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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, July 31, 2023

Over the Jersey State Line

How can it be twelve years have elapsed without my blog offering assistance to readers interested in fortifying their New Jersey bona fides? To help rectify this oversight, treat the guidelines below - re attitude, directions, food, and music - as counsel from someone who has lived here for all but four months of his seventy-three years. Without these bona fides - be you resident, occasional visitor, or someone considering moving here - you could get caught short. 

Attitude: Learn immediately and embrace completely the ethos of going all Jersey on someone when necessary. This applies to situations where someone acts rude or disrespectfully toward you. It can be especially helpful in customer service interactions, when in a queue, or in visits to Motor Vehicles. 

Directions: Understand no self-respecting Jerseyan identifies themselves via their exit on the Garden State Parkway. It's acceptable to use those exits when asking for or giving directions but never identify a person by using their exit number. Pat does not live at Exit 98; he lives in Brielle, which happens to be near Exit 98. Violating this guideline could earn you a visit from Silvio, Tony, or Paulie. If that trio is unfamiliar to you, remedial work is required.       

Food: Although bagels are a major food group in New Jersey, be careful about recommending a bagel shop to any lifelong resident, like say, me Also remember Taylor ham is alternatively called pork roll and is the preferred meat to put on a bagel, provided the bagel originated in a properly vetted shop. 

Music: Remember: The Boss did not compose Jersey Girl; Tom Waits did. If you need to ask who the Boss is, you've already wasted your time reading this far. In addition - with no disrespect to the Boss - he is only one of many great musicians New Jersey has produced. Start with Count Basie and learn several other names. Fortify those bona fides. 

Your turn. If you are a longtime resident of my beloved home state, please offer to my readers one or more of your guidelines. Be as cheeky as you like. Longtime residents of one of the other forty-nine: If you feel inclined, please weigh in with some guidelines for your state to help me and others. Finally, any reader who loved Zach Braff's valentine called Garden State (2004) contact me here or offline. I want to talk with you about that film and all the things that make New Jersey special, bona fides aside. 

Friday, July 28, 2023

Brain Food

"Some things are up to us and some things are not up to us." - Epictetus

Long before the serenity prayer gained widespread notoriety when Alcoholics Anonymous adopted it as a motto, Epictetus reminded us that we have control over just one thing: how we react to what happens to us. What continually astounds me is how difficult it is for me to access this timeless wisdom in moments of stress. How about you?

"Getting our history wrong is part of being a nation." - Ernest Renan

If you could erase just one foundational American myth from the way our history has been taught to us, which one would you pick? Now replace the word nation in Renan's formulation with the word person. Which pieces of your history have you repeatedly gotten wrong? That one is painfully easy for me. When recalling earlier versions of Pat, something or someone other than me is often at fault when I speak of unattained dreams. 

"Don't stick labels on me. I am not a steamer trunk." Elizabeth Finch

Those words - spoken by the eponymous character in Julian Barnes's 2022 novella - caught me short. I suspect I'm not alone in reflexively labeling people - conservative vs. liberal; quiet vs. outgoing; old vs. young, etc. In that moment of reading, I re-committed to an earlier resolve, i.e., paying more attention to my labeling habit. Using labels not only limits me as a thinker; those same labels confine anyone I'm describing. Elizabeth Finch is more than a book. Using Epictetus to elevate, Ernest Renan to provoke, and a memorable protagonist to prompt deep reflection about how language shapes our worldview, Barnes challenges readers to carefully chew on his ideas. Brain food.    

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Note to New Jersey Weather Whiners

I'm not above whining on occasion. But I admit to having little patience for people who whine about the weather. Anyone share this pet peeve of mine? 

I get especially annoyed with New Jersey weather whiners. In my view, people who can easily find fault with New Jersey's weather are likely to be chronic complainers. What exactly are they griping about? The occasional oppressively hot summer spells? How long do any of those typically last? How much time have those kvetchers spent in Florida? Phoenix or El Paso, anyone? 

Yeah, we sometimes get the tail-end of hurricanes - and yes, Sandy was a bummer - but again, how about a little perspective here?  Those tail-ends are almost always milder than being caught in the middle of it, like say, in South Carolina. Crippling snowstorms have been known to land here but compared to Buffalo or northern Minnesota? Come on complainers, get a grip.

Tornadoes? Less than rare. Mudslides or wildfires? None that I can recall over my seventy-three + years. Earthquakes? All those routine weather events that occur in other parts of the U.S., New Jersey escapes largely unscathed. And, consider a couple of final things, grumblers: Monsoons? Tsunamis? Do me a favor, will you? Enjoy our enchanting change of seasons, deal with the occasional bump, give the whining a rest.     

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Continual Culling But .. Thanks, Horace

What process - if any - do you use to help you cull your stuff? Perhaps you've made use of the advice of one of those folks who have branded themselves de-cluttering gurus? A guideline suggested by one of that crowd is to evaluate whether something still gives you joy. If not, according to this guru, it's time to get rid of it. Any of you tried using that guideline? How well has it worked for you?

I've mostly avoided accumulating stuff. But my book collection has always been an area needing continual culling, even with several helpful strategies implemented over the years, e.g., getting rid of an old book every time a new one is acquired. At my daughter's urging, I tried the joy guideline. Unfortunately, a fair number of my remaining books still give me joy. Many of the rest are waiting to be read or, re-read. Honest.   

However, joy aside, an impasse is now at hand. I recently noticed this ongoing battle now involves nearly every room in our current home, notwithstanding the floor to ceiling book shelves - completely full, BTW - installed in our main room when we moved into this house in 2010. Fresh culling strategies lie ahead. Books will be jettisoned, one room at a time. But ..

"A house without books is like a room without windows": Horace Mann. Thanks buddy. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

A Moat Too Far

Like many long-term partnerships, the things that interest and engage my wife and me differ as often as they merge. We both love music, literature, and travel. She loves spending leisure time in her garden; I'm more likely to be writing or practicing my guitar. Which activities do both you & your partner love? When the two of you are in parallel play, what might you be doing while your partner is otherwise engaged? 

But all of our parallel play differences, e.g., gardening vs. writing, pale when compared to one area where my wife and I might as well be total strangers = the royal family. She is fascinated; I am disinterested. She enjoys the pageantry; I disdain it. When we traveled to London together, Buckingham Palace was high on her list; I could have easily walked by without blinking an eye, not unlike the way I felt the first time I drove through Nevada, bypassing Las Vegas. Any analogues in your long-term partnership, i.e., one in which fascination vs. disinterest in an area or subject puts you and your partner light years away?

Fortunately, this particular disconnect has caused no long-lasting ill effects in our partnership. There is an occasional minor disagreement over a movie to watch that features a past or present royal, although my indiscriminate movie jones usually prevents this from being too big an issue. I'm also disinclined to read books about any royal, even when my wife has enjoyed one  - she almost always does, BTW - and then wants to discuss the book with me. But we weather these squalls pretty well. And after forty-five + years, she knows better than trying to persuade me to sit through a mini-series like The Crown, no matter how much she loves it. That's a moat too far.      


Sunday, July 16, 2023

Words for the Ages, Line Twenty-Six

"The future's uncertain and the end is always near."

Though some may find the second part too fatalistic, I'd argue Jim Morrison's lyric from Roadhouse Blues (1970) is cogent and memorable enough to belong in a series called words for the ages. Clearly the first part has the unassailable ring of truth and, considering Morrison's untimely demise less than a year after this song found its way onto Morrison Hotel, the second part has the added resonance of being ironically prophetic. 

Full disclosure: I was never a big Doors or Jim Morrison fan. But that's beside the point of this series. What I've aimed for here since 2017 are lyrical phrases that can stand alone, i.e., those that don't necessarily need rhymes to prop up or support them. The words I search for must contain a universal truth, i.e., for the ages. Finally, whatever I select must be terse enough for the average person to easily recall. Today's gem is nine words. In other words, lyrics semi-disguised as aphorisms.  

Got other Jim Morrison nuggets you want to nominate? How about a jewel from another lyricist? As previously mentioned, I'm most anxious to hear from anyone who can yank me closer to the 21st century. So far, all but one entry has been old enough that the series is in danger of exuding a slight whiff of eau-de-old-fart. Rescue this coot - if you can - via suggesting some words for the ages from more contemporary lyricists. Special shoutout to a recent anonymous commenter who nominated something from Hamilton. Only the length of that lyric (29 words) prevented it from making the cut.    

Thursday, July 13, 2023

The Perfect Nanny

One of my favorite features in the NY Times is By the Book. And one of my favorite questions from that column that appears in the Sunday book review section is: What book brought you closer to someone and what book created a distance between you and someone? 

Today, I'm aiming both parts of that question at anyone reading this post. First, The Perfect Nanny (2016) will not bring you closer to me, or anyone else for that matter. Second, if you decide to read this brilliant but disturbing book by Leila Slimani, and you remember that you learned of it via me, there's a chance it could create a distance between us. Caveat emptor. 

If you think I'm exaggerating at all, read the first two simple declarative sentences, a startling prelude to an intense first section unlike any I've read in recent memory. (The novel has neither numbered nor named "chapters".) Although the first sentences and the section that follows reveal precisely how this modern-day horror story will end, you will soon learn the gifted author has more on her mind than shocks. For 228 pages, Slimani relentlessly builds on her straightforward, gruesome opening as the perfect nanny "...becomes ever better at being simultaneously invisible and indispensable .. single handedly holding up this fragile edifice". By the time you read the matter-of-fact, horrifying sentences ending the novel, you might find yourself short of breath. I did. 

Monday, July 10, 2023

The Parental Imprint

Of the many ways we are shaped, I suspect few people would disagree that the imprint our parents make on us is the most enduring. I count myself among the fortunate in this regard. Both my parents were solid, steady, common sense people. They were loyal to each other, unreservedly devoted to their four children, hard working. I grew up feeling safe and cared for. Growing into adulthood, I felt supported in my choices.     

Dad was born in 1918, Mom in 1920, making both of them adolescents during the worst years of the Great Depression. Growing up in those years profoundly shaped my parents. And the older I get, the more clearly I can see how their experiences during those difficult years were later imprinted on me and, how tenacious they remain to this day. I also see a similar imprint in both of my sisters and my brother. If your parents spent their formative years weathering the Great Depression, how much of yourself do you see in my story? 

More than a few times over our forty-five years together, my wife has pointed out to me some of the ways this imprint shows up. Clothes retained far too long, burnt toast eaten instead of discarded, saving for multiple rainy days. Despite those extreme examples - and several others that could have been easily jettisoned years ago - this particular parental imprint has served me well. I never lived beyond my means, was always able to change when a job no longer suited me, saved enough - with my wife's help - to put a child through college debt-free. 


As alluded to in the post above, I suspect I'll never fully escape some of the silliness attached to this parental imprint. There are certainly worse things. As always, I'm curious: Which of your strengths, weaknesses, or quirks - in the financial arena or otherwise - do you see as directly linked to a parental imprint? 

Friday, July 7, 2023

A Mangled Maxim

One of the main challenges any writer - noteworthy or unknown - routinely faces is keeping language fresh. For this unknown, this challenge is most acute when a book, film, piece of music, etc. moves me in a big way and I struggle to convey that without resorting to hackneyed phrases like triumph of the human spirit or tired book jacket adjectives like unforgettable

When The Rescue (2021) ended, every adjective, descriptive noun or phrase, even my verbs, all fell short in that struggle to capture how I felt. Normally, a film having this kind of impact on me would inspire a blog post the next time I sat down at my laptop. This time, after more than a week - with two posts in between - I'm still hunting for a fresh way to say mind-blowing. I briefly considered using "Words fail me" until the unintentional irony of that cliche sounded to me like the Grateful Dead ill-advisedly trying to harmonize.

As the days have elapsed since watching this exceptional (INADEQUATE, OVERUSED ADJECTIVE) documentary, my concern for keeping it fresh then began overlapping with a syndrome I've railed about here, i.e., hyperbole-itis.  Therefore, to avoid being justifiably labeled a hypocrite for indulging in a syndrome I first invented and then roundly condemned - all while trying to keep it fresh - I'll instead conclude with a mangled maxim: Concision is the better part of valor so...

See this film

p.s. I know it took me three paragraphs to earn the valor. Mea culpa.  



Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Re-Inhuming Mr. Id (Or .. Any Past Self)

Beginning soon after the inception of my blog, I would periodically publish a post using an alter-ego named Mr. Id. Anyone remember my doppelganger? Don't everyone speak at once, please. Soon after publishing a memoriam in May 2019, even the evil twin's creator - i.e., me - forgot most of what he'd  cravenly reflected about here on the bell curve.  

But then fate intervened when several readers recently exhumed Mr. Id's four-year old corpse. Those folks had stumbled on some of Mr. Id's snarky rants and contacted me offline. To properly respond to those readers, I re-read the cited rants. If only the story ended there. 

Unfortunately, that first innocent step sent me down an introspective rabbit hole. Perversely, I then  searched my archives, leading me to subsequently re-read all thirty+ of Mr. Id's 2011-2019 ravings. What - you might reasonably ask - did I hope to gain by torturing myself in such a self-referential fashion? But wait .. am I that alone in the land of solipsism? When did you last re-visit a past version of yourself? And, how did you get there? Was it - like me - by reading something you wrote a while back? Or did you perhaps look at an old video or listen to an old recording of yourself? Maybe you asked someone close who has known you a long time about an earlier version of you that they've experienced? What did you learn via taking any of these paths to look at - however briefly - a past self?  Last question: How did it feel when you inhumed that past self?  

I've concluded that what I hoped to learn by re-reading the words of that cranky creation of mine were the opinions Pat Barton was concerned about admitting as his own at the time. By hiding behind Mr. Id - albeit in plain sight - for the eight years he crabbily roamed the blogosphere, I was hedging my bets in a cowardly fashion. It's now time to re-inhume Mr. Id. If some reader exhumes him in the future, I hope I'll avoid climbing down this rabbit hole again.         

Saturday, July 1, 2023

The Magic of Books

More than anything except music, books have sustained me through many challenging periods in my life. And though I surely would have survived those periods without the company books provide, I'm grateful to have had the company just the same.

Of the recent books that have helped prop me up, Rocket Boys might be the one that first comes to mind in the future when I relive some of my current challenges. Homer Hickam's 1998 memoir of growing up in a hardscrabble West Virginia coal town bears little resemblance to my own adolescence in almost all of its particulars. But like many transcendent reading experiences I've had, beneath the surface, Hickam tapped into something that connects his life to mine. After sharing the way this book did its magic with me, I'd welcome hearing a parallel reading experience of yours. I suspect the readers among you have experienced this magic and perhaps - like me - that magic may have helped you surmount challenges, large or small. 

In Rocket Boys, Hickam describes how he discovered his calling at age fourteen watching Sputnik streak across the Appalachian sky. Reading the author's simple recounting of his transformation that day instantly transported me to my own thirteen-year-old awakening, waiting for the radio to play He's So Fine. Each time I heard the drum break in that song, I recall thinking to myself "I want to be able to do that!" It's possible I even said those words aloud a few times. But even if my memory is letting me down, one thing is certain: He's So Fine changed my life in 1962 just like Sputnik did for Hickam in 1957. Reliving my epiphany through the straightforward words of this author lightened my load these past few weeks. Such is the magic of books.