Category Archives: inspiration

The Last Night of the Leave

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On the last night of my son’s 14-day leave from the Marine Corps for the holidays, we took him out to eat and then saw a family movie together.  It was the Pixar movie Coco.  And what a perfect movie it was!  First of all, it is about family.  It is about the connections we have to those who’ve come before us.  Grandparents and Great Grandparents and Great Great Grandparents… the greatness just keeps flowing back into the past.  And this movie connected living family members to those who came before.

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We spent a lot of our time over the holiday visit talking about the past and those who came before us.  My kids didn’t really get much of a chance to know great grandparents in real life, and great great grandparents were long gone.  My son only knows about Great Great Grandpa Raymond through my stories about Sunday afternoon baseball, listening to Harmon Killebrew and the Twins playing on the radio with Grandpa Raymond.  Great Grandma Beyer got to hold Number One Son and Number Two Son, but only Number One was old enough to remember her at all, and that only in the vaguest possible ways.  I try to keep them alive with family stories and anecdotes.  Much in the same fashion the movie did, although the main character Miguel (ironically the Spanish version of Michael) actually visits the land of the dead.  I haven’t personally gone quite that far.

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The movie also expresses a deep genetic love of music, especially guitar music.  My kids are all musical, and both of my sons play guitar.  Number Two Son is particularly gifted in a Spanish-style ability to pick out complex tunes by ear and by sheet music.  The movie’s music is without question the thing that makes it the best movie we have seen this year.

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And the movie is filled to the brim with bright and appealing artwork, being an animated movie filled with Mexican art, even having a guest cameo appearance by the incomparable Frida Kahlo.  This is easily the best movie she has been in since she died in 1954.  The comedy of this whole extended skeleton dance of a movie is laugh-out-loud gorgeous.    And artwork is also something I share a love for with my three children.

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So I put him on an airplane in DFW today, and he is now back at his base.  But I had him here for a precious little while and we capped it off with a precious little movie. Now, I have to admit, this post is not entirely a movie review.  It is more about how my family made use of it and interacted with it.  It is more of a family story that I needed to tell to keep the goodness of it alive and vibrant, painted in bright colors.  But if you really want to know what I think of the movie, then I will shout at you, “YOU MUST SEE THIS MOVIE!!!”  With three exclamation marks and everything.  It is simply that good.

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Filed under strange and wonderful ideas about life, humor, autobiography, movie review, inspiration, kids, family, review of music, music

Robins, Blue Jays, and Blackbirds

God talks to me through the birds.  I know that sounds crazy.  Only a loony man like Francis of Assisi could ever believe such a foolish thing, right?  But is is true.  I am aware of the birds around me at all times because birds have meaning, and when I need to see certain signs from God to center and redirect my life and spiritual awareness, God puts certain birds in my way, hoping that I will see them and interpret their meaning correctly.

This morning at QT I saw three different kinds of bird.  First I saw a robin while eating my QT pumpkin spice doughnut.  Then a blue jay on the ground hopped out from behind the corner of the building.  Then a pair of blackbirds flew down to watch the jay hunting through the grass.

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Robins are traditionally the bird of spring-time, the harbinger of the end of winter.  As a boy in Iowa, it was always a relief after the long cold winter to see the first robin of spring.  But it means more than that.  Robins are reliable.  They leave for the winter to parts south and always return to bring hope for relief from our troubles.  You can depend on robins to provide that service.  The robin I saw this morning, I saw in early December.  Winter is just beginning.  But Texas is a place where robins spend the winter.  God is telling me through the robin that my troubles are ending, easing into a metaphorical Spring and Summer.  And like the robin, God is asking me to continue being reliable for my family and everyone else who looks to me for signs of hope, candle flames in the darkness, and a return to spring.  How’s that for bird-brained thinking?

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Blue Jays are bullies and thieves.  If you have ever watched birds go about bird-business, and ever specifically watched blue jays do their jobs, then you already know they are bully birds.  A blue jay will arrive at the bird feeder and drive off the sparrows, finches, and chickadees.  They use their superior size to dominate the other birds, eating their fill before allowing the smaller birds their chance.  They are aggressive enough to land on your picnic table and snatch a McDonald’s French fry or six if you are not close enough to swat them.  And it was a blue jay that got me three times on the top of my head with her claws, diving at me like a dive bomber, when I was ten and didn’t realize that her chick had fallen out of her nest and sat shivering next to the sidewalk where I was walking.

Seeing the bird this morning was a reminder that there will be more aggressive folks on the sidewalk of life ahead of me that I will have to avoid.  But this blue jay did nothing but hunt the grass for himself.  He did not bother any other bird.  So relief from the aggression of others is at least possible.

And black birds are the most common sorts of birds to see.  But when you say, “black birds” what do you really mean?  Grackles, creeks, common grackles, starlings, magpies, and redwing blackbirds are all black birds, even though they couldn’t be more varied and different from each other.  The black birds I saw this morning were common grackles, which, of course, aren’t even truly black.  They have iridescent blue-green feathers on their heads that can reflect sunlight with neon blazes of color.  Black birds tend to be scavengers, trash-snatchers of the highest order that live on whatever they find. So they really feel that all business is their business. No trash bin left unattended, or bug that a blue jay scared up and then ignored, is beneath their notice.

So God is telling me to appreciate all those around me.  I should notice and record their many unique beauties  and skills and useful utilities.

There was good reason that Francis of Assisi preached to the birds.  They are always watching, always listening, and, if studied carefully, always telling us about God’s will.

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Filed under birds, goofy thoughts, humor, insight, inspiration, religion, self portrait, strange and wonderful ideas about life

That Bluebird of Happiness

Blue birds

I often go back and re-read old posts, particularly when I discover that someone else has read them.  It is amazing to me how differently I perceive things from when I actually wrote the post.  As you write, squeezing huge, boulder-sized portions of hot, magma-like burning ideas and passions out through writing orifices not nearly big enough to accommodate, you usually hate what you wrote and are still writhing in pain from the creation of it as you try to edit it, trim it and brush its unruly hair.  (How’s that for a mixed metaphor to make you cringe?)  But given time and distance, you can really appreciate what you wrote more than ever before.  Things that you thought were the stupidest idea a man ever put in words suddenly have the power to make you laugh, or make you cry.  You are able to feel the things the writing was intended to make you feel.  You begin to think things like, “Maybe you are not the worst writer that ever lived, and maybe that’s not why nobody ever reads your books.”  But then, of course, your sister reads the post and tells you that you write like a really old, really crabby, really ancient old man.  And you use the word “really” too much too.  I know I deserve that, Sis.  Especially the “really” part.

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Here’s a post that I reread and liked today about Bob Ross.

This is the thing about happiness;  It is elusive and rare as a real-life blue bird. But capturing it for a moment is not impossible.  And as long as you don’t try to salt its tail and keep it prisoner, you can encourage it to sing for you.  (Much better metaphor this time, don’t you think?)  vintage-coca-cola-ad-1950s-1960s-clownb

When I am accused of being gloomy, old, and boring, I can happily admit it and make it into something funny.  I am something of a conspiracy nut, but not so serious that I believe all my own assertions.  For those people who took offense at this conspiracy theory of mine; Coca-Cola Mind Control, I would like to point out that “Hey, I was joking.  I actually like clowns.”  Even though there is a serious side to everything and there can’t be laughter without some tears, I am basically happy with the way things are.

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I started listening to “Live Happy Radio” on Sunday mornings on KLUV in Dallas.  They point out on their program of endlessly droning happy-talk that happiness is something that you can work at.  Like humor writing in blogs, it takes practice and practice and time.  They even asked me to share the word about their happy magazine and products, so I am doing exactly that right here.  Sometimes you simply have to put your cynicism in a jar on the shelf next to the lock box where you keep depression and self-loathing.  So you can find their Live-Happy folderol right here.

So I am bird-watching again with an eye out for the bluebird.  You know the one.  It is out there somewhere.  And I need to hear that song one more time.

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Filed under artwork, goofy thoughts, happiness, humor, insight, inspiration, irony, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Dancing Towards the Brighter Light

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In Texas a little girl who has cerebral palsy committed the crime of crossing a border patrol station near Laredo on the way to having life-saving gall bladder surgery.  So the border patrol followed her to the hospital, waited until the surgery was finished, and then took her to a detention facility for deportation.  Wow!

We are a heartless people.  We elect heartless representatives to congress to make heartless laws to punish people for being poor, or not being white, or not being patriotic enough at football games during the playing of the national anthem.  We elected an orange-faced creature with bad hair to the presidency rather than electing a human being with a beating heart.   And why did we do that?  Because too many people were in favor of health care laws and regulations that help people we don’t like.  We elected him to send a message to all the people we don’t like.  That message was, “Screw you, why don’t you just die already?”  We like that message because we are a heartless people.

 

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But while we are only thinking of ourselves and vowing to let everybody else go to hell, somewhere the music of the dance begins to play.  Hear it yet?

Somewhere children are laughing.

Somewhere Santa Claus is real.

Holidays are approaching and, with indictments sealed and in the hands of prosecutors, possible impeachment looms.  The happy dance is about to begin again.

Or maybe it never really went away.  People did care, do care, about the crisis in Puerto Rico.  After the hurricane, Dippy Donald Dimwit tossed paper towels to survivors, apparently suggesting that all he needed to do was that to symbolically get all the people cleaning up while holding on to their own bootstraps and pulling with all their might.  Apparently heartless people believe you can levitate if you pull upwards on bootstraps.  But Tesla gifted the city of San Juan with solar panels and batteries and started set-up of an island-based solar power grid to get Puerto Rico back online in the modern world.  And Elon Musk is taking the steps towards building the future that the pumpkinhead in chief can’t even conceive in his empty pumpkin head.  The music sways and builds.  The dancers circle each other and first steps in ballet shoes begin.

We are a heartless people.  We suffer in our cubicles alone, angry at a heartless world.  “Why don’t you love me?” each one of us cries, “aren’t I worthy of love?”  But crying never solved a problem.  No, counting our regrets and hoarding the list of wrongs done to us never started a heart to beating.  But the music builds.  Try smiling at that hard-working clerk who takes your information at the DMV, and then thanking them at the end for their hard work even though they have to deny you the permit because there are more bits of paperwork that have to be found and signed.  Try making a joke in line at the post office that makes the other hundred and ten people actually laugh while waiting interminably.  Do your best to bring light to the darkness, not for yourself, but for other people.  The music builds.  Do you know the steps to the dance?  No?  Well, the steps won’t matter if you begin to move to the music, begin to glide… And the heart starts pumping, and we begin to feel alive again.  Hallelujah!  We are dancing towards the light again.

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Today at Sunrise

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I was able to take a picture of a pink sky this morning.  Each dawn that comes is a gift.  None of them are guaranteed.  I haven’t gone to the doctor now in almost three years, not because my diabetes is not making me ill, but because I can’t afford to go on a regular program of insulin.  I don’t know how long I can continue to take pictures of the dawn and write about appreciating it.  But it doesn’t matter. I am here now.  And for today I have found treasure.

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You Are Not Alone

Mary Murphy's Children

Losing the pool this summer was a humbling experience.  I had repaired it before and got it working properly again, so I knew in my heart I was capable of salvaging it.  But everyone was against me.  The city was convinced that I was a deadbeat letting it slide and simply lying about it taking a long time because illness and financial reversals were slowing me down.  My family was against me because they no longer had any confidence that I could still do it, and they feared me killing myself in the attempt.  And then Bank of America won their lawsuit and prevented me from paying for the effort, thoroughly punishing me for the mistaken notion that I had any right to get myself out of medical debt even with the help of a lawyer.  And the electrical problems, which I could not correct myself, put the pool restoration out of reach.  I failed to do what I knew in my heart I was capable of.  I failed.  I was the only one who believed I could do it, and I only managed to prove everybody else right.

But Michael Jackson’s somewhat creepy nudie video with the weird Maxfield Parrish parody in it is actually a theme song for what I learned about myself.  I was alone in the pool-restoration struggle.  But I am not alone in life.  I will never be alone, even if somehow I ended up the last person alive on the planet.  Because we are all connected.  We are all a part of one thing.  We are not alone, even when we are.

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I think I learned that best from my Grandmother, Mary A. Beyer.  She was a rock-solid believer in Jesus through the pragmatic Midwestern arm of the Methodist Church.  She also gradually became an isolated, lonely individual, living by herself in Mason City, Iowa.  Grandpa Beyer died in his fifties, when I was about ten.  Great Grandpa Raymond, who lived with them for as long as I can remember, passed away a few years later.  But she was never really alone.  Jesus Christ was a real person to her.  She read her Bible and her weekly copies of the Methodist publication, The Upper Room, constantly.  And she was always a central part of our lives.  Christmases at Grandma Beyer’s place are deeply woven into the fabric of my memory.  The bubble lights on the Christmas tree, the carefully saved and re-used wrapping paper from the 1940’s, the hot cocoa, and Christmas specials on her RCA color TV…  I still draw strength and love from those things, and from her faith, even after almost twenty years pretending Christmas was evil as a Jehovah’s Witness.  Simple truth and faith shared are some of those essential things that bind us together even though they are invisible to the eye.   My Grandma Beyer is still with me even when I am fighting off the pool harpies all by myself because the things she taught me and the love she had for me still live in me, still affect who I am and how I act and what I truly believe in.

I am not alone.

And you aren’t either.  I am here for you.  I value you as human being.  God tells me I should, even though God is probably not real, and I believe Him, even though I am a fool who probably really doesn’t know anything  And it is true even if I do not know you and never met you.  Heck, you may be reading this after I am long dead.  And it is still true.  Because we have shared life on this planet together.  We are both humans.  We both think and feel and read and believe stuff.  And I love you.  Because my Grandma taught me that I should, just as someone, somewhere in your life taught you.

You are not alone.

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The Man in the Mirror

Every now and again we have to stop what we are doing for a moment and examine ourselves.  If we are writers, we tend to do it every fifteen minutes or so.  You have to expose the soul to the light of day for a moment and take a look with eyes wide open, prepared to see the worst… but also open to seeing beauty where you may not have seen it before.

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So what do I see when I look in the mirror?  More darkening age spots, more patches of psoriasis with increasingly red and irritated potential infections.  Drooping eyes that have lost their sparkle and now darken with blue melancholy.  I see a man falling down.  Falling slowly, but falling never-the-less.  It happens to everybody with age.  I can no longer do the job I loved for 31 years.  I am no longer the goofy Reluctant Rabbit with the big pencil in the front of the classroom, telling stories and making learning happen.

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Once I was a big deal to little people.  Once I created magical experiences involving books and great authors, poems and great poets… and I taught little people how to write and master big words.  I mattered like a big frog in a small pond, able to make the biggest splash in that particular pond.  I was the froggiest.  But I haven’t drawn myself as a frog yet.

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Of course, I was never as big as that other Michael.  He made a really big splash in a really big pond.  He was a really big frog.

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He and I have a lot in common.  Not far off in age.  We got married about the same time.  Both had three kids, two boys and a girl.  Both were associated with Jehovah’s Witnesses at one point.  Both of us never really grew up.  He had Peter Pan Syndrome, and I stayed in school my whole working life.

And everybody has a dark side, in counterpoint to their better angels.  I’m not entirely sure what my dark side entails.  Being a grouch?  A diabetic?  A closet nudist?  But I have one.  I trot it out to make fun of it constantly.

But as I was feeling sorry for myself, being forced by the city to remove the pool, becoming a bankrupt poor guy thanks to Bank of America, and generally in such ill health that I feel like I am wearing a lead suit all the time, I stumbled across one of those life-affirming moments.  A former student asked me on Facebook to post a picture of myself so he could see how I was doing.  I posted this picture.

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Yep, the man in the mirror is definitely me.  I got loads of complements and howdys from former students, former colleagues, a former grade school classmate, and my Aunt Wilma.  I heard from people I care about and they reaffirmed that they still care about me, even though some of them I haven’t seen in more years than I am willing to admit.  Sometimes you have to look in the mirror to see what needs to be changed.  Sometimes you just need to see the precious few things that were always good and haven’t changed.  It is a process worth the effort.

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Filed under battling depression, commentary, empathy, feeling sorry for myself, grumpiness, humor, insight, inspiration, Paffooney, rabbit people, strange and wonderful ideas about life