Ponder That Feeling

In the dream, I was a passenger on a brightly colored cartoon railroad train. We riders were helpless observers to the chase scene involving the train and a black helicopter in pursuit.  As the train traversed a very high trestel bridge, I awakened.

As I jotted down the few parts of the dream I could remember, I experienced a mixture of emotions I’ve never before felt. It wasn’t happiness, sadness, melancholy, humor, fear, nor wonder. Well, maybe wonder was involved, but the wonder was about the emotion, not the emotion itself.

I switched off the bedside lamp and began to contemplate the dream emotion.  Was the emotion just a primal feeling without a name? Do animals experience this emotion? Do they feel the same emotions we do, or do we anthropomorphize  an aspect that they don’t actually have?

By this time I was fully awake, alert, and flummoxed. I observed the various fresh emotions emerging and going away. I took a deep breath and asked myself why I thought it was important to label the strange dream emotion.

Does the name affect the emotion?  When I see that a bowl of potato salad has been prepared with chopped pickles, I feel a mild disgust. Does this emotion arise from a memory of negative association with that type of potato salad? Or is the disgust an interpretation of a biological protective instinct? Can I simply feel the aversion without labeling it as disgust?

Just the process of remembering my feelings of disgust over chopped pickles mixed into potato salad makes me feel and taste the dislike of that recipe. The label certainly awakened the feeling. On a deeper level, is the emotion different from the label?

I soon relized that my mind was juggling two different emotions. There was the nasty potato salad reaction and there was the arcane dream emotion.  My mind had gotten noisy because of my preference of labeling emotions.  It seems that I like to name feelings in order to strengthen them and allow them some sort of continuity.

Once I can categorize them, I can communicate them.  That’s how I can tell you that I do not like to eat potato salad that contains chopped pickles. This is also why I feel the emotion of frustration because I don’t have a label for the emotional state I felt after the cartoon dream. Furthermore, the more I attempted to find a category for the dream emotion, the less I felt it. Eventually, all I could say about the emotion was that it was one I’ve never felt before.

Again, why did I feel the need to find a name for the emotion I felt after awakening from the dream? Was it a desire for catharsis? I noticed that monkey mind threatened to confuse and conflate the process. I had grasped onto the emotion because it was unusual and fascinating. I was reluctant to simply let it go.  Even now, it is difficult to let go of the need to describe it to you.

Even the complex nature of the English language and its vocabulary offers no name for the particular emotion that I experienced. This is quite a conundrum. Maybe the German language has a name for the emotion.  If not, perhaps I can coin a new German compound noun.

The thought of German brings to mind the name of a different emotion.  This new thought distracts me.  I’ll write about that one, tomorrow.

The Blue Jay of Happiness likes a thought from Sigmund Freud.  “Flowers are restful to look at. They have neither emotions nor conflicts.”

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Jumpstart Your Creativity

Imagine what the world would lack if Paul McCartney had grown up in an overly critical home.  What if all Meryl Streep’s parents said to her was, “When will you settle down and get a real job?” The Beatles, if they could have happened without Paul, would have been much different. Some great Hollywood movies might not have become Oscar winners without Streep’s talent.

You don’t need to have overly critical families to be inhibited or shy about being creative.  Most of us have an inner critic who harps at us from time to time, discouraging us from creating what we really want to create.

All of us have the desire to create something.  The problem is that many people assume that whatever they do isn’t going to be “good enough”, so they don’t even bother to start.  Others might start a project, but they don’t like it, then they give up and never try doing it again.

The term “creative person” applies to someone who just does what appeals to her or him. The self critic is relegated to the corner with a dunce cap. The creative person knows that he has the freedom to make something terrible, but in the process of trial and error, sometimes a decent result worth sharing happens.

Quite often the inner critic is linked to the fear of being yourself.  There is the common fear that you’re not good enough for other people. There is a belief that others must approve of you or your “lifestyle” or you’re not worthy. This is also related to the similar fear that if you don’t create something fantastic, you will be rejected.

The key element in jump starting ones creativity, is an unbounded love for what one does.  It doesn’t matter if what one does generates wealth and fame.  It’s nice if what one loves also gives you public esteem, but that should not be the motivation.  For example, I’m not an Ansel Adams, nor do I have state of the art equipment.  I love to take pictures.  Often times people will look at one of my images and say, “meh”.  Once in awhile, though, kudos come forth for a different picture.

Jump starting creativity isn’t restricted to “the arts”.  Oftentimes it applies to everyday practicality. The idea about how to improve a task or an object pops into the mind. The creativity happens when you jot down the idea or make a back of the envelope sketch. Don’t let the idea fade away. Keep nibbling away. Keep on experimenting to make it happen.

Last year, I noticed an old surveyer’s tripod folded up behind the door in dad’s den.  Instantly, I just knew it would be perfect to use as a floor lamp. I brought the tripod home and tried out different techniques to install a socket and harp to the permanent mounting bracket. After messing around for a few days, I stumbled upon the idea to use a cube of hardwood as the adaptor. The concept worked, and now I have a new floor lamp.

What is interesting is that apparently I wasn’t the only person to think of this idea.  Lately, I’ve notice that many people are using various tripods as lamp bases. The variations are only limited by the imagination.

A person must not be limited by what is accepted or common knowledge.  A famous example of this in architecture is the cantilevered platform applied to home design.  Just because this had never been done before didn’t stop Frank Lloyd Wright from incorporating it into some of his “organic architecture” designs.

The point is this: the same types of brain cells that lead to writing great music like that of Beethoven, or artistic masterpieces like those of da Vinci can help us to understand and empathize with others, or solve world problems, or write a story, or cook an amazing holiday meal. Just because it hasn’t been created before or society hasn’t thought of it before, doesn’t mean it cannot be done or cannot benefit society.

What’s your actual passion?  Is it time to give it a jump start?

The Blue Jay of Happiness says to find the thing that you love and then dedicate yourself to doing it.

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Glassy …Floral Friday

I display colored glass vases on the check rails on some of my house’s double hung windows. Tuesday, while gazing out one of the windows,, I noticed that a green “lozenge” shaped vase had gathered dust. It had to be washed. As I dried the vase, I wanted to  use it as the base for a dried arrangement.  Right then and there I decided to use two more glass containers and make glass the theme of this week’s Floral Friday.


It turned out that the other two vases needed a good scrubbing.  While washing and drying them I visualized the end results.

The small, hand painted red Fenton swung vase looks more luxurious because I wound a 20k gold chain around its neck. A springy metal stem echos the metallic theme and crowns the solitary rose.

A medium-size, contemporary, translucent mottled white vase is home to a few stems from a flowering bush. Ikebana is the inspiration for the design.

The Blue Jay of Happiness says to see beauty in the seemingly trivial. You can use the trivial to create something original.

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This Land (Review)

I came across a great big, heavy book of photographs this week and brought it home.  I wanted to view its contents, because I knew it would not be just another coffee table book full of “picture perfect” photography.

Photographer Jack Spencer offers a book full of his emotional interpretations of the “lower 48” in This Land: An American Portrait.  This is a book filled with art. Art that tugs at the heartstrings of nostalgia. It’s the nostalgia for what we know is part of our world…an ethereal vision we have longed for…a dream that lies just beyond our grasp.

This viewer noticed that most of the photographs did not contain humans.  Those that did, treated people as abstract parts of the rest of the landscape.  The images are very soulful art. Many of the photographs look more like oil paintings, not art photography.

I thought a few of the images tried too hard to be “artsy”, the degree of their lack of focus brought too much attention to the fact of mechanical manipulation.  I reminded myself that these photos represented the emotional output of Mr. Spencer’s reaction to his subjects. Thankfully, the radically unfocused images are very few in number.

This Land is a book that is best viewed on a tabletop. It’s the kind of book you pull up a chair and ponder.  In this way, you can study and contemplate each image as if you’re viewing it at an art gallery. I got lost in wordless emotions when viewing decrepit or mundane architecture presented as a main subject in some of the pictures.

There are two beach photographs that best achieve a painterly quality. I kept going back to them to enjoy their subtle neuances. I hope the beach photographs are included in Spencer’s gallery shows at art venues. They are the ones I’d most like to own and display in my living room.

My positive opinion about the beach pictures should not overshadow the positive feelings I have about the rest of the photographs in this beautiful, luxurious book. Most of them are worthy of long periods of contemplation.

If you love art photography, This Land: An American Portrait is a book you should seriously consider seeing.

{ This Land: An American Portrait photographed by Jack Spencer; 284 pages published March 2017,  by University of Texas Press; ISBN:  978-1-4773-1189-9 }

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Henry David Thoreau. “This world is but a canvas to our imagination.”

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The Attrocities In Chechnya

In times like these, we have to stand up for the safety and well-being of our brothers and sisters.  There is little constructive concern in official United States reaction to the ongoing human rights violations in Chechnya.

The Chechen Republic in the North Caucasian District of the Russian Federation has been a hotbed of ultra-right-wing political activity ever since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Ever since 2007, the Republic has been ruled by strongman Ramzan Kakyrov.  Due to a cult of personality surrounding Kakyrov, he has been able to get away with a high level of corruption and an alarming number of human rights violations.

There has never been any pretence of tolerance for LGBT citizens in Chechnya. The present regime is the most homophobic one in recent history. Political actions against the LGBT community intensified earlier this year when the gay rights organization from Moscow, GayRussia.ru, applied for permits to hold rallies in the Muslim-majority North Caucasian District.

As expected the permits were denied. Unfortunately just the act of requesting permits triggered antigay demonstrations in Chechnya. Soon adult and teen males started to disappear.

Government leadership emboldened the disappearances by commanding a “prophylactic sweep” of the area. At that time reports surfaced about abductions, torture, and murders of gay men and incarceration of gay men and those perceived as gay in “concentration camps”.

After news of the round-ups made its way into the international media, a spokesman for Kadyrov claimed the reports were false because “there are no gay men in the republic. You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic.” The spokesman went on to say, “If such people existed in Chechnya, law enforcement would not have to worry about them, as their own relatives would have sent them to where they could never return.”

Sadly, the LGBT community in Chechnya cannot expect any genuine help from Russian Federation officialdom. Russian President Vladimir Putin has frequently expressed strong homophobic views about LGBT people and anyone who has a “nontraditional” sexual orientation. That said, Putin stated he will intervene over the Chechnya reports.

Any statements or reprimands from Putin will likely be as superficial as those made ahead of the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Those statements only came about after negative world reaction to so-called “gay propaganda” prohibitions coming from the Kremlin. There are no signs that Putin has changed his homophobic opinions about the Russian LGBT community.

The present culture of persecution and murder of gay men in Chechnya will probably continue and even grow more insidious as time goes on, due to the lack of genuine prohibitions coming out of the Kremlin. The expression of official Russian investigation came about only after German Chancellor Angela Merkel mentioned the negative reports when she visited Putin in Moscow earlier this month.

Since then, the foreign ministers from Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden have communicated with their Russian counterpart to strongly denounce the persecution. Conspicuosly absent was any early formal statement from Washington.

With the news media being distracted by historical domestic developements in our own federal government, the purge of gay men in Chechnya will receive little, if any, mention in the mainstream media sources. Add to this the fact that the US is being governed by the most homophobic administration in decades, the Chechnyan LGBT community cannot realistically expect any help from the American government.

I write today of the need to keep the tragedy of Chechnya in the hearts and minds of my readers. I can only hope that other like-minded people who love freedom and human rights will join in the efforts to halt Chechnya human rights violations. I also want to salute the ongoing efforts of individuals in Europe and North America to provide refuge for gays and their families escaping from the evil horrors of Chechnya.

The silence of most of the world can only work to the benefit of the tyrants. The most vulnerable minorities, the LGBT community, will be subjected to persecution, torture, imprisonment, and murder. It is important that fair-minded people everywhere speak and act against these attrocities.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes British author George Eliot. “You should read history and look at ostracism, persecution, martyrdom, and that kind of thing. They always happen to the best men, you know.”

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Non-Self-Governing Territories

How much sleep have you lost lately by worrying over the fate of Montserrat? Do those hours of tossing and turning also give you pause over the people of Tokelau? Are you more perturbed about American Samoa?  Most of us would answer either “no” or “huh?” Could you even find these places on a map? We give less attention to such places than we get frustrated or troubled over North Dakota.

The civilized world contains several political entities officially categorized as non-self-governing territories.  They are considered colonies or some sort of dependency.  Their ultimate governing body is located in a self-governing nation. For instance, the people of American Samoa live under the rule of the United States.

What about Montserrat?  Well, it’s a tiny island in the Carribean in the British West Indies. Montserrat is officially a British Overseas Territory. The Island is about ten miles long and seven miles wide. More than half of the place is an “Exclusion Zone” due to the potential for violent volcanic activity. Approximately 5,000 Montserratans live on the Island.

Environmentalists might have heard of Tokelau, even if they’re not sure where in the world it’s located. Tokelau is the first completely solar powered country anywhere. The 3.9 square mile combination of three atolls lies far to the east of New Zealand and is a dependent territory of New Zealand.  An additional small area, Swains Island” is governed as a portion of American Samoa. Altogether, some 1,500 people live in Tokelau.

American Samoa might be better known because it is under the jurisdiction of the USA.  It’s an unincorporated territory of five islands and two atolls in the neighborhood of the previously mentioned territory of Tokelau. Its approximately 56,000 people live as American citizens. American Samoa should not be confused with the neighboring independent nation of Samoa. American Samoan government is similar to that of US States in that it has a territorial governor, a bicameral territorial legislative body, and a territorial judicial system.

These are only a few of the many non-self-governing territories around the world. Larger, more powerful nations administer the territories. The larger nations need to recognize and care for the interests and well-being of people living in the territories. In many instances the territorial inhabitants have little or no say as to their own ultimate leadership. An ironic comparison might be to the governance of Washington DC. Washington is effectively a US Territory that falls under the jurisdiction of the US Congress.

There is one unusually noteworthy non-self-governing area, the Falkland Islands. Argentina and the United Kingdom both claim ultimate sovereignty over the territory.

As is the case everywhere, inhabitants of non-self-governing territories want to enjoy social, educational, economic, and political advancement. They want to be assured of protection against abusive treatment. Many of them want progressive development and free political autonomy.

As the category’s name implies, non-self-governing territories do not have full independence nor are they equal partners in the world community of nations. These territories do contribute to their benefactor nations’ economic and military institutions.  For example, American Samoa has the highest rate, per capita, of its citizens enlisting in the US military. Their rate is higher than any US State or other territory.

Non-self-governing territories must rely upon their administering “parent” nations for military defense and promotion of national well-being in economic and social matters. To help ensure that the best interests of the inhabitants, non-governmental organizations, mainly the United Nations, monitor the territories.

The Blue Jay of Happiness notes a thought from Filipino writer F. Sionil Jose.  “Colonialism subdues in many dulcet guises. It conquered under the pretext of spreading Christianity, civilization, law and order, to make the world safe for democracy.”

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The last day trip I took to the Black Hills of South Dakota I noticed several fellow tourists who seemed more interested in taking selfies than actually pausing to enjoy the views. A vehicle stopped at a scenic overlook, the occupants rushed out, noisily posed together with the scene at their backs, took turns shooting a few frames, then piled back into the truck and sped away.

This happened quite often and was so disruptive to the peace and calm that I jotted it down in my trip diary in an effort to get it out of my mind. Yet, I wondered why these tourists bothered to drive from long distances only to overlook the glorious natural beauty they supposedly came to see.

Happily, there were also a great number of tourists who parked their vehicles, stretched their muscles and walked to the overlooks then stood and pondered the amazing sights in front of them.  Many did take photographs, but not selfies.  It was easy to identify the serious photographers, even if they didn’t carry expensive gear. They seemed to be fully aware of the rare beauty to which they traveled for enjoyment.

A part of my visit to South Dakota was the specific act of people watching.  I spent about an hour at one particularly spectacular area where Mount Rushmore was visible in the distance. I saw people of all shapes and sizes from various levels of society and even from several different nations.  Many of the serious sightseers carried and used binoculars. Yet the “hit and run” selfie takers also made their presence felt.

Despite all the people watching and guessing about their motives, I realized that perhaps I was also sleepwalking at times.  Instead of contemplating the interplay of clouds with trees and mountains, I’d gotten off-track to wallow in judgementalism. I finally let go of all that in order to simply absorb the majestic beauty of the park.

You don’t have to drive to the Black Hills to observe sleepwalking. In fact, you don’t have to leave home to experience it.  Think of how often we get to the end of the day and wonder “where did the day go?” Sometimes this happens in regard to weeks, months, and years at a time. We might be casually aware of going through the motions and performing our required tasks, but we rarely pay full attention to what we’re doing at those times.

In a strictly legal sense, we are aware, but in a more profound sense, we are sleepwalking through life. The current trend of multitasking is an extreme version of sleepwalking. It’s impossible for us to pay full attention to one action while doing several others at the same time.

We’re walking and chewing gum at the same time. We might be trying to navigate a dark, unfamiliar path, we don’t remember we’re also chewing gum. Later, we notice that the gum has gone flat and tastes stale.  At that moment, we’re no longer paying full attention to walking.

To get out of sleepwalking mode we can simply follow the advice of ancient sages. “When you sit, just sit. When you walk, just walk, when you eat, just eat. When you love, just love.” That is traditional mindfulness training.

When you pay full attention to each activity you do, you know where the time goes. You don’t get to the end of the week and wonder what happened to it. When we switch off the technology we turn to in order to kill time, we utilize time in order to more fully live. If we put away the phones and take fewer selfies, we have more time to more fully look within.

If we take the time to curb our sleepwalking, we have more time to be completely alive in our ever precious world.

The Blue Jay of Happiness likes this request from writer/cartoonist James Thurber: “Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around us in awareness.”

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