Hidden Kingdom (Chapter 2-adding page 9)

To see the complete Chapter 1, use the following link;https://catchafallingstarbook.net/2018/11/24/hidden-kingdom-chapter-1-complete/

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An Unexpected Gift 

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This post is a movie review for Thor : Ragnarok , though I don’t really plan on talking about the movie very much.   It was an excellent comic book movie in the same tongue-in-cheek comedy tradition as Guardians of the Galaxy.   It made me laugh and made me cheer.   It was the best of that kind of movie.  But it wasn’t the most important thing that happened that night.

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You see, I spent the weekend in the hospital thinking I had suffered a heart attack during the Thanksgiving holiday. I thought I was facing surgery at the very least.   I knew I might have had an appointment to play chess with the Grim Reaper.   It is a lot to worry about and drain all the fun out of life.

Well, one of the things that happened that day, Tuesday, my first full day out of the hospital and, hopefully, out of the woods over heart attacks, was that I received my new replacement bank card because my old one had a worn out, malfunctioning chip in it.  So, I took my three kids to the movie at the cheapest place we could find.  I tried to run my bank card for the payment, and it was summarily declined.  I had activated it previously during the day, and there was plenty of money in the account compared to the price, but it just wouldn’t take.  So I had to call Wells Fargo to find out whatever the new reason was for them to hate me.  It turned out that it had already been activated, but a glitch had caused it to decline the charge.  While I was talking to the girl from the Wells Fargo help desk, the lady who had gotten her and her husband’s tickets right before us put four tickets to the movie in my hand.

The middle-aged black couple had lingered by the ticket stand before going in to their movie just long enough to see a sad-looking old man with raggedy author’s beard and long Gandalf hair get turned down by the cheap-cinema ticket-taking teenager because the old coot’s one and only bank card was declined. They were moved to take matters into their own hands and paid for our tickets themselves.

That, you see, was the gift from my title.  Not so much that we got our movie tickets for free, but that the world still works that way.  There are still good people with empathetic and golden hearts willing to step in and do things to make the world a little bit better place.  The gift they gave me was the reassurance that, as bad and black as the world full of fascists that we have come to live in has become, it still has goodness and fellow feeling in it. People are still moved to pay things forward and make good on the promise to “love one another”.  I did not have a chance to thank them properly.  I was on the phone with Wells Fargo girl when it happened.  The only thing that couple got out of their good deed was thank-yous from my children and the knowledge that they had done something wonderful.  I plan to pay it forward as soon as I have the opportunity.  Not out of guilt or obligation, but because I need to be able to feel that feeling too at some point.

I do have one further gift to offer the world.

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After we got home from the movie, I opened an email that contained the cover proof for my novel, Magical Miss Morgan.  Soon I will have that in print also if I can keep Page Publishing from messing it up at the last moments before printing.  It is a novel about what a good teacher is and does.  It is the second best thing I have ever written.

Sometimes the gifts that you most desperately need come in unexpected fashion.

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There are some days when you are in the middle of your daily essay and you suddenly lose interest in the topic you are writing about. So, you can either muddle your way through and tepidly write something that at least won’t totally embarrass you, or you can take note, like now, that some days are just like that.

I have written and posted something every day for 542 days in a row. My goal is two consecutive years worth of every-day posting. Sometimes that means a post like this one… deadline coming up and brain deflation… So, we make do. Or doo-doo. You get to decide which.

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Comic Book Heroes – A is for Aquaman

Today’s Paffooney is a tribute to a childhood hero, Aquaman.   I drew the picture from a comic book inspiration source coming from DC Comics in the 1960’s.  Aquaman is a B-level superhero with not nearly so many fans as the big three, Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman.   He was, however, my second favorite after Spiderman.  He was more important to me than the Avengers.  And this was strange, because I only had the chance to read the sacred comic books in the old barbershop in uptown Rowan.  I only remember about two different issues that I was able to read during the long wait for a haircut.  (Haircuts on Saturday took forever, because all the bald and crew-cut farmers would take forever getting their hair cut.  And they hardly had any hair!   I think the barber cut each hair individually.)

Aquaman and Aqualad would journey together in an incredible undersea world of sea monsters, giant fish, scuba divers, villains like Black Manta, and Mera, a real hot underwater babe.  Topo the octopus could play comic relief by playing musical instruments or getting drunk on old lost kegs of pirate rum.  I became a part of the adventure.  I’m not sure whether I imagined myself more as Aquaman himself, or Aqualad.  Aqualand was dressed all in red and blue, my favorite colors.  I liked his blue swim-trunks.  I myself could never wear swim trunks without a fatal case of embarrassment over my knobby knees and hairy legs.    I admired Aqualad’s smooth and muscled boy-legs, though not without some shame and embarrassment.  Some suggest that the relationship between Aquaman and Aqualad was a homo-erotic thing just like Batman and Robin.   But, hey… NO IT WASN’T!  It was a hero and sidekick that mirrored the complex relationship between a father and son.  My father and I could never talk at any deeper level than Aquaman talked to Aqualad.   Yet my father had super-powers for solving my problems and helping me do things and make things.  Yes, I think I loved Aquaman because he reminded me of my own father in his quiet competence.

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And I had a Captain Action Aquaman costume, a Christmas present and wonderful treasure.  I played with it so much that only the broken trident, mask, and swim fins remain.  The rest was all broken and unraveled and disintegrated from being played with.  The Aquaman in my Captain Action collection has replacement parts in it to make it more complete.  Yes, I spent time and money putting that toy back together so that I might play with it yet again.

So why is the super-powered King of the Sea so important to me?  After all, his super powers are to breath underwater and telepathically talk to fish.  I think, reading back over this stupid little essay, that the most important theme is the father-son thing.    I never owned a single Aquaman comic book as a kid, but I watched him on Saturday morning TV.  He was one of the Superfriends.  And my father had been in the Navy on Aircraft Carriers.  Yes, Aquaman is my favorite because Aquaman is secretly my father.

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Pictures from Before the Pandemic

You might have seen some of these before… but only if you’ve been following me for a long time.

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Foopty-Hoodooloo

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I’m a Mickey, yes, indeedy…

Foopty-Hoopty-Hoodilly-Hoo!

Chicken-ninja throwing stars,

Hit their targets thrown from Mars…

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And when the pandas drive their cars,

Their tire treads are candy bars!

Take that truth from me!

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Foopty-Hoopty-Fiddly-Ho!

Being a Mickey is a rabbity thing…

As if it were Bugs who taught us to sing,

And unmusical music we all start to bring…

Because we use only the words that we know!

Foopty-Hoodilly-Fling-a-ding-Ding!

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The Teacher Crisis

This is a class exercise moment, not monkey-house behavior.

Schools are starting this school year with too few teachers to adequately do the job. I got a call asking if there was any way I could come back to work, even as a substitute teacher. But it just isn’t possible. I am still alive, but far short of well enough to teach for even a single day. And I have spent the entire week watching teachers on YouTube telling the world why they have quit. It’s complicated. I have watched teachers tell angry stories. I have watched teachers cry. I have watched teachers make jokes to keep from crying. And this isn’t just the same old thing about low pay for an extremely difficult job. Chuck Todd says the problem is a 280,000 teacher shortage nationwide.

A painting of my first year as a teacher

Kids’ behavior is surly, rude, and out of control, but nobody explaining why they quit as a veteran teacher named this as the reason for leaving . They still love the kids. Nobody who becomes a teacher and lasts for more than five years does the job without at least secretly loving their students more than money, fame, and peace of mind. Realistically, if the kids don’t eat a teacher alive by the time five school years have passed, they secretly love that teacher too.

As an experienced middle-school teacher, I realize that every kid with their hand up in this picture got a candy bar after the photographer clicked the photo. And the empty seats in the back would be filled except the principal doesn’t want the actual class sizes revealed. Floor sitters and window standers have also been removed.

The biggest roadblock to veteran teachers in red States is interference from the radical MAGA governor who wants to burn some of their school library books and edit what words come out of the teacher’s mouth over things they have basically made up like, “Critical Race Theory,” “Don’f Say Gay ,” or “Sex is something that exists.” And this comes with additional threats at school board meetings, school assemblies, or sometimes even surrounding the teacher’s or administrator’s home with torches, signs, and AR-15s because MAGA parents don’t just get angry, they do something about it.

Another huge factor comes from the way that schools are funded… or not funded as is increasingly the case. Back when Rick (I’m smarter with glasses on) Perry was Emperor… err… Governor of Texas, he had a multi-billion-dollar rainy day fund at the same time when school districts in Texas were all suffering from a lack of funds. Rainy day, right? Not according to the Emperor… err… Governor. While he fiddled with presidential-run preparations, he let schools cut arts programs and lay off teachers and increase class sizes. Teachers were encouraged to pay for classroom supplies out of their own pockets. Teachers were required to do more with less.

And then there was the pandemic. My time as a substitute teacher came to an end as teaching became potentially a death sentence for me. My wife got the opportunity to teach kids by Zoom calls, and then teach both in the classroom and by Zoom calls at the same time… for which no additional pay was offered, though the added requirements for the teacher’s efforts were all mandatory.

So, education in America is in extreme crisis. You can go be a teacher if you have some college hours in any subject area. and you can be a substitute if you are still alive. I don’t know if they would accept a zombie or not.

And it looks like everybody is soon going to get everything they deserve… except teachers, of course.

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Being and Artistry

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Being an artist is a matter of genetics, luck, and loads of practice.  I began drawing when I was only four or five years old.  I drew skulls and skeletons, crocodiles and deer on everything.  My kindergarten and first grade teachers were constantly gritting their teeth over the marked-up margins of every workbook and worksheet.  I drew and colored on everything.  I eventually got rather good, drawing in pencil, crayon, ink, and as you see here, colored pencil.  I loved to draw the people and things around me.  I also drew the things of my imagination.  I drew my best girl, Alicia, and I drew the half-cobra half-man that lived in the secret cavern under our house.  I drew a picture of the house across the underpass from Grandma Mary’s house.  I drew cardinals, and I drew Snoopy cartoons.  I drew my sports heroes in football and hockey, Donny Anderson and Gordie Howe.  I drew monsters with fangs and fuzzy animals with huge soulful eyes.  I still draw and it’s mostly the same things that I drew when I was a child.  I will post more of the drawings here in the near future to dazzle you with my talents and ridiculous sense of the absurd.

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When You Don’t Have Enough Color in Your Soul…

The world is not all black and white… at least, not since the late 1960s.

But many among us would rather have it that way. In fact, they think life would be simpler if white was always right and black was always wrong. The good guys wear white hats. The bad guys wear black. The good guys shoot the guns out of the villain’s hand. The villain ties the lady up on the railroad tracks, and then he explains in detail his evil plan, whilst the guy in the white hat unties the lady… or stops the train.

Then in the 1970s, everything started to be in living color on the television. Children and their teachers began to think the world was full of vivid color. Many shades of both the primary colors and the secondary colors differentiated red-headed Ronald MacDonald from blond Farrah Fawcett and blues-singing Diana Ross.

Luke Skywalker starts out Star Wars looking at the twin suns wearing white clothes, and Darth Vader wore only black. But the Storm Troopers all wore white and they shot poorly like bad guys while Luke was wearing black by the third movie and Darth Vader was saved from the Dark Side by the end of the trilogy.

It seems to me it is really up to us… each of us… to make our own color in life. We can limit ourselves to easy black-and-white living, or we can reach for the yellow stars, red hearts, green clovers, and blue horseshoes… if the Leprechaun doesn’t try to hoard the Lucky Charms for himself.

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Dragon Paffoonies

Part of the joy I find in the family Dungeons and Dragons game is in making Paffoonies, the story-based pictures that illustrate and elucidate the characters and other things that enter spontaneously into the game.

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I don’t invent every part of the image and concept myself.  Some inspiration comes from the game books and published adventures, while others come directly from the players and the way their imaginations shape characters and events.

Many of the Dungeons and Dragons Paffoonies began life as character sheets.  That’s why there are numbers, strength numbers, intelligence numbers, character levels, dexterity, skill sets, and magic items listed all around the character image. They more or less morphed over time into illustrations done in colored pencil on colored paper.

I enjoy drawing wizards and apprentices, warriors in action, castles, and dragons.  I have used the game as an extended excuse to draw vast quantities of them.  And now I have a resource to mine for Paffoonies to lace my blog with.  They provide a sort of sugary spice that I love the taste of, and I will continue to share them until the end, even if they disagree with you and give you reading indigestion.

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I am working on a new piece that is D & D Paffooney- related. I will keep you apprised of the the progress here until it is finished or until you get fed up with it.  Whichever comes first.

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Paffoonies are my own thing… pictures and stories melted together… loony, cartoony, balloony, pink baboon buffoons brewed together in a big pot.  And I will continue to use them for acts of Dungeons and Dragons nonsense.

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When the Old Mind Wanders…

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When the old mind wanders…

They tell you you’re just too slow.

But thoughts like mine drift everywhere,

And the edges of the universe… are a place to go.

 

Maybe I should write in red.

And argue with the voices

That rhyme inside my head.

And break the rhyme scheme 

Here and there

Because of what they said.

Eden

Or maybe I should write in blue

Because I’ve been thinking in the nude

And laying all my secrets bare

Which really might be rude.

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But the old mind wanders…

In the form of a poem,

And breaks and squanders

Tallest waves in mere foam.

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As If It Weren’t Enough…

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THE WISDOM OF THE LITTLE FOOL

A fool can’t really sum up all of life in a sentence.

But a fool tries.

A fool can’t really say something in immortal words.

Because a fool dies.

A fool can’t really do the job of the wise.

But never-the-less, the fool applies.

But a fool can write a really dumb poem,

And let it sit to draw some flies.

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