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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".

Friday, April 29, 2022

Two Buckets, One Life

Join me in a thought experiment. Think about your years as an adult and retrospectively consider how your life during those years could belong in one of two buckets. Bucket #1 would contain years when you felt like you were climbing uphill more often than not. Bucket #2 would contain years when you felt like you were coasting more often than not. 

After putting the years from your adult life into one bucket or the other, try using these questions to deepen your exploration:

1. Which bucket contains more years? 

2. Pick one year that feels to you this moment as though it belongs in bucket #1. What were some of the things going on for you that year? Now do the same, substituting bucket #2 for #1. As you did that part of the experiment, did either year present a greater challenge for your recall?  

3. Pick a different year that feels to you this moment as though it belongs in bucket #1. What assisted you that year as you pushed uphill? 

During a recent meditation, as several of my uphill years pierced my focus, I was able to salvage my visit to myself by using the third item above. For example, reflecting on my steady uphill climb in 2020, I began to see how my reading and my guitar playing that year assisted me in dealing with pandemic isolation as well as several significant challenges in my personal life. 

I'd welcome hearing from anyone - online or off - who joins me in this thought experiment.          

Monday, April 25, 2022

Surprised To Be Surprised

There is an inherent risk in being a film buff, especially one as indiscriminate as I've been at times. 

Anyone who has seen as many films as me is not easy to surprise. After over sixty years of non-stop movie watching, I've become fairly adept at spotting formulas. For example, rom-coms nearly always have a "meet cute" set up, spy thrillers predictably feature double or triple crosses, film noir - classic or otherwise - are frequently populated with "types" like the cynical private eye and the femme fatale. I suspect longtime film critics treat being rarely surprised as an occupational hazard. There is some comfort in formulas and predictability, but I often yearn for more surprises.   

Though I didn't look before starting to write this post, my guess is that Her Smell surprised even the most jaded film critics upon its release in late 2018. At the time, I recall reading about it although I don't recall why it then quickly fell off my radar. No matter. If you haven't been surprised by a film in a while, check out Her Smell. But, be forewarned.

First, use captioning. Second, let yourself be annoyed during the first extended scene when there seems to be an infuriating amount of background noise. Trust me. The writer/director - Alex Perry - is taking you inside the head of his main character, Becky Something. Third, whatever you think you know about the acting talent of Elisabeth Moss, discard all of it. She does not portray Becky, she inhabits her. This is a performance of such full throttle intensity that watching it felt like watching an exorcism without the revolving head, the levitation, and the pea soup.

After you watch this marvel and recover, please contact me - here or offline - only if you weren't surprised. But then you'll have to show me that walk-on-water bit. 

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Creepy Lurkers Need Not Apply

Since March 2011, I'd estimate I've asked more than a thousand questions here. Here are a few of the most common reasons people have told me - mostly offline - why the overwhelming majority of my questions have gone unanswered:

*  "I don't want to sound ..." (fill in the blank with an adjective of your choice, although most people are not kind to themselves.)

*  "Your questions are too hard OR ... too weighty OR ... too personal."  

*  "I prefer to lurk on your blog and remain anonymous." (OK, that reason isn't really "common" but it is something more than one person has said and also a little creepy so I included it here.)

Today's reflection - in the form of the three questions below - is squarely aimed at eliciting comments or responses from any reader that has used some variation on reason #1 or #2 above. Ready reticent readers?

* How long do you typically wait before discarding that sock that doesn't have a match?

* What is your record for longest retained jar of mustard in your refrigerator?

* Approximately how many pens and pencils would you guess are in your residence at present? 

Except for those creepy lurkers, I expect to be inundated with answers to this reflection.   

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Beatles Brain

Finally, a name for the affliction I've had since early 1964. Doesn't matter that I had to coin the name for this affliction myself. Please: Steal, borrow, or co-opt my neologism when you need an explanation for mystified family, incredulous friends, or anyone staring at you with disbelief as you begin waxing rhapsodically about the Fab Four's music. 

As I embarrassed myself - again - in front of a class by breaking down while extolling the divine magic of If I Fell, I began reflecting on a way to describe how this music never lets me down. That was after the first week's class ended. 

In week two it was And Your Bird Can Sing that ignited me so intensely I actually scared myself a bit. On the drive home, de-briefing my over-the-top enthusiasm while de-constructing this song for the class - one I've probably listened to at least five hundred times since 1966 - I still couldn't explain myself to myself.

Yer Blues and While My Guitar Gently Weeps were today's gateway to my rapture. I re-played Ringo's brief drum break in Yer Blues as he downshifts the band from 4/4 to 6/8 at least four times. If that wasn't deranged enough, I then moved into no-man's land after While My Guitar Gently Weeps ended while trying to get through a mention of Paul McCartney and Eric Clapton's performance of that George Harrison song in the Concert for George documentary. And then suddenly, I landed on the name of the affliction that has had me for almost sixty years. Please share with me here - or offline - what your most recent bout of Beatles Brain did to you. Nothing is too far-fetched, trust me.     

Sunday, April 17, 2022

To List Or Not To List?

For as long as I can recall, I've made lists. In fact, this compulsive habit pre-dates a lifelong pre-occupation with my abiding passions. Before I fully realized how much literature, music, and film meant to me, I constructed lists of dinosaurs, super-heroes, Olympic events. When we were quite young, one of my sisters once discovered a "list of my lists", something we laugh about to this day.

Only recently have I begun to recognize that making lists was likely an antecedent for another lifelong passion - writing. As a child, making lists of things - at least to start - probably helped me make sense of my world. But soon after, I remember wanting to absorb what was on those lists and be able to retrieve it later. I've now come to think that collecting stuff like a magpie on those early lists was a way I used to make novel associations that could be useful, somehow. Useful that is, in a poem, a song, a story.

No one in my early life - including me - saw a blossoming writer buried in my lists. One consequence of that: I was not encouraged to pursue writing as a vocation. Neither was I discouraged from doing so. The magic of my life since ceasing full-time work in 2010 has been the daily freedom to let my lists - which have continued unabated - take me where they will. What early habit of yours have you seen made manifest in later life? 



Thursday, April 14, 2022

A New View Of Old-Fashioned

On more than one occasion I've been known to reflexively dismiss a book, piece of music, or film that strikes me as old-fashioned. I'm not proud of this reflex because there's little doubt I've missed out on some worthwhile stuff. This sometimes misguided stance might be connected to my wish to remain in the here and now. And I suspect I'm also trying to avoid books, music, and film aimed at reinforcing that tired "those were the golden days" nonsense. 

But recently I've come across two excellent contemporary novels belonging squarely in the old-fashioned basket that I can recommend almost without reservation. The Great Fire (2003) by Shirley Hazzard and Miss Benson's Beetle (2020) by Rachel Joyce use a classic three act structure, tell their moving stories in a linear way, and use prose that never draws attention to itself, while exploring territory covered in countless novels. Hazzard's is a love story forged by the cauldron of WWII, Joyce takes the reader on a quest with two unlikely friends - each pursuing their vocation - to New Caledonia. Neither novel is perfect but both are easy to get lost in, a genuine pleasure to read, and delightfully old-fashioned in all the best ways.

What was the most recent old-fashioned novel that captivated you as these two did me? I have Richard Ford to thank for recommending The Great Fire and my younger sister - a charter member of my reading posse - to thank for Miss Benson's Beetle. If any of you get around to reading either, please let me know what you think via a comment here, drop me an e-mail, or ask an old-fashioned Pony Express rider to deliver a note to me. Whichever method you choose, I'm interested in your view.               


Monday, April 11, 2022


We've all heard the conventional wisdom that criminals frequently return to the scene of their crimes. But aren't many of us who are not criminals guilty of a parallel type of self-sabotage? 

In my life, the closest parallel could be a long-standing propensity for often sabotaging my creative endeavors. Of late, each time I reflect on it, yet another way I've potentially undermined myself occurs to me. Most recently, I realized one of the best ways I could have steadily improved my craft as a composer or writer would have been to continually study the craft of the masters as routinely as I do now. What prevented me from doing so much more, much sooner? Easy - ego, arrogance, insecurity. A few of the optimum tools for effective self-sabotage.

I know there are many ways self-sabotage can destroy a life. I'm grateful to have avoided self-sabotage in my relationships, with my health, or my financial security. But pretending I've totally avoided it would be a lie. Even if the price I've paid has been small in the grand scheme of things, there's no question I have returned to the scene of the crime more than once. What part of your story do you see in mine?

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Songstrings: The Coda

Foremost among the reasons for declaring this being my last post devoted to songstrings is a wish to return to some reliable sleep patterns. But I encourage any of you who have enjoyed earlier iterations of this short-lived series to carry on and send me - online or off - your attempts. 

And so it goes, both sides now: Hello, beginnings, the best thing that ever happened to me; goodbye, the end, the worst that could happen

That's my magnum opus songstring = eight unique song titles concatenated - without a single filler word - to create a meaningful thought in sentence form. Reasonably sure many of you will recognize all eight tunes with Goodbye being arguably the most obscure, a Gordon Jenkins composition featured on Linda Ronstadt's What's New LP. When creating your songstring of two titles or more, remember: It's OK to Google the name of a composer or performer, as long as the song title itself comes from your head and not from Google. That would be cheating. 

Just so you know I'm not exaggerating, below is a file dump of just a few songstrings using two to seven titles each. The "*" denotes any song not widely known. All these tunes and many others - in varying combinations, melodies intact - have been interfering with my sleep for weeks, I swear.

Are you ready to love somebody?

How will I know if I loved you until the night?

And we danced all night long because* tomorrow never knows*. (* Beatles from Abbey Road & Revolver, respectively)

Life's been good if I'm alive* when the night comes tomorrow. (*Jackson Browne, from LP of same name)

At last, somewhere, there's a place* the beat goes on day after day, always and forever. (*Beatles)

Music, laughing, sunshine, friends, birds*, feelings; that's life. (* Neil Young from After the Goldrush) 

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Have I Told You Lately?

Corny as it sounds, each time I think I've uncovered the last benefit I've derived from my partnership of over forty-four years, something else occurs to me. What are you grateful for that flows directly from a long term relationship?  

While recently sharing another reasonably healthy meal together, it dawned on me how atrocious my eating habits might be today without all these years of my wife's influence. Because eating for me has always been about convenience above all, TV dinners could easily have become my default had she not come into my life in 1978. 

From there, things might well have gone from bad to worse, especially following my decision to become a vegetarian in the early 90's. Because had the new vegetarian been left on his own, fruit and vegetable consumption would have remained confined to fruit juice or V-8 in the morning, an occasional banana - no slicing or other attention needed aside from peeling - and perhaps an ear of corn every July 4th. Just thinking about what would have been in my cabinets makes me shudder.

My arteries and waistline thank you, sweetheart.  

Saturday, April 2, 2022

The Risk Of Too Many Words

There is never a shortage of news stories worthy of comment. And I'm rarely without an opinion about what goes on in the world nor have I ever been accused of being shy about expressing those opinions when conversing with others.

But since the inception of my blog over eleven years ago, I have been purposefully circumspect about publicly expressing my views on current events. Asked about my uncharacteristic reticence - publicly or privately - I frequently dodge the question, which itself tells me it is something in need of further examination. 

A recent comment I received here - in response to a crabby post about leaf-blowers - mentioned Ukraine. In the days since, I've continually returned to that reticence of mine. Unfortunately, I'm no closer to an answer about it than I've ever been. I do know the scope of the current crisis in Ukraine is overwhelming to me; I'm sure most of you feel the same. I also know that - for me - becoming immobilized can follow the feeling of being overwhelmed. I fight that immobilization by donating money to the relief efforts, one small thing within my sphere of control.  

Will more words about Ukraine help assuage the pain of four million refugees? There are people out there with enough media reach to reasonably claim they're bringing the world's attention to the crisis with their words. I can make no such claim. Is it a stretch to say that more words from someone like me runs the risk of trivializing a crisis like the one in Ukraine?