Monday, June 24, 2024


We all have personalities. A combination of genetic traits, parental influences and personal quirks. Some of us are Carries, some Mirandas, and some Mr. Big. 

I'm a Pollyanna.

When people called me that in the past I didn't know what the name meant. So I looked it up. Yup, I'm a Pollyanna. The name has a history and cultural resonance.

"Pollyanna" is a 1913 American novel considered a classic of children's literature. Its immense success led to a dozen sequels and several film adaptations. My favorite is Disney's 1960 version starring Hayley Mills. She won a special Oscar for the role.

"Pollyanna" has become a symbol for people who are unfailingly optimistic and can find positive things in every situation. Although the term is sometimes used disparagingly (as excessively cheerful), Pollyanna the character found ways to cope with serious difficulties and sorrows. Her outlook was not frivolous; it was courageous. In the original story, Pollyanna is an orphan who gets hit by a car and loses the use of her legs. Searching for anything positive in that circumstance is a real challenge, yet she accomplishes it with tenacity and robust charm. Pollyanna often plays a game her father taught her before he died, "the Glad game." It consists of searching for something to be glad about in every state of affairs, no matter how bleak.

Like Pollyanna I possess gratitude, a "glass half-full" attitude. I celebrate water in my glass even when it's only 10%. That's still better than bemoaning the missing 90%. Despair begets despair and we can't live in sadness. Not long, anyway. Depression worsens physical and emotional health and repels friends we vitally need.

Littleton, New Hampshire, home of Pollyanna's author (Eleanor Porter) erected a bronze sculpture in her honor. The statue depicts smiling Pollyanna with arms flung wide in greeting. Littleton also hosts an annual festival known as "The Official Pollyanna Glad Day."

So, fire up the label-maker -- I'm Pollyanna and proud of the name.

Thursday, June 20, 2024


Many mistake my fervent interest in art as a new thing, something I stumbled upon recently. That isn't the case. I was enthralled by art in my youth. In fact one of my pivotal life decisions was, when graduating college, to attend law school instead of film school. I don't regret that choice but am now returning to my earlier passion. After a half-century of toil during which "I gave at the office" I foresee a future laboring for love.

What is it about art that appeals to us? A worthy question, tied to the meaning of life itself. I found my answer first from tasting aesthetic beauty, pondering power of creation, listening to artists describe their work, and ultimately personal introspection.

By "art" I mean the arts generally: painting, sculpture, music, performance, literature and poetry. I have depth in some of these fields and seek experience with the others. Much of what I've learned has application to different media.

Art is not separate from our lives. A better writer than I explains: "Art is not an accessory to pleasure but the means of our connection to the cosmos." 

I also can't claim to have written that art "conveys...ineffable intimations of immortality." I fully agree with this trenchant notion. We feel a glow of transcendence in the grasp of great art. And should value it accordingly.

Saturday, June 15, 2024

My Dad

Whatever our feelings about our parents -- and they are often mixed -- we cannot deny the noumenal influence they have on our lives. This continues after their death, as those of you who've lost a mom or dad know.

Today is my father's birthday. He would have been 94 years old. (He passed away in December 2022.) I woke up thinking about him, not realizing until hours later that it's his birthday. Despite his physical absence he still lives in my head.

I'm fortunate to have photographs from his life, including from earlier periods before I met him. Those are fascinating because they demonstrate how deeply my mother transformed him in his twenties. Ralph Sr. (née Rolf) was an adventurous rogue who grew up in a war-zone. He met his match in Barbara Jo, a fierce animal-trainer from the jungle of Brooklyn. BJ tamed Ralph into domestic duty and he performed the roles of husband and father even though they weren't natural to him. We all do what we must. On the plus side, my mother showed my father how to live sensibly and he benefited from that lesson over a long, pleasant lifetime.

Happy Birthday, Dad.

Thursday, June 13, 2024


Taste in entertainment is subjective but sometimes it's useful to hear from gimlet-eyed friends. They may suggest a show or film you've overlooked, particularly from the past.

Here are my all-time favorite TV shows and movies. What are yours?


1. "Mad Men"

2. "The Sopranos"

3. "Six Feet Under"


1. "Casablanca"

2. "Pee-wee's Big Adventure"

3. "Rocky" (the original)

Monday, June 10, 2024

Belmont Lake

Robin and I hiked around Belmont Lake and enjoyed the nice weather. 

Robin just bought this hat from REI and loves it. Happy Summer!

Saturday, June 8, 2024

Stanley Cup Finals!

Hey fans! Today starts the Stanley Cup finals! (8pm on ABC)

This is hockey's Superbowl/World Series. The best two teams are the Edmonton Oilers who'll play the Florida Panthers. You may remember the Panthers: they were in the finals last year but lost to Las Vegas. Edmonton hasn't been there in almost 20 years (since 2006) and hasn't won a Stanley Cup since... well, dinosaurs were on the ice back then.

What's significant this year? Well, remember hockey began in Canada and remains a big deal up north. Edmonton is the first Canadian team in over 30 years to reach for the Cup so many are rooting for the team. (I am.) Also, Edmonton has a great player, Connor McDavid, whom I saw in person playing the Devils this year. Kid can skate! Finally, Edmonton had a horrible start to the season and most never expected it to be here, so there's a strong Cinderella vibe.

Go Oilers!

Friday, June 7, 2024

Yuja Wang

I have a pantheon of personal heroes: artists of great achievement. They inspire me by reifying our dreams. Simply knowing such people exist gives me hope for humanity.

I've told you in the past about several of these: glass-blower Lino Tagliapietra, writer David Foster Wallace, and guitarists Duane Allman, Dickey Betts and Roy Buchanon. Let me add another genius to the list.

Yuja Wang. Yes, she has an unusual name but it's easily pronounced: You-jah Wong (not Wang). Whether you know it or not Yuja is the best pianist in the world right now. She's 37 years old and has been astounding audiences since she was a teenager. She's played with every prominent orchestra in the country, toured internationally, and sold-out Carnegie Hall. Yuja is an indisputable superstar.

During the pandemic when Yuja couldn't play concerts she collaborated with a respected composer on a new piece of music. The composer says he wrote the piece specifically for her, believing Yuja is the only pianist capable of performing it. During their collaboration Yuja took passages AND MADE THEM HARDER TO PLAY. She amped up technical difficulty of the work to make it shine brighter. The composer was justly amazed at this.

When people can't comprehend something complex they often focus on trivial aspects, like commentary that dogged David Foster Wallace about the bandana he wore on his head at public readings. Instead of considering the literary merit of David's work or its estimable themes some clueless critics pondered ridiculous theories on why David wore a bandana (e.g., eccentricity, vanity). The truth is more mundane: David was shy and especially nervous speaking in public; as a result he sweated profusely and used a cloth bandana to absorb and conceal sweat. That's all, nothing more.

A similar thing happens to Yuja. As a young woman she performed wearing attractive clothes, usually a stylish dress and high heels. Classical music critics disparaged her appearance as too sexy for concerts. One even sexistly wrote that "if her dress was any shorter" the concert-hall "would have to restrict admission to those over 17 years old." Yuja explains, quite simply, that she likes to wear nice clothes and doesn't understand why anyone focuses on that instead of her musical performance.

If you haven't heard of Yuja yet, check her out. There are many videos of her performances on streaming channels, YouTube and CDs. Or you can come over to my place and listen to her on vinyl records.  :)

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

A Metaphor For Life

You'll probably find it odd that I still read motorcycle magazines. As Lucy Ricardo used to say, "Ricky, I can explain..."

Enthusiasm is a powerful force. Like simple carbon, with enough intensity and time enthusiasm can crystalize into the diamond of passion. And passion, once rooted, is impossible to dislodge.

This is the time of year bikers feel a stirring. The sound of a motorcycle engine in the distance awakens us. We wonder why we aren't also out on the road. That music quickly increases to a crescendo.

It was incredibly painful to end my 25-year riding career last season. And yet while I can't operate a bike on my own, a foray to the North Fork last Fall on the back of my friend Jaime's tourer proved I can still pull on leather gear, join a ride and savor motorcycling's unique sensory pleasures as a passenger. I may walk into walls off the bike but I can still travel 80 mph on two wheels with a trusted friend up front handling matters for both of us.

So this is why I haven't cancelled my subscription to motorcycle magazines. My passion is still here. This morning I saw a quote from "Season of the Bike," by David Karlotski, that offers a salient metaphor for life:

"Motorcycles tell us the TRUTH -- we are small, and exposed, and probably moving too fast, but that's no reason not to enjoy every minute of every ride." Amen.