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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".

Monday, February 27, 2023

How Can I Help?

How can I help?

How much more humane our world might become if each of us took the time to ask that question of a person who appeared in some way to be struggling. What prevents any of us from doing such a simple thing? 

I've recently decided on a practical way to overcome my timidity: Pay much closer attention to people I know and begin by asking one of them. Starting this way is likely to make it easier to follow through on whatever is asked of me. And if I am able to then give the help asked of me, perhaps I'll be on my way to asking more often and broadening the mission beyond people I know. 

As soon as I complete the first thing asked of me, I plan to report back here. I've also decided to turn this question into my newest series. I know from years of experience that declaring a public pledge here on my blog greatly enhances my chances for getting started, which tends to be the hardest part. I hope some of you will join me. How can asking this question yield anything other than a net positive for our world? 

How can I help?

Saturday, February 25, 2023

For a Nickel (or Less)

Isn't it safe to say that all of us have felt stuck from time to time? Whether we describe being stuck as apathy, a dead-end, lethargy, or some other way, I suspect most of us would agree that being stuck - at least a few times in life - goes with being human.

For today's reflection, imagine an antidote of your making could assist others in getting "unstuck". Think of your antidote as a foolproof prescription for assuaging apathy, dead-endedness, lethargy, and the like. Caveat: I'm not equating being stuck with clinical depression or asking any reader to pretend they are an educated professional treating it. Imagine instead you are Lucy in the Peanuts comic strip with a booth set up on your sidewalk. Now if anyone wants to send me the nickel Lucy would have charged, I'm OK with that, but my RX is offered free of charge and I'm going first only because I've been at this blogging thing for quite a while.  

* Sit somewhere with the sun on your face.

* Look for something purple in nature.

* Listen to the birds, trying to differentiate between the songs each one sings. 

p.s. This post was directly inspired by a prompt recently given to my writers group by our capable and kind moderator.    

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Darn Her, Anyway

At times while consuming Lauren Groff's short story collection entitled Florida it was difficult to control my envy of her astonishing writing talent. This 2018 volume is more assured than similar collections by authors almost twice Groff's age. 

Although all eleven tales hum with intelligence and humor, I suspect the five that feature a distracted and conflicted mother of two young boys who is "...exhausting to everyone..." and "...buries all her failures in reading..." are the stories that will remain with me longest. The first four of these are told in the first person, pointing attentive readers toward concluding that Groff - the mother of two young boys - is using herself, mercilessly, as a subject. Only the last of the five - Yport, which closes out the collection and is the longest story in the book - is in third person. In that one, the writer/mother takes her two boys to France while doing research for her next book. She tries easing their uncertainty in the new and strange surroundings by telling them - "I won't let anybody hurt you, she says, and she is either lying or not, it is hard to tell, because this promise is so complicated, the future so dark." 

Reflections From The Bell Curve: 21st Century Couples

The post above was published soon after I finished Groff's 2015 novel Fates and Furies. Six and a half years laterI'm now more convinced that equating her with a young John Updike is apt. Her gift - like Updike's - is a rare one. Darn her, anyway.  

Monday, February 20, 2023

A Half-Century Ago

A half-century ago ...

For me, being able to legitimately use that phrase can be gratifying or unsettling. It depends on the kind of day I'm having and the context.  

Having a lot of life behind me has given me some perspective, I hope. Lessons I've learned can be useful to people younger than me who are willing to listen. With others in my age cohort who are grounded and thoughtful, discussions using that phrase can remind me of history we've all lived and the progress we've made. I'm grateful both for that progress and for all the good fortune my long life has given me.   

Though time was always a finite resource, that phrase also brings that inescapable fact into sharper focus. On some days, a half-century rewind reminds me of roads not taken and young-adult missteps. The news can leave me unsettled, especially when events I've already seen are repeating themselves and people around me - including some purporting to report the news - respond with denial.  

In February 1973 I was twenty-three years old, making my living as a musician. Today, being able to clearly recall myself a half-century ago is gratifying. 

Friday, February 17, 2023

The Challenge of Junk

I love Cheetos. I love the taste, the crunch, the salt. When I finish a bag - and I always finish the bag - I love licking the orange off my fingers. The fact that Cheetos have no nutritional value whatsoever has no effect on my enjoyment. But my unalloyed enjoyment doesn't mean Cheetos are good food. They are junk. Enjoying junk is everyone's right. Agreeing on what is junk - aside from Cheetos - now that's more challenging.   

For example, what was the last book you enjoyed that had little or no nutritional value, i.e., a junky book? How did you describe it to others? Guilty pleasure? Throwaway? Beach read? What was the last book you read that was high in nutritional value? How did your enjoyment of it differ from your enjoyment of the junky one? What does your self-talk sound like when a junky book captivates you more than an elevating one, something that happens frequently to me? How recently have you tried to persuade yourself that a junky book wasn't a junky book? Why do we do this? 

In my experience, out of fear of being labelled a snob or elitist, many people resist saying aloud when some manifestation or form of popular art - e.g., rock n' roll - has a junky whiff. I love rock n' roll as much as I do Cheetos. I have no qualms calling them both junk. Will Johnny B. Goode be played long after I'm gone? Without a doubt, but that doesn't place Chuck Berry alongside Mozart in the musical firmament. This is not snobbery. I enjoy - immensely - Johnny B. Goode and prefer listening to it over Mozart. But junk is junk and claiming otherwise - be it a book, a film, a piece of music, or a bag of Cheetos - doesn't make it less so. I say acknowledge it as junk, consume and enjoy it, and resist trying to claim it has any lasting nutritional value.  

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Killing Curiosity

Curiosity killed the cat. 

Of all the maxims de-constructed here on the bell curve since the inception of my blog, the one above is perhaps my easiest target to date. Who would seriously want to live by these words? Which of you parents think discouraging your children about being curious is a good idea? Does telling a child - telling anyone - they could die via curiosity strike anybody as wise counsel?  

While I'm at it, how did the inventor of this proverb - according to Wikpedia, that was Ben Jonson in the 16th century - figure out the cat was killed by curiosity? How did Ben - how does anyone - find out what it was that motivated something that's dead? And, even if someone thought to ask in advance, i.e., before the cat was actually dead, what was motivating said cat, who does the person to cat translation?

If enough of us continue to reflexively repeat this boneheaded adage for another five hundred years, one unintended consequence could be the killing of curiosity itself, felines aside. Which maxim, proverb, or adage would you nominate for the trash heap? I submit this one is well past its expiration date.

Reflections From The Bell Curve: Two Adages Ready For The Trash Heap

Reflections From The Bell Curve: Messing With A Maxim


Saturday, February 11, 2023

#69: The Mt. Rushmore Series

Over its eleven-year lifespan, I've asked readers to join me by making four selections - from a wide array of categories - that they deem worthy of enshrining on an alternative version of Mt. Rushmore. The sixty-eight previous categories I've chosen have varied widely and I would say most of them - unlike today - have been a bit more ... earnest. For example, I've asked for four noteworthy performances or learning experiences; four memorable authors or places visited; four important films or qualities valued in a friend. Today's category belongs more in the spirit of the original inspiration for this series. The post appended at the bottom - published when Mt. Rushmore was under three-years old in June 2015 - provides more detail on the genesis of my oldest extant series for anyone interested. In the meanwhile, are you ready today for some frivolous fun?

Among the many varieties of cheese available today - and surely there are more than the number of presidents we've had so far which makes memorializing just four a comparable task - which varieties belong on your Mt. Rushmore? Mine are alphabetical; list yours however you choose.

1.) Boursin

2.) Brie

3.) Camembert

4.) Mozzarella 

Didn't realize until I began construction that my mountain has a distinct foreign flavor - heavily French, no less - to it. Maybe I need to consider calling it Mt. de Gaulle? Aside: One reader who is sure to wonder why it took me this long to erect a Mt. Rushmore of cheeses is my partner of forty-five years. She has often (and correctly) commented that getting me to eat anything is as simple as putting cheese - of any kind - on top of whatever is put in front of me. What's the harm, I ask? Aren't there much more damaging vices than being a cheeseaholic? How about you? Which four would you have trouble abandoning? 

  Reflections From The Bell Curve: #33: The Mt. Rushmore Series       

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

My Ian McEwan Thread

I suspect I'm not alone in wanting to learn the origin of movie scripts, especially for films that move me. And though paying attention as film credits roll has paid off several times - either via the discovery of a new author or some intriguing source material to further explore - it's possible that learning novelist Ian McEwan's name in 2007 through the movie Atonement has been the best gift of this kind I've received in the last twenty years. Which notable author has been a gift the movies have given to you?   

Within weeks after seeing Atonement, I raced through my first McEwan book - Saturday (2005) - which at the time was his most recent novel available in paperback. Then, in a classic case of schemata vs. scotoma, McEwan's name seemed to pop up everywhere I turned. At least one of his concise jewels is cited in Defining Moments in Books (2007), The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books (also 2007), 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2010), and The Literature Book (2016), four books that occupy a special place in the resource section of my home library. In addition, while immersed in my Christopher Hitchens phase, circa 2010-2014, I learned Hitchens and McEwan were good friends. Good enough for Chris, good enough for me. 

Fast forward to late 2022 and my wife's current project to read those books that have won either the Pulitzer or the Booker prize for literature. Soon after finishing McEwan's Booker-winning Amsterdam (1998), she implored me to read it so we could have a discussion. I did, then we did. Then, just a few days later - not unlike my Atonement/Saturday confluence - another reading soulmate suggested we read and then discuss On Chesil Beach, the 2007 McEwan novel that was available only in hardcover when I began my thread. With three clear winners in a row now under my belt, I'm confident more treasure will be unearthed as I continue following this thread. Next up: Nutshell, which has been on my radar since I first spotted it on the 2016 NY Times annual list of notable books. All this past and future reading pleasure because I paid attention to those film credits. Who says being a movie geek is a waste of time? 

Sunday, February 5, 2023

That Elusive "S" Word

Successful is the person who has lived well, laughed often and loved much, who has gained the respect of children, who leaves the world better than they found it, who has never lacked appreciation for the earth's beauty, who never fails to look for the best in others or give the best of themselves - Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Emerson's words have guided and inspired me for as long as I can remember. And his definition of success - putting aside the hyperbolic use of the word "never" - stands with the best I've yet encountered. How do Emerson's measures of that elusive word match or differ from yours?

Though Ralph's formulation still resonates with me, it also seems that the deeper I travel into Act Three, the more my reflections about success intensify. How about you? When did you most recently take time to consider what a well-lived life looks like? I know after almost twelve full years of blogging to expect little in the way of response from readers unless I go first. But this time I'll be really disappointed if no one else follows suit. Please.

A few months into my 74th year I'm measuring my success by ...

The strength and durability of my relationships.

The satisfaction I derive from creative efforts.

My commitment to the active pursuit of social justice.    

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Deja Vu, Anyone?

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?