Category Archives: autobiography

The Last Night of the Leave

Coco-poster

On the last night of my son’s 14-day leave from the Marine Corps for the holidays, we took him out to eat and then saw a family movie together.  It was the Pixar movie Coco.  And what a perfect movie it was!  First of all, it is about family.  It is about the connections we have to those who’ve come before us.  Grandparents and Great Grandparents and Great Great Grandparents… the greatness just keeps flowing back into the past.  And this movie connected living family members to those who came before.

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We spent a lot of our time over the holiday visit talking about the past and those who came before us.  My kids didn’t really get much of a chance to know great grandparents in real life, and great great grandparents were long gone.  My son only knows about Great Great Grandpa Raymond through my stories about Sunday afternoon baseball, listening to Harmon Killebrew and the Twins playing on the radio with Grandpa Raymond.  Great Grandma Beyer got to hold Number One Son and Number Two Son, but only Number One was old enough to remember her at all, and that only in the vaguest possible ways.  I try to keep them alive with family stories and anecdotes.  Much in the same fashion the movie did, although the main character Miguel (ironically the Spanish version of Michael) actually visits the land of the dead.  I haven’t personally gone quite that far.

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The movie also expresses a deep genetic love of music, especially guitar music.  My kids are all musical, and both of my sons play guitar.  Number Two Son is particularly gifted in a Spanish-style ability to pick out complex tunes by ear and by sheet music.  The movie’s music is without question the thing that makes it the best movie we have seen this year.

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And the movie is filled to the brim with bright and appealing artwork, being an animated movie filled with Mexican art, even having a guest cameo appearance by the incomparable Frida Kahlo.  This is easily the best movie she has been in since she died in 1954.  The comedy of this whole extended skeleton dance of a movie is laugh-out-loud gorgeous.    And artwork is also something I share a love for with my three children.

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So I put him on an airplane in DFW today, and he is now back at his base.  But I had him here for a precious little while and we capped it off with a precious little movie. Now, I have to admit, this post is not entirely a movie review.  It is more about how my family made use of it and interacted with it.  It is more of a family story that I needed to tell to keep the goodness of it alive and vibrant, painted in bright colors.  But if you really want to know what I think of the movie, then I will shout at you, “YOU MUST SEE THIS MOVIE!!!”  With three exclamation marks and everything.  It is simply that good.

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Filed under strange and wonderful ideas about life, humor, autobiography, movie review, inspiration, kids, family, review of music, music

Weekend Fun with Heart Attacks

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I’m not sure why I decided to have a heart attack over the holiday, but my body decided it was time and didn’t really give me a chance for input.   I should qualify it a little bit. I didn’t have an actual heart attack according to the final tests, but the preliminary tests were all red flags and shouting.

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So, I woke up in the middle of the night on Wednesday night with a pain in the left side of my chest.  My left arm was hurting and tingling with numbness.

Now, it is not something new.  I have arthritis in my rib cage and I tend to sleep on my left side.    So, although the pain was concerning, it was not reason to make a middle-of-the-night dash to the emergency room.  I eventually got back to sleep on my right side.  I was sluggish and ill the next morning, but I got a lot of house cleaning done and the chest pains were gone.

Thursday night the pains returned, but still not different than the arthritis pains that sent me to the cardiologist before, and not nearly as harsh and painful as the night before.   Again the pain went away in the day.

Friday night I picked up my son the Marine at the airport.  He was home on holiday leave.  We talked about my chest pains over a meal at I-hop.  He pulled rank on me and vowed to take me to the ER.  I talked him down to Primacare because it’s cheaper, still not believing it was real heart pain.

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The next morning Primacare didn’t go so well.  The EKG machine there predicted a major earthquake… or a typhoon, or something… and the Prima-doctor got all serious in the face.  “Do you want me to call an ambulance?  We are required to make the offer in these situations.”

“No, no.  My son is with me and can drive me to the Emergency Room.  I promise I will go.”

And so I did.

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At the ER they are very concerned that you don’t have anything in your pockets.  They quickly dressed me in a hospital gown and then surgically removed $200 (due to the wondrous way my insurance company has of not paying their portion of the bill).  So, lighter by that amount, they immediately hooked me up to their own EKG machine.  I had so many patches attached to the hair on my chest that I was guaranteed to be bald-chested when it came time to rip them all off again.  Then they  repeated the EKG testing done earlier in the day.  I swear, the same squirrel that was visiting Primacare when I was there earlier, sneaked into their EKG machine too and vigorously jumped up and down.  So, there it was.  The proof they needed that I had too much money left in my bank account.  And so they put me inside the hospital.

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Once inside, they rigged me up so one arm could be crushed by a BP sleeve every two hours, or more if they felt like it, and the other arm could be drained of blood so that they could tell if there was any further money in my bank account.

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Three days later, the enzymes in my blood said that what I had was mysterious and not a heart attack.  The stress test I had on Monday nearly killed me, and told them that I didn’t have enough money left in my bank account to keep in the hospital any longer.  I got out still wearing my arm band and allergy warning band as reminders that I really, really didn’t want to go back, but life is like that, and I still don’t know what caused it all, or if I will have to return to deal with it later on.

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Filed under autobiography, commentary, feeling sorry for myself, healing, health, humor, illness, Paffooney

My Precious Things

david-cassidy

The dawn tomorrow is a hoped-for event, not a promise, not a guarantee.  For some it will not come again.  But that is what life is for, to be lived.   You must find the value in living and wallow in it while it is yours, and you must measure it not by the world’s measuring stick, but your own.

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Looking at it mathematically with only the cold hard facts, my life has come to very little.  After teaching for parts of four decades, I was forced by ill health to retire from the job I loved.  As it will in this country where profits for corporations are more important than people’s lives, my personal fortune, that horde of wealth that is allotted for public servants like teachers, was absorbed by the health care and pharmaceutical industry, and health insurers managed to get away with paying out less than I put in through premiums for a lifetime.  After having to pay for the removal of the pool, and after having to go into bankruptcy because Bank of America decided to sue me instead of help in my debt resolution, I really have nothing left.  And if we can’t pay the property taxes that keep going up because the State is continually reducing funds to public schools, we may eventually lose the house.  Broke and homeless.  But they cannot take away my precious things.  It simply isn’t possible.

6a0120a6abf659970b01348734d01c970c-800wi   I saw a woman and her two kids getting breakfast at QT this morning.  The kids, a boy and a girl, were both wearing jackets and pajama pants.  They were both cute, and happy, and speaking Korean to each other.  And I realized after smiling at them with my goofy old coot grin, that I am not prejudiced in any way when it comes to other people.  They were Asian.  I notice details.  But that was an afterthought.  It really wouldn’t have mattered if they were black, white, purple, brown, or yellow.  (Though I have to admit I might’ve been slightly more fascinated by purple.)  Not being prejudiced is a precious thing.  It comes from a lifetime of working with kids of all kinds, and learning to love them while you’re trying to teach them to also have no prejudices.

And, of course, I still have my family.  I was a professional when it came to talking to kids, so I applied those professional skills to my own family as well.  I actually talk to my kids, and know them pretty well.  They have learned to draw and paint and tell stories from me, and may one day be better at it than I am.  They are musical and play instruments… and, hey!  Maybe we could form a family band!  All of those are also precious things.  Let’s see Bank of America try to take those things away from me.

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And it may have occurred to you by this point why I am thinking about precious things and using pictures of my sister’s favorite TV show from the 70’s.  We just lost a singer and actor from that show whose music meant a lot to my family once, and always will.

And he was not a lot older than me.  And his life was not easy either.  But he lived with music in his heart and artistry in his soul.  David, you will be missed.  But your precious things still benefit us.  And some of us will probably be seeing you again soon to thank you yet again.

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Filed under artists I admire, autobiography, strange and wonderful ideas about life, TV as literature

I Love to Laugh

“Mickey, why can’t you be more serious the way smart people are?”

“Well, now, my dear, I think I take humor very seriously.”

“How can you say that?  You never seem to be serious for more than a few seconds in a row.”

“I can say it in a high, squeaky, falsetto voice so I sound like Mickey Mouse.”

“You know that’s not what I mean.”

“I can also burp it… well, maybe not so much since I was in junior high.”

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“I distinctly remember getting in trouble in Mrs. Mennenga’s third grade class in school for pantomiming pulling my beating heart out of my chest and accidentally dropping it on the floor.  She lectured me about being more studious.  But I made Alicia sitting in the row beside me laugh.  It was all worth it.  And the teacher was right.  I don’t remember anything from the lesson on adding fractions we were supposed to be doing.  But I remember that laugh.  It is one precious piece of the golden treasure I put in the treasure chest of memories I keep stored in my heart.”

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“I always listened to the words Groucho Marx was saying, even though he said them awfully fast and sneaky-like.  I listened to the words.  Other characters didn’t seem to listen to him.  He didn’t seem to listen to them.  Yet, how could he respond like he did if he really wasn’t listening?  In his answers were always golden bits of wisdom.  Other people laughed at his jokes when the laugh track told them to.  I laughed when I understood the wisdom.”

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“Laughing is a way of showing understanding.  Laughing is a way of making yourself feel good.  Laughing is good for your brain and your heart and your soul.  So, I want to laugh more.  I need to laugh more.  I love to laugh.”

 

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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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Why Mickey Writes

Fools

If you are wondering, “How in the Heck can Mickey write nonsense like that essay he wrote yesterday?”, then please be aware that Mickey is pondering that same question.

Seriously, why would a writer publish personal thoughts and allude to personal tragedies?  Especially when they are about things that once upon a time nearly killed him?  (Please note that when Mickey starts a sentence with “Seriously” it is probably about to lead to a joke, the same way as when Trump says, “Believe me” we should  assume he is telling a lie and knows it.)

The answer is simply, writers write stuff.  They have to.  If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be writers.

It is really not something to do to earn fame and fortune.  Fame and fortune happen to rare individuals like J. K. Rowling and Steven King… and even Stephanie Meyer, to prove that it is totally random and not based on actual writing talent… except for sometimes.

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You write to get your head right about bad things that happen in life.  You find that factor in Mark Twain whose infant son died, as well as most of the rest of his family, before him, forcing him to face survivor’s guilt and the notion that life is random and death does not come for you based on any kind of merit system.  Charles Dickens wrote about the foibles of his father, on whom he based the David Copperfield character Wilkins Micawber, a man who was overly optimistic and constantly landing in debtor’s prison because of it.  He also wrote in his stories about the women he truly loved (who were not, it seems, his wife) one of whom died in his arms while yet a teenager.  Dickens’ amused take on the innate foolishness of mankind gave him a chance to powerfully depict great tragedies both large (as in a Tale of Two Cities) and small (as in Oliver Twist).  I wrote yesterday’s post based on the connection between the nudity I write about in novels and my own traumatic assault when I was only ten.

You write because you have wisdom, an inner personal truth, that you are convinced needs to be crystallized in words and written down on paper.  It isn’t necessarily real truth.  Lots of idiots write things and post them in newspapers, blogs, and even books.  And it is often true that their inner personal truth is complete hogwash.  (But, hey, at least the hogs are cleaner that way.)  Still, your wisdom is your own, and it is true for you even if some idiot like Mickey reads it and thinks it is only fit for cleaning hogs.

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And you truly do have to write.  If I did not write my stupid, worthless novels, all the hundreds of characters in my head would get mad and start kicking the pillars that hold up the structures in my head.  I do have structures in my head.  My mind is organized in boxes that contain specifically sorted ideas and stories and notions.  It is not a festering stew pot where everything is mixed together and either bubbling or boiling with hot places or coagulating in the cold corners.  (That is how I picture Donald Trump’s mind.  It is certainly not an empty desert like many people think, because deserts don’t explode all over Twitter early in the morning like the stew pot metaphor obviously would.)

And so, I have done it again.  I have set down my 500+ words for today and made a complete fool of myself.  And why do I do it?  Because Mickey is a writer, and so, Mickey writes stuff.

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Giving and Taking Stupid Advice

Let’s begin with some stupid advice. I don’t have time to write a lot today because the Princess is ill and must go see the doctor in Plano.  So the advice is; Set aside time for writing and always allow plenty of time for it.  You will probably notice already that I am giving you advice that I am not taking myself this morning.  So don’t follow that advice.  It is stupid advice.  I have given it to creative writing classes for years and thought I meant it.  But looking back on real life, I realize, it has never been true for me.  My best ideas, my best writing, always seem to come in the middle of the pressure-cooker of daily struggle and strife.  I have battled serious illness for most of my adult life.  I have the luck of a man who tried to avoid letting a black cat cross his path by crashing his bicycle at the top of a hill covered in clover with only three leaves each and then rolling down the hill, under a ladder, and crashing into a doorpost which knocks the horseshoe off the top.  The horseshoe lands on my stupid head with the “U” facing downward so the luck all drains out.  Bad things happen to me all the time.  But it makes for good writing.  Tell me you didn’t at least smile at the picture I just painted in your mind.  You might’ve even been unable to suppress a chuckle.  I am under time pressure and misfortune pressure and the need to rearrange my entire daily schedule.  So it is the perfect time to write.

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This essay, however, is about bad advice.  And I am a perfect person to rely on as a resource for bad advice.  I am full of it.  Of course, I mean I am full of bad advice, not that other thing we think of when someone tells me I am “Full of it!”  So here’s another bit of writing advice that is probably completely wrong and a bad idea to take without a grain of salt, or at least a doctor’s prescription.   You should stop bird-walking in your essay and get to the damn point!

 I know a lot about the subject of depression.  When I was a teenager, I came very close to suicide.  I experienced tidal waves of self-loathing and black-enveloping blankets of depression for reasons that I didn’t understand until I realized later in life that it all came from being a child-victim of sexual assault.  Somehow I muddled through and managed to self-medicate with journal writing and fantasy-fixations, thus avoiding a potentially serious alcohol or drug problem.  This is connected to my main idea, despite the fact that I am obviously not following the no bird-walking advice.  You see, with depression, Bad advice can kill you.  Seriously, people want to tell you to just, “Get over it!  Stop moping about and get on with life.  It isn’t real.  You are just being lazy.”

I have been on the inside of depression and I know for a fact that not taking it seriously can be deadly.  In fact, I have faced suicidal depression not only in myself, but in several former students and even my own children.  I have spent time in emergency rooms, mental hospitals, and therapists offices when I wasn’t myself the depression sufferer.  One of my high school classmates and one of my former students lost their battles and now are no longer among the living.  (Sorry, have to take a moment for tears again.)  But I learned how to help a depression sufferer.  You have to talk to them and make them listen at least to the part where you say, “I have been through this myself.  Don’t give in to it.  You can survive if you fight back.  And whatever you have to do, I will be right here for you.  You can talk to me about anything.  I will listen.  And I won’t try to give you any advice.”  Of course, after you say that to them, you do not leave them alone.  You stay by them and protect them from themselves, or make sure somebody that will do the same for them stays with them.  So far, that last bit of advice has worked for me.  But the fight can be life-long.  And it is a critical battle.

So taking advice from others is always an adventure.  Red pill?  Green pill?  Poison pill?  Which will you take?  I can’t decide for you.  Any advice I give you would probably just be stupid advice.  You have to weigh the evidence and decide for yourself.  What does this stupid essay even mean?  Isn’t it just a pile of stupid advice?  A concluding paragraph should tell you the answer if it can.  But, I fear, there is no answer this time.

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Filed under artwork, autobiography, battling depression, commentary, compassion, Depression, empathy, healing, insight, Paffooney, sharing from YouTube, strange and wonderful ideas about life