Category Archives: inspiration

Ravel’s Bolero

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;

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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.

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Filed under artists I admire, artwork, classical music, colored pencil, insight, inspiration, Paffooney

Through the Valley of the Shadow

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Filed under humor, insight, inspiration, novel plans, NOVEL WRITING, Paffooney, religion, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Being Excessively Creative

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It is an unusual position to be in as a kid in the school room to be the creative kid.  First and foremost because you will forever be known as the weirdo, the spaceman, the egghead.

How do I know that?  Because I was that kid.  And I grew up to teach that kid.  And now that I am retired as a teacher, I am still that kid.

If there was a problem to be solved, a picture to be drawn, a group assignment that required somebody to actually think, I was the kid that everybody wanted to be in their group or be their partner.  (That time that Reggie and I blew up the test tube of copper sulfate in Mr. Wilson’s chemistry lab doesn’t count because, although I am the one who dropped it, he’s the one who heated up my fingers with the blowtorch.  Honest, Mr. Wilson, it is true.) But if it was picking teams on the playground, I was the last loser to be called, even though I was pretty good at softball, pretty good at dodgeball, great at volleyball, and usually the leading scorer in soccer (of course we are talking an Iowa schoolyard in the 60’s where soccer was a sport from Mars.)  And as an adult, I enjoyed teaching the creative kids more than the rest because I actually understood them when they explained what they were doing and why, and I was even able to laugh at their knit-witty jokes (yes, I am including those jokes made of yarn with that pun).   Creative kids speak a language from another world.  If you are creative too, you already know that.  And if you aren’t creative… well, how foo-foo-metric for you.

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And another unfortunate side effect of the creative life is that you make stuff.  You don’t have to be seriously infected by bites from the cartoon bug or the art bug to be like that.  My daughter is making a suit of armor for herself from a flat sheet of aluminum that she is pounding out by hand, painting with spray paint and painter’s tape, and edging with felt.  After she’s done with it this Halloween, it will go on one of the piles of collections and models and dolls and stuffed toys and… Of course, sooner or later one of those piles is going to come to life and eat the house.  There is no place left to display stuff and store stuff and keep stuff that is far enough away from potential radioactive spider bites.  I have scars on my fingers from exactor knife accidents, oil paint, and acrylic paint and enamel permanently under my fingernails.  Shelves full of dolls rescued and restored from Goodwill toy bins, dolls collected from sale bins at Walmart, Toys-R-Us, and Kaybee, and action figures saved even from childhood in the 60’s are taking over the house and in an uproar, demanding to be played with rather than ignored.  (Didn’t know dolls can actually talk?  Haven’t you learned anything from John Lasseter?)

Anyway, it is tough to go through life being excessively creative.  I have art projects growing out of my ears.  And book publishers are calling me because my award-winning book is not generating sales in spite of two awards, 5-star reviews, and generally good quality, but the only solutions they have cost ME money I don’t have.  Oh, well, at least it isn’t boring to be me.

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Filed under angry rant, artwork, doll collecting, education, feeling sorry for myself, goofy thoughts, inspiration, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Get Up and Do!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The Evolution of the Sunflower

Apparently the seed was in the soil the demolition company used to fill the hole when the pool was removed.  It grew in the corner of the flower patch where I planted zinnias, and I decided to leave it, rather than treat it as a weed like I did with the other 14 sunflower plants that grew in the plot where the pool used to be.

You don’t even notice it in the first picture because it was in the back corner of the flower patch and only green.   But it began to stand out more as the yellow petals began to appear and it grew taller even than the gardener.

There is a certain metaphorical truth here that applies to being a teacher as well as it does to being the gardener in the flower garden.  Sometimes in the classroom you have to nurture the student other teachers have identified as the weed in the garden.  And don’t get me wrong when I say this, I pulled enough sunflowers out of the bean fields as a farm boy to know how aggressively obnoxious they are in their weediness.  But sometimes the classroom weed becomes the tallest, brightest, most beautiful flower in the patch.  It shows you clearly what a little patience, a little love, and accepting a lot of risk can accomplish.

I have begun to think of the sunflower as Clarissa, the valedictorian of the flower patch.

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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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A Concert Performed For Nobody

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Back in my college days in the late 70’s I came back to the dorm one night late due to research until the library closed. In the entry hall to the dorms there was a piano. I had never seen anybody playing it. But as I got there, there was a student playing it. It was my nerd friend Kip, an engineering major. It was quiet, unassuming Kip. Kip who was so quiet, in fact, that I can’t even remember his last name, or what his voice sounded like. But he was playing the piano in an empty room with nobody listening. He was playing Scott Joplin’s composition “The Entertainer”. He had his back to me, totally lost in the music. He didn’t know I was there. And I… I was transfixed. I realized he was just practicing. But he knew the music right out his head, no sheet music on the piano in front of him. And he played like the ultimate virtuoso. And the music was so good it made my soul tingle.

It occurs to me that that single moment is, for me, a metaphor for my life. It is a concert played for nobody. I am competing only with myself. I am trying to please only myself. And if anybody is listening… I mean really listening… not just looking at the pictures and moving on, I don’t know it. And that is probably how it should be. This poor player is strutting and fretting his hour upon the stage. And when the concert ends… when the concert ends…? Applause is not likely. And applause is not needed. The music exists for its own sake. And the echoes of it are the fuel that powers the universe.

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