Like Herding Cats

“It looks like an actual case of herding cats!” laughed Jonathan.

We were sitting in the veterinary clinic waiting room with Ruff, Jonathan’s new golden lab puppy. It was time to have the pup checked out and vaccinated so he could be licensed. Two grumpy cats escaped from their insecurely fastened plastic cat carrier and took refuge beneath chairs.

The cat owner then tried to round up her kitties. That’s when pets pandemonium set in. The cats eluded efforts of people chasing them. Other caged cats began meowing. Ruff and one other dog started barking. The cats’ owner became ever more flustered.

After several minutes and with help from clinic employees, the cats were captured and placed back in the pet carrier. The rest of the other animals and people calmed down. The only harm done was to the fragile egos of the cats. Cats do have egos, don’t they?

The cat herding comparison is one of my all-time favorite idiomatic phrases. In the catty case at the vet clinic, herding cats was like herding cats.

The phrase apparently originated in the information technology industry with several people claiming to be the one to coin the idiom. The origin of the phrase goes back to 1985 and is allegedly credited to computer programmer Dave Platt, who said, “Managing senior programmers is like herding cats.”

Meantime, Platt denies originating the idiom. Platt said, “As much as I’d like to, I can’t claim to be the originator of this particular idiom. It’s one I ran into years ago–I think I may have first heard it from Dale Luck (a guy I worked with at NTG and 3DO), and I have a vague memory of hearing it originally ascribed to John Dijkstra (but I could well be wrong about this). I do remember stating it… a few years ago, in a USENET post or some email… but I did not come up the original analogy.”

Ever since the mid-1980s, the phrase has been popularly used in many contexts. In political circles, frustrated democrats often say, “Getting Democrats organized is like herding cats.” In the science field, academic journalist John Naughton wrote, “Even in the best times, managing science has been compared to herding cats; it is not done well, but one is surprised to find it done at all.”

“The key to success is to risk thinking unconventional thoughts. Convention is the enemy of progress. If you go down just one corridor of thought you never get to see what’s in the rooms leading off it.”–inventor Trevor Baylis

People employed in creative fields are as difficult to manage as rounding up cats. A former program director at my old radio station loved to use the herding cats idiom when staff meetings became disorganized into heated discussions. A few times, the meetings had taken such a life of their own that the boss simply adjourned them out of frustration.

A problem that meditators have, is managing our monkey minds. If you’ve ever sat down on the cushion in the ritual of formal meditation, you know that calming the mind and thoughts is like mentally herding cats. It’s an act of futility that even the great masters have encountered.

Day to day living often entails dealing with frustrating people and events. Sometimes the only thing to do is to let go of the stress and admit that dealing with other people is like herding cats. Think about the kinds of “cats” you herd.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes writer/historian Sir Walter Scott. “Cats are mysterious kind of folk–there is more passing in their minds than we are aware of.”

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Fake Roses …Floral Friday

Over the years, I’ve accumulated a variety of artificial roses. Some of them are stylized roses, others are dollar-store roses, and a few of them are extremely well-executed copies of roses.

Today’s projects feature a few of the more interesting faux-roses from the projects bin. The arrangements are paired with spheres as counterpoints.

A dark red sheet-steel rose is at home with feathers. They are grouped together in a vintage Japanese art vase. The orange feathers match the orange detailing in the vase. A very heavy yellow onyx sphere rests on a delicate Japanese sake cup.

Seven roses created from dyed wood-shavings stand at attention in a polished stainless steel bud vase. The magician-juggler sphere rests on a vintage, inverted “Anchor” “Manhattan” pattern cocktail glass.

A weighted red-glass bud vase contains a fine example of a well-crafted faux rose. The jeweled decorator’s sphere rests on a Chinese teacup lid.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes poet Constantine Peter Cavafy.
“Give me artificial flowers–porcelain and metal glories–neither fading nor decaying, forms unaging.
Flowers of the splendid gardens of another place,
where Forms and Styles and Knowledge dwell.
I love flowers made of glass or gold, true Art’s true gifts, their painted hues more beautiful than nature’s, worked in nacre and enamel, with perfect leaves and branches.”

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I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing

“I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)” If you were a living, viable human being in the early 1970s, this very catchy song triggers memories of a Coca Cola advertising campaign that was so amazing that its song became a Top-10 radio hit.

I’ve had two conflicting opinions about the commercially revolutionary “Hilltop” commercials for the soft drink company. On the down-side I don’t consume sugary, caffeinated fizzy drinks. (They’re unhealthy in many ways.) The “Hilltop” ads boosted consumption of the beverage. On the up-side, Coca Cola is a huge multi-national corporation that is universally famous and influential.

It is the up-side that I’m thinking about today. In as much as Coca Cola will continue to advertise their product into the foreseeable future, I think they should revive the “Hilltop” campaign world-wide, in as many languages as possible. The ads should retain the same visual idea as the original 1971 versions.

I don’t want to advocate for tooth-decay and soft drinks. I’m more interested in promoting universal human rights. The soft-drink giant could take a great step towards positive corporate responsibility (or the aura thereof) by using these commercials again.

In this world of very heightened political polarization and a sobering increase in human rights violations at home and abroad, the ad campaign would increase awareness of the wholesomeness of treating everyone on Earth as equals.

In 1971, the Vietnam conflict was happening. In 2018, oppressive regimes continue to be on the rise across the world. Positive, upbeat, entertaining messages provide time-outs and shift our outlook for a few minutes. When we feel good as a result of songs like “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing”, we can experience a positive, constructive paradigm shift. We need some influential, positivity to offset the daily barrage of negativity we are fed by some politicians, radical religionists, and other influential celebrities.

Maybe now as it was then, the jingle will be re-released as a song for general airplay and Internet play. Maybe now as it was then, the song will become an anthem for people who want a better, more accepting, inclusive world.

If not the Coca Cola Company, perhaps a socially-responsible, multi-national corporation can come up with an equally inspirational, important message.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes President Jimmy Carter. “For this generation, ours, life is nuclear survival, liberty is human rights, the pursuit of happiness is a planet whose resources are devoted to the physical and spiritual nourishment of its inhabitants.”

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The mattress on my bed saw better days a long time ago. It really needs to be recycled and replaced. I have failed to buy a new mattress because it’s difficult to choose between the large selection of mattress types, how they’re constructed, what materials are in the mattress, and the multitude of brands from which to choose.

To complicate the situation even more, I’ve been considering whether or not to replace the entire bed with an adjustable model that might or might not help me cope with sleep apnea.

I’ve shopped at brick and mortar bedding stores and browsed the Web to try and narrow down my options. The search has only made the indecision worse. Internet algorithms are selecting me for mattress and bedding advertising. Wherever I go on the Web, I am faced with advertisements from mattress companies. YouTube is the worst because very annoying ads that play for several minutes from companies like “Purple” appear in the video feeds.

Most of the mattress companies claim they manufacture the perfect mattress for my needs. Unfortunately, the advertisement claims are just so much hot air. I’ve tried out many mattresses and discovered each of them is lacking in at least one quality I like or has something I dislike.

My BF says I should just buy one like his. However, he has a heavy memory foam mattress that I don’t enjoy. In addition, his mattress is from the company that produces the most obnoxious advertising on the Web. So, by the process of elimination, I won’t consider that brand. This helps the selection process because there is now one less brand I want to buy.

To add more indecision to my mattress indecision, I’m one of those people who suffer post-decision indecision. Once I decide upon a product and buy it, I’m filled with more indecision.

A few years ago, I experienced this when replacing the microwave oven. After much comparison shopping and consternation, I purchased an Amana “Radarange”. Immediately after unboxing the appliance and placing it on the kitchen counter-top, I wondered if I should have opted for the convection oven version instead. After using the standard “Radarange” for a few weeks, I let go of the desire for convection cooking and accepted the standard version of the appliance because it “ticked all the boxes” of my requirements.

My BF says I should just go ahead and buy the mattress that best fulfills my needs, then accept it the same way I accept my microwave. The trouble is, I have a strong feeling that there is much more I need to know about mattresses. Plus, I need to know whether or not to get an adjustable bed. There are still plenty of pros and cons to consider about all of these options. There are just too many kinds of mattresses and beds on the market these days. When I finally reach the place of diminishing returns, a happy solution will be easier to choose.

The category of major home furnishings and appliances is the only one that I’m indecisive about. When dining out, I know exactly what I want to eat and order it. When I bought my car, I did some basic research and knew exactly the make and model that would fit my needs and lifestyle. The same goes for clothing and shoes.

The old mattress is only going to get worse and I’ll feel more pressure to replace it. The addition of urgency only adds another aspect to this indecision. If I have to make a snap decision to buy a certain brand, style, material, weight, etcetera, will I greatly regret the decision? I know I’m over-thinking the mattress situation.

The decision may well be influenced by time. Although new mattresses typically are introduced in June, I don’t want to wait until May to take advantage of old stock clearance. I’m guessing that this month or January will be the time of inventory reduction sales. This might be the ultimate deciding factor. I’ll probably choose a reasonably suitable mattress with a good satisfaction guaranteed warranty and be done with the decision-making.

The Blue Jay of Happiness likes this quote from the great Jewish philosopher Maimonides: “The risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision.”

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Jack Of All Trades

My friend Jonathan asked who my superhero is. Did I look up to a character like Superman, Spiderman, or Batman? I jokingly said Robin. Then I quickly added that my real favorite superhero is MacGyver.

MacGyver gives dignity to the often popularly maligned generalist, Jack of all trades, master of none. I can only guess that the original writer/creator of the television series was inspired by the complete idiom, not the shortened version most people know.

The alleged original idiom is: “A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.” This is a convenient, easily remembered way of saying that having multiple interests and talents is an advantageous quality to have over somebody who is only talented in one thing.

If we examine the origin of the idiom, we can gain more insight about it’s meaning. Back in the 1600s, a “jack” was the word used to refer to an ordinary, common man. A trade is a practiced skill-set a person has developed in order to earn a living. So, an ordinary, common man who was reasonably competent in many skill-sets was called a jack of all trades. The phrase, “master of none” is said to have been added in the 1820s.

I remember my grandparents who were farmers and my parents who grew up on farms. To be proficient at many skills was pretty much mandatory in the isolated environment of a rural farm. If you were unable to competently perform nearly every task needed to keep a farm running, the farm would fail. Both the man and the woman on the farm needed to have multiple skill-sets.

There was a lot of overlap, too. Traditionally, the man nurtured crops and livestock, the woman managed the housekeeping and cooking chores. The skills were not always limited to those needs. Sometimes it was necessary for the man to help cook and clean. Oftentimes, women cared for gardening or worked in equal measure to raise crops and livestock. The children were taught to continue these roles effectively as informal apprentices.

Before there was such a television show as MacGyver, I observed dad. If ever there was a jack of all trades, it was dad. He was able to repair nearly everything in the house. He enjoyed carpentry projects and was mechanically adept in metalwork. He was no slouch regarding domestic housework. He could cook and clean with the best of them. On top of his chores at home, his professional career consisted of designing and supervising road and bridge construction.

After a spring through fall season of highway construction, dad had more conventional work and home schedules. In the off-season, he was able to enjoy more time in his workshops in the basement and in the garage. On one typical Saturday he might repair a broken door latch, rebuild the carburetor on the Buick, then help mom prepare dinner in the evening. Sometime in-between, he managed to help us kids with homework assignments for school.

It seemed like dad was constantly busy fixing something, building something, or reading about something. Yet somehow, he always managed to find time to watch his favorite prime-time network television programs. Of course, he frequently popped corn for us to munch during teevee time.

It was dad’s ability to be a jack of all trades that he attempted to instill as a quality into my brother’s and my skill-sets. That said, neither my brother nor I were ever able to acquire most of the skills of our father despite our best efforts. Our lack of breadth may be due to us not growing up on a farm. It was not vital for us to know how to repair a barbed-wire fence, milk cows, cultivate a field of crops, fix a broken-down tractor nor any of the myriad other chores associated with a small agricultural operation.

This brings me back to the fictional character, MacGyver. He is the ultimate jack of all trades. He also seems to be the master of all. He is good at doing everything I believe is meaningful and important. He is passionate about social issues. MacGyver is depicted as a frequent volunteer to help the needy and less-privileged members of society. He shows concern for children, in particular. The character has helped with a mountain trip for juvenile delinquents. He has been a “Big Brother” mentor. He also has been shown to help handicapped kids.

MacGyver’s other interests are environmentalism and protection of endangered animal species. At some point in the series, he becomes known as a vegetarian.

On top of all these attributes, MacGyver’s main role is that of a non-violent problem solver. The character is famous for improvising devices to get him out of dangerous situations. He doesn’t use sophisticated, specialized technology. His tools of the trades include duct-tape, his ever present Swiss Army Knife, and a simple toolbox carried in his vehicle. He wears a regular, cheap Timex wristwatch. Somehow, MacGuyver manages to find a use for stuff like wood stick matches, chewing gum, paper clips, and other regular, mundane objects.

Somehow, MacGuyver found time to learn enough French, German, Italian, Russian, Spanish, Morse Code, and signal flags to negotiate his way out of sticky scenarios. He is also a top-notch outdoors-man and athlete. Don’t forget that MacGuyver can also play guitar and create paintings.

In my opinion, there is no greater fictional superhero than MacGuyver–the ultimate jack of all trades.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Socrates. “No man undertakes a trade he has not learned, even the meanest; yet every one thinks himself sufficiently qualified for the hardest of all trades–that of government.”

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Personal Transformation

During my period of grief over the death of my brother, I felt like a part of me had also died. As the grief blended into acceptance, I felt like another part of me was born. This realization opened my eyes to a wider form of love and to let go of expectations and rules I believed were necessary in life. The death of my brother also signified the death of a major part of my childhood.

The Lord Shiva is the destroyer and the transformer. In Hindu culture Shiva follows Brahma the creator and Vishnu the preserver. Shiva is thought of as being responsible for literal death and figurative death as in the letting go of harmful habits and narrow attitudes. The death of old, ingrained thinking transforms life into continuous realizations of basic, essential goodness. Even though I am not Hindu, there is much about Hindu culture to study, contemplate, and admire. The nature of Lord Shiva was personally revealed in the period of mourning for my younger brother.

One does not need to be a follower of Shiva, the Supreme Being of Shaivaism. The aspect of personal transformation is found in nearly every religion, spiritual practices, and many secular wisdom teachings. Personal transformation is a deep mental shift into an holistic state of well-being. Some Christian believers call this state of mind “born again”. This radical state of change is also an important objective in Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and a great many other religions and philosophies.

Although it is often possible to experience transformation during purposeful gradual self-improvement, personal transformation is more obvious when it is sudden and major. There is a jolt or wake-up-call that awakens one to a new realization and shifts the personal point of view. A major part of the mind transforms into a new way of being. Personal transformation is not the epiphany; personal transformation is triggered by the epiphany.

All of us have experienced personal transformation several times in our lives. For example, when we’re teens, our minds are still rooted in childhood and were reaching towards adulthood. At some point, we realize we have become adults and must begin to take on fully adult responsibilities and become more of a part of society. Most cultures celebrate this transformation with special rites of passage, or some sort of initiation ceremony. For instance, in Judaism there is Bar/Bat Mitzvah.

A social acquaintance of mine is Father Rob, a Roman Catholic priest. He has observed that without a true personal transformation, people assume they automatically become good, moral individuals because they call themselves Catholics or members of some other branch of Christianity. Father Rob discovered, to his great disappointment, how little authentic spiritual curiosity there is in people. Yet he treasures the minority who have “shed the scales from their eyes” who are eager to go beyond their superficiality to explore the width and breadth of compassion, empathy, and love.

Father Rob says he is fascinated by the various types of personal transformations there are in the world. He enjoys reading about people who are honestly concerned with matters of the heart in individual lives, families, and social icons such as Gandhi, JFK, and Martin Luther King, Junior. He is fascinated with research into discovering the amazing insights they had in their great personal transformations.

Father Rob and I share an interest in how people have come to desire deep, positive changes in themselves beyond physical appearance and social rank. There are a million stories about deep paradigm shifts and personal transformations. They demonstrate that we are a flexible adaptive species. We are capable of utilizing the arts, literature, spirituality, and philosophy to widen our perspectives and deepen our personalities.

The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders a statement by Presbyterian writer/pastor John Ortberg. “I hate how hard spiritual transformation is and how long it takes. I hate thinking about how many people have gone to church for decades and remain joyless or judgmental or bitter or superior.”

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Just Out Of Reach

It was a large, avant garde wedding. I only knew the groom and his immediate family. A Power Point slide show photo montage of the bride’s and the groom’s lives was projected onto a large screen. I sat on a portable, plastic chair and scanned the room in hopes of seeing anybody I might know.

Then a two-year-old girl stood at my feet wanting my attention. As discretely as possible, we played “patty cake” with our hands. Her mother told the girl to be careful. Before I knew it, the girl had formed an imaginary “spider” with her left hand creeping up my sport-coat’s lapel. The mom was embarrassed and picked the child up to cradle her. The little girl then quietly sobbed.

I’m unaccustomed to the curiosity of toddlers, especially regarding the children of strangers, so the scenario felt awkward. The little girl’s efforts to make friends with me were charming. It was almost as if she sensed me feeling out of place at the wedding. Given the wide age gap and being total strangers, an appropriate, meaningful friendship was just out of reach for both of us.

I rarely think about my personal limitations as much as I used to. I’ve come to accept my desires and yearnings as a normal part of life. Everyone has someone or something that is just out of reach. Perhaps we may finally grasp it or perhaps we won’t. The emotion is vague, like a light breeze that is neither cool nor warm. That is what I felt at the wedding.

So, there I was, sitting in the audience at the church, wanting to chat with the father of the groom. Of course protocol and etiquette ensured that my friend had to be seated at a place of honor in the front row next to his sister and his two other children. Although I was the groom’s former mentor and honorary “uncle”, my place was five rows back from the front. I was informally thought of as “family”, but tradition and custom stated I was not. Instead of fully participating in the celebration, I was relegated to the role of spectator.

The sensation of feeling out of place continued at the reception in the “Fellowship Hall” of the church. Family reunion events like weddings and funerals are understandably very cliquish. People want to be with family and friends they rarely, regularly see. The wedding party of bride, groom, parents, and siblings were busy mixing with all of the guests. They were also seated in special places of honor according to well-established rules of etiquette.

I wandered around the hall with a plastic cup of lemon water in hand. I finally spotted a middle-aged woman sitting alone at a round table at the rear of the large room. I made a bee-line to join her and perhaps engage in conversation. The woman was the mother of a friend of the bride. She was reluctant to talk to anyone but her husband, who was elsewhere in the room. Other friends of the bride stopped to briefly chat with her, then they moved on.

Eventually, a young man and his slightly older husband seated themselves next to me. Derek was a college friend of the bride and his husband Ayush was attending this wedding because spouses attend family events together. I felt gladdened by the prospect of having LGBT dining partners. The couple was visiting from New York City. I enjoyed hearing their Brooklyn accents. I was astonished to find out that they had rented a car to drive from New York to Nebraska in order to attend the wedding. Derek confessed that he has a strong fear of airplanes.

Due to the fact that the two men were friends of the bride, they excused themselves after dinner in order to mingle with other friends of the family.

Finally, the bride and groom walked up to me for a brief, polite conversation, then they moved on to touch base with other guests. The same happened with my friend, the groom’s father. He spent several minutes updating me on the state of his family and career. Then he was called away by his former wife about some matter of personal importance. Then I was again alone in the crowd.

While the middle-age woman conversed with her husband, and the gay couple from New York chatted with friends of the bride, I decided to unceremoniously leave the building.

I quickly walked through the light rain to my car and slid behind the steering wheel. I sighed in relief, then switched on the engine so I could go home to decompress.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes John Steinbeck. “Where does discontent start? You are warm enough, but you shiver. You are fed, yet hunger gnaws you. You have been loved, but your yearning wanders in new fields. And to prod all these there’s time, the Bastard Time.”

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