Category Archives: compassion

An Unexpected Gift 

thor-ragnarok-end-credits-avengers-infinity-war-870508

This post is a movie review for Thor : Ragnarok , though I don’t really plan on talking about the movie very much.   It was an excellent comic book movie in the same tongue-in-cheek comedy tradition as Guardians of the Galaxy.   It made me laugh and made me cheer.   It was the best of that kind of movie.  But it wasn’t the most important thing that happened that night.

20171128_142504

You see, I spent the weekend in the hospital thinking I had suffered a heart attack during the Thanksgiving holiday. I thought I was facing surgery at the very least.   I knew I might have had an appointment to play chess with the Grim Reaper.   It is a lot to worry about and drain all the fun out of life.

Well, one of the things that happened that day, Tuesday, my first full day out of the hospital and, hopefully, out of the woods over heart attacks, was that I received my new replacement bank card because my old one had a worn out, malfunctioning chip in it.  So, I took my three kids to the movie at the cheapest place we could find.  I tried to run my bank card for the payment, and it was summarily declined.  I had activated it previously during the day, and there was plenty of money in the account compared to the price, but it just wouldn’t take.  So I had to call Wells Fargo to find out whatever the new reason was for them to hate me.  It turned out that it had already been activated, but a glitch had caused it to decline the charge.  While I was talking to the girl from the Wells Fargo help desk, the lady who had gotten her and her husband’s tickets right before us put four tickets to the movie in my hand.

The middle-aged black couple had lingered by the ticket stand before going in to their movie just long enough to see a sad-looking old man with raggedy author’s beard and long Gandalf hair get turned down by the cheap-cinema ticket-taking teenager because the old coot’s one and only bank card was declined. They were moved to take matters into their own hands and paid for our tickets themselves.

That, you see, was the gift from my title.  Not so much that we got our movie tickets for free, but that the world still works that way.  There are still good people with empathetic and golden hearts willing to step in and do things to make the world a little bit better place.  The gift they gave me was the reassurance that, as bad and black as the world full of fascists that we have come to live in has become, it still has goodness and fellow feeling in it. People are still moved to pay things forward and make good on the promise to “love one another”.  I did not have a chance to thank them properly.  I was on the phone with Wells Fargo girl when it happened.  The only thing that couple got out of their good deed was thank-yous from my children and the knowledge that they had done something wonderful.  I plan to pay it forward as soon as I have the opportunity.  Not out of guilt or obligation, but because I need to be able to feel that feeling too at some point.

I do have one further gift to offer the world.

20171129_085142

After we got home from the movie, I opened an email that contained the cover proof for my novel, Magical Miss Morgan.  Soon I will have that in print also if I can keep Page Publishing from messing it up at the last moments before printing.  It is a novel about what a good teacher is and does.  It is the second best thing I have ever written.

Sometimes the gifts that you most desperately need come in unexpected fashion.

Leave a comment

Filed under commentary, compassion, happiness, healing, humor, illness, movie review, NOVEL WRITING, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Giving and Taking Stupid Advice

Let’s begin with some stupid advice. I don’t have time to write a lot today because the Princess is ill and must go see the doctor in Plano.  So the advice is; Set aside time for writing and always allow plenty of time for it.  You will probably notice already that I am giving you advice that I am not taking myself this morning.  So don’t follow that advice.  It is stupid advice.  I have given it to creative writing classes for years and thought I meant it.  But looking back on real life, I realize, it has never been true for me.  My best ideas, my best writing, always seem to come in the middle of the pressure-cooker of daily struggle and strife.  I have battled serious illness for most of my adult life.  I have the luck of a man who tried to avoid letting a black cat cross his path by crashing his bicycle at the top of a hill covered in clover with only three leaves each and then rolling down the hill, under a ladder, and crashing into a doorpost which knocks the horseshoe off the top.  The horseshoe lands on my stupid head with the “U” facing downward so the luck all drains out.  Bad things happen to me all the time.  But it makes for good writing.  Tell me you didn’t at least smile at the picture I just painted in your mind.  You might’ve even been unable to suppress a chuckle.  I am under time pressure and misfortune pressure and the need to rearrange my entire daily schedule.  So it is the perfect time to write.

Val in the Yard

This essay, however, is about bad advice.  And I am a perfect person to rely on as a resource for bad advice.  I am full of it.  Of course, I mean I am full of bad advice, not that other thing we think of when someone tells me I am “Full of it!”  So here’s another bit of writing advice that is probably completely wrong and a bad idea to take without a grain of salt, or at least a doctor’s prescription.   You should stop bird-walking in your essay and get to the damn point!

 I know a lot about the subject of depression.  When I was a teenager, I came very close to suicide.  I experienced tidal waves of self-loathing and black-enveloping blankets of depression for reasons that I didn’t understand until I realized later in life that it all came from being a child-victim of sexual assault.  Somehow I muddled through and managed to self-medicate with journal writing and fantasy-fixations, thus avoiding a potentially serious alcohol or drug problem.  This is connected to my main idea, despite the fact that I am obviously not following the no bird-walking advice.  You see, with depression, Bad advice can kill you.  Seriously, people want to tell you to just, “Get over it!  Stop moping about and get on with life.  It isn’t real.  You are just being lazy.”

I have been on the inside of depression and I know for a fact that not taking it seriously can be deadly.  In fact, I have faced suicidal depression not only in myself, but in several former students and even my own children.  I have spent time in emergency rooms, mental hospitals, and therapists offices when I wasn’t myself the depression sufferer.  One of my high school classmates and one of my former students lost their battles and now are no longer among the living.  (Sorry, have to take a moment for tears again.)  But I learned how to help a depression sufferer.  You have to talk to them and make them listen at least to the part where you say, “I have been through this myself.  Don’t give in to it.  You can survive if you fight back.  And whatever you have to do, I will be right here for you.  You can talk to me about anything.  I will listen.  And I won’t try to give you any advice.”  Of course, after you say that to them, you do not leave them alone.  You stay by them and protect them from themselves, or make sure somebody that will do the same for them stays with them.  So far, that last bit of advice has worked for me.  But the fight can be life-long.  And it is a critical battle.

So taking advice from others is always an adventure.  Red pill?  Green pill?  Poison pill?  Which will you take?  I can’t decide for you.  Any advice I give you would probably just be stupid advice.  You have to weigh the evidence and decide for yourself.  What does this stupid essay even mean?  Isn’t it just a pile of stupid advice?  A concluding paragraph should tell you the answer if it can.  But, I fear, there is no answer this time.

4 Comments

Filed under artwork, autobiography, battling depression, commentary, compassion, Depression, empathy, healing, insight, Paffooney, sharing from YouTube, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Dancing Towards the Brighter Light

mr8kecd

In Texas a little girl who has cerebral palsy committed the crime of crossing a border patrol station near Laredo on the way to having life-saving gall bladder surgery.  So the border patrol followed her to the hospital, waited until the surgery was finished, and then took her to a detention facility for deportation.  Wow!

We are a heartless people.  We elect heartless representatives to congress to make heartless laws to punish people for being poor, or not being white, or not being patriotic enough at football games during the playing of the national anthem.  We elected an orange-faced creature with bad hair to the presidency rather than electing a human being with a beating heart.   And why did we do that?  Because too many people were in favor of health care laws and regulations that help people we don’t like.  We elected him to send a message to all the people we don’t like.  That message was, “Screw you, why don’t you just die already?”  We like that message because we are a heartless people.

 

xx5

But while we are only thinking of ourselves and vowing to let everybody else go to hell, somewhere the music of the dance begins to play.  Hear it yet?

Somewhere children are laughing.

Somewhere Santa Claus is real.

Holidays are approaching and, with indictments sealed and in the hands of prosecutors, possible impeachment looms.  The happy dance is about to begin again.

Or maybe it never really went away.  People did care, do care, about the crisis in Puerto Rico.  After the hurricane, Dippy Donald Dimwit tossed paper towels to survivors, apparently suggesting that all he needed to do was that to symbolically get all the people cleaning up while holding on to their own bootstraps and pulling with all their might.  Apparently heartless people believe you can levitate if you pull upwards on bootstraps.  But Tesla gifted the city of San Juan with solar panels and batteries and started set-up of an island-based solar power grid to get Puerto Rico back online in the modern world.  And Elon Musk is taking the steps towards building the future that the pumpkinhead in chief can’t even conceive in his empty pumpkin head.  The music sways and builds.  The dancers circle each other and first steps in ballet shoes begin.

We are a heartless people.  We suffer in our cubicles alone, angry at a heartless world.  “Why don’t you love me?” each one of us cries, “aren’t I worthy of love?”  But crying never solved a problem.  No, counting our regrets and hoarding the list of wrongs done to us never started a heart to beating.  But the music builds.  Try smiling at that hard-working clerk who takes your information at the DMV, and then thanking them at the end for their hard work even though they have to deny you the permit because there are more bits of paperwork that have to be found and signed.  Try making a joke in line at the post office that makes the other hundred and ten people actually laugh while waiting interminably.  Do your best to bring light to the darkness, not for yourself, but for other people.  The music builds.  Do you know the steps to the dance?  No?  Well, the steps won’t matter if you begin to move to the music, begin to glide… And the heart starts pumping, and we begin to feel alive again.  Hallelujah!  We are dancing towards the light again.

Leave a comment

Filed under compassion, empathy, forgiveness, healing, insight, inspiration, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Why Do You Think That? Part 5

On a sleepy summer Sunday it is only natural to think thoughts about God.  And I have to include Jesus and Christianity in all of that meditation.  After all, as a boy I attended Sunday school on Sunday morning in the Rowan Methodist Church and then would attend the Sunday service with my mother and father, brother, and two sisters.  We would sing songs from the Methodist hymnal.

But here’s the kicker.  Over time I have studied and learned science, how the world really works, and how people really act.  I have noticed that most of the most intelligent writers, scientists, and thinkers are atheists and agnostics.  I have had to make my peace with these things;

  • There is no life after death.
  • Jesus may not have been a real person.
  • If he was real, he had very little in common with the Jesus we worship.
  • Jesus doesn’t need to be real to have value in my life.
  • There is no white-haired old man sitting on a throne in heaven.
  • There is no heaven.
  • If there is no heaven, then there certainly is no hell.
  • We are all connected… even those of us who don’t live on this planet, in this galaxy.

So I guess, that makes me an atheist who believes in the existence of God.  And because of this moronic oxymoron, my thesis now has to be; Even atheists have a need for religion.

405px-Saint_Raphael

Saint Raphael

Yes, when it comes to religion, I am an idiot.  Just like all the rest of you are.  Mark Twain once said something like, “Religion is the firmly held belief in what you know ain’t so.”  That misquote, of course, is taken entirely on faith from a vague memory of a passage in the short story “Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven”

Of course, I am not saying that I find no value in religion.  I was associated with Jehovah’s Witnesses for almost twenty years because that was the religion my wife clings to.  They are a Bible-based religion with a strict literalist interpretation of scripture who are expecting the end of the world, this “wicked system of things” at any moment now and go around knocking on doors and giving away free Bible literature with their own Truth professionally printed to save as many of the unbelievers as possible.  Don’t get me wrong.  I have never really fully accepted what they believe.  But I have freely participated.  Their belief system makes them some of the most loving, self-sacrificing people you could ever meet.  They are non-violent and believe in helping everybody no matter how far they have to bend over backwards to do it.  There are very good things in the Bible about living a moral life that are absolutely true and will make you and your children into better people.  But here’s the most important thing about living that kind of life.  If you are doing it for the promised rewards of eternal life, then you are doing it wrong.  The goodness you do in this life and the love you both give and receive is the only heaven there is.  Hardship taken on as a sacrifice to a loving God gets you nothing but the feeling that you have done the right thing.  But let me assure you, that feeling is a treasure greater than fine gold.  That mental state you create for yourself is the whole point and purpose of religion.

 

I do realize that liars are the people most likely to say, “Believe me…” before telling you something is true, but believe me, I don’t expect you to accept my cold clinical dissection of what religion is in my world view.  I want you to believe whatever you believe is true about Jesus, Jehovah, Allah, or Budda…  or nirvana or existentialism or science.  I accept you and love you for who you are.  The important thing is that we are all connected.  Most religions make us nicer to each other and make us more loving and kind, as long as we are not allowing ourselves to fall victim to the dark side that exists in every religion.  When your religion tells you to hate something, especially when it tells you to do something to punish that something you hate, especially especially if that something you hate is another person of some kind, then that’s where Eve is biting the apple, that’s where all the trouble starts.

angelic-inspiration

Don’t let atheists tell you they don’t believe in anything.  I hear Neal DeGrasse Tyson talk about being made of star stuff and teach about the connections we have with everything in the universe.  Listen to him yourself on Cosmos talking about the wonders of science and the human quest to know, and tell me if you don’t hear hymns to God in his reverent explanations.  He just knows God in a different form than you do.

So here is my humble conclusion on a sleepy summer Sunday morning when my meditations drift back to a boyhood of telling Jesus jokes in the down-time during Sunday school.  I am an atheist who believes in a loving God.  And even atheists need God in their life.

Leave a comment

Filed under commentary, compassion, forgiveness, happiness, humor, insight, inspiration, irony, philosophy, religion, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Why Do You Think That? (Part Two)

In my short, sweet sixty years of life, I have probably seen more than my share of movies.  I have seen classic movies, black-and-white movies, cartoon movies, Humphrey Bogart movies, epic movies, science fiction movies, PeeWee Herman movies, Disney movies, Oscar-winning movies, and endless box-office stinkers.  But in all of that, one of the most undeniable threads of all is that movies make me cry.  In fact they make me cry so often it is a miracle that even a drop of moisture remains in my body.   I should be a dried-out husk by now.

de la mano

I wept horribly during this scene.  Did you?

And the thing is, people make fun of you when you cry at movies.  Especially cartoon movies like Scooby Doo on Zombie Island.  (But I claim I was laughing so hard it brought tears to my eyes.  That’s the truth, dear sister.  So stop laughing at me.)  But I would like to put forth another “Why do you think that?” notion.  People who cry while watching a movie are stronger and more powerful than the people who laugh at them for crying.  A self-serving thesis if ever there was one.

open-uri20150422-12561-1plzyv7_a194ba80

Movies can make you cry if you have the ability to feel empathy.  We all know this.  Old Yeller is the story of a dog who endears himself to a prairie farm family, saves Travis’s life at one point, and then gets infected with rabies and has to be put down.  Dang! No dry eyes at the end of that one.  Because everyone has encountered a dog and loyal dog-love somewhere along the line.  And a ten-year-old dog is an old dog.  The dogs you knew as a child helped you deal with mortality because invariably, no matter how much you loved them, dogs demonstrate what it means to die.  Trixie and Scamper were both hit by cars.  Queenie, Grampa’s collie, died of old age.  Jiggs the Boston Terrier died of heat stroke one summer.  You remember the pain of loss, and the story brings it all back.

vign-le-bossu-de-notre-dame-6ur_x43

Only psychopaths don’t feel empathy to some degree.  Think about how you would feel if you were watching Old Yeller and somebody you were watching with started laughing when Travis pulls the trigger on the shotgun.  Now, there’s a Stephen King sort of character.

But I think I can defend having lots of empathy as a reason for crying a river of tears during Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  You see, identifying with Quasimodo as the main character, hoping for what he hopes for, feeling like a monster and completely unloved, and fearing what he fears connect you to the story in ways that completely immerses you in the experience.  This is basically a monster movie.Original-Hunchback_of_Notre_Dame

But the film puts you inside the head of the malformed man, and you realize that he is not the monster.  Righteous Judge Frollo and the people who mistreat Quasimodo for his deformity of outward appearance are the real monsters.  If you don’t cry a river of tears because of this story, then you have not learned the essential truth of Quasimodo.  When we judge others harshly, we are really judging ourselves. In order to stop being monstrous, and be truly human, you must look inside the ugliness as Esmeralda does to see the heroic beauty inside others.  Sometimes the ideas themselves are so powerful they make me weep.  That’s when my sister and my wife look at me and shake their heads because tears are shooting out of me like a fountain, raining wetness two or three seats in every direction.  But I believe I am a wiser man, a more resolved man, and ultimately a better man because I was not afraid to let a movie make me cry.

The music also helps to tell the story in ways that move my very soul to tears.  Notice how the heroine walks the opposite way to the rest of the crowd.  As they sing of what they desire, what they ask God to grant, she asks for nothing for herself.  She shows empathy in every verse, asking only for help for others.  And she alone walks to the light from the stained glass window.  She alone is talking to God.

the-hunchback-of-notre-dame

Yes, I am not embarrassed by the fact that movies make me cry.   In fact, I should probably be proud that movies and stories and connections to other people, which they bring me, makes me feel it so deeply I cry.  Maybe I am a sissy and a wimp.  Maybe I deserved to be laughed at all those times for crying during the movie.  But, hey, I’ll take the laughter.  I am not above it.  I am trying to be a humorist after all.

4 Comments

Filed under cartoon review, commentary, compassion, Disney, humor, insight, inspiration, movie review, music, philosophy, strange and wonderful ideas about life

I Have No Idea

Yesterday I posted a weird picture that I haven’t used before and made myself cry gushers of tears again for the boy the picture is a portrait of.  I suppose it is a catharsis I didn’t really need.  I woke up today with a blistering headache to keep my perpetual backache company.  Could that have been caused by the crying and the blues that ensued?  Probably.

So, I have no idea for today.  My brain hurts and my heart is burned out.

I checked Facebook where I had posted this quote from Malala ;

18010266_1381861871900668_3364135402526601266_n

I wasn’t really prepared for controversy.  I should’ve been.  It is obvious from the guns versus books graphics that it would stir emotions in my liberal author and teacher friends, as well as my conservative cracker anti-Muslim friends.

My aunt, a former career teacher, responded first.  She wrote, “Like the thought.”  She was a great third grade teacher in Iowa for many years.  She loved all kids then and still does today.  I want to be like that in retirement too.

But the next response was from a former high school friend who voted for Trump and hates all the people the Republican Party orders him to hate.

“Sounds great like most sound bites. Much harder to explain and implement.”  My friend, Ali Hassenbutter (not his real name, but this will make him angry as well as protect his actual identity), likes to take jabs at me for being a liberal, and the subtext here is that, even though I was a teacher for many years, I don’t know what I’m talking about when it comes to education.  So, I answered him with some heartfelt teacher-ism.

“I had Egyptian and Lebanese and Arab students in my classes at Garland ISD. They are people just like us. You help them learn English. They make American friends. Americans learn that most Muslims are not terrorists. What’s so complicated about that? Unless you start slamming doors in their faces and treating them as less valuable than you are.”   I admit to maybe being a bit snarky in that last line, but sometimes he gets my goat.  (I know I should just let him have it.  I have never liked my goat that much anyway.  It smells bad.)

A fellow ESL teacher from Garland chimed in even though she doesn’t know Ali.  “And these students added spice in our classroom…  Just like they do in the USA.”  She knows all the students I was referencing.

Then one of my other Belmond classmates who knows and probably detests us both as heathens added his words of wisdom, “The real concept here is that we are in fact ALL HUMAN.”  See there?  The Bible banger gets it.  And I really appreciate when he steps in and tries to make peace.  He’s somewhat nutty at times, but his new-found religion allows him to believe like I do that we should choose love over hate as our default response, even to terrorism.

But Ali comes back with;   It takes both approaches to this problem. But then there is Berkley as a shining example of education gone off the rail.”  He’s at least trying to sound like he is listening to our comments, but then he pulls this old red hot chestnut out of the fireplace.  He offers it like the opinion of the crazy, racist uncle at Thanksgiving Dinner.

“Yes, because it was the teachers’ fault at Berkley. That poor young racist agitator from Breitbart was supposed to have a peaceful forum for spewing his hateful mouth garbage at young liberal college students, and the college administrators who granted him that right didn’t bend over backwards far enough to prevent a violent reaction.”  I know, sarcasm is the resort of the defeated.  I should be championing love over hate and freedom of speech over my personal revulsion to Milo.

My teacher friend had this to add;  “I understand the “right” instigated that incident.”

“Yes, but they wore masks to hide their identity. That makes them automatically liberals, doesn’t it? If I am able to follow Fox News Logic, anyway.”  Sez I.

And so, there we stand, at the very beginning of a month-long Facebook love/hate debate.  And I will lose.  You can argue with brick walls and score more debate points than you can arguing anything political with Ali.  And the frustrating thing is, he’s an ordinary decent human being and stand-up guy too.  Not just a dismiss-able deplorable because he voted for Trump.

is

I have no ideas today.  I have a headache.  If I can’t defend Malala’s heroic logic, then I can’t even argue my way out of a bowl of chicken soup.  Doomed to drown in chicken broth.  At least I will die healthy at the bottom of that mixed metaphor.  That should be worth a laugh.

8 Comments

Filed under angry rant, commentary, compassion, education, feeling sorry for myself, foolishness, humor, Liberal ideas, politics, strange and wonderful ideas about life

The View From My Little Town

c360_2017-01-15-20-03-23-515

An aerial view of Toonerville in Winter 

As immigration officers round up school children and their families blocks from a school in North Carolina, Trump minion Flynn is being accused of violating the Logan Act over discussions with the Russians before Trump took office, and DeVos is being chased away from a Washington middle school by angry protesters who don’t want her sucking the intelligence out the students, I am reminded there are quieter places to go and get away from all the insane noise that is trying to kill us.  Thus I head back to Toonerville, my HO scale model train town that has been packed away since we moved to Dallas in 2004.  I have laid the downtown and part of the residential area out on a snowfield on the spare bed in my bedroom.

c360_2017-01-15-18-04-28-900

I am reminded, as I revisit Toonerville (with the Toonerville Trolley waiting down front from the train station), that I am a humor writer that writes about small town experiences and the teaching of children.  I am imaginative and creative, and I have working strategies for dealing with the stress and insanity caused by all the political baboons doing the politically-charged things that political baboons do baboonishly every baboon day.  There are places to go to get away from the Trump Circus’s endless monkey-house of horror.

C360_2017-01-16-09-12-30-851.jpg

In Toonerville, none of the clocks keep the correct time and none of them agree what time it is.  Certain things are timeless.  The village works together to solve its problems.  What the wits and twits who chew Red Man tobacco down at Al’s General Store think about politics never leaves the checkerboards in front of the fire place.  Mayor Moosewinkle at City Hall has no plans to run for State or Federal office.  (Thank God for that, he’s a nut.)  And officer Billy Bob Wortle, formerly from Texas, has never shot anybody of any color.  The County Sheriff doesn’t even trust him to own bullets for that big old gun of his.  As far as executive orders from Washington go, we mostly don’t give a damn.

c360_2017-01-16-09-13-01-861

Down at the Post Office, Mr. Murdoch the postman has never “gone postal” and wouldn’t hurt a fly.  He loves to gossip, though.  And Mr. Santucci, the hot-headed Italian owner-operator of the Farmer’s Market (who looks just like Santa Claus in the Coke ads, but is one very foul-mouthed Santa at Christmas time) secretly believes that it is the many differences between the various residents of town that keep life interesting.  And old Ben Johnson, the town’s only black man, is his very best friend.

c360_2017-01-16-09-13-23-480

It’s a truly good feeling to live in a small town where all the people bicker and throw fits, but no one would every want to throw anyone out of town.  People belong together, working for the common good.  And it is a rather sad thing if the only place such a town can exist is inside my goofy old head.  But if we bicker a little less and throw fits less often on the inside, won’t we be better people on the outside too?

Leave a comment

Filed under artwork, commentary, compassion, goofy thoughts, humor, imagination, insight, inspiration, Paffooney, photo paffoonies, playing with toys, satire, strange and wonderful ideas about life, the road ahead