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Monday, February 28, 2022

Oh Well

The mission my wife and I established in 2010 to visit all the U.S. National Parks has become one of the main highlights of my post full-time work years. As we head out to hike in Joshua Tree and Death Valley over the next two weeks, we're excited to have three friends joining us. Though we're confident these friends will enjoy their first experience traveling with Road Scholar - as we have enjoyed all our Road Scholar trips since our maiden voyage to Alaska in 2015 - I admit to being a little nervous since it was our lobbying that partially persuaded the three of them to give this a try. Kind of like when you recommend a restaurant to someone and feel a bit responsible for the quality of the meal, you know? Oh well.  

Meanwhile, our National Park mission is a bit of a moving target. Five new parks have been added to the list - bringing the current total to sixty-three - since the year we started. With only two of the newer parks east of the Mississippi - and most of the other thirty we haven't yet visited even more distant - it's clear we'll be spending a lot of time in airports in the coming years. Oh well; lots of time to read.

As in the past, given the spotty service in the National Parks, it's difficult to predict how many reflections from the bell curve will be forthcoming until March 14 or thereabouts. Because these places never fail to inspire, I'm dismayed whenever I open my laptop to reflect on something only to have the technology stymie me. And though my notebook is always nearby - and frequently gets jammed with ideas for blog posts while we are in the parks - fully re-capturing those magical moments after some time elapses is never guaranteed. Oh well.  

Stay tuned in case the technology comes through for me this time, OK?    

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Darn Him Anyway

"In fifty years, or five hundred, or five thousand, music will still do to people what it does to us now."

Soon after finishing Utopia Avenue (2020) a few weeks back, David Mitchell joined Richard Powers on a short list of contemporary authors whose work I plan to follow indefinitely. Having now read three novels by each of them - all six in a little over two years - I can say without exaggeration my life has been enhanced by the gifts of these two modern-day masters.

"Time wins in the long run. Books turn to dust, negatives decay, records get worn out, civilizations burn. But as long as the art endures, a song or a view or a feeling someone once thought worth keeping is saved and stays shareable. Others can say 'I feel that too' ".  

As was the case after I finished The Overstory - Powers's 2018 Pulitzer prizewinner - trying to nail down what makes Utopia Avenue so special challenges my descriptive abilities. I do know the last novel I read that captured the topsy-turvy world of music as perceptively as Mitchell's panoramic opus was Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010). Both Mitchell and Egan are unabashed music fans. In Utopia Avenue Mitchell takes that passion up another level, using an inventive architecture - album titles for his three acts and songs as his chapter titles - to tell his captivating story with authentic characters that felt immediately familiar to this lifelong musician.   

"If a song plants an idea or a feeling in a mind, it has already changed the world."

If Utopia Avenue is ever made into a film, Steve Kloves is the perfect choice to both adapt the book into a screenplay and to direct the movie. The characters Kloves created for The Fabulous Baker Boys - still the best film I've ever seen about musicians - are of a piece with Dean Moss, Jasper de Zoet, and Elf Holloway, the three songwriters and main characters in Utopia Avenue. Several times while reading this exceptional novel, that terrific film jumped into my mind and that got me wondering. Is there anything beyond David Mitchell's grasp as a writer? Darn him anyway.

  

(As promised, here are the answers to closing questions from my 2/22/22 post: 1.) Room 222; 2.) A tutu; 3.) Desmond Tutu. BTW, did anybody notice what day of the week 2/22/22 occurred on?)


Tuesday, February 22, 2022

To Two (Too)

If I were a gambling man, I'd wager today was a big day for people - especially superstitious ones - to put money down on some combination of twos. Though briefly tempted to do so, I'm not a gambler nor am I superstitious. 

But letting this date go by without noting its numerical magic was not an option. After all, over my entire lifetime only three dates - January 11, 2011, November 1, 2011, and today share five identical consecutive digits: 1/11/11, 11/1/11, 2/22/22. Though I wasn't blogging back on 1/11/11, 11/1/11 somehow escaped my attention. Ten days later, I made sure to correct that oversight, especially because November 11, 2011 holds the distinction of being the only date over my lifetime with six identical consecutive digits: 11/11/11.  

Reflections From The Bell Curve: At The 11th Hour....  

Joni Mitchell once remarked about these "...coincidences that tickle the imagination..." So even though I wasn't awake at 2:22 a.m. today, I made sure to look for that tickle at 2:22 p.m. Alas, that minute came and went - I was working out at the gym - with nothing noteworthy occurring. What were you doing at 2:22 (a.m. or p.m.) on 2/22/22? 

OK, with no magic, I'll resort to a brief quiz to keep 2/22/22 fresh. From easiest to most difficult:

1.) TV show? 2.) Dresswear? 3.) Statesman

(Answers provided in next post if no one [or two] steps up)

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Hippie, 2.0

I don't think I'll ever lose my capacity to be surprised at the way some people that have known me for a large portion of my life appear to have little idea of the things that have shaped me into the person I am today. I suspect I'm far from alone in this regard. If you relate, i.e. you've wondered how some people close to you don't seem to really get you, I hope you'll tell me and others whichever part of your story you are comfortable sharing here.    

To cite my most recent experience with this phenomenon, I was dumbfounded to hear someone close to me say they never considered me a hippie during the years that word was widely used to describe the youth of that era. In fact, at my core, I've never stopped being a hippie, particularly with respect to my values. Without a doubt, there were a few superficial tenets of the mid-late 60s that I rejected: free love, recreational drug use, "dropping out". And though I did not support the Vietnam war, I didn't demonize returning soldiers. I also never did battle with law enforcement or unthinkingly followed any misguided leaders. 

But foundationally, I embraced the ethos of that time and have tried to live the last half-century of my life aligned with values I was first exposed to then. Free love? No. Women's equality and agency of their own bodies? Yes. Recreational drug use? No. A belief in legalizing drugs? Yes, especially in light of how governmental agencies - State & Federal - support and/or subsidize the tobacco & alcohol industries, both known to wreak havoc on far more lives. Revolution? No. The need to continually re-calibrate capitalism, a commitment to never-ending social justice, supporting an unapologetically progressive agenda? Yes, yes, more yes. What are the alternatives to those three beliefs, all of which I adopted in my first iteration as a hippie?

Without continual re-calibration, unregulated capitalism is a voracious, unsatisfiable beast. Growing economic inequality festers, environmental concerns and justice are ignored; return on investment is paramount. Without a never-ending commitment to social justice, the status quo reigns supreme. How does institutional racism or sexism ever get dislodged? Who benefits when the voices of marginalized or poor or oppressed people are silenced? Supporting a progressive agenda helps ensures that these concerns remain on the radar of my elected officials. How else to hold them accountable as stewards of natural resources, champions of the collective good, believers in the sacredness of education? 

OK, call me a hippie, 2.0. I've clearly been called worse.      

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Words That Can Haunt Me, Part 17: Conformity

"Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth." - John Fitzgerald Kennedy 

My first instinct stumbling onto that quote several months ago was to capture it in my notebook. After all, having always considered myself a non-conformist, keeping JFK's admonishment nearby might assist me whenever I was feeling sanctimonious - itself not a rare occurrence - and needed a way to kick off a blog post. Never hurts having a self-righteous quote ready to go, especially when the words are attributed to a good-looking martyred national hero.  

But as time passed, my better angel emerged, just a little. As my reflections on JFK's words got less self-congratulatory, the questions I began asking myself grew thornier. For example:

* How useful has it been labeling myself a "non-conformist" for so many years? How useful is it for anyone to label themselves as anything? How easily does self-labeling spill into labeling others?  

* What precisely have I not conformed to that I would choose to so label myself for all these years?

* In which domains of my life has conforming hindered my growth?

I'll save the "jailer of freedom" piece of JFK's formulation for another time. Because the thornier my questions get - and I expect they will get more so - the more I suspect I'll struggle to sort out what JFK himself might have said if someone asked what exactly he meant by "conformity". Conformity to what, Jack? For now, let's just say conformity is a word that haunts me. And until I get a better handle on that loaded word, I'm refraining from labeling myself a non-conformist and steering clear of being sanctimonious when citing that pithy quote. 

Monday, February 14, 2022

Songstrings (Cont.)

I've not been possessed, exactly. But waiting much longer to unleash a few of the songstrings that have been keeping me awake for several weeks now is probably the right thing to do. Mea culpa. 

As before, I hope some of you will join in by concatenating two or more song titles - no filler words, please - to create a few of your own songstrings. This time I'm starting with five, six, and seven titles, then reverting back to two, three, and four like the January 7th post. Be sure and separate your titles - as below - and cite* artist or composer of any tune you think may not be widely known. Remember: The tunes must come from your head - as these have (unfortunately) from mine- not Google. But, using Google to locate an artist or composer you can't recall is OK. 

Five tunes: No matter what - under the boardwalk, on the street where you live, up on the roof I'll be there for you.

Six: If I can't make you love me night and day, more today than yesterday,then you can tell me goodbye tomorrow. 

Seven: Hard to say* where or when you really got a hold on me girl**, but it's alright***, we belong together, always.    

* = Dan Fogelberg; ** = Lennon/McCartney; *** = JJ Jackson (top 40 hit in 1966)

Let's dance until it's time for me to go. (song #2= *Buffy St. Marie)

How can I be sure it's over by the time I get to Phoenix?

Send in the clowns, the boxer, the entertainer, the gambler.  

p.s. Shoutout on my four tune songstring directly above to those commenters from January 7th who took their own songstrings into more adventurous lyrical territory. This both inspired me to get out of the cul-de-sac of love/relationships and, contributed to my monkey brain over the past several weeks. Darn you all anyway. And yes, next time I'll be up to eight concatenated song titles, God help me.     

Reflections From The Bell Curve: Songstrings


Friday, February 11, 2022

Revisiting My Grade (So Far): Intentionality

intentionality: doing things deliberately or on purpose.  

Reflections From The Bell Curve: My Grade (So Far): Ambition

Reflections From The Bell Curve: Cap & Gown Optional

The two posts above are the bookends for one of my earliest blog series. By the time My Grade (So Far) ended in December 2015, I'd graded myself on forty-one different attributes. To date, only my Mt. Rushmore series has more entries than My Grade (So Far). 

It's likely I'd have not thought to resuscitate this moribund series had I not had a conversation with a new friend about wanting to remain in touch after she leaves the area to begin a new job. But as she and I made plans to ensure our relationship would survive her move, I realized intentionality has become a clear strength of mine over these past several years. More gratifying? Intentionality most often shows up for me with respect to people. I'm intentional in the efforts I make to connect with those I'm drawn to, and equally intentional about not letting go of anyone who has become important to me, like this new friend.

I've learned it's not enough to say "We should get together" or "Let's stay in touch".  Whenever I feel a connection, I try to make something happen. If someone rejects an initial advance or a later outreach, so what? How do initial connections or staying in touch happen if no one is intentional? And what's the alternative to being intentional? 

Over six years after My Grade (So Far) had its graduation ceremony, I've returned to give myself an "A" for intentionality. What grade would you give yourself (so far)? How much would that grade change, if at all, if you took intentionality regarding your relationships with people out of the mix? If the grade changed what does that tell you?    


Tuesday, February 8, 2022

One For The Books

By now even the most casual reader of this blog knows of my unalloyed reading evangelism. But even for this bibliophile, today was one for ... the books.  

As breakfast unfolded, my wife and I had a conversation about three books. The first was an esoteric non-fiction book I just finished that she'd recommended (Entangled Life - Merlin Sheldrake), the second was the novel a reading soulmate and I are discussing later this month (Apeirogon - Colum McCann). We then briefly discussed an offbeat treatise that is the subject of a book club meeting we'd be hosting later tonight (What We See When We Read - Peter Mendelsund.) (See below.) 

I'd already decided yesterday that David Mitchell's latest act of sorcery (Utopia Avenue) would be how I spent my morning. That is precisely what occurred next. (Look for a near-future post on this literary marvel.)

Although not planned, after reluctantly putting down Mitchell's gem, I decided it was time to "catch up" on my reading journal by making entries for several books recently finished, before any one of them faded too much in my memory. First, I completed an entry - started some time back - on Apeirogon (see above), then wrote two others (for Franny and Zooey & Oh What a Paradise It Seems, J.D. Salinger & John Cheever, respectively), pausing my entry on Entangled Life (see above, redux) as my hand began cramping. I also belatedly realized I'd skipped lunch.

Late lunch/snack, some time with the guitar, off to WAWA for coffee - with a side trip to the library (honest!) to pick up some books ordered for me from the county. Uh-oh. Forgot I needed to prepare a bit for tonight's discussion of Mendelsund's book (see above, hat trick.) Quickly perused it - first read several years back - Googled the author, prepared questions. While on the laptop, figured I'd update my Goodreads page and publish a few book reviews. Just before 6:30, I realized it was time to prepare some dinner while logging onto ZOOM to moderate the discussion of What We See When We Read. 

Ever have a day when one of your passions highjacked you from the time you got out of bed until you were ready to get back in that same bed? That bed is exactly where I'm headed after pressing "publish" on this post. Before you ask, I have no plans to read myself to sleep. Enough is enough. 

Saturday, February 5, 2022

Crawling Out Of The Covid Cocoon Via Music

Listening to live music this past week for the first time since Covid shut us down in March 2020 has me cautiously optimistic that we may finally be crawling out of our collective cocoon. Is my optimism misplaced? Any of you been to a concert - or anything resembling one - recently? 

I'm not cavalier about the ongoing threat and I'm mindful the Omicron variant is more contagious than what came earlier in the pandemic. Those considerations played in my head this past week listening to John Scofield. But seeing how scrupulous the Blue Note was checking vaccination cards made me rest a bit easier as I reveled in Scofield's astounding guitar wizardry. And, optimistic as I am, the next show I'm scheduled to see is not in a huge arena. That's a bridge too far just yet. 

Next up is John Fogerty in my first trip to the Count Basie theater since late 2019. That venue - with great sound and not a bad seat in the house - has been a favorite since we re-located to the Jersey shore in 2010. The one tune I'm most hoping Fogerty does that night is Bad Bad Boy from his 1997 recording entitled Blue Moon Swamp. Although Fogerty is not as technically accomplished as Scofield, his guitar playing can be just as moving. Take one listen to Fogerty's solos on Bad Bad Boy and see if you don't agree.

Man, how I've missed live music. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Over-Easy, Year Seven

Considering how many people outside of Punxsutawney ever pay attention, does it strike anyone else as odd that of all the movies ever made about holidays few have come close to being as good as Groundhog Day?  What would be your nomination for a holiday film that is the equal of Harold Ramis's goofy 1993 masterpiece?

Although I'm not a big Bill Murray fan, Groundhog Day is on the short list of films I've watched more than once. Of the several priceless bits in the movie, my favorite is probably Sonny & Cher warbling I Got You Babe on the clock radio that awakens Murray's character as he endlessly repeats February 2nd - brilliant song choice. What alternative tune would you pick as a way to aurally depict a nightmare you can't escape? My top nominations would be either one of those treacly ballads Michael Bolton screamed during his brief but painful popularity or the musical torture inflicted on us by I-get-paid-by-the-sixteenth-note Kenny G.

Musical snarkiness aside, which bit from Groundhog Day plays over and over and over in your mind? And, if you were able to repeat a single day from your life which one would you choose?

(Special shoutout to three of my most frequent commenters - IA, RG, SM - for chiming in here last year on this date. I figured their regular contributions year-round entitled them to at least be in on today's joke.)