Where we now stand, if you are going by the picture, is out in the Texas sunshine and heat. We should be standing, if we were smart, under the shade of the mushrooms that grew up quickly as a result of so much unseasonable rain. Of course, that would be assuming that Mickey is currently a pixie with dragonfly wings, which he probably is not… at least, not right at this moment. Climate change is turning Texas into a giant pressure-cooker with enough leftover hurricane moisture in it to reach an explosive boil by the end of July.
We are being manipulated now by the crafty, vile servants of the deposed idiot-king, treating the righteously-installed successor as an illegitimate usurper.
We are hearing now the testimony of the castle guards as they detail the failed assault of orcs and other monstrosities as they tried to dethrone the legitimate ruler. And one wonders why there are not more beheadings going on in the currently secure castle courtyard. The villains apparently have gained more rights than they deserve.
Still, in a kingdom beset by many ill omens and partisan Republicans, there are good things happening too in the sunshine.
Mickey’s latest free-book promotion only gave away two e-book copies of The Boy… Forever. But one of those resulted in a positive review.
And my mother, still in the hospital, is stabilized and getting the treatments she needs for her old heart.
So, we stand together tentatively now, worried about what tomorrow and the next election may bring. But holding the high ground, a good defensive position.
I suppose that if I were to be insightfully honest for a moment, I would have to admit that I am a failed novelist. If you take “success” as meaning “financial success”, the fact that I only make less than five dollars a month for my writing means I am a failure at it. If you specify that success means my books find readers, then evidence would suggest that my books are mostly ignored. A majority of those who have responded favorably to my work are actually members of the nudist community on Twitter. I admit that I have cultivated that a bit with nudist characters in about a fourth of my books. But that is a result of having experienced fascinating people and situations that I felt I had to write about because I happened to meet, totally by chance, interesting nudists in real life.
I have lost a lot of writing-community followers on Twitter because of my interactions with Twitter nudists. My work gets dismissed on occasion because your standard teacher-turned-writer on Twitter, usually female and usually fundamentalist Christian, doesn’t want to be contaminated by sinful nudist associations. Ah, such a life. But I don’t wish to destroy anyone’s faith in a God who will apparently burn them for an eternity in Hell if they are tempted to frolic with no clothes on. I would rather be blocked by them on Twitter than have them give up on whatever paradise they are pursuing.
But I am basically on the Brad Bird side of the argument about whether or not you can choose to be a hero even if others will see you as a monster. My fiction does not cause demonic possession and probably does not cause spontaneous bouts of joyful nudism either. Even my werewolf story, which was too much for one potential reviewer, does not have actual werewolves in it. Although it does describe some things that really happened to me as a child in a fictionalized, sort-of-truthful way.
So, by those criteria, I judge myself to be a failed writer.
I write because I have something to say to the world and stories to tell. And I mean to have my say, even if the world is too stone-deaf and stupefied to listen.
I have things to say about living and learning.
I have things to say about finding love, and losing love, and finding it again.
I have things to say about how I think the world works, and why I’m pretty sure I’m completely wrong about all of that. And what I intend to do about it.
To that end, I have started writing a book full of essays like the stuff and garbage and lovely wisdom I write in this goofy little blog. And I shall call it Laughing Blue. Because, you know, nobody is going to read it anyway, and I can call it whatever the heck I want to call it.
Yes, today is another in a long, tepid series of Art-Day posts, but it is also about metacognitive thinking. Specifically thinking about thinking using pictures to think with. (Maybe that title should say, “Free-Thought Thinker” rather than, “Thought-Free.”)
To start with, what does a person actually see when they close their eyes? My brain does not color everything on the inside of my eyelids black. Even in the dark of night with no nightlight so that nothing shines through my eyelids, my brain interprets the dark as shapes, patterns, and colors. Hence the inspiration for this picture.
But my brain is never satisfied with raw shapes, colors, and patterns. It has to interpret ideas into them. The mass of yellow and black resolves into a butterfly, or a sunflower, or an etude by J.S. Bach. The pink mass becomes a blond girl playing the music in my head…. a girl from piano-lesson days in the early 70’s. But naked. The way I always thought about her while sitting and waiting for my piano lesson and listening to hers. How else does a boy think about a pretty girl when he is fourteen?
And as the items in the picture take shape, they do also begin to tell a story. Who is this Dr. Seabreez? Is he a shaman of the Republic of Lakotah People? Is he a white man? Seabreez is not a Native American name. The naked boy by the tent flap has a crutch, and there is a mouse silhouetted nearby. Does that make him a medical doctor? A veterinarian? A professor of Native-American Studies? The mind begins to piece together a script.
But here we see that Dr. Seabreez has set up a new practice in Japan. Again the boy near the door has a crutch and there is a silhouetted mouse near him. But now the other boy has horns on his forehead. Why horns? And pointed ears? Is he a Doctor of Magic and Wizardry? Demonology perhaps? And what is an anthropomorphized panda doing in Japan? That’s clearly a Japanese castle in the distance. The collar Kanji is definitely Japanese in character.
And now there are horns again. Three of them by my count. And another naked character. But a Grecian background. The mind is here making connections between the pictures, noticing patterns. Appreciating colors. And turning every detail over in the mind’s eye, evaluating and analyzing.
Art, especially on Saturdays, totally engages the mind. That is one of the reasons we keep art around to look at again and again. It is the purpose of art to make us see something. And not just once, superfluously. We must see it in depth, looking beyond the surface.
We all are on a Quest to find our place in this world. We labor hard at trying to get other people to see us as the people we think we are.
Of course, we always fail.
The problem is, first of all, that we are not even remotely… usually… the person we think we are. Sure, we put that clown paint on our face in the mirror, and we think we look funny. But since sitting in front of the mirror we ate a sandwich and smeared the red around the lips. and we rubbed our left eye with a gloved left hand and didn’t even realize it.
The first wide-eyed child we meet screams and runs away from their parents. To her we looked like some sort of vampire clown who eats children for lunch.
And the parents threaten to call the police because they insist we were leering, not knowing we suffered gas pains at the moment because that damned sandwich had red peppers in it, and we are allergic, now approaching intestinal distress.
So, we run and hide for a while.
What’s that, you say? I’m not talking about you? That never happened to you?
Well, it didn’t really happen to me, either. It was a ding-danged metaphor gone rogue and taking over the post just like you would expect an evil vampire-clown to do.
The thing is, I have always wanted to be a storyteller. And not just any storyteller, but an extra-funny, goofy-clown of a storyteller. And not a vampire-clown either.
But it’s not easy to be funny every day.
I was the teacher that middle-school kids loved because I had a laughing classroom. I used humor to get the point across. And most of my discipline strategies were to head off bad behavior before it actually happened. Get them to laugh rather than act out.
But even then, there were bad days and sad days sprinkled into every week.
Of course, now that I am retired, I no longer have a captive audience to play to and force to laugh at my jokes with the threat of perpetual after-school detention.
The only audience laughing at my jokes now is the imaginary one in my head. And maybe the three people who read my Twitter tweet-wittiness. And of course the six or seven people who bother to actually read my posts on WordPress.
I have twenty books published, the first of which, displayed above by plastic Batgirl, is Catch a Falling Star. That one is about an alien invasion of a small town in Iowa by totally incompetent aliens. The aliens get blitzen-schmuntzed when they kidnap a child specimen from the town who turns out to be more dangerous to their way of life than any Navy Seal could manage, and accidentally leave one of their own tadpoles on Earth to be adopted by a childless farm couple.
The book won two awards from the publisher, Editor’s Choice and Rising Star Awards, which basically means that they appreciate all the money I spent on editorial services and marketing advisors. The book is not a best-seller. In fact, I have made sixteen little dollars on it since it was published in 2013. And I-Universe Publishing does not send out a check for less than $25, so they are still holding on to my money. And very few people read my books. Fewer still buy them.
Anyway, we keep trying. We are on a Quest. And some day, some way, somebody is bound to accept us. As what is yet to be determined.
The case has been made in an article by John Welford (https://owlcation.com/humanities/Did-King-Henry-VIII-Have-A-Genetic-Abnormality) that English King Henry the VIII may have suffered from a genetic disorder commonly known as “having Kell blood” which may have made having a living male heir almost impossible with his first two wives. The disorder causes frequent miscarriages in the children sired, something that happened to Henry seven times in the quest for a living male heir. If you think about it, if Henry did not have this particular physical conflict at the root of his dynasty, he might’ve fathered a male heir with his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Then there would’ve been no opening for the machinations of Anne Boleyn. It follows that Elizabeth would not have been born. Then no Elizabethan Age; no sir Francis Drake, Spain might’ve landed their armada, no Church of England, possibly no William Shakespeare, and then Mickey would never have gotten castigated by scholars of English literature for daring to state in this blog that the actor who came from Stratford on Avon and misspelled his own name numerous times was not the author of Shakespeare’s plays.
History would’ve been very different. One might even say “sucky”. Especially if one is the clown who thinks Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare.
Conflict and struggle is necessary to the grand procession of History. If things are too easy and conflict is not necessary, lots of what we call “invention” and “progress” will not happen. Society is not advanced by its quiet dignity and static graces. It is advanced and transformed by its revolutions, its wars, its seemingly unconquerable problems… its conflicts.
Similarly, a novel, a story, a piece of fiction is no earthly good if it is static and without conflict. A happy story about a puppy and the children who love him eating healthy snacks and hugging each other and taking naps is NOT A STORY. It is the plot of a sappy greeting card that never leaves the shelf in the Walmart stationary-and-office-supplies section. Dick and Jane stories had a lot of seeing in them. But they never taught me anything about reading until the alligator ate Spot, and Dick drowned while trying to pry the gator’s jaws apart and get the dog back. And Jane killed the alligator with her bare hands and teeth at the start of what would become a lifelong obsession with alligator wrestling. And yes, I know that never actually happened in a Dick and Jane book, except in the evil imagination of a bored child who was learning to be a story-teller himself in Ms. Ketchum’s 1st Grade Class in 1962.
Yes, I admit to drawing in Ms. Ketchum’s set of first-grade reading books. I was a bad kid in some ways.
But the point is, no story, even if it happens to have a “live happily ever after” at the end of it, can be only about happiness. There must be conflict to overcome.
There are no heroes in stories that have no villains whom the heroes can shoot the guns out of the hands of. Luke Skywalker wouldn’t exist without Darth Vader, even though we didn’t learn that until the second movie… or is it the fifth movie? I forget. And James Bond needs a disposable villain that he can kill at the end of the movie, preferably a stupid one who monologues about his evil plan of writing in Ms. Ketchum’s textbooks, before allowing Bond to escape from the table he is tied down to while surrounded by pencil-drawn alligators in the margins of the page.
We actually learn by failing at things, by getting hurt by the biplanes of an angry difficult life. If we could just get away with eating all the Faye Wrays we wanted and never have a conflict, never have to pay a price, how would we ever learn the life-lesson that you can’t eat Faye Wray, even if you go to the top of the Empire State Building to be alone with her. Of course, that lesson didn’t last for Kong much beyond hitting the Manhattan pavement. But life is like that. Not all stories have a happy ending. Conflicts are not always resolved in a satisfying manner. A life with no challenges is not a life worth living.
So, my title today is “Conflict is Essential“. And that is an inescapable truth. Those who boldly face each new conflict the day brings will probably end up saying bad words quite a lot, and fail at things a lot, and even get in trouble for drawing in their textbooks, but they will fare far better than those who are afraid and hang back. (I do not know for sure that this is true. I really just wanted to say “fare far” in a sentence because it is a palindrome. But I accept that such a sentence may cause far more criticism and backlash than it is worth. But that is conflict and sorta proves my point too.)
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.
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?)
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.
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.
She scrambled over the railing and made it hurriedly to her brother’s side. She scraped her right knee in the effort. He was lying where he fell in the middle of the arboretum. The sky portal was still open to the stars, especially Veda 257, the star whose system the ship was now a temporary part of. Bright starlight streamed in to nourish the food plants and her late mother’s flowers.
But when she reached Wosely Moonskipper, he was no longer alive. The Lupin’s slug-thrower had penetrated his energy shield and hit him in his stupid melon of a head.
“How could you do that to me, Wose? How could you leave your baby sister all alone aboard a starship going nowhere in an unexplored star system?”
Of course, the dummy didn’t answer. This was, however, the first time he had an actual good excuse for it.
She looked over at the smoking pile of debris that was all the derfbag Lupin space-werewolf left behind as Wosely had disintegrated him. Stupid Stardog pirate! He got what he deserved.
But, wait! The pirate had brought his vehicle aboard in order to try to get ahold of the Moonskipper family spacecraft.
She lamely spent a dozen extra minutes trying to get Wose to raise himself from the dead. But 53rd Century medicine didn’t work like that. Full resurrections had to be carefully planned ahead of time. Wose hadn’t planned in the early morning hours to accidentally allow a dog-headed alien pirate to come aboard and murder him. At least he had the good sense to shoot back before he went down. No telling what would’ve become of twelve-year-old Cissy if he hadn’t.
Then she went to inspect the Lupin’s remaining possessions. In the docking bay she found the little two-man space skiff, an anti-gravity pod with a sub-light engine. A wonderful thing to have if she hadn’t lost Wose. the only one who could drive the thing. That was the good thing about old Wose. At thirty-five he knew how to build, fix, or repair practically anything that could travel in space.
That was the next problem to think about. She was alone on the starship now. Since Mom died and her father went so crazy with grief that Wose had to maroon him on that jungle moon seven months ago to prevent him from flying the ship into the heart of the nearby star, they had simply wandered. Nobody remaining on board knew how to navigate other than randomly drifting from star system to star system by line of sight.
Food was no problem. The arboretum produced all the organic matter they needed to create food from the replicator. And Wose had taught her how to scoop fuel from the outer levels of the clouds in a gas-giant. But how was she going to pilot the thing? And what would she do when something broke down?
She was moping about in the bridge when she happened to open the right storage drawer in the captain’s table. There were two books inside that immediately caught her eye.
She grinned to herself. She still had to see to Wose’s funeral. But she was grateful that Mom had taught her to read. She now possessed the ship’s owner’s manual that explained enough about everything to make life on a starship possible, and a copy of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe.
It is almost impossible to accurately draw from the future. One of the tests of good science fiction is how much of it finds its way into reality over time.
Computers and communicators and scanners and material printers are doing things daily now that were predicted as fantastical possibilities in the Star Trek episodes of the 1960’s.
Jules Verne’s novels predicted men walking on the moon and the existence of nuclear submarines patrolling the depths of the sea.
George Orwell predicted even worse things when it comes to government electronic surveillance and governmental control of everything they can take control of.
But it has never really been the future that my writing, as a fantasist/surrealist, has been about.
All of my writing is set either before the year 2000, or 3000 years in the future in the 51st Century and beyond. And all of the science fiction involved is really more about the past than it is even about the present. These drawings of the Civil War bugle boy and the Shakespearian portrait of Prospero, Ferdinand, and Miranda, were all drawn from either photos or paintings or woodcut prints from the distant past.
In my writing I don’t try to predict the future. I write about people who are basically the same now as they were in the 16th Century. In truth, only the costumes, props, and stage technology change over time. The actors in the great performance always play the same basic characters.
Eli Tragedy, the old Wizard of the Lower Caverns, returned from Dunsanytowne with his apprentice, Bob, carrying their weekly groceries in Bob’s bag of holding.
“Do you think Mickey finished washing the curtains while we were gone?” Bob innocently asked.
Poor Bob. He was not particularly smart. Sometimes he forgot to wear pants.
But the grumbling old wizard, half-elf, half-human, and half -fermented gingleyberry juice, had to admit, at least to himself, that Poor Bob was far more likeable than that smelly, uppity, idiotic were-rat that was his second apprentice. That lazy, stupid half-rodent was no end of trouble. Maybe Eli needed to give Mickey one of his three halves to try and complete the boy. But not the half-fermented half.
“So, when’s the next full moon, Bob? When does that rat-thing turn back into a real boy so I can smack his behind with the rod of discipline and have him actually feel it?”
“Master, Mickey’s curse specifies that he can only be a real boy for a week on the next blue moon… and that’s not for a long time in the future.”
“Real shame, that is.”
Of course, when they went inside the wizard’s sandstone tower. Mickey was trying to use Eli’s magic hat to clean the flying-monkey poop off of the curtains, and was casting the scrubbing spell backwards, thus increasing the foul dirt that wouldn’t even be there if he hadn’t had the flying-monkey party without getting permission from Eli first.
“Mickey! Stop that! You are supposed to say, ‘Removere simia faecibus exturbandis opitulatur’ not ‘Addere simia faecibus exturbandis opitulatur!”
“Oops!” said Mickey.
“Oh, no! Not you!” said the mysteriously grim stranger sitting at the kitchen table.
The stranger didn’t so much stand up with his ax from his chair at the table as UNCOIL with his ax from the chair at the table.
“Mickey, who is this stranger you didn’t have permission to invite into our tower?”
“He says he is the Booger-Man, Master.”
“That’s Boogeyman, rat-boy.”
Mickey shrugged. “I thought Booger-Man sounded more correct.”
“Ah, so you are here to rob a poor old man’s sandstone hovel?”
“No! Not now that I know it’s YOUR tower!” the Boogerman said vehemently. “You don’t recognize me?”
“No. Should I?”
“It’s me, Pollox the Highwayman. Although, you had probably better call me Paw-Lucks now.”
“Ah, yes! You tried to steal from me on the road to the Cillyburg Cathedral.”
“Yes, and all you had was this magic ax You told me it would make me into an entirely new man.”
“The Wildman’s Ax of Magical Tax Avoidance and Soldier Slaying. I remember it well. It seems to have worked quite like it was supposed to.”
“Every time I fought I soldier, he slew me. And when I returned to life I had a new patch of shaggy white fur, or a new fang, or a bad case of mange.”
“And nobody ever asked you to pay taxes again, did they?”
“I won’t rob you this time, wizard. Just take back the ax and make me human again.”
“Can’t do it. I believe in paying my taxes. But, you can have Mickey. The boy can carry the ax for you.”
The Booger-man took one look at the young were-rat, turned even more pale than the white he already was, and ran out of the tower roaring in fear.
See Sally…? Wait a minute! Why don’t I remember Sally?
Did Dick forget to feed Spot and Spot was forced to kill and eat Sally?
No… I had Dick and Jane books in Kiddy-garter and they did have Sally in them. And Spot never killed anyone. But with all the running she did, Sally did not do anything memorable. If my teacher, Miss Ketchum, had told the Spot eats Sally story, I’m sure I would’ve remembered Sally better and learned to read faster.
But I actually did learn to read faster because there was a Cat in the Hat, and a Yertle the Turtle, and because Horton the elephant heard a Who, and a Grinch stole Christmas. Yes, humor is what always did it for me in the classroom. Dr. Seuss taught me to read. Miss Mennenga taught me to read out loud. And in seventh grade, Mr. Hickman taught me to appreciate really really terrible jokes. And those are the people who twisted my arm… er, actually my brain… enough to make me be a teacher who taught by making things funny. There were kids who really loved me, and principals who really hated me. But I had students come back to me years later and say… “I don’t remember anything at all from my classes in junior high except when you read The Outsiders out loud and did all those voices, and played the Greek myth game where we had to kill the giants with magic arrows, and the stupid jokes you told.” High praise indeed!
I think that teaching kids to laugh in the classroom was a big part of teaching them how to use the language and how to think critically. You find what’s funny in what you learn, and you have accidentally examined it carefully… and probably etched it on the stone part of your brain more memorably than any other way you could do it. And once it’s etched in stone, you’re not getting that out again any time soon.
Humor makes you look at things from another point of view, if for no other reason, then simply because you are trying to make somebody laugh. For instance, do you wonder like I do why the Cat in the Hat is trying to pluck the wig off of Yelling Yolanda who is perched on the back of yellow yawning yak? I bet you can’t look at those two pictures positioned like that and not see what I am talking about. Of course, I am not betting money on it. I am simply talking Iowegian… a totally different post.
But the point is, humor and learning go hand in hand. It takes intelligence to get the joke. Joking makes you smarter. And that is why the class clowns in the past… the good and funny ones… not the stupid and clueless ones… were always my favorite students.