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Saturday, June 30, 2018

Words For The Ages, Line Eight

"Meet the new boss - same as the old boss".

Which writer - from any medium - has ever so succinctly nailed the collective frustration many of us have felt about clueless people in positions of authority? I submit Pete Townsend's closing lyric from "Won't Get Fooled Again" - memorably sung by Roger Daltrey right after he caterwauls one of rock's all time greatest screeches - as words for the ages.

With respect to bosses over a long work life, I consider myself fortunate - most of them were decent, hard working, and well meaning. Still, at least for me, Townsend's formulation has serious resonance when applied to the political sphere. It's possible my disenfranchisement from the broken two party system is a function of age. But aren't others on the bell curve as tired as me of hearing the same old cliched promises made during the never-ending campaign cycle? If I hear another candidate use the word "change" as their focus-grouped tagline, my scream will top Daltrey's.

Rant over. Which aphorism-ready song lyric would you enshrine as words for the ages? Got another one about a boss? Bring it on.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Been Too Long

Not long after beginning "Standard Deviation" (2017) it dawned on me: It had been way too long since I laughed continuously while reading. What book most recently had this effect on you?

Katherine Heiny's riotous novel follows a NYC family of three - Graham Cavanaugh, his wife Audra Daltry, and their ten year old son Matthew - over the course of about a year. Graham is deeply in love as well as utterly baffled by Audra, for whom the word boundaries is an alien concept. And though Matthew's special needs demand constant attention - and provide rich comic possibilities - his parents are completely devoted to him.

Heiny adds a just-the-right-size cast of supporting characters - errant houseguests, origami devotees, Graham's first wife Elspeth - to round out her just-the-right-length book. Although each chapter had several laugh out passages - often featuring world class non sequiturs delivered by the irrepressible Audra - the standout for me was the Thanksgiving dinner gone awry in chapter four. Note to self: Resist any future temptation to eat deviled eggs prepared by a semi-senile neighbor.

The last really humorous novel I recall reading that had as much on its mind as this one, combining wisdom with quality prose, was Maria Semple's "Where'd You Go, Bernadette?" I read that in 2013; been too long.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Need For Approval Vs. Moral Courage

Upon hitting three years of blogging in March 2014, I announced an intention to periodically re-read my posts from the same date three years back. My stated aim: To see what, if anything, had shifted for me over the ensuing years. I asked you to join me from time to time, maybe via taking a look at your own journal entries etc. from the same date three (or more) years ago. Readers who have tried this and then told me about the experiences have variously described the exercise as "illuminating", "unenlightening" and in one cranky case, "dull".

reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2012/06/tonight.html

Few of these backward glances - now encompassing posts from 2015-2011 - caught me up as short as the one above. When I wrote on 6/22/12 of my sickening feelings the night the Sandusky verdict was announced, my struggle was so naïve. My concern? Not wanting to sound glib by "...adding to a glut of superficial news coverage..."

Six years later, I'm shamed by all the equally sickening news events I haven't had the moral courage to reflect on here. At the top of my list would be letting the travesty of Charlottesville - and the tweeter-in-chief's response to it - go by unremarked. And what stopped me? Simple - a need for approval.

Work to do, always.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Danger Of Minimizing

Among the courses I developed and taught during my years doing adult education was one entitled "Adolescent Depression and Suicide". I have a reasonably clear recollection of the content of that six hour course, the usual audience being folks who worked in child protective services.

"Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem". That specific teaching point from the course - one I repeatedly delivered, reflecting the conventional wisdom about suicide at that time - seemed logical and appropriate, almost self-evident. The statement now strikes me as glib, at best. It is almost surely wrongheaded. How helpful can it be to someone in a suicidal crisis to be informed their problems are "temporary"? Even worse is teaching people who might be in a position one day to intervene in a suicidal situation to discount another person's pain this way. Were I developing the curriculum today for that course, especially considering recent events and the alarming increase in suicide among all age groups over the last twenty years, I would jettison that teaching point.

What might I use instead? I'd require all students to read the op-ed below, written by Kevin Powers - author of the transcendent novel "The Yellow Birds"- that appeared in this past Sunday's NY Times. Then I'd lead a discussion on empathy and the potential danger of minimizing.

https://www.newsstandhub.com/the-new-york-times/what-kept-me-from-killing-myself

Friday, June 15, 2018

More Than A Title

Whenever someone from outside my trusted posse of five recommends a book to me and it seriously misfires, a question invariably runs through my thick skull: When will I learn my lesson?

How often does this happen to you? Although I'm semi-obsessive about tallying things, to this point, I haven't kept track of the ratio of my non-posse hits vs. misses. But a recent very distressing reading experience has persuaded me it might be time to do so. Or, maybe I'll avoid book conversations with a select group of people.

Actually, that putative group might have already begun forming. Caveat first: I remain committed to not bad-mouthing any book by name until I finish writing one myself. Now, let me be clear to any potential non-posse recommender: Any book - literary quality aside - featuring sustained and graphic sexual, physical, and verbal abuse inflicted by a father on his daughter is not for me. I don't object, at all, to dark books. And I get the cathartic value of a monster getting his just desserts and the heroine surviving, perhaps even thriving, despite horrific circumstances in childhood and adolescence. But reflecting on this recommendation made by someone with whom I'd discussed many books, I had trouble escaping one disturbing thought: What exactly led this person to think I would want to read this?

Then, that dark thought morphed into some coaching for myself: Be more thoughtful about what you recommend to others, Pat, and ask more questions about things that others find upsetting. Some recommendations are about more than a book.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

A Game Changer

Until now, books about American history have not been a significant piece of my reading diet. "Mr. President: George Washington And The Making Of The Nation's Highest Office" (2013) is a game changer. Immediately after finishing it, I added several books by author Harlow Giles Unger to my queue. I'm so pumped to read more of this historian's work. End-to-end, the last book of history I was this excited about was "Founding Brothers" by Joseph Ellis.    

"Mr. President" and "Founding Brothers" share some salient features:

* At under three hundred pages, neither is as intimidating as many history books.

* Both make the familiar history breathe, courtesy of the narrative gifts of the respective authors.

* The use of spaced repetition in both books increases the chance attentive readers might retain some of the information. For example, in "Mr. President", each time Unger introduces what he terms a new "pillar of presidential power", he re-states all the earlier pillars, using slightly different phraseology, but always reiterating the pillars in the same order. Then his appendix lists all seven pillars, the dates George Washington first erected them, and the way each pillar expanded the role of the nation's chief executive.

I can't recommend this book enough. If you've read it, please share your thoughts. If you get to it in the future, remember to refer back to this post and tell me what you think.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Available For Hire: Fadeout Fixer

Today's musical reflection was inspired by patient and attentive readers who have asked when my recording of original songs - which I first announced would be released "soon" late in 2017 - will be available. Copyright issues have been the main cause of the inordinate delay. In the meanwhile …

Please spread the word: On a contract basis, I'm available (immediately) to compose endings for any songs where an otherwise talented songwriter might resort to using a fadeout. Provided I'm amply compensated, mentioned several times in interviews featuring said songwriter, and given numerous opportunities for glamorous photo ops - captions mandatory - with the songwriter(s), I will not insist on co-writing credits for my expertly crafted song endings. Fair is fair. References available upon request.

Admit it, listeners and songwriters - Aren't you tired of fadeouts? No? Try this - Listen carefully to "If I Fell". Don't those last few exquisite and unique bars when Lennon & McCartney croon "If I fell in love with you" put an unmistakable period on that great song? Not convinced? Try any version of "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most" (I'm partial to Bette Midler's read). On that undeniable musical masterpiece - beginning with "All alone, the party's over …"  - composer Tommy Wolf and lyricist Fran Landesman add a brand new eight bars of magic to let the listener know the song and the party are over - brilliant.

Songwriters - Wouldn't a final touch of this caliber on your songs be better than a lazy fadeout? I can help.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Shifting What I Notice

"How often people betray themselves by what they notice in others."  - Rachel Cusk

My initial thought upon stumbling across those words several months ago was to pay closer attention to what I was noticing in others. Didn't take long to realize Cusk was onto something profound here. Now what?

My first step was to re-visit some earlier techniques I'd tried to quiet my judging mind. As in the past, I had some modest success for a time - some of the judging dissipated. But the noticing didn't. Next?

Why not focus on noticing the ennobling stuff? Using Cusk's formulation, by taking time to notice that stuff in others, doesn't it follow that I'd begin seeing more of it in myself? What downside could there be to shifting what I notice?