I have a confession. I am not faring well enough to continue putting out a page of Hidden Kingdom every Saturday. I know that may sadden one or two obsessive-compulsive fans of Prince Flute psychologically torturing his adventure-mates. But there it is. Arthritis and lack of funds slow me down.
I am not saying I am giving up trying to finish the graphic novel and publish it in some form before I croak (and I don’t mean in the way a bullfrog does it), but the schedule has to accommodate even more physical challenges.
I have to spend more time driving for Uber in return for slave wages and unfair criticisms from dyspeptic passengers.
My drawing hand is letting me down with weather-related stiffness and muscle spasms.
And there are other projects that have to get some priority too.
I am re-reading Recipes for Gingerbread Children, marking up my personal copy for changes I need to make, so that I can re-publish it in better form before I try to seriously promote the hell out of it (too much Hell in anything is not a good idea, so I have to get some of it out).
I am also nearing the end of finishing When the Captain Came Calling. Soon I must think about publishing that book as well. It is turning out better than I thought it was going to be.
And I know that means leaving the poor Rascal naked in the middle of the story, but you never know, he might enjoy becoming a nudist.
I will get back to cartoon page-making as soon as possible. But for now, we are on hold.
You have to wonder when you pay attention to what people are actually doing in this world, if the human race needs to be exterminated once and for all.
I know that as jokes go, that one is a little bit dark. But as we may actually be faced with a tipping point into the funnel of human extinction in only twelve years, it seems to me we are more likely to go down that awful rabbit hole at the bottom of the funnel than not. And that is not a very nice flesh-eating bunny we are going to find in that particular hole.
Remember, please, that I am, in fact, a pessimist, both temperamentally and philosophically. I look at the worst that could happen. But I am chagrined to see that people are actively either ignoring the climate change problem, or working to bring it on even faster by deregulating polluters in the name of making higher short-term profits. So, when the Midwest becomes an inland sea, the oceans rise to make New York and Miami into underwater bubble cities like the Gungans have, and we will have to learn to eat dirt in underground tunnels as drought and heat eliminate farming completely, we may very probably be getting what we deserve.
Obviously we are not taking things seriously enough when we continue to let the criminal orange monkey sit in the White House in pile of his own political poo and tell us things like “The Green New Deal is the radical Democrats’ attempt to turn us into a socialist country!” He doesn’t even understand that the Green New Deal is merely a strongly-worded resolution not to die in a blaze of heat generated by greenhouse gasses, and to be willing to do whatever it takes or pay whatever it costs to stay alive.
Maybe the whole question shouldn’t matter to me. I will, after all, probably be dead before the end comes for the rest of humanity. Like the Koch Brothers, I probably don’t need to fear the consequences of what industrialists like the Koch Brothers have done to our world just so they can have more money to stuff under their silk cushions to sit on.
But I do care about the world I will be leaving behind. I have many children in it. Three of my own and over two thousand that were mine for a school year or two or three to nurture and teach and shape into real human beings. I will be leaving behind a literate culture that I love and have tried desperately to add to. The worst part of that is all the wonderful books that I will never get the chance to read and own and share with others.
But there is an answer.
If we can laugh about it as the ship is sinking, we will be alright, no matter what the outcome.
It seems sometimes, in a Judaeo-Christian society, that we are a constantly being scrutinized by a rather harsh all-knowing God who rewards getting the faith-words accurately correct, to the letter, and the faith-based actions perfect, without a single mistake. And He punishes missteps of word or deed with pain and suffering and the potential of an eternity in Sheol or Hell. And that is a tough God to live with. He is like a teacher who uses his or her God-like powers to reward or punish to lead his students all down an exacting, narrow path to a destination that does not have room for everyone when they arrive.
It doesn’t take long in childhood for a highly intelligent person to realize before childhood is over that this cosmology is actually a load of horse pucky. It didn’t even take long for somebody as semi-stupid as me.
What I like about listening on YouTube to the wisdom of Alan Watts is that he gives us an alternative way of seeing the universe and ourselves. This he can offer through his studies of Eastern and Buddhist philosophies. Everything appealing in John Lennon’s signature song “Imagine” comes from Lennon’s love of listening to the lectures of Alan Watts. He is obviously a wise-guy.
Alan Watts teaches us the pathways that lead to finding yourself, who you truly are, and how you fit into the universe as a whole. When Carl Sagan says that we are all made of star-stuff, he is not only telling us what is literally true, as the elements our bodies were formed from were literally made in the nuclear forges at the centers of stars that later exploded in nova-bursts to scatter the elements across the skies of everywhere. He is also telling us that what Alan Watts says is metaphorically true, that everything in the universe is part of the same thing and we are all one in this way.
There is plenty to worry about in my little life. I could easily drop dead at any time from any one of my six incurable diseases or even the return of the skin cancer I beat in 1983. I suffer from the consequences of disease daily, as I have for many years now. My sins are many. I broke my promise the other day to never show you the horrors of my naked body on this blog. I constantly eat the wrong thing and continue to do things that I know are bad for the environment and the health of my body. I am prejudiced against racists, stupidity, and the actions of dedicated Trump-lovers. In many ways I deserve God’s wrath and brutal correction. I have come to truly believe that climate change is going to end life on Earth. I am horrible.
But I have learned from Alan Watts that all of those concerns mean nothing. I don’t believe in Heaven or an afterlife. But I do not fear death. I am one with the universe. And the universe goes on even if I do not. And I will always be a part of it, even after I am no longer alive. The universe has a mind and is intelligent And I take part in that because one small part of that intelligence is me, and lives in my head.
There is comfort to be found in the words of Alan Watts. And living in pain as I do, I really need that comfort most of the time. That is why I have attempted to share a bit of that comfort with you.
I was spending time with a certain cynical youth who likes to insult me and argue about every one of my faults as a human being, telling me that such treatment is meant to improve me to meet a standard that only he thinks I need to live up to when it occurred to me; Crab Apple has two meanings.
Crab apples (which ominously come up on Wikipedia as genus Malus) are generally mistrusted as eating apples. Alternatively known as “wild apples”, they are often bitter to the taste. Hence, the association with the chronic complainer, the dyspeptic dude, and the hen-pecky female. Crab apples are the fruits of unpleasant people-trees.
So, how does one deal with crab apples? I always tend to fall back on the homily, “When you are given any kind of fruit, make it into pie.” And yes, the links under the pictures will actually yield recipes. I know it is a metaphorical over-simplification. But, if I do not enjoy being critiqued for the hair in my ears and the werewolf hair sprouting under my eyes, or the way I say, “I’m sorry!” too much, I am going to use those fruits to make a pie of surreal comedy in a WordPress post.
I saw a guy on the highway speeding around me at well-over the speed limit, turning around to give me a look at his middle finger, probably trying to predict how many IQ points he will have left when he crashes into whatever is ahead of him that he can’t see because he’s grinning and glaring at me behind him. There’s an apple for this pie.
The impatient clerk in the tax office gives me the “Are you really that stupid” glare and attendant sigh as she suggests that I step to the side and correct the mistakes in my paperwork so she can mistreat the next person in the incredibly long line that she wants me to return to the back of. There’s another apple.
In today’s world, it really doesn’t take long to have enough apples for your pie. In fact, I am looking at a huge pie now with loads and loads of crab apples in it.
As an atheist who believes in God, paradoxes and contradictions are something I am entirely comfortable with. So, it should come as no surprise that I don’t believe in ghosts… with notable exceptions.
Cool song, right? Did you listen to it? It’s a song about ghosts. It’s a lot older than I am. And the singer here, Burl Ives, has been dead since April of 1995. Hearing it today, at random, proves that Burl Ives is a ghost I believe in.
He came back to haunt me today as I am recovering from pink-eye, reminding me of my childhood and youth when he was the snowman in Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer on TV around Christmas time.
He is also haunting me because 1995, the year he died, was the year I got married. I was married to my wife in Dallas in January. In March, we found out that we were going to have our firstborn child before the year was over. And we also found out that my grandfather was dying.
I was not able to make it from Texas to Iowa to see Grandpa Aldrich before he passed away. But he was told while he was in the hospital that we were expecting at about the same time that he got to hold my cousin’s newborn second son. Grandpa loved the music of Burl Ives. In many ways he was like Burl Ives. He even vaguely looked like Burl Ives. And we did get to attend his funeral. (My Grandpa, I mean.) And shortly after that, Burl Ives died and I saw the announcement on the news. This is one sort of ghost I believe in. He came to commune with me as I lay on my sickbed thinking about death. And on a day after finding out that my son, now in the Marines, is about to be discharged after five years and will be home next week. He is ghost of memory. A vibrant and talented spirit of the past who lives on through his work. And he brings with him the ghost of my Grandpa Aldrich, They are both no longer living, but lingering still in the echoes of memory, and still affecting life.
Then, of course, there’s the whole matter of the ghost dog. Yes, I continue to see flashes and images and shadows of a brown dog in our house, larger and browner than our own dog, that disappear as soon as you look directly at them. My oldest son has said that he has seen the very same thing, so it is not merely brain damage or impending insanity on my part, unless it is something that also runs in the family. And it has been suggested to me by an elderly neighbor that two families ago, a brown family dog lived in this house and may be buried in the yard.
I believe it is possible that life and love in a family leaves its imprint in many ways on a house, a home, an inhabited place.
I know it can easily be put down to misinterpretations of things seen in peripheral vision, or even mental misinterpretations responding to subtle suggestions. I doubt that there is actually a protoplasmic or energy form that continues after death. But if there is something there, it is benevolent rather than malevolent. Ghosts, if they exist, are a good thing, not a bad one. It doesn’t scare me to live in a place that has a soul capable of absorbing and incorporating a faithful family dog.
Basically, I am insisting that the existence of ghosts is irrelevant. I do not require the artificial reassurance of belief in a life after death to make me unafraid of facing death. I am a part of everything that exists, and I will continue to be a part of it even after my body is dissolved and my consciousness is silenced. Even if life on Earth is extinguished, the fact of my existence is not erased or invalidated. The poet says, “You are a child of the universe. No less than the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, the universe is unfolding as it should.” -from Disiderata by Anonymous
So, I am ill and thinking about death, for it is not very far away now. And I do not fear it. As I do not fear ghosts. For I don’t believe in them… except for the ones I do.
The picture above is not a recent session of Uber driving. The truth is, I haven’t earned a single fare since the accident in August. Don’t get me wrong. I am still bankrupt and desperately in need of extra money, but I have had a long road of recovery and a serious loss of confidence to overcome.
And the mean streets of Dallas and the DFW Metroplex are easily as hairy to navigate as the scene above (Which is an artist’s recreation of events on Keller Springs Road while construction was still going on due to mini-mudslides.) It takes a good deal of confidence just to make your way along in a car and at the same time stay alive with a functional automobile beneath you. (Notice the little-boy passenger who was actually rescued by aliens rather than eaten by an alligator.)
And yet, you can’t avoid city driving. I have to do it every day even if I am not making any money from Uber. And there’s the rub. I was forced to retire early from teaching because my 45-stop-light-one-way commute was wearing me out. I experienced a black-out while driving to work one morning and narrowly avoided crashing into a light pole. I am not forbidden by doctors from driving, but diabetes and age are making long drives perilous. Signs were pointing to the end of enough energy to handle a classroom too. So, I retired on a pension and started Uber-ing for extra dollars. Any time I am planning to drive and feel the least bit light-headed, I have to change the plan and cancel the drive. I can still drive for Uber since I can drive whenever I’m actually well enough. And Uber is desperate as there is more work than there are available drivers much of the time.
Another rub is the fact that things have changed while I was forced into a break from Uber driving. Uber has gotten greedy. They have reduced fares in order to take business away from Lyft. But they didn’t take that reduction out of their profits. No, it had to come out of drivers’ pay. So, now if I do work up the nerve and energy to drive, I have to work harder just to make less than I did before. And we are independent contractors, not employees. We have to pay all our own expenses and we get royally screwed over at tax time since they don’t withhold any income tax.
I tried to do my first-in-a-long-while drive yesterday. I sat in my car, ready to go, for fifteen minutes before giving up due to “Still no requests.” And today I passed out after breakfast. So, maybe tomorrow, although possibly not then too. I really don’t know when I will see a giant armadillo driving a Cadillac again as I am on the road for Uber. I believe I must. But not today, and maybe not tomorrow.
Of late I have been rather obsessed with the coming darkness. Death. Ragnarok. Mass extinction of all life on Earth. My own situation as a pessimist quickly approaching the end of my own personal life has probably colored my obsession to a very large degree. And I should point out, my own prognosis is not going to change for the better. I do not have the financial power to prevent the problems I already have using modern effective healthcare. I am personally doomed. But even though the whole world seems easily as doomed by climate change, that doesn’t mean everyone shares my sad fate. There are potential solutions to the problem that only require the people who do have the financial power to fix it to decide that life on Earth has more value than their personal wealth and privilege. (Uh-oh… there’s a dependence on goodness where it seems like none actually exists.)
I often turn to science and books by very smart people to give me ideas that comfort me and give me hope. I recently did some binging on YouTube’s Answers With Joe. He does an excellent job of providing answers to things that worry me underpinned with scientific facts.
I have been worried about the environment from the times in high school science class when we learned about Paul Ehrlich and his book The Population Bomb.
Then we were learning about how the overpopulation of the Earth and its attendant need to produce food for all those people threatened massive famine, resource scarcity, and eventual extinction for humans. It was pointed out that, at the time in the 1970s, we were using chemical fertilizers and pesticides on the fields in Iowa to increase yields that would not only pollute the water and air in Iowa, but would eventually make its way through the watershed system into the oceans where it would overstimulate the algae and create an ocean environment throughout the world devoid of oxygen, fish, and all other lifeforms. I could see the threat and the validity of the science that Ehrlich had done.
I learned, over time, that population stresses do not necessarily cause extinction events in a matter of decades. The 1980s came and went and we were not extinct, despite eight years of Ronny Ray-gun, the jelly-bean president, and massive success in increasing food production. As Joe does an excellent job of explaining in the video above which you didn’t watch, population problems proved at least partially self-correcting. Families generally slowed their growth rate as health and wealth improved and made them more productive, more intelligent, and better able to support the heavy layer of living people that now covered the Earth.
Recently I became obsessively and pessimistically concerned with the dire predictions of environmental scientist Guy McPherson. I do recognize that his work reflects the extremist point of view among climate scientists, but ;there are a number of facts that he presents that are irrefutable in the same way as the arguments of… Paul Ehrlich.
In the second video above that you also didn’t watch, Joe explains how the problem of greenhouse gasses can be undone by renewable energy, carbon capture and air-scrubbers, and the search for viable products made from CO2, helping to reverse greenhouse gasses. He also explains how chemical cooling of the atmosphere and actual planetary weather control are possible. Technology already exists to solve the climate problem. The only drawback is that somebody has to pay for it. And the people in control of that kind of financial power are all entitled low-down greedy bastards that would rather build massive survival bunkers in the Ozarks than pay for the rest of us to survive. So, there is hope, which comes not with a grain of salt, but with a giant’s saltshaker filled with rock salt. Still, it isn’t time for all of you to give up. Just me. I am the one most completely doomed.