Thursday, January 29, 2015

My 2014 Books and Movies

The list of 29 books I read last year are on LibraryThing. I also started an account on Goodreads, where I hope to keep the lists in sync.

I read a lot of good books in 2014. Some highlights include Cryptonomicon (Neal Stephenson), CivilWarLand in Bad Decline (George Saunders), Trapped Under the Sea (Neil Swidey) and Collision Low Crossers (Nicholas Dawidoff).

The book that really affected me this year was Adrift: Seventy-six Days Lost at Sea (Steven Callahan). This is a survival story, but Callahan really elevates his tale of struggle by uniting his survival to the mysterious and sometimes benevolent creatures of the vast sea. His story of resilience, despite the frightening and perilous conditions, was very inspiring.

The list of 12 movies that I watched last year are on IMDb. As a family, we got to see big titles like "Divergent", "The Maze Runner", and "The Penguins of Madagascar". The big bucket-list worthy movie that I saw was "Gone with the Wind". I also saw "Life of Pi", which features a fictional survival story of a boy lost at sea. (Steven Callahan was a consultant for this movie.) My favorite movie from 2014 was "Taken". Liam Neeson is dynamite in this incredible action movie!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Seeing Beyond Ourselves

I'm reading the book "The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace" by Jeff Hobbs. Set in the late 1980s, it describes the life of Robert Peace, who managed to leave his inner-city life in Newark, NJ, and attend Yale University. Unfortunately, he died in a drug-related shooting after he returned to Newark.

In the chapter I just finished, Robert's mother Jackie heroically manages to get her son out of public school and into a Catholic private school. It was a long road for her. She first attended a training program for six months. Sacrificing time with Robert, the program got her into a better paying job. She then took on a second job, and after two years of long days she was finally able to send her son to a private school.

Leading up to this moment, Jackie was concerned about being considered uppity. The author writes "being known by this label meant that you thought you were better than everyone else around you, that you deserved more..." But Jackie wanted her son to be among people "who saw beyond who and where they were."

I put the book down at this point, struck by the idea of seeing beyond who or where you are. I thought about the power and commitment of Jackie's striving. I thought about being uppity.

This week is when most people reflect on themselves and where they're at. We close the door on 2014, and hope the door that's opening in 2015 is somehow better. The secret is that every action and decision we made in 2014 has led us to the very door that's opening tomorrow.

New Year's Eve is the perfect time to remind ourselves that the first step to "better" is to see beyond ourselves. Then, like Jackie, the next step is to take action.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Puzzle Time

Over the past few years, a small tradition has formed in my house: the winter puzzle. My father-in-law will bring over a jigsaw puzzle for Thanksgiving, and during the lazy weekend we'll tackle it as a family. Sometimes three or more will be at the puzzle, picking up a piece and testing where it might go. Sometimes it's just one person, passing a little time.

We don't finish the puzzle during the Thanksgiving weekend. Instead, it graces our living room table often through December and sometimes beyond. We let it sit there for days without touching it, but an unfinished puzzle begs to be finished.

We've had some missing pieces, but this adds to the excitement. Most times it is under a sofa cushion, but once we found a piece still in the plastic bag that the puzzle came in! We had given up on finding it and only noticed it when we were putting the puzzle back into the box.

The puzzle on our table this year has a winter theme, but we'll also tackle other themes like food, landscapes, and paintings. I love seeing the puzzle slowly take shape. Everyone contributes to its finish, and when we're done, we jot down the date on the back of the puzzle's box top. I like this little bit of record-keeping, and on some older, borrowed puzzles we've seen multiple dates in the box top.

Happy holidays!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Relishing Potter

For the past few months I've been enjoying the Harry Potter series. I am nearing the finish of Book 3 ("Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban").

The books are filled with vivid images: horses with gigantic bird heads, enormous snakes that slither in huge caverns, man-horses ("You have a human on your back!"), forbidden forests, and paintings whose subjects move. The Hogwarts School (Gryffindor, Quidditch, the forbidden forest) feels like it should exist somewhere: you only have to catch a train from platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross railway station!

Harry Potter, and his best school friends, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley form the main attraction. They have a middle school friendship that blossoms further with each book. The tender lessons on persistence, camaraderie and loyalty are universal. I think I can anticipate what they will face as the books progress, but for now it's fun to enjoy their young adulthood.

Harry Potter, the boy who lived, is of course a cultural phenomenon. Eight movies. A theme park. Conventions. Merchandise. In my own middle school youth, I had the Lord of the Rings, but they are heavier going than Harry Potter. I like the lightness and emotion in Harry Potter. I am glad I'm reading these!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Sick Day

I had to call in sick this morning. My third sick day this year. The first two were in late February.

Before this year, however, I've rarely called in sick. Despite harsh New England weather, despite miles of air travel (during my travel years), despite a daughter in school (all those kids and their sniffles), for the past ten years my work attendance was free of sick days. I suppose those were my indestructible years.

To coax myself into feeling better, I guzzle orange juice, suck on cough drops, and take DayQuil. Hopefully I'll be better tomorrow: maybe it'll be the start of another sick-free decade.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Finding Oceanic

Sometimes I have to pinch myself: technology can be amazing.

A few months ago, I ate lunch with some co-workers at Royal India Bistro, a fine Indian restaurant in Lexington, MA. I hardly know the names of the Indian food I eat, so that afternoon I visited the restaurant's website. It began to play some streaming music, and while this normally annoys me, the initial notes were light enough that it drew me in. I liked the beat, and the motif, so I kept the music on, as I searched through the menu.

The music's change in tempo took over my attention. Head bobbing, I gave into it, letting the song wash over me. I was dazzled by its first impression! Instead of the food, I scoured the website for the name of this song. Unable to find it, I just played the song again.

A few days went by. I continued to enjoy the song by playing it off the website, but now I was at a loss: how could I find out the name of this song? I remembered reading an article about music detection software, and decided to try it out. I downloaded Shazam onto my iPod. I played the song through my speakers, and let Shazam listen.

To my delight, Shazam identified the music! The song is "Oceanic, Part 2", from the 2007 album "Breathing Under Water", by Karsh Kale and Anoushka Shankar, featuring sitar by Ravi Shankar.

I found the song on YouTube. Check out the song, and check out Shazam. Amazing technology, indeed.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Everything I Want?!

An old friend sent me a birthday greeting this year on Facebook. He said "Make sure you work on your bucket list." Yes, maybe I should.

Tonight, I rummaged around some old files and found a list I made in 1991 titled "Everything I Want?!" It's not a proper bucket list, because I wrote it when I was 23, in the full flush of adulthood. I dug it out to see if anything got accomplished from that list. Instead, I got a few laughs. Two items: 1) have a washboard stomach, and 2) spend time in an Oregon dude ranch. Who was I back then?

Without further ado, here are a few of my bucket list items:

1. Watch a baseball game at Yankee Stadium.

I have watched many games at Fenway Park in my baseball days. The Yankees, their great rival, should have been the team of my youth. I should at least visit their new stadium (since I never saw them in their old one)!

2. Visit Tokyo with my wife.

This trip would be out of both our comfort zones, so it's something we have to do together. Besides, we both said we would!

3. Visit the Grand Canyon.

One of the great sights that I missed seeing with my family. I'll have to make up for it!

4. Finish Super Meat Boy (a video game).

I always play this game on vacation, and I love its humor and speed. Please, let me beat the final boss!

5. Read "Infinite Jest" (David Foster Wallace).

I'm proud to have have read some big literature: "Gravity's Rainbow" (Thomas Pynchon), "Ulysses" (James Joyce). Someone suggested "Infinite Jest", and when I saw that it was over a thousand pages, I said sign me up.

Will I be able to look back on this list 23 years from now, and say that some of those items got crossed off? I guess we should stay tuned.