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My most recent single release - "My True North" - is now available on Bandcamp. Open my profile and click on "audio clip".

Friday, August 31, 2018

From Fortunate To Entitled

I suspect many people with a personal history like mine have had fairly limited exposure to wealth. My parents had little formal education, a fact that helped steer their lives toward working class jobs. My early adult decisions to get an undergraduate degree in education and soon after pursue music as a career didn't aim me toward high remuneration or rich friends. My partner has been self-employed, a sole proprietor for most of our forty years. All this has added up to me having almost no close personal relationships with people outside the broad band of middle class until my seventh decade.

Now that my path has crossed more than a few times with people the tax code and demographers would categorize as upper class, I've begun to notice the way folks of significant means describe their circumstances. I try keeping my inner cynic at bay when someone says they feel "fortunate" to have so much. It helps when someone who calls themselves fortunate combines that good fortune with action, as in the case of a couple I know who use their wealth to support a stable specializing in therapeutic equestrian skills for people with disabilities.

Flip the coin. I'm guessing an unspoken social contract precludes anyone from describing themselves as "entitled" to wealth, unless, as someone once said of George Bush Sr. - "He was born on third base and thought he hit a triple." But even when the word isn't used, my own life has now put me within whiffing distance of people that exude a sense of entitlement. And, on the sad occasions when I've been exposed to entitled folks with disregard or disdain for less fortunate people, or even worse, resentment toward others of limited means, I often hear my mother's voice - "Patrick, keep your mouth shut." So far, so good.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

This Joint Is Jumping

As a filmmaker, Spike Lee has disappointed me as often as he has excited me. But he has never failed to educate me. I loved Lee's feature debut, "She's Gotta Have It". "Do The Right Thing" has earned a place as a modern-day classic, though it took a re-watch for me to fully appreciate it. I also enjoyed "Malcolm X" and "Inside Man", though Denzel Washington's charisma may be more responsible for that than Lee's writing and directing. Lee's first documentary -"4 Little Girls" - is in a class all its own.

"BlacKkKlansman" strikes me as Lee's pitch-perfect response to the ubiquitous racial dog whistles the tweeter-in-chief enjoys blowing. Based on Ron Stallworth's eponymous 2014 memoir, Lee's latest film is not subtle. But with Agent Orange prattling on about "... good people on both sides …" as neo-Nazis and white supremacists proudly wave the Confederate flag, who needs subtlety or nuance? As Woody Allen once quipped "Op-eds in the NY Times are nice, but with neo-Nazis, I prefer baseball bats." Apologies to Mahatma, Martin, and any reader who identifies as a pacifist.

I don't know if the scenes in "BlacKkKlansman" portraying the toxic David Duke - brilliantly played by Topher Grace - are at all authentic. I also don't care. Lee's film treatment of that smarmy tumor is priceless.


Friday, August 24, 2018

What My Angels Do For Me

What do you need from the group this moment?

It's been several weeks since I helped a friend facilitate his workshop entitled "Race And Rage"; my processing of what transpired over those three days continues to deepen. For the opening activity of day three, I asked the seventeen participants to reflect on the work we'd done to that point and try to describe what they were feeling that morning. There was a lot of rawness in that room. Some folks struggled trying to articulate their feelings while others remained silent for the entire activity.

When strong emotions surfaced, I employed a technique I'd watched my gifted colleague use the day before under similar circumstances. I suggested we all pause and allow the moment to happen before the next person spoke. When one person had difficulty regaining composure after unpacking some deep rage, I sensed the group was waiting for what came next. Though I myself was unsure what that would be, the question opening this post suddenly came out of my mouth. And the answer that finally came was heartbreaking - "I don't know; nobody has ever asked me that before."

Who in your life gives you what you need emotionally? I learned many important things over those three days. Foremost, I re-learned how fortunate I am to have a few people in my life that give me what I need emotionally. In my moments, my angels do the same kind of things for me that all the other participants and the facilitators did for that person in that room on that morning - they remain connected, they don't fill in the space with words, they don't try to "fix" me.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Pop Culture Triptych - Volume 6

Depending on response, a follow-up to this iteration of this series might be in order. There are so many fictional characters with first names that can only be matched with one surname and the novel from which it came. I'll get us started and await your ideas; surely, you have plenty. Characters from novels only, please; plays have been previously covered in the series, from a slightly different angle. 

I say Scarlett and you say ….

I say Holden and you say ….

I say Atticus and you say

Come on, how can you resist something as harmless as this?

Friday, August 17, 2018

The Dance Of Temperament

Although I try not to often exclude people without partners asking questions here, occasionally an interaction in my own partnership forces my hand. My apologies today to the unattached.

I've been called many things in my life; mellow or laidback have not been among the words others frequently use to describe me. If you share a partnership with someone temperamentally different from you in this respect - no matter whether you're the mellow one or the edgy, intense one - what challenges do those differing temperaments bring to the relationship?

I suspect those of you who - like me - have more edges than smooth surfaces will find it easy to answer this question. I'm also guessing many of you among my temperamental cohort have been labeled - by self and others - with some loaded adjectives. In ascending order of offensiveness, a few of those labels might include moody, difficult, obnoxious. And though I'm not certain my partner of forty plus years shares the perspective, one even-tempered friend of mine has a novel way to describe the dance of temperament he and his wife have managed to sustain over their many years: "Her edges mesh with my grooves."

So, what are some comparable loaded words that you easygoing, mellow, laidback partners hear or call yourself? In your experience - either temperament - how well do partnerships with this diverse dynamic thrive? If you have this kind of partnership, what strategies have helped you endure? And finally, for those of you in partnerships where - in this respect only - your temperaments are more alike than not: What have been the challenges that similarity has presented to you? Your strategies for enduring?

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Anti-Facebook

Most days, with respect to where my innate talents meet my passions, I'm reconciled to my spot on the bell curve. That is, I work at getting better at my passions knowing I'm not exceptional. And from the inception of this blog, I've tried to speak of my place on the bell curve - and the quirks, flaws, and limitations that many of us share - in an attempt to build simpatico with others on the curve. More pertinently to today's reflection, I've tried to be genuine here without too much whining. So, forgive me Father, for I am about to sin. Try treating my confession as the antidote to Facebook walls that show unfailingly perfect lives unmarred by unmet expectations.

The one-two punch delivering a temporarily immobilizing blow to my self-image as a writer and a musician began on Thursday as I finished The Tortilla Curtain (1995) by TC Boyle. Then, on Friday night I saw guitarist Mike Stern in concert. Aside from a nice walk at the Manasquan reservoir and breakfast with my wife and daughter in the morning, yesterday went steadily downhill from there. Only a little more, I promise.

The blog post I began early yesterday afternoon was so sour and self-pitying I abandoned it. Boyle's total control of his craft wouldn't leave me alone. OK, I thought, pick up the guitar. But the moment Stern's prodigious technique began replaying in my brain, the only remaining option for me was a long nap.

I was so relieved my wife and I had dinner plans last night. I don't expect readers to put themselves out there and describe a similar bell curve experience. But it would sure be nice to know something like this has happened to someone out there sometime.  I'll keep your secret, I promise.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Yesterday (The Boss & Elmore) & Today (Richard)

Richard Russo has been a favorite novelist since I read "Empire Falls" soon after its 2001 release. He is a top notch old-fashioned storyteller, has a pitch perfect ear for dialogue, and his deep affection for his world weary characters is refreshing given the reflexive cynicism and distancing irony of many of his contemporaries.

Russo's new collection of short non-fiction - "The Destiny Thief" - is a worthy companion to all of his earlier work. Aside from the eponymous essay (with that killer metaphor) introducing the book, each of the other eight pieces on "writing, writers, and life" has something to recommend it. I derived the most personal benefit from "Getting Good", re the value of tenacity. While reading "Imagining Jenny" I felt something shift in me as Russo describes a dear friend undergoing gender reassignment. And I was deeply moved hearing about Russo's admiration of Bruce Springsteen's music in "The Boss In Bulgaria".

Russo calls Bruce "the greatest singing storyteller of his generation." Normally, hyperbole like that is a turnoff to me. But when Russo writes "...it was Springsteen's voice that helped a weary nation through the bitter end of the Vietnam War, the AIDS epidemic, and the attack on the World Trade Center", it was hard for me to deny the impact "Born In The USA", "Streets Of Philadelphia", and "The  Rising" had on me and on the public conversation. Though Springsteen's music occupied me more in my rock n' roll years than it does now, a later song of his like "41 Shots" shows he's still got the goods. Springsteen was an earlier-in-life musical passion for me - much like Elmore Leonard was more about my reading tastes in my 30's - but Russo's continuing unapologetic love for these two giants in their respective fields is convincing and contagious. Thanks for the reminders, Richard.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

How Did This Catch On?

"Practice makes perfect."

Oh, would that this were so. Is there a maxim more in need of serious deconstruction than this boner? How close to perfection has your practicing gotten you? I'll start but if you leave me here all alone on this one, you're just being cruel.  

Practice the guitar, rinse, repeat, ad nauseum. Perfection? Not even close. I'd settle for being satisfied with what I can do on the instrument 20% of the time.

Practice new behaviors? Assiduously. Perfection? What a cosmic joke. I'm usually just one ego threat away from regressing back to adolescence.

In order of when they were successfully integrated, here's a sample of other practices I've anchored into my daily life: Writing, exercise, meditation. Perfection? Please!

Practice makes sense? OK. Practice makes better? Fine. Practice makes crazy? Now that's a maxim that has the ring of truth for me, at least sometimes. But perfect? Come on. How did this ever catch on?

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

National Immigrant Day

Every August 1 since 2012, I've used the massive reach of this blog as a forum to suggest ways to commemorate the month Hallmark has chosen to forsake. Most normal people would probably have given up after six ingenious notions had gotten as little traction as mine have. Ha! Normal is so over-rated, isn't it?

In approximate descending order of the amount of attention each often gets - no ethnic squabbling or quibbling, please - Columbus Day, St Patrick's Day, Rosh Hashanah, Cinco De Mayo, Kwanzaa, and Ramadan all have at least a small place on the U.S. calendar. Therefore, I'm proposing August 1 of each year be called "Immigrant Day". Which immigrants do we celebrate in this barren holiday-free month you ask? Any who do not easily fit with the groups that celebrate the holidays listed above. I can envision August 1 parades featuring - just to name a few (again, no squawking about who I left out, please) - Germans, Chinese, Brazilians. Maybe we even rotate and honor a different immigrant group on each day of the month; a free-floating celebration. Imagine the revelry, the wonderful food, the music!

OK, if you are not going to support my seventh brilliant idea, at least have the decency to tell me which of the others you like best. Those were: National Book Day, Sibling Month, Holiday For The 1% With Less Cash, National Conversation Day, Unsung Hero Day, or National Gratitude Day. All links below; you don't even have to search. Come on, give a guy a break.