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Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Yeah, This Is Crabby

Reassure me, please. Does anyone else ever get annoyed by the assault of commercials frequently preceding the feature film in many movie theaters these days?

Though I try hard to time my arrival at theaters nowadays to avoid this garbage, if a movie is popular, getting a seat sometimes goes hand-in-hand with enduring the commercial onslaught. On occasion, when I've been alone and this has happened, I've actually yearned for the distraction of an I-phone. Please do NOT share that confession with my wife or daughter.

An old theater proximate to my home - it has since been sold to new owners - used to play agonizing  music before showing the only coming attraction. Over the years we patronized that relic - great prices, BTW, and I'll miss that - I complained incessantly about that hokey music. But given a choice between that aural torture and the enticement of consumerism run amok portrayed by those loud nonstop ads - and I'm pretty certain that's what's in store for me when that theater re-opens - there's no contest. Isn't a TV (or fifty) in every public space invasive enough?

Friday, November 23, 2018

Goal For Year 70

I was surprised to discover that not one of the goals I've made here on my birthday every year since 2011 has been reading-related. Time to correct that oversight.

Between this birthday and my next, I'm aiming to read only books written by authors who are new to me. I'll make an exception only if a book club selection is by someone I've previously read.

Settled on this goal after realizing I've recently been relying a bit too much on my favorites. Surely I can make it for a year without repeating an author, and maybe find some new favorites in the process.

What have been some of your past reading-related goals, birthday or otherwise? And, who are a few of your favorite authors you think might be new to me? If by chance I've already read something by someone you suggest, no harm. There's plenty of time to return after November 23, 2019.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Key Learnings: Year 69

I'm confident there'll be a lot of folks on the bell curve taking a nap after tomorrow's repast so this post - usually published the day before my birthday - is one day early. Because despite knowing how scintillating I can be, my best bon mots are no match for tryptophan shock. By hedging my bets, I'm hoping at least a few folks will read this prior to the big gorge.

What were some key things you learned between your last two birthdays? Year sixty nine - at least the first 364 days of it - was a rich year of learning for me.

* During and after the three day summer workshop entitled "Race And Rage" that I helped facilitate, I learned how fortunate I am having three people in my life who give me unconditional emotional support. Each stays fully present when I'm overcome; they avoid filling up the emotional space with words; none of the three ever tries to "fix" me.

* Over this past year, watching the good cheer of an old friend caring for a loved one has been a profound lesson for me in the power of grace.

* "The moral certainty of my rage must be met with humility about the limits of my knowledge". More than a few times, author Phil Klay's words have helped me back up from the reflexive despair I can sometimes feel reading or watching the news. Whose words have recently given you that kind of solace?

I'll be back on my birthday. Happy thanksgiving!
       

Friday, November 16, 2018

Five For Five

I realized soon after finishing "Flight Behavior" (2012) that Barbara Kingsolver had now entered a rarefied realm among my favorite authors. I don't recall another writer ever knocking me out five times consecutively. At present, her closest competitor is Colm Toibin ("Brooklyn", etc.) who has recently gone four for four. Which author has thrilled you that consistently, at least among the books you've chosen?

Is it Kingsolver's prose? The richness and variety of her ideas? Her complex but wholly human characters? Yes, yes, and yes. Are Kingsolver's narrative lines compelling? Is her writing audacious? Does her work contribute to the novel as an art form? Affirmative in triplicate. If Kingsolver has a glaring weakness as a writer, I haven't yet detected it. Since my first exposure to her via "Poisonwood Bible" (1998) - still my favorite - she has thrilled and educated me in nearly equal measure.

How often does an author get you thinking about your own thinking? Kingsolver's deft exploration of the gap between coastal elite snobbery (with their "... smart mouthed comedians …" ) and rural provincialism (with their " … pastors, Dear Abby, and local talk radio …") in "Flight Behavior" - and the way that gap shows up in the acrimonious debate over climate change - stopped me cold. I re-read that passage - about a third of the way through the book - at least four times. Then I digressed, composed a long list of contemporary issues - immigration, guns, abortion, etc. - and thought about how I'd arrived at my opinions for those issues. How successful have I been filtering the chatter of those "...smart mouthed comedians..." while trying to develop my own views?  How successful are you? Folks on the other side: How successful are you filtering out the "...pastors, Dear Abby, and  local talk radio …"?

This kind of provocative writing - and the attendant introspection it can engender - is surely not for everyone. But if a novel doesn't educate or elevate me, it doesn't matter if I've been entertained.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

What Would Benjamin Say?

"A man who is not liberal at sixteen has no heart and a man who is not conservative at sixty has no head."  -  Benjamin Disraeli 

Sixty has come and gone. Am I perhaps a late blooming conservative? Though no one has yet told me -  to my face - that I have no head, my clearly un-conservative views have been called wrong-headed more than once over the years. When in a person's life did Disraeli envision the shift between liberal and conservative would occur?

Recently reflecting on my conservative college freshman best friend also persuaded me - from a different angle - of the conditional merit of Disraeli's pithy formulation. Again, I wouldn't say that friend had no heart, but it was a chilly one even before his seventeenth birthday. As his empathy deficit deepened over the subsequent years, the relationship eventually soured for me. Was he a cutting edge conservative or just old before his time?

I last saw this old friend briefly about ten years ago. Were Disraeli's oft-quoted words familiar to him? If so, was he wondering if I was ever going to catch up to him? In the end, I've liked the way my heart has felt from sixteen right up to the present. My head at almost sixty nine? Feels OK but Benjamin and that old friend of mine might have a different opinion.

Friday, November 9, 2018

50-50 And The Slow Learner

Aren't most of us usually pleased with even odds? I know I am although, those odds don't guarantee I'm going to predictably land on the right answer encountering one of the many either/or dilemmas each of us routinely face. Caught yourself hesitating when told the meeting will be on the bow? Wait, am I headed toward the stern? Never been on a ship? Forget I asked.

How about this: Ever felt a bit doltish thinking you might be confusing concave for convex? Would you be 100% confident describing a person as an ectomorph vs. endomorph? How about the whole longer winter Pennsylvania groundhog shadow deal? Which way does that go again?

OK, if I share a few of my 50-50 tricks, do you promise to share a few of yours? Nothing is too silly to offer, as you're about to soon discover. Think of the public service you're providing saving readers public embarrassment.  

Port vs. starboard? I think of LP (for youngsters out there, I developed this device during the heyday of long-playing records, aka albums). Left is Port, get it? Don't laugh, it's worked for over fifty years.

The stalactite is the one hanging from the top, vs. the stalagmite. Learned that never-to-be-forgotten tip from either a science teacher or another nerd.

Stationery is for letters, not stationary. I just figured that one out while writing this post. Who said I was a slow learner?

Monday, November 5, 2018

Between Ta-Nehisi Coates And Me

Right after finishing "Between The World And Me" (2015) late last year, I knew I'd be returning to the writing of Ta-Nehisi Coates. What I didn't expect was to be more blown away the second time around. It appears I've found an essayist to fill the gap left by David Foster Wallace.

Soon after beginning the fifteen page introduction to "We Were Eight Years In Power" (2017), I knew only the necessities of life - eating, sleep, basic interactions with my wife - would interrupt my reading. The eight essays forming the centerpiece of the book - each written between 2009 and 2016 - are each preceded by a new introduction Coates wrote specifically for this collection. It's a skillful device that permits the author to retrospectively frame his work using the context of the Obama years and the 2016 election. And throughout the entire book the prose is as muscular as the insights are powerful. The passage below from the sobering epilogue may help you decide if this is a book you want to try.

"There is nothing done in the service of whiteness that places it beyond the boundaries of human behavior and history. Indeed, what makes the epoch of Indian killing and African slavery, of 'war capitalism' as Sven Beckert dubs it, so frightening is how easily its basic actions cohere with all we know of human greed and the temptations of power."

In the NY Times feature called "By The Book", authors are frequently asked "If you could require the President to read one book, what would you select?" "We Were Eight Years In Power" would be my selection.

https://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2018/01/privilege.html

Friday, November 2, 2018

Benefits & Costs

https://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2015/11/counting-before-publishing.html

Although it's possible I was premature congratulating myself in the above post from three years ago today, many of the lessons I've learned over the last several years about being more judicious with my words are clearly linked to the discipline of regularly writing this blog. In some cases, the impact on my  personal interactions has been dramatic. What are your strategies for making your words less loaded?  

The other benefit of repeatedly whispering to myself - "Be careful, Pat"- has been how much more attuned I am when others appear to be using words that inflame rather than inform. It's easy to get caught in an escalating battle with people of differing views when distancing adjectives get casually tossed around. In my experience, as soon as I begin using more neutral language, the heat in most conversations diminishes. Your experience?

But, benefits are often accompanied by costs, right? So far I've detected two costs associated with the benefits I derive from being more careful in writing and in person. The first has been an occasional sense that I'm walking away from too many battles with intolerant people. The second cost is feeling like I'm sometimes being a bit too meek expressing opinions about things that matter to me. A partial list of those things: persistent racism, dog whistling by public figures who can wield significant influence with their coded messages, climate change denial. What costs have you encountered that go hand-in-hand with being more circumspect with your words?