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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Open Letter To Miles Nadal

Dear Mr. Nadal;

Re your recent purchase of a pair of 1972 Nike Waffle Racing Flat "Moon Shoes" for $437,500 at Sotheby's. I was wondering - Do you plan to ever wear these rare sneakers? More importantly, are they in your size?

Assuming they are in your size and you do plan to wear them, allow me to suggest you do so only in broad daylight in places where a lot of people regularly congregate and police are nearby.

If you're not planning to ever wear this footwear, will you store it in a climate-controlled setting? Will interested spectators be able to view them? If yes, how much will you charge for admission? Would you consider a sliding scale for admission?

Last question: How much will shoelaces for these bad boys set you back?

Sincerely (and bewildered),

Pat Barton (White New Balance, on sale right now for $75.00 at DSW, in case you were wondering)  

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

#56: The Mt. Rushmore Series

Because film depictions of notable figures from history are often too reverential, movies of this ilk frequently disappoint me. The inauthenticity of musical biopics annoy me. It feels weird to like, or even worse, to enjoy a film about a despicable historical figure. Consequently, this iteration of my Mt. Rushmore series was harder to assemble than many that preceded it. Please chime in with four of your favorites, alphabetically, as my mountain is constructed, or otherwise.

1.) Iron Lady: I never warmed to Margaret Thatcher; she never returned my phone calls. But Meryl Streep, arguably the best and most versatile actor of her generation, helped me transcend my visceral dislike for Thatcher. I can't recall that ever happening before or since.

2.) The Last Station: One ironclad criterion for my monument was having trouble imagining another actor playing the role even if wasn't the first portrayal. Christopher Plummer and Leo Tolstoy are now inseparable in my mind's eye. The always reliable Helen Mirren plays the Countess.

3.) Lincoln: In a collaborative medium like film, it's difficult to know how much credit is owed to the source material, the director, the actor. Doris Kearns Goodwin's brilliant book Team of Rivals and/or Steven Spielberg's direction clearly contributed to the career-defining performance Daniel Day Lewis delivered in this movie. All the same, Lewis is towering; Henry Fonda et al have now faded, for me.

4.) When Nietzsche Wept: This little-seen film is not for everyone - it's talky and can be dramatically inert. But Armand Assante doesn't portray Nietzsche so much as he inhabits him. I'm still not sure how his performance was overlooked by his peers.

I'm acutely aware how white my mountain is, kind of like the actual Mt. Rushmore, etc. Still, I stand by my choices and look forward to hearing yours.

Friday, July 26, 2019

A Decade Of Yearning

What novel has most recently had you yearning for several others who'd also read it so you could have a discussion?

Paul Auster's 2009 novel Invisible is that kind of book. After finishing it the first time not long after its release, it lingered with me for weeks. My long book journal entry bemoaned the fact that no one I knew had read it. I desperately wanted to talk about the unapologetically modern approach Auster used. Subject matter, the author's style, and above all, the sinuous architecture beg to be discussed.

Fast forward almost ten years: From the start, my book journal has been one of the tools I've used to help me decide which books my club will read each year. Invisible went in the 2019 queue before I re-read it. After finishing it recently for the second time, I'm even more anxious to have that yearned-for discussion. And though I suspect this provocative novel will not be universally well received, I'm confident the discussion with the discerning readers in my club will be enriching.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Slow Down

Early in life, whenever this monolingual blogger encountered someone speaking Spanish, my initial thought frequently was "Why do they speak so fast?" I don't expect anyone to admit having similar thoughts. Nowadays, our fear of being labelled culturally insensitive mutes many harmless but useful conversations. However, I'm reasonably certain my early-in-life experience is not unique.

Over the ensuing years, having been regularly exposed to many people speaking languages other than English, I grew complacent, thinking I'd transcended my immature thoughts about language and speed. It took my first visit to Greece to temporarily upend that complacency.

* As the Greek Orthodox priest spoke the wedding vows, I thought "Slow down! No wait, it's really hot here in the Greek sun and my maid of honor daughter looks like she might faint so hurry up." But honestly, I'm not sure it would be humanly possible to speak any faster than that priest.
* Most of the unintelligible conversations swirling around me initially reminded me of those tape recorders that allow a listener to increase the speed of speech. Remember the Chipmunks when they warbled Christmas carols? Slackers compared to many people I listened to over the past two weeks.

Of course, as soon as I began listening to my conversations with others in English, imagining how our cadences might sound to non-English speaking folks, it didn't take long to realize I'd devolved. I started thinking about those Catholic priests with their rapid fire Latin and my sister, whose speed of speech has been known to create spontaneous combustion. I'm aiming to retain this perspective on my next visit to a place where English is not the default. At the same time, I'm coaching myself to slow down my own speech. Why the rush?

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Greece Is The Word - Fall and Rise Is The Book

Before beginning, I'm going to request no reader goes all "glass half-empty" on me. I'm a life loving optimist but Kellyanne Conway aside, facts are facts. And the fact is that I have more years behind me than in front of me. Consequently, saying my first trip to Greece over the next two weeks will likely be my last is not negative, pessimistic, or morbid. Should I fall in love with the country, there's always a chance I'd choose to return. But given how many other places are on my "want to visit" list - and considering our mission to see all the National Parks in the U.S. - I'd say those chances are slim.

In the meanwhile, I anticipate our time in Greece will be exhilarating, educational, and warm. Having to make all the arrangements for this time away reminded my wife and me how convenient it is when a travel group like Road Scholar attends to the details. But once we're in the air tonight, cocktail in hand, all those minor hassles will quickly fade.

Recently, when I've known the bell curve would be silent more than a few days, I've provided a few tasty morsels for you to digest as you anxiously await my return. During this absence, I'm suggesting a large meal. I'm confident saying Fall and Rise: The Story of 9/11 (2019) by Mitchell Zuckoff is the book about our national nightmare that people will reference for the rest of my life and beyond. Just as this trip to Greece will likely be my last, Zuckoff's masterwork will likely be the last book I read about that awful day. I cannot recommend it enough. If you invest the time to read it, please comment on this post and tell me your reaction. I'll look forward to reading those comments on/about July 24.   

Monday, July 8, 2019

Under 100,00: Time To Get Cracking

https://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2016/07/116799-to-go.html

Three years ago today when I estimated I had about 116,799 waking hours left, I expected either to be congratulated on my cleverness, challenged on my math, or chastised for my morbidity. Since none of those reactions transpired, it's reasonable to surmise today's update will be met with a comparable collective yawn. Still, a quick mental review of the way I've used a fair portion of my 17,520 hours since July 8 2016, makes me happy, at least right this moment.

* I'm just two songs away from my November 22, 2011 goal of fully memorizing 300 jazz standards, currently finishing my 56th review cycle.
* My book club is thriving in its third year. Tomorrow we'll be discussing Sherry Turkle's Reclaiming Conversation (2015). And my involvement in two other clubs has helped keep me on my toes.
* I've published over 1700 blog posts, completed the project to record eight of my original songs with my daughter on vocals, developed and delivered several new music courses, co-facilitated a multi-day workshop on Race and Rage, continued my volunteering commitments.

It's not all good news. My latest estimate? I'm probably down to less than 100,000 waking hours. Got to get cracking at several of the things I haven't even started. How about you? How do you feel, at least right this moment, about how you used the last 17,520 hours? And what's coming up over the next 100,000?

Sunday, July 7, 2019

For Movie Buffs Only

(For my daughter only: Be sure to store a copy of this blog post in a file called something like "Things to remember to ensure my place in the will.")

Which line of movie dialogue have you and your partner used as a repetitive riff over the course of your relationship?

About seven years ago, after seeing Moonrise Kingdom - Wes Anderson's quirky 2012 release - I was convinced I'd discovered a line that could take the place of "Hey, Boo" from To Kill A Mockingbird for my wife and me. Since we'd used that phrase for more than thirty four years at that point, I figured it was time for a change. So far, so good.

Well, I've tried out the new line from Moonrise Kingdom - "I love you but you don't know what the hell you are talking about" - a few dozen times over the past seven years. It hasn't stuck. Bear in mind - That new line wasn't supposed to be aimed in just one direction. Since my wife and I had said  "Hey Boo" to each other for over three decades, my vision was that we would simply replace the old line with the new line, giving new life to an old tradition. And, there is solid experiential support for my contention that the line from Moonrise Kingdom fits us, even with its slightly caustic edge.

Now that I've officially abandoned my seven year quest - and reverting back to "Hey Boo" feels too much like a nostalgic copout - I'm on the lookout for a new movie line. Any suggestions? I'm looking for something fresh so please don't go all Cool Hand Luke on me.  

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Grateful For The Seduction

Been reflecting quite a bit lately on some of my stories. The one where music transformed my life - a favorite among the ones I most frequently repeat - has, in particular, received a great deal of recent scrutiny. Examined any of your stories carefully lately?

The details of that story have been truthful. At the time it did feel like the short drum break in He's So Fine, the harmonies in Surfer Girl and If I Fell, the energy of She's Not There and You Really Got Me all grabbed me at a molecular level. At the urging of a talented middle school friend who was starting a band, I did start playing the drums and singing at thirteen. I did begin making money playing music soon after and have been doing so ever since.  

But of late, my story has begun sounding a little inauthentic to my ears. I'm recalling the younger Pat who was more seduced by music than he was transformed by it. He wanted things from music like glamour, excitement, notoriety. He gave no thought to what he could contribute to the art form and he didn't work hard enough at it to earn the rewards. Transformed now rings hollow to the older Pat.

Though being seduced by music may not be as profound as being transformed by music, it is more accurate. And it's also accurate to say that music continues to sustain me in ways that are difficult to measure. That part of my story remains wholly intact.      

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

A Few Questions For List Makers

Lists can be useful to help us remember stuff. In honest moments, some list makers - like me - will confess to deriving some satisfaction when crossing items off a list. And when a list can be tossed because everything on it has been accomplished? That actually can be a mild triumph.

Unfortunately, lists have a way of sometimes evolving. As soon one of my lists expands to include a goal, it's likely that list will be with me for a long time, unless the goal is modest. A similar result follows when any list ends up including one of my projects. Although I try to guard against putting goals, projects, or worst of all - missions - onto any of my lists, often as not, one of those somehow ends up finding their way there. When any list expands in this fashion, crossing items off gets much harder. The chances of tossing a list like that? Slim.

Now, instead of a mild triumph, I've got myself a mild burden. Sane people would likely coach me to stop making any lists. Reasonable advice. List makers on the bell curve: Tried going cold turkey? How long did you last? How much did you miss the moments of satisfaction and that occasional mild triumph? What was the first list you made after falling off the wagon? Mine could be a list of people who gave me that reasonable advice. Probably would be wise to avoid speaking with those folks for a while.      

Monday, July 1, 2019

An Elevating Conspiracy

For as long as I can remember, New York Times book critics have frequently helped me decide who and what to read and who and what to skip. When a Times critic I respect gives an author high marks I pay as much attention as I do when one of my reading posse recommends a book to me. When the unassailable Michiko Kakutani raved about Kate Atkinson in 2013 in the Times, Atkinson's name was added to my "must read" author list. Then my reading universe conspired in two additional ways:

 * I made a pledge last November to read only authors new to me for the next year.
 * I received a Kate Atkinson novel - Behind the Scenes at the Museum (1995) - as a gift.

"Tina contained more light in her than most people." Atkinson's prose is luminous throughout this multi-generational tale. The architecture she constructs to tell her tale is startling yet wholly organic. In Chapter Ten - entitled Wedding Bells, 1966 -  Atkinson somehow manages to be hysterically funny, mordantly sad, surprising and predictable. I can't recall another instance of an author pulling off that hat trick.

I've rammed through plenty of bestselling page-turners in my reading life. I fully recognize the skill it takes to write that  kind of book. But as Act Three of my life continues, I suspect I'll continue to rely more on the sage guidance those smart New York Times critics have long provided me than I will on bestseller lists. And, I'll be returning to authors like Atkinson; her command of her craft elevates me as a reader. Life After Life will be my next adventure with this gifted author - after November 23, of course. Have you read it? Anything else by her? Can we talk?