Modernistic …Floral Friday

It’s good to feel an affinity to contemporary styles and standards because it enhances mindfulness of the present. This does not necessarily mean one must conform to fads or standards of modern times. In terms of creativity, a modernistic mindset is the starting point when deliberately departing from tradition.

The style, itself, is in sympathy with contemporary shapes and colorways. When we look at a modernistic object, we understand that it was produced with the character of modernism. The artisan specifically had contemporary, modern style in mind.

Today, we have three examples of modernistic design as seen through my eyes.

The first example is a globe style floor vase imported from Tanzania. It is a modern interpretation of traditional pottery from that region of Africa. I added grasses and buds in order to bring out the modernism of the pot.

The glass vase with applied reflective glass tile is a quintessential product of the mid 20th century. I brought it to the present with some ranunculus and evergreen.

Ikebana might be considered modernistic even though it is a traditional way of arranging floral elements. Mindfulness of the current moment is an important aspect of the technique. I use a 21st century stoneware pot for this Ikebana inspired collection of floral elements.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes writer and journalist, Ali Smith. “People tend to see modernism as the opposite of a celebration. They see it as a fracturing and an art built around an absence, but it’s really a celebration of our existence.”

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Pondering Idealism

I feel quite fortunate that I’ve retained a fair share of the positive idealism of youth. Many of my peers have had their idealism turn into cynicism. A few have supercharged their idealism into destructive forms.

At times, I feel nostalgic about the passionate idealism of youth. I was caught up in the environmental,  “Flower Power”, and Peace movements of the mid-20th century. The tail-end of the Cold War period was a disruptive, violent time in the world. Kids like me were tired of the sabre-rattling, international squabbling between the West and the Communist powers. Many of us could see through the propaganda screens used by both sides. The thinking of the old wasn’t working. We wanted something more peaceful and inclusive. One of our slogans was, “Make love, not war.”

Better yet, my most idealistic period coincided with the Civil Rights era. Millions of us were on board to end racial discrimination, misogyny, and homophobia. The country needed our idealism and determination in order to get over the barriers of the old, traditional ways. That idealism has simmered down, but the Civil Rights era has not passed away. Today, we face the resurgence of extreme traditionalism, fascism, and theocracy. Again, we live in interesting times.

Political and religious extremism are traps for idealistic people. We can easily become swept away by the speeches and writings of ideologues. Extreme political and religious leaders are fully aware of the vulnerability of idealistic people. The danger lies when the ideologues believe their own delusions and their fans take the ideologues seriously.

It’s easy to submit to the temptations of disguised love of power and hatred of “the other”. The ideologues and their followers convince themselves that hubris and bigotry are ideals. We see this has happened throughout history. If we’re honest, we see this happening today. Humanity causes itself plenty of grief because we take our hallucinations too seriously. This is how we can become our own worst enemies.

It’s important to recognize when we’re merely engaging in wishful thinking. Wishful thinking is self-indulgence in its most benign form, and narcissistic exaltation in its worst form. These manifestations are ideology not idealism. Ideology is the garment that psychopaths wear in order to better market their thirst for power. Ideology’s close resemblance to idealism makes it easy for followers to “check the boxes” when they align themselves with the leader. The ideologue seems to hate the same things their followers hate.

“The enemy of idealism is zealotry.”–British politician, Neil Kinnock

To be idealistic is a positive attribute. Idealists are the polar opposites of ideologues. Idealists are dissatisfied with conventional paths to wealth and power. While ideologues harness exclusivity, idealists yearn for inclusivity. When the idealist becomes too attached to her or his vision, the transition from idealist to ideologue can happen. In other words, a little bit of idealism goes a long way. Too much idealism leads to ideology.

When engaged with ideology, the person surrenders her or his powers of discernment. Ideology provides lists of people to avoid and extreme prohibitions. Idealists possess the self-awareness and compassion that enables them to harmoniously live without the need to oppress others nor to enact harsh, punitive laws. Idealists understand the difference between licentiousness and liberty. Idealists honor liberty and justice for all, not just a select few.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes entertainer and activist, Steven Van Zandt. “A lot of the idealism of the Sixties was spot on–from the environmentalism… to the Civil Rights movement, the women’s rights movement, you name it.”

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Pink Shirt Day

“I found one day in school a boy of medium size ill-treating a smaller boy. I expostulated, but he replied: ‘The bigs hit me, so I hit the babies; that’s fair.’ In these words he epitomized the history of the human race.”–Bertrand Russell

The topic of bullying is one that is very near and dear to my heart. I was subjected to it on a nearly daily basis during the school years. Each day was an obstacle course of avoiding the schoolyard toughs and bullies. Even some of the teachers seemed to delight in bullying.

I used to fantasize about pounding Ronald, the meanest boy in my class. He was the ringleader of about a dozen kids in the neighborhood. Ronald was the chief antagonist of the junior high chapter in my life story. Not only did his confederates taunt me in school, Ronald was a threatening presence near home because his family lived a few blocks nearby. I understood that his family was severely messed-up, but that was not a sufficient excuse for his bullying ways. I knew this was true, because his youngest brother and sisters were kindhearted kids.

Thankfully, I suffered far less bullying in high school because Ronald was sent to a parochial high school and I attended a public high school. I was better able to cope with the lesser degree of taunting in the new school because there were more kids like me; and we formed an informal alliance. A side benefit of having to worry less about bullying was that the grades on my report card greatly improved.

“Respect people’s feelings. Even if it doesn’t mean anything to you, it could mean everything to them.”–anonymous

School related bullying disappeared when I began attending classes at college. My colleagues were from diverse backgrounds and seemed, overall, much more mature than high schoolers.

“The common mistake that bullies make is assuming that because someone is nice that he or she is weak. Those traits have nothing to do with each other. In fact, it takes considerable strength and character to be a good person.” staff writer for Salon, Mary Elizabeth Williams

As I sometimes reminisce about those school days, I wonder how different my life might have been without the bullying. It’s an alternate history that continues to haunt me. It’s as if I was cheated out of an important part of my youth. Furthermore, there have been and continue to be millions of people affected by bullying. Many of these victims have gone through much more serious taunting and violence than I ever endured.

So yes, I will continue to speak out about bullying for the rest of my life. I have no respect for anybody who believes that putting other people down is a good way to make themselves superior. That applies to anyone who bullies, regardless of rank or station in life.

Today, I’m proudly wearing my pink polo shirt as a symbol that I am an ally of anyone who has suffered bullying. It is also a signal to any bullies I may encounter today. If you feel the same way about bullying, remember to wear a pink shirt, too.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the boxer Rocky Marciano. “{Sonny} Liston is like most big bullies, if you can stay away and make him miss for a few rounds he’ll get frustrated. Once you strip away that feeling of invincibility, he can be had.”

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Shopping Carts

I once interviewed Luke, the manager of the neighborhood Hy-Vee supermarket for my afternoon public service radio show. One of the few memorable bits of information was the costs of shopping carts. Luke stated that they range in price from about $120 apiece for the small, “bi-level” carts, to a around $160 for an average shopping cart. Larger carts
can be had for around $200. Those specialty carts that resemble cars to entertain toddlers while their parents push them around the store can cost upwards of $400 or more.

Luke’s price quotes were for carts purchased in lots of 50 or more. The carts with printed plastic inserts for the store name cost a few dollars extra. The shopping carts are a major investment for the store.

There are plenty of hidden costs regarding shopping carts. They must be collected from the parking lot after customers wheel their purchases to their cars, so they must figure in the wages spent on employees who gather the carts and return them to the store. There is also maintenance, yes, some stores do clean and lubricate their carts.

Stores also must figure in “shrinkage”. The stores suffer outright theft of several shopping carts each year due to people taking carts home and not returning them. Sometimes the culprits are caught and convicted because of evidence provided by surveillance cameras around the store’s parking lot. There is also the problem of customers’ complaints about vehicle damage caused by shopping carts colliding with fenders.

Carts spend plenty of time outdoors until employees gather them. This means the wheels pick up dirt and moisture from the tarmac and bring contamination indoors. Extra time and effort is needed in order to clean and maintain the store’s floors. The flooring under the indoor cart storage area is especially difficult to maintain.

Sometimes I wonder about the shopping carts at big box stores like Costco. They have enormous carts. Each store probably has a thousand or more. Undoubtedly they cost more to purchase and maintain than regular supermarket carts.

When grocery shopping, I prefer the small, two-tiered carts instead of the large carts. In fact, I try to snag one from the parking lot because most of the others are in use. My shopping experience is enhanced when I’m able to use the small cart. They are the sports cars of the shopping cart world. Their small size enables me to maneuver past aisle-blockers chatting away on their cell-phones. I can zip through the store with ease when pushing the little two-tiered carts.

I wish the Target store had those little carts. Sometimes all I want to buy is some cat food and kitty litter for my sister’s cat. I hate pushing the huge red plastic Target carts around the store while shopping for bargains.

Then there is cleanliness to think about. I wonder how many people have held onto each shopping cart handle. Although I’m not a germaphobe, I do wipe the handles with pre-moistened wiping towelettes provided by the store. The local store’s supply never runs out. Of course, most people don’t bother to clean shopping cart handles. If you don’t want to get sick, be sure to wipe down the cart.

I know my life is pretty good when I get a shopping cart that travels smoothly across the floor. I used to encounter carts with a shaky wheel or one that jams. I still get carts that have something stuck to a wheel; those carts that make the clunk-clunk noise when they’re pushed. Usually, big carts have that fault.

All things considered, I’m thankful there are shopping carts. They make life better.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes close-up playing-card illusionist, Richard Turner. “Anytime I see someone blocking the aisle in the supermarket while talking on a phone, I want to ram that person with my shopping cart.”

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The 17th century writer of maxims, François de La Rochefoucauld wrote, “We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others that in the end we become disguised to ourselves.” He was so skilled at expressing human paradoxes that his maxims are still, often quoted today.

La Rochefoucauld was born into royalty but was involved in plenty of intrigue due to King Louis XIV’s fear and distrust of the nobility. He was once imprisoned for eight days in the Bastille after an humiliating interrogation by Cardinal Richelieu. So, he felt forced to comment and write anonymously. It wasn’t until one of his articles was published in Holland without his permission, that La Rochefoucauld came clean and began writing without an alias.

Although La Rochefoucauld disliked being called a writer, he became well-known for the artistry of skillful arrangement of words into memorable maxims. They outshine his important, yet forgotten treaties and conventions he drew up. The contradictions he observed in the world at large and in his own life inspired his short, insightful proverbs.

All of us wear some form of disguise each day. We do not disguise ourselves as a form of deceit, but we do so out of the desire to survive in a world of uncertainty and danger. Our disguises become the default faces we display to our colleagues, the public, and our acquaintances. Sometimes our disguises work so well we forget who we really are, ourselves. We feel forced to wear disguises for the sake of attracting a mate, friendship, employment, and prestige. Some of us wear masks in order to avoid discrimination and scorn.

“My dad’s idea of punishment was to dress me up in all green to disguise me as grass, and then throw me in the pasture. Cows bit me all over.”–stand-up comedian and actor, Bryan Callen

Wisdom is sometimes disguised as humor. Callen’s little throw-away line can be taken at face value, or it might say that camouflage isn’t always beneficial. Blending into one’s surroundings can sometimes cause personal pain. Regardless of whether or not Callen intended his joke to be insightful, he knew that disguise is sometimes quite absurd.

Disguise as a subject of humor is far less common than disguise used to mask ulterior motives. Dramatic flair, charisma, and seeming charm are used to persuade audiences and build loyalty to a leader and a cause. Such disguise, done exceptionally well, sways large groups of followers to act against their own interests. Thus, disguise becomes the stealth tool of deception to enable greed and lust for power. In the most tragic cases, the followers and the leader become victims of codependent hubris. That is, they become ensnared in their shared delusions of invincibility.

On the more mundane level, we live among our peers and harbor no overt evil intentions. We have become so accustomed to hiding our true selves from others out of fear of ridicule, or banishment that it becomes difficult to even recognize ourselves. Then we wonder why people fail to understand us.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes François de La Rochefoucauld. “There is no disguise which can hide love for long where it exists, or simulate it where it does not.”

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I think there is an individual threshold regarding multitasking for each person. Some folks seem to be excellent multitaskers such as jugglers who simultaneously juggle knives, tell jokes, and ride unicycles. Most of the rest of us are better at single-tasking.

I have asked my ex-boyfriend about his multitasking skills. Steve is a part-time illusionist aka stage magician. He confided that there is no such thing as multitasking in his mind. While on stage, Steve single-tasks. His presentations give the illusion of multitasking, but what actually happens is that he has rehearsed the ability to swiftly switch between single tasks. Whenever he learns a new illusion, he practices it, one step at a time, then he continually practices combining the steps by switching his attention very quickly until the combination appears to be a flawless singular flow of action.

By contrast, I’m not very skilled at multitasking, but I can  pull off the illusion of multitasking if I am forced into doing it–for only short time-spans. For instance, while engineering my live radio show during a severe weather emergency, solo. I’d necessarily need to keep my show on the AM radio station coherent, monitor the automated FM station, keep an ear on the weather alert unit, dash to the newsroom to retrieve hard copy from the printer, answer phone calls from the public, interrupt programs on both stations, and read the relevant warnings and watches that I had quickly edited as they applied to people living within the range of our radio stations’ signals.

In the short-term, this was a thrilling, intense process. However, after about an hour of such multitasking I’d become tired and frazzled. It was such a relief when coworkers arrived to help with the emergencies. Like Steve, I had to juggle a lot of tasks and combine them such that my audience perceived the end product as a singular action. My mental capability to cheerfully maintain that blending is far lower than Steve’s abilities to do so. I can multitask well, under fire, but Steve multitasks matter of factly.

Some people compare the human mind to a computer mind. It turns out that this is a poor analogy. Computers are designed to perform many tasks simultaneously. Your device monitors, updates several functions, and displays various results at the same time. The human mind evolved differently. Human minds can create the illusion of multitasking because they can learn to swiftly, continually switch back and forth to each individual task.

If we purposely try to perform multiple tasks precisely, simultaneously we become confused and restless then reach our stress threshold quickly. When humans multitask, we can only perform simpler things and do them more slowly than computers and our devices are capable of doing. Our devices can process multiple programs or apps in parallel at the same moment, our conscious minds don’t. We multitask by processing quickly, in series.

Meantime, when a person single-tasks, she or he can concentrate on the work at hand. Ideally, we are able to focus flawlessly on our project and finish it to a satisfactory conclusion. This is the logic behind distracted driving laws. Driving a vehicle while texting or eating or doing anything other than driving is extremely dangerous. We drive safest when we’re single-tasking.

So when we believe we are multitasking, we are actually quickly switching from task to task. Our minds are very capable of diverting its attention from one subject to another in the blink of an eye. We might believe we are more productive, but we are mainly being busy. In reality, we are actually working harder, but not more effectively. In most instances, our best work comes as a result of single-tasking.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the Ancient Latin writer, Publilius Syrus. “To do two things at once is to do neither.”

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To Think

Shortly after booting up the laptop this morning, its software began a “critical update”. This was unusual and unexpected, so my mind was thrown for a loop. My morning routine had been interrupted. My thoughts had been shifted away from contemplating today’s blog topic and towards considering whether the software update was legitimate or not.

The update turned out to be an authentic one, so I didn’t need to worry if the laptop had been hacked. It occurred to me that the interruption of my routine caused me to analyze and think about something I never think about at this time of the day. My observation of the software update turned out to be a “thought event”. That is, I automatically began evaluating, reviewing, and revising what I knew about something.

Sometimes even a slight shift in routine or point of view reveals something going on in the background of our minds. In this case, my mindfulness revealed that I had tapped into the ability to think with critical objectivity. The beauty of developing the skill of critical thinking is understanding the difference between what one thinks from how one thinks. This is a skill that must be cultivated and maintained throughout a person’s life.

Too often, I have trouble with my critical thinking skills. I get caught up in subjectively thinking about the events of the day regarding the state of the world. Those thoughts are about what I want the world to be like and that the real world falls short of my expectations. I’m having similar thoughts as I write these words, except the thoughts are not about the world, they are about my idealized version of how I’d like the act of thinking to be for me. I think about a lot of things, but I don’t pay as close attention to how I think as I wish. This paragraph is probably one of the most subjective paragraphs I’ve written this week. (Notice how often I wrote first person singular pronouns.)

Generally speaking, most folks don’t have problems with thinking for ourselves, just so long as our conclusions conform to or are compatible with our preconceived beliefs or with socially acceptable opinions. It’s easy for us to interpret or confuse critical thinking with criticism. It’s important to remember that contrary thought doesn’t always equate to rational thought even though contrary thought often initiates the process of critical thinking.

It’s very important to take a few steps away from our point of view and consider scenarios from other points of view. When we are able to engage critical thinking, we unlock the potential to become deeply creative. Instead of shoehorning scenarios into our preconceived notions about how they “should” conform to our beliefs, we open our minds to unlimited possibilities. This is one way we can more fully realize that critical thinking is not necessarily criticism.

“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason so few engage in it.”–Henry Ford

It’s easy to parrot opinions and talking points, especially if we agree with them. To analyze and objectively think about the ramifications of the current Zeitgeist is tricky and requires the effort of setting our own preferences and beliefs aside. This might be part of what Mr. Ford was getting at. It is this mindful effort that can be the hardest mental work of all. In other words we can believe what we like, but don’t believe everything you read without critically analyzing it. That includes what I’ve written today. The purpose of this paragraph is to engage your own critical thinking skills.

There is a profound beauty about curiosity and critical thinking. It is an attitude about observing the Universe in an inquiring yet playful manner. If you want to truly think outside of the box, critical thinking is an effective way to do so.

Something came to mind yesterday while preparing lunch. It seemed to me that the attack on critical thinking going on these days, could be the most fundamental attack on freedom. If critically thinking about the state of whatever subject one wishes to analyze and expressing our conclusions are forbidden, then our thinking and speech are not free. This is one of the dangers of aligning oneself with ideologies and belief systems.

The 18th century German physicist and satirist Georg Christoph Lichtenberg wrote, “Nothing is more conductive to peace of mind than not having any opinions at all.” I find the combination of physicist and satirist to be both odd, yet logical. This gave Lichtenberg the ability to use the scientific method and to reinforce it with the ability to ridicule. This combined his critical thinking skills with his contrarian nature in productive ways. Although he was aware that he held opinions, he understood that letting go of his opinions could bring him more peace of mind. Lichtenberg was a very interesting person because of his thinking skills.

I hope that these few thoughts about thinking have been catalysts to help engage your own critical thinking skills.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Aristotle. “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

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