Category Archives: education

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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The Story So Far…

My life as a school teacher is definitely over. That part of my story is complete. I thought, as I found that driving for Uber to earn extra money was becoming too difficult to do, that maybe I could get healthy enough to be a substitute teacher again. Money-wise it makes sense. Three days of substituting in a single week would easily surpass my best days as an Uber driver. And they correctly figure withholding for tax purposes, something that neither my teacher pension nor my Uber account seem capable of doing. I face tax penalties again for 2018.

But my health never seems to stabilize since the car accident in August. Of course, that figures too since my diabetes has gotten worse, insulin has gotten more expensive, and my personal economy tanks monthly. So I have to let go of teacher daydreams. Those chapters are now closed. I must read on more slowly and carefully in the Book of Life.

The Wings of Imagination

The way forward is now through being a story-teller. Writing and drawing are things that I can do without leaving the house, sometimes without even getting out of bed. I know that becoming even more sedentary is basically a slow death sentence. But my arthritis, COPD, and diabetes have all worked hand-in-hand to reduce my mobility. They also make driving more dangerous. So, slowing down probably reduces the chances of sudden and destructive death. And I have never been more prolific in my writing.

Davalon the Telleron alien, Anneliese the gingerbread girl, and Francois Martin the Sad Clown Singer

I have published eight novels. They are, in order of publication, Catch a Falling Star, Magical Miss Morgan, Stardusters and Space Lizards, Snow Babies, Superchicken, The Bicycle-Wheel Genius,  Recipes for Gingerbread Children, and The Baby Werewolf. Number nine, Sing Sad Songs, is in the revision and editing stage and will be completed early in 2019. I have When the Captain Came Calling well under way, though the end is not yet in sight. And I recently began work on the rough draft of Fools and Their Toys. I am also working to finish my graphic novel, Hidden Kingdom.

These novels of mine will probably never generate meaningful money in my lifetime, but the creation of them feels like the fulfillment of my life’s arc. I spent four decades in education, and now I am investing my remaining life force in story-telling, using many of the students and fellow teachers in novels of surrealistic fantasy and humor, giving meaning to the memories of a life spent in service to higher ideals.

Player #3, the powerful Miss Perez

So, there you have it, the Story So Far. I will continue to work on it, polish it, perfect it, and continue not to worry if no one reads it or even cares. It is my story, the story I live to create, and that is all the meaning that matters.

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Filed under artwork, autobiography, drawing, education, feeling sorry for myself, humor, illness, novel plans, NOVEL WRITING, Paffooney

I Hope You Dance…

When you walk to the front of the classroom and take up the big pencil in front of a group of young teens and twelve-year-olds, there is a strong pressure to learn how to sing and dance. That, of course, is a metaphor. I was always too arthritic and clunky in my movements to literally dance. But I looked out over a sea of bored and malevolence-filled eyes, slack and sometimes drooling mouths attached to hormone-fueled and creatively evil minds. And I was being paid to put ideas in their heads. Specifically boring and difficult ideas that none of them really wanted in their own personal heads. So I felt the need to learn to dance, to teach in ways that were engaging like good dance tunes, and entertaining in ways that made them want to take action, to metaphorically get up and dance along with me.

I wanted them to enjoy learning the way I did.

But the music of the teacher is not always compatible with the dance style of the individual learner. The secret behind that is, there is absolutely no way to prompt them to dance along with you until you learn about the music already playing in their stupid little heads. (And you can’t, of course ever use the word “stupid” out loud, no matter how funny or true the word is,) You have to get to know a kid before you can teach them anything.

The discordant melodies and bizarre tunes you encounter when you talk to them is like dancing in a minefield blindfolded. Some don’t have enough to eat at home and have to survive off of the nutrition-less food they get in the school cafeteria’s free-and-reduced lunch program. Some of them have never heard a single positive thing from the adults at home, enduring only endless criticism, insults, and sometimes fists. Some of them fall in love you. Some due to hormones. Some due to the fact that you treat them like a real human being. Some because they just stupidly assume that everyone dances to the same tunes they hear in their own personal head.

Some of them automatically hate you because they know that if you hear their own secret music in their own self-loathing heads, you will never accept it. They hate you because you are a teacher and teachers always hate them. Some of them, deep down, are as loathsome as they think they are.

But, if you find the right music, you can get any of them, even all of them, to dance. It might be hard to find. It might be a nearly impossible task to learn to play that music once you find it. But it can be done.

And if you get them to dance to your music, to dance along with you, I can’t think of anything more rewarding, anything more life-fulfilling. Have you ever tried it for yourself? If you are not a teacher, how about with your own children or the children related to you? Everybody should learn to dance this dance I am talking about in metaphors. At least once in your life. It is addictive. You will want to dance more. So the next time the music starts and you get the chance… I hope you’ll dance!

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Being Excessively Creative

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It is an unusual position to be in as a kid in the school room to be the creative kid.  First and foremost because you will forever be known as the weirdo, the spaceman, the egghead.

How do I know that?  Because I was that kid.  And I grew up to teach that kid.  And now that I am retired as a teacher, I am still that kid.

If there was a problem to be solved, a picture to be drawn, a group assignment that required somebody to actually think, I was the kid that everybody wanted to be in their group or be their partner.  (That time that Reggie and I blew up the test tube of copper sulfate in Mr. Wilson’s chemistry lab doesn’t count because, although I am the one who dropped it, he’s the one who heated up my fingers with the blowtorch.  Honest, Mr. Wilson, it is true.) But if it was picking teams on the playground, I was the last loser to be called, even though I was pretty good at softball, pretty good at dodgeball, great at volleyball, and usually the leading scorer in soccer (of course we are talking an Iowa schoolyard in the 60’s where soccer was a sport from Mars.)  And as an adult, I enjoyed teaching the creative kids more than the rest because I actually understood them when they explained what they were doing and why, and I was even able to laugh at their knit-witty jokes (yes, I am including those jokes made of yarn with that pun).   Creative kids speak a language from another world.  If you are creative too, you already know that.  And if you aren’t creative… well, how foo-foo-metric for you.

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And another unfortunate side effect of the creative life is that you make stuff.  You don’t have to be seriously infected by bites from the cartoon bug or the art bug to be like that.  My daughter is making a suit of armor for herself from a flat sheet of aluminum that she is pounding out by hand, painting with spray paint and painter’s tape, and edging with felt.  After she’s done with it this Halloween, it will go on one of the piles of collections and models and dolls and stuffed toys and… Of course, sooner or later one of those piles is going to come to life and eat the house.  There is no place left to display stuff and store stuff and keep stuff that is far enough away from potential radioactive spider bites.  I have scars on my fingers from exactor knife accidents, oil paint, and acrylic paint and enamel permanently under my fingernails.  Shelves full of dolls rescued and restored from Goodwill toy bins, dolls collected from sale bins at Walmart, Toys-R-Us, and Kaybee, and action figures saved even from childhood in the 60’s are taking over the house and in an uproar, demanding to be played with rather than ignored.  (Didn’t know dolls can actually talk?  Haven’t you learned anything from John Lasseter?)

Anyway, it is tough to go through life being excessively creative.  I have art projects growing out of my ears.  And book publishers are calling me because my award-winning book is not generating sales in spite of two awards, 5-star reviews, and generally good quality, but the only solutions they have cost ME money I don’t have.  Oh, well, at least it isn’t boring to be me.

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Filed under angry rant, artwork, doll collecting, education, feeling sorry for myself, goofy thoughts, inspiration, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life

If I’m Being Honest…

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If I’m being honest, I am a liar.  And that is not really a paradox, because I don’t always lie.  In fact, I often lie in order to reveal a deeper truth.  (I know, I know… rationalizations are simply another kind of lie.)  I lie because I used to be a school teacher.  You know that teachers have to be liars because you can’t say to a parent, “Your kid is ugly and stupid, and I have documented proof.”  You especially can’t say that if it really is provable.  Instead, you have to tell the lie that any kid can learn and do and be anything they want if only they are willing to work hard enough.  And you have to tell that lie often enough that the kid, the parent, and even you, the teacher, believe it to the point that it becomes true.

And now that I am retired and not telling the school teacher’s lie any longer, I have become a novelist, and I have now made it my business to make up fiction stories and compile lies into book form.  And though the people or characters are based loosely on real people I have known, they are really only a narrative trick to make the reader think about and possibly accept as truth the themes my writing puts forward.

(Boy!  I sure am an ugly old hairy nut-job, ain’t I? = a lie in question form.)

But if I’m being honest today, there are a few things I need to say truthfully, straight out without irony or falsehood or exaggeration.  Let me offer these truths.

  • In this political environment where partisan politics divide us to the point of attempted assassinations with bombs, I do not hate the other side of the argument.  I don’t hate Republicans and conservatives.  Some of my old friends in Iowa and some of my good friends in Texas are conservative enough to have voted for Trump.  I do not reject them as my friends because of their politics.  They are good people and worthy in too many ways to list.  And though they may be sympathetic to someone who threatens me because I have looney liberal ideas, I don’t expect any of them to send me bombs in the mail.  That kind of division is the opposite of what we need.
  • I know what statistics say about kids and learning potential.  I have worked hard during my lifetime to create educational achievement in places where it is nearly impossible.  I believe in the value of every student, and some of the worst behavioral problems and some of the most difficult learning disabilities helped me really get to know some of my all-time favorite kids.
  • I will continue to tell lies for the sake of education and art and all the things that matter to me.  Lies can be used for good as much as the truth can be used for injury and evil.  But my lies will always be soap-bubble hoo-haws, easily popped and seen through for what they really are meant to accomplish, never big black cannonball lies meant to rip people apart and destroy the fortresses they live in.
  • If I’m being honest, even though I am a liar, you can believe in me.

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Aeroquest… Canto 39

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Canto 39 – the Wisdom of Solomon

The Palace of One Thousand Years was empty save for five people.  Ged Aero was about to teach his first official class.  With him were three students, Junior Aero, Sara Smith, and the quiet Gaijinese boy of ten known as Shu Kwai.  Junior and Sara wore only silken loin cloths.  Shu Kwai, in the Gaijinese tradition, would wear no clothing he had not earned.  His light orange skin was bare to the single sun, the Old Man.  The three students were kneeling on the practice grounds.  On a bench three hundred feet away sat Dr. Naylund Smith, watching intently.

“I may disappoint you three,” said Ged softly.  He pulled the brim of his fedora down to completely shield his eyes from the bright sun.  His ceremonial robes flapped slightly in the breeze.  It was the unconscious pose of the hunter… or perhaps the wary predator.  “I have thought a lot about what to teach you this day, but I haven’t a clue.”

Shu Kwai had not spoken a word since his parents had brought him to the palace.  Now he raised his brown eyes to Ged and looked at the master without changing his solemn expression.  “Aero-sensei, you are the White Spider.  Anything you say is destiny and probably the Word of God.”

Ged laughed softly.  “No pressure here, huh?”

Junior and Sara looked at each other and grinned.  Shu Kwai focused like a laser on Ged’s every word.  The grim boy did not smile or move a single face muscle.

“Well, here goes…  My mother back on Questor used to read from the Christian Bible to Ham and me.  We took many important lessons from it.  I know you three probably have not studied it, or even heard of it, but it was the greatest book ever written on the planet Earth.”

Sarah nodded.  The two boys showed no signs of recognition.  Ged knew he would have to have a sharp memory to carry this off.

“The secret, I think lies in wisdom and discipline.  These are two of the qualities that a wise king named Solomon used as major themes in his book of Proverbs.  In Chapter 3 he said about discipline “the discipline of Jehovah, O my son, do not reject and do not abhor his reproof, because the one whom Jehovah loves he reproves, even as a father does a son in whom he finds pleasure.”

“I find pleasure in having the three of you as my students.  I will provide not only facts for you to learn, but discipline as well.  If I correct you, it is because I know a better way and it shows evidence only of my love and respect for you.”

“Who is Jehovah?” asked Junior.

“According to the Bible my mother read, that was the name of the one God, the creator of the universe.”

“What if we believe in the Tao?” asked Shu Kwai.

“I will try to teach you better, but I will not argue with what you believe.  All I am saying, students, is that if I must offer discipline, it will be only loving reproof.”

“What will you say about wisdom?” asked Sara.

“Solomon said about wisdom… “Happy is the man who has found wisdom and the man that gets discernment, for having it is better than having silver as gain and having it as produce is better than gold itself.  It is more precious than corals and all other delights of yours cannot be made equal to it.”

“What wisdom will you teach us, Sensei?” asked Sara.

“I don’t know everything yet.  I am supposed to teach you about what I already know, and what I am learning about being a Psion.  You three all have the powers of a Psion?”

“Junior and I are both telepaths,” said Sara, “but he can talk to machines and computers, while I’m a healer.”

“I’m a telekinetic and a telepath,” said Shu Kwai.  “I nearly burned the house down in the night when I was dreaming.  I threw a candle across the room and made logs fly out of the burning fireplace.”

“How interesting!” said Ged with a fixed smile.  “You are all mind-readers, and I am not.  I am a morph.  I’m a shape-changer.”

“The best that ever lived, I heard,” said Shu Kwai.  “My father said no shape-changer ever changed size before as you did in the arena against the Black Spider.”

“My father says you came to save us,” said Sara.  “He said you have the discipline and the morality it takes to help us avoid becoming a monster from our Psion powers.”

“I will do what I can, but as I said, I really have no idea how to teach you.”

Naylund Smith came walking over to them clapping his hands.  “That is one of the finest lessons I have ever heard, honored Ged-dono.  Wisdom and discipline!  This whole planet needs that.  If they all had it, perhaps the plague of bandits and black spiders would end.”

“I hope I don’t let you all down.”

“You cannot,” assured Dr. Smith.  “The boy is right.  You are destiny.”

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Miss Terry G.

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Miss Terry Consuelo Guerra

As a school teacher, you will simply have to accept that, no matter what you do or say, some students are going to love you, and some students are going to totally hate you.  You can’t control that.  The only thing you can control is how you feel about them.

She came into my classroom that first day in August, and I knew from the very first glance that she was one of a kind.  She was very angular of feature, standing, walking, and sitting in a very stiff and upright posture.  She did not bend easily, in body or soul.

She insisted on having a front seat so she could learn, and I had to move one of the other girls who really didn’t care where she sat so that Miss Terry could have a front seat.  She was a note-taker who constantly noted practically everything.  I think she even noted down some of my jokes in the precise order that they were told.  Disorder had no place in her world, and she did not tolerate disorder even from a teacher.

And Miss Terry Consuelo Guerra (not exactly her real name) never smiled and never laughed.  So you can guess what my primary objective was whenever I had her intense little face in front of me.  She hated it whenever I made her smirk or lose control of a slight giggle.  And the few times I ever got a real, unguarded smile out of her, she was absolutely beautiful.

The little raven girl would often snipe at me when she answered in class.  She often told me that my discipline was too lax, that the lessons weren’t ordered in a way that was efficient, and that I really wasn’t as funny as I thought.  And I didn’t let that get to me.  I know from faculty lounge conversations that she often got on the nerves of almost all of her other teachers.  But I unconditionally loved her.  And I know I got to her more than merely once or twice.  If we were keeping score, I was winning.  But we were not keeping score, and I let her think she was completely in control of her own education.

Her senior year in high school, she and another girl whom I loved and was also graduating came back to visit my seventh-grade classroom.

“You know, Mr. Beyer, looking back on junior high, of all the teachers I had, your class is really the only one I remember.  I liked your class.”

Naomi, the girl who came with her, was also a little shocked by Terry’s pronouncement.  But she quickly added, “You were the best teacher we ever had.”

“Well, I don’t know…  Yes, I guess you are right,” the raven girl said.

“Thank you, that means a lot coming from you,” I said.  “By the way, who are you again?”

Her eyes got wider.  “You don’t remember me?”

I laughed.  “I tried hard to forget you.  But it didn’t work.  You are Homero’s little sister.  You were one of the best students I ever had, Terry.”

The smile I got from that lame joke was the best one.

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