Apollo Pilot (Review)

In the late 1960s, the immediate fate of American manned spaceflight was in question.  The craft billed as Apollo One was in a launch rehearsal when a fire in the capsule killed Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward White II, and Roger Chaffee on January 27, 1967.

Prior to the tragic fire, Donn F. Eisele had been selected for the Apollo One crew, but was not allowed to participate because he had dislocated a shoulder twice during his training.  Roger Chaffee took his place.

On October 11, 1968, the first manned space mission since the disaster was launched.  Apollo Seven’s crew was commanded by Walter Schirra; engineered by R. Walter Cunningham; and navigated by senior pilot Donn Eisele.  The mission lasted more than ten days and completed 163 orbits of the Earth. The nearly eleven day mission was to check out the redesigned capsule and was the first time a Saturn 1B rocket placed humans into Space. It was also the first time three Americans were launched into orbit at the same time.

After splash-down on October 22nd, Apollo Seven was judged to be a total technical success.  This gave NASA the impetus and confidence to go ahead with Apollo 8 and eventually the history making Apollo 11 Moon landing mission. The successes and publicity of the Moon mission relegated the accomplishments of the prior missions to the dustbin of history.

What about the lesser known astronauts and the less famous space shots?  All of them have been vitally important in the advancement of the exploration of Space. Fortunately we have the posthumous publication of Donn F. Eisele’s memoirs.

Following his retirement from NASA, Eisele began the process of gathering his notes and composing his autobiography.  It wasn’t until after Eisele’s fatal heart attack in Tokyo that his second wife, Susie Eisele-Black discovered Eisele’s extensive writings.

Thanks to the editing skills of Francis French and the perseverance of Eisele-Black we have Apollo Pilot: The Memoir of Astronaut Donn Eisele.  This is not a boilerplate public relations, self-promotion book.  The struggles and successes of the astronaut are laid bare including the warts and missteps.apollopilot-02

The book opens with  Eisele’s recollections of the hours before launch of the Apollo Seven craft. The first chapter closes with the rocket’s launch. From there, the narration goes back in time to Eisele’s early military service and his work as a test pilot. He then describes the process of working his way through the astronaut selection process.

The story of post-launch Apollo Seven then continues.  Eisele goes on to describe his duties aboard the craft and his interactions with Shirra and Cunningham in great detail. The narration brings out the human side of the three astronauts. The text is well-written with snippets of humor added in the appropriate places.

I enjoyed the reading experience very much.  It was hard to put down this relatively short book.  Anyone who loves to follow the exploits of space exploration will probably want to add Apollo Pilot to their library. The plentiful photographs are an added bonus.

{ Apollo Pilot: The Memoir of Astronaut Donn Eisele; edited by Francis French; 184 pages publish date January 1, 2017 (in stock November 2016), by University of Nebraska Press; ISBN: 978-0-8032-6283-6 }

mini-moiThe Blue Jay of Happiness quotes cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. “Nothing will stop us. The road to the stars is steep and dangerous. But we’re not afraid…Space flights can’t be stopped. This isn’t the work of one man or even a group of men. It is a historical process which mankind is carrying out in accordance with the natural laws of human development.”

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Feeling Creative

Theodore (The Beaver) Cleaver was sent outdoors to search for his big brother Wally.  The youngster walked through various neighborhoods but could not find his brother. At last The Beaver checked the notorious, rough warehouse part of the city. There he found Wally with a scarfaced Eddie Haskell sharing a reefer.  Then Wally glances at his little brother, exhales smoke and says, “Don’t worry, I’m not selling, just buying.”

Immediately, I awakened with uncontrollable fits of laughter.

Soon, I wondered if some of the scenarios in that old teevee show were inspired by dreams.  What about other programs, movies, novels, paintings, buildings, and more?

How had my mind come up with such an off the wall, improbable situation that would never have been scripted for the Leave It to Beaver show?  The show nor any of its cast members haven’t come to mind in many months. Where did the image of a seedy warehouse district come from?   However, Wally smoking weed appeals to my sometimes twisted, contrarian sense of humor.

Why did I have to awaken from the dream before the Beaver could ask, “Gee whiz, Wally, why did you have to buy it from Eddie Haskell?”  Was that the point between subconsciousness and consciousness where I had to reach backwards into the dream for closure?creativity-02

Creativity is a mind state that isn’t easily defined. It certainly doesn’t work well if it is forced. It is diluted when we try to fake it. Creativity is the sibling of imagination.  If you have imagination, you have creativity.  You can dream up anything.

Creative thoughts are the rainbows and unicorns of the mind. Creativity is rarely, if ever, achieved through the process of rational thinking. Likewise, creativity is when you know the rules but are willing to break them in an imaginary way.

Let’s borrow a thought from the late Osho (Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh). “To be creative, means to be in love with life.  You can be creative only if you love life enough that you want to enhance its beauty; you want to bring a little more music to it, a little more poetry to it; a little more dance to it.”

I think Osho was onto the heart of the matter.  In effect, he was saying that creativity is an extension of a life liberally well-lived.


The creative person must be prepared to make mistakes, and to admit them.  If you cannot bring yourself to do this, you won’t enjoy originality. Maybe one reason our sleeping dreams are often weird is that we do not censor them by society’s standards.

Once you’ve weeded out your mistakes and come up with something you really like, you can only hope that other people will share your opinion of the work.

moi1988bThe Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Rumi. “Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.”

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Threes …Floral Friday

Pythagoreans said that the number three is the first true number because it is the first number that forms a geometrical figure. In their minds, the triangle symbolized harmony, wisdom, and understanding.

Three is significant in many cultures.  For example, in Zoroastrianism, the three basic ethics include: Humata–to think good, Hukhta–to speak good, and Huveshta–to act good.

Many of us like to use the old phrase, “The third time’s a charm.”

With these thoughts in mind, here are three arrangements that have three at their hearts.


The black walnut Danish Modern bud vase provides the base for  trios of paper roses and poppy pods. This was inspired by reading a book about the Apollo Seven space flight in which, a trio of astronauts went into orbit.


I really like the heavy glass tri-colored bowl from Teleflora.  The warm tones bring out the friendly side of winter.  The three stems of fill flowers continue the theme of three.


These three little vases are bound together with cord to form a unit.  The larger pots contain bamboo while the small pot contains a solitary spiky chrysanthemum as the heart of the arrangement.

mini-moiThe Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the sage Bodidharma. “The ignorant mind, with its infinite afflictions, passions, and evils, is rooted in the three poisons. Greed, Anger, Delusion.”

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I had been half listening to an interview on the radio during a long drive the other day. The guest advocated cultivating an attitude of gratitude in order to attract more good things into ones life. Soon, I began to wonder when gratitude became a technique instead of just a thankful state of mind.gratitude-02

The interview show wasn’t the only time I’ve noticed that gratitude was being pushed as a way to acquire more “blessings” or even great wealth.  I just had not taken the time to analyze it before.  I switched off the radio to avoid distraction.

The past several years have brought us such things as the “prosperity gospel”, at least one book that mentions it–The Secret, and numerous motivational speakers who preach that idea.

Often times the book or speaker actually names this practice as the “strategy of gratitude”. Talking points advise the student to change in how, how often, and when to tweak the technique to make it more effective.

I had to pull off of the highway and park on a side road in order to give this realization some thought.

How many times have we been told to be thankful for the bounty we enjoy?  It seems like countless times; and we’ve been told to do so since childhood.  We learned that gratitude was a spontaneous feeling of thankfulness and appreciation.  If you have a pet dog or cat, you’ve seen how they express raw gratitude after you feed, or groom them.

Feelings of gratitude bubble forth after someone performs an act of kindness or helpfulness to us.  We feel glad that the gesture was provided to us.  At the same time, we are not encouraged to feel indebted to that benefactor.  Feelings of gratitude are markedly different than feelings of obligation.

Frequently the benefactor is nature or good luck.  How can we feel obligated to return a favor to the natural order of life?  True gratitude is a joyful emotion we feel when we realize that we are alive and able to experience life and things around us. Gratitude is almost beyond description.

Does gratitude start to become a technique when we’re taught that we should be grateful?  This goes beyond the simple good manners of saying please and thank you. Most religions strongly advocate frequent expressions of gratitude and thankfulness be directed towards their particular deities. We are told that this pleases the deity and ensures further benevolence will occur in the future.  This seems more like an obligatory rather than a natural expression.  If you are admonished to be grateful or else, does that type of thankfulness feel truly authentic and sincere?

A plethora of self-help books and seminars give subjective evidence that counting blessings makes us happier.  There may be some truth to this claim.  It seems, however, that enumerating the good things in our lives still leaves a dim shadow of doubt about how fortunate we are.

Is the thankfulness that is coaxed out of us by writing in a journal or following the advice of a motivational guru or clergy really and truly an honest sense of gratitude? At times, it may appear to be so.  It seems to me to widely miss the mark. When I practice these techniques, the gratitude feels superficial.


There are those times when I’m outdoors either doing something like walking or just sitting on the porch witnessing the dawning of a new morning. Maybe the cawing of a crow or screeching of a blue jay jolts me out of a reverie.  A warm glow of gratitude washes over me.  There are no words nor any doctrine that can describe it.

Whenever I’ve tried to voice it or write it down or analyze it in any way, the emotion vanishes without a trace.  Whenever I purposely try to recreate the experience, all I get is a cheap imitation.  Is it even wise to try to emulate gratitude?

When gratitude emerges, isn’t it best to simply allow a wide smile, and experience the joy?  Gratitude of this sort is self-generating and pure.gratitude-03

Certainly expressing thankfulness to your lover, your friend, your colleague, and even your deity is wise and good.  Perhaps the anecdotal evidence that claims an attitude of gratitude will generate prosperity is correct.

But when you think about it, doesn’t the technique of gratitude imply lack? Doesn’t it suggest that one is not sincerely grateful?  The technique of gratitude seems to imply underlying greed.

There are many who know that true joy comes from being grateful for what we already possess. Isn’t that the real McCoy?

moi1988bThe Blue Jay of Happiness likes this thought from the Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh: “Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.”

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Vintage Saskatchewan Ektachromes

My friend Andy moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba in early 1991. He invited me to visit him in his new Canadian apartment when I could get away from work.  It turned out that the last two days of June and the first portion of July fit into my workplace’s vacation schedule.

I told Andy that I owed a visit to my friend in western North Dakota and would swing through Saskatchewan because I had another old buddy who lived in Weyburn in that province to also see.

Saskatchewan has been a frequent destination of mine due to its relative proximity to Nebraska.  Its wide-open prairie seems to go on forever.  The only drawback is that driving Trans-Canada 1 through the province is mind-numbingly dull.  To relieve some of the boredom, I periodically pulled off the road to compose photographs.


I had my trusty Canon AE-1 loaded with Ektachrome 200 slide film for the entire journey.  In order to save money and film, I shot most of these in auto-exposure mode.  As a result, many of the frames turned out more artistic than I had planned.  Couple this with repeated showings in a Kodak Carousel projector, there has been some degradation over the past decades. This effect is apparent in a view of the highway through south central Saskatchewan.


I’m always stricken by the naturally abstract quality of the views in the massive rural areas of that province. The vastness of the Canadian prairie makes me feel very tiny, in a good way.


A rest was necessary. I spent Canada Day (July 1st) in the provincial capital city, Regina. It’s a pleasant city that seems like an oasis in the middle of the flat agricultural land.  While exploring Regina on foot, I noticed a sign that mentioned the city is a “Nuclear Weapons Free Zone”.


Along the route to Weyburn the prairie was even more stark and humbling.


I’m one of those travellers who pulls off the road in order to read landmark signs.  In this case, the sign gives an overview of the town of Weyburn.


Back on the Trans-Canada as I neared Manitoba, this scene grabbed my attention.  It seems to represent Saskatchewan at its visual best.

mini-moiThe Blue Jay of Happiness quotes U.S. statesman Adlai Stevenson. “Saskatchewan is much like Texas–except it’s more friendly to the United States.”

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The Selfishness Of Others (Review)

I’ve been encountering a lot of buzz about narcissists lately.  The most numerous and obvious references are about Donald Trump.  However, this popular obsession about narcissism predates the Trump election by more than a few years.

The current young generation is a prime target of accusers of narcissism. Other supposed narcissists are our lovers, close family members, and terrible bosses. This world of people obsessed with narcissism makes up the “narcisphere”.  This name was coined by writer Kristin Domdek in her book length essay The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism.

The “narcisphere” has ballooned out of Internet forums and YouTube videos. It’s a culture with its own language and beliefs. Domdek points out that the first thing to know about popular notions of narcissism is that we are worried about other people’s alleged narcissism.

The popular version of a narcissist is someone who is fake.  The narcissist doesn’t possess a complete soul. They lack authentic compassion and there seems to be something unwholesome about them. So-called “experts” on the “narcisphere” have hijacked terms from legitimate psychology like “projection” and “mirroring”.

An Internet checklist that has gone viral since the election of Donald Trump is “The Narcissism Personality Inventory”. The list, which was first printed in 1979, has nine items that indicate a person’s inclination towards narcissistic personality disorder.

In Domdek’s book we find an informal history of narcissism.  Her examples include her own self-centered boyfriend and Allison, who was featured on MTV’s My Super Sweet Sixteen  teevee show. Allison wanted Atlanta’s Peachtree Street closed down for her personal parade.

selfishnessofothers-02kristindomdekDomdek argues that narcissists are real because we believe them to be so. The author says that the supposed traits of narcissists vary according to who is doing the analysis.  The alleged narcissistic characteristics include supposed motivations, gender, age, and relationship to the analyzer.  The main thing to remember about pop-diagnosis, is that it is usually about somebody else, not the person making the “diagnosis”.

One fear of narcissism is that of we writers who have been told that the overuse of the first person words, I, me, myself, and mine, could be an indicator of a self-absorbed or narcissistic personality. This is something that concerns me whenever my own blog posts explain a personal experience.  When proofreading each blog post, I weigh the how and why each first person pronoun is used. (This paragraph is loaded with them.) Am I worried that I’m being too self-absorbed?

The best parts of the book-essay may be the analyses of Ovid’s classic story of Narcissus and Echo in Metamorphoses from which the psychological condition obtained its name.  The essay offers various interpretations of the ancient story.

Narcissus was exhausted after a day of strenuous activity and hunting. He takes a break near a clear spring. While he drinks, Narcissus is captivated by the beauty of his own image reflected in the water. He falls deeply in love with himself and wastes away. After his body is gone, the pastel narcissis flower takes his place near river banks in order to enjoy the reflections on the waters.

Domdek’s book points out that in pathologizing narcissism we make the mistake of diagnosing other people. These amateur analyses divide us into people who have empathy and other people who lack it.  Is this view accurate? Isn’t this just another way of fracturing society into us and them?

If you’ve been thinking about a possible narcissist in your life, Kristin Domdek’s book is worth your time.

{ The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism by Kristin Domdek; 150 pages, published August, 2016 by F.S.G. Originals; ISBN: 978-0-86547-823-7 }

mini-moiThe Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the musician/DJ/photographer/activist Moby. “I think a lot of self-importance is a product of fear. And fear, living in sort of an un-self-examined fear-based life, tends to lead to narcissism and self-importance.”

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Today I have something to say about nothing.  Have you ever thought about this well-worn word?  You might say, “Sure, nothing doing.”

We often use nothing in reference to something, as in “Bobby’s gift means nothing to me.” We might use it to refer to something that no longer exists, such as, “Nothing remained of Hooterville after the tornado.” We think of it representing something that should be there, but isn’t as in, “The room contained nothing.” If you are explaining how to do a task to somebody you might say, “There’s nothing to it.”

Nothing is represented in mathematics as zero, where it performs in ways that puzzle nothingday-02pupils in school. 6+0=6; 6-0=6; 6X0=0; 6/0=0. These don’t even account for negative numbers, which are less than nothing.

What are we to make of the common idiom, “Nothing comes easy”?

Nothing is quite a concept…or is it?  Nothing can be the same as “no thing”. If there is no thing, that means it doesn’t exist, doesn’t it? Is nothing the denial of concepts? We might have a mental concept of a phone but do we have a mental concept of no phone?nophone

In its most literal form or non-form, nothing is not light or dark. It’s not hot or cold. Nothing isn’t a vacuum. Nothing has zero characteristics. Nothing does not exist. Nothing is only useful as a concept when compared to something actual. Strictly speaking, nothing is a word. Nothing is a tool of cognition. Although nothing doesn’t exist, nothing can be useful.

Eastern philosophers sometimes refer to the idea of nothingness, which is related to the similar concept of emptiness. Nothingness can be experienced but is not something solid.nothingday-03

You sit in a quiet place and ponder what or who you are if you mentally subtract all the things you are.  Take away your political and religious affiliations; your nationality; your place of residence; your gender; your race; your sexual orientation; subtract your job title; your body’s physical description; your name;  your age; your relationship to others; your preferences of food, drink, art, music, sports teams; and so forth. Nothingness is what remains.

Seriously, try out this exercise as a form of contemplation or meditation. What or what do you not experience? This nothingness is not a goal to attain. It is a tool to use for exploration of freedom.

So, is nothing really something?

moi1988bThe Blue Jay of Happiness ponders a statement attributed to Shakyamuni Buddha. “I truly attained nothing from complete, unexcelled enlightenment.”

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