Category Archives: commentary

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?

2 Comments

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

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.

Leave a comment

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

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under autobiography, commentary, feeling sorry for myself

Raise Your Hand Please, Children!

This illustration from my classroom rules poster hung in my classroom for most of a decade.

Rule #2 : Raise your hand to talk or leave your seat!

That rule was one of the two classroom rules broken most often in my classroom. The other was Rule #3 : Be respectful to everyone. Fortunately #2 was a rule that could be enforced without immediate detention, or a trip to the principal, or a call to the parents… Or being buried in the sand up to your neck so ants could eat your head. (And I almost never had to use that last option on #3 either.)

Kids in a classroom, especially the middle school ones between 12 and 15, are never going to be completely quiet in the classroom for the entire 45 to 55 minutes. And, truthfully, you don’t want them to be.

You see, no kid I ever taught learned only by sitting and listening. And I found that kids who actually learned from the talking teacher were rare, weird birds indeed.

If a question needs to be answered for a kid to learn something, the answer must never come from the teacher’s mouth. If the teacher says the answer, no matter what source it came from, it has only passed through the teacher’s brain. And no kid in the classroom got even a glimmering ghost of a learning sparkle going off in their own personal brain where the learning must take place.

As an example;

Fabian Castellano comes waddling in the classroom door at the beginning of 2nd Period 7th Grade English.

“Hey, Mr. B, are aliens real?” he shouts before even sitting down, let alone raising his hand.”

“What’s Rule #2, Fab?” A puzzled look briefly crosses his pudgy face. Then he grins and throws up one fat little arm.

“Yes, Fab?”

“My cousin Rodrigo from Laredo said a flying saucer landed in his back yard, and a little green guy hopped out and said, “Hi, Roddy! I am called the Great Gazoo. And I have orders to make you king of the world for three days so you can learn important lessons about how your world really works.” And then he said… something I forget…” and then Fabian takes a deep breath. “So, are aliens real?”

“Are you talking about your cousin, Roddy Lopez? The one they call Liar Lopez?”

“Yeah, that’s him.”

“And has he ever told you a lie before?”

“Like when he told me that if I stuck jelly beans in my ears, the 6th Grade girls would all tell me I’m sweet and they want to kiss me? Yeah.”

“And does he ever watch a cartoon called The Flintstones? Where there’s a little green alien named Gazoo who makes wishes come true?”

“Yeah, probably.”

“So, is anything Roddy tells you proof that aliens are real?”

“No, probably not.”

So, here you see the lesson in logical reasoning going on in the student’s head, not the teacher’s head. This is what is known as the Socratic Method.

So, Rule #2 is not really about keeping classrooms quiet and discussions orderly. It is entirely about enforcing the teacher’s will upon the classroom, suggesting strongly to the students that the teacher is totally in charge of behavior in the classroom, a thing that is not even remotely true, unless the teacher gets them to believe it by endlessly repeating the rule.

But you do have to talk to kids as a teacher. How else would I know anything about the infamous Liar Lopez and his love of cartoons? How else am I going to teach anything at all to a chubby vato loco like Fabian?

You gotta make the evil little hyperactive monkey heads raise those hands!

Leave a comment

Filed under commentary, education, humor, kids, Paffooney, teaching

Forgetfulness

I may be suffering from the onset of… what’s that disease called? The one that makes you shake and be mentally confused about… what was I talking about? Oh, yes, I still can’t remember.

It disturbs me that I have difficulty recalling names that I used to rattle off the top of my head quite accurately when I was teaching and was a total master of all the useless trivia information in the universe.

Recently my daughter and number-one son were arguing with me about actors who played Superman. I successfully remembered TV Superman George Reeves who I watched as a pre-teen kid, and Christopher Reeve who I watched on the big screen as a college sophomore, and I even put the “s” at the end of the right one’s name. But I couldn’t remember the name of that new guy… No, not Brandon Routh from Superman Returns (apparently for only one movie), but that other new guy… from Man of Steel, and he was in the movie remake of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Number-One Son finally figured out who I meant by looking it up on his smartphone. Henry Cavill! Why couldn’t I remember that guy’s name? I recently watched him in the Witcher on Netflix. Henry gol-danged Cavill!!?

But then I ponder why there are some names and details I can’t seem to forget. Dawn Wells played Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island. But it wasn’t the actress’s name I could never forget. It was the sight of her belly button. When the series was on television on a night that didn’t conflict with watching Batman, I watched Mary Ann’s every movement and flounce and prance and twirl, and every banana cream or coconut cream pie she ever handed to Gilligan. At the ages of ten, eleven, and twelve I was mad to see a glimpse of her actual belly button. But not for the reason you think! I insisted to all my friends at school that I did NOT LIKE GIRLS! (Even though I actually did.) It was because I didn’t know if she had one. She wore revealing clothes and even bikini two-pieces on the show, and yet, it was always covered somehow. I remember every delicious detail of my too-close-to-the-TV inspection of Dawn Wells’ acting ability in black-and-white, and later, in syndication, in color. It was clear that somebody in the TV universe didn’t want me to see it. And maybe that is precisely why I can never forget it.

But, then again, I can’t remember this guy’s name. Yes, I know, Uncle Fester from The Addams Family. I even remember the two “d’s” in Addams. And I remember that he played the Kid when he was a little kid in Charlie Chaplin’s movie The Kid.

Yes, I honestly could not remember Jackie Coogan’s name until I looked up the Chaplin movie on Wikipedia.

It really bothers me that I cannot remember some things that I used to know really well. But given time I am able to remember that it is Parkinson’s Disease that my father has and may be causing my memory losses, and that the narrator-guy in the first picture I used in this post is Ludwig Von Drake, a character voiced by legendary cartoon voice actor Paul Frees. I am getting old. And forgetful. But how was I going to end this essay? I forget.

4 Comments

Filed under autobiography, commentary, feeling sorry for myself, humor, nostalgia

Texas-Summer Hot

I am used to complaining about the heat. More than one summer I have endured 100 days of 100-degree-plus heat. When I lived in deep South Texas in the town of Cotulla, one summer we averaged 104 degrees.

The heat sits on you like a wool blanket that presses you down towards the surface of the frying pan. You almost wish you could set yourself completely free of clothing so that you could be as cool as possible, and at the same time get an all-over tan. (Or an all-over sunburn as the case always is with me.)

But this, of course, is Bible-belt Texas where the Baptists threaten you with eternal Hellfire if you even think about being naked.

And the heat makes for oppressive summer laziness, where you can’t seem to do anything but sit and sweat. Of course, when I was a kid, summer days were for chasing leopard frogs down on the banks of the Iowa river. Or watching the butterflies in Mrs. Stokes’ flower bed where petunias and daisies, and black-eyed Susans seemed to bloom all summer long. Or explore the Bingham Park Woods on my trusty-rusty bicycle, biking along the forest foot-paths. Nowadays, kids can sit in an airconditioned room and play video games from the time they wake up in the afternoon until four o’clock the next morning.

This summer hasn’t been quite as hot as some in the recent past. There has been rain off and on. But it is even more oppressive with the pandemic going on. And the George Floyd protests raging on as much here in Dallas as in any city. The heat and diabetes and poverty and the inability to get anything done that actually feels like progress have me depressed and moping and completely stifled… and using the word “and” too often.

It is even hard to write a blog post. My energy is gone. All I have done is dither on the WordPress site. But at least I have ticked off one more tick-box on the to-do list of a hot Texas day.

Leave a comment

Filed under artwork, battling depression, commentary, feeling sorry for myself, humor, Paffooney, Texas

Success is All in My Head

Like any Indie writer who has had enough of paying publishers to publish my work, any tiny bit of success is immediately seized upon and cherished, and immediately all goes into my head to swell the ego and make me strut like a rooster in the barnyard who doesn’t realize the next step for him is either the stew-pot or the oven.

I have read enough Indie books to realize that a vast majority of them are written by strutting roosters that, once their head is removed, still won’t realize that they are not the greatest writer since Hemingway and Faulkner. (They can’t compare themselves to Donald Barthelme, or James Thurber, or J.D. Salinger because most of them have never heard of those writers, let alone read anything like City Life, My Life and Hard Times, or Franny and Zooey.) I confess… At least I know I am no Hemingway or Faulkner. But I continue to protect my delusion that I am a good writer of young adult novels.

But this week I got more sugar pills for the ego in the form of reviews and evidence that people are actually reading my books.

My teacher story, Magical Miss Morgan got read at least twice on Amazon Prime, one of those yielding another 4-star review. And A Field Guide to Fauns got its first review, a 5-star review, that can be seen here;http://tvhost.co.uk/april-and-may-reading

That review is written by a fellow author whose novels also contain nudist characters like the Field Guide does.

So, a little bit of success like that makes the old heart keep pumping with hope. But I am still a long way from any kind of financial proof or critical acclaim sort of proof that I am a successful writer. Any notions of success are still all in my head. And that’s where they really ought to be. After all, it is only my belief that my writing is worth doing that will cause any more of it to happen. And more of it should happen. Otherwise my head might explode. And wouldn’t that be a terrible mess?

A road map to the inside of my stupid head. I’m sure there’s a bit of success in there somewhere.

Leave a comment

Filed under book review, commentary, humor, maps, novel writing, Paffooney, publishing, strange and wonderful ideas about life, writing humor

Because I Should Be…

I should be writing more, because 15 books is not enough to contain all of me to leave behind when I die.

I should be exercising more, because I am diabetic and arthritic, and the more I lounge and laze, the more I am not fighting back against implacable enemies.

I should be laughing more, because laughter heals the soul of the many horrendous wounds of every day.

I should be loving more, because people all around me are hurting as much as I am, and they need more of it in their lives, as do I.

I should be caring and doing more,

because the world is sick with Covid and burning from racially motivated injustices and murder. And I feel helpless in the wake of it.

I should be doing many things,

That I am not doing because my power is gone. But I try anyway. And I write bad poetry about it…

…Because I should be.

Leave a comment

Filed under artwork, autobiography, clowns, commentary, Depression, feeling sorry for myself, healing, Paffooney, poetry

All That Really Matters

I was not able to post yesterday for a number of reasons. Not the least of which is the turmoil caused by this nation trying to come to terms with those sins of the past that come back to haunt us and hunt us in the present.

I am an old white man. I suffer from “white privilege” in ways I can’t explain to some of my white friends back in Iowa, a State that was almost entirely white when I was growing up there. (And I pray that I grew UP, not just old.)

I learned yesterday that it matters how you put in order the things that you can say on matters of race. You can’t just say, “Black lives matter” to some white people. They will angrily insist that “All lives matter.” They will then proceed to tell you that you are being a racist when you suggest that black people are somehow more important than white people. I learned that you should say instead, “All lives matter, which means black lives certainly matter too. And the debate now is about a few recent black lives that were treated like they didn’t matter, and so, their lives ended in being murdered.” You can’t give white people a reasonable-sounding way to get out of admitting that, or they will. (See, I can be a bit racist too. I sometimes have a hard time believing all white people have positive human feelings in them somewhere.)

My illustrations for this post all came from Pinterest.

It has often, in my teaching career, been a disadvantage to be a white male. Black kids don’t believe you can see them as a good person. If you have to call them down for misbehavior, the worst ones will automatically assume it is about their race and not their behavior. A good teacher needs to listen more than they talk. You have to get them to open up about what happens in their lives that makes them behave the way that they do. You have to make them understand that you actually care about them and want to help. You have to earn their trust to get their best learning behavior. And being white makes that all so much harder. Not just with Afro Americans. Hispanic kids too. Vietnamese kids too. And I promise you, if you take the time to really get to know a kid… from any race or culture… you will discover that underneath it all, there are no bad kids. You stand a very good chance of learning to love them… no matter their racial or cultural differences from you.

And as an old white man, I suffer the disadvantage of never being able to truly understand what it feels like to have to worry that, at any moment, the police might kill you with a gun, or press the life out of you with a knee on your neck… just because of the color of your skin. That is in no way a fair thing that black men, black women, and black kids have to worry about that.

I am saddened and frustrated too that I can’t do any more to correct this terrible injustice than I am doing. I can’t attend protests because of my poor health and the pandemic that will probably kill me anyway. I am too old and crippled and broke to do any more than write this essay and post things on social media that make some of my old white friends angry and ready to argue.

I feel bad. The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, and too many more diminish me, make me hurt in my heart. And all I can do about it is tell you that there needs to be more love in this world, and less hate. And I hope maybe you have a little more of it to add to the world. After all, that’s all that really matters.

7 Comments

Filed under 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion, angry rant, commentary, compassion, empathy, kids, Liberal ideas, philosophy, racial profiling

Why We Doo

I remember when Scooby Doo, Where Are You? premiered on Saturday Morning Cartoons in 1969. I was thirteen and in the 7th grade. I had been six during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, seven when Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, ten when I was sexually assaulted in 1966, and still twelve when Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon in the Summer of 1969. I was obsessed with monsters, horror comics, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and the Pirates threatening Jim Hawkins in Treasure Island. I knew what fear was. And I was mad to find ways to combat the monsters I feared.

Don’t get me wrong. I was under no illusions that Fred, Daphne, Velma, Norville “Shaggy” Rogers and Scooby Doo were the answer to all my fears as viable heroes and heroines. They were goofballs, all of them, based on the characters I vaguely remembered from The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. I was aware that Shaggy was just Maynard Krebs in cartoon form (the hippie character portrayed by Gilligan’s Island actor Bob Denver.)

One of the critical things about the show for me was the fact that there was a rational explanation for the monsters. They were men in masks, special effects and projector tricks, or remote-controlled mechanical things.

And the way you overcame them and saved the day was by having Shaggy and Scooby act as bait, cause the traps to get sprung at the wrong time, and then fall on the villains, trapping them under the butt of the talking dog.

Villains and horror could be overcome by laughing at them. They were more likely to be clowns than carnivores. And even if they were carnivores, the teeth were not real.

There was a universal truth in that. Danger and horror and fear were easier to handle when you could laugh in spite of those things.

And to top it all off, those meddling kids and their stupid talking dog were with me my whole life. Those cartoons got remade and spun off so many times that my kids learned to love them as much as I did. And those four meddling kids and that talking dog are still making new stories even now.

Give us your creepiest or goofiest smile, guys!

And that is why we do the Doo!

4 Comments

Filed under autobiography, cartoon review, cartoons, commentary, humor, monsters, Uncategorized