Category Archives: autobiography

Love Life and Live Happy

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!

One bad kid my first year nicknamed me “Mr. Gilligan” as if I were a skinny, dopey fool. For years afterward my classroom was known as Gilligan’s Island. I loved it!

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.

This is called “A Portrait of Mark Twain with Drumsticks Involved”

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.

Stand resolute against evil and protect the ones you love.

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.

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Filed under autobiography, battling depression, commentary, happiness, humor, Mark Twain, mental health, Paffooney, philosophy, self portrait, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Why I’m Never Alone

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!”

media.npr.org

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.

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Filed under autobiography, being alone, commentary, humor, imagination, Mark Twain, strange and wonderful ideas about life

This is Me!

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.

I actually now have 16 of these things.

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.

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Filed under autobiography, Paffooney

Dreams of Forgetting

I don’t wish to forget anything… ever. But increasingly I can no longer call things to mind as swiftly as I could when I was younger. I constantly now find myself unable to recall names of old movie stars I loved as a boy, dates of Civil War battles that I studied at length in the ’90s, the names of former school teachers that I had when I was a boy, and those I worked with as a colleague in the 1980’s. I fear reaching the point my father is now at, not being able to remember my own children.

Last night I had a nightmare about being a substitute teacher. I remember in the dream finishing a first-period class that was not the teacher I was covering for, because the sub-coordinator does that during the teacher’s planning period, using you in classrooms where no sub showed up. And I left that classroom feeling good about the class, but suddenly not able to remember where the classroom was that I was supposed to be teaching in next. I remember going into the office, one unlike any school office I have ever been in. The secretary behind the front desk recognized me by name. Then she asked me why I forgot to sign in that morning. I couldn’t remember. She asked me who I was subbing for. I had forgotten. I didn’t know her name or recognize her face either, something that never happens in a school you work at even for a single day. Secretaries actually run schools telling both teachers and principals what to do and where to go. The secretary was beginning to get irritated with me. I told her I must be having a bad spell. And then I woke up in a sweat.

That dream will probably never come true. I will probably never walk into a classroom as the teacher again, even as a sub, thanks to this horrid pandemic.

But I am having anxiety about forgetting in a very telling way.

I must confess that every illustration for this post was chosen because I saw the picture in my media gallery for this site and realized I did not remember posting these or even making the one at the start of this essay which is two different drawings put together with photoshop.

But I do have one small ace up my sleeve for dealing with serious forgetfulness. I have seven years worth of posts to look back on. That should help me remember a thing or two about… wait, what was this post about?

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Filed under autobiography, commentary, feeling sorry for myself, Paffooney, teaching

Art Unseen in a While

WordPress has put in a new feature for finding old photos from Posts Past.

This allows me to pull from past years much more easily than the scroll-down feature I have been using. Thus, art from 2017.

This is from the Star Wars Role-playing game that we stopped playing in 2008.
the Murphy family (well, three of them anyway)
The disintegrator pistol from Catch a Falling Star
“The Wise Thaumaturge Visits Cymril”
Eventual cover art for Magical Miss Morgan
I painted this miniature lead wizard, as well as made the castle from cardboard and paper.
I also painted the buildings in the background, acrylic on plaster.
“Their Most Feared Offensive Player Could Beat Them By Herself”
All of these works of art are done by me, whether they are drawn, painted, or photographed.

This has been a look back at pictures posted in 2017, starting in December, and going back in time to January. There is at least one picture from every month.

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Filed under artwork, autobiography, humor, old art, Paffooney

The Beginning of Night

Yesterday my 89-year-old father went into the hospital. He suffers from Parkinson’s Disease and a heart no longer strong enough to keep his blood pressure up. Apparently yesterday he lost the ability, possibly only temporarily, to recognize my mother.

This is not a good time to lose my father. There is never a good time, but now my health is failing. I had to make deals with relatives to get someone to drive me up to Iowa for the annual visit to the family farm during the pandemic which is now spiraling out of control in Texas. My wife and I are both diabetics and at risk. If we accidentally take COVID 19 up to Iowa, I could wipe out all four of us. And I developed a cough and chest pain overnight. At least now I can make a case for getting a COVID test.

I know a post like this goes against the rules for a good blog post. It is entirely too personal and self-focused. But it is necessary sometimes to confess your fears before you confront them. I have had my father and mother in my life for the entirety of my 64 years. They have both lived good, long, and fruitful lives. And a time for passing comes to us all. I have been far luckier in holding back the night than the vast majority of people. But the only immortality we can ever hope to have is through passing on the small part of the universal story that belongs only to each of us individually. “I am a child of the universe. No less than the trees and the stars, I have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to me (And at this moment… it is not) the universe is unfolding… as it should” – a paraphrase from Desiderata.

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Filed under autobiography, battling depression, family, insight, Iowa, the road ahead, Uncategorized

Re-bubbling the Old Enthusiasm

It is getting harder and harder to climb the new day’s hill to get to the summit where I can reasonably get a good look at the road ahead. At almost-64, I can see the road ahead is far shorter and much darker than the highway stretching out behind me. It is not so much a matter of how much time I have spent on the road as it is a matter of the wear and tear the mileage has caused.

This weekend I had another depressing free-book promotion where, in five days, I only moved five books, one purchase, and four free books. I have made $0.45 as an author for the month of June.

I was recently given another bit of good advice from a successful author. He said that I shouldn’t be in such a rush to publish. He suggested taking more time with my writing. Hold on to it longer. Polish it and love it more. And now that I have reached sixteen books published on my author’s page, I have basically beaten the grim reaper in the question of whether or not he was ever going to silence me and my author’s voice. I can afford to live with the next one longer.

But the last one, A Field Guide to Fauns, practically wrote itself. It went fast from inspiration to publication simply because the writer in me was on fire and full of love and life and laughter that had to boil over into hot print exactly as quickly as it did. The additional writing time afforded me by the pandemic and quarantine didn’t hurt either. Once in print, my nudist friends loved it.

This next one has the potential to boil and brew and pop out of me in the same accelerated way as that last one did. Of course, it has been percolating inside my brain basically since the Summer of 1974. So, this is no rushed job. The Wizard in his Keep is a story of a man who tries to take the children of the sister of his childhood best friend to a place of safety when their parents are killed in a car wreck. But the only safe place he has to offer is in the world of his imagination. A world he has bizarrely made real. And that best friend comes searching for the children. And so does a predator who seeks to do them all grievous harm.

In many ways, it is a story already written.

So, I am rekindling the flame that keeps the story-pot boiling. And more of it is already cooking. And I am recovering from the cool winds of disappointment, as well as the dark stormclouds of the nearing future.

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Filed under artwork, autobiography, battling depression, commentary, humor, novel, novel plans, Paffooney

Stories with Gingerbread

Yes, this post is a shameless promotion. But this is a good book that not enough people are reading to truly appreciate that fact. When I was a boy in the 1960’s, there really was an old German lady who lived in a small tar-papered house, all ginger-brown in color, which we all called the Gingerbread House. She really did love to give out sweets and cookies and popcorn balls to the kids in our town. And she really did love to talk to people and tell them little stories.

Grandma Gretel Stein

Her name, in real life, was Marie Jacobson. She was, in fact, a survivor of the holocaust. She had a tattoo on her right forearm that I saw only one time. Our parents told us what the tattoo meant. But there were no details ever added to the story. Mrs. Jacobson doted on the local children. She regularly gave me chocolate bars just because I held the door for her after church. But she was apparently unwilling to ever talk about World War II and Germany. We were told never to press for answers. There was, however, a rumor that she lost her family in one of the camps. And I have always been the kind that fills in the details with fiction when the truth is out of reach.

I based the character of Grandma Gretel on Mrs. Jacobson. But the facts about her secret life are, of course, from my imagination, not from the truth about Mrs. Jacobson’s real life.

Marie Jacobson cooked gingerbread cookies. I know because I ate some. But she didn’t talk to fairies or use magic spells in cooking. I know because the fairies from the Hidden Kingdom in Rowan disavowed ever talking to any slow one but me. She wasn’t Jewish, since she went to our Methodist Church. She wasn’t a nudist, either. But neither were my twin cousins who the Cobble Sisters, the nude girls in the story, are fifty percent based on. A lot of details about the kids in my book come from the lives of my students in Texas. The blond nudist twins were in my class in the early eighties. And they were only part-time nudists who talked about it more than lived it.

Miss Sherry Cobble, a happy nudist.

But the story itself is not about nudists, or Nazis, or gingerbread children coming to life through magic. The story is about how telling stories can help us to allay our fears. Telling stories can help us cope with and make meaning out of the most terrible things that have happened to us in life. And it is also a way to connect with the hearts of other people and help them to see us for who we really are. And that was the whole reason for writing this book.

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Filed under autobiography, fairies, gingerbread, humor, novel, NOVEL WRITING, Paffooney

Thanks for the Memories, Frances Gumm

Little Frances Gumm from Minnesota

She is older than both my mother and my father. In fact, if she were alive today, if she hadn’t died young when I was thirteen, she would be 98, and approaching the century mark. She was born in Grand Rapids, Minnesota in 1922.

And even though that’s right next door to where I was born in Mason City, Iowa, we were never really neighbors. Our families never met in person, and didn’t know diddly-boo about each other.

But she had a profound impact on our lives. And, boy! Could she ever sing and dance!

The Singing Gumm Sisters.
A little bit older Frances Gumm

I don’t know why she ever felt that way, but Frances from childhood onward was always desperate to not be seen as fat.

She took pills to keep the weight off. She eventually had to take pills to sleep at night. Pills would make her suffer through most of her life. In fact, pills would eventually take her life.

But Frances Gumm would have an impact on my life. Frances would have an impact on my parents’ generation through the movie theater, back when you paid a dime to watch a movie projected on a white sheet tacked up on the Rowan firehouse wall. And she had an impact on my generation when we watched her on TV, mostly in black and white like we saw Meet Me in St. Louis. But also around Thanksgiving time. That movie they played every year.

Yes, Frances was a movie star.

But she didn’t go by the name she was born with in the movies.

And, boy! Could she ever sing!

And now that I am old and fragile, that song can make me cry. Like it did just now. And why?

Because Frances Gumm taught me something important when I was a little boy. Something that stuck with me for a lifetime.

While it’s true that there is no place like home, we are allowed to think about what is over the rainbow… and even to go there… and back again.

And I owe Frances for that memory. Especially because she had to struggle so hard to give me that. Frances, I will always love you for it.

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Filed under autobiography, Celebration, inspiration, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Impatience and Impertinence

My parents still live in the farmhouse my great- grandfather built in the 1800’s.

Life is impermanent.

Sometimes it is as fleeting as the wind.

I finished re-building the retaining wall in our yard today. A two-year project coming to an end. But someone working on the road maintenance crew came back one night after work and stole about ten bricks. The compromises I had to make will leave the job permanently unfinished.

This is the retaining wall in February of 2019.

Nothing, no matter how old it is, or if it is made of stone or not, endures time unchanged… by geologic forces… or my paltry masonry skills.

My father will reach his 90th birthday this next October. He is in failing health as I write this. My mother is taking care of him at home at the age of 87. Covid 19 may take all three of us before Summer even ends.

I have now published my 16th book. I have been in writing competitions and made the finals. I have more five-star reviews than fours, and no reviews below three. I feel like I have reason to believe I am a good writer. But even though I have made money on my books every month for a year and a half, I have never made more than five dollars in a single month. It is probably set in stone that I am not going to see any fame or fortune before the ill winds blow me away.

Do I have any right to expect more out of life? I have already been far luckier than other people I know. It is probably impertinent to think that somehow I am owed more.

But, never-the-less, I keep writing books about things that never really happened to made-up people, and re-building my world brick by brick, glad that I didn’t use straw or sticks, because a windy old wolf will soon come to my door.

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Filed under autobiography, commentary, feeling sorry for myself