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Monday, January 31, 2022

Reading Integration

Foremost among the gifts in my life in the post full-time work years has been the varying ways that book discussions have enriched my time. I'll take initial credit for getting the ball rolling via joining several book clubs in the early years. Some of the tributaries that flowed from my time in those clubs led me to several bookworm soulmates. I've met ad hoc with a select few of them for discussions.    

But then, serendipity, as opportunities for book discussions seem to open up in unexpected places. A distant friend and I - both of us newly familiar with ZOOM because of Covid - decided to use that technology for a discussion of The Great Bridge, David McCullough's account of the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. Our next virtual discussion will be about Hanya Yanigahara's magnum opus, A Little Life. 

More recently, the fourteen travelers my wife and I first bonded with in Alaska began a hybrid book discussion group. Our first two meetings were online (James McBride's The Good Lord Bird and Simon Van Booy's The Illusion of Separateness), and our third took place live this past October when we reunited in Acadia National Park and discussed Kent Haruf's Our Souls at Night. That same group is now "discussing" The Sense of an Ending (Julian Barnes) by capturing our individual reactions into the book itself, which is being circulated via mail all over the country; the sixteen of us reside in seven different States. When the group re-unites this October for the sixth time, everyone's comments will be compiled into a document, distributed to all, discussion to follow. How cool is this? 

In the meanwhile, the "Pats-only" cl - i.e. not big enough to be a club and including only people named Pat - is now in its eighth year. The two of us most recently discussed Michael Pollan's How to Change Your Mind. And the club I started at my local library in January 2017 continues to thrive. Our last meeting centered on Future Home of the Living God (Louise Erdrich). I've got more reading riches to share but would like now to hear from you. What are some ways you integrate your love of reading into your life?      

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Let It Snow, Please

I'm immensely grateful Act Three of my personal life is as rich as any reasonable person could expect. I'm healthy, financially comfortable, and my support system is strong. 

Despite that, my reflections about our collective future have recently curdled a bit, a disturbing turn for a lifelong optimist. I'm not pessimistic, per se, but a few trends of modern life are giving me serious pause. Is my search for solace today a "misery loves company" plea? Or, is the clearly visible blizzard bringing on an early case of cabin fever? Either way, I'd welcome knowing at least a few people share my concerns.

* How disturbed are you by the increasing isolation the Internet is bringing to modern life? And how ironic is it that many of the things helping to create more distance between people are grouped under a rubric called social media? 

* When did you (or anyone you know) most recently settle a dispute about some fact via consulting a dictionary, encyclopedia, or Almanac? How do we ever return to a consensus about facts? 

* Without that consensus, what hope is there that we will collectively face the threat of climate change? 

If you are near my age or older, it's easy to put the last concern out of mind, given the years that remain to us. So perhaps it's the snow and visions of playing in a future snowstorm with any grandchildren I may have that is preventing me this moment from being that selfish and present-day focused. Today, I want a different future - one where the Internet brings people together vs. dividing us. A future where we can disagree about politics but not about facts, particularly scientific ones. A future where my daughter's children get to play with their grandchildren in the snow. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

A Tough Line To Recognize

What strategies work best to help you avoid becoming inflexible in pursuit of your goals? 

Funny how the line between discipline and rigidity is clear when I look at the approach others take toward their goals. I suspect I'm not alone occasionally describing others as "anal" or using pejoratives like "gym rat", "fanatic", etc.

But that same line gets muddy when this goal-oriented blogger stops to examine his own approach. Nearly everyone would agree that the best way to get accomplished at something is via practice. But I sometimes struggle knowing clearly when one of my practices has begun to interfere with moments, with joy, with spontaneity. Sound familiar to any other goal-oriented folks?

I'm not planning to abandon my goal orientation. But erring more on the side of flexibility does strike me as a worthwhile endeavor. I welcome your ideas on getting better at that. 


Sunday, January 23, 2022

When To Start Or Not To Start?

As someone who didn't feel mature enough to have children at a younger age - I was thirty-nine when my beloved daughter was born - it's hard now to remember that earlier reticence. Today, I'm proud I overcame my younger selfishness. Because if I hadn't, I'd have missed out on knowing the remarkable individual my only child has become. My gratitude for what we share - especially our musical bond - is beyond measure.   

As we were skiing together over the last few days while celebrating her birthday, my reflections shifted. I began to realize how glad I am at having maintained a commitment to remaining physically fit. When my daughter told me on our first day we'd logged in twenty-two miles, I was pleased, if not over-the-top pumped. Then, after her watch indicated we'd topped thirty-three miles the next day - despite a high of -1 degrees - I admit my head swelled a bit. Not half-bad for an old fart, I thought.

If you started your first family later in life - as I did - what benefits did doing so confer on you? If you decided to start earlier, what were some of the main reasons for your decision? If starting a family of your own has never held any appeal for you, which pieces of your life give you the most joy?     

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Wishing

I wish I were able to persuade everyone I know to read The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

More than that, I wish I had the ability to summon at will some of the staggering research Michelle Alexander cites to support her convincing positions. How satisfying it would be to recall her research when face-to-face with someone who buys into the folly of the prison-industrial complex. Even more satisfying would be if I could present an educated case calmly and dispassionately, without misquoting facts, and never get highjacked by my emotions. How I wish. 

As long as I'm wishing, might as well go for broke. I wish I had the influence to ensure this 2010 book was on the required reading list for every high school in the U.S.    

Sunday, January 16, 2022

67% Schadenfreude

As far as I'm concerned, 2022 has gotten off to a strong start, with respect to some folks about to pay for their crimes. If you share some of my schadenfreude seeing these miscreants headed for jail, it would be comforting - in a perverse way - to know I'm not alone in my uncharitable thoughts.

I'll start with Elizabeth Holmes. White-collar crime so often goes undetected and even when it is detected, the wealthy people caught can often buy their way out of being punished. If you haven't yet seen The Inventor: Out For Blood in Silicon Valley - a documentary about Holmes and her greedy scam - watch it soon and then tell me: Do you hope, as I do (forgive me, father), that this person spends at least a few years locked up to give her plenty of time to think about her misdeeds? 

I won't be asking that same question about the near-future fate of Ghislaine Maxwell. Frankly, if you don't think this enabler deserves to spend some time in a small cell, you and I can agree to disagree. Yes, I would have preferred to see the actual predator pay for his crimes - rather than his high-paid and willing assistant - but I won't lose sleep over what the next few years of Maxwell's life will be like. Mea culpa.

I have no qualifications whatsoever about the life sentences the McMichael morons just received.  

Thursday, January 13, 2022

The Unforgivable

Weeks later and I still haven't been able to shake off The Unforgivable. If any of you have seen this recently released movie, I'm curious to know your reaction. This is an instance when pinpointing what I liked best about a film is difficult.  

I'll start with Sandra Bullock's exceptional portrayal of a recently released convict imprisoned for killing a police officer. How this career-defining performance escaped getting any Oscar attention is a genuine mystery. The rest of the ensemble cast is also first rate, especially Vincent D'Onofrio and Viola Davis. 

The multi-layered script expertly juxtaposes several themes - the effects a violent death can have on survivors, the ways the criminal justice and adoption systems can wreak havoc on people caught in either, the lengths people will go to protect those they love. And the final twist is believable and morally satisfying. 

But I suspect what will most remain with me is the skillful depiction of the overlapping lives and competing concerns of four different families. Each family is touched by the central tragedy and each must find its own way through that tragedy. If you haven't seen this winner, put it in your queue; you will not be disappointed. 


Monday, January 10, 2022

Forgiving My Debt

"Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I have begun to change myself." - Rumi (1207-1273)

"We must become the change we wish to see in the world." - Gandhi (1869-1948)

While reading recently, I stumbled across Rumi's words, immediately recognizing the link to a favorite Gandhi aphorism I've often quoted. Though I initially felt deceived by the obvious similarities between Rumi's 13th century observation and Gandhi's words more than five-hundred years later, that feeling quickly shifted to relief. It comforted me knowing that a thinker I admire had borrowed - consciously or unconsciously - from a thinker he might have admired. 

Through eleven years and nearly 2100 posts, I've tried hard to acknowledge anytime I borrow from someone else. But given how much I read, it would be naive of me to think there have been no instances when some idea I've presented here has been more someone else's than it has been mine. If any of you have ever noticed an instance like this, or you do so in the future, please recall Gandhi's debt to Rumi and forgive me.


Friday, January 7, 2022

Songstrings

Though I've experimented with a similar idea a few times before - see the links below to three earlier posts - this iteration should be easier for anyone who cares to join in. Why not try your hand creating what I've recently begun calling songstrings?  A few simple guidelines:

* Create a meaningful sentence by concatenating two or more song titles using no filler words. 

* If you think a song you use might be unfamiliar to many, cite the composer who wrote it, the artist who made it famous, or both. Using Google for this purpose is not cheating. Using it to help you create your songstrings is. 

* Separate each song by using bold, italics, regular font, underlining or anything you can dream up to be sure individual song titles are clear to others. 

Ready? I'll start us off with some sentences using two, three, and four song titles and save the ones with five or more song titles for next time. As you might guess, I've got a lot more of these ready to unleash.  

Who can I turn to when I'm sixty four? 

I can't let go because you make me feel brand new.

The last time I saw her standing there so close (great song composed and recorded by Jake Holmes) I thought about you.


Reflections From The Bell Curve: The Song Is You

Reflections From The Bell Curve: The Song Is You (Reprise)

Reflections From The Bell Curve: An Unimaginable World


Tuesday, January 4, 2022

How To Tell A Tale Of Library Bewilderment

Your favorite blogger now has a part time job as a quantum physicist. 

OK, not really. But four books I finished in rapid succession as 2021 drew to a close did feature quantum physics to varying degrees. Now because science has never been a strong aptitude of mine, the coincidence of several books having a similar scientific thread inspired me to do some research on the subject, which in turn partially persuaded me I might be able to graduate today from a Pre-K course in quantum physics. As long as the grading for that course used a steep curve and the teacher was asleep most of the time.   

Still, I am feeling spunky having even some rudimentary knowledge about such an esoteric subject. For example, the idea that we could be living separate lives in parallel universes at the same time would have seemed like pure fantasy to me rather than plausible science before I finished Michael Pollan's rigorously researched How To Change Your Mind. And the famous thought experiment called Schrodinger's cat - supporting some basic precepts of quantum physics, specifically that a thing can be alive and dead at the same time - was a revelation for me. That experiment and its connection to quantum physics played a significant role in the intriguing stories told by Cynthia Ozecki in A Tale For the Time Being and by Matt Haig in The Midnight Library.   

It all came full circle as I got lost in Bewilderment, the latest novel by the astonishing Richard Powers. Powers seamlessly weaves quantum physics into the fabric of his novel about the unbreakable bond between parent and child, human uniqueness and cluelessness, the pure wonder of the known world and the mysteries of the infinite and unknowable universe. Weeks later, I'm still recovering from the alchemy of this transformative book and the magic that reading invariably delivers to my life. 

Of recent books you've finished, what thread(s) have you detected connecting any of them? If you haven't uncovered any, pay more attention. I suspect you will and then I want to hear about it. 

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Stop-Start-Continue: 2022

This exercise - begun on January 1,2012 and replicated here on the bell curve on/near every New Year's Day since - is more fun when others join me. Please take a few minutes to think about an action you will stop in the new year, another you will start, and a third you plan to continue. This model works well for several reasons, not least of which is the proven power of three. I also attempt to make each of my three actions specific, measurable, and realistic; seems to increase my success ratio.

In 2022 I will ...

Stop checking my e-mail more than twice a day. This particular stop is a retread for me. I first pledged to do this in 2013, had several successful years keeping my pledge, slid back a bit in 2021. Time now to re-stop

Start rigorously tracking my exercise regimen, aiming to ensure I consistently exercise four days a week. I'm not far off 200 days a year of exercise but keeping track better will assist me in getting to that mark.

Continue two reading projects initiated after leaving the world of full time work - i.e. reading at least one book each year from the canon (including the entire oeuvre of Shakespeare & Dickens) as well as finishing a non-fiction book alongside every novel I read.  

Though many of you have shared offline your stop-start-continue plans since this series began, why not challenge yourself further and go public? Doing so increases the likelihood you'll keep your plans and those plans could well inspire others. What's the downside?

Let's all have a great 2022.