I remember when Scooby Doo, Where Are You? premiered on Saturday Morning Cartoons in 1969. I was thirteen and in the 7th grade. I had been six during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, seven when Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, ten when I was sexually assaulted in 1966, and still twelve when Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon in the Summer of 1969. I was obsessed with monsters, horror comics, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and the Pirates threatening Jim Hawkins in Treasure Island. I knew what fear was. And I was mad to find ways to combat the monsters I feared.
Don’t get me wrong. I was under no illusions that Fred, Daphne, Velma, Norville “Shaggy” Rogers and Scooby Doo were the answer to all my fears as viable heroes and heroines. They were goofballs, all of them, based on the characters I vaguely remembered from The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. I was aware that Shaggy was just Maynard Krebs in cartoon form (the hippie character portrayed by Gilligan’s Island actor Bob Denver.)
One of the critical things about the show for me was the fact that there was a rational explanation for the monsters. They were men in masks, special effects and projector tricks, or remote-controlled mechanical things.
And the way you overcame them and saved the day was by having Shaggy and Scooby act as bait, cause the traps to get sprung at the wrong time, and then fall on the villains, trapping them under the butt of the talking dog.
Villains and horror could be overcome by laughing at them. They were more likely to be clowns than carnivores. And even if they were carnivores, the teeth were not real.
There was a universal truth in that. Danger and horror and fear were easier to handle when you could laugh in spite of those things.
And to top it all off, those meddling kids and their stupid talking dog were with me my whole life. Those cartoons got remade and spun off so many times that my kids learned to love them as much as I did. And those four meddling kids and that talking dog are still making new stories even now.
Yes, I am writing this post in response to another hard day of substitute teaching. 6th graders! Aaargh!
But the real point of it is that most of the problems I had are due to every teacher’s daily nightmare… discipline management.
Teachers, even substitute teachers, are expected to keep an orderly classroom. But the truth is, no adult human being can make a twelve-to-eighteen-year-old member of the monkey house do anything… or refrain from doing the most harmful thing that occurs to the immature monkey brain.
It is just as Carl Sandburg once suggested in a clever poem. If you tell them not to put beans in their ears, the only thing they will definitely want to do is put beans in their ears.
So, this post is my list of excuse-a-mes for why the classes I taught yesterday all had bean-filled ears.
Excuse number one; 6th graders! Aaargh! Yes, I had four classes to teach, and three of them were made up solely of 6th graders. They are the squirrel monkeys of the middle-school monkey house. Unable to sit still and be quiet on their best days, they were super-stirred and hormone-activated. It is, after all, February, a week before Valentine’s Day, the hormonal-monkey holiday. It was a writing class and they had a writing assignment that they are supposed to be working on for the next week. And the generally accepted rule among monkeys; Do no work for substitute teachers, no matter their educational backgrounds in English and writing.
Excuse number B; To maintain discipline you have to know the kids. Here’s the most pernicious problem that substitute teachers are saddled with. I had never seen over ninety-five percent of these squirrel monkeys before… not in their natural habitat… not even in cages at the zoo. Boy, do the nerd-like teacher-pleasers who are actually classroom comedians and attack-monkeys in disguise really mount up in that particular saddle and ride you for the rest of the monkey-rodeo you thought was going to be a writing class.
Excuse-a-me Three; There are too many monkeys in the monkey house. Especially the Avid class of 30 super-heated seventh and eighth grade warm bodies that I had to teach as a bonus-penalty for being a “good” substitute. AVID is a special program for troubled and at-risk kids where you put them together with a good teacher and treat them like gifted students and set their lovely little monkey-feet on a path to college. Except, this under-funded special program that works spectacularly well in some schools, is basically misused and abused across Texas where practically all kids who are not white or not wealthy are at-risk for one reason or another. I got to walk into a classroom cold with these thirty high-risk monkeys because no other sub had signed up for this particular nightmare job. No lesson plans were available. No attendance sheets were ready. And it was a science lab, so the room was filled with kids who had helped themselves to rulers and yardsticks with which they were conducting sword-fights. The teacher next door who was giving a test found for me a stack of worksheets to give out. I located a class list to use for attendance. And then I proceeded to put them into seats with work to do and threatened several lives and put one overly-aggressive girl in temporary time-out and denied restroom privileges to scores of kids who probably weren’t going to actually explode into showers of pee. And I didn’t keep them quiet, but when the bell finally rang 50 hour-long minutes later, no one had died a horrible death. And they all had their clothes still on. And it appeared that the structural integrity of the classroom was still sound enough for one more class period. And I, of course, had to quickly rush back to the 6th graders for the worst class of the day.
Excuse-a-me Finale; The sub in the room next door was more incompetent than I was on this particular day. That isn’t really an excuse for my poor showing, but it at least made me feel sorry for someone besides myself. Some of his students came to me as their next official class, already charged up for a super-fun murder-the-sub day. Some of the students who came to me had to go to him for their next period and tried to stay in my room instead. Some of his students went for extended tours of the parts of the campus where they knew no assistant principal or security guard would be. There were fights in that class. They were banging on the the walls. They were noisier than my classes. The poor young guy had none of the substitute survival skills that I had, and I was too pressed to help him at all. But he was young and healthy. He had apparently been there for a couple of weeks as he was doing a long-term job for a history teacher who was having a baby. So, he will soon learn that he does not want to become a Texas public school teacher in his future.
So, as a disciplinarian, I was really dumb for a day. I do know how to handle these things correctly, and I will make future posts about the How-to-s of that. But for today, it is enough to say that I survived to teach another day.
The Chinese Dragon that I have drawn for today is a part of the planned cover illustration for my work in progress, The Boy… Forever.
But it is also more than that. The villain of the story claims to be a dragon in human form. And even though this may be a metaphor-like lie, it is an apropos symbol of the underlying conflict that informs almost all of my work. There is always, it seems, a hidden evil that is far more dangerous and life-consuming than it portrays itself as. The blizzard in Snow Babies, the real werewolf, the murderer, in The Baby Werewolf, suicidal depression in When the Captain Came Calling and Sing Sad Songs, and the serial killer in both Sing Sad Songs and Fools and Their Toys all kill other characters in my stories. They all bear the stamp of the evil dragon, magically powerful and dangerous in ways that guns alone cannot protect you from. They are evils embedded in human nature. They are the dragon that the White Knight of the story must defeat.
So, I show you this dragon today as a way of acknowledging my own dragons that must be fought.
As I continue to draw nearer to publishing my comic horror novel, The Baby Werewolf, busily polishing paragraphs and tweaking the format, I had to find time to do some drawing, some colored pencil cartooning, actually, in order to draw even closer to a comprehensive understanding of the title character, Torrie Brownfield.
I decided that what I wanted to draw was a full-bodied portrait of Torrie, displaying in short pants the full impact of his “werewolf hair” caused by his full-body hypertrichosis syndrome, a genetic hair-growth disorder.
So, I began by printing out a reduced version of the scan of Torrie’s face and shoulders that I created from the drawing I made of him back when the story itself was merely in outline form. I pasted that colored print onto a larger piece of drawing paper and first penciled and then inked the rest of his body. I then used my colored pencils to go all Crayola on the bulk of it, ending up with the complete Torrie Brownfield, holding the one and only copy of Dr. Horation Hespar-White’s recipe book for Magical Airborne Elixir.
Now it doesn’t make sense to create an image like this for no particular reason. Was it just something I was doing to keep my hands busy while watching Netflix? Well, yes, but I did get something out of it after all. I was able to think seriously about my monster theme as heavy-handedly I continue to beat the reader over the head with it. I am obsessed with this particular portrait because, minus the facial fur, it actually looks like and reminds me of the charming little former student the character in the book is actually based on. He was a thirteen-year-old Hispanic boy, naive, innocent, and thoroughly sweet-natured. And he shared with me a history of abuse during childhood. He was not sexually abused, but psychologically and physically abused. And that, of course, led me to the revelation while drawing that the monster of my horror story is not a real werewolf. Not even the murderer who is the villain of the book. The real monster of the story is a systematic abuse of children. It can have two possible results. It can make you into a sweet-natured determined survivor like Danny was, and like Torrie is. Or it can turn you into a vengeful psychotic potential serial killer lashing out because of mental scars and lingering pain. Believe me, I knew a couple of that kind of kid too. Drawing can, in fact, lead you to revelations about yourself and the universe around you. And so, this little obsession has done that very thing for me.
So, I end with this scan of the completed artwork so you can get a better look at it than you can from my crappy photography skills. Drawing something obsessively does have its uses.
I finished reading this marvelous book over this dreary sunshiny weekend. And I am totally surprised by how much I loved it.
This marvelous book, Hearts in Atlantis, is a book by Stephen King, whom I have always considered a dreary sunshiny popular writing hack. I have learned by it, how wrong I have been all along about this author. He is now established in my mind as a serious literary giant (as opposed to a comic literary giant like Kurt Vonnegut or Terry Pratchett). He deals with the emotions of fear, loss, angst, and regret, and so falls too easily into the horror writer category. I misjudged him for so many years because I read Carrie, his first success, and Firestarter… well, I tried to read Firestarter and only got 40 pages in when it was due back at the library… and… I mean, I never fail to finish a book I have chosen to read. And then I did. But both of those books showed me a writer who was trying too hard, following some road map of novel writing borrowed from some other writer he admired. And it all becomes formulaic and trite, sometimes even boring. He is mimicking someone else’s voice. I filed him in the “authors who are hack writers” drawer next to R.L. Stine.
But this book proved me totally wrong. I had to take King out and put him in a different drawer. It starts out as a typical Stephen King monster story with a first section with a young boy as the protagonist and introducing us to the monstrous “low men in yellow coats”. But it is a total trick to draw us in. And it is even a very good monster story. Like H.P. Lovecraft he has learned the lesson that a good monster story is not about the monster. And showing us the monster directly is something that should only be done very briefly, at just the right moment in the plot. Like the works of David Mitchell, this section connects you to threads from King’s other books, especially the Dark Towerseries, which I must now read in the very near future. Stephen King has learned through practice to write like a master.
But the theme doesn’t really start to score ultimate literature points until he tricks us along into part two. The hearts in the title is actually the card game. It is a card game that takes over the lives of college boys in a dormitory in the 1960’s. They play it for money and it takes over their lives to the point that they flunk out of school at a time when that means they will be drafted and sent to Vietnam. And the characters that are immune to the pull of the hearts game (also a metaphor for the second protagonist’s love life) fall victim to the urge to take on the government and protest the war. Hence the “sinking of Atlantis” metaphor means the loss of innocence, and the devastation that comes from making choices when you are young that will haunt you forever.
The post-war section of the book is filled with hubris, regret, lost love and stoic determination that is barely rewarded for only two characters in the entire plot. I won’t of course, say anything that is a plot spoiler. This is a horror story, and it is not my place to reveal the truth about the monster. I can only tell you that this story is a devastating read for those of us old enough to remember. And it is a fine work of dreary sunshiny fiction that frightens us with its truthfulness.
I have been very limited for over a week in the amount of time I have to spend on writing and blog posting. The start of a new novel has been delayed. My posts have been short… and hopefully also sweet. I have relied some on re-blogging old posts. Depression is a demanding illness. It requires the sacrifice of time, the sacrifice of energy, and even the sacrifice of self. It can go so far as to demand the sacrifice of a human life. And it can require you to offer up those things even when you are not the one depressed yourself. Though I must admit, my health and mood have suffered through hospital visits, business arrangements made without money to spend, only mortifying promises of doing whatever you can. And then doing those things. And at the same time I have earned zero dollars from Uber.
Ghosts from the past, long dead emotions, and ancient regrets all arise from crypts you have been keeping them in to remind you that you are mortal after all and subject to the slings and arrows that flesh is heir to. And you must become a ghost-buster. How do you do it? How do you defeat the phantoms of past deeds and devilments?
Dr. Pinkenstein and Pinkenstein’s Monster Mickenstein
Of course, Science can help. You need professional help from a real psychiatrist, especially if you can find a good one. The doctor we found is one who saved our family from darkness once before. This time a mood drug called Lexipro and vitamin D supplements helped. Before it was too much cortisol, the stress chemical, and lack of serotonin that threw things out of balance. Better life through proper medication is actually a thing.
And a sense of humor doesn’t hurt. Dr. Pinkenstein was not our psychiatrist. But if he makes us laugh about things… well, laughter really is good medicine.
And I have sailed these waters and fought these devils before. My little boat was easier to navigate this time because I had a map through the labyrinth that I drew for myself before. Experience and the wisdom to learn from it is seriously a super power.
Up, up, and away, me! We have come out of the darkness again, and it is time to get our lives back on track.
Being a role-playing-game dungeon master, you have to be familiar with how to absorb and implement the many, many game-playing books that are published to help you keep the adventure humming along towards epic goals. I have to admit to being a book addict. That is true for all books, but particularly game books. I collect them obsessively. I still troll Half Price Books looking for old and out-of-print D&D books and other game books.
Every role-playing game has certain necessary basic books. There is a book full of advice for the game master. It will tell you how to run an adventure and how to plan or map-out your events. There is a guide book for players that advises them on how to create a character, develop that character over time, and how to use the rules to create success. There is also usually some kind of enemies compendium, a monster book, filled with the characters you will have to defeat, slay, or outwit during the course of the adventure. Then there are game supplements that provide detailed settings, often complete with maps. They can give you non-player characters, adventure seeds, extra statistics, and sometimes additional useful tables. Equipment books are a thing as well.
I have a huge collection of Dungeons & Dragons books going back to TSR and continuing through their current publisher, Wizards of the Coast. I have practically every Call of Cthulhubook, a game system to turn H.P. Lovecraft’s horror fiction into RPG adventures. I have almost all of the Talislanta books, a D&D-like game with no elves, dwarves, or humans in their game. I have practically everything put out by Game Designers’ Workshop for Traveller. I have a few books from the Rifts RPG, a time-and-dimension bending science fiction game. I have practically all of the Star Wars RPG books. I have a lot of Star Trek books. I have some G.U.R.P.S. books (Generic Universal Role Playing System), some d20 RPG books, and many other odd books, including a boxed set of Rocky and Bullwinkle’s RPG, complete with hand puppets.
So, please don’t file paperwork on me with the authorities who put insane people in white jackets with extra long sleeves. I am a collector who suffers from hoarding disorder. And I love books. I just can’t help it.
It is a novel I started writing in 1998 with an idea I first got in 1976. So I have been working on this book for either 20 years, or 32 years, depending on when you want to credit the actual work to have started.
It got it’s theme from the fact that I was sexually assaulted when I was ten in 1966, and the feeling the repressed memory of the trauma caused in me whenever I asked myself the question, “Am I a monster?”
Unfortunately the answer to that question, for practically everybody, is, “Sometimes yes.”
Psychological damage sticks with you for the rest of your life. It makes you flinch at things that other people don’t. More than once I must have confused both my mother and old girlfriends when I was compelled to wriggle out of hugs and physical contacts by panic. I felt unlovable. I felt like a monster. And for a lot of that time, I didn’t know why. But it is a novel critical for me to write. Pain needs to become art in order to completely go away. I need to imprison the feelings and ideas in a book.
I am now at the point in that novel where I must write the scenes at the crisis point, the high point of the action, and I have to control the flinching. I have to control the reactions I could so easily fall into. It is critical that I get the scene right. The success or failure of the whole novel is at stake.
I have played it over and over in the cinema in my head a thousand times… several thousand times. It is difficult. But it is there. Soon I will have it down, crystallized in words. It make take considerable time to publish it, though, because editing it will be at least as hard as writing it. And I seriously have to get it right.
It was during the founding years of the Galtorr Imperium that genetically altered mutates, more commonly called “Freaks” were created in the laboratories of Faulkner Genetics. The lessons of Dr. Frankenstein were completely lost on those poor doody-heads. Most artificial races were created to fill very specific slots in the colonial plan. They first got away with monster making in the forgotten past. When the Galtorrian lizard people and the Earther primates were both struggling to make their way into space, they somehow managed to splice their genomes together to make one race that had the worst qualities of both. This melded race, of uncertain origin, is probably the fault of early Earther explorers who found the Galtorrian homeworld, and scared out of their pants by the warlike reptilians, began crazy-mad experiments the way witless Earth humans do. Having a mutual genetic link in the Galtorrian Lizard-Men meant that both the Galtorrs and the Earthers could feel like part of one people. Well, that was the big idea, anyway. These masters, though, having established an artificial ruling race, soon found use for slave races.
They created the tiny, elfin Peris of the planet Djinnistan to do immense computations in their overlarge heads with an edge of extreme creativity. The winged Eagle-men, also of Djinnistan, were used for jungle warfare and air patrol duty. They created the simian Security Beasts of the planet Karridon for obscure reasons, something about the Earther obsession with gorilla-like monkey violence. Even the speedy Longlegs of the planet Nestor’s Palace were not a natural race and kept as work slaves.
Some science geek (not like me, I’m a nerd rather than a geek, I have never eaten a light bulb) in the days of the Gene-Splicer Renaissance thought it was a natural idea to combine the genes of Earth men with the genes of Earth dogs. They reasoned that since dogs were man’s best friend, they would make a race of friendly, loyal dog-men. They could then be their own best friends! What a stupid concept! They overlooked the fact that all dogs on Earth originated from wolves. Wolves, if you didn’t already know, get hungry enough to eat you.
With my handy telescope I saw the Lupin Rebellion. Waves of wolfmen turned on their masters and stole spacecraft and weapons. Blood was shed as they threw off their collars and turned to wolf-pack piracy among the stars. They were carnivores and totally uncontrollable.
The furry man-wolves formed fleets of corsair raiders known collectively as Stardogs and laid waste among poorly protected colonies. Then, during the Second Unification War the Galtorr Jihad launched their war fleets against Stardog colonies and outposts, nearly making the Homo Lupines race extinct. The Galtorrian hero, Sir Echo Saurol, had every intention of wiping them out like fleas in a flea-powder factory. Only the Lupins who fled into deep space survived the wrath of the Galtorrians.
The first Aero-base, the sentient starport called Frieda, had originally been a Galtorrian Exploration Command Center. A surviving pack of Lupins and Stardogs descended upon it and slew everyone in the planetary command before fleeing further into the unknown. It had, however, been 329 years since the attack when the Aero brothers landed and claimed the base. They knew nothing of the Stardog Freaks and their Lupin Rebellion. All Ged knew was that Lupins were a creature he had hunted before, a very intelligent and dangerous creature to hunt. Soon both brothers would learn more than they ever wanted to know about Lupins, especially the one that had been marooned on the Don’t Go Here Grange station.
Life, like a good Dungeons and Dragons game, is basically controlled by rolling the dice of random encounters. Even if there is a great over-arching plan for this reality in the brain of the Great Dungeon Master in the Sky, it is constantly altered by the roll of celestial dice and ultimate random chance.
Thusly, I managed a D & D encounter in the middle of the night last night.
I generally have a sleeping skill of only +1. That means, that if sleeping is a simple skill, I can add my +1 to the roll and only have to get a 6 or higher on a twenty-sided dice. At 3:10 a.m. I rolled a 3. I had to get up and wander bleary-eyed to the bathroom, a -2 for terrain effects to successfully to make it to the bathroom and pee through a prostate that is swollen to the size of a grapefruit, most often a difficult task, requiring a 15 on a twenty-sided dice. I got lucky. I rolled a 19. Then, on the way back to bed, the dog rolled a natural 20 on her get-the-master’s-attention roll and let me know she had to go to the bathroom too.
I have to tell you at this point, that since I am trying to be more of a nudist, I seriously considered taking her out naked (by which I mean me, not her). Dressing up in the middle of the night can be daunting. And no one was going to see in the dark of the park at 3:15 a.m. But I thought it probably wasn’t a good idea to go adventuring without armor in the darkness, so I at least put on shoes and a magic +4 bathrobe.
So, we went out to let the dog poop in the park, a thing she can do profusely on a roll of 3 or higher. We got it accomplished with little fuss. Oh, there was some complaining and growling, but the dog manage to ignore me when I did it. Then we had to find our way safely back to the house, and bed…. but we had a random encounter roll that didn’t go in our favor. I am always on the lookout in the dark for aliens or black-eyed children or even the onset of the zombie apocalypse. But what I got was the monster from under the bridge.
One of the denizens of the city suburbs that most enjoys the nightlife in the city and thrives even though it isn’t human is the horrorific creature known as a raccoon. She’s a sow that I have seen a number of times before at night. She lives under the bridge in the park and often has three or four cubs trailing behind her in the spring. And she has nothing but contempt for humans with dogs. She immediately launched into her fear-based hiss attack. And coming from a possibly seven-foot tall monster sitting atop the pool fence and hissing in the night, it seized the initiative with a very effective attack. She rolled an 18. The attack succeeded.
I tried the ever-popular pee-your-pants defense, but failed, rolling a 2. The reservoir was previously emptied, and I wasn’t wearing pants. The dog bolted for the kitchen door and dragged me with her. Her magic bark attack wasn’t even tried. We were in the house before my heart skipped its third beat.
Surviving the encounter in this way is probably good for the heart. It beat really hard for a bit and got thoroughly exercised. But I went back to bed and reflected on the fact that random encounters like that are entirely dependent on the roll of the dice.