Category Archives: empathy

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 of 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.

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A Few Feet Apart

My second cousin in Iowa (daughter of my grandmother’s youngest brother and the oldest kid at the family Thanksgiving dinner in 1966 because she was two years older than me) is still in the hospital with the Delta Variant of Covid 19. She is apparently going to survive, but she is one of the many unvaccinated people causing the present surge in cases simply because she’s a loyal Republican Trumpkin who believes Fox News when it tells them that vaccinations violate their Constitutional rights and basic sacred Freedoms (as screamed by Senator Ted Cruz pretending to be William Wallace, but actually sounding more like comedian Wally Cox.)

I don’t believe that people have a Constitutional right to potentially infect people who can’t get vaccinated (like those who are severely immuno-compromised or those who are four-years-old and younger.)

That doesn’t mean I think my cousin deserves to die for her wrong beliefs. I pray that death isn’t the consequence for her poor choice of political beliefs. But increasingly, those on her side of the political fence (…or maybe the political castle wall, border wall, or deadly electrified fence) think that liberals like I have become are evil, communist, Satanist. Antifa, child-sex-trafficking cannibals and deserve to be killed with your sacred AR-15. (If I ate any white Christian babies for breakfast this morning, I was completely unaware of it. They tasted like regular pancakes and sausage.) The anger on their side is increasingly heated up and moved towards violence by their propaganda-wielding leaders. They will tell me to my face that if I support Biden’s political agenda, then I must be a communist, wanting to burn our country down and in favor of pedophilia. (And I don’t dare suggest that they might be prejudiced or even racist.)

“I basically loved every kid who ever walked into my classroom to be my student.”

“Really, Mickey? Even poor black kids who have challenging behaviors?”

“Some of my all-time favorite kids were black and had behavioral challenges. That’s why 2020 taught me to be on the side of Black Lives Matter.”

“That’s a radical thing. You should say All Lives Matter.”

“All lives do matter. But black lives have been under more threat than others. Can’t you say Black Lives Matter too?

I SAID ALL LIVES MATTER!!!”

“But why can’t you say Black Lives Matter too?”

And so the conversation ends.

They hate us. Because we don’t believe everything they believe. Especially the things that aren’t true. And it is only getting gradually worse.

And it’s frustrating. We are actually only a few feet apart. And think what a wonderfully beautiful ballet it would be if only we could synchronize our steps and dance the same dance.

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Filed under education, empathy, humor, insight, Liberal ideas, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Humble Pie

The difference between who you want to be and who you are is humbling.

The recipe for humble pie requires good, clear eyesight.

And you need a reliable mirror that only shows the flaws in the reflected image, not in the mirror itself.

And you need to look at every detail in the whole of you. Even the secret things that you tend to conceal from everybody, especially yourself.

And writing a novel, if you do it right, is a form of baking humble pie.

The good and the not-so-good is reflected in reviews, which are often written with mirrors that have flaws.

But what you see, if you are honest with yourself, can show you that, even though you are far from perfect, you are exactly what you are supposed to be.

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The Curse of the Empath

You will have to forgive me for the nude art in this post, but empathy is something that makes you emotionally naked before the whole world. Especially if you are fool enough to write about it. And I am definitely fool enough.

Part of what makes a teacher good at her or his job is the amount of empathy they are cursed with. I have to admit that some people who work with kids are demanding, strict, harsh, and have absolutely no empathy at all. And some of them are among the best teachers there are, especially if they are sports coaches, foreign language teachers, or math teachers. They put you firmly through the discipline and make you know your stuff. Or they break you down and rebuild you so that you are stronger than before.

And there are those teachers who, on rare occasions, have too much empathy. Those teachers are the ones that cry hard when the principal has to bail them out of jail because they confessed to the crime of burglary at the motel because they happened to learn that Jose actually did it and Jose’s home life is hard because his family is so poor they have a dirt floor in their home and no working plumbing. Jose can’t possibly deserve prison, and they feel it in their hearts. And somehow they believe that, if only given a break, Jose will be an angel. Their hearts tell them things that a working brain could never accept.

But the average to good teachers, the ones who can lay claim to the appellation of “competent,” have to have a very clear idea of what it feels like to be a kid in their classes. They have to know what hurts and what heals and how you have to talk to a kid to make him feel better when he accidentally pooped his pants in class due to medical challenges. Or how to make that shy girl who rarely talks in class feel empowered when she correctly identifies Scout’s motivation when she defies Calpurnia, her nanny, to help out a friend in the book, To Kill a Mockingbird. Average to good teachers always walk into the classroom knowing that every kid in the room is mentally and emotionally naked for most of the school day… no matter how many layers of clothing they may be covering it up with.

And it is not easy being in rooms full of naked kids every day if you have more than the minimum share of empathy. Empathy makes you feel what they are feeling, all the anger, disgust, fear, sadness, anticipation, joy, and sorrow… all the embarrassing feelings brought on by being emotionally naked in front of peers and teachers… and that hot-looking new girl from California. You feel their pain. You feel their awkwardness. And if they are a wicked little pervert, you feel sick to your stomach as you realize you are seeing them as their least-acceptable, naked self.

And the curse doesn’t just end at the close of the school day.

You have to know going in that if you watch that Disney movie on TV you are going to cry at least three times, possibly endure heart-wrenching angst twice, and laugh unattractively like SpongeBob more times than you can count. And those are only fictional people. Curse it, you even cry during telephone commercials. Your daughter tells you about seeing the cyclists in the park almost run over a skunk, and you can practically smell it and feel the nausea in your gut. Your dog whines about the empty food dish and you feel that too. All because of the curse of empathy. If you have it, you are going to feel whatever they feel, whoever they are. Even if you don’t really want to.

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Filed under commentary, empathy, feeling sorry for myself, humor, nudes, Paffooney

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.

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

The Iris of the Eye

Maxfield Parrish = the Girl with the Watering Can

Blue eyes, brown eyes… see differently,

Bur the eyes still see,

Immune to bright sun

Or comfortable with the blue-black shadow.

Whatever the color of the eye… the seeing is the important thing.

Have you ever noticed, that all the best artists,

The ones who see and record what they see the best,

Are now dead and gone?

And all we have left of them

Are the artifacts,

What their eyes beheld,

What their hand captured and interpreted,

In paint

Or picture

In book

Or song.

Or is it only that… the new eyes remain yet to be discovered?

Whatever color your eye is now,

The iris of the eye,

Won’t you look with me?

To see?

What yet we may uncover?

Not as good as Georgia O’Keefe, but still sexy and beautiful… even if it is by Mickey.

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Filed under artwork, commentary, empathy, insight, inspiration, poem, poetry

Truthfully Again…

  1. Truthfully… I am glad I never tried to use this cover idea for Snow Babies. Naked kids do not give the right impression about the book. The snow babies themselves are spirits of the frozen dead. But this is not a horror story. And besides, the title refers to the kids in the story who aren’t ghosts as well, particularly Valerie Clarke, the female protagonist.
  2. Truthfully… I just got another five-star review on Snow Babies through Amazon. It now has ten, with one four-star review. While at least three of those five-star review are honest reviews by someone who read and loved the story, I believe most of them didn’t read the whole book, or only read a small portion of it, judging it five-star from reading the other reviews. Most of the reviewers come from Pubby where they must read a book and review it in four days or fewer to earn points they can put toward their own books getting reviewed. So, I understand why they don’t fully commit to the reading of the whole book. There is, however, evidence that some of them review my books without reading it at all.
  3. Truthfully…As a reviewer I try to read the whole book, even the long ones, before reviewing them. But some books submitted to the Pubby library are written by really awful or untalented authors. Still, I read as much as I can stand in the four days given, and I rate them as highly as I can justify it to myself. I have given only one two-star review, and no one-star reviews at all. But I have had to put a lot of three-stars on books that didn’t deserve it. Those authors have spent money on the service just as I did. They deserve something for their money. I see a lot of books, though, that I know are awful getting five or four stars.
  1. Truthfully,,, A while back I lost a dog here in Carrollton, my sister-in-law’s dog. And I only got it back because neighbors found it and made an effort to get it back to us. My butt was rescued from my wife’s fury by a good lady who found the dog hiding in her garage and posted it on the local news website, having remembered I had been asking around the neighborhood about it before she found it, but not remembering my name or address. Today my daughter and I rescued another fluffy little poodle-like dog who was obviously lost and wandering about the park near our house.
  2. Truthfully… Our effort didn’t amount to much since we couldn’t get the dog to come close enough to check for a collar with a phone number on it, like the last lost dog we rescued. But, as I went in to call animal control, my daughter watched it sniff around, preventing it from wandering too far or going into the street in front of cars. And as she watched it, the family of the little girl who owned and loved the dog were driving around looking for it, and they found it near our yard, called it by name, and it joyfully hopped in the car and directly into the arms of the relieved little girl. I do love a happy ending.
A painting by Maxfield Parrish
  1. Truthfully… I still think of myself as a nudist. In my head I have been one since childhood. But I am hardly ever nude. My chances of going back to a nudist facility and experiencing social nudity again are practically nil because my health is too poor and I don’t know anyone who would be willing to go with me and take care of me if I had a health crisis. And even working at my computer nude in my bedroom doesn’t happen anymore because psoriasis sores itch too much, and I end up bloody with developing scar tissue.
  2. Truthfully… My stories about nudism continue to do well. A Field Guide to Fauns now has three reader ratings on Amazon, two of five and one of four stars. One of those five stars has no accompanying review, but it still counts. Especially since that book isn’t even on Pubby’s book list.
  3. Truthfully…I still interact every week with friends who are Twitter nudists on Twitter where I often lose followers, especially fundamentalist Christian followers, once they realize I don’t treat nudists and naturists as sinners and perverts.
  4. Truthfully… My blog and my writing have benefitted from knowing real nudists, because they are usually far more accepting and empathetic than average Christians and Muslims.
  5. Truthfully… I like drawing and painting nude humans. There is something more basic and truthful about it than hiding the true form and structure of it underneath clothes.
  1. Truthfully… Everyone could benefit by telling the truth as they know it more often. It cleans out the constant cobwebbing of the mind by telling lies, both to other people, and to yourself. Even the lies you tell as a fiction writer.
  2. Truthfully… There are things on this listicle that I would not have been able to write about just fifteen years ago. The truth does set you free… Not in every single case… But enough to really matter.

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Taking the Path Ahead of Me

From where I now stand, looking towards the future, I can clearly see I do not have very many more steps on my personal path forward. Good thing. My legs are almost ready to give out. I walk with a cane.

More importantly, as a school teacher, the only classes I will be able to teach are the fictional ones in my books. In fact, if my work in progress is the last one I will be able to finish (hopefully), then the dojo pictured above is the last one. At the moment they are learning social justice lessons fighting sentient vegetables on the planet Cornucopea.

There are many things I can take solace in as I near the end of the road. I outlasted the Trump Administration. (At least, technically, because I am still alive today in spite of feeling ill, while Trump’s run has officially reached its end with the electoral college acceptance ceremony in spite of the insurrection.)

There are many, many former students that still fondly remember the year or two (in some cases three) that they spent in my class.

Mai Ling in the picture with the Japanese Castle is an example. Even though the telekinetic ninja girl from the planet Gaijin is entirely fictional, I base all of her dialogue and reactions on a very quiet but extremely effective girl that I taught for two straight years in the seventh and eighth grades. She listened, learned, and then solved any problem I put in front of her. The last I knew she was thriving in a junior college in Laredo, planning on a nursing career. She will have succeeded by now, and would have even if I had never met her. But she told me she liked my class.

I can be grateful too that I have lived long enough to write most of the stories I really wanted to write. Sure, there are nudists in some of my stories, but there are nudists in real life, and in my personal past as well. Maybe they turn off some people that would like my books better without them. But I have some pretty good stories with no nudists in them too. And the nudists I know are some pretty good people. So, I have a right to be grateful for them. My stories, I mean. Though I am grateful for nudists too. I tend to write like I’m baring my soul. And I am proud of my naked truths.

Tiki Astro is a robot boy, built to be practically indistinguishable from a human boy..

Whatever the near future holds in store, I feel ready. I got my $600 relief check. 2020 taxes will probably cost more than that this year, but I actually have some money to hopefully pay for them. I am ill today. But that’s more often the case than not now. I deserve to rest a bit, grow stronger, and get on with whatever’s left to me.

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Someone Heard Me

My name is Michael Beyer. That’s not a pen name. It’s my real name. And I was a victim of sexual assault on a child in 1966. I know that makes this essay hard to read in an awful lot of ways, but it is something I have to talk about. You see, I wasn’t merely seduced into having a sexual experience. I was tackled, dragged out of sight, warned not to yell for help, and then tortured. He got pleasure from hurting me in my private parts. He made me believe it was how I was going to die.

But I did not die.

In fact, now, almost 54 years later, I can honestly say I am healed. But it took a long time. My terrible secret almost killed me more than once, as trauma like that can cause suicidal depression. It messes up your ability to have intimate relationships. And the hardest thing about it is, you can never really be healed until you can tell someone. I mean, not merely say the words, but have someone hear the words… and empathize.

If you regularly read my blog or my books, and there honestly are a few who actually do that, you know I have written about this topic before. And you know that I have told people before. I told a girlfriend in 1985. I told a former student who needed to hear somebody else confess something painful that needed to be talked about in a moment of crisis. My two sisters both learned about it when I was able to write about it after the death of the perpetrator. And, of course, I found the courage to tell my wife about it before my marriage and we have told all three of our children. You need to be able to speak about these things after the fact to reassure and protect others in an increasingly dangerous world.

But, recently, my blog told somebody else whom I never really expected to hear it. Because I mentioned the incident in Saturday’s blog post called Every Picture Has a Story, and then I posted that post on Facebook, a classmate that I went to school with from kindergarten all the way through high school graduation found out about it and expressed empathy in a way that touched my heart.

The young lady in question was the one I gave a free copy of my novel Snow Babies to because I named the main character, Valerie Clarke, after her. She is a very kind and gentle soul. She has children and grandchildren of her own, and is well connected on Facebook.

Soon I was getting sympathetic comments from other people I went to high school with. One of them was a guy I played football and basketball with in high school. He was an excellent athlete. And he has admitted to me over Facebook that he too suffered from abuse as a child, though not the same kind of abuse I am talking about. Ironically, he too is at least partially the inspiration for one of my novel characters used in a number of different novels.

He was the model for the character of Brent Clarke, Valerie’s cousin and leader of the Norwall Pirates in novels like Superchicken, The Baby Werewolf, The Boy… Forever, and my most recently published novel, The Wizard in His Keep.

When someone like that, a good friend and comrade, says he knows what the pain is like, and he wishes I had told him back then… well, it means a lot.

But, for so many valid reasons, I couldn’t possibly have told any of my classmates back then. My high school guidance counsellor had a long talk with me about it, but I was unable to tell even him who it was or what they did to me. He only knew that I was suffering from something traumatic.

I was suffering from a kind of traumatic amnesia that often sets in with young victims. I could not tell anybody what was wrong because I didn’t clearly know myself. It is a defense mechanism children sometimes resort to in order to preserve their sanity. And though I couldn’t tell you why, it was the reason I wet my pants in 7th grade Science Class because I simply could not go into the boys’ restroom alone during class. It was the reason I called a friend in Goodell, Iowa from the pay phone on Rowan’s Main Street one Saturday Afternoon and tricked him into talking me out of cutting my wrists with a kitchen knife. He saved my life that night without ever learning that that’s what he was doing. God bless people who not only listen, but hear it in their heart.

And another high school friend on Facebook reminded me that I went on to pay it forward, making a difference for students… sometimes even helping them get over trauma as bad as, or worse, than mine.

Facebook is a very mixed blessing. It helps you make reconnections with people whom you haven’t seen or talked to in a long, long time. Yet it makes it hard for you to keep anything secret. Even terrible secrets. God knows, you can’t hide your political opinions on Facebook, or even the fact that you might be a nudist at heart. But if you have been brave enough to read all the way to the end of this very difficult essay to write, some terrible secrets need to be told. And the trauma doesn’t heal fully until somebody has heard it. So, thank you, and God bless you, for hearing me.

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Filed under autobiography, compassion, Depression, empathy, healing

Mr. Don Knotts

Being a child of the ’60s and also being fifty percent raised by the television set, it was my privilege to witness and learn from the master comedian of self-deprecating humor and ultimate humiliation. And there is no better preparation for becoming a Texas public school teacher than to learn how to be laughed at from Don Knotts.

I have spent a goodly number of hours during our recent COVID quarantine watching old DVDs of Don Knotts movies. The last four nights I viewed, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, The Shakiest Gun in the West, The Reluctant Astronaut, and The Love God. If you have never seen them, they come with the highest of Mickian recommendations, “They made me laugh so hard I cried.”

Of course, my favorite Don Knotts movie of all time is The Incredible Mr. Limpet.

Knotts always seems to play a character put upon by life in general, yet always believing that he has the inner something to make himself into a huge success. Every time he gets knocked down he quivers with frustration and throws a punch at his tormentors that invariably hits nothing unless he hits himself. In Mr. Limpet, we find a man so frustrated in his inability to help in the war effort that he throws himself into the sea, turning himself into a fish… a fish that helps defeat German U-boats. He makes himself into a hero, He even finds love among the fishes.

Knotts found the perfect comic partner in Tim Conway as they made The Apple Dumpling Gang and its sequel, The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again. Slapstick antics and serious battles against the laws of physics somehow manage to win out over real bad guys with real guns and horses.

I guess the thing that makes Don Knotts such an important part of my television-sourced education is how much I identify with him. Life is a never-ending parade of humbling defeats and blush-inducing humiliations. I have spent most of my life being one with the little-guy within me, the put-upon fellow who has never quite overcome all the little hurts incurred by a desire to overcome the gravity holding me down.

And in a Don-Knotts world, based on a Don-Knotts movie script, things eventually turn out all right in the end. Mr. Chicken is proved right. Abner Peacock ends up marrying the beautiful girl who is the perfect one for him. The dentist who is mistaken for a gun-fighter still gets to be the hero in the end. So, there are worse things than living a Don Knotts sort of life.

Rest in peace, Don Knotts. For though you are no longer with us, you will always live on in my heart… and the hearts of many other Don Knotts wannabes.

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