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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".

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Words Only A Parent Could Write


I was surprised when an observant reader recently asked for an update on the pledge made in the post above to read only authors new to me from my last birthday until my next. Ever tried something like this? Which authors were your best discoveries?

Four months in, about half the authors I've newly sampled have a likely place in my reading future. Of the novelists from that group who have a back catalog, Alice McDermott is one I'm really looking forward to spending more time with after my hiatus concludes.

The Ninth Hour (2017) is assured, provocative, and thoroughly engaging. It astounds me how authors like McDermott effortlessly move a narrative across multiple generations. The unnamed narrators of this masterful novel rewind as far back as their great-grandparents. Their family stories are infused with guilt leavened by forgiveness and piety forged by sacrifice. And the prose?

"She felt - it was a flood, a filling up - how delightful it was to love this child, to find her here day after day after day, a tonic for every sorrow. A restorative. A joy."    

Friday, March 29, 2019

Cover Me

The latest course I designed - entitled They've Got It Covered - will have its maiden voyage in late April at Brookdale Community College. I'm grateful to Brookdale for being the first school to hire me to do music classes back in 2014. I'm even more grateful for participants who have attended several of my courses at Brookdale and other venues that have since hired me. And, I'd like your help.

What you would expect to hear if you were attending a music class devoted to imaginative covers of songs first made famous by others? I'll be featuring artists of three types in this six-hour course:

* Those who have never had a composing credit, i.e. they've devoted their recording careers to covers (e.g. Bette Midler)

* Those who infrequently recorded covers, i.e. the bulk of their recorded output is original material (e.g. the Beatles)

* Those who have toggled frequently between covers & original material (e.g. Rod Stewart)

Over the last five years and fifteen courses, there have been more than a few occasions when your song suggestions - solicited through this blog - have ended up on a playlist. Thank you in advance for giving some thought to what I might include in They've Got It Covered.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Me Too

With respect to the Me Too voices, I'm strongly inclined to give women who step forward the benefit of the doubt. I acknowledge the possibility of false accusations. But the years I spent learning about the phenomenon of sexual harassment - preparation for teaching how to prevent it -  and the stories I then heard in classes persuaded me that women making those types of accusations are exceedingly rare.

I desperately want to believe the current conversation - and the consequences all these famous vile predators are now facing - might move our culture toward more respect for women. Still, keeping my cynicism under control is a battle. When a friend recently wondered aloud if sexually abusive and controlling men might just resort to sneakier behavior to avoid getting caught, I couldn't fault her line of thinking. What do you think? Have we turned a corner or will things get worse before they get better?

There are few things that give me as much joy as my grown daughter's strength and confidence. And there are fewer things that can make me as angry as imagining some entitled man trying to undermine that strength and confidence.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

A Partial Travelogue

Sampling the cuisine of ninety-three countries has been one of the best adventures undertaken during my post full time work life. The Eat The World project first announced here on March 23, 2011 has taken my wife and I from Cuba to, most recently, Cape Verde. Thanks to family and friends who have joined us on some of our culinary adventures. More thanks to readers who have assisted by letting me know of a restaurant within reasonable driving distance featuring a cuisine we haven't yet tried.

Alphabetically, some notable moments from this eight year journey:

* Disaster in Denmark: On the ill-fated night my wife and I attempted to prepare a Danish meal, we were relieved the couple we'd invited had to cancel at the last minute. Only the dessert redeemed this foodborne travesty, which we then salvaged by ordering a pizza.

* Ecstasy from Egypt: Write down this word - Dukkah - then locate a recipe. I promise: You will be thanking me when you spread it on anything.

* New Year's In Nigeria: The food wasn't as memorable as the evening, celebrating 2019 hour-by-hour. We brought out a dish from Nigeria as the new year began there at 6:00 p.m. our time. Our thirty guests also enjoyed playing a Nigerian board game called Dara.

For this geography geek, the most enjoyable by-product of this long-running project is how much I've learned about many of these countries. And, how much more I'll learn as we "travel" to the rest. What was your most recent out-of-US eating experience?


Thursday, March 21, 2019

Continuing Discoveries

Much like other readers, many of my nourishing conversations with people close to me have revolved around books. But over my lifetime I've had similarly enriching interactions - ignited by a love of the written word - with more than a few strangers. Is this an experience you and I share? If so, please tell me and others about it.

Flying to Chicago, I noticed a book in the seat pocket of the young woman seated to my left. When I glanced over as she retrieved it I couldn't catch the title but recognized the cover sticker indicating something either nominated for or the recipient of the National Book Award. When she later initiated a conversation, one of the first questions I asked was about her book. The next thing I knew we were landing.

All the tributaries of our energizing conversation began at the same source - Hold Still by Sally Mann - now on my "to read" list, despite my memoir moratorium. After all, fair is fair: My seatmate had captured The Namesake (Jhumpa Lahiri) on her phone notepad based on my recommendation. Our discussion of that excellent novel (and film) was itself connected to -  a) her interest in hearing more about my final destination - the White Privilege Conference in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and … b.) our mutual incredulity at the way many Americans insist on "re-naming" people with names they find too foreign or exotic and … c.) her own cultural journey.

Still buzzing, as my connecting flight awaited departure, out came my journal. As David Hare so memorably said "Writing is the act of self-discovery". The discoveries continue.


Sunday, March 17, 2019

A Force Of Nature

Because our daughter has known since the fifth grade she wanted to be an actress, we've managed to see a lot of Broadway shows since the late 90's. Over all those years, if I've seen a stronger dramatic performance than Bryan Cranston's portrayal of Howard Beale in the current run of Network, I can't recall it.

And for those who revere Peter Finch's Oscar-winning turn as Beale in the 1976 film of the same name, I promise you - Cranston is equally riveting. The focus of the play tilts a bit more toward the Beale role than the film. For my money, this worked well because it kept Cranston on the stage more than the film had Finch on the screen. Cranston's feral presence and unhinged energy grabbed me from the start and the emotional build up in the pivotal scene as Beale stumbles onto the classic mantra ("I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!") might be the most visceral and electrifying theater I've ever experienced. Topping it off was the startling, innovative set simulating a TV studio.

What theater performance have you ever seen that qualifies as a force of nature? In my mind, those are fitting words to describe Bryan Cranston as Howard Beale. This show is worth what you'll pay for it, I assure you.

Friday, March 15, 2019

The Power Of Stories

Tommy Orange's debut There There (2018) is a novel I am sure will remain with me. Each chapter in parts one through three introduces four characters linked by family or some facet of their shared Native American culture. In part four, the author braids all twelve characters together in a tableau that reminded me of the Rashomon-like brilliance of two recent favorites: Mudbound (2008) by Hillary Jordan and The Maid's Version (2013) by Daniel Woodrell. There There is not quite as taut as The Maid's Version, but it packs an equivalent punch.

"If you have the option to not think about or even consider history, whether you learned it right or not, or whether it even deserves consideration, that's how you know you're on board the ship that serves hors d'oeuvres and fluffs your pillows while others are out at sea, swimming or drowning, or clinging to little inflatable rafts that they have to take turns to keep inflated, people short of breath, who've never even heard of the words hors d'oeuvres or fluff."

I'm glad to be living in an age when authors from every culture get to tell their stories. And I'm even happier these stories are widely available to those of us who want to hear them. I didn't hear these stories growing up, did you? If we'd heard at least a few of them, what might have shifted in the way we relate to people from cultures different than our own?

Thursday, March 14, 2019

An Ambivalent Anniversary

Of the milestones celebrated here, today's is often the one tinged with the most ambivalence. Each year as March 14 approaches, I search for balance before publishing this post.

On one hand, I'm proud of my persistence - tomorrow marks the beginning of my eighth consecutive year of consistent blogging. On the other hand, unrealized expectations about having a robust online conversation continue to frustrate me.  

But, I'm grateful for every comment - online or off, the surprise of reaching a new reader, a human connection, albeit virtual. Still, as Saul Bellow's Henderson perpetually moaned - "I want".

I have difficulty imagining my life without blogging. Until the occasional peek at my view numbers discourages me. I bounce back because creating makes me feel plugged in. Until my inability to express myself in a fresh way stops me cold. It's the journey, not the destination, right? That cliché works better on days when I don't need some instant gratification and unfortunately, I have those days less frequently than the more evolved among us.

In any case, I'll see you next March 14. Unless I don't.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

RIP, George (With Questions For The Survivors)

How many fewer people will think of or remember George Doggett now?

Don't be at all concerned if you have no idea who George Doggett was. Although I'm sure his family misses him, his passing was not newsworthy. I know just one thing about George that you probably do not. He was a faithful patron of the Beach Theater in Bradley Beach. Given his otherwise anonymous life, how did I come by this information? And why would I waste your reading time asking about him?

I submit that a better question might be - How far would you go to ensure a place in posterity for  yourself or a loved one? I'm not sure whose idea it was to place a plaque many years ago in George's honor on the wall next to the urinal in the Beach Theater. And when a new owner closed that relic for renovations a few months back, I wondered: Would the new owner notice the plaque? If yes, would they contact George's family to ask what to do about it before beginning the renovations? If then his family wanted the plaque, would they change the wording about "...this urinal is dedicated to …". If not, where would they place it? If you'd been the one wielding a sledgehammer during the demolition and had no instructions from your crew boss about the plaque on the wall in that restroom, how long would you have paused to think about George?  Etc.

Having referred here to George twice before - the first time obliquely, the second time by name - I'm confident saying I've done my part preserving his legacy. If any of you have a similar claim to fame you'd like me to draw attention to on this blog, please advise. I promise I won't snicker.



Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Taught By The Best

What is your most reliable strategy for shaking off a bad day? All I have to do is stop and reflect on the relationship I have with my thirty-year-old daughter.

That reflecting often brings me back to my parents. Although my parents came from a generation not known for discussing feelings or considering the "relationship" they had with their children, I still fantasize about having a conversation with them about those things. Sometimes that fantasy includes telling them about the intense bond my daughter and I share. Oddly, at other times in my pretend conversations with my folks, I'll underplay that bond. Am I worried their feelings might be hurt if the bond they felt with me wasn't as intense?

My parents were terrific. I can't recall an instance when I ever felt unloved or under-valued. There's no doubt they taught me - without realizing they were doing so - to be the kind of parent who could develop the kind of bond my daughter and I have.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Everybody Knows

One downside to being as indiscriminate as I am about film is how infrequently I am surprised. The conventions of many genres - romantic comedies, survival stories, uplifting message films, etc. - can sometimes seem a bit predictable.

Then every so often, a film like "Everybody Knows" comes out of nowhere and kicks my jaded ass. All I knew about this winner before deciding to see it was the little bit Fandango revealed. Truth be told, I picked it primarily because my wife has a thing for Javier Bardem. Nominally, "Everybody Knows" is a thriller. But it's really more about the way secrets often take on a life of their own and also how our past creeps up on us when we least expect it. Penelope Cruz shines in her co-starring role alongside the dependably excellent Bardem.  The script, direction, and supporting actors are all first rate.

My favorite part of "Everybody Knows" was the final scene. Two secondary characters are about to begin an important conversation about the central event in the film. The film fades on an ambiguous but wholly satisfying note. Would enjoy hearing your reaction to this surprising movie if you've seen it or get around to doing so in the future.