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Thursday, September 30, 2021

Adaptations In A Post-Covid World

Through evolutionary history, the human race has adapted in many useful ways. Our posture eventually became upright, our thumbs opposable, our level of melanin adjusted relative to the intensity of the sun where we settled.  

Given how many of us have been wearing masks since March, 2020 has anyone beside me wondered if we might look or feel a bit different when Covid-19 finally loses its grip on us, the human race? For example:

* Will we have permanent facial tan lines - like what happens with bathing suits - where masks have blocked the sun for the last eighteen months? 

* Will the shape of our ears be irrevocably altered because of the tension of the strings holding our masks in place? 

* Will breathing unobstructed ever feel the same again? While on that thread, do those folks with serious halitosis now better understand what it's been like for the rest of us?

 

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Gifts From The Universe

Although Covid-19 still has hot spots around the U.S., I'm happy to report a trip to Maine which we were forced to postpone in October 2020 is coming off this year. Along with visiting some old friends in southern Maine, this extended road trip will also mark our fifth visit to Acadia National Park, one of the only places my wife and I have chosen to re-visit more than twice. 

Even better, we'll be reuniting - also for the fifth time - with the late-in-life soulmates we met on our first trip with Road Scholars to Alaska. These fourteen people have been the best gift the universe has sent me since 2015. Each of our previous four reunions - to Rocky Mountain National Park, Camp Sagamore in the Adirondacks of New York, the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington State, and Amelia Island in Florida - has deepened our connection with these friends, travelling companions, fellow bookworms. Even while Covid-19 raged in 2020, we met twice - virtually - to discuss The Good Lord Bird (James McBride) and The Illusion of Separateness (Simon Van Booy). At this year's reunion, one of our evenings will be devoted to discussing Our Souls At Night (Kent Haruf). And I can't wait to hear what this group of smart readers has consumed since we all last met face-to-face in 2019. 

What has been the best gift the universe has given you since 2015? How about in the last year? The last month?       

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Words For The Ages, Line Twenty

"What does it avail a man to gain a fortune and lose his soul?"

I clearly recall how that closing question from Golden Ribbons struck me the first time I listened to Loggins & Messina's second album. Not long after, the song became a favorite in the repertoire of the cover band I belonged to at the time. 

What I don't recall is when I first learned that composer Jim Messina had modified a slightly longer passage from Mark 8:36 to use as a fitting conclusion for his 1972 antiwar song. If any reader knows of another instance when a biblical passage has been so seamlessly converted into a succinct phrase for use in a popular song, I'd welcome hearing about it. 

Given Messina's source material, I'm guessing only the most militant atheist questioning this terse phrase as appropriate for my Words for the Ages series. And here's a juicy piece of useless musical trivia for even those militant atheists: Golden Ribbons was a pivotal reason behind Jim Messina leaving Poco, the band he had co-formed with Richie Furay from the still-warm ashes of Buffalo Springfield. Soon after Poco rejected Messina's majestic composition as "too political", Messina left the band and went on to work with Kenny Loggins. The rest .. 

"What doth it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" 


Thursday, September 23, 2021

Continuing Education

I'm confident saying that any reader sharing my passion for film has found the last eighteen months a bit weird. Aside from the obvious - i.e. not regularly communing in a dark room with a crowd of strangers - for the first time in memory, I did not see a single one of the eight Oscar nominees for best picture in a theater. Even more demoralizing for a movie buff than being forced to watch films on a TV has been the long delay between the announcements of those eight films and actually seeing them. And, I've still got two to go - the horror! How many of the eight have you seen? Got a favorite?

Now the semi-good news. Although I would have preferred to see Judas and the Black Messiah on a big screen - especially for the few electrifying scenes when Daniel Kaluuya, as Black Panther Fred Hampton, is speaking to a crowd - watching it at home was still a powerful experience. I recall how the Black Panthers were demonized and vilified in the late 60s. As a young white man, I fully accepted the narrative of the mainstream press, my working-class parents, and many of my peers at the time. Fifty additional years of education, including becoming more discerning about what the mainstream press regurgitates, growing independent of the view of my parents and peers, and being purposeful about not confirming my own biases, have all brought me to a different view of the Black Panthers and their legacy. This movie has deepened my resolve to continue that education.   

Judas and the Black Messiah has a strong viewpoint. I suspect Tucker Hannity or Sean Carlson or any of the other interchangeable dittoheads will not be putting it into their Netflix queue. But, though I condemn the wanton murder of police - or anyone else, for that matter - that one piece of the Black Panther legacy - depicted in this film - is not the whole story. I'm pleased some alternate voices are getting wide attention telling more complete stories, even if I'm forced to watch them on a TV. 


Monday, September 20, 2021

Fuddy-Duddy Discovery

Much to the chagrin of people in my life, especially my wife and daughter, until quite recently I resisted texting. And even after a serious family situation made this modern-day communication method more useful, I continued my futile fuddy-duddy battle to enter the twenty-first century. 

Imagine my delight when I discovered a clear benefit to texting, one directly linked to becoming a better writer. Want to know which phrases are tired or cliched? Get your phone, start a text, and use an adjective of your choosing. See which noun the auto-fill feature selects to follow that adjective. I'll wait.

So, if the auto-fill suggests "student" or "reader" to follow "avid" what does that tell us? As an avid reader who also wants to be a better writer, it tells me to avoid the phrase "avid reader". I can hear you from here. Big deal, you say, especially if sounding stale as a writer is unimportant to you. How about as a speaker? Any interest in sounding fresh - or at least, less predictable - when conversing? Try typing in other adjectives or adverbs you're fond of using and see what noun or verb or adjective is auto-filled. Better yet, try "trials and.." or "tried and.." or  "recipe for.." I'll wait.

Recognize any of your oft-used, automatic pilot phrases? I bet you do.   

Friday, September 17, 2021

Does Every Happy Family Have Its Own Coward?

If no member of your immediate family has ever been offended or alienated by anything you've written, you have yet to be genuinely honest with your writing. 

I've had difficulty tracking down definitively which writer first made that observation, paraphrased for the purposes of this post. Some sources claim Ernest Hemingway first said it, others say Tennessee Williams, still others attribute it to Gore Vidal. No matter; the essential truth of it stings me as an aspiring writer. This became clear to me as I recently realized how hard I've worked to not offend or alienate anyone in my immediate family while publishing over 2000 blog posts since March 2011. 

I can't claim kindness has motivated my meekness; I'm not that kind. Nor can I assert tact has limited my candor; my foot has been in my mouth a good portion of my adult life. The more I reflect on it, the more inescapable the conclusion. I'm a bit of a coward. Not ennobling, but probably true.

It's not as though I haven't written dozens of posts about members of my immediate family. But in all my posts laying bare any fault lines in my reasonably functional family, I've been purposefully vague. Contrast those veiled posts to the ones where my family are the good guys. In the latter I'm clear who is the subject. But in the former, references are oblique, specific details that could identify any individual are avoided, generalities abound. Coward? Maybe, maybe not. Dishonest? No question. More work to do.  

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Act Three Dilemma

A lifetime of being in love with literature has brought with it a fair share of dilemmas. Aside from those that originate with my posse, how to weigh the relative merit of a book recommendation? When is it time to abandon an author? Which genres have grown tired for me or, are no longer useful to me as a thinker or, don't have much to teach me as an aspiring writer? 

Finishing John Banville's masterful 1997 novel The Untouchable helped fortify the newest dilemma in Act Three of my reading life: How many new-to-me authors can reasonably be added to my list of "keepers"? I mean, without being too specifically morbid, at seventy-one + years, it's probably time to begin making my keeper list manageable, no? I knew right after finishing Snow - Banville's most recent novel as well as my first exposure to him - that he deserved a return visit. But after two gems in a row, my newest dilemma loomed large. Do I now place Banville on that more select list? Those of you sharing my literature lust and residing in Act Three, please give me some help here. Act Two and share that lust? Be forewarned of what might lie ahead. Pretty sure I have few readers in Act One but just in case - see Act Two. 

" I am aware of a ceaseless hubbub of voices loudly saying things no one seemed in the least inclined to listen to." In my experience, if an author doesn't provide a sparkling or wise sentence like that early in a book, no matter how good the story or how rich the characters, that author is not going on my keeper list. So Act Three dilemma aside - given that sentence is on page thirteen of The Untouchable -  Banville is now on my not-so-manageable keeper list. At least, until the first time he disappoints me.

 Reflections From The Bell Curve: The Twist

Saturday, September 11, 2021

The Lunacy Of Fashion

 

I'm tempted to say that only in America would a pair of jeans like these attract customers. But I suspect other countries have their fair share of privileged people who would pay $128.00 to look like they can't afford to replace their tattered clothes. I'm not kidding - $128.00.

The lunacy of fashion is foremost of the things that have always mystified me. I realize admitting this renders me culturally irrelevant to the chic among us. But irrelevancy aside, I still wonder: Do the people who peddle this "I'm so poor" pretense to the consumers who are willing to swallow their swill ever stop to consider the message being conveyed to people who are truly poor? How many mouths can be fed by $128.00? 

Who is this cranky, fashion-challenged blogger trying to reach with his crabby rant? I'd settle for anyone who has seen an ad like this and had an inkling of wondering about what it says about unthinking consumerism. 

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Postponing Gratification

Spending any time thinking about how many hours I've devoted to my guitar is never wise. I'm better off just continuing to be purposeful, disciplined, and staying open to rare moments of transcendence.

There were perhaps two dozen people present as several of those moments occurred recently at my first post-Covid gig. I'm reasonably sure no one in that art gallery - except me - recognized my moments of fleeting musical rapture. That predictable circumstance did not diminish the experience at all. My solitary communion with the music I was creating - no matter how brief - was magical.  

As my second set began, I was back on more familiar ground - happy to be sharing music with others, proud of how my practicing and memorizing allow me to be flexible about what songs to play, pleased with my level of comfort. What single discipline has occupied the greatest percentage of your time? What lesson have you extracted from the hours you've spent practicing that discipline? I've learned many things via thousands of hours spent with the guitar. Today, being able to postpone gratification tops my list of the lessons I've extracted from more than a half century living with an instrument. 

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Recapturing Exuberance

While being enchanted by the unalloyed exuberance of a group of young children frolicking on the beach recently, I began reflecting: When did I begin losing that kind of boundless joy? How difficult would it be, really, to recapture that exuberance? And, what is preventing me from doing so? 

Although this is hardly the first time my wondering has travelled down this path, in the few days since watching those children, the time I spent recalling my transition from childhood to adolescence brought a fresh insight to me. Have you ever witnessed a group of teenagers tapping into uninhibited exuberance? I am quite certain I have not. More to the point, Pat as an adolescent would no sooner have acted like those children on the beach than he would have scaled Mt. Everest. Think of what any teenage cohort would say to one of theirs caught acting like those children - "Grow up!", "Act your age!", "You are so immature!", etc. 

Truth be told, even as a thinking adult, I've probably said - or at least thought - similar things on those occasions when I've observed an adolescent acting child-like. And there's the answer to question #1 in my opening paragraph above. Part of the price paid for becoming an adolescent is a diminished ability to tap into boundless joy.

This moment the second and third questions from my first paragraph are not as hard to untangle. It will not be at all difficult to recapture that exuberance if I stay in today's mindful space. The only thing preventing me from doing so is me. If I let go of all the stories attached to "grow up", "act your age" and "you are so immature", in no time at all I can be just like those children again, wide-eyed and immersed in the wonder of the beach, myself, and the magical world that surrounds each of us. 

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Revisiting The Six Word Memoir

Stable start, eclectic "career", still searching.

Call me a solipsist if you must. But when the widget on my home page called popular posts recently dug up my six word memoir, I felt oddly compelled to re-read it. 

Four and a half years later; I wouldn't change a word. (Now call me an egotist if that gives you solace.) But obnoxious self-satisfaction aside, with new readers having joined me here since March, 2017 and enough additional folks who now qualify as frequent commenters, I feel justified re-visiting this idea, especially given the quality of the entries others made when the post was initially published. 

So, after taking a quick look at those entries, why not give this exercise in concision a try? And allow me to issue another challenge: What clever approach did your egotistic, self-congratulatory, solipsistic yet still favorite blogger take replying to most of those entries?         

Reflections From The Bell Curve: The Six Word Memoir

 p.s. Aside from my two sisters and my brother, there are only a handful of people who have been an essential part of my life longer than my partner of forty-three and a half years. One of those people, an infrequent reader of my blog, recently vowed that he would make his first public comment here when the year - 2021 - matched my 2021st post. OK "almost" oldest friend: That day has now arrived and this is an ideal post for making good on your vow, given the six word limit.