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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".

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

In October Alone

Before leaving the full-time work world, rich discussions about books didn't happen that frequently for me. In those days, when my wife and I overlapped reading something - not a regular occurrence - or the same thing happened with one of my sisters, which occurred even less often, I yearned to discuss whichever book was fresh in our minds. But as good as those discussions were, returning to a couple each year is now unimaginable to me. 

For example, just anticipating the discussion of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (2000) that is on my calendar for next week has me purring. Michael Chabon's prizewinning, sprawling novel of ideas begs to be discussed. I'm grateful my wife asked me to join the conversation with two of her friends. 

About a week later, my wife and I are meeting up in West Virginia with fourteen folks we've traveled with since 2015. This group chose Rocket Boys (1998) to discuss one evening during our seventh reunion. Fitting, given Homer Hickam's moving memoir takes place in almost heaven. Then later in October, a reading soulmate and I who have been meeting monthly since 2015 are tackling The Last Train to Los Verde, Paul Theroux's moving travelogue from 2013 about his final visit to Africa.  

What upcoming book discussions are on your calendar?  

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Make the Time to Visit This Museum


The last time I spent most of a day in a museum was on my first visit to the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland in 2000. But it was equally easy getting lost in the National Museum of African-American History and Culture last weekend while my wife and I were in Washington D.C. If you haven't visited it yet, check out the website above and then make time for it on your next trip to the capital. I'm confident you will find it worthwhile. 

The history portion of the museum, which starts three stories below ground level, was the highlight for me. The elegant design walks a visitor up from the 15th century through the 21st, tracing an arc from the earliest days of the African slave trade through the eight years of the Obama presidency. Although never out of the spell, I lingered longest in the sections featuring the notorious Middle Passage and the dismantling of Reconstruction. I was grateful to have an opportunity to play more catch-up on both those pieces of neglected history. 

And there's no doubt the one display in the NMAAHC that will never leave me was the small room devoted to the murder of Emmet Till. As the ramp of history ended, I made use of a secluded room on the ground floor that overlooks a fountain and is set aside for quiet contemplation. 


Friday, September 22, 2023

Rescued by a Modern-Day Classic

Over the lifespan of my blog, I'd estimate no more than two months have passed without me either raving or ranting about a film. Not that surprising really, considering .. a.) how indiscriminate my movie jones has always been and .. b.) how frequently I reflect on the bell curve.


But since gushing about The Rescue in early July, your favorite movie geek has been unusually silent. It's possible that spellbinding documentary has - at least temporarily - re-set the bar for me. Because I haven't been turned on - or off - enough by any film since The Rescue captivated me, I decided a few weeks back to scan the streaming platforms for a re-watch to rescue me from the movie doldrums. Wise strategy.

If any film deserves the term modern-day classic, I stand by The Fugitive (1993). I've lost count how many times I've rhapsodized to others about the breathtaking train derailment scene early in the movie. But on this re-watch, Andrew Davis's astute direction, the airtight script, and the cat-and-mouse dynamic between the Tommy Lee Jones and Harrison Ford characters deepened my admiration for this piece of cinematic magic. In my view, it's a nearly perfect film. If you haven't seen it, do so. If you have, put it on your re-watch list, today.

Now about that train derailment scene. When you watch or re-watch The Fugitive, tell me what other scene from an earlier movie starring Harrison Ford comes to mind. Hint: The earlier film where Ford is being chased by an inanimate object was released in 1981 and directed by Steven Spielberg. I would love to ask Andrew Davis if he was paying homage to another great director when he envisioned that train barreling down on Ford aka Richard Kimble/Indiana Jones.       

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Examining the Educational Disconnect

What percentage of the college-educated people you've known have actually made their living in a field closely related to their undergraduate degree? If you have a degree, how many of your subsequent full- time jobs have been directly connected to the education you received? Most of them? A few of them? None of them?

From graduation day in 1971 through 2010 - the year I left the full-time work world - more than half of my forty working years were spent far removed from the world of education. Only two months over all those years were spent teaching elementary school, my major in college. In my experience, my work history is more the rule than the exception. How does my experience line up or differ from yours? For every person I've known who has made their living doing work directly connected to their degree, I would estimate I've known two others whose work life took them far afield from that degree, either early on or in later years. And without trying real hard, I can think of several people who never made a dollar - let alone a living - in any type of job for which their degree was ostensibly preparing them. How many people have you known who fit that description?  

Although the elementary piece of my undergraduate degree in education got almost no professional use, the foundation that degree provided has been invaluable in many domains of my life. I'm guessing in that respect I'm like many of you who share a work history similar to mine, i.e., one not necessarily closely linked to our undergraduate studies. Wouldn't you agree the benefits of any college education will always mitigate the disconnect between that education and what's useful in a subsequent work life? 

Friday, September 15, 2023

Begin, Again

Which flaw would you say you've worked hardest over your life to overcome or at least to mitigate?

My tendency to judge others has been a lifelong struggle. It often feels like each step forward is followed by a step back not long after. Though I realize my struggle is not unique, knowing I'm not alone has rarely given me much solace. 

Under different conditions, my judging self would likely have been triggered by an individual with whom I recently spent several hours. But given my professional role, the rawness of this person's emotional state, and the naked vulnerability on display, I heard myself repeating several times - I'm not going to judge you - my volume increasing each time. And all the while I wondered: Am I telling the truth? 

Later that day, while de-briefing this intense experience, my facilitating partner re-assured me that in those moments he believed I was telling the truth. My partner also suggested that the repetition of those words had helped ease a tortured person's pain. Though I was relieved to hear those things, a more significant learning began to emerge as my processing deepened. Saying those words had helped me make them true in this situation. How then can I use it next time? What if I maintained the same posture - maybe even said those words to myself - when I feel myself reflexively judging someone who triggers me? Is it possible to shift the dynamic with people that trigger me by more clearly demonstrating I'm not judging them? 

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

318 and Counting


In November 2011, I launched a mission to fully memorize 300 jazz standards by December of the next year, declaring it in the post above. In the end, it took me close to eight years to complete my mission, as memorialized in the post below from August, 2019. 


Early on, it became clear how wildly over-ambitious my initial mission was as I learned how these songs needed consistent review over a short duration in order for each to really lodge in my brain until the next review. Sometime late in 2014, I scuttled the haphazard review process I'd been using to that point and developed one that ensured each tune got played end-to-end regularly in every review cycle. 

Nine years on, I'll begin review cycle #100 later this week, marking another milestone in this project that is now almost twelve years old. Thanks to the more structured review process, I've now got 318 songs lodged in my brain. I've memorized at least seven tunes by eleven different composers. Richard Rodgers leads the pack with twenty-one tunes and Duke is close on his heels with twenty. Every one of the 318 feels like an old friend. I'm pleased and proud I've persisted; my playing has never felt better to me. Thanks to those of you who have checked in with me about it since the mission began in late 2011.     

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Acknowledging Our Tribe

On Friday, friends and family came from as close as the next town over and from as far away as California to help my wife and me celebrate forty years of marriage at the very place where we met forty-five years ago this past April. 

Looking around that room, I was again reminded how rich our life has been and continues to be. There were nine people - five family members and four friends - who celebrated our marriage with us in September, 1983. One of those friends has been part of my life for longer than I've known my wife. 

At the same time, several others who were present are recent and welcome additions to our tribe, including a couple who are part of our Rogue Scholar travel group, the new partner of a longtime friend - who we met for the first time earlier this summer - and my son-in-law's mother and sister. Those two made an eight-hour drive from Ohio to be part of our celebration. Others fought the ferocious Friday Jersey traffic travelling from all over the state as well as upstate New York and Connecticut. Both my wife and I are grateful for all these special folks who made such an effort to celebrate with us.

How recently have you paused to acknowledge your gratitude for people who enrich your life? Was that acknowledgment tied to a specific event? If yes, what was the event? 

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Over Vs. Under-Thinking

Since first learning of Goodreads several years back, I've enjoyed periodically interacting with other readers - some known to me, others not - on that popular website. I've also enjoyed keeping track of books finished, posting reviews, and a few of the recommendations made to me by the site's algorithm. If you use Goodreads at all, what benefits have you derived? If you're a reader and never taken a look at the site, I recommend you do.  

My one quibble with Goodreads are the simplistic statements that accompany the one-to-five star rating system used on the site. There have been occasions when I've published a review while purposefully skipping the ratings. For many books - non-fiction, in particular - declaring "I liked it" to go with a three star rating or "I really liked it" (four stars) strikes me as inadequate. I'd prefer letting the stars stand alone vs. being tied - however insignificantly - to an inane statement that risks trivializing an important book. 

For example, Survival in Auschwitz: The Nazi Assault on Humanity (1947) is a book everyone should read but one only a masochist would "like". As my processing of Primo Levi's towering masterwork deepened and I prepared to mark the book as finished on Goodreads, the inadequacy of those accompanying statements - even the breathless one that goes with five stars ("It was amazing!") - felt intolerably trite. 

Books like Survival in Auschwitz deserve no less than painstaking attention. Am I over-thinking these Goodreads statements as it applies to Levi's book? Perhaps. In this instance, I'll stand by over vs. under-thinking. 


Monday, September 4, 2023

Time for a Correction, Perhaps?

Each time I observe a couple in public both staring at their phones vs. interacting with each other, I'm newly grateful for my wife. And that gratitude further extends to meal times together. When we're home, her phone is often in a different room. When we dine out, the phone remains in her purse vs. face up on the table next to her. It would be hard to over-state how happy it makes me knowing my wife is not so attached to her phone that she allows it to take precedence over our interactions.   

Because my daughter grew up in the I-phone era, her norms about having it nearby - often face up - are different than her mother's. But as attached as she can sometimes be to her phone, when the three of us are together - or when it's just the two of us - I rarely feel in competition with it. I know her livelihood frequently depends on rapid responses to texts or calls; I respect that and try to be sensitive. In turn, just like her mother, my daughter almost always shows me that our time together is more important to her than all those pings designed to distract her. 

I realize my distaste for cell phones puts me in a rarefied and cranky minority. However, I've been part of more than a few conversations over the past several years that have shown me there are plenty of folks who long to return to a few pre-cell-phone norms. Like enjoying a meal with friends or loved ones without multiple screens pinging continuously. Like waiting for a suitable amount of time (you define suitable but how about longer than ten seconds?) before someone uses a phone to Google an answer to something that someone in a group of three or more might come up with, if they had time to search their brain for longer than those ten seconds. Like the people we enjoy spending time with showing us our company is enough. 

Saturday, September 2, 2023

Buzzing at Seventy-Four (and beyond)

"I hope I die before I get old."

Do you suppose Pete Townsend is relieved his lyric wasn't prophetic? Based on all the good music he's produced since writing My Generation almost sixty years ago, I'm guessing Mr. Townsend is as grateful as I to be among the living in his eighth decade. Given how many of our contemporaries have already left us, either of us would be fools to feel otherwise. Just knowing I'll be playing music for people next weekend - no matter how much anyone is paying attention - has me buzzing in advance.  

Of course, there is buzzing and then there is BUZZING. This past week, watching the live show of two musical giants, I was buzzing as a listener. On Tuesday, Jackson Browne's vibrant show at the Beacon Theatre exceeded my expectations. And Bruce Springsteen's show in the Meadowlands last night was a reminder of why his reputation as a premier live act is well deserved. If I was buzzing as a listener, can you imagine the kind of buzz these two get before an adoring audience? Browne is seventy-four and Bruce is almost the same age. Any chance that lyric at the top of the page has any resonance for them? Based on the wistful tone of their between-song musings and anecdotes, and particularly based on a new song Bruce played called Last Man Standing, somehow I doubt Pete's words ring true for either of them.  

Mr. Townsend is four+ years older than Browne, the Boss, and me. I suspect that young-in-life lyric of his may sound a bit naive to him nowadays. But even if he never gives it a second thought, I further suspect he is just as pleased as I to be buzzing with his music, old age aside.