To see the complete Chapter 1, use the following link;https://catchafallingstarbook.net/2018/11/24/hidden-kingdom-chapter-1-complete/
I hardly ever have a day now where I am not going through some kind of suffering. I have just been through rainy days that make my arthritis sore to crippling levels of hurting-ness. Okay, that’s not a real word, so let’s say hurtyness… not a real word either, but funnier sounding. I have been through a number of months of budget-squeezing economic pain, not making enough to afford medicine the doctor orders, or even enough for the doctor’s visit so he can tell me what expensive medicines (like insulin) that I may need to stay alive and yell at me for not taking the medicine I used to be on and couldn’t afford anymore. The news is unrelenting with pandemic infections out of control and death tolls rising while the criminal we elected in 2016 screams that it is all the fault of radical ANTIFA Democrats like me (ANTIFA meaning anybody against fascism) and we are entirely to blame for everything, and we better be opening schools soon or he will cut education funds again… and even more… and make us put up Betsy DeVos posters in our bedrooms so she can watch us sleep and make us have nightmares about schools because we had the audacity to be educators and pro-public-school advocates.
So, maybe, you think, I am bitter and hate my life. Ha! No! If I had it all to do over again, I would not change a thing!
Two times in my life I have had a job that I hated. Both were teaching jobs. Each of them only lasted for one year. The first time, my very first teaching job, I came back the second year to a new principal and mostly new kids. I worked really hard and turned it into a job I loved for the next 23 years. The second time was a job for a principal who was decidedly dictatorial and hated by most of the staff. She ended up firing me because I liked black and brown kids too much, and it resulted in me finding a much better job which I loved for seven more years. I have never regretted becoming a teacher. In fellow faculty and the vast majority of over two thousand students, I encountered some of the most interesting and best people I have ever known. Including my wife. Now, when pain and suffering are lonelier things to deal with than the hubbub and struggle of daily school life, I have all of that to look back upon and remember and grin insanely about with high levels of life-satisfaction. Doing things you love to do is a key to happiness.
Another reason I am in love with life in spite of it all is the chance I had to be an artist and express myself through drawing, painting, coloring, and telling stories. As you can see by this blog, I have done a lot of doodling since I discovered I could draw at somewhere around the ripe old age of four. And because I rarely throw artwork away, I have a lot of it to share. Some of it I am very proud of. The stuff I am ashamed of that I have not trashed, I am only mildly ashamed of.
I claim to be humorist. Some of my best stories can make you laugh. And some of my drawings can too.
But not every part of the world of humor is about laughing, chortling, giggling, snickering, or full-blown donkey-like hee-haws. Some humor only makes you smile.
Some humor is gentle and thoughtful, even ironic.
And some of the best humor calls up truths and feelings that can bring you to tears.
But all of us “normal” human beans love to laugh (or even groan about that bean-pun) and laughter is good for us. Expressing yourself through art, especially if it makes us laugh, is another reason I love being alive.
Being dead, of course, makes it awful hard to laugh. This is why I generally try to avoid being dead. But thoughts of death can too easily become a way of life. That is why I try to put fear and anger and Republican Senators from Texas far away from me. They will not take me out of my laughing place while I am still alive.
And most important of all, you need to love life because of love itself. Now, I am not saying anything about sex here. Not that sex isn’t a good thing, and that it doesn’t pop into your old head every time you think about love, but that sex isn’t the most important part of love. It is possible to love everybody unconditionally. As much as Mark Twain and I both complain a lot about “That damned human race!” we both understand that the most wonderful thing about people is that, in spite of the fact that the word “people” is a little label on a very big thing… they are, in fact, an ever-expanding balloon of infinitely hilarious and detestable and cuddly things that threaten to pop at any moment and spew weird and wild personalities all over the damned universe. No matter how much you hate some people, or even if you hate people generally, loving people is the spicy Italian meat sauce on the spaghetti pile of your life. So, do some acts of pure gluttony upon it, and just be happy to be alive.
As I am now thoroughly committed to the next book, The Wizard in his Keep, I have also been working on the little matter of what you put on the cover of the book.
I started with a picture of two important characters, the video-game characters Hoodwink and Babbles (the horse-headed Kelpie).
Next came the color step.
Which leads to the need for a background.
And then we edit it and composite it.
And hopefully it makes you at least a little bit interested in the story.
Adagio 19 – The Last War Before Now
If you actually read that last Canto instead of skipping it to get to the good parts, especially the naked-girl parts of which I am not promising you any, like most readers do, you may have noticed that both Tron Blastarr and Arkin Cloudstalker were veterans of a war that happened in the Imperium’s Pan Galactican Rim, Space Cowboy country. The Imperium had for two hundred and thirty-six years been expanding unimpeded and colonizing empty system after empty system. The problem, of course, is that the systems weren’t exactly empty. They had merely been cleansed of sentient and intelligent life by an unknown alien presence that came to be known as the Faceless Horde.
Battles took place, and planets would become empty of intelligent creatures like dolphins, whales, apes, Earthers, Nebulons, Galtorrians, Fusions, and other aliens capable of speech, culture, and organized militaries.
And the strangest thing was, the planets were simply empty after the battle. No bodies of defenders. No evidence of attackers. Rumors began that the enemy ate the dead from both sides. Of course, this was not based on the remains of cannibal cook-outs. While there were a few of those sites with long-dead skulls and fire-pits for making barbequed people, they were all created by the usual Galtorrian and Dion cannibal cults that had been eating their own as well as other sentients since the Imperium was formed.
But then, finally, captured study specimens, mostly Earther-humans were released by the Horde to return and tell us what they knew. The Scondians were literally faceless. They were a race of black, eyeless, faceless creatures that lived entirely on soaked-up starlight, or more groundedly, sunlight.
I got a lot of first-hand information about them because one of Ged Aero’s most prized Psion Teenage Mutant Space Ninjas, Billy Iowa, was one of those captive study specimens returned to the Imperium.
It was discovered that the Horde War was mostly a matter of misunderstanding. The creatures did not need to eat because they were made mostly of coherent light energy. Their bodies were primarily containment constructs to carry beings made mostly of low-temperature thermo-nuclear plasma. Once killed, they simply dissolved into the air. The Imperial forces had slaughtered billions, but didn’t know it because the bodies were gone by the time living observers were there to see them. And Imperials didn’t find any Humanoid or allied alien bodies because the Scondian Faceless Horde were fascinated by them, needing to study them to discover why they didn’t dissolve when deceased.
Billy told me that he was only able to communicate with them when a Scondian who went by the name Rahotep invented a translation device that turned their clicks and popping sounds into Galactic English. Nothing in Scondian society actually had a name. “Scondian” and “Rahotep” were simply randomly chosen designations from the computer’s Galanglic database.
So, once the two very different kinds of intelligence could communicate, the misunderstanding of what the two sides each were, and what their goals were, the war ended in a flash. The differences were great enough that no one actually was interfering with anyone else’s way of life. Co-existence became easy.
Not so easy came the acceptance of the peace by those like Tron Blastarr, The Degenerate, Arkin Cloudstalker, Razor Conn, and Fez Amin. They had experienced a myriad of impossible battles against the Scondian Scorpion ships, and came to deeply despise an enemy that had inflicted so much damage and pain with no apparent pay-back.
That’s when the veterans of the Horde War began moving to the border with unknown space to lick their wounds, build new fleets, and turn the act of privateering into complete and illegal piracy.
Many scientists, myself included, felt that the peace settled upon at the end of the Horde War was a mistake. The Scondian Horde did not offer any cultural exchange or opportunity to cooperate in shared space. They simply returned the Pan Galactican planets and properties and outstations they had cleansed of people and forbade further colonization in their portion of the Orion Spur. That was bound to cause trouble sooner or later. I mean, how can a greedy, acquisitive race of sentient beings like the Earthers, or the lizard-like Galtorrians, or the Human/Galtorr Fusions ever be satisfied that sentient beings with planets and a culture of their own not only forbid profiting from trade and commerce with them, basically in order to take advantage of them, or, even more galling, deny them planets, stars, and property to steal from its rightful owners? They can’t be satisfied. Piracy, after all, is what moves history forward. But then came the massive influx of Nebulons in their Space Whale Cruisers, moving into Imperial range for no apparent reason. By the billions, the little blue Space Smurfs were invading with a culture no more easily understandable than that of the Scondian Horde. A new enemy to go to war with and exploit in any way possible made the Imperial navy and Admiral Tang forget all about the Faceless Scondian Horde.
My COVID 19 test came back completely negative.
Yes, I drew the Fred in black and white to celebrate, but I used the kids’ frame from the cereal box to do it.
There are voices in my stupid old head. But don’t worry. They are not dog voices telling me brunettes need to be shot with a .44. They are echoing voices. Voices of loved ones, voices of students, voices of random amusing people I have known and how they talk, the many voices of Robin Williams, and, of course, the singing voice of Roy Rogers.
I really don’t know how many times I traveled down dark and dangerous pathways with, “Happy trails to you…” echoing in my stupid head. It helped me through surgery. It helped me through hospitalization for a “That EKG could mean you are having a heart attack right now.” It wasn’t a heart attack. It helped me with the meeting with a judge for my Chapter 13 bankruptcy… which was caused by the coulda-been heart attack.
I hear the voices of departed relatives too. My sweet old Reagan-Republican Grandma Beyer comes back to me talking about magazine ads in “Look” magazine in the early seventies.
“Now, those children are positively up to no good. Look at the expressions on their evil little faces. Do you really believe they are merely going to eat that food? Or are they going to make someone wear it, scare it, or underwear it?
“And look at the neon-blue eyes those youngsters have! Do you suppose that orange juice is radioactive or something? It certainly doesn’t look like its doing them any good health-wise to be drinking that much. They look wired!”
Or when she saw TV Guide’s picture from the mini-series “V” in the 80’s.
“Land Sakes! That’s one pretty awful skin condition that poor man has. I certainly wouldn’t want to get infected with that!”
And there’s always the voice of Mark Twain lurking in the back of my brain watching for a chance to remark on something and make me laugh.
“I don’t like to commit myself about Heaven and Hell… You see, I have friends in both places.”
“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to any vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”
“The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.”
“No amount of evidence will ever persuade an idiot.”
“Okay, you can shut up now, Mark, before I laugh myself to death,” I replied.
And then there’s all those imaginary people that my own demented psyche gave birth to and now live in my fiction. They follow me around everywhere too, making comments, encouraging me, sometimes discouraging me, and always making me forget that I am actually talking to myself. I write down a lot of what they say. It becomes the basis for another book or two, or possibly twenty.
So, you see, I am rarely lonely. My mind is never quiet. And there’s always a conversation going on, no matter that I am completely alone and no one is saying anything at all out loud.
Yes, I am guilty. Yes, I will probably do a lot of it in this essay. Do I make stuff up out of thin air to support my pontifications? Well, I try not to… most of the time.
That bit of pontification I just shared is not mine. It’s Vonnegut’s. But it is pontification never-the-less.
To be fair, this manner of delivering information, founded on the basis of revealed Divine authority (as if I were the Pope) is not an evil thing… if it is not misused to propagate misinformation and lies. It is often used to convey moral imperatives and Christian values. And to be fair to me, I rarely pontificate unless I am joking and don’t mean to be taken seriously.
Never-the-less I am often told that my fiction is didactic and my essays tend to hold forth with my convictions and conclusions as if they were revealed to me in a visitation from a burning bush or something.
From my humble perspective, however, I wish to point out that I have, through years of teaching experience and encounters with grave issues that affect health and wealth and happiness, learned a few things the hard way that count as wisdom. I would offer the defense that, in spite of what my wife would tell you, I am NOT always wrong about everything. (I am maybe only wrong about most things.) And as such, my opinions, backed up with facts and anecdotes, are sometimes worth listening to.
As I am probably not going to overcome my habit of pontificating any time soon, I should probably warn you about some of the things I have been thinking about of late that I am likely to pontificate about in upcoming blogs. Here are just a few;
- Bad things that happen to Good People are what actually turn them into Good People.
- The reverse is not always true. Good things happening to Bad People can worsen them, but they become Bad People when the good thing we are talking about is getting away with doing something bad.
- The world is coming to its end. Of course, it is always coming to its end, until it reaches its endpoint at which it probably won’t end and then the prophets of doom will have to pick a new Doomsday that probably won’t end it either… though it might.
- The St. Louis Blues hockey team gets to be Stanley Cup Champions for two years in a row because of the pandemic. COVID 19 was only 99% a bad thing.
- If you are a three-inch tall fairy warrior, a rabbit as your faithful steed is better than riding rooster-back. That’s because if the spell wears off your mighty steed, the rabbit won’t mistake you for a bug and eat you. (But never disguise yourself as a carrot to hide from humans while riding rabbit-back.)
So, I admit to having bouts of rabid pontification. But I would argue that it is a very natural bad habit for a retired school teacher to have. Up until my retirement I regularly delivered the Word of God (as filtered through the Texas State Board of Education) to kids in a classroom.
They would often respond, “Oh, God! Not again!”
To which I would answer, “I am not God. If I were, there would be lightning right now.”
This is in no way a political post, even though I consider 2016 as a bad year for political reasons. This is an art post. It contains artwork originally posted in 2016 that I haven’t displayed enough since.
The pictures, of course represent at least one from each month of posting in 2016. They are in reverse order, starting with December and going back in time to January.
There is a bit of the circus freak in all of us… and a lot of it in me.
But I am who I am supposed to be.
I sit here writing this in the state of Texas, in the midst of the worst pandemic in this country in 100 years, possibly headed towards the worst pandemic ever.
My father in Iowa is in hospice care under strict quarantine. My mother can’t even visit him. She’s afraid to go see him through the window because he is dying from late-stage Parkinson’s Disease. He doesn’t remember who she is some of the time, and her presence makes him agitated. He doesn’t understand what’s going on anymore.
And I have been forbidden from trying to go see her because of the threat to my health and her health that COVID 19 represents. We are both diabetics. Both capable of being blown away by the next cold breeze, or uncovered sneeze
So, here I am. I am a prisoner of circumstances. I can no longer be a teacher, something I was born to do. I can’t go out and do anything because the disease has reshaped the world.
But I am here, I can write, I am free…
I am who I’m meant to be…
This is me.
I always wanted to start a day’s lesson by singing. I never had the perfect song. But when I did sing in the classroom, or play the harmonica, it always got a rise out of that batch of other people’s children.
And now I have the perfect song… from the musical The Greatest Showman. And I am no longer a teacher. I missed my shot.
Wouldn’t it be a kick to sing to them, and even get them to sing along?
You think it would be a silly waste of time? A foolish thing to do and a total mistake that risks getting me fired?
Ah, you don’t know kids very well, do you.
It would be glorious. They wouldn’t learn about me. They would learn about themselves. And it would be a lesson worth more gold than the world has to pay with.
But I am still me. I write and draw silly pictures. And I make books that nobody really reads… except for nudists, and other teachers, and random Twitter followers… all who seem to like my stories.
Maybe I can’t ever be a teacher again. But I was one. It was glorious.
And, retired now, in my 60’s, it may all be coming to an end. I’m waiting at the moment for my COVID Test results.
And I still have a voice even now, through words like this… strung together on a page.
I make no apology,
This is who I’m meant to be.
This is me.
Today I am seriously missing teaching again. I reposted this old thing that I am unjustifiably proud of. It makes me feel a little bit better, even though it is only about being a substitute.
I was a substitute teacher for seventh graders on Monday. And I experienced a bit of the time-warp sensation that becomes a big part of the lives of old people… especially crazy old coots like me.
My whole-day sub job was definitely happening on the 3rd day of February, 2020. And yet it took me back to 1988, 1996, and 2002 all in the space of three 50-minute periods.
I was visited by three former students from the past. They looked almost the same as I remembered them. They definitely acted exactly the same. And they had exactly the same kind of classroom behavior as they did before. And what was equally confounding, they were all in the seventh grade yet again and in the year 2020, apparently inhabiting new bodies with new names attached and attending school again at Dan F. Long Middle School in Carrollton.
Raul was a…
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I have now seriously started The Wizard in his Keep. It is most likely to be the next novel I publish. Though AeroQuest 4 and Hidden Kingdom are both in the running. But I have already gotten the tingles from this new work in progress. It is beginning to feel like a good story. It is rolling out of the word processor as easy as pouring hot molasses from a glass jar. And it smells just as sweet. (Wait, do novels have smells? I think they must. This one is green apple, caramel, and molasses.)
I already wrote about the three main characters in the above illustration. So, you should probably already know that they are Mortie, Daisy, and Johnny Brown, the orphaned children of the late Stacy and Brom Brown.
The two characters in the new illustration at the start of this post are Hoodwink and Babbles. They are not so much real people as they are non-player characters in a virtual-reality video game. The program behind the game has slightly too much intelligence for a computer thingy. But that’s what makes it ripe for an unexpected intrusion of fairy magic and the wizardry of the game master, Milt Morgan. It results in a boy named Hoodwink and a Kelpie named Babbles that are a little bit more than merely human.
I could tell you more, but I actually need to save it for the rough draft. This story has a tingly feeling about it that it shares with my best work.