Listening To Music

While engaging in the never-ending habit of perusing my archives, I stumbled upon an old copy of “Love Devotion Surrender” by Carlos Santana and Mahavishnu John McLaughlin. It’s a record I haven’t picked up in decades. Suddenly I was overwhelmed with the desire to listen to it again.

It was not just an urge to play some old music and trigger some fond memories. It was the need to deeply listen in the same manner I allow a Beethoven sonata to engulf the mind. Although the intent was not to indulge in nostalgia, long lost memories of listening to a taped copy of the album in the car appeared. Visions of gliding westward on the Junipero Serra Freeway towards Palo Alto and San Francisco filled my mind.

It was my go-to album of choice during the winter of 1973-74. Each and every passage was digested and processed. At home, I played it through the stereo headphones in order to pick up every nuance of the instruments and the vocals. I knew where every tick and pop was located on each track of the LP. Upon hearing the record yesterday, I anticipated and noted most of those same flaws.

It was during the winter of  ’73/’74 that I finally realized that each person has a way of listening to music, speech, ambient sounds, and nature in his or her unique way. Each of us has a personalized pattern of listening that is as unique as our fingerprints. When we pay attention to what we hear and how we listen, we can understand our inner workings a little bit better.

It’s interesting to pay attention to what kinds of music our family and friends love to hear. What musicians do they like who you also like? What musicians do they like who you don’t enjoy? Also, which musicians do you enjoy who your friends couldn’t care less about?

In 1974, my pals and I enjoyed a great many of the same artists. My crowd loved Pink Floyd and the Beatles. I did not share their love for The Grateful Dead. No matter how much I pleaded with them, they refused to listen to the Santana-Mahavishnu album. It’s the same today when I bring up the subject of electronica and trying to get friends to at least listen to something by Jean-Michel Jarre. Their musical “fingerprints” simply don’t mesh with the music.

Each of us processes our culture in different ways. How do our attitudes, beliefs, expectations, language, and intentions manifest in our mental states? Why does Metallica sound excellent to some and terrible to me? Why do people have strong opinions about certain bands and musicians? Why do some people live for popular music but won’t go near classical pieces? Why do I sometimes love to hear Disco?

We can analyze musical tastes all we want, but in the end, music touches us in very personal, special ways. It’s odd that we label our musical preferences as taste. Some of us love the flavor of pumpkin pie yet someone else might loathe the stuff. There seems to be no rational reason for this state of affairs. We deeply know what we love, then we pursue ways to acquire more of it. It’s a basic behavior pattern we share with other animal species. When I want to indulge in Mozart’s “Jupiter Symphony”, it becomes an obsession. I don’t want to eat or drink or even think. I just want to listen to every sublime moment.

An acquaintance not only does not enjoy classical music, she cannot stand to hear any sort of music at all. No amount of music appreciation courses will change her mind. When music of any sort comes on, she changes channels or switches off the radio. This business of not enjoying any type of music remains a mystery to me.

While pondering this puzzle, I’m going to switch on the player and select “shuffle play” and enjoy whatever happens to come up.

The Blue Jay of Happiness likes a thought from musician Brian Eno. “Musicians are there in front of you, and the spectators sense their tension, which is not the case when you’re listening to a record. Your attention is more relaxed. The emotional aspect is more important in live music.”

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My Cheerful Young Friend

My young friend Alfredo is one of the most optimistic people I know. He is the son of Mexican immigrants and has gone through the hardships many people of that background have also suffered. At first glance he looks like one of any number of  the young Latinos who our politicians have labeled “Dreamers”. Technically speaking he is not, because Alfredo’s parents are naturalized citizens and were never

During one of our quieter conversations, my friend confessed that he grew up in dire poverty. His entire family was employed harvesting food crops. Alfredo doesn’t remember ever staying in one town more than a few months at a time. Even though they moved frequently, my friend and his sister earned good marks in public school and both graduated from high school with honors.

After graduation, he continued to work menial part-time jobs in order to pay his way through trade school and to contribute to his family’s needs. In fact, he was working part-time when we became acquainted with each other. Alfredo is now employed full-time in his chosen profession and has become one of the favorite employees at his workplace.

While thinking about Alfredo for this post, I cannot remember many times when he was sad or discouraged. Those times he felt unhappy have been short-lived. He is a very curious young man and almost always wears a wide smile.

Alfredo has shared what he thinks is the cause of his unshakable optimism. He was born with an upbeat personality. His parents are forces of great energy and confidence. They placed their unconditional faith and love into their two children. Alfredo said that this background was tempered by the harshness of their circumstances along with the prejudices and xenophobia displayed by the dominant culture. He cannot afford to be pessimistic for even a day.

He has been through so much difficulty and has encountered a great many cruel people that he has been tempted to give up. Alfredo saw through these obstacles and learned to use the failures of society as lessons in how not to live his own life. This is what has made Alfredo an unstoppable force, much to the dismay of those who hate people like him.

My friend is proof that thinking good thoughts enables good things to happen. His optimism is not superficial, but is genuine and strong to the core. Even though his life has often been haunted by the loneliness and poverty that children of migrant workers routinely face, Alfredo was able to dream of climbing out of the quicksand of his existence. He never wants to return to the mind-numbing, unhealthy conditions of poverty.

It’s good to know people like Alfredo.

The Blue Jay of Happiness likes this quip from Oscar Wilde: “If you pretend to be good, the world takes you very seriously. If you pretend to be bad, it doesn’t. Such is the astounding stupidity of optimism.”

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Rediscoveries From My Desk Drawer

It started with an old digital wrist watch. It was a pretty nice watch back in the 1990s when I wore the thing almost every single day.

Last Autumn, the battery was replaced because I wanted to start wearing it again sometimes. However, it didn’t fit anymore because my wrists are fatter than they used to be. The adjustments were maxed out, so I put it on a regular black leather strap. It doesn’t look right. It needs its original link bracelet.

The problem was finding the links I had removed from the bracelet back in the 1990s when the bracelet was too large. That’s when the hunt for the old spare links commenced. I thought I remembered stashing them in the desk drawer that serves as a miscellaneous file for stuff to deal with later.

As far as desk junk drawers go, it’s somewhat organized. There is even a plastic divided junk drawer tray. That’s where I decided to search for the missing links. After all, I’ve been placing miscellaneous coins and doo dads in that tray to die of neglect for many years. I wondered why I hadn’t tackled this little job sooner. After all, the drawer is right in front of me every day.

There were hands full of tiny treasures to behold. Why not snap some pictures as reminders of the search? The little penlight is the keeper of a key-chain fob that step-mom Tippy brought back from Thailand as a gift for me. The geeky miniature slide-rule tie-bar that actually works was rediscovered. A large, heavy Norfolk High School medallion is there, I didn’t even attend that school. The oldest item is a war charm found in Arizona, or was it New Mexico? There’s an old token that Sears Roebuck issued to commemorate the refurbishing of the Statue of Liberty.

Best of all was the packet of miniature souvenir photos from the Chicago World’s Fair–how had I forgotten about that? They deserved to be examined again.

Of course there were many more little goodies like a pocket screwdriver that’s never been used, a pair of dice that has been used a lot, a novelty ballpoint pen that contains real soybeans. There’s a small folding tobacco pipe cleaning tool. Then there’s the small notebook I carried on my trip to India.

The old solar-powered calculator has been “lost” for many years. It still works as well as when it was brand new. There were a couple of old Kennedy half-dollars and a shiny silver dollar on top of it. I wonder if any of these things are super valuable.

I used to collect commemorative medals and tokens. These rediscoveries are fascinating. There’s a Nebraska highway department centennial medallion, a Buddhist medal from Thailand, and an old commemorative token from Los Angeles.

The most amazing treasures from the desk drawer are three small Dutch coins. These were minted when the Netherlands were occupied by the Nazis during the Second World War. Two of them are from 1941 and the other from 1942.

Here are the obverse sides.

There was an overflowing handful of other coins that have very little individual value. A few of the more interesting examples include: a chewed up Filipino coin, a nice one Franc piece, a copper Chinese coin, the other coin with a hole from Thailand, a Canadian dime, and a five Rupees coin from India.

There are still more tiny treasures to sort through. None of them are the missing links for the watch. Oh well, the bracelet search will have to continue on eBay.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes industrial designer Marc Newson. “I have a lot of objects in my space, little things, reminders, memories.”

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Materials …Floral Friday

This week’s projects utilize containers constructed from three basic materials. Part of the beauty of these materials is that the use of them is very traditional. Also, one of this week’s tests for attractiveness is that the piece should look great on a shelf, unfilled.

The most ancient material for containers is earthenware. The round bottomed “Navajo” pot is constructed from red clay. Taking a note from earthiness, I placed a variety of dried stems inside to give the piece a timeless appearance.

The large vase has been carved from marble. It’s a heavy piece with a simple elegant shape. A spray of small flowers balances the look with lightness of form. The toothpick holder size cornucopia vase is formed from slag glass. The “Vogue Mercco” container was manufactured in New York City.

The art glass compote came from Slovakia and is one of my favorite containers. The mottled, random pattern suggests motion yet the bowl has a traditional shape. The formal greenery design features small moss roses.

The Blue Jay of Happiness contemplates this from California artist Mark Bradford: “I look at art as a container. You can’t get inside it, so you have to ask all of these questions.”

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Thinking About Loyalty

The ancient Roman historian Suetonius documented the fate of Julius Caesar. He wrote that the soothsayer Spurinna warned the ruler in mid-Februarius (February) that 30-days hence were to be perilous and that the danger would end on the Ides of Martius (March).

On the day of the Ides of Martius the soothsayer met Caesar again. The Emperor said, “You are aware, surely, that the Ides of Martius have passed.” Spurinna replied, “Surely you realize that the Ides have not yet passed.”

Later that day in 44 BCE Caesar was assassinated. The ruler was betrayed by Marcus Brutus and several other senators. From that date onward, the Ides of March has been linked to betrayal and loyalty.

As an aside, let’s remind ourselves about what the Ides of each month were. The ancient Roman calendar counted backwards instead of forwards from three times in lunar months. The times were called “Nones”. The first None was on the 5th on 30-day months and the 7th on 31-day months. The Ides fell on the 13th on 30-day months and the 15th on 31-day months. The Kalends was on the 1st of the following month. So the Ides were not restricted only to Martius, all of them had Ides. For instance the Ides of Augustus (August) was on the 15th.

So today is the Ides of March, the day we can think about the concept of loyalty. For the most part loyalty is regarded as a positive ideal. We think about people who are loyal to their country, form of government, cause, and duty. Personally, we can have dear friends upon whom we can depend for loyalty to us. True friendship is based upon mutual loyalty.

Obviously Marcus Brutus and his colleagues were not loyal to Julius Caesar. They were jealous of his status, and fearful of his tyrannical, absolute rule of Rome. The Senators conspired to commit the ultimate act of betrayal–murder.

What is the state of loyalty in the year 2018? This is the age of social media. We can “friend” someone in an instant and “unfriend” them the moment we disagree with something she posts on Facebook. Such friendships are based only on hyperlinks and not unselfish sincerity.

We have world leaders whose patriotism and allegiances are questioned because of their possible loyalty to foreign powers. In the United States, we question the loyalty of our elected Representatives, Senators, and Chief Executives. We should not place our trust in these people naively. Some of our leaders betray us due to their love of money and power.

Without basic loyalty there is no concrete foundation for society, communities, and nations. This is why treason and coups d’etat are fundamentally destructive to society and civility. Betrayal by one’s family and friends strike at the heart of humanity.

The writer Algernon Charles Swinburne said, “The highest spiritual quality, the noblest property of mind a man can have, is this of loyalty … a man with no loyalty in him, with no sense of love or reverence or devotion due to something outside and above his poor daily life, with its pains and pleasures, profits and losses, is as evil a case as man can be.”

Of course, loyalty has its limits in even the most ethical people. When a friend shows that he has no true appreciation for you, it is time to question his loyalty to you. Likewise, when an ideal or belief does not serve to help make you a better person it is time to question why you remain loyal to that point of view. Mark Twain wrote, “Loyalty to a petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul.”

So we understand that while loyalty is a matter of black and white allegiance, loyalty is also a very fragile thing.

I hope you have an auspicious Ides of March today.

The Blue Jay of Happiness thinks about this anonymous saying: “The only people I owe my loyalty to are those who never made me question theirs.”

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Happy π Day

Q: What do you get when you cross a stone with a sphere?
A: Rock and Roll

Gather together with your circle of friends, or circle the wagons, tap into your inner geek, and have fun with Pi today.

Prepare to watch eyes roll if you share this pun: “What do you get when you take an Alaskan’s igloo and divide its circumference by its diameter? Eskimo Pi.”

My old friend Paul was a punster who could cause a roomful of people to groan with his utterances. Choose a topic, and he’d have a pun for it on the tip of his tongue. One of his mathematics gems was this one: “The roundest knight at King Arthur’s Court was Sir Cumference. He ate too much Pi.”

Pi day is the brainstorm of physicist Larry Shaw who works at San Francisco’s Exploratorium. This brainiac’s holiday long ago became an international day of note and is also an Internet favorite among the numbered set.

People have been pondering circles for ages. Ancient mathematicians have been working on calculating the areas of circles for at least 4,000 years. In Babylon, the area of a circle was approximated by multiplying the square of its radius. One ancient Babylonian tablet gave a Pi-like number of 3.125. Ancient Egyptian priests used the number 3.16 to reach the approximate value they needed.

One of the most famous ancient mathematicians, Archimedes of Syracuse, arrived at his number by using the Pythagorean Theorem to determine the areas of two regular polygons that were inscribed within a circle. Through some mathematical gymnastics Archimedes understood that he had not found the actual number, but he did determine the number he needed was between 3.10 and 3.17. Mathematicians have been working on narrowing down Pi ever since then. Today we approximate it as 3.14159…, etc.

In 2010 researchers had calculated π to the 2-quadrillionth digit–2,000,000,000,000,000. A year later, Australian researchers put a super computer to work on the project and came up with a number down to the 60-trillianth digit. This mysterious number continues to fascinate people and will likely remain puzzling for many years to come.

π is an irrational number so it cannot be exactly expressed as a regular, common fraction. The approximation can only be further approximated by 22/7 or thereabouts.

Mathematicians started to use the Greek letter π in the 18th century. It was proposed by William Jones in 1706 then popularized by Leonhard Euler around 1737.

So why is today π Day? By the U.S. date format for March 14th, we have 3-14 or 3.14. The perfect Pi day was in 2015 when the day was 3/14/15. Of course, perfect Pi days are once in a lifetime events.

Comparisons of Pi with pie are inevitable, so let’s wince at this oldie but goodie: “The worst thing about getting hit in the face with Pi is that it never ends.”

We also have several variation on pie, including: “What do you get if you divide the circumference of a bowl of ice cream by its diameter? Pi a’la mode.”

Enjoy some nerdy fun and have a Happy Pi Day.

The Blue Jay of Happiness asks his own Pi riddle. “What do you get when you take the Moon and divide its circumference by its diameter? …Pi in the sky of course.”

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Open An Umbrella Indoors

One of the most enduring superstitions we have is the opening of an umbrella indoors belief. Many people still believe that if an umbrella is opened inside of a building bad luck will be the result.

This belief is thought to have originated back in Ancient Egypt. Parasols or umbrellas that provide shade were only to be used by the Pharaohs, other royals, and scribes. In addition to protecting the royal skin from the Sun, the Egyptians believed that parasols protected the high ranking people from evil spirits. To open a parasol indoors or beneath any shade might offend Ra, the Sun God. I wonder how the Egyptians rationalized these contradictory beliefs.

There’s another opinion that links the superstition to England in the 1700s when rain resistant umbrellas with metal struts became widely available. The devices were rather large and difficult to deploy. The umbrellas posed a hazard to people and things within range of an opened umbrella. Because of the possibility of injury and damage from the spring-loaded, fast opening accessory, it seemed like common sense to keep an umbrella folded indoors, even without the superstition.

Oddly enough, it was not considered bad luck if the umbrella was opened upside down to allow it to dry following use after the umbrella had been first opened outdoors in the rain.

One of my cousins is a strong believer in the opened umbrella indoors curse. She says that opening an umbrella inside the home upsets the benevolent spirits that protect the home and results in attracting poltergeists. She says that an umbrella opened indoors also insults her guardian angels, thus allowing misfortune to occur.

My cousin also claims that using black umbrellas reminds people of mourners in a cemetery. Witnesses of such a sight think about the deaths of loved ones which brings about unpleasant emotions. There may be some merit to this because death is a taboo subject.

This old superstition is powerful and resilient because it is widely still believed by people in general society even if the origins of the belief are not known. I’m guessing the most practical skeptic still feels a twinge if she sees somebody opening an umbrella indoors.

Even though a practical, rational person thinks the notion of bad luck umbrella opening is silly, a part of her mind reacts reflexively. Many of us also flash on a similar thought when we first encounter a black cat.

The human mind is a powerful entity. Once we become attached to an idea or concept, it’s hard to let go of it. This is especially true if the belief is socially reinforced by folk wisdom.

Have you noticed that today is the 13th day of the month? There is the very popular notion that 13 is a highly inauspicious number. This is also March, the month of the Roman God of War and Power. There are a lot of beliefs surrounding Mars. It was thought that if Mars was happy that peace would occur. It is during peacetime that civilizations grow and prosper.

My cousin believes that when Mars intersects with the number 13, that people should beware of bad luck. This is an arcane superstition. I’m not sure where my cousin learned about it or if it is a belief she deduced by mentally linking Mars and 13. In any case, it could be a compelling notion for those who believe it.

I can only guess that the Mars and 13 hypothesis might be a reason that Thomas Knibb chose this date for the obscure holiday, Open An Umbrella Indoors Day. Supposedly Knibb created the commemoration as a way that people can disprove this and other popular superstitions.

In order to celebrate the holiday, you need to open an umbrella inside of a building or your house. Keep a journal of any unusually inauspicious events that happen to you during the rest of the month.

Do you believe something unfortunate will happen to you because you dare to open an umbrella indoors?

The Blue Jay of Happiness likes a line from writer Gertrude Stein. “The deepest thing in anyone is the conviction of the bad luck that follows boasting.”

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