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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".

Saturday, December 31, 2022

Best of 2022

Though many of the headings in this series have changed since its inception in 2012, one thing has remained the same - the gratitude I feel looking back at all the joy each year brings, even the tough ones. I hope you'll join in this year and tell me and others what made 2022 memorable for you. Use my headings or your own.

1.) Best family event: No competition here. My daughter's July wedding was equal parts beautiful, moving, and exhausting. If I hadn't had on my Fitbit, people would surely have thought I'd exaggerated in saying I never left the dance floor. But the 28,000 steps my Fitbit tallied that day are proof there's life left in these Act Three bones. And that five-piece brass band at the cocktail hour?  Ass kicking! 

2.) Best news: Also no competition. Over the recent holidays we learned my daughter and her writing partner will soon be directing their first feature length film. Stay tuned for future bragging. 

3.) Best addition: My new writing group, a much better experience than previous groups I've been in of a similar nature. Good moderator, useful insights, great fellowship with other aspiring writers. 

4.) Best moment telling me there are people who know the true value of money: Some years back, after reading the backstory of Yvon Chouinard, I felt like I knew the man. Learning this past fall what he has decided to do with all the future earnings of Patagonia - the company he founded - is beyond inspirational. I hope I'd do as he plans to, were our positions reversed. I'll never know.  


5.) Best re-discovery: Music & movies are perfect together. The link below to my Mt. Rushmore series was written before I recently re-watched Pretty in Pink and laughed aloud as Jon Cryer danced to Otis Redding's version of Try a Little Tenderness. Cinematic magic & musical splendor joined at the hip. 

Reflections From The Bell Curve: #67: The Mt. Rushmore Series (Re-Visiting #10)

 Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 29, 2022

A Dog Whistle by Any Other Name

Being a latecomer to documentaries has me wondering how many worthwhile ones passed me by in the years before I became a convert. If you have any recommendations for documentaries made before 2000, please pass them along. Added bonus: Some readers of my blog may benefit, especially those that have not yet gotten bit by the documentary bug. 

As you might guess from its title, The Uncomfortable Truth (2017) is not for everyone. In his searing film, director Loki Mulholland explores the role his family played in helping create the institutional racism that continues to plague the United States. Mulholland's honesty and vulnerability can be difficult to watch but the rawness is the element setting this documentary apart. The filmmaker's aging mother Joan Trumpauer Mulholland dedicated her life to civil rights advocacy. She joins her son on a journey to rural Georgia, where many of their ancestors are buried, as he tries to piece together the secrets and lies in their family's tangled history.  

The second key player in the film is Luvaughn Brown. As Mulholland tries to comprehend the incomprehensible, Brown's no-nonsense narrative traces a warped lineage beginning in 1619 and extending to the present, i.e., white supremacy's long and painful history. The Middle passage, slavery, the systematic dismantling of Reconstruction, the Ku Klux Klan, Birth of a Nation, Jim Crow, the burning of Tulsa, redlining, white backlash to the gains of the Civil Rights era, Emmet Till, Martin and Medgar, the war on drugs, Willie Horton, mass incarceration, "shithole" nations. The dog whistles rallying the mob may be more subtle in our "post-racial" era, but they remain dog whistles.  

Can't recommend this documentary highly enough.       

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Tis The Season to Be ... Dithering?

Given the ease and convenience of technology, it's possible that e-cards and letters will soon be the default method for reaching out to others for the holidays. Who among us will mourn the soon-to-be-quaint tradition of using the U.S. mail to send out a lo-tech card or letter vs. its digital companion? As a member of the resistance against modern-day technology - with my blog being a notable and highly contradictory exception to that resistance - most people who know me would logically assume I would be among those mourning those lo-tech cards and letters as we continue our inexorable march toward being technologically subsumed. 

However, in this instance, logic does not wholly apply. Although I don't necessarily welcome the day that digital cards and letters become the norm, I must begrudgingly admit I'll be relieved when the torturous process of going through my manual address book (!) to try and decide who will receive a card or letter finally comes to an end. Sending a digital version could put an end to my hours of dithering over these simple decisions, something that seems to get more convoluted each year.

When e-cards and letters finally take over, all I'll have to do is construct an e-group of recipients and then add or delete names from that group each year. No more remembering to save the envelope and write down the snail mail address of someone who sends me a lo-tech card so I can reciprocate and not appear rude. No more scratching out an old address and writing a new one in that address book when someone moves. No more over-thinking about what I'll write in the card or add to the form letter to ensure my holiday communication is more personal. With a digital version, few people will expect anything personal; technology, almost by definition, renders most things impersonal.

Are my days of holiday dithering about cards and letters about to end? If so, I'm reasonably sure I'll find something else to dither about each year as this season rolls around. 

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Reading Re-Cap: 2022

What were some of your reading highlights in 2022? Use my headings below - developed in 2018 at the inception of this series and used every year since - or make up your own. Either way, I'm interested and some of my readers will probably be as well. Please share your reading wealth.

Novel most likely to be recommended to casual readers:  The People We Keep: Allison Larkin. As mentioned in all four previous iterations of this annual series, my use of the word "casual" is not meant in any way to demean this engaging, well-written novel. Although I am clearly not the demographic the talented author was aiming for in her 2021 coming-of-age tale, she had me from the start and her heroine is a memorable one. 

Novel most likely to be recommended to discerning readers:  Candy House: Jennifer Egan. Nothing resembles competition for this heading when put up against Egan's 2022 tour-de-force. If you loved A Visit from the Goon Squad as much as me, you'll thank me for directing you to this companion.

Novel and non-fiction book that most deepened my experience of living: The Housekeeper and the Professor (2003) - Yoko Ogawa and The New Jim Crow (2010) - Michelle Alexander.

Most worthwhile re-read: Midnight Sun (2015) - Jo Nesbo.

Most intriguing: Seven Brief Lessons in Physics (2014) - Carlo Ravelli. Yes, I was out of my depth but what good is reading as much as I do if I'm never going to challenge myself?

Most personally useful: The Seven Sins of Memory (2001) - Daniel Schacter. Not an easy read, and not an elegantly written book, but Schacter's framework is a reassuring antidote for anyone who worries about "senior moments", age aside.          

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Uncovering Another Artist

I considered saving Reading Turgenev for inclusion in my annual reading re-cap, due to be published before the year ends. But limiting this exceptional treasure by William Trevor to a brief mention in a post that typically cites several other books would be wrong. 

Trevor is widely recognized as a "writer's writer"; this short 1991 novel amply supports that description. It would be difficult to over-praise his unshowy prose and straightforward account of a woman who realizes too late that her new husband will never bring a thing to her life. The price she subsequently pays is steep. As the chapters toggle from the "present" - i.e., the early 1980s - to 1955-1959, the four years of a loveless marriage, Trevor's undeniable gifts are readily apparent. His characters breathe, his dialogue is organic and wholly believable, his insights are rich. And yet, all the while, you never "see" the author. The story is all.

My previous exposure to William Trevor had been limited. However, sitting on my bookshelf right now is an omnibus entitled The Collected Stories of William Trevor, a 2021 Christmas gift from my wife. Based on my unqualified love of Reading Turgenev, I'm certain that many hours in 2023 will find me dipping in and out of the 1,261 pages of that collection. There are hacks, there are writers, and there are artists. For the years remaining in my reading life, I'm committed to reading as much of the work of the last group as I can uncover. Why waste time wishing I'd uncovered Trevor sooner? Too much to read. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Codgerhood's Unwelcome Firsts

Some firsts mark great moments in a life - first kiss, first concert, first child. Other firsts are ones I could do without. I'll avoid oversharing by not listing here a few of the embarrassing firsts life has hurled at me in recent history. But my most recent unpleasant first cannot go by unremarked, especially since it was closely followed by a bonus insult of like kind. 

I'm standing in a crowded shuttle headed to pick up a rental car in Albuquerque Airport. A young man asks me if I would like his seat. Really? I'd like to say my first thought was how his polite gesture reassured me that common courtesy is alive and well. Instead, my first thought was "Do I look feeble?"

Before you ask, yes of course I thanked the young man. And his offer - no matter how uncharitable my first thought - would have probably slipped my mind had a second unpleasant reminder of my codgerhood not occurred a few days later. 

A group of six of us - all quite obviously in Act Three - are nearing the end of our hike to the peak of Chimney Rock while at Ghost Ranch. Headed up as we descend is a youngish group, stopped at the trailside, perspiring. As we pass them headed down, someone in our group overhears someone from the youngish group say "Hey, if they can do it, we can.

That most recent unwelcome first and its not-long-after bonus insult got me to my annual quota of reminders of codgerhood. One bright side: Both unintentional barbs landed by late October, making it unlikely I would exceed quota. I'm hoping to make it through the remaining days of 2022 unscathed. Wish me luck.  

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Cautious #1, Adventurous #2

cautious - timid - scaredy-cat? adventurous - reckless - foolhardy?

Inspired by a recent conversation with my sister about the temperamental similarities between her two granddaughters and our brother's two boys - our nephews - I'd enjoy hearing how your experiences match or differ from ours. 

Consider the two groups of italicized words that open this post. Each group uses three words ranging from dictionary neutral to slightly negative to clearly pejorative to describe a temperament. In our case, we agreed that her two granddaughters and our two nephews lined up in temperament with the older in each pair better described as children and adolescents by the group one words and the next born better described as children and adolescents by the group two words. From there we tried to remember if our temperaments as children and adolescents - me the oldest, she the next born - followed a similar pattern. Of course, in the absence of any corroboration, we can't be sure. But given my sister's childhood and adolescent propensity for scaring our parents half to death with her tree climbing and other "un-feminine" antics, she and I unscientifically concluded the same model applied to us. That is, the older and first born - me - was more cautious than his younger sibling. (BTW, we didn't check in with #3 or #4 about all of this because doing so wouldn't fit neatly with the final paragraph's questions.) 

Your experience? If you are one of two, what do you recall about your individual temperaments as children and adolescents with respect to which of you was cautious vs. adventurous? Any parents still alive and available to provide corroboration? More pertinently, if you are the parents of just two, how about their temperaments as children and adolescents? Was the older more cautious and the younger more adventurous? And just so only children or parents of only children don't feel left out, which of those two groups of words better describes you - or your only offspring - as a child or adolescent? As you've gotten older - or as your child grew into an adult - how much did that particular element of your temperament - or your child's - shift, if at all? This last question has a high degree of relevance to me because I've always fancied myself an adventurous adult. But maybe not as adventurous as my sister, who definitely started out that way.      

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Music's Role in Life

Reflections From The Bell Curve: Let's Talk ..

Let's Talk... - a conversational salon I moderate at my local library - celebrated its first anniversary early last month. Since November 2021, I've led discussions on film noir, moral courage, memoirs, living with intention, social media, and joy for a group of interested and interesting people. Each of these conversations have enriched my life. 

To kick off 2023, my next Let's Talk... is on music's role in life, a topic that any reader of this blog will know is like oxygen to me. And though I've not previously solicited your help for this endeavor, it's quite possible one or more of you could offer a pertinent insight about this subject that I might be able to use in some fashion to ignite or propel January's conversation.

What specific musical experience most recently touched you in a profound way?

Please use that question as a way to frame the way music has had a role in your life. Your comment or answer can be any length. If it's helpful to you, use my next paragraph - describing my most recent experience - as a way to get started. Or not. But please strongly consider helping me. Thank you in advance for the assistance you will give me to enrich the next Let's Talk... salon. 

While driving a few weeks back, Poco's well known song - In the Heart of the Night - began playing on the radio. Although I've probably heard this song hundreds of times since its late 70s release, I had never carefully listened to the rhyme scheme of Paul Cotton's well-crafted and touching lyric. Those lyrics brought me close to tears and then, the majestic sax solo began. I was forced to pull over as a wave of emotion washed over me. After composing myself, I started to re-live similar moments of musical rapture that have occurred throughout my life, beginning when I was a teenager and first heard the brief drum break in He's So Fine. Hearing that Poco song anew transported me back through more than six solid decades of total immersion in the most ancient of arts.  

Monday, December 5, 2022

Theresa & Terrence, etc.

How many of you ever considered that avoiding certain first names when choosing a potential romantic partner could be prudent? Love being what it is, I'm not suggesting anyone be so calculating, superficial, or cold that they would reject or select a potential partner solely based on that person's first name. Still, doesn't it seem as though certain combinations of names could be potentially confusing to others?  

Let's start with the least potentially confusing combination. That would be partners whose first names begin with the same letter. I myself have two nieces as well as a few friends from this first group, by far the most common of the three I outline. I don't recall ever being confused nor have I ever heard anyone else say they were, although stale jokes about M&M's in my family are pretty frequent. Still, doesn't it seem plausible that partners named JoAnne & John (or JoAnne & Josephine), Lois & Leo (or Leo & Liam), or Maureen & Matthew (or ... oh, you get the idea), could confuse the easily confused among us? No? OK, then how about combination #2?

In this second potentially confusing combination, I put two types, using straight couples' names only to make the point. In type #1 would be Don & Donna, Eric & Erica, or Paul & Paula. Come on, you can't tell me there is no potential for confusion there. Type #2 in this combination is more subtle, i.e., requires more thought as you are falling in love, but see if you don't agree. Just pretend my partner's name was Patricia. See where I'm going? That's right = Pat & Pat. Same thing for Christian & Christine, Gerald & Geraldine, or Martin & Martha. Still not convinced that avoiding certain first names could be prudent when choosing a romantic partner?

Any reader named Lee or Robin out there? I submit the potential for confusion rises exponentially for the androgynously named among us. I suspect some of you have known men and women with both of those names. If the Lees and Robins decide to ignore being prudent and choose partners named Lee or Robin - man or woman - they surely would be wise to prepare themselves for ... a.) confusing the easily confused; b.) enduring an endless onslaught of tired jokes, including a few insensitive ones with a homophobic bent. Don't say you weren't warned.   

Friday, December 2, 2022

Words That Can Haunt Me, Part 19: Progress

progress: development or cumulative improvement, as of an individual or a civilization.

Dictionary definition aside, try an experiment: See if you can get a consensus among several people you know about what progress looks like to them. Start by asking them how much progress we've made as a species in the past twenty-five years. How about as a country? Good luck.

The concept of progress gets personal for me when considering the intersection of technology and art. I first became concerned about this years ago when music sampling began growing in popularity. It is now so ubiquitous that casual listeners enjoying a riff or rhythmic figure in a "new" song often don't realize that riff or figure was sampled, i.e., lifted from an earlier recording. As digital technology has advanced, the sounds non-musicians can patch together with little more than a laptop are sonically astounding. All without ever having spent an hour practicing an instrument. Progress.

Lest you think this reflection on the word progress is just sour grapes from an old fart musician, how about this? Available today is an artificial intelligence application called Sudowrite that can assist authors in writing their books. Think I'm making this up? Google it. Better yet, read the closing essay in the September 23 edition of The Week, entitled The Novel-Writing Machine. If that article doesn't shake you up a little, we can agree to disagree on what this thorny word progress looks like today. I desperately want to believe that great musicians, writers, and other artists are destined to prevail despite technology's inexorable march toward art. In the meanwhile, add progress to the growing list of words that can haunt me.