Yesterday I kinda suggested that the world was doomed and I didn’t care.
In my defense, I have been undergoing an onslaught of misfortune and the endless persecutions of getting older and less healthy. I got bit by a spider and didn’t even get spider strength or any other super powers.
But I am not a double-dark downer by nature. In fact, from early on I was always a creature defined by positivity. I know that seems like an oxymoron, Mickey the Positive, since I am a dedicated pessimist.
But pessimism is only a pragmatic method of always being prepared for anything. Like being a Boy Scout.
I am happy with life.
I am fine.
The world is fine.
The world is mine.
Unfurled with swine
I guess I am still being positive in spite of flag-wrapped pigs. Because I unrolled them and set them free. Metaphors can be happy, good things too.
I was a school teacher for 31 years. It was a job I loved because I loved the kids they gave me every year to teach. It was a fulfilling and life-affirming job. So what if I never got rich or famous? I lived a good life. I did good things. I have nothing to regret. Well, maybe I regret having to give it up for health reasons. I know teachers who taught for 40+ years. And some of them hated kids.
But, in my considered opinion, life on this planet is a good thing. I am glad I got to partake of the experience. And even if we do all die from climate change, it is a very good thing that intelligent life developed on the planet Earth. It is a part of the soul of the universe. And the universe having a soul is a very good thing..
The fact is, even though we face many terrible things in the near future, there are ways to overcome it. We can turn to solar power, wind power, and nuclear power to transform the way we live and maybe save life on Earth. There are good people out there trying to do that I know that for a fact because I taught some of them. You can always take what’s bad in life, and with a bit of work, you can make it come out better.
My mother is having a bad day health-wise today. But she is still alive. And the last two days have been good for her.
And after two days of rain in Texas, the sun is shining again. Life is good. Mickey the Non-negative.
My mother responded well to treatment. Her heart is doing better. Instead of going into hospice care to prepare for the end, she will be going back to skilled care in the local hospital where she can recover enough to be allowed to go home again. It qualifies as a miracle in my book.
In general we have come to expect life to be mostly a compounding of pain and sadness, back-breaking toil followed by disheartening disappointment. But, oh! Those times when we unexpectedly receive by grace those moments of ecstasy and purest joy!
It is like riding a dolphin naked in the open sea. There is a lot of salt water in your eyes. It is hard to hang on. And going underwater threatens your very existence. But the resulting leap into the bright sunshine and bracing air raises the power of your heart to feel the best of what life offers for you to feel.
And it is as simple as that.
We live for love. And those moments when the clouds suddenly part and the sunlight shines upon us. We are, totally without warning, no longer alone in the dark.
So, please, today… won’t you be happy for me? You deserve it even more than I do. Today is a good day. Today there is joy in Muddville.
Every day I get a little bit older. Something new hurts that never hurt me before. An earlobe, a small toe on my right foot, a red spot on the back of my hand… a spider bite on my belly.
Something flits like a butterfly across my field of vision, caught only by my severely imperfect peripheral vision. Of course my keen old mind, sharpened by 31 years of teaching in Texas public schools, knows instantly that it is not a butterfly… No, it must be a little naked girl with butterfly wings. A fairy. What else could it be?
“It’s a bug,” the dog says affirmatively. “And if I can catch it, I’m gonna eat it! I hope it tastes like bacon.”
And then I try to argue that you shouldn’t snack on fairies. They are too much like little people, and you should not eat people.
But she insists you cannot argue about a dog’s right to eat what she catches because there is no such thing as a talking dog.
And she has a point. But she is old too. She’s going blind in one eye with a milk-white cataract. So, if it is a little naked girl with butterfly wings, she will never actually be able to catch it.
I guess I should seriously stop arguing with dogs who can’t really talk because I suppose it is evidence of an old man going a bit loony and losing his mind.
So, I dropped in on my old friend and noted chemist trying to create a happiness potion, Milton G. Dogwhiffle. He lives in that yellow house in our neighborhood that I only seem to be able to find when my blood sugar is a little bit low and I find it really easy to get lost… and see fairies in the bushes.
“Simon, my old friend, how’s the happiness potion coming?” I say in my silliest old-man voice.
“My name is not Simon,” Gilliam says with a surprised look on his face, “But the happiness formula is nearly perfected. It is, however, a potion for turning dogs into people which means they will then be able to work can openers and refrigerator doors which is the part that makes them the happiest.”
“I volunteer as a test subject,” my dog says.
“You can’t really talk, remember,” I tell her.
“It doesn’t matter anyway,” said Ralph. “I am testing it on myself first. I used to be a cocker spaniel, you know.”
And this confused me further since I was almost sure Milton’s name used to be Chester P. Dogwhipple… not Ralph.
So, the dog and I wandered around the neighborhood for a while aimlessly, until I happened to remember where our house was. And that made me happy.
I often go back and re-read old posts, particularly when I discover that someone else has read them. It is amazing to me how differently I perceive things from when I actually wrote the post. As you write, squeezing huge, boulder-sized portions of hot, magma-like burning ideas and passions out through writing orifices not nearly big enough to accommodate, you usually hate what you wrote and are still writhing in pain from the creation of it as you try to edit it, trim it and brush its unruly hair. (How’s that for a mixed metaphor to make you cringe?) But given time and distance, you can really appreciate what you wrote more than ever before. Things that you thought were the stupidest idea a man ever put in words suddenly have the power to make you laugh, or make you cry. You are able to feel the things the writing was intended to make you feel. You begin to think things like, “Maybe you are not the worst writer that ever lived, and maybe that’s not why nobody ever reads your books.” But then, of course, your sister reads the post and tells you that you write like a really old, really crabby, really ancient old man. And you use the word “really” too much too. I know I deserve that, Sis. Especially the “really” part.
This is the thing about happiness; It is elusive and rare as a real-life blue bird. But capturing it for a moment is not impossible. And as long as you don’t try to salt its tail and keep it prisoner, you can encourage it to sing for you. (Much better metaphor this time, don’t you think?)
When I am accused of being gloomy, old, and boring, I can happily admit it and make it into something funny. I am something of a conspiracy nut, but not so serious that I believe all my own assertions. For those people who took offense at this conspiracy theory of mine; Coca-Cola Mind Control, I would like to point out that “Hey, I was joking. I actually like clowns.” Even though there is a serious side to everything and there can’t be laughter without some tears, I am basically happy with the way things are.
I started listening to “Live Happy Radio” on Sunday mornings on KLUV in Dallas. They point out on their program of endlessly droning happy-talk that happiness is something that you can work at. Like humor writing in blogs, it takes practice and practice and time. They even asked me to share the word about their happy magazine and products, so I am doing exactly that right here. Sometimes you simply have to put your cynicism in a jar on the shelf next to the lock box where you keep depression and self-loathing. So you can find their Live-Happy folderol right here.
So I am bird-watching again with an eye out for the bluebird. You know the one. It is out there somewhere. And I need to hear that song one more time.
When you get to be old and burdened with deteriorating health like I am, you appreciate the renewal of spring with a new intensity. This year has been like that. Cold weather and dehydrating cold were worse this winter than I can remember… especially since I feel it in the marrow of my bones now more than ever before. But the inevitable rebirth did eventually come. The apple tree my wife planted in the hope that Texas heat would not destroy it is putting out more blossoms than ever before.
The first flowers to put out their winter-weary heads this year were relatively stupid daffodils. They came out in February only a day before an ice storm came along to slay them for their daffy dunderheadedness. I didn’t take their demise very well. I suffered a lot this winter and was looking for the sun with desperation.
But then, in March, dandelions poked out their bright, dandy heads and decided to stay.
And, though we have had plenty of wet weather and rain, the flowers apparently all had a big meeting and decided the time had come to make their yearly assault and wrench the world out of the hands of Jack Frost and his icy minions.
Wisteria began climbing the back corner of the house. They like to spread their purple majesty out over the area by the cracked and derelict swimming pool. It is moist and shaded out there, somewhat protected from our cruel Texas sun.
My wife’s bed of roses, both red and yellow marched out into the open air and began to dance gently in the wind like grand ladies decked out in their Easter best , showing off their color and their sass for all the world to see.
I am coming back now too… less seriously depressed. I completed a doll collection last week. The educational problems my children were facing are now seemingly straightening out. It is a time of rebirth… happiness… and flowers. My smile has returned.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.