40 For 40 Progress Report 12/12

My year of being 40 is now over. Of the 40 goals I set for myself this year, I finished 36. Here are the three I did in the last month, followed by some overall reflections and a look to the future.

34. Give my wife 40 back rubs. I feel a little bad that only one of my 40 goals involved my wife, but I think this was a pleasant bit of loving service, and I should keep this up. I’ve already done another since finishing the goal. I also feel a little bad that it took me until the final month to complete this one. Note to self: do something special for your wife in the near future.

35. Don’t say anything negative about anyone for 40 straight days. This one was *super* hard. I had minimizing my sarcasm at school in mind here, and especially making sure my children know that I love and respect them with the words and tone I use at home. As the year went on, I kept struggling with how to really make this practical, since I have to discipline others and since I can’t control how they react to me. Still, the ball is in my court, and over the last several years I’ve gained a lot of awareness about how deficient my own social skills have always been, and I’ve made a lot of progress there, but there is still quite a ways to go. I kept having to start this over, often with modified expectations and definitions for myself, and only as this new school year started have I felt consistent enough in maintaining positive relationships with young people that I can honestly check this off….but I need to keep focusing on this as much as any of the other things I’ve done this year, and maybe more.

36. Learn 40 new Portuguese words each month. Probably my greatest success this whole year. Technically, I finished this goal after just a few months, with the expected word count at just 480 (Duolingo puts my vocabulary today at 3145), but I’ve never studied or practiced anything this consistently before. Today is day 70 of my current streak on Duolingo; gunning to break my record of 81 days. I’m at level 15. I understand and use some choppy Portuguese pretty regularly at home, but I’m nowhere near fluent yet–not even conversationally–and I intend to keep going until I am. Learning a new language has been a challenging joy.

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The four goals that are as yet unfinished are running a 10k 40 times (I only have 25 done), listening to 40 jazz albums (I’ve loved the several I’ve done so far, but there’s very little progress here), sketching 40 drawings (about halfway done, but I recently decided that I want to focus on drawing birds, and the rest of the goal will be directed at that), and learning 40 new chess moves (I’ve made a ton of growth in chess this year, but still have a ways to go before calling this one good).

One reason why I didn’t finish is merely the overwhelming stress of the first quarter of a school year. I get so busy, so stressed out, that I disappear into my work. I’ve never figured out how to cope with that and still live my life. I guess I need to keep working on that, so I don’t keep losing so much of myself for two months a year. At least I got over that bought of bronchitis a few weeks ago.

I’ll extend my deadline for those four last goals until the end of this year. I want to keep up good habits, including the habit of goal setting for self improvement itself, so today I’m starting a new fitness goal to do planks every morning and evening. This is a great way to live.

Since just a few months into the project, I’ve been analyzing it and asking myself if it was really making me happier, though. Was this just robotic list checking? Was I focusing on that instead of experiencing life more deeply?

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Notes: Joseph Smith Papers Conference and BYU Sperry Symposium

Below are notes on the 2018 Joseph Smith Papers Conference, at the Church History Library in Salt Lake City, and on two of the talks at the 2018 Sperry Symposium at BYU the next day.

 

2018 Joseph Smith Papers Conference Notes

Janiece Johnson, “Embracing the Book: The Material Record and Early Book of Mormon Reception”

For 1st gen. LDS, family history still gets written in Bibles, not BoM, though sometimes baptism into church goes there. “Stories enabled access to divinity.” Marginal notes in BoM tend to be keeping track of complicated new narrative. Some created a table of contents. Patience Cowdery uses manacles (pointers) to annotate “seed” and “ancestors,” plus an index she made in the back. Frederick G. Williams 1st edition made an index of doctrine and narrative, and a list of 20 “lost books” from the Bible. Apostle William M. McLellin annotated with doctrinal index and notes showing close reading over many years…also drawings!

Sherilyn Farnes, “‘Able to Translate Any Where in the Bible’: Translation and the Early Saints”

On Edward Partridge’s study of Hebrew. EP studies Hebrew to translate Bible, including with Kirkland school of prophets. Considered useful for preaching—impressive to hearers. Approaching Antiquity: JS and Ancient World, put out by RSC—check it out! Alfred Cordon journaled that people wanted to hear Greek or Hebrew and then they would believe! James Harvey Partridge (Edward’s younger brother) was eulogized as a “learned Biblical scholar.” “Do good, lay aside evil…render assistance to fellow men and glorify the Lord” as a purpose for learning Hebrew. JS said this learning would prepare people for the endowment. Language study led to history study. JS studies Hebrew AFTER his inspired revision of the Bible.

Stephen Smoot, “The Dynamics of Revelatory Translation in Early Mormonism: The Book of Abraham as a Case Study”

JS’s concept of translation was “idiosyncratic” by modern standards. 1. Zeptah/Egyptus—Earliest manuscript of BoA has Zeptah instead of Egyptus and Egyptes in place of another Egyptus. BoA may confuse Zaeptah’s/Egyptus’s gender in the same way some ancient records do for that lfigure. Is Hebrew in BoA because of JS knowledge of Hebrew (reflected in his translation) or from an ancient scribe? “Not a 1-for-1 unsullied Ur-text.” 3. JS use of Elohim in plural in BoA couldn’t come from his Hebrew tutor Seixas. JS’s knowledge and language influenced the nature of the BoA text.

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Walter Isaacson’s biography of Leonardo da Vinci: Reviewed and Recommended

Walter Isaacson’s Leonardo da Vinci is one of the best biographies I’ve ever read: lucidly edited and vividly written, it balances any and all aspects of such a work perfectly. I’ve been sharing excerpts from it with all of my students, and now we all eagerly await the much-ballyhooed film version starring Leonardo Dicaprio.

Besides the extremely riveting writing, the book has 150 full color illustrations and thick, heavy, glossy paper. I was wondering how such a luxurious volume could have a cover price of only $35, but found the answer as I progressed through the book–the publisher skimped on the binding, and pages started coming out in big chunks, as seen below. Deeply sad.

Other than that, every page was pure joy.

Some of my favorite passages follow:

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It would have been worth an extra twenty bucks to have better binding!

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On his obsession with observation

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On dissecting eyeballs

 

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On a historical meeting of three major figures

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A sobering lesson for our own lives as well, I hope–Isaacson does this plenty of times

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I also enjoy when Isaacson interrupts his narrative to ask readers to pause and ponder what’s going on

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On the Mona Lisa

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“He enjoyed the challenge of conception more than the chore of completion.” Great line.

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The moral of the story

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October 2018 General Conference Notes

SATURDAY MORNING

President Nelson

Church supports the family, not the other way around–we need a home-centered church. “We are each responsible for our individual spiritual growth.”

 

Elder Cook–2 hour block

60 min sacrament meeting. SS on 1st and 3rd Sunday, priesthood and women’s meetings on 2nd and 4th. Home-centered, church-supported balance. Deepen conversion! More time to study the gospel at home! Gospel study at home will be significantly enhanced! New SS classes will support home study course. RMN wants us to “walk the covenant path.” Honor the Sabbath day and the sacrament (emphasized for last three years now). New “Come Follow Me” program helped people move from reading scriptures to *studying* them. The 12 and FP prayed about all this in the temple.

 

M. Joseph Brough (YM 2nd)–Enduring Hard Things

Sometimes we have to face hard things. Asking “why?” never takes away the hard thing. Examples. NAM: “I have given you leukemia that you might teach with authority” (check the wording on this). Forgive others who have hurt us, and turn ourselves over to HF. Great story of forgiveness. Then an even better story of his missionary daughter! “We can always rejoice when we keep the commandments.” Testimony of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

 

Steven R. Bangerter (70)–Gospel-centered Family Traditions

Infuse children with strength to face challenges of life. (Great illustration of stones here!) Jesus Christ is our precious corner stone. Advice on family traditions. Parental interviews. Consistent, wholesome family traditions that include prayer, church meetings, etc. will bless our children. Helaman 5:12. Proverbs on training children. Are we exercising faith in the Lord’s command to teach our children? (check wording of this one)

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40 For 40 Progress Report 11/12

School started in the middle of August here in Clark County, so September represented most of the year so far–a heinously busy time when I’m swamped by learning hundreds of new names and trying to establish a solid foundation for the rest of the year. I often get sick near the start of a school year, and this year was no different–I’ve had bronchitis for a few weeks now (though I’m getting much better).

This is all to explain (though not excuse) my relative lack of progress in the last month. Despite how far I am into most of the remaining goals, I only finished two since last time.

That leaves me with seven to go, and while I probably could push through and finish, I’m not sure I want to. Doing so would be stressful, and while these activities have been very valuable to me, cramming so much into the last month seems arbitrary, if not destructive. I don’t want to punish myself, or come to hate these things. I’ll gladly give myself an extension, just as I’ve felt free to modify goals as the year has gone on.

So I only expect to finish a few more, and do the rest maybe by the end of the year. And I’m happy with that. And isn’t that what matters here?

Here’s the two I finished in September:

REVISED: Wrestle or play chess with my kids 40 times. I revised this from just wrestling to adding another activity that we could bond over and which would be good for the kids, largely because wrestling in the hot summer is such a drag. I taught two of my daughters to play, though neither of them loves it like my two sons at home do–we all still play frequently, and I usually lose now (and I’m really trying to win!). This has been extremely rewarding all around.

REVISED: Do push ups for 40 straight days. Originally this said “40 push ups in a set,” which was odd–it didn’t match the ethos of most other goals. I changed it to this much more rational version (besides, I could never get further than the low 30’s in a single set!). My fitness habits tend to rotate back and forth between running and weights–mostly depending on what’s injured when–but because of my running goal for this project, I’ve ignored weights for months. This goal didn’t help as much as I’d hoped it would–after 40 days of (often lackluster) push up sets, the only real difference is that I got slightly better at doing push ups. *sigh* Back to the gym…

40 Haydn Symphonies

I used the top 40 entries in this ranking of all 104 Haydn symphonies, from ClassicFM. Oddly, the one that’s likely my very favorite, No. 45 (“the Farewell”) wasn’t on this list at all.

40. Symphony No. 91
Vivacious–alternately pastoral and balletic; middle movements reminded me of Beethoven’s symphony 6–not very similar, but in the same genre. Ebulliently positive! Grade: B (7/16)

39. Symphony No. 27
Even more energetic than the last one, this little symphony is downright assertive–an in-your-face slice of life adventure that clearly, cleanly illustrates the basic narrative pattern, including a sweet daydream center and a rousing, victorious finale. Simple, but not insubstantial. Grade: B- (7/16)

38. Symphony No. 86
I enjoyed the sprightly, peppy final movement, but even that felt…uninspired. A good listen, but nothing special. Grade: C+ (7/17)

37. Symphony No. 100 (‘Military’)
The ClassicFM reviewer said, “If you played the ‘Military’ as you were going into battle, you’d be more likely to ponder the true meaning of combat, the myriad social and emotional implications for those who partake, the poetry you might write as a result.” Way wrong. The 2nd movement especially is thoroughly martial in spirit, and the whole work is aggressive (but, being Haydn, never quite violent). A solid and rousing piece! Grade: B (7/17)

36. Symphony No. 53 (‘L’imepriale’)
The ClassicFM reviewer called this Haydn’s “most overtly stately symphony. You can pretty much march around the room in a wig to this one for the duration.” I think that’s too limited, too narrow. Only the very beginning and much of the central episodes sound like that to me. I also hear the same dreaming gestation at the core, as well as the bubbling triumph so typical of his final movements–this symphony, as usual, is a hearty slice of joie de vivre. Grade: B (7/17)

35. Symphony No. 14
My reaction here surely shows my illiterate ignorance of music. I didn’t identify the progressive genius in the final movement extolled by the ClassicFM reviewer as well as on the Wikipedia entry for this work. I found this whole piece simplistic, predictable…and often dull. Grade: D (7/17)

34. Symphony No. 99
What a huge difference going from early in his career with the last entry to late in his career with this one! THIS is a masculine symphony, full of controlled strength, and a joyous celebration of it. Great stuff! Grade: A (7/18)

33. Symphony No. 82 (‘The Bear’)
The reviewer’s comments about the manliness of this piece are spot on. I listened to the “Composers by Numbers” version on YouTube at first, and found it pretty blah, but then I tried the live one linked above, and liked it much better. I love watching an orchestra play. The orchestra is one of history’s greatest inventions. Grade: B+ (7/21)

32. Symphony No. 61
The reviewers called this one “bracing,” and I think that’s a good fit, if too stuffy. It’s more like “vivacious.” This is another one full of joie de vivre, bookended by movements so sharp they almost sting. Grade: B+ (7/30)

31. Symphony No. 79
There must be more going on here than my untrained ear picked up on. This one seemed decent and fine–bland, backhanded compliments. The general tone came across as pastoral, and I always enjoy that. Still, nothing here was especially surprising or pleasing. I liked it, but didn’t love it. Maybe if I got to know it better… Grade: B (7/30)

30. Symphony No. 90
Now THIS is a masterpiece! I can’t believe it’s only #30 on the reviewer’s list. I love how perfectly in thematic harmony the slow movements are with the faster ones. And the series of false “Return of the King” endings are a bold joke. Finally, the music itself is simply so superior here–this is quite a dazzling feast of audio excellence. Grade: A+ (7/30) Continue reading

40 For 40 Progress Report 10/12

I finished five more goals in the last month. I now have two months left to do the final nine. All of them have progress made–most of them are mostly done–and I feel good about completing all 40 before November 2.

27. REVISED: Eat five servings of fruit and vegetables a day for 40 days. This may well be the hardest one so far, and I gave myself far more leeway than usual. On an average day, I was really only getting about three servings, but I was doing my best and decided it was good enough. I felt like I was okay to check this one off because I resolved to keep working on it daily, and here I am a month later, still getting as many fruits and veggies as I can each day. Good habits are what I’m shooting for with most of these, anyway. It makes a big difference.

28. No sugary treats for 40 days. Following the lesson I’ve learned that abstinence goals work better in conjunction with replacement goals, I did this one at the same time as the one above about plant food. Much easier than I thought it would be! …perhaps because I let myself have soda as a cheat, and I greatly increased my salt intake. Still. This is surely the only time in my adult life I’ve gone a month without chocolate. Now, I can moderate my diet with much more awareness than I had before.

29. Eat at 40 new places. This is was such a great goal! I discovered so many fantastic new taco places, and have actually bonded with several new students this year by talking about it. I started by wanting to branch out into new foods, but I discovered that there was a whole deeper level of Mexican food that I had never tried. This project was delicious. What a great idea. I’ve posted updates a few times, but I’ll share the rest of the notes soon.

30. Watch 40 great films with my children. I started this one with an eye towards what I had done with my older children–Citizen Kane and such–but mostly I ended up showing them better stuff in areas they liked, just a little more mature than what they were already watching. It was a great start to sharing my passion for film. I originally understood this goal as meaning “grown up classics, not silly kid stuff,” but several of the films we watched were children’s classics, and it was time well spent. I think each kid found some quality new stuff for us to chew on. So, mission accomplished.

31. Listen to 40 works by Haydn. I decided to listen to the top 40 entries on a ranking of his symphonies, and to listen to each one twice. I’ll post the list with notes tomorrow. It was a great, deep experience with music. Honestly, I feel a bit wiped out after it. That was a lot of masterpieces to cram in one right after another. But, hey, #yolo, right?

 

Sacrament Talk: Real Discipleship

A couple of months ago, I spoke in church on the assigned topic of “real discipleship.” Below is a script I wrote out for it.

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My hope for this talk, and for any meeting or class we ever have, is for all of us to get two main things: to be empowered through learning the gospel to live in ways that will bring us closer to God, and to be encouraged to do that in a way that will make us happy in everyday life. As I prepared this talk, I prayed to write a message that would help do that for all of us. That’s what I want out of this talk, and I hope that sounds good to everybody, so let’s get started.

But first, yesterday I had an idea. If any of the youth in the ward have tuned me out, listen up, this is for you. With your parents’ permission, if anyone under 18 wants to keep track of the scriptures and apostles I mention today, and get in touch with me later to talk about it, I’ll bring you a treat or snack of your choice–again, with your parents’ permission. So, Aiden, pay attention, son. You have your dad’s permission.

I’ve been asked to speak about discipleship today, and that’s a huge topic, but it also cuts right to the center of how we live our lives. When the bishop asked me speak, the phrase he used was “true” discipleship. I guess that’s meant to be the opposite of a false discipleship, and that reminds me of a General Conference three years ago, when Elder D. Todd Christofferson mentioned a great German leader from another church named Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was famous for using the terms “cheap grace” and “costly grace.” Bonhoeffer said, “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ…Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has….It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.”

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The Poetry of Donald Hall

I wrote recently of a goal to read a new poem every day for 40 days, and how the best thing I got out of it was discovering the work of Donald Hall, who had just passed away. I can’t recommend his Selected Poems highly enough. Two items will have to suffice here. First, the opening of “The Stump.”

stump

Second, here’s Hall briefly introducing a great work called “Names of Horses,” which he then reads. On YouTube, the text of the poem is in the description.

This is earthy, elemental, full bodied stuff, a meditation on the great details of basic life, appreciated fully. It’s not all nature and tools, though–his book also includes plenty of domestic and family life, as well as other aspects of existence. His ideas are open, and his mind is strong.

Another piece in his Selected Poems ends with the lines, “I will live in a steady joy. I will exult in the ecstasy of my concealment.” I want to read much more of his work.

40 For 40 Progress Report 9/12

In the last month, I’ve finished 6 more of my goals, bringing the total to 26. That leaves the final three months of being 40 to do the remaining 14. I actually feel pretty good about it–I have significant progress and/or a plan for each of those. Here’s what I completed in July:

21. Listen to 40 blues classics. Posted about this here.

22. Send 40 encouraging cards. I sent cards to 40 sick kids and their families through Sunshine Snail Mail, a great group with a simple idea–sick kids love getting cute stuff in the mail. Most of the cards I sent were of a funny off-brand variety: few regular birthday cards and such; mostly “happy 45th anniversary” and “happy father’s day, grandpa!” cards, just at random. I also sent some Christmas cards in July. That oughta make them smile, or at least take their mind off things.

23. REVISED: Read a poem every day for 40 days. I altered this from the original about *writing* 40 poems, because that goal just didn’t make me happy–I didn’t see what I would get out if it. It felt like an arbitrary chore. The idea for this one made me smile, and I *did* get something wonderful out of it: I discovered the amazing Donald Hall. More details here.

24. Study 40 paintings. I read three art books this summer–Thomas Cole, The Annotated Mona Lisa, and Art Explained–each of which could have technically counted for this. After the third, I felt like I had learned enough about specific works to check this off. Art history is really interesting.

25. Read 40 great books. The list is in this post here. I notice I’m reading more non-fiction than usual this year.

26. Take 40 baths. I love a good relaxing soak, but I never feel like I get enough time for it, thus this goal. Unfortunately, it sometimes felt like a chore, also, just forcing myself to do this, but fortunately, it was still really refreshing. Probably not necessary to try to do this so often, but definitely don’t regret trying to rest more.

The Nora Ephron Writing Rant

I’ve created an electronic version of one of my favorite lectures: the revision lesson based on sarcastically destroying a Nora Ephron essay. Former students, get ready for a quality stroll down amnesia lane!

40 Books and 40 Poems

I’ve now finished 40 books since my last birthday. Here they are:

  1. Fear and Trembling, Soren Kierkegaard (11.10, philosophy, Lowrie trans.)–A
  2. Troilus and Criseyde, Chaucer (11.20, classic, Windeatt trans.)–D
  3. Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, Richard Bushman (11.22, biography)–A+
  4. Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche (11.23, philosophy, Kaufmann trans.)–C
  5. Backwards and Forwards: A Technical Manual For Reading Plays, David Ball (11.25, literary criticism)–A+
  6. Candide, Voltaire (12.2, satire, classic)–A
  7. It’s All Relative, A.J. Jacobs (12.8, genealogy, humor)–B
  8. The Best American Short Stories 2017, Heidi Pitlor, ed. (12.16, literature)–B
  9. The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories, P.D. James (12.19, mystery)–B
  10. Rameau’s Nephew, Denis Diderot (12.21, satire, Leonard Tancock trans.)–C
  11. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J.K. Rowling (1.20, fantasy)–A
  12. The Way Things Are, Lucretius (1.24, philosophy/poetry, Humphries trans)–C
  13. A Life Without Limits, Chrissie Wellington (2.9, memoir, sports)–A
  14. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J.K. Rowling (2.13, fantasy)–A+
  15. Praise of Folly, Erasmus (2.17, satire, Radice trans.)–B
  16. Lightning, Dean Koontz (3.2, suspense)–C
  17. I Will Lead You Along: The Life of Henry B. Eyring, Robert I. Eaton & Henry J. Eyring (3.5, biography)–A+
  18. 40 By 40: Forty Groundbreaking Articles from Forty Years of Biblical Archaeology Review, volume 1, Hershel Shanks, ed. (3.10, history)–A+
  19. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling (3.20, fantasy)–A
  20. 40 By 40: Forty Groundbreaking Articles from Forty Years of Biblical Archaeology Review, volume 2, Hershel Shanks, ed. (3.30, history)–A
  21. What Have I Ever Lost By Dying?, Robert Bly (4.5, poetry)–B
  22. A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Human Story Retold Through Our Genes, Adam Rutherford (4.20, science)–A
  23. Talking into the Ear of a Donkey, Robert Bly (4.20, poetry)–C
  24. Godsong: A Verse Translation of the Bhagavad-Gita, with Commentary, Amit Majmudar (5.3, religion, poetry)–A+
  25. Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years, Sue Townsend (5.14, humor)–A
  26. Dust Devils, Robert Laxalt (5.23, Western)–B
  27. The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, John Le Carre (5.28, fiction)–C
  28. Seven Men and the Secret of Their Greatness, Eric Metaxas (6.5, biography)–A+
  29. The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, Margareta Magnusson (6.8, living well)–B
  30. Educated, Tara Westover (6.18, memoir)–A+
  31. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card (6.23, science fiction)–A+
  32. Things That Matter, Charles Krauthammer (6.28, commentary)–A
  33. Thomas Cole, Matthew Baigell (7.2, art history)–A
  34. Wonder, R.J. Palacio (7.4, young adult)–B
  35. The Selected Poems of Donald Hall, Donald Hall (7.6, poetry)–A+
  36. Between Planets, Robert Heinlein (7.6, science fiction)–B
  37. Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess, Bobby Fischer (7.11, chess)–A
  38. The Annotated Mona Lisa, Carol Strickland (7.19, art history)–B
  39. Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie (7.20, mystery)–A
  40. Art Explained, Robert Cumming (7.23, art)–A+
  41. Based on a True Story, Norm Macdonald (7.24, humor)–A

Also, I revised an original goal to write 40 poems, which just seemed like a chore as I tried to start it, with reading poetry for 40 straight days, which made me smile as soon as I thought of it. I reflected on the point of the goal in the first place–what did I want to get out of it?–and realizing that the experience here was more important to me than creation, I decided to delve into appreciation a bit more.

I started mostly by using the poem in each day’s Prufrock email, supplemented with other sources I know and like. Most of them were OK, but rarely did one really grab me. During this time, though, the great poet Donald Hall died, and as I saw eulogies online, along with quotes from his work, I was intrigued and picked up his self-selected greatest hits, and it was perhaps the greatest book of poetry I’ve ever read. Absolutely amazing. Can’t recommend it highly enough.

After that, I tried bits and pieces of other books and authors I’ve liked, but nothing really stood up to Hall. One awesome new take away from a project like this is more than worth it, though!

  1. Richard O’Connell, “Prospero” 6/11
  2. Morri Creech, “The Sentence” 6/12
  3. Elizabeth Knapp, “After the Flood” 6/13
  4. Charlotte Mew, “The Farmer’s Bride” 6/14
  5. Joseph Mirra, “Who Are We Not to Judge?” 6/15
  6. Rachel A. Lott, “The Parting” 6/16
  7. Jason Guriel, “My Father’s Stamps” 6/17
  8. Richie Hofmann, “Pictures of Mozart” 6/18
  9. Edward Hirsch, “The Unveiling” 6/19
  10. Scott Cairns, “Adiáphora” 6/20, A+
  11. Dana Gioia, “The Stars Now Rearrange Themselves” 6/21, A
  12. Maryann Corbett, “Creed,” 6/22
  13. Rachel Hadas, “Cold Prose” 6/23
  14. Joshua Hren, “The Lesser Angels of Our Nature,” 6/24
  15. Donald Hall, “The Man in the Dead Machine,” 6/25, A
  16. Micheal O’Siadhail, “Conversation with Messiaen,” 6/26
  17. Donald Hall, “The Reasonable Nap,” 6/27
  18. Richard Wilbur, “On the Marginal Way,” 6/28
  19. Elizabeth Poreba, “Kenosis,” 6/29
  20. Eduardo C. Corral, “To the Angelbeast,” 6/30
  21. Derek Otsuji, “The Ditch Kids of the Maui Sugar Company,” 7/1
  22. Geoffrey Brock, “The Day,” 7/2
  23. Donald Hall, The Selected Poems of Donald Hall, 7/3
  24. Donald Hall, The Selected Poems of Donald Hall, 7/4
  25. Donald Hall, The Selected Poems of Donald Hall, 7/5
  26. Donald Hall, The Selected Poems of Donald Hall, 7/6
  27. Ernest Hilbert, “Until the Sea above Us Closed Again,” 7/7
  28. William W. Runyeon, “Church Bells,” 7/8
  29. David Yezzi, “Learning the Piano at 50,” 7/9
  30. Thomas Cole’s Poetry, 7/10
  31. Thomas Cole’s Poetry, 7/11
  32. Thomas Cole’s Poetry, 7/12
  33. Thomas Cole’s Poetry, 7/13
  34. Thomas Cole’s Poetry, 7/14
  35. Sara Teasdale, “Afterwards,” 7/15
  36. Sara Teasdale, “The Answer,” 7/16
  37. Sara Teasdale, “Autumn Dusk,” 7/17
  38. Sara Teasdale, “Blue Squills,” 7/18
  39. William Wordsworth, The Essential Wordsworth, selected by Seamus Heaney, 7/19
  40. William Wordsworth, The Essential Wordsworth, selected by Seamus Heaney, 7/20

 

One-Star Reviews of Asimov’s Foundation

I have a policy about judging books based on reviews: a well written positive review is a good sign, and a badly written negative review is also a good sign. To put it another way, if an idiot hates a book, I’ll probably like it.

That came back to mind yesterday. I’m reading Isaac Asimov’s science fiction classic Foundation right now, and I wanted to get some other perspectives on it, so I looked it up on Amazon.

Pretty sure I’ll love it. Check out some of the Einsteins who gave it one star.

1

“A sci-fi book on people who want to create an encyclopedia?” That sounds…awesome!

 

10

“like reading dozens of books each with its own characters and new plot” Again…awesome.

 

11

This was enlightening.

12

Dwight: It is your birthday.

13

I love reviews that downgrade a book because their copy fell apart.

40 Blues Albums

Seven of these 40 are actually films in Martin Scorsese’s Blues series from 2003, which I’ve wanted to see since then, but never made time for until now. Most of them were excellent. Of the 33 actual records I listened to, most were also really great, and six got a perfect score from me.

  1. Lead Belly, Where Did You Sleep Last Night: Lead Belly Legacy, Volume 1. What an easy album to listen to! Nearly every track is a toe tapper. The stories are deep–like much great art, it’s deceptively simple. The guitar is always sweet and smooth–also deceptively simple, but the more I listened, the more skillful the playing obviously was. Some really fundamentally amazing tracks here. Grade: A (6/1)
  2. Robert Jonson, King of the Delta Blues Singers, Volume 1. Easy to see why this is a classic! Not only does it have the smooth, easy power of blues in general, but these blues are…really blue. Like, black and blue. These songs are pretty violent. Check out the lyrics to “32-30 Blues,” which is all about threats of violence against women. Other songs on the album are similar. So, a pretty honest slice of poor Southern life nearly a century ago. His voice is a weird and wild miracle of tones–who else sings like this? Grade: A- (6/1)
  3. Elmore James, Blues Master Works. I’m really impressed by just how contemporary most of this sounds in some ways, and how early it sounds in others, but even then it’s clear how deeply James influenced early rock and roll–the 50’s sound we think of in that first generation of rock was heavily indebted to this man’s work. Still, it has even stronger staying power than much of that decade’s mainstream stuff. I want to throw a party now just so I can put this on for everybody–these are some solidly sweet jams right here. Bet it’d make a good road trip record, too. Grade: A (6/4)
  4. Howlin’ Wolf, Moanin’ in the Moonlight. If Elmore James inspired Buddy Holly and such, then Howlin’ Wolf’s far grittier, grungier sound inspired later Southern rock like CCR and the Black Crowes. Lots of harmonica here, and plenty of drawling to go along with it. Grade: A (6/4)
  5. Muddy Waters, At Newport 1960. No wonder this was recorded at a jazz festival–it’s a very jazzy album! In fact, Waters uses jazz flexibility to cover a pretty wide range of genres–this is a blues album that includes snippets of a lot of styles, so there’s no monochromatic tone here. A fun little ride! Grade: A+ (6/6)
  6. B.B. King, Live At the Regal. What a great sound each of these tracks has! King’s narrative quips between songs are almost as good as his golden singing, and the way Lucille wails…there are a lot of shades of blue in here, and some of them are pretty bright. The first one of these albums that I listened to twice in a row! Grade: A+ (6/7)
  7. John Mayall, Blues Breakers. This is solid and enjoyable, but already by this point in my listening, some of this relatively later work seems derivative, even generic. Loved the drum solo on their cover of “What’d I Say.” Grade: B (6/11)
  8. Albert King, Born Under a Bad Sign. I must be in a blues funk or something, because I thought this album was just meh. I liked it, but nothing–not one song–jumped out and grabbed me. And I listened to it twice to be sure! Grade: C (6/12)
  9. KoKo Taylor, KoKo Taylor. I know this is a classic, but it just didn’t do anything for me at all. It’s not bad–there’s nothing wrong with it–but this jazzy electric funk version of late blues just struck me as proto-disco more than what I wanted. Grade: C (6/13)
  10. The Blues: Feel Like Going Home. I watched this first film in the seven part Martin Scorsese documentary series that I’ve been wanting to see for 15 years…and why did I wait so long?! It was incredible. As much as I loved the interviews and performances (and Scorsese’s style of quick, smooth transitions that aren’t strictly connected but still make thematic and tonal sense), the best part was the final act, in Africa. So much great music was shared there. It makes me want to find some more old Putumayo collections and dig deeper into this aspect of music. What a joy! I can’t wait to see the other six entries in the series. Grade: A+ (6/18)      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TfIIhkFUzo
  11. The Blues: The Soul of a Man. Great storytelling structure, mostly about three great musicians: Blind Willie Johnson, Skip James, JB Lenoir. All worth a further look! Grade: A (6/21)
  12. Keb Mo, Keb Mo. Wow, what a great sound! I can’t believe this came out when I was in high school and I’ve never heard of it until now. Most of this is a folksy kind of blues, often with a soulfully positive twist. Can’t wait to hear his other albums. Grade: A (6/21)
  13. Skip James, Devil Got My Woman. I was surprised that this was also such a folksy-sounding album–way more mellow than I would have expected. I loved this sound! Grade: A+ (6/23)
  14. Son House, The Original Delta Blues. Powerful–whether he’s sad or glad, he goes all in. The masterful guitar work–picking, pounding, and sliding–are matched by his vocal range–whispering and wailing, growling and crying, often in the same line. “John the Revelator” is haunting! Grade: A+ (6/25)
  15. Blind Willie Johnson, Dark Was the Night. Prototypical early blues sound. Not always my cup of tea, but these tracks are earthy, elemental, and ethereal all at once–maybe the pervasive gospel theme helps there–and it works more often than not. His original version of the track I just praised from Son House, “John the Revelator,” seems busy and fussy compared to the more sparse Son House cover, but the album’s title track takes the “haunting” title here. Still, this album’s frequent use of female backing vocals is rare in early blues, and I enjoyed it here. Grade: A (6/25)
  16. Magic Sam, West Side Soul. Odd that this came out in 1967, because it sounds mostly like basic 1950’s rock to me–lots of Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly riffs and whatnot. A safe, pleasant, and pretty unremarkable album. That being said, I actually liked his cover of “Sweet Home Chicago” even more than Robert Johnson’s original! Grade: C (6/25)
  17. Junior Wells, Hoodoo Man Blues. Great guitar work here, but fairly narrow–nowhere did I hear the variety evident on most of these records. That’s a major flaw for a record so often given to instrumentals over lyrics. Speaking of lyrics, one track is called “Hound Dog,” and even though it’s not a cover of the Elvis track, I couldn’t help comparing two songs with the same name. Junior Wells came in second. Still, the writing and singing is strong overall. I enjoyed it. Grade: B- (6/27)
  18. Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, The Peacock Recordings 1949-1959. A little more original than some of the other 50’s blues albums I’ve heard, but still derivative. The best thing here is the lyrics, especially on “My Time Is Expensive.” At first I though the line “You are a married woman and I have a family too” would be a paean to fidelity, but the follow up showed a more pragmatic concern: “We can’t waste no time darlin, I got other things to do.” That plus an earlier line–“So you’ve been bound to get together–we better do it fast”–reveal the singer to want the affair to be quick, so he could get back to his other commitments. Pretty darn funny. Some truly sad tracks are enriched by great writing, also, especially “Sad Hour” and “Dirty Work at the Crossroad.” Grade: B (6/27)
  19. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. I liked this a lot more than I thought I would. This guy knew his stuff! A few of these recent albums have been heavier on instrumental tracks. Excellent cowbell! Grade: B+ (6/27)
  20. Albert Collins, Ice Pickin’. This guy knows how to have fun! The chatty breaks in songs, the voices–he loves what he does. Some of the most impressive variety of any album so far. I’d heard “Master Charge” before and enjoyed it, and it’s a good fit for the album. Very strong–if I listen again, this one might go even higher. Grade: B+ (6/27)
  21. Slim Harpo, Best of Slim Harpo. I liked the nasal twang in his voice–he gets billed as swamp blues, but along with that harmonica, some of these songs could have come out of Nashville. I also like the bits where he talks in the middle of songs–other guys above have done that, too. A cool blues thing. Not quite as great as I hoped, since I really love “Raining in My Heart,” but solid. Grade: B (6/28)
  22. Muddy Waters, Folk Singer. Not sure what I expected from the title, but not this. It starts out the way you’d expect from a classic blues legend–one can imagine the smoky club–but you soon notice how intense it is; this is a moody, emo, pseudo-goth kind of blues. The stripped down nature, especially compared to most of these records I’ve heard now, makes the existing elements pop out more–the bass and drums resonate deeper. Still, some tracks get ponderously pretentious, they’re trying so hard to be deep (I’m looking at you, “Cold Weather Blues”). Some of this album is The Cure on Disintegration, but much of it is just The Cure on Seventeen Seconds. A handful of bonus tracks on a recent edition add much needed life to this often dour effort. (I thought “I rub my John the Conqueror root” was a dirty joke, but nope.) Grade: B- (6/28)
  23. J.B. Lenoir, Down in Mississippi. An album full of blunt 60’s protest songs (like “Vietnam Blues,” “Born Dead,” “Tax Payin’ Blues”) but which ends with an upbeat party track (“Feelin’ Good”). And it works! As with the best albums on this list, lots of variety is united by solid quality from end to end. Grade: A- (6/29)
  24. The Blues: The Road to Memphis. I noticed the very different directing style right from the start–this is much more of a traditional documentary…and it’s often boring. The personalities and stories are great–I loved learning about Beale Street and WDIA radio–but the transition segments are too slow and there wasn’t as much variety and depth in the musical choices as the first two films. Grade: C (6/29)
  25. The Blues: Warming By the Devil’s Fire. Yes! The series comes roaring back with this awesome entry! A nostalgic coming-of-age story about director Charles Burnett’s own childhood, the historical recreation is interspersed with actual performance and interview footage (one bit of Son House was also used in episode 2). Fantastic stuff–every artist was wonderful. I either learned new stuff or gained a deeper appreciation for the ones I knew. Some great female artists here, too. Grade: A+ (6/30)
  26. Mississippi John Hurt, The Best of Mississippi John Hurt. I love the simple, acoustic guitar sound, and his voice, and the songs are just magical. This is old, grassroots, gospel folk blues, just what I like. Grade: A+ (7/2)
  27. Rosco Gordon, The Original Sun Recordings. I was looking forward to this one, but it was only so-so for me. Another pop-heavy 50’s sounding record, it’s good at what it does, but this sound just doesn’t do much for me. Oh well. Grade: B- (7/2)
  28. Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Gospel Train. Dang, I really wanted to like this one. I enjoyed the clips in the 4th film in Scorsese’s Blues series, but the pervasive organ sounded intrusive, and her singing didn’t connect with me, either. Grade: C (7/2)
  29. Keb Mo and Taj Mahal, Tajmo. Not sure what I expected, but this was a lot of easy fun! If this is contemporary blues, then today’s blues is an upbeat fusion of everything from old fashioned slide guitar to bluegrass and rockabilly. Each song was a radio-friendly package of adult contemporary sweets, and that’s not faint praise–I liked relaxing and being energized at the same time. The cover songs are really decent, too. Grade: B (7/9)
  30. John Lee Hooker, The Real Blues: Live in Houston 1979. Lots of fun at the outset turns to brooding melancholy later in, but the intensity works here much better than on Muddy Waters’ Folk Singer album. His voice is the perfect blend of gravel and gravity. I was mesmerized the whole way through! Grade: A (7/11)
  31. John Lee Hooker, The Healer. This album from the 80’s has a lot of collabs on it, and it mostly works. I enjoyed it, but it lacked the immediacy and intensity of the live album I heard right before it. Still, a strong, polished, fun ride. Grade: A- (7/11)
  32. The Blues: Godfathers and Sons. Structurally, this one is lot like The Road to Memphis, following a protagonist and a growing crew as they work towards a big new musical gig meant as a reunion/Renaissance. This film works a bit better than that previous one, though the music itself often seems to get short shrift. Still, the infectious energy–and pure, rapturous joy–of the music in the final act would be impossible to miss! The song the created at the end was a really cool bit of fusion, though–always cool. [note for future viewings: major language warning] Grade: B (7/11)
  33. Skip James, Complete Early Recordings. There’s some great stuff on here, including a few tracks that he would re-record later, and good thing, because the sound quality here is pretty awful. It gets in the way. Other than that, the things I loved on Devil Got My Woman are all in evidence here: the guitar, the lyrics, the vocals…all amazing. “I’m So Glad” is an especially special treat. Grade: B (7/12)
  34. The Blues: Red, White and Blues. Meh. This format was the opposite of other episodes–instead of following a main character’s story, this was a rambling collection of interviews–more like sound bites, really, as most segments are just a few seconds long–creating a scattershot mess of ideas. Little substantial information is delivered–most of this is just British musicians acknowledging the influence of Americans. Some good music here, sure, but not all of it, and it’s always in the background. This entry doesn’t really add much at all. A final segment asks the subjects–including frequent figure Eric Clapton–if British blues makes a difference in blues overall. No, and the fact that the question is asked at all shows how peripheral this is. *yawn* Grade: D (7/12)
  35. The Blues: Piano Blues. The frame here is a meld of some earlier entries: mostly interviews, but longer than the previous entry’s “scattershot mess,” and they’re between director Clint Eastwood and a host of historical worthies (mostly Ray Charles–and bonus, apparently Eastwood plays the piano!). Light on history and info per se, most of the joy from this one is watching old guys hammer on the keys like the legendary masters they are, interspersed with largely black and white footage of them (and their deceased mentors) absolutely shredding it on the piano. Seriously, I never got tired of watching those fingers fly–it was something special to behold. Grade: B+ (7/13)
  36. T-Bone Walker, T-Bone Blues. Here’s a solid classic! I haven’t really liked most of the 50’s-era stuff here, but this was better. Having just watched Piano Blues, I paid a lot of attention to that instrument here, and how it worked with the other instruments. Walker’s droning whine was a sweet compliment to the other components, and I enjoyed the deep richness in variety here–the sub-genres present on many tracks, and even within the songs themselves. This is a great bridge between first generation and more contemporary blues. Grade: A+ (7/13)
  37. Blind Lemon Jefferson, King of the Country Blues. Like the old Skip James record a few entries above, the constant static from the age of this one was an almost impossible distraction, but behind that was a fairly solid roots blues album. Many of the tracks here seem pretty monochromatic, though–too much of the same. Grade: B- (7/14)
  38. R.L. Burnside, Too Bad Jim. A solid, more recent album, it still doesn’t really distinguish itself. Fun to listen to, though, undeniably. Grade: B (7/14)
  39. Guitar Slim, Sufferin’ Mind. Another blues album of 50’s-era proto-rock. This sound doesn’t do much for me, but this album does it better than most. Worth listening to. Grade: C+ (7/14)
  40. B.B. King, Singin’ the Blues. I wanted to end this project on a high note, and this album seemed like a good bet. I’ve been underwhelmed by a lot of 50’s-era blues on this list, but this album was far and away the very best one of those. I didn’t quite love everything, but it was a terrific record, and on every track I could appreciate the massive quality of guitar, piano, and vocals. Definitely a solid end to this blues adventure for now! Grade: A (7/16)

 

President Nelson’s 8-Step Guide to Revelation

This quote was, for me, the most important part of the most important talk in the most important General Conference in decades. It seemed to me that the prophet’s words naturally broke down into an eight step process, in order. The attachment below has his words verbatim from his talk–I added the numbering.

Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives

Revelation