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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, May 30, 2023

Franken-Novella-Stein Loves That DJ

Although Stephen Marche's most recent book is ironically titled Death of an Author, in my view it could have easily been titled The Impending Death of Literature, unironically. 

Full disclosure: I have not read nor do I intend to read Marche's book. But even though my boycott of it will have no impact on its popularity - and Mr. Marche could well be a decent enough human being - for me, this book personifies technology run amok. A Frankenstein made of equal parts ChatGPT, Sudowrite (how do you like that product name?), and Cohere - three Artificial Intelligence programs - Marche has been quoted as saying "I am the creator of this work, 100 percent. But, on the other hand, I didn't create the words." Were George Orwell still with us, he might be chuckling then choking in rapid succession.

I first learned of Sudowrite about six months ago in a sobering closing essay in The Week. About a month ago, my daughter introduced me to Chat GPT on her laptop; I didn't sleep well that night. A few weeks back, a news story really got my attention. It highlighted an AI pioneer who is asking the U.S. Government to step in and regulate the booming business in artificial intelligence before it is too late. 

Yesterday I read a brief article in the May 19 issue of the The Week describing how Marche assembled Franken-Novella-Stein, including a closing quote where he compared his product to hip-hop. I'm neither alarmist nor Luddite. But as a lover of literature, the rapid encroachment of AI into publishing upsets me as much as hearing DJs who call themselves musicians.  



Sunday, May 28, 2023

Mission 3.0

Perhaps foremost of the benefits I've derived from years of long distance cycling are the occasional moments of clarity while on a ride. So it was a few days back. While on my bike, I realized it had been years since I  last reviewed the mission statement I constructed in 1994. As my long ride continued, a large portion of a new mission statement came to me clearly.

After getting home, with the new statement still percolating, I felt compelled to dig up that 1994 iteration as well as version 1.0, constructed in 1978. Setting aside how long it took me to unearth these artifacts, rereading them both was edifying. I'm convinced much of my personal growth between version 1.0 and 2.0, and even more so between version 2.0 and the present, can be linked to having a long-range vision of what I wanted my life to look like as the future unfolded. And though the three versions don't match up neatly with the years encompassing Act One, Two, and Three of my life, they're close enough. 

I'd welcome learning of your current mission, no matter which version. If you've never attempted to construct a mission statement, I'd urge you to try. I strongly believe anyone can benefit from the effort it takes.

Mission Statement 3.0: Pat Barton (Spring, 2023)

As I wake each day, I will approach the sixteen hours ahead - like a gift waiting to be unwrapped - by aiming for these things: 

* To ease someone's suffering - in some small fashion - and/or to make the world a better or more humane place, however marginally.

* To demonstrate in some way to someone I care about - via words or deed - that they matter to me.

* To meaningfully move my body, even if some would not call that movement "exercise". 

* To write or otherwise create something, if even just a journal entry.

* To read some portion of a book or books.

* To play my guitar.

* To meditate. 

Friday, May 26, 2023

Wait, Who Is This Person?

Wait, you like what? You want to go where? You're following who on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram?

I suspect I'm not alone in occasionally assuming things about people I've known for a long time. And though I try to guard against stereotyping, claiming my assumptions about others are not occasionally prone to that impulse would be nonsense. Last time I checked, I was still human. Making assumptions may sometimes be lazy thinking, but when coupled with people we think we know, it can also be about comfort. It's reassuring to feel we know someone well. For example, predicting what brings pleasure to someone we are close to forms the basis for thoughtful gift-giving.  

Having trouble remembering the last time you succumbed to the impulse of assuming things about people you know well? If so, turn it around and try recalling the last time you befuddled someone close to you in this regard, i.e., you mention something you enjoy doing and someone close to you responds with genuine surprise. Or, maybe you say you are thinking about trying "X" and the idea elicits shock in someone who has known you a long time. I'm confident saying most of us make assumptions about those we think we know well as much - or more than - others make assumptions about us.   

Although I don't surprise myself a great deal, I'm usually pleased when someone close to me is taken aback by something that strikes them as "not like Pat". I don't purposefully aim to shock and have no wish be enigmatic. Still, being occasionally unpredictable is kind of neat, even when assumptions - and even a hint of stereotyping - are in play. Case in point: I like Barry Manilow's music.  

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Transformative Literature

First, I'll get the bragging out of the way. I'm proud of myself for putting aside my oft-repeated bias about "historical fiction".

Because if I hadn't done so, West With Giraffes could easily have slipped by which would mean, in turn, I wouldn't now be recommending it - without reservation - to all of you. What a disservice that would have been to Lynda Rutledge's 2021 treasure. How I wish my blog had more reach; her novel deserves nothing less.

I'll begin with the pitch-perfect first-person voice of seventeen-year-old Dust Bowl orphan Woodrow Wilson Nickel. "Not having much practice with thanks, I didn't know what to say." Not hooked yet? Try this: "I straightened my spine and with the hubris of a selfish boy with nothing behind and everything ahead I said 'I can do it'."  The "it" in that sentence is driving a truck from New York to San Diego in 1938. Cargo? Two adult giraffes. Did I mention Woodrow has no driver's license?

A lifetime of reading has rewarded me with some memorable insights. This book is rich with gems like this one: "It's a strange thing how you can spend years with some folks and never know them, yet, with others, you only need a handful of days to know them far beyond years." Even out of context, that straightforward sentence rings true. In context, near the end of this quest, it is earned wisdom with the power to transform an attentive reader.

Other strengths: Superb use of period detail to catapult a reader into 1938 America, a solid moral core, fully-realized characters that will linger, an intriguing but not intrusive architecture. And, on page 339 a lengthy passage about the importance and enduring power of stories I copied word-for-word to ensure I can re-capture the warm glow of this novel anytime in the future that I wish. Instead of including that passage here, let me suggest you set aside some hours for West With Giraffes and discover it on your own. I'm confident you will thank me. Special nod to the three widely disparate readers who recommended this winner to me, all three recommendations coming within the space of two days. I'm convinced that was the universe's way of telling me to discard that nasty bias of mine.  



Saturday, May 20, 2023

How Many, You Ask? Well ..

Keeping track of how many - books finished in a year, songs in my repertoire, National Parks visited - is something I've done for as long as I can recall. And throughout my life, I've resolved to stop doing so many times, although I haven't - mercifully - kept track how many times. My resolve rarely lasts long. 

Although I've got a theory or two about the tenacity of this nettlesome habit, I'm curious to first hear your view. Those of you who do not share my tendency to keep track, what would you guess are some reasons that drive someone to do this? Those of you who do share my tendency, how closely have you examined what drives you to do so? What answers have come to you? More pertinently, anyone out there who once had this tendency and has managed to break free for an extended period? Your strategies?

As Act Three gallops forward, my tracking seems to be, if anything, accelerating. Were I to ever consider returning to therapy, this might be something worth exploring. But with the final curtain approaching, I think I'll forego a professional intervention and just stick with my meditation practice. Most of the time when I'm in that mindful space, the tracking dissipates. That is, as long as I avoid keeping track of how many times - in a given period - I've meditated. Oh boy.           

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

A Difficult Lesson in Perspective

Have you ever encountered someone who has faced so many hardships over their lifetime that you found it difficult to imagine how they've survived? 

Like all of you, I've known lots of people who have faced hardship. Also like all of you, I've had my own bumps, though considering how long I've been in the game, probably fewer than many. But I recently met someone whose story was almost beyond belief. As each new painful detail was revealed, I found myself thinking "that has to be it, right?" Were I to describe the hand this person was dealt and just a few of the experiences recounted - experiences that routinely accompany a hand like this one - I suspect you would be rendered as speechless as I was. Or, you might think I was exaggerating. Almost fifty years of abuse, marginalization, and cruelty. How does someone endure this? 

Would you believe me if I told you I detected no malice in this individual? No hate directed at abusers or anyone else for that matter. It took me a full emotionally draining hour to de-brief with my wife the experience of spending three hours with someone with this much grace. If I ever lose sight - for even a short while - of my good fortune for a life of minimal hardship, I hope my wife will remind me of that de-brief. Shame on me if I walk away from this experience without gaining at least a little perspective.            


Monday, May 15, 2023

Looking Forward to My Sandwich

I saw The Namesake not long after it was released in 2006 and can still clearly recall how much I was moved.  At that point, I had not yet read anything by Jhumpa Lahiri, the author of the eponymous novel upon which director Mira Nair based her film. But based on the movie, Lahiri immediately went onto my "to read" author list. I finished her Pulitzer prizewinning collection of short stories - The Interpreter of Maladies - not long after and then consumed her 2013 novel - The Lowland - in 2017, based on a long-simmering recommendation my wife had made to me. The post directly below traces my earlier journey with this gifted author's work. 


The journey continued recently as I returned to the source and read The Namesake, an unassuming yet masterful account of the challenges and triumphs of assimilation. As I read the novel, several searing scenes from the film came back to me whole, even though it's been more than sixteen years since I saw it. And, here's some great news I just discovered: A local library is sponsoring a showing of the film, to be followed by a discussion of the novel, both built around a potluck dinner with people encouraged to bring a dish featuring the cuisine of their country of origin. How cool is this?

I get to complete a Namesake Sandwich, having first seen the film in 2006, then reading the book, and now watching the film a second time while the book is fresh in my mind. For a bookworm and movie dweeb it just doesn't get any better than this. Ever had a movie-book-movie sandwich like this? If so, please tell me and others about it. 


Thursday, May 11, 2023

Now, About That Title ..

Although the ending is a little too tidy, The Bachelors is a film that I'm sure will stick with me. If you haven't seen this 2017 sleeper, put it on your list and contact me after you watch it.

J.K. Simmons is that rare actor who elevates every movie he is in. In this winner, playing a father having trouble navigating his grief following his wife's passing, Simmons hits every mark. And the young actor who plays his teenage son in the heartfelt story - Josh Wiggins - although previously unknown to me, is now someone I'll be looking for in the future. The last two scenes featuring just Simmons & Wiggins are perfectly modulated. I defy anyone to be unmoved in the penultimate scene when the two hug - whispering apologies to one another - at the conclusion of a cross-country race.

The supporting cast - Julie Delpy, Odeya Rush, Kevin Dunn, & Harold Perrineau - are uniformly fine, and Kurt Voelker's script and direction are top notch. I love stumbling across a treasure like this. Now, about that title ..     

Monday, May 8, 2023

Rewinding the Tape

Because my wife and I have always enjoyed meeting new people and entertaining, over the years we've interacted socially and shared meals with a fair number of other couples. If you and your current partner share our tendency to be social, what percentage of your interactions would you estimate have been "one-offs"? Set aside the reason(s) you interacted socially one time only with another couple and never repeated the experience. Just rewind your tape and see how many faces appear just once.    

When I recently asked my wife this same question about our experiences, her answer - 50% - genuinely surprised me. I'd had 30% or so in my head. Then I began rewinding forty-five years of tape, four primary residences, people we met via our jobs, or via our daughter as she was growing up, or via our hobbies. Couples either my wife or I guessed we might enjoy seeing socially, a guess sometimes made based on a pleasant interaction or conversation or two with one person or the other from the couple. And as the tape continued spooling back, my wife's higher estimate began matching up frequently with a question: What were we thinking when we decided on that particular get together? The tape revealed more than a few moments of awkward, unsatisfying, or just plain dull interactions at restaurants, in our home or another couple's home, or .. well, pick a location. Any of this sound familiar to anyone? Care to adjust your original estimate of the percentage of one-offs? 

Still, there's good news to report. Even if my wife's higher estimate of one-offs with other couples is closer to accurate than mine, we're way ahead of the game. After all, if we've meaningfully connected 50% of the time over forty-five years, consider how many comfortable (vs. awkward), satisfying (vs. unsatisfying), stimulating (vs. dull) interactions that means we've had. Besides, what would have been the alternative? Not trying to connect with new people? Living an insular life? I pass. I'm thrilled with our .500 batting average.               

Friday, May 5, 2023


"Friends half our suffering and double our joy": Cicero

Some powerfully intimate interactions over recent months have deepened my gratitude for the friendships that have always enriched my life. Why not join me in today's reflection? I'd like to better understand your story via hearing how your experience of friendship parallels or differs from mine.  

Start by reviewing your lifetime, focusing on your most enduring and significant friendships. Exclude any romantic partnerships you've had, no matter how long-lasting, and your children, if you have any. Stick with what have been commonly termed Platonic relationships. What is the gender breakdown in that group of your most enduring and significant friendships? More men than women or the reverse? Or, are you comfortable stating it's been reasonably even? Yes, I'm going first, been at this blogging thing long enough. But before I reveal my answer to the first piece in this reflection, please take a moment and tease apart some explanations you can offer for what might contribute to the balance being even or more heavily men than women or the reverse. 

OK, in my case, although the difference is not overwhelming, it is clearly true that more of the enduring and significant friendships in my lifetime have been with women. And for me the explanations are not real complicated:

* I grew up with two strong, intelligent, and independent sisters, close to my age.

* I was exposed early in life to feminist thought.

* Following my young adult professional years as a musician, I subsequently worked in fields where women were more represented than men. Most of my later-in-life mentors were women.

I've also observed that the older I get, the easier it is for me to make a new woman friend vs. a man. In other words, I suspect my gap will get wider as Act Three continues. I've got more but I'd rather hear your reflections now.   

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

The Car Story

In my experience, those of us who have driven long enough invariably have at least one "car story" we've recounted to others more than a few times. The story might involve breaking down somewhere far away from help, or perhaps an accident or almost accident we once had, a long distance driven in one stretch, or something else. I don't recall ever meeting anyone who doesn't have at least one story of this type. What is yours?

Because my most recounted car story happened long ago - and stretches the bounds of plausibility - I recently decided it's time to publicly get it out there while a few witnesses who were with me that night are still alive. Soon after publishing this post, I plan to contact two of those witnesses so either or both can provide corroboration for my car story, if need be. Both are high school friends; one I still speak to occasionally. The other is a Facebook friend who reads my blog on those infrequent occasions when I put a post on my Facebook wall. I'm not sure if the third passenger in my Father's Dodge from that night is still alive, although I did see him at my 50th high school reunion several years ago and we talked about our long-ago misadventure that night. Ready?

Heading home to New Jersey after a night in Staten Island, my Father's Dodge - which had a push-button gear shift on the dash - stalled, either while we crossed the Goethals Bridge or very soon after. I'll depend on one of my witnesses to help me recall that detail. After getting the car started, I tried to put it in drive. No luck. I think I recall one of my not-real-sober passengers asking me to try reverse. Being under twenty years old at the time, this seemed like a logical suggestion. Reverse worked. What to do? Yes, yours truly drove backwards, perhaps over the last part of the Goethals Bridge but definitely through the streets of Elizabeth, N.J. until spotted by an incredulous policeman near a traffic circle. Because this car story would make most people question my honesty and my sanity, I'll stop there without claiming to remember approximately how far I drove backwards in a car containing four people. Why push my luck? I'm reasonably confident not many people can top this car story, at least with respect to sheer stupidity.