The Narcissist Next Door

“Where do you place yourself on the sliding scale of egotism from shrinking wallflower to narcissist?” My friend Jorge really knows how to put me on the spot.

I answered that it changes from day to day and even hour to hour. Most of the time there is no need to blow my own horn, or shrink from view, or anything related to egotism. There are times when it seems appropriate to assert and other times when it seems appropriate to retreat. I don’t think I’m qualified to give a clinically correct response to the question.

Jorge noted that he has been self-evaluating a lot since he fell into the rabbit hole of the Internet narcissism trend and the accompanying lifestyle coaches.

What happened to my friend for him to become obsessed with narcissism and lifestyle coaches?

Jorge said that one of his neighbors befriended him and his husband last year. She seemed like the perfect person. She showered Jorge and Jose with compliments and did a lot of unsolicited small favors. The couple felt flattered and obliged to their neighbor, so they sometimes invited her to their place for lunch or coffee–just normal, neighborly behavior.

The trouble began innocently enough when the neighbor asked if Jose could house-sit while she was away to the east coast to visit her family. Jose decided to help her out, mainly because he still felt a sense of obligation to the neighbor because of all the “little acts of kindness” she had performed. The house-sitting seemed to go off without a hitch.

After the neighbor returned from her vacation, she began asking the couple more frequently for favors. They squeezed in as many as they could, but the neighbor increasingly seemed displeased with Jorge and Jose. They found out that she had been spreading rumors and gossip about them. Of course, she denied doing so.

The neighbor’s shift in behavior triggered some heart to heart discussions between Jorge and Jose in which they analyzed their relationship with the neighbor. They noticed that when the woman and the couple conversed, the topic of discussion was overwhelmingly about her. Whenever she asked about them, they would give an appropriate reply. Often, she interrupted to talk about her life situations. The relationship between the couple and the neighbor had been largely one-sided for a long time.

They realized that the neighbor didn’t really care about them at all, she seemed to only want them in her life to be her inferiors. Her words and actions had crossed the line between neighborly and annoying. It seemed that she had been trying to control their lives.

It was at this point in time that Jose decided to diagnose the problem relationship by searching the Web. The two men began watching videos on YouTube about narcissists and psychopaths. There seemed to be an endless supply of videos, psychologists, and self-styled life coaches describing problems and solutions regarding relationships with narcissists. Thumbnail titles about narcissism and codependency began crowding out other topics on their YouTube page.

The videos and their neighbor’s behavior were coming together to create a perfect storm for the couple. Every time they tried to dial back their contact with the neighbor, she became more intrusive and hostile. What could they do? The neighbor was becoming highly obnoxious, but hadn’t broken any laws so they couldn’t call the police.

The couple found themselves caught up in numerous “catch-22” situations. How could they extricate themselves from their next door neighbor’s influence? This is the situation they find themselves in right now. They are between a rock and a hard place.

Jorge said he wasn’t asking me for advice about how to handle the situation, but he wondered if I thought he and Jose were overreacting to the neighbor’s behavior.

It’s my unprofessional opinion that Jorge and Jose have good reason to be very concerned. I told Jorge that they need to be more vigilant because it seems like the neighbor could become fully unhinged and threaten their safety. Their neighbor is not a friend, but is a clever adversary. I based that judgment on a similar experience I had with an acquaintance.

I told Jorge that a book could be written about that relationship. It had taken a somewhat parallel course with that of him and his neighbor. Thankfully, I do not live next door to my adversary, so I was more easily able to get away from the very toxic relationship.

Jorge said he will continue to watch the videos. The couple has considered consulting a professional about their dilemma. Right now, it looks like whatever they decide to do will cause upheaval, turmoil, and more problems.

I reminded Jorge that he has my support, regardless of what he and Jose decide to do about the next-door narcissist. This is a situation that requires solid, yet diplomatic measures. I wonder what those measures are. Hopefully, a reasonable, safe resolution happens soon.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes actor Nick Nolte. “You give up your narcissism, your egotism. That’s how you achieve chemistry.”

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A Particular Vase …Floral Friday

Today’s Floral Friday departs from the usual format of featuring three different arrangements. That’s because an incredible artifact came home with me this week.

Whenever possible, if there is a previously owned, carved marble or granite vase or object for sale at a an affordable price, it might end up at my house. This particular vase is an eye-popping example of that habit. It weighs in at exactly 18-pounds (8.165-kg), according to this bathroom scale. It’s just under 12-inches (30-cm) tall.

A vase of such size and visual complexity needs a suitably sized, formal arrangement to do it justice. So as not to damage the amazing stone with water, I assembled dry and silk elements to compliment, not overpower the vase.

The marble onyx is especially stunning up close. The agate-like “eye” is the focus of this impeccably carved vase.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the ancient Athenian statesman, orator, and general Pericles. “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”

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These Are Halcyon Days

We have already arrived at the Halcyon Days of 2017. These are the days that are tinged with the spirit of ancient Greek mythology.

These are not just the days for the Kingfisher birds to brood on the Aegean Sea, this period of time leads up to and includes the Winter Solstice.

It’s a shame that our culture moves into high gear at this time of year when Mother Nature is taking a pause. However, perhaps the Halcyon Days subconsciously influence the nostalgia we feel around the holiday season anyway.

Of course Halcyon Days are not always defined as strictly this stretch of time on the calendar. They are traditionally thought of as a golden age of sorts. We think of a nation’s past or our own past in sepia tones. Halcyon Days are very subjective days that do not have strict boundaries.. These Halcyon Days lead up to wistful literature and poetry.

Halcyon Days
by Walt Whitman

Not from successful love alone,
Nor wealth, nor honored middle age, nor vic-
tories of politics or war.

But as life wanes, and all the turbulent passions
As gorgeous, vapory, silent hues cover the even-
ing sky,
As softness, fulness, rest, suffuse the spirit and
frame like freshier, balmier air;
As the days take on a mellower light, and the
apple at last hangs really finished and in-
dolent ripe on the tree,
Then for the teeming quietest, happiest days of
The brooding and blissful halcyon days!

It is in this poem that Whitman seems to capture the true essence of Halcyon Days.

Is it a fact that our Halcyon Days happen in retirement? Perhaps it is true that we lapse into thoughts and visions of our own, personal idyllic times when we are no longer part of the workforce.

I can recline in the chair, close my eyes, and try to envision my own golden days. Were they the 1990s? In retrospect, it seems as if personal relationships, career, travel, and finances were at a comfortable, calm level. Certainly there were trying times, but memories of those days are very pleasant.

Just as I’ve almost narrowed the Halcyon Days to the 1990s, the mind says, “Wait! What about the 1970s?” The 70s were the time of young adulthood. Sure they were sometimes rough, but life was most vibrant, exciting, and deep. I was much less cautious, my attitudes were still radical. Certainly my 1970s were sometimes harsh and complicated, but the life energy was beginning to peak. There was certainty and steadiness then.

Whether we call those times our own calm before the storm, or our own, personal golden ages, I like how the words “Halcyon Days” look on the page and sound to the ear. Our Halcyon Days are our own mythologies.

The Blue Jay of Happiness likes this out-take from Ogden Nash’s “Pretty Halcyon Days”:
“How pleasant to look at the ocean,

Democratic and damp; indiscriminate;
It fills me with noble emotion
To think I am able to swim in it….”

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There is a great deal of wisdom in the idiom “too much of a good thing”. This might come to mind if we overeat. Or if we overdo anything.

There’s a house near downtown Norfolk that possibly outdoes every other Nebraska house when it comes to holiday decorations. The front yard is dominated by two huge inflated figures, a bloated Santa and a frightening snowman. There are some twinkling, animated manger scenes in various sizes surrounded by elves, flashing trees and candy canes. The house’s gutters are lined with both “icicle” lights and colored lights. It is topped off with a flashing, animated reindeer driven sleigh containing a waving Santa. If you drive by the place before 10:00 pm, you will hear Christmas music blaring from loudspeakers.

I wonder how much the householders have to pay for electricity in November and December. Honestly, I don’t know how their neighbors cope. Do they need to have a special city permit?

We’ve all known zeal when we feel super energized to take on a project. It is the mental energy that gives us confidence and determination to follow through. When we discover some new, interesting idea to us, we want to share it with others. As the old expression says, “There is nobody more pious than the new convert.”

Perhaps we learned the hard way that overzealousness is harmful and destructive. Zeal, if not carefully reined in, can quickly go nuclear and deteriorate into agitation. When a person feels the onset of zeal, the Goldilocks Principle needs to be practiced–not too hot, not too cool, but has just the right temperature.

As with other motivating factors, we can keep from burning out others and ourselves by balancing zeal with mental calm, patience, and relaxation. A little goes a long way. Our eagerness will last a lot longer if we dial it back a bit. Of course, finding the balance between indifference and zealotry is usually accomplished by trial and error.

In society, we find individuals who exhibit overzealous desire to “help” others. We sometimes wonder whether this particular type of enthusiasm is powered out of selflessness or if it comes out of a need to salve spiritual insecurity or to boost the ego. There is a need to be honest about one’s deepest motivations. More importantly, one must be careful that zeal does not harm others. Zeal can easily transform into spiritual pride.

That cluttered, mish-mash holiday display in my town reveals a zeal about Christmas decorating. Unfortunately it is quite cluttered and way over the top. Passersby scorn and ridicule it as an eyesore. The householder’s holiday message seems to be desperate and intrusive.

There is another message in zealousness. Zeal is a drawback when it is self-centered, but the desire to be selfless can be deeply energizing. The trick is to be fully honest with ourselves about our zeal and not impose it on our fellow humans.

The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders a statement from the Roman Senator and historian Tacitus. “Zealous in the commencement, careless in the end.”

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Lost Items

I have an old silver dollar on a jewelry mount somewhere in my little house. The impulse to find it randomly popped into my brain yesterday afternoon. Who knows why? Urges just pop up sometimes. Anyway, the last place I remembered seeing it, years ago, was in a tin trinket box on a shelf in the bedroom.

The coin wasn’t in the box, but there was something else that was much more interesting. A keyring with the key to my old Chevy Vega, a padlock key, and an identification tag that was a miniature version of the Vega’s license plate. The old lemon of a car went to the scrap heap a long time ago, but the emergency spare key is still mine.

I pondered the miniature license plate then flipped it over to see what was on the reverse. “Postage Guaranteed, Finder deposit any mailbox, Disabled American Veterans, Cincinnati, Ohio 45214”.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to have little tags on everything we might misplace? Sure there are now apps to help us keep track of cell phones and house keys. They use small fobs that attach to whatever important item that could get lost. However, it’s not practical nor affordable to have electronic fobs on every single thing we own.

Sure, there are how-to lists that tell us how to prevent losing important things we use regularly. They say to keep our place uncluttered so we don’t misplace stuff under a week’s worth of junk mail. The lists often remind us to have very specific places to put things you use every day like your wallet in an organizer on top of your dresser or car keys on a particular hook in the hallway. These are great tips.

How often have you looked for that one small doo dad that is used for that one particular task that only you perform very infrequently? I remembered a refill spool of nylon line for the Weed Eater a couple of years ago because it was on sale. It took over an hour to find it this August when I needed to refill the Weed Eater in order to complete the yard work. It wasn’t where it should have been in the garage.

My former employer presented a handsome gold ring to me for 25 years of service to the company. I wore it for a couple of weeks, then put it aside in its little box because I do not like to wear rings. They get in the way when washing hands, they scar steering wheels, and rings just feel uncomfortable to me.

A couple of years ago, I felt a twinge of nostalgia for the old radio station job. Wouldn’t it be fun to slip on that special ring? It was gone. I looked where it was supposed to be and nothing. Where did I last see it? The search covered every corner of the house. The ring was simply not to be found. It was really, absolutely lost.

Occasionally, over the next two years, I’d search for the little ring box but would still come up empty handed. Did it accidentally get placed inside a box of stuff that was donated to a thrift store? Did it somehow drop into the garbage? Finally, I gave up looking for the ring.

Last month, I accidentally found the ring. It was in an old shoebox that contains a bunch of radio station memorabilia that had ironically been forgotten. Oh, happy day! I wore the ring again for a couple of days, then put it back in its little box, which is now stored in the most logical place. If I wanted to wear it today, I could immediately find the ring.

I don’t know if the problem of people losing things will ever be solved. Maybe it’s good to lose things . Sometimes, our searches will uncover unexpected treasures.

The Blue Jay of Happiness likes this quip from poet Senora Roy: “The difference between lost love and lost money is that in lost money there is a possibility of getting it back!”

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My ex was a magician. At least that is what the majority of people would label him. He identified himself as an illusionist. December was the peak month for his hobby/business bookings. This is when he performed as the entertainment for company holiday parties. Some December weekends he would put on  shows for several different companies.

Stage magicians like Steve study the art of illusion and get it down to a science. His spare time was often spent rehearsing and perfecting new illusions. To have a smooth, successful performance takes many hours of practice each week.

He liked to say that an illusion is half technique and half presentation. Not only did Steve have his technique down pat, he had good stage presence. There was his wry smile and the twinkle in his eyes that won his audiences over before he even started his first illusion. I think his entrances were actually his opening gambits.

During his off stage time, he liked to study video footage of the big-name magicians like David Copperfield and James Randi. This was done to analyze their presentations and personalities more than their specific acts.

Except for people who try to figure out how an illusion is performed, audiences attend magic shows in order to be fooled. In much the same manner that we watch a film, we overlook the fact that the movie is just flickering light on a screen. We get drawn into the illusion that there are real beings playing out the drama.

A successful performer creates a false or deceptive impression of reality that borders on delusion. People really want to believe that live rabbits can be conjured out of top hats or that ladies can be sliced in half and reassembled. Illusions are our great escapes from cold, hard reality.

Steve liked to remind me that we all harbor our own, personal illusions in the form of mental perceptions, beliefs, and delusions. Everybody has a past time of fooling themselves, so the magician or illusionist simply taps into this human feature. A good illusionist keeps this knowledge in mind when crafting a new illusion for show.

During rehearsals, Steve sometimes reminded me that he is only helping me to fool myself. In much the same manner that a graphic artist creates an optical illusion in two dimensions, the magician creates an optical illusion in three dimensions.

Our perceptions are not always true to reality because our beliefs and prior experiences color how we interpret events. This is why performers, whether they’re magicians, or comedians, like to get an idea about the type of people who are in the audience and their moods. This is the reason that Steve didn’t limit his observations of famous people to only illusionists.

Steve liked to discuss the artistry of illusion that stage and screen actors have, the persuasiveness of illusion that politicians exercise and that theologians use to sway people. With public figures, what we see is rarely who they actually are.

What it all boils down to is that we all live inside our own fantasies and illusions.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes David Copperfield. “What I’ve tried to do in my stage magic is to take a trick and give it an emotional hook.”

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Something About Jane Addams

One of the best things about combing through and culling your own archives is stumbling across books that inspired some aspect of your life. One book that was buried in my brass trunk was Jane Addams and Social Reform: A Role Model for the 1990s by K.S. Lundblad. It was a remaindered book that I picked up for a couple of dollars in 2001 or 2002.

It’s certainly true that Jane Addams was a true role model, not only for women of her times, but for social activists of all times. Her contributions to sociology and the Peace Movement earned her the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.

Addams was born in 1860 to a Quaker family in Cedarville, Illinois. Following her formal education, she spent time at Toynbee Hall in London, England. The charity works towards ending poverty and bridging the generation and financial class gaps in society. It was and remains a vital center for social reform.

In 1889, Addams and her friend Ellen Starr started Hull House, a settlement institution in Chicago, inspired by Toynbee Hall. The settlement house was in the West Side of the city in a neighborhood of European immigrants. It soon evolved into a social action center to help children, provide adult education, and culture with an eye on progressive social ideals. She not only worked one on one with the needy but lobbied extensively for new laws to protect them.

Jane Addams recruited a cadre of like-minded young women who were committed to social progress in racial and social tensions along with women’s emancipation. Their combined work at Hull House sharpened their professionalism and made them a positive force in social and political activism.

Addams and her colleagues documented labor conditions, especially as they concerned child labor and sweatshops. Their work included a type of census of ethnicities and their living and working conditions. These studies were organized by Addams’ fellow social activists Florence Kelley and Julia Lathrop and others. Their efforts were important in those early years of social activism.

Hull House became an institution of worldwide influence. Social workers and reformers from various countries visited and studied the techniques used by workers at Hull House and the initiatives that powered and engaged the Chicago School of Sociology.

Addams legacy included the establishment of the first juvenile court in the world. Along with being a separate venue to try juvenile offenders, the court was a way to help professionals and social workers aid young people. Addams and her colleagues aimed to actively help youth find better futures.

The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders this quote from Jane Addams: “The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.”

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