The last couple of years we have started a new Christmas tradition, making a gingerbread house together. Of course, any Christmas tradition for my kids is a new one. We were Jehovah’s Witnesses up until recent years when the Brotherhood left us behind. You probably know already that it is against their religion to celebrate traditional holidays like Christmas. And I bear them no ill will for anything, but their ways are really not my ways anymore. So, since we are having our fourth Christmas mini-tradition, I prepared by finding gingerbread kits on sale at Walmart. I am not Scrooge anymore, but I still need to cut costs for poverty reasons.
I scored this one for only $5 because the Christmas rush is ending and they are trying to sell out the goodies that are growing old on the shelf. My daughter the Princess saw this and immediately declared she was looking forward to biting the head off Charlie Brown.
I responded to her somewhat-unexpectedly hostile comment against a cartoon character I love and identify with by showing her the back of the box.
The Charlie Brown figure will be the cardboard cut-out from the back of the box. The only candy figure is Snoopy. Of course, she then promised to decapitate and then cannibalize Snoopy. The girl ordinarily likes cartoons, so I don’t fully understand the double meaning behind her ravenousness.
As an added challenge to our artistical gustatory creativeness I also scored this gingerbread train, seen here pulling across the tracks at the Toonerville train station. All aboard! That won’t last long if we get it made this year. Of course it will fossilize if we try to save it for next year.
That, then, is the evil plan for Christmas that we are probably not supposed to be celebrating. But we will not roast in Hell for executing this evil plan. Jehovah’s people don’t believe in Hell.
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.
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.
The Iowa Township Hawkeyes Club that I used to be a part of
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.
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.
I now have six good books and one embarrassing one published. They represent stories I have been crafting, revising, telling, and retelling for over 40 years. They represent things that happened to me in real life and people I have known and loved in real life that have all been transformed in the wizard’s crucible and witch’s cauldrons of my bizarre imagination. They contain some of my best magic spells and some of my most worthwhile wordsmithing, by which I mean writing in ways that give the spellchecker fits.
I tried to tell you this story about telling stories yesterday, but my computer glitched and burped and spontaneously deleted more than half of what I wrote just as I was finishing it to publish it. So the complex part I had planned to explain this Paffooney was lost and the resulting tantrum I threw kept me from remembering and rewriting.
But it was fortunate that I delayed the repair of this post until today. Because last night my daughter finished her end-of-the-year art project for school, and the snafu-demons have inadvertently given me the opportunity to include it here.
It is a soft sculpture dragon made of felt and hand-sewn. She didn’t tell me what his name is, or even that it is a him, but one can imagine that it must be something like Rumple-Tum Sneezer, or something equally awkwardly foolish like that. One can imagine it because one has a slightly off-kilter and Disney-demented imagination. But the whole project took a boatload of time, and you can see she crafted it with great care and skill.
Treasure takes time to create. We who attempt to create it in the red-hot forges of our stupid little creative heads put all the skill we have acquired over time into it. And the endeavor renders something of value almost every time. Time… time… time… Treasure takes time. And now I need to hurry and publish this before the computer tries to fart it all away again.
Yesterday we went to see Les Miserables, the Broadway musical. Fantine’s tragedy, Marius’s rescue, and Jean Valjean’s ultimate triumph made me cry again… copious amounts of tears… a waterfall of emotional floodwaters. There is beauty in living through challenges. Especially life-threatening ones.
We went to the musical in Fair Park as a celebration of the fact that a family member is now out of the hospital and on proper medication to be well again. We are liberated from fear again for a time. Of course, I can’t afford to go to a show like that, being newly bankrupted and swamped with medical bills. But a family member provided the funds, victory over severe depression being a thing that needs celebration.
And Eponine’s song “On My Own” is such a powerful statement of the self-sacrificing nature of love that it makes me weep just thinking of it. She loves a man who loves another and yet, loves him so well that she secures his happiness… with that other woman. And she dies in the arms of the man she loves. Valjean’s signature song, “Bring Him Home”, also makes me weep. It is the main theme of the entire show, that the thing to do when life buries you beneath a blizzard of misfortune, cruelty, and unfairness is to turn that into self-sacrificing, generous love for others even if they are not your flesh-and-blood kin. Love gives back more than you have given. It is the notion that makes me cry with the beauty of it.
The point is, I have had a hard week. I had to put a family member in the hospital for severe depression. And other family members couldn’t help me because depression can be as infectious as a cold, taking one person after another through exposure to the harsh realities of the disease. And though it is hard being the only one available to help someone through the dangerous darkness of the soul, I managed not to lose anybody again this time, the fifth time I have fought such a battle in a terrible, long war.
And now I have “One Day More” to enter into the new world I have made through sacrifice and suffering. I am devastated, but still whole. I am exhausted, but still standing. I needed yesterday to happen.
Last night my wife and my daughter the Princess went with me to the movie musical The Greatest Showman at the dollar movie. I was enchanted. My wife laughed at me for how much the movie made me cry. But it was a very touching and timely movie for me because it was about pursuing dreams in spite of economic hardships. The award-winning songs promote with energy and stunning beauty the notion that you should follow your passion no matter the risk, and that choosing to do so will produce rewards as long as family and love are with you and along for the ride.
Of course, one has to remember that the whole story is based on the life and work of Phineas Taylor Barnum, a man who is a lot more like Donald Trump than he is Hugh Jackman. I really doubt he could sing and dance the way the movie portrays him. And words like “humbug”, “fraud”, and “exploiter” apply to him in a very real way.
Barnum was actually one of those wheeler dealers who wants to control the story. He actively found ways to alter the public narrative about himself and used criticism to help promote his money-making shows. The idea of bad publicity being just as good if not better than good publicity actually makes its presence felt in at least one scene in the movie. There is ample evidence that more than a little of Barnum’s efforts were aimed at making himself a star.
And although the movie sentimentalizes his exploitation of freaks and special individuals, giving him credit for giving them self esteem and a means to make a good living, that was really only the fictional Barnum created by Barnum’s own media efforts.
The truth of the matter, though far more fascinating than the movie version of Barnum, does not make for a good musical libretto. In the movie the theme of special people outcast from the society because of their uniqueness coming together to support each other in a circus is strongly woven into both the story and the music. The song “This is Me” performed by Keala Settle playing the part of bearded lady Lettie Lutz is a powerful anthem for everyone who feels smaller than they really are because of prejudice, bullying, racism, sexism, or any of the other forms of moronic stupidity that humans are so often guilty of. I have to admit, the song made me cry even as it filled me with joy. The musical score of this movie is one that I intend to listen to again and again and again. It makes the circus seem like an answer to life’s problems. It is the same feeling that I got the first time, and every time, I ever saw the circus with all its clowns and jugglers, acrobats and lion tamers, bare-back riders and elephants. And I knew it was all illusion. All humbug. But it was pure joy worth the price of the ticket never-the-less.
The movie was only rated 56% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. But I rarely pay attention to things like that. This musical goes into the category with The Sound of Music, The Music Man, Oklahoma!,and Mary Poppins of musicals I can’t live without. Never mind the greedy little man that it is based on. This movie is about big dreams and even bigger achievements. And it is well worth the price.
This book is a miracle. It makes words into music and fills your imagination with some of the most beautiful guitar music ever played. It introduces you not only to a very convincing portrait of a fictional musician and Rock and Roll icon, but a vast array of very real musicians and show people who agreed to be used as a part of the story, approved the sections about them, and even helped Mitch Albom to compose it. These include notable music makers like Lyle Lovett, Darlene Love, Tony Bennett, Paul Stanley, and Burt Bacharach. The story itself transcends its fictional form, giving us a look at a musical history whose scope goes from the Spanish Civil War of the 1930’s to Woodstock, and on to the present day. It even gives us glimpses into the distant musical past, framing the story with the song Lágrima by the classical guitarist Francisco Tárrega. And all this music the book fills your mind with is actually performed only in your imagination and memory. Albom proves again with this book how his mastery of language makes him an absolute master story-teller.
And now, here is me trying to make sense out of a reading experience that made my figurative heart grow wings and soar into the clouds in ways brought forth only by the strains of a sweet, classical Spanish guitar.
Stories like this one make a unique music in the mind, and though it is all fiction, occurring silently in the theater of your mind, you hear the music in your heart. This story elicited the music of Rodrigo’s Adagio throughout, a piece I know intimately. I myself have never written a musical book the way this fiction book was written. But I know now that I have to try. Poetry becomes song lyrics, right? There is a connection between a good archetypal story about life and love and laughter, and the bittersweet strains of music on a Spanish guitar.
I truly and utterly fell in love with this beautiful book. Mitch Albom is a genius… for a Detroit Tigers baseball fan. And I would not risk telling you anything that might spoil such a beautiful story. All I can say is, don’t read it… listen to it as you would a piece of beautiful music. Listen to it and love it.
I was going to tell you a lot about my novel Magical Miss Morgan today. My computer had other ideas. I was almost done with the post and working on the final edits when the computer suddenly burped and wiped it all out. Nothing was saved but the title. Well, I signed a contract for the novel. I will tell you more about that as time goes on. The computer doesn’t want me to do more today.