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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, June 28, 2024

Conversational Hell

For those of us who do not live alone in a cave, an occasional visit to conversational hell is an unavoidable fact of life. What are your strategies when you've found yourself unable to escape a conversational situation that has you involuntarily grinding your teeth?

I'm not asking about the far-too-frequent political garbage all of us routinely face in our contentious present. Instead, I'm curious what you do when you've been trapped by one or more of the following types:

* the over-explainer
* the know-it-all
* the clueless, aka "I'll fill every available conversational space with jabbering, mostly about me"

My visits to conversational hell have been infrequent enough to be tolerable. But some recent experiences were so egregious I was desperately searching for a new way to escape, short of bolting from my seat screaming. In what was supposed to be a book discussion - for at least twenty painful minutes - I worked on a flat affect look in a vain attempt to hide my disbelief at the incessant rambling of a clueless prattler. Then just a few days later, as a prelude that went nowhere, an over-explainer launched into an extended dissertation about the merits of rap. Because of where I was seated, unnoticeable egress was not an option. I put my head down - the flat affect approach was impossible - and wrote in my journal. I filled three pages; he was still obtusely pontificating.  

Now about the know-it-all. I suspect there have been instances when others may have felt they were in conversational hell with know-it-all Pat. Mea culpa. And perhaps because I've worn that hat, it's possible my radar is oversensitive to other types who occasionally corner each of us. In the end, the many hours I've spent in conversational heaven - and my own work mitigating the know-it-all to ensure people enjoy conversing with me - make me grateful for 99.5% of my conversations. Hell can be hot but it's preferable to a cave.               

Monday, June 24, 2024

Miracles of the Natural World

I'm still buzzing from the thrill of having a butterfly land on my nose during a recent visit to the vivarium at the Museum of Natural History. Thanks to magnifying glasses located all around this magical place, I was able to closely examine the delicate lines of several species of butterflies, a new experience for me. Many of those lines looked as though they'd been painted on with a fine brush. And my favorite part? The awe in the eyes of every giggling child roaming around that room. Never been to a vivarium? I encourage you to add it your list. You will not be disappointed.
My vivarium experience also delivered an unexpected bonus. It deepened my appreciation for my wife's unflagging evangelism about the critical role native plants play in any local ecology. Gardens full of native plants - like the one in front of our home - help ensure butterfly populations thrive. Does anyone object to more butterflies? Standing still in my wife's garden or watching enchanted children covered in butterflies in a vivarium are two excellent reminders of miracles the natural world bestows on all who willingly embrace them.   


Thursday, June 20, 2024

Degrees of Darkness

Each of us has our own definition of what constitutes dark, be it a book, a film, a conversation, etc. Differing definitions aside, I've learned the hard way that it's sometimes wise to issue warnings. The book I'm recommending today - if not capital "D" dark - will never appear on anyone's list of light reads.   

"He doesn't plan these things. He only acts and each action remains separate and complete in itself: the fucking, the killing, the shitting, the eating. They could come in any order at all. No one is prior to or superior to the rest."

Since finishing The North Water weeks ago, I've vacillated about breaking my longstanding practice of avoiding offensive language here. But that graphic passage - a succinct distillation of the psychopath inhabiting Ian McGuire's 2016 novel - seems to me an ideal way to help any reader decide if they want to spend time with this book. Is it dark? If you choose to read it, you decide. Is it narratively thrilling? It is. Is the choice of third person voice perfect? Yes. Is it compelling from first sentence ("Behold the man.") to last? Without question. This is Melville without the sidebars, Cormac McCarthy without the nihilism, Donald Ray Pollock without the grotesquerie, entwined in a primal tale pitting evil vs. less-than-heavenly. 

Although I'm often uncertain when finishing a book how long it will stay with me, I had no doubt after reading the final sentence of The North Water that this story of survival at any cost would be with me for some time. I remain haunted. 

"He feels a moment of fear, and then, in its wake, as the fear fades and loses its force, an unexpected stab of loneliness and need."

Monday, June 17, 2024

Words for the Ages: Line Thirty-One

"Love shows that God has a sense of humor."

Since the advent of the written word, writers of every variety have tried to define love. Which of those definitions have come closest for you? 

Though more a comment than a definition, the words that open this post - from a Joe Jackson song entitled Stranger Than Fiction - nail an essential and enduring truth about love. Although Jackson's lyrics are an acquired taste, I believe this terse nugget snugly fits the criteria for words for the ages: it has the ring of lasting truth, is brief enough to be easily recalled, and stands alone. And the lyric that sets up this gem has the sardonic edge Jackson is known for: "And when love grows, it's like a flower or a tumor."

Got another Joe Jackson lyric you'd nominate as words for the ages? Or, getting back to love, how about a lyric by a different composer you think comes close to capturing that hard-to-define word? 

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Grandpa Hits the Jackpot

I've had a life filled with sustained pleasures - satisfying work, enduring passions, rich and long-lasting friendships. In the father's sweepstakes? I hit the jackpot.

Except for a temper that sometimes gets the better of me, nearly every other lesson my dad taught me through example has helped me successfully navigate my fortunate life. He modeled the importance of loyalty, hard work, and lifelong learning. If he ever wavered in showing me unconditional love, I don't remember it. 

As a father, I've been equally fortunate. My daughter is the most emotionally intelligent person I know. She is talented, compassionate, and funny. I also see in her all the same good stuff my father passed along to me. I'm certain my dad would have been just as proud of what she's accomplished in her life as I am. I'm grateful he was around for her first eight years.   

Later this year, I'll be a grandfather myself for the first time. Without exception, every grandparent I've ever met has raved about this later-in-life experience. And I hope to have more time with my grandson than my dad did with my daughter. But one thing is certain, no matter how much time I end up having with him. He'll know Grandpa hit the jackpot three times.  

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Suffering School

Long ago, I settled on an ego-preserving definition of what "going viral" means in the blogosphere. I'll spare you the numbers I use to prop myself up. But checking my cumulative stats just once a year helps prolong the fantasy, especially with Blogger's nasty interface intruding via thrusting those daily numbers at me. That daily pain is invariably mitigated whenever I get reader comments - online or off - bringing me to today's mission. 

Please open the link above. All six entries are worth reading; my favorite is entitled Suffering School Semester Abroad. The one most closely related to today's solipsistic reflection from the bell curve is entitled To My One Substack Subscriber, although it's much funnier and also has a cute picture.  

At minimum, I believe you'll enjoy the honesty, humor, and vulnerability in any entry you choose to read. But back to me. If you comment either here or - even better - on an entry from Notes from Suffering Schoolyou'll be helping preserve my fantasy about breaking through in the blogosphere. Don't tell me that's not tempting. 

Monday, June 10, 2024

Questions from the Seesaw

"Early in life, I made a choice; I chose honest arrogance vs. hypocritical humility." - Frank Lloyd Wright    

My first thought upon seeing those words early this year at Taliesin West? Good for you, Frank. 

I immediately wrote Wright's words in my journal. In my first several attempts using them as the centerpiece of a blog post, I didn't get far. Given Wright's notoriety, I had difficulty justifying any honest arrogance of mine, considering his massive legacy. Insecure thoughts hampered me every time I tried to frame a coherent post claiming his words as a viable credo. Then, each unfinished blog post pushed Wright's words further back into journal purgatory.  

Such has been my multi-month seesaw. I recall those words, an internal dialogue begins, no resolution is forthcoming. That dialogue persists to this day. I've been called arrogant at least a few times. Have you? No one who knows me well would likely describe me as humble. How about you? Did I make a choice early in life - as Wright did - to land on the side of arrogance? I don't know. Did you make that choice? Is my continuing struggle perhaps connected to the two adjectives in Wright's formulation i.e., honest and hypocritical? Do you see yourself anywhere in Wright's words? Which would you prefer being called - honestly arrogant or hypocritically humble? 

Finally, if you were to take a poll of people who know you well, on which side of Wright's formulation do you think the majority would place you?        

Thursday, June 6, 2024

My Day & My Dad's Day, Eighty Years Apart

A little while ago, after getting out of my comfortable bed and putting on some clean, dry clothes, I brushed my teeth. I then had a simple breakfast - juice, toast, hot coffee. I'm now looking forward to enjoying my day. 

I don't know what my Father climbed out of on the morning of June 6, 1944 but I'm guessing it wasn't real comfortable. Wouldn't be at all surprised if he skipped brushing his teeth that morning. If his clothes were clean or dry when he put them on, they didn't stay that way for long. Breakfast? K-rations, perhaps. Juice or coffee? Unlikely.

Though I can't imagine what the rest of my dad's day was like on Normandy Beach eighty years ago, I'm quite certain he wasn't looking forward to it. I will never experience anything even remotely like what he did that day. Writing this to honor what he lived through is not enough. But it's the best I've got to offer this moment. And I owe him - and all the others who were on that beach that day - at least that much. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

A Lingering Tidbit

"I don't know what I'll do with myself when I retire." 

Although not his exact words, I'm confident that was the essence of a remark a neighbor made to me many years back. Isn't it peculiar how tidbits from otherwise inconsequential conversations linger? Do you have an example of a lingering tidbit to share here? Have you ever given thought to the reason(s) your tidbit has remained with you?  

My tidbit has surfaced repeatedly almost from the day I left the full-time work world in 2010. For example, soon after getting up today, I felt grateful anticipating what the next few days look like for me. Nothing complicated: Lots of reading and guitar, meeting some friends to discuss books, time in NYC with my wife, writing a blog post or two, visiting myself via meditation. The simple richness of my life brought my tidbit to mind. 
As the day progressed, little things began amplifying my gratitude. First, an e-mail from a new friend asking me why a book we'd both read was meaningful to me. I pulled out the book, re-read some underlined passages. We agreed to talk later in the day. Then, Manfred Mann's cover of I Think It's Going To Work Out Fine played on the radio on my drive to get coffee. After that song transported me, I mused about the mental detour and then wrote about it in my journal. Later indulged in some Atlas riffing when an essay I'd started reading before opening my e-mail reminded me I was ignorant of the pertinent geography mentioned. And so went the rest of this special not-so-special day.  

I suspect my tidbit has lingered with me largely because I had a strong sense many years back what I would be doing when I retired. 

Saturday, June 1, 2024

I've Got Your Number (#4)

Ready for the latest challenge in this series? 

Start by identifying the twentieth century year linked with the four phrases below, each extracted from a well-known piece of popular culture. The four are listed chronologically:

1.) Oh what a night
2.) He loved Big Brother
3.) No one ever left alive
4.) Tonight I'm going to party

Next, answer the three questions below related to the number of years separating #1 from #2, #2 from #3, and #3 from #4. 

What popular game - also referred to by a rhyming word - matches the number of years between #1 and #2?

What do the songwriters Marvin Hamlisch and Harry Nillson have in common with the number of years separating #2 and #3? 

Append "92" to the number of years separating #3 and #4. What historical significance is attached to this date? 

Bonus question for the truly geeky among you: Which well-known Frank Sinatra song did I initially consider as an alternate title for the 4th iteration in this nerdy series?