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Sunday, February 28, 2021

A Longing For Dull

"The lack of new inventory in the U.S. housing market was this week's most widely read story."

What a relief it was seeing that in the weekly news summary of yesterday's NY Times. Before reading that utterly mundane statement, I didn't realize an unconscious yearning I'd been harboring - a return to boring news. This is what four full years of chaotic, attention-seeking, non-stop tweets has done to me - a longing for dull. 

I know this respite will be short lived. Human tragedies and natural disasters are always nearby. Still, the near constant dread I felt beginning in late January of 2017 has begun to dissipate, a little. Though I have valued novelty for much of my life, for now, I prefer predictable. And when bad news comes - and it will come - I won't be happy. But without all the noise in between, I'm confident I'll be more resilient. 

I'm enjoying the moment.  

 

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Deep Dive Into Donoghue

Among the most enjoyable parts of my post full-time work life has been the time I've had to do a deeper dive into the work of any author who moves me. When a book speaks to me in a big way, I get genuinely excited learning the author has a back catalog, no matter the size. 

After finishing Emma Donoghue's 2010 bestseller Room soon after its release, I knew I'd be returning to her work. Her 2000 novel Slammerkin - recommended by Anna Quindlen, another favorite author - was my next taste of Donoghue. And though the earlier novel didn't pack quite the emotional wallop of Room, it was boldly realized, encouraging me to continue my quest with this talented author.  

Donoghue's 2016 novel The Wonder had me from the first page and never let me go. Like Room, The Wonder is based on an actual event but neither book has the manipulative whiff of what is often called "historical fiction". What has most impressed me in each of these three books is Donoghue's exceptional command of her narrative. Calling her literary novels page-turners runs the risk of cheapening her gift. But with language largely free of ornament, an undeniable force propels each of her compelling stories.

Which of Emma Donoghue's books - aside from the three mentioned above - would you recommend to me and others? I'm looking forward to continuing my deep dive into her work.  

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Words For The Ages, Line Seventeen

 Reflections From The Bell Curve: Words For The Ages, Line Sixteen 

Last November I requested help from readers in the post above. I did so after realizing the first sixteen lyricists I'd quoted to that point in my series called Words For the Ages were not only all white, but not one was under sixty years old. Talk about musical myopia!

Most of the suggestions I subsequently received didn't quite hit the mark, although I appreciate the effort folks made. Some of the suggested lyrical phrases were not terse enough while others didn't strike me as having enough aphoristic bang for the buck. But my patience paid off.

"You dream of walls that hold us imprisoned."

Using just eight words, that phrase from White Ferrari by thirty three year-old Frank Ocean is a concise description of the traps many of us build, traps that can end up limiting the builder as much as the others imprisoned by walls. And it clearly fits my criteria for words for the ages because of its wide applicability. The metaphorical walls Ocean writes of could limit a relationship as easily as they could an entire culture.

p.s. A big shoutout to MB for the effort he put into helping me get Words For The Ages into the twenty-first century.  


Saturday, February 20, 2021

A Miss America Fantasy

"Freedom of opinion is a farce unless factual information is guaranteed and the facts themselves are not in dispute." - Hannah Arendt

Indulge me in a fantasy. How cool would it be if all fifty Miss America candidates used Hannah Arendt's prescient words when asked to make a statement to the adoring throngs? If these words were repeated fifty times to millions of Americans, is it perhaps possible that a few people who believe the phrase "alternative facts" has merit might be persuaded there is such a thing as verifiable information in our post-truth era? I live in hope. I hope a few of you share my hope.

Although we now know he was not the last, Joseph Goebbels - the Nazi Minister of Information - holds the dubious distinction of being one of the twentieth century's first demagogues to repeatedly utter the now acceptable phrase "fake news". Goebbels used the German word Lugenpresse.  He later went on to characterize the free press as an "...enemy of the people..." Sound familiar? 

Though I've never been a fan of the Miss America pageant, I'm offering myself as a public speaking consultant to all fifty candidates - free of charge - to help spread Hannah Arendt's critically important message. Any other volunteers for this mission?

"Post-truth is pre-fascism." - Timothy Snyder


Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Words That Count, Revisited

 "...in sickness and in health..."

"...the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth..."

"...uphold and defend the Constitution..."

Wedding vow, sworn testimony, oath of office. Which of these three commonly made promises would you say is most routinely broken? Most commonly kept?

Though I'm not a reflexively cynical or negative person, recent personal and public events have tested my innate optimism and lifelong belief that people can be trusted to stand by their public declarations. I'm not proud of feeling this way. At the same time, I'm reasonably sure my malaise will pass.

In the meanwhile, I'm paying a lot more attention to my own words, especially promises I make. Because in the end, I'm only as good as my word.   

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Construction Begins On #61

Even casual readers of my blog are probably aware of my Mt. Rushmore series, approaching iteration #61. Today's post marks the first time since the inception of the series in 2012 when I'm enlisting help from readers before construction begins. Think of yourselves as structural engineering consultants. 

Though I didn't do a Google search, I'm confident saying there are three words most likely to be used in the most song titles: love, man, woman. I'm calling on you to supply me with four Mt. Rushmore song nominations each using one of those three words, along with just a single word preceding it. The fourth song for Mt. Rushmore #61 can repeat any of those three words, again, with just a single word preceding it. Ready to begin construction? Here's an example with just three (vs. four) song titles to get you started:

Everlasting loveOld man, Evil woman

I'll forgive any of you who want to use any of those songs - by Robert Knight, Neil Young, and ELO respectively - although I'd prefer you nominating four without including any of them. Feel free to use Google - if you must - to locate songs fitting the criteria, tunes you think worthy of enshrining. Then, be patient as I unveil my monument a short time after. In case you're wondering, I've already complied a list of candidates with first words that cover every letter of the alphabet except q,x,and z in front of all three frequently used second words. And, I didn't use Google. But, should one of your nominations surpass any song I've already listed, one of yours could end up on my mountain. In that case, you're due for a raise as my top structural engineering consultant. Now get to work.


Thursday, February 11, 2021

Givers/Doers & Takers/Talkers

Though mundane household tasks like mowing, vacuuming, and shoveling can be boring, on occasion, the mindlessness of those tasks has helped me land on a useful insight. When did you last stumble onto an insight while doing an uninspiring chore? 

While digging out from the recent storm, my brain wandered to a bi-polar construct I've reflected on many times over the years, i.e. givers vs. takers. Possibly due to the mindlessness of shoveling, my mind leaped to what struck me as a parallel bi-polar construct. Try comparing what I posit below to your experiences with people you know or have known.  

In my experience, people who are more inclined to give as much or more than they receive are often the same people whose words count. Any promises they make are mostly followed by action. In other words, the givers are also often the doers. 

Conversely, people more inclined to take as much or more than they give are often the same people who have more difficulty with commitment. Even when intent is there, follow through is frequently spotty. In other words, the takers are also often the talkers.

By definition, all bi-polar constructs are reductive and, when applied to real world situations, can easily lead to stereotyping. Caution is always prudent when suggesting they have wide applicability. That said, I'll stand by my formulation today and continue looking for evidence that contradicts it.    

  

Monday, February 8, 2021

Marking The Decades

Ever since the interface on my blog changed a short time ago - prominently featuring the number of posts I've published - it's been hard to avoid noticing a magical convergence approaching. Although I'm not  superstitious, I hope you'll indulge today's solipsism. This post - #1949 - matches the year of my birth. 

Many years ago, the liner notes of Joni Mitchell's album Mingus reminded me of the need to pay attention to these "...coincidences that thrill the imagination..." With Joni's words ringing in my ear, I decided recently to initiate a limited run series marking my decades, beginning with post #1949 today, continuing with post #1959, 1969 etc. through to #2019. And I'd like you to join me, although you'll be using the markers from the start of each of my eight decades instead of your own.

So, what significant event of your life, or in the life of someone you know - especially since it seems no one is as old as me these days - occurred in 1949? If you get stuck, consult Google, Wikipedia, or an encyclopedia (GASP!) and pick an event, song, movie, etc. from 1949 that has some significance to you and share it here with me and others. 

Ready? In 1949 - November 23 to be precise - your favorite solipsist was born, the first of Edward and Marie Barton's (nee Trautvetter) four children; the blogging world is still recovering. Also, Volkswagen introduced its panel van that year, a vehicle that later played a big part in my life in the late 60s, into the 70s during my rock n' roll road years. Your turn: What is conjured up for you recalling the year 1949?  

Friday, February 5, 2021

Book Club Report: Year Four

The delay in this annual post - published January 17 the past three years - is tied to recent disruptions in my life. Many routines have been tossed aside over these past several weeks, a shift that has taken this goal-oriented blogger some time to get his arms around.  

But thanks to a reminder from a faithful reader - greatly appreciated - 2020's book club report, though late, will not be a casualty of the whirlwind whipping through Bartonstan. I welcome hearing how any of you benefitted from your involvement in any book club you belong to. Meanwhile, in the fourth full year of the No Wine or Whiners book club .. 

Top prize for fiction: Although I make most of the selections - which means most of what we read are books that have moved me - I was surprised The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott was the most well received novel this past year. Second place: Ann Patchett's Commonwealth. 

Top prize for non-fiction: No competition. Though Barbara Demick's harrowing description of life in North Korea - Nothing To Envy - made for disturbing reading, everyone found it worthwhile and boldly realized. 

I was relieved of my moderating duties twice in 2020 - for The End of the Affair (Graham Greene) and Women Talking (Miriam Toews) - a nice change of pace for me and others. Courtesy of Covid-19, of our twelve meetings we met virtually except January through March and August and September when the weather cooperated and we got to sit on the library lawn, six feet apart. I'm hopeful we will be able to do the same in the spring and summer this year. Who knows? By fall, maybe book club life will be back to normal.


Tuesday, February 2, 2021

It's Still Not Over?

Considering how many people outside of Punxsutawney ever pay attention, does it strike anyone else as odd that of all the movies ever made about holidays few have come close to being as good as Groundhog Day?  What would be your nomination for a holiday film that is the equal of Harold Ramis's goofy 1993 masterpiece?

Although I'm not a big Bill Murray fan, Groundhog Day is on the short list of films I've watched more than once. Of the several priceless bits in the movie, my favorite is probably Sonny & Cher warbling I Got You Babe on the clock radio that awakens Murray's character as he endlessly repeats February 2nd - brilliant song choice. What alternative tune would you pick as a way to aurally depict a nightmare you can't escape? My top nominations would be either one of those treacly ballads Michael Bolton screamed during his brief but painful popularity or the musical torture inflicted on us by I-get-paid-by-the-sixteenth-note Kenny G.

Musical snarkiness aside, which bit from Groundhog Day plays over and over and over in your mind? And, if you were able to repeat a single day from your life which one would you choose?