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My most recent single release - "My True North" - is now available on Bandcamp. Open my profile and click on "audio clip".

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Hereditary Habits

No way I'm weighing in on the perennial nature vs. nurture debate. But, when did you last consider your most ingrained hereditary habits? And which of those habits have you had the most trouble shaking? I'm not asking anyone to step into the confession booth and reveal any heavy stuff. But surely there are at least a few mundane things you are certain you inherited from your parents that are safe to share here. 

I've been driving my wife to distraction for over forty-three years - and doing the same to my daughter for thirty-two - via my undeniably hereditary habit of turning off the lights in any room, hallway, or foyer as soon as it becomes vacant, Truth be told, sometimes my hand involuntarily reaches for the light or lamp switch even sooner than that. There is only one possible explanation for this reflex - my father did the same thing for as long as I can remember. 

Dad has been gone for twenty-four years. But as long as I'm still standing and there are lights to be turned off, his spirit remains fully intact. How about you? Which hereditary habit(s) won't let you go? How much do you want to let any of them go?

Shoutout to my sister, who reminded me of this hereditary habit earlier today when she asked me to turn the light off in her bathroom seconds after she'd left it. 


Friday, October 29, 2021

To Squirm Or Not To Squirm?

How far would you go to protect your children? Are there lines you don't think you'd cross

To readers who are not parents, my apologies. But the central premise of The Lie landed so squarely on these primal questions - questions I've asked myself countless times over my thirty-two years as a parent - that watching this 2020 film had me tied up in knots almost from the start. And though you don't need to be a parent to appreciate the acting, writing, or the brittle energy of this movie, if you are a parent, I feel confident saying you'll be oblivious to its craft as it moves inexorably to a biblically tragic conclusion.

Recommending a disturbing movie has backfired on me more than once. Given my meager following, I also don't relish the idea of losing readers. How about I qualify my endorsement? Like happy endings? This film is not for you. Don't mind being challenged down to your bedrock values? This movie is worth ninety minutes of your time. Parents: On a scale of 1-10 - breeze to horror show - how would you say you navigated the adolescence of your kid(s)? Anything less than five, I suspect you won't relate real well to this plot. All others, there's a chance you'll recognize some of the nightmares depicted here, but you might feel better knowing how you did vs. how the film parents fare. Idea of reliving or even recognizing some of that adolescent angst - and your reactions to it - make you uncomfortable? Skip the movie. Not frightened by catharsis? Sit back and enjoy. Actually, sit back and squirm is more like it.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Words For The Ages, Line Twenty-One

"Fear is the lock and laughter the key to your heart."

One of the most rewarding by-products of teaching music classes these past seven years has been how closely I've re-examined the lyrics of songs from my formative music years, including some tunes that have clearly suffered from over-exposure. Since 1969, Suite: Judy Blue Eyes from the first Crosby, Stills & Nash LP - the source of those italicized words for the ages above - has saturated the airwaves to the point where some listeners groan when it plays. That's unfortunate because, using just eleven words, Stephen Stills - not known primarily as a lyricist - nailed an essential and undeniable truth about love. 

I've been writing lyrics to my own songs for about a half-century; I'm proud of some of them. And I remain hopeful that one day I'll create a lyric of my own that can stand next to the twenty-one I've selected since 2017 for inclusion in this series. What lyric would you nominate? Remember: Your selection must be able to stand alone, it must reflect a universal truth, and it must be terse enough to be easily recited. The longest lyric to date in this series has been just seventeen words. Forget about how "over-played" a song has been. Instead, listen carefully to lyrics and find me some gems you would nominate as words for the ages. I think you'll be surprised - as I have been - at what you'll uncover.   


Saturday, October 23, 2021

The Behemoth And Me

Although I haven't counted, I'm guessing my percentage of blog posts from 2021 featuring books is the lowest since the bell curve opened for business in early 2011. I've finished plenty of notable ones this year but from early January until mid-April my life was so upside down, concentrating on a book was  problematic. 

Those spare months of reduced reading resulted in a dilemma any lifelong bookworm will understand, i.e. a longer-than-usual list. To manage what remains of my 2021 behemoth, I've adopted some extreme measures:

* Even books recommended by my trusted reading posse of five are being more carefully scrutinized. And those recommended by the two members of that posse with current batting averages under .500 undergo a rigorous interview about the book in question before the monster list is fed. 

* No pending candidates for inclusion in my reading posse are being accepted until early 2022, and only then if the monster has lost a good deal of its roar. 

* Book club selections -  except for those I pick for my club - are being routinely rejected, especially  celebrity memoirs, historical fiction (particularly those with the word "wife" in the title), or anything with breathless author blurbs above the title on the front cover. Before you ask, yes, I skip meetings when I haven't read the book. Few things annoy me more reliably than a book club participant who talks about a book they haven't finished. 

(Since this post is "about" books [sort of], feel a need to sneak in a recommendation for the bookworms, especially those who like crime thrillers: Try Midnight Sun (2015) by Jo Nesbo. And, good luck with your list, behemoth or otherwise)                  

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

I Remain Busy For The Rest Of My Life

It's not as though I haven't heard several terrific podcasts and want to check out others. And I surely could learn a great deal if I watched more Ted Talks. That website you're recommending because you are sure it will be worthwhile for me? I have no doubt you're right.

Here's the issue: The hours I've been allotted - like yours - are finite. How can I get to it all? I can't. Flip that coin: How is it possible for anyone to be bored given all the world offers us? I submit only boring people can be bored. The corollary to that? Being interesting to others often flows from being interested. 

Which delivers me directly to my immense gratitude to anyone who uses any part of their precious, finite time to read my blog. I cannot say thank you often enough. I will never take you for granted.


Sunday, October 17, 2021

Calling All Probability Nerds

As the women introduced themselves, I was relieved my wife was there as a witness. Because if she weren't, I suspect few readers would ever believe what happened to me yesterday.  

There were twelve of us on the hike. The leader's name was Merry. Four of the other women were named Hildred, Kathy, Mary, and Suzanne. The other five first names? The same as my two sisters, my daughter, my youngest niece, and my sister-in-law. Because my oldest niece shares a name with my older sister, this means that on this hike with ten strangers only two names of my closest living female relatives were missing. Ten women - five sharing a name with six of the most significant women in my life. 

Any probability nerds out there? Please weigh in.  

Thursday, October 14, 2021

The Mystery Continues

How frequently are you a mystery to yourself?

I'm pretty sure most people who know me well don't think of me as mysterious. My needs are simple, my passions obvious, and though I try not to be unkind, I'm not shy about expressing opinions. And I don't often surprise myself. "What you see is what you get" is arguably a good way to describe the way I show up in the world, at least most of the time. 

It's possible that my innate predictability is the biggest reason why my outsized emotional reactions to random events can sometimes render me a mystery to myself. There I am - composed, rolling along, laughing. Then, in a flash, I'm a puddle. The things that can trigger profuse tears are often numbingly mundane. I've been this way as long as I can remember. I still don't get it. Neither of my parents were particularly emotional and my three siblings reside on what I would call a normative continuum with respect to how frequently they emote.  

In the woods of Maine last week, I tried to unravel this mystery to my partner in the de-brief following a simple exercise we'd done, an exercise that had unleashed another inexplicable torrent. The unraveling was unsuccessful. As I began weeping uncontrollably - again - the only word that made sense to me as I spoke with my partner was mystery.   

Monday, October 11, 2021

Who Deserves A Holiday?

As someone who received his public school education in the 50s and early 60s, was raised by working-class parents with predictably traditional politics, and grew up with no exposure to and limited knowledge of Native Americans, Columbus Day has long been a holiday I've taken for granted. With no Italian ancestry in my family, we did not formally celebrate the day but still, I knew a few things: Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492, there was no school, big parades were held in NYC and nearby Newark, NJ. 

Growing into my adult years, I came to better appreciate the importance of the day to Italian-Americans though I didn't recall my childhood friends with that cultural background making a big deal about it at the time. Could easily be a gap in my young memory or maybe their celebrations were more private family affairs. By this time, I'd grown to respect the need of people to have pride in their forebears.   

And so it went for me until I read James Loewen's Lies My Teacher Told Me (1995) about ten years ago. I strongly encourage you to pick up this scrupulously researched text and tell me what shifts for you when considering Columbus's complex legacy. If he deserves a national holiday - a notion I support - I would submit it's fair to consider giving a similar honor to others, even if we don't close the post offices or libraries on that day. Where to draw the line? After reading Loewen's book, you tell me. Based on what is in his persuasive text, I'd start with honoring one prominent Native American. If not that, then how about ..

Reflections From The Bell Curve: John Brown Day

Friday, October 8, 2021

Help From Others

Isn't it wonderful the way different people help you experience the world around you in ways you might have missed if you'd never met them? If this has happened to you, please share an instance of it here with me and others.   

While recently walking with a friend who has taken the time to educate me about what he looks for when taking pictures, I suddenly realized how closely I was paying attention to the reflections clouds create in water. It felt momentarily as though I was looking at the world through his eyes. This made me grateful for how he has educated me and - at least for that moment - reminded me how rewarding it can be to take in the world visually. As a person who is more inclined to pay attention to sounds vs. sights, this is no small thing.

Friendship confers so many benefits, doesn't it? 

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

A Sacred Place Via New Eyes (And Richard Powers)

Reflections From The Bell Curve: A Sacred Place

Before I began my blog over ten years ago, I'd already made three trips to Acadia National Park. Then, in 2014, after blogging for more than three years, I visited this magical place again, this time writing about my experience on Schoodic Peninsula in the post above. Returning to that sacred section of Acadia with my late-in-life soulmates from Road Scholars yesterday allowed me to re-experience that part of the park via the eyes of these fourteen people I've come to treasure. 

None of these folks have ever been to Schoodic; six of the fourteen have never been to Acadia. For me, the highlight of our day was when a park ranger led us on an experience called "forest therapy". Over the whole two hours, The Overstory would not let me go. Each time the ranger asked us to distill our thoughts down to a few words following a guided exercise she'd given us, the essence of that 2018 novel jumped into my head. The prose of Richard Powers has transformed my relationship to the natural world, trees in particular. The forest therapy exercises deepened my transformation. I'm still recovering more than a day later. 

This could well be my last trip to Acadia National Park. Almost certainly this will be my last visit to Schoodic Peninsula. If you've never visited either, I highly recommend you put both on your list. And, if you plan to try forest therapy, be sure to read The Overstory beforehand. I promise it will deepen your experience.           

Reflections From The Bell Curve: To Be Continued

Saturday, October 2, 2021

#63: The Mt. Rushmore Series

Though I've always enjoyed listening to what is commonly called "classical" music, I have spent fewer hours doing so than I have listening to jazz, rock, folk, or even pop music. And among the musical hybrids that have sprung up over my lifetime, my least favorite is the genre that was called "classical-rock" during its brief heyday. Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, and Carl Palmer are all immensely talented musicians. But none of the ELP recordings I bought as an impressionable young musician spent much time on my turntable after classical rock faded. The same goes for my recordings of other bands from this genre, e.g. Yes.

That aside, I was inspired recently to erect a Mt. Rushmore of popular songs with a strong tie to compositions originating in the world of classical music. Which four would you enshrine? Mine are listed alphabetically; order yours however you choose. 

1.) Because: Aside from being some of the richest Fab Four three part harmony, this John Lennon song owes a debt to Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. I'd like to claim I was musically precocious enough to identify this link when Abbey Road was released in 1969. Alas, I was not.

2.) A Lover's Concerto: Although I was never wild about the vocal on this hit record by the Toys, I do recall being immediately entranced by that majestic melody, a direct lift from a Bach minuet.

3.) This Night: Of the four tunes on my Mt. Rushmore, composer Billy Joel is the only one who gave a co-credit to his writing partner - LV Beethoven - for this terrific tune from An Innocent Man. 

4.) A Whiter Shade of Pale: The organ interludes - played by Matthew Fisher of Procol Harum on this massive hit - are courtesy of Johann Bach. The terrific Gary Brooker vocal - delivering that cryptic Keith Reid lyric - is memorable but, without those sweeping interludes, I suspect this tune might not have been nearly as popular. I'd wager most non-musicians could readily hum those interludes. 

p.s. As I began construction on this iteration of Mt. Rushmore, I realized there was enough meat on these bones for a to-be-developed music course using this theme. Any local readers who already have taken one of my courses - or those who plan to - stay tuned.