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Friday, April 30, 2021

Hit The Road Pat

After over a full year of Covid-related delay, tomorrow starts the Southern States Swing my wife and I first began planning in early 2020. Talk about postponement of gratification!

Because technology can be fickle, time away from home sometimes means fewer reflections from the bell curve. And several recent WIFI experiences in the National Parks - we'll be visiting two of those over the next six weeks - have been spotty. I hope this extended road trip will be different.

Now if you hear from me less than you've grown accustomed to between now and mid-June and it's not related to technology then perhaps ..

* Some diehard southern Sheriff took offense at something this unreconstructed northerner said or did or ..

* We got stranded in Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, or North Carolina because we couldn't locate a charging station for our hybrid or ..

* My wife's company or the Civil Rights landmarks or the sights on Skyline Drive, the Natchez Trace or in Savannah took precedence some days over blogging. 

Either way, I hope you'll check in from time to time over the coming weeks. I'll do the same.  


Sunday, April 25, 2021

You Mean It's Not About Me?

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oWTE3HIIHgw

From the day I first realized my daughter's natural singing talent, one of my main goals has been to evolve into a first-rate accompanist. And though I have a long way to go, my progress - especially since I stopped working full time eleven years ago - has been satisfyingly steady. 

Like great editors or character actors, the best accompanists remain unnoticeable, supporting the bigger talent they're privileged to work alongside. One of my challenges playing this role for my daughter has been been dialing down my big personality and bigger ego. I'm guessing many of you wouldn't struggle to remain invisible or have to remind yourselves where the attention belongs. I'm not many of you; attention can be like oxygen to me. 

Now, if instead of me, her mother was my daughter's accompanist, you would not be reading this. Because my partner of forty-three years would never have a blog. Unlike her obnoxious husband, she abhors any attention aimed at her. It's one of life's longest-running mysteries how someone born to be a great editor, character actor, or accompanist ended up with someone who thrives on attention, i.e. me.  

p.s. I'm in hot water even mentioning my wife here although I may get a pass given the youtube link at the top of this post features our daughter. But if that link featured my wife, the dog house would soon be my permanent residence.  


Friday, April 23, 2021

Through The Looking Glass

Witnessing first hand the wreckage that smoking can create in a life has made me newly grateful for my early-in-life decision to avoid that toxic habit. And, I'm angrier than ever with the venal cigarette industry for continuing to shamelessly destroy millions of lives in its relentless pursuit of profit, consequences be damned. 

Call this rant false equivalence, or the ravings of a naive idealist, or even label me with the dreaded "s" word if you must. But I just don't understand how an industry thriving on such misery is allowed to continue and flourish. Which unreconstructed capitalist among you can explain to me how cigarette industry executives who willfully obfuscated the health risks associated with smoking for years were allowed to retain their obscene, ill-gotten wealth? How about the wealth passed along to the heirs of those poison peddlers? How many of those executives or their progeny have ever watched a loved one slowly deteriorate from the effect of the addictive drug they legally shill? What rationalization did they use to help them work through their grief while excusing their role in this travesty? 

While on the subject of legality, let's travel together through the looking glass, shall we? The crime that set in motion the events leading to the untimely death of Eric Garner seven years ago was the sale of untaxed cigarettes. What are we saying about what we value when it is legal to sell a product that slowly maims then murders millions but, it is illegal - and in Garner's case punishable by death - to sell that product untaxed? Anyone else feel like they're marooned in a Lewis Carroll story? 

How has the abomination of manufacturing, selling, and profiting from cigarettes gone unchecked for so long? Pretend I'm a moron; break it down for me, please. Give me a moral - other than unbridled fealty to the almighty dollar - to this ugly, seemingly unending story.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

#62: The Mt. Rushmore Series

Soon after Mary Karr recently blew me away with The Liars' Club, I realized I've finished enough good memoirs over the past twenty-five years to erect a Mt. Rushmore from that genre. Mind you, it would be easier for me to construct a negative Mt. Rushmore of badly executed memoirs because - in my experience - the majority of books from this over-gorged niche can't compete with The Liars' Club or any of my other four choices below. 

No matter. Which memoirs would you enshrine on your Mt. Rushmore? Mine are listed alphabetically by author. I also aimed for four that approached the form from different angles. Use any order or criteria you want with your monument.

1.) Hitch-22: Christopher Hitchens - It would be hard to over-state how energized I was trying to keep up with the challenges Hitchens offhandedly dishes out page after page in this book, a memoir in name only. I'd call it a feast for the intellect. 

2.) The Color of Water: James McBride - Soon after its releaseI recall finishing McBride's tribute to his white mother and immediately turning back to the first page to start over. This was the only one of my four final choices that appeared on all six lists I made while constructing this iteration of Mt. Rushmore.

3.) Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: Nina Sankovitch - A memoir that rescued me during one of the most difficult months of my life. Figures the subject would be the author's love affair with books and the Herculean feat she undertook to celebrate her sister's passing: She read a book every day for a full year. 

4.) The Glass Castle: Jeanette Walls - Like The Liars' Club, Walls manages a super-human feat. With zero sentimentality, she recalls her harrowing childhood and adolescence, leaving readers grateful for their mildly flawed parents and a little envious of the author's adventures. How do writers do this?

Reflections From The Bell Curve: My Memoir Pickle


Saturday, April 17, 2021

Bad News In Bartonstan

Effective July 1, the widget that automatically sends readers an e-mail each time I publish a blog post is being discontinued. I know many of you rely on this feature to remind you to visit Bartonstan. Since I doubt Blogger will re-consider the decision to abandon this feature - despite my non-stop and pathetic begging - I'm searching for ways to ensure I don't lose any of you. If among you sits a savvy techy with a personal friend at Blogger that is inclined to take a bribe, please reach out to me at once with that friend's contact information. Or, anyone with another suggestion - put legality and/or morality aside - I'm all ears.

This is not the first wacky knuckleball Blogger has hurled at me since the inception of my blog in March 2011. Still, as July 1 approaches, please forgive any desperation seeping into my reflections as I continue looking for ways to mitigate this bad news in Bartonstan and keep as many faithful readers as I can. 

And, Facebook friends who have mostly read just the occasional post I put on my wall, I apologize in advance. If Facebook turns into my go-to promotional tool, that wall of mine could end up resembling the graffiti-saturated streets of Athens, unless one of you has a close, unscrupulous friend at Blogger. There is no depth to which I will not stoop.      

 

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Re-Discovering A Treasure

Although I'd intended to mention who was born play Jefferson Kyle Kidd if/when News of the World was ever made into a film, when I published my blog post about the Paulette Giles novel in December 2018, it slipped my mind. I am seriously bummed because Tom Hanks was who I'd envisioned while reading that exceptional book. But, I have no way to prove my prescience.  

 Reflections From The Bell Curve: Discovering A New Treasure

However, given the quality of the recent film adaptation, I quickly scuttled my disappointment about not mentioning Hanks in the post above. The film is an equal to Giles's poetic treasure. Not only is Hanks predictably excellent, the young actress who plays Johanna is a revelation, the cinematography depicting Reconstruction era Texas is unimprovable, and the screenwriter and/or director had the good sense to lift some of the dialogue right from the book. Don't miss this movie.

And make sure you also take the time to read the book, preferably before watching the film. Then, tell me who else - besides Harrison Ford, my second casting choice - could have reasonably been picked to play Kidd aside from the always reliable Tom Hanks.   


Sunday, April 11, 2021

An Enriching Gift

When was the last time someone recommended an article or essay to you because what they'd read made them think of you? Gifts like this enrich my life. I can't recall a single time when I didn't rush to read what was recommended. Why would I wait when someone thought of me this way? 

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/05/style/modern-love-alzheimers-the-day-his-journal-went-blank.html

A while back, a new friend and I discussed our mutual love of Modern Love, a longstanding NY Times feature. Knowing how complicated my life has been these past few months, this friend suspected - correctly, it turns out - that I might have missed the February 5 edition of Modern Love above. I read it soon after she brought it to my attention, was deeply moved, then soon after that got wrapped up in my maelstrom and forgot my friend's thoughtfulness. 

Last night was a restless one. My journal gave me solace, similar to the peace the author of that Modern Love column found in her Father's journal. While making my journal entry, I suddenly recalled the gift my friend had given me weeks ago. I went online, re-read that luminous essay, returned to bed grateful for her friendship.  


Thursday, April 8, 2021

I Recommend Paying For Help

It's possible the significant upheaval in my life since late 2020 has forced me to pay more attention to communication patterns, specifically the way those patterns differ depending on the nature of a relationship. I'm curious to hear what you've observed about this. A few things that have recently become clearer to me:

* It's easier to be unkind when communicating with people we love most. What sometimes helps me avoid taking those I love most for granted is to remind myself to communicate with them the way I would with friends. 

* Destructive communication patterns between members of the family of origin are easily triggered by stress. I've been re-learning this difficult lesson daily for several months now.

* It's never a bad idea to seek help in improving communication skills. Can you name a better way to improve than having a disinterested professional coach you? Unlike your loved ones, your family of origin, and your friends, that third party has no skin in the game. And if you're anything like me, when you're paying for help, you're more receptive to what someone else offers.  

      

Monday, April 5, 2021

Marking The Third Decade

"Got my first good six-string, bought it at the five-and-dime. Played it till my fingers bled, it was the summer of 69." 

That lyric from the Bryan Adams anthem called Summer of 69 is a fitting intro for the third iteration of this newest - limited run - series, matching the year to how many posts I've now published. Because, the year Adams chose to immortalize was also the year I too "..got my first new six string...and played it till my fingers bled". Makes me wish I'd written that great lyric every time I hear it. 

What sticks out for you about 1969, the year I was a sophomore and junior in college? Given the wild overlap of my life with that terrific Adams tune, using music markers for the start of my third decade and post #1969 felt inescapable.

* Though I started playing guitar in 1969, at the time, my main instrument was still drums. That would remain so until I graduated from college and realized the drums were not an ideal instrument for an aspiring composer. Also, accompanying my singing on the drums presented challenges.  

* I was playing those drums with my college band called SKY that summer of 69. One of our gigs was at the Windsor Hotel in East Fallsburg NY, located less than fifteen miles away from a place you might have heard of - Woodstock. I couldn't hear the music but the traffic was backed up on the road that passed right by the Windsor. Can't make up this stuff. 

And you?


Friday, April 2, 2021

Post-Covid Happiness

"Rules for happiness: something to do, someone to love, something to hope for."  - Immanuel Kant 

Like success, happiness resists being easily defined. Immanuel Kant's rules for happiness have given me solace more than once. If asked to add a single element to Kant's elegant formula, what would you choose? 

Today, after over a year in a Covid cocoon, I would choose laughter. Reflecting on seventy-one years of good fortune, it's clear that many of my happiest moments have involved people I love - rule #2 in Kant's formula - and laughter. It matters not which comes first - happiness or laughter. Laughing with people I love makes me happy and the happiness I feel surrounded by people I love can result in unbridled, grateful laughing. I've desperately missed that kind of in-person laughter over this past year. 

I submit Kant's modest rules can be a good first step as we all attempt to restore some equilibrium to our disrupted lives. Will happiness follow? For now, I'll settle for less disruption and more laughter with people I love. In my experience, happiness will flow from there.