Category Archives: artwork

Homely People

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I prefer to write about, think about, and draw pictures of homely people. But don’t mistake me.  I am not talking about ugly people.    Our President, the giant blood sausage with a bird’s nest on top that we have put in charge of making us all feel sick to our stomachs every day, demonstrates what ugly means.  Ugly is not just weird and interesting to look at, it is also repellent behavior that makes physical flaws take a back seat… no, a rumble seat in the trailer behind by comparison.

I am talking about the ordinary people back home.  The ones that may be sitting by your own fireplace on a cold day trying to warm their hands after throwing snowballs outside.  And, of course, that snowball that hit Maggie Doozman in the side of the face and knocked her glasses off, made you laugh for an instant, until you realized she was crying, and Kirk Longhatter didn’t even apologize for throwing so hard, so you went over and picked her glasses up for her and handed them to her, and she smiled at you through the tears.  That is the kind of homely I mean.

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There is a lot that is beautiful in homely people. Sure, maybe not a classically beautiful Elizabeth Taylor face or a Gregory Peck lantern jaw.  Maybe not even a shapely behind or a graceful step when walking across the street.  But ordinary beauty.  Kindness.  Humility.  Determination in the face of long odds.  Good-natured jokery.  A touch of childish silliness.  A moon face that actually shines when a smile lights it up.  That is beauty that can be found in homely people.

You’ve probably figured out by now that this post is just an excuse to show off some goofy old off-kilter portraits I did.  But that doesn’t change the fact.  I do love homely people.

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Naked Innocence

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To be clear, I will have to write a post called Naked Experience to go with this post.  It is a William Blake style of thing.  You know, that English Romantic Poet guy who was into drawing naked people even more than me?  The writer of Songs of Innocence and Experience?  You know, this stuff;

Well, maybe you don’t know.  But Blake gave the world the metaphor of the innocent lamb and the tyger of experience (tyger is his spelling, not mine, and it didn’t blow up the spell checker, even though it made the thing unhappy with me again).  There is a certain something I have learned about nakedness that I mean to innocently convey.  I learned it from anatomy drawing class and spending time with nudists.  Naked is not evil.  Naked is not pornography.  Nakedness, itself, is a very good thing.

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At this point the avid clothing-wearers among you are probably saying to yourself, “This guy is nuts!  If God had wanted us to be nude, then we wouldn’t have been born with clothes on.”  And I must admit, I cannot argue with logic like that.

But on a more serious note, I believe nudity is a fundamentally essential part of the nature of art.  After all, pictures of naked people are a central part of what people have been drawing since they first started etching them with charcoal on cavern walls.  And all art, including this blog, is about the human experience.  What it means to be human.  What it feels like to be alive on this Earth and able to feel.

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And there is nothing sinister and immoral in drawing nudes to portray that fact.  I am trying to show metaphorically the music of existence, the pace, the symmetry, the musical score…  It isn’t focused on the private bits, what some call the naughty parts, even when those things are present in the picture.  “How dare that naughty Mickey show the naked back end of that butterfly!  It ought to have pants on at least!”  Yes, I am making a mockery of that outrage itself.  I am not a pornographer.  These pictures were not created to engender any prurient interests.  These pictures are part of Blake’s lamb.  They will not bite you.  Though blue-nosed people who wish to control what others think may very well bite me for daring to say so.

I have posted a lot of writing and artwork on this blog that I held for the longest time to be completely private and personal.   I hardly ever showed any of it to anybody before I posted it here.  But I am old.  I no longer have secrets.  I am capable of telling you everything even though I have never met most of you in real life.  And I have no shame.  I have become comfortable with emotional and intellectual nudity.  And when I am dead, the body I have kept hidden from the world for so long will be no more.  It’s just a thought.  It’s a naked thought.  And it is completely innocent.

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Fighting Back

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The sad truth is that as this world progresses in the days since the Trump election, it becomes harder and harder to stay positive and happy.  It becomes easier and easier to figuratively stub your toe on the bad news each new day brings and fall into the deep dark pit of black depression.

Just after signing the paperwork for the bankruptcy, I get a couple of explanation pages from my health insurance, assuring me that I will have to pay somewhere around $4500 for my emergency room visit and 3-day hospital stay.  After I earned my first $100 dollars as an Uber driver, I ran over a glass bottle and punctured a tire in its sidewall, costing me over $100 to replace it.  And my bank account, in spite of scraping and saving and spending money like Scrooge McDuck, a thoroughly squeezed nickel at a time, does not contain near enough money to pay this year’s property tax.  In spite of the blood, sweat, and money put into this last summer’s pool crisis, we may still lose the house.  I may soon fall off of that cloud that I stand on.

The Trumpinator hasn’t been helping.  He got the tax plan passed that benefits him to the tune of $12 million dollars every year, and may give me $50, or nothing, or I may even have to pay more.  His tax plan removes the mandate from Obamacare that was its tentpole, probably causing its imminent collapse.  $4500 may only be the first wound in that battle.  And none of the terrible things he says and does get him even a hint of condemnation from the Republican Toad Army that backs him.  We are headed for even greater levels of income inequality, possible revolution and civil war, and general chaos, assuming North Korea doesn’t begin nuking us first.

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But the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune do not find their target completely undefended.  I have ways of dealing with double-danged downers that are all but unknown to those who are basically unartistical.  (Yes, I know that is not a word in English, but I am creative.)

Do you remember that little perfume-bottle figurine that I bought at Goodwill and vowed in this goofy blog to repaint to express my artistical madness and creativiticockle?  (Yes, I know that isn’t a word in English either.)  I broke out the enamels and the acrylics and the brushes and the other stuff, and invited my daughter the Princess to paint with me.  She got out her ceramic dragon, a middle school art project that she never yet finished painting, and we both set to work.

We talked and joked and laughed at the table in the family room.  We talked about art styles and painting techniques.  We talked about art classes at school.  We talked about many important father/daughter artists sorts of things, and the regret we both have for never seriously trying to learn to play music.

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And the result was the healing of many old heart-wounds and the painting of many spots of very nice paints. You can definitely fight back against a world of darkness by creating rebellious little acts of artistry.

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Christmas Magic

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Before now I have never talked about my childhood friend Jimmy Crafton.  It took a long long time to build up enough courage.  Writing this on Christmas Eve makes it easier.

It is not a terrible story.  I can’t think of anybody that fits the idea of a “hero” any more than Jim.  I remember him as a pale-faced little boy with a thousand Watt smile full of tiny white teeth.  He was two years younger than me.  He was in my sister’s class at Rowan Elementary.  He was outgoing and funny.  And he was a hemophiliac.  He had the rare condition of having too little of the essential blood-clotting proteins in the blood that the vast majority of us get to take for granted.  Every day for him was a risk of having an ordinary injury like a bruise or scrape cause him to bleed to death.  He missed great gobs of school days with injuries and crippling pain and the need to go to the emergency room in Mason City for life-saving blood transfusions.  We were told when I was eight that he probably wouldn’t last past his tenth birthday.  The teachers all gave us strict rules for playing with him on the playground… what not to do, what to immediately report, and what not to allow him to do.  I remember one time he decided to wrestle both Bobby and me at the same time.  He had a deep and passionate love for the sport of wrestling, big in the high schools of Iowa.  He aggressively took us both down and pinned us both with minimum effort.  And you should stop laughing at how wimpy that makes me sound.  Remember, I had to play the game by different rules than he did.  Bob and I both had to live with the consequences if bad things were to happen.

The miracle of Jim Crafton was that he did not die in childhood due to his genetic medical difficulty.  In fact, he grew up, went to college, and became a doctor all because of the gratitude he had towards the doctors and medical professionals who helped him conquer hemophilia in childhood.  He got married.  And he even had a son.  Those were things he accomplished in life that no one believed were possible back in the 1960’s.

But now we get to the part that I can’t write without typing through tears.  A hemophiliac relies on regular transfusions of blood to supply the clotting factors that he cannot live without.  And there was no effective screening technique for HIV in blood supplies before 1992.  Further problems arose from the blood bank practice of mixing blood donations together by blood type.  That meant that even clean blood donations were likely to become tainted through mixing.   Far too many of the hemophiliacs in America were given infected blood and became AIDS sufferers at a time when a diagnosis of HIV was basically a death sentence.  And worse, AIDS sufferers were often isolated and treated like lepers for fear of contracting the disease from ordinary contact with them.  You might remember the sad case of Ricky Ray in Florida.  He and his two brothers were all hemophiliacs.  They all were infected.  They were expelled from school.  They even had to live in hiding after loving members of their community burned their house down.  We were horrible to people who were dying of AIDS.

But I can’t leave this essay on such a sad note.  My friend Jimmy was a hero, a doctor, and a dad.  He lived a life worth living and worth knowing about.  His life was a gift to all of us lesser beings.  And this is the time of year for remembering those we have loved and lost.  Jim died of AIDS decades ago.  But he still lives in my heart and my memory.  And if you have read this little story, he lives in you now too.  That is a sort of magic, isn’t it?  I only wish I had more powerful magic to give.

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The Nature of Our Better Angels

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I have friends and relatives that believe in angels.  Religious people who believe in the power of prayer and the love of God.  And I cannot say that I do not also believe.  But I also happen to believe that angels live among us.

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My Great Grandma Nellie Hinckley was, as far as I am concerned, an angel.  Born in the late 1800’s, she was a practical prairie farmer’s wife.  She knew how to make butter in a churn.  She knew how to treat bee stings and spider bites. She knew how to cook good, wholesome food that stuck to your ribs and kept you going until the next meal rolled around.  She knew how to cook on a wood-burning stove, and knew why you needed to keep corn cobs in a pile by the outhouse door.  Or, in the case of rich folks, why you needed to read the Sears catalog in the little room behind the cut-out crescent moon.

She also knew how to head a family.  She had seven kids and raised six of them up to adulthood.  She sent a son off to World War II.  She had nine grandchildren and more great grandchildren, of which I was one of the not-so-great ones, than I can even count on two hands and two feet, the toes of which I can’t always see.  Great great grandchildren were even greater.  Tell me you can’t believe she was a messenger from God, always knowing God’s will, and making the future happen with a steady hand, and eyes that brooked no nonsense from lie-telling boys.

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Mother Mendiola was an angel too.  I met her at my first school, Frank Newman Junior High in Cotulla, Texas.  She was the seventh grade Life Science teacher.  She had been a nun before becoming a teacher, and she was a single lady her whole life.  But she was a natural mother figure to the children in her classes.  She’s the one who taught me how to talk to fatherless boys, engage them in learning about things that excited them, and become a lifelong mentor to them, willing to help them with life’s problems even long after they had graduated from both junior high and high school.  She was not only a mother to students, but she nurtured other teachers as well.  She showed Alice and I how to talk to Hispanic kids even though we were both so white we almost glowed in the dark.  She went to bat for kids who got in trouble with the principal, and even those who sometimes got into trouble with the law.  She had a way of holding her hand out to kids and encouraging them to place their troubles in it.  She even helped pregnant young girls with wise counsel and a loving, accepting heart, even when they were seriously in the wrong.  When they talk about being an “advocate for kids” in educational conferences, they always make me picture her and her methods.  I can still see her in my mind’s eye with clenched fists on her hips and saying, “I am tired of it, and it will get better NOW!”  And it always got better.  Because she was an angel.  She had the power of the love of God behind her every action and motivation.  It still makes me weep to remember she is gone now.  She got her wings and flew on to other things a long time ago now.

Some people may call it a blasphemy for me to say that these people, no matter how good and critically important they were, could really be angels.  But I have to say it.  I have to believe it.  I know this because I saw them do these things, with my own two eyes, and how could they not be messengers from God?  I convinces me that I need to work at becoming an angel too.

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Nappy Berfday, Mickey!

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Mickey, you iz now Sixtity-Won.  You iz lookin’ kinder old an tired.  Mebbe you iz needin’ to take a nap!’

I am indeed 61 today.  I was born in a blizzard in Mason City Iowa’s Mercy Hospital on a cold November night when Ike was the president.   I saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show on Grandpa and Grandma Aldrich’s black and white TV in the 1960’s.  I also saw John Kennedy’s funeral procession in 1963 on the same TV.  I saw the first man to step on the Moon in the Summer of 1969 on our old Motorola black and white TV at home in Rowan, Iowa even though we had to basically stay up all night to do it.  Practically no one I knew got any sleep at all that night.  I started seventh grade that fall.  The first time I ever kissed a girl was behind the Rowan Grade School building.  I won’t embarrass her by telling you her name.  I think she avoided me for the rest of the time we were in school, and maybe even hated me.  But I still remember her fondly even though that whole thing did not go as planned.

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This isn’t her.

I played football for the Belmond Broncos in high school.  I got my brains knocked out as a sophomore and quit football my junior year.  I fell short of earning a letter jacket by one year’s worth of sports participation.  I graduated in 1975.  We had an outdoor ceremony planned for graduation.  As I walking Julie F. out to the football stadium in our caps and gowns (paired by height… what can I say?  I was short.) it started to rain.  Not mere sprinkles, but a downpour, a run-for-your-life, drown-your-uncle-under-the-bleachers sort of downpour.  We had to shift the ceremony to the auditorium.  My grand parents had to watch on a video feed in the library with all the other soaked relatives.  Our parents smelled like a herd of wet cats in the auditorium.

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This isn’t her either.

I went to Iowa State University (Cow College, so named for the beauty of the women there) in the middle seventies.  I got to draw seven different naked women there.  (It was an anatomy drawing class and I also had to draw  naked young men, though I think there were less of them, but I wasn’t keeping count).  I voted for the first time, helping to elect Jimmy Carter as President in 1976.  At the bicentennial parade in Rowan, the first girl I ever kissed was on the other side of the street, but somehow our eyes never met.  In 1979 I graduated with honors and a degree in English.  Rather than becoming an unemployable bum, I went to graduate school in Iowa City at the University of Iowa.  I drew a couple more nude women there and got a remedial Master’s degree in English Education along with a teaching certificate.

My parents moved to Texas while I was in Iowa City.  I found out where they moved to near Austin, and went to get a teaching job in Texas.

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Ruben, Fabian, Javier, Emmit, Sonia, and Teresa, in case you were wondering.

I found a job teaching 8th graders in Cotulla, Texas.  I had my life threatened once the first year and nearly quit.  I decided I would not leave in defeat.  So I stuck it out and taught there for 23 years.  I was teaching the day we learned the Challenger blew up and NASA killed the first teacher in space.  I was also teaching there the day we found out about the events of 9-11.  But not everything about teaching was a disaster.  I learned an awful lot.  I fell in love with a lot of students (but only in the legal sense).  I shared my love of Mark Twain, William Shakespeare, and the writing process with them.  At least one or two of them actually listened during 31 years of teaching.

I got married to another teacher in 1995.  My oldest son was born later that year.  All three of my kids were born while we were teaching in Cotulla.

We moved to the Dallas area in 2004.  I lost my first city teaching job because the Wicked Witch of Creek Valley wanted to protect education from fools like me.  (I was rated as a master teacher both before and after that year by many different principals.  That year I got zeros on my evaluation from only one principal.  I must have only been stupid and incompetent for one year.)  I went on to teach Reading and then English to English Language Learners in high school in the Garland district until I retired in 2014.

Now I am a writer and an Uber driver, neither of which conditions has proven to be fatal so far.  So, I guess, in 61 years of life I have managed to earn every gray hair on my head.  I have lived a good life.  Robin Williams only got 61 years of life.  I can’t claim to deserve more than him.  But if it all ends tomorrow, I have no regrets.  Happy birthday to me.

“Nappy berfday!  Old Mickey!  You iz reelie, reelie old!  And der storry of yer life iz reelie, reelie boooring!”

Sorry.  I guess I’ll have to do better in the next life.

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That Bluebird of Happiness

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I often go back and re-read old posts, particularly when I discover that someone else has read them.  It is amazing to me how differently I perceive things from when I actually wrote the post.  As you write, squeezing huge, boulder-sized portions of hot, magma-like burning ideas and passions out through writing orifices not nearly big enough to accommodate, you usually hate what you wrote and are still writhing in pain from the creation of it as you try to edit it, trim it and brush its unruly hair.  (How’s that for a mixed metaphor to make you cringe?)  But given time and distance, you can really appreciate what you wrote more than ever before.  Things that you thought were the stupidest idea a man ever put in words suddenly have the power to make you laugh, or make you cry.  You are able to feel the things the writing was intended to make you feel.  You begin to think things like, “Maybe you are not the worst writer that ever lived, and maybe that’s not why nobody ever reads your books.”  But then, of course, your sister reads the post and tells you that you write like a really old, really crabby, really ancient old man.  And you use the word “really” too much too.  I know I deserve that, Sis.  Especially the “really” part.

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Here’s a post that I reread and liked today about Bob Ross.

This is the thing about happiness;  It is elusive and rare as a real-life blue bird. But capturing it for a moment is not impossible.  And as long as you don’t try to salt its tail and keep it prisoner, you can encourage it to sing for you.  (Much better metaphor this time, don’t you think?)  vintage-coca-cola-ad-1950s-1960s-clownb

When I am accused of being gloomy, old, and boring, I can happily admit it and make it into something funny.  I am something of a conspiracy nut, but not so serious that I believe all my own assertions.  For those people who took offense at this conspiracy theory of mine; Coca-Cola Mind Control, I would like to point out that “Hey, I was joking.  I actually like clowns.”  Even though there is a serious side to everything and there can’t be laughter without some tears, I am basically happy with the way things are.

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I started listening to “Live Happy Radio” on Sunday mornings on KLUV in Dallas.  They point out on their program of endlessly droning happy-talk that happiness is something that you can work at.  Like humor writing in blogs, it takes practice and practice and time.  They even asked me to share the word about their happy magazine and products, so I am doing exactly that right here.  Sometimes you simply have to put your cynicism in a jar on the shelf next to the lock box where you keep depression and self-loathing.  So you can find their Live-Happy folderol right here.

So I am bird-watching again with an eye out for the bluebird.  You know the one.  It is out there somewhere.  And I need to hear that song one more time.

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