Long In The Tooth

My friend Greg mentioned one of his paternal uncles in conversation, yesterday.  He said, “Uncle Ted’s getting long in the tooth, so I don’t trust his opinion anymore.” I couldn’t help my grin, after hearing the seldom used idiom.oldthinking-01

The old farmers’ expression originally referred to how a horse’s age was reckoned by examining the size and condition of the animal’s teeth.  Nowadays, the phrase is used as a less than flattering way to comment about somebody’s age. Oddly, it is sometimes an euphemism when talking about declining mental acuity, orthodox discernment or rigid beliefs. Greg used “long in the tooth” in the context of his uncle’s inflexible opinions.

Greg suggested that society’s concept of young people often possessing old minds is a a misnomer.  He says that young people often retain a mind that has not developed sophistication and the ability to appreciate ambiguity. Greg says that many people never outgrow the black versus white way of thinking.  Isn’t a mind that can embrace robust, alternate modes of thought, a mature, older mind?

Greg mentioned a New York Times article about the aging mind.  The piece debunked the idea of mental decline in healthy adults. The point was that because older folks usually know more words than younger folks, older brains have to do more work to oldthinking-03retrieve words in conversation and writing.  In other words, our opinions about mental aging are often times backwards from reality. Greg cautioned that the scientific study refered to people who do not suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

I asked if this was a reason that so many people become sticks in the mud or set in their ways. Greg said he doesn’t think that is the case.  He believes whether or not a person’s mind opens up to new possibilities is a question for psychologists to answer.  Greg believes that ambiguous concepts are frightening to most people. I said that I hold a similar view.  I also think the jury is still out whether physiology or psychology is to blame for rigid thinking.

Why do so many people become mentally long in the tooth? Don’t most of us get caught up in habitual thinking about work, sexuality, religion, politics and so forth?  Isn’t how we personally relate to our own experiences regarding these categories the way we imprison our minds? Don’t we tend to fortify our opinions by our choices of religious and political affiliation? On the other hand, isn’t the ability and willingness to question everything, the path to healthier thinking?

Greg says that we all experience stress, sadness, outside influence, and crowding. Many of us internalize these factors and subconsciously or consciously become fearful of living a full, vibrant life.  Many other people inately see these same experiences as challenges that help them become stronger and more open-minded.

In other words, I said, we can retreat from the richness of living or we can embrace the huge variety of possibilities that life presents to us.  These qualities might be measured on a variable scale and not by either/or logic. We might ask ourselves how open have we allowed our minds to be?  When our minds are decided, twisted by past incidents, and influenced by pundits and “authority” we regress to the fixed, ideological mind of the adolescent.

I remember my early 20s as the time when I was so dogmatically liberal that my friends accused me of being doctrinaire and conservative, at heart. I finally woke up to the fact that I was a liberal in name, only. In that I had aligned myself with a particular political group, I was not actually a liberal thinker. I had not yet matured to the point of allowing liberal thought into my life. When that finally happened, I was no longer just a doctrinaire liberal.oldthinking-02

To lock oneself into solid mindset, stunts growth and allows us to cultivate fear.  When we are fearful, we’re susceptable to outside control.  To reject open-mindedness is to close off the world and imprison ourselves in limitation. This is a choice that many human beings will make. Fortunately, we all possess the keys to unlock our mental prison cells. We can decide to reclaim a fresh, curious mind. The question is, “Who will decide to use the keys?”

By questioning our own interpretations of experiences and traditional interpretations of experiences, we use one of the keys that help us win our freedom.  Alertness and true mindfulness is another key to discovering the nature of freedom.

Greg reminded me that there is an overarching question that all people will eventually ask themselves. “Do I really want to be free or not?”

As far as I can tell, it doesn’t look like Greg will soon become mentally long in the tooth.

mini-moiThe Blue Jay of Happiness ponders a statement by Charlotte’s Web author, E.B. White. “The world is full of people who have never, since childhood, met an open doorway with an open mind.”

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Games And Puzzles Week

Board games, boxes of puzzles, and playing cards were the go-to for fun in the family house when I was a kid. Many a night was spent playing “Monopoly”, “Scrabble”, or “Yahtzee”.  During solitary times or when the weather kept us indoors, jigsaw puzzlesgameandpuzzle-01 occupied our time.  Dad was a big fan of crossword and jumbled word puzzles in the newspaper.

These days, when I visit folks at the nursing home and assisted living apartments, there are usually one or two people assembling a picture puzzle or engaged in some sort of board game. I like to see how folks interact with one another at those times.

Unfortunately, many of my peers don’t seem to have the time nor patience to play games nor figure out jigsaw puzzles.  A couple of years ago, my boyfriend gifted me with a 3D puzzle of the Empire State Building.  The project contained hundreds of gameandpuzzle-02pieces that, when completed, would yield a three-dimensional, scale model of the famous skyscraper.  BF reneged on his promise to help me put it together.  I only managed to get the first few stories of the building constructed before I gave up.  I disassembled what had been finished, put the pieces in the box, and placed the box on a shelf. I finally donated the puzzle to the Goodwill store.

Even though my chess skills are pathetic, I do enjoy a match game of it now and then.  The Microsoft version of it on my computer is the only one I play these days.  I’m stuck at the beginner level because I’ve only won one game.  Playing an obstinant computer just isn’t as fun as taking on a fellow human, so I don’t call up the game anymore. My friend Jorge was the only one who was willing to play an actual, physical game with me, once.

My chess board was a beautiful, glass version. The playing surface was divided into clear and frosted squares. The chessmen were divided into milk glass and cobalt glass pieces.  It looked like a work of art when set up. However, even a gorgeous chess board takes up room. It was tiresome to dust, clean, and move the thing. I ended up selling the set for a pittance.

I even put off writing about National Game and Puzzle Week until the last moment because I had hoped to tell about getting together for a game of Backgammon that had been promised by a pal. Well, he came down with a minor illness and had to bow out. gameandpuzzle-03So it turns out that Game and Puzzle Week was a personal washout.  It now appears that all the games and puzzles that I used to enjoy are now quaint artifacts.

There must still be a large segment of the population who enjoys the idea of these quaint amusements because puzzles and games are still being sold. “Dungeons and Dragons” is a very popular pasttime for people who are younger than I am. I’m not into the game’s subculture, so I won’t bother trying to explain it. All I can figure out is that it is obsessive and very time consuming.

A game that has caught on with young people who have plenty of disposable income is “Minecraft”. It appears to also be very time consuming.  There are many versions of it and it’s very technology driven. The “Minecraft” trademark enjoys a large, enthusiastic fan base. It is just one, among many electronic and video games that have become popular during the past couple of decades.  Again, my peer group shows little or no interest in these, as well, so I don’t play these, either.

I decided to write this reminder about National Game & Puzzle Week because I’m sure there are pockets of enthusiasts around the country.  Enough parents have positive memories about game nights when they were children. They understand that board games and puzzles foster intellectual growth and curiosity.

University studies have shown that when families rediscover the enjoyment provided during weekly game nights, the event becomes a regular part of family life together. Parents want to have their families spend more quality time with one another, so game night is a perfect routine to start.

We also hear about research that shows that people who play board games and solve puzzles have healthier brains.  Engaging in intellectual pursuits and performing problem solving exercises appears to decrease the incidence of some forms of mental deterioration among elders.

Of course, the idea of games and puzzles is not directed at good mental hygiene.  We play games and solve puzzles in order to have fun.  The side benefits include social togetherness and mental stimulation.

I still have a conventional picture puzzle of the Golden Gate Bridge stored in my bedroom, on a shelf.  This winter, I should finally get around to putting it together. There are also those folks at the nursing home to consider.

mini-moiThe Blue Jay of Happiness likes this anonymous quip: “Egotism is doing the New York Times crossword puzzle with a pen.”

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November Tinkerings …Floral Friday

The wild swings of weather conditions of late November make my emotional state feel a bit unsettled.  This causes a buildup of nervous creative energy that I can feel all through my back and shoulders.  The best way to dissipate it is through floral experimentation.


Unadorned Empoli Verde Diamond Optic art glass displays well on its own.  The challenge is to actually use one of the vases to hold an arrangement.  I had the feeling that the smooth, fragile glass really has the soul of dried brittle abstraction.  This vase experiences a happy explosion of elements to balance out its formal restraint.


No, this is not a teapot. It’s a coffee pot.  I recently came across this Enterprise Aluminum Company “Drip-O-Lator”. It was missing the aluminum coffee basket and ceramic lid.  A couple of days later, I found another one with a lid, but missing the FF112715caluminum part.  I also brought it home only to discover that the second one is a larger size unit.

Until I replace the missing parts of the first Drip-O-Lator, the best use for it is as a vase.  The inate energy of caffienated coffee springs forth in a combination of elements that “explode” from the coffee pot.

A standard Haeger 4149 vase is not immune from my November quirkiness.  I need a fantasy of Hawai’i at my desk. A trio of birds of paradise set in lush greenery works well.  Vivid greens and orange offset the antique matte greenish glaze of the pottery.

When the wind is howling and precipitation is threatening, what do you do with your nervous energy?  Is it a creative blast for you, too?

blja_gt_lThe Blue Jay of Happiness puzzles over this weather ditty:  “Ice in November to bury a duck, the rest of the winter is slush and muck.”

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Thanksgiving Is Also A Day Of Mourning

One of my friend Jorge’s coworkers is a First Nations citizen in Colorado. Last year, she told me that her family does not celebrate the Thanksgiving Day holiday.  They have a moment of silence and remember the very first Thanksgiving Day and what has happened since the beginning of the Great European Invasion of their lands.Thanksgiving-03

“Bina” told me she grew up as a member of the Arapaho nation in eastern Colorado.  When she was an elementary age girl, “Bina” learned about one of the first American Thanksgivings from an uncle. He said that Massachusetts Governor John Winthrop proclaimed the first official “Day of Thanksgiving” in 1637.

The event was proclaimed to give thanks for the return of the men who had gone to fight the Wampanoag and Pequot natives.  The most infamous massacre was the killing of over 700 Pequot men, women, and children.

As “Bina” grew older, she investigated more history of the interactions between native peoples and European-Americans.  Her family elders said the standard story about the “First Thanksgiving” is mainly a myth that has become an accepted part of mainstream culture.

“Bina” learned that the Pilgrims didn’t even call themselves by that name. The Pilgrims didn’t even come in search of “religious freedom” because they had already found that in the Netherlands.  The settlers immigrated for commercial reasons and to spread their version of culture that included racism, sexism, homophobia, incarceration, and classism. None of these ideas were present in the original native culture of that part of North America. Thanksgiving-01

Jorge’s friend told me to look into information from the “United American Indians of New England” if I wanted to know more.  So, I decided to investigate the UAINE website to find out specifics of the National Day of Mourning.  They explained their commemoration. “We are mourning our ancestors and the genocide of our peoples and the theft of our lands. NDOM is a day when we mourn, but we also feel our strength in political action. Over the years, participants in Day of Mourning have buried Plymouth Rock a number of times, boarded the Mayflower replica, and placed ku klux klan sheets on the statue of William Bradford, etc.”

The commemorative day began when Wampanoag leader Wamsutta, also known as Frank James, was invited to speak at the official Plymouth, Massachusetts Thanksgiving gathering in 1970. His speech topic was about one Pilgrim’s first-hand account of the first year in the colony. That account described that Pilgrim’s version of the abuse and exploitation of the native population.

The Thanksgiving committee said Wamsutta’s speech was inflamatory, so they rejected it.  A new text was written for him. In response, Wamsutta declined the invitation and instead organized a protest. It was the 1970 protest at Plymouth that evolved into the National Day of Mourning. The event is now recognized by several First Nations peoples across North America.

The UAINE website stated that it aims to educate the American public with a more truthful, accurate story of events that took place in 1637 and thereafter. Their purpose is to honor the ancestors and their legacy.

moi1986bThe Blue Jay of Happiness looks at President John F. Kennedy’s Thanksgiving statement in a new light. “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

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Say “Meh” For Blasé Day

The last time Jorge stopped by for a visit, we skimmed through my homemade, treasured notebook of accumulated, off-beat holidays.  His eyes stopped at the entry for Blasé Day.  He asked why I didn’t have any references listed for it.  I explained that I searched high and low to find out its history and where it is celebrated.  No data came up.Blase-01

I wondered when he last felt a noticeable spell of blasé.   Jorge tilted his head and asked, “Is that even a noun?”  I retorted with “I don’t care. I think every word is considered a noun, these days.”

My friend brought up a recent incident that involved his husband.  José decided that he needed more motivation and focus in his life.  So José, dug out his Tony Robbins audiobook collection. For nearly a week, wherever Jorge and José went or whatever they were doing, there was the voice of Tony Robbins ranting about success, productivity, and positive attitudes. After six days of almost non-stop Tony Robbins’ speechifying, Jorge insisted that it stop.

A little bit of Tony Robbins goes a long ways with Jorge.  The constant upbeat rah, rah had emotionally drained Jorge. He just needed to chill-out in front of the teevee for a day.

I remarked that overly dramatic motivational speakers like Robbins also have the same effect on me. A few minutes spent with his voice is OK.  A whole audiobook of him at one sitting is overkill. The end result is a blasé feeling that is hard to shake.

Jorge decided that it must be our contrarian nature that apathy is the result from a Tony Robbins event.  I said that Tony Robbins is a good man who has motivated people to do wonderful things.  Many folks derive much benefit from his appearances and books. However, for me, the effect is so bad, that I feel blasé just hearing or seeing his name.

Jorge looked at me and remarked that we both feel really blasé right now. He hoped the apathy would last through Blasé Day.  Jorge still wanted to know something about Blase-02WoodyAllenthis weird holiday.  Why did somebody go to the trouble of proclaiming it, yet not follow through with an explanation of it?

Maybe all of the effort to invent the holiday and publicizing it was just too much for whoever did it.  She or he expended a whole lot of energy and felt inappropriately excited about apathy that the project was abandoned.  Whoever felt too blasé about Blasé Day.  I replied, “Meh”.

I have my own hypothesis about the holiday.  The serious business of the holiday season officially begins on Thanksgiving. The media and retailers will be pumping us up,  non-stop, with marketing and sales pitches.  There will be others who complain about us not remembering the “reason for the season”.  The beautiful, contrasting red with green color motif will be everywhere. Bright sparkling images and lights will be our environment from now until New Year’s Day.

The whole culture will be wrapped up in a Tony Robbinsesque tableau for weeks on end. Hence, Blasé Day is a healthy way to prepare ourselves for the onslaught of great expectations that will soon crash into us.Blase-03

Jorge said that my explanation makes perfect sense.  However, he complained that the hype already began back at Hallowe’en time.  I agreed, but mentioned that before tomorrow’s attitude of gratitude has even had a chance to soak in, many people will eagerly anticipate the “Black Friday” bargains in many stores. That’s when the hype goes into overdrive.

My pal smiled at me, then commented that not only do I condone a blasé attitude, but also a strong note of cynicism.  I grinned back. After all, I wanted to be appropriately prepared to properly celebrate Blasé Day.

Jorge remarked, “Meh, its the reason for the season.”

1984aThe Blue Jay of Happiness ponders a quip by Bill Watterson from a “Calvin and Hobbes” cartoon. “You can present the material, but you can’t make me care.”

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Something About Dale Carnegie

When we see or hear the name, Dale Carnegie, we think of old school self-improvement, salesmanship, and social interactions.  In that he walked his talk, is evident to anyone who has read any of his books or taken one of his courses.  Carnegie was a good example of how we can reinvent ourselves.

He was born on November 24, 1888 in Maryville, Missouri and named Dale Harbison Carnagey. He was the second son of an impoverished farm couple.  He was naturally outgoing and already displayed a great interest in public speaking. As a high school student, he was active in speech and debate.  He honed his skills at the State Teachers College in Warrensburg, Missouri.

After his graduation, Carnagey sold correspondence courses to farmers and ranchers. From there, he literally brought home the bacon as a salesman for Armour & Company meatpackers. His salesmanship was so effective that his sales territory of South Omaha, Nebraska was the top district for the company.

Carnagey quit the pork business in 1911 to move to New York City in order to follow his lifelong dream as a stage actor.  He only played one role in a road company then quit.  For awhile, he was unemployed and nearly bankrupt. He slept at the 125th Street YMCA.  In 1912,  Carnagey pursuaded the manager of the YMCA to let him teach a DaleCarnegie-03class in public speaking. It was by polishing the YMCA speech lessons that he developed his famous course.

Carnagey found work as an assistant to broadcast journalist Lowell Thomas. Carnagey produced and recorded the Canadian version of the famous travelogue.  It was at this time that he changed his surname to Carnegie. This was during the period that industrialist Andrew Carnegie was a household name.  Ironically, Dale Carnegie appeared in Carnegie Hall in 1916 for a lecture to a standing room only audience. At the outbreak of the first World War, Carnegie served in the US Army. After the war he continued his lecture tours and broadcasting career.

During the 1920s, Carnegie consolidated his works into the book Public Speaking: A Practical Course For Business Men, In 1932, he changed the title to Public Speaking and Influencing Men in Business.  In 1936, Carnegie published How to Win Friends and Influence People. The book was an instant best-seller. It eventually became one of the book world’s all-time successes.DaleCarnegie-02

The overwhelming success of this book created a great public demand for his lectures and writings. To satisfy his followers, Carnegie penned a syndicated newspaper column and formally organized his “Dale Carnegie Institute for Effective Speaking and Human Relations”. The various worldwide branches of his institute enabled the Dale Carnegie Course to be taught nearly everywhere.

Carnegie’s major contributions to the general public centered around the idea that a person’s attitude is absolutely crucial.  He capitalized on people’s desire for success by selling advice that helped individuals feel successful. His works are a collection of commonsense thinking. The coursework and books seem to work, because they do not rely upon arcane, complicated techniques.

On November 1, 1955, Dale Carnegie succumbed to Hodgkin’s disease at his home in Forest Hills, New York. He is buried in Cass County, Missouri.

J 7-1-01The Blue Jay of Happiness likes this particular Dale Carnegie pithy sentence, best: “Learn to love, respect, and enjoy other people.”

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Day To End Impunity

Efforts to demonize the media have taken place for as long as there have been organized forms of governance.  Monarchs, dictators, cartels, corporations, religions, syndicates, and governments of all sorts do not like to have their ill-deeds exposed to public scrutiny.Impunity-01

Those of us who have spent much of our lives as media workers or journalists learned this lesson early and often. Those of us in freer societies often forget how dangerous telling the truth is.  Journalists in various nations are threatened with detention, violence, and death because of the work they do.

Tragically, “security forces”, police, military, and armed insurrectionists not only censor and arrest journalists and media workers, but commit violence against them. Mayhem and murder of journalists is a common method of silencing them. In too many instances, the people who harm and kill members of the media do so with impunity.

What is impunity?  My Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines it as “exemption from punishment”. That is, the person or persons who commit illegal acts can do so without fear of retribution.

So, what is the “Day to End Impunity”?  November 23rd is the anniversary of the 2009 Maguindanao Massacre or Ampatuan Massacre in the Philippines.  On that day, 58 people were murdered, including 32 journalists and media workers.

The victims were en route to file candidacy documents for Esmael Mangudadatu, the Impunity-02vice-mayor of the town of Buluan on Mindanao Island in the Philippines. Mangudadatu hoped to defeat the incumbent mayor, Andal Ampatuan, Jr. in the upcoming 2010 national elections. The victims included Mangudadatu’s wife, his two sisters, aides, lawyers, journalists, and chance witnesses. The massacre is the deadliest attack against journalists, in one incident, to have taken place.

Today’s commemoration was organized by IFEX (International Freedom of Exchange), a major global non-governmental organization that defends and promotes free expression. The event is intended to raise our awareness about what causes and sustains cultures of impunity. The ultimate goal is to protect journalists, media workers, and others who work to expose corruption at all levels.

If we simply scan this year’s headlines, we can note many acts of violence against journalists, worldwide. The incidents happen in such places as Hungary, where police regularly harrass the media. There are ongoing incidents in Afghanistan, Nepal, Russia, several African nations, and close to home in Mexico and much of Latin America.Impunity-03

Recent violence against the media is not limited to actions committed by tyrannical governmental regimes.  Terrorists are major perpetrators of such crimes, too. The world community witnessed the killings at the Paris offices of the magazine Charlie Hebdo. The mass murders happened in the wake of the publication of satirical cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed by the magazine. The threat of further violence has placed a chilling atmosphere of self-censorship among the mainstream media.

One of the main reasons that the Day to End Impunity needs to be widely commemorated is because all of humanity is greatly harmed because of impunity. The types of information the public needs are the types of information that regularly gets censored and silenced. Access to reliable, accurate information is the foundation of effective institutions, governanace, and democracy. All people are entitled to accurate, objective information about political, economic, and social issues. The journalists and media workers deserve protection. The forces of censorship and violence should not enjoy impunity from their crimes.

1984aThe Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Scott Phillips. “You can’t pick and choose which types of freedom you want to defend. You must defend all of it or be against all of it.”

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