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Friday, October 30, 2020

Your Masterpiece

What subject has retained its allure for you for as long as you can recall? And what have been your most recent discoveries reflecting on that subject? 

Creativity - in all its manifestations - is endlessly fascinating to me. I'm unable to count the number of books I've read, lectures I've listened to, conversations I've had about creativity. Each time I think I've exhausted the subject, a new discovery awaits. The only certainty that has remained with me is an elegant definition of creativity I heard many years ago:  Novel associations that are useful.

I believe everyone has the capacity to be creative. But my experience has shown me that many people frequently choose to ignore creative impulses. Recently, whenever I think I might be succumbing to this impulse, I gently remind myself to welcome my muse. I started using this simple technique soon after beginning to suspect that the people who history venerates - be they composers, authors, visual artists - are likely the same people highly attuned to their muse, i.e. they follow most, if not all, of their creative impulses, wherever those impulses lead. Consider for a moment: Not everything any revered artist - alive or dead - creates is of equal merit. But those folks keep creating, putting their creations in the world anyway. The people many of us celebrate for their creativity know well that others will be the judge of what is worth remembering. 

How attuned are you to your muse? In other words, are you more inclined to ignore creative impulses or follow them wherever they lead? Put aside the fact that you, like me, are not "known" for your creative output. Just live in that question for a moment. I've discovered that when I'm in a black hole with thoughts about giving up a creative endeavor, reminding myself to pay closer attention to the muse helps me climb out. Call my or your impulse to create whatever suits you. But don't ignore it; your masterpiece is closer than you think.      

  

Monday, October 26, 2020

Amy: In Memoriam

What author has touched you so personally that you've sometimes wished you had that author as a friend? I know I'm not alone among readers on this although it's possible no one will admit it here. No matter.

I clearly recall reading the NY Times Modern Love column entitled You May Want To Marry My Husband in early 2017 when it was published. I also recall being sad to learn that the author - Amy Krouse Rosenthal - died soon after. When my wife gave me a book of essays culled from Modern Love - edited by Daniel Jones - last Christmas, I raced through it, crying when I re-read Rosenthal's piece. Amy and I became imaginary friends that same day. 

This past week a good friend and I were discussing a different book we both enjoyed when Amy's name surfaced somehow. The day after our discussion, this friend thoughtfully loaned two of Amy's books to me, based on both our conversation and the love of lists that my friend, Amy, and I all share. For the first time in my memory, I then read two books by the same author back-to-back. The Book of Eleven (1998) and Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life (2005) are both short, idiosyncratic, wonderful. If Michel de Montaigne were alive today, he'd miss Amy like I do.    

Have you ever missed someone you never met?

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/03/style/modern-love-you-may-want-to-marry-my-husband.html


Friday, October 23, 2020

Good News For Me - Jeffrey? Not So Much

 Anyone who has read my blog even casually knows at least a few of my foibles. Although I try to avoid excessive hand wringing, I aim for honesty here, hoping at least a few of you sharing the bell curve with me may occasionally see yourself reflected through my flaws.

Still, one flaw I am grateful to have sidestepped is my gender's propensity for routinely putting their lives in the blender via sexual shenanigans. When the Jeffrey Toobin story recently surfaced, once again I uttered a silent prayer of thanksgiving for what my Father modeled when I was a young man. Now my head, my heart, and even my intuition have failed me more times than I can count. But my private parts have thankfully remained right where they belong. Thank you, Dad, again. 

Throughout my life, I've had more than a few Jimmy Carter-ish lust-in-my-heart moments. And I would guess my list of stupid, ill-advised actions over the seventy + years I've been upright would rival the list of almost anyone. But today's reflection ends with good news, at least for me: So far, whenever those Jimmy Carter moments have occurred, my head, my heart, and my intuition spoke louder to me than my genitals.     


Saturday, October 17, 2020

Make Your Voice Heard

Watching the recent Netflix release The Trial of the Chicago Seven, my outrage frequently felt as intense as I recall it being when the actual events took place. I was a college sophomore when the Chicago police unleashed its collective fury on antiwar protesters in the days leading up to the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Had I been protesting the Vietnam war in Chicago instead of closer to home, the actual footage used in Aaron Sorkin's film could have shown me being tear gassed or having my head bashed in.

I was a junior when Judge Julius Hoffman had Bobby Seale chained and gagged in his courtroom toward the end of the sham trial of 1969 that was concocted by Nixon's first attorney general, the later imprisoned John Mitchell. Even my Father - not a political progressive or racial pioneer - was appalled by Hoffman's treatment of Seale. And just before sentencing, when Tom Hayden began reading the names of the soldiers who had died in Vietnam while the Federal Government wasted time and taxpayer money inventing a non- existent conspiracy (sound familiar?), I realized for the first time in my young life how important it was to make my voice heard. I've tried to maintain that commitment ever since. 

If you haven't yet voted by mail, please do so soon. Or, be safe and get to the polls on November 3rd. Just be sure to make your voice heard. 

       

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Wipeout, Anybody?

No doubt because of some evolving difficult circumstances in my personal life, recent weeks have found me emotionally raw. The most noticeable manifestation of my rawness has been how easily I've found myself triggered by passages in books, scenes in films and especially, penetrating song lyrics. When you are feeling raw, what are some things that can trigger an outsized emotional response from you?

So it was on a recent drive - with a Pandora station I call "Tunesmiths" playing - that Dan Fogelberg's  moving tribute to his father, Leader of the Band, delivered the first blow. And I might have recovered from the mournful closing horn interlude in that tune had Jackson Browne's Sky Blue and Black not immediately followed. As Browne repeatedly wailed "...that's the way love is, that's the way love is...sky blue and black"  in the coda, my composure began slipping.

When the often cryptic Bob Dylan came next, I thought I'd escaped. Alas, I'd temporarily forgotten the evocative final rhyming couplet preceding Bob's refrain: "I'll see you in the skies above, in the tall grass, in the ones I love; you're gonna make me lonesome when you go." The moment Dylan warbled that lyric, I pulled off the road. 

Although long ago I reconciled myself to having an emotional temperament, recent events like what happened on that drive have persuaded me it might be wise to concentrate on instrumental music, at least, for a while anyway. 


Monday, October 12, 2020

I Couldn't Have Done It Without Them

When my daughter wins her first award - for her acting, her writing, or her singing - and stands in front of the podium to speak to the gathered throngs, I expect to be acknowledged. Along with her mother, I'm not asking that we're thanked first - especially if the applause hasn't yet subsided and the audience will miss hearing us mentioned - but I am expecting the most effusive accolades she can muster. Fair is fair.

Yeah, I know artists thanking their parents at awards shows for the unwavering support lavished on them is a bit tired. Don't care; my wife and I warmly embrace the cliche - we earned it. Those of you in the adoring public who don't care who thanks whom, switch off the TV - plenty of others will hear about us. I've also already instructed my daughter how my blog URL must be noticeable on the glitzy red-carpet-ready outfit she's wearing. My preference: REFLECTIONS FROM THE BELL CURVE.COM  across the rim of a very large, very red hat.  

Self-centeredness aside, what floors me are those instances when award winners don't mention their parents at all. Have you ever wondered what's up with that?    


Friday, October 9, 2020

Your Questions, Please

 "The best judge of a person is not the answers they give but the questions they ask." - Voltaire

What are some of your favorite questions to ask others? Asking good questions was perhaps the most valuable skill I learned in my years as an adult educator and coach. And nerdy as it is, I made it a habit to keep handy a list of questions that I discovered worked well in the classroom. That list became useful in my personal relationships and in my role as a supervisor. I've retained it to this day. 

What did this class usefully confirm to you? That one is still among my favorites. It's easy to modify by simply replacing the word "class" with "essay", or "article", or "film", etc. Like all good questions, it is one for which the questioner cannot have an answer. It's all about the person being asked.   

I stole another of my favorites from Emerson: What has become clearer to you since we last met? I've rarely been disappointed in the answers I've received for that. Open-ended questions like those two favorites keep me in a pure listening mode and help me avoid confirming my own biases. 

Tell me what you are passionate about. Sometimes declarative statements are more powerful - and elicit better responses - than a question. From its inception, asking questions on my blog has been the gateway I've used to attain one of my goals: Learning more about anyone who takes the time to read me. Today, I'll learn about you when you share your favorite questions with me. Of course, one of yours could well end up on that trusty list of mine; just saying.   

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Words For The Ages, Line Fifteen

 "Where do you go when you get to the end of your dream?" 

Although that question, posed by the late Dan Fogelberg in Nether Lands, may not at first seem of a piece with the fourteen earlier lyrics used in this series, I can't recall a more unsettling question that's ever been asked in the context of a popular song. If you differ, I'd welcome hearing your idea. Bear in mind just one guideline I've adhered to since initiating words for the ages in June, 2017: Brevity. 

How many of you have ever been called a dreamer? It's possible the thirteen words Fogelberg put into his succinct question land with me as they do because my dreams continually elude me. It's also possible that some folks might call those dreams of mine unrealistic expectations. The distinction between the two has never been real clear to me, if one exists. Who gets to be the judge of when someone else's expectations are unrealistic, i.e. that person is a "dreamer"? When is it time to abandon a dream/unrealistic expectations when those dreams motivate someone to create, set goals, live fully? My mind travels to these cul-de-sacs each time I hear that question in Nether Lands. 

I suspect if I got to "...the end of..." any of my dreams I would probably begin dreaming again. You?  


Sunday, October 4, 2020

If You Really Want My Money

I hereby relinquish my intellectual property rights to any wily entrepreneur reading this post who turns my latest invention into the successful game show it would be. I have just two non-negotiable demands:

* Like a Supreme Court appointment, I get a permanent seat as a judge on the show. 

* My eponymous composition - If You Really Want My Money - gets to be the theme song. 

Given the number of baby boomers with adult children, the undeniable fact of our imminent demise, and our legendary self-centeredness, the show has a guaranteed audience. The basic premise:

Three teams of coddled offspring of baby boomer parents compete for their inheritance via answering questions that can determine how closely over the years they listened to their self-absorbed parents. To help ensure an even playing field, only children compete against one another on a different night. Team - or only child - who gets the most correct answers wins. The other two inheritances go to a charity chosen by the winning team or only child. One possible variation - though this version would eliminate only children from the competition - would be for siblings to compete against just each other. For this variation, game inventor would recommend having armed referees standing nearby.   

All answers - e.g. favorite songs, films, books, pieces of art, vacation spots, etc. - must be provided to game show designers in advance while baby boomer parents are still lucid, if not continent. In event of a tie between contestants, competing teams must fill in the blanks of a baby boomer parent origin story or any other that induced groans from offspring after they'd heard it a hundred times. For example: "Your parents met in .... in the city of     . On their first date they ---------------."  Or, "When your father/mother was in grammar school he/she won --------------".  Baby boomer parents can decide whether or not they wish to attend on the night their children compete against other teams. If more explosive variation is selected as the model, game inventor recommends escorts for any parents choosing to attend.     

Thursday, October 1, 2020

My Cloud Atlas Walkabout

I've recently spent a good chunk of time roaming around on Cloud Atlas

Based on its reputation, before even diving into the text of David Mitchell's 2004 blockbuster, I first examined the architecture of his novel. Via the page headers for the eleven sections, Mitchell's intriguing nesting scheme was easy to discern. Sections one and eleven have the same title, as do sections two and ten, three and nine, four and eight, five and seven. Only section six - dead center - has a unique title.  With no idea how this format would play out in the narrative flow - and not caring how long it would take to complete the book - I impulsively decided to read just one section each day, regardless of length. Thus began my eleven day walkabout, which ended about 3:15 a.m. yesterday. 

Cloud Atlas is now the most marked-up book in my bulging collection, surpassing another out-of-the-park winner I finished a few months back, Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life. But, aside from the excessive underlining, numerous folded-down pages, and crazy amount of writing in the margins and elsewhere, these two cherished friends in my book collection have little in common. I'm hard-pressed to name any book that has much in common with Cloud Atlas. It's a mystery, a philosophical tract, a literary marvel. 

Even after finishing the book, writing a brief "review" on Goodreads, and trying to further prolong the glow by capturing some of the essence of this modern-day masterpiece into my book journal, I still wasn't ready to leave Mitchell's mind-blowing universe. At about midnight - book in hand - I journeyed downstairs to spend three more hours watching the 2012 film, scribbling still more notes into my book. Though I was enthralled, I suspect many people would be confused, at best, and more likely frustrated by the film adaptation. But given the serpentine nature of the novel, the three co-screenwriting directors deserve kudos for trying. And, if a film - no matter how flawed - brings more attention to Mitchell's tour-de-force, all is well.