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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, April 30, 2024

Gardeners On Fire

Few things get me as reliably juiced as being around passionate people. Even when the passion in question is something that doesn't ignite me, I have trouble staying unengaged. Don't you find this kind of energy contagious? What passion - one not high on your list - were you most recently exposed to where the folks around you seemed to be on fire? 


Late last week I got lit up by a bus full of self-described plant nerds. In her capacity as the founder of the Monmouth County Chapter of the Native Plant Society of New Jersey (NPSNJ), my wife organized a trip to Mt. Cuba Center, a non-profit botanical garden located in Hockessin, Delaware. Not every conversation on the two-hour ride to/from Mt. Cuba centered on gardens, ground cover, invasive species, etc. But most of the conversations I overheard that strayed too far from the passion of most everyone on the bus circled back quickly. And everything covered by the Mt. Cuba staff in the hours spent at this beautifully serene place further nourished that shared passion. Despite the little time I've ever spent digging, planting, or weeding, it was hard to resist being pulled in.       

What sets you on fire?  

Friday, April 26, 2024

A Path to Manageable Lists

After several years of steady whittling, I'm now approaching the point where my reading list no longer feels oppressively overwhelming. I'm additionally pleased to report that since leaving the full-time work world, I've finished at least one book by many authors I'd told myself I'd sample "eventually" from a list I'd been maintaining for at least forty years. Though a few longstanding, ambitious reading goals remain unmet, I'm satisfied with how focused my reading life has been since 2010. One factor above all has helped keep me on this path - an enhanced vetting process for books or authors recommended to me. 

Beginning about the same time I began using a book journal, I jettisoned the habit of adding either a book or an author to my list without first learning a few key things about the person doing the recommending. What were the last several books that moved that person? Which authors are on this reader's "go-to" list? I even began asking more targeted questions of my reading posse a few years back. For example: What specifically made this book you're recommending to me so special? It's not that I'd lost any trust in my posse. But my discernment continues to deepen and time has grown increasingly precious. Though I don't keep score of the individual batting averages of my posse, if I sense any of the four have dipped below Ted Williams territory, a probationary period is now possible. Just saying. 

With respect to admitting new members into the posse, that bar is both high and non-negotiable. A new recommender must go five for five to start. Currently, there is one strong potential contender who has, to date, gone three for three. This individual recommended This is Happiness (2019)Niall Williams, Say Nothing (2019) - Patrick Radden Keefe, and Profiles in Ignorance (2022)Andy Borowitz, an impressive hat trick. If the streak continues with two more winners, this person will be the first new posse inductee since 2014. Stay tuned.  

Reflections From The Bell Curve: This Is Happiness 

Reflections From The Bell Curve: An Antidote for Lazy Thinking

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

47 vs. 74

Ever mess around with the numbers that make up your age as a thought/memory experiment? Why not join me as I do so today? Reversing your numbers - as I will be doing - is intriguing because you can end up with a number higher or lower than your current age. This means you are either recalling an earlier year in your life - an easier, if potentially slippery taskor trying to envision an older version of you, an act of imagination.  

If your numbers are identical, e.g., 33 or 66, add or multiply for today's experiment, using whichever younger age feels more vivid in your memory. Those of you on the cusp of a decade, e.g., 40 or 50, can't multiply unless you want the experiment to be science fiction. Other options = skip the exercise, pretend you're a year older or younger, or dig really deep and pull some stuff from early childhood. 

At 47, I was in the middle of my master's program, doing adult education, mostly in the social justice field. Because my work and degree required it, my reading diet at the time was almost exclusively non-fiction. One memorable book from that era: Two Nations by Andrew Hacker. I'd recently dissolved what would turn out to be my last band, returning to solo gigs. My listening diet was shifting a bit, as jazz supplanted other genres and guitarists like Jim Hall took center stage. I was fully involved in the life of my daughter who was then in grammar school. Many movies of the time I enjoyed were ones I could watch with her, e.g., The Little Mermaid.  

Your turn.   

Friday, April 19, 2024

An Antidote for Lazy Thinking

"The romantic idyll of a revolutionary movement is easier to sustain when there is no danger that one's own family members might get blown up on a trip to the grocery store."

I recommend Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland (2019) without reservation. Author Patrick Radden Keefe is an exceptional writer, masterful storyteller, and rigorous researcher. I'm looking forward to reading more of his work. 

The murder of Jean McConville - a Belfast mother of ten - is the scaffolding on which Keefe constructs his compelling tale. But true to its subtitle, memory plays an equal role in this remarkable book. With the Troubles in Northern Ireland haunting and distorting - in equal measure - the memories of many people who lived through those traumatic years, the whole truth about McConville's abduction and murder remains unknown, even with two prominent players confessing their part in the crime. 

And the "calibrated sophistry" of Gerry Adams - who wouldn't sit for an interview with Keefe as he researched the book - boggles the mind. Despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, to this day the ex-Sinn Fein representative still maintains he was never a member of the Provisional Wing of the Irish Republican Army. After reading Say Nothing, I could picture Adams's delight when he first heard Kellyanne Conway refer to "alternative facts". Words to live by for a maniacal dissembler like Gerry. 

The shrewd observations Patrick Keefe sprinkles throughout his brilliant book - like the sentence from Chapter 19 opening this post - chastened me. Looking for easy answers, ignoring shades of gray, and reflexively taking sides are blunt ways of looking at complex problems. More than once, the armchair revolutionary in me has blustered about conflicts akin to the Troubles and offered glib solutions for other intractable problems that plague our world. By continuing to read books like Say Nothing, I'm hopeful I'll begin to mitigate that type of lazy thinking. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Forty-Six and Counting

At the start of 2024, I decided this year my blog would mark major holidays as well as celebrate many of the significant personal dates from my life. Significant-wise, April 17 is near the top of the heap.

About one week after meeting my life partner at a bar where I was playing at the time, we had our first date on April 17, 1978. Dinner at Long John's in Atlantic Highlands - great popovers, BTW - followed by drinks at the Union Jack in South River. The musician friend who was playing there that night - Glenn Burtnick - worked the same circuit as me in those years. 

Anyone who has ever heard our origin story knows the rest. During dinner, after noticing the fresh fragrance in her hair, I asked an inane question: "What shampoo do you use?" Her unaffected response - "Whatever is in the shower" - thoroughly enchanted me. Later that night, I told her I was going to marry her. 

Forty-six years later, that decision remains one of my best.


Saturday, April 13, 2024

Another Reason to Get Out of Dodge, Frequently

Which pieces of yourself do you notice shifting - even slightly - when you are away from home for more than a few days? Are you - like me - perhaps a bit more relaxed? If so, how does that increased relaxation manifest? More patience? More openness? More clarity?  

Since leaving the full-time work world fourteen years ago, I've been indulging my wanderlust as much as my budget allows. During my most recent trip I found myself paying more attention to little shifts in my normal behaviors. I observed myself more closely when interacting with fellow travelers and listened more carefully to the way I spoke of my wife when conversing with them. It wasn't until later when I tried capturing the tone of those interactions and conversations in my journal that I fully recognized the slightly different Pat that was frequently showing up - a bit kinder, more measured, definitely more appreciative. A Pat I liked better.    

And that leaves me with a question to pose to you on my behalf. If you've discovered better pieces of yourself when you're away for a while, what strategies have helped you maintain that state of grace after you return home? Thanks in advance for any suggestions you offer. Finding ways to hold onto traveling Pat after he's home might assist him later in minimizing at least a few marital brushfires, especially the ones he ignited.      

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Living Life Aloud

Although I've embarrassed my daughter more times than I can count via my habit of engaging strangers in conversations - on the streets, in restaurants, anywhere really - I don't plan to ever stop doing this. Truth be told, not only is this habit something I like about myself, on more than a few occasions I've connected in a genuine way with people. The fact that it's unlikely I'll ever interact again with any of these strangers is irrelevant. The human connection is what energizes me. And who's to say the same thing won't be true for one or more of these strangers? What have any of us got to lose by trying to connect in this way? 

While making a few trips to my car carrying my equipment after teaching a class at a local college, it was hard to ignore the two young women sitting in the lobby engaged in an animated conversation filled with infectious laughter. With a big smile on my face I joked with them about keeping the noise down, a remark that elicited more laughter from both. Before leaving the building, I engaged them further - this is the part that drives my daughter to distraction - suggesting they would benefit from retaining their contagious enthusiasm as their lives unfold. I briefly shared how often in my younger life well-meaning but misguided naysayers would tell me to "tone it down" or words to that effect when my enthusiasm struck one of them as "too much". In my experience, the stifling of positive energy - like those two young women embodied - is an all-too-common occurrence. Why not encourage enthusiasm and reward the passion of people who live their lives aloud? Who benefits when the energy that makes the world a more vibrant place is shushed?  How can shaming enthusiastic, passionate people ever be worthwhile? 

It was obvious both young women were moved as our interaction ended. This touched me deeply. Please forgive your old dog Dad, sweetheart. Learning a new trick to replace this habit is probably not in the cards. 

Sunday, April 7, 2024

I've Got Your Number (#3)

Because today's iteration of my newest series is less music-centered than the first two, it's possible my smarty pants friend who quickly solved those two may have more difficulty today. Or maybe not. 

For anyone new to my latest twist in pop culture ephemera, each of the five items below - TV show, film, song, book, etc. - had in its original title a number over fifty. One of the five is wholly correct as noted. Your mission is to first identify that item and also name the artist most closely identified with it. Next, transplant a correct number from three of the items to a different item elsewhere on the list so that original titles are correctly reflected for those three. As with iterations #1 and #2, the remaining item - with its correct number seen nowhere on this list - requires more brainwork. Explanation for the more challenging piece follows the list of five. Ready? Remember, using Google is cheating. 

1). 222 Blows

2.) 400 Pick-Up

3.) 2017: A Space Odyssey

4.) Room 52

5.) 409   

For the remaining item, first supply its correct number. That part is quite easy unless you were asleep or not alive in the mid-20th century and even then, odds are most of you can supply the correct number for this iconic piece of pop culture. Now take the number from that item that can't be used elsewhere on this list and transplant it to a reasonably well-known song by a very well-known pop singer. Hint: The first word of this two-word song title is the name of a city and the song itself mentions neither the city nor the number in its lyric. If anyone - including you, smarty pants - needs a second hint for the remaining item, I'll supply that after a reasonable amount of time. 

I'm standing by. 

Thursday, April 4, 2024

In Good Company

The skillful construction of Mercy Street (2022) escaped me until I began writing my book journal entry about Jennifer Haigh's compelling novel. How recently have you had a similar experience as a reader? What was it that brought you to a deeper appreciation for the author's craft? More time to process what you'd read? A conversation? Or, did writing about the book - as I did - get you there?

Although the prose throughout Mercy Street is sturdy ("The couch embraced her like quicksand."), it never intrudes on the straightforward story of Claudia Birch, a semi-adrift thirty something woman who works at an embattled women's health clinic in Boston. Until the final pages I didn't realize how the author had given me just enough of Claudia's back story to make the novel's moving denouement wholly believable. And each piece I learned about the three other main characters drew me in just as effectively. In Haigh's capable hands, the meaningful intersection of these four lives held me from first sentence to last. What a joy it was to be swept along so completely. 

Just before starting Mercy Street, I was browsing in my local library. I had on my mind the names of several authors I wanted to re-visit having read just one novel by each over the last fifteen years, but each of those novels had knocked me out. A few years from now when I'm in a similar browsing mood, unsure what to choose next, I can easily envision Jennifer Haigh's name coming to me then like the names of Leif Enger (Peace Like a River - 2001), Jaimy Gordon (Lord of Misrule - 2010), and Lloyd Jones (Mister Pip - 2006came to me on my most recent hunt. That's some good company you're in Jennifer.   

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Words for the Ages: Line Thirty

"When you trust your television, what you get is what you got."

When John Mayer wrote that lyric for Waiting on the World to Change (2006), which television station(s) do you think he had in mind? Those of us old enough to recall when only a handful of TV stations existed - none of them affiliated with media empire billionaires curating content to ensure we weren't exposed to information that would challenge our worldview - might remember actually trusting much of what we heard on TV. What a quaint notion in an era when TVs assault us 24/7 in every conceivable public space and many people have multiple screens in their homes with angry, divisive pundits incessantly screaming at us to only play in the sandbox with those who share our opinions.    

Arguably, Mayer's lyric may have qualified as words for the ages even in the pre-cable TV era. But there's no question his words fit the 21st century like a glove. And I would submit his words will only grow to be more prescient as our fractured future unfolds. His concise phrase is also of a piece with an oft-repeated layman's definition of insanity: Doing the same thing, the same way, over and over again, and expecting different results

I'm not naive enough to think we'll ever return to a time when a phrase like "alternative facts" would make all intelligent people snicker. Sadly, what I'm left with is another phrase I heard years back, a slightly longer version of Mayer's wisdom without a reference to the idiot box, i.e., When you always do what you've always done, you always get what you've always got.