Category Archives: commentary

Being a Child for More Than 60 Years

When I was young and a child in Iowa…

Yes, in some ways, I have Peter Pan syndrome. I have never truly grown up. But not in the ways that really matter in life.

As a writer of fiction, I put all my effort into writing young adult novels. My main characters are mostly children from roughly around eight years old to teens who are almost adults.

But it is not as G-rated as Nancy Drew. I have issues that creep in to become the monster under the bed. My childhood was not all naked innocence and sunshine.

Don’t get me wrong. I had wonderful parents. And wonderful grandparents. And the little town of Rowan, Iowa becomes the town of Norwall in all my Earthbound fiction. It was a very magical, if boring, place to grow up. I lived in town, but my uncles and grandparents lived on working farms. I knew farm life. I knew how you fed animals, trained animals, and helped them reproduce. I knew that farm animals die. And, sometimes, people die too. Even people who are important to you and you depend on.

And at the ripe old age of ten, I was sexually assaulted by an older boy. It is hard to talk about that even now, 52 years later. It wasn’t so much a sex act that I was forced to commit. It was more of a sexual-torture thing. He took his pleasure from twisting my private parts, making me hurt intensely, telling me all the while not to scream or call out for help. I think I even passed out at one point. There was no pleasure in it for me in any way. In fact, once he let me go with more threats, I promptly turned it into a repressed memory for twelve years. It turned me from an outgoing, leader-of-the-gang type kid into a miserable wallflower. It made me contemplate suicide as a teen. It led to some self harm that my parents never actually figured out, burning my lower back against the heater grate and making small burn scars on my arms and legs. It kept me from falling in love with a girl until my thirties. And it made me turn myself inside out through drawings, cartoons, and story-telling.

The Baby Werewolf

Some of the key stories I have turned into novels were created because of what happened to me, the horror at the center of my childhood. The monster in my novel, The Baby Werewolf, and the serial killer in Fools and Their Toys were both inspired by him, were both a reaction to what he did to me.

And do you know what he means to me now? I have forgiven him. He passed away a few years ago of a heart condition. I avoided him and his family from when it happened until now. I never told anyone what he did to me. I never sought any kind of revenge or justice for his act. To this day I still haven’t revealed his name to anyone, though I have been able to talk about it in this blog since he died. He has paid his price. The scales are balanced. I am healed. That is enough.

What he gave me, though, was a gift of purpose and an ability to fight the darkness with a strategy of sharing every tactic I have learned about defending myself from predators, depression, and crippling self-loathing in novel form. I shared those tactics as well during my years as a teacher and mentor to kids who had problems like mine for which my solutions sometimes also served as answers. I was able to put into thematic form the positive answers to the question every kid asks themselves somewhere along the road to adulthood, “Am I a monster because of what I have done and what has happened to me?”

The answer, of course, is, “No, I am not a monster.” But kids like me desperately need someone to tell them that and give them reasons why it is true. Fiction can do that. At least, I believe that it can.

And so, I write YA novels, novels for kids trying to become adults. And what good does that do if nobody ever reads my books? Or even this blog post which some of you who actually read my blog posts have probably given up on as too hard to read several paragraphs ago? It keeps me young. At 62 I still think like a twelve-year-old. Admittedly a wise-beyond-his-years twelve-year-old. I have never grown up in my mind where it counts. And maybe it even makes me able to fly like Peter Pan. But no jumping off roofs to find out for sure.

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Aquarium, Terrarium, Planetarium

Angelfish are like the kings of the aquarium. They swim about in slow, stately fashion.

As a teenager I was very much into raising tropical fish in an aquarium. Having fish to watch and fuss around with is a healthy, mind-calming hobby that literally helps you learn about environmental issues. Keeping an aquarium is all about keeping fundamental forces of biology in relative balance.

The lovely pearl gourami is a fascinating finny friend that fills the tank with beauty and color.

Some fish are there just for beauty. The angelfish and gouramis I have pictured already are mainly that. Though you could also say that kissing fish, the pink kissing gouramis, also provide comic relief.

Kissing gouramis actually perform the kissing ritual in the tank, and I really don’t know why, but I suspect it is about courting and sex.

Goldfish are the pigs of the fresh-water tank. They are slow and rather stupid, and they eat massive quantities of fish food, so they also poop excessively.

Keeping an aquarium is a balancing act.

Albino Angelfish
Neon Tetra

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a fancy Veiltail Guppy

If you put the wrong fish together, problems ensue. Fully grown angelfish will eat expensive guppies and neon tetras. Goldfish waste so much fish food and make so much fish poop that the tank has to be cleaned nearly every day to prevent it become a befouled cesspool of toxic filth and bacteria. Unless…

Cory Catfish

You employ bottom-feeders like the corydorus catfish or the red-tailed black shark (actually a loach, not a shark) to feed on the waste and be the janitor-fish.

A carefully balanced tank is a living work of art that grows and changes and progresses…

Red-Tailed Black Shark

…Until something goes wrong. Every fish tank I ever put together eventually had a crisis that made the whole ecology crash. All the fish would die and the tank would smell bad. This would usually happen when I wasn’t there to tend it as needed, when I was away at college or on vacation. Water has to be refreshed. The water can never be allowed to cool lower than seventy degrees, even in winter. The air pump can’t break down and stop aerating the aquarium. The filter has to be clean and unclogged. And disease has to be treated.

In a way, our entire planet earth is like that too. Of course, if it was all sealed under glass, it would be a terrarium, not an aquarium. But we can identify the same sorts of threats to the ecosystem of the terrarium we live in as would be found in a tropical fish tank. Donald Trump and his Republican fat-cats are the goldfish. Global warming threatens the air and water in the tank. An asteroid could break the glass and spill the contents out. So many things could crash our carefully balanced fish tank. And there is an even greater environment out there beyond the edges of our little solar system. Does the title make sense now in a way it didn’t before? No? Oh, well, I tried.

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Hope Comes From Science

Of late I have been rather obsessed with the coming darkness. Death. Ragnarok. Mass extinction of all life on Earth. My own situation as a pessimist quickly approaching the end of my own personal life has probably colored my obsession to a very large degree. And I should point out, my own prognosis is not going to change for the better. I do not have the financial power to prevent the problems I already have using modern effective healthcare. I am personally doomed. But even though the whole world seems easily as doomed by climate change, that doesn’t mean everyone shares my sad fate. There are potential solutions to the problem that only require the people who do have the financial power to fix it to decide that life on Earth has more value than their personal wealth and privilege. (Uh-oh… there’s a dependence on goodness where it seems like none actually exists.)

I often turn to science and books by very smart people to give me ideas that comfort me and give me hope. I recently did some binging on YouTube’s Answers With Joe. He does an excellent job of providing answers to things that worry me underpinned with scientific facts.

Thomas Malthus (from Wikipedia)

I have been worried about the environment from the times in high school science class when we learned about Paul Ehrlich and his book The Population Bomb.

Then we were learning about how the overpopulation of the Earth and its attendant need to produce food for all those people threatened massive famine, resource scarcity, and eventual extinction for humans. It was pointed out that, at the time in the 1970s, we were using chemical fertilizers and pesticides on the fields in Iowa to increase yields that would not only pollute the water and air in Iowa, but would eventually make its way through the watershed system into the oceans where it would overstimulate the algae and create an ocean environment throughout the world devoid of oxygen, fish, and all other lifeforms. I could see the threat and the validity of the science that Ehrlich had done.

Paul Ehrlich

I learned, over time, that population stresses do not necessarily cause extinction events in a matter of decades. The 1980s came and went and we were not extinct, despite eight years of Ronny Ray-gun, the jelly-bean president, and massive success in increasing food production. As Joe does an excellent job of explaining in the video above which you didn’t watch, population problems proved at least partially self-correcting. Families generally slowed their growth rate as health and wealth improved and made them more productive, more intelligent, and better able to support the heavy layer of living people that now covered the Earth.

Recently I became obsessively and pessimistically concerned with the dire predictions of environmental scientist Guy McPherson. I do recognize that his work reflects the extremist point of view among climate scientists, but ;there are a number of facts that he presents that are irrefutable in the same way as the arguments of… Paul Ehrlich.

In the second video above that you also didn’t watch, Joe explains how the problem of greenhouse gasses can be undone by renewable energy, carbon capture and air-scrubbers, and the search for viable products made from CO2, helping to reverse greenhouse gasses. He also explains how chemical cooling of the atmosphere and actual planetary weather control are possible. Technology already exists to solve the climate problem. The only drawback is that somebody has to pay for it. And the people in control of that kind of financial power are all entitled low-down greedy bastards that would rather build massive survival bunkers in the Ozarks than pay for the rest of us to survive. So, there is hope, which comes not with a grain of salt, but with a giant’s saltshaker filled with rock salt. Still, it isn’t time for all of you to give up. Just me. I am the one most completely doomed.

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Filed under battling depression, commentary, farming, feeling sorry for myself, humor, insight, Liberal ideas, pessimism, sharing from YouTube, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Plumbing the Darkness

There is a dark future hanging over us all. No, I am not simply trying to bring you down with the idea that we all will face death sooner or later. I am going to bring you down with an all-encompassing dread. Because, of course, that’s what humorists do. We try to introduce uncomfortable truths into your lives with a suddenly-revealed truth that takes you by surprise and leaves you with nothing you can do about it but laugh… laugh insanely.

Here’s a bummer. The government of the United States is dissolving into chaos because corrupt people have taken over all the political power due to the fact that they are legally allowed to spend whatever amount of money they want to change the laws and the people who make them.

And this did not begin with President Pumpkinhead. It has been a while since a Mr. Smith could go to Washington and actually make a dent in the armored juggernaut of evil. Why do you think nobody in the President’s party is working to remove him in spite of the clear evidence of corruption in how he incompetently goes about not doing the job he was elected to do?

I often turn to Answers with Joe on YouTube to make myself feel infinitely worse about these things. This video does a good job of explaining how stupid people like me are doing it wrong, not learning to field a meteor shower of informational fly balls that burn holes through your figurative baseball glove and the hand inside it if you actually catch one. And because we don’t know how to fact-check what we’re seeing inside our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram bubbles that are built out of malevolent algorithm-directed soap, we have all failed to learn how to learn and protect ourselves from infectiously poopy facts. We have all become stupid people and are the ones Goofy Dave makes fun of in the cartoon above. And if you think that makes you feel bad, remember that I was once a teacher. What you haven’t learned is, at least in part,, my fault.

And it gets worse. Suppose for a moment the Mayan calendar wasn’t wrong about the world ending in 2012, but merely has a typo in it. Maybe it was supposed to say 2021. Ice in the Arctic will soon be gone from the global warming that stupid people don’t believe is established science. All of the carbon locked in the bottom of the Arctic sea and in the permafrost of the Northern Hemisphere will soon be free to enter the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and will be capable of turning our planet into Venus with thousand degree temperature days on the surface of the earth. I hate to say this, but my air-conditioner can’t handle that. Neither can yours.

But I am not like George Carlin, using humor to make you feel so low you have to look up to see the soles of your shoes and then leaving it there after the last black-humor joke-bomb has burned away your sole… er, soul. There is still hope. A massively important breakthrough in technology, or, more likely sociology, will have to be made and implemented really fast. And it will require some magnificently genius-level smart folks to do some magnificently genius-level problem-solving. But there are still very smart people on this planet. And they can’t all be corrupt, can they? And I really can’t imagine they have anything more important to do right now than save all life on the planet. But we can do our part too, you and I. We need to notice all this darkness around us, and light some danged candles!

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Filed under angry rant, commentary, feeling sorry for myself, humor, irony, Paffooney

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik

It is, of course, one of the most powerful, masterful, and best-known pieces of music ever written.

Mozart completed the “little serenade” in Vienna in 1787, but it wasn’t published until 1827, long after Mozart’s untimely death.

The Serenade is incorrectly translated into English as “A Little Night Music”. But this is and always has been the way I prefer to think of it. A creation of Mozart written shortly before he hopped aboard the ferryman’s boat and rode off into the eternal night. It is the artifact that proves the art of the master who even has the word “art” as a part of his name. A little music to play on after the master is gone to prove his universal connection to the great silent symphony that is everything in the universe singing silently together.

It is basically what I myself am laboring now to do. I have been dancing along the edge of the abyss of poverty, suffering, and death since I left my teaching job in 2014. I will soon be taking my own trip into night aboard the ferryman’s dreaded boat. And I feel the need to put my own art out there in novel and cartoon form before that happens.

I am not saying that I am a master on the level of a Mozart. My name is not Mickart. But I do have a “key’ in the name Mickey. And it will hopefully unlock something worthwhile for my family and all those I loved and leave behind me. And hopefully, it will provide a little night music to help soothe the next in line behind me at the ferryman’s dock.

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Rebuilding

The retaining wall that keeps the yard from flowing downhill into the park and down to the creek, is now growing back upwards, visibly straighter and better grounded than it was before.

In his poem “Mending Wall”, Robert Frost suggested that the wall dividing his property and the neighbor’s property is constantly falling down and requiring mending. He gets together with his neighbor and they replace the fallen stones, mending the wall between them. And then the neighbor says the oft-quoted line, “Good fences make good neighbours.”
Ironically, the neighbor is not saying that having a wall between them makes them better neighbors. He is saying that their friendship is built on mending the wall together.

And so it is with me and number two son as we labor together to straighten the foundation stones and replace all the heavy stone bricks that we had to remove to get to them. It is hard work, slowed by heavy bricks, one arthritic back, multiple rainy days, cold weather, and fatigue. But slowly we have problem-solved together, discussed the state of the world, and mended the wall. We have also mended our working relationship as father and son. A good wall makes a stronger family in the Frostian sense.

And so, I have come to see how life imitates art, and work begets poetry. A little sunshine creeps back into the picture when you engage in a little rebuilding.

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The Problem-Solving Life

Yesterday I temporarily solved my computer problem with the Russian hacker with the help of the technical support people of McAfee Anti-Virus software. My computer works again. But I have had loss of personal data, and I am not yet sure that they didn’t take control of my Google account. It seems like I can change my password safely, but having been broken into, I have to wonder if the Russians are able to read this as I type it. I know I sound like a crazy, paranoid old man. The technician thinks so too. But it is harder than ever to have faith in a system when so many bad actors seem to have more control over things than I do. I am the novelist. I should be able to control the plot and the dialogue and the happy endings in my own story. But I can type on my computer again and my machine is cured of the Russian computer flu.

One should have positive thoughts as often as possible, even if you can only find them in a warehouse of old memories, impressions, and poems.

The point I wanted to make today, now that I have my word-mulching machine back to word-mulching form, is that I have always been a solver of problems, both simple and complex. It goes with being a teacher hand in hand because being a school-type teacher-man means solving problems for the little people and teaching them to be problem solvers too.

The big problem with problem-solving, however, is that there is always one more problem to be solved… unless there are ten more. Life is a matter of problem-solving, and you cannot be happy until you learn both to solve problems, even hard ones, and be reconciled to the fact that there will always be problems you have to live with and cannot solve.

Among the ten more problems I am now faced with is the problem of not having enough money to cover all the bills as I and my children continue to do things that cost money, like getting sick, eating, living in Texas, wearing clothes, wearing extra cold-weather clothes, and getting hacked by Russians. I want desperately to get a part-time job I can do. I am thoroughly qualified to be a substitute teacher. But I can’t do that job because I am in poor health. One more bout of the flu picked up in the germ farms that are Texas public schools will end me. Besides, if my health were sound enough for the classroom, I would still be teaching. It was a job God made me for, and I love teaching.

I was earning extra money the hard way through driving for Uber, daily risking an onslaught of shady clients, thoroughly unpleasant back-seat drivers, and Texas killer grandmas driving Lincoln Town Cars through stop signs at every other corner. And then I got hit in the driver’s side door by a goof who was talking to his passenger instead of looking as he turned across traffic. He didn’t see me until he clobbered me with his car. There was no way at all I could have avoided that collision. It cost me money for a deductible even though he was totally at fault. It cost me six months of driving time. I have been able to drive for other purposes, but I have not been able to drive for Uber since the accident. My driving-for-money confidence is missing. I have looked for it everywhere. It isn’t in any of the closets in the house. I guess I will simply have to make some more and get out and drive again.

So, living a problem-solving life ain’t easy, but it is necessary. It will get figured out, through persistence if nothing else. Because we all have to. And I can already see ten more problems headed towards me down the thorny garden path that is my life.

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Filed under autobiography, commentary, education, feeling sorry for myself, humor, insight, Paffooney, poem