Category Archives: autobiography

Painting on the Rocks

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The Rowan Public Library has a storm sewer drain near the parking area on the west side of the building.   How do you prevent cars from parking on top of it and risking significant damage to two different things?  The librarian’s solution?  Make a rock garden around it so that only extremely stupid people would still consider parking there.  And what better summer activity than to invite kids and senior citizens to come in and paint the rocks for decoration’s sake.

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The goofy spotted frog and the Star Wars rebel flying goose are the rocks that I chose to paint.  You can see that I had more fun than I did artistic epiphanies.  But that is the thing about art.  Bob Ross says that it can bring good things to your heart.  And it does even more so when you share it with kids and other people.

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So I had a relatively good time just painting rocks for fun and cracking simple, stupid jokes to make little kids laugh.

Mom had fun painting flowers and smiling suns on a rock next to her good friend Annie and Annie’s great grandson.  You see them in this picture taken by the little boy’s grandmother.

And my daughter really got invested in the zen experience of putting paint on rocks.  She took the longest of anybody to finish her second rock.  And, of course, her little dragon-obsessed creation was easily the best one of the day.

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Filed under artwork, autobiography, coloring, commentary, family, goofiness, homely art, photo paffoonies, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Morning Comes to Grandpa’s Farm House

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Superman has his Fortress of Solitude.  Batman has his Batcave.  Every Superhero needs a place of his own to reflect on the trials and struggles of the never-ending battle for truth and justice and the American way.  I achieved another dawn today, waking up at sunrise on Grandpa Aldrich’s farm place.   It is for me a place of safety and quietude where I can rest and regenerate, plan, plot, and create the story of my life.

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It is a place far older than me, a family farm that has been in the family for more than 100 years.  It connects me to the past and the people who’ve come before me, not only the family I have known and loved, but those who came before them that were gone before I was born.

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It is possible that it is unwise to reveal my secret lair and my connections to such an important place.  Will my enemies take advantage of the fact? No, probably not.  Most of my enemies are ignorant people who do not read, and so, will never uncover this secret I have now shared with you.

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The County Fair 2018

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On the road to Eagle Grove, Iowa, site of the 2018 Wright County Fair

Yesterday we went to the Wright County Fair as it winds down on the last weekend.  My daughter and I went with my mother and father, all of us not ready to run any foot races, in fact, looking forward to viewing the small fair at a snail’s pace, two of us walking with canes.

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It has always been a small county fair.  But it has become almost depressing to see how much it has shrunk since I was a kid and competed there.  Of course the beneficent pumpkinhead that runs the country now has put a cloud over it all by cutting off farmers’ primary markets in the trade war with China.  Soon there may be no agriculture community at all to celebrate with a county fair.

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The Iowa Township Hawkeyes Club that I used to be a part of

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We toured the 4-H projects exhibit building and saw all the baking, woodworking, photography. and sewing projects that the kids in 4-H had worked on all year.  As always they were impressive in the way that enthusiastic kid-work inevitably is.  But it was depressing to see that there are only three 4-H clubs in Wright County now where once there were seven.  The elderly viewers of the goings-on outnumbered the kids about two to one.  Iowa’s farm community population is getting older and older.  Schools are shrinking.  People per county numbers are declining too.

 

But as depressing as the long-range view is, the County 4-H program is still giving kids a firm farm-kid grounding in the values that made America great.  It proves that pumpkinheads don’t need to try to make it great again.

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It is important to celebrate who we are and what we do.  Especially in a time when a tractor-and-cornfield way of life seems doomed.  And a county fair does that.  I helps us define who we are, what values we hold dear, and who we are determined to be for as long as we can be that.

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Filed under autobiography, Celebration, family, farming, feeling sorry for myself, humor, Iowa, photo paffoonies, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Making My Way Home

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Yesterday I drove for 14 hours from Texas to Iowa to see my folks.  (For those who monitor this blog because they are burglars planning to break in to steal my collection of Barbie dolls, I left family members at home, including the family dog who is incredibly fierce and has eaten Barbie burglars before… and has learned to love the taste.)

But I missed the window of opportunity to accomplish what I really wanted from this trip.  If I had had a choice, I should’ve come up to Iowa for the July 4th holiday when my Iowa/Missouri family would’ve all been together.  So this will be a vacation about connecting with home without most of the people who make up that home.  Both of my octogenarian parents are still alive and living here in what was once my grandparent’s  farm house.

So I have about nine more days to rest and recuperate.  I can reconnect with my parents (though probably not run races against them).  I can reconnect with the places where I grew up and got my education.  The farm house.  The family photos from black-and-white days.  I have access to things of the past more than things of the present.  So, if my posts upcoming seem like time travel, that’s because they are.  Time to make my way home again.

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Clown Business

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This is a 4-minute free-hand doodle in pen and ink on white drawing paper. I drew it fast. I actually put less planning and thought into creating it than the clown president has put into tariffs and trade wars.

I confess to rarely doing things without a plan and considerable preparation. It is as much a teacher thing as it is an artist thing.  But it is not really a clown thing.  Clown things tend to be spontaneous, unrehearsed, improvised, and free-flowing.

I think, though, that my doodle, though done fast and directly from the idea machine to paper, shows how my constant preparing and work on careful planning leads to certain features of talent and skill showing through.

I believe I have revealed before that as a writer and an artist I am a formalist.  I believe in the rules and proper forms.  I know the proper forms and the rules very well.  And therefore, I feel qualified to break the rules whenever necessary.

And clowns must break the rules.  You have push outside the borders.  You have to twist things at unnatural angles.  You have to turn things upside down.   You have to portray a clown with only the face and hands.

Of course you can see a definite difference in quality between clowns.  The Cheeto-head who runs our country does not exhibit practiced skill when he free-hands it and tweets his comedy on Twitter.  He creates mainly chaos.  Robin Williams, on the other hand, rapid fires incredible lines off the top of his head.  But he can do that because he has practiced brewing gallons of funny foam up in his insane brain and grabbing off the amazing lines that fizz out of his brain and tosses them out to create comedy.

Chaos is easy to create.  Comedy, especially thoughtful comedy, is hard.

So, I will continue to do clown stuff.  And I will continue to doodle.  But I will also continue to plan and practice, because clown stuff is seriously important, and has to be done correctly.

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Filed under artwork, autobiography, clowns, doodle, humor, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Singing Rock and Soul

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Yes, this is a picture of a rock.  But it is no ordinary rock.  Okay, that’s not precisely true.  It is a gray metamorphic rock roughly square in shape with numerous flecks of white and a white strip along the top.  As rocks go, it probably couldn’t be more ordinary, more rocky in its soul.  But, as with all things in this life, the importance and true meaning lies in the context.  This is a pocket rock.  It spent a quarter of a century riding around in my pants pocket.  I have held it in my hand millions of times.

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The Rowan Community Center, seen in this picture I used for the cover of Magical Miss Morgan, is the last part of the old Rowan school still standing.

In 1980, my Great Grandma Hinckley died.  That was also the year my folks had to move to Texas because of the transfer my Dad’s seedcorn company gave him to its cotton seed division.  It was one year before I got my teaching degree.  And it was the year they tore down the building where I went to school for grades 1 through 6.  That summer, as I walked around the demolition site, I found the homely gray rock that was nearly as square as I was, and because I was already feeling homesick before I actually left home, I picked it up  and stuck it in my pocket.  It was a little square piece of home.

That rock went with me to college.  It went with me to both Disneyland and Walt Disney World in Florida.  It has been to Washington D.C.  It has been in the depths of caves in Kentucky and Missouri and Texas.  It has been high in the sky in my pocket in an airplane.  It has been to beaches on both the Atlantic and Pacific sides of the U.S.  It has visited both Mexico and Canada.  It his been to Las Vegas.  And it even rode in the subways of New York City.

And possibly the most interesting part of this pocket rock’s career happened in Texas schools.  It was with me in my pocket constantly from 1980 to 2004.  I finally took it out of my pocket and placed it in an old cigar box that once belonged to my grandfather and I have kept keepsakes in since I was a kid.

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And I have thought a lot about this ordinary rock that isn’t really ordinary on closer inspection.  At one point or another I thought about using it as a skipping stone at both the Atlantic and the Pacific.  In 2004 when I was considering the pocket watch broken by it and the car key accidentally bent against it, it almost wound up in Lake Superior.  I put in my cigar box and it has remained exiled there since.  Will I have it buried with me, in my pocket?  No, probably not.  My wife plans to have me cremated.  Hopefully, though, not until I am already dead.  This rock has pretty much been a symbol of my soul, travelling with me, teaching with me, jingling the pocket change when I walk…  And it will continue to exist when the thinking and writing parts of Mickey are gone.

But even rocks are not immortal.  Sometime in the future something will happen to it.  It will end up someplace unexpected or changed by grinding, melting, or chemical reaction into some other form.  But no matter what happens to it ultimately, the meaning of it, the context, the places it has been and the things that it has done will still be true, still have happened to it.  And, ultimately, it will still be just like me.

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Filed under autobiography, goofy thoughts, humor, insight, Iowa, irony, Paffooney, photo paffoonies, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Take the Midnight Train to Anywhere

 

Journey back with me to the 1980’s, and hear once again the music of escape.

There was a time when I was young when I did not know where I would be when the next new dawn came.  Yes, I once took the midnight train (except it was a bus) and I arrived in a teaching career in deep South Texas.  I crossed borders into another culture, another way of life, another journey made of words and pictures that hasn’t reached the final station yet.

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At the outset, we all take a risk.  Born and raised in South Detroit (although it was really North Central Iowa) I passed through established procedures, rules, and regulations to do things that desperately needed doing for people who could only help themselves in very limited ways.

Some spoke mostly Spanish.  Some lived in broken homes.  One boy lived for a while under the bridge of the Nueces River, but attended school every day because he was hungry to learn, and because free school lunch was the majority of the food he got to eat.  He got on a midnight train, and I never saw him or heard from him again.  His sister, though, lived with a tia who treated her like a daughter, and grew up to be a school teacher.  I let her teach the lesson for me during one class period, as part of an educational experiment, and it put her on her own midnight train.

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It was a train going on the same track I followed.  Not because of me and what I did for her.  But because she came to realize it was the right journey to take for her.  It was the perfect anywhere for her.

But there is danger inherent in getting on a midnight train going anywhere.  You don’t know who is waiting for you down the line, or what your circumstances will be at the next station along the way.  There may be strangers waiting up and down the boulevard, their shadows searching in the night.  I befriended other teachers, mentored some, learned from many,  even married one.  I had a run in or two with people who sell drugs to kids.  I had all four of my car tires slashed one night.  I had a car window broken out.  I had a boy once tell me he would kill me with a knife.  I later had that boy tell me he had a good job and a girlfriend and he was grateful that I talked him out of it and never turned him in to the police.

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And we end up paying anything to roll the dice just one more time…  At one time or another we have all been there, aboard that midnight train to anywhere.  There is a moment in everyone’s life when… well, some will win, and some will lose.  Some were born to sing the blues.  I have been there.  I have done that.  And it occurs to me, that song plays on in my head still.  I am still on that journey.  And I won’t stop believing.  Because it goes on and on and on and on…

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