Category Archives: inspiration

As If It Weren’t Enough…

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THE WISDOM OF THE LITTLE FOOL

A fool can’t really sum up all of life in a sentence.

But a fool tries.

A fool can’t really say something in immortal words.

Because a fool dies.

A fool can’t really do the job of the wise.

But never-the-less, the fool applies.

But a fool can write a really dumb poem,

And let it sit to draw some flies.

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Don’t Give Up!

Yes, I am philosophically a pessimist. I expect always that the worst outcome is the one I will have to live with. Hence, I was not as devastated by Donald Trump’s election as some who were too confident that Hilkary would win. And the climate crisis seems to be good reason to prepare for the worst that can happen. Some of it is already happening, already here.

But you really should listen to what this career futurist has to say about it.

The near future is, as documented with evidence in the video, far worse than we think it is. “Just doom, nothing else,” as Robin Williams declares. But too much pessimism at this point is the death of us. We have to keep trying. We can’t just give up.

A cheerleader who is not me.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not the right person to be elected head cheerleader on this issue. I have given in to despair and weeping on more than one occasion already. Since the election of Trump, the conservative pillaging of the Supreme Court, the roll-back of EPA guidelines and restrictions, the erosion of fundamental voting rights (soon to be followed by other rights,) the mismanagement of the economy, the Covid crisis, wildfires in the West, the insurrection after the election of Joe Biden, and more and more things that signal doom and possible Armaggedon, we have to battle the urge to lie down and die.

Here is where the optimism of the Reverand Peale is critical.

Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, also definitely not me.

If we stop trying, our loss and subsequent death is insured. It is only by continuing to fight that we will have a chance to save ourselves. And this is beginning to happen everywhere.

In 2020 we turned out against the Evil-Clown President in record numbers. We wrested the control of the government out of the hands of the corrupt elephants and put it back in the hands of the hard-working but mostly stupid jackasses. Biden’s donkey-like devotion to following through on the work that needs to be done got us through the rest of the pandemic, getting ourselves vaccinated and acclimated to life with the reality of the new deadly virus.

We need, like the faun, to be one with our environment.

We have tried hard and kept at it to achieve much-needed climate-control legislation. The fossil-fuel industry has made it difficult, and we nearly gave up on the Build Back Better program, but it seems through perseverance that we may have finally gotten a critical piece of that over the hurdles after all.

One thing definitely indicated is that we will need to turn out to vote in the midterm elections again this year. If we don’t, the elitist elefantiasis party will take away all our gains and punish us again, playing their golden fiddles while the world burns.

We will never have the magic we need if we don’t try to conjure it.

But despair is still not warranted here. We know what we can do to solve the problems that face us. We have done similar things before, with the Cold War, World War II, and the hole in the ozone layer in the 1980s. What’s more we have the tools we need already, and what we don’t have is quickly being developed. There are plans in the works for mountain-sized storage batteries, massive solar-power arrays, and wind farms (many of which are already built and operating.) We can rebuild and upgrade the entire power grid, not just in the USA, but for the whole world. It needs, of course, to all be weather-proofed, meteor-proofed, solar-storm-proofed, and, hopefully, greedy-Republican-idiot-proofed.

We are not beaten if we don’t give up.

And as the futurist tells us in the video you didn’t watch, pessimists prepare us for disaster, but only the optimist can make us successful in living through it to a brighter future beyond.

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Other Folks’ Artwork

There are many, many things I appreciate about other people’s artwork. It is not all a matter of envy or a desire to copy what they’ve done, stealing their techniques and insights for myself, though there is some of that. Look at the patterns Hergé uses to portray fish and undersea plants. I have shamelessly copied both. But it is more than just pen-and-ink burglary.

I like to be dazzled. I look for things other artists have done that pluck out sweet-sad melodies on the heartstrings of my of my artistically saturated soul. I look for things like the color blue in the art of Maxfield Parrish.

I love the mesmerizing surrealism of Salvador Dali.

I am fascinated by William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s ability to create photo-realistic and creamy-perfect nudes.

Basil Wolverton’s comic grotesqueries leave me stunned but laughing.

The dramatic lighting effects employed by Greg Hildebrandt slay me with beauty. (Though not literally. I am not bleeding and dying from looking at this picture, merely metaphorically cut to the heart.)

I even study closely movie-poster portraits like Bogart and Bergman in this Casablanca classic poster.

I could show you so many more art pieces that I dearly love to look at. But I will end with a very special artist.

This is the work of my daughter, Mina “the Princess” Beyer. Remember that name. She’s better than I am.

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I Can See!

The Glaucoma doctor measured my eyes for excessive pressure again today. Miraculously, the eye drops are working, each eye being more than 20 points less of pressure than the last time.

The big thing that the result means is NO SURGERY NEEDED. What a relief that is to know!

I am not saying you cannot know beauty if you cannot see. But to someone like me who has spent a lifetime as a graphic artist (a skill that you can debate if you like, having seen what my pencil-pushing fingers can do when the eyes lead them) blindness is a fear that causes numerous nightmares.

And I am not saying that blind people cannot be effective teachers, because I have known some truly inspiring teachers that were thusly challenged. But I am saying the ability to look into the eyes of someone who depends on you to teach them is a sight I would never willingly sacrifice, even to save my life. Life is given meaning by those priceless images and those lovely loving eyes.

So, I am grateful to still have my eyes and the prospect of keeping my sense of sight to the end of my days. It is important to look into the mirror, looking myself right in the eyes, and seeing both who I was and who I am likely to become.

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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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Followed by a Moon Shadow

Moonshadow by Cat Stevens

I first heard this song as a freshman in coll20160424_181349ege.  It struck me that it was hauntingly beautiful… but maybe I wasn’t entirely sure what it meant.

The song is about losing body parts and being okay with that.

That can actually be kinda creepy, right?

It is probably a song about gradually dying.

But that’s not really what it’s about.

I am there now.  Peeling, cracking, drying out… my life has reached the downhill run toward the finish line.  But I am not worried and not afraid.  Life is so much more than hands and eyes and legs and feet.  I can lose those things and have no regrets.  I am so much more than merely the sum of those physical things.

My spirit soars.  And my life is bound up in words and meanings that are now written down, and are at least as imperishable as paper.  And may, in fact, be written on a few human hearts here and there.

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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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