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Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Shedding Old Skin, Ambivalently

Although it defies logic, each time I review a curriculum I wrote during my twenty years as an adult educator, my ambivalence about this stuff deepens. I'm still unsure what prevented me from getting rid of all these boxes eleven years ago. And though I know teaching about domestic violence, adolescent suicide and depression, inclusion in the workplace, etc. ended when my full time work years ended, my interest in the subjects and commitment to making the world a better place via education continue to be an integral part of me.  

At the same time, I owe it to my daughter to begin shedding some of this old skin. I don't want her to be burdened with making a decision - hopefully years from now - about what to do with mountains of her father's curricula. It's bad enough she might be stuck with hundreds of journal pads, book journals, film logs, etc. Still, each time I plow through a curriculum, I find some kernel worth resuscitating; at least it seems worth it to me. I also fondly recall how delivering a class of my own was satisfying, even when the class was sparsely attended and ran just one time.

That's right, hundreds of hours developing a course - most recently reviewed and then discarded was my 1994 course entitled Awareness of Disability - for under a dozen participants, a class destined never to be repeated. Was it worth all that effort? Again, there's that ambivalence. I remember being juiced learning about the subject, excited as I developed the course, looking forward to sharing my passion for the topic with others. Then I was disappointed at the meager response and the fact that it never ran again. Then I saved my curriculum, storing it in a box moved from my last house to the one I've lived in since 2010. Then I recently reviewed it and relived a few meaningful moments from the only time I delivered it. Then I decided it was time to let it go. Then I found a few kernels worth saving and added those kernels to the mountains of my other past writing. Then I wrote this post thinking maybe at least one reader/writer might relate.


Monday, June 28, 2021

Country Dropping

Most of us have probably met a few name-droppers. Much as I've tried avoiding it, I've succumbed to that obnoxious habit, although musical names I've infrequently dropped aren't worthy of even a muted "ooh", let alone a gasp. Consequently, when others name drop, I'm able to suppress my annoyance; a self-satisfied smirk at the offender is enough to maintain my superiority. But country-droppers? That's a bridge too far. 

Compare my experience to your own and weigh in with a comment about your reactions when faced with these situations or others of a similar flavor that you've encountered:

* You're on vacation or otherwise away from home. In your first conversation with a total stranger, any casual mention of a foreign country you've visited - for business or personal reasons - is met with a list of several countries that stranger has been to, some more than once, including the country mentioned in your innocent statement. Wait, was your initial mention casually innocent?

* You're discussing a book that takes place in a foreign country. Another participant in the discussion (not you, of course) cannot resist interjecting their experience in that locale. The country-dropper's first self-aggrandizing sentence invariably begins with something like "Well, when I was in .. (fill in the country from the book)." 

If you claim that either .. a.) you've never had an experience anything like the above or .. b.) you've never country-dropped yourself, then I'll look forward to either .. a.) seeing the decor of your cave or .. b.) watching you do that walk-on-water bit. Hey, did I ever tell you about my trip to Costa Rica? No? I've got pictures.  


Saturday, June 26, 2021

Chasing The Bird

How old were you when you first recognized your limitations? How much do you recall about the specifics of what you set out to accomplish? How long did it take before you reconciled yourself to never reaching that accomplishment? What has been the most recent limitation you've faced head-on?    

How much easier my life could have been had I learned to recognize my musical limitations sooner. Not sure how this critical life skill eluded me until recently. My parents were sensible people who supported my musical dreams while not indulging me in fantasy. My siblings have also brought me back to earth on those occasions when I've strayed too far afield, musically or otherwise. From my undergraduate years on, I've been fortunate to have many grounded friends and work colleagues. It's abundantly clear where the buck stops.

Sadly, knowing where the blame rests for my musical myopia isn't comforting. For eleven years I've been steadily increasing the speed on my metronome playing Ornithology, Charlie Parker's bebop classic, on my guitar. Then not long ago, I compared my current speed - 168 beats per minute (BPM) - to a Parker recording. I now offer this hackneyed glass-half-full bromide: Better late than never to recognize playing bebop is not - perhaps never was - in the cards for me, considering the Bird plays Ornithology at 230+ BPM. 

No wonder I've avoided recognizing my limitations; it sucks.      

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

My Bruno Kirby Moment

Have you met a single person who doesn't love When Harry Met Sally? I haven't. I'd wager even the  folks who have seen it just once could easily identify one line from Nora Ephron's hilarious script, i.e. "I'll have what she's having.

I admit opening this post using that iconic line to get to a self-referential point is sneaky. But bear with me. Because a less recalled scene from that revered movie does have some uncanny resemblance to a recent turn of events from my blogging life. In that scene, the four principals are sharing their first dinner together. Sally's best friend - portrayed by Carrie Fischer - cites a recent magazine article she's read which, unbeknownst to her, turns out to have been written by Harry's journalist friend, played by Bruno Kirby. Kirby's character's puffed-up reaction to this flattering coincidence is so .. male. Case in point:

I receive a nice comment on the blog post in which I coined the term "bro-bragging". A new reader tells me he is going to borrow my neologism in the future. So far, Pat is happy but still in control of his senses. Then, in a conversation about male fragility several weeks later, someone quotes two of three elements mentioned in that same post, nearly verbatim. When I cite the missing third element he couldn't recall, he says he remembers reading that same post and indicates that is "probably" where he'd gotten the first two.  

At that point, the nasty ego is stirring but still in check. Alas, my Bruno Kirby moment arrived a few days ago. Seeing an e-mail with "bro-bragging" in the subject line - the writer saying she'd stolen it from a blog post that made her laugh out loud - puffed my feathers to peacock-sized dimensions. I'll credit Director Rob Reiner - BTW, that's Reiner's Mom who smirks the line while seated in the NY Deli next to Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal -  and screenwriter Nora Ephron for giving me the context for this solipsistic post. And I'll close with a big thanks to the three people who delivered me my Bruno Kirby moment. God bless you all. 

Reflections From The Bell Curve: The Price Of Bro-Bragging


Sunday, June 20, 2021

Pride On Father's Day

If your experience matches mine, every parent you've ever met thinks they did a good (or great) job with their children. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary - i.e. the legions of walking wounded - if we are to believe what others claim, then average, below average, or failing parents do not exist. To some parents, even suggesting we've all made mistakes with our children - sometimes serious ones - is insulting or worse. 

My only child was fourteen when I read Mitch Albom's bestseller The Five People You Meet in Heaven soon after its publication in 2003. How am I so sure about when I read it? Because finishing that slim volume marked a clear end in a battle I'd waged with myself from the time my beloved daughter was born. Imbedded in Albom's sentimental tale is an elegant metaphor about damage all parents do - whether they admit it or not -  to children. A parent can fog their children's glass, break that glass, shatter that glass; no child escapes unscathed. Before reading Albom's formulation, I'd struggled almost daily with mistakes already made. That metaphor released me. Almost immediately, I became less concerned about mistakes of the past and envisioned a way to forgive myself for future mistakes I would surely make. It's hard to overstate how liberating that was for me. 

I've surely fogged my daughter's glass more times than I can count. But on every Father's Day since 2003, it's been easier for me to let go of how great, good, average or worse a parent I've been. And that's because I am certain my daughter's glass has never been broken or shattered via my missteps. Any damage I've done can be more easily mitigated than damage inflicted via a break or a shattering. She can take a rag and wipe that fog away - including the thicker parts of it - even when it takes effort to do so. I've done right by her, just as my Father did by me. I can be proud of that.  

  

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Help With Seeing

Over our forty-three years together, what I'm most grateful for in my wife has frequently shifted. I'm confident saying this is probably true for most people in long-term relationships.

Lately, I've grown to be most grateful for her visual sense of the world. Each time we walk together, but especially when we are hiking, her attention to the surroundings grounds me in the here and now. This may not seem like much to some of you but to this goal-driven, perpetually distracted, auditorily-oriented blogger it is huge. If not for her, the visual wonders of the physical world could easily escape my notice. 

I'm not uninterested in the things right in front of me. When my wife takes the time to point out a flower or tree, linger at a beautiful spot just because, or explain  - for the tenth time - the difference between lichen and fungi, I listen attentively. I try to be fully present and retain what she's teaching me. And though I'm aware in the moment of the gifts I'm receiving, my monkey mind still gets the better of me more often than not. How many steps have I taken so far? When will I get in some guitar time today? What was that song fragment or idea for a blog post or nascent essay kernel I had right before she spotted that pileated woodpecker and pointed it out to me? 

If you are in a long-term relationship, what are you most recently grateful for in your partner? Who gives you the most help seeing the ever-present, astonishing wonders of the world? Most important question for me: What is your most effective strategy for putting goals aside long enough to take in those wonders?    


Sunday, June 13, 2021

Lost In Lethem Land

I just couldn't wait.

Jonathan Lethem's The Ecstasy of Influence (2011) is so good it was easy to scuttle my longstanding policy of keeping distance between blog posts about books. Lethem's essays deliver so much wallop I was able to temporarily forget how much I've missed reading new non-fiction by John Updike, David Foster Wallace, and Christopher Hitchens. I'm now looking forward to getting lost in Lethem land a lot in the future.

The essays in "Ecstasy..." cover a dizzying array of topics ranging in length from half a page to forty pages - that one happens to be about James Brown. Like all the talented writers I admire, Lethem is a persuasive reading evangelist.  I have yet to read a book of essays without coming away with at least a few new authors to add to my list. Updike was the first to lead me to Anne Tyler; Wallace persuaded me to return to Kafka; Hitchens extolled his friends Martin Amis & Salman Rushdie. And Lethem's suggestions? Among others, he reminded me I'd forgotten to look up Italo Calvino, an author esteemed by another terrific essayist no longer with us - the always provocative Gore Vidal.

I hope someone will pick up Lethem's book and tell me what you think; he's a writer that begs to be discussed. Even when a little out of my depth, I felt smarter just reading him. If you don't have much  time, sample a few of his essays recalling 9/11. More time? Try the title essay and "Postmodernism As Liberty Valance". I'm guessing you'll get lost in Lethem land a little bit too.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Payoff For A Stubborn Reader

Don DeLillo has long occupied a spot on a short list of acclaimed fiction authors who I've struggled to crack. Each time I abandoned one of his novels, I vowed to return, knowing sooner or later my efforts would pay off. Authors don't get to be as highly regarded as DeLillo for no reason.   

If DeLillo's work has challenged you as it has me (and you're as stubborn as I), The Silence (2020) could be - as it turned out to be for me - your gateway to a modern-day master. The premise is straightforward - five people try to cope with a technological apocalypse - the prose is lean, the insights powerful. This time, at under one hundred fifty pages and with a small cast, the density of DeLillo's vision didn't overwhelm me as happened with several of his earlier novels I'd started. If you end up reading The Silence, I'd enjoy hearing about your experience, especially if DeLillo hasn't been easy for you.

BTW, the short list referred to in the first paragraph also includes William Faulkner, David Foster Wallace, and Thomas Pynchon. Except for Old Man - shorter than The Silence - I've yet to finish another Faulkner novel. And though I have greedily devoured all of Wallace's non-fiction, I've given up on Infinite Jest at least three times. Me & Thomas Pynchon's lauded fiction? That's a blog post all by itself. But, the good news comes last: Not giving up on DeLillo brought The Silence to me. That means there may be more DeLillo & Faulkner in my future and perhaps I'll crack Infinite Jest the next time. Pynchon? Stay tuned on that.      

Monday, June 7, 2021

Lonely On The Bell Curve

Back in early May, sometime after visiting the last exhibit in Graceland but before settling into a hotel room in Hot Springs, Arkansas, I misplaced an almost-full notepad. Dating back to November 2020, it contained ideas for blog posts. Since the March 2011 inception of my blog, I've reliably carried with me everywhere a notepad just like that misplaced one. 

I'm embarrassed to say misplacing notepad #13 (honest!) hasn't been easy to shake off. It's possible that the turmoil in my personal life from late 2020 through mid-April, two more seasons spent in the Covid cocoon, and the continuing aftermath of an "alternative facts" presidential election have contributed to me over-reacting to this loss. All the ideas captured in that notepad overlapped with those events. From past experience, I know even fragments from these pads have helped me make sense of my world, especially when those fragments later coalesced into a coherent blog post. I'm concerned that lost ideas from those seven months could threaten that sense-making.

Although I suspect I might be lonely on the bell curve today, if you find yourself in any part of this reflection, be sure to let me know. It helps.       


p.s. Apologies to any readers who receive notifications of my posts via their e-mail. I'm guessing some of you received two e-mails today, one about this post and another about my last post ("Marking the Fifth Decade") which was published on June 4I hope from here on you will receive e-mail notification for just my most recent post. 


Friday, June 4, 2021

Marking The Fifth Decade

Of the entries marking this series, this one - matching post number #1989 to the year 1989 - is the easiest one to write and will also be the shortest of the eight.  

Because 1989 was, without qualification, the richest single year of my life. In a lifetime of good fortune, the birth of my daughter on January 19 - just over ten months before my fortieth birthday - ensured the start of this particular decade, my fifth, would always remain my most memorable. 

What made 1989 special for you?   

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Seeking Redemption

Six years ago I bought the final edition of Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide while developing a course on the intersection of music & film. Soon after - film buff that I am - I discovered this 1,611 page doorstop was becoming an invaluable resource, helping me uncover movie treasures I'd missed and reminding me of films worth a second look. In my home library, only the World Atlas is now more marked up than Maltin's tome. Anyone reading my annotations in these two books might be tempted to prescribe medication. (And don't get me started on what my first (1993) edition of Maltin's reference book - at a meager 1,520 pages - looks like; really, don't.)  

Which film did you recently watch a second time? If you recall it, how did the re-watch compare with your initial reaction? For me, re-discovering a sleeper is often more fun than re-watching a widely-seen or award-winning film. 

For example, the first time I saw A Simple Plan, I was aligned with Maltin's rating of two and one-half stars, out of four. This second time? I upgraded Sam Raimi's 1998 film to a solid three stars (with due respect to you, Leonard), especially taking note of Bill Paxton's under-stated lead performance, Billy Bob Thornton's exceptional portrayal as Paxton's limited brother, and the strong element of genuine surprise in this under-seen movie. Put this one on your list.

Contrast this with my recent re-watch of The Shining - a wildly popular film - which left me colder than the first time around. Jack Nicholson is among the best actors of his generation but in this film he seems unhinged from nearly his first scene. Consequently - to me at least - there is no surprise when Nicholson unravels. The film held no suspense for me the first time. On this re-watch, other flaws - cue the Shelley Duval hysterics - jumped out at me, notwithstanding the bona fides of director/auteur Stanley Kubrick.

I know, I know. Stanley Kubrick is .. Stanley Kubrick. OK, so at least give A Simple Plan a shot and let me know if this nobody blogger has redeemed himself.