Month: January 2017

Refuse to be Afraid

In anticipation of next Sunday’s Super Bowl game, I’m going to pass along a football story.  However, those who know me well know that I don’t watch much football, so this tale will come via a baseball source, Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle as recounted in the book Big Data Baseball.  (And if you don’t want advice from a sports figure, just jump to the bottom for a little Tolkien.) According to the book’s author, Hurdle recounted the following story for his team after a difficult patch of games: “Tim Wrightman, a former All-American UCLA football player, tells a story about how, as a rookie lineman in the National Football League, he was up against the legendary pass rusher Lawrence Taylor.  Taylor was not only physically powerful and uncommonly quick, but a master at verbal intimidation.  Looking Tim in the eye, [Taylor] said, “Sonny, get ready.  I’m going left and there’s nothing you can do about it.” Wrightman coolly responded, ‘Sir, is that your left or mine?’ The question froze Taylor long enough to allow …

Quest for the Best (Picture) Returns

After skipping a year, Candice and I are back and enthusiastic about choosing this year’s Best Picture winner for the Oscars. We started this annual review of the top picture nominees from two highly unqualified movie critics around 2012, and did our last round in 2015.  Sometimes in year’s past, we weren’t interested in seeing up to a third of the nominees due to violence or other graphic content (I’m looking at you Quentin Tarantino).  But in reviewing the trailers for this year’s class, we’re excited about all of them.  We have a month…so let’s go! Today, we walked up to AFI Silver to see Hidden Figures – a marvelous movie that we both highly recommend.  A colleague at work told me she had seen it three times already!  The story is compelling (especially since it is true) and the ensemble acting is superb.  Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughan was especially compelling, but all three female leads were terrific from my perspective. Get yourself to see this movie.  Oh, and bring your hanky.  Even though …

The Healing Powers of Connection

Several years ago Candice was recovering from a severe concussion and was home bound for several months. During that time a friend gave her a small book, thinking she might relate to Elisabeth Tova Bailey’s story of isolated recovery from a mysterious illness. We had not thought about that gift for a long time until I went looking for a short read to pack on a recent trip.  I happened upon Bailey’s The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating and was immediately captivated by this strange yet reassuring tale. To summarize the book might lead friends to question your reading choices. Bailey – an active and curious woman of 34 – contracts a mysterious disease while vacationing in Europe and finds herself bedridden and unsure that she will live.  A wild snail arrives in the bedroom where she is convalescing, brought in by a friend and placed in a pot of field violets. Over twelve months – and 178 pages – Bailey watches the snail explore its terrain, eat, sleep, eventually hatch 118 offspring, and …

The Preferred Pre-Inaugural Concert

Earlier this evening, I joined a full house at Strathmore Music Hall as we made our choice for a different  pre-inaugural concert from that on the national mall. Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt are two of the best songwriters and (especially in Lovett’s case) song interpreters in the Americana field.  The beautiful sound and setting at Strathmore was perfect for their two-and-one-half hour acoustic set on Thursday evening. They played their hits.  They played unrecorded new songs.  They bantered.  They played songs by other songwriters. And they did it with such ease and obvious affection for each other that the time flew by. Hiatt’s voice is getting older and doesn’t hit the notes like he once did.  But that really didn’t matter in this setting. Here’s a video of a tune they played tonight, Lovett’s “She’s Not Lady.”  Enjoy! More to come… DJB

Nothing Can be Changed Until it is Faced

Last week, President Obama named the A.G. Gaston Motel (a National Trust National Treasure), the 16th Street Baptist Church (site of a bomb attack in 1963 that killed four young girls), and other places near them as part of the new Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument.  Made on the eve of celebrating the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, the president’s designation was a good reminder of the importance of why we protect places that tell difficult stories from our past. A few weeks ago I finished reading a powerful book that harkened back to the work and writings of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow:  Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness is a work that demands a response from the reader and is not easily dismissed. In the book’s foreword, Cornel West alludes to the link between Alexander’s work and Dr. King’s core beliefs.  King called for us to be “lovestruck with each other, not colorblind toward each other. To be lovestruck is to care, to have …

A Bit of Shenandoah Valley Musical Magic in the Big Apple

Even in New York City, it doesn’t take much to realize how small the world can be at times. Candice and I had a flashback to our wonderful 15 years of living in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia when we realized that Grace Church – just four blocks from our friends’ apartment in Greenwich Village – is home to one of the most astounding Taylor & Boody organs (Opus 65) I’ve seen.  (More on that in a minute.) George Taylor and John Boody are longtime friends as well as world-class organbuilders, and as soon as I found this on the Grace Church website, it was clear where we would be on Sunday morning. It all started coming back as we entered the church.  Candice and I had watched this organ being installed through John Boody’s Facebook page.  Kate Harrington – our friend and the wonderful daughter of dear friends Jim and Constance Harrington – was one of the pipe makers for this organ and helped with the installation.  Andrew, when he was at Brown University, …

Who Tells Your Story

The full story of America can be seen, told, and appreciated at so many places and on so many levels…if one only cares to stop and listen. Candice and I are in New York City for the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend.  New York is the poster child for how our rich national story is a blend from so many different people, both ordinary and extraordinary, and it is timely to be here this weekend.  The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is among the most powerful examples of an extraordinary person who fought to ensure that the full talents, opportunities, and stories of all Americans would be supported and recognized.  In the first 24 hours in the city, we saw, heard, and thrilled to various aspects of the story that it truly American. We are staying in Greenwich Village, which counts among its many notable former residents Richard Wright, author of Black Boy and urban activist Jane Jacobs.  Neither was seen as anything other than ordinary, until they put pen to paper, spoke …