Category Archives: irony

The Secret Life of Clowns

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The clowns of Sing Sad Songs; Mr. Dickens, Mr. Shakespeare, Mr. Disney, and Mr. Poe

The truth is, clowns are rarely happy people under the greasepaint and the manic grin.  An underlying feature of every funnyman is a background of hardship, suffering, and sadness.  There is a reason why Robin Williams committed suicide and Lenny Bruce died of a drug overdose.  If you listen to the comedy of George Carlin in his last few years, he became a horribly bitter and cynical man.

The reason for all this wearing of clown masks and underlying sadness is really based on a very simple equation.   Living a hard life, but dealing with it with the power a sense of humor gives you, yields wisdom.  And how do you best deliver wisdom to all the people out there?  A sugar-coated candy shell is just the thing.  A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine to go down, to plagiarize Mary Poppins.  Say your wise words like a wise guy and say it with a smile.

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So why am I so clown-happy and therefore clown-posty today?  Well, I have used clowns in a very metaphorical way in the novel I am now finishing, Sing Sad Songs.  Clowns are definitely on my mind.  And I have a sneaking suspicion creeping up on me that maybe… just maybe… I am myself a clown.

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Mickey’s Secret Identities

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Yes, there is very definitely a possibility that there is more than one me.

If you look carefully at the colored pencil drawing above, you will see that it is titled “The Wizard of Edo” and signed by someone called Leah Cim Reyeb.  A sinister sounding Asian name, you think?  I told college friends that my research uncovered the fact that he was an Etruscan artist who started his art career more than two thousand years ago in a cave in France.  But, of course, if you are clever enough to read the name backward, you get, “beyeR miC haeL”.  So, that stupid Etruscan cave artist is actually me.

It turns out that it is a conceit about signing my name as an artist that I stole from an old episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show and have used for well over two decades through college and my teaching career.

And of course, the cartoonist me is Mickey.  Mickey also writes this blog.  Mickey is the humorist identity that I use to write all my published novels and blog posts since I published the novel Catch a Falling Star.

Michael Beyer is the truest form of my secret identity.  That was my teacher name.  It was often simplified by students to simply “Mr. B”.  I was known by that secret identity for 31 years.

Even more sinister are my various fictional identities occurring in my art and my fiction.  You see one of them in this Paffooney.  The name Dr. Seabreez appears in Catch a Falling Star as the Engineer who makes a steam engine train fly into space in the 1890’s with alien technology.  He appears again in The Bicycle-Wheel Genius as a time-traveler.

The young writer in the novel Superchicken, Branch Macmillan, is also me.  As is the English teacher Lawrance “Rance” Kellogg used in multiple novels.

So, disturbing as it may be to realize, there is more than one name and identity that signifies me.  But if you are a writer of fiction, a cartoonist, an artist, or a poet, you will probably understand this idea better.  And you may even have more than one you too.

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Filed under autobiography, foolishness, humor, irony, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Being Prosaic

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I admit it.  I am prosaic.  I think in sentences.  I speak in paragraphs.  I write in 5-paragraph essays.  I should stop with the repetition of forms and the parallel structures, because that could easily be seen as poetic and defeat my argument in this post.  I write prose.  Simple.  Direct.  Declarative.  But those last three are sentence fragments.  Does that fit the model of prose?  How about asking a question in the middle of a paragraph full of statements?  Is that all simple enough to be truly prosaic?

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Prose is focused on the everyday tasks of writing.  It seems like the world thinks that the mechanical delivery of information in words and sentences should be boring, should be functional, should be simple and easy to understand.

I don’t mean to be pulling your reader’s mind in two directions at once, however.  I need to stop confusing you with my onslaught of sentences full of contradictory and complex ideas.  I should be more clear, more direct, and more to the point.

So here is my thesis, finally clearly stated; The magic of writing prose, it turns out, makes you the opposite of prosaic.

20160705_214055Ah, irony again!  It ends up being anything but simple.  You can write in simple, adjective-and-adverb-free sentences as Hemingway did, and still manage to convey deeply complicated and thoughtful ideas.  One might even suggest that you can create poetic ideas in mere prose, dripping with layers of emotion, conflict, theme, and deeper implied meaning.  You can also write prose in the intensely descriptive and convoluted style of a Charles Dickens with many complex sentences and pages-long paragraphs of detail, using comic juxtapositions of things, artfully revealing character development, and idiosyncratic dialogue all for comedic effect.  Prose is a powerful and infinitely variable tool for creating meaning in words.  Even when it is in the form of Mickian purple paisley prose that employs extra-wiggly sentence structure, pretzel-twisted ideas, and hyperbolically big words.

Simply stated; I am a writer of prose.  I am too dumb about what makes something poetry to really write anything but prose.  But I do know how to make a word-pile like this one that might just accidentally make you think a little more deeply about your writing… that is, if you didn’t give up on reading this three paragraphs ago.  I find it useful to examine in writing how I go about writing and what I can do with it.  I try to push the boundaries in directions they haven’t been pushed before.  And hopefully, I learn something from every new essay I write.  What I learned here is that I am prosaic.  And that is not always a bad thing.

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Filed under commentary, goofy thoughts, humor, irony, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life, writing, writing humor

Singing Rock and Soul

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Yes, this is a picture of a rock.  But it is no ordinary rock.  Okay, that’s not precisely true.  It is a gray metamorphic rock roughly square in shape with numerous flecks of white and a white strip along the top.  As rocks go, it probably couldn’t be more ordinary, more rocky in its soul.  But, as with all things in this life, the importance and true meaning lies in the context.  This is a pocket rock.  It spent a quarter of a century riding around in my pants pocket.  I have held it in my hand millions of times.

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The Rowan Community Center, seen in this picture I used for the cover of Magical Miss Morgan, is the last part of the old Rowan school still standing.

In 1980, my Great Grandma Hinckley died.  That was also the year my folks had to move to Texas because of the transfer my Dad’s seedcorn company gave him to its cotton seed division.  It was one year before I got my teaching degree.  And it was the year they tore down the building where I went to school for grades 1 through 6.  That summer, as I walked around the demolition site, I found the homely gray rock that was nearly as square as I was, and because I was already feeling homesick before I actually left home, I picked it up  and stuck it in my pocket.  It was a little square piece of home.

That rock went with me to college.  It went with me to both Disneyland and Walt Disney World in Florida.  It has been to Washington D.C.  It has been in the depths of caves in Kentucky and Missouri and Texas.  It has been high in the sky in my pocket in an airplane.  It has been to beaches on both the Atlantic and Pacific sides of the U.S.  It has visited both Mexico and Canada.  It his been to Las Vegas.  And it even rode in the subways of New York City.

And possibly the most interesting part of this pocket rock’s career happened in Texas schools.  It was with me in my pocket constantly from 1980 to 2004.  I finally took it out of my pocket and placed it in an old cigar box that once belonged to my grandfather and I have kept keepsakes in since I was a kid.

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And I have thought a lot about this ordinary rock that isn’t really ordinary on closer inspection.  At one point or another I thought about using it as a skipping stone at both the Atlantic and the Pacific.  In 2004 when I was considering the pocket watch broken by it and the car key accidentally bent against it, it almost wound up in Lake Superior.  I put in my cigar box and it has remained exiled there since.  Will I have it buried with me, in my pocket?  No, probably not.  My wife plans to have me cremated.  Hopefully, though, not until I am already dead.  This rock has pretty much been a symbol of my soul, travelling with me, teaching with me, jingling the pocket change when I walk…  And it will continue to exist when the thinking and writing parts of Mickey are gone.

But even rocks are not immortal.  Sometime in the future something will happen to it.  It will end up someplace unexpected or changed by grinding, melting, or chemical reaction into some other form.  But no matter what happens to it ultimately, the meaning of it, the context, the places it has been and the things that it has done will still be true, still have happened to it.  And, ultimately, it will still be just like me.

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The Wheels of the Stupidity Cycle

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Sadly, the Flynn Effect is working now in reverse.  If you didn’t know, for decades the collective IQ of the United States has been increasing.  People have been getting smarter.  Improvements in education, health care, and diet had been making it possible for each succeeding class year to score better by a significant and steady amount every year over the students of the previous year.  Apparently, according to recent data analysis, it kept going up through the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, and the 80’s.

And then, in about 1991, people began to be born who were destined to do worse than their predecessors.  People stopped getting smarter.  In fact, they not only leveled out, they began to get dumber.  Bummer.  As a teacher who taught during that time period, I have to pause and wonder… was it my fault?

I want to be clear about my use of illustrations here.  Not all of the faces I used in the collage above are actually stupid people.  I am told Rowan Atkinson (who plays an idiot character named Mr. Bean) is actually a genius with a very high IQ.  And some of the faces are not even from actual people.  They are cartoon characters or animals or Donald Trump.  And none of them actually caused the decline of IQ scores.  (Although I can’t prove the actor Brendan Fraser didn’t cause it by making the movie George of the Jungle.)

Economic factors brought about by the Reagan Revolution probably caused the wheel of life to turn back towards the stupid end of the cycle.  Rich people began sucking up and keeping every dollar possible, making themselves impossibly rich, and leaving the rest of us to fight over crumbs.  McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King turned the poorer suburbs into virtual food deserts of no nutritional value in every major urban area.  Schools across the nation have been forced to teach to tests whose main and sometimes only purpose is to prove schools undeserving of their funding so States can shift that funding towards private and for-profit schools.  Starved for proper funding, it is only natural that schools turned from learning institutions into baby-sitting services and uniformity indoctrination centers.  Schools now put out only average and poor students because that was the goal of education reform all along in conservative minds.

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So what, exactly, should we do about it?  Well, the wheel will still turn.  And as all wheels do, the part that is on the bottom will return to the top, and stupid will return to bottom as it obviously has before.

The next century is rife with problems that threaten human life on Earth.  Those problems, like income inequality, climate change through corporate abuse of the environment, the nuclear threat, and Donald Trump, will have to be solved by the next generation’s smart people.  When they do solve all those problems, the world will be better for it… or destroyed.  One of those.

And don’t mistake my meaning.  Stupid people have their own value.  Clowns like John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, Trevor Noah, and Seth Meyers are doing a far better job of helping us understand the issues of today than the nightly news is.  There is a great deal of fun to be had in watching the cat-and-mouse game of Robert Mueller and Donald Trump (where Trump is not the mouse so much as the cheese the mouse ate to start all the slapstick brouhaha).

And people who are not particularly smart can have great value in an infinite number of other ways.  Simple people may never be able to do calculus, but they can make you smile and feel loved better than some of the sharpest intellects (who often tend towards cynicism and bitterness).

The wheels of the Stupidity Cycle will continue to turn because that is the very nature of wheels. We will eventually be smart again.  We can’t keep getting dumber forever (though we did elect Trump).  And this is a pessimist telling you this.  So if this is completely wrong and off base, remember, I am also trying to be positive about the future.

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Filed under angry rant, education, feeling sorry for myself, humor, irony, Paffooney

Alliteration

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I find alliteration to be a useful poetic tool to use for comedy purposes.  I like to use it to the point of ridiculousness… as in apt alliteration’s artful aid.  The repetition for repetition’s sake in spite of meaning is in itself chuckle-worthy.  But when alliteration can further the meaning of the writing itself also… I liberally laugh out loud.

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L-Words (a Lousy L-Poem)

Lovely little lambs lament

Little lambs lament the loss of love

Lambs lament loudly and long

Lament the loss of lovely love

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Lovely little lambs laugh loudly

Little Lambs laugh at life lived lovingly

Lambs laugh long and loudly

Laugh long and loudly in lieu of love

Life and love and laughter

The three L’s

Laugh lovely little lambs!

Okay, I know… I am the king of bad poetry.  But perhaps the alliterative excess makes you laugh a little bit… at my poor poetry skills if nothing else.

Alliteration always awards awesomeness on authors… or not.

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Morning With Coyotes

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Coyotes live in the city.  You hardly ever see them, though.  This one was entirely too interested in me walking my dog at around six thirty in the morning.  You can see the hungry look in his eyes.  It made him brave and brassy enough to walk up right behind us on the sidewalk in the park just after the sun had come up.  I got a chance to look him right in the foxy-eyed stare he was giving us.  He had fully planned to snatch Jade, my Cardigan corgi from behind if I hadn’t turned around in time.

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Old Wiley Coyote would’ve successfully snatched her too, if I hadn’t noticed him out of the corner of my eye and turned around on him.  But shouting at him only made him back off, not flee.  He was a big coyote, big enough to give me a really bad day if he wanted to go through with the planned attack.  Who knows?  Maybe he breakfasted on old men before too.

Jade bristled at him and talked really tough, but she was scared witless.  And he was obviously bold and bad enough to be confident that he didn’t need to immediately run away.  He stayed there looking at us with his evil yellow wolf eyes.  He stayed long enough to allow me to take a picture of him.  And he didn’t leave until we chased him just a bit to show him we were not afraid (even though we really were).  (The dog told me after that my face had gone ghost white.)

Being stalked by a hungry coyote early in the morning is sort of a bad omen to begin a day with, especially when so many other things have been going wrong for me.  But, as always, I laugh about it and write about it and make it seem of little consequence by doing so.  Still, I am not a road runner.  And that coyote had murder on his mind.

 

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