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Monday, October 30, 2017

In The Midst Of Solitude

While reading Richard Ford's 2017 book - "Between Them: Remembering My Parents" - Marcel Proust's description of the pleasure of reading  - "... that fruitful miracle of a communication in the midst of solitude" - kept returning to me.

"Being both a late and an only child is a luxury, no matter what else it may be, since both invite you to speculate alone about all the time that went before - the parents' long life you had no part in."  Sentences like that from this brief and beautiful volume had me anticipating the next conversation I'd have with my daughter - a late and only child. Had she ever speculated about the eleven years my wife and I had spent together before she was born?

Ford's father was 38 when he was born; his mother was 33. I was 39 and my wife was 34 when our daughter was born. But Ford's vivid images and shimmering prose will remain with me long after those coincidental parallels with my own life fade from memory. For example  - "... what we all find in books, if we don't have faith: testimony that there is an alternate way to think about life, different from the ways we're naturally equipped." Reading that felt like I was communicating with the author, just as Proust suggests. "An only child's imagination is strummed melodically by the things they [i.e. the parents] don't say." Another sentence telling me it had been too long since I'd spoken with my daughter.

And finally - "I was fortunate to have parents who loved each other and, out of the crucible of that great, almost unfathomable love, loved me. Love, as always, confers great beauties." Ford's biggest gift to me? Reminding me -in the midst of solitude - to remember my parents.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Me Against Me

I may have to turn in my gender card admitting this, but competition has become a bit tiresome to me.

It's not as though I don't enjoy winning; I do. But the competing piece tends to bring other stuff to the surface that has gotten old. Like losing my temper. Or, if I'm teamed up with someone in a competitive situation, being impatient when that person doesn't do their part. Or, being inflexible about "rules" when it's only a board game. Anyone recognize themselves looking at Pat's competitive mirror? Sometimes it feels less like I'm playing others and more like it's me against me.

I realize I'm responsible for my temper, patience, and flexibility. So my first step is just to recognize when I'm crossing the lines. But the more I reflect on the whole competition enchilada, the more I'm inclined to just avoid competitive situations as much as possible. For example, lately I'm enjoying board games more if they are creatively based vs. knowledge or skill centered. And though I'm not sure how much more time will pass before I re-start playing tennis with some partners who beat me more than I do them, if I do come around it will only be when I'm reasonably certain I've grown enough to make it about fun and exercise vs. competition.

It's also possible that by the time I get this all worked out, I won't remember why I cared so much in the first place. Non-therapeutic insights, anyone?

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Reckless Pat: Coming Soon?

What is the last thing on which you spent money - possession, experience, gift - that struck you at the time as being wildly indulgent? If you've never done this, have you ever fantasized about it? If you've never done anything like this or fantasized about it, feel free to skip the next paragraph and continue practicing that walk-on-water bit.

No doubt, being the oldest child of depression-era working class parents initially shaped my cautious spending habits. And my hippie college years and subsequent just-barely-scraping-by life as a young adult musician almost certainly reinforced the notion of living within my means. Then, not long after my daughter arrived - I'm now thirty nine and have a little discretionary income - I read of the cost of a college education in 2007. The fantasies would have to suffice until 2011.

Six years now since burning that last tuition bill. Is reckless Pat coming soon? Perhaps. Still, walking-on-water sarcasm aside, it gives me pause that my lifelong financial fantasies have always revolved around ways to indulge myself vs. helping others.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Starting To Close A Gap

Frequently while reading "The Lotus Eaters", I was forced to acknowledge my limited understanding of the way the tortured colonial history of Vietnam shaped our later military misadventure there. How is it I know so little about a country that dominated the news during the most impressionable period of my life? How many of you near my age share that gap? Gen X and millennials: How well are you tuned in to the complex histories of Iraq or Afghanistan and how that shapes or distorts our misadventures there?

"During the heat of the day, the air was so thick it tasted green on the tongue, like swallowing a pond." Throughout Tatjana Soli's gripping 2010 novel, evocative prose like that put me in country. And the compelling story of three people - each fighting a human battle as the war rages on around them - puts Soli's book in great company with classic war novels like "For Whom The Bell Tolls."  "Like a snake swallowing its own tail, war created an appetite that could be fed only on more war."

Though I haven't yet begun watching the Ken Burns documentary series on Vietnam, "The Lotus Eaters" has inspired me to do so. I'm also returning to Stanley Karnow's "Vietnam: A History", a book I've started at least once before but now feel compelled to finish for my own education.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Old Becomes The New

The first time I heard Otis Redding sing "Try A Little Tenderness", I thought I'd discovered a new raw gem. I recollect how disappointed I was when my parents told me Otis had wrecked a song they'd enjoyed many years before. What songs do you recall knocking you down that you later learned were not "new" when you first heard them? What impact did learning that they were "old" songs have on your subsequent enjoyment? Did you go back and search out the earliest recordings of the song(s)? If you did, how did the original version(s) - in your listening - compare to your "discoveries"?  

Nowadays, I routinely experience kind of an inverse musical dislocation whenever my twenty eight year old daughter discovers songs from my formative years. Recently hearing "Long Long Time" for the first time - a Gary White composition made famous by Linda Ronstadt in the early 70's - my musically astute daughter was, quite justifiably, blown away. She asked if I'd learn it to accompany her. Though I have not played "Long Long Time" once since my solo years playing in bars ended in 1978, the chords rolled effortlessly from my hands, in Linda Ronstadt's original key. That would be the key of "A" for the music geeks out there.

Accompanying my daughter is always an unmitigated joy. Hearing her sing this "old" song - and who needs a lyric sheet when you've got an I-phone? - made me miss my parents. I want to tell them how all "their" songs - "Til There Was You", "Where Or When", "I Only Have Eyes For You", etc. - might have initially come to me via the Beatles, Dion & The Belmonts and the Flamingos. But I've returned to the originals, Mom & Dad. And even if I still like Otis's read of "Try A Little Tenderness" more than you two did, I've had a musical lifetime of pleasure enjoying the old become new over and over.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Searching For Peace

I've lost count how many posts about the word success I've written and then not published.

The first fundamental problem is the way most standard dictionary definitions connect the word success to concepts like prosperity, wealth, position, honors. I know that we the enlightened disdain such superficial notions. And we've got lofty philosophers by the dozens - cue the Emerson poster here - to support our view that success is so much more. Still, the dictionary is a primary source and a logical starting point so ...

The second problem has been the way many of those earlier discarded posts about this irksome word rapidly deteriorated into either a shrill whine or a semi-socialist rant. Long time readers, old friends, and family members will be relieved to know I exercised good editorial judgment junking those.

The last problem? My own shifting view of what success means, dictionary and Emerson aside. Each time I land on a reasonable formulation, something upends my complacency - most recently, a provocative conversation about success - and I start over, again. How about you? Have you found peace with the word success?

Sunday, October 8, 2017

#50: The Mt. Rushmore Series

Inspired by a recent re-reading of "The Old Man And The Sea", I settled on devoting this iteration of my long-running Mt. Rushmore series to the four best short novels I've read in the 21st century. As always, I hope some of you will chime in with your nominations. Only two requirements: Must be a novel published after 1999 and shorter than 200 pages, i.e. able to be read by most in one long sitting. Mine are listed alphabetically by author.

1.) The Sense of An Ending: Julian Barnes (2011) - I've read this jewel three times since its release and each time my awe deepens. Since Clive Owens didn't get the role of Tony Webster in the recently released film version that came and went without a trace, I'm pretty sure I didn't miss much.

2.) Signs Preceding The End Of The World: Yuri Herrera (2015) - The shortest book here - just under one hundred pages - is a stunning and graphic story upending many closely held and virulently ugly immigrant clich├ęs. Two years later, I still haven't gotten the narrator's voice out of my head.

3.) The Illusion Of Separateness: Simon Van Booy (2013) - The immense craft of this gem escaped me until I tried capturing its richness in a brief book journal entry. If "It's A Wonderful Life" has touched you, this novel will rock you, guaranteed.

4.) The Maid's Version: Daniel Woodrell (2013) - I frequently find my way to excellent authors via paying attention to the source material of noteworthy films. When the credits for "Winter's Bone" told me it was adapted from a novel by Daniel Woodrell, he immediately went on my list. This later book of his is a nearly perfect examination of the class divide in rural America.

Though it's been a while since my last visit to the Badlands, it feels good to return. Will be better if some of you share your mountain - or just a part of it - with others.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Community Vs. Technology

In your view, which piece of technology first pointed us toward the world we currently inhabit, i.e. a place where people frequently choose interaction with their devices vs. interaction with the people around them?

I nominate the Sony Walkman. When that device first became popular in the 80's, my initial reaction was feeling disconnected from all those people listening in public to their own private concerts. But, like most everyone, I adapted to the new normal. Still, as I began extolling those earlier assaultive boom boxes over the musical isolation of the Walkman to anyone who would tolerate my rant, I soon realized my default contrariness only partially explained my counter-intuitive defense of being pummeled by music that could rattle my teeth. The shift underway in the public sphere - in my mind personified by the Walkman-  was affecting my sense of community.      

How much more can technology separate us from each other? Although I suspect we're a long way from the end game - and that scares me a little - I'm also grateful many people close to me respect my views. I prefer music that is predominantly audible to all, conversations with those present, going to a movie theater to hear communal laughter or gasps or boos. The technology genie is never going back in the bottle. But I hope I continue to choose connecting with people.