Category Archives: insight

Softer Sunday Symbolism

Yesterday I was walking the dog when I was approached by a man and two women in the park. They were Jesus pushers. As a nominal Jehovah’s Witness, I am not supposed to have anything at all to do with such folks. They admired the little four-legged poop factory that I was walking. They listened patiently to the story of how we rescued her as a puppy in the middle of the street as cars zoomed past. They wanted to know what breed she was, and how we came to own her and love her. And then, they wanted to pray for me.

Jesus pushers! Just like the door-to-door work the Witnesses do, they want you to learn to pray their way and believe their truths.

I shared with them that I was a Christian Existentialist, and that could easily be interpreted as saying that I was an atheist who believes in God. And I admitted to them that I have a personal relationship with God and talk to him constantly. I admitted that in hard times I don’t merely rely on science for comfort. I do know what grace really means. “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me,” says the Psalmist David. (The shepherd uses the rod to guide the flock and the shepherd’s crook to rescue the stranded and endangered one.)

It is not in me to turn away true believers, even if I cannot accept the tenets of their faith. I let the Witnesses down. But I am no more a Witness anymore than I am one of whatever flavor of fundamentalist Christian they are.

So, they prayed for me… my poor health, my financial difficulties, and my little dog too. Their prayers touched me. Though I believe they needed the prayers more than I did. They were proving their faith to their God after all.

My own faith, my own spirituality is fundamentally simpler than theirs.

I am a part of the universe, and the universe is all that is relevant, all that there is. The universe is God. And I know my place in the universe. It is as simple as that. When I die, I will still be a part of the universe. I don’t need to live forever. Death is not the end. But it is not the end because when you finish reading and close a book, the book does not cease to exist. Past, present, and future are all one. The book can be opened again.

I appreciate that they wanted to offer me “the good news” and give me comfort. But I don’t need the forgiveness of sins they offer. I have forgiven myself, just as I have forgiven all who have ever sinned against me. I am at peace. Life is good while I have it. I thanked them and wished them well.

And that’s what Sunday means to me.

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Filed under insight, inspiration, philosophy, religion

The Sedentary Stradivarius

The greatest tragedy known to man is the finely-tuned instrument that is merely sitting, barely active, when instead it should be soaring to heights never seen before.

It is a real shame that so much of human endeavor is bent towards the accumulation of wealth… And when the lucky few reach the pinnacle of that wealth-acquisition, measured in billions, they choose to hoard it and salt it away for their own exclusive use rather than solve problems like poverty, hunger, ignorance, pollution, violence, and want. The act of creation, being musical, artistic, literary, or profound, is given so little value that the idea of the starving artist is an idea that exists in every head.

I fear that far too many people don’t t truly understand what value means. For life to be worth living, you have to have priorities that justify mankind’s very existence. Surely we were not created… by either God or an indifferent random universe… to merely exist like the blue-green lichen that graces the bark of a rotting stump, or to elect Donald Trump as President just so we can see smarty-pants liberal elitists chopped down by a corrupt plague of racist frogs. The tragedy lies in the knowing… or the not knowing.

Perhaps you recognize Beethoven’s 9th Symphony when you hear the Dah-Dah-Dah-Dummm! of death knocking in that familiar musical phrase. But do you recognize the pastoral beauty of the sunshine-and-rain-filled 5th Symphony? Or have you heard the sorrow and the striving of daily life in the city streets depicted in the 7th Symphony (offered above)? If not, why not? How can you listen to any of it and not hear the many underlined reasons that it is considered among the greatest music ever created? And that by a man who was mildly insane and eventually stone deaf, unable to hear his own music anywhere but in his imagination?

I have reached a point in my life that I cannot do much beyond sit and think such thoughts. I am limited in how I can move and what work I can do by my ever-more-painful arthritis, stinging me in every joint. I am also limited by lack of money in where I can go and what I can afford to do. But I refuse to be that finely-tuned instrument that does not make much in the way of music. Hence, an essay like this one today. It is me, using my words to the best of my ability, to fill the sky with hopelessly beautiful attempts at making the stars twinkle.

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Filed under artwork, classical music, commentary, feeling sorry for myself, insight, Paffooney, philosophy, review of music

On Thanksgiving

It was a lonely day. My family was away. My Thanksgiving dinner was purchased at the drive-thru at Jack in the Box. Just me and the dog, hanging out with Netflix. I watched what I wanted to. The dog complained there were no dogs in the shows. There was a monkey. But that didn’t impress the dog.

I have had time to write. And I have made progress. I reached 35,000 words on my work-in-progress. I watched a really good movie in the theater in Lewisville.

But what am I truly thankful for?

My wife and I are headed towards separation. I am bankrupt and must pay off my bankruptcy in the next two and a half years. I am in terrible health. I am forced to earn extra money in order to keep making all the payments I must make. Working is hard because my diabetes and arthritis both interfere. No one reads my books beyond a few random discoverers of the power of the stories I tell. And it all will probably end sooner rather than later. I may be developing cancer again. Diabetes may be wrecking my heart, or possibly setting me up for a stroke. It will all be over soon… probably.

But my hardships are what I am thankful for.

Pain reminds me that I am still alive, and dealing with pain makes me stronger to live a little longer.

Sadness reminds me that there are people and endeavors that I truly love and care deeply about. My sadness is proof that I have really known love.

Being poor and nearly destitute reminds me to take stock of all I do have, and to make the wisest possible use of all that is left to me.

I am not homeless.

I have a wife and kids. My parents are both still alive. My brother and my two sisters are still thriving. The dog still loves me. Some of my people do too.

I am free to think and feel and be… no matter what the thoughts and feelings and facts of my being are.

It is true that some people are luckier than I, have more than I do. But more people are given a lot less in life. And what I am truly thankful for is the greatest gift I have been given. I have the honor of being me, and I actually know what that means, who that person is. That is a rare and priceless gift.

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Filed under being alone, feeling sorry for myself, finding love, insight

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

How to Talk to Real People

While visiting in Iowa, I ran into an old high school friend at a local eatery. I remember how in high school and junior high, I played basketball on the same team with him, I listened to his exaggerations about a probably non-existent sex life, and helped him on one or two occasions to get answers on Math homework (even then the teacher in me wouldn’t let me just give him the answers, I always made him work out the answers step by step).

Now he is a judgmental and basically crabby old coot. He is a Trump supporter, hater of immigrants who take American jobs, and an unpleasant arguer of politics. And the sorest point about his intractable coot-i-ness is the fact that, as a classmate, he is the same age as me and I am, therefore, just as intractably coot-y as he is.

So, how exactly do you talk to a mean old coot?

Well, you have to begin by realizing that it is not like the dialogue in a novel or TV show. This is a real person I was talking to. So, I had to proceed by accepting that he thinks I am an idiot and anything I say and think is wrong. Not merely wrong, but “That’s un-American and will lead to a communist takeover of our beloved country!” sort of wrong. I can then laugh off numerous Neo-Nazi assertions by him, make snarky comments about his praises for the criminal president, and generally get along with him like old friends almost always do. I play my part just as furiously as he plays his, and we both enjoy the heck out of it.

We are both of us crazy old coots, likely to say just about anything to get the other one’s goat. Getting goats is apparently vital to the conversations of real people. But we have more in common than we have as differences. We don’t keep score in our world-shaking debates, nor do we count how many goats we get. And that is how you talk to real people.

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Filed under characters, humor, insight, oldies, Paffooney

Writing with Fire

The old saying goes, “If you play with fire, sooner or later you will get burned.”

But I am not playing. I am writing. With fire.

The criminal we elected president knows what I am talking about. He speaks at rallies with fire. Currently he is trying to demonize Representative Ilhan Omar and the Squad, the four freshman Congresswomen of color whom he said were unpatriotic, enemies of our democracy, and should go home to their countries filled with crime, poverty, and communism. Of course, the Congresswomen are all American Citizens. Three of them were born here. This is actually the country they are from. So, this is an example of the kind of verbal fire that needs to be put out with cold water. Preferably before some enraged Trumpist actually assassinates a member of the Squad. The fire he spews is destructive and evil.

But, truly, the way to fight fire is with fire. Firemen use a fire-break to interrupt the path of the fire. You can bulldoze or chop the wood in the way of the fire. Or you can burn it in the opposite direction. Many forest fires are ended in this way.

And I have been writing my fiction with fire. Controversial issues taken head on and given a clarity that burns brightly enough to leave burn marks on the psyche and write messages in ash on the heart of the reader. This is why beloved characters die in fictional stories and bad things happen to good people… to make a lasting scar or burn on the idea-collections in the readers’ brains.

I have in the past few novels written about sexual assault, attempted rape, murder, greed, brutality, excessive anger, and the current work-in-progress tackles suicide. And I battle these raging fires with positive fires set from empathy, community and familial love, preserverance, determination, and simple faith. I am trying to fight fire with a better fire, destructive fire replaced by zeal.

Okay. So, I’m an idiot, expressing foolish ideas with loopy metaphors. But I can make you think. And thinking is electrical fire in the brain. And I have been steadily pouring gas on that word-fire.

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Filed under commentary, insight, metaphor, Paffooney, politics, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Spinning Wheels of Thought

Picture borrowed from; https://www.townsends.us/products/colonial-spinning-wheel-sp378-p-874

I start today with nothing in my head to write about. I guess I can say that with regularity most days of the writing week. Sundays in particular are filled with no useful ideas of any kind. But I have a certain talent for spinning. As Rumpelstiltskin had a talent for spinning straw into gold, I take the simple threads of ideas leaking out of my ears and spin them into yarns that become whole stories-full of something to say. And it is not something out of mere nothing. There is magic in spinning wheels. They take something ordinary and incomplete, and turn it into substantial threads useful for further weaving.

Of course the spinning wheel is just a metaphor here for the craft of writing. And it is a craft, requiring definable skills that go well beyond merely knowing some words and how to spell them.

My own original illustration.

The first skill is, of course, idea generation. You have to come up with the central notion to concoct the potion. In this case today, that is, of course, the metaphor of using the writing process as a spinning wheel for turning straw into gold. But once that is wound onto the spindle, you begin to spin yarn only if you follow the correct procedure. Structuring the essay or story is the next critical skill.

Since this is a didactic essay about the writing process I opened it with a strong lead that defined the purpose of the essay and explained the central metaphor. Then I proceeded to break down the basic skills for writing an essay with orderly explanations of them, laced with distracting images to keep you from dying of boredom while reading this, a very real danger that may actually have killed a large number of the students in my writing classes over the years (although they still appeared to be alive on the outside).

My mother’s spinning wheel, used to make threads for use in porcelain doll-making, and as a prop for displaying dolls.

As I proceed through the essay, I am stopping constantly to revise and edit, makeing sure to correct errors and grammar, as well as spending fifteen minutes searching for the picture of my mother’s spinning wheel used directly above. Notice, too, I deliberately left the spelling-error typo of “making” to emphasize the idea that revising and proof-reading are two different things that often occur at the same time, though they are very different skills.

And as I reach the conclusion, it may be obvious that my spinning wheel of thought today spun out some pure gold. Or, more likely, it may have spun out useless and boring drehk. Or boring average stuff. But I used the spinning wheel correctly regardless of your opinion of the sparkle of my gold.

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Filed under humor, insight, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life, teaching, Uncategorized, writing, writing teacher