Category Archives: Mickey
This post is about writer doubt. And Stephen King. Do those two things go together? If they don’t then Mickey is an awful writer and does not know how to do what he does. It would mean Mickey is icky.
I used to think Stephen King was a totally over-rated writer. Back in the early eighties I read Carrie, King’s first novel, and got halfway through Firestarter, and had to give up. Partly because the book was overdue at the library, and also because I found the books mechanical and somewhat joyless in the writing. I thought he suffered greatly in comparison to writers I was in love with at the time like Ray Bradbury and Thomas Mann. I began to tell others that King was somewhat icky.
But King was obviously also somewhat successful. He began to get his books made into movies and people who don’t read discovered the evil genius of a man who tells stories to scare them and laces them with a bit of real humanity, real human feeling, and love.
I saw it first in Stand by Me. That movie, starring young Wil Wheaton as the Steven King autobiographical character, really touched my heart and really made for me a deep psyche-to-psyche connection to somebody who wasn’t just a filmmaker, but somebody who was, at heart, a real human being, a real story-teller.
Now, the psyche I was connecting to may very well have been Rob Reiner, a gifted story-teller and film-maker. But it wasn’t the only King movie that reached me. The television mini-series made from It touched a lot more than just the fear centers of my brain as well. And people whose opinions I respect began telling me that the books The Dark Tower Trilogy and Misery were also amazing pieces of literature.
So I picked up a copy of Hearts in Atlantis at Half-Price Books and began reading a Stephen King novel for the first time since the 80’s. MY HOLY GOD! King is not a little bit icky. He is so NOT ICKY that it makes Mickey sicky to have ever thought King was even a little bit icky! Here is a writer who loves to write. He whirls through pages with the writer’s equivalent of ballet moves, pirouettes of prose, grand jetés of character building, and thematic arabesque penchées on every side of the stage. I love what I have discovered in a writer I thought was somewhat icky. Growth and power, passion and precision, a real love of both the words and the story. He may not know what he is doing. But I know. And I love it.
And so, while I have been editing the first novel I ever wrote, Superchicken, to make it ready for self-publishing, I have begun to ask myself the self-critical question, “Is Mickey really icky when he writes?” My first novel is full of winces and blunders and head-banging wonders that make me want to throw the whole thing out. But I can’t throw it out. It is the baby in the first bathwater that I ever drew from the tap. The answer to the questions of Micky ickiness have yet to be determined, and not by me. I guess I have to leave it up to you.
I am aware that nobody who looks at my blog ever clicks on my videos. This one, however, would be very useful if you are really going to read and engage with this essay. This self-reflection came into being as a response to watching this video. The video talks about how most people can’t stand to actually sit alone in a room with only themselves. And it has an impact. I have claimed in the past to being a devotee of the Theodore Roethke maxim, “Being, not doing, is my first love.” But how does one go about becoming truly self-aware? How does one enumerate the concept of “being”? I believe I can do it, but it requires a bit of self-examination. How do I do it?
Let me count the ways…
I find myself in both the written characters I create and the cartoon characters I draw. In Hidden Kingdom, my graphic novel, the Mouse and young Prinz Flute are both me. I can see myself both as the reluctant romantic hero and the snarky child-thing with a dangerous little bit of wisdom.
I learn to know more about my secret heart and what I truly think about the world I live in and react to by writing about what I think and the things that happen to me, both for good and ill. This blog is all about learning about myself, just as your blog is a mirror of who you really are. Consequently, I have no secrets left.
I live most of my life in my own imagination. It is a silly Willy Wonka world of images, songs, music, and dreams. It can all blow away in a moment when the sun comes out. It can also keep me in a light-obscuring cloud wrapped and safe, well away from the things I fear and the things that worry me. I came to realize I was repressing the memory of being sexually assaulted when I was ten through a dream when I was nineteen, re-living the event in a dream from which I awoke with a blinding flash of realization. I came to grips with the horror that mangled my childhood and young adulthood first by facing the fact that the nightmare had been real, and then by finding ways to overcome it. I became a teacher of young people in large part as a way to protect them and prevent such a thing from ever happening again to someone else.
I often worry that I don’t see real people as being real people. I tend to think of them from the first meeting onward as potential book characters, walking collections of details and quirks, conflicts and motivations. But I recognize too that that way of seeing with the author’s eye is not incorrect. People really are those things. There are rules and generalizations that everyone falls under at some point. It is not so much that I see real people as book characters as it is that I realize that book characters are as real as any other purportedly “real” people.
I am myself both the subject of my cartooning and fictionarooning, and the cartoon character of myself as well.
Mickey is not a real person. He is a cartoonist persona, a mask, a fake identity, and the lie I tell myself about who I actually am.
In this essay, I have attempted to explain to you who I think I am spending time with when I am alone in a room with myself. He is not such a terrible person to spend time with, this Mickey. Or else he really is truly awful, and I am lying about me and who I think I am when I am alone with me and have no other options. But probably not. I have been getting to know me for about 562 years, only exaggerating by 500, and I am not finished yet.
Ah, the little red bird that does not fly away when the winter comes. It sticks around to weather the snow and cold. Perseverance is a cardinal virtue. So, is remaining a cardinals’ fan over a lifetime. These football heroes were not my first cardinal team. The baseball cardinals of the 1960’s were. I am being honest here because honesty is also a cardinal virtue.
They were the champions of the NFL before I was born, as proven by this championship ring from 1947. Winning is not a cardinal virtue, but working hard enough to be the champion reveals that consistency and a good work ethic are.
They had heroes that made the Football Hall of Fame, and they were generally not racist because Ollie Matson was breaking the color barrier at around the same time as Jackie Robinson in baseball.
I’d like to say that I learned not to be a racist from rooting for the Cardinals, but I never saw the Chicago Redbirds on TV, or knew anything about them until I was arguing with Minnesota Vikings fans about the merits of rooting for a team that never wins. I did research. I won the argument when the Vikings lost their first Superbowl to the Kansas City Chiefs. The first of many lost Vikings’ Superbowls/
The search for truth, undertaken with upright motivations is also a cardinal virtue.
The Cardinals were in St. Louis in the 1970’s for what I look at as the “Glory Years.” They had great players like Larry Wilson, Hall-of-Fame Safety, Quarterback Jim Hart, Running Back Otis Anderson, Tight End Jackie Smith, Reciever Mel Gray, and Halfback Terry Metcalf. Don Coryell and Bud Wilkerson were the coaches that took them into the playoffs where they never quite won it all. But there were some very intense games in those playoffs where they both won and lost by inches.
In those “Cardiac Cardinals’ games” I learned to never give up. One time Mel Gray came through in the final minutes, catching the ball at the goal line as time expired… but fumbling… but-but not before, the replay official determined twenty minutes later, crossing the goal line and winning the game.
Sometimes the thrill of the hunt supersedes the final outcome.
And, of course, it is a cardinal virtue to never say die.
Now, the Cardinals, located in Arizona, are at it again. They have a new potential MVP in Quarterback Kyler Murray. And yesterday they extended their unbeaten streak to six games. They are currently the only undefeated team in the NFL. I have high hopes again. High apple pie in the sky hopes. And I may learn another virtue or two.
I’m a Mickey, yes, indeedy…
Chicken-ninja throwing stars,
Hit their targets thrown from Mars…
And when the pandas drive their cars,
Their tire treads are candy bars!
Take that truth from me!
Being a Mickey is a rabbity thing…
As if it were Bugs who taught us to sing,
And unmusical music we all start to bring…
Because we use only the words that we know!
Self-reflection is a critical part of being a writer and an author. At least it is if you are a mostly-ignored and somewhat unsuccessful one. That’s really the full extent of my personal expertise on this subject.
But knowing your own personal strengths and weaknesses is the only way to continue to sharpen the blades you use to cut insightful, heartfelt stories out of your own life experiences.
For example, the thing I think is most important to know about myself is that I do have the ability to laugh at myself, even when the thing I am laughing at hurts quite a lot. A sense of humor is a life skill that people who experience depression, chronic pain, and personal trauma need in order to survive.
Robin Williams is the quintessential sad clown. He lived to the age of 61 before depression ended him. Think of how much younger he would’ve been in leaving us all behind if he hadn’t had his bright, silvery suit of comedy armor to get him through life. But that’s a downer. One of my biggest failures is that I will bluntly drop a big black bomb like that in the middle of a sensitive and heartfelt scene, or in the fourth paragraph of an essay that you found interesting enough to read.
I find I am often guilty of not knowing when to give up on something and cut my losses. But at the same time as I am contemplating ending this essay before I lose more readers than ever, I remember what makes the cardinal a personal symbol for me. Cardinals are a bright red songbird that never flies away when the winter comes. It will stupidly stay put even in snow and cold and a total lack of food, choosing to starve or freeze to death over leaving its home territory. I was like that as a teacher. After the first two miserable years, I decided to stay put in that little South Texas school district where I was underpaid and constantly abused by parents and students and even some other school personnel. I refused to leave without first proving to myself that I could do the job and be good at it. I stayed for twenty]-three years, becoming the head of the English Department, a leader of the Gifted and Talented Program, and a generally well-loved teacher of a generation of students. (I left before the grandson and granddaughter of two of the kids in my very first class were about to enter middle school.)
I guess, thinking about it critically, sometimes your weaknesses and your strengths are not only related, they are the same thing.
I have been accused of not being serious enough to be a teacher. And that has carried over to the writing of young adult fiction. Reviewers have told me that putting details about sex, violence, and dark humor in a story is not appropriate for young, middle-school-aged readers. One reviewer told me that I was practically a child pornographer, even though the book had no explicit sex scene and only talked about the subjects of love, sex, and intimacy.
But I am a believer in not shying away from subjects that kids want to know about. As a victim of a sexual assault in childhood, I found that fiction and nonfiction that discussed sexuality and morality were life-saving, and gave me the guidance I needed to recover from what my own monster encounter scarred me with. And I was able to eventually laugh at the things that had been tearing me apart. I think fiction like that, frank, honest, and clearly guiding the reader towards the right path is what is most needed in YA literature.
Again, I think my weakness for absurd and chaotic humor is both a weakness and a strength. We all need to laugh more and suffer less. And we don’t get there by avoiding our problems in life, but by fighting through them to the other side.
I am not fool enough to think I know all the answers. In fact, there are lots of things I know I don’t know anything at all about.
I don’t know what causes people to vote Republican. I don’t know if we can ever achieve a real, space-faring Buck Rodgers life. And I apparently don’t know the first thing about successfully marketing self-published books. But I know the problems are there. I see them in my magnifying glass. And I am working on them. I will get better.