Message In A Bottle

There used to be a lot of newspaper cartoons about stranded castaways on tiny islands tossing bottles containing messages into the sea. These cartoons are less common these days. The message in a bottle theme is both amusing and puzzling to me.

The amusing part is that the sketches provide a vessel for a one-liner joke. A puzzling thing is where do the poor souls get bottles, paper, and pens?

Another puzzling part of the cartoons is what, besides requesting aid, is included in the message in a bottle. Do the castaways include coordinates to enable rescuers to locate the victim? The older cartoons mostly appeared before the invention of GPS or locater devices.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have over analyzed the cartoons. Maybe I should just laugh at the sight gags, then let them go.  My excuse is, I acquired the habit of analyzing things like cartoons and pop culture from dad. One of his frequent sayings was, “That doesn’t make sense.”

Could it be that depictions of castaways tossing out messages in bottles tickles our funny bones because the scenario touches tender spots in our minds? Isn’t it true that much of our humor is based upon unfortunate events, mistakes, and embarrassing situations?

On its face, being a castaway comes from a terrible event like a ship capsizing or an airplane crash. If this happened to us, we would be horrified and feel very helpless and afraid for our survival. Being stranded on an isolated, unknown island in the middle of an ocean is a situation nobody wishes for themselves.

Of course the message in a bottle theme is not only found in cartoons, it’s sometimes an element in serious literature and drama. In any case, isn’t it true that the message in a bottle is a metaphor about life’s circumstances?

Are there times when you feel isolated and alone in the sea of humanity? Don’t you often feel frustrated that there is nobody out there who really, honestly understands what you’re about? Isn’t there the fear that we will perish without anyone receiving the messages of our lives? Are these questions at the heart of the message in a bottle theme?

Sometimes I look at social media and interpret the posts, tweets, and so forth as bottles containing messages from people wanting or needing to be discovered. There are millions of isolated beings who believe their only tools are the electronic devices that access the Web.

Maybe, in a sense, we’re all castaways wanting to be rescued or at least have our deepest messages received and understood. What a joy it is when somebody picks up the bottle, removes the slip of paper, and reads the message.

The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders a message from actress Gene Tierney. “Life is a little like a message in a bottle, to be carried by the winds and the tides.”

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Dignity is a virtue that shows externally and felt internally. It’s not pomposity nor a façade. We recognize a person with dignity right away.

One of the most dignified persons I’ve ever had the privilege to meet was my former partner’s mother. Noriko was a woman with the demeanor of Japanese high society. Her grace and elegance was befitting an Empress. Even though she was not related to the Emperor’s family. Her humility and friendliness put others at ease and garnered great respect. Takeo’s mother had schooled herself in the finer social arts, yet exuded warm, loving compassion. She was the family matriarch but did not lord over others.

Moriko had a lovely depth of wisdom and character. She was serene as a result of daily meditation. She was courteous and polite, but not to a fault. Moriko was attentive to others, serious when appropriate, yet also had a graceful sense of humor. People always treated her with great respect.

I was fortunate to have another Japanese woman as a part of my early childhood. My parents chose Kimiko as a part time caretaker and babysitter when mom needed extra help in mothering. I only know of Kimiko from the stories that mom told me when I grew older. Mom said Kimiko was a beautiful young lady with a lot of dignity; she used to treat me as if I was a prince.

Many of us were taught a way to live that fosters better living. One of my great uncles advised me to tackle the most difficult tasks first thing in the morning. Pay attention and respect to family and friends at all times. Better yet, treat everybody with respect and dignity. End each day with the same constructive attitude. This will keep you from wallowing in cynicism and negativity.

Back in the 1970s, when gay liberation made itself a movement to be reckoned with, I found myself carried along by its positive energy and beauty. That was also the time when people like Anita Bryant helped birth the anti-gay faction of Americans. Those were times when my self-respect came and went much like high and low tide.

One day, a Roman Catholic friend invited me to attend a support group for lesbians and gays called “Dignity USA”. I was assured that the guys wouldn’t try to convert me to Catholicism, but that I might take away something valuable. Due to the fact that the Vatican has a checkered history regarding its relationship to our community perhaps I could learn how Catholic gays cope as a group.

The one meeting I attended was more or less a social gathering with an informal discussion about what it meant for the members to be gay and Catholic. It was my first exposure to the idea that a person can be gay and spiritual at the same time. This was a real revelation to me. I came away knowing not only why the group was named “Dignity” but some of that dignity rubbed off on me that evening.

Sometimes I think about that “Dignity USA” meeting as I ponder how far the community has come and the emerging obstacles we constantly face. I am fortunate to have seen examples of strong character and deep meaning coupled with my identity. I know that we deserve more than a few crumbs of justice.

I am reminded daily that there are millions of people who live in non-accepting nations and within hostile cultures where there is no respect for LGBT people. They are threatened with torture and murder simply for being who they are. What little dignity they have, is a lifesaver. Dignity keeps them alive and provides a glimmer of hope for the future.

Dignity is indeed something everyone should aspire towards. Major League Baseball’s great Jackie Robinson once said, “The most luxurious possession, the richest treasure anybody has, is his personal dignity.” On a similar note, the philosopher Aristotle said, “Dignity does not consist in possessing honors, but in deserving them.”

In this day and age when deceit is given a pass by people in the highest offices of the land we must be reminded of something Immanuel Kant once wrote. “By a lie, a man…annihilates his dignity as a man.”

It is important to find that kernel of dignity within ourselves and build upon it. We know family, friends, and others who possess great dignity. Perhaps you have known someone like Moriko, the family matriarch. Someone who was loved, shares love, and carefully nurtures people around them in an unobtrusive way. Someone who has quiet strength and dignity.

The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders a statement from  German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “When it comes to human dignity, we cannot make compromises.”

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The Perfect Life

The question came out of the blue from Jorge during a quiet spell last week. “I’m not asking this as a mere conversation starter: If you could choose the perfect life, would you choose the life you have now?”

That’s one of the things I like about my friend, he puts me on the spot in intriguing ways. When Jorge asks such a question, he wants to engage in authentic, constructive dialogue, not airy fairy daydream stuff.

I looked at my pal and confessed that I might not choose the life I have now, but that it might be similar to it. That’s because perfection is a subjective, mercurial concept. Perfection is a concept like the Judeo-Christian idea of Heaven.

I went on and mentioned that I’ve thought about perfection in life since I was a Boy Scout. I asked Jorge if he thought about such things when he was a teen?

He admitted that he did. Maybe most people go through a phase like that in the process of getting a focus on their lives and what they want to become in the future as adults. Then my friend reminded me to answer his original question.

“The thing is”, I replied, “that my idea of a perfect life pretty much came into focus when I was a Boy Scout. I remember a night when everyone else was probably asleep in their tents except me. My idea at the time was something like going out on expeditions in the wilderness. I’d meet scientists and learn about geology, biology, and astronomy. Then I’d go about and try to understand the things I had been shown. I still want that life.”

Jorge said he didn’t have such dreams as a kid. He had gotten caught up in neighborhood intrigue and survival in Los Angeles. Jorge said real life questions only started bubbling to the surface after he was introduced to the wilds of Colorado during a vacation trip. He was able to see the world from a different perspective after then.

When he lived in L.A. Jorge was wrapped up in the world of pop culture, consumerism, and advertising. “I went through a lot of disillusionment because I was told to chase after the perfect life that was dangled in front of me every day, but I had no means to get any of it. When I visited the Colorado mountains I realized how fake my dreams had been. I had been aiming to live in a Disneyland world, until I finally learned that the search for happiness is the wrong approach.”

I asked, “So you found out that going after happiness alone is to live according to the carrot and stick approach. Happiness is what we’re told we want, when what our hearts really want is peacefulness.”

“Yeah, it was a matter of separating substance from form. I had been literally living in La La land, then I found out La La Land is nothing close to perfection. I started to relax and not get hung up on living in an egotistical dream world.”

I asked how long the process took. Jorge laughed and said, “It’s still a work in progress. How about you?”

“Well, I understood the egotism question early on. I had to confront it because I encountered egotism in others and myself as a broadcaster. Living much of my life in a radio studio was an incubator for it. The secret is to be aware of the egotism, then it can be reined in, if you wish. So, egotism was not my primary driver. I realized that a happy life is more than what goes on in my little world, because people really don’t care about my little world. Everyone is wrapped up in their own little worlds.”

“When did you discover this?”

“I got a grasp on it by living and working in an industry that is powered and driven by egotism. Everyone, including me, was in it just for themselves, and their own glory. Within the first year or two, I understood this, and was able to dial it back by focusing on other aspects of life, not just career.”

“What do you mean by ‘other aspects of life’?”

“Stuff that came up because of a strong urge of curiosity in general. I knew that curiosity didn’t kill the cat, it was the cat’s lack of curiosity that did him in. Curiosity has long been the driver of my life.”

Jorge said we have curiosity in common. “Curiosity is the glue that holds our friendship together. Both of us had to learn to take honest looks at ourselves and our limitations. Then we learned that it is important to express our true selves–our real, nitty gritty selves, not what we think other people expect us to be.”

“So, to answer your original question, Jorge, ‘If I could choose the perfect life, would I choose the life I have?’ I stick with my original answer. I think I’d choose a similar life, but not the one I have now, because I still need a lot of work, and perfection is something unattainable.”

Jorge grinned, “Yes, perfection is Heaven. I know I wouldn’t like Heaven because the perfection of Heaven would become boring after an hour or two. Imperfection is much more interesting and satisfying. I would not want a perfect life.”

I looked at my nearly empty mug of coffee. “It looks like we have imperfect coffee mugs, would you like for me to warm yours up?” Then we adjourned to the kitchen.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes sociologist and writer Hugh Mackay. “Nothing is perfect. Life is messy. Relationships are complex. Outcomes are uncertain. People are irrational.”

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Clusters …Floral Friday

It was time to rummage through the “extras” bin of supplies this week to see what my imagination could come up with. Sometimes it’s fun to put arrangements together without a precise plan for design. Here are today’s results.

A dark, bulky plastic resin planter from a hobby shop was the first stop for experimentation. I selected the largest blooms in the bin and placed a row of them around the perimeter of the container, then filled in the remaining area with marigolds, small wildflowers, and stems. This would work well as a centerpiece for a late summer table.

A unique basket that’s shaped like an antique truck is hauling a cargo of more large blooms, marigolds, and miscellaneous small flowers.

A bright orange pot I found on a half-price display at the Target store is home to greenery and cheery flowers. This floral cluster is just right to brighten any room.

The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders a thought from Khalil Gibran. “If your heart is a volcano, how shall you expect flowers to bloom?”

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My Little Corner Of The World

Photography has returned as a personal interest once more in my life. The bug hit while going through carousels full of long forgotten slides and converting them to digital files. Semi-consciously, I’ve been capturing sights that touch wordless places in my mind.

I realized that my humble, pocket-size point and shoot camera is capable of doing more than the old 35mm SLR film camera could do; and it does so very cheaply. There are no bulky accessories to drag around. Image storage can take place on thumb drives or on the Cloud.

Since the unboxing of the camera that I received as a free premium. I’ve shot hundreds of frames of things and places around my physical domain on this planet. I decided to sift through one of my recent files and share a few recent pictures with you today.

Keep in mind that these images were shot on a bare-bones Sony Cyber-Shot palm-size point and shoot camera that retails for less than $200. I do not use PhotoShop nor any similar finishing program. Cropping and slight enhancement are done with the Sony’s standard basic program.

It was Christmas Eve morning as I waited to photograph sunrise in a field on the east side of Wayne, Nebraska. I had already snapped a few anticipatory frames when I was startled by an extremely brilliant blue flash at the very moment the Sun appeared. I missed capturing the very rare event because of shutter lag, but the camera caught this after the fact image a split second later.  Oh well.

Early this year at home, the chattering of two squirrels caught my ear. I grabbed the camera, cracked open the door and caught these two rascals scolding a stray cat.

Marcos is a mixed breed dog who belongs to one of my friends. This is one of the better captures of him at play.

I couldn’t resist the play of color and light as window light filtered through my collection of swung vases in the living room.

The sky showed off some amazing clouds one April afternoon in rural Wayne County.

One rainy day, it was time to set up a still life in order to experiment with light and shadow.

Sasha has been playing cat and mouse with me this year. She is quite shy and has only allowed me to pet her a precious few times. We do play eye games whenever I’m at my friend’s house.

The Blue Jay of Happiness relates to this quip from Henri Cartier Bresson: “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.”

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Thinking About Roller Coasters

A few years ago I visited my friend Gregg in Port Clinton, about halfway between Toledo and Cleveland, Ohio on the shore of Lake Erie. The main thing to remember about Gregg, is his obsession with roller coasters. This is understandable, because he spent his entire boyhood only a few miles away from the nation’s second oldest operating amusement park.

Gregg is a walking encyclopedia of roller coaster history, trivia, and everything a person could know about Cedar Point Amusement Park. He spends a large portion of his disposable income at that park.

Until I ever met Gregg, my attitude about roller coasters varied between neutral and slightly negative. The only coasters I had experienced were at the Minnesota State Fair and at the Nebraska State Fair–small fry compared to the permanent coasters at theme parks. You can imagine my feelings of trepidation when Gregg announced that we would be spending an entire day at Cedar Point.

We left early for the short drive from Port Clinton to Sandusky. The massive parking area was already half full of early bird tourists. Gregg already had a season pass, so I purchased a one day ticket to get in.

While we waited in the first queue, Gregg gave me a mini-lecture about his hero, La Marcus Thompson. Thompson was a very successful inventor, entrepreneur, and the father of the American roller coaster.

In 1878, Thompson patented, but never built, a ride similar to the early “Russian Slides”, that is two parallel artificial hills that accommodate people on benches. Thompson later came up with a commercial success based on his earlier idea. The “Switchback Railway” was opened for riders at Coney Island, New York, in early 1884.

His monopoly only lasted a few months, because later that year Charles Alcoke opened a ride that completed a circuit. Then the next year Philip Hinkle introduced a ride that incorporated a cable to pull cars uphill to the “lift hill”. These innovations began the tradition of parks designing ever more thrilling rail layouts.

With my roller coaster education out of the way, Gregg and I took advantage of the lesser numbers of tourists and rode several “smaller” coasters of various themes and designs. Gregg pointed out his ultimate destination for our visit. It was a huge monstrosity called the Magnum XL 200. Gregg said the Magnum is the first “hyper-coaster” in the world. It’s the first coaster to be taller than 200 feet and runs cars faster than 70 mph. He said I could think about riding it with him if I wanted to, but he wouldn’t pressure me.

All day long we waited in short queues and rode so many coasters that I lost track of the numbers. In the middle of the afternoon we rode a double coaster called “The Gemini”. This was the most memorable ride of that afternoon. This particular attraction is a double coaster built on a traditional wooden framework. The idea is to have one train of cars race the other at about 60 mph, the train with the heaviest passengers wins. I don’t remember who won when Gregg and I rode “The Gemini”; all I know is that it is my favorite coaster at Cedar Point.

There were only a few more coasters to go before it was time to decide to ride the Magnum. The remaining rides were fun, but forgettable, because I worried about whether or not to risk riding the hyper-coaster.

Then Gregg mentioned that he didn’t see a queue for the Magnum. He suggested that we go over and investigate. He chatted briefly with a park employee and found out that the Magnum was closed for the afternoon. The closure was due to strong winds aloft coming in from the lake. Gregg laughed at my expression of relief. Then he suggested we ride his favorite old fashioned merry-go-round.

Thankfully, that first day spent at a proper roller coaster park was a very memorable, fun one. My lingering prejudices about coasters disappeared completely that day.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes legendary car builder Enzo Ferrari. “…each time I seemed to be climbing into a roller coaster and finding myself coming through the downhill run with that sort of dazed feeling that we all know.”

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70 Years Of Independence

I want to take this opportunity to wish my Internet friends in India and in Pakistan a happy Independence Day today. I feel privileged to regularly correspond with special people in both nations.

Both India and Pakistan obtained their Independence from Britain on this date in 1947. The development of both modern nations has been long intertwined and complex. South Asia is of particular interest because of the area’s place in the world’s ancient history. The subcontinent is one of the first places that civilization began.

There is enough history in South Asia to fill libraries and museums to overflowing. This includes both ancient and modern times. So, what happened nearly three-quarters of a century ago to make today important?

Political Independence from the British Dominion was quite lengthy, harsh, and nuanced. For brevity’s sake, I’ll outline only the very bare-bones official political events.

The struggle for independence from Britain began in earnest when Jawahrarlal Nehru proclaimed “Poorna Swaraj” or total freedom from colonial rule on January 26, 1929. India’s Congress Party celebrated January 26th as Independence Day until colonial rule ended.

The last Viceroy of India, Lord Mountbatten, was given a mandate by the British parliament to transfer power by June 30, 1948. However, due to the continued strife and conflict, Mountbatten figured that had he waited until then, “there would have been no power left to transfer.” So, the Viceroy moved the transfer date ahead to August of 1947.

British Parliamentarians followed Mountbatten’s advice and the Indian Independence legislation was introduced in the House of Commons on July 4, 1947 and passed within two weeks. In its finished form, the law called for the establishment of the Dominions of India and Pakistan, in turn, they were given permission to secede from the British Commonwealth of Nations. All of these were to happen on August 15th of that year.

The transfer of power from Great Britain to the governments of India and Pakistan did take place peacefully on August 15, 1947. Now, Independence Day is celebrated each August 15th in both nations. By the way, the old Indian Independence Day, January 26th, is now celebrated as Republic Day in India.

The Blue Jay of Happiness likes this thought from Marcus Tullius Cicero: “What then is freedom? The power to live as one wishes.”

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