Category Archives: inspiration

Why Do You Think That? (Part Two)

In my short, sweet sixty years of life, I have probably seen more than my share of movies.  I have seen classic movies, black-and-white movies, cartoon movies, Humphrey Bogart movies, epic movies, science fiction movies, PeeWee Herman movies, Disney movies, Oscar-winning movies, and endless box-office stinkers.  But in all of that, one of the most undeniable threads of all is that movies make me cry.  In fact they make me cry so often it is a miracle that even a drop of moisture remains in my body.   I should be a dried-out husk by now.

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I wept horribly during this scene.  Did you?

And the thing is, people make fun of you when you cry at movies.  Especially cartoon movies like Scooby Doo on Zombie Island.  (But I claim I was laughing so hard it brought tears to my eyes.  That’s the truth, dear sister.  So stop laughing at me.)  But I would like to put forth another “Why do you think that?” notion.  People who cry while watching a movie are stronger and more powerful than the people who laugh at them for crying.  A self-serving thesis if ever there was one.

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Movies can make you cry if you have the ability to feel empathy.  We all know this.  Old Yeller is the story of a dog who endears himself to a prairie farm family, saves Travis’s life at one point, and then gets infected with rabies and has to be put down.  Dang! No dry eyes at the end of that one.  Because everyone has encountered a dog and loyal dog-love somewhere along the line.  And a ten-year-old dog is an old dog.  The dogs you knew as a child helped you deal with mortality because invariably, no matter how much you loved them, dogs demonstrate what it means to die.  Trixie and Scamper were both hit by cars.  Queenie, Grampa’s collie, died of old age.  Jiggs the Boston Terrier died of heat stroke one summer.  You remember the pain of loss, and the story brings it all back.

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Only psychopaths don’t feel empathy to some degree.  Think about how you would feel if you were watching Old Yeller and somebody you were watching with started laughing when Travis pulls the trigger on the shotgun.  Now, there’s a Stephen King sort of character.

But I think I can defend having lots of empathy as a reason for crying a river of tears during Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  You see, identifying with Quasimodo as the main character, hoping for what he hopes for, feeling like a monster and completely unloved, and fearing what he fears connect you to the story in ways that completely immerses you in the experience.  This is basically a monster movie.Original-Hunchback_of_Notre_Dame

But the film puts you inside the head of the malformed man, and you realize that he is not the monster.  Righteous Judge Frollo and the people who mistreat Quasimodo for his deformity of outward appearance are the real monsters.  If you don’t cry a river of tears because of this story, then you have not learned the essential truth of Quasimodo.  When we judge others harshly, we are really judging ourselves. In order to stop being monstrous, and be truly human, you must look inside the ugliness as Esmeralda does to see the heroic beauty inside others.  Sometimes the ideas themselves are so powerful they make me weep.  That’s when my sister and my wife look at me and shake their heads because tears are shooting out of me like a fountain, raining wetness two or three seats in every direction.  But I believe I am a wiser man, a more resolved man, and ultimately a better man because I was not afraid to let a movie make me cry.

The music also helps to tell the story in ways that move my very soul to tears.  Notice how the heroine walks the opposite way to the rest of the crowd.  As they sing of what they desire, what they ask God to grant, she asks for nothing for herself.  She shows empathy in every verse, asking only for help for others.  And she alone walks to the light from the stained glass window.  She alone is talking to God.

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Yes, I am not embarrassed by the fact that movies make me cry.   In fact, I should probably be proud that movies and stories and connections to other people, which they bring me, makes me feel it so deeply I cry.  Maybe I am a sissy and a wimp.  Maybe I deserved to be laughed at all those times for crying during the movie.  But, hey, I’ll take the laughter.  I am not above it.  I am trying to be a humorist after all.

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The Insufferable Superiority of Dead Guys

I may have stupidly revealed this secret before, but since it is already probably out there, here it is again; I have been on a lifelong quest to find and learn wisdom.

Yep, that’s right.  I have been doing a lot of fishing in the well of understanding to try and find the ultimate rainbow trout of truth.  Of course, it is only incredibly stupid people who actually believe that trout can survive living in a well.

So I have been looking at a lot of what passes for wisdom in this world, and find that for the most part, it consists of a bunch of words written by dead guys.

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Boris Pasternak qualifies.  He is a dead guy.  At least, he has been since 1960.  Pasternak is a Russian.  His novel Doctor Zhivago is about the period in Russian history between the beginnings of the revolution in 1905 and the First World War.  He won the Nobel Prize for Literature for it in 1958, but the Soviet government, embarrassed by it, forced him to turn down the prize.

Nobel novelist is probably something that qualifies a dead guy as wise.

I am led to believe that he knew where to fish for the trout of truth.

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I like the idea that the real value in literature, as in the life it portrays, is found in the ordinary.  And yet, Boris speaks of it oxymoronically as extraordinary.  Wisdom is apparently found in contradicting yourself.

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I like the idea of a world infused with compassion.  But is he saying love may lead to misperceptions of how the objects of our love are mistreated?

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This man saw Leo Tolstoy on his deathbed when he was himself but a boy.  Like Tolstoy he questioned everything.  And like Tolstoy, when the end came, he believed in hope for the future.

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The worst part of getting wisdom from dead guys, guys you never met in real life but only came to know from books, is that you cannot argue with them.  You can’t question them about what they meant, or ask them if they ever considered one of your own insights.  You never get to tell them if you happen to fall in love with their ideas.

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Richard Feynman is a physicist, scientist, and writer of science-based wisdom.

Richard Feynman is also dead since 1988.

He is considered a brainiac superhero by science nerds everywhere, and not only do his words still live in his writings, but so does his math.

But what he is actually saying is, that in truth, we really never “know” anything.  It can never be fully understood and maybe the questions that we ask are more important than the answers.

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Wait a minute!  Feynman, are you calling me a fool?  

Of course, I can’t get an answer out of him.  Richard Feynman is dead.

But he does suggest what I can do about it.

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I had or worked with a large number of teachers in my life who would be absolutely horrified by that advice.

So, what conclusion can I reach other than that Richard Feynman thinks I’m a fool even though he never met me?

I don’t really know.  Maybe I should learn the lesson that you must be careful when you listen to dead guys talking.  But I do like what some of them say.  Perhaps that is my trout of truth.

 

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Lessons From Tchaikovsky

I used to be a classroom storyteller.  As an English teacher for middle school kids, I often would give brief biographical insights into famous people we were talking about at the time.  I told them about Crazy Horse of the Sioux tribe, Roger Bacon the alchemist and inventor of chemistry as a science, Mark Twain in Gold Rush California, and many other people I have found fascinating through my life as a reader and writer of English.

One bright boy in my gifted class remarked, “Mr. B, you always tell us these stories about people who did something amazing, and then you end it with they eventually died a horrible death.”

Yep.  That’s about right.  In its simplest form life consists of, “You are born, stuff happens, and then you die.”  And it does often seem to me that true genius and great heroism are punished terribly in the end.  Achilles destroys Hector, but his heel is his undoing.  Socrates taught Plato, and was forced to drink poison for being too good at teaching.  Custer was a vain imbecile and got what he deserved at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, but Crazy Horse, who made it happen, was pursued for the rest of his short life for it until he was finally captured and murdered.  Roger Bacon contributed immensely to science by experimenting with chemicals, but because he blew up his lab too often, and because one of his students blew himself up in a duel with another student, he ended his days in prison for practicing sorcery.

But if you have listened to any of the music I have added to this post, the music of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, then you recognized it, unless you have lived your whole life under a rock in Nomusikvetchistan.  And why is that?  Because even though it is all classical music written in the 1800’s, it’s basic genius and appeal is immortal.  It will outlive all of us.  Some of it, having been placed on a record on the Voyager space craft may get played and appreciated a million years from now in the vicinity of Betelgeuse.  It will still be a work of pure genius.

And, of course, the horrible life and terrible death thing is a part of it too.  Tchaikovsky’s work took an incredibly difficult path to success.  He was criticized by Russians for being too Western and not Russian enough.  He was criticized in the West for being too exotic and basically “too Russian”.  He railed against critics and suffered horribly at their hands.  Then, too, his private life was far less private than it had any right to be.  He was a bachelor most of his life, except for a two year marriage of pure misery that ended in divorce.  And everybody, with the possibility of Pyotr himself, knew it was because he was a homosexual.  He probably did have that orientation, but in a time and a career where it was deemed an illegal abomination.  So whether he ever practiced the lifestyle at great risk to himself, or he repressed it his entire life, we will never know for sure.

But the music is immortal.  And by being immortal, the music makes Tchaikovsky immortal too.  Despite the fact that he died tragically at the age of 53, possibly by suicide.

So, this is the great lesson of Tchaikovsky.  The higher you fly, the farther you fall, and you will fall… guaranteed, but that will never make the actual flight not worth taking.  Some things in life are more important than life itself.  As I near the end myself, I cling to that truth daily.

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The Sum of All my Fears

Let me be clear. I am not afraid to die. I am not afraid of the end of life on Earth. Even though I am just atheist enough that I don’t believe in an afterlife or rewards for being good after I am dead. I am also not afraid of turning evil in old age. My life is centered, peaceful, and grounded in a positive, life-affirming moral philosophy. So, why would I choose to write about fear if I am not afraid of anything?

But, that’s just it. I am not immune to fear.

I am sometimes afraid to watch Cardinals’ baseball games. It seems like, during playoffs and playoff runs, if I watch the ballgame, the Cardinals lose. I am afraid of being the cause of them losing important games, as if they would’ve won if I was not watching.

Of course, I listened on the radio the night Bob Gibson pitched a no-hitter against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 70’s . I watched the day Mark McGuire broke Roger Maris’s single-season home-run record. I watched the Cardinals win the World Series in 1982, 2006, and 2011. I followed the series in the newspaper in 1967. So, my fear is really a matter of being determined to overcome superstition. 1985, 2004, and all the other lost playoff series were really not my fault.

But a more real fear is my fear of stupid people winning the War on Ignorance that I have been fighting all my life, especially from 1981 to 2014, my teaching career. I am concerned that our education system is intentionally being driven into a dogma of only producing docile, controllable adults that will work hard and not demand a living wage, fair treatment, and equal rights with the privileged and wealthy minority. I labored for years to promote creativity, critical thinking, research skills, and reading-and-writing skills in students who come from poverty, Spanish-speaking homes, and who sometimes misbehave because they are not treated as well as their white, wealthy peers. Those are the hardest things that a teacher needs to teach. But the stupid people are demanding that we ban books and eliminate any idea or literature that might make privileged white kids feel the least bit guilty about racial attitudes, historical treatment of Native Americans, Slaves, and their descendants that their own ancestors might have had something to do with. And the feelings of those kids descended from those same oppressed peoples are disregarded. Stupid people would prefer that events like lynchings. the actions of the KKK, and other outrages committed in the name of racial hatred just be completely ignored and forgotten about. That is not how culture flows in a positive direction in a free democratic society.

As a retired teacher, I wish this meme had better spelling and was less true.

Stupid people are not only enacting racist book-banning crusades against straw men like CRT, Pro-Gay and Antifa terrorists, and liberal pedophiles, thus succeeding in firing black educators. banning the books of Alice Walker, Malcolm X, and James Baldwin, and preventing teachers from answering questions about sex. But also in getting stupid and violent radicals elected to offices they have no ability to handle only so they can do hateful things to the people their voters hate… mostly the poor minorities and marginalized immigrants, LGBTQ people, and even liberal educators like me that FOX News and Mark Levin tell them to hate.

I definitely fear having to live the final years of my long life under the rule of Trumpists, racists, narrow-minded stupid people, and Ted Cruz.

Oh, and I am afraid of being watched by ducks. Beady-eyed, soulless mallards, pintails, mergansers, Muscovies, and other kinds of ducks. Even though it was actually a goose that caused my preschool trauma and current phobia, it is a mallard with teeth that haunts my nightmares.

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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 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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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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What the Heck is this Blog About?

I read a lot of other people’s blogs for a lot of reasons.  As an old writing teacher and retired Grammar Nazi, I love to see where writers are on the talent spectrum.  I have read everything from the philosophy of Camus and Kant to the beginning writing of ESL kids who are illiterate in two languages.  I view it like a vast flower garden of varied posies where even the weeds can be considered beautiful.  And like rare species of flower, I notice that many of the best blossoms out there in the blogosphere are consistent with their coloring and patterns.  In other words, they have a theme.

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So, do I have an over-all theme for my blog?  It isn’t purely poetical like some of the poetry blogs I like to read.  I really only write comically bad poetry.  It has photos in it, but it isn’t anything like some of the photography blogs I follow.  They actually know how to photograph stuff and make it look perfect and pretty.  It is not strictly an art blog.  I do a lot of drawing and cartooning and inflict it upon you in this blog.  But I am not a professional artist and can’t hold a candle to some of the painters and artists I follow and sometimes even post about.  I enjoy calling Trump President Pumpkinhead, but I can’t say that my blog is a political humor blog, or that I am even passable as a humorous political commentator.

One thing that I can definitely say is that I was once a teacher.  I was one of those organizers and explainers who stand in front of diverse groups of kids five days a week for six shows a day and try to make them understand a little something.  Something wise.  Something wonderful.  Something new.  Look at the video above if you haven’t already watched it.  Not only does it give you a sense of the power of holding the big pencil, it teaches you something you probably didn’t realize before with so much more than mere words.

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But can I say this is an education blog?  No.  It is far too silly and pointless to be that.  If you want a real education blog, you have to look for someone like Diane Ravitch’s blog.  Education is a more serious and sober topic than Mickey.

By the way, were you worried about the poor bunny in that first cartoon getting eaten by the fox and the bear?  Well, maybe this point from that conversation can put your mind at ease.

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Mickey is tricky and gets good mileage out of his cartoons.

You may have gotten the idea that I like Bobby McFerrin by this point in my post.  It is true.  Pure genius and raw creative talent fascinate me.  Is that the end point of my journey to an answer about what the heck this blog is about?  Perhaps.  As good an answer as any.  But I think the question is still open for debate.  It is the journey from thought through many thoughts to theme that make it all fun.  And I don’t anticipate that journey actually ending anytime soon.

 

 

 

 

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Baseball Season

Every Spring is a new beginning, a new hope, a new chance to win the pennant.

When the baseball season starts fresh each year, it renews me, makes feel like I have another chance to make things happen and conquer the world again.  It makes me feel alive again… even now when I am old and retired and in constant pain.

People say to me, “Baseball is boring and slow and not as great a game as…” and then they try to tell me stuff about football and soccer and NBA basketball.  I’m not buying it, even when it is my eldest son selling it.

Baseball became my sport when I was a child in the 1960’s.  Great Grandpa Raymond was a frail and ancient man then, too elderly to share much of anything with me as I was young and full of energy.  But on Sunday afternoons in Spring and Summer, we listened to the Minnesota Twins play baseball on the radio.  I heard Harmon Killebrew hit homers and Tony Oliva make game-winning hits.  I learned that the game was about numbers and strategy… a team game, yet filled with moments of man versus man, star of one team facing off against the star of another, skill versus skill, willpower versus willpower.  I learned that baseball was a fundamental metaphor for how we live our lives.

I remember when Bob Gibson was the greatest pitcher in baseball, and he played an entire career with my favorite team, the St. Louis Cardinals.  I remember Lou Brock setting the record for stealing bases in a single season, a monumental accomplishment.  I actually saw Lou Brock steal a base in a game against the Houston Astros, though not in the record-setting year.  I was there in person.  I listened to Bob Gibson’s no hitter of the Pittsburgh Pirates on the radio, listening in a campground in St. Louis while the Cardinals actually played in Pittsburgh.  I didn’t get to see Stan Musial play ball.  He retired before I first became aware of the game.  But he was on TV quite a lot on game day, and I hung on every word.

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Baseball has gotten me through some very rough times in my life.  I used to play ball, baseball and softball.  I was a center fielder for our 4-H team and made some game-saving catches in the field, hit a home run once, and once saved a game for our side when I threw out a runner at home plate from center field.  And I have religiously followed the Cardinals year after year.  In 2011, when health problems and family problems and depression threatened to destroy me… the Cardinals won the World Series in seven hard-fought games.  When you reach a moment of crisis, with the game on the line, you can reach deep inside for that old baseball player magic… tell yourself, “I will not lose this day!” and find the power within you to make that throw, get that hit, catch that long fly ball…

Baseball is a connection to family and friends… teammates… everyone who has ever shared the love of the game.  If you don’t win it all this time… there’s always next Spring.  God, I love baseball.

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Inspiration…

So, what if it is true that the future begins with the story-teller? Smart phones are obviously descendants of the communicators and tricorders and computers that Gene Roddenberry introduced to us in the original Star Trek series. George Orwell gave us timely predictions and warnings of the rise of fascism and authoritarianism in his novel, 1984.

If we truly wish to be a force for good, we have to take the evil bull by the horns and turn its momentum away from the future we seek to protect. Like Solzhenitsyn we may be gored in that bull-fight and end up spending time in the gulag. But those of us who choose to be writers, especially story-tellers, must take on that responsibility. What if ours is the story that changes the mind of a nation, like when the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn took on slavery and the unjust treatment of others who think that, because they are white, or have money, or are somehow smarter than everyone else, they have the right to abuse, take advantage, or even kill other people? What if ours is the story that turns the rich into selfish engines of greed as Atlas Shrugged obviously did?

It is a tremendous responsibility. It is a power we must not wield unwisely, even if our talent level is only that of the disastrously lazy Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

What sort of a story-teller will I be?

What sort will you be?

Where will I lead my readers (If indeed there ever are any)?

And where will you lead yours?

If any questions are important now during these days of self-reflection, isolation, and Coronavirus, it will surely be these. So, tell me what you think.

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Writer’s Block

I have always contended that I don’t have writer’s block. But some days, especially if I am not feeling well, I have writer’s lethargy. I can be slow to come up with the next thing. Writing can become bogged down and I am easily distracted or lose focus and have to return to what I was trying to do previously.

There is evidence that I have often had that kind of problem frequently on this blog. One thing I do to overcome writer’s lethargy is suddenly start thinking about how you can overcome writer’s block. What are the strategies that help me overcome it?

I often resort to “kickstart statements.” These are surprising or deep-left-field items that give the old brain a shot of adrenaline. The picture of the girl with the message blackboard is that kind of kickstarter. I never could have used that thing in any kind of social-media post when I was still employed as a teacher. It has the potential to generate parent complaints and administrative thoughts about evaluations and contract cancellations. But there really are kids who have thoughts like that in your classroom, and I know because not only was I a kid like that myself, I used it as an optional journal topic for writing practice, and, boy! do they ever catch fire when they can write about something like that and they know only the teacher is ever going to read it. It is the way I learned how many of my students had ever been to a nude beach in Corpus Christi or Lake Travis (Hippy Hollow.)

I can also look around the room, or scroll through my media library on WordPress and find an image or an item that generates ideas, responses, and even stories. I scrolled through to find this image of the Gummi Bear, who was a brief internet sensation on YouTube a few years ago coming from German CGI cartoons that illustrated earworm music with dancing green gummy bears. There’s a lot a goofy writer like me can run away with inspired by a nonsense thing like that.

It is also possible to generate new ideas by deconstructing a metaphor in as humorous and convoluted a way as possible. This word-food thing is the result of writer’s lethargy of a while back.

Of course, there is always the ranting factor. This, I think, is a go-to method used by stand-up comedians. They will pick something that is deeply bugging them, like the rats that inhabit my attic and walls during a winter that hasn’t yet completely gone. And they start listing all the ways they can make funny stories about the time the rat appeared on the bathroom floor tiles while my daughter was on the toilet, or the time the dog killed a rat that was in the trap already, but not dead enough not to bite back with the dog’s nose conveniently within the reach of rat teeth. And then they can rant onward about how disgusting rats are. And how can anyone look at a rat face and think they are cute? You look at that evil, beady-eyed face and you don’t think Mickey Mouse, you think plague, disease, the Black Death, and how much the Bank of America lawyer who sued you looks just like that.

So, you can see that generating ideas is easy. And you can write something interesting even on days when you can’t think of anything … quickly. When you have, not writer’s block, but writer’s lethargy.

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