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Monday, March 30, 2020

For Those With Spare Time (i.e. almost everybody)

How many languages - aside from English - would you guess are readily available for U.S. residents who will participate in the 2020 census? I'll provide that answer - which is easily located in the packet many of us recently received, issued by the Department of Commerce - but I've got more questions, none of which I would have gotten right, BTW.

OK, for the twelve languages aside from English, how many do you think you'd guess correctly? My conjecture - test this out with people you know - is that no one, even the most well-informed among us, will get more than nine of the twelve. I'll go a step further: The majority of us wouldn't correctly guess more than half. Go ahead, use the list and try out my theory. Though I'd welcome being proved wrong, I sincerely doubt that will be the case.

But, before you do look at the list - complete with a unique toll free number for each of the twelve on the reverse side - try this: How many of the twelve languages originated in Europe? On this, I'd wager an overwhelming majority would get the question wrong, but again, try it out with friends, family, and other socially distant folks. Try pitching it as a more worthwhile use of enforced at home time than endless YouTube clips and/or Tik-Tok. 

Last: Of the four languages that originated in Europe - five if you count Russian which is more in Asia than Europe - how many of those do you think you'd guess correctly? I saved the easiest for last although even here my bet is the majority of people would miss at least one of these four (or five) as well.

I'll guess what you're thinking: Pat has too much spare time. Here's the thing - Even if I weren't at home a lot these days like most of you, this stuff would still have fascinated me. I love how this census form embodies one of the strengths of the U.S. - our diversity. I hope you'll let me and others know how my conjectures hold up.       
 

Friday, March 27, 2020

Three And A Trailer To Check Out

Although this crisis has me a bit frayed around the edges, it has also allowed me to indulge my indiscriminate movie jones with less guilt. What films have you seen during this enforced isolation that you want to recommend to others? Use my three headings or invent your own.

Nicest surprise: As someone with no interest in cars or racing, and despite its Oscar nod, it's likely I would have skipped Ford Vs. Ferrari indefinitely. But being indoors more than usual combined with a $5.00 rental fee created the perfect storm. And I love being surprised by movies when the subject matter has little intrinsic interest for me. Aside from the acting of the two stars - uniformly first rate - Tracy Letts knocked it out of the park as Henry Ford II.

Most worthwhile re-watch: Watching Terry Gilliam's inventive Twelve Monkeys (1995) reminded me of two things: 1.) Why I've never been a Bruce Willis fan and ... 2.) Why Brad Pitt is one of the most under-rated actors of his generation. Gilliam's films are not for everyone; his movies can be dark and confusing. But the atmosphere he creates help his films stand apart. Not a dystopia geek? Skip Twelve Monkeys and proceed directly to The Fisher King. I'm still fantasizing about meeting Gilliam one day and turning him onto author Neil Gaiman's equally perverse imagination.

Sleeper (with bonus) to consider: It's dark like Twelve Monkeys, and a few scenes are graphically violent, but I'm confident saying I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore will surprise you in a wholly plausible way. I'm proud to say this low budget film with no huge names reminded me - in all the best ways - of the short my daughter and her writing partner are ready to submit to film festivals. The link directly below will take you to the trailer for that short, entitled Brown Bagger. If you watch it and are intrigued, write to me here or offline. If you're left blase, keep that to yourself.

https://www.facebook.com/alisonrbarton/videos/10215826222752039/

Monday, March 23, 2020

Essential

essential: absolutely necessary; indispensable.

What have you decided remains essential in the life you lead outside your home during these difficult times?

As this crisis continues, I suspect many of you, like me, have had to continually re-evaluate what activities outside of your home you deem essential. Procuring food would seem to be a universal, although I know someone who is physically capable of leaving home but will not do so nor ask an adult child to deliver food. How long a person making a similar decision will be able to manage is dependent on many variables, not least of which is how early on in the crisis that person decided to gather things essential to all of us.

This morning, before driving to the site, I was re-evaluating my commitment to continuing to assist the Meals on Wheels program as kitchen help. I reflected on the person who has decided not to leave home to procure food and contrasted that to the people that Meals on Wheels serves who cannot leave their homes. My re-evaluation process - for today at least - ended soon after.

Ten drivers - all volunteers like me - arrived to pick up meals for delivery on time. On my drive home - as I returned to re-evaluating this commitment outside my home - I noticed several liquor stores open for business. First thing I did arriving home was grab my dictionary and look up essential. 

Saturday, March 21, 2020

A Place Kicker To Be Named & Barbara Kingsolver

By now, even infrequent readers of my blog will have figured out my abiding passions and deduced that sports is not one of them. That has not dissuaded me from periodically pandering to any sports fan who might also peruse the blogosphere. There's little I wouldn't do to attract readers. And with each exquisite metaphor I shamelessly invent to bring sports fans into my ballpark, I grow more desperately hopeful. No reference or groanworthy pun is out of bounds while I grovel.

My best shot (see what I mean?) has always been to entice sports fans by finding common ground. Among other pathetic attempts, I've created an all star basketball team of authors - using the correct position to match literary strength - and I've developed a taxonomy equating baseball batting with quality-of-book equivalents - i.e. home run to looking at three strikes. Of the big three in American sports, the gridiron now beckons. Football fans: I'll trust you to forward this post to Tom Brady. And yes, I do know he's not a place kicker but I still get - ahem - points for knowing Brady's name, right?

For this reading snob, novelists fall broadly into one of three categories akin to the skills of place kickers. In ascending order:

The place kickers who can't be relied even for conversions (I never said I was ignorant of sports, just not a fan) are much like novelists who disappoint more than they deliver, i.e. readers are advised to steer clear of those duffers.

The place kickers who can be relied on to turn six into seven and are good for shorter field goals are much like those novelists who are good for a library drive-by, i.e. readers can do worse if up against the ropes.

The place kickers who are good for those record-breaking field goals - especially when it's fourth and twenty - are much like those novelists who rarely miss, i.e. readers are in very good hands - or should I say, they've got a leg up? - if they choose one of those folks. Since my practice is not to bash or even belittle any author until I finish my own first book, an example is provided only for this top tier - try Barbara Kingsolver, football fans and others. Which author is good for three points at forty five yards nearly every time with you?

https://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2012/05/attention-sports-fans.html

https://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2014/01/2nd-attempt-to-capture-sports-market.html


Thursday, March 19, 2020

Silver Linings

What have been some benefits social distancing has had on your life these past few days?

* With libraries closed and trips to book stores discouraged, I'm devouring stuff that's languished in my home library for a while. Who knows? If this goes on for a while, I may get to a long postponed  goal of reading the entire Dickens and Shakespeare collection I've owned since the late 1970s. Maybe I'll start a virtual book club to discuss those classics? Anyone?

* Been fun sharing some cooking duties - sous chef, mostly - with my wife. Full disclosure: I'm still going out every day for at least one cup of to-go coffee at WAWA. Some habits die hard, you know?
   
* Restorative walks on the beach, which beckon without pandemics, have become a good remedy for cabin fever. Although I rarely take this gift for granted, it's a clear benefit right now I'm especially grateful for.

I'd like to hear your silver linings. And I'm confident others would as well. I'll save the whining, which my wife has heard, for a blog post on a day I don't use Facebook.       

Sunday, March 15, 2020

"X" Marks The Spot

"Only connect": EM Forster

When I began this blog nine years ago today, I had one modest goal: to connect. Anything that might happen aside from connecting - whatever that connection looked like - would be a bonus.

As it turns out, all the unanticipated bonuses have been related to either my creative life or my sense of being meaningfully engaged in my life. I reflect regularly on the way writing this blog has helped me better maintain daily focus and how declaring a goal publicly here contributes to holding myself accountable for goals. The creative payoff for paying more attention to everything - conversations, relationships, passions - has been immeasurable. It's difficult to overstate how paying more attention - a clear bonus connected to the discipline of publishing this - has enhanced my life these nine years.

And the connections? Although I always yearn for more of those, the right ones manage to arrive at opportune times. Thanks to those of you who comment here, regularly or infrequently, known to me or anonymous. Thanks to the many folks who have commented offline, in whatever fashion. Thanks to the rare readers who stumble onto an old post and remind me of something I'd ranted about, riffed on, resolved to do. Reading those reminds me how some things stay the same as others things shift. As I start my tenth year, please continue to tell me the best way to stay connected to you. 

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Three Junes

If you'd asked me in late February - right after The Overstory kicked my ass - how soon I'd be ready to publish a post recommending another novel, I would have guessed a month or more. But Three Junes (2002) by Julia Glass, though more traditional and straightforward than The Overstory, is also worth your precious time. Both books, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award Winners respectively, make me yearn to be acquainted with the folks in the juries that make those choices. It's been a long time since a novel that earned one of those accolades has disappointed me.

Three Junes explores the inexhaustible terrain of family dynamics at the same time it examines the illusory nature of love. Using a classic three act structure spread out over a decade, the one nod at modernity is the way the narration starts in third person, then switches to first before finishing back in third. The prose shimmers from start -  " …clouds… each one as benign as a bridal veil" (p.5) to finish  - "The city comes into view, near and distant, haughty as Oz" (p. 350 of 353). The insights are abundant, sharp and wise - " … the acute self-consciousness we all feel, regardless of age or station in life, when anyone meets our parents."

And, optimist that I try to be, Glass's final sentence - with appropriate caveats given some of the sadness earlier in the novel - rang true for me: "Here we are - despite the delays, the confusions, and the shadows en route - at last, or for the moment, where we always intended to be."  


Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Outsized Gifts

It is perhaps axiomatic that we are most assisted in our development by the people with whom we spend the most time. The short list of people who have had the most impact on my development in many domains would be my parents, my siblings, and my partner of forty two years. I suspect many of you would have a similar short list.

But lately I've been reflecting on someone who has had a disproportionate impact on my development as a thinking person. I wonder: Have any of you had a similar experience in any domain of your development?

After our last interaction, I realized that though I've known him for almost thirty years, it's possible I've spent fewer than one hundred hours with him. Without much effort I could identify ten people - aside from my siblings and partner - I've known longer, and twenty others with whom I've spent a great deal more than one hundred hours. But it would take some real effort to identify someone who has enriched my thinking as much as he has in so few hours.

More than once, I've expressed my gratitude to him for the gift given to me. If you're as fortunate as I, when did you most recently acknowledge any outsized gift that has been bestowed on you? 

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Cascading Coincidences

https://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2015/03/scratching-itch.html

Several months ago, discussing memoirs at my book club, I told a member about Nina Sankovitch's luminous contribution to that form - Tolstoy and the Purple Chair. Sure I'd written at least one post about it, I searched my blog, planning to follow up and send whatever I uncovered to the person I'd raved to. Soon after finding and reading the post above, coincidence derailed me and I promptly forgot what I'd intended to do. I was struck by how peculiar it was that my post about that memoir also described an "...itch..." I didn't recall ever having - i.e. to facilitate discussions about books I've loved. How odd that my search itself was prompted by a conversation with someone from the book club I started in January 2017, a place where I now get to regularly scratch that itch.

This morning it got a bit more odd. Right after sending the monthly reminder for my club's upcoming meeting on Tuesday (An American Marriage by Tayari Jones), I recalled both the conversation about Tolstoy and my earlier intention. Only then did I notice that Scratching An Itch - the post I'd meant to send months ago - was published on March 8, 2015. Come on, exactly five years to the day is weird, no?

What if I'd happened to send the reminder about the book club meeting tomorrow instead of today and only then recalled my earlier intention to send Scratching An Inch to that person? Care to guess how far back the search engine on this site goes? Only five years. I know, I know; coincidence.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Conversation On The Southern States Swing

What do you most look forward to when planning a vacation with someone? As we get closer to our upcoming Southern States Swing, the amount of time my wife and I will have to converse as we drive is near the top of my list.

Over our forty-two years, I've been struck more than a few times at how the two of us rarely tire of talking to each other. And though I've never done a tally, I suspect our conversations have been the direct inspiration for perhaps ten percent of my 1800+ blog posts. I try hard not to take this gift for granted.

I'm grateful for our shared history, what we have in common - especially the daughter we cherish - and the way I can still be surprised by how different we are from each other. As our long road trip nears, I'm anxious to know more of my wife's story and want to hear her evolving views on current events. I eagerly anticipate our continuing discussions of books we've read, music and films we can't agree on. And I'm confident she is looking forward to all those conversations - and others - as well. It will be a good trip, provided I'm on my best driving behavior.    

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Soundtrack For A Life

Thanks to some gentle prodding from my wife, I've recently been attending to a few tasks that people around my age tend to postpone or never get to. And though I'm as inclined to avoid thinking about mortality as many old farts, I found a way to enjoy one part of "putting my affairs in order". No, I'm not dying, but that cliché fits what I've been up to lately. BTW, who do you suppose invented that tortured euphemism to avoid discussing the inevitable? Had to be an accountant, don't you think?

I'm inviting all of you, even those younger than me - and who isn't at this point? - to join me in a mildly morbid musical exercise, i.e. creating a soundtrack for your life. I've decided any music played at a party held in my memory must include songs from every decade I was alive. And, I do not want people wallowing in the Greatest Hits From The Baby Boomer Era. How boring.

That means I'll start with music from the decade I was born (1940's). Opening selection: Thelonious Monk's Round Midnight - appropriately somber and musical. From the 50's, Chuck Berry or Fats Domino or anything from the great jazz albums of 1959 - Miles Davis's Kind of Blue, John Coltrane's Giant Steps, Dave Brubeck's Time Out - will work as a soundtrack for my life. Absolutely no Pat Boone, Connie Francis or any of those teen crooners like Fabian and his loathsome ilk who made anyone with ears yearn for the Beatles to arrive.

Music from the 60's through the mid 90's will be easy. Anyone looking for stuff from those thirty five or so years that won't make me turn in my urn can pick tunes from the music courses I began teaching in the middle of this past decade. And though I'm still at work on a playlist for 1995-2020 - years when I didn't listen to as much popular music - I know at least a few artists that will make the - ahem- final cut and songs I want played loudly: Christina Aguilera - Fighter, The Black Keys - Have Love Will Travel, Mumford & Sons - I Will Wait For You, with that last tune a perfect opposing bookend to Round Midnight.

How about you? Which artists and songs belong on the soundtrack of your life?