It’s Ally Week

One of my college student friends reminded me yesterday that this week is GLSEN’s Ally Week. Gloria said this is a very special week for her because she remains an active member of the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network group here in town. Gloria is a straight advocate of LGBTQ students and adults. She also happens to be one of my own allies.

For members of GLSEN, this week is all about expressing gratitude for allies and raising public consciousness about the importance of allies for LGBTQ people. Being a school student is awkward, often difficult for kids, being LGBTQ adds another complication to their lives.

In many instances, being an LGBTQ student means feeling isolated and alone amongst peers. There is often the added cruelty of being the target of moralists, and bullies. There is the common reluctance of others to get involved with marginalized kids. This emotional abuse and neglect often results in mental health problems and sometimes suicide.

Everyone needs a friend and ally who will stand by us through thick and thin through happy times and harsh times. LGBTQ people are keenly aware of this need. Too often this basic need goes unmet. This is especially true if the student comes from a family that is hostile towards the LGBTQ community. When a kid cannot feel safe being authentically her or himself in their own home, daily life is a quagmire of misery and anxiety. This is when allies are especially important and greatly appreciated.

Allies are often fellow members of the LGBTQ community. Those of us who know non-binary identifying people need to be allies of genderfluid or transgender individuals, because they are easy targets of our adversaries. They take the brunt of misunderstanding, fear, hatred and violence from society.

LGBTQ students, themselves, tell us they need us to be advocates who speak with them not for them. They need people who are eager to learn and understand more. The students want their existence and experience validated. Regardless of race, they crave inclusivity in society. They need people who are simply willing to listen to them and be their true-blue friends. LGBTQ kids need safe spaces to be themselves.

If you are an ally of the LGBTQ community, you deserve a big “thank you”. Your friendship is greatly appreciated.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes actor/comedian Hasan Minhaj. “I think there are people from every side who are allies for justice and good.”

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The Checklist

I turned sixty-six last month. Around the time of that event and afterwards, I’ve been experiencing some sort of wake-up calls about mortality.

I’ve always known intellectually that life on this planet is impermanent. I’ve also done countless meditations on mortality and impermanence. I’ve even had a few close encounters with the Grim Reaper. But now, according to officialdom, I’m a senior citizen.

I don’t feel much different mentally than when I was twenty-three. It’s a different perception when I look in a mirror or go shopping for a new pair of blue jeans.

Like most folks, caring for myself has been a hit or miss situation. Most of the time I’ve maintained good, healthy practices, but there have been periods of back-sliding. I’ve been blessed with an over-all strong physical constitution with no chronic problems nor disabilities aside from terrible eyesight. I also know that such a healthy disposition is not a guaranteed, permanent situation. Health issues and conditions will more than likely crop up sooner or later.

On each birthday I sit outdoors or in a place where the outdoors is visible, and contemplate the world, my place in the world, and how well I’m integrated in it or not. What are my dreams and how have they changed? This is a powerful exercise in self-care. It’s good to become reacquainted with oneself each birthday and at the beginning of a new year. It’s a good way to make sure you’re not running on auto-pilot. What am I doing right? What do I need to change?

I have a formal check-list that an ex boyfriend gave me inside of a birthday card many years ago. I make sure to move it to each diary as I begin one. It’s a simple list of important reminders.

Be true to yourself. Love yourself. Accept yourself. Test yourself. Respect yourself. Value yourself.

For me, these simple statements are the benchmarks of good living. They are so simple and obvious that I have to keep the list of them so I don’t space them off.

There is no hierarchy to the individual qualities because they are interdependent. That said, there are times when one or two need reinforcement. Some sort of personal crisis determines which of them needs extra attention. I’ve found that if one or more of these statements is taken for granted or neglected, my quality of life diminishes.

In being true to myself, I don’t crave the admiration and approval of society. This gives me the freedom to explore what it means to be myself.

To love myself seems obvious. I deserve the same amount of love and affection as everybody else in the world. It’s true that I must love myself before I can authentically love others.

To accept myself for who I am has been a difficult balancing act from time to time. I do my best not to think of myself as lower or higher than others. An old Hindu Proverb is helpful in this respect. “There is nothing noble about being superior to some other man. The true nobility is in being superior to your previous self.”

To test myself is something I enjoy doing. This is where thinking outside of the box comes in. What can I do that I haven’t done before? Do I truly have an open mind? What ways do I limit myself? In what ways has my thinking become strait-laced and overly traditional? How can I enhance my freedom?

To respect myself is when I remember that the only one who can actually bring myself down is me. The only person who can bring myself up is me. Certainly I’m not immune from insults and oppression, but it’s up to me whether or not to accept insults and oppression as truth or fiction.

To value myself is tricky. This is the balance act between humility and pride. Not enough or too much patting oneself on the back are both unwholesome. A realistic self-evaluation is an ongoing process. It’s good to step back and understand what we undervalue about ourselves and also how we overvalue ourselves. I don’t want to be a doormat nor a narcissistic tyrant.

As always, I hope you find some positive value in what I write and share.

The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders the wisdom of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. “Find the love you seek by first finding the love within yourself. Learn to rest in that place within you that is your true home.”

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Equinox Takes Place Tonight

The Two Equinoxes of each year are reminders of our precarious place in the Universe. More than the two solstices, Equinoxes remind us of balance. The word, equinox, has its roots in the ancient Latin word “aequus” for “equal”. In turn, Equinox is related to the Earth’s equator. Equator is derived from the ancient Latin word “aequare” which means “to make equal”. From our standpoint on this planet, Equinox is when the Sun appears to be directly over the equator.

Tonight, at 8:54 PM Central Daylight Savings Time, will be exact equinox for 2018. If you live in a different time zone, it will appear at a different place on your clocks. In places south of the equator, equinox will signal the beginning of spring and in places north of the equator this will be the beginning of autumn.

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, we are gearing up for weather that will be less radical regarding heat and storminess. Autumn is known for its richness and mellowness. This is beautifully expressed in Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Autumn Fires”

“In the other gardens
And all up the vale,
From the autumn bonfires
See the smoke trail!

Pleasant summer over
And all the summer flowers,
The red fire blazes,
the grey smoke towers.

Sing a song of seasons!
Something bright in all,
Flowers in the summer
Fires in the fall! ”

The heat of Summer may or may not have its last hurrah with an “Indian Summer” but Mother Nature’s “thermostat” is being dialed back regardless of our wishes. For the most part, our lives and responsibilities shift from the outdoors to the indoors. One thing I’m happy about, is that the yard does not require frequent mowing in the fall. Of course, there will be some leaf raking, but that will only take place a couple of times before the snows of winter arrive.

In the Nebraska farm country, large harvest machines will be in the fields day and night bringing in crops like corn and soybeans. Tall grasses will be mowed a final time and bundled into hay bales and stacks for the benefit of livestock. This will be accomplished in a race to avoid both the rains of autumn and the killing frosts later on.

Life of all types seems more precious with poignant endings of life cycles. The plants slow their metabolism, songbirds migrate away, and insects die off.

“For man, autumn is a time of harvest, of gathering together.
For nature, it is a time of sowing, of scattering abroad.” —
Edwin Way Teale

Sports fans notice a shift in games. Soon, Major League Baseball will close its year with the World Series. Meantime American and Canadian football teams have already been playing the early parts of their seasons. Basketball teams are still in training. Yet it is baseball that has the longest season as it stretches from March into October. This fact makes it the three-season outdoor sport.

Plenty of us enjoy autumn, because it is the beginning of the time to dress up in nicer clothing. While the light, breezy shorts and polo shirts of spring and summer are pleasant enough, sweaters and jackets have real pizazz. My favorite clothes are blue jeans and sweatshirts. Sweatshirts really rock in the fall. Fall and winter clothing is the most rugged of all.

This is the beginning of those reflective sometimes melancholy days that give us cause to further appreciate the joyful days of summer and winter. Spring and autumn equinoxes live up to their names that mean equal.

I hope you have a well-balanced and harmonious autumn.

The Blue Jay of Happiness likes this passage from the late filmmaker Steve Sabol: “The autumn wind is a pirate. Blustering in from sea with a rollicking song he sweeps along swaggering boisterously. His face is weather beaten, he wears a hooded sash with a silver hat about his head. The autumn wind is a Raider, pillaging just for fun.”

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Beer …Floral Friday

I found out that the Great American Beer Festival began yesterday in Denver, so that was the inspiration for today’s theme. The event focuses on home brewing of the beverage. I’m not a home brewer, but once in awhile, I do savor the flavor of a good brewski. There are a few pieces of beer paraphernalia around the house, so why not re-purpose them for a few days?

The sturdy, heavy beer mug from Switzerland works well with a small spray of Peruvian lilies. A slender succulent adds even more effervescence to the simple arrangement.

Folks who restrict their dietary intake of gluten need not worry if they imbibe “Die Weisse Glutenfrei Bier” from an Austrian brewery. The old-fashioned bottle with stopper makes an attractive bud vase, too. A solitary “peachy” Gerbera Daisy is at home in this container.

The American entry is from an Austin, Texas company. The Yeti name is a fun name, and is reflected in the wild and crazy arrangement.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Johnny Depp. “I’m an old-fashioned guy…I want to be an old man with a beer belly sitting on a porch, looking at a lake or something.”

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Me As Writer And Editor

Writers and editors can have love-hate relationships with each other. This is most true in the beginning stages of a writer’s career. The relationship happens whether the manuscript is literary or media related. I have not written a book yet, so the only writing and editing work I know relates to media work. To commemorate “Be Kind To Writers And Editors Month”, I’ll share a bare-bones outline of my own training in this field.

My first experiences as an “official” writer and editor happened at Irving Junior High in Lincoln, Nebraska. We had a monthly newspaper that followed legitimate journalistic structure. It wasn’t just an assembly of news quips run off on a mimeograph machine (Do you remember those?) It was an eight page publication with sections for school news, club news, and sports news. There was at least one photograph per page. Our periodical was printed on the mighty presses of “The Lincoln Journal-Star”.

The journalism instructor/newspaper advisor was an amazing woman. I still visualize her at school events, lugging around her bulky press camera and her notepad. She was a bona-fide journalist who moonlighted as a stringer for the Lincoln newspaper. She was a true mentor in every respect. She didn’t just teach journalism; she guided career paths. She was the first teacher whose corrections and grades didn’t annoy me.

First year journalism taught us the basics of objective reporting and how to put that into concise, interesting story form. Second year journalism continued honing the writing aspect and introduced us to the world of editing. The second year journalism pupils did much of the editing of first year journalism reporters. Of course, final editing was overseen by the teacher just before the copy was sent on to the newspaper printing plant.

It was during those two junior high school years that I grasped the full importance of accurate writing and the honing process of editing. The lessons have never been forgotten.

I would have probably become a newspaper man if our family would have remained living in Lincoln, because high school level journalism was a major step above junior high level, and because Lincoln’s high schools’ newspapers published weekly, instead of monthly.

The family moved to a much smaller town that had a nice high school. However the school system did not support a journalism department. The only writing and editing by students was done by yearbook staffers. Of course, I did some work as a staffer, but it was a far cry from even the junior high journalism of the larger city.

College level journalism is more nuanced and specialized. At Wayne (Nebraska) State College, I majored in Communications Arts and specialized in broadcast media. We were offered hands-on experience in radio and television. It was my introduction to broadcast documentary and news writing for both media. The writing and editing had to link with tighter deadlines and tape editing and storage. (Yes, I still know how to physically splice open-reel video and audio tape.)

After college, nearly all of my professional life took place in commercial radio. I’ve touched on some of that in older bluejayblog posts. The lessons learned about writing and editing concise, objective news copy paid off in that venue. Broadcast deadlines are not daily, weekly, nor monthly. Broadcast deadlines are immediate, so writing and editing are done on the fly. Editing is sometimes done seconds before airtime and oftentimes further editing and updating takes place during commercial breaks. The process becomes second nature just as driving a stick-shift transmission is to many car drivers.

Now, during the post-broadcast years, writing this blog is an exercise in keeping my feet in journalism, albeit in a feature stories sort of way. It’s fun to putter around by writing and editing something every morning.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes historical fiction writer E.L. Doctorow. “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

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In Praise Of Pizza

The video featured the world’s largest most deliverable pizza.  The infomercial “documentary” touted a gigantic pizza pie that is 54 inches square. In order to completely bake it, they have to rotate it in the oven halfway through the baking process. “Big Mama’s and Papa’s says their pie feeds anywhere from 50 to 70 people.

The Los Angeles pizzeria calls the spacious square the “Giant Sicilian”. The starting price for one of these begins at around $250. The video showed two employees loading the finished pizza into a special rack on top of a tiny Smart Car. I like people who use irony to good effect.

Unfortunately, I watched the video shortly before bedtime. I had to fight off the craving for a slice of pizza because I don’t eat anything within two hours of bedtime because of acid reflux issues. Unsurprisingly, I had pizza themed dreams that night.

The next morning, I ate two cold slices of day old leftover pizza for breakfast. Have you ever noticed that leftover pizza is never neglected in the fridge for very long? Nobody ever worries about spoiled leftover refrigerated pizza.

I remember family and friends who have worked at the Pizza Hut chain. Helen, one of my British friends, used to bake pizzas at a Pizza Hut in Greater London. My friend Andy baked pizzas at one of the Norfolk, Nebraska Pizza Huts as a college job. Becky, the ex-wife of another friend used to waitress at a Pizza Hut in Wayne, Nebraska. My late step-mom, Tippy, was an assistant manager for awhile at the same Wayne Pizza Hut. In fact, that is where dad first met Tippy.

So, out of familiarity and family loyalty, I like to eat at Pizza Huts.  In my mind, eating there is like eating at home even though I very seldom order pizza home delivery.  By the way, I drink plain iced tea with my pizza slices.

The pizza I miss most, is the pizza from “Andy’s Pizza”. It was a small pizzeria that was very popular with college students. I used to hang out with friends on Saturday nights at “Andy’s”. Their pies were pure perfection. The pizzeria was owned and operated by an Italian immigrant family. All of their pizzas were created from authentic Roman recipes. There was nothing “all-American” about “Andy’s Pizza” except that they catered to the American adoration of pizza. I wish they were still in business.

What I also miss are those times before I turned 40 and higher rates of metabolism. I could eat an entire medium-size pizza and still have room for ice-cream. I didn’t gain a single pound from doing this once per month. Now, in my retirement years, I have to limit pizza to two or three slices, even though I crave more than that. Also, I don’t eat pizza nearly as frequently.

My diet is more sensible these days but I’m only human. I do like to indulge now and then. When that happens, the special treat is a large veggie pizza with extra cheese. It’s large so there will be plenty of leftovers to heat up or eat cold right out of the refrigerator.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes baseball’s Yogi Berra. “You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat six.”

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Be Prepared

Now that we’ve nearly gotten through the Nebraska summer, it seems like we can finally relax our worries about severe weather events until the blizzard season arrives. Then I remember that an EF-4 wedge tornado tore through Wayne County on October 4, 2013. It damaged several farms, and a portion of the town of Wayne. The town’s airport was also affected, which is less than half-a-mile from my father’s old acreage. That’s a 30-minute drive from my house. 

So, there really is no absolutely safe weather period in the Midwest. There are several preparedness drills and reminders in our area during the year. Even though tornadoes can supposedly happen in any season, they are much less of a problem in the wintertime. The coming months present the threats of severe blizzards and precipitation events.

There is no way to avoid these natural disasters aside from moving to another part of the country or to another country. That’s shortsighted too, because each area has its own particular threat for destruction. If it’s not severe thunderstorms and blizzards, it’s hurricanes, flooding, tsunamis, forest fires, earthquakes, and other dangerous phenomenon.

Aside from having flashlights, backup powered phone chargers, radios, and so forth. It’s smart to know what you need to have on hand or anticipate for your own particular region and city. Thankfully, you can get a leg-up on this process by going on line to check out emergency preparedness articles from WikiHow. A simple web search will bring up a plethora of information you can adapt to your own particular set of natural disaster threats.

Today is a good time to start mapping out contingency survival plans before they might be needed. It’s also a good time to find out what local private and governmental agencies are in charge of disaster planning and relief efforts to help minimize your risks and maximize your chances for survival. Procrastination about emergency preparedness could have dire personal consequences.

The best way to be safe and feel reasonably relaxed about natural disasters is to invest in preparedness. That way, if and when something destructive or threatening to one’s well-being and safety happens, we are better able to cope during and after the event occurs.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes philanthropist Petra Nemcova. “We cannot stop natural disasters, but we can arm ourselves with knowledge. So many lives wouldn’t have to be lost if there was enough disaster preparedness.”

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