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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Library Swallows House! Story At Ten

Upon moving to my current home in 2010, I made two decisions related to my book collection:

1.) After a lifetime denying myself the pleasure, this home would include a library, i.e. an entire room dedicated to my collection, complete with floor to ceiling built-in bookcases. My lifelong friends would now get the space they'd always deserved instead of lying in random piles in every room.

2.) To ensure I did not become the subject of a future reality TV show about book hoarders, every new book purchased would be coupled with an old one donated to a library, coffee shop, etc. And that brings me to my current dilemma.

Up until now, it's been relatively easy to decide which of my friends would give up their space as a purchased book was added to the shelves. The earliest donations were books my wife had read that I was reasonably sure I would not. Before anyone calls book foul, let me clarify: She is not as attached as I to books she's finished. The second phase of donations included stuff I'd enjoyed at the time but  probably not much worthy of a re-read. 

I'm now in phase three - decisions about what goes next are becoming more difficult. Either ... a.) I've read it (or in several cases, re-read it) and my notes and annotations are part of my story or ... b.) I haven't read it but I'm pretty sure I will or ... c.) something unexplainable won't allow me to let go ... yet. Any book hoarders care to offer some coaching? Good thing the public library and my thriftiness helps me keep a lid on purchases, huh?

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Thanks, Boss

Think of the best supervisor you ever had. What trait did that person possess or which behavior did he or she frequently exhibit that made them so good? Now think of the worst supervisor you ever had and answer the same question. Which of the two is more solidly etched in your memory?

Reviewing my full time work life, I can't honestly recall ever having someone I'd call a bad supervisor. But I can distinguish a few things separating the good ones from the best.

* The best supervisor I ever had put a lot of effort into my performance reviews. I walked away from each of those conversations with something tangible I could improve.

* This same person didn't wait for performance reviews to give me positive or corrective feedback.

* Over the five years I reported to this person, I don't recall ever hearing a bad word spoken about someone else.

That last trait is something I value in anyone, supervisor or not. But in my experience - especially in a work environment - it is rare. Thanks for teaching me some stuff boss. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Rewind And Grow

For the first time since beginning the practice of reviewing my posts from three or more years ago on the same date, my reflections from both March 28 of 2011 and 2012 felt worth a re-visit. If you keep a journal, why not join me and see if what was on your mind on any past March 28 has remained with you? I'll feel better knowing at least one person was with me on this solipsistic rewind.

On the two presenting issues from five and four years ago today - limiting my use of labels and paying less attention to needing approval in the creative domain - my progress has been fitful. For the former, occasional opportunities to do anti-oppression work, consistent reading, and developing courses on music - forcing me to look at how I label even something I love desperately - have each contributed to some halting growth. How do you guard against letting labels limit your perceptions? 

It's harder to measure my progress with the second issue, though I did take some of my own advice from the March 28 2012 post and traded some of that need for creative approval with more attention to my grooming; there's still room for more growth there. Now, when I label less, my spoken and written language changes in ways noticeable even to me. But my ongoing conversation about creative approval is more internal. So, I'm more likely to notice only the outward manifestations of exactly what I'm trying to avoid, i.e. when speaking to others and seeking their approval! See what I mean about fitful progress? What strategies do you use to lessen your need for approval, creative or otherwise?

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2011/03/labels-limits.html

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2012/03/time-for-trade.html


Monday, March 27, 2017

Who You Calling A Sissy?

"Getting old is not for sissies" - Bette Davis

To be clear: I definitely prefer getting old to the alternative. And I refuse to become an old fart who perpetually complains about age-related physical ailments. But claiming those words of Bette Davis never cross my mind would be a lie. Recently, I've felt old when ...   

* Noting the number of dead people in my address book.
* Realizing the birthday parties I attend usually end long before midnight.
* Visiting a public rest room just to be safe.

On the other hand, I continue to enjoy skiing with my daughter, loud rock n' roll, and rolling around on the floor with children. Which things remind you of the inexorable march of time? What things do you do to defy the stereotypes others have of people "your age"? 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Adjusting The Scope

"Do one thing each day that scares you" -  Eleanor Roosevelt

Since stumbling across them some months ago, I've been turning over Eleanor Roosevelt's words in my head. And I've reluctantly decided not to tackle her advice right now, at least not literally.

My decision is based on the scope Eleanor proposes, not the wisdom of her words. When someone as goal oriented as I reads "each day" in an admonition like this, deciding to act on it is not a halfway affair. The planning begins, closely followed by the documentation of the action taken "each day".

Still, the energy derived from inspiring words like these cannot be ignored. Consequently, I'm using "each week" instead and have already begun to settle on which "one thing" I'll do this week. If my first "one thing" ends up being not too cringeworthy, perhaps I'll share it here. In the meanwhile, I'd enjoy having company so let me know - here or offline - if you'd like to join me. If you're more prone than I to over-doing the goals, broaden your scope to "each month". Either way, we'll both be a little less afraid. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Words That Can Haunt Me, Part 14: Supercilious

supercilious: haughtily disdainful as a person, or in expression or bearing. Synonyms: arrogant, scornful.

When describing my reading preferences - and some who love me may say at other times as well -  supercilious is probably an accurate description of my demeanor. I'm more measured here because it's easy to edit my impulses while typing and I long ago made a commitment to not bash authors on my blog.   

Now, were I more careful when speaking aloud about authors, supercilious might haunt me less. But aside from many years of the mouth moving before the brain has fully engaged - and I make no excuses for that bad behavior - the volume of my reading in the post full time work years has also tripled, at least. And, over these past seven years, I've met some very discerning fellow readers who often share my disdain for cheap sentiment, clunky metaphors, and speeches given by characters to ensure an author's MESSAGE is unmistakable. I realize what is melodrama to you may be moving to me and vice versa. But being spoon fed by an author to "feel" something reminds me of the intrusive violins used in some films. Under those circumstances, I want to tell that author or filmmaker, "Let me figure out what I think or feel, will you please?"

p.s. I started with snob as the 14th haunting word for this series. But, the dictionary definitions for that simpler word didn't fit me as well as supercilious. The fancy-schmancy word will make the word snobs happier anyway. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Almost Halfway Round The Globe

Over the six year duration of our "Eat The World" project, we've now sampled the cuisine of eighty seven independent nations. What recent eating experience took you to a foreign land? What did you eat? Would you return for more of whatever you had?

At our current rate - we're almost halfway round the globe now - the project could be completed by 2026, especially with the help we've been getting lately from the friends who have become frequent fellow food travelers. Regular readers will not be surprised to learn how quickly I was able to provide a list of countries not yet tasted to a few of those friends who want to host a dinner for us to keep the project humming. You want a list? That's like to asking me to recommend a good recording or book or film. Be careful what you ask for.

The last country we "visited" was Georgia - Western Asia, not US South version - via a restaurant called Old Tbilisi in NYC. At this point, unless Google searches have let me down, we've largely exhausted the local eating out possibilities. But, El Salvador is in our near future on a visit to DC in April and I'm hoping an eating adventure or two awaits us on vacations later this year. Until then, I've got my sous chef apron and knives ready to go and my ears open waiting for your suggestions. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

They're Dead Anyway

In which of the tiers below would you place each US President who has served in your lifetime? Try to recall the overall condition the country was in when the person first took office vs. the day that same person left the White House before placing them. And to help minimize online sniping, leave out the five living ex-Presidents - i.e. Carter, Bush I & II, Clinton & Obama, OK? Sorry to my daughter and her cohort; I know leaving out the last four Chief Executives leaves you with no one to place. 

Tier 1 is reserved for the historically venerated, like the four on Mt. Rushmore and anyone you'd add to that monument. Among the now dead Presidents who served during my lifetime, I place no one in that tier.

Tier 2 would be the middling group, i.e. the bell curve Presidents. Historically, I think here of John Quincy Adams, James Polk, Calvin Coolidge. For my money, all of the dead Presidents who have served during my lifetime reside in that middle muddle, except Gerald Ford. For the record, that group includes Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, JFK, LBJ, Nixon, & Reagan.

Tier 3 is for the real losers. In this dismal historical company, dullards like Millard Fillmore, James Buchanan, and Warren G. Harding come to mind. I know at least one of my sisters will be unhappy I don't place Nixon in this pack (she might also be surprised I didn't elevate JFK to Tier 1) but all things considered, I'll stand by my placement of both of them in Tier 2. 

Tier 4 is the limbo group, i.e. Presidents who either had no chance for history to assess them because they died too soon - William Henry Harrison & James Garfield - or ... they were never elected but ended up a President anyway. Gerald Ford lies alone among the dead Presidents of my lifetime in this weird group.

Even though this Presidential scholar did not provide a rationale for the placement of his seven dead guys, if you comment here and put at least a few of your dead guys in tiers (who does this hurt?), I'll share my perverse logic with you. Deal?

Saturday, March 18, 2017

What's Next, Erik?

Each time I finish a book by Erik Larson, my first thought is "What will he write about next?" Which non-fiction authors captivate you like that?

"Dead Wake: The Last Crossing Of The Lusitania" (2015) - like all of Larson's books I've read - is compelling first page to last. This author's narrative gift is so strong that even though I knew how the story would end, I was never out of its grip. The telling details Larson chose from the mountain of books cited in his bibliography were - as always - nearly perfect. For example, early in the account he describes two young girls who ask - on day two of the fateful seven day journey - if they can help a seaman paint the underside of one of the lifeboats. Then, after the Lusitania goes down, Larson returns to one of the girls - fifteen year old Gwendolyn Allan -  as her lifeless body is brought onto a rescue vessel. Of the 1198 casualties, the bodies of more than 600 people - unlike Gwendolyn's - were never recovered.

Two revered historical figures - Winston Churchill, First Lord Of Great Britain's Admiralty at forty years old, and Woodrow Wilson, the U.S. President in 1915 - don't shine brightly in Larson's book.   Among numerous missteps the author cites, the most galling for me was Wilson's insensitive chirping to his soon-to-be second wife: "I have just put the final touches on our note to Germany and now turn - with what joy! - to talk to you. I am sure you have been by my side all evening for a strange sense of peace and love has been on me as I worked." The note Wilson was referring to - the preface for the mush to his future bride - was itself a mild rebuke to Germany. Considering 123 American lives had just been lost four days before, Wilson's tone deafness here is staggering. And bad as that is, some of Churchill's political shenanigans at the time were more reprehensible.

For those of you who have read "Dead Wake", let's talk, OK? If you haven't, put this one on your list. You won't be sorry.      

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Six Word Memoir

"For sale: baby shoes, never worn."

The above is what has been termed "flash fiction", a novel in six words. Though I'd always heard this particular example attributed to Ernest Hemingway - a master of concise fiction - Wikipedia claims there is some dispute about that. No matter, I'm using it only as the jumping off point for today's bell curve mission.

How would your memoir read if you only had six words to tell it? Based on years of history, I'm confident no responses will materialize - online or off - unless I go first so, my first cut concludes this post. Who doesn't have time to read just six words, right? So, publish your memoir as a comment if you're so inclined; I think others will be intrigued by your attempt to tell your story, or at least by your brevity. But, at minimum, share your six words with me in some fashion. I am interested.


Stable start, eclectic "career", still searching.       

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Ides Have It

Those who read my post on the Ides of February may remember the pledge I made that day to use the ides of each subsequent month in 2017 in a kind and gentle fashion. So, what positive energy are you ready to release into the world to help offset the mayhem that Brutus et al unleashed on March 15 all those years ago?

* You've never bought a coffee for the next person in line at WAWA? Why not? Cheaper than Starbucks and to my taste, better coffee.

* A few people liked my idea from 2/13 of using a magic marker to write something affirming on a banana for anyone in your home who happens to read it. After making the initial suggestion, I learned an onion works just as well as a message board. Doing this on a supermarket banana or onion just ups the ante.

* Ask for sarsaparilla at your favorite bar. 

Let me know how it goes if you try any of the ides ideas I make here in 2017. And, if you offer any ideas online - unless it will get me arrested - I promise I'll try at least one and report back. See you on April 13.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Six Years

What have you discovered about yourself over the past six years?

With tomorrow marking the six year anniversary of my first published blog post, I've recently been more introspective than usual. And despite my occasional disappointment, hurling reflections, posing questions, and fielding comments here since March 15, 2011 has been a net positive for me.

Most significantly, I've discovered public writing juices all my other creative impulses and keeps me attuned to how easily cliché can sneak into any creative endeavor. Even on days when all I write are these few brief paragraphs, if I'm not vigilant, hackneyed phrases or tired combinations of words can help suck the freshness out of a short post.    

I've also learned things about some of you and benefited from your supportive and critical feedback. Thanks for that. 

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2011/03/first-entry.html   

Monday, March 13, 2017

Yeah! Snow Day Tomorrow!

Foremost of the benefits of teaching guitar to children is how they continually remind me of simple joys. Like snow days.

Remember how thrilled you were in grade school when you knew you'd be off the next day? Though I loved school, I loved snow days more. How about you? Every young student I had at the studio today was buzzing with anticipation. It was so much fun being next to their gleeful energy.

My plan while shoveling tomorrow is to embody Pat, circa the early 60s. First step: After publishing this post, I'm going into my I-tunes library and construct a playlist with music from that era. Early Beach Boys, some Chuck Berry, "Our Day Will Come", etc. If the set ends before I finish clearing the car and driveway, I'll just hit re-play on my I-pod. Then, I'm going to make a snowman.        

Saturday, March 11, 2017

For Bookworms Only

What would you have done with the time you've spent reading had you never developed a passion for the written word?

For some time I've been trying to come up with a single downside for my lifelong love affair with books. The best I can do? Maybe I'd have paid more attention to some moments. That's it. For me, there is no other drawback. How about for you?

What was the book that convinced you that a lifetime of burying your nose into pages of words was an undeniably effective use of time? God, I really want to hear from a bunch of bookworms on this one. Make my day, will you?    

Friday, March 10, 2017

Takeaway From A Sally Hemings Dinner

"Injustice prevails where hopelessness lives." -  Bryan Stevenson

Effective immediately, I'm planning to spend a lot more time involved with people committed to fighting oppression. I'm fortunate to know a small group of these people now, but it's time to work more purposefully to meet others. I welcome any ideas you have that might assist me in this pursuit.

The reasons for initiating this shift in my social life are selfish. It's easier to be authentic and harder to feel hopeless around people like this. I learn something from each encounter. The stories I hear about the journey others have taken remind me to be patient with the new people I meet who are beginning their journey.

"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." -  Martin Luther King, Jr.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Saint Patrick & Total Recall

The condition known as hyperthymesia - highly superior autobiographical memory is purportedly found in less than twenty people worldwide. Today's opening question - How would you feel about being able to remember every single day of your life in detail?

For me, having just a good memory presents its own set of issues. Now, were I more emotionally evolved, I could envision hyperthymesia coming in handy, selectively. But given my already well-developed ability to readily recall perceived slights and dismissive remarks directed at me, I suspect hyperthymesia would render me a walking grudge machine. Worse - again, this is not Saint Patrick speaking, just regular Patrick - I could see myself spending days plotting how to get back at anyone who'd ever rubbed me the wrong way.

Also, I already have trouble enough given my current ability to recall instances of my own bad behavior. Until those Buddhist credentials are in hand, any more remembering of past bad behavior could disable me.

Now, if having hyperthymesia limited any instance of my bad behavior to one - provided I were smart enough to recognize the behavior in question as bad - that could be terrific. That leads me to the concluding head-bending question: If more people had this condition, would the world be better or worse? Before answering, think of many people. And, don't limit your thinking to people you know personally.             

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

A Reliable Source

Of the feedback I've received about my blog, few things gratify me more than a reader telling me they've enjoyed a book, film, or piece of music they learned of here. But give me no credit for today's unqualified recommendation.    

My wife began her relentless campaign to get me to read "The Lowland" (2013) soon after finishing it. I understand her impulse, don't you? A novel this incandescent leaves a glow on a receptive reader. What was the last book that dominated your conversation for weeks, one you couldn't wait to recommend to your own reading posse? If the few years that have passed between my wife's reading of Jhumpa Lahiri's timeless tale have dimmed her memory of the sweep of the plot, the flawless etching of characters, the wisdom that infuses Lahiri's stunning prose, I'll be bummed. Conversations with my wife about the particulars in books that have transported both of us are a highlight of my intellectual life. Who in your life helps provide this kind of sustenance?

If you're not a novel reader, let me recommend an equally excellent entrée to the work of this gifted author. The 2006 film "The Namesake" is based on Lahiri's earlier novel of the same name. I suspect after spending two hours with that film you will be tempted to go further. Next stop - Try Lahiri's book of short stories - "The Interpreter of Maladies" (1999). After those experiences, "The Lowland" beckons. Don't take my word for it; trust my wife.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

See You In Four Years

a.) Michael Bloomberg
b.) Bill Gates
c.) Donald Trump
d.) Mark Zuckerberg

Four significant public figures, one insignificant blogger's question. Which of these four would you select as most likely to endorse the idea of putting TV screens at eye level in men's urinals? This is not a fantasy. Thanks to a friend's comment, I recently had cause to re-live that exact experience after re-reading my blog post entitled "Really?", published four years ago today. I'm curious to know if any women reading this have since been similarly bombarded while sitting in a stall as I was while doing my business at that chain restaurant in Lawrenceville, NJ in March 2013.  

I'm genuinely thrilled this latest technological travesty doesn't appear to be widespread - yet. Still, the septic air surrounding some of our current public discourse and growing attachment to screens and tweets vs. faces and nuanced thought leads me to think it's just a matter of time. Runaway egotism and political snarkiness aside, I sincerely hope I'm wrong. Next report: March 7, 2021.

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2013/03/really.html

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Not For Family Consumption

Unappealing as it may be, after six years of volunteering at a stable and sixty seven years of living, I've noticed uncomfortable but inescapable similarities in the eating behavior of horses and some dining habits I've observed at meals I've attended or hosted.

* Some horses are less inclined to share their hay.
* Some horses wait patiently to begin eating from the feed bags I fill. Others attack the hay before I've finished securing the bag on the paddock fence, placement of my fingers aside.
* Some horses chew quite loudly.

Of course, there are differences as well. The menu never varies at the stable. 
     

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Liven Up, Codgers

What was the last memorable film you saw depicting older folks? Though I've seen just three of the nine movies recently nominated for an Oscar, I can tell from reading about them - or seeing the ads or trailers  - that just "Fences" has a main character with gray hair. Been a while since I've seen a good film featuring people my age or older without an enema joke or a character with Alzheimer's.

And there's so much excellent source material not pandering to tired stereotypes. Without struggling, I could name ten great recent novels with richly developed older characters. Which titles pop into your mind?

I suspect marketing people might have decided my demographic doesn't get out enough. I'm starting to share that view. Routinely, folks my age express surprise when learning I've driven to a different county for a book club meeting! My first thought hearing that? You better liven up codger, or else be satisfied when films about people your age can't transcend references to dentures, adult diapers, or knee and hip replacements. In the meanwhile Hollywood, how about adapting "The Sense Of An Ending" for this coot?

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Pop Culture Triptych - Volume 4

Blanche or Hickey are unusual enough that using a name like that for this series feels like fudging. But I challenge anyone to match any of the three common names below with more than one iconic play.

I say Willy and you say ...

I say Stanley and you say ...

I say Martha and you say ...

In your mind, what name and play are so linked that only one feasible match comes to mind?