He had so many expenses, he didn’t know what to do.
Of course, I am not complaining.
Even though it’s a tennis shoe and not a cowboy boot.
I have got an ice cream truck outside. Sponsored by Hot Wheels.
And now that I have a substitute teaching job, I almost have more money than bills… well, some months… maybe.
But I still can’t afford ice cream. Or insulin.
But my neighbor lives in a house made of eggshell. And he has cancer. But he gets visits from the Partridge Family in their funky school bus. It is better to live on a shoe-string budget than an eggshell budget. But we all have our troubles. Which Aetna will never willingly pay for.
Except for the rich guy who lives on Mel Gibson Hill. He has no troubles.
He has plenty of money.
And he is the reason the rest of us are poor.
Because he pays for politicians to give him tax breaks on all that money that never trickles down the hill.
But life is good in Toonerville Town.
Unless that shoestring comes undone.
And then it takes lots more hard work to tie it up again.
When I was a boy, the Western reigned supreme on both television and in the movie theaters. Part of the benefit of that was being indoctrinated with “the Cowboy Way” which was a system of high ideals and morality that no longer exists, and in fact, never did exist outside of the imaginations of little boys in the 1950’s and 1960’s. We learned that good guys wore white hats and bad guys wore black. You only won the shootout if you shot the bad guy and you didn’t draw your gun first.
Of course, the cowboys who were the “White Knights of the Great Plains” we worshiped as six-year-olds and the singing cowboys on TV were not the same ones we watched when we were more mature young men of ten to twelve. John Wayne starring in Hondo (after the book by Louis L’Amour) was more complicated than that, and we learned new things about the compromises you make in the name of survival and trying to do things the best way you can. From Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence we began to see that sometimes you shot the villain in the back from down the street to save your simple friend from the gunfight in the street when he was too naive and green to win.
Wyatt Earp at the OK Corral was the white hat we wanted desperately to be when we grew up. And then I saw on PBS in the late 60’s a documentary about the real shootout and the real compromises and consequences of the thing we once thought was so clearly good versus evil.
Wyatt went from the TV hero,
To the mostly moral man fighting what seemed like lawlessness,
To a morally ambiguous angel of death, winning on luck and guts rather than righteousness, and paying evil with vengeance while suffering the same himself from those dirty amoral cowboys, sometimes good, but mostly not.
And then along came Clint and “the Man with No Name”. More ambiguous and hard to fathom still…
Who really was The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly? What made any one of them worse than the other two? You need to listen to the music before you decide. We are all of us good, bad, and ugly at times. And all of it can be made beautiful at the end with the right theme music behind it. Did we ever learn anything of real value from cowboy movies? Of course we did. They made us who we are today. They gave us the underpinnings of our person-hood. So, why do they not make them anymore? The video essay at the end of my wordiness has answers. But basically, we grew up and didn’t need them anymore. And children and youths of today have different heroes. Heroes who are heroic without shootouts and letting the bad guy draw his gun first. Ideally, heroes who are us.
The question came up on Twitter. “What things aren’t safe to write about in a Young Adult novel?”
I have personally never questioned myself about that before. The writer asking for input was writing something science-fiction-y about a telepath using telepathy to torture someone. He was apparently worried that a younger audience would be traumatized by that.
Really? Anyone who can ask that has never spent much time talking to young readers.
I base my answer on over thirty years of trying to get kids to read things of literary quality. My very first year of teaching a male student stood up when the literature books were passed out and announced, “I don’t do literature!”
“Really, Ernie? You are going to lay that challenge before me?”
We slogged through The Adventures of Tom Sawyer that year, using and reusing 20 paperback copies of the novel purchased with my own money. Ernie maybe didn’t like it. But he did literature.
And I went on a thirty-four year quest to find out what literature kids really would do and what literature kids really neededto do.
Here’s a tiny bit of wisdom from Mickey’s small brain and comparatively large experience; Kids are not traumatized by literature in any form. Kids are traumatized by life. They need literature to cope with trauma.
Kids want to read about things that they fear. A book like Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card has some graphic violence in it and a war against faceless aliens, but it does an excellent job of teaching how to empathize as well as fight against bullies, and it helps them grapple with the notion that the enemy is never clearly the thing that you thought it was to begin with.
Kids want to read the truth about subjects like love and sex. They are not looking for pornography in YA novels. They get that elsewhere and know a lot more about it than I do. They want to think about what is right and how you deal with things like teen pregnancy, abortion, matters of consent vs. rape and molestation. Judy Blume started being objectively honest with kids about topics like puberty and sex back in the 60’s with books like Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. and Iggie’s House.
If you are writing for young adults, middle grade and high school kids, even kids 5th Grade and below who are high-level readers, it is more important to worry about writing well and writing honestly than it is to worry about whether they can handle the topics and trauma that you wish to present. Write from the heart and write well.
I can honestly say I know these things I have said are true about young readers from having read to them, read with them, and even taught them to read. As an author, my opinion is worth diddly-squoot since I have hardly sold any books, and no kids I know have read them (except for two of my nieces, both of whom are pretty weird and nerdy just like me.)
Life seems to be getting harder and harder. And I realize that a big part of that perception is the fact that my health is deteriorating quickly. This is a humor blog, but it has been getting more and more serious and more and more grim as the grim reaper becomes more and more a central character in my own personal story.
My perception of reality, however, is best explained by a passage in a novel that spoke to me in college. It comes from the novel, the Bildungsroman by Thomas Mann called Der Zauberberg, in English, The Magic Mountain. In the scene, Hans Castorp is possibly freezing to death, and he hallucinates a pastoral mountainside scene where children are happily playing in the sunshine. Possibly Heaven? But maybe not. As he goes into a stone building and finds a passage down into the ground, he sees wrinkled, ugly, horrible hags gathered around a child’s corpse, eating it. And this vision explains the duality at the center of the meaning of life.
For every good thing, there is an equal and opposite bad thing that balances it our. There is no understanding what perfection and goodness mean without knowing profanity and evil. Just as you can’t understand hot without cold nor light without darkness. And you don’t get to overturn the way it is. You try your hardest to stay on the heads side of the coin knowing that half the time life falls to tails.
So, what good does it do me to think about and write about things like this? Well, it makes for me a sort of philosophical gyroscope that spins and dances and helps me keep my balance in the stormy sea of daily life. I deal with hard things with humor and a sense of literary irony. I make complex metaphors that help me throw a rope around the things that hurt me.
We are living now in the Spider Kingdom. Hard times are here again. The corrupt and corpulent corporate spiders are spinning the many webs we are trapped in. As metaphorical as it is, we wouldn’t have the government we currently have and be suffering the way we are if that weren’t true.
But no bad thing nor no good thing lasts forever. The wheel goes round and round. The top of the wheel reaches the bottom just as often as the bottom returns to the top. So, it will all pass if we can only hold out long enough.
My title for today is a bad pun. It is because the phrase “Sick Humor” has two meanings. I tend to get punny when my nose is runny. I have been sick for a week. Not actually flu, but a bad cold that seems pretty close. And, of course, close counts with horseshoes, flu, and hand grenades. I have been stuck at home, able to do little beyond watch the impeachment clown-show. And, of course, by watching, getting punnier and punnier.
You get punny enough and you tend to feel bigger than you are, primarily because you get full of natural gas that comes out of your mouth… and of course, out of somewhere else too. And if you let it all out of the mouth at once… where it pollutes the general atmosphere and makes it hard to breathe… or if you let it out of the other place… where it can be potentially explosive… you will deflate a lot, and get very, very small.
But, really, it is a matter of absurd comparisons (and also Republican impairisons) as words are twisted to make them funny (as in “oddly seeming” and not as in “really ha-ha!”) and criminals are called “honest brokers” and the coppers are tarnished as “deep-state delusionals”.
You are supposed to take medicine when you are sick. And laughter is the best medicine. But don’t laugh at idiots. Idiots with lots of money will hurt you. They will hurt you financially. They will hurt you physically. They can’t necessarily beat you up because it looks bad… and maybe because of bone spurs. But they can hire lots of somebodies to do it for them. And they can take over your government.
The sickness in the White House has no cure. The cancer will not be excised. It will kill us all. Sometimes the humor is sick. And sometimes the jokes are not funny. And the biggest joke will be when the Senate declares the cancer not life-threatening. The joke will be on us.
I am sick. I am trying to laugh it off. But it’s tough. Maybe I will look for funnier clowns to watch.
The greatest tragedy known to man is the finely-tuned instrument that is merely sitting, barely active, when instead it should be soaring to heights never seen before.
It is a real shame that so much of human endeavor is bent towards the accumulation of wealth… And when the lucky few reach the pinnacle of that wealth-acquisition, measured in billions, they choose to hoard it and salt it away for their own exclusive use rather than solve problems like poverty, hunger, ignorance, pollution, violence, and want. The act of creation, being musical, artistic, literary, or profound, is given so little value that the idea of the starving artist is an idea that exists in every head.
I fear that far too many people don’t t truly understand what value means. For life to be worth living, you have to have priorities that justify mankind’s very existence. Surely we were not created… by either God or an indifferent random universe… to merely exist like the blue-green lichen that graces the bark of a rotting stump, or to elect Donald Trump as President just so we can see smarty-pants liberal elitists chopped down by a corrupt plague of racist frogs. The tragedy lies in the knowing… or the not knowing.
Perhaps you recognize Beethoven’s 9th Symphony when you hear the Dah-Dah-Dah-Dummm! of death knocking in that familiar musical phrase. But do you recognize the pastoral beauty of the sunshine-and-rain-filled 5th Symphony? Or have you heard the sorrow and the striving of daily life in the city streets depicted in the 7th Symphony (offered above)? If not, why not? How can you listen to any of it and not hear the many underlined reasons that it is considered among the greatest music ever created? And that by a man who was mildly insane and eventually stone deaf, unable to hear his own music anywhere but in his imagination?
I have reached a point in my life that I cannot do much beyond sit and think such thoughts. I am limited in how I can move and what work I can do by my ever-more-painful arthritis, stinging me in every joint. I am also limited by lack of money in where I can go and what I can afford to do. But I refuse to be that finely-tuned instrument that does not make much in the way of music. Hence, an essay like this one today. It is me, using my words to the best of my ability, to fill the sky with hopelessly beautiful attempts at making the stars twinkle.
I am having trouble writing today. I keep passing out for no particular reason. I know for a fact, if I go to the ER they will put me in the hospital and my tenuous hold on financial stability will go down that money drain. And my heart is not really the problem. My last hospital stay only yielded the theory that arthritis in my neck, in proximity to my spinal cord, is causing EKG machines to get false readings that suggest I am having a heart attack when I am not. It also complicated my bankruptcy situation. I cannot afford the health care I need. And I am not the only one in Trump’s America that has that problem. I don’t think I am going to die today. But there are no guarantees in life. Especially not in this hazy, cold morning in America.
Not everything is bad on this side of the mirror, though.
My family returns from Florida today. I have earned money from book sales on Amazon for the fifth month in a row, even though I am averaging less than two dollars a month. The sun is shining again in Texas after a stretch of arthritis-wringing pain from bad weather. I bought a gingerbread house kit at Walmart. I have at least one substitute teaching job this coming week.
I have passed the 35,000 word bar for my work in progress, long enough to qualify as a complete YA novel. But it isn’t finished yet, and probably going to be nearer to 50,000 words.
So, going forward, the world now looks very different. Thanos has been defeated. Trump is being impeached, though probably not removed. And though I am a pessimist, and am preparing for the worst, I am not unhappy about what the future may hold.