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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, March 31, 2023

More Than Just Dinner

Though I wasn't ready to be a parent until relatively late in life, it's impossible for me to now imagine a life without my daughter. She and her mother are my best friends.

I know feeling this way about a child is commonplace. But sometimes, the intensity of my gratitude for what my daughter has brought to my life feels anything but commonplace. Even knowing that parents from the beginning of time the world over have cherished and been cherished by their children does not diminish how special I feel. How can this be? 

Taking in her beautiful smile - a trait she clearly inherited from her mother - and enjoying the effortless interaction the three of us shared at dinner earlier tonight delivered me to my current state of grace. If you've been as fortunate as me in this regard, I'd welcome hearing of a moment from your story, no matter if it happened today or long ago.     

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Book Backlog: Leadoff Batter Hits Triple

Thanks to a suggestion made by a faithful reader, I have a plan for ameliorating the small "d" dilemma referenced in my March 23 post. Fair warning to readers not as passionate about books as me: Over the next few weeks, any post you see entitled Book Backlog, don't bother opening.  Like today's post - the first of four - each one will contain three brief paragraphs like those below, each gushing about a book I finished over the first three fertile reading months of 2023. I can recommend all twelve almost without reservation. After the bell sounds on the fourth post, my book backlog should be exhausted, theoretically, and my blog can then return to its usual ratio of about one in five posts being devoted to literature. The opening triple now awaits the hungry eyes of my fellow bookworms.

1.) No One Left to Come Looking for You (2022) - Sam Lipsyte: Grabbed in a pure library drive-by, i.e., I had no prior knowledge of the book or its author, this profane, funny, and sharply written suspense novel spends a few days on the grimy edges of New York City's music scene in early 1993. Remember when our ex-tweeter-in-chief was just a smarmy real estate snake? Lipsyte does, giving Agent Orange a plausible and priceless cameo in his gritty gem. You'll race through this, I promise. 

2.) On Critical Race Theory (2022) - Victor Ray: Piece by piece, this important and timely volume takes apart all the misinformation modern-day demagogues have been feeding to their echo chambers for years about the aims of critical race theory. Tracing the long line of scholarship that preceded him, Ray painstakingly outlines why critical race theory matters and why we should care. 

3.) The Sympathizer (2015) - Viet Thanh Nguyen: What is a book signaling when the sub-title on its cover states "A Novel"? The details in this harrowing tale are rendered with such precision, I find it improbable to imagine the un-named first person narrator and author as different people. In the end, this masterful meditation on memory, remorse, and the consequences of decisions made both by individuals and nations asks many questions but provides no easy answers. Take your time with this one.   

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Installment #1: How Can I Help?

There's little doubt that being more tuned in contributed to how many opportunities appeared before me over this past month to help others. Kind of makes me wish I'd made my February 27 pledge a bit sooner. My wistful wishing aside, did any of you join me after I published the post directly below? If yes, I suspect the people who read my blog regularly would welcome hearing your most recent story. I know I would.    


My most notable experience came while assisting an old friend working with a group of teenagers over the past four Sunday afternoons. The mission of these teenagers - an Interfaith group ranging from 8th to 12th grade across four counties in northern NJ - is advancing an anti-racist message to those open to listening. And though I was pleased to be asked to help, impressed by the work these young people have already done, and humbled by their commitment and willingness to learn from our presentations, the most rewarding part came when an opportunity arose for me to help one troubled young man during a break in our second session.

What did I do to help? I listened carefully as he spoke to me of his struggles in a world that has frequently let him down and treated him as inferior. How do I know I helped? Although I can't be certain I did, his armor visibly softened the more he shared. When I finally spoke, he listened and made direct eye contact with me. By the time our one-on-one interaction finished, I detected a lessening of some of the anger he'd brought into the room in week one when we all introduced ourselves. Mostly, I was honored by his trust.  

Would I have handled this situation differently had I not made my February 27 pledge? Again, no way to know for sure. But the pledge clearly made me more mindful about helping others throughout this past month. One thing is for sure: Remaining in this space will mean other opportunities are certain to come my way. Please save your next story for me and stay tuned for installment #2.    

Thursday, March 23, 2023

My Small "d" Dilemma

I've got a small "d" dilemma. Maybe one of you can offer some help? 

Although about 20% of my 2200+ posts have been about books and reading, it's always been my goal to reflect on a wide array of subjects aside from my passion for literature, mostly because I know there are folks who don't share that passion. Unfortunately, even though I skip any mention here of the ones that don't set me on fire, at present I've got a backlog of over a dozen books I'm anxious to gush over, going back to late in 2022 when I gobbled David Foster Wallace's remarkable book of essays entitled Both Flesh and Not (2012). What to do?

Spreading them out over the next few months won't solve my dilemma because more worthy books will surely come along in the meanwhile; I'll be right back where I started. Maybe list them all in a single post to "catch up"? Not fair to the authors. Start a new blog devoted to just books? My plate is already too full. Ask a reading soulmate to write a guest post here after they read one of the dozen+? Any takers on that one? But wait. What happens if my guest blogger is not as knocked out by a book as I was which, in turn, makes their gushing muted? Can't have that. 

Unless one of you offers me some sage advice, it could be my near-future book ratio might have to exceed 20% of my posts for a month or more. If I end up settling on that as a strategy, apologies in advance to any readers not particularly passionate about literature. I will return to that ratio as soon as possible. There is one other small impending wrinkle in this dilemma, however. In early April, I'm headed to the five National Parks in Utah. If experience is any predictor, a fair number of books will accompany me and be finished over those two weeks away. I guess those not sharing my passion for literature can hope many of the books I take will be duds I won't want to gush over. But, if more big winners begin accruing while I'm away, my small "d" dilemma could get stickier. Caveat emptor.       

Monday, March 20, 2023

First and Last

Ever have a first that, while you were having it, you were pretty sure would be your last? Yeah, for me that would be snowshoeing.

I'm not unhappy my wife arranged for us to hike up to the Red Hill Fire Tower in Dening, New York this past weekend, but if she ever booked a trip in the future involving snowshoes, she'd be hiking solo. It wasn't unpleasant, per se. And I was grateful for the ideal weather we had. But like my single experience skydiving, I'm satisfied with one-and-done. Ever snowshoed? More than once? Willingly? 

Because the hike up and back was on a brand-new trail, the twelve of us were single file in a "track" of sorts, making conversation challenging - both on ascent and descent - especially given the sound of the snowshoes. Consequently, the two and one-half hours it took to reach the tower - a gain of over 1,000 feet spread over two miles - was, at times, a bit tiresome. Only after I began practicing a walking meditation did I start feeling more centered. As I more fully took in the quiet around me - snowshoes aside - the trees blanketed with snow began to feel restorative. The descent taking just ninety minutes also helped.

And our day ended on an even higher note, despite my screaming thighs. We headed directly to our local pub and treated ourselves to a high-fat, high-sodium, empty carbs-laden dinner. Snowshoeing? First and last time for me. What first-and-last experiences have you had in life? Ever been tempted to try again?

Friday, March 17, 2023

This Patrick and Today

Patrick is a name that is easy to be neutral about, wouldn't you say? Easy to spell and pronounce, not all that many famous or infamous people - aside from today's saint, of course - that are easily conjured in people's minds, and most conveniently, it has the right number of syllables for that birthday tune. No need to elongate a one syllable name, e.g. Lee, to match the two notes in that melody or to scrunch a three-syllable name like Roberta into that same space. But even Roberta gives you the option of leaving out the "dear" that precedes the name to make that melody work. Don't get me started on fitting Anastasia, Bartholomew, or Victoria into that tune. But I digress. Back to today's saint, i.e., my namesake.

How fond are you of your name? I'm neither overly attached to nor detached from Patrick as such. I guess it's kind of neat that a holiday is connected to my moniker - especially one with lots of drinking involved - even if I've never marched in a parade. But today, I noticed my namesake's holiday only when I had cause for consulting the low-tech calendar hanging in our closet. If not for that, the day could've easily passed by unremarked as it has many times in the past. 

The whole green thing? I've forgotten about that tradition as often as I've remembered. I suspect my neutral posture toward my name and lackadaisical attitude about my ethnic heritage is related to how far back on my father's side I have to travel to connect to Irish ancestors who settled here. That part of my family history is so distant that calling myself anything except an American - or hyphenating my ethnicity - just seems silly. 

Still, this Patrick salutes the many other Patricks out there celebrating their holiday. I respect your fondness for or pride in your name. I'm pleased if you feel significantly connected to your Irish heritage. I hope you enjoyed marching in or watching the parade. I'm content with having a two-syllable name that fits well in the birthday song.      

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Some Milestones as Year Thirteen Looms

First things first. Thank you for your support, comments, and feedback through twelve full years and over 2,200 published posts. And I hope you'll indulge the self-referential nature of today's reflection as lucky year thirteen starts. Although none of the milestones below put me even close to viral territory, my tiny niche in the blogosphere has brought me joy and inspired some insightful comments from you. For those things I'm grateful.

* Record # of views for single post:  1,733Reflections From The Bell Curve: Walk On Water, Do You? Skip This Post, published January 3, 2017.

* Record # of total views in one month for blog: 7,899 in December 2016.

* Most posts published in one month: May 2011 - 27 posts over 31 days; in one year: 247 in 2016.

* Most unique commenters (not including my response) for any single post: twelve - a two-way tie for Reflections From The Bell Curve: #65: The Mt. Rushmore Series, published May 25, 2022 and Reflections From The Bell Curve: My True North, published January 12, 2023.

* Most comments made by one person on a single post: nine on Reflections From The Bell Curve: Plea for More Rescuers (Start at 29, Please), published November 8, 2022.

* Most unique comments made by one person in a single day (on different posts): four. (Bless your heart, RG.)

* Longest running comment thread: Four months on Reflections From The Bell Curve: Pop Culture Triptych: Countdown from Fifty , published August 4, 2022; last comment on thread: November 10. 

* Most enduring series: Mt. Rushmore, with the most recent iteration (#69) published in February. The series began in July of 2012.  

If you are still with me, I've saved the best for last. Care to guess which day of the year has had the longest consecutive run of posts? Yep, that would be today. On every March 14 since 2012 - twelve years in a row counting today - I've published a post. Most of them have been less self-referential than this one. Because the most important message I can deliver today is to thank anyone who has taken the time to read my blog since its inception on March 15, 2011. Can never say that too many times. 

Friday, March 10, 2023

Words for the Ages, Line Twenty-Four

"Wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then."

Although I've scoured my lyric-loaded brain for a while, I haven't yet been able to recall another lyric that captures the loss of innocence quite as tersely as those ten words for the ages. What would you nominate in place of Bob Seger's succinct phrase from Against the Wind?

One of the clear benefits of initiating this series almost six years ago has been how much more closely I've paid attention to the craft of writing lyrics. Keeping my ear tuned in to unearth these cogent, aphoristic, self-contained gems has continually reminded me how much wisdom can be packed into few words. And that insight has, in turn, helped my own songwriting immeasurably.

As always, I'm curious to know what you've unearthed lately. What terse, stand-alone lyrical gem with a kernel of universal truth stops you in your tracks like Seger's words do to me?      

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Our Free Press

Watching The Untouchable late last year made me soul sick. When that documentary ended, I felt sure I needed to know nothing further about the venal Harvey Weinstein.  Consequently, when my daughter gave me Catch and Kill as a Christmas gift, I wasn't looking forward to reading it. I knew Ronan Farrow had won the Pulitzer for his reporting and admired the role he'd played in helping end Weinstein's ignominious rein as the king of Hollywood. But I almost let his book languish.

Although I quickly overcame my resistance, several weeks have passed and I'm still trying to process this scrupulously researched and painful book. Each time I think I've reached the end of my outrage about the damage the rich and powerful routinely inflict, another searing detail returns to me. Of the many sickening things I learned from Farrow's book, the detailed descriptions of the army of people paid to protect, lie for, and hide the hideous misdeeds of reprobates like Weinstein just won't leave me alone. How do people like this justify the obfuscation, spin, and outright lies that earn them their living? Do any of the paid minions ever pause to consider the lives they've helped shatter by enabling their employers and then assisting those employers to escape justice? Shame on every one of them. 

Still, as demoralizing as it can be to read a cautionary tale like Catch and Kill, perhaps my most enduring takeaway is gratitude for our free press and their role in exposing evil and holding the perpetrators accountable. Thank you, Ronan.  

Saturday, March 4, 2023

Learning New Steps

Which components of keeping a relationship humming would you say have parallels to the skill required for effective dancing? In your experience, what can occur when one partner in a relationship begins changing in some way and the other partner isn't particularly agile about reacting to the change? 

Although I'm sure you'll agree that all relationships have to be able to endure bumps and collisions - just as dance partners do - I think you'll also agree there are limits. That is, if one or the other partner doesn't at least make an attempt to learn new steps - aka get attuned to the changes in their partner - isn't it more likely those bumps and collisions could begin getting wearisome? 

Given how long it takes me to learn new steps, I've been fortunate to have a patient life partner and almost equally patient friends. In my view, patience is another critical component needed for both humming relationships and effective dancing. Your thoughts?

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Class Dismissed

"...is in a class all of his own..."

Normally, when one sees or hears the phrase above used to describe someone, what follows is lavish praise for that person's skills, occupation or field notwithstanding.

On the other hand, couldn't that phrase be easily used as insult masquerading as praise? That was my first thought when I recently saw it - lifted from a review and out of context - referring to an author's new book. My own experience with this author has never challenged the widely held view that his work rarely rises above the formulaic. If anything, each desultory experience I've had trying to read him has reinforced my initial impression that what he creates - with or without a co-writer with high marquee appeal - is a commodity far removed from literature. His product serves a purpose, he is rich and massively popular, he'll get a big obit in the NY Times. 

Still, snarky as it is, seeing that author name attached to that phrase I wondered if the reviewer was having a little fun. Which class was he or she talking about?