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Monday, April 30, 2018

Surprise Endings

Think of a book published in 1970 that - for you- has retained its luster. Try doing the same thing for a recording.  If you come up with something from either category, share it with me and others.

How about a film? Fresh on my mind, courtesy of Netflix, is "Little Big Man". Wow. Much as I was blown away by Arthur Penn's movie as a college student, it packed even more wallop this time. With a fresh-faced Dustin Hoffman in the lead role, a stellar supporting cast, and a script as sharp as it is funny (from the eponymous novel by Thomas Berger), except for a mildly stereotyped gay character, this treasure has not dated at all. Given her Chippewa heritage and the recurring themes in her terrific books, I lust for fifteen minutes with author Louise Erdrich. I'd love to hear her thoughts on this film. Maybe I'll time a visit to her bookstore when I'm sure she's there? Road trip, anyone?

Aside from the joy I derived watching the movie for the second time in almost fifty years, the best part of this story is the way I stumbled across it. Too tired to read or practice guitar, but too early for bed, I journeyed to the basement and turned on our only television, expecting at best to be distracted. I love surprise endings, don't you?

Thursday, April 26, 2018

One Sock At A Time

If you've been meditating for any length of time, what benefit have you derived from your practice?

My own meditation practice has now spanned almost half my life. Although identifying a tangible benefit - i.e. something quantifiable - is never easy, I'm confident saying an increased mindfulness is likely linked to all the hours I've spent meditating. Now, I'd love to claim profound epiphanies visit me during these mindful moments. Not so much. Frequently, my mindfulness connects to the most mundane parts of everyday life.

* While riding my bike - when mindful - I remind myself to shift out of the "must-get-my-exercise" mode. Look around, take a different path, listen to the birds.

* Why put my wife's shoes on the rack in her closet with the left shoe on the left side and the right shoe on the right? Why not reverse them?

* Which sock do you routinely put on first? Shoe? Which leg goes first into your pants? Why not try doing it opposite way?

What have you been more mindful of recently? Do you link your mindfulness to meditation?

Monday, April 23, 2018

Returning To Another Earlier Love

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2011/04/returning-to-earlier-love.html

The post above about re-kindling a long ago infatuation with author John Irving was published seven years ago today. I noticed this only because recently finishing "The Centaur" (1963) reminded me how long it had been since I'd last read a novel by John Updike, another giant who dominated my reading life for many years. Which author that you enjoyed a great deal earlier in life have you recently returned to? How was it returning? What, if anything, shifted in your view of the writer?

Updike's facility with words, coupled with an uncanny skill to capture the quotidian, still floors me. "Girls, rosy-cheeked, glad, motley and mostly ill-made, like vases turned by a preoccupied potter, are embedded, plaid-swaddled, in the hot push." And another thing that drew me to him many years ago - his refusal to pander to readers - is in ample supply in this early novel. All mythological references are delivered without flourish. Updike assumes either you are familiar with the figures he cites or will take the time to educate yourself if you want to better understand his subtext. I was pleased my book group had folks who could coach me about this piece of the novel, given my own limited education in mythology.

If you're new to Updike - even though it's more than twice as long as "The Centaur" - I'd suggest first tackling "In The Beauty Of The Lilies" (1996). Or, try one of the Rabbit novels ("Rabbit Redux" is my favorite of those four, although I'm in the distinct minority there). Updike at his most accessible? Hard to go wrong with "The Witches Of Eastwick" (1984), although getting Nicholson's hammy mug out of your head could be difficult when reading that. I read the book before the film was released and made a brilliant alternate casting choice for Darryl Van Horne - Christopher Plummer. Too bad no one consulted me.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Words For The Ages, Line Seven

"Don't confront me with my failures; I have not forgotten them."  


Although Jackson Browne's lyrics have been as consistent as most of his peers over a long career, it's taken me a long time to decide which lyric of his I'd use for this series. Which of his lyrics would you select as words for the ages? Remember; keep it terse. To date, all the aphorisms-disguised-as-song-lyrics I've used have been between six and thirteen words.

What strikes me most about the poignant line above from "These Days" is that Browne was barely in his twenties when he wrote it. Although I don't think I linger on my failures, forgetting them is hard.  Is it the same for you? In particular, my young adult failures still sting, which might explain why this particular lyric lands hard with me every time I hear it.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Naively Grateful?

Aside from when my own bad behavior chastens me, few things more reliably get me as low as being with someone who strikes me as reflexively ungrateful. Recently, while recounting how a loud noise right outside my home had startled me while typing very late at night, I went on to say how fortunate I feel to live where I do. I recalled how the sound jarred me but I never considered picking up the phone to call the police; crime didn't cross my mind. I assumed - again, because of what I went on to say was connected to my good fortune - there was likely a reasonable non-malevolent cause for that noise. I concluded the anecdote by saying how the next morning I found a shutter lying on my front lawn, no doubt dislodged by the wind.

At first, the person to whom I was speaking seemed bemused by my thought process. Initially, I was unsure why my reactions  - which felt logical to me - would generate bemusement. But as we continued speaking the conversation seemed to keep circling back to crime and its victims. I began suspecting this individual had been the victim of a crime. I asked. The answer was no. I tried probing more and my questions were soon being rebuffed. I was told gratitude for my good fortune was naïve. Now I was asked: Hadn't I worked hard all my life so I could choose to live in a place where good people didn't have to think about crime? I answered yes I had worked hard. Yes, I chose to live somewhere relatively free of crime.

The conversation then heated up a few degrees after I said I took exception to the "good" people part of the question. I said I'll remain grateful and soon after, suggested we agree to disagree. Your view, please: Is gratitude for what we have ever naïve?

Friday, April 13, 2018

A Gateway Book

"Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of The 20th Century" (1989) is destined to occupy a unique place in my reading memory. It is provocative, infuriating, and original. I don't recall ever reading anything quite like it.

What did you make of the Sex Pistols during their exceedingly brief time in the limelight? I don't know a single person who listened to their music or bought the few recordings they made. Do you? Yet the secret history author Greil Marcus constructs in "Lipstick Traces" places this seminal British punk band at its core. Nearly every time Marcus connected a dot from the ruins of the Sex Pistols short and violent career to other obscure 20th century artists and provocateurs, my head spun. But my curiosity about the journey I was taking with this smart author kept me reading, even when I was way out of my depth.

Though I was still scratching my head weeks after finishing "Lipstick Traces" - and continuing to marvel at the author's staggering erudition - the central premise of the book didn't fully land until I began writing an entry in my book journal few days ago. Some art is not meant to endure; it's meant to disrupt. This book is a gateway: it will compel me to pay more attention to that kind of art in the future.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

A Modest Remedy

What impact do our words or actions have on others?

No doubt there have been previous periods when the public conversation here in the US has been as divisive and shrill as the present. Though I was a college student during the turbulent 60's and early 70's, the incivility and rancor seems more widespread today even when compared with those intense years. If you're near my age, I'd like to hear how your recollections compare with mine.

But even if my memory is failing me, I believe we could heal our collective wound a bit by routinely stopping to ask ourselves the question opening this post. I suppose it's a variation on the Golden Rule albeit with a different focus. Instead of treating others as we would like to be treated, begin by first considering how others might like to be treated. And then, adjust our words and actions accordingly.

Might also be nice if there weren't a screaming TV in nearly every public space. But even an almost-optimist like me has little hope that genie will ever return to its bottle.  

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

To Those Who Have Shaped Me

Aside from my parents - who gave me the ultimate gift - many people have given me a great deal over my lifetime. I'm proud to say that many times while both were still alive, I made sure to tell my parents of my gratitude.

So as my 68th birthday was approaching last November, I began codifying a process aimed at more purposefully acknowledging other people who have made a difference in my life. Just the cataloging of who I'd contact and what I'd thank them for has been energizing, instructive, and therapeutic. Most recently, a blog post about my brother's role in shaping my musical life - a long-overdue debt that I'd not properly acknowledged - led me to more carefully examine the role still others have played in the evolution of my other abiding passions and in my professional and intellectual development. Some of these folks have requested I not publish a post about them, though I almost never use names here. And though I'll respect their wishes, my process continues apace. Just today I had a conversation with a mentor of mine and the critical role she played in my development as an adult educator.

Who has shaped you? In what way? What prevents you from acknowledging the role these people have played in your evolution?

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Pundit Pat Quits Before He Starts

pundit: a person who makes comments or judgments in a solemnly authoritative manner.

Until locating that dictionary definition above , I was amused - and perhaps a little flattered - by my brother-in-law's suggestion that I should consider becoming a pundit. Then, thinking his idea could be the subject of a self-congratulatory post, out came my dictionary following a four drive back from his home. Ouch. My swelled head has now returned to its usual larger-than-normal dimensions.

Still, doesn't that definition capture the essence of the ubiquitous haircuts dominating our 24/7 news cycle? Is there a degree in punditry? Which schools offer it? What is the career path leading these folks to their solemnly authoritative comments and judgments? Does it start with being an advisor? A strategist? Or, must each future pundit first do penance as a mere consultant? For how long? Are the comments made by commentators not punditry if either solemnity or authority are missing? Which is more important in order to book future engagements? How many judgments uttered per appearance is enough to ensure you'll be asked to peddle your punditry while comments are being hurled at you from the opposing side?

Admittedly, some of these talking heads come across as very intelligent. But every time I waste time listening to them peddle their propaganda - from either side - I recall a scene from "Broadcast News". In that terrific 1987 film, William Hurt plays a vapid news anchor who doesn't know how many justices sit on the US Supreme Court. He doesn't have to know - Holly Hunter plays a producer who feeds him every morsel of important information via his headset. When my brother-in-law suggested I consider punditry I had no such headset. Small consolation but I need to hold onto something to preserve my dignity.