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Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Harnessing My Trepidation

"I cannot remember the books I have read any better than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me."   - Ralph Waldo Emerson

In my experience, nearly every new adventure brings with it an almost equal measure of excitement and trepidation. Although some might say those are two opposing forces, for me, each gives some fuel to its counterpart. Anyone out there relate to this? 

Which brings me to my newest adventure, scheduled to begin in early November. Directly below is a brief description, in case any local reader decides they'd like to participate, at least for the maiden voyage. Let me know of your interest either via a comment here or with an offline e-mail or phone call; I'll supply some particulars. And wish me luck harnessing my trepidation into excitement. 

Join a community of interested people who will share ideas and gain insights on a different topic each month. Our facilitator Pat Barton will ignite the conversations using readings, music, and film as a means of exploring different perspectives on subjects like joy, belonging, and courage.


Saturday, August 28, 2021

Marking The Eighth Decade

2019 marked the start of my eighth decade. And this post, my 2019th, marks the end of this limited run series initiated on March 3 when I matched my 1949th post with events from 1949, the year that kicked off my first decade. This is your last chance to share something in this series. What was significant for you about the year 2019?

Aside from the out-of-the-park surprise birthday party my wife and daughter pulled off to mark my 70th birthday on November 23, I think 2019 is destined to be the "year before Covid". Oddly, my wife and daughter and I had decided 2019 was going to be the last time we hosted my family for Christmas Eve. No drama was associated with our decision; we simply concluded that hosting for almost forty years was long enough. And then, because Covid was still raging when Christmas 2020 rolled around, everyone in my family hunkered down and did their own thing. That rendered our abandonment of the longstanding family tradition a non-issue. I'm still not sure if anyone in my family will pick up where we left off on Christmas 2019 when the holiday arrives this year. And with only one of my four nieces still living nearby, it's quite possible my whole family may not get together for Christmas Eve ever again. 

If that becomes the case, 2019 could be additionally memorable as the year of the final Barton family Christmas Eve hurrah. I will miss it.

Reflections From The Bell Curve: Gobsmacked

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Testing My Endurance

After describing the dilemma I've endured for almost half a century, I hope anyone who has faced something like it will share their story with me. It will help to know I'm not alone whining about this.

I was born on November 23, 1949, my wife on June 11, 1954. Over our forty-three plus years together, any time age comes up, my wife invariably says I'm five years older.  Call me over-sensitive if you must, but even during the five plus months from June 12 until November 22, somehow I remain five years older than her. I'm so accustomed to this mathematical sleight of hand that when she last made her bogus claim in early August, I stopped and did the math. Her chicanery aside, facts are facts. Until November 22, I am seventy-one and she is sixty-seven. Dear reader: Please reassure me after doing the simple subtraction.  

If just once I could be four and a half years older or, if my wife accurately stated that subtracting her birth year from mine equals five, perhaps my fragile ego could be temporarily mollified. But I ask you: How much distorted arithmetic must one man endure? 

Sunday, August 22, 2021

I Can Never Repay You, Hal

What is your earliest-in-life recollection of an experience that pointed you toward a passion that has sustained you ever since? Put aside whether or not that life-sustaining passion later ever turned into a way to make money or became a career. Focus instead on the experience, describe it to me, tell me how early in life it happened to you. 

As my wife recently described to me again her four-year-old self being transfixed by the underside of flowers growing in her childhood backyard, I was thirteen. Each time "Do-lang, do-lang, do lang" signaled the start of He's So Fine, my world came to a standstill. I remained anxiously glued to the radio awaiting the brief drum break just before the Chiffons sang "He's so fine (oh yeah), gotta be mine (oh yeah)". I didn't learn until many years later that the drum fill that rocked me to the core was played by the legendary session drummer Hal Blaine. But I do clearly recall thirteen-year-old Pat knowing he would never be quite the same. When a childhood friend and good musician asked me a short while later to learn how to play drums and join his junior high school band, I lunged at the opportunity. 

Over fifty-seven years have gone by. I often reflect on what my life would have been like had I never heard that Hal Blaine drum fill. I sometimes wish I'd had the opportunity to thank him for helping me discover what I now know was my destiny. I suspect he would have appreciated knowing he helped shape my life. 

Thursday, August 19, 2021

The First First In Quite A While

Those of you fortunate enough to have life partners who share your love of literature: When was the last time you & your partner were reading the same book at the exact same time? What was that experience like for you? How closely aligned were you in your views of the book?   

Even though both of us are almost always reading a book, until quite recently when each of us got immersed in Rebecca - Daphne DuMaurier's 1938 classic of romantic suspense - my wife and I had never overlapped. Yes, we've both read many of the same books and later discussed our reactions. Yes, we've been close in time reading several books, a predictable circumstance given we've been in the same club since January 2017. But over our forty-three years of intense shared passion for literature, turning the same pages of the same book at the same time? This was a first.

On my first visit to Manderley, I extensively marked up our owned copy of the novel. On her second visit - the first taken when she was a young girl - my wife used book darts to note passages in her library copy. As we compared our notes on and reactions to the book, we also discussed our recent viewing of the 2019 film. And we quickly agreed the time is ideal for seeking out the 1940 Alfred Hitchcock original. Neither of us is quite ready to leave Manderley.    


p.s. Of the many blog series I've created since 2011 to entice readers to return to Bartonstan, this one - devoted to "firsts" - has laid dormant for perhaps the longest period.

Reflections From The Bell Curve: Another First (With A Side Order Of Guilt)


Monday, August 16, 2021

That Thorny Word

 opinion: a belief or judgment that rests on grounds insufficient to produce certainty. 

What other noun in the English language screams more for a modifier than "opinion"? Like all of you, I've heard it said many times that everyone is entitled to their own opinion. And just as I've often yearned to hear adjectives like "educated" or "misinformed" placed in front of that thorny word, I've also often wished that hoary entitlement cliche be accompanied by a less-heard caveat each time someone utters it: Everyone is entitled to their own opinion; no one is entitled to their own facts. 

For anyone objecting to the need for a modifier to precede the word opinion and/or a caveat to follow the entitlement platitude, I refer you to the dictionary definition opening this post. I hope we can find common ground in saying a dictionary reflects a set of widely agreed-upon, neutral, non-political facts, i.e. how words are defined. So if my judgment in the paragraph above did not produce for you sufficient grounds for certainty, reject my minimally informed opinion. Additional facts: I'll survive that rejection. I'll be back on the bell curve again soon. Any educated opinions I offer will be grounded in facts that are not alternative.  


Friday, August 13, 2021

Becoming A Better Man

Although I'm still some distance from fully re-establishing my equilibrium, over the last few months I've begun to better understand how I coped when my life turned upside-down starting late last year. It comes down to a simple fact: Having the partner in life I have helps me be the best man I'm capable of being.  

As tumultuous as my life was for several months, it was much easier for me to unselfishly do what I did because my wife fully supported the hard choices to be made, choices requiring sacrifice for each of us and for our marriage. But having watched her example for forty-three years - doing the right thing more often than not, being kind above all else, usually thinking of others before thinking of herself  - helped make those choices much less difficult. The closer I followed her model, the more I liked who I was becoming, despite the significant stress of our living situation.  

I've had enough exposure to toxic people to last a lifetime. Having a toxic partner during the recent turmoil in my life might have de-railed me. Worse, if the person by my side begrudged the help they gave to me, damage could have been done to the circumstances I was trying to ameliorate. I'm grateful beyond measure to report that instead, I emerged from the tumult a stronger, more worthy person. And that occurred largely because of my partner in life.       

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

RX For Reducing Crow: Less Dismissing

At this point in my life, I've swallowed enough crow that it's now a major food group for me. Though I don't expect anyone else to admit they share this flaw - at least not publicly - I doubt that I'm alone on the bell curve in this respect. 

My most recent crow meal occurred as I finished The Silent Patient (2019) by Alex Michaelides. After a long reading life turning up my snobbish nose at thrillers and/or mysteries, this adroit psychological whodunit forced me to look squarely at some of the stories I've told myself about books of this type. I'll spare you the excessive self-flagellation. But if you are looking for a gripping page-turner, read this book. I recommend it especially for readers - like yours truly - who have foolishly let a few clunkers from this over-stuffed genre dissuade them from seeking out gems like this.   

While still digesting, let me mention two additional thrillers finished not long ago that kicked my ass, setting the stage for today's crow entree. Both The Devotion of Suspect X  (Keigo Higashino, 2005) and I Let You Go (Clare Mackintosh, 2014) are worthy of any reader's time, including recovering snobs willing to own up to that. These three wholly immersive novels will captivate any open reader. Since I have not yet been able to perform alchemy anything like these talented authors have, I'm now out of the business of dismissing thrillers. Enough crow, already. 

Reflections From The Bell Curve: Off The High Horse


Saturday, August 7, 2021

Pause Before Curdling

Thanks to a thoughtful gift I received last Christmas, the last eight months have turned me into a hardcore devotee of Little Steven's Underground Garage, one of the many stations available via Sirius satellite radio. If you have satellite radio, which station is your most dedicated jones?

Since late last year, one of the pleasures for me has been little Steven himself, even when he prattles on too much. But recently, my enjoyment of Sil's patter (with a nod to the Sopranos fans among you) has begun to  dissipate a little. I started out marveling at little Steven's depth of knowledge, however esoteric. Then I began wondering: How many research assistants are likely behind the scenes feeding stuff to him, helping him sound uber-cool and informed in the process? I know I sound churlish and maybe little Steven does all his own research. But I don't think so. If you've listened to this station, what do you think?

I have no plans to stop listening to little Steven. Some of the musical ephemera he routinely dishes has already come in handy in music courses I teach. And I want to believe he has a hand in some or most of the songs used during his segments on the station. Was the original concept for the station his? I hope so. I don't want to be too much of a skeptic or worse, curdle into reflexive cynicism. 

Open note to little Steven: If all that patter results from your own hard work, apologies in advance from this churlish and unknown blogger. And, even if you knew just 50% of that rock n' roll flotsam before you became a DJ, can I buy you lunch and pick your jam-packed brain?  

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Words For The Ages, Line Nineteen

"Life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone."

What lyric has more succinctly captured the wistful quality marking the transition from adolescence to adulthood? The phrase above from Jack and Diane is terse and easy to remember and has the unmistakable ring of truth, three attributes shared by all the lyrics I've selected as words for the ages since initiating this series in 2017. 

Mark my words: When JD Salinger's novel Catcher In the Rye enters the public domain thirty years from now and becomes a movie, a smart director or screenwriter will resurrect John Mellencamp's 1982 anthem to use on the soundtrack. Those words for the ages are destined to be the tagline for a film that has been waiting to be made since Salinger's iconic book landed in 1951. 

Because my young adult daughter is involved in the film industry, I'm requesting she remembers her dear old Dad's prediction, ensuring my name gets into that future movie's credits as a consultant. Of course, should I make it to my 101st birthday, I'll take care of this detail myself. 


Sunday, August 1, 2021

National Charity Day

I've now used every August 1 since 2012 to propose a new national holiday here on my blog; safe to say no one can chastise me for a lack of persistence. If this year's unquestionably brilliant idea for National Charity Day lands with the same deadly thud as my earlier nine holiday proposals have, I'm forced to conclude August is doomed to forever remain the only barren month. Hallmark, do you realize what an opportunity you're missing by ignoring all my sage proposals?

What are your ideas for turning August 1 of each year into a day of national charity? How about we start with all charities being given unlimited free advertising to solicit for their organizations on that day? TV, radio, the Internet, direct mail - all free. Imagine how many new potential donators could be reached.  

How to appeal to people to open their wallets more than usual on the holiday? What if corporations agreed to a dollar-for-dollar match for any donation made by their employees on August 1? And to help preserve the spirit of the day, the corporate dollars are donated with no strings attached, i.e. no tax write-offs? 

Full disclosure: Some of my original ideas for marking this holiday were cynical and punitive; a few involved the IRS. I scuttled the first draft of this post soon after realizing my initial impulses were .. uncharitable.