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Monday, October 28, 2019

Dumping The Dubious

Although enduring Some Kind Of Monster will probably not be the last two hours I waste in whatever time remains of my life, I am on guard: Music documentaries - at least the ones about bands, anyway - have now joined historical fiction (except for the remaining novels I've yet to read by EL Doctorow) on a short list of things to largely avoid in the future.

Have you tortured yourself watching this execrable film? I hope not. But if, unlike me, you're a fan of Metallica - a fact that could logically tempt you to squander one hundred twenty precious minutes  - allow this promiscuous, now chastened, movie nut to suggest you also watch Rob Reiner's 1984 debut This Is Spinal Tap. Reiner's film is, mercifully, much shorter than the Metallica Monster Mess.

If you watch Spinal Tap before Monster, have fun smirking at the subsequent whining on endless display in Monster. Alternatively, if you decide to watch Monster first, be sure you're not eating or drinking when you later watch Spinal Tap - there's some danger you could choke on your food while laughing. Less seriously, you could douse anyone nearby with whatever you're drinking.

Is it too soon to hope that Some Kind Of Monster has persuaded me to surrender my indiscriminate movie jones? Care to join me in dumping something similarly dubious from your life?

Friday, October 25, 2019

Come Together

Ever since reading the liner notes on Joni Mitchell's 1979 album entitled Mingus, I've trained myself to pay closer attention to what she calls "coincidences that thrill my imagination." The way I see it, if these little frissons tickle Joni's muse, keying into the coincidences in my life could help enhance my creativity. How could it hurt?

And so it came to pass a few days ago that I had my most significant breakthrough on guitar in years. Playing Am I Blue - a musical gem from the early 20th century - several techniques I've been working on for five years all fell into place. In the midst of my solitary rapture, I happened to glance at the clock. It was 10:23 a.m. on 10/23.

When did you last have a similar experience, i.e. a date and time converging as magic occurred in your life? I'm still buzzing.

P.S. A shout-out to Bette Midler is in order. My first exposure to Am I Blue was hearing it on Bette's 1972 debut album The Divine Miss M. I owe you, Bette.    

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The Risk Of Political Complacency

Had I known what the next three years would be like, rather than wasting my time writing and then publishing a post as frisky as this on October 22, 2016 ...

https://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2016/10/is-ouija-moving-toward-c-or-t.html

 … I would have instead spent the time just prior to the presidential election helping get out the vote in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin. Anything that might have mitigated what occurred a few short weeks later. My glib attitude three years ago today shames me.

After re-reading it - part of a longstanding pledge to re-visit older reflections from time to time (and encouraging you to try the same using your journals) - I considered deleting that post from my blog archives. But I hope retaining this painful reminder will help me keep future political complacency at bay.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Kindness Over Everything

Kindness over everything.

Reading those three words on the shirt of a little girl while waiting in line at my local convenience store, I was so overcome I almost didn't say anything to the adult standing by her side. I was sincerely worried that if I spoke at that moment, I would inexplicably break down in public, running the risk of both scaring the girl and embarrassing myself.

But, following a few deep breaths, I told the adult how moved I was by the simple message that shirt conveyed. The little girl heard me and smiled. And I made my getaway before melting down.

Imagine the world we could live in if each of us took those three words to heart even for just a few hours every day.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Celebrating Lessons Learned

With my 70th birthday looming, I guess it's predictable some of my recent reflections have revolved around lessons all these years have taught me. And I also suspect I'm like many other people in that sometimes it's easier to berate myself for mistakes made vs. acknowledging ways I've grown.

So, why not join me today - milestone birthday approaching or not - and celebrate your growth? My lessons learned are grouped by adult decades but please use any framework that makes sense to you.

In my 20s, I learned to be more discriminating in my reading choices. My clearest memories in this regard involve a musician friend with a massive home library that inspired me and the influence of my two sisters, the charter members of my reading posse.

In my 30s, I learned about making wiser dietary decisions. When a job with an expense account led me to order dessert at lunch & dinner - and my waistline began expanding accordingly - I decided some changes were in order. Beer also stopped being a major food group for me during that decade.

In my 40s, I learned ways to better navigate and maintain relationships. I wanted my new daughter to have a father who got along better with others. My wife had always been an excellent role model for me to emulate in this domain. Starting a meditation practice and regular journaling also helped.

In my 50s, I learned how to appreciate my musical side. Although I'd been a musician since thirteen, I never really fully understood what it meant to be musical until I began regularly teaching guitar to others. Therapy and a patient guitar teacher were also invaluable to me in this part of my journey.

In my 60s, I've learned there can never be too many ways to tap into creativity. This blog, my reading journals, my social justice work with Beyond Diversity, my adult education classes on music, my writing groups - each contribute to the creative churn that keeps my muse on high alert.

Won't you please celebrate with me and share your growth stories? I'm looking forward to updating this post in ten years when the lesson(s) of my 70s become clear to me. See you then.    

Thursday, October 17, 2019

What Friendship Really Looks Like

How do you show your friends how much they matter to you?

Try imagining the following: A friend you've known your whole life has been imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. He spends almost thirty years on death row before being fully exonerated by the United States Supreme Court. You visit him every week, without fail, for those thirty years.

Prior to reading Anthony Ray Hinton's memoir - The Sun Does Shine (2018) - I'd always thought of myself as a dedicated friend. But Hinton's childhood friend Lester Bailey, who never missed a single visiting day at Holman State Prison during Hinton's unimaginable nightmare, demonstrates what true friendship really looks like. 

Learning of Hinton's otherworldly grace and Lester Bailey's unfailing dedication while reading this book was humbling. But the story would not have had a happy ending if not for the legal brilliance and unwavering advocacy of the Equal Justice Initiative, the brainchild of author, lawyer, and social justice wunderkind Bryan Stevenson, who also wrote the moving forward to The Sun Does Shine. 

(Final mention must go to Lara Love Hardin who assisted Hinton in telling his story.)    

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The Gift Of A Lifetime

In my experience, stories of estranged siblings are fairly commonplace. It's probably no surprise that many of the stories I've heard often involve money. How consistent is this with your experience?

Although I seem to be taken aback each time I hear about siblings who have had a falling out or have drifted apart - for many reasons - I try to suppress my surprise and sadness. Though my befuddlement is more difficult to conceal when sordid money stories surface, that too gets supplanted by gratitude when I consider my story.

Given his lack of education and steady but unremarkable work history, neither I nor my brother and  sisters had any expectation about an inheritance when Dad died in 1997. We were then surprised to learn of a small estate to be equally divided between us four. At the time I fully expected - as executor - some further questions about Dad's will. I was never asked a single question. Their complete trust in me during this painful period in our lives was the most gracious gift the three of them have ever given to me, a gift I will never forget.

Recently listening to another heartbreaking sibling story, those difficult months twenty two years ago returned to me. How fortunate I am.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Growth Facilitated Via Writing

Since the inception of this blog in March 2011, there have been just a handful of dates - like today - where I've published a post every year. I've indulged myself on that handful of dates by re-reading the previous posts, primarily to see what might have shifted for me over the ensuing years. If you keep a journal of any kind, why not join me in this harmless, albeit self-referential, exercise? After doing so, if you discover a shift or uncover an insight you captured on a previous October 13 that you have since forgotten, please share that shift or insight here. If you're uncomfortable doing that, communicate with me offline. Either way, I'm interested.

https://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2011/10/words-that-can-haunt-me-part-5-risk.html

Eight years later, the word risk does not haunt me nearly as much. And my improved relationship with risk has everything to do with this blog. Continually declaring my goals publicly here, and then  having others periodically remind me of those goals, has had an effect in other domains of my life. For example, in 2017 I took a financial risk that would have been unthinkable for me on October 13, 2011.

I'm confident I'll face risk even more squarely in the future than I do now. I didn't know it then but my progress with this fraught word began soon after publishing the post above. Yet another example of growth facilitated via writing.  

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Crabby Covers: A Musical

When listening to a musician perform a song they did not compose, can you readily identify what draws you to their interpretation of that song? Or, is it a little easier to pinpoint what is not working for you when someone covers someone else's material?

I enjoy both radical re-imaginings of songs - e.g. Joe Cocker's take on the Beatles song With A Little Help From My Friends -  as well as slavish re-makes like Simply Red's version of If You Don't Know Me By Now, a Leon Gamble & Kenny Huff composition first recorded by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes. Both work for me in a big way because each feels true to the essence of the original.

On the other hand, what plausible explanation could be offered for skipping a significant chunk of a lyric like Prince did in his version of Joni Mitchell's A Case Of You? I suppose the purple one - BTW, someone whose original music I like a great deal - could be forgiven had he chosen to cover a song by a lesser lyricist, like say, Steve Miller (he of the infamous taxes vs. Texas not-even-close-to-rhyming couplet). But if you're going to do a Joni Mitchell or Paul Simon or Stephen Sondheim song, is it too much to ask for a cover to include a majority of the original lyric? After all, A Case Of You isn't even close to being as lyrically dense as the average Dylan or early Bruce Springsteen song.

Though I've got plenty of other examples why some covers work for me and why others annoy the hell out of me, I'm keeping them to myself until I hear from at least a few of you.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Gifts From Friends

Tomorrow, when we rendezvous with five other couples we met on our first Road Scholar trip to Alaska in 2015, it will be the fifth year in a row we've vacationed with these folks. And though four others from our original group of sixteen cannot join us for the week we'll be spending on Florida's Amelia Island, three new people - friends of my new friends - are joining our fold this year.

For weeks, my energy has been surging as the time I'll be spending with these later-in-life soulmates has approached. Then an opening lyric and a melody came to me simultaneously ("It began in Alaska in 2015; a discussion, perhaps, of some places we've seen?" ) From there, I was further energized by the creative challenge of completing a song recounting some of our shared history.

At nine stanzas long, Ballad for Scholars on the Road far exceeds the average length of a reflection from this bell curve. Anyway, most of it would probably be of little interest to anyone aside from the sixteen folks (+ the new three) mentioned therein. No matter; I hope some new people in your life have given you at least one of the gifts these people have given to me - inspiration, energy, joy.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Nothing To Envy

Reading about the North Korean defectors in Nothing To Envy (2010), my mind kept searching for an adequate and fresh way to describe their plight. And although author Barbara Demick is too talented to fall back on that stale "triumph of the human spirit" tripe, that's the best this less skilled writer can summon this moment. From the late 70s to the present, North Koreans have endured hardship that reads like science fiction.

Like many first-rate non-fiction books, Demick's harrowing oral history of six "...ordinary lives..." is something I probably would not have picked on my own - a trusted reader recommended it to me. I also wouldn't describe it as a pleasant reading experience. But, each time I do read something like this - provided the author, like Demick, has worked assiduously at their craft - I try to learn a bit more about what it really means to be resilient. The obstacles we encounter daily in our privileged lives are so puny compared to what is described in Nothing To Envy. I yearn to be more consistently successful retaining this perspective in the future when faced with a minor, laughable inconvenience.

Strong and compelling, start to finish, Demick really hit her stride in Chapter 14, entitled The River. The defection scene in that chapter was perfectly modulated - tense, without being capital "D" dramatic; inspiring without ever crossing into mushy-land. If any of you decide to read this book, please share your impressions with me. You can do so with a comment here so others will know your thoughts, or write something offline to me if you're hesitant about being "public" with your thoughts. Either way, I'm curious to hear from you.