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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".

Thursday, January 30, 2020

The Land Of Ambition Overload

Being goal oriented has mostly served me well. What can complicate matters is my propensity for capturing those goals in writing. Case in point - the post directly below from seven years ago today. I'm sure you remember it.


See what I mean? Wait, you didn't click on the link and read it? OK, second chance; I'll wait.


Yeah, that 2013 project - even with a proposed end date of 2038 - was tossed into the "What the hell was I thinking when I committed to that?" bucket quite some time ago. But until re-reading my post, I'd conveniently forgotten my wild-eyed ambition. In fairness, I give myself credit for sincerely and dutifully starting the twenty-five year slog, but, all was lost when the reading partner who'd suggested our joint odyssey told me he hadn't even begun not long after I foolishly hit "publish" on my blog. Full disclosure: I was relieved but still let him feel guilty for his lassitude. Talk about taking the low road.

Care to join me in today's confession booth and own up to any long range projects or goals you've abandoned? Would be nice to have some company here in the land of ambition overload.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

A Year To Remember

In 2020, it appears I'll be away from home more than I have in forty-four years. Thankfully, my time away this year is by choice vs. 1976 when my work life as a musician had me on the road continually. What do you best remember about a year in your life when you were away from home a great deal? Was it work, pleasure, family obligations, or something else that took you away? What did you miss most about home?

The primary factor driving the uptick in travel this year is my wife's decision to let her longstanding business wind down and the added free time that gives us to indulge our wanderlust. For three weeks spread out over 2020, she'll be leading Road Scholar excursions in the Adirondacks - something she started last year - and I'll be tagging along on at least one of those with a bag of books and my guitar. 

But first, in early spring, will be our Southern States Swing, an extended road trip taking us to the last two States I've never visited - Alabama & Mississippi - as well as two more National Parks. In the fall we're re-uniting for the fifth time in Acadia National Park - one of our favorite places - with fourteen people we met in Alaska in 2015 on our first Road Scholar adventure.

Squeezed in between all that are some additional hiking and camping getaways but the capstone will be our trip to Peru late this year, our first time in South America. It's shaping up to be a year to remember.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Culling Two Herds

Soon after building wall-to-wall bookshelves in the house we moved to ten years ago, we resolved to toss an old book each time a new one was added to our bulging collection. Many of those old books had been moved several times. The herd needed culling. Easy, right? Bibliophiles - Ever tried culling your book herd? How successful have you been? For this bibliophile, this morning's culling got a little more complicated because ... 

My new book journal discipline - also started ten years ago - was accompanied by another resolution: If a book didn't move me, I was done with that author. Given the number of authors I have not yet read and the new ones vying for attention, culling this second herd could help maximize remaining reading time, no? Bibliophiles - How do you keep yourself sane given the number of authors you want to try? (Aside: My author culling also applies to those I've read before. If the next title I pick by an old favorite falls flat - back catalog or otherwise-  game over.) OK, two herds to cull and now today's dilemma.

What to do with unread books by authors who ... 1.) haven't disappointed but ... 2.) I'm not excited about returning to ... when new books need space? As I decided what to keep and what to toss, I realized which authors have strongly spoken to and remained with me. Three Junes (Julia Glass) stayed on the shelf because of A Widower's Tale as did Kent Haruf's Eventide (based on Plainsong) and A Hologram for the King (Dave Eggers) because of The Circle. Of the pile now in my trunk waiting to be donated to the library of leftovers at Meals on Wheels, only one title went without any angst from this bibliophile. As for all my LPs? Don't ask, please.           

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Humor Me, Please

Take a lifelong propensity for introspection, add an inordinate need for attention, combine those with the world's longest mid-life crisis and what have you got? A blogger who, since entering his eighth decade, has spent many precious hours reflecting on his remaining precious hours. 

As has been my wish beginning with the inception of this blog in March 2011, I'd welcome hearing how some of you reckon with the finite goon called time. At seventy and a few months, on my better days, three questions help me, sometimes.

The selfish one: How is doing this (whatever it is) adding value to my life?

The selfless one (this only on the really good days): How is doing this helping the world?

The in-between one: How is doing this enhancing a relationship that is important to me?

Anyone guessing that blogging fits best as an answer to my first question is using good logic but missing one critical piece of information. Add to the introspection, need for attention, and fifty year mid-life crisis, my towering egotism. Because, size of audience notwithstanding, there are rare days when I convince myself that devoting precious time to this blog is helping the world. Humor me.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

The Encouragement Ledger

One of the most precious gifts in the world to give another person is encouragement. Encouraging someone can help them cross a threshold they might not otherwise cross. - John O'Donohue

Which instance of someone encouraging you has been the most memorable? Would you say you've been as encouraging to others as people have been to you?

I've often reflected how my creative life could have been cut short had both my sisters not been so encouraging about my dreadful teenage poetry. Though I might have continued with other creative pursuits without their support, that encouragement was like oxygen. The best way I've devised to repay them is to treasure their words of encouragement far more than the discouraging words of the bozos who have sometimes been aboard my life's bus. 

And how have I done with encouraging others? My answer to that much harder question depends entirely on the kind of day I'm having. Today, thanks to a lovely email I just received from the parent of one of my former guitar students, I'm feeling good about my encouragement ledger. But my missteps in this domain are not a distant memory. Consequently, the quote opening this post - part of that same e-mail - is now taped to the front of this laptop to remind me of the work still to be done as well as how grateful I am to my sisters. 

Who was the last person who encouraged you? When was the last time you went out of your way to encourage someone else?

Friday, January 17, 2020

Book Club Report: Year Three

Thirty-three meetings; seventeen novels, sixteen books of non-fiction; lowest attendance at any meeting = four people, highest = thirteen. I'm reasonably sure that's enough on the three year stats.

The third full year of my book club was more satisfying than the second and the return rate for the end-of-the-year feedback sheet was better than in either of the first two years. To ensure the club remains vibrant, each year I implement at least one idea or book recommendation from those sheets. Which brings me to the first of 2019's highlights:

* I ceded my facilitator's hat for one meeting when the group discussed The Gatekeepers (2017) because that particular book (by Chris Whipple) was recommended by a club member on their 2018 feedback sheet who also said he'd be willing to facilitate. Was fun wearing a participant hat that night.

* Along with The Gatekeepers, the non-fiction winners in 2019 were David Grann's Killers of the Flower Moon (2017) - a book my wife has not stopped recommending to others since our discussion - and Between the World and Me (2015), which generated the most meaningful dialogue about race I've ever had with a group of white people. Thanks to author Ta-Nehisi Coates for that gift.

* Of the six novels we read in 2019, Barbara Kingsolver's 1998 masterwork Poisonwood Bible was arguably the most well received, although my bias may be showing there. One of the most intriguing conversations occurred when nine of us debated what Paul Auster was aiming for at the conclusion of his sometimes inscrutable novel called Invisible (2007). What a kick!

And 2020 is already off to a strong start thanks to a rich discussion about Alice McDermott's multi-generational tour-de-force The Ninth Hour (2017). I'm having so much fun.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Let He Who Is Without (Redux)

Warning: The following post is not recommended for recovering judgaholics. 

I know, the heart wants what it wants. Still, I wonder what some of you think - when you're not in a kind mood - when you see two people romantically involved who ...
* By any objective (OK, subjective) standard are just not in the same league in terms of attractiveness and ...
* Are widely disparate in age, like say, at least one full generational cohort apart and ...
* One of the two is very wealthy or very in the public eye or both and the other is neither.

I understand the impulse to get romantically involved when both people are very wealthy or very in the public eye or both. What befuddles me - again, in only my unkind moments (and no doubt I have these much more than any of the more evolved folks reading this) - is what exactly draws people like this together? So, let me pose my judging question in the kindest way I can for anyone brave enough to admit they've shared my befuddlement, but not my judging component, of course.

Imagine you've just seen one of these pairings on TV or in the newspaper and you're not feeling very kind. Which befuddles you more? The delusional vanity of the much older, either very wealthy or very much in the public eye (or both) but not terribly attractive person? Or ... the calculating avarice and/or sycophancy of the much younger, neither wealthy nor in the public eye, stunningly attractive person?

Forgive me Father for I have sinned.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Ooh Those Pearls

Although regular readers know it's not my habit to troll for salacious tidbits, before posing my opening question I'm obliged to inform infrequent and never-before readers that this blog is mostly a PG enterprise. In that PG spirit, inspired by a conversation with my wife after watching Butterfield 8 recently, I'm curious: What is your earliest memory of being a sexual person?

As someone with mostly blurry memories before adolescence - I rely on my sisters and brother to help me remember stuff  before that - my most vivid memory in this domain is seeing Natalie Wood in Love With A Proper Stranger.  I had just turned fourteen when Natalie made my skin tingle as she adjusted that pearl necklace in the mirror. I clearly recollect the way the neckline on her sleek black dress made me gasp. What first rattled you sexually in that way? How old were you?

I'm sorry to say my feelings for Natalie were not reciprocated, and tragically, never consummated. And, even if the necessary introductions had been made and Natalie had found me as charming as I fancied myself to be at fourteen, I had stiff competition for her affections. Her co-star in Love With A Proper Stranger was the coolest movie star of his era, Steve McQueen. How could this boy from Irvington hope to compete with one of the three surviving members of The Magnificent Seven? Surely Natalie would prefer someone who could sail over fences on a motorcycle as Steve did in The Great Escape. I hadn't even started on the guitar in late 1963 and Steve had already serenaded people in Baby The Rain Must Fall. Shit. But, ooh those pearls. I can still see those pearls.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Revisiting The Library Of Leftovers

Back in 2014, I began a process to sporadically re-visit blog posts from the same date three years earlier to see what might have shifted for me over the ensuing years. And I requested you join me by re-visiting any writing you may have done on that same date, in a journal or otherwise. Although not many of you have commented that you've tagged along with me on my retrospective pursuit, some days, like today, give me a lot to work with. On every January 8 from 2012 - eight years back - to 2017, I was reflecting on something and published, even when it might have been wise to resist doing so. How about you? What was on your mind on January 8 anywhere from 2017 to as far back as you have any written record? Anything catching you up short? 


So, given a weird preoccupation I've recently developed for organizing the library of leftovers at the Meals on Wheels location where I volunteer every Monday, re-reading my post above from January 8, 2016 reminds me how some habits die hard. Many of my spare minutes between kitchen tasks at Meals on Wheels these days are spent shuffling books, grouping them by author - in descending order of the number of titles for each - fiction vs. non-fiction, hardcover vs. paperback, ad nauseam. Given this odd quirk, after re-reading that four year old post, I felt strangely obliged to note James Patterson is in the top five in the library of leftovers at Meals on Wheels just as he was in that ski house. The other four authors occupying major shelf space at the ski house? MIA at Meals on Wheels. In their place, in descending order: Clive Cussler, John Grisham, Sidney Sheldon, Dale Brown. A total of nine mass market authors in the top slots of two libraries of leftovers. How many of the nine have you read anything by? Like any self-respecting book snob, I'm saving my answer to that question until at least one of you comes clean. I've already embarrassed myself here quite enough.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Helping Me Grow

Modern Love: True Stories of Love, Loss, & Redemption (2019) is a book that can change your life.

Editor Daniel Jones culled some of the best essays from the popular NY Times column sorting them into four themes. Several of my favorites fell into the group Jones titled Holding On Through The Curve, although it's possible my favorite essays and grouping will change when I re-read the book.

And I will re-read it and I'll be better for having done so. I've been reading Modern Love since its inception in 2004 and can't recall ever being disappointed or finishing an essay without learning something about either the human condition or myself.

I'm curious to know what you learn about yourself if you decide to read this wonderful collection. I learned that my partner of forty two years has helped me grow into someone more worthy of being loved.