Category Archives: being alone

Cries of the Writing Addict

For the last five and a half years I have been averaging more than 500 words every day. A rough conservative estimate of that means 17,112,000 words. If words were cocaine, I’d be dead five times over by now.

But writing is not the same as cocaine. The addiction to it has very different effects. I divide my daily writing into at least two parts. The daily blog is itself, more often than not, 500-plus words. So, by itself it can satisfy my daily word-count. And I devote at least 500 words every day to my novel work in progress. So, that means I have produced well over 17 million words in reality. Probably closer to 34 million than to 17. That, of course, is far less than Stephen King wrote in the same period of time, but it is also far more than the average person writes.

And one thing that such an overdose of verbiage does to a writer, is to make him or her a better writer.

I have produced nine novels, between 35,000 and 50,000 words each, in the time since I retired from teaching and began writing and self-publishing in earnest. I have gotten only five-star reviews on the novels that have been read and reviewed. Granted, nobody who read and hated my books hated them passionately enough to leave a scathing review, so the 5-star average is just due to laziness on the part of the reading public. But it is marginally evidence that my storytelling is good.

Another effect I have experienced from my writing addiction is that it has made me increasingly metaphorically naked. My illustrations for this post reveal a little bit of that. It is not only that I like to write in the nude when I can, but that I have used my stories to grapple with everything that was once a deep, dark secret buried in the depths of me. Being sexually assaulted as a child was something that for many years I could never admit even to myself. Struggles with loneliness, depression, and self-hatred are also something I had kept buried until I needed them to tell stories with.

I finally worked up the courage to send a gift copy of Snow Babies to the girl I grew up with whose name I used for the main character, Valerie Clarke. Valerie loved the book and became an advocate for me with both the Belmond and Rowan libraries. I even admitted that the part about Valerie being the most beautiful girl ever born in Norwall, Iowa came from something the boys in our 5th and 6th grade classes at school all said about her. She told me she never knew we had said that back then. Ah, but that was probably an untruth too.

As addictions go, my addiction to fiction is probably a lot better thing to have than addictions to gambling, cocaine, wife-beating, or gummy bears. But it hasn’t made me any richer or healthier either. It has made me older, and possibly a little bit wiser.

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Filed under autobiography, battling depression, being alone, feeling sorry for myself, foolishness, writing, writing humor

On Thanksgiving

It was a lonely day. My family was away. My Thanksgiving dinner was purchased at the drive-thru at Jack in the Box. Just me and the dog, hanging out with Netflix. I watched what I wanted to. The dog complained there were no dogs in the shows. There was a monkey. But that didn’t impress the dog.

I have had time to write. And I have made progress. I reached 35,000 words on my work-in-progress. I watched a really good movie in the theater in Lewisville.

But what am I truly thankful for?

My wife and I are headed towards separation. I am bankrupt and must pay off my bankruptcy in the next two and a half years. I am in terrible health. I am forced to earn extra money in order to keep making all the payments I must make. Working is hard because my diabetes and arthritis both interfere. No one reads my books beyond a few random discoverers of the power of the stories I tell. And it all will probably end sooner rather than later. I may be developing cancer again. Diabetes may be wrecking my heart, or possibly setting me up for a stroke. It will all be over soon… probably.

But my hardships are what I am thankful for.

Pain reminds me that I am still alive, and dealing with pain makes me stronger to live a little longer.

Sadness reminds me that there are people and endeavors that I truly love and care deeply about. My sadness is proof that I have really known love.

Being poor and nearly destitute reminds me to take stock of all I do have, and to make the wisest possible use of all that is left to me.

I am not homeless.

I have a wife and kids. My parents are both still alive. My brother and my two sisters are still thriving. The dog still loves me. Some of my people do too.

I am free to think and feel and be… no matter what the thoughts and feelings and facts of my being are.

It is true that some people are luckier than I, have more than I do. But more people are given a lot less in life. And what I am truly thankful for is the greatest gift I have been given. I have the honor of being me, and I actually know what that means, who that person is. That is a rare and priceless gift.

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Filed under being alone, feeling sorry for myself, finding love, insight

Writing and Netflix

Like many writers, I have a plethora of weird voices in my head, constantly criticizing me, making jokes out of me doing ordinary things like brushing my teeth with the old brush my daughter used to scrub mud off her sneakers, characters who have actually come to life in my head and are constantly telling me stories about themselves… Good golly! Maybe many writers don’t hear these voices and I am simply nearly insane.

But, this is to be expected. I am a Baby Boomer. A child of the ’50s. So, I was raised by the black-and-white television. “I Love Lucy“, “My Three Sons“, and “The Munsters” taught me morals and an ability to laugh at myself. I learned about History, Politics, and the World from Walter Cronkite, the ultimate neutral news commentator. I also learned a lot about story-telling from old movies on Saturday afternoon. Television gave me empathy, knowledge of the world, and a boost to my imagination that I wouldn’t have had if I had been a child a generation earlier. Of course, I know it would also have been very different if I had been an internet child like my own children are. There is presently such a flood of free facts available that our information-soaked little brains are often drowning.

So, why am I talking about television today?

This coming week is a week spent alone. I was left behind with the dog as the rest of my family took a trip to Florida. It was my own choice. I am not capable of sitting in a car for long enough to make the car trip from North Texas to Central Florida. And I did not want to keep them from going. Days of good health are long ago and fading from memory.

So, I am left behind with time to write and time to watch whatever I want to on Netflix.

And this is useful because… well, I am a child of good television. I can work on my two WIP projects at once with Netflix series and movies in between word-munching sessions. I can be totally immersed in the writing act. I can write naked anywhere in the house (with the windows closed) without hearing complaints or distress from my non-nudist wife and my embarrassed-by-their-parents kids. It is almost as good as being well enough to go with them.

And Netflix (as well as, soon I hope, Disney Plus) affords me a chance to select exactly what I want to watch in ways that television on three networks, the way it used to be, could not provide. It is a chance to time-travel, to explore, to reach new levels of laughter and understanding… as well as tears. And I can watch TV too.

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Filed under autobiography, being alone, commentary, humor, novel plans, TV as literature

Me, Myself, and Eye…

I am aware that nobody who looks at my blog ever clicks on my videos. This one, however, would be very useful if you are really going to read and engage with this essay. This self-reflection came into being as a response to watching this video. The video talks about how most people can’t stand to actually sit alone in a room with only themselves. And it has an impact. I have claimed in the past to being a devotee of the Theodore Roethke maxim, “Being, not doing, is my first love.”  But how does one go about becoming truly self-aware? How does one enumerate the concept of “being”? I believe I can do it, but it requires a bit of self-examination. How do I do it?  

Let me count the ways…

I put myself down on paper, through drawing or writing in English and look at the way it portrays me.

I find myself in both the written characters I create and the cartoon characters I draw. In Hidden Kingdom, my graphic novel, the Mouse and young Prinz Flute are both me. I can see myself both as the reluctant romantic hero and the snarky child-thing with a dangerous little bit of wisdom.

I learn to know more about my secret heart and what I truly think about the world I live in and react to by writing about what I think and the things that happen to me, both for good and ill. This blog is all about learning about myself, just as your blog is a mirror of who you really are. Consequently, I have no secrets left.

I not only reveal myself in this blog, but I also attempt to sing about myself in much the same way that Walt Whitman did in his poetry.

I live most of my life in my own imagination. It is a silly Willy Wonka world of images, songs, music, and dreams. It can all blow away in a moment when the sun comes out. It can also keep me in a light-obscuring cloud wrapped and safe, well away from the things I fear and the things that worry me. I came to realize I was repressing the memory of being sexually assaulted when I was ten through a dream when I was nineteen, re-living the event in a dream from which I awoke with a blinding flash of realization. I came to grips with the horror that mangled my childhood and young adulthood first by facing the fact that the nightmare had been real, and then by finding ways to overcome it. I became a teacher of young people in large part as a way to protect them and prevent such a thing from ever happening again to someone else.

I use my fictional stories about the girl Valerie Clarke to examine my relationships with my own daughter and a couple of old girlfriends from my youth.

I often worry that I don’t see real people as being real people. I tend to think of them from the first meeting onward as potential book characters, walking collections of details and quirks, conflicts and motivations. But I recognize too that that way of seeing with the author’s eye is not incorrect. People really are those things. There are rules and generalizations that everyone falls under at some point. It is not so much that I see real people as book characters as it is that I realize that book characters are as real as any other purportedly “real” people.

I am myself both the subject of my cartooning and fictionarooning, and the cartoon character of myself as well.

Mickey is not a real person. He is a cartoonist persona, a mask, a fake identity, and the lie I tell myself about who I actually am.

In this essay, I have attempted to explain to you who I think I am spending time with when I am alone in a room with myself. He is not such a terrible person to spend time with, this Mickey. Or else he really is truly awful, and I am lying about me and who I think I am when I am alone with me and have no other options. But probably not. I have been getting to know me for about 562 years, only exaggerating by 500, and I am not finished yet.

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Filed under autobiography, being alone, irony, Mickey, Paffooney

Doing Nothing

Yes, the retaining wall is leaning over the sidewalk and needs repair.

Being retired is a total pain in the Biblical word for donkey. I thought I would be challenged with nothing to do and probably die from lack of challenge as so many do who find their identity in their profession. I was a public school teacher. I loved being a public school teacher. I lived for the challenge of working with kids, especially trying to teach them to write well. And then my health began to betray me, and I was forced to retire.

In this country, loss of a job that defines who you are makes you basically worthless. Republicans will tell you that you go from being a “maker” into being a “taker”, and takers are basically parasites.

The wall began separating from the turf as it leaned, so we had to dig a trench to begin taking down the bricks one by one and re-staking them.

So, now I am a parasite, a blight on society, a “taker”. Decent hard-working people shouldn’t have to put up with a burden on society like me.

“If you don’t work, you shouldn’t be allowed to eat,” they self-righteously tell me.

“So, if I’m too ill to stand in front of a class all day, I should starve to death?”

“No, of course not! Don’t dramatize! You just need to do something else.”

Not having the money to buy expensive equipment, I had to improvise and do it myself.

So, I haven’t just sat back and enjoyed my pension which I worked 31 years to get. I have done things. I rebuilt the siding on the back wall of the house. I repaired all the cracks in the pool twice (once getting it back into shape for swimming, and then fixed only to be forced by the city to remove the pool because I couldn’t spend $9,000+ to bring the 1970 electrical system up to code.) I am now re-setting the bricks in the retaining wall.

I also took up driving for Uber to earn extra money. I needed extra money because hospitalizations cost me so much money I had to take out a bankruptcy which I will be paying off for the next five years while supervised by a State-appointed executor. And then a lovely Texas motorist bashed my car in the driver’s-side door costing me car-repair money (because insurance can’t be expected to pay everything) and leaving me unable to get well enough to return to driving for at least five months (up to the present day).

Doing masonry work takes some organization and some heavy lifting.

I have at no point had money enough to go on vacations or do the recreational activities that other retired seniors get to do (at least the rich white ones with lots of investment money and property). I haven’t been well enough even to be a substitute teacher (which I loved doing back in 2006-2007 when I was well enough and between teaching jobs). So what can I do with all my “free time”? Besides deal with aches and illness without the medicine I can’t afford, I mean?

Work has run into winter time when things get rather cold and wet.

Well, I did start out in life with a passion for writing and drawing. I am living proof you can’t even make pocket change for indulging those passions unless you’re as lucky as former teacher Frank McCourt, author of Angela’s Ashes. But I have the time and the incurable obsession.

We began flattening out the foundation row of bricks just as winter rains began to perpetually fill the trench with water.

I began the most creative and productive period of my life by writing eight YA novels. I have two more well into the writing of the first draft. I also re-started work on my graphic novel which takes lots of time when you have arthritic hands to draw with. And I have been blogging practically every day.

So, since I retired I have basically been doing nothing. Well, nothing for the greater good and advancing the fortunes of mankind as a whole as my Republican friends who criticize me for being a “taker” on the dole apparently do with their retirements.

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Filed under angry rant, autobiography, battling depression, being alone, commentary, feeling sorry for myself, health, humor, new projects, novel writing, photo paffoonies

The Muffin Man Goes Uber-ing

I have been retired now for nearly four years.  It has not been an easy thing to adjust to.  I am used to hard work and constant thinking on my feet.  Yet I have been mostly confined to the house and unable to do much beyond write and drive my kids to the many places high school kids need to go.  I don’t really have trouble keeping busy, but I need to do something to reconnect to the outside world beyond the bedroom door.

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I have been teaching myself to cook.  These muffins are strawberry flavored and only require milk added to the mix, no eggs to crack and shell pieces to pick out of the batter.  I have also been learning the hard way how to burn the crap out of pans and muffin trays.  And… learning how to clean burned pans… but obviously not very well.

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I have been getting to know the oven quite well.  We talk about life and muffins and heat and baking times, and she is constantly beeping at me to warn me when things are about to burn.

She has also been giving me writing advice.  She got me talked into not burning my bank account any further by investing in publishing services.  Those goobers are mostly just money-grubbers in a dying industry.  My novel Stardusters and Space Lizards was thoroughly baked on this blog over the last sixty eight weeks, and so I needed to finally take it out of the oven.  This I did through Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing.  The book was formatted and put together in publishable form in a matter of days.  You can find it here on Amazon… My Book.  Page Publishing still has my novel Magical Miss Morgan in page formatting after over a year and a half of working with them. No way are their services worth the money I paid them.  They work slowly and dangerously incompetently.  I would sue them to get my money back, but it would cost me more for a lawyer than what I paid them.  So far with self-publishing I am only ten dollars in the hole, the amount I spent on copies of my own book.

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But as the stove pointed out heatedly, the kitchen and computer are not actually getting out of the house and meeting the world again after three and three quarters years.  And the chances of income from muffins and writing are slim.  So I also made a plan to be an Uber driver.  I got carefully signed up and prepared.  I was finally able to download the Uber driving app last weekend, and this weekend I finally felt well enough to try driving for money.  So last night I got in the car and connected with a potential passenger, my first ever Uber drive.

Of course, this is Mickey we are talking about here.  Nothing in my little life ever goes smoothly, especially at the start.  If things were perfect, I would definitely be worried that something was seriously wrong with the universe.  So, my first passenger was a guy who needed to be driven to the 7-Eleven to buy beer.  And naturally, I couldn’t find the place to start with.  The Uber computer-voice lady kept wanting me to download something in the middle of giving me directions.  She also wanted me to turn left and drive through a fence.  But when I finally did turn in to the apartment complex and realized that I was in the wrong section of the complex to pick up my passenger, I quickly corrected my error and found him.  Computer-voice lady kept telling me to turn the wrong direction, so I listened to my passenger to make the proper turns and got him there on time.  My car, however, overheated in the parking lot.  Now, that isn’t entirely accurate.  It has a faulty heat-sensor that registers overheating whenever the car is idling and heat is reflected back up from stationary pavement under the car.  I had the thing in to the dealer for the recall fix twice, and the replacement chips are just as defective as the original chips.  And, of course, I have been notified about the class action lawsuit, but because it is not a life-threatening malfunction, it may be some time before that is resolved.  So, I rolled down the windows and turned the car heater up high and reduced the heat the defective detector detected.  The drunk guy got back in the car with his beer and I successfully took him back to his apartment, his girlfriend, and his party.  I got a five star rating for the trip.  But I cut the night short.  I earned $4.oo total for the evening.  It wasn’t perfect, but I was finally out in the world again.  I was earning money again.  And I got to discuss the perils of diabetes with a drunk guy whose brother had juvenile diabetes.  Life is good… some of the time.

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Filed under being alone, commentary, feeling sorry for myself, foolishness, humor, illness, photo paffoonies

Imaginary Friends

Toccata and Fugue

When you know someone has an imaginary friend, something like Elwood’s six-foot invisible rabbit called Harvey, don’t you immediately think that person is crazy?  I do.  But I have imaginary people as friends. I think most writers do.  So am I crazy?  Probably. But hopefully it is a good kind of crazy.

It began with imaginary friends from books.  The Cat in the Hat was my friend.  Jim Hawkins was my friend, as was Mowgli and all the members of the Swiss Family Robinson.  They entered my dreams and my daydreams.  I told them my troubles the same way I listened to theirs through their stories.

I began to have imaginary friends that came from my own imagination too.

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I used to tell my mere human friends about my friend Davalon from outer space.  I told them that he was real and secretly visited me at night to talk about being able to learn about humans on earth by walking around invisibly and watching them.  I got so involved with these stories that my sixth grade class began saying, “Michael is from Mars.”

Island Girl2z

When I was a teenager, I began having conversations with a faun.  His name was Radasha.  He was a creature from Greek Myth, a sensual Dionysian creature who, in his child body, was both younger than me and way older than me.  I didn’t realize until much later in life that he was the result of my repressed memories of a childhood sexual assault that I was the victim of.  I could talk to him about my fear of nakedness.  I could tell him about my blossoming interests in naked girls and their bodies.  I could talk to him about all the things I was somehow too terrified to talk to my male friends about, even though none of them had the same reluctance to discuss sex.  Ra was imaginary.  But he helped me heal.

Then the story-telling seriously began.  I used Davalon as one of the main characters in my novel Catch a Falling Star.  I created Torrie Brownfield, the baby werewolf to express the feelings I had as a boy about being a monster and secretly terrible and deformed.  Torrie is a normal boy with a condition called hypertrichosis.  I am working on The Baby Werewolf now.  And then there’s lovely Valerie Clarke.  She is the main character of Snow Babies which is a finished novel, edited and proofread and ready to publish.  It is I book I will have to find another way to publish since the recent death of PDMI Publishing.  She is not a me-character, based on my own thoughts and feelings.  She is based on former classmates and students who told me things that express the sadness and isolation of growing up female.  So she is even more imaginary than my other characters.

They become real people to me.  They have their own point of view. They talk to me and I learn things from them.  But they are imaginary.  So am I crazy?   Yes… as a loon.  And happy as Elwood P. Dowd to be that way.

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Filed under artwork, autobiography, being alone, characters, commentary, humor, imagination, insight, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life