Category Archives: happiness

Blueberries of Happiness

I know I am mixing metaphors again. It is supposed to be blueBIRDS of happiness. But not only am I starting this essay with a berry theme, I happen to be allergic to blueberries, thus solidly symbolizing my somewhat complicated relationship to the state of being truly happy.

https://chopra.com/articles/8-surprising-benefits-of-blueberries

You see, blueberries are full of antioxidants that are beneficial in so many ways that I really need that it seems absolutely a bitter irony that they make me sick to my stomach and constrict my lungs. I used to love eating blueberry muffins and blueberry pancakes, as well as fresh, cold ripe berries. They are good for my strained urinary tract and my glaucoma-plagued eyes. They help stave off cancer and help circulation to prevent heart disease. They are good for your blood pressure. But I also learned the hard way that they can stop me from breathing, a habit I really don’t wish to give up.

Mike Murphy and his girlfriend, Blueberry Bates

It is, unfortunately, a universal fact that no human life ever ran on one-hundred percent happiness. It is not possible to be a living, breathing, feeling human bean without knowing a little sadness… a little tragedy… a fair share of sorrow. In fact, I think it must be a rule that the happiest people you know have faced some of the hardest things you can imagine. My Great Uncle Harry was never able to talk about his experiences in Normandy during World War II. But I never knew a man who appreciated a good joke and a laugh more. My Grandpa Aldrich, my mother’s father, was probably the happiest man I ever knew, but his childhood was made difficult because of his mother’s dark secret, and how his father handled the truth about his birth. I too am a generally happy person. Did you know I have been in a psychiatric hospital after midnight admitting someone I love to the suicide-prevention ward? And I have had serious discussions on more than one occasion with more than one other person who was seriously discussing self-harm with me. I think there is probably no one in this life who truly appreciates happiness that hasn’t stared at least once into the dark eyes of despair.

It goes a long way towards explaining why I included a picture of Blueberry Bates in this essay. She’s a character in more than one of my novels, The Bicycle-Wheel Genius, Magical Miss Morgan, and Kingdoms Under the Earth.

Blueberry blames herself for the death of her mother. She was born a cyanotic, or blue, baby at the same time that her mother went into cardiac arrest during childbirth. The tragedy of her birth broke her father’s relationship to reality. He rejected the little boy who had been born to him because the mother, his beloved wife had died in the process. It fell to Blueberry’s two older sisters to take the baby, care for it, and give it a name.

You’ve probably figured out by now that Blueberry was raised as a girl even though she had a penis because her father would never have accepted the son whose birth killed his wife. He secretly blamed himself because the only reason they had a third child was because he so desperately wanted a son. So, he ended up with three daughters, the youngest one with a terrible secret that she really didn’t understand. And Mr. Bates never really came around to accepting that third daughter either. She was raised by her sisters Becky and Carla, and her Aunt Wilma, her father’s unmarried sister. And it took years of therapy and visits to the specialist in Minnesota who became the expert on gender dysphoria to reach the determination that Blueberry was going to be a girl and would transition when she was old enough. You are probably aware that this is a hard thing to deal with, especially when you don’t have any actual parents to help you deal with it.

But Blueberry is one of the happiest characters I have created in my fiction so far. She loves to draw, especially with colored pencil. She loves her boyfriend, Mike Murphy, to whom she revealed the truth, and in spite of Mike’s struggles with it, he eventually came to accept her not only as a girl, but as a girl he was in love with. That was a choice that didn’t sit well with Mike’s best friend, Tim Kellogg. Tim would have to come to terms with either accepting Blue as a girl, or losing his best friend. And that took more than one novel to decide.

Happiness is like that. The higher your kite flies in the April breeze, the harder it crashes to the ground. And if it is not destroyed in the fall, it longs to fly high again.

Happiness is a blueberry. And I like the taste very much. But I am also allergic to blueberries.

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Filed under autobiography, battling depression, characters, Depression, happiness, health, humor, Paffooney

Love ‘Em While You Got ‘Em

Renfatootie Paffenboingey does not really look like this.

My wife is an immigrant from the Philippines, come to this country in 1993 to be a Texas public school teacher. Like the other members of the Filipino colonization of the United States, she came here with family. And more are coming every year. You go to a family gathering and meet cousins by the dozens, friends from this country, and friends from that country, and their relatives, and lots and lots of kids… that must belong to somebody somewhere.

They get together and talk, tell jokes, eat, talk some more, sing karaoke, mostly off key, tell stories about the Philippines in English, and stories about the Philippines in Tagalog, and stories about the Philippines in Kapampangan, and even stories about the Philippines in Ilocano (but nobody listens to him anyway… He’s from the North) and sing more karaoke, and definitely take a group photo while eating and talking.

And one time at one of these family gatherings, while others were singing karaoke, somebody put a baby girl in my lap. She was Renfatootie Paffenboingey. (Obviously not her real name… even in Kapampangan.) She was the daughter of my wife’s cousin and her Greek husband. She was only about a month old then. My own daughter had not yet been born. She was, in fact, not even certain to be a daughter at that point in the pregnancy.

“You need to get used to holding one of those,” Renfatootie’s mother told me.

And then the sweet little thing looked at me and smiled (though she was not old enough to focus her eyes and what she did was probably more gas bubble than smile.) I am told that you are not supposed to fall in love with other people’s children, so I didn’t. Or I did and just lied about it afterwords.

There were several other times that baby Ren was put in my lap. I rocked her to sleep and sang softly to her more than once at family gatherings and picnics and barbecues and… they do a lot of eating in Filipino families.

As Ren got older they began to call her “Tweety” because of the big forehead and big eyes and the Tweety-bird grin she always wore. I didn’t see her often, and talked to her even less. I really thought she didn’t know who I was. She was not my kid. She smiled at me a lot, but she smiled at everybody.

This is not Renfatootie in her bathing suit either. This is an alien girl in her scaly skin.

Then one day we were at a picnic in New Braunfels where the families were all taking advantage of the cold spring water in the creek in the park on hot South Texas day. I was talked into putting on swim trunks and getting in the water with my kids and all the other kids. Renfatootie had a squirt gun. She was about ten then. And as malevolent as a ten-year-old is made by God to be. Every opportunity she found she used to squirt me directly in the face. And then she giggled and ducked the splashes of my weakly attempted revenge. It almost got to the point of being more irritating than cute.

Later I had put clothes back on and most everyone was settled into eating and talking and taking group photos while eating for the rest of the afternoon. Renfatootie “Tweety” Paffenboingey came after me soaking wet from her most recent dip in the cold water.

“Michael! Give me a hug!” she commanded, throwing her arms out wide for me. I took hold. And the wet little thing soaked my clothes in chilled water as she gave me such a squeeze that my eyes nearly popped out of my head.

“You did that just to get me wet again,” I said, with a smile rather than anger.

“Nah. You gotta love ’em while you got ’em. I don’t get to love you near enough.”

I was not the only one she pulled the wet-hug trick on that day. But she left me admiring her philosophy of life in a big way. I may not seize the opportunity as much as she does. But I have resolved to try.

It’s been a few years since I saw her last. She’s a big girl now. Graduated from high school and everything. But remembering her brings a smile to my face even now.

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Filed under autobiography, family, finding love, happiness, humor, Paffooney

Love Life and Live Happy

I hardly ever have a day now where I am not going through some kind of suffering. I have just been through rainy days that make my arthritis sore to crippling levels of hurting-ness. Okay, that’s not a real word, so let’s say hurtyness… not a real word either, but funnier sounding. I have been through a number of months of budget-squeezing economic pain, not making enough to afford medicine the doctor orders, or even enough for the doctor’s visit so he can tell me what expensive medicines (like insulin) that I may need to stay alive and yell at me for not taking the medicine I used to be on and couldn’t afford anymore. The news is unrelenting with pandemic infections out of control and death tolls rising while the criminal we elected in 2016 screams that it is all the fault of radical ANTIFA Democrats like me (ANTIFA meaning anybody against fascism) and we are entirely to blame for everything, and we better be opening schools soon or he will cut education funds again… and even more… and make us put up Betsy DeVos posters in our bedrooms so she can watch us sleep and make us have nightmares about schools because we had the audacity to be educators and pro-public-school advocates.

So, maybe, you think, I am bitter and hate my life. Ha! No! If I had it all to do over again, I would not change a thing!

One bad kid my first year nicknamed me “Mr. Gilligan” as if I were a skinny, dopey fool. For years afterward my classroom was known as Gilligan’s Island. I loved it!

Two times in my life I have had a job that I hated. Both were teaching jobs. Each of them only lasted for one year. The first time, my very first teaching job, I came back the second year to a new principal and mostly new kids. I worked really hard and turned it into a job I loved for the next 23 years. The second time was a job for a principal who was decidedly dictatorial and hated by most of the staff. She ended up firing me because I liked black and brown kids too much, and it resulted in me finding a much better job which I loved for seven more years. I have never regretted becoming a teacher. In fellow faculty and the vast majority of over two thousand students, I encountered some of the most interesting and best people I have ever known. Including my wife. Now, when pain and suffering are lonelier things to deal with than the hubbub and struggle of daily school life, I have all of that to look back upon and remember and grin insanely about with high levels of life-satisfaction. Doing things you love to do is a key to happiness.

This is called “A Portrait of Mark Twain with Drumsticks Involved”

Another reason I am in love with life in spite of it all is the chance I had to be an artist and express myself through drawing, painting, coloring, and telling stories. As you can see by this blog, I have done a lot of doodling since I discovered I could draw at somewhere around the ripe old age of four. And because I rarely throw artwork away, I have a lot of it to share. Some of it I am very proud of. The stuff I am ashamed of that I have not trashed, I am only mildly ashamed of.

I claim to be humorist. Some of my best stories can make you laugh. And some of my drawings can too.

But not every part of the world of humor is about laughing, chortling, giggling, snickering, or full-blown donkey-like hee-haws. Some humor only makes you smile.

Some humor is gentle and thoughtful, even ironic.

And some of the best humor calls up truths and feelings that can bring you to tears.

But all of us “normal” human beans love to laugh (or even groan about that bean-pun) and laughter is good for us. Expressing yourself through art, especially if it makes us laugh, is another reason I love being alive.

Being dead, of course, makes it awful hard to laugh. This is why I generally try to avoid being dead. But thoughts of death can too easily become a way of life. That is why I try to put fear and anger and Republican Senators from Texas far away from me. They will not take me out of my laughing place while I am still alive.

Stand resolute against evil and protect the ones you love.

And most important of all, you need to love life because of love itself. Now, I am not saying anything about sex here. Not that sex isn’t a good thing, and that it doesn’t pop into your old head every time you think about love, but that sex isn’t the most important part of love. It is possible to love everybody unconditionally. As much as Mark Twain and I both complain a lot about “That damned human race!” we both understand that the most wonderful thing about people is that, in spite of the fact that the word “people” is a little label on a very big thing… they are, in fact, an ever-expanding balloon of infinitely hilarious and detestable and cuddly things that threaten to pop at any moment and spew weird and wild personalities all over the damned universe. No matter how much you hate some people, or even if you hate people generally, loving people is the spicy Italian meat sauce on the spaghetti pile of your life. So, do some acts of pure gluttony upon it, and just be happy to be alive.

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Filed under autobiography, battling depression, commentary, happiness, humor, Mark Twain, mental health, Paffooney, philosophy, self portrait, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Thinking About Another Birthday

I was born in a blizzard during the middle of the 1950’s. Dwight Eisenhower was President of the United States. John F. Kennedy had written the book Profiles in Courage. Elvis Presley was pushing Rock and Roll to new heights. My father was a Korean War veteran who served in the Navy aboard aircraft carriers. My mother was a registered nurse. And all of that made me a Baby Boomer, a Midwestern child of the middle class, benefiting from Roosevelt’s New Deal, more than a decade of economic boom, and I was in many ways truly blessed.

I think the Baby Boomer generation has a lot to answer for. As a group we have not taken our blessings for what they truly are and selfishly did not give back as much as we were given. Self-sacrifice and service were considered unintelligent things to pursue. Wealth and power were the things universally pursued. And averting climate disaster fell within our power. And we didn’t do nothing to help the problem. We actively made matters worse.

Hopefully, however, we have more than our share of people who followed the kind of path I did. I chose teaching as the way to serve my society and my country. I put in over thirty years working with kids, teaching them to read and write and helping them to transform from children into young adults. And I did it in spite of the fact that investment culture and the drive to earn massive wealth tended to make people look down on teachers. We didn’t get the respect and the monetary rewards that we actually deserved. I don’t have to feel dissatisfied with my role. But I do regret the consequences we face because of it. If you denigrate teachers and education in general, you are going to raise a generation of stupid people.

So, let me give you what little wisdom I have gained in the struggle of my 63 years on this less-than-perfect planet.

The only wisdom I can offer that I am absolutely certain of is this, I am basically a fool muddling my way through the labyrinth the best way that I can. We are all fools. And those that don’t admit that do me the favor of proving there are bigger fools than me.

The current President of the United States is a criminal. Even a fool like me can see it. He needs to be removed and the people who have enabled him need to be voted out.

He may, however, survive it. He may even win another four years. After all, the foxes have been running the hen-house for years now. And the party in charge cheats at election time.

We may have flubbed our stewardship of the planet so badly that all life on Earth will be wiped out by atmospheric changes. Fossil fuel corporations have won a Pyrrhic victory.

But even if we have no future as a species, our lives have been valuable. Every child is born good and loving and worthy of love. And even though some are too soon taught evil ways or too soon robbed of their birthright, the story of the human race is a good one. We did great things. We took serious dilemmas and solved them. We wrote good morals, and more often than not, we finished writing the sentence of our lives correctly. We had a right to be here. And even if our collective candle flame goes out, the brief time that it was shining made the universe a brighter place.

I am a pessimist by nature. I don’t expect to survive until another birthday passes. I didn’t expect to reach this one alive. If I do, I have a right to be both pleased and amazed. I can make no promises for the future. But I do know this, everything in the past was worth it.

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Filed under autobiography, birthdays, commentary, compassion, happiness, insight, inspiration, philosophy, soliloquy, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Sometimes When You’re Down, You Simply Need a Clown.

You’re basic clown knows how,

To turn your down to up.

And give your heart a wow,

To completely fill your cup.

But even clowns have rules,

And buttons that you push,

To make them act like fools,

And fool you in a rush.

And when you need a clown,

For smiles and laughs and things,

Because you’re really down,

And clown paint really zings.

But not all clowns are happy,

And neither should they be,

‘Cause life can be real slappy

And sticky, slapping me.

Thanks for all the random sources providing gifs of clowns.

So, when you need a clown,

To pick you up instead of down,

You should pick one fast and brown,

For a clown now rules the town.

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Filed under clowns, collage, goofy thoughts, happiness, healing, humor, poem, poetry, strange and wonderful ideas about life, surrealism

Impossibly Positive

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Impossibly Positive

(a poem about positive people)

Oakie Doak was a positive man,

Who smiled as much as any man can,

And said nice things to girls and boys,

And sour-faced men he often annoys.

The whole Doak family always feel fine,

At tables all made with both oak and pine.

But scammers from Nigeria

Took every dime anywhere near ya,

And the IRS did charge him double

In fines they argued were for the trouble

He caused accountants in adding for

The many dollars he had no more,

Doak told his wife, “No problem, Honey,

We still have love, and it’s only money.”

And when the people he loved had died,

He simply said, “I’ve always tried

To make the best of the time we had,

And the memories will always make me glad.”

Oakie Doak is disgustingly happy

And decidedly stupid and also sappy.

But he lives his life on a positive whim,

And, of course, I really wish I was him.

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Filed under happiness, humor, poem, poetry, satire

Father’s Day

 

For the past twenty-plus years I have basically been living a holiday-free life.  I married a Jehovah’s Witness, and it is an article of faith with them to never celebrate worldly holidays of any kind.

This has always included Father’s Day.  I have never celebrated Father’s Day in any way during the 22 years I have been a father.

Explaining why I no longer associate with Witnesses is complicated and began when illness started to take over my life and my family.  And it wasn’t only my illnesses that took hold.  Religion, to hold your faith and obedience, really needs to keep its promises.  No matter how well-meaning they were in their doctrines, their decisions had the opposite effect on me.

So, a side benefit is a return to celebrating the things that everybody else celebrates.

My daughter is highly skilled at some online Japanese games.  She won a few prizes and had them mailed here to us free from Japan.  The action figure shown above is my original Father’s Day gift, a Star Wars Last Jedi figure in a box with only Japanese product information on the box.

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And because my daughter felt so good about giving me a Father’s Day gift, and is also seriously bangarang at Japanese video games, she won me a second one that came on the Friday before Father’s Day.  I feel blessed and loved by my children.  And, honestly, I believe that is what holidays are actually for.  Even the little ones.

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Seizing Sunday

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Sundays have always been a day for rest.  And yet, I have always gotten more work done on Sunday than any other day of the week.  It was always in the past a day for grading papers and reading student essays.  It was also a day for housework; washing dishes, mowing the lawn, painting the house, and paying bills.

And today, I have paid bills and fully intend to do more meal deliveries through Uber to raise money for paying even more bills.  I have no shortage of bills.

But I also need to “Carpe Diem” a little bit and do some of the things that are most important in life.  And here I intend to confess a few of those things that I consider important.

My wife has gone to California for a week to a religious convention.  I took her to the airplane early yesterday morning.  So I am alone with the kids for a while.  I intend to take them out to eat today, maybe at Braums.  Later, the movie Ready Player One is playing at the dollar movie in Plano.

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You can also see by the initial picture of this piece that the flower garden has zinnias blooming, but desperately needs weeding.  I don’t wish to horrify you too much, so I will not post a picture of me working on the flowers because I have resolved to do it in the nude.  Seriously, have you ever heard of the oriental practice of Forest Bathing?  Spending time in nature, like the time we visited the redwoods in California, really does cleanse the soul.  And because we have a privacy fence in the back yard, and because wifey is gone to California where she can’t make fun of me for it, I intend to get a little bit of that feeling by practicing nudism a wee bit in the back yard.  I know it sounds like the idiot pronouncements of a fool entering his second childhood, but it is really a refreshing thing to be out in the light of the sun bathing in the growing greenness and yellow sunshine.  And I can get a few weeds pulled out of both the flower garden and my soul.

So I vow to get important things done today.  I will seize the day.  And while the things I do can’t all be called work, necessarily, they will be accomplishments.  And I will have done something worthwhile.

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Filed under autobiography, flowers, goofy thoughts, happiness, humor, photo paffoonies, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Sweet Success

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I told you I would do it.  And then I basically did.

 

My daughter and I got it up in the air.

 

The sun, the wind, and the kite all worked together to help me overcome the blues.

 

 

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We got it up so high that all the kite string was played out.

But then it finally came down.

And still…  I was happier.

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Filed under battling depression, happiness, Uncategorized

A Mr. Holland Moment

Life is making music.  We hum, we sing to ourselves, movie music plays in our head as the soundtrack to our daily life. At least, it does if we stop for a moment and dare to listen.   We make music in many different ways.  Some play guitar.  Some are piano players.  And some of us are only player pianos.  Some of us make music by writing a themed paragraph like this one.  Others make an engine sing in the automotive shop.  Still others plant gardens and make flowers or tomatoes grow.  I chose teaching kids to read and write.  The music still swells in my ears four years after retiring.

The 1995 movie, Mr. Holland’s Opus, is about a musician who thinks he is going to write a magnificent classical orchestra opus while teaching music at a public high school to bring in money and allow him time to compose and be with his young wife as they start a new family.

But teaching is not, of course, what he thought it was.  He has to learn the hard way that it is not an easy thing to open up the closed little clam shells that are the minds of students and put music in.  You have to learn who they are as people first.  You have to learn to care about what goes on in their lives, and how the world around them makes them feel… and react to what you have to teach.  Mr. Holland has to learn to pull them into music appreciation using rock and roll and music they like to listen to, teaching them to understand the sparkles and beats and elements that make it up and can be found in all music throughout their lives.  They can even begin to find those things in classical music, and appreciate why it has taken hold of our attention for centuries.

And teaching is not easy.  You have to make sacrifices.  Big dreams, such as a magnum opus called “An American Symphony”, have to be put on the shelf until later.  You have children, and you find that parenting isn’t easy either.  Mr. Holland’s son is deaf and can never actually hear the music that his father writes from the center of his soul.  And the issue of the importance of what you have to teach becomes something you have to fight for.  Budget cuts and lack of funding cripples teachers in every field, especially if you teach the arts.  Principals don’t often appreciate the value of the life lessons you have to give.  Being in high school band doesn’t get you a high paying job later.

But in the end, at the climax of the movie, the students all come back to honor Mr. Holland.  They provide a public performance of his magnum opus, his life’s work.  And the movie ends with a feeling that it was all worth it, because what he built was eternal, and will be there long after the last note of his music is completely forgotten.  It is in the lives and loves and memories of his students, and they will pass it on.

But this post isn’t a movie review.  This post is about my movie, my music.  I was a teacher in the same way Mr. Holland was.  I learned the same lessons about being a teacher as he did.  I had the same struggles to learn to reach kids.  And my Mr. Holland moment wasn’t anywhere near as big and as loud as Mr. Holland’s.  His was performed on a stage in front of the whole school and alumni.  His won Richard Dreyfus an Academy Award for Best Actor.  But his was only fictional.

Mine was real.  It happened in a portable building on the Naaman Forest High School campus.  The students and the teacher in the classroom next door threw a surprise party for me.  They made a lot of food to share, almost all of which I couldn’t eat because of diabetes.  And they told me how much they would miss me, and that they would never forget me.  And I had promised myself I would never cry about having to retire.  But I broke my promise.  In fact, I am crying now four years later.  But they are not tears of sadness.  My masterwork has now reached its last, bitter-sweet notes.  The crescendos have all faded.  But the music of our lives will still keep playing.  And not even death can silence it completely.

 

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Filed under artwork, autobiography, commentary, happiness, insight, kids, movie review, teaching