Category Archives: insight

Singing Rock and Soul

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Yes, this is a picture of a rock.  But it is no ordinary rock.  Okay, that’s not precisely true.  It is a gray metamorphic rock roughly square in shape with numerous flecks of white and a white strip along the top.  As rocks go, it probably couldn’t be more ordinary, more rocky in its soul.  But, as with all things in this life, the importance and true meaning lies in the context.  This is a pocket rock.  It spent a quarter of a century riding around in my pants pocket.  I have held it in my hand millions of times.

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The Rowan Community Center, seen in this picture I used for the cover of Magical Miss Morgan, is the last part of the old Rowan school still standing.

In 1980, my Great Grandma Hinckley died.  That was also the year my folks had to move to Texas because of the transfer my Dad’s seedcorn company gave him to its cotton seed division.  It was one year before I got my teaching degree.  And it was the year they tore down the building where I went to school for grades 1 through 6.  That summer, as I walked around the demolition site, I found the homely gray rock that was nearly as square as I was, and because I was already feeling homesick before I actually left home, I picked it up  and stuck it in my pocket.  It was a little square piece of home.

That rock went with me to college.  It went with me to both Disneyland and Walt Disney World in Florida.  It has been to Washington D.C.  It has been in the depths of caves in Kentucky and Missouri and Texas.  It has been high in the sky in my pocket in an airplane.  It has been to beaches on both the Atlantic and Pacific sides of the U.S.  It has visited both Mexico and Canada.  It his been to Las Vegas.  And it even rode in the subways of New York City.

And possibly the most interesting part of this pocket rock’s career happened in Texas schools.  It was with me in my pocket constantly from 1980 to 2004.  I finally took it out of my pocket and placed it in an old cigar box that once belonged to my grandfather and I have kept keepsakes in since I was a kid.

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And I have thought a lot about this ordinary rock that isn’t really ordinary on closer inspection.  At one point or another I thought about using it as a skipping stone at both the Atlantic and the Pacific.  In 2004 when I was considering the pocket watch broken by it and the car key accidentally bent against it, it almost wound up in Lake Superior.  I put in my cigar box and it has remained exiled there since.  Will I have it buried with me, in my pocket?  No, probably not.  My wife plans to have me cremated.  Hopefully, though, not until I am already dead.  This rock has pretty much been a symbol of my soul, travelling with me, teaching with me, jingling the pocket change when I walk…  And it will continue to exist when the thinking and writing parts of Mickey are gone.

But even rocks are not immortal.  Sometime in the future something will happen to it.  It will end up someplace unexpected or changed by grinding, melting, or chemical reaction into some other form.  But no matter what happens to it ultimately, the meaning of it, the context, the places it has been and the things that it has done will still be true, still have happened to it.  And, ultimately, it will still be just like me.

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Filed under autobiography, goofy thoughts, humor, insight, Iowa, irony, Paffooney, photo paffoonies, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Take the Midnight Train to Anywhere

 

Journey back with me to the 1980’s, and hear once again the music of escape.

There was a time when I was young when I did not know where I would be when the next new dawn came.  Yes, I once took the midnight train (except it was a bus) and I arrived in a teaching career in deep South Texas.  I crossed borders into another culture, another way of life, another journey made of words and pictures that hasn’t reached the final station yet.

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At the outset, we all take a risk.  Born and raised in South Detroit (although it was really North Central Iowa) I passed through established procedures, rules, and regulations to do things that desperately needed doing for people who could only help themselves in very limited ways.

Some spoke mostly Spanish.  Some lived in broken homes.  One boy lived for a while under the bridge of the Nueces River, but attended school every day because he was hungry to learn, and because free school lunch was the majority of the food he got to eat.  He got on a midnight train, and I never saw him or heard from him again.  His sister, though, lived with a tia who treated her like a daughter, and grew up to be a school teacher.  I let her teach the lesson for me during one class period, as part of an educational experiment, and it put her on her own midnight train.

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It was a train going on the same track I followed.  Not because of me and what I did for her.  But because she came to realize it was the right journey to take for her.  It was the perfect anywhere for her.

But there is danger inherent in getting on a midnight train going anywhere.  You don’t know who is waiting for you down the line, or what your circumstances will be at the next station along the way.  There may be strangers waiting up and down the boulevard, their shadows searching in the night.  I befriended other teachers, mentored some, learned from many,  even married one.  I had a run in or two with people who sell drugs to kids.  I had all four of my car tires slashed one night.  I had a car window broken out.  I had a boy once tell me he would kill me with a knife.  I later had that boy tell me he had a good job and a girlfriend and he was grateful that I talked him out of it and never turned him in to the police.

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And we end up paying anything to roll the dice just one more time…  At one time or another we have all been there, aboard that midnight train to anywhere.  There is a moment in everyone’s life when… well, some will win, and some will lose.  Some were born to sing the blues.  I have been there.  I have done that.  And it occurs to me, that song plays on in my head still.  I am still on that journey.  And I won’t stop believing.  Because it goes on and on and on and on…

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Filed under autobiography, insight, music, nostalgia, philosophy, poetry, review of music, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Flying the Magic Flying Carpet

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There are many ways to fly.  Airplanes, bird wings, hot air balloons, bubble-gum-blowing goldfish… well, maybe I am really talking about flying by imagination.  The more my six incurable diseases and old age limit my movement, my ability to get out of bed and do things, the more I rely on reading, writing, and the movie in my head to go places I want to be.

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Sometimes the wings I use to fly come from other writers.  I get the flight feathers I need not only from books, but also from YouTube videos, movies, and television shows.

This magic carpet ride in video form is by the thoughtful creative thinker Will Schoder.  In it he carefully explains how Mister Rogers used the persuasion techniques of Logos, Ethos, and Pathos to talk to elephants and convinced a congressman intent on cutting the budget to actually give Public Television more money for educational programming.  This is a video full of warmth and grace and lovingly crafted magic flight feathers that anybody can use to soar across new skies and blue skies and higher skies than before.  I hope you will watch it more than once like I did, to see how beautifully the central explanation spreads its wings and gives us ideas that can keep us aloft in the realm of ideas.

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It is important to stay in the air of fresh ideas and new thinking.  The magic carpet ride that takes you there is the product of vivid imagination, cogent thinking, and the accurate connection of idea to better idea.  So instead of falling from the sunlit sky into the darkness that so easily consumes us on the ground, keep imagining, keep dreaming, and keep flying.  You won’t regret having learned to fly.

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Filed under battling depression, commentary, dreaming, humor, imagination, insight, inspiration, metaphor, Paffooney, philosophy, strange and wonderful ideas about life

The Welcome at the Front Door

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From the time I was a young teacher until I was nearing retirement I would put on a tie before going to school.  And I hated ties.  I never tied them well.  They turned into Dilbert ties every time I turned around. But I wore them practically every day… except when we wore school uniforms and none of the official teacher shirts were made for wearing a tie.  So, why the heck did I spend so much of my career wearing ties I hated?

Well, it matters how you appear at the door at the start of each and every class.  What happens at the classroom door can make or break the entire teacher’s day.

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“Good morning, Jose! Are you ready to make an A today?”

“Good morning, Rita.  Your hair looks beautiful today.  Did you color it?”

“No, Mr. B. It’s the same color it’s always been.”

“You mean it wasn’t purple yesterday?”

“I have never had purple hair.”

“Oh, well, then, it must’ve been that beautiful smile today that made me notice.”

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You have to welcome them in if you want them to sit down and listen to all the wonderful boring things you have to teach them.  I was known for a while as the “teacher who makes us laugh”.  And that can be dangerous.  Principals tend to prefer the silent filling out of worksheets as far as classroom management goes.  But kids got better grades on State tests and wrote better essays for school when we could talk and laugh and entertain playfully creative ideas just as openly as we did the boring old facts and practice.

And, truthfully, if you don’t establish that classroom air at the front door, it never has enough oxygen in it to grow once life in the classroom gets started.

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I suspect that the afterlife in the real world, once students get there after their school years are over, would profit greatly from bosses who knew how to do the grin and greet at the front door every day.  I also suspect that real world bosses almost universally don’t know this particular teacher trick.

You gotta smile and say hello.  You gotta make them feel like they belong. You gotta shake that hand if they offer it, even though you know the only boys who have washed that hand in the last week are the ones who go into the restroom just to comb their hair, and then wash their hands immediately after.  And most of them never comb their hair either. (Oh, please, don’t let me think about the millions of microbes finding their way onto desks and pens and pencils… even the pencils they chew.)  And if you can tell a joke that makes them feel good and laugh, then the victory in the classroom war against ignorance is already on its way to being won.

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Filed under autobiography, education, humor, insight, Paffooney, teaching

The Sardonic Solliloquy

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The homeless man wandered onto center stage just as the spotlight went on.  He shaded his old eyes against the brightness and looked outward into the dark  theater.  It was probably some kind of mistake.

“Oh, so now it’s my turn to talk, eh?”

There was no response.

“Well, if you’re expecting something funny to come out of my mouth, good luck with that.  More than half of what I say that makes people laugh is the result of depression, ill health, and just plain ignorant stupidity.  And the other half of it is not meant to be funny, but is because I don’t always understand what I am saying.”

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There was an embarrassed chuckle somewhere in the darkness.

“I mean, you can’t expect too much from me. I’m a bum.  I have no money.  I have no job.  Not having any work to be bothered with is kinda good.  But the other thing kinda sucks.

And all the great comedians that used to stand on this stage and try to save the world through humor are dead now.  It’s true.  Robin Williams died recently.  George Carlin, Bill Hicks, Richard Pryor, and Bill Cosby are all long gone.”

There was some nervous laughter in the theater.

“Oh, I know, Cosby only thinks he’s dead.  But he kinda killed the character delivering the wisdom in the form of observational comedy, didn’t he.”

 

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“But most of them old boys tried to come up here and tell you the truth.  And the truth was so absolutely unexpectedly wacky and way out of bounds that you just had to laugh.  And the more wicked the humor, the more you just laughed.  You didn’t do anything about the problems they talked about.  But you sure did laugh.”

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“It seems like the more they told you the truth and the more you just laughed about it, the more old and bitter they got.  Sardonic?  You know that word?  Not sardines, fools, but sardonic.   Bitterly humorous and sadly funny.  Seems like a lot of them old boys got more and more bitter, more and more depressed up to the end.  More and more sardonic.”

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“I mean,  Carlin was calling you stupid right to your face at the end.  And you just laughed it off.”

The theater had grown eerily silent.

“But it ain’t all bad, is it?  I mean, at least you all can still laugh.  Only smart people get the jokes.  The ones Carlin moaned about were laughing because everybody else was laughing.  Those weren’t the ones we were talking to.  There’s still life out there somewhere.  Maybe intelligent life.  Maybe aliens ain’t located any intelligent life on Earth yet, but they’re still trying, ain’t they?”

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“You shoulda listened more carefully to what they were saying.  Life and love and laughter were bound up in their words.”

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“So I guess what I’m really saying is… just because I happened to get a rare chance to say it to you all… learn to listen better.  The voices are quiet now.  But the words are still there. And laughing at them is still a good thing.  But remember, you need to hear them too.”

The theater suddenly filled with the roar of a standing ovation.  The old man bowed.  And this was ironic because… the theater had always been empty.  No one at all was there now.

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Filed under comedians, humor, insight, poetry, quotes, strange and wonderful ideas about life, surrealism, Uncategorized, wisdom, word games

Dealing With Downers

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“If it weren’t fer bad luck, I’d have no luck at all… Gloom!  Despair! And Agony on Me!”  I often think of that old Hee-Haw! song when bad luck continues to pile up on me in waves… err… waves of bad luck crest over me in piles… or some other gol’ danged mixed

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Some of my tip money, artfully backlit so you might not notice they are all ones.

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After the tax man took all my spare change and dollars I didn’t have to spare, we woke up Monday morning to the Princess still down with flu and me with no more doctor-bill money.  Fortunately there are a few things I can still do about it.  I mean besides eat chocolate and play with dolls.

I have been able to earn extra money by driving for Uber.  I have been mostly delivering meals for restaurants who use Uber Eats, but I have also delivered folks to the airport, taken non-car-owners to work, and occasionally delivered drinkers to liquor stores. (You wouldn’t believe some of the rationalizations and excuses and made-up stories I have heard from people who regret being sober.)  This last week I made $102 on 11 fares plus the cash you can see in my hand.  It may not seem like a lot to you, but for someone who feels sick 95% of the time, it is miraculously helpful to have a job that won’t fire you if you are repeatedly too sick to work.  And I don’t drive if there’s any hint of not being well enough.  I can’t afford an accident caused for any reason.  And you get to talk to people.  Most of them just want to quietly ride and look at their phones.  But some of them ask me questions and strike up story-telling liars’ duels.   (Yes, I know I don’t have to lie to come up with a funny story about being a teacher, but lying, especially exaggerating, is a required part of a teacher’s job.  And that goes for any other kind of story-teller too, so they lie to me more than I lie to them.)  Three straight weeks I have made $100 or more a week.  (Not a lie OR an exaggeration). And that helps.

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I had some necessary yard work to do where the pool used to be.  I had thistles growing that needed to be cut down.  So I pitched in and got that done… in the nude.  Be glad I didn’t take any pictures of me doing the actual work.  Thistle cutting naked?  I am not a nudist in order to offend people.  It was just a way of working off stress without working up a sweat.  It was a cool morning.  And the yard in question is in the middle of the city, but fenced in on all sides.  And no one can see in without climbing the outside of the fence or locating an un-patched hole.  That would be their bad, not mine.

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And of course, I have been working on my humor writing.  What other excuse is there for the last paragraph?  And I just published a humor novel, Superchicken, and started working on publishing another, The Bicycle-Wheel Genius.

There are many more ways to heal the mind of dark depression than you might imagine.  Of course, I did also buy chocolate covered peanuts again, and played with dolls again this morning.  Old nudist fools with their Cirque du Soleil clown noses rarely learn new tricks.

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Filed under battling depression, Depression, doll collecting, feeling sorry for myself, goofy thoughts, humor, insight

Adjusting the Light

I am tired of reproducing my artworks in a way that gives you nothing but glops of brownish gray. My scanner isn’t large enough to get most of my pictures converted into a crisp digital image. Too many shadows and streaks sneak through the cracks. So I have been experimenting with lighting and camera quality.
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This is my 300 watt bulb that I use for bounce lighting off the white bedroom ceiling. It effectively puts a low-glare patina of white light on an artwork that makes for a crisper photo.
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Here’s an old D&D picture of the Pyromancer and his cat-man friend taking an early morning magic carpet ride. It has a variety of primary colors and colored-pencil surfaces that easily reflect glare, so the softer bright lighting makes a more pleasant outcome.
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The real test comes from this graphite pencil drawing. Everything in this picture of Poppa Mouse coming home from work at the mouse post office is merely a shade of gray, no pure blacks or pure whites.
But as with anything in the world of making art, it is an on-going process, a work in progress. So I will continue to work at it.

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Filed under art editing, artwork, colored pencil, drawing, insight, Paffooney