Pondering Batteries

During the last Arctic cold wave, the outdoor sensor for the weather monitor on my desk died. After the 60-miles-an-hour winds subsided, I disconnected the sensor from the outdoor mounting bracket and brought it inside the house.

After cleaning dust, cobwebs, and other dirt from the unit, I removed the battery cover and took out the dead AA batteries. I brought out the package of Radio Shack batteries then installed them into the sensor. Next, the indoor unit needed batteries, so it received the last three out of the package. After making sure the units were synced, I reconnected the sensor unit to its outdoor bracket.

While cleaning up after the minor project, I picked up the empty bulk mega-package and remembered that I had just used the last of my Radio Shack AA batteries. There would be no more because the Radio Shack store had gone out of business in 2017. The empty package was the last one out of the two I bought during the liquidation sale. I miss having a Radio Shack store because they were the only place in town to buy arcane electronic gear. They also stocked batteries for every conceivable need. I’m still unhappy that most Radio Shack stores went out of business.

The above scenario came to mind because today is Alessandro Volta’s birthday. He is credited with inventing the very first electric battery–the “voltaic pile”. His development allowed scientists and inventors to utilize steady flows of electric current (DC) for the first time. Technology never looked the same after Volta’s invention.

Volta lived from 1745 until 1827. During his lifetime, Volta was involved in many discoveries and developments. He was the first to isolate methane gas. He also discovered that mixing methane with regular air and an electric spark caused an explosion. We utilize this every time we run the internal combustion engines in our vehicles.

Volta’s main work involved electricity. As mentioned above, he discovered “contact electricity” using contact between different metals. A lot of Volta’s research involved electromotive potentials in his batteries and energy potential in capacitors. Because Volta contributed greatly to science, the unit of electric potential was named in his honor–the volt.

I think that Alessandro Volta would be impressed with how his invention has improved over the years. He would probably also be amazed at how batteries are used today. Almost anything that is powered by electricity can be powered by batteries. The convenience of batteries enables flashlights and energizes electric cars.

Around the house, I have plenty of battery powered gadgets like the weather monitor, some radios, my laptop, and tablet to name a few. My favorites are the battery powered wristwatches that recharge by using light.

Batteries are so ubiquitous that the word is used as a metaphor to represent human energy levels. “At least once a week, I try to have one day where I have nothing planned so I can get up and just go back to bed and lay around and recharge my batteries”–Dolph Lundgren

Thank goodness for batteries and electricity. I feel grateful for the pioneering work of Alessandro Volta.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes comedian Bernard Manning. “I once bought my kids a set of batteries for Christmas with a note on it saying, ‘toys not included’.”

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My Way

There are certain days when I crave the sound of Frank Sinatra’s singing voice. It reflects an unexpected honesty that he had about himself despite his alleged dark reputation regarding some of his friends. Last night my Sinatra itch was scratched by playing his version of “My Way” on the stereo.

“And now, the end is near,
And so I face the final curtain.
My friend, I’ll say it clear,
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain.
I’ve lived a life that’s full.
I’ve traveled each and every highway;
And more, much more than this,
I did it my way.”
–Jacques Revaux, “My Way”

The song, particularly Frank Sinatra’s performance of it, is relate-able to millions of people. Its poetry is nostalgic yet not quite a confession. The words convey what many of us find difficult to express so eloquently.

In our honest, introspective moments we own our mistakes and celebrate our victories. Our journey on life’s highway has been filled with sadness and joy. What we have done with these lessons outlines who we have become.

In my own life, “my way” is a highway with four lanes. The lane furthest to the right is how I present myself to the public, moving forward. The next lane, is how I see myself, moving forward. Only my lover and a few friends travel with me in that lane. The next lane to the left is how I view myself, moving the other direction (oncoming traffic). The furthest left lane is my public reputation (again, oncoming traffic).

When I hear Sinatra’s voice on “My Way”, I visualize the oncoming traffic lanes heading back to where I’ve already been. You might think of a car making a U-Turn to cross the median strip in order to travel the opposite direction. After hearing the song, I cruise in the left lane awhile, then make another U-Turn and resume driving in the forward lanes.

It’s good to have a solid sense of direction in life but it’s wise to heed the signs along the way. There might be a left-curve arrow sign. If I stubbornly insist on going right or straight-ahead, I’ll soon crash into the ditch. So, it’s good to pay attention to the signs along the way so I don’t run the great risk of repeating someone else’s mistakes.

Sometimes, my way is a side road off the mainstream highway. I travel slowly, then pull off to the side for a leisurely stroll. Other times an emergency detour unexpectedly appears, so I am forced to leave the mainstream highway. The journeys away from the four-lane highway are usually the most memorable and potentially valuable ones along the way.

We choose the road on which we travel. Oftentimes, we consult a map to help us find the way to an ultimate destination. At other times there are no maps nor GPS guides to help us find the way. We eventually end up somewhere scary or someplace beautiful. Either way, we come away with valuable experiences.

For refreshing breaks, I sometimes like to take the side roads or walk a primitive path and enjoy the spectacular scenery. There are hazards along the way, too. Eventually, the time comes to return to the four-lane highway and resume the journey–feeling rejuvenated, with Sinatra on the stereo.

It’s good to know how to travel different kinds of roads. The combination and what I learned have so far been my way.

The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders an excerpt from “Also Sprach Zarathustra” by Friedrich Nietzsche. “You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.”

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High Vision

Several years ago my vision clinic recommended a test for low vision. I went ahead and was checked. Thankfully, I had no significant symptoms of that severe visual impairment. (The term “low vision” seems like an odd misnomer, and I can’t quite wrap my mind around it.)

While cleaning the lenses on my eyeglasses last night, I remembered low vision again. Then, after parking the spectacles on my ears and nose, I contemplated the desktop wallpaper on my computer monitor–a NASA photograph of Saturn. Soon a new term came to mind–“high vision”.

High vision would be a laudable condition to have. People with normal sight, low vision, or no eyesight could have high vision because high vision would not be limited to the capabilities of our eyes. I remembered the famous Helen Keller quote, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.”

In order to live a satisfying life, it is important to have imagination and the ability to embrace a positive, inclusive vision about oneself and the world. It’s helpful to be hopeful for the greatest benefit for everyone involved in the business of living.

At the same time this vision is not a demand that people should live the way I think they should live nor someone else’s demand that I should live the way they think I should live. With this consideration in mind, freedom would not devolve into crude tyranny or oppressive theocracy.

As the world at large stands now, I tend to agree with my favorite musician/composer Jean-Michel Jarre. “We have lost our vision for the future. Before, we say, ‘Nothing will be the same. Cars will fly, and we go to the end of the universe.’ We have this kind of naive but exciting idea of the future. Now, the vision has been reduced to ways to select our garbage and how to survive global warming.”

There is a troubling tendency about some dreams of the future. That is the idea of pursuing success at any cost. This causes society to turn in on itself and destroy inclusivity and compassion. In other words, greed and exclusivity are symptoms of mental short-sightedness or mental low vision. This condition leads to conflict and overall suffering.

It’s helpful to carefully ponder our visions because positive vision is more nuanced than just wanting the world to conform to our ideals and modes of behavior. What might seem like heaven to me might seem like hell to you or vice versa. If a version of a “perfect world” is incompatible with compassion, implementation of that version becomes imposition of dogma and belief. Freedom gets swept away in the current of revolution. Mandatory obedience to ideals and doctrine is political or religious tyranny. Ultimately there will be backlash along with more conflict and suffering.

How do we resolve the conundrum of moral ideals that please some people and horrify other people without becoming an unsatisfying mish-mash for all people? For aeons, theologians and philosophers have not successfully resolved this problem to everyone’s satisfaction.

My own opinion is that each individual can choose to create a vision of the best version of her/himself and be open to refocusing and updating that vision from time to time when new evidence and situations come into view. Each individual can envision how her/his actions and speech affect the world. Do one’s thoughts, words, and actions mesh helpfully or harmfully in this interconnected world? Each individual can reassess her/his beliefs, opinions, and ideals regularly.

Each person should be free to live their lives the best way they continually learn how to live a satisfying life or not. Of course, this is just my opinion.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the Ancient Greek general and historian Thucydides. “The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.”

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Inspired By Amadeus …Floral Friday

The skillful pianist Andrei Pisarev’s rendition of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Piano Sonata No. 11 (K. 331)” on the stereo inspired today’s offerings. This is one of my favorite pieces to play while engaged in creative pursuits.

The piece has a mellow, warm tone, so I selected one variety and color of bloom for all three arrangements–orange Ranuculuses.  This is a flower that I cannot get enough of this winter.

Ironically, I chose a contemporary heavy glass vase to express the first portion of Mozart’s music. This trio feels rich but not overly weighty.

As the masterwork progressed the tempo increased slightly and my emotions become elevated. A tightly arranged trio of Ranuculuses and flowing grasses in the modern Japanese vase expresses this quality.

The last portion of the Sonata becomes more complex and faster. The black monolithic vase reminds me of Pisarev’s Steinway. The arrangement is suitably more complex.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Mozart. “We live in this world in order always to learn industriously and to enlighten each other by means of discussion and to strive vigorously to promote the progress of science and the fine arts.”

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Valentine’s Day And Me–It’s Complicated

Sometimes I tick the boxes on those Internet quizzes about life. Whenever the question about marital status comes up, I usually click on the option, “It’s Complicated”. I do this for a couple of reasons. First, I realize that most of those quizzes set us up for “customized” advertising, and spam. In the worst case the quizzes are harvested by identity thieves. Second, my relationship status is actually complicated.

Regarding legal status for tax reporting and official documentation, I am a single male. Regarding the status that other people are interested in, I’m an unmarried, male senior citizen who has a somewhat long-distance relationship with another older guy. Because my boyfriend is very closeted, he will be referred to with the pseudonym “Karl”.

Karl prefers to be secretive about his sexuality because he belongs to the Roman Catholic Church and is a businessman in a town of less than 2,000 inhabitants about half-an-hour drive from my home. The strangest thing about Karl’s relationship with me is that he envisions marrying me in a big, traditional Catholic wedding. I don’t know how that could happen and for Karl to remain closeted in his small town. Anyway, he’s not enamored with the idea of living in my town because of practical and business considerations.

I’m open to the idea of marrying Karl but I don’t want to be secretive about it. I want any marriage with him to be treated exactly the same as marriages many of my straight friends have. Also, I’m not keen on living in the backwater town where Karl calls home. The big sticking point is that relationships between happily out gays and stubbornly closeted gays are inharmonious and beset with plenty of social booby-traps. Even after nearly 15-years, neither of us is ready to propose marriage to the other.

Regarding Valentine’s Day, we have differing preferences, too. Karl is reluctant to celebrate the holiday in the traditional manner. That is, to go out on a date and exchange token gifts and flowers. He does enjoy receiving a Valentine card. I usually have one re-mailed from Valentine, Nebraska so that the envelope to Karl will have the “Valentine, NE” cancellation mark. On the other hand, Karl often finds an excuse to be absent on Valentine’s Day.

I like to enjoy Valentine’s Day in as romantic a way as possible. A dinner date or night on the town is best with cuddle-time to follow. (Now that I’m older with health complications, there would be no wine nor sugary candies.) Ideally, Valentine’s Day is a time of togetherness and bonding with one’s partner. So, you see that our attitudes about Valentine’s Day do not mesh. This is not a big deal. However, it does cause a little friction.

Karl and I have discussed the reality of our relationship. We love the idea of being married, but we enjoy being single even more. We agree that it’s complicated. So is our Valentine’s Day.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes actor, comedian Tracy Morgan. “I have friends who are black, white, purple, gay, straight, Martian, yellow, old, and young. I have friends who are animals and a few who I believe to be robots. All of them are people to me. In my mind, it’s not about what you look like or what you do. It’s about who you are inside.”

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About Desperation

The day before St. Valentine’s Day is informally celebrated as Desperation Day. This “holiday” is mainly reserved for people who are unpartnered and are unhappy about that situation because they desire a date for Valentine’s Day. The reason for having Desperation Day is obvious.

It’s difficult to ignore the hype and promotion of Valentine’s Day. After all, it’s been promoted as a marketing tool for retailers, specifically luxury goods sellers, since New Year’s Day. What better way to stir the desire to give the gift of diamond jewelry than to touch the heartstrings of people pondering marriage or wishing to commemorate an anniversary of an existing marriage?

Even if we don’t want to or cannot afford to give a diamond bauble or a glitzy night on the town, we are told that a fancy box of candy and a greeting card will please our significant other.

We are being played. If we feel lack regarding our romantic lives, we are easy prey. Even if we deny having yearnings for a partner, those instincts are still present within us. At some level, we will still be vulnerable because social norms are very difficult to ignore. Those of us who feel the chill of lack the strongest are desperate for romance.

We can make light of desperation and enjoy stand-up comedians as they pan it; or, we can contemplate desperation and analyze it.

If we dig deeper into desperation we may discover that it has something to do with ego gratification or filling a deep need. We ask the existential questions, “Am I living a good life?” We might feel anxious about the shortness of life. “Shouldn’t I have a loving husband or a devoted wife at this stage of my life?”

The word “desperation” is a very old word. Its root is the ancient Latin “desperationem” (the nominative form of “desperatio”). Desperation is an active noun that means the loss of hope or the state of despair. Desperation is universal across humanity and much of the animal kingdom.

Desperation is a fuel that drives us to have something or to do something. Unsatisfied desperation can drive us crazy if we allow it to do so. Very desperate people lose their sense of propriety, commit crime, and sometimes die because of it. To manipulate people’s desperation is unscrupulous, but it happens every day, anyway.

The gap between the “haves” and the “have nots” causes a great number of people to feel powerless. Extreme desperation causes extremism. The agony and pain of extreme desperation leads to terrorism. To exclude people from society can ultimately lead to the downfall of that society.

When feelings of lack appear in our minds, it is wise to examine them. How do we feel about ourselves? If we impulsively, mindlessly want to act out of a sense of desperation, it’s time to apply the brakes.

If a person approaches the state of desperation mindfully and positively she or he can create something beautiful from the pain. Some of our most touching music, literature, and works of art were created by channeling the artist’s desperation. Have you ever noticed that a large share of popular music is about heartbreak, or unrequited love? Much of the greatest literature revolves around human feelings of lack and desperation. It’s been said that great works require inspiration, perspiration, and desperation.

If we wisely exploit our own feelings of desperation we can find hope and solidarity.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes actor, musician, writer Henry Rollins. “Weakness is what brings ignorance, cheapness, racism, homophobia, desperation, cruelty, brutality–all these things that will keep a society chained to the ground, one foot nailed to the floor.”

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The Night Tommy Swanson Died (Review)

My expectations about YouTuber Jack Merridew’s third short book were spot on. The book is a macabre commentary on growing up gay in America. The Night Tommy Swanson Died is a more eloquent offering than his first book Fireworks Over Suburbia and his second book Teenage Idol. This third book can be taken more seriously because Merridew shows growth as a young writer.

The 26-year-old has groomed himself into a popular YouTube personality with a target audience of young gay males. (He is also popular with older gays.) He is a self-styled LGBT activist and, as mentioned, an author.

The YouTuber/author was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Ithaca College with a degree in screenwriting. Before gaining popularity on YouTube, Merridew was a cashier at the Wegman’s grocery store in his hometown. Jack Merridew is his pseudonym, he keeps his actual name private.

Merridew posted his first YouTube video in 2012 and quickly achieved popularity. As of the time of this posting, he has 300 videos and more than 366,000 subscribers. His video content is somewhat risqué and can be humorously morbid. However, he has released several videos about serious topics.

The thumbnail bio of Jack Merridew is important because it gives background into the nature of his writing. For this reason, it is difficult to pigeonhole The Night Tommy Swanson Died neatly into a genre. The short book is an artistic-macabre coming of age story about early adolescence. The tone of the book matches the mood on some of Jack Merridew’s horror-themed videos but with a more somber feel.

The story takes place in an alternate version of the United States in the 1950s. The story’s protagonist “Hunter” describes a bleak, blood-soaked culture. Blood-red colors predominate the vision–even suburban lawns are spray-painted red.

The culture enforces the age of leaving childhood behind when kids turn 13-years-old. That norm is strictly enforced by sadistic people wearing frightening clown masks. There is a carnival that comes to town each year for all the townsfolk to attend.

It is mandatory that all the 13-year-olds visit the carnival and they must visit a particularly horrific tent. The names of each 13-year-old who visits the tent are recorded in a ledger, any 13-year-old who fails to visit the tent is terrorized into submission. That said, kids who visit the tent are traumatized. Their childhood comes to an end and they are required to conform to the dominant culture.

Early in the book, the reader finds out that when Hunter was ten-years-old, he felt attracted to the twelve-year-old boy who mowed his family’s lawn–Tommy Swanson. After Swanson turns 13, Swanson attends the carnival and goes through the much dreaded tent. Then he commits suicide. The spiritual essence of Swanson shows up as a supporting character throughout the rest of the book.

Any reader who never belonged to the popular clique in school, especially if the reader is LGBT, will recognize the stern parents who enforced cultural norms to the letter along with the mean-spirited bullies. The cultural norms of the story make little logical sense. Hunter and Tommy Swanson’s apparition, are misfits who don’t belong in the twisted, insane, blood-soaked culture.

The Night Tommy Swanson Died is a good, short book. I couldn’t find any portion of it that dragged or was non-essential to the storyline. If you are LGBT or have ever been ostracized for any reason, you’ll relate to Hunter in Merridew’s story.

There are some minor elementary shortcomings in the book, but Merridew’s writing style and the story itself give the reader an engaging, mysterious, intriguing coming of age tale. For those of us who enjoy off-the wall mysteries, Jack Merridew’s book is worth reading.

{The Night Tommy Swanson Died by Jack Merridew; 181 pages paperback and Kindle editions; Published January 1, 2019 ISBN-10: 1790551749 ISBN-13: 978-1790551743 }

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Jack Merridew. “There is a whole world out there that will love you exactly as you come. You just need to find the right people.”

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