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Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Best Of 2019

Although I still haven't fully recovered from the shock of turning seventy in November, 2019 was a stellar year. Why not join me and share with others some of your highlights from this year? Use my categories or invent your own. I promise you doing this will be good for your soul.

Best surprise, best party, best musical moments: The surprise birthday party my wife and daughter threw for me was so special I never had a chance to feel sorry for myself. The live music? Epic!

Best time away: Our time in Greece at my daughter's best friend's destination wedding was magic end-to-end.

Best book club meeting:  Discussing Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This book was the catalyst for one of the few civil conversations about race I can ever recall having with a group of white people. Even though what some of us took from the book was not aligned with what others took, everyone left the discussion feeling heard.

Best family event (not counting my surprise party):  My youngest niece's wedding in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Best gifthttps://patrickbarton.bandcamp.com/releases

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Til There Were Two

https://patrickbarton.bandcamp.com/releases

Thanks to everyone who has asked me about the recording project I first mentioned here some years back featuring my daughter singing eight of my songs. If you click the link above you'll be taken to a website called bandcamp where those songs now reside. Anyone who would like an actual CD just let me know via a comment here or an offline e-mail and I'll get one to you. FYI, the song sequencing on the CD is different than the one on bandcamp.

The inordinate delay between first cryptic mention of the project and today's anti-climactic finale? A nasty stew of technology-enabled procrastination, ill-conceived paranoia about intellectual property, and old-fashioned creative fear which then morphed into semi-paralysis. Though what you'll now be able to hear was finished in late 2017, without my wife and daughter acting as midwives, all of this would have languished indefinitely as MP-3 files on this laptop.

I'm scared, excited, doubtful, hopeful, disappointed, proud. And that's just in the past ten seconds.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Cattywampus, You Say?

Among the by-products of being known to others as a word nerd, the most ostensibly benign one I've discovered to this point is the effort some folks put into uncovering words they hope will be new to me. Other word nerds out there: Does this happen to you? How often do you learn a new word this way? And, what percentage of the words you learn this way do you find useful?

At present, there are two people I see regularly who work assiduously at helping me keep my word saw sharp. At least, that's what I hope they're both doing. Someone more suspicious or cynical than I might just as easily conclude the two are either testing, taunting, or trying to torment me. I prefer to remain positive about their motives, especially since my estimate of the useful words I've gotten from both of them is greater than fifty percent. Aside from those two, there are outliers in my word life that appear now and then. The motives of those renegades? Harder to discern, suspicion and cynicism notwithstanding. 

Which brings me to cattywampus. When a gem like this is still not recognized by Spellcheck, I'm obligated to exercise a little restraint, no matter how much I love it (which I do). Until Christmas Eve, I'd never heard this mouthful said aloud; I've never seen it in print. It's a synonym for askew. But I'll be careful about casually tossing it around for a while, because in my experience, usefulness of any word is directly linked to its "What the hell did you just say?" factor. For now, I'll stick to amiss, askew, or awry, the latter being one of the most mispronounced words in the English language. Each of those substitutes has a meager two syllables, compared to the whopping four in cattywampus, but we word nerds must be circumspect to retain the loyalty of our testing, taunting, tormenting minions.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Reading Re-Cap: 2019

Decided the headings I invented in 2018 for this newest series did not need altering. But feel free to change any that don't work for you when you re-cap your reading year to share with others. And yes, I know there are still nine reading days left. So I reserve the right to replace any selection here should anything I finish over what remains of 2019 usurp any book noted, given these headings.

Novel most likely to be recommended to casual readers: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine (2017) by Gail Honeyman. My choice of the adjective "casual" is purposeful not snarky. I liked this popular novel because aside from being accessible and funny, it's also well written and wise.

Novel most likely to be recommended to discerning readers: The Sellout (2015) by Paul Beatty. No novel I finished in 2019 even approximates the wallop this provocative powerhouse delivered. Even during passages when I was unsure what the author was getting at, his incendiary prose scorched me.

Novel and non-fiction book that most deepened my experience of living: There There (2018) by Tommy Orange and Black Man In A White Coat (2015) by Damon Tweedy.

Most worthwhile re-read: Poisonwood Bible (1998) by Barbara Kingsolver.

Most intriguing: The Gatekeepers (2017) by Chris Whipple. Probably because most of the names were familiar to me, this book - about the impact a Chief of Staff can have on a President - was fascinating end-to-end. And I'm not a political junkie.

Most personally useful:  Asked to select just one book I would not want to have missed reading this past year, Sapiens (2015) by Yuval Noah Harari - subtitled A Brief History of Humankind - would be the hands-down winner.

I hope you'll share your 2019 selections - regardless of publication date - with me and others. If need be, add anything you finish over the next ten days. I might.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Rescued Again

For any readers who treasure books, I hope you get to interact as regularly as I do with other readers. I am certain the regular interaction I've had with other readers over the past ten years - often in book clubs - has made me a more discerning reader. 

I've always been fortunate. Both my sisters, my wife, all four of my nieces, and my daughter are all avid readers. But our conversations about books don't often occur close in time to when one or more of us have finished a shared book. As a consequence, those conversations sometimes aren't as nuanced as the type that happen when a book being discussed is fresh in the mind of two or more people. I've gotten spoiled.

And as a sentence lover, my pleasure is amplified almost every time I discuss a book recently read with someone.  Almost without exception, other people unearth gems that might otherwise have escaped me. I love when that happens. Most recent example: From an enriching discussion of Old School (2003), Tobias Wolff's luminous first novel  - "Make no mistake, he said: a true piece of writing is a dangerous thing. It can change your life." Thanks to a fellow reader and good friendI didn't miss that. What was a recent instance when a careful reader came to your rescue? 

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Can This Be Right? The McGaughran Iteration

https://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2016/06/so-thats-how-this-can-be-right.html

Isn't it annoying when someone pulls a Sinatra? On 6/14/16 I declared Can This Be Right? -  a blog series started five years earlier - had run its course and was being retired just like Ol Blue Eyes claimed he was doing perhaps a dozen times. But a recent conversation with another language geek (married to a word nerd - lucky guy!) persuaded me to revive my moribund series once more. The deal was sealed when - 1.) my new word soulmate told me to eschew obfuscation; 2.) he cited the word enervated - a gem I'd already used in Can This Be Right? - to test me. Would I be offended if he described our conversation thus? and; 3.) followed up our recondite talk by mailing me a letter (!) containing several esoteric words I'd not considered over the eight iterations of my beloved series. How could I resist such erudition, delivered via snail mail?

For the uninitiated, I posit the following three words - like all that have preceded them in my august series - have meanings that many people would not guess because the words simply sound like they mean something entirely different. Doubt any of the entries in what I call the McGaughran Iteration of Can This Be Right? Try an experiment. Use any of these in a sentence correctly and see if others don't question you about your use of the word.

fungible: being of such a nature or kind as to be freely exchangeable or replaceable for another of like nature or kind. Huh? Can this be right? I'd bet even money that no one would correct you if you told them they had something fungible stuck in their teeth that was grossing you out.

miasma: a dangerous, foreboding or deathlike influence or atmosphere. This one belongs in the same league as prosaic. That is, I'd wager people might be flattered if you said their conversation was prosaic and their home had a certain miasma, even though you'd be insulting them, twice.  

noisome: offensive or disgusting, as an odor. I dare you. The next time someone passes gas, try telling them how noisome they are. What do you bet me they ask - "You heard that? Sorry!"   

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Two To Zero (So Far)

What film scenes are permanently etched into your brain?

Last night I was riveted watching Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story, an excellent film, start to finish. But as good as it was, the extended scene near the end - featuring just Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansen - will always stand out. The acting, writing, and directing are equally masterful. The burn is slow as the recriminations between husband and wife grow more vile. Though I wasn't sure how the scene would end, I'll never forget it.

For me, no American writer/director working in film today is as skilled at depicting the fault lines of marriage than Noah Baumbach. Recently re-watching The Squid and the Whale I noticed how subtly Baumbach's script revealed fissures in that marriage, a less volatile couple than the one portrayed in Marriage Story. It also seemed appropriate to me that Baumbach used a lighter director's touch in his earlier film working with Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney. There was no climactic scene in The Squid and the Whale like the one in Marriage Story. Given the entropy of the marriage depicted in Squid, fireworks would have seemed out of place.

Considering my movie jones, I suspect regular readers won't be surprised to learn that exactly three years ago today, a scene from Manchester By The Sea hit me just as hard as the one from Marriage Story. So, now you've got two of mine. Your turn.  

https://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2016/12/recovery.html

Monday, December 9, 2019

My Acknowledgments Page

With 2019 nearing its end and this blog fast approaching the start of its tenth year, it occurred to me today that it's been too long since I said thank you to anyone who has ever taken the time to support me here. I appreciate every person - known to me personally or not - who has read even a single post, commented - publicly or offline - or spoken to me about what I've written here, or "liked" any of the irregular posts I put on my Facebook wall. Without regular, however infrequent, feedback from you I might have stopped long ago. I write because I must but without your support it would be difficult to continue.

That said, there's a tiny subset of readers, most known to me, who have been uber-supportive. To those folks: Pretend that what follows is the acknowledgment page found in many books. I'll pretend - briefly - that I'm an author and my 1805 published posts are a book you've immeasurably enhanced because you've read so much of it and given me valuable feedback. I'm sure I've forgotten someone who has gone above and beyond so, in advance, please forgive me. (Initials used below instead of names to protect privacy.)

Special thanks to: IA, PA, AB, SB, RC, CJ, DM, JM, LM (nee LC), KR.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Not That Story Again!

What is a reasonable number of stories any partner in a relationship should be able to re-tell, no matter how many times their partner has heard them? How about one story for each year the partnership has existed?

I'm guessing my wife will object to me having 41 stories I could re-tell indefinitely. Come to think of it, I'm tired of several of hers as well and 41 is a big number. So how about one story that can be told in perpetuity for each decade a partnership has been together? That would limit each of us to 4 stories apiece. Not bad, even if I do think my stories are better. Since I'm 4+ years older I think I also deserve at least one more story for my seniority. But .. How about for partnerships under 10 years in duration? I need your help there.

Next questions: Who gets to choose which stories get told - teller or pained listener? In our case, maybe I pick 3 of mine (+ 1 more for my seniority) and she gets to pick my fifth. Then she picks 3 of her own and I pick #4. That seems fair, right? Do all the stories have to be from the time period since we've been together or do we each get 1 or more that pre-dates the partnership?

Last: Should there be such a thing as an expiration date on any story? How old must that story be? For my wife and I this is not a major problem; some of our stories are now so old we have trouble remembering them anyway. And the really old ones have changed so much, they're new now.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

New Jersey's Achilles Heel

What is your favorite thing about living in your home state? Least favorite?

Aside from living in LA for a few months as a young adult, I've been a resident of New Jersey my whole life. I'm quite happy this has been the case which makes picking one favorite thing difficult. The diversity of the people who live here, the fact that I can hike or ski on (admittedly small-ish) mountains as easily as I can get to the ocean, the great public schools, and the Pinelands top my long list.

Identifying a least favorite thing is much easier. The time I'm most reminded of New Jersey's Achilles heel is on the infrequent occasions when I'm driving somewhere on Sunday morning. When the roads are easy to navigate - as they are on Sunday morning - it's hard to avoid thinking how nice it would be to live without the stress of New Jersey traffic. I realize traffic goes with high population density, i.e. New Jersey. So sometimes when driving on Sunday morning I've fantasized about living in a state with low population density - Idaho, North Dakota, Wyoming. I suspect even in the big cities of states like those, New Jersey's Sunday morning driving conditions are not an unusual occurrence.

The chances of me ever moving to any of the three I mentioned - as well as another two dozen "not on your life" states - are slim to none. Better than even money I'll remain in my beloved home state - traffic or not - unless my only child re-locates. If that happens, I could be persuaded to leave Jersey traffic behind. But, given my daughter's current vocation, her only other viable work market, aside from New York, is the Los Angeles area. I know from personal experience the traffic there can be as horrendous as New Jersey's. Is traffic my destiny? There are certainly worse things.