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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
There are definitely tendencies in those of us who are really atheists and non-believers in our heads to look back fondly at a time when God and religion filled our childish hearts every Sunday Morning. I have been told that idiots like me with a penchant for writing humor ought not to indulge in making fun of religion and politics. But I look at modern humorists making fun of both those things with impunity and too often end up admiring their success. Because, not only does the the subject of religion provide an easy target for satire and mockery, but we can’t really keep something sacred in our porcelain and breakable human hearts for very long without making sure it is fire-tested. That’s why I intend to take a flame-thrower to it in today’s Sunday Sermon. And I don’t mean I will only make fun of belief in God, but making fun of belief in atheism as well.
Here is a piece of music that gives your heart peace that you might need to play in the background if you really plan to read this purple-paisley-prose post. It is Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major, a very spiritual piece to play for peace of personhood and a pinch of paradise.
Now, of course, the first thing to acknowledge in this idiot’s Sunday sermon is the idea of God Himself.
Is there a God?
Remember, I pass the test for believing what atheists normally believe. That should disqualify me from making the following statement. But remember too, I also identified myself in this essay as an idiot. So, I will say it anyway.
There is a God, not in Heaven, but in us. There has to be. I talk to Him all the time, and He answers me. And I keep asking Him, “If you don’t exist, then how can you be answering me?”
“Well, Michael, you are an idiot. And things don’t have to make sense for you to believe them. But also, I am the part of you that never gives up on you even when you have given up on yourself.”
And I try to look as intelligent as I can as I say, “What…?”
“People, Mickey, my son, have a secret power inside of themselves that, when they are in troubled times and dire dangers, they can reach deep into their souls for it and pull it out to save themselves from the situation in the best way possible.”
“So, if people use this power correctly, say the right words and everything, they can save their lives in any situation and even live on after death?”
“I know you are an idiot, my child, but try not to be quite so idiotic all the time.”
“But people who are very religious believe in eternal life of some kind, don’t they?”
“You are not the only idiot out there, my beloved.”
“So, we don’t get eternal life for praying the right things and doing the right things and fulfilling all the elements of the Live Forever Spell?”
“There is no such thing as eternal life nor eternal torment. But you exist. And existence is eternal. There was no life before you are born, and there is no life after you die. But once you exist, you always exist, even outside of the time-frame of your mortal life.”
“That’s why I call myself a Christian Existentialist, right?”
“You are, indeed, that flavor of idiot, yes. But the Christian part means you have to adhere to Christian values. And not the ones Christian Fundamentalist idiots interpret from the Old Testament. The real ones based on choosing love over hate.”
“So, is that all I need to bring this sermon to an end?”
“Well, you should probably thank William Bouguereau for providing most of the internet images you illustrated this thing with. He died before you were born, but he still exists.”
“Thanks, Billy B. You paint lovely naked angels.”
“And you should recognize that this idiotic thing you have written is not a sermon, but, rather, a fantasy dialogue. And then stop adding more to it like a good little idiot.”
Wednesday night, I got to see the musical Hamilton as it was playing in Dallas at Fair Park. I am not sure how I actually got to see it. Tickets are reputedly astronomically expensive. I myself am bankrupt because of medical bills. My wife, however, is not bankrupt, a thing accomplished by separating our finances over disagreements about feeding the credit card monster. Bankruptcy court is helping me escape from the vampire powers of predatory banks. My wife, however, has apparently not heeded my advice about finances. As a Jehovah’s Witness, she is sure the Bible prophecies about the end of the world will rescue her from the credit card monster. Armageddon will happen any day now, and the credit card monster will not get to eat her. I hate to disagree with her about matters of religion. Her faith is sincere, if self-serving. But I think I know the inevitable ending.
Hamilton, the musical, ends with the inevitable death of Alexander Hamilton, firing his dueling pistol into the sky as Aaron Burr kills him.
Sorry about the spoiler, but it has been a recorded outcome for over 200 years. It was in Hamilton’s very nature that he would end his career and life in that way. It was inevitable.
I also took my two younger kids to see the Avengers Endgame yesterday after the Princess’s doctor appointment. Don’t worry. I won’t spoil anything. You already know somebody will die at the end of this movie. And I am not talking about this movie in terms of plot or outcomes. It is, rather, a pivotal point in my own endgame. A couple of years ago, when I knew my fate was sealed by poor health and even poorer affordable healthcare and health insurance, I resolved that I would somehow manage to survive at least until I had seen this movie which brings closure to Marvel Universe stories that I have been invested in practically my whole comic-book reading and movie-watching life. Now I have seen it. Technically that means that I am now free to die without regrets. I have, in fact, been at peace with the idea of my life’s inevitable ending for a long time now.
But if you are worried that I will now just give up and die, don’t be. It is not in my nature. I will continue to fight on. I am on the verge of self-publishing Fools and Their Toys, a critical novel that was one of the stories I most needed to tell before my life is over. But it is far from the last story I have within me. And the fact that nobody is reading my books is not going to deter me. They simply have to exist.
And the third movie in the newest Star Wars trilogy is due to open in December. I feel I am owed at least one more Christmas. So the battle continues. And I may win the war with my final act like you see in the movies. That would be a good and noble thing. I think I have to live longer now. There are just too many goals to be reached before time runs out.
I intend to to spend a lot of time in this essay talking about Twitter nudists, but that is not what this essay is about. A rather large amount of the meaning behind all of this has more to do with setting priorities, what things to pursue, and what things to abandon.
If I manage to stay alive long enough to see the next Avengers movie, and hopefully even beyond that, then I am going to have to budget my time and moderate my efforts towards certain endeavors. Does that mean I intend to give up all association with nudists? Or possibly twitter?
Of course not. I am simply not that smart. To give up on Twitter, I mean. It is an ungodly waste of time. It is a media of questionable value to me because I have achieved no measurable marketing value as a writer from it. I have learned a lot about actual nudists and naturists from it. I have made connections with naturist authors and thinkers and other websites through Twitter. I have even learned how valuable some young women and men find pictures and .gifs of Tom Hiddleston with his shirt off and smiling. I am not sure I understand it. But I have learned the obsession is very real.
And I have come to accept, to a degree that nudism is a good thing. It is way of life that has good effects on the people who participate in it. They have more confidence in themselves. They are definitely firm in their beliefs about most things. They are positive. And they get enough vitamin D from sunshine to be happy most of the time, and are rarely depressed. I wish I had embraced nudism when I had the chance back in the 1980’s. I might have been happier and healthier than I am now. And even now they are a very accepting group of people, willing to welcome me even when I am old and weathered and covered in psoriasis plaques and sores. They are almost as inclusive as Tom Hiddleston fans. But I don’t actually know why his fans want to fill my Twitter feed every day with Loki’s face.
But I said this essay was really about setting priorities. And, like the video suggests, I have to be willing to let go of things. I have to adapt to circumstances and stop doing things that don’t really help me. I have to finish more of my long list of projects. I have to focus.
Uber driving is on my list of things to evaluate and possibly discard. It does not pay well. The accident I had last August was a difficult financial blow as well as an effective confidence-shaker. The penalties for Uber driving become apparent at tax time because they don’t take care of withholding like other employers are required to. So there is extra money to pay at tax time. I will undoubtedly have to continue Uber driving for a while simply because I now have another large tax bill to pay on top of the expenses that go along with the sin of being in poor health. But I will work into the plan a decisive step of quitting Uber when I can and finding other sources of income.
I also have to finish things I have started.
I have to finish paying taxes. I have to finish rebuilding the retaining wall in the yard. I have to finish driving for Uber to make money. I have absolutely no problem finishing writing projects, considering all the novels I have published in the last three years. And I definitely need to finish this essay.
So, what have I decided to give up? Twitter? Twitter nudists? No. I might give up following rabid Tom Hiddleston fans, though.
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.