Monday, August 08, 2022

The Duke Is a King

For many years I have believed that Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington is the greatest composer. He wrote more than 3,000 pieces of music while managing a big band, touring the world with its members, and leading them as their pianist. Just his piano skills would have assured his status as one of the best jazz figures in history. Adding to this achievement his catalogue of diverse compositions reveals an unmatched genius whose career spanned more than a half-century. 

It's great to know that "Five Minutes That Will Make You Love Duke Ellington," an August 3, 2022 The New York Times article by Giovanni Russonello and Marcus J. Moore backs up my conviction about the Duke. Enjoy reading this article featuring 13 music experts citing their favorite Ellington piece and listening to the accompanying recordings. Then start collecting Ellington music. Any of his suites will do, but you can also check out his collaborations with John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald, and Charles Mingus, among many other jazz greats. I have listened to Ellington as background music for work, to get my body into a swinging, dancing rhythm, and for serious listening. He always come through. 

Monday, August 01, 2022

My Friends Are Artists

I am not one to brag about myself. But about my friends is another story. I will remember 2022 as a year of great creative development for six of my friends. 

Matthew Loscalzo, whom I have known since high school, is an internationally known authority on the psychosocial aspects of cancer. Matthew has worked for the most prestigious cancer care centers in the US. His latest book on palliative care is Loss and Grief: Personal Stories of Doctors and Other Healthcare Professionals. As the subtitle suggests, the book spotlights grief from a unique perspective.

Robert Mucci, a longtime friend, has lived many lives, but for the 50 years I have known him, music and art have been common threads running through all of them. His first art exhibit, Out of Silence, at the Warner Art Gallery of the Mamaroneck Public Library, features 33 of his acrylic on canvas pieces. The two-month show runs until September 30.

Paul Cassone, a colleague during my 19 years at Lifespire, became the CEO of the Guild for Exceptional Children, and his dedication to the field of developmental disabilities won praise from numerous community and professional organizations. Since his retirement, Paul has focused on his musical career, now in its sixth decade. His YouTube channel presents heaps of originals and covers.  

Deborah Greenhut and I have enjoyed a 30-year friendship. She is one of the most intelligent and tolerant people I know. Her first novel, The Hoarder's Wife, about an aspiring musician's survival of a failed marriage to a brilliant but flawed university professor, is a remarkably fast read. This book has no villains or heroes. It is an unsparing look at the reach of human dependencies and mental illness.

Keith Carne, a live and studio drummer for We Are Scientists the past nine years, as well as a  writer for Modern Drummer, has been a friend for 20 years. He continues to tour throughout the world with We Are Scientists, create his own music with Communipaw, and teach music when his busy schedule allows. And there's not a thing you can't talk to Keith about.

Hayley Youngs, one of my newest friends, is an extraordinary artist and art teacher who has produced work at an amazing pace. Haley's work, which has been widely exhibited, evokes Fernand LegerArthur Dove, and Georgia O'Keeffe, but her creative vision is singular and inimitable. Her current exhibit, Serenity Now, is at the Mark Borghi Gallery in Sag Harbor.

My friends inspire me to keep my creative juices flowing. I am fortunate to know them.

Monday, July 25, 2022

Summer Reading

It has been a great summer for reading, and summer is not over. I finally got around to reading many targeted books that I bought in Pegasus Books in Oakland or on Amazon; borrowed from my local library, my university library, or the New York Public Library's Cloud Library; or just pulled my own bookshelves. 

For biography, Walter Isaacson's Einstein: His Life and Universe made for a great read about a complex man who, in his mid-twenties changed how we think of our world with his special theory of relativity, became a refugee from Hitler's Germany, lived in Princeton, New Jersey the last two decades of his life, wrote and spoke powerfully for global peace and a world order that enforced social collectivism but prized individual freedom, and rejected quantum mechanics until his end. I followed up with Isaacson's Leonardo da Vinci, whose genius sprung, in part, from an insatiable curiosity of all things, an uncanny power of observation, and an unrelentingly diligent yet often distracted approach to work. 

I also read the collected poetry of five poets: Alan DuganRita Dove, Mary Oliver, Frederick Seidel, and May Swenson. Dugan's vulgarity is easy to accept when he juxtaposes it with high art and exposes us at our core. Dove can write masterfully from so many viewpoints: as a curator of her cultural history, a concerned environmentalist, an arts aficionado, a spiritualist. Mary Oliver has a way of making a bird, fox, bush, or even an insect an extension of ourselves with the plainest language imaginable. Seidel is hilarious, if you can fathom wildly privileged, self-obsessed, paranoid contemporary men as hilarious. Swenson is Oliver's literary older sister, a great witness of our natural world, but she knows the city too and lives more in the mind than in the observable spectacle that Oliver beholds.

Albert Murray's Collected Essays & Memoirs, which along with James Baldwin's Collected Essays, shows that Black Lives Matter is far from new. Of course, Baldwin and Murray owe much to Frederick Douglass, whose autobiographical narrative graphically depicts a life that is at times painful to read but ultimately stands as a triumphant testament to the human spirit. Douglass rose from slavery to become a great influencer of Abraham Lincoln, more proof that critical race theory makes a lot of sense, as one cannot think about any political movement, social cause, educational approach, legislative action, court ruling, military or police action, or turning point of United States history without reflecting on how race intersects with it.  

The Essential Tagore, a catalogue of fiction, drama, poetry, songs, autobiography, letters, humor, and travelogue by the first Asian Nobel laureate, Rabindranath Tagore, is the bargain read at any price. The man was a remarkable writer, thinker, and spiritual leader of his fellow Bengalis, indeed, of humanity. 

I have plenty more reading to do this summer: Adorno, BakhtinBenjaminDerrida, Foucault, Gramsci, and Lukacs. After those guys, I'll likely look for some lighter reading. Joyce's Ulysses?

Monday, July 18, 2022

The Power of Observation

During a warm summer twilight yesterday, I was watching a nine-year-old boy observe an inchworm looping along a black-eyed Susan in a friend's garden. He watched it for a long minute from a distance of six inches before slipping his finger under a petal where the creature was moving until it crawled completely away from the flower and onto him. The boy counted the inchworm's three pairs of posterior legs and explained to me that its lack of middle legs causes it to move as it does. He let it inch across his fingers another several minutes before finally returning it to the black-eyed Susan. 

I describe this brief but pleasurable crepuscule moment to reiterate the importance of observation in cultivating writing skills. Ernest Hemingway mentioned its value. And who observes with guileless acuity and imagination more than a child? For this reason, I tell writing students to observe with all their senses what they perceive. They will have much to write about.      

Monday, July 11, 2022

More Favorite Poems

When I created a list of 50 favorite poems nearly seven years ago, I promised to add to the list as time permitted. So here are 10 more that I hope you will lie as much as I do. I am grateful to the Poetry Foundation and the poets for making these poems publicly available.

Air by W. S. Merwin

Crepuscular by Charles Simic

Demeter's Prayer to Hades by Rita Dove

The Fear of Oneself by Sharon Olds

The Layers by Stanley Kunitz

Looking for Something Lost by Mark Van Doren

The Sigh by Ted Kooser

Sisters by Adrienne Rich

The Starry Night by Anne Sexton

What Is It? by Mary Oliver

I explained in a previous post why I read poetry, and I believe everyone should. Happy reading!

Monday, July 04, 2022

Is Instant Messaging Replacing Email?

More than 20 years ago, I was telling clients that Sun Microsystems was using instant messaging internally to replace email. Now more businesses are using IM through platforms like Microsoft Teams. Just as the memorandum became so twentieth century to advanced businesses accustomed to using email as the most efficient technology to communicate in writing, these days IM is replacing email, especially among team members collaborating on projects.

What  will this trend mean for standard writing? While much of the answer remains to be seen, we are already noticing how standard sentence structure is mattering far less. Dialogue-style writing is replacing formal writing style, requiring readers to create meaning based on the context in which the writing appears. You can imagine a dialogue like the one below between Kim, a project manager, and Lee, an account manager, both of whom report to Chris, a firm vice-president, concerning a request from Pat, a client.

Kim: What did Pat say?
Lee: They're greenlighting the requested revision.
Kim: Did you discuss the rate increase?
Lee: Not yet.
Kim: Then there's no go-ahead.
Lee: They're looking for an exception based on business volume and loyalty. 
Kim: They get what they pay for. 
Lee:  Should we get Chris in on this?
Kim: OK, but you know there's no exceptions. We can't eat the increased work hours.

No doubt, this dialogue will lead to Lee writing an email to Pat insisting on a rate increase, but Kim has made the policy clear through IM. This sort of communication will become, no, has become, more prevalent in organizations. We will always need signed contracts, or at least e-signed contracts, but the basis of much of these agreements is becoming IM.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Two Negatives Equal a Positive━Really?

I used  to teach the idea that English has characteristics just like mathematics, but I do not any longer because, as you might suspect, every English rule, unlike mathematics, has exceptions. While 1 + 1  always did, always does, and always will = 2,  honest writing teachers must admit to their students that language is far more subjective, all too often laden with uneducated opinion and fraught with majority- or authority-rule tastes. 

Take the rule claiming two negatives make a positive, just like math. Saying "I am not unaware" means I am aware, saying "I cannot make a mistake" asserts I want to do something correctly, and saying "I will not hurt you" implies you will be safe with me. 

But you can't count on two negatives making a positive. For example, you can imagine an astronomy professor facetiously saying, "Galileo did not err when he distanced himself from heliocentrism during the Inquisition." In fact, you can't even depend on two positives making a positive. If you asked whether I was willing to freefall from the roof of a 14-story building, you can picture me ironically replying, "Sure I would do that."

Too much depends on context for insisting on right-wrong rulings for English usage. Ain't that right?