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Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Words For The Ages, Line Eighteen

 "There never seems to be enough time to do the things you want to do once you find them."

It's difficult to escape the poignancy of those words for the ages. That aphoristic phrase from Time In a Bottle - arguably Jim Croce's most enduring compositionhas the unmistakable ring of truth. And that truth resonates more deeply when considering Croce's untimely death at age thirty. 

When were you last emotionally hijacked by regret? Though I understand ruminating about things I haven't found time to get to is pointless, regret about not getting to those things has had me in its grip more than a few times. Croce's words for the ages hint at this futile, wholly human wish to capture time so that we can do more.  

I'm grateful to have had forty-one more years than Croce to do the things I want. Now if I could just stay mindful of the wisdom in his words, my yearnings for a do-over might grow further apart.   

Monday, March 29, 2021

My Memoir Pickle

For years I've been doing battle with memoirs. After reading several in a row that yielded little intellectual value, and then several more that did not assist me in improving my own writing, I declared a moratorium. But, good student that I am, when a few book clubs I belonged to began selecting some popular memoirs, e.g. Wild, I relented. 

Unfortunately, many of those book club memoirs were marginal at best. So I swore them off, again. That is, until someone in my posse or a favorable Times review persuaded me there was one I must read. And though my posse and the Times both have higher batting averages than that of any book club, memoir misses recommended by either of those usually reliable sources pushed me toward re-considering ever reading another. So what to do now that The Liars' Club has knocked the wind from me? Mary Karr's justifiably acclaimed 1995 book has both helped and hindered my ongoing memoir dilemma. 

The Liars' Club helped me because I understand better what makes a memoir great. But, that understanding could make me more impatient when an author begins spoon feeding me their epiphanies, a common memoir trap Karr avoids. Without word pictures like those this author paints, how will I withstand the pedestrian prose of many books from this gorged genre? Without Karr's pacing, narrative tension, and humor, how will any would-be writer whose childhood was less than idyllic sustain my interest? Having damaged parents does not automatically qualify a person to be a memoirist. Writing skill is required. 

I'm in a pickle here. 

Friday, March 26, 2021

Reviving An Age-Old Question

The recently released film version of White Tiger, based on Aravind Ariga's coruscating debut novel, is a perfect place to revive an age-old question: Which movies would you nominate as equals to their namesake books? (In my view, Jaws stands as that rarest of animals, a film surpassing its namesake.)

After finishing White Tiger five years ago, it took weeks for me to begin writing a blog post about it. As I further processed what I'd read, mundane words often used to describe a reading experience felt inadequate. How to begin describing an amoral murderous narrator, who also happens to be someone you're rooting for? How to recommend something undeniably funny, but saturated with world-weary cynicism and set in a soul-crushing environment? I'm faced with a similar dilemma after watching the film.  

Reflections From The Bell Curve: When "I Liked It" Doesn't Pass Muster

Will you "like" this movie? Beside the point, just as it was with the book. Will you remember it? I believe you will. This lifelong movie geek is grateful for one trend in modern cinema, personified by White Tiger: Actors that accurately mirror ethnic groups from source material. Because, though I revered Paul Newman, casting him as a Native American in Hud was dumb. And don't get me started on Glenn Close, Jeremy Irons, and Meryl Streep - all immensely talented - as Chileans in House of the Spirits. Really? You may not recognize a single face in White Tiger. But they are the right faces for a story set in India. And, in my view, a film equal to its namesake.  


Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Eat The World, Year Eleven

My plan to sample the cuisine of every country in the world - announced here ten years ago today - turned out to be, like many of my goals, a bit over-ambitious. And partially thanks to Covid-19, this past year was a bust; my wife and I didn't add a single nation to our list in 2020, which stalled at ninety-four with our visit to Namibia in 2019. Delicious soup, BTW; recipe available to anyone interested.

But as regular readers know, over-ambitious or not, a goal is a goal is a goal. NYC restaurants featuring the cuisine of Nepal and Nicaragua beckon, though I haven't checked yet to see if either or both survived the pandemic. As in years past, I welcome any restaurant ideas from readers in the tri-State area. If you think we might have missed a more unique cuisine (i.e. don't suggest Italian, Chinese, Mexican), please tell me about it in a comment here, an offline e-mail, a telegram. It should also be easier in 2021 to chase down some of the exotic recipe ingredients needed for meals we prepare at home for ourselves and any adventurous friends. FYI, no culinary casualties to report to date.  

Now with our imminent Southern States Swing weeks away, it's unlikely our list of countries will grow much between now and mid-June. After all, Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi are not known for their ethnic diversity and we won't be cooking much over our six week road trip. No matter. On our return, there will be six months left this year and three in 2022 to get to a new goal: One hundred countries by the start of year twelve of this project. See what I mean about those goals, over-ambitious or not? 

Reflections From The Bell Curve: World Traveling Via Food (To Be Continued)


Saturday, March 20, 2021

Musical Purgatory/Lyrical Epiphany

If you listen to Internet radio, which service best serves your listening needs most of the time?

Largely because I haven't ventured far from where I've lived since early January, Amazon music - the service set up in this house - has been my main musical diet for over two months. If this Internet music provider happens to be your preferred source - and you're happy with it - best to skip at least the next paragraph. I miss Pandora desperately and can't wait to escape my current musical purgatory.

Yes, I know if I'd made a small effort, it could have been easy to switch to Pandora for the time I would be living here. But until last night - on the drive to/from my home, listening to Pandora - I didn't fully realize how subpar Amazon music is. The song selections - no matter how I phrase my request to Alexa (by year, artist, genre) - are repetitive and unimaginative in the extreme. Often, the same overplayed song appears in a cycle, no matter my request. For example, requesting either "Music from the Seventies" or "Elton John", invariably dredges up Dreams - that obnoxious Fleetwood Mac two chord drone - within a few tunes. Worse, any request for music from the 70s also serves up at least two AC/DC screeches - usually the same bad songs - which is one or two too many. I could go on, believe me; it's been semi-torturous. 

On the other hand, the scrolling screen of lyrics that accompanies Amazon Music via Alexa has delivered a lyrical epiphany. Working assiduously at writing my own lyrics for fifty years has taught me who the great models are - Jackson Browne, Don Henley & Glenn Frey, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Stephen Sondheim. And when a nugget from Desperado - "You better let somebody love you before it's too late" - is followed seconds later on the same screen by nonsensical tripe, I am again reminded how important it is to continually work on my craft.

If good lyrics thrill you - and inane ones annoy you - and you use Amazon, let me suggest you switch off the scrolling Alexa screen for most of the time. Might give you more pleasure enjoying the music or feel of songs you love - even overplayed ones - without seeing lyrics accompanying those same songs. Trust me on this.  


Wednesday, March 17, 2021

My Mentor

How many people that you've known personally have had a significant impact on you as a thinker?

For me, two women have been critical in my growth as a thinker. One is my partner of forty three years. The other I lost this past week. Although I know it will be hard doing so, I've spent several days trying to measure the impact this fearless woman had on me during the years we worked together. I'll miss her in many ways, although selfishly, I'll miss most the way she guided, prodded, and challenged me. She was my mentor for eleven years. 

Peter Senge, Fernando Flores, Thomas Kuhn. Many of the thinkers my mentor introduced me to are not household names. That's totally fitting because - in the intellectual domain - she was not seduced by the trendy, the popular, the flavor of the month. Yet, she loved Seinfeld, Night and Day was one of her favorite songs and we argued for days on our differing views of Silence of the Lambs; she was as geeky about popular film as I. Contradictions like those - independent thinking vs. an unabashed  love of popular culture  - thrilled her. 

Live in the question. Avoid people who are certain. Allow yourself to be persuaded. Most of all, grow into someone who doesn't need the approval of others. All words I've tried to live by since 1991, when I was fortunate enough to meet my compassionate critic, my intellectual companion, my friend. 

   

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Birthday? Anniversary? Just Another Day?

As my eleventh consecutive year of blogging approaches tomorrow, I'm still deciding how to celebrate this later-in-life milestone. Any ideas? Before suggesting anything, consider both COVID-19 and the fact that I'm unable to venture much further than a few blocks from where I've been living since early January. Aside from those two limitations, I'm wide open. 

What have ten full years of blogging taught me? 

* No kernel of inspiration - no matter how small - should be discarded, i.e. many posts that ended up satisfying me the most started with a tossed off, mundane detail captured in my notebook.

* Avoid trying to predict what will land with readers, i.e. my most popular posts are, more often than not, those that got less upfront thought. 

* Keep expectations exceedingly modest, i.e. wanting "more" - views, comments, feedback - leads to frequent disappointment. More important, wanting more makes it easier to forget how grateful I am for the folks who read, comment, and provide feedback regularly. Thank you to those folks; you have sustained me since March 15, 2011.

(Da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da - They say it's your birthday)

Reflections From The Bell Curve: Maiden Voyage

  

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Unveiling #61: The Mt. Rushmore Series

For the first time, this iteration of my longest-running series reflects outside help. An esteemed group of consulting structural engineers - i.e. some of you - assisted me in the construction of Mt. Rushmore #61. My mountain includes four great songs, each with a single word preceding love, man, or woman, three words I posit are part of more song titles than any three in the English language. Though my monument is in alphabetical order, share yours in whatever order suits you. 

Before the final unveiling, I'm obligated to publicly acknowledge the musical savant I'm married to. If not for her, I would have overlooked the great Percy Sledge tune When A Man Loves A Woman, a song using all three of those ubiquitous words in a single title. What a gal!  

1.) First Love: "Older people play little games in another way". From Poco's first album - Pickin' Up The Pieces - this less widely known song is clearly worth adding to your I-tunes library. Richie Furay's plaintive vocal on his own composition tears me up every time I hear it. 

2.) Innocent Man: Of the three words, I struggled most landing on either one or two songs having man as the second word. Billy Joel's classic from his album of the same name made it to onto my Mt. Rushmore mostly because of Billy's obvious nod to the Righteous Brothers. If Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley were still together when this gem was released in 1983, I'm sure they would have killed it in a cover version.

3.) Natural Woman: This was the easiest addition to my mountain. Although it is arguably the most well known song here, the Carole King/Gerry Goffin composition - expressly written for Aretha - never gets tired. The music/lyric mesh is unimprovable.

4.) Secret Love: The oldest of these four timeless tunes (1953), written by Sam Fain & Paul Francis Webster, is a classic example of the riches that sprang from the Great American Songbook era. My favorite version (there have been dozens) is by John Scofield, even though John delivers it without the lyric. 

OK, consulting structural engineers and others; unveil your mountain.

Reflections From The Bell Curve: Construction Begins On #61

        

Monday, March 8, 2021

Marking The Second Decade

 What stands out for you about the year 1959? 

To mark this iteration of my newest series - when my 1959th post converges with the year 1959, the start of my second decade - your favorite blogger notes he passed from fifth to sixth grade, and was not yet totally consumed by music. What occupied me most in 1959? In descending order - baseball, dinosaurs, boy scouts. If you are sixty-one or over, what were you up to in 1959? If you were born after 1959, what event from that year has particular resonance for you? Use Google etc. - if you must - but first try scouring your family history to recall something more personal. 

Many of us are able to remember at least a few fragments of life from our tenth year. Aside from my three abiding interests, some early family memories have some fuzzy focus, most notably stability mixed with occasional chaos. After all, just forty-nine months stand between me - the oldest of four - and my brother, the youngest. In addition, I recall in some detail the second floor apartment where the six of us lived from the early 50s to the late 60s, including the room I shared with my brother. 

I hope you'll join me either today or in one of the later six posts that will make up this limited run series. I'd enjoy hearing a little bit of your history, a decade at a time. 


Friday, March 5, 2021

Groundhog Year

 Reflections From The Bell Curve: Conversation On The Southern States Swing

Exactly one year ago when I published the post above, who could have predicted how upside down the world would be for the remainder of 2020? Not only did my wife and I not take that swing through the southern states last spring, we barely left the house until the end of May, cancelled all four of our other planned trips - including a December jaunt to Peru - and, ZOOM became the default for communicating with others through the large part of the year.  

Since we are now re-planning the same trip - for almost the same time one full year later - my post from March 5 of last year can stand as the post for the same date this year. Forget about Groundhog Day - 2020 was Groundhog Year.

p.s. I'm still looking forward to that five or six weeks of conversation when my wife and I hit the road in mid-April. And, I'm also keeping my fingers crossed COVID-20 stays put wherever it lies dormant.    

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Intent Vs. Impact (Thirty Years Later)

During my years as an adult educator, the course I delivered more than any other was Prevention of Sexual Harassment. My preparation for delivering that course included learning about the case law surrounding the subject. Early in the evolution of sexual harassment case law, a key concept - controversial to this day - was established. The courts have consistently supported the notion that intent is not as significant as impact. In other words, claiming "I didn't mean anything by what I did/said" is not a wise legal strategy to take if accused of sexual harassment. I never struggled delivering this message. To me, thinking people know their words and actions have potential consequences.

Though my view of intent vs. impact as a legal concept has not shifted dramatically since I stopped teaching about sexual harassment, I have been struggling more these days when someone is publicly shamed for a single stupid act of indiscretion. All of us have, at some point in our lives, done or said something insensitive or inappropriate. When an old Halloween photo of me recently surfaced, I tried to imagine how difficult it would be to explain away my cluelessness had I ever run for public office and someone found that photo. I'm not the same person now as I was then but would that matter nowadays? I think not and that concerns me. 

All of us need to recognize that we've all made mistakes. If, when we screw up - as I did in that photo - we expect to be judged by our intentions, doesn't it follow that we allow others to explain their intention when they are caught in a misstep vs. immediately shaming them for the impact their single action had on us or others? 

I'm NOT suggesting predators or serial offenders shouldn't be held accountable for their detestable behavior. But, as I repeatedly said during my years as an adult educator, one dirty joke does not create a hostile work environment. On the other hand, ask yourself this question before telling the joke: If my mother or sister or wife or daughter were standing next to me, would I tell this joke? If the answer is no, it's probably better to skip telling it. Because otherwise, what exactly is your intent?