Category Archives: commentary

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

71000

Some books come along telling a story that has to be taken seriously in ways that don’t make sense in any normal way.  The Alchemist is one of those books.

What is an alchemist, after all?

An alchemist uses the medieval forms of the art of chemistry to transmute things, one thing becoming another thing.

Coelho in this book is himself an alchemist of ideas.  He uses this book to transmute one idea into another until he digs deep enough into the pile of ideas to finally transmute words into wisdom.

There is a great deal of wisdom in this book, and I can actually share some of it here without spoiling the story.

Here are a few gemstones of wisdom from the Alchemist’s treasure chest;

“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting…” (p.13)

“It’s the simple things in life that are the most extraordinary; only wise men are able to understand them.” (p.17)

“All things are one.  And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”  (p.24)

“And when he had gone only a short distance, he realized that, while they were erecting the stall, one of them had spoken Arabic and the other Spanish.    And they had understood each other perfectly well.  There must be a language that doesn’t depend on words, the boy thought.” (p.45)

All of these quotes from the book, as you can see, come from the first third of the book.  There are many more treasures to be found in this book.  I should not share them with you here.  Just as the main character of the story learns, you have to do the work for yourself.  But this book is not only an enjoyable read, but a map for how you can execute your own journey towards your “Personal Legend”.  In fact, you may find that the book tells you not only how to go about making a dream come true, but, if you are already on that journey successfully, it tells you what things you are already doing right.

1 Comment

Filed under book reports, book review, commentary, good books, magic, strange and wonderful ideas about life, wisdom, wizards

Ghostly Reflections

Haunting
I do not believe in ghosts.

So, I am probably the last stupid goomer who should be writing this post.  But I do have a lot to say on the subject that will more than fill a 500-word essay.

Snow Babies 2

At my age and level of poor health, I think about ghosts a lot because I may soon be one.  In fact, my 2014 novel, Snow Babies has ghosts in it.  And some of the characters in it freeze to death and become snow ghosts.  But it doesn’t work like that in real-world science.  My ghosts are all basically metaphorical and really are more about people and people’s perception of life, love, and each other.

Ghosts really only live in the mind.  They are merely memories, un-expectedly recalled people, pains, and moments of pandemonium.

I have recently been watching the new Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House.  It creeps me out because it latches on to the idea that ghosts haunt us through the revisitation in our minds of old trauma, old mistakes, old regrets… We are never truly safe from ghosts, no matter how far under the covers we go in our beds, deep in the dark and haunted night. Ghosts are always right there with us because they only live inside us.

I am haunted by ghosts of my own.  Besides the ghost dog that mysteriously wanders about our house at night and is seen only out of the corners of our eyes, there is the ghost of the sexual assault I endured at the age of ten by a fifteen-year-old neighbor.  That ghost haunts me still, though my attacker has died.  I still can’t name him.  Not because I fear he can rise up out of the grave to hurt me again, but because of what revealing what he did, and how it would injure his innocent family members who are still alive and still known to my family, will cause more hurt than healing.  That is a ghost who will never go away.  And he infects my fiction to the point that he is the secret villain of the novel I am now working on. In fact, the next four novels in a row are influenced by him.

But my ghost stories are not horror stories.

I write humorous stories that use ghosts as metaphors, to represent ideas, not to scare the reader.  In a true horror story, there has to be that lurking feeling of foreboding, that sense that, no matter what you do, or what the main character you identify with does, things probably won’t turn out all right.   Stephen King is a master of that.  H.P. Lovecraft is even better.

DSCN5216

But as for me, I firmly believe in the power of laughter, and that love can settle all old ghosts back in their graves.  I have forgiven the man who sexually tortured me and nearly destroyed me as a child.  And I have vowed never to reveal his name to protect those he loved as well as those I love.  If he hurt anyone else, they have remained silent for a lifetime too.  And I have never been afraid of the ghost dog in our house.  He has made me jump in the night more than once, but I don’t fear him.  If he were real, he would be the ghost of a beloved pet and a former protector of the house.  And besides, he is probably all in my stupid old head thanks to nearly blind eyes when I do not have my glasses on.

I don’t believe in ghosts.

2 Comments

Filed under cartoons, commentary, ghost stories, goofy thoughts, humor, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Obsessively Self-Reflective

I honestly hope you are not reading this blog to find advice on life, the universe, writing, or anything. That sounds more like something I myself might do, and I am goofy enough to think this purple paisley prosy thing is a humor blog. I don’t really give advice, good or otherwise.

Even as a teacher I didn’t tell students how to do things in a do-this, then-do-this, and then-do-this lecture format. If anything, I advised by showing them how I did things, leading by example. I taught skills and concepts by setting up tasks that let kids do things for themselves. Most people learn by doing.

This idea applies no matter what the learning goal is. If you want to do magic, you have to cast some spells for yourself. Roger Bacon’s students in the 13th Century learned to do alchemy and eventually chemistry by blowing up the laboratory repeatedly. If I am capable of any sort of artistical or literarical magic, I have achieved it only by trying to do it, trying to be creativical, and getting readers’ and viewers’ attention by being marketableical and somewhat ironical in my blogging with over-use of artificial -ical endings.

So, I treat this blog as way to generate ludicrous ideas and goofy content in order to fascinate readers and sometimes even make them laugh. And I have nothing more to write about than myself and my own experiences. It is obsessively self-inflicted observations about myself. Kinda like standing naked in front of the mirror and learning to laugh at warts and wrinkles. I believe in taking the clothes off of my life experiences and finding the naked truths that were previously hidden. And, no, that doesn’t really explain why it seems I like drawing naked people so much. It’s a metaphor, dang it!

Gilligan never realized how good he had it as the only realistically eligible bachelor on that island.

So, that’s what this blog is all about. I am explaining what this blog is all about. I am looking at my own experience of life, the embarrassments, the sad truths, the disappointments, the triumphs, all the most personal, private, and public stuff. And I am laughing loud and long. Because that’s what life is. Mastering that fundamental skill. Learning to laugh at life.

Here’s a brief summary of the only good advice you can possibly find by reading this blog. If you want to write well, start writing and teach yourself how to do it. And if you want to learn to laugh, look for what’s funny and laugh loud and long and clear.

Leave a comment

Filed under autobiography, commentary, goofiness, goofy thoughts, humor, Paffooney

Ah, the Doctor Says…

Today I saw the doctor for a physical, with new insurance and new hope. I have survived the pandemic, so there is reason to think I am not immediately doomed for the next month or two.

Of course, you know that old men my age have to endure doctor fingers in places you would prefer fingers didn’t have to go. And you wonder why you have to turn your head and cough. Does Dr. Fingers find that amusing somehow? But my plumbing is working for now without the total Roto-Rooter job I was promised fifteen years ago.

And as far as the diabetes that is the most likely of my six incurable diseases to kill me goes, I have to wait on the bloodwork to find out. But my feet appeared to Dr. Fingers to not be on the verge of falling off. The diabetic foot care I have been religiously doing with holy diabetic socks, hot foot baths, duly pious daily foot massages, and careful infection-awareness-inspections of foot sores, has actually been working. The circulation in my feet is still good, even without magic crystals or sacrifices to arcane demigods.

Of course, he wants to put me back on drugs again. And after I had thoroughly gotten myself cold-turkey clean. Blood pressure drugs to ratchet up the valves that make my engine run without exploding. Arthritis medicine that might lessen the pain without exploding my heart. And cholesterol medicine that won’t turn my arms and legs and spine into wooden planks. Of course, he will investigate which drugs will net the highest amounts of drug-company kickbacks without actually killing me first. And he promised to consider my state of Chapter 13 bankruptcy too, because he can’t collect fees from homeless bums on the street. So, insulin is probably still not an option.

My doctor, however, is not Groucho Marx, and definitely not Harpo. So we will have to see if he turns out to be Chico, or one of the two Marx brothers that nobody remembers. (Zeppo and Gummo… I bet you thought I didn’t remember either, huh?)

2 Comments

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

Living in the Spider Kingdom

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under commentary, empathy, feeling sorry for myself, humor, metaphor, Paffooney, philosophy

Things that Matter

One of the things that I repeatedly need to do is to reaffirm fundamental beliefs. My son and I were talking this morning about things that might be worth getting fired for because there are lines we won’t cross, not even if someone is trying to push us across.

All People Count as People

Our family is made up of Caucasian, mostly-German-American white guys on one side (my side) and Filipino Hispanic-Polynesian folks on the other side (my wife’s side.) We believe that all kinds of people are equally valuable. As a school teacher I had to learn to love Hispanic and Spanish-speaking kids, loud and mostly happy black kids, Asian kids with tiger moms, and, of course, white kids of a thousand varieties. It upsets me that a former president tried to deport Dreamers who’ve never known any other country than the US. It upsets me that the Texas legislature is trying to cut down on the right to vote for black, Hispanic, and Asian people, as well as any other group who might vote for Democratic candidates. I am directly opposed to any Fox-News comments about any group of people that makes it seem like they are worth less than rich white Americans. Grant us all our human dignity.

Children Deserve to be Protected

I think one of the most important reasons for me to become a teacher was that I was myself sexually assaulted as a ten-year-old. I made a secret pact with myself to do everything in my power to prevent such a thing happening to any other child.

Maybe I never got the chance to confront a sexual predator myself, but I did take steps to help in situations of neglect, suicidal depression, drug problems, and I mentored several fatherless boys.

If you do it right, you can nurture a child into becoming an excellent human being.

Making People Laugh in Tough Times is a Good Thing

I am devoted to the idea that humor is a solution to many problems in this modern world. Of course, my wife (pictured to the left as a Panda from the Pandalore Islands) disagrees with this notion. That is because I am the husband, and husbands are always wrong. It is one of those unwritten rules followed by wives everywhere.

But because of my weird sense of humor I can laugh at anything even if it is actually hurting me. Against the healing power of laughter, nothing truly terrible can stand.

And so, today’s incoherent tirade now comes to an end. Not because I am actually done talking about my myriads of essential beliefs, but because three main points makes a good, teachable essay. And I can’t think of a number four right now because my brain shuts down after three just like everyone else’s. In fact, just like yours.

Leave a comment

Filed under angry rant, commentary, Paffooney, philosophy, strange and wonderful ideas about life

How It Should Be… According to Mickey

A 1951 Schwinn Spitfire like mine in 1963 when the world was golden.

My bicycle was red. It was red and looked just like the ones that Captain Kangaroo had in his commercials that we watched on a black-and-white TV every day before we walked or rode our bicycle to school, across town a whole long seven blocks away. After school I could ride it out a whole mile and a half to Jack’s farm with Bobby and Richard and Mark the preacher’s kid to go skinny dipping in the cold creek in Jack’s South pasture. Jack was younger than any of us except Bobby. And it was a golden age.

Spiderman comic books and Avengers comic books cost twelve cents to own, but they were forbidden. And as much as we sneaked them and passed them around until they fell apart, usually in Bobby’s hands, we never knew that Dr. Wertham had gone to Congress to make our parents believe that comic books would make us gay and violent. He was a psychiatrist who wrote a book, so even if you didn’t believe him, you had to worry about such things.

I believed in Santa Claus until 1967. And after I found out, I only despaired a tiny little bit, because I began to understand you have to grow up. And adults can lie to you, even if they don’t do it to be mean. And the world is a hard place. And the golden age ended in November of 1963 when JFK was assassinated.

In June of 1968 I rode my bicycle out to the Bingham Park woods, Once there, I took off all my clothes and put them in the bicycle basket, and then I rode up and down the walking paths through the trees with nothing between me and God but my skin. I had a serious think about how life should be. All the while I was terrified that someone might see me. I was naked and vulnerable. A mere two years before that I had been sexually assaulted and was terrified of older boys, especially when I was naked and vulnerable. But I was a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals and Bob Gibson. They were repeated World Series winners. And they beat the Yankees in the series in 1964. And more important than that, cardinals were the little red songbirds who never flew away when the winter came. You don’t give up in the face of hardship. You face the trouble. No matter how deep the snow may pile up.

And in 1969, the first man to walk on the moon showed that a Star Trek world was in reach of mankind. Star Trek was on every afternoon after school. I watched a lot of those episodes at Verner’s house on his family’s black-and-white TV. The Klingons were always bested or beaten because the crew of the Enterprise outsmarted them. You can solve the problems of the universe with science. I know this because of all the times Mr. Spock proved it to me not just by telling me so, but by showing me how you do it. And what you can achieve is greatly enhanced if you work together like Spock and Kirk and Bones… and sometimes Scotty always did.

So, what is the way it should be? What did Mickey decide while naked in the forest like a Dakota Sioux shaman on a spirit-quest?

JFK’s 104th birthday was on May 29th. Dr. Wertham has been dead for 40 years. Bob Gibson was 85 when he passed away in October of last year. Captain Kirk turned 90 in March of this year.

The Golden age is long gone. There is no single set of rules that can clearly establish how it should be now. But I like those ideas of how it should be that I established for myself while naked on a Schwinn Spitfire in a forest long ago.

Leave a comment

Filed under autobiography, cardinals, comic book heroes, commentary, humor, inspiration, oldies, Paffooney, philosophy

The Man with One White Eye

I might be going blind. With a year and a half to go to finish paying off my Chapter 13 bankruptcy, I don’t have the money to pay off the eye specialist the ophthalmologist referred me to in order to get my glaucoma treated.

Odin traded one eye to gain wisdom.

What do you suppose I can get for two?

If you look someone in the eye, you can see revealed the light and the darkness that person carries within. You can tell if someone is thoughtful and intelligent or reckless and stupid by gauging it in their eyes.

Look at these eyes above. What do you see?

One has warm, brown eyes, looking directly at me… evaluating, pondering, imagining me.

The other has chilly blue eyes, looking past me… probably seeing only what’s in his head… not actually me.

If I go blind, I will no longer be able to see that, appreciate that, or even draw that anymore.

Of course, the power of that depends more upon the mind doing the looking then the eyes that take in the light and the details.

I have a chance to be okay on that second score, the mind behind the eyes. I have a good one that has had a lot of practice interpreting the world I see. And I have learned more than a few things that I can still teach and pass on to those I leave behind me.

Thirty-one years as a public school teacher means I have already taught a lot of things to a lot of people.

And I now have 19 books published, with two more I may be able to finish and publish before May of 2021 is through.

Those represent things that I can do to continue to teach the world even after my eyes are no longer working… or even if my light has entirely left the world in the near future. Of course, a lot depends on people reading what I wrote. Still, I feel good about that. I got a five-star review on Amazon from my book The Baby Werewolf just today. And the comments prove the reader actually read the book and liked it for its good qualities.

Wisdom, of course, has little value if it is never passed on. How much have you benefitted from the wisdom of Soren Kierkegaard? Do you even know who he is? Notice too, the students of Chiron in the picture, do not seem to be paying any attention at all to the lecture from the scroll of ancient wisdom. Heracles is practicing with his bow. Theseus is grinning to himself about wrestling. And Jason and Achilles are telling each other jokes about guys that have a horse’s butt instead of a man’s. ( Teaching, of course, is always like that.)

But the man with one white eye, one blinded eye, Odin, has earned his wisdom. And he gives it freely as a gift.

So, just think what wonderful gifts I might be able to provide by next Christmas if I lose both eyes. (Of course, I am not suggesting I am secretly Santa Claus… And if you can prove that I am, well… that puts you on the Naughty List.)

2 Comments

Filed under commentary, Depression, feeling sorry for myself, humor, Paffooney, philosophy, wisdom

Mickey Under the Magnifying Glass

Self-reflection is a critical part of being a writer and an author. At least it is if you are a mostly-ignored and somewhat unsuccessful one. That’s really the full extent of my personal expertise on this subject.

But knowing your own personal strengths and weaknesses is the only way to continue to sharpen the blades you use to cut insightful, heartfelt stories out of your own life experiences.

For example, the thing I think is most important to know about myself is that I do have the ability to laugh at myself, even when the thing I am laughing at hurts quite a lot. A sense of humor is a life skill that people who experience depression, chronic pain, and personal trauma need in order to survive.

Robin Williams is the quintessential sad clown. He lived to the age of 61 before depression ended him. Think of how much younger he would’ve been in leaving us all behind if he hadn’t had his bright, silvery suit of comedy armor to get him through life. But that’s a downer. One of my biggest failures is that I will bluntly drop a big black bomb like that in the middle of a sensitive and heartfelt scene, or in the fourth paragraph of an essay that you found interesting enough to read.

I find I am often guilty of not knowing when to give up on something and cut my losses. But at the same time as I am contemplating ending this essay before I lose more readers than ever, I remember what makes the cardinal a personal symbol for me. Cardinals are a bright red songbird that never flies away when the winter comes. It will stupidly stay put even in snow and cold and a total lack of food, choosing to starve or freeze to death over leaving its home territory. I was like that as a teacher. After the first two miserable years, I decided to stay put in that little South Texas school district where I was underpaid and constantly abused by parents and students and even some other school personnel. I refused to leave without first proving to myself that I could do the job and be good at it. I stayed for twenty]-three years, becoming the head of the English Department, a leader of the Gifted and Talented Program, and a generally well-loved teacher of a generation of students. (I left before the grandson and granddaughter of two of the kids in my very first class were about to enter middle school.)

I guess, thinking about it critically, sometimes your weaknesses and your strengths are not only related, they are the same thing.

I have been accused of not being serious enough to be a teacher. And that has carried over to the writing of young adult fiction. Reviewers have told me that putting details about sex, violence, and dark humor in a story is not appropriate for young, middle-school-aged readers. One reviewer told me that I was practically a child pornographer, even though the book had no explicit sex scene and only talked about the subjects of love, sex, and intimacy.

But I am a believer in not shying away from subjects that kids want to know about. As a victim of a sexual assault in childhood, I found that fiction and nonfiction that discussed sexuality and morality were life-saving, and gave me the guidance I needed to recover from what my own monster encounter scarred me with. And I was able to eventually laugh at the things that had been tearing me apart. I think fiction like that, frank, honest, and clearly guiding the reader towards the right path is what is most needed in YA literature.

Again, I think my weakness for absurd and chaotic humor is both a weakness and a strength. We all need to laugh more and suffer less. And we don’t get there by avoiding our problems in life, but by fighting through them to the other side.

I am not fool enough to think I know all the answers. In fact, there are lots of things I know I don’t know anything at all about.

I don’t know what causes people to vote Republican. I don’t know if we can ever achieve a real, space-faring Buck Rodgers life. And I apparently don’t know the first thing about successfully marketing self-published books. But I know the problems are there. I see them in my magnifying glass. And I am working on them. I will get better.

Me back in the days when I actually knew what I was doing.

Leave a comment

Filed under autobiography, commentary, feeling sorry for myself, humor, Mickey, monsters, writing teacher

Mickey the Decider

Yes, I know, you expect this title to be a joke. When Mickey says “decider,” he must mean he takes cider out of things. As in, “Mickey will decider those bottles of apple cider.” Well, hey, that is a pretty good joke in terms of what Mickey finds humorous in his crazy little super-corny brain. But this essay is about being decisive. You know, that quality about being able to make a decision. Preferably not a horrible decision. But a decision never-the-less.

I have made some pretty firm decisions recently. Hopefully good ones.

For one thing, I have decided I am going to make the trip to Iowa this summer… even if I have to drive the whole seven hundred miles myself… by myself. The rest of the family has jobs to worry about, car-insurance mandates to follow, and other plans. But I haven’t been home in over two years. The pandemic has taken its toll on me, and I have decided not to yield anything more to it. I wasn’t there for Dad’s funeral. I will be there to visit his gravestone and talk to him again.

Another recent good decision was to get fully vaccinated so that I could contemplate doing that very thing. Two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and protection for my diabetic heart and lungs. I can’t take regular flu vaccine due to complications, but I am not an anti-vaxer. Mickey has beaten Covid.

I have also decided that I will become a member of the AANR (American Association for Nude Recreation,) Yes, Mickey has decided 64 years of trying to resist becoming a nudist is at an end. I have been in the closet about having a naturist’s heart for too long. It’s time to come out of the closet. Of course it may never again mean getting my old carcass out to a nudist park or a nude bike ride. Those things are too far away for the most part, and I am not in good health. But Mickey has decided to admit what other people have known all along. Mickey is a nudist. And it will lend some credibility to my novels about being a nudist.

It is good to be decisive, even if it makes Mickey sound a bit unsound of mind. Make up your mind, follow your plan, and be a decider. But, remember, those bottles of apple cider are not good for your diabetes. The doctor said, “No fruit juice ever again,” didn’t he? You better decide to listen, Mickey.

Leave a comment

Filed under commentary, humor, nudes, Paffooney, self portrait