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Monday, August 31, 2020

Trois (Covid-19 Iteration)

When a good friend - i.e. un bon ami - recently said crudite represented the extent of her French, my first instinct was to quote the lyrics of Lady Marmalade and Michelle to her. Voulez vous couchez avec moi, ce soir, ma belle? To preserve our friendship, I refrained from asking her that question but you get my point, non? Tres bien. And given how common French words and expressions are - in popular song and otherwise - my friend's statement gave me carte blanche to reprise a short-lived series from early 2015, in the hope of providing a socially-isolated frisson for a few of you. I doubt anyone will find this post too avant-garde.           

Food? Even in Omaha, "Bon appetit!" often follows the entree being served, no matter if everything is a la carte or if the whole meal is prix fixe. Clothing? Beret on the coat rack, negligee and other lingerie in the boudoir.  SexCaught on the chaise lounge in the chalet apres-ski, you say? Were there any voyeurs? How would any of us survive without the use of an occasional "Je ne sais quoi" to describe the indescribable? Isn't "Touche!" exactly the mot juste to exuberantly cry when someone has beat you at your own game? Now, a petit segue to the final paragraph's challenge before ennui settles in.

Not counting ordering French fries, I challenge any reader to try avoiding the use of a single French word or expression over the next week. Consult the first and second installments of this series - links directly below - if you're still not convinced how thoroughly vous parlez Francais. Which way should I sign off? Using my nom de plume or my nom de guerre? Vive la difference!

https://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2015/01/bonjour.html

https://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2015/01/deux.html

Friday, August 28, 2020

The Price Of Bro-Bragging

Although I welcome input from women on today's reflection, my opening questions are aimed at men only: In your experience with other men, how many have you ever heard say they are bad drivers? How many have you ever heard say they are not all that great in bed? What percentage of men would you say you've heard claim they have a great - or at least a good - sense of humor?

Guys, let's talk math for a moment. If your experience even closely resembles my own, the answers to those three questions would be as follows: ZERO, ZIP, 100%; I'm rolling in my own answers as well as yours. That is equivalent to a flat bell curve, meaning no man is either below average or even average at driving, sex, or being funny. I'm no mathematician, but I do know enough to know that's highly improbable, statistically.

After more than a half century of engaging in and listening to incessant bro-bragging, it's difficult for me to say with anything approaching reality where I would actually fall if there was a scientifically reliable way to measure these things. And truth be told, even if those metrics could be developed, I wouldn't want to know my results. I'm not sure about much but I am sure about this - I've yet to meet a man who would want to know his results either. The price of a lifetime of bro-bragging is difficult to assess. But when the time finally arrives that I'm able to laugh at my delusions - regularly - I'll be a little healthier, mentally.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Passing Along A Book Club Discovery

Although I've always been an insatiable reader, before stopping full time work in 2010, I'd never belonged to a book club. But beginning that same year - which coincided with moving to a new home and looking for ways to connect with new people - I joined my first club. Over the ensuing ten years, I've been in and out of about twenty clubs as well as starting my own in early 2017. My involvement in these clubs has ranged from one meeting - a quick exit there because of an obnoxious moderator - to several years. I've even returned to a couple that - for one reason or another - I'd left previously.

And though I've never done a tally, I would estimate more than 75% of the book club selections were books I'd never have picked on my own. If you've belonged to one or more book clubs, how does that compare to your experience? Of that group of books I wouldn't have picked, I'd guess about half were written by authors I've subsequently looked forward to returning to. How does that compare to your experience? I count Lily King as one of my book club discoveries.

King's 2020 book - Writers and Lovers - is a book even the most casual reader will breeze through. That is not damning praise. Through the voice of Casey Peabody - a thirty-one-year old writer whose life appears to be slowly unraveling - King artfully tells a story that will seem painfully familiar to anyone who wondered - as I did - if they were going to make it through their young adult years.

"There's  a particular feeling in your body when something goes right after a long time of things going wrong." Until I read that sentence, it's possible I didn't fully appreciate how meeting my wife when I was twenty-eight years old felt exactly that way. "It's a particular kind of pleasure, of intimacy, loving a book with someone." Precisely. "Like many parents, my father wanted to give me what he didn't get, then he wanted me to get what he couldn't reach." I've read books twice as long as Writers and Lovers that grappled with the legacy that parents - for better or worse - leave their children. Some of those books did not have one sentence as wise as that one.

BTW, if you decide to read Writers and Lovers - and you love it as I did - be sure to go back one book in King's catalog and read Euphoria. Darker but equally skillful. King is a keeper and for that I have one of my book clubs to thank.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Judge - Let Me Introduce William And George

" A great number of people think they are thinking, when they are merely re-arranging their prejudices." - William James

Of the many anecdotes I collected during my years as an adult educator, the one I've recounted more than any other involved an administrative law judge who told me - with a straight face - "... all my prejudices have been taught out of me." I was speechless. How could any thinking person make such a claim? 

When someone tells you they don't "see" skin color, what is your first thought? Although I'm tempted to ask a person who makes that statement when they last had their eyes checked, I usually suppress the sarcasm and change the subject. Often that judge jumps unbidden to mind as I search for a neutral topic. Then later, I frequently wish I'd been less timid. "Picking your battles" begins sounding like an anemic cliche and a lame excuse for avoiding a teaching moment. 

If not now, when?

"Progress is impossible without change and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything." - George Bernard Shaw 

Thursday, August 20, 2020

#59: The Mt. Rushmore Series

With Covid-19 sidelining opportunities to teach music classes at local colleges, the mix tapes playing in my head have fewer outlets this year. By participating in this latest iteration of my most venerable series, you can help me get the volume of those tapes under control. Please?

Which four one-off vocal duets would you enshrine on your Mt. Rushmore? A few guidelines:
* Both vocalists must sing some melody, i.e. no fair using Paul Simon & Linda Ronstadt on Under African Skies; Linda sings harmony only.
* But, the two must harmonize at at least one point, i.e. Dr. John and Rickie Lee Jones on Making Whoopee doesn't qualify because they simply trade melodic lines. There's a lot of that nonsense on both the Frank Sinatra & Ray Charles duets recordings - cheating, in my opinion.
* Last, all four of your choices must be one-off deals, i.e. no Linda & Aaron Neville duets - they sang several songs together. I've listed my four alphabetically by song, but put yours in whatever order you like. Oh yeah, almost forgot: Both people have to have been alive at the time; sorry, Natalie & Nat.

 1.) I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me): George Michael & Aretha Franklin: Although I was never a big George Michael fan, having the musical sense to team up once with Aretha almost converted me, especially given this great pop song.

2.) It's Only Love: Bryan Adams & Tina Turner: Start with a power chord intro as pulverizing as early Kinks songs, add Tina Turner in the second stanza, then have Bryan & Tina harmonize in that crushing middle eight - 4:00+ of pure rock n' roll adrenaline.

3.) (I've Had) The Time of My Life: Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes: I know - the movie is so cheesy you have to check your cholesterol level after watching it. But anyone who doesn't get goose bumps as soon as Bill Medley starts this tune is probably not paying attention. And Jennifer Warnes takes it up another level. (Recall she rescued Joe Cocker's ass on their one-off duet - Up Where We Belong - a weaker song from an even cheesier movie.) Be sure to look for the extended version of this tune.

4.) Leather and Lace: Stevie Nicks & Don Henley: I'm even less a fan of Stevie Nicks than I am of George Michael but once again, it's all about the company you keep, even if just once. First Henley hides in the refrain, singing the harmony above Nicks. But when he takes the melody in that second stanza, the effect is as stunning as Bill Medley's opening. Henley elevates both Nicks and the song.

OK, what's on your mountain? I feel compelled just this once to award an honorable mention for the one-off version of George Harrison's Something that Eric Clapton and Paul McCartney did in the Harrison tribute film. If you've never seen or heard that, you owe it to yourself to do so at least once. Trust me.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xl-BNTeJXjw

Monday, August 17, 2020

Is It Safe?

https://lincolnproject.us/video/

I usually think of myself as someone with appropriate boundaries. I respect the privacy of others and try not to ask intrusive questions. And under normal circumstances, I'm not terribly interested in the lives of people in the public eye.

Still, I'm confident saying if someone were to invite me to eavesdrop on a conversation between Kellyanne Conway and her husband George following the release of the latest Lincoln Project video, my scruples about boundaries and privacy would be scuttled. Could you resist being a fly on the wall in this situation? If you could, consider yourself morally superior to me, at least in this circumstance.

What do you suppose the chances are of George getting a dinner invite to the White House? Speaking of dinner, how frequently do you think Kellyanne and George are breaking bread these days? Many long-term couples - my wife and I included - have, over the years, developed strategies to avoid making others uncomfortable. At one point we tried calling each other "Ward" or "June" to help us defuse such awkward moments. If you could suggest something - call it a "safe" word - to Kellyanne and George to assist them in their moments, what would you choose? I'd go for "tweet". What do you think?

Friday, August 14, 2020

Give And Take

Over your lifetime, what percentage of people you've met have shown you that they understand how important give and take is in sustaining a conversation?

Recently my wife and I were musing about someone who we'd both had regular contact with over the past twenty years. When she commented on how little she knew of this person - despite that contact - I had to agree; I didn't know a great deal either.

Then I began reflecting on the interactions I'd had with this person over the years. I recalled asking questions - about work, interests, family - and receiving polite answers. What I don't recall is ever being asked a question in return. And for this specific individual, it's possible my memory is failing me. Maybe there was a give and take.

But right or wrong in my recollection of this person, I've spent a few days more carefully considering this matter. I've scrutinized some recent and some older conversations; I've thought about people in my life and the models they've had or not had for give and take conversation, including the model I provided for my daughter; I've tried to be honest with myself about my own skills.

So far, the only payoff from this reflecting has been the certainty that I can get better at this. I believe it's worth it. What do you think? How much more rewarding do you suppose your conversations would be if you put additional effort into give and take?

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Words For The Ages, Line Fourteen

"The only truth I know is you."

If the rock n' roll era has produced a more consistently excellent lyricist than Paul Simon, that person remains unknown to me. Dylan is more prolific and arguably, more influential. Joni Mitchell can be more fearless and Elvis Costello can be more trenchant. But for my money, much as I often admire the lyrics of those three giants - and others - Paul Simon sets the bar that much higher.

One could reasonably ask why it then took me over three years to settle on a phrase from Simon's oeuvre to enshrine as words for the ages. And, why not a phrase from one of his iconic songs instead of this jewel from the more obscure Kathy's Song? Short answer? Because I spend too much time thinking about stuff like this. Beginning in May 2017, each of my fourteen selections for words for the ages has aimed for -

* A lyrical phrase that can stand alone. If surrounding or nearby rhymes are needed to prop up or complete a phrase, and especially if those rhymes make that phrase too long, I reject it.

* A universal truth. I daresay anyone reading the words opening this post who has ever loved another person would agree these are words for the ages.

* A phrase I believe most people will have no trouble remembering, both because of its brevity and its use of simple language.

All that aside, the purpose of this series from the outset has been to hear which lyrics you'd select as words for the ages. Today, tell me which terse Paul Simon phrase strikes you that way. Meanwhile, I've got a few dozen other lyricists to occupy my addled brain until next time.           

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Important Unfinished Work

Each time I learn another piece about someone from my Road Scholar tribe, my gratitude for having made these later-in-life friends deepens. And the added dimensions I've gotten from the life stories of these newer friends has reminded me how important it is to keep probing my older friends about their stories to see what hidden treasure I've yet to discover there. What did you recently discover about someone you've known for a long time that blew you away?

When Congressman John Lewis died last week, I learned that one of my Road Scholar friends had served on the board of the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund for years. This friend informed me that John Lewis had faithfully introduced the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Bill to Congress each year. Had it passed, the act would have permitted conscientious objectors to direct the portion of their taxes that goes to the military to nonmilitary options at the discretion of Congress. Learning this not only enhanced my respect for the important unfinished work Lewis dedicated his life to doing, it also made me proud to be the friend of someone who aligned himself with an effort like this.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

A Year Of Home Runs

"Wasn't friendship its own miracle, the finding of another person who made the entire lonely world seem somehow less lonely?"

Over what remains of my life, I strongly suspect I'll never again read a book about friendship that will top A Little Life. But before you begin reading it, be advised: The intensity of Hanya Yanagihara's 2015 novel can be emotionally exhausting. If you avoid catharsis when reading, this book is not for you.

"I know my life is meaningful because I'm a good friend. I love my friends, and I care about them, and I think I make them happy."

And though the prose is - like that passage - utterly straightforward, this is now the most marked-up book in my collection. I kept underlining, folding down pages, returning to re-read my annotations, stopping long enough only to collect myself. How can a book of over eight hundred pages have not one clunky sentence? As painful as it could be, the richness and depth of the characters compelled me to continue. A Little Life might be my most immersive reading experience of the past ten years.

"...the only trick of friendship, ...is to find people better than you are - not smarter, not cooler, but kinder, and more generous, and more forgiving - and then to appreciate them for what they can teach you , and to try to listen to them when they tell you something about yourself, no matter how bad - or good - it might be, and to trust them, which is the hardest thing of all. But the best, as well."

When my niece read that passage at my June book jam, A Little Life went in my queue. I'm pleased - despite my caveat about its intensity - I took the emotional plunge. It's been a banner year for novels - four home runs so far: The Overstory (Richard Powers), The Good Lord Bird (James McBride), So Long, See You Tomorrow (William Maxwell) and now A Little Life. And still five months left. Cool. 

Saturday, August 1, 2020

National Movie Day (Beginning 8/1/21, I Hope)

Because of the runaway success of the eight brilliant ideas I've proposed here every August 1 since 2012, this month no longer stands alone as the only one without a major holiday. Yet, much as I've been gratified to see my stunning prescience appropriately rewarded - I'm now on permanent retainer with Hallmark for the additional business created by my holidays - I will not rest on my extraordinary laurels. It's now time to complete the trifecta.

Effective immediately, I declare August 1 National Movie Day, following National Book Day, which was announced on 8/1/12 with an effective date of 8/1/14, and National Music Day, announced on 8/1/19. (Links establishing these now widely celebrated holidays at the bottom of this post. If you doubt the power and reach of this blog, you need only compare the particulars outlined in each of those posts - or look at the other six announced on each August 1 -  with what subsequently ensued all across the U.S. Some have even been adopted by other nations.) 

The specifics for National Movie Day follow. Unlike the previous eight, this holiday will be administered on a state-by-state basis. Here's hoping we can begin the festivities a year from today.

1. In every movie theater of each individual state, only movies bearing that State's name, or ones in which all the action takes place in that state, will be played on August 1. Any movies played on State TV stations and all streaming services will adhere to the same protocol.

2. States having both a previously released feature film and a song with only its name can also play movies from bordering states. For example, with both an Alexander Payne film (2013) and a Bruce Springsteen song, the state of Nebraska can also play films from Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

3.  Movie theaters in any state with neither a feature film nor a song bearing its name (no additional words) are prohibited from selling popcorn on August 1. How many of those movie and song barren states can you name without Googling it? 
       
https://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2019/08/national-music-day.html

https://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2012/08/august-1-2014-national-book-day.html