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Sunday, September 29, 2019

Can I Get A Do Over?

For the large majority of my full time work life, I was responsible for supervising others. And I'm speaking of real supervision, which includes doing performance assessments. Because until you've sat eye-to-eye with another adult to review the ways a job performance needs to be improved, you may have had a supervisory title but you've never really been tested. I directly supervised people in the private sector, the public sector, and in my own business.

Because I've been happily out of the supervisory game for almost ten years now, I've had a lot of time to reflect on those years of supervising. I had some success, worked hard at learning how to do better via formal and informal education, tried to be fair and treat people equitably. But because everyone is supervised - including people who themselves supervise - my reflections on my own performance as a supervisor have frequently ended with comparing how I did that job vs. the people who supervised me, i.e. those who were responsible for doing my performance assessments. And those comparisons often make me long for a do-over.

There were a few things my best supervisors did consistently that I didn't do with those I supervised, or, at least, I didn't do these things consistently:

* They largely let go of details, focusing more on the big picture.
* They were careful with their constructive criticism, i.e. they were honest yet tactful.
* Their egos were not easily threatened.

If you are or have ever been a supervisor, how do you think you stack up against the best supervisors you've had? What do they do well that you don't do as well? If you aspire to being a supervisor, my suggestion is to not wait until you're in the position before you begin thinking about the ways you can be effective in that role. May prevent you from longing for a do-over a half-century from now.

Friday, September 27, 2019

An Unimaginable World

Although Danny Boyle's current movie Yesterday disappointed this Beatles geek, I recently flashed on it when my writers group asked me for a prompt. Boyle's film in mind, I suggested we all write about a favorite Beatles song. Imagine my dismay when I was asked to provide examples of songs!

The last time I experienced a shock as severe to my sensitive music-began-with-the-Beatles system was several years ago. On that fateful day, I began one of my music courses - wordlessly - by playing just the chord that opens A Hard Day's Night. Scanning the room of ostensible music enthusiasts, I was chastened to detect only a faint glimmer of recognition and not much enthusiasm. Did I learn a lesson when the shimmering chord that rocked my world did not appear to rock the world of my students? Apparently, I did not.

Which brings me back to the silver cloud of inspiration emerging from the disheartening realization that I was the sole Beatles fan in my writers group. Directly below are three brief paragraphs. Each  contains only Beatles' song titles - with no filler words - concatenated to create a short but cohesive narrative. My first experiment with this model was in two posts entitled The Song Is You (Jerome Kern), published a year apart in June 2013 & 2014. In this third iteration, I've used only Beatles songs as a nod to Danny Boyle. His central premise in Yesterday - a world without the musical magic of the Beatles being unimaginable - is a sentiment at least he and I share. I'd welcome reading any attempt you might make at constructing a narrative using song titles. Mix them up like I did in 2013 & 2014. Or, use just the song titles of a favorite artist or band. Either way, you'll have some fun living inside  music for a while.


I want to tell you something. I've got a feeling all you need is love. I will help.

Hold me tight because do you want to know a secret? Tomorrow never knows. Yesterday, the night before? Let it be. Things we said today? A day in the life; we can work it out.

I need you, what you're doing, in my life. Wait; it won't be long - every little thing getting better.  Anytime at all, when I get home, I'm happy just to dance with you.

The End.


https://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-song-is-you.html

https://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2014/06/the-song-is-you-reprise.html

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

That "I" Word

Ever notice the word you'll often use when someone says something that doesn't interest you at all is "interesting"? Pay closer attention to how many times you mindlessly utter that word, and how others unthinkingly say the same when you speak. I realize small talk serves a useful social purpose. At the same time, our ubiquitous use of the word interesting in fact reveals how totally uninteresting small talk really is.

Although tempted to scream "dull!" when someone's small talk is lulling me into a coma, so far, I've avoided doing that; my mother would be proud. But, lately I've also been avoiding reflexively saying "interesting" in those harmless conversational situations. I've switched to a non-committal  "huh" or an equally unthreatening nod or shoulder shrug,  meant to convey -  dishonestly - that I'm still paying attention.

I hear you out there - "Interesting, Pat." Translation of interesting this time = Get to the point. OK, the reason I've been reflecting on this and putting more effort into reducing my use of the "I" word when trapped in a small talk web is my concern that that meaningless word could find a way to sneak into conversations where it doesn't belong. I do not want to hear myself say "interesting" when offensive or insensitive statements are made or when an alternative fact is offered when a challenge or even a mild admonishment would be more appropriate.  And, more important, I want to be paying closer attention to the words others use when responding to me in any conversation transcending the weather, the latest Twitter battle, what someone had for dinner last night. In any non-small-talk conversation, I'm now on high alert if I speak and someone says "interesting."

Sunday, September 22, 2019

My Debt To The Future

Although I know it's pathetically naïve, young people around the world trying to make their voices heard about the issue of climate change this past Friday has given me some hope.

Of the signs I saw on Friday at an event in Red Bank, the one being held by a ten-year old that said "Respect Our Future" was the most powerful and the most heartbreaking. That sign prompted me to imagine a conversation with my future grandchildren should they ask me what action I took to draw attention to climate change. If you're already a grandparent, how would you answer?

Given the overwhelming scientific evidence, what reasonable explanation can any world leader offer for continuing inaction to begin addressing this crisis? My concern deepens with every article I read, every podcast I listen to, every rally I attend. But I'm committed to continuing to do the little I can and hopefully influence the small network of people in my life to do the same. I owe that much to the future.

https://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2015/09/awaking-my-activism.html

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Beware: Runaway Adverbs Ahead

"When I wake up the dreams seem boringly predictable, but when I'm inside them they are terrifyingly - or orgasmically real." 

I'm guessing even an attentive reader might not notice a writer artless enough to use three adverbs in a sentence of nineteen words. But if you're going to write a groaner like the one above - and worse, your editor doesn't lunge for their red pen - at least make sure all three adverbs clear Spellcheck!

The crude clichés were unleashed early in this 2012 bestseller. Somewhere around page fifty "mental masturbation" gracelessly appeared; still more than two hundred fifty pages left. I distracted myself temporarily by reading the gushing blurbs on the back cover and wondered: Did these other authors - some of whom I've enjoyed reading - really read this book? If so, are they perhaps related to the author of this novel stuffed with tired phrases and runaway adverbs?

Until I finish my own first book - not to mention find a publisher and then make the bestseller list - I remain committed to my pledge to not identify by title any book with prose like this one that makes me shudder. However, if the editor of my first book overlooks any stupefyingly puerile, breathlessly anecdotal, or orgasmically overwrought prose in my debut, I hope one of you will come to my rescue. I will be truly, deeply, and eternally grateful.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Money And That Shifting Line

I'm not proud admitting it, but watching Felicity Huffman get her public comeuppance is giving me a little schadenfreude-tinged satisfaction. Still, I also believe no one knows what they'd do in a given situation until they're faced with that situation. I'd like to think I'd have made different choices if I had Huffman's $$$. But having a daughter in show business and no nepotism mojo has often been a real drag. Claiming the moral high ground from a cheap seat like mine is as easy as it is intellectually lazy.
 
So, my schadenfreude-tinged satisfaction aside, I'm inclined to credit Huffman's tearful statements of contrition above anyone who asserts they would "never" do for their child anything like what she did for her daughter. Who is kidding who here?

Where is the line in the sand? I could afford to give my daughter music lessons, send her to England to study Shakespeare, get her a math tutor when she needed one. I was happy to do it and didn't give much thought to the advantages that gave her over children whose parents could not afford the same. I didn't pay someone to take SATs for her, bribe anyone to get her into a college she wasn't qualified to attend, lie about her athletic abilities. But, with Felicity Huffman's $$$, which other lines might I  have crossed to give my daughter even more advantages?

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Conspiring To Commit Beauty

"Music is a conspiracy to commit beauty." -  Jose Abreu

In a life filled with rich moments, I would estimate more than half those moments have involved music in some way. More than a half-century ago, I sat in front of my first drum set; the world just felt right. What has given you the kind of continuous joy music has given me?

And what a gift it has been being able to devote even more time to music since I stopped working full time almost ten years ago. I play guitar every day, teach guitar two days a week, develop and deliver music classes at colleges, libraries, etc., a wonderful addition to this domain of my life that requires me to read about and listen to music continually. I perform and jam whenever opportunities arise and compose even when my muse is stubborn. A few years ago - realizing a long-postponed goal - my daughter sang eight of my original songs and we completed a CD.

At nearly seventy, I'm grateful beyond measure to still be conspiring to commit beauty.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Being Purposeful With Adjectives

https://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2018/11/goal-for-year-69.html

I'm fast approaching the end of my one year resolution to read only authors new to me. Have any of you readers ever tried something like this for any period of time? Though it's been a bit harder than I anticipated, the joy I've derived discovering talented authors has made it worthwhile.

In his confident debut novel We Begin Our Ascent (2018), Joe Mongo Reid ushered me into the world of competitive cycling. The grueling rigor and moral compromises of cyclists competing in the Tour De France are framed by a wholly believable story of a young couple who are new parents trying to find their way. Reid's understated, muscular prose ably supports his solid narrative. I knew from the start this author would not disappoint.

"He gives an unsteady laugh, a laugh that suggests he is on the edge of some other emotion."

"I have worried about Liz being beguiled by Rafael, by his claustrophobic certainty..."

"We have given ourselves over to him, Liz and I, to this look of mild amusement at our plight." 

Each of those sentences reveal Reid's sure hand via his adjectives - unsteady, claustrophobic, mild. I have lost count how many books I've read with overcooked adjectives calling attention to themselves in bad sentences.

" ' So, here we are', she says". Using six one syllable words, the novel ambiguously concludes its tale, the elegance of those simple words meshing perfectly with the tone Reid established on page one.

Friday, September 6, 2019

I'm A Happy Man

www.roadscholar.org

Ever since being upbraided a few years back by someone who thought I was not-very-subtly bragging about my intellect, whenever mentioning my involvement with Road Scholar I now quickly interject "Not the smart people, the travel group that used to be called elder hostels." So, the website opening this post is for any reader who might have mistakenly - but understandably - mixed me up with Kris Kristofferson, Bill Clinton, Cory Booker.

Now that my wife is leading groups for Road Scholar (not the smart people, the travel group that used to be called elder hostels), I'm looking forward to joining her next week in the Adirondacks, her idea of heaven. And, if my last five years travelling with Road Scholar are an indication, the people in her group will be interesting, well read, stimulating company. Even though my time with them will be limited to meals, anticipating the conversations, book recommendations, and political camaraderie has me energized.

A week in the mountains with my wife - at least at mealtimes and later in the evening - my guitar, a bag of books, my bicycle, meeting new people. I'm a happy man.      

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Yeah, But ...

"Hey old-timer!"

Since being addressed in that fashion about a week ago, my brain and ego have been in a battle. My brain no sooner says "Face it, I am old", before my ego says "But I don't feel old."

Brain: "I'll be seventy in less than three months - that's old." Seconds later, the ego (via Hallmark) chimes in: "Seventy is just a number."

Ego: "I'll trim or get rid of the white beard." Brain: "My hair is almost as white."

Brain: "Who cares how old people think I look?"  Ego (Buddhist readers, mea culpa): "I do."

Ego: "What a rude thing for a stranger to say to me."  Brain: "Why the thin skin? Grow up!" 

Brain (via every self-help book ever published): "Every day upright beats the alternative." Ego: "Yeah, but …"