Category Archives: Iowa

Living in My Head

Rowan, Iowa is a place full of memories. I was a boy there, from the time I was four and began remembering life until I was 24 and life in the real world moved to distant parts the focus of what I called “Home”.

As my life continues, long past the time I figured I would be allowed to live by my six incurable diseases, I find myself living more and more inside my own head. Truly, my failing physical health has isolated me more and more from the people I know and have relationships with. Instead of spending hours upon hours at work every week, I find myself confined to my bedroom where I maintain breathable air, doing little beyond reading and writing, watching movies and shows on Netflix, dreaming, remembering, and imagining. My “real-world” life has been ever the less active and ever more confined to a small space. But in my head, the opposite is true. I have lived in memory; revisiting places that have been changed or torn down since, and spending time with people whom I still see as children even though they are now grown in real life with children of their own, and spending time talking to people who live no more, anywhere but in my memory.

Some of those to whom I am talking are actually me, fictionalized versions of me, imagined as if something different had happened to me, or I had chosen different roads less traveled than the ones I actually walked upon.

Some are, naturally, people whom I have loved, seen through different colored lenses than I saw them when I saw them with my physical eyes.

And it is most definitely possible to see and re-interpret the things that happened to us in a very different light than the ones I saw it all in during the 1960’s and 1970’s. It helps to be able to put on the old time-traveler’s glasses to look again, not at how it really was, but how it really ought to be.

Everything I have just rambled on about in run-on sentences of purple paisley prose, is writer-thinking. It is the very thing that most probably goes on in your head too, since you are likely only reading this blog post because you are a writer too, and you find value in the ramblings of an old man who used to be a writing teacher and is now, very definitely, one of the goofier varieties of writer whom you can learn significant lessons from (even if only what not to do, because you are not as stupid as I am when it comes to writing).

Many of the things that happen now in my silly, stupid old head happen in places like the planet Mars or on board a star-ship headed to other parts of the Orion Spur of the Sagittarius Spiral Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy.

I often live, as well, in the part of my head that is entirely made-up from galvanized, sauteed, or even moldy pieces of imagination. I live in places like the Mothership of the Telleron Explorers now in orbit around the planet Galtorr Prime. Or Animal Town in the middle of the country of Fantastica where I met my wife, seen here as Mandy Panda from the Pandalore Islands.

Or even in the Willow-Tree Fortress known as Cair Tellos, the Capital of the Fairy Kingdom of Tellosia in Wright County, Iowa.

Living in the world when your body betrays you constantly can be horrible and hard. But living inside your head is easy. And I actually plan to do more of it before the final page is turned in the Book of my Life.

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Filed under artwork, autobiography, goofy thoughts, Iowa, irony, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Waiting for the Curtain to Fall…

Firefang

The Amazon rain forest is burning. It filters our atmosphere, removing carbon, and producing about 20 percent of our breathable air. The Latin Trump, newly elected leader of Brazil, wants it to burn to make arable land for growing soybeans to sell to China and profit over the Pumpkinhead President’s stupid trade war.

I already worry about having a heart attack at any moment. I can’t afford insulin for my diabetes, or another trip to the emergency room. The next concerning chest pain may well be the onset of the end of everything for me. If it is just another mystery pain caused by the inflamed joints in my rib cage, or the arthritic bones pressing on my spinal chord, I will not be able to pay for the inevitable surgery I discussed with doctors before. Better for my heart to go boom and the suffering to end.

But I believe in the Dylan Thomas solution. “Do not go gentle into that good night, rather, Rage! Rage! Against the dying of the light!”

So, how do I do that? How do I rage against the end of days? Whether for the entire planet facing heat death and a destroyed environment, or just for myself?

I will write the next home-town novel about the boy who cannot die. I am calling it A Boy Forever… at least for now. That’s a working title.

The Paffooney for today pictures Firefang, a girl who comes to the little town of Norwall, Iowa, against her will with her adoptive oriental father. She is not the protagonist. Young Icarus Jones is that. Rather, she is the antagonist, the fire-breathing troubled teen dissatisfied with life and longing for chaos and escape.

This will not be a teen romantic comedy. Well, not only that, anyway. It will be a book about an imprisoned dragon, the undying, and the undead. It will be about murder and the quest for immortality. I am working on the plot of it as an epistolary novel, made up of letters, interviews, and first-person accounts. And it will be both funny and sad, both an allegory and a farce, a parody and a prose poem.

Okay, I know it’s a tall order. But when faced with imminent death, you gotta do something, right? I intend to write another novel.

The picture is modeled after a girl from Brazil that I met over the internet, on Twitter. The character is not based on her. I barely know her. But I used her internet selfie to draw the picture portrait of Firefang.

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Filed under horror writing, humor, Iowa, novel, novel plans, Paffooney

Where the Heart Lives

Every year that passes, life becomes more challenging, more difficult.

Ill health denies me many things. The poverty that comes with ill health and teacher retirement denies me even more. But I made it home to Iowa to visit the family farm once more. It could well be the last time. My parents are in their 80’s and more ill than I am. I lost my aunt a little more than a week ago. She passed away one day after her 80th birthday. Nothing is permanent. But those things that resist the ravages of time, the places, the people, the culture, the wind in the corn…

…Give me comfort, give me peace.

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Filed under autobiography, family, Iowa, sharing from YouTube

Generations Gone Before

Of the people in the school picture from Rowan Rural School #4 (a one-room schoolhouse from Midwestern history and lore) all the ones who survive are octogenarians. Three of the survivors were at our family reunion for Great Grandma Hinckley’s descendants. My mother and uncle were there. Their cousin was also there. The school house stood on the Aldrich corner, near the house where my Grandpa and Grandma Aldrich lived, the farm house of a farm that’s been in the family for over a hundred years. My mother and Uncle Don and Uncle Larry could easily walk there. The rest came from country miles around by horse-drawn wagon.

This is not a school-bus wagon, but rather, an oat-seed spreader. So, almost the same.

Uncle Larry is now gone, but they have survived from the time of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the time of Criminal President Doofenschmertz Jehosephat Trumpennoodle. Things have changed. The house I now sit in was, back then, a place with a windmill and hand-pump for water, an outhouse for bathroom chores, and a radio for entertainment.

If they hadn’t endured through World War Two, and Joe McCarthy’s Red Scare, and the assassination of JFK, we wouldn’t even be here. We are the children of hardship, endurance, and conviction of the rightness of life on Earth.

We saw progress through the creation of Disneyland, landing the first man on the surface of the moon, Bugs Bunny cartoons, Scooby Doo, and the Pink Panther… Nixon and his Watergate break-in, Hee Haw and Lawrence Welk, Laugh-in… President Ford falling down stairs, Saturday Night Live, the Peanut-farmer President, Reaganomics… the Iranian hostage crisis… Saved by the Bell, Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones… The invasion of Panama… Operation Desert Storm… the second war in Iraq… the downfall of Saddam Hussein… Thundercats, Jerry Seinfeld, Friends, the Wonder Years…

I am especially impressed that they lived through all those Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethons. And Leisure Suits… Aagh!

Mother’s entryway table with pictures of Grandpa and Grandma Aldrich in the back

And their time is not completely up. Mother and Dad and Uncle Don still move on and go to reunions and bury loved ones… and tend to the needs of grandkids and great-grandkids… And pass on the good things to the next generation… and the next. So it goes, towards times not yet dreamed of.

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Filed under autobiography, family, humor, Iowa, kids, photos

When the Captain Came Calling… Canto 5

Canto Five – Everyone is Naked Under Their Clothes

The night was typical.  Six nasty old hens pecked Valerie’s hands as she searched under them for eggs.  The last one of those took a girl-fist to the side of the head.  That, of course, didn’t faze the stupid hen.  Chickens apparently have their brains hidden safely in their butts.  But chores always came to an end.  Mom was always sympathetic about chicken-stupidity-caused peck marks, and rubbed salve on them, visible wound or not.  Then it was time to finish any homework needed, and up to bed.  And Val always slept naked under the quilts and comforters.    She slept well because… well, because naked was good when you were asleep.

Morning came, as mornings do, with a stupid rooster crowing the sun up.  Of course, if hens are stupid, roosters, having the additional mental handicap of being male, were stupid times ten.  No, stupid times twenty.  Beau the rooster always got it wrong.  The sun was never actually up until at least a half hour after the stupid rooster claimed it was up.  Chicken pot pie.  As Valerie pried her eyes open, she imagined chicken pot pie cooking on Mom’s stove.  Beau-flavored chicken pot pie.

When she got to the bathroom, Daddy Kyle was already in there shaving.  No problem.  Once again Valerie marched in naked as the day she was born, though with considerably more hair on her head.  She went straight to the shower, grabbed the shampoo off the shelf, and twisted the water on to just the right level of warm she always used.  Warm, soapy water all over your body… piles of foamy shampoo in your longish hair… it was a little like Eden must have felt to Eve.  And Eve liked being naked too… at least, until the mistake with the snake.  Of course, Eden had to end when the water began to grow cold.  Even in the summertime the well could put out near freezing levels of cold once the water heater was drained.

Kyle looked at her when she stepped out and grabbed a towel.

“No hot water left for me again, huh, Princess?”

“Sorry, Daddy.  I need a good hot shower in the mornings.”

“Shouldn’t you put on a robe or something, dearest?  You come in here every morning completely naked.  You are getting too old for that.”

“Old?  Too old for what?

“When a girl reaches a certain age, she starts to change.  When that happens, well…”

“But, Daddy, you are used to seeing me naked.  You changed my diapers while Mommy and I were still in the hospital after I was born.”

“I know… I know…  And it isn’t that there is anything wrong happening.  It’s just…”

“You can’t be getting shy.  I’ve seen you naked too… a lot.”

Kyle’s face reddened.   He was apparently trying hard to stutter on.

“When a girl reaches a certain age… well, she…”

“Yeah, she changes.  I know Dad.  Mom told me what to expect.  But honestly, I don’t even really have boob bumps yet.  I look like a little boy when I’m naked… except I don’t have one of those water hoses to pee with.”

She was standing with the towel in her hand, looking at him while she was completely bare and being mildly amused by his extreme discomfort.  He finally sat down on the closed cover of the commode, completely defeated.  She decided to push things a little.  She dropped the towel and went to sit on his knee even though she was a little damp around the edges and quite sincerely still naked.

“Princess…”

“I love you too, Daddy.”

“No… I mean, yes, I love you… but this is not a good thing for a big girl to be doing.  I worry you are getting so used to being naked around a man like me… even though I’m your Daddy… and one day… when boys, um… get curious… the way boys are… and, well…”

“If that’s what worries you, Daddy, no boy besides you has ever seen me naked.  And I won’t let a yucky thing like that happen… until the time is right.”

“Okay, but promise me the time is not right until you are thirty.”

“Daaaad!    You know everyone is actually naked under their clothes.  Everyone has a body… so no one should be ashamed of it.”  Surely he recognized that bit of wisdom.  After all, it is what he’d said to her on the subject more than once.

“Okay.  I trust you and believe in you.  But develop a little modesty maybe?  Put on a robe when you come in here.  Or wait till I’m done.”

“Don’t you like me like this?”

“I love you.  But you are getting to an age where you being naked like this around me… well… begins to get… um, uncomfortable.  And your little wet behind is making my pants wet.  I have work to do today, and now my pants have a wet spot shaped like your butt.”

“Oh, Daddy!”  She leaned in and kissed him on the cheek.   He put an arm around her shoulders and gave a squeeze.

“I hope we can start getting some better habits going, Princess.  We don’t want to get your mom mad or anything.” Valerie hopped off his damp lap and padded over to retrieve the towel.  She wrapped it around herself and then gave him one more grin before she barefooted it out of the bathroom and toward her waiting school clothes.  You never knew anything for certain.  Maybe one day she would just have to go to school naked… to show Daddy that… well, okay… maybe not to school.

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Filed under humor, Iowa, kids, novel, NOVEL WRITING, nudes, Paffooney

Here is My Heart

Yesterday I posted another maudlin doomsday post. I probably gave you the opinion that all I do with my time is mope around and think about death. And maybe write a little creepy black Gothic poetry. But that’s not me. I am a lover of the humor in stories by Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, and Kurt Vonnegut. I am a former teacher that managed to teach the entire zoological range of possible middle school and high school students in Texas and did it without being convinced to hate them rather than love them. Yes, my heart is full of mirth and love and memories of weird kids and troubled kids and kids that could melt the meanest of hearts.

My passion is writing fictional stories about the kids I have taught, including my own three, and setting it in a fictionalized version of my little town, the place in Iowa where I grew up. And I put them in plots of impossible fantasy and science fiction in a way that can only be explained as surrealism.

Nobody reads my books. So far, at any rate.

But that isn’t the important thing. The important thing is that, despite my illness and deteriorating quality of life, my books now actually exist. I put off being a full-time writer for 33 years as I finished my teaching career. A writer has to have something to write about. So, teaching came first.

Writing novels was always the ultimate goal, however. I am a story-teller. The story itself is in the very center of my heart.

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Filed under autobiography, cartoony Paffooney, humor, Iowa, kids, NOVEL WRITING, Paffooney, surrealism, teaching, telling lies, writing

When the Captain Came Calling… Canto 3

Canto Three –Discovery Doesn’t Happen Without Risk

Leaving the Ghost House, Valerie waited until Conrad Doble had left.  She didn’t like old King Leer looking at her.  She would’ve been happier if Pidney had stayed around a bit longer.  Not only could he protect her, but she really liked looking at Pidney’s broad shoulders and cute behind.  But Pidney left when Mary left.   She didn’t have to worry for too long though about being alone with Conrad.  He left shortly after Pid and Mary.  Danny Murphy and Ray Zeffer were both still there.

“You wouldn’t mind if we walked you home, huh, Val?” asked Danny.

She looked out the cellar doorway where Conrad had just disappeared.  “It would be kinda good to have two guys around when I have to go back home and that creepazoid is around somewhere.”

“We promised Pidney a long time ago that we would look out for you,” said Ray.

“I don’t really know you very well, Ray.  Why do you wanna help me?”

“We are like second cousins or something,” said Ray.  “Grandma says there are connections between the Zeffers and the Clarkes.  Back a couple of generations maybe.”

“Besides,” said Danny, “You may only be ten years old, but you are so beautiful.  We’d do anything for you just because of that.”

“That’s kinda sexist, ain’t it? You know my mom and I are both feminists, right?”

“Maybe,” said Ray, shoving Danny for having been so stupid.  “But it is entirely true.”

She looked at him then… really studied him for a moment.  Ray Zeffer, tall and thin, was nice to look at too.  He had big brown eyes like a deer…  Bambi’s eyes.  Those eyes could look soulfully through you like x-ray eyes.  He could see Valerie’s heart inside her ribcage.  She shivered ever so slightly because of those big Bambi eyes.  But those eyes were sad.  Something about the way those eyes looked at you told you that something deeply sad and soul-searing had touched Ray. She was fairly sure his mother hadn’t been killed by hunters though.

“Let’s go then.  If you walk me to the north edge of town, that will be good enough.”

“You skated in all the way from the farm?” asked Danny.

“Walked to town,” she answered.  “You can’t use the board on the gravel roads.  It is only two miles.”

“That’s still a long way,” said Ray.  “But if you don’t mind, we’ll walk you all the way home.”

“I don’t mind.  You are both very sweet to do it.”

                                                              *****
The walk along the gravel roads had been pleasant.  The rocks and sand crunched under your sneakers in a way that was reassuring.  Your feet were firmly on the earth when you walked on the gravel.  No danger of floating away into some dream world.   And the sound the gravel made could warn you of oncoming cars both ahead of you, and behind.  Stalking King Leers too.  They couldn’t sneak up on you without being heard.

“That farm place there is where I live with Daddy and Momma,” said Valerie.  She looked at Ray.

“We know where you live,” said Danny.  “We all three have lived in this town all our lives.”

“Oh, yeah, I know that,” said Val sheepishly.  She didn’t want to be awkward in front of Ray.

“It’s a nice farm,” said Ray.  “Your dad must work hard with so many acres to till.”

“Yeah, he’s pretty busy in the spring, summer, and fall.  He should be in the fields now picking corn, unless he’s finished all the corn that survived the hail in August.”

“I’d be in the fields now, too,” said Ray sadly, “except my dad passed away two years ago.  We just rent our land out now, Mom and me.”

Val knew about Ray’s father.  He had passed away in the Summer of ’82 from a heart attack while driving his tractor in a field down by Dows, Iowa.  Maybe that’s why Ray looked so sad all the time.

“Do you miss it?” asked Danny.  “The field work, I mean?”

“Not really.  Being a farmer is a hard job.  It’s like you are never done working.”

“Danny wouldn’t know,” said Valerie with a mocking grin.  “His dad works in an office in Belle City.  He counts beans or something.”

“He’s an accountant,” said Danny frowning fiercely.  “Bean-counter is a nick-name for an accountant.  He doesn’t actually count beans!”

“What does he really count, then?” asked Ray.

“Payrolls and prices and ledgers and stuff… I think,” said Danny.  “But I have done field work!  You know I walked beans the past two summers, Val!  You walked ‘em too!”

“Ack!  I hate walking up and down the rows with a hoe, pulling button weeds and chopping rogue corn!” said Ray.

“I like it,” said Valerie laughing.  “I pretend some of the weeds are people I don’t like or who have made fun of me.  I grab ‘em by the throat and yank their little fat heads off, or I chop them in two with the hoe.  Besides, walking beans is how I got to see Danny naked last summer.”

Danny was seriously blushing now.  If Val hadn’t killed him with embarrassment before, this was sure to do the job now.

“Tell me about it,” said Ray with a chuckle.

Danny was hesitant, but certainly didn’t want Valerie to tell it.  “Well, er…  I made a bet with my cousin from Clarion about who could clear out the thistle patch in his row faster.   The loser had to do the next two rows stark naked, with the winner holding on to the clothes.  I didn’t know anybody could chop thistles that fast.”

“After two rows in the sun with that white skin of his,” said Valerie, “he was red all over… just like a cherry… even in places a person should never be sunburned.”

All three of them laughed about it and Danny didn’t even die of embarrassment.  Almost, but not quite.

“We’re here,” said Val at last.  “Thank you for walking me home.  You are both gentlemen, and very gallant.”

“What does gallant mean?” asked Danny.

“Like a white knight,” said Ray, “protecting the princess from evil.”

“Are we white knights?” asked Danny, looking directly at Val.

“One white knight and one cherry red jester, I think.” 

Danny grinned again.  Ray laughed.  It was good to hear Ray laugh.  Some people simply need to laugh more.                                                                  

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Filed under farming, humor, Iowa, novel, NOVEL WRITING, Paffooney