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Thursday, July 30, 2020

The Gift Of True Intimacy

Many years ago, in a book from a series entitled Innovations in Clinical Practice: A Source Book, I was exposed to a model that helped me immeasurably to better understand communication patterns I'd noticed interacting with people close to me. The model - which can be found on pp. 377-78 of volume one - uses seven concentric circles. The outermost circle - called ritual communication i.e. the everyday platitudes we routinely exchange with others - moves toward the innermost, called true intimacy i.e. where two people withhold nothing from each other. In between the two are small talk, planned activities, shared bits and pieces, shared feelings, shared hopes and dreams. 

The model is an elegant, fluid representation of how each of us make many choices every day about what we will communicate and how vulnerable we will be with others. In healthy relationships, as trust grows, we move closer to the innermost circle. And then sometimes, we back up. Over the years, I've grown more mindful about which circle I'm in while interacting and also more purposeful about choosing my direction. When someone appears to be getting me, I'm more inclined to step in. I know this model has helped me pay closer attention when I sense someone wants to move in a circle with me. It's not hard; the words people use reveal a great deal.

I'm grateful a recent chance look at this model reminded me what a gift it is to be in that innermost circle with anyone for any length of time.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Essential Revisited

essential: absolutely necessary; indispensable.

As the Covid-19 crisis drags on, each time I find my patience wearing thin, I try to remember to ask myself: When did I most recently pause to acknowledge my gratitude for or show my appreciation to the essential people who have been helping me prop up my daily life since mid-March? When was the last time you paused to do this?

Because I'm flawed, this strategy works some days better than others. But lately my reflections on the word essential  have been shifting. What do you imagine when thinking of someone indispensable? Put another way, how likely are you to think of a hedge fund manager as absolutely necessary? How about your favorite sports star? A corporate lawyer?

Now before the uber-capitalists, sports fans, or anyone who spent hard years getting through law school comes for my blood, let me clarify: All of those people deserve to make a living wage, enough to provide food, shelter, and clothing for themselves and their loved ones. Still, consider this: Don't the folks who empty bed pans and stock the supermarket shelves, you know, the essential people we're all depending on these days, deserve the same?

I'm not talking about a fair wage, or equitable pay, or even proportionately equivalent remuneration for all working people. Although that would be fine with me, were I to advocate any of those things, the dreaded "S" word would soon be hurled my way. But if other essential workers - e.g. police and fire personnel, nurses, doctors - can live comfortably raising a family on what they earn, isn't it reasonable for nurse's aides and supermarket cashiers to do so? If your answer to that question is "no, that's not reasonable" please explain it to me. Treat me like a dunce; I promise I won't get offended.

In the meanwhile, thank you again essential workers, for helping the rest of us to get through this.

Friday, July 24, 2020

A Worthy Goal

About two years ago, Won't You Be My Neighbor moved me so deeply I felt obligated to evangelize about it here, soon after seeing it. Yet, as touching as that earlier documentary about Fred Rogers was, the recently released It's A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood - with Tom Hanks as Rogers - is even richer. And before they begin, I'll beat the cynics to the punch. It's undeniably true no one would - nor is it likely anyone ever will - describe me as stoic. A good Marine I'm not. Overly emotional at times? Guilty as charged.

Still, I challenge anyone with a pulse and even a scintilla of good will to watch this new release and not get choked up at least once. Aside from Hanks - and who else could possibly play this role? -  a rock solid script, and the always reliable Chris Cooper in a small supporting role, Matthew Rhys hits it out of the park as a damaged, misanthropic writer unable to resist Rogers's empathy and humanity.

Fred Rogers made the world a better place. He personified grace. Aspiring to emulate his model is a goal I'm proud to call my own. Begin again, Pat.

https://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2018/07/a-special-week.html

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

This Moment

When you've experienced a difficult time in your life, what specific strategies have helped you cope? Aside from the obvious - attending to your personal grooming, going to sleep at close to your usual time, making sure you nourish yourself - were any other of your normal routines particularly helpful to you during those times? If yes, please pick one of those routines and tell me what it was about it that helped you. Be as specific as possible. 

If you don't recall any other normal routines that were particularly helpful to you or, you have trouble identifying how one of those routines helped you cope better, I'm guessing one of your strategies was having regular contact with others. I'm not sure of much. I am sure this moment that the benefit of contact with others during difficult times is impossible to measure.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Next Time, It's Ego-Less Gardening

Few things more dependably get me buzzing than people reacting positively to something I play on guitar. With my ego, the intensity of that buzz has historically been roughly proportionate to the size of the audience. Consequently, these days - given the infrequency of my public performances and the predictably puny size of any audience I attract (a neologism may be needed here - "aud", perhaps?) - I've worked at adjusting my expectations. So far, my success doing so has been marginal. Add to this litany the effect Covid-19 has had on scheduling jam sessions and maybe today's reflection might not sound quite as whiny. 

As my ego-fueled buzzes have grown farther apart, I've lately been reflecting on the contrast between the joy my wife predictably derives from gardening and my time with the guitar. She creates a visual feast that others enjoy year after year; opportunities to share my music continue to shrink. Her main hobby and abiding passion produce tangible results - some of which we eat soon after - with minimal frustration; I'm still trying to get my damn pinky to stay closer to the fretboard. Rewards await her long hours and hard work; postponement of gratification is my most reliable companion.

I considered co-opting Poor Poor Pitiful Me as the title for this post. Cynic and misanthrope that he was, the late Warren Zevon would probably have appreciated my irony. Still, much as I expect no one to admit publicly they need as much affirmation as me, I also suspect I'm not alone on the bell curve with this pathetic admission.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

#58: The Mt. Rushmore Series

Inspired by a few recent re-watches of older films - come on, what can a self-respecting movie geek do until the theaters re-open? - today's iteration of my most venerable series poses this profound question: Which four films with just one word as a title would you enshrine on your Mt. Rushmore?

Just three restrictions apply: No single first or last names, no cities or neighborhoods - far too many films use those - and no "The" preceding the title. I've listed mine alphabetically, primarily because my most recent re-watch replaced another film with a one word title that would have made the final cut, if not for #1 below. OK, if you must know, the movie that got replaced on my mountain at the last minute was Vertigo. And don't try to convince me that Alfred Hitchcock film is more worthy than the ones listed; this is my mountain. Put whatever four movies you want on your own monument.

1.) Crash: I'm talking about the Paul Haggis 2004 Oscar winner not the deeply disturbing movie of the same name made by the really deeply disturbed David Cronenberg. On this re-watch, I was most moved by Michael Pena's small role as a locksmith. The scene when he is talking to his five year-old daughter about an invisible cloak was a tender moment in an otherwise dark but prescient film.

2.) Heat: Aside from the rare pleasure of seeing DeNiro and Pacino together, the street shootout between the good and bad guys after the bank heist is arguably the most ferocious five minutes of film I've ever seen, and I'm not a gun guy. The sound and the editing make this scene come viscerally alive in a way I've not experienced in any other movie.

3.) Snatch: I'm convinced Director Guy Ritchie is the British twin of Quentin Tarantino, separated at birth. There's so much to recommend in this rave but start with this: When Brad Pitt is on the screen, try to concentrate on what any other actor is saying or doing. It's of no consequence that nearly every time Pitt's character opens his mouth others can't understand a word he's saying. His performance is so mesmerizing it's almost other-worldly. 

4.) Witness: Try and identify another movie that seamlessly combines the three disparate elements of this winner: It's a police procedural, it's a love story, it's a study of an insular culture. Try to name another movie that seamlessly combines any three disparate elements so well. And then find one with just one word as a title. I dare you.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

The Idea That Got Away

Soon after I began in March 2011, an early reader heavily lobbied me to devote my blog to books. Though I never gave it serious consideration, infrequently over the ensuing years a book like So Long, See You Tomorrow (1980) persuades me the idea had conditional merit. If, from the outset, my blog had been narrowly aimed at other readers only, would my unqualified endorsement of William Maxwell's taut gem have been more likely to entice others to read it? And if so, would those same readers have then engaged me in the kind of robust online dialogue I envisioned when I joined the blogosphere?

"...in talking about the past, we lie with every breath we draw."

I'm still reeling at how masterfully Maxwell toggles from first to third person narration telling this elemental tale; I can't recall reading another novel where this was done as seamlessly. 

"He was almost forty years old and lately it had seemed to him that he had lived a long time and that just about everything that could happen to him had happened." 

Great writing need not draw attention to itself. Simple words often create spare sentences rich with timeless wisdom.

"There is a limit, surely, to what one can demand of one's adolescent self."

Of the nearly 1900 I've published, I'd estimate 20% of my blog posts have featured books that have moved me. Of all those books, perhaps twenty-five have elevated me as a reader as much as "So Long, See You Tomorrow". Some of my most gratifying moments as a blogger have occurred when a reader later tells me a book they first learned of here touched them. I look forward to hearing from you about William Maxwell's masterpiece. 

(Shoutout to my oldest niece - a charter member of my reading posse - the person who turned me on to this winner.)   

Thursday, July 9, 2020

High Five News

Tired of gloom and doom news stories? Try this website.

https://highfivenews.com/

I'm proud to be part of this effort, the brainchild of a man I met on a Road Scholar vacation last fall. From our first conversation, when he described how he was constructing this site to be a place where candidates for political office could easily find "what's working" stories, I knew I'd get involved. And now that I am involved, I plan to continue.

If you'd like to join me, let me know here via a comment or contact me offline; I'll gladly facilitate the process. My current task is to read "what's working" news stories and pare each down to three easy-to-digest pieces - a one sentence summary of the story, one or more benefits covered in the story, and a brief statement about the way the story connects to a critical issue facing the U.S. or the world.

Instead of hearing more platitudes and promises, wouldn't you prefer politicians begin speaking of progress being made on many of the critical issues we face? High Five News is aimed at being an easy-to-access FREE forum for exactly that purpose. I hope you'll consider joining me.   

Monday, July 6, 2020

Cycling Certainties

It's likely the large number of bicyclists on the roads near my home has a lot to do with my proximity to the ocean. After over ten years living and riding here, two cycling certainties recently became apparent to me:

#1: If I've been cycling more than thirty minutes, I will pass someone and I will be passed. I submit this first certainty as a wholly unscientific bell curve proof.

#2: Although reliable predictions cannot be made about the cyclists I will pass, I can predict with 100% reliability that every cyclist who passes me - legitimately - will be wearing a helmet.

Doubt my data? I invite you to join me on a ride, at your convenience. FYI, unless I've indulged in a second beer the night before, I average 14 MPH.

And I can hear you groaning in cyberspace. What is this fool prattling on about? Today's mundane reflection catalyzed after a recent ride when a cyclist without a helmet passed me as we both made a left turn. It was such an unheard-of occurrence that I conjectured he was a local, probably close to his destination, showing off. Less than five seconds later, I watched helmet-less man make a turn into a driveway. Data validated.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

The Consequences Of Inaction

Need for approval? Moral cowardice? Lack of confidence?

No matter what puny excuse I make, continuing to avoid expressing my disgust on this blog about the racial injustice plaguing my country is guaranteed to make me more soul sick than I already am. I've begun and then abandoned dozens of posts over the last nine years+ about this subject, just as I've avoided confronting the casual racism that routinely poisons my personal life. What is wrong with me?

I'm angry, ashamed, and discouraged in equal measure. Angry at the phony narrative fed to me by my parents, my teachers, my white friends. Ashamed that I've reflexively accepted that narrative and more ashamed when I avoid those needed confrontations. Discouragement, itself a by-product of the anger and shame, immobilizes me - I start and abandon blog posts; I give up too easily trying to enlist white allies; I get paralyzed because the videos are just too hideous.

Meanwhile, me and mine are safe, untouched by this cancer. It's not enough anymore to say I've tried to live a life of tolerance.

"Ignorance is no protection from the consequences of inaction. Whatever you are wishing away will gnaw at you until you gather the courage to face what you would rather not see." - Isabel Wilkerson  

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Genre Fatigue

So far, the only downside I've detected to having an unbridled passion for literature, music, and film is something I've recently begun calling genre fatigue. Though it happens infrequently, when it does, it's important to recognize. I have no wish to become reflexively critical. See if you can relate.

At present, with respect to literature, genre fatigue seems to have set in for me vis a vis family novels. The last several I've read - all worthy of any discerning reader's time - haven't moved me at all. Each had excellent prose, interesting characters, a strong narrative line. But the prospect of reading another family novel anytime soon is not thrilling me. And I thrive on those anticipatory thrills. Anything like this ever happen to any of you bookworms, music fans, film buffs?

I'm not ready to declare a moratorium on family novels, as I have with non-fiction books attempting to explain the allure of music, memoirs, and historical novels, especially when the latter has "wife" in its title. But for now - unless a really persuasive reader or a member of my reading posse lobbies me heavily - family novels have been demoted in my re-prioritized queue. Additionally, I've resolved to begin using a newly-developed taxonomy to help me prioritize my choices for all my passions:

* Am I excited - at least right now - about reading this book, listening to that music, seeing this film?

* If I'm not excited, does the book, music, or film, at minimum, strike me as being OK in a pinch? After all, sometimes a library drive-by can be a viable option. But if I'm too tired to read and a barren night at home stretches out before me, listening to a few overplayed classic rock songs or watching an OK movie beats going to bed too early. I'll draw the line, however, at listening to doo-wop or enduring another whiny music documentary. Even Elton John's most formulaic pop confections or a Michael Bay blockbuster are preferable to either of those. Which brings me to the bottom of the taxonomy.

* That book, that music, that film? Not on your life!