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Thursday, January 31, 2019

Ten Months To Go (Not That I'm Counting)

Given my propensity for navel gazing, I'm a little surprised it took an invitation to a party to remind me how many people I know will be reaching their 70th birthday sometime in 2019.

I suspect many of those people will claim indifference about their impending move into an eighth decade. The enlightened will extol the wisdom their years have given them, speak of their gratitude, describe their inner peace.

And the rest of us? For me, it will depend on the day. Today, I'm glad to have goals that keep me engaged, looking forward to my first trip to Greece this summer, pleased my passions still give me joy. Tomorrow? I don't know. But indifference or enlightenment both seem unlikely. Meanwhile, owning my ambivalence publicly about this looming milestone might help me inoculate myself as birthday #70 nears. Stay tuned.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Triple Threat

For the past few years, Bryan Stevenson has been a commanding presence in my life. I first learned of his organization - the Equal Justice Initiative - via my work with the former Deputy Attorney General of the NJ Office of Bias Crime. Not long after, I was taken with Stevenson's insights in "13th", Ava DuVernay's startling 2016 documentary. And the 60 Minutes interview Oprah Winfrey did with Stevenson to discuss his vision - a lynching memorial near Montgomery, Alabama - was unforgettable.

I was not surprised when "Just Mercy: A Story Of Justice And Redemption" moved me emotionally. But the stirring stories Stevenson relates in his 2014 debut are supported by sturdy prose, bracing honesty, and a strong narrative sense. Reading this excellent book reminded me how I felt the first time I heard George Benson sing. How cosmically unfair to give a singing voice that fine to such a prodigiously talented guitarist.

Stevenson is a gifted lawyer, an influential social architect, and a talented author. Damn.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Think Again And Again

If you're running a race and pass the person in second place, what place are you in?

Your answer? It's not a trick question. However, be sure to answer it before reading the NY Times article below from which the question came. I sincerely believe this article, entitled "Why Do People Fall For Fake News?", has the capacity to shift any thinking person's views of their own objectivity.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/19/opinion/sunday/fake-news.html

Now, after you've read the article, try out that same question on several people before giving them the article to read. I'll share my results with the first reader who tries this out with others, as I have, and then comments here on their results. My hope: Other readers get intrigued enough to try out the same question with people they know and we all turn this into a viral sensation. Imagine the civility that might ensue.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

An Invitation: One Jersey Boy To Another

Good news: The local library auditorium is filled to capacity for my ninety minute program on Bruce Springsteen called "Jersey Boy". Reality check: The library is near ground zero of Boss-land and the program is free. No matter, I'm thrilled to bring this program to fans of the artist Richard Russo calls " … the greatest songwriting storyteller of his generation".  

Although I didn't know it until class was over and she introduced herself, Bruce's first cousin was in the audience the last time I delivered this particular program. (I had a suspicion something was up when someone in the back of the room asked to see my bibliography slide a second time, something that had never happened before and has not happened since). When we spoke after class, she praised my research - hence the request for re-showing that slide - and affirmed the insights I'd surmised from my reading. Then, a few weeks later, she kindly mailed a few of Bruce's hand written set lists to me. Those lists will be an exhibit for my presentation this Wednesday. The recent request I made for an interview with this same cousin was politely declined. Still, I've got a tasty anecdote and those set lists to share.

Two other fairly new primary sources will also assist me speaking to the "sold-out" crowd: "Born To Run" - Bruce's bracingly honest 2016 memoir - and the recent Netflix special highlighting his highly successful one man Broadway show each provide new context and fresh emotional depth to support my presentation that focuses on Bruce's songwriting craft . And who knows? A serious Bruce fanatic who happens to be my neighbor saw the Boss playing some guitar on the Manasquan inlet a few years back. So FYI, Mr. Springsteen, my guitar will be close by for a live demonstration I do when speaking about your song "Fire". Feel free to hop out of your seat and join me on stage. I know that stage is smaller than the ones you're accustomed to, but there's plenty of room, one Jersey Boy to another.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Book Club Report: Year Two

Despite the predictable drop-offs, year two of the No Wine or Whiners book club was more satisfying than the first. Attendance remained consistent, some new folks joined - offsetting the drop-offs - and the conversations were often more nuanced than those in year one. I was especially pleased the return rate on the end of the year feedback sheet was 100%. In my experience, the best way to keep people actively involved in most things is to provide opportunities for giving input. What techniques have you seen that work well to maintain a cohesive group?

Some surprises and highlights from year two:

* "Look At Me" - a 2001 novel by Jennifer Egan that floored me - was not well received. Although I was not persuaded by the group's mostly negative reaction to it, a thought occurred to me after the meeting ended: Did reading Egan's 2010 tour-de-force - "A Visit From The Goon Squad" - before I read "Look At Me" dull my critical eye enough that I may have overlooked some of the flaws in the earlier book?

* I was less surprised by the 50-50 split in the group's reaction to Neil Gaiman's "The Ocean At The End Of The Lane". Books requiring suspension of disbelief can be off-putting to more literal readers. But I was so energized by the conversation and inspired when two of the readers who weren't thrilled with Gaiman's fable coming into the meeting said the discussion had deepened their appreciation for it.

* On the non-fiction side, Susan Cain's "Quiet", Susan Casey's "Wave", and Michael Capuzzo's "Close to Shore" were the biggest hits in 2018. The conversation about "Wave" also provided the most salacious moments of the year. Apparently, surfer Laird Hamilton - a key player in Casey's book - is an easy-to-locate figure on the Internet, without clothes. The women in the club were duly impressed.

And, I'm still buzzing from our first meeting of 2019, when we discussed "Exit West", a stunning speculative novel by Mohsin Hamid. "The Secret History Of Wonder Woman" by Jill Lepore is next. I'm so psyched.                        

Monday, January 14, 2019

Calibrations Required?

My wife and I have been together almost forty-one years and have lived together about thirty-nine. In a recent conversation with a friend, I casually mentioned how we shifted responsibility several years ago regarding which of us would take charge of tracking our financial situation.

As that same conversation continued I found myself reflecting on how many of these shifts my wife and I have made during our time together in order to keep things humming along. I remarked to my friend that these shifts remind me of the frequent calibration those analog household scales used to require in order to show your accurate weight. Thinking back on your longstanding relationships, what are some tweaks you recall making to keep things purring? Which of those tweaks were hardest for you? Straight guys: I won't accept "learning to put the toilet seat down".

I can also think of shifts I've made with my brother and sisters to keep those relationships (mostly) humming for sixty-five or more years, though I only lived with the three of them for the first twenty. And, we had our parents to act as referees if things got out of hand. So I suspect a great deal more tweaking is needed when it's just two people in a (theoretically) equal partnership. Your thoughts? Now as far as the shifts/tweaks needed to keep a relationship with a parent purring? Major calibrations are often required there for many of us and I've got my list. But I'm saving those for a professional; blogs need boundaries, don't you think?

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Five Years And Many Movies Later ...

https://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2014/01/admitting-im-powerless.html

Soon after publishing the above, a few readers - perhaps prompted by the word "powerless" in the title? - shared with me some more serious challenges they face. I hope my response to each of those offline revelations provided some solace. I was humbled by the trust each of those folks invested in me and decided right then to let a long time elapse before re-visiting this particular glib confession of mine, in any fashion.  

To honor those brave readers, right after settling on this five year update as today's subject, I further decided the word powerless had no place in the title. Has my promiscuous movie fanaticism shown any signs of abating since January 10, 2014? It has not. Have I grown more discriminating about what I'll devote ninety minutes (or more) to watching? Mostly, no. Do I have any new distinctions about the art of filmmaking, aside from what I've learned from my actress daughter, five years later? I do not.

The only growth that might be partially attributable to this hard-to-break, often time-sucking habit, is some of the learning I've derived by increasing the number of documentaries I watch. Of course, even that has a downside. For example, how was I edified spending hours listening to the Eagles whine or enduring the "critics never got what we were about" laments of the four remaining original members of Chicago? Both those bands made great music. And both those bands have at least one member that should stick to playing their instrument. So, now I need to cut back on the music documentaries a bit. Next update? January 2024 or thereabouts.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Interesting, Right?

"For anything to become interesting, you simply have to look at it for a long time.

Until recently coming across the quote above -  often attributed to Flaubert - I'd reflected more than a few times about my propensity for being fascinated by things others find ordinary - at best - or dull, when pressed. How regularly do you find something interesting but come up short getting anyone to share your wonder?

* Isn't it amazing how few car accidents there are? Think about the unspoken coordination it takes for all those drivers to move their automobiles through city streets and merge onto and off of highways.

* How do our bodies do what they do to fight off infection, reject bad food, heal from wounds?

* When will we reach the end of the number of cereals available for purchase?

OK, your turn. I purposefully avoided sharing anything I find interesting that borders on snark (e.g. What exactly compels people to pay attention to the Kardashians?) but be as catty or judgmental as you like.        

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Words For The Ages, Line Ten

"And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make."

How remarkably fitting that the final words on the Beatles final album (the brief ditty called "Her Majesty" that followed the lyric above from"The End" was an afterthought, a studio outtake saved by a smart engineer who thought it might come in handy later) still stand tall as the wisest lyrics ever sung by the Fab Four. The composer's credit for "The End" was - as always - Lennon & McCartney, but every book I've ever read about the Beatles has said these undeniable words for the ages were McCartney's. John himself said this was one of Paul's finest moments as a lyricist.

So, what alternative Beatles lyric would you nominate as a timeless aphorism?  Remember: Keep it terse. Today's entry in this series has sixteen syllables. The shortest entry to date, from August 2017, had six.

https://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2017/08/words-for-ages-line-four.html

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Stop - Start - Continue: 2019

Beginning in 2012, I've published a post each New Year's day using the stop-start-continue model I was first exposed to during my years as an adult educator. I've been gratified readers have joined me, used the same model, and posted comments sharing what they pledge for the coming year. I've also been honored a few readers have asked me to later follow up with them. So, I look forward to hearing what you will stop-start-continue in 2019. As for me …

In 2019, I will stop avoiding political discussions with folks from the other side. In my 70th year, it's time to fully embrace my political beliefs, uncomfortable moments notwithstanding.

I will start Phase Two of a musical project begun in November 2011, i.e. memorizing three hundred jazz standards. After the memorization phase is complete - probably by summer - it's time to begin recording all three hundred songs. A new musical friend recently called this wild-eyed ambition my "...Glenn Gould Project..." I love that.

I will continue any pledges made here from 2012-2018 (i.e. my seven earlier "starts") still needing more attention - driving in ways that scare my wife less (2012), composing more (2016), seeking out more local musicians to jam with (2018).

I'm looking forward to a productive year. Why not join me and pledge publicly what you will stop-start-continue in 2019?