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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".

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Her Choices

Had I read American Baby: A Mother, A Child, and the Shadow History of Adoption soon after its 2021 publication, I'm sure I would have been moved. Gabrielle Glaser is a fine writer, thorough researcher, and she never gets in the way of the powerful, deeply personal story she tells in her excellent book. 

But with the overturning of Roe V. Wade still a fresh and raw wound, when I finished this book days ago, I was reeling. It has been difficult to escape a sense that "...the shadow history of adoption" Glaser skillfully reveals could soon be supplanted by a different shadow history as some ramifications of the Supreme Court's reversal begin to play out. Overnight, my daughter's choices have been narrowed.  

Further contributing to my unease were historical examples - many familiar to me - that Glaser cites. As one after the other of these examples demonstrated the coercive pressure women have faced when their choices have been narrowed, my daughter's future in the post Roe V. Wade landscape loomed large.

I sincerely hope my concern for my daughter's future is misplaced. I am worried.                 

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Your Assistance in Making Lightning Strike Twice

Even after over eleven continuous years of blogging, I remain unclear about how people will react to what I do here. For example:

Reflections From The Bell Curve: Walk On Water, Do You? Skip This Post

It's a complete mystery to me why that post - published in early 2017 - has been viewed more times than any other by a significant margin. If you read it and arrive at a plausible theory for its enduring popularity, please tell me here or offline. Subject line for your e-mail: How to Make Lightning Strike Twice, Dummy.

Reflections From The Bell Curve: #65: The Mt. Rushmore Series

That recent post got me started on this thread because it has the distinction of having the largest number of unique commenters to date. Why the response to this vs. the other 2100+ I've published? I mean, the Mt. Rushmore series has been running since July,2012 and many of the earlier iterations had wider appeal, I think. Not that what I think seems to mean a great deal when it comes to accurately gauging what will land with readers. I'll stoop to any level to replicate these flukes so please, tell me what you think.

I've tried inserting disingenuous key words - like Justin Bieber - into my titles. Though I have little interest in sports - as a spectator, at least - I've cravenly appealed even to curling fans. No pathetic attempt to grab even the puniest slice of the blogosphere is beneath me. Please lend a hand.      

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Theme Songs for All

Based on longstanding tradition, I suspect most of you committed to a life partner have at least one song the two of you have agreed has special meaning for the relationship, even if you didn't use that song at a wedding ceremony or otherwise. In addition, there are several well-known - if wildly over-used - tunes we've all heard played at weddings to celebrate the bond between father and bride and mother and groom. My musical brain is no doubt riffing like this because my daughter's wedding is a little more than a month away. She and I are dancing to Til There Was You, my choice of lullaby to her as an infant and toddler. 

But impending wedding or not, what about songs to celebrate the many other relationships in our lives? What stops us from picking a theme song for each of our relationships, one that nails the essence of that relationship in our minds? Consider the critical bond between brother and sister, father and son, mother and daughter. And where is it written that a theme song can't shift as a relationship evolves, for better or worse? For that matter, what's wrong with having a revolving theme song for in-laws, good friends, neighbors, work colleagues? Imagine the fun we could have with this. Invite a relative, friend, etc. to your home and have their song cued up and ready to play as they walk through the door! Your choice whether to explain to that person the reason for your pick.  

No regular reader will be surprised to learn I've already begun selecting theme songs for many folks who are important to me which I'm happy to share with anyone interested. However, if you don't like the idea of celebrating someone who enriches your life by picking a song tailor-made for them, try this instead. Pick someone who vexes you and see if attaching a song title to them (e.g. Trouble Man) doesn't deliver some minor psychic relief. It worked for me. 


Sunday, June 19, 2022

Bearing Witness

Before visiting the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama for the first time in May 2021, I was familiar with it, via a segment on 60 Minutes featuring Bryan Stevenson, the social architect and creator of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), who first envisioned the memorial. Also, not long before watching that segment I'd finished Stevenson's exceptional book Just Mercy (2014). 

But despite my familiarity with the memorial and Stevenson's important work, I was unprepared for the experience of facing over 6,500 suspended concrete slabs, each memorializing a black person lynched between 1866-1950 somewhere in the United States. Each slab represents a documented lynching. Indeed, many of the lynchings were publicized in the press of the time. Gruesomely, some were even boasted of in advance. I published the blog post directly below soon after my disturbing visit to the memorial.

Reflections From The Bell Curve: National Memorial For Peace And Justice

And though I felt numb with grief and shame walking among those slabs last May, I took small solace in one paltry fact. At the time, my beloved home state shared a dubious distinction with several others - no documented lynchings had yet been 100% verified as having taken place in New Jersey. Then I happened upon the front page of Asbury Park Press (APP) two days ago and learned about Samuel "Mingo Jack" Johnson in Eatontown, NJ in 1886.  


Given the current state of our disunion, with elected officials decrying the teaching of any history that might point to any shameful aspect of our national history, and deeply disturbed malcontents using assault weapons to wage war against an invented phenomenon called "replacement theory", drawing attention to the work being done by the National Memorial for Peace and Justice might seem to some a futile effort. I refuse to surrender to that cynicism. Visit the website for the memorial embedded in my blog post. Read the APP article about "Mingo Jack". Talk to others about what you've learned. Then, tell anyone who questions why you want to "re-visit" the past or denies that the scourge of lynching is a stain in our national fabric that you are doing what decent people must always do to avoid repeating our worst failures. You are bearing witness.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

An Antidote for Malaise

Diagnosis: Garden variety malaise, aka the blues. NOT the clinical strain that perpetually plagues some unfortunate people but the passing type of dip nearly all of us experience at least a few times in life. 

Prescription:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3yCcXgbKrE 

Listen carefully to the affirming lyric and joy-filled performance directly above. Repeat as necessary.

Prognosis: Excellent. If you're able to resist this elegantly simple lyric and unimprovable performance i.e. your malaise doesn't lift a bit - at least temporarily - I'll refund your money. But wait; you didn't pay me, did you?

To this secular humanist, the world was blessed with a sacred hymn when composers Bob Thiele and George David Weiss created this jewel. And Louis Armstrong - a national treasure with few equals - delivered a performance that acts as an antidote for malaise to anyone open to the healing power of music.            

Monday, June 13, 2022

Words That Can Haunt Me, Part 18: Deadline

 deadline: the latest time for finishing something (as copy for publication). 

(Apology in advance for today's post to my devoted daughter.)

For the majority of my working life - as a full-time musician and otherwise - I suspect I handled deadlines no better nor worse than most of you. Sometimes I thrived because of the pressure, other times I buckled. They were an inescapable part of the rhythm of a work life - usually tolerable, oppressive, at least some days. 

Nowadays - in the midst of Act Three - deadlines can take on a slightly more ominous aura. Anyone out there who is either approaching or in the midst of Act Three relate to what I'm saying? If you don't want to come clean via a public comment here out of concern for dismaying young adult children or other loved ones, I get it. But for me, it's hard to ignore the dead first syllable in that word, at least some days. 

The good news: All my deadlines nowadays are self-imposed and there is little consequence attached if I fail to meet any of them. The not-so-good-news (sorry sweetheart): I'm reminded regularly - by the passing of peers and the undeniable reality of an expiration date not that many decades away - that deadline is a word that can haunt me, at least some days.         

Friday, June 10, 2022

All News, All the Time

In my next paragraph is a brief description of an experience I had recently, using just facts and the words of two men which I captured - nearly verbatim - in my journal as I listened. Before revealing my reaction to this experience - in my third paragraph - take a brief moment and formulate your own.    

I'm waiting in a bagel store that seats approximately fifteen people as my sandwich is being prepared. On the full screen TV hanging on the wall is a broadcast of a local news station. The screen headline says "late-breaking" news, which turns out to be a forecast of a storm gathering on the East Coast. Man #1: "This is why I can't stand watching TV. Late-breaking news? Who are they kidding? They said the same thing twenty minutes ago!" Man #2: "Yeah, that's goes on all day on every TV you see - it's all 'news' but it's all the same."

Listening to these two men, one irony about their shared complaint struck me as inescapable. What if there weren't a TV in nearly every available public space? Would a conversation like this ever occur? 

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Mentoring & Being Mentored

A Manner of Being: Writers on Their Mentors (2015) is a book I'd likely never have stumbled onto if not for the new writer's group I joined early this year. What has been your most recent experience of being enriched by a book that could have easily escaped your attention?

"Be kind. Pay attention. Err on the side of generosity." 

Those three simple suggestions - lessons George Saunders extracted from being mentored by Tobias Wolff - can be used by anyone who wants to be of use to another person. Think back to your own mentors. How closely did they follow this model? Now reflect on your own mentoring of others. How are you doing?

"Carve. Make your sentences sinuous."

Those five words - coaching that Edie Meidev got from Peter Matthiessen - is more specific to the craft of writing. But consider how readily those words could be applied to thinking or conversation. Which of us wouldn't benefit from distilling our thoughts to the essential? How could speaking more cogently ever hurt?

"Aren't you afraid your mind will dry up without a fresh flow of ideas and information?"

When Josip Novakovich told his mentor Terence Malick he hadn't read anything the day before, Malick responded with that penetrating question. I immediately recalled the great novelist Ernest Gaines's words when asked how to improve one's writing - "Read more."  But even if you are not an aspiring writer, Malick's question is worthy of reflection. Just as this volume of short essays is worthy of anyone's attention, writer or not. Start with the three essays above - of nearly seventy - and see if you don't want more. If so, jump to Henry Rollins on Hubert Selby Jr. or Nick Flynn on Philip Levine or Sabina Murray on Valerie Martin. Then write me here and tell me what you learned about mentoring or about being mentored. 

Reflections From The Bell Curve: My Mentor

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Words for the Ages, Line Twenty-Three

"If it makes you happy, it can't be that bad."

Although many Puritans might scoff at me claiming that semi-hedonistic phrase as words for the ages, I suspect my Puritan following is meager. Anyway, those ten words from one of Sheryl Crow's most well-known songs strike me as a snug fit with the criteria I established when initiating this series back in 2017 - a complete thought that is terse, easy to recall, and contains a universal truth. Or in this case at least, something that feels like a truth to this heathen who is neither a criminal nor pathological. 

I trust regular readers will intuit that I am not sanctioning everything that makes anyone happy. But in case an irregular reader or someone new to my blog stumbles across this post, I'll clarify: Things that do clear and lasting damage to others - especially children - are 100% unacceptable regardless of how happy they make anyone

On the other hand, Crow's words strike me a worthwhile credo that can help assuage some of the self-induced guilt many of us routinely experience. We can all use these words for the ages as an adjunct to assist us in remembering that pleasure and joy are healthy pursuits, not "sins". Mea culpa to any Puritan who stumbles onto the bell curve today.

And you? A different terse phrase from Sheryl Crow's estimable oeuvre to nominate as words for the ages?

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Poetry in the Soul

Maintaining momentum on my blog has been easier during spells when comments from readers have been consistent. Because the inspiration I derive from you often morphs into ideas for future posts - like today's - I cannot say thank you frequently enough to those of you who take the time to comment, here or offline.

What is perhaps most inspiring to me is the poetry in some of your comments. Acting as the conduit for your skill at expressing ideas thrills me. Recently, one loyal reader said he "...probably wouldn't earn that merit badge..." in response to a post quoting Thomas Paine about facing adversity with a smile. Fantastic!

Not long before that, one of my most frequent commenters described an adolescent character in a novel I'd cited - one this reader had also read - as being mired in "...hormonal soup..." Come on, try coming up with a more apt metaphor for what we all experience in our teens than those two words.

And here's a hidden treasure I recently uncovered when a reader directed me back to a post published in late 2013. This comment referred to some of the devastation caused by Superstorm Sandy. In it, the commenter described seeing things that revealed "...the hidden beauty of nature embedded in its fury..." That one took my breath away.

I'm reasonably sure none of the comments cited above - or the many others like this I've received over the last eleven + years - were planned. Therein lies the magic. In my experience, most people have poetry in their souls. Thank you for sharing some of yours with me - and any of my readers - since 2011. I challenge all of you to listen carefully to the words of others and see how much poetry emerges if you are paying attention. The next time you hear some, share it with me here.