The Silent Sonata


Being a writer is a life of music that happens only in your head.  You hear voices constantly.  They pulse rhythmically with insights and ideas that have to be written down and remembered.  Otherwise  the music turns clashing-cymbals dark and depressing.  Monday I wrote a deeply personal thank you to the Methodist minister who saved my life when I was a boy.  I posted a YouTube music video by the acapella group Pentatonix with that essay in a vain attempt to give you an idea of the music in my head when I composed that very difficult piece to give myself a measure of peace.


I realize that I am not writing poetry here.  Poetry can so easily slip into melody and music because of rhythm and meter and rhyme.  And yet, words to me are always about singing, about performing, about doing tricks with metaphor and meaning, rhythm, convoluted sentence structure, and other sneaky things that snake-oil salesman do to get you to think what you are hearing is precisely what you needed to hear.  The Sonata of Silence…  did you notice the alliteration of the silvery letter “S” in that title?  The beat of the syllables?  Da-daah-da a da-da?  The way a mere suggestion of music can bring symphonic sounds to your ear of imagination as you read?  The way a simple metaphor, writing is music, can be wrapped into an essay like a single refrain in a symphonic piece?


A sonata is a musical exercise in three or four movements that is basically instrumental in nature.  You may have noticed that the movements are loosely defined here by the accompanying pictures, of which there are three.  And it is silent only in the way that the instruments I am using themselves make no noise in the physical world.  The only sounds as I type these words are the hum of an old air conditioner and the whirr of my electric fan.  Yet my mind is filled with crescendos of violins and cellos, bold brass, and soft woodwinds.  The voice saying these words aloud only in my head is me.  Not the me you hear when I talk or the me I can hear on recordings of my own voice, but rather the me that I always hear from the inside.  And the voice is not so much “saying” as “singing”.

Writing makes music.  The writer can hear it.  The reader can too.  And whether I croon it to make you cry, or trill it to make you laugh, I am playing the instrument.  And so, the final notes of the sonata are these.  Be happy.  Be well.  And listen for the music.

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Stardusters… Canto 18


Canto Eighteen – On an Over-Large Fireball Falling Out of Orbit

The orbital station was really no longer able to be classified as orbital.  Flames licked up all around the perimeter of the vehicle, and looking out any porthole or window let you see instantly that they were all minutes away from burning up.

“What is the next step, Sizzahl?” asked Davalon with a hint of panic in his voice.

“You have the two coils in place?  One inside the other?”


“Turn it on.  The coils should then spiral in opposite directions.  That is what will provide the antigravity field, the inner and outer coils pulsing with opposing electro-magnetic energies.  It should begin almost immediately to interact with the planet’s magnetic field and slow you to a stop.”

Davalon nodded to George Jetson, and the somewhat cocky Telleron boy instantly flipped the power switch.  The light show that started made a prickly sensation run up and down the spines of everyone on board.

“It’s working.  I think you have saved us, Sizzahl.”

“To be honest, I didn’t do it to save you.  I really needed the plants on board that station.  And I was really lucky that you had Earthers on your ship when you crashed.  I need some of their genes, too.”

“You didn’t mean to save us?” asked Davalon.  “So… are you going to eat us after all?”

“I would if I were anyone else from Galtorr Prime.  We are a carnivorous race, you know.  But you lucked out.  I am probably the only vegetarian Galtorrian in existence… even before the wars wiped out ninety per cent of the population.”

“Are there other Galtorrians with you?” asked George Jetson nervously.

“No, I… I’m all alone here.  I have been since the armies of Senator Tedhkruhz overran our facility and… and… killed my parents.”

“Sizzahl?” said Davalon.  “Are you crying?”

“Yeah… I mean, no!” she sniffed loudly.  “What makes you think that?  Galtorrians are too mean to cry.”

“I know our intelligence reports on your planet suggest Galtorrians are much less sentimental than Tellerons, and Tellerons are so bad that they ate their own children until recently… when the Earthers taught us to love each other.”

“Tellerons are just too stupid to know better.  Every intelligent species tries to preserve themselves, especially through family units.”

George and Davalon were the only tadpoles hearing this from Sizzahl.  Davalon made a promise to himself that he would discuss it with Alden and Gracie Morrell later.  Perhaps Galtorrians could become better people in the same way that Tellerons had through exposure to Earth humans.

“How did you get this technology?” asked George Jetson while studying the spiraling coils.  This is tech level twelve at least.  We thought Galtorr Prime was just like Earth, only at tech level nine.”

“Ha!  That shows how uninformed you superior-minded idiots really are.  Alien races from advanced worlds have been visiting and living on both Galtorr Prime and Earth for millennia.  Probably even longer.”

“Alien races?” said Davalon, “like who?”

“You know about the Utopians, right?” said Sizzahl.

“The who?”

“The Utopians from the Zeta Reticuli systems.  The Earthers call them the Grays.”

“That’s creepy,” said Davalon.  “That double-star system is well within the borders of the Telleron Empire.  How is it that we don’t know about what they are up to?”

“Are they a part of your so-called empire?”

“No.” admitted Davalon.  “We have never really conquered any star-faring races who tried to resist us.”

“Yeah,” said George Jetson, “we are better at conquering little fuzzy critters and bug-people.”

“Are you referring to Kriitians?”

“Um, yeah.  Why?” asked George.

“We have some of them here on Galtorr as well.  I’ll bet the Utopians took a few of them to Earth as well.  Much the same way that Galtorrians were established in underground bases on Earth.”

“How can all of this happen without Telleron knowledge of it?” asked Davalon.

“Simple.  You guys are really pretty stupid.”

Sizzahl’s lack of respect and constant insults were beginning to grind at Davalon’s gizzard.  Of course, Tellerons didn’t have gizzards… hopefully.  That was just an Earth expression from some old western movies Davalon had seen.  But it fit.  His gizzard, whatever that truly was, was feeling very, very ground down.



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Confessions on the Prairie

Some songs are so beautiful and so true, that I cannot listen without tears in my eyes and burning fire in my heart.

“I did my best, it wasn’t much

I couldn‘t feel, so I tried to touch

I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you

And even though it all went wrong

I’ll stand before the lord of song

With nothing on my tongue but hallelujah”

lyrics from “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen

You see, I believe in God… but my God is a bit bigger than most people’s God.  In fact, most of the people who come closest to what I believe are atheists.  My God is all of existence, the good and the bad both.  He is above my understanding, but it is my place to constantly try to reach for Him and know Him and, sometimes, even be Him.  Things that are impossible to accomplish, and yet we all do it on a daily basis.

My God does not punish sin.  My God does not reward faith.  My God does not ask anything of me beyond being.  But since I exist, and since I believe that love and beauty are good things, if I want the universe around me to manifest love and beauty, then I must make it so.  I must live as a loving person and a singer of beautiful songs… even if I can only sing silently in words on a page.

However did someone as dopey as me come up with something as dopey as this?  Let me tell you a story.

When I was ten, an older boy, a neighbor, trapped me, de-pants me, and abused me.  It was not love in any way.  It was sexualized torture.  He made me feel pain.  He took away my sense of well-being.  He made me afraid to touch or be touched by others.  He made me believe my own physical urges were a terrible thing that God would punish me for.  I wet my pants in school more than once, because I feared the boys’ bathroom at school.  I no longer tried so hard to make the other kids laugh.  I sank into depression.  And ultimately, I thought about ending myself in painful ways, ways I felt I deserved.


Reverend Aiken is the one in the cowboy hat.  His son, Mark, was my childhood best friend.

But I was blessed.  My best friend’s father was the minister of the Methodist Church and, eventually, both churches in our little town.  And in the late 60’s, the Methodists decided to be very progressive on matters of human sexuality.  When I was twelve, he taught all the kids in my age group about sex using a blackboard and a willingness to frankly discuss anything we needed to know.  Of course, he never quite figured out what my terrible secret was, in fact, I couldn’t have told him about it if I wanted to, the memory was repressed and I couldn’t call it up until that day in college when it all came back to me at age 22.  But he knew it was there.  He is the one that taught me that faith in God is about love.  It is not about punishment, especially not punishment for biological urges and physical needs.  People need love, and should never be castigated or humiliated because they seek it.  And he told me that I was not to blame for the acts of others.  The notion of original sin, that we are all born despicable because Adam goofed, is nonsense.  All people, even the bad ones, are God’s children and worthy of love.  People can be redeemed from anything.  And it is the job of worthy people to be the love that informs the universe.  We must do good deeds and love, honor, and, most of all, render aid to others.  Because that fills the universe with goodness and light.

Both the good Reverend Aiken and my abuser are dead now.  I deeply love one, and I forgive the other.  And it’s because that’s what God is… love and forgiveness.  It has to be so.

Did you listen to that song from YouTube?  If you made it this far through this rather difficult ramble without listening to it, I recommend you click on it and give it a try.  It is about King David sinning with Bathsheba, and repenting his sin before God.  And in the end, there was no punishment for him.  So, I, too stand before the lord of song with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.

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FrightFest in the West

One of the results of the loss of the patriarch of my wife’s family is that all the sisters in this country got together to mourn, and all bought season passes for their families to Six Flags Over Texas, the poor man’s Disney World.  I, being of sound mind and decrepit body, didn’t get a vote, as I wasn’t there when they bought tickets on this extended-family plan.  In fact, marching around a theme park on my arthritic legs and cane trying to breathe Texas air full of all the pollen and pollutants that have been killing me, didn’t seem like such a good thing.  Yesterday I finally got talked into going and activating my already-purchased season pass.


My wife and daughter at the burger restaurant

“We will just go to use our food pass,” my wife said.  “We can have dinner there at the park and get some use out of all that money I paid.”

That seemed almost reasonable.

“And if we can’t help but get on a ride or two, you can sit on a bench and watch all the weird and stupid people go by.”

Well, that sold it.  So we went.  We did notice, however, that the line for food was long and getting longer.  Some of the people waiting seemed to have been waiting a very long time.


We finally got to the front of the line and got to pick gourmet cheeseburgers and chili fries because I don’t already have enough heart-clogging cholesterol in my system and needed a lot of greasy saturated fat for a high price.  Ah, the joys of eating at a theme park.  Long lines, rude people, bad food, and everybody’s patient and happy for the most part because they paid big bucks to get there.

And then, after we had our meal, we soon discovered why the theme park was full of skeletons and being pumped full of noxious chemical artificial fog.


Yes, the Snickers Bars were bigger and scarier than ever.

Now, FrightFest and other celebrations of Halloween probably aren’t the best thing for people who have been associated with Jehovah’s Witnesses for twenty years, but it definitely provided a ton of stuff to see as we fled through the Old West section of the park to avoid zombie jump scares and other holiday nonsense.



Giant spiders were everywhere, just like skeletons.

The toxic artificial smog with spooky lighting made it difficult to get a picture of the giant spiders who seemed to be hanging from every tree and possibly explaining the multitude of skeletons.  I didn’t get any pictures of zombies who were actually very young-looking employees in red and gray greasepaint.  We were too busy avoiding getting a “gotcha!” which seemed to be the sole purpose of the zombies.


But it was still a theme park.  We wound our way through the crowd and made our way out.  It was a terrible mistake.  But we had fun.


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Filed under autobiography, family, horror movie, humor, photo paffoonies

Making Portraits


My biggest regret as a cartoonist and waster of art supplies is the fact that I am not the world’s best portrait artist.  I can only rarely make a work of art look like a real person.  Usually the subject has to to be a person I love or care deeply about.  This 1983 picture of Ruben looks very like him to me, though he probably wouldn’t recognize himself here as the 8th grader who told me in the fall of 1981 that I was his favorite teacher.  That admission on his part kept me from quitting and failing as a first year teacher overwhelmed by the challenges of a poor school district in deep South Texas.


My Great Grandma Hinckley was really great.

My great grandmother on my mother’s side passed away as the 1970’s came to an end.  I tried to immortalize her with a work of art.  I drew the sketch above to make a painting of her.  All my relatives were amazed at the picture.  They loved it immensely.  I gave the painting to my Grandma Aldrich, her second eldest daughter.  And it got put away in a closet at the farmhouse.  It made my grandma too sad to look at every day.  So the actual painting is still in a closet in Iowa.


There were, of course, numerous students that made my life a living heck, especially during my early years as a teacher.  But I was one of those unusual teachers (possibly insane teachers) who learned to love the bad kids.  Love/hate relationships tend to endure in your memory almost as long as the loving ones.  I was always able to pull the good out of certain kids… at least in portraits of them.


When kids pose for pictures, they are not usually patient enough to sit for a portrait artist.  I learned early on to work from photographs, though it has the disadvantage of being only two-dimensional.  Sometimes you have to cartoonify the subject to get the real essence of the person you are capturing in artiness.

But I can’t get to the point of this essay without acknowledging the fact that any artist who tries to make a portrait, is not a camera.  The artist has to put down on paper or canvas what he sees in his own head.  That means the work of art is filtered through the artist’s goofy brain and is transformed by all his quirks and abnormalities.  Therefore any work of art, including a portrait that looks like its subject, is really a picture of the artist himself.  So, I guess I owe you some self portraits to compare.


Yeah, that’s me at 10… so what?

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At breakfast I cooked smokies, small-sized fried sausages.  Jade, our family dog got up to the table with the rest of us.

“I can eat twenty of those!” Jade said.

“No you can’t,” I said.  “You are a dog and eat from a bowl on the floor.  I didn’t even set a plate on the table for you.  This is not dog food.”

“Dad?  Did you see these coupons for Taco Bell on the table?” said the Princess.

“Oh, you mean, the Taco Bueno ads?  Remember what the last trip to that other place gave us?”

“Oh, yeah.  That was a horrible day spent in the bathroom,” she answered.

“The next time you go to Taco Bell, take me! ” said the dog.  “I loved the taco meat I found on the table last time you made the mistake of leaving some there.”

“Well, I do know that Taco Bell is universally loved by dogs.”

“How do you know that?” asked the Princess.

“Don’t you remember the Taco Bell dog?  Or were you too young when he was popular?”

“I think I was too young.”

“Look him up on the internet.”

“Oh, yeah!  I kinda remember that.  He was a talking dog, just like Jade.”

“Yes, but I think he mostly spoke Spanish.”

“He’s handsome!” said Jade.  “But look, he’s on television with very short fur… he’s naked!  That would be very embarrassing.”

“Yeah, when it comes to TV spokes-dogs, you’d probably prefer Spuds Mackenzie.  He had more style.”


“I never heard of him,” said the Princess.

“Well, he was before you were born.  He was the Budweiser spokes-dog.”

“Did he talk too?”

“Just party language.  He was always chilling by the pool with beautiful human girls.”

“Let me see more of him!” demanded Jade.


“Wow!” said Jade.  “A dog who drinks beer and plays guitar!  I think I’m in love!”

“That was so long ago, though,” I said.  “He is probably dead by now.  The average life span of a dog is only about ten years at the most.”

“Oh, now I am depressed,” said Jade.  “And you know the only cure for that is to give me some of the breakfast sausages!”

So, as I gave a dog a sausage, I was deeply regretting the whole talking dog thing.


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The Gallery of Goofiness

Looking for stuff to organize into a post today led me to realize that I currently exist swimming in a tidal wave of goofy images that I myself have created.


So, lazy and goofy old me will now show you some of these things.

I don’t even remember why I drew some of these things.

Some of it, is obviously because I was a teacher.


But some of it is merely wacky.


Though some might be considered inspirational.



While some of it is just meant to be appealing.

But all of it provides me with an easy post that you can read fast, but still get plenty to think about from.


Filed under artwork, blog posting, colored pencil, goofiness, humor, illustrations, imagination, insight, old art, Paffooney