I recently got word that my octogenarian father is in the hospital again for the third time in the last three months. I am fairly sure the end of my father’s long and epic life is near. And though I have basically come to terms with not only the coming end of his life but my own life as well, human beings, real ones, were never meant to live forever.
But I do not welcome the coming sadness, never-the-less. There will always be something in the mysteries of death and darkness that is to be feared… and avoided for as long as possible.
One of the most important avoidance measures is to light a few candles. A candle holds back the darkness for a while. And of course, I mean that in only the most metaphorical of multiple senses.
There are many ways to light a candle. I have lit three in this essay. I lit them with my ink pen and my drawing skill (modest though it may be). And drawing alone is not the sum total of the ways a candle may be lit.
Each of the novels I have written is also a candle. They may be useless piles of pages that nobody ever reads, but they are the summation of my already long life and work as a writer. I may not be well known, and probably am not as talented as the better-known writers, but I really do have something to tell. And being published where someone may eventually… even accidentally read some of it, there is no telling exactly how far into the darkness my light will reach.
And the even-more-amazing fact about the reach my candlelight into the darkness has is this, my candles were only lit because my father first lit the candle that is me. As I have passed the candle-lighting responsibility on to those who read my writing, and to my children who have many more candles of their own to light.
I love you, Dad. Raymond L. Beyer. My next novel is dedicated to you. Let’s continue to hold off the darkness for as long as we can… together.
As I continue to draw nearer to publishing my comic horror novel, The Baby Werewolf, busily polishing paragraphs and tweaking the format, I had to find time to do some drawing, some colored pencil cartooning, actually, in order to draw even closer to a comprehensive understanding of the title character, Torrie Brownfield.
I decided that what I wanted to draw was a full-bodied portrait of Torrie, displaying in short pants the full impact of his “werewolf hair” caused by his full-body hypertrichosis syndrome, a genetic hair-growth disorder.
So, I began by printing out a reduced version of the scan of Torrie’s face and shoulders that I created from the drawing I made of him back when the story itself was merely in outline form. I pasted that colored print onto a larger piece of drawing paper and first penciled and then inked the rest of his body. I then used my colored pencils to go all Crayola on the bulk of it, ending up with the complete Torrie Brownfield, holding the one and only copy of Dr. Horation Hespar-White’s recipe book for Magical Airborne Elixir.
Now it doesn’t make sense to create an image like this for no particular reason. Was it just something I was doing to keep my hands busy while watching Netflix? Well, yes, but I did get something out of it after all. I was able to think seriously about my monster theme as heavy-handedly I continue to beat the reader over the head with it. I am obsessed with this particular portrait because, minus the facial fur, it actually looks like and reminds me of the charming little former student the character in the book is actually based on. He was a thirteen-year-old Hispanic boy, naive, innocent, and thoroughly sweet-natured. And he shared with me a history of abuse during childhood. He was not sexually abused, but psychologically and physically abused. And that, of course, led me to the revelation while drawing that the monster of my horror story is not a real werewolf. Not even the murderer who is the villain of the book. The real monster of the story is a systematic abuse of children. It can have two possible results. It can make you into a sweet-natured determined survivor like Danny was, and like Torrie is. Or it can turn you into a vengeful psychotic potential serial killer lashing out because of mental scars and lingering pain. Believe me, I knew a couple of that kind of kid too. Drawing can, in fact, lead you to revelations about yourself and the universe around you. And so, this little obsession has done that very thing for me.
So, I end with this scan of the completed artwork so you can get a better look at it than you can from my crappy photography skills. Drawing something obsessively does have its uses.
One of the first pieces of classical music to grab me by the ears and absolutely force me to love a piece of music with no words was Ravel’s Bolero.
Miss Malek played it on a phonograph for us in the basement of the Rowan Schoolhouse when I was in 3rd grade back in the fall of 1965. Shortly after that, my father bought a record of it for our record player at home. I must have listened to it a hundred times before 4th grade. It was the first piece of music I learned to listen to with pictures creating themselves in my mind. Here’s the basic picture in fact;
Yes, it suggests to me that life is a long plodding march toward inevitable battle, a battle that one day will end in defeat and death. No one lives forever and no song continues without end. But there is beauty, pageantry, and color to be felt and filled with along the way. And the march is not without purpose. What music we will create along the way! It is glorious to be alive and provide the drumbeat for the march of the creations of your soul, your children and the words you come to live by. I do not intend to retreat to the castle as many would do. I will not cower as I await the conclusion. I will march to meet it in a glorious crescendo. And that, dear reader, is what Maurice Ravel’s Bolero is about, as far as I am concerned.
As I wake up every morning feeling more and more foggy-headed and lethargic, more like I barely managed to survive the night, I am aware I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. I even passed out for a few minutes as I wrote this intro. I don’t know how long I actually have left. I no longer have the funds to get tested by the cardiologist, the urologist, or the endocrinologist every time a pain or a lightheadedness concerns me. I may not still be here when morning comes around again. But I fear no evil. When I finish reading the last page of a good book and close the book, I don’t mourn that the reading experience has ended. I exult in the wonderful story I have read or marvel at the lessons and learning the book has taught me. The end of my life will be like that. My life is not one that must be regretted.
The thing about having a shadow hanging over you is that it can be totally defeated by adding a little sunshine. I have never been a better writer than I am now. I am nearing the end of what seems to me to be the best novel I have ever written. I felt that same way as Catch a Falling Star was being written, and it proved to be true. I won the Rising Star Award and the Editor’s Choice Award from I-Universe publishing which has them on the phone with me again trying to find ways to fund the marketing they think it deserves in spite of my total lack of money. I also thought Snow Babies was the best thing I had ever written, even better than Catch a Falling Star. And the publisher I found for that one thought so too, right up to the moment when my curse as an unknown writer killed their little publishing company. I feel really good about Sing Sad Songs as it continues to basically write itself. So what if I never live to see any of my books yield success? The fact that I have caused them to exist is enough to fulfill me. It is enough to satisfy me. Of course, I do have more stories in me that need to be told. That is motivation enough to stay alive and keep writing.
Francois singing a sad song.
It is the valley of the shadow of death, however. A novel character I love is about to die. It seems there are a lot of my novels that end with a death even though they are all basically comic novels, full of things that at least make me laugh. But I fear no evil. Thy rod and thy staff, the stick that whacks me when I misstep and the shepherd’s crook that rescues me from dark crevices, they comfort me. I will continue to pass through.
It is daunting when bad fortune comes in waves, drowning us in debt, suffering, disabling illness, financial reversals, and so many more things I have been through this last year personally, so that we want to lie down and never get up.
But, I am not dead yet… and there is poetry to be lived.
I say that as one of the world’s fifty worst poets who ever lived. (In my defense, I am a humorist, and I write bad poetry on purpose.) My inspiration for the living of poetry comes from reading and living good poetry. I live because there is poetry by Walt Whitman. Of course, also Shakespeare… whoever he really was. And I understand that much of what I have learned in my brief and stupidly-lived 61 years comes from the poetry of the visionary poet I pictured above. Do you know him? If you have never read his poetry, you haven’t truly lived the poetry you need to live.
This poet taught me that “Being, not doing, is my first love.” Of course, if I am satisfied with just sitting on my bed and “being” through most of my day, I will starve to death and not “be” anymore. But he has taught me that what is essential is already within me. There is wisdom and power in Uncle Ted’s poetry. (Yes, I know I am not really related to him, but that’s only physical and overlooks the spiritual.) I must partake of it to live.
If you are bored by poetry about plants in a greenhouse under bright lights, or you can never understand what the poet means when he says, “My father was a fish”, then you need to practice reading poetry more. You don’t truly understand what poetry is, and what it is for… yet.
And I am sure you have probably concluded from all of this that I am a fool and a bad poet and I have no right to try to tell you who and what a truly great poet is. But, fool that I am, I know it when I see it. It is there in the verse, the hideous and horrible… the beautiful and the true. And if I know anything at all worth telling about the subject, it is this; Ted Roethke is a great American poet. And he writes poetry that you need to read… and not only read but live.
It is a time when we need a hero to step forward. We lost one when Senator John McCain .headed off to Valhalla this week. I didn’t agree with practically any of his political positions. But the man stood up for what’s right and what’s wrong. He took stances routinely that went against some of the worst drivers of Republican actions. He prevented them from doing a lot of worse evils. My Republican friends in Iowa disparaged McCain just as Trump did as a RINO (Republican In Name Only). But he stood up for us with the thumb down gesture when the evil Republican Oligarchs were voting to take away the gains in health care that we made under Obama.
It is a time when we need a hero to step forward. Of course, we are always in need of heroes. There is so much in our little lives that depends on the strong among us to shield us from the darkness that fills the universe. And heroes come in many forms. There was a time when I needed a hero to step forward and deliver me from evil in the Emergency Room in Pearsall Texas. I was there because I was suffering from a severe lack of potassium in my bloodstream. You don’t realize how important balanced potassium in the bloodstream is until you don’t have it. The shakes, the pain, the fog interfering with my cognitive functioning would all have overwhelmed me permanently if the banana doctor had not run a potassium-rich IV directly into a vein in my arm and then proscribed bananas and apples in my diet when he let me go home without an expensive hospital stay. I never learned his name, hence the epithet of “banana doctor”, but he was a hero to me when I needed one.
I think the real point here is, though, that we are forever needing heroes to step up. More than once, as a school teacher, it was me who was called on to step up and do the hero job. Talking on the phone late on a Saturday night to a suffering, suicidal teen, getting between two middle school girls and a leering stranger on a field trip in San Antonio, facing down a berserk child with real metal ninja throwing stars in a school hallway and getting him to run away rather than pursuing his target… gawd, looking back, I should’ve been scared out of my wits. Don’t tell my mother that those things really happened.
And maybe that is the only place we should really be looking for heroes, inside ourselves. Believe me, there is no Superman or Wolverine in the real world outside of the one in your own heart. And that one will step up and answer the call if you sincerely need him… or her. Take it from a guy once known in high school as “Superchicken”. Now there’s an inspiring superhero name!
Sunflowers can be beautiful. They are the State flower of the State of Kansas. They are also weeds. I know this because as a teenager I had to walk up and down beanfield rows in Iowa and pull them out of the ground by the roots. They were slightly harder to be rid of than the hated button weeds and cockleburrs that made up the bulk of farm boy plant war enemies.
To be clear, a weed is a plant that grows where you really wish it wouldn’t. Weeds can aggressively take over in places that are outside their natural environment. They can, like sunflowers, be volunteer crops that come up amongst the desired plants, aggressively and with malice, to take away the moisture and the nutrients from the plants you are trying to cultivate.
A picture from Holmes Seed Company… some people pay for sunflowers.
But sunflowers can be a useful plant in their own right. As a farm product they can produce edible seeds, and sunflower oil, like soybean oil, has a multitude of food and industrial applications. Plus, as flowers, sunflowers have a certain hardy and steady beauty that metaphorically symbolize happiness and hope. It is probably the reason Kansas chose it as a State flower, more than the fact that Iowans hate it as a pernicious weed.
People can be sunflowers. I know at this point you expect a little Trump bashing, as both Trump himself and Iowa Congressman Steve King are examples of sunflower people. They thrive where you really don’t want them, and they are very hard to remove from your beloved country crop field. But hopefully, the system will pull the racist weeds out of the soil by the roots so they don’t grow back right away. Robert Mueller as special counsel has his farmer gloves on and he is already going up and down the rows.
So, enough about the weeds.
Let’s talk about the sunflower people we all know and love. They can be weeds, at times, too, but the most important things about them have to do with their basic flower-ness. Just because they tend to vote Republican does not make them weeds. They are all about a primary color. Yellow. That is the color of warmth and sunshine. One thing that always holds true about sunflower people is that they definitely love the people they love, and while living in rural farming communities full of sunflower people, you will be warm in the embrace of a culture that knows how to keep you fed and happy. Yellow is also the color of happiness. Sunflower people know how to celebrate. They get together in large family reunions with lots of grilling and lots of potato salad. They can sing country western songs, and often play the guitar. The women get together in quilt-making clubs that produce beautiful works of blanket art that makes you happy on cold winter nights.
And sunflower people have smiles that radiate who they are in the same way a sunflower does, mirroring the firey orb in the sky the flower is named after.
But make no mistake either.
Sunflower people can burn you with the force of their angry fire if you don’t do the right thing. Their frowns and displeasure can wilt you under righteous heat. And they can do it with just a disgusted look, leaving you as sunburned as a day at the nude beach without sunscreen. They can take root in your life and take hold in a way that eventually takes over, like the sunflowers dominating the flower garden. You had better pay heed, or your other blossoms are lost to you.
Well, that being said, I’ve already written too many words about it for today. I know many sunflower people. I live with some and was raised by others. And you are probably surrounded by similar blooms yourself.