Gotta Stay Organized

“For every minute spent organizing, an hour is earned.” This saying is sometimes mis-attributed to Benjamin Franklin because it seems like an aphorism he would have said. With that in mind, I must have earned a raft of hours, because of all the time I’ve spent organizing stuff.

The concept of organizing is much more pleasant than the actual process. There are plenty of tempting products designed to tap into that attractive fantasy. Filing cases and cabinets, plastic storage “totes”, closet organizers, and drawer dividers come to mind.

I’ve tried them all, but the only one that actually lives up to its potential is the filing cabinet. The reason for its success is because it is designed for one purpose and one purpose only–the storage of paper documents.

A filing cabinet is beautiful in a utilitarian, practical way. The drawers can be organized with tabs by subject and in alphabetical order. When a filing cabinet is near our task area, it is easy to cultivate the habit of placing bill stubs, letters, and important documents in their proper places.

Plastic “totes” have the potential to be the great organizing tools for my life. Unfortunately, I tend to buy more “totes” each time I run out of places to store things. I regard “totes” as coffins for stuff I really need to get rid of. One good thing about these bins is that my clutter will be easy to move if or when I relocate.

My favorite organizing fantasy involves closet organizing systems. They are a practical person’s delight. Some of them feature color coded wire racks, shelving, drawers, and hanging rods. There is a place for everything and theoretically everything will be in its place. I love to look at advertising photographs for closet organizing systems, but I have never bought one. They require walk-in closets with much larger areas than the meager spaces my closets can provide.

Drawer organizers are better than closet organizers. The best ones are the tried and true silverware dividers. My flatware is perfectly organized so that setting the table for mealtime is a breeze. I wish there was a drawer organizer for cooking utensils. My spatulas, whisks, stirring spoons, mixer beaters, and so forth are crammed into the drawer next to my range.

One year I bought a junk drawer organizer. The thing is laid out with specially shaped compartments for items like a pair of scissors, a small flashlight, miniature sewing kit, pens, pencils, paper clips, and small tools. There are even printed adhesive labels to place in the bottoms of each compartment.

The thing hasn’t performed as designed. The junk drawer organizer compartments overflow into each other. The only compartments that contain what they were designed to hold are the one for a pair of scissors, and the one for a flashlight. Except that my small flashlight is slightly too large to fit precisely in its place. At least it’s easy to find twist-ties. Twist-ties can be found in every compartment.

I read somewhere that if you have to clean and organize it, you’d better love it.

The Blue Jay of Happiness likes a truism from Albert Einstein. “Out of clutter, find simplicity.”

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Let Go

The only sounds I hear right now are the ringing of tinnitus, and the hiss of the forced-air furnace. The sky is dark because it’s early morning. Two small lamps and the glow of the laptop illuminate the music room. As I take a sip of hot coffee, all I can think is that it’s good to be alive.

This pleasant condition is in stark contrast to the crescendo of events that took place last year and last month. By the last few days of 2017, the big stuff of the year had been resolved. I had one minor stressor left on Boxing Day, an appointment to have my teeth cleaned. When the hygienist laughed easily at my answers to her questions, I knew life was finally falling back into place again.

Some days you have to hold on for dear life. Some days you feel that you can cast your fate into the winds. Letting go is a skill that we can acquire through careful practice. Serenity is knowing what to hold onto and what to let go of. Holding onto too much makes us worrywarts, letting go of too much makes us irresponsible. The balance between hanging on and letting go is fluid from day to day.

The holding on urges seem to be built into our characters because humans very easily become attached to objects, people, and abstract concepts. As far as I know, we are the only species that kills one another over ideas we cling onto in our minds. When someone finally realizes this self-destructiveness within oneself, it becomes much easier to let go of artificial constructs. One of the biggest steps we make is when we let go of our expectations of ideologies and other people.

Narcissists do not understand just how futile their vanity really is. The great majority of people spend a lot of life-energy worrying about what other people think about them. It’s a happy day when you realize that more than 99.9-percent of the population on Earth doesn’t know you, and don’t give a hang about any aspect of your life. Isn’t this a very liberating realization?

If you think our consumerist social norms are making you more acquisitive, attend an estate auction of a loved one. At first glance, this advice seems counterintuitive. However, if you pay close attention to your reactions and observations, you’ll understand that going to the auction is an encounter with the beast.

Helping organize and then watching people during my father’s estate sale was a major wake-up call. Most of the things dad had acquired and worried over went for pennies on the dollar. Few if anyone cared about what the items meant to dad or the family. They were there to buy stuff, ideally at bargain basement prices. What was really sobering is that some of the stuff dad liked, did not sell nor did anyone even want to take home for free. That went to the recyclers and the dump.

Perhaps we are reluctant to let go because we are afraid of freedom. We are told that liberty comes about through self-awareness. Too often, we forget that liberty also comes from letting go of the things and the unfriendly people that weigh us down. The hard part is letting go of what enhanced your life a few years ago but are now out-of-date and just take up space in your mind. Common sense tells us that we must clear out the old in order to make room for the new.

Like it or not, every day brings in the new.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes David Bowie. “Everything I read about hitting a midlife crisis was true. I had such a struggle letting go of youthful things and learning how to exist and have enthusiasm while settling into the comfort of an older age.”

Posted in Contemplation, Health | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Dear Diary

Every single night, sick or healthy, I write something in my diary. It doesn’t matter what is written. Many of the entries state the weather conditions. I like this simple data because they set the tone for a day. By writing, “We had two-degrees-below-zero, it was windy, but the Sun was shining…” I can remember needing to dress in my football stadium parka and wearing mittens instead of gloves.

This information leads to more mundane activity, or it reminds me of the background of a more interesting event of note. Maybe I gave a lift to a pal because his car battery died due to the extreme cold. That event led to a conversation in my car that I want to remember.

Naturally, I don’t just make notes about the weather. The diary touches on as many subjects as does this blog. As we know, there are as many different kinds of blogs as there are people. Frequently people write blogs as public diaries. The word “blog” is the shortened version of “web log”. Supposedly the web logs would be like diaries that anybody could read on the Internet.

Diaries are kept by all sorts of people. Adolf Hitler purportedly wrote in a diary. There are a few phony Hitler diaries. Then there is the more famous Diary of Anne Frank. The published diaries of famous people like John F. Kennedy, Jack Kerouac, and Virginia Woolf have fascinated readers for many years.

Franz Kafka kept personal notes and papers. He wrote a great body of work, but he was neurotic and depressive. Kafka asked a friend to destroy all of his diaries, stories, and books after his death. That friend betrayed Kafka’s trust and submitted the papers to publishers. It seems tragic that Kafka would never know the praise and acclaim his works achieved.

I don’t know if tennis champion Steffi Graf knows about Franz Kafka. Graf says she has been proactive and has discarded most of her own diaries herself.

One of the most famous novelists of the 20th century was George Orwell. His personal diaries from the years of the worldwide great depression, into the Second World War, and the postwar period to 1949, provided the seeds for some of his famous essays and novels.

Humorist David Sedaris has kept personal diaries throughout most of his life. I’ve read his latest published diary entries, and enjoyed them.

Although teachers and instructors advised me to journal or keep a diary, I never did. That is until sleep apnea developed and affected my health. The technician at the sleep lab strongly advised me to keep a sleep diary for a few weeks. This would enable the doctors to analyze the data they gleaned from the sensors that were applied to my head and abdomen that linked into medical devices.

After the sleep diary was no longer necessary, the habit of keeping one lingered. Eventually, the informal sleep diary morphed into a regular log of mundane daily events that I wrote onto the pages of regular spiral-wire-bound notebooks.

I didn’t buy a specially purposed blank book for journaling until a couple of years ago. Now I’m jotting into my second diary book, a monogrammed, grey and orange one. Having a special book has made journaling more enjoyable.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes documentarian Ken Burns. “History is malleable. A new cache of diaries can shed new light; and archaeological evidence can challenge our popular assumptions.”

Posted in Books, cultural highlights, History | 3 Comments

Hoarded Snapshots

My friend Jorge and I had been discussing natural disasters that have affected large numbers of people in the past. He brought up the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. Then I remembered the three antique stereoscope photographs stored away in my photo drawer. The 1906 Earthquake is the subject matter of all three of them.

I slid open the drawer and found the antique cards right away. Meantime, Jorge said I should organize the messy drawer someday. He asked to see the cards and some of the other miscellaneous pictures that have been stashed away.

This particular photo drawer should be called a junk drawer, because photos have been placed in it to be sorted through at some unspecified day in the future. I don’t call it a junk drawer though, because it holds a lot of memory triggers.

Our loose photographs that have never been placed in albums or scrapbooks can remind us about people and events we didn’t deem important enough to properly archive. Our photo hoards contain a lot of gems even though they may be technically flawed.

Jorge knew I’d blog about the photo drawer so he asked if he could select some of the pictures. I said he should choose all of them. He picked out a handful, then we both narrowed the batch to just these few.

The old model ship had become an eyesore of a wreck after many years of storage in the basement. I took snapshots of the clipper in order to remember where the various parts needed to fit for the revamping. This was the only picture of the process remaining.

There are a few leftovers and duplicates of pictures from my 1999 trip to the UK in one of the envelopes. Jorge marveled at the number of chimney stacks on the Hampton Court Palace.

During the visit to Windsor Castle, my friend Graham took this image of me posing next to one of the Royal Guards. I was reminded of Graham trying to make the guard smile with good natured jokes. The fellow never moved a muscle. I didn’t want to take any chances because Royal guards’ guns are loaded with ammo.

Valentine is the county seat of Cherry County. It’s my favorite place for a mini-vacation in Nebraska. The picture of a working windmill was probably shot in the late 1980s.

I devoted one summer day in June of 1991 to taking pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge from as many different locations around San Francisco as possible. This picture didn’t make the final cut because the foreground is in focus and the subject of the picture, the bridge, is fuzzy.

My old room mate Felix and I were returning home from a trip to Iowa. We decided to stop at dad and Tippy’s place to say “hi”. Tippy took the opportunity to pose us near the old, decrepit barn. The primitive painting of a horse made the old building special.

I categorize this young man as my “step second nephew” because Golf is one of my late step-mom’s nephews. Golf posed next to the sunflower he had been admiring one afternoon some time in the early 1990s.

There are a few hundred more vintage images in the drawer, but not enough time and space for them this time.

The Blue Jay of Happiness notes that when we look at old snapshots, we see what used to be but is no longer true.

Posted in cultural highlights, History, photography, Travel | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Someday I’ll Laugh About This

Being 13-years-old is awkward. First of all, since the number 13 is enshrined in our culture as unlucky, we have that inauspiciousness in the background at all times. Unlike the hotel floor numbering system, we cannot skip 13. The 13th year is when adolescence kicks in for boys. This is accompanied by as much self-consciousness as we will never again experience.

The one numerical saving grace is that for many of us, being 13 meant we were in seventh grade–lucky seven. In the mid 1960s, when I was 13, seventh grade meant no more elementary school. It was the first year of junior high. We went to different rooms for different subjects. The only constant was home room.

Irving Junior High (now Irvingdale Middle School) is located in the south section of the older area of Lincoln, Nebraska. Each day, I walked more than a mile north on 20th Street. It is a relatively narrow street lined with tall, antique deciduous trees. An upper middle class neighborhood with lovely brick homes is on the western side and a large, lush golf course borders the east side of the street.

I enjoyed the daily walking commute on 20th Street because it was a pleasant transition from our family’s “prefab” tract home, further south, to the hulking brick school to the north.

I can still visualize the spring morning of the second semester of grade seven. The sky was sunny, the air was warm but had just a hint of chill, just the way I love it. Plus, I was looking forward to my first class of the day, art. The class was working on creating mobiles out of paper and metal foils. The school day appeared to be starting out perfectly fine.

As I was daydreaming about art class, I felt something wet plop onto the top of my head. The loud chirping of a robin told me that I had just been bombed with bird poop. It was mortifying and sickening at the same time. Panic began to settle in, too. I was only a couple of blocks away from school, it was too late to turn around and return home.

I had to get rid of the bird poo soon before any of my classmates saw me. Then I spotted shrubbery in the back yard of a stately three-storey English style house. Luckily the bush grew hand-size leaves. I hurried over to the shrub; tilted my head into the branches; and squeegeed away as much of the poo as possible.

I dashed back onto the street, hoping that nobody saw what I had to do. I then reached into my dungaree pocket, pulled out my handkerchief and dried the hair as much as a person can do with a small square of cotton fabric. Then I wadded up the handkerchief and shoved it back into the pocket.

My hair was tousled and messy, but there was no way I wanted to pollute my pocket comb. I’d just have to enter the schoolyard looking like a slob. Moments later my best pal Jeff spotted me and laughed at the state of my hair. I invented a lame excuse as we both walked towards the school doors.

Fortunately, I made it past Lisa, the class gossip, without her even noticing me. Then I made a bee-line to the nearest boys’ restroom to wash my hair.

I had to improvise for shampoo. The only soap was powdered Borax from a wall dispenser. I made a paste out of it and lathered it well into my scalp then rinsed and rinsed. There was a cotton roller towel nearby. I dried my hair then took out my comb and finished grooming just before the first-period bell.

I don’t remember much of the rest of the school day, except that I wondered if there were any spatters of bird poop on the back of my shirt that other kids might see.

The bird poop incident seems minor to me now, but it was traumatic enough to my 13-year-old sense of vanity for it to embed into memory. It was a classic case of “Someday I’ll laugh about this”.

The Blue Jay of Happiness notes that this writer continues to have a dim antipathy towards robins.

Posted in Hometown, Meanderings, Youth | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Promising More Than You Can Perform

One of the most disappointing of betrayals is the failure of someone to follow through on a promise. All of us have probably been on the receiving end of such letdowns. On the other hand, most of us may have failed to deliver on an assurance, especially when we were much younger and inexperienced in life skills. It was most likely when we got the bummers of broken promises that we learned how important promises really are.

Then there are the people who repeatedly fail to deliver upon their pledges. Certain politicians come to mind lately. The ones who vowed that Social Security and Medicare would be perfectly safe under their watch. Their oath was insincere.

The problem of unfulfilled covenants is a very old one. The ancient Roman writer Publius Syrus famously said, “Never promise more than you can perform.” That pithy statement was delivered when a person’s honor was a holy thing. To lose one’s honor was one of the most disgraceful events of anyone’s life.

“Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes; but no plans.”–Peter F. Drucker (American Educator and Writer)

Sadly, politicians, religious figures, and other celebrities fail to make good on their promises on a daily basis. The public rarely punishes them appropriately because such failures are routine news. Those who manage to bless us with fulfilled guarantees are true gems of delight.

It is the preponderance of blundering, false promises that causes us to scorn the entire profession of politics. We humans have minds that more easily remember negative events than positive events. It is a trait that was evolved to protect us from harm.

When it comes down to brass tacks, if someone pledges to do or not do something but fails to deliver in spirit and actuality on that covenant, that person is lying. We rightfully judge those who lie as unreliable at best, and treasonous at worst.

Publius Syrus’ statement comes to mind at the beginning of the year because of the promises we make to ourselves–New Year’s resolutions. People commonly promise to do or not to do things to improve their lives and those around them, but end up failing to honor their compacts.

When such obligations are put down on paper and signed as a contract, they are especially righteous. If it is unlawful to break a legal contract, isn’t it bad to break promises we make to ourselves? We don’t ask this question out of a desire to be judgmental, we ask it as a way to find out how determined we are to attain our resolutions.

When we are truthful to ourselves, we find it easier to be truthful to others. We become the rare person who promises much and gives even more. Such is the wisdom of Publius Syrus. Good luck with your New Year’s resolutions.

The Blue Jay of Happiness likes this anonymous quip: “When a man repeats a promise again and again, he means to fail you”

Posted in Controversy, Friendship, Politics, religion | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Simply Colors …Floral Friday

Now that we’ve passed the holiday season, it’s time to give our eyes a well-deserved rest. Yes, we’ve been overloaded with images, hype, and too much red-green theme. Most of us just want to decompress and return to our regular pace of living.

For the first Floral Friday of 2018, I decided to create designs incorporating a minimalist ideal. This doesn’t mean I want drab or uninspired looks. In this case it means focusing primarily on color.

A black USA Pottery jardinière with orange drip glaze pairs up with a small chartreuse dome of tiny blooms. This arrangement is just the thing for a cluttered, post-holiday desk.

What can be done with those forlorn left-over poinsettias? If they’re miniatures, they can be paired with copper. January can sometimes feel dull. If you have a little nostalgia for the holidays, the unconventionally colored poinsettias are just enough of a reminder. The brightly polished copper is best done in small doses so as not to overwhelm your room.

The light blue glass vase provides a brilliant, cheerful note for the trio of Gerbera daisies. Basic fern fronds moderate the bright colors.

The Blue Jay of Happiness is inspired today by a statement from Claude Monet. “Color is my day-long obsession, joy, and torment.”

Posted in art, Floral Arts, Hobbies, projects | Tagged , , | 2 Comments