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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Timing Is Everything

"Here is what I've learned about race: You can't go over it. You can't go under it. You can't go around it. You have to go through it." - Mitch Landrieu, Mayor of New Orleans, author of "In The Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History"

Next week, at the invitation of a good friend, - the former Deputy Attorney General of the NJ Office Of Bias Crime - I'm travelling to Grand Rapids, Michigan to participate in what my friend is calling an advanced workshop being held at the annual White Privilege Conference. Although still uncertain of the role my friend envisions me taking in the workshop - and that makes me a little nervous - I've been recently noticing some signs telling me the time is right to make this leap.

* "The Known World" (2003), the Pulitzer Prize Winner by Edward P. Jones. Though planning to re-read this powerhouse for several years, one of my book clubs recently selected it, forcing my hand. The timing of this book being selected and this upcoming workshop didn't strike me as a coincidence.

* Several intense conversations about race over the past few months pointed me toward some kind of intervention. My friend's invitation seemed timely. Also, my daughter has been coaching me for quite some time to return to this work; she sees how much I miss it.

* The April 2 edition of Time magazine arrived last Saturday. The chills I got a few days ago while reading Mitch Landrieu's feature article entitled "Repairing The Story Of Race In The South" were my last sign. The quote opening this post came from that article.

I'm very interested to know what you've most recently learned about race. And, where did you learn it?

https://www.whiteprivilegeconference.com/

Monday, March 26, 2018

Six And One Half Minutes

Before anyone says so, I'll admit tallying the different activities subway riders are engaged in is a tad obsessive. But it's also instructive. To wit ...

On my most recent subway ride, including myself, thirty two people (yes, I counted), traversed from Penn Station - my starting point - to Lincoln Center where I got off. During the ride, I observed four folks eating, three sleeping, three more doing nothing easily discernible aside from staring. Two were conversing, one was tending to the only child, and one other person was reading a book. Your guess about the activity of the remaining seventeen?

Hint: In her must-read book from 2015, "Reclaiming Conversation", Sherry Turkle cites a statistic asserting the average American adult checks their cell phone every six and one half minutes. That works out to about ten peeks per hour, one hundred and sixty glances per day if you're awake for sixteen hours. How do you compare to that average?

Forgot to mention: The person who started the ride reading the book took a break jot down the tally.    

Friday, March 23, 2018

Thank You, Bill & Christine

www.celticcharms.org

After almost eight years, my involvement with Celtic Charms will soon be ending. This remarkable organization - which specializes in therapeutic horsemanship for people with disabilities - is closing up shop in New Jersey. When this happens, a big gap will open in my life.

Who continually inspires you to be more? The couple who run Celtic Charms have done that for me since 2010. Though my initial commitment was only to serve on the Board Of Trustees, as soon as I saw the energy, time, and personal resources these two unselfish people devoted to their mission, it was clear I needed to do more. Ever since, Friday mornings at the farm have often been the highlight of my week, especially when assisting with lessons. Watching the endless patience of the instructors has frequently moved me.

I will also miss my regular interaction with the other Celtic Charms community, including volunteers and the small staff who work the farm. I'm a better person for the time I've spent at Celtic Charms. Replacing the unique energy this special place has given me could be difficult.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

While The Glow Is Fresh

The list of books that have moved me since last June - coinciding with my decision to scale back the number of blog posts I publish - is now ridiculously long. And though it pains me to say, as some of those books fade a bit in my memory, my evangelical enthusiasm for some of them has also dulled a little. I can't let "The Cat's Table" (2011) suffer that fate. My post-reading glow from this perfectly realized coming-of-age tale is just hours old.

Author Michael Ondaatje has been on my "to read" list since the day I saw the screen adaptation of his earlier novel "The English Patient". But Louise Erdrich and my wife get joint credit for bringing "The Cat's Table" to me and hopefully, to some of you. (Gift tip for anyone looking to make your reading partner happy: Scan the feature called Booklist from the magazine The WeekLook for an author your partner loves, as I do Louise Erdrich. Buy one of the recommended books for a birthday, etc. Or, take it to the next level - as my wife did - and buy all six books that cherished author selected for their Booklist.)

Which events from your early life indelibly shaped you? Only authors as gifted as Ondaatje can make this often-told story feel fresh, transporting a willing reader. I boarded an ocean liner with eleven year old Michael, ate my meals at the cat's table with him and his new friends, shared his adventures. And now, several hours later, I'm a little wiser, just as he became after his twenty one day journey.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Re-Introducing The Olgas

Consider two things many of us have in common:

* We spend a good portion of our lives working in a specific field - e.g. education, medicine, the law.
* We've seen movies attempting to depict those fields.

With the winning Oscars just announced, it seems fitting to re-introduce the Olgas. Please submit nominations for a film, an actor, and an actress portrayal most closely adhering to your experience in your field of work. I submit the following for your consideration, knowing readers don't go unless I start the ball rolling:

Best end-to-end film about the life of musicians: "The Fabulous Baker Boys"

Actor most realistically portraying a musician: Jeff Bridges in "Crazy Heart"

Actress most realistically portraying a musician: Liza Minnelli in "New York, New York"  

My Olgas purposefully avoided biopics like "I Walk The Line" or "Lady Sings The Blues"; I'm not fond of the liberties those kinds of films often take telling the stories of real people. If you want, ignore that guideline submitting your nominations. BTW, teachers - I found "Stand And Deliver" insufferable.  

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

A Seven Year Journey

What have you been doing consistently for the last seven years that you never did before then?

Publishing "Maiden Voyage" on March 15 2011 as the first post of my newly-initiated blog marked my first lifetime attempt to engage others via the written word. Ever since, I have doggedly pursued that aim. The journey has been enjoyable, instructive, and frustrating, in roughly equal measure.

In the enjoyable category have been comments from others, the consistent creative flexing, and the occasional joy of knowing someone has derived something of use from my reflections.

It's been instructive to learn firsthand of the reach of the Internet, to have regular "contact" with bots, and to gain a sincere respect for those who make their living via the written word.

As is invariably the case with a goal-driven person like myself, most of my frustration has been - and continues to be - connected to unrealistic expectations.

What has your seven year journey been like?

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

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Focus Group Of One

Although I've mentioned my reading posse here on several occasions, my one man musical focus group - aka my brother - has gotten less attention.

The decision to remedy that oversight was recently ignited after realizing that every time I develop a music course, my brother is the person I depend on most to ensure I'm thorough. Without exception, at least one song he suggests find its way into what I teach, even when a class is brief. It was his input that convinced me to include "A Hard Days Night" in my six hour Beatles course. Having done that class now several times, I can no longer imagine excluding that particular song.

Had it not been for my brother, King Crimson might have been a one-off album taste for me. I would also have probably not paid as close attention to Santana after the hits ended. Most importantly, my brother is solely responsible for my thirty plus year love affair with the music of Thelonious Monk. In 1984, he exposed me to an album called "That's The Way I Feel Now" with other artists performing Monk's quirky tunes. It's no exaggeration to say that album changed my musical life. To whom do you owe such a significant musical debt?

And, though his public comments here are few, they're worth the wait. Attached below is his well-considered reformulation (under Michael A Nonymous) of the White Album reacting to my post from three years ago today - see if you can improve on his selections. If you measure up, I'll consider adding you to this elite focus group.

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2015/03/the-off-white-album.html

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Everyday Enchantment

At this point, it's safe to assume any regular reader of my blog knows my passions: music, literature, film, words.

Yet as much as those passions juice me, none of them will reliably reduce me to rubble like young children. Context is irrelevant: I can be sitting in a diner, walking on the street, listening to people my age discussing their grandchildren. Whether young children are nearby, or being discussed, or an author is simply describing them, I'm enchanted, almost without exception.

Recently I had trouble composing myself as I watched a young woman carrying a toddler in one of those body harnesses that ensure the child is looking directly at the adult. I love those contraptions. As that carried child began giggling, I was instantly transported to a family vacation from over twenty five years ago - it was called a "Toddler Tromp". The earlier giggling I remembered from a quarter century ago belonged to three children - one being my daughter - as they were tossed around in a carriage attached to my bicycle as I traversed the gravel paths in Acadia National Park. I will never forget the squealing glee of those young children. It is one of my most treasured memories.

What happened the last time you found yourself enchanted by the magic of young children?

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Off The High Horse

Over nearly seven years of blogging - and probably 300 or more posts about books - more than one person has told me my reading preferences are a bit "serious". Since that observation contains a grain of truth, I'm pleased getting off my high horse today to recommend "I Let You Go" (2014) by Clare Mackintosh, an old fashioned mystery/thriller. Readers who love escaping into a book - this one is for you.

Mackintosh's law enforcement background is front and center in this debut, a gripping story of the impact a fatal hit-and-run has on those touched by it. Sturdy prose, strong narrative momentum and - most significantly - the shifting voices telling the story - are the key elements that held me captive. Equally important: My cliché alarm never sounded and at least two of my guesses were way off. In a mystery, this is a good sign. Unlike my mystery-loving sister, I'm not sharp guessing these things. If I can figure out the twists and turns in a thriller, it's safe to say the author hasn't done their job real well.

I hope that same sister is on the bell curve today. After devouring "The Devotion Of Suspect X" (Keigo Higashino, 2005) a while ago based on her recommendation, I've been on the lookout for something in this genre worth her time. "I Let You Go" definitely fits the bill.