This particular Iowa trip has me thinking hard about mortality and the cold harsh wind that blows toward us from the future. My cousin’s only son lost his battle with depression, and his family finally came to terms with the loss. But the sadness is past. The responsibilities of the living is what remains.
I was born while Eisenhower was President. I was alive and aware when Kennedy was assassinated and when men first walked on the moon. I was teaching in a classroom when the first teacher in space was killed on the exploding space shuttle. And I was also in the classroom when the twin towers fell on 9-11. It is an important part of the responsibilities I have for being alive to keep that past alive too.
My mother’s knickknack shelf.
The reason we collect and care about little extraneous things like porcelain eggs, angels, fine blue china plates, and the California Raisins singing I Heard It Through the Grapevine is because those little, otherwise unimportant things connect us to memories of important times and places and people. We keep old photographs around, many of them black and white, for the same reasons.
The fiction I write is not contemporary. It is mostly historical fiction. It is set in a recent past where the Beatles and the Eagles provided the sound track to our lives. It does not cross the border into the 21st Century. The part of my writing that is not about the past is science fiction set in the far future, entirely in the universe of my imagination. It is my duty to connect the past to the future.
And I share that duty with everyone who is alive. My great grandparents and grandparents are now gone from this world. But their horse-and-buggy memories about life on the farm before electric lights and cars… with humorous outhouse stories thrown in for comic relief… are in me too. I am steeped in the past in so many ways… And I must not fail to pass that finely brewed essence on to my children and anyone young who will listen. It is a grave responsibility. And it is possible to reach the grave without having fulfilled that important purpose.
In times of great sadness and loss we must think about how life goes on. There has to be a will to carry on and deliver the past to the future. Every story-teller carries that burden, whether in large or small packages. And there is no guarantee that tomorrow will even arrive. So here is my duty for the day. One more window has been opened.
I have always had an inquiring mind. That is a curse instead of a plus if your main goal in life is to be happy and unbothered by anything. But it has proved to be of benefit to me as I have become an old coot who actually cares about what is true. Yes, I am willing to personally suffer to bring to light that which is actually true and that which must be disbelieved before it truly hurts us.
Don’t judge me yet based on this next question;
“Did you know that the Democratic party is funded by billionaires who want to use the “Deep State” to promote their Satanic rituals involving the murder and cannibalistic consumption of human children?”
I hope you know that I would never promote such a thing as being true. I am even careful of posting this pernicious lie in a question rather than a statement, because that’s one of the tactics the malign promoters of this religious belief use, not actually stating something that will be contradicted immediately, but taken merely as something to be considered and discussed simply because it is offered in question form.
So, how do you tackle such dangerous nonsense?
I prefer the scientific method which provides the structure for your thinking that will keep you on the most likely paths that lead you to what is true and what is not.
Facts should be confirmed by multiple verifiable sources.
We don’t talk much about cold fusion nowadays because when it was discovered in 1989 by a pair of electrochemists whose single experiment produced more heat than what should result from the energy put into the tabletop experiment. But, as is required by the entire scientific community, it couldn’t be reproduced in more repeats of the experiment than those that turned out negative. So, even though Pons and Fleischman did an experiment that answered the dreams of science-fiction nerds like me, they are mostly ignored by now. Cold fusion? Only one flawed source, studied in 1989 and proved still basically untrue in 2004 by a multitude of scientists who wanted it to be true.
Consider the source for Q-Anon conspiracies. One (or possibly more) anonymous government whistle-blowers whose credentials have never been presented or identities revealed, and mind-blowing statements appearing on places like 4-Chan, 8-Chan, and Parlor to be picked up and amplified on such reliable sources of scientifically proven knowledge as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
Q-Anon is not the only conspiracy religion out there. My friend Giorgi above has a more benign, but no less ridiculous religion that chooses to replace God Jehovah, Zeus, Odin, Buddha, and other religious figures and deities with Ancient Aliens.
Here’s a second and third test offered by Carl Sagan to use against their ideas;
2. Encourage debate from knowledgeable people from all identifiable perspectives.
3. Do not accept arguments only from positions of authority.
Q-Anon arguments only have the authority of repetition because social media endlessly asks the same “questions” over and over. There is no debate from any recognizable “authority,” just a plethora of unsubstantiated statements and commandments.
In a way, the Ancient-Aliens crowd is guilty of the same thing. They never have skeptics and debunkers on their History-Channel show. You never see Michael Shermer, founder of the Skeptics Society, offering his opinions of their conclusions on that show. Neither do they allow Christian theologians or Buddhist scholars to offer their take on what probably really happened. They do employ physicists, engineers, and historians on their show, but never the ones that don’t agree with their radical theories and conclusions. Since there is no real debate on that show and no identifiable peer review, that show does not qualify as History, let alone Science.
4. Don’t get overly attached to your own ideas.
If you are going to investigate any conspiracy that holds thrall a number of “true believers,” approach everything with a truly open mind. I actually believe alien beings from “out there” have visited Earth. That is based on things, science, and testimony I haven’t even begun to go into here. But I reserve my right to be skeptical about everything, especially my own prejudices, theories, and beliefs. Otherwise I could too easily get trapped into believing in the truth of something that I otherwise would recognize as false. This is the factor that has pulled so many of my otherwise sensible Republican friends onto the flypaper of spurious Q-Anon claims.
5. Use numbers wherever possible. Math is quantifiable information that can “prove” the facts better than most ideas expressed in mere language. It is more precise, and reveals truth in verifiable ways that no poet ever could.
I am known to some in my family (here you could read wife and sisters) as the family conspiracy nut and generally crazy old coot.
But I am not so crazy that I don’t recognize the dangers inherent in some the ideas I am talking about here. As an English teacher I have learned some effective thinking skills that protect me and mine. I can honestly tell you that these thinking skills explained here will help you too. I learned them from a friend who pointed me to Carl Sagan as the source of these thinking skills.
And to any of my friends who might read this post and be offended, I apologize. But you were wrong about Pizzagate, and you are on the wrong side of this too. Aliens probably did NOT build the pyramids.
I gave you a list of places where my ideas for fiction come from, and in the end, I failed to explain the thing about the bottle imp. Yes, I do get ideas from the bottle imp. He’s an angry blue boggart with limited spell powers. But he’s also more than 700 years old and has only been trapped in the bottle since 1805. So, he has about 500 years of magical life experience to draw from and answer my idea questions. Admittedly it would be more helpful if he were a smarter imp. His name is Bruce, and his IQ in human terms would only be about 75. But, then, I don’t have to worry about misfired magic. If I asked him to, “Make me a hamburger,” he wouldn’t immediately change me into a fried, ground-beef patty because he is not smart enough to do that high of a level of magic spell.
But he is just barely intelligent enough to tell me a truthful answer if I asked him a question like, “What would happen if I put an alligator’s egg in a robin’s nest as a joke, and the robin family decided it was their own weird-looking egg and then tried to hatch it?” The answer would be truthful according to his vast knowledge of swamp pranks. And it would also be funny because he’s too dumb to know better. In fact, he told me about a mother robin who worked so diligently at hatching an alligator egg that a baby alligator was hatched. She convinced it that it was actually a bird. And when it came time for the baby birds to learn to fly, the baby alligator couldn’t do it… until she talked it into flapping madly with all four legs. Then, a mother’s love and faith in her child got an alligator airborne.
Yeah, that hasn’t proved to be a very useful story idea. I put it into a story I was writing during my seven years in high school, and then lost the manuscript. (I was a teacher, not a hard-to-graduate student.) But it was proof that you can get your writing ideas from a bottle imp.
So, if you decide to use bottle imps as an idea source for fiction, the next step is to find and acquire the right sort of bottle imp. I got mine from Smellbone, the rat-faced necromancer. I bought it for an American quarter and three Canadian loonies more than a dozen years ago. I found it at his Arcana and Horse-Radish Burger Emporium in Montreal. But I am not sure how that information helps you. Smellbone died in a firey magical-transformation accident involving an angry Wall-Street financier and a dill pickle. The whole Emporium went to cinders in an hour.
If you are going to try to capture the bottle imp yourself, which I strongly do not recommend, you are going to need a magical spell-resistant butterfly net, a solid glass jar, bottle, or brass urn. A garlic-soaked cork to fit the bottle. A spell scroll ready to cast containing at least one fairy-shrink spell. And an extremely limited amount of time to actually think about what you are doing.
Now I have told you how I get writing ideas from a bottle imp. Aren’t you glad I did not include this idea in the post about where ideas come from? After all, I am a fiction writer. I get my jollies from telling lies in story form. And bottle imps, especially angry blue bottle imps named Bruce, or Charlie, or Bill, are more trouble than they are worth. They can curse you with magical spells of infinite silliness and undercut your serious nature for a lifetime.
I have been a Methodist, a Jehovah’s Witness, an Atheist, an Agnostic, and a fool who read the I-Ching, Book of Changes, thinking he is smart enough to understand more than a word or two.
At least one of those religions rejected me before I rejected it.
So, it’s not as if I am shopping for a new religion.
What is a religion anyway?
If I understand anything at all about religion, it would have to be this; A religion is merely a prescription for how you should live your life prescribed by a doctor who can’t prove any more of it than you can, but thinks he can because he’s recognized a magical spark inside himself, a tiny piece of the imperceptible Devine, and thinks he is then qualified to tell you what it should mean to you when you recogmize it in yourself.
And if I know anything at all about Comedy, other than the instinctive knowledge of how to laugh, it is also only because I have recognized a Devine spark in it and now have to be humble enough to admit that I don’t have anywhere near enough malpractice insurance to get away with prescribing it to you as a cure for the ailments of your own little life-force in the vast, star-filled universe provided by a laughing Deity.
But it does provide the answers and the cures we seek for the unhappy twistings in our souls.
Comedy, as practiced by the greats, doesn’t provide a cure for death, as other religions do, or claim to. But it does deal with the malady of mortality by helping us be less serious, and laughing in the face of ultimate disaster.
And have you ever noticed that those who might be Jesus in this religion of the chuckle, those who sacrifice their life totally to try and take away our troubles by making us laugh, those like Charlie Chaplin, Emmitt Kelly, Groucho Marx, Robin Williams… are really fundamentally sad people who suffered greatly in life to bring us the forgiveness of our sins in the form of mirth?
So, Comedy is my new religion. I will practice it as piously and as reverently as anyone can practice such an inherently impious and irreverent thing. I have not led a perfectly happy life. But I have found healing for my happiness in the laughter of others, and so I seek to create more of it. And laugh some myself as well.
Yes, it is just not possible to write an exemplary daily essay every single day. Some days you just have to be ordinary. Today is probably gonna be one of those days.
You see, in my head I have always been Michael. My parents, grandparents, and siblings always called me that.
When I was drawing and telling stories, well, that part of me I always knew was Mickey. I was the only one who ever called me that.
But my Uncles and cousins and classmates and teachers, usually called me Mike. And that was confusing because when I first started school, there were three Mikes in my class of nine kids. Mike S. and Mike M. and I was Mike B. And when I was nine, there was another Mike B. in the grade right ahead of me (he was ten when I was nine.) But Mike S. and Mike M. had moved to other schools in the county then. So I was Mike in the classroom, and he was “the Other Mike.” Miss M had both third and fourth grade in the same small-town school so she had to manage two Mikes in one room. But both of us were Ordinary Mikes.
An Ordinary Mike in the 1960s went skinny-dipping at least three times in their early childhood. (Well, that was me. I only actually saw the Other Mike naked at the Iowa River once, though his little brother Barry said they went to the river a few times.)
And an Ordinary Mike was shy around girls. Even tomboy girls who would say yes if you asked them to go skinny dipping because they felt they were just one of the guys. An Ordinary Mike never dared to ask that, though Joel and Randy said that Lulu Baerinfeld went skinny-dipping with them one time. But Ordinary Mikes were always just wise enough to realize they were lying.
Ordinary Mikes sometimes got a “C” on their report card in Math, not because they were dumb and didn’t get it, but because they didn’t do some of the homework because they didn’t want their dumb friends to think they were too Brainiac- smart (Brainiac was a villain in Superman comics.)
But both Ordinary Mikes, me and the Other Mike, were good at Science, getting “A’s” on their report cards. We both vowed to each other that one day we would both become astronauts and walk on the Moon, or maybe Mars. But, as far as I know, neither of us managed to make that dream come true.
So, a writer like me can’t always be extraordinary. In fact, I am often quite ordinary. As I have basically proven, I was and am… Ordinary Mike.
It is cloudy outside. The sky is a cool, damp gray. No rain. No snow. Just dreary and gray. The world is gray today.
We have now been in a lockdown and wearing masks for an entire year. I have lost a lot of ground. Color-blindness runs in my family on my mother’s side. Great Grandma Hinckley was completely color-blind by the time she was in her 70’s.
I myself have known I had the color-blindness problem since I was in high school and the school nurse gave me a vision test that proved it.
In the dotted circle, I could see the blue-green number 29, but I could also see the red number 5. I was told that I had a slight color-blindness on the red/green scale. Believe me, I had no idea what that meant. Still don’t. I just know I have never seen colors the way other people with normal vision do.
But now, after twelve months of lockdown, I can definitely detect the fact that I have lost some more of my color vision.
Great Grandma saw the world in black and white and gray since she was 70. That, for me, is now less than six years away.
As a cartoonist I use a lot of pen and ink. I also love black-and-white movies. Being partially colorblind, you might think that I would be okay living in a film-noire world. But I am not. It is simply not enough. I have always craved color. I particularly love to create with bright primaries, red, yellow, and blue.
I will sorely miss color when it is gone.
And I have always loved cardinals. Not only because they are bright red songbirds, like the one singing outside in our yard on this gray and slightly blustery day. But because they never fly away when the winter comes. They stay even in the snow and cold. Trouble doesn’t drive them away. I shall not give up when I lose all the colors.
I remember the world being gray when I was a boy back in the 1960’s too. TV was only black-and-white… and gray at our house. I watched the funeral parade for JFK on the black-and-white… and gray TV. And around that time the three astronauts Grissom, Chaffee, and White had a similar funeral parade… also black-and-white-and-mostly-gray.
The Viet Nam conflict on the TV news with Walter Cronkite. The riots at the Democratic Convention in 1968 with the Chicago Seven going on trial. The world was very, very gray.
But then, in the Summer of ’69, Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. A giant leap for mankind! And I saw that also in black-and-white-and-mostly-gray.
There was a hope of color in my life after that. And we got a color TV in the later 70s after that. And even with my partially color-blind eyes, I saw color everywhere.
And now again is a good time to anticipate color coming back into my life. I am on the waiting list for vaccination. My eldest son has a steady girlfriend living with him now. And we have a better President who actually seems to care if we live or die. Good things are over the next hill.
If there is a Church of Sacred Landscapes then Bob Ross is its Jesus Christ. That is not a sacrilegious statement of bizarre cult-mindedness. Painting is a religion that has its tenets. And Bob Ross explained to us the will of God on his painting show on PBS. All the illustrations used in this post come from the Facebook page Joy of Painting with Bob Ross. All the wisdom comes from things the Master said on the show.
Bob Ross was the prophet of the paintbrush. He would present us with a lightly prepared canvas at the beginning of the show and then proceed on camera to take his brush and palette knife, and all his paints, and create a piece of the world before our very eyes. And he was not Picasso or Van Gogh or even Norman Rockwell. He was not a talented artist, but rather a very practiced one who knew all the tricks and shortcuts to sofa painting, the art of knocking out scene after scene after scene. He could make his little piece of the world in only half an hour, and he made it obvious how we could do the same. His work was not gallery quality… but his teachings were Jesus-worthy.
His work was natural, flowing, and realistic in the random complexity it presented. He took standard paintbrush strokes and pallet knife tricks and made them dance across the canvas to make happy little trees.
His painting methods presented us with a philosophy of life and a method of dealing with whatever mistakes we might make.
And of course, any good religion must take into account the existence of evil.
Bob Ross tells us that evil is necessary as a contrast to what is good and what is true. We need the dark. But we don’t have to embrace it. Bob’s paintings were never about the dark bits. He always gravitated towards the light.
Of course, sometimes you have to beat back the darkness. A good artist takes care of his tools.
Bob Ross admonishes us to look and to learn and love what we see. The man radiated a calm, gentle nature that makes him a natural leader. His simple, countrified wisdom resonates because we need calm and pastoral peace in our lives. It is one of the main reasons mankind needs religion.
So I definitely think we ought to consider building a Bob-Rossian Church of the Sacred Landscapes. We have our prophet. The man has passed away, yet he is risen to paint again endlessly on YouTube.
And if you are willing to try… Bob Ross will smile upon you.
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.”
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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?”
“You shoulda listened more carefully to what they were saying. Life and love and laughter were bound up in their words.”
“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.
Literary realism attempts to represent familiar things as they are.
Surrealism definition: Surrealism is a type of literature in which the author attempts to display irrational or dreamlike qualities in his or her writing. Surrealism refers to writing that goes beyond the realistic into a creative, imaginative realm that often has dreamlike qualities.
Two definitions of styles of writing that are common in today’s literary realm.
Realism is a tradition that began in the middle of the 18th Century. It includes authors like Balzac, Alexander Pushkin, Mark Twain, Sinclair Lewis, and Charles Dickens. They tend to focus on the details that shine a light on the grungy, dreary realities of the Industrial Revolution, the American Experiment in Democracy, and wars like the Civil War, World Wars I and II, and wars against Napoleon, Hitler, and Communist Russia.
Surrealism, especially as it grew legs and began galloping in the 20th Century is really a reaction to the realities that Realism ground into our souls. Science Fiction imagines the problems and the possibilities presented by applying science and industry into our future. Isaac Asimov, Theodore Sturgeon, and Aldous Huxley are all surrealists because they apply the power of their imaginations to dealing with the limits reality hangs around the neck of the race horse we call life on Earth.
Fantasy writers like JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, Neil Gaiman, and JK Rowlings apply apples of imagination hung from a string in front of the race horse to motivate him onward. The race horse of life on Earth is a dreamlike metaphor, somewhat like a dog who smokes a pipe and solves crimes, and is the kind of literary device that defines surrealism the way that Mickey sees it.
But enough about what surrealism is. It is just realism with a “sur” pasted on the front. So, let me just show you some.
So, now that you have seen the pictorial evidence that Mickey thinks surreal thoughts, you should be willing to admit… He probably really is a Surrealist. Or, possibly, he surreally is a surrealist.