Category Archives: inspiration

The Lovely Lennon Sisters

Grandpa and Grandma Aldrich lived on the family farm outside of town, a little more than two miles from the tiny farm town of Rowan, Iowa.  I walked it more than once.  It was faster to walk the railroad tracks between the two places.  About a mile and three quarters as the crow flies… three hours as the boy investigates the critters in the weeds, throws rocks at dragonflies, and listens to the birdsong along the way.  But the point is, my maternal grandparents lived close enough to have a profound influence on my young life.  Much of what they loved became what I love.  And every Saturday night, they loved to watch the Lawrence Welk Show.  And that show had highlights that we longed to see again and again… on a show that never really went into reruns.  We lived to see Jo Ann Castle play the old rinky-tink piano, Bobby and Cissy doing a dance routine, and most of all… the lovely Lennon Sisters.

I always wanted to be the things they wished me to be in the song “May You Always”.  I wanted to “walk in sunshine” and “live with laughter”.  They presented a world of possibilities all clean and good and wholesome.  As a young boy who hated girls, I had a secret crush on Janet Lennon who was the youngest, though a decade older than me, and on Peggy Lennon, the one with the exotic Asian eyes.  They sang to me and spoke directly to my heart.

You have to believe in something when you are young.  The world can present you with so many dark and hurtful experiences, that you simply have to have something to hang onto and keep you from being blighted and crippled by the pain.  For me, it often came in the form of a lovely and simple lyric sung by the lovely Lennon Sisters.  When you are faced with hard choices… especially in those dark moments when you think about ending it all because it is all just too much to bear, the things stored in those special pockets of your heart are the only things that can save you.  For me, one of those things will always be the music of the Lennon Sisters… especially when watched on the old black and white TV in the farmhouse where my grandparents lived, and helped to raise me, every Saturday night in the 1960’s.

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Filed under art my Grandpa loved, battling depression, Celebration, humor, inspiration, nostalgia, strange and wonderful ideas about life, TV review

Contradictions

You know what a contradiction is, don’t you? It is whatever comes out of your wife’s mouth whenever you make a statement asserting that whatever you said is factually true. She will promptly and always explain to you how wrong you are… loudly… and in great detail. No matter if you happen to be provably right or not.

What’s that, you say? I’m wrong about that too? Of course, I am, dear. I only deserve the catfood cookies.

The fact is, if you raise your hand and give the teacher the correct answer often enough, you get a certain reputation amongst your classmates. Instead of continuing to call you, “dumbhead,” or “stupidhead,” or the simplified form of “caca-poo-poo-head” like they endearingly call everybody else, they begin calling you pejoratives like “Einstein,” or “Brainiac,” or “Supernerd, taah tah taaah!” And they begin pointing out in detail everything that is wrong about you. How you dress… how you talk… especially how you laugh. You have become the enemy. You must be contradicted.

“You are wrong, Mickey!”

“So, I get to be Dumbhead again?”

“No. you are still “Supernerd, taah tah taaah!” But you are wrong. We all think so, so that must be right.”

The truth is, Life itself is a contradiction. Considering the violence and hostility of the physical universe towards life, it is a miracle that anything at all is alive in the universe. The chaos of everything guarantees that if you are born into the miracle of life, then at some point, caused by a nearly infinite variety of possible aids to chaos, you will die. Order is whittled away into chaos. Civilizations fall eventually. Things die all the time.

But if all order must, by physical laws of the universe, be broken down into chaos, then, how is it that we have any order at all in the first place? Where does order come from? I’d give you a possible answer. But I would just be contradicted by the majority

Except for fundamentalist Christians who would say, “Let me think for a moment about why you are still wrong… and then I’ll tell you what I think the Bible says about why you are actually still wrong.”

One thing about being “only book-smart, but without common sense” that makes being contradicted all the time worth it, is that the more challenged the answers you come up with are, the more deeply you dig into them, and the more of a real-world understanding of why I am wrong about everything begins to make a bit more sense. Or not. Because I’m probably wrong in your estimation anyway.

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Filed under commentary, humor, inspiration, Paffooney, philosophy

Requiem for 2020

The year in which I lost my father has been a truly ghastly ghoul of a year. I could spend time listing all the things that went wrong for me personally, but that would be a very long list for no real gain in wisdom. I need to take some time just now to reflect on some very hard lessons we have been given by this year to deal with in a way that we might potentially learn from.

There is a chance I may live out the rest of this year and reach 2021. But it is not guaranteed. The pandemic virus, Covid 19, is an insidious destroyer of organs, attacking lungs, heart, and brain, causing blood clots and complications long after the initial infection has passed. The way it strikes people, randomly cruel to one, and presenting no symptoms to the next, has guaranteed it would be almost impossible to control, if we were even trying to control it. And we are dually blessed with an incompetent and corrupt presidential administration that couldn’t care any less if I lived even if they stood to make money off my demise. Like the Bubonic Plague, the Black Death of the Middle Ages, this virus is restructuring our economy and changing our world in ways no one has as yet accurately foreseen.

Firing the salute at the graveside memorial for my father, a Korean Conflict Navy Veteran.

I have not, as yet, survived this pandemic. I have multiple risk factors that make it dangerously likely that at some point I will have to discover the hard way whether I can survive an infection or not. My middle child of the three came home infected in August from his job as a jailor for the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office. I managed to avoid infection then until he tested negative again, unless I had it as a symptomless carrier during our summer quarantine. Only time will tell. I have not had an antibody test. I haven’t suffered any Covid aftereffects either.

My father did not die of Covid. Parkinson’s Disease like Michael J. Fox and Mohammed Ali had was ultimately what robbed him of memories, the ability to talk, and eventually the abilities to eat and breathe. The “good news” is, I have Parkinson’s symptoms myself, and am merely waiting for a safer time to see the doctor to get it diagnosed. There is more than merely one way that my life could end before 2021 arrives.

But my father led a good life. And he passed a good life on to me. He taught me self-reliance and a respect for hard work in a way only a former farm boy and Navy Seaman could. He taught me to lay shingles as we re-roofed both our house in Rowan and our stable-turned-car-garage also in our little Iowan farm town. He taught me love classical music, especially Beethoven and Mozart, as well as Ravel, Chopin, Vivaldi, and… he always argued… John Philip Sousa. And he started his own Great American Novel. I had to sneak into his closet when I was eleven to read it. It was only about the first third of a novel written all in pencil and kept in a gray binder under the winter clothes in the box on the floor at the back of his walk-in closet. It was called Prairie Moon. It was about a very stubborn and self-reliant pioneer named Ed Adems who built himself a sod hut in the Iowa grasslands of the 1870s. So, I guess, he also taught me to be a self-published novelist. I have at this point published eighteen novels and books, with numbers nineteen and twenty already at least halfway finished.

My three kids when they were small and had goblin grins for the camera.

I hope you listened to the Mozart Requiem while you read this post. I listened to it while I wrote it. A requiem is a Mass for the repose of the dead. We honor them and remember their goodness and light while we commit them to their eternal sleep, even if we are atheists. Because there is a next life for them, no matter what you believe. They live it through us. My father lives in me. And as my hold on life gets weaker and more tenuous, I will live in my children. I have tried to teach them as my father taught me.

And as we put to rest the terrible year of 2020, hopefully there was some good in it too to carry on into 2021 and beyond. And, Dad, you kept all your promises. If you ever failed me, I do not remember it. And I pray that, having kept most of my promises to my children too… at least so far… I will pass on the light for generations yet to be born. You are a part of that too. God bless you, I love you, Amen.

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Filed under family, inspiration, kids

What’s the Real Reason?

What’s the real reason behind the choices I make as an artist? For instance, why didn’t I do this photo of the artwork over again when the wind warped the bottom left corner. That answer is simple. I was taking this picture with natural sunlight. And once the wind started messing up my pictures, it only got worse. This was the first and best of five attempts. And, while it doesn’t show up here, I did several photo-shop manipulations of this picture, including shrinking the girl’s head. The original was done from a couple of models I got consent from when I worked at a daycare center in Iowa City where I went to college. The boy was eight years old in the summer of 1980. The girl was six, but I used a photo of a girl I went to second grade with, so the head was also eight. They represent David Copperfield and Emily, Pegotty’s niece from the Dickens novel. I had to read the book for my Master’s Exam which I took instead of writing a thesis. The picture is about how I saw myself and my world in that timeless novel.

This picture won a blue ribbon in the art competition at the Wright County Fair in 1979. It is a colored-pencil cartoon situation right out of a Jay Ward, Dudley Do-Right cartoon. I used a picture from a Canadian travel ad for the Mountie. The Indian sidekick is a modified version of Little Beaver, Red Ryder’s sidekick. The villain and the girl were basically Snidely Whiplash and Nell from the Dudley Do-Right cartoons, but made to look slightly more realistic… but only very slightly.

Actually, I lied a bit about the blue ribbon. I got the purple Grand Champion ribbon for this picture. I had entered it solely because two years before I saw how easy it would be to win a purple ribbon looking at the pictures that won it, and I wanted to win the purple ribbon. Sorry I lied, but the real reason for this picture is that I wanted to win that ribbon.

This painting, from the 1990s, was an attempt to make sofa art to sell in my sister-in-law’s home d├ęcor store. So, the real reason for this painting’s existence is greed. But since I ended up putting so many hours into it that I couldn’t justify selling it for twenty dollars in a store that went out of business because nobody ever shopped there, I got far more value out of it by keeping it and enjoying it myself. It was inspired by numerous paintings of Native Americans done by white people on display in Love’s Travel Stops across Texas in the 1990s.

This picture, “That Night in Saqqara,” is about youth versus age, thinking about death, immortality, and being afraid of any or all of it. The model for the Mummy is Boris Karloff who was so nice to pose for a production still from his movie that I could draw him long after he was actually dead. The boy was a seventh-grader in 1983 who did not actually pose for this without a shirt on or with an actual Ankh life-symbol around his neck. The Pharaoh in the tomb-mural in the background was from National Geographic Magazine, and I think was supposed to be Tutankhamun, but I could be wrong. I am old and I mix up lots of things I once clearly knew. That’s what mummified brains have to be like, apparently.

The reason I had to create this artwork was because I was increasingly falling victim to illness, especially arthritis, and I was constantly thinking about what it would be like to die alone, entombed in a two-bedroom apartment on North Stewart Street in Cotulla, Texas. This was well before I met and married my wife, who is now my wife of 25 years.

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Filed under artwork, drawing, foolishness, humor, inspiration, Paffooney

The Same Old New Day

Today is…

a new day.

an opportunity.

a day to celebrate.

But Last Night was…

a horror show.

proof our Prexydent is a monster.

reason to be afraid of the future.

So, what do we do?

I wish I had answers. I woke up with a slight sore throat this morning. I have a cough that comes and goes. That is nothing new for me and my allergies this time of year. Still… it might be COVID. I could be dead before the end of the week. My power to affect anything in the world right now is very limited. I have to wait in Texas until early voting starts on October 13th, a very ominously-numbered day. I still have to finish and publish book number 18. And I feel like it is a very good novel. But I may be too ill to write that last chapter today. And it would be a shame to leave this world without finishing it.

We must never give up hope.

We must remember where we came from.

And look for new dawns more than colorful sunsets.

But most of all…

We must remember who we care for…

and the value placed on love.

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Filed under insight, inspiration, potpourri

Another Saturday Gallery Peek

The thing about being an artist that I can’t seem to really explain, if I even am one, is “Why?” I mean why am I an artist? I am not a camera. You look at my imperfect drawings, and you can see it is a drawing. Even if I did photo-realistic drawings, I would still have to wonder “Why?” Why go to all that work if we have cameras for that?

And if we draw something that never was, but might have been… if only we were made like gods and could control everything around us completely… why is that worth doing? Just to see things through my eyes? I have weird eyes. They see skateboards with flaming Bart Simpsons on them saying, “Eat my shorts!” What is the value of that?

Perhaps this sort of “Seeing through someone else’s eyes” gives us a perspective that we could get no other way. I know I love art museums, art books, and art collections even more than I like looking at my own art. I love looking at the world as other people see it.

Maybe artwork, in one form or another is the closest we can come to truly sharing what’s inside us with other human beings, mind to mind, heart to heart, liver of blood-curdling revelation to liver of blood-curdling revelation… wait, you mean not everyone has a liver like that?

So, not everyone lives life the way I do, or knows what I know, or remembers the sweet, sad things I remember, or sees things the way I see them. Is that, then, the reason why for being an artist? Or cartoonist if you believe that I am not a real artist?

If I truly am an artist… and I am not convinced that I truly am, then I don’t answer the why questions. It is the job of the scientist to do that. I only ask the questions. And I do it by drawing the next inexplicable thing.

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Fighting the Good Fight

I like to think of myself as a good person. In fact, having been a successful public school teacher, I basically feel that calling myself a hero is not the same sort of toxic narcissism that Prexydental Trumpalump displays when he thinks of himself that way.

I need to get it through my thick head that everyone sees themselves that way, and that it is universally untrue. We let too much badness go unopposed. We are hard-hearted too often towards our fellow men and women… and children… and animals… and the planet as a whole.

We see others who are different than ourselves as “others” and exclude them from our groups, some of us going so far as to villainize others just because their skin is green, or because they know what “Blogwopping” means and we don’t. And what we villainize, or demonize, or verminize, we feel righteous in harming, even exterminating.

So, what’s the point I am making? Am I such a loathsome creature that the only way I can make the world a better place is to curl up and die? Of course not. That’s the darkness talking me back into grave ideas and depressed thinking. I need to spread a little of that old Norman Vincent Peale peanut-butter on the slice of toast that is my world. Yes, a little bit of positive thinking can re-butter your toast for the better in order to prepare you to battle the battles that must be fought and won.

A true warrior is not the guy doing the most killing on the battlefield. And he is not the one who dies for his country either. Both may have their place in a war, but neither is the one who wins it. A true warrior is the one who endures to the end. The last man standing. The one who rules the battlefield at the end of the day.

So, what do I mean with all this warrior nonsense? I mean, my Great Grandma Hinckley was a true warrior, because she steadfastly led her family through five generations of it, and made more generations possible.

You say the world is dying of climate change? My Grandma was a relentless garden-keeper, helping us to survive with garden-fresh sweet corn, sweet peas, pumpkins, squash, and carrots from her garden. And she planted a multitude of flowers every year to keep the bees happy and a everything they pollinated growing.

You say we may succumb to pandemics and plagues? Grandma Hinckley was a maker of chicken soup, a mender of wills and willpower in the downhearted… church-goer, psalm-singer, user of Vick’s Vapo-Rub, Dr. Scholl’s inserts, Werther’s Original Butterscotch and Hard Candies, and if worse came to worse… Castor Oil!

And for political problems… government corruption and such? Well, maybe you can’t still vote for FDR or Eisenhower… but you damn sure better vote.

Yes, my Great Grandma Hinckley was a true warrior.

And so, I am ready for the fights to come. I will be a warrior like her. I will be a problem-solver, and I will endure. Because that’s just what you do, no matter the odds against you. I learned it from her. And I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one with a warrior for a grandma, or mother, or father, or sister, brother, wife, or son… even daughter. We stand a chance if we will only stand together. And we do it for love.

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Filed under angry rant, autobiography, battling depression, family, goofy thoughts, healing, humor, inspiration, Paffooney

Thanks for the Memories, Frances Gumm

Little Frances Gumm from Minnesota

She is older than both my mother and my father. In fact, if she were alive today, if she hadn’t died young when I was thirteen, she would be 98, and approaching the century mark. She was born in Grand Rapids, Minnesota in 1922.

And even though that’s right next door to where I was born in Mason City, Iowa, we were never really neighbors. Our families never met in person, and didn’t know diddly-boo about each other.

But she had a profound impact on our lives. And, boy! Could she ever sing and dance!

The Singing Gumm Sisters.
A little bit older Frances Gumm

I don’t know why she ever felt that way, but Frances from childhood onward was always desperate to not be seen as fat.

She took pills to keep the weight off. She eventually had to take pills to sleep at night. Pills would make her suffer through most of her life. In fact, pills would eventually take her life.

But Frances Gumm would have an impact on my life. Frances would have an impact on my parents’ generation through the movie theater, back when you paid a dime to watch a movie projected on a white sheet tacked up on the Rowan firehouse wall. And she had an impact on my generation when we watched her on TV, mostly in black and white like we saw Meet Me in St. Louis. But also around Thanksgiving time. That movie they played every year.

Yes, Frances was a movie star.

But she didn’t go by the name she was born with in the movies.

And, boy! Could she ever sing!

And now that I am old and fragile, that song can make me cry. Like it did just now. And why?

Because Frances Gumm taught me something important when I was a little boy. Something that stuck with me for a lifetime.

While it’s true that there is no place like home, we are allowed to think about what is over the rainbow… and even to go there… and back again.

And I owe Frances for that memory. Especially because she had to struggle so hard to give me that. Frances, I will always love you for it.

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Filed under autobiography, Celebration, inspiration, strange and wonderful ideas about life

A New Song

I have been feeling ill for three days now. Every morning I wake up feeling that I must’ve caught the Coronavirus. Head all congested, body aching, chest hurting and giving me breathing difficulty, and possibly fever…

And yet, every day, my head clears, my chest stops hurting. No fever is detected. Who knows? I have lived yet another day.

I have honestly been treating every day as if it were my last. I have been doing that for six years now. One day at a time. I have convinced myself that it is the only way to live. Careful of my fragile mortality, yet savoring the music of every single day.

Who knows if tomorrow will be another day? I will do as I must tomorrow if tomorrow is given, and I am thankful for today.

In my time living every single day as my last one, I have written a number of stories. This is one of the good ones that I cherish. It has nudists and Nazis in it. It has gingerbread men (and girls) in it who magically come to life. There are also fairies. And one old German woman with some stories to tell to children. It is built of the sweet memories and cookies and milk from my own boyhood. And it may offend some people. But everyone who will admit to me that they read it, loves it. I love it. Twitter nudists think it represents naturism well.

And the next book I write, if I can string together enough last days at 500 words a day, will be nothing like it, completely different, and maybe better.

And so, on the chance that today really is the last, here is the wisdom that I would leave behind as my legacy.

Words, if chosen wisely, have meaning. And meaning, applied to life, is a priceless treasure. But only if you give it away when you find it.

All people are worth knowing. The unpleasant ones have even more to teach you than the ones who love you. But do not fail to make time for those you love.

Live in the moment. Sing your best. Dance whenever you can. There’s no time like now. At least until tomorrow becomes now.

Hopefully this gift of wisdom is enough for now. If it isn’t, then may the next day make me wiser so that I will do better.

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Filed under gingerbread, humor, illness, insight, inspiration, Paffooney, philosophy, wisdom

Self-Reflection

Every writer, whether he or she writes fiction or non-fiction, is really writing about themselves. The product originates within the self. So, that self has to gaze into the mirror from time to time.

So, the question for today is, who, or possibly what, is Mickey?

I have been posting stuff every day for a few years now, and in that time, I have been much-visited on WordPress. Maybe not much-read, but then, you cannot actually tell if somebody read it or not. Most probably look only at the pictures. And, since I am also an artist of sorts, that can also be a good thing. Though, just like most artists, my nude studies are more popular than the pieces I value the most. But unless the looker makes a comment or leaves a “like”, you really have no idea if they read or understood any of the words I wrote. And you have no idea what they feel about the art. Maybe they just happened to click on one of ;my nudes while surfing for porn.

I rarely get below 50 views of something in my blog every day. The last three days were 86 views, 124 views yesterday, and 88 views already today. My blog has definitely picked up pace over the length of the coronavirus quarantine. But no definable reason seems obvious. Some of my posts are polished work, but Robin is right when he says today’s post is merely fishing with the process, which is true almost every day.

As a person I am quirky and filled with flaws, pearls of wisdom that result from clam-like dealing with flaws, strange metaphors that shine the pearls, and obsessions like the one I have with nudism that leaves me properly dressed for diving for pearls.

I have demonstrated throughout my life that I have an interest in and experience with nudism, though not the boldness to parade my naked self before the world outside of the writing that I do. I also spent most of my bachelorhood dating reading teachers and teachers’ aides, finally settling down and marrying another English teacher. I completed a thirty-one year career as an English teacher, which means I spent a lot of time teaching writing and reading to kids who were ages 12 to 18. Twenty-four of those years were spent in the middle school monkey house. And all of that led to being so mentally damaged after all that I wasn’t good for much beyond becoming a writer of YA novels or possibly subbing for other mentally-damaged teachers in middle schools around our house.

A real telling feature of what I have become is the fact that most of the characters I write about in my fiction are somehow a reflection of me. Milt Morgan, seen to the left, is illustrated here with a picture of me as a ten-year-old wearing a purple derby. Yes, I was that kind of geeky nerd.

And most of the plots are based around things that happened to me as a child, a youth, or a young teacher. Many of the events in the stories actually happened to me, though the telling and retelling of them are largely twisted around and reshaped. And I am aware of all the fairies, aliens, werewolves, and clowns that inhabit my stories. Though I would argue that they were real too in an imaginative and metaphorical way.

So, here now is a finished post of Mickey staring into the metaphorical mirror and trying in vain to define the real Michael, an impossible, but not unworthy task.

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