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Sunday, May 31, 2020

Coming Soon, I Hope

What novel more than ten years old have you recently read that made you wonder why it hasn't yet been made into a film?

My top candidate - The Garden of Last Days (2008) - has no close competition. In capable hands, the crackling tension Andre Dubus III creates telling his story of several lives intersecting over the five days prior to 9/11 could be cinematic nitroglycerine. In addition, there's not a false note of dialogue in the book. If a screenwriter just lifted verbatim most of the words Dubus has these struggling souls speak, the resulting screenplay would be colloquial, coherent, and chilling. 

Although I've read several, The Garden of Last Days is only the second worthwhile novel I've read touching on our national nightmare. (The other - Joseph O'Neill's Netherlands - also from 2008, is more muted but equally excellent.) But any recommendation of "...Garden" comes with a warning: This is not a safe book. For me, Dubus's decision to make one of the terrorists a central character is a bold choice, one that makes the narrative sting in unexpected and convincing ways. For you, that author choice might land differently as you read.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

A Belated Thanks

How I would have loved to have been able to have a conversation with my mother today, on her 100th birthday. If anyone reading this has a parent approaching that milestone, congratulations.

Especially because I lost her way too soon, I'm proud to say I never hesitated telling my mother how much she meant to me. Still, following a recent conversation my wife and I had about our earliest memories of reading, I couldn't remember ever thanking Mom for instilling in me an abiding passion for the written word. Even if I did thank her, it likely wasn't enough, considering the subsequent depth of my love for literature.

Though most of my memories before age twelve - when music grabbed me by the throat - are fuzzy, as my wife and I talked, I clearly recollected the series Mom read to me as a young child. The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and the Bobsey twins were childhood friends; my version of Harry Potter. And though I can't recall any of the particulars from those books, I do remember being mesmerized by the fictional worlds my mother brought to life as she read. I'm reasonably sure she was the person most responsible for providing the foundation of my lifelong passion for reading. How I wish I could share that with her today on the centennial of her birth.

What is your earliest memory connected to reading? Is that memory closely tied to one or both of your parents?

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

It's Just A Thing, Right?

No time like right now to do some long overdue spring cleaning, right? What have you gotten rid of recently that you held onto too long?

I was surprised how easily I initially agreed to let go of the PA system I bought in 1976 to use in my - then new - solo act. I carried that system in and out of dozens of bars over the next few years, plying my trade. Though I never counted, I'm sure I did well over one hundred and fifty auditions using it.

When my wife and I met in April 1978, I was singing through that system; it was the same one my next band used rehearsing in the basement of the first house we purchased in 1983; the same house we were married in that year. During my wife's 1988 pregnancy, she swore the baby would react each time she heard my singing voice coming from that system, though when others in the band sang, the baby remained still. I clearly recall nights our newborn daughter slept peacefully through rehearsals as that system amplified our voices. And, the first time my daughter sang in front of people - at a party in 1995 - it was through that system. The song was My Favorite Things. 

I continued to use it sporadically after my last band dissolved, including a few nursing home gigs my daughter and I did early in the millennium. The last regular use it got was with a duo that lasted from 2003 until 2011. From 2011 until earlier today - when it disappeared from the curb soon after I carted it there - that system mostly sat in the garage. Aside from inertia, what drove me to hold onto this old unused thing for almost a decade? A lot of musical history probably had something to do with it.       

Saturday, May 23, 2020

An Unnecessary, Irrelevant, Redundant Ailment

Lifelong list makers: How would you compare the number of lists you currently start to the number you routinely started pre-Wikipedia? How many of your long-held lists have you discarded since Wikipedia rendered our obsessive need to maintain those lists unnecessary?

During a recent game in the Trivial Pursuit-athon my wife and I initiated after this health crisis began, I was reminded again how irrelevant my lists have become. But such is my ailment that soon after asking folks in that game which film depiction of a fictional US president was their favorite, my first thought was "Do I have a list of those films somewhere?" Honest. For the record, my favorite fictional president is Morgan Freeman in the cheesy Deep Impact. Henry Fonda is in second place in a better movie - Fail Safe - closely followed by Gene Hackman in Absolute Power, another good film. Which three fictional film presidents make up your holy trinity?

Turns out I had no list like this anywhere. Unfortunately, that sent my addled brain into overdrive soon after the ZOOM TP game ended. I began parsing other distinctions regarding movies and US presidents. Which is my favorite film depiction of an actual US president? (Which one is yours?) Which actors - other than Henry Fonda - have played both fictional and actual presidents? How many actors - other than Gene Hackman - have played a fictional president in more than one film? How many of our presidents have been depicted in movies to date? Which of our little recalled presidents has been depicted? When I got stuck on that last question - with no list of my own to consult - I was grateful Wikipedia had it covered; a few keystrokes and then...relief.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_actors_who_played_the_president_of_the_United_States

Pre-Wikipedia, this kind of ephemera would have driven this list making movie geek to distraction, devouring precious hours. Got to love a tool that frees up enough time for me to make a list of all my discarded lists that the same tool has now made redundant. 

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Of George But Not By George

Though my three earlier attempts to elicit Carlinisms from readers have yielded meager results, I remain convinced many of us on the bell curve are as frequently mystified as the late great George Carlin was by life's insignificant mysteries. For example: When more affluent people in China order takeout, is American cuisine their go-to choice?


Being privileged enough to be able to order takeout during this health crisis led my addled brain from the food mystery above - a quasi-Carlinism - to some reflections with a bad luck whiff. To wit:
* If you walk backwards under a ladder does your bad luck get reversed?
* Does your bad luck take a comical turn if you break a funhouse mirror?
* If a really big black cat (e.g. a panther) crosses your path, does your bad luck get exponentially worse?
* What are the differing consequences for your luck if no salt is available or all the wood around you is particle board?

Ready to jump in? I'm certain at least a few of the more deranged among you have harbored bizarre wonderings to rival mine. Come on, we can all use a laugh right now. Last question: In Carlinstan is it still called shoplifting if you steal something from a garage sale or roadside stand? How about from a kiosk in a mall or a farmer's market?

https://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2012/07/carlinisms.html

https://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2015/10/carlinisms-cont.html

https://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2017/04/ide-rather-have-fun.html

Monday, May 18, 2020

Factory-Installed Vs. After-Market

As Act Three of my life steadily unfolds, it's become clear to me that my factory-installed optimism could have easily stalled several times without the timely installation of a few critical after-market features.

Being newly exposed as an Education undergraduate to the self-fulfilling prophecy, more commonly called the Pygmalion effect, was arguably the first after-market feature to fortify my optimism. I still recall being persuaded by the studies that showed how putting aside preconceived ideas about the innate intelligence of students and treating them as fully capable could make me a more effective educator. That one after-market installation sustained my optimism through most of my young adult life.

Through middle age, though I continued acting on the belief that people are able to rise to our highest expectations of them, a little cynicism - disguised sometimes as pragmatism and other times as not wanting to be too vulnerable - began interfering with my factory-installed equipment. And I often found this to be most troublesome interacting with people who triggered me. Just in time, thanks to my Graduate program, an even more useful after-market feature helped reinvigorate me.

Discovering confirmation bias - the human tendency to filter out data that doesn't support our views - re-energized the faltering optimist, assisting me to become marginally more tolerant aka less cynical.  I quickly realized my creeping cynicism was itself a by-product of my own confirmation bias. Return to the self-fulfilling prophecy Pat, said the voice in my head. Continue seeing the good in people and anticipate they will rise to your highest expectations. Maybe then your own confirmation bias can be mitigated. 

Which component of your factory-installed personality has been most enhanced by after-market installations?

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Stephen and I

Despite sincere attempts any of us make to avoid information about celebrities, it's hard to fully escape them, isn't it? The 24/7 news cycle, the Internet, and TVs in every available public space virtually guarantee routine exposure to these ubiquitous people. In my case, add in regular reading of the NY Times and a few weekly news magazines and what I end up with is an unintentional diet rich with the rich and famous.

Though I'm embarrassed admitting it, taking in all this celebrity garbage - despite my best efforts at avoiding doing so - has infrequently and perversely congealed into a fantasy I'm about to reveal. But prior to mortifying myself, I feel obligated to mention a few things I'm confident about: 1.) Only the bravest of you will join me in this particular bell curve confession booth but ..  2.) I know this fantasy is not mine alone. 

OK, so why do I think Stephen King and I would get along famously?
* Our politics are fully aligned.
* He's been married to the same woman for almost fifty years and obviously values his family life.
* He's an unabashed music and film fan, plays a pretty good guitar, and reads like a man possessed.
* Despite his massive popularity, he has no illusions about his place in the literary firmament, i.e. he is a grounded human being. Further evidence: He still lives in the state he was born in.

Based on reading King's exceptional memoir - On Writing - several years ago and most recently, an interview in the NY Times Sunday magazine a few weeks back, I've got more data to support my nonsensical fantasy. But it's your turn now. Who is someone known to millions - someone you will never meet - that you are sure could be your BFF? Evidence to support your ridiculous star-eyed conjecture?           

Sunday, May 10, 2020

A Grim Reckoning

At what age did you become what you now think of as a responsible adult? What are some markers you'd cite to support your belief? 

Until a few months ago, I would have been confident saying I became a responsible adult soon after I graduated college at age twenty one. My markers would have been the usual, i.e. I no longer lived in my parent's home and my work fully supported my lifestyle, however spartan that lifestyle was.

But since watching the spring breakers frolicking in Florida in March, my confidence in my young adult bona fides has eroded a bit.  Because, had Covid-19 exploded in 1971 instead of 2020, Pat would have been one of those shirtless dunces that many of us tut-tutted at when this health crisis began its headlong rush into history. Although I'm not proud saying so, adolescent recklessness was my norm well into my late twenties. As late as when my second niece was born, I recall how I still relished thumbing my nose at authority, the exact behavior those beach revelers displayed. I cringed watching those dunderheads, probably like my parents cringed watching me lurch through the years that were supposed to signal my entry into responsible adulthood. 

But, there is good news to counter this grim reckoning with my foolish past. Although at least 50% of the credit goes to my wife, I must have modeled some solidly responsible behaviors raising my only child. Ever since her 2011 college graduation, she has been a responsible adult. And I'm proud to say her reaction to this unprecedented event has been more measured than her Father's would likely have been.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Trying To Whisper More

Soon after meeting the newest member of my reading posse ten years ago, I knew she was someone who needed to be part of my life. What I didn't know was how her rich insights would enhance my passion for and understanding of literature. If you're as lucky as I to have someone in your life that does that for you, please share it with me here. 

https://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2015/05/struggling-with-distinction.html

Until re-reading the post above - written five years ago today - I didn't realize how my newest reading soulmate had come to my rescue, again. In that post, I'd confessed my struggle to distinguish quiet vs. inert prose. In a recent virtual conversation with her, a phrase my new friend had used previously to describe either intrusive prose or overly mechanistic plot twists - "...seeing the author..." - came up as we discussed a book. The re-reading of my post and her telling phrase suddenly collided, revealing a crucial element to assist me with the struggle I'd identified.

If I can "...see..."  the author, by definition, the prose is not quiet. Although that alone doesn't make the prose inert, it does get me closer to being the kind of reader I want to be. Equally important,  recalling my friend's useful distinction will also improve help me improve as a writer, if I...
1.) avoid writing inert prose.
2.) decide if I want the reader to "...see..." me and if so, ensure I'm doing so not just to be clever.
3.) continue aiming for quiet prose.

In my experience, if not practice, whispering is more effective than yelling or attracting attention. I'm aiming to be better at this in both my life and in my writing. As always, I have other people to thank for helping me find my way.           

Monday, May 4, 2020

Reclaiming Some Over/Misused Words

hoax: something intended to deceive or defraud. 

I think it's time to reclaim the word hoax.

A fraud like the one Elizabeth Holmes inflicted on the world with her phony blood testing device was a hoax. Bernie Madoff's criminally massive Ponzi scheme was a hoax. The bogus Fyre Festival, grift writ large, courtesy of Billy McFarland & JaRule, was a hoax. 

Climate change? Given the widespread scientific consensus, clearly not a hoax. Covid-19With over 60,000 fatalities in the U.S. alone - and the latest projections estimating 100,000 before a vaccine will be widely available - also clearly not, nor was it ever, a hoax. When a word gets cheapened as much as hoax has recently been, it begins losing meaning.

While were at it, how about we give disgrace and disaster a bit of a rest as well?  If everything is one or the other, doesn't it logically follow that nothing is either? Care to reclaim any over/misused words? 

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Sharing Thoughtful Acts

As this health crisis drags on, what thoughtful acts most recently reminded you of the angels in your life?

Because my daily coffee jaunts to WAWA have been seriously curtailed the past several weeks, imagine my delight upon discovering the package at the left a few days ago sitting by my front door. Thank you angel #1.

Then, last night, more pixie dust landed at my feet. At the conclusion of our ZOOM meeting, following the most recent iteration of our now weeks-old Trivial Pursuit-athon, a singing voice I treasure unexpectedly filled the air. Angels #2 & 3 had cued up my daughter singing one of my songs from the CD I released a few months ago. It would be hard to over-state how moved I was by this thoughtful act.

What are your current plans for bringing joy to someone? Inspired by my three angels, I'm planning to begin in earnest today. Bonus: Sharing your ideas for thoughtful acts here might give others good ideas. There is no downside to sharing thoughtful acts.