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Sunday, December 31, 2017

Best Of 2017

With a few exceptions - the most notable of which was an unwise decision to attend my 50th high school reunion - 2017 was a good year. As in years past, I hope some of you will tell me and others some of your highlights from the year just ending. Use my categories or invent your own.

Best time away: A February visit to three National Parks in New Mexico & Texas, culminating with a hike that took my wife and I to an indescribable view in Big Bend National Park. Photo below.

Best musical moment: Completing the recording of eight of my original songs with my daughter on vocals, a long-postponed project. I'll be putting a link for the CD (entitled "Til There Were Two") on this blog site sometime in 2018. Stay tuned.

Best cyber-related event: It may have been a fluke. Still, monthly views on my blog hit 10,000 early in 2017 for the first time. Puny number compared to how many twittees follow Agent Orange but my modest benchmark made me as happy as Alex Jones and his fake news makes the tweeter-in-chief.

Best book club meeting: Tie - Battling over "Bright Sided" (Barbara Ehrenreich) in July; reveling  about "All The Light We Cannot See" (Anthony Doerr) in December.

Best tall tale told: Inventing and convincingly using the abbreviation AMP - aberrational migratory pattern - I persuaded some avid ornithologists I'd sighted some Alaskan birds of prey. Imagine: If I had 43 million followers, my made-up bird shit would soon morph into an alternative fact.

Happy New Year!



Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Listening For Dangerous Words

"History does not repeat, but it does instruct."

Given the devolution of the public discourse over this past year, it's fitting to use Timothy Snyder's "On Tyranny"  (2017) as my final post of the year honoring the written word.

Snyder's pamphlet - a birthday gift from my oldest nice, bless her heart - is a worthy successor to Thomas Paine's "Common Sense". Just as Paine's words gave no comfort to the tyrant he addressed, this talented writer's words will provide little balm to the tweeter-in-chief, that is, if he ever stops watching TV long enough to read anything longer than 140 characters. Although it's dispiriting to recognize how little we've learned from the twenty lessons of the 20th century that Snyder so expertly outlines, these lessons - and the exploration of each -  are critically important. I hope at least one reader of this post is persuaded to spend an hour or two with this author. If that reader is you, please tell me and others which of Snyder's twenty lessons landed hardest with you.

For me it was lesson #17 - "Listen For Dangerous Words". I won't cheapen Snyder's powerful examination of this lesson by summarizing the two and one half pages the author uses to make his case. But, if like me, you're feeling unmoored by what passes for reasonable give-and-take in this age of alternative facts, pick up this tiny volume and educate yourself. It may not help but it sure can't hurt.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Words For The Ages, Line Six

"Something's lost or something's gained in living every day."

What aphorism disguised as song lyric has ever captured the yin and yang of life as well as those nine words from Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now"?

Over her exceptional career, Joni Mitchell has written dozens of songs with nearly flawless lyrics. But while recently listening to a fully orchestrated version of "Both Sides Now" on a 2000 recording of the same name, the line above jarred me with its precocious wisdom; Joni was barely out of her teens when she wrote it. I'm astounded someone so young could write a lyric that so succinctly nails the delicate balancing act called life.

Which terse lyric line from Joni Mitchell's massive oeuvre would you nominate? End-to-end, "Both Sides Now" is not my favorite Joni composition. "A Woman Of Heart and Mind", "Edith And The Kingpin", & "Refuge From The Road" probably lead the pack for me. And "The Circle Game" is arguably a better lyric start to finish than "Both Sides Now". But I'll stand by the line opening this post as words for the ages.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

An Early New Year's Resolution

There are a few authors I tried in 2017 that I'm reasonably certain I'll never read again. There is one musician from 2017 that I'll avoid ever jamming with again. Barring unforeseen circumstances, 2017 marks the end of my attempting even a remotely political conversation with a few folks.

But I'm 100% certain, i.e. there is absolutely no doubt 2017 will be the last year I ever attend a high school reunion. At my age, the likelihood of another reunion taking place is admittedly slim. But, if anyone from the IHS class of 1967 decides to undertake the coordination of a 60th + reunion and that person happens to be reading this, please note: DO NOT CONTACT ME .

What happened to me in that banquet hall back in September is still unclear. How many times in your life have you had to re-learn the most fundamental lesson about following your gut instincts? Mine told me not to attend that 50th reunion. Then, after being persuaded to go, I published a post about a planned strategy - never used, mostly because I was nearly mute that night -  asking for your input. I tried to internalize what others suggested - here and via Facebook - but, in the end, not going in the first place would have been wiser.

What did you do in 2017 that you are certain you'll never do again? Care to join me and resolve to trust your gut more in 2018?

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2017/08/50-ways-to-leave-bad-stuff-behind.html

Friday, December 15, 2017

Four Years On

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2013/10/mudbound.html

Although watching "Mudbound" was almost as difficult as reading it, I'm so glad Hillary Jordan's important novel was made into a film and released now. Movies reach so many more people than books.

The screenplay by Director Dee Rees and Virgil Williams expertly captures the multiple narrative voices from the novel using voiceover. Wisely, the language in those voiceovers is frequently lifted directly from the book. The ensemble acting, directing, and texture of the film are all first rate.

I sincerely wish there was a way to guarantee every white person in the US watched this film. Might not change a thing but I'm a little light on ideas to ease racial tension, although Twitter suddenly and happily crashing might be a good start.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A Lucky Guy

After adjourning our last meeting of the year earlier this evening, I began reflecting on the benefits I've derived running my own book club since January. If you've ever had a similar experience, I'd enjoy hearing how you've benefitted.

* Doing the research before each meeting provides a legitimate reason to indulge my interest in authors and the writing process.

* Facilitating the meetings - as long as I remember to keep my facilitator hat on - ensures I will learn what others took from the book. And, because I select only books that have moved me - for better or worse - more often than not, my appreciation for the books grows after the discussions, especially when the questions I prepare hit their mark.

* Because my wife is in the club, our conversations - before and after the meetings - are another way to deepen my understanding of each book. For example, Anthony Doerr's 2014 novel "All The Light We Cannot See," which was tonight's selection, is infused with vivid detail about the natural world. On my first pass, I didn't pay as much attention to that element of the novel as my wife later did when she read it. But following one of our pre-meeting conversations, I took time to tune in to that while reviewing my annotations and notes. Wow. If you've not read "All The Light ..." - but plan to do so soon - be sure to luxuriate in that piece of this author's gift.          

It's very possible looking at these books via the lens of my partner of forty years might be the biggest benefit of all.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The State I'm In

Which other US States could you envision living in?

Although New Jersey has been home since childhood, recently I've been more seriously considering States that entice me enough to re-locate. Given the moving history my wife and I have had over our forty years, we're about due for a change. So having visited all but three of the other forty nine - with my first visit to Hawaii weeks away - I've got enough data, right? Why not use my flawless taxonomy and join me in some harmless daydreaming? I've listed just four for each level; feel free to list more.

States that have significant appeal (alphabetically): Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon

States that could work in a pinch: Connecticut, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Virginia

Not a chance: Florida, Kansas, North Dakota, Oklahoma

Where will Hawaii land? Although I'm looking forward to visiting, I suspect being that far away from my daughter guarantees it will not make level #1 (unless she moves there and I'm enthralled). Too early to speculate on either Alabama or Mississippi until after my first visits to each, two probable 2019 vacation destinations. But the year-round heat of the deep South - or the extreme cold of Alaska or Minnesota for that matter - means those States will probably never get higher than level #2,  even if both knock me out.        

Saturday, December 2, 2017

That Old Devil Confidence

Although this post may be a bit whiny, it would have been far worse if my daughter hadn't called just before I approached my laptop. You can thank her for saving me from myself via a comment, if you decide to continue reading.   

How many of you battle over-confidence and its closest relative, arrogance? No? How about the flip side, i.e. the immobilizing insecurity that sometimes plagues people who struggle with confidence? My search for a sane and sustainable level of confidence is rarely off my already full plate. It's utterly exhausting. Maybe one of you can offer some useful insights to dislodge me from today's monkey mind, prompted by a perusal of the NY Times "Notable Books of 2017". A few disclaimers first.

* I know the list is subjective.

* I also know the NY Times doesn't hire just anyone to compile these lists.

* My frame of mind was above average before reading the list: Good night's sleep, beautiful day, I'm looking forward to my playing gig tonight. Ready?

I read the list. Of the fifty novels noted, I've finished three. How does the confidence gauge look? OK - at least I've read a few. Seconds pass. Of the three, only one ("Ill Will" by Dan Chaon) would have made my notable list. Confidence level dips toward empty, fast. Next question to self: What did you miss in the other two novels, Pat? Phone rings. Daughter rescues blogger from prolonged navel gazing and you from an insufferable post.

OK, bring on the insights. That is, unless you're a walk-on-water-never-struggle-with-the-balance-between-confidence-and-insecurity type. And don't forget to thank my daughter.