergraduate years. What are those guys up to? Are any of them still playing music?

http://www.franmckendree.com/

As his easily located website indicates, Fran McKendree is still at it - and worth listening to - 47 years later. No surprise, given his talent. Though I didn't research the subsequent careers of his three bandmates, it would surprise me only if I learned they were not still musically active.  In my experience, giving up playing music - no matter the level of notoriety - is a source of regret for anyone who does so. Pay attention to the age of jazz musicians mentioned in the media. Eighty and older is not at all uncommon. And though economics is a partial explanation, the buzz I get playing - even alone and frustrated - tells me much more is at work.

I go from bar to bar, I delight in learning ninety year old songs, I re-discover a musician from almost half a century earlier. What gives you a similar thrill?

"If there were no music, then I would not get through": Shawn Colvin from "I Don't Know Why"        

Friday, February 5, 2016

Cue The Eerie Music +

Some coincidences are a little spooky.

After finishing Kent Haruf's final novel "Our Souls At Night" (2015) yesterday, I didn't have time to write an entry in my book journal before leaving to teach. While driving, Haruf's simple story and sparsely powerful prose had me reflecting on a "A Lesson Before Dying", a 1993 masterpiece by Ernest Gaines. The two books are as different in subject matter as they are alike in their quiet intensity. And the more I thought about them, the more fused they felt in my brain. Late last night, my wife arrived home from a business trip around the same time as I. We caught up before retiring for the day.

With the snow keeping me from my usual Friday a.m. volunteering commitment, I began writing my book journal entry about "Our Souls At Night" but found myself distracted by an idea for a blog post. Although I do so irregularly, today I decided to read my February 5 blog posts from three and four years ago before using that other idea.

 http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2013/02/words-on-page.html

Cue the eerie music. Also: Put both these books on your "to read" list and then get back to me.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Nest

Of the instincts I lack, nesting probably tops the list. This becomes most clear when I spend time alone for several days and notice the ways my wife has made our home inviting. Conventional wisdom - a polite substitute for stereotyping - might say this instinct is often missing in men. Is that consistent with your experience?

I clearly recollect my early adult years when my Mother would visit my apartments and complain there was no comfortable place to sit. Although she was right, somehow I'd forget until she next visited. Some combination of insensitivity, immaturity and little extra cash likely contributed to my dearth of furniture back then. But reflecting on how infrequently the comfort or appeal of my surroundings has ever crossed my mind over the ensuing forty five years, I'm forced to consider there may be something else at work.

Almost without exception, the rugs my wife picks, the art she chooses, the little touches she selects to adorn each room all make me happy - when I'm mindful. And my gratitude for those things helps erase the dreadful mental picture I get imagining what a nest of my own making would look like.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Over And Over

Considering how many people outside of Punxsutawney ever pay attention, does it strike anyone else as odd that of all the movies ever made about holidays few have come close to being as good as "Groundhog Day?"  What would be your nomination for a holiday film that is the equal of Harold Ramis' goofy 1993 masterpiece?

Although I'm not a big Bill Murray fan, "Groundhog Day" is on the short list of films I've watched more than once. Of the several priceless bits in the movie, my favorite is probably Sonny & Cher warbling "I Got You Babe" on the clock radio that awakens Murray's character as he endlessly repeats February 2nd - brilliant choice. What alternative song would you pick as a way to aurally depict a nightmare you can't escape? My top nomination would be one of those treacly ballads Michael Bolton screamed during his brief but painful popularity, closely followed by anything from the repertoire of I-get-paid-by-the-note Kenny G.

Musical snarkiness aside, which bit from this modern-day cinema classic plays over and over in your mind? And, if you were able to repeat a single day from your life which one would you choose?

Monday, February 1, 2016

Thank You For Getting Me

"The Short And Tragic Life Of Robert Peace" (2014) by Jeff Hobbs is profoundly sad and powerfully written. But though the author does an admirable and even-handed job paying tribute to a "brilliant young man who left Newark for the Ivy League", the ending - telegraphed by the title - makes recommending the book to others problematic. This is not a book you enjoy. But it is one that I feel deserves to be read.

Aside from the author's skill telling the story and the familiar locales  - Robert Peace grew up and died in Orange, NJ, a city bordering my childhood hometown - the fact that my oldest niece, who read the book first then gave it to me as a gift, is probably what will most remain with me. It's deeply gratifying that my niece gets me well enough to know Peace's life story would move me. What was the last book given or recommended to you that gave you a similar feeling. i.e. the person who suggested or gave it to you had a clue who you are?

Or, when was the last time the opposite thing happened? That is, someone recommends you read a book - particularly if it's non-fiction - and after finishing it you wondered - Does this person get me at all?