Category Archives: philosophy

Examining the Wood Grain

When I was a child I often had to fight on school nights to shut down my brain and get to sleep so that getting up the next morning wouldn’t be torture. The bedroom door was always left open and the single light in the upstairs hallway made it possible to get to the bathroom safely in the middle of the night. I would often find myself staring at the wood grain of the door with all its knots and spots and flowing wiggles. That low-light and wood-grain combination was enthralling.

And as I stared, my over-active imagination would find pictures there. There was a werewolf looking out of the wood grain at me with knotty eyes and wiggly fangs. Boy, that really helped me get to sleep.

But I could conjure other things too. I always longed to see Annette Funicello naked. I worked long and hard to make the naked lady in the corner of the door’s wood grained panel into Annette. It never truly worked. The naked lady had two grossly misshapen boobs that formed the central feature of her character, and that was nothing like perfect and sweet Annette from the Mickey Mouse Club.

But the point in all this is, a boy has to examine the wood grain of his life if he is going to develop into the kind of person he wants to be in the future. The things you see when you look into the knots and spots and flowing wiggles of a nearly infinite set of possibilities is limited only by your powers of imagination. There is truth to find there. There is often also deception. Sometimes the truth and the deception are the very same thing. But you have to follow the lines and make sense of the patterns.

Now, as I am old and have less to look forward to than I have to look back on, I am still looking at the wood grain. I am still looking at the patterns of my life and love and laughter. I try to trace the lines into fiction stories based on all things I have experienced in a life of humble service to the gods of education. And I have to look carefully. Is that a demon face on the left? Grinning at me with a crooked smile? Or is it a fox looking at me through a hole in the door. And on the right… Is that a hooded man standing next to a barber pole? Or is it a meadow lark reaching his stretched neck up to the top of the panel so that his bill is out of the picture at the apex of his reach?

You don’t see what I see? I fully understand. The wood grain of each person’s life is different. And not even his or her own interpretation can be called either “right” or “wrong”.

But the wood grains straight ahead are the pictures of the end of me. So, I must study the wood grains of the past to be sure of all the good that I have had, and I attempt to get it all down to hand onward to my children and the world to come. What else can I do? I see the patterns. Some are terrible… The werewolf of my bedroom door. Some are beautiful… Annette Funicello naked. And I get choose what they mean.

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Filed under battling depression, commentary, dreaming, goofy thoughts, humor, metaphor, Paffooney, philosophy, strange and wonderful ideas about life

The Peak Year

Last night I watched the movie version of Jersey Boys the musical. It touched me deeply. And the band was asked to each answer the question,
“What was your best year as a member of the Four Seasons, your peak year?” Frankie Valli’s answer got me thinking about the answer to that question as it applies to who I am and what was the peak year of my career.

Now, I can’t deny that, having been a successful public school teacher who loved teaching for more than 30 years, there were a number of very successful years I could point to. But scoring well on State writing tests and reading tests despite teaching in a poor rural school district in South Texas, nor competing in the Odyssey of the Mind creativity contest with my gifted students were really what I would call my peak year. That honor has to go to the year I was twelve (for most of the year), 1969,

That was the year that men walked on the moon. I had followed the whole thing for several years, since Mom and Dad had gotten me excited about space by trying to spot John Glenn in his Mercury capsule crossing the blue sky in our back yard. I had watched religiously as Walter Cronkite and Wally Schirra told us on CBS about Mercury and Gemini and finally Apollo.

It made me believe in myself and the power of people for the first time since the tornado and the sexual assault from 1966 had toppled my world.

I had numerous self-confidence issues after 1966. I really, deep down, blamed myself for what happened to me. I was convinced that I was worthless and evil. But watching Neil Armstrong step onto the surface of the moon on that late July evening made me yearn to reshape the world the way he did, even if I could only do it in a much smaller way.

’69 was the “Summer of Love” in more than one way for me. I wasn’t really able to think about myself as a virgin in ’69 for… reasons. But it was the summer that I got to see a girl who wasn’t my sister naked because she wanted me to see her. We were not able to actually do what both of us wanted to do, and my double-clutching at the last moment destroyed any chance of her ever even talking to me again for the rest of my life, but it proved that I was at least desirable to girls. And music from that moment on began to underscore everything in my life. She had “Sugar Sugar” by the Archies playing in her bedroom. And the same song was playing again at the roller rink in Lake Cornelia the night she refused to do the couple’s skate with me, and I asked Leslie instead. Leslie accepted. I was not a monster made from the horror of ’66. i proved that to myself to the beat of “Sugar Sugar”.

And, of course, even though I was a Cardinals fan, the New York Mets proved to me that year that the impossible can happen. Of course, I rooted for the Orioles. You know, a team with a bird for a mascot.

But 1969 was also a year of big decision for me. I already knew at that point that I was destined to be a storyteller. But that was the year of the My Lai massacre. I remember looking at the photos in Life and Look magazines of the dead bodies of women and children, killed by American bullets. I could not, at that point, stomach the idea of going to war after turning 18, a possibility that became very real to me that year.

It was the year I made up my mind I would never kill anyone in my lifetime, never pick up a gun to harm others, or be a part of any such atrocity. I still have great respect for soldiers and what they do, but if I had been there, I would’ve been moved to lay down my weapon and stand with the victims in front of the machine guns. They would’ve had to kill me too. And I was determined to go to jail sooner than fight in the war. Luckily, that was never put to the test. The war ended in 1975, before I graduated high school.

The peak year was not for me a year of great personal success or wealth or accomplishment. 1969 was the year I chose who I was going to be in life. The year of decision. The year that brought me all the way through from there to now. It was 50 years ago. It was the year I was 12.

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Filed under autobiography, baseball, empathy, heroes, humor, philosophy, strange and wonderful ideas about life

The Tree of Life

When you get to your sixties, but are in poor health, you can’t help but obsess about your own mortality. No man lives forever.

That point was driven home yesterday. My aunt, whom I have known for my entire lifetime, had her 80th birthday on Monday. Yesterday she had a heart attack and died. It was sudden. It was shocking. It occurred five days before a planned family reunion of Great Grandma Hinckley’s extensive family of descendants. My aunt, of course, was related to all of us, so there is no way the reunion occurrs without a dark cloud over it.

Of course, there are many dark clouds hovering over us in these times, The threat of nuclear war has returned to terrorize us again in the way it did in the 50’s and 60’s.

The climate crisis threatens to make life on Earth extinct. That could all begin this year with crop failures due to excessive rain and flooding during planting season.

But the corn this year, which world-wide food supplies depend upon because of the versatility of corn oil in foods of all kinds, is taller than I am in July and beginning to sprout tassels. So there is reason to hope.

And our moron criminal president seems to be self-destructing instead of fulfilling the promises of Dr. Strangelove.

And I am reaching the final home stretch on my novel, When the Captain Came Calling. Soon this twenty-year story-telling quest to tell a tale of family struggle and fathers versus daughters will be at an end. I have successfully negotiated the suicide scene. I have also achieved the character balance and plot completion that had eluded me for a handful of years. The story is basically about family resilience in the face of adversity. It is ironically consistent with the adversity my family faces this week.

And this is the week I chose to promote my book Recipes for Gingerbread Children. I had some success giving away copies of Snow Babies four months ago. And I had hoped to do the same for Recipes. It is also a book about resilience in the face of tragedy and adversity.

So, as far as I am concerned, the tree of life is a family tree. We are its branches, it’s knots and warped bark, its parasites and possibilities. And in its final analysis, many leaves are still soaking up the sunshine and nourishing every branch, even the dead ones soon to fall off. And I am not a dead branch yet.

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Filed under autobiography, metaphor, novel plans, Paffooney, philosophy, strange and wonderful ideas about life, the road ahead

That Damned Human Race

You have to wonder when you pay attention to what people are actually doing in this world, if the human race needs to be exterminated once and for all.

I know that as jokes go, that one is a little bit dark. But as we may actually be faced with a tipping point into the funnel of human extinction in only twelve years, it seems to me we are more likely to go down that awful rabbit hole at the bottom of the funnel than not. And that is not a very nice flesh-eating bunny we are going to find in that particular hole.

Remember, please, that I am, in fact, a pessimist, both temperamentally and philosophically. I look at the worst that could happen. But I am chagrined to see that people are actively either ignoring the climate change problem, or working to bring it on even faster by deregulating polluters in the name of making higher short-term profits. So, when the Midwest becomes an inland sea, the oceans rise to make New York and Miami into underwater bubble cities like the Gungans have, and we will have to learn to eat dirt in underground tunnels as drought and heat eliminate farming completely, we may very probably be getting what we deserve.

Obviously we are not taking things seriously enough when we continue to let the criminal orange monkey sit in the White House in pile of his own political poo and tell us things like “The Green New Deal is the radical Democrats’ attempt to turn us into a socialist country!” He doesn’t even understand that the Green New Deal is merely a strongly-worded resolution not to die in a blaze of heat generated by greenhouse gasses, and to be willing to do whatever it takes or pay whatever it costs to stay alive.

Maybe the whole question shouldn’t matter to me. I will, after all, probably be dead before the end comes for the rest of humanity. Like the Koch Brothers, I probably don’t need to fear the consequences of what industrialists like the Koch Brothers have done to our world just so they can have more money to stuff under their silk cushions to sit on.

But I do care about the world I will be leaving behind. I have many children in it. Three of my own and over two thousand that were mine for a school year or two or three to nurture and teach and shape into real human beings. I will be leaving behind a literate culture that I love and have tried desperately to add to. The worst part of that is all the wonderful books that I will never get the chance to read and own and share with others.

But there is an answer.

Motivational Quotes Human Race and Mark Twain Love Quotes | Quotehd – DAILY QUOTE IMAGE

If we can laugh about it as the ship is sinking, we will be alright, no matter what the outcome.

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Filed under angry rant, commentary, feeling sorry for myself, humor, Mark Twain, Paffooney, pessimism, philosophy

Dancing With Alan Watts

It seems sometimes, in a Judaeo-Christian society, that we are a constantly being scrutinized by a rather harsh all-knowing God who rewards getting the faith-words accurately correct, to the letter, and the faith-based actions perfect, without a single mistake. And He punishes missteps of word or deed with pain and suffering and the potential of an eternity in Sheol or Hell. And that is a tough God to live with. He is like a teacher who uses his or her God-like powers to reward or punish to lead his students all down an exacting, narrow path to a destination that does not have room for everyone when they arrive.

It doesn’t take long in childhood for a highly intelligent person to realize before childhood is over that this cosmology is actually a load of horse pucky. It didn’t even take long for somebody as semi-stupid as me.

What I like about listening on YouTube to the wisdom of Alan Watts is that he gives us an alternative way of seeing the universe and ourselves. This he can offer through his studies of Eastern and Buddhist philosophies. Everything appealing in John Lennon’s signature song “Imagine” comes from Lennon’s love of listening to the lectures of Alan Watts. He is obviously a wise-guy.

Alan Watts teaches us the pathways that lead to finding yourself, who you truly are, and how you fit into the universe as a whole. When Carl Sagan says that we are all made of star-stuff, he is not only telling us what is literally true, as the elements our bodies were formed from were literally made in the nuclear forges at the centers of stars that later exploded in nova-bursts to scatter the elements across the skies of everywhere. He is also telling us that what Alan Watts says is metaphorically true, that everything in the universe is part of the same thing and we are all one in this way.

There is plenty to worry about in my little life. I could easily drop dead at any time from any one of my six incurable diseases or even the return of the skin cancer I beat in 1983. I suffer from the consequences of disease daily, as I have for many years now. My sins are many. I broke my promise the other day to never show you the horrors of my naked body on this blog. I constantly eat the wrong thing and continue to do things that I know are bad for the environment and the health of my body. I am prejudiced against racists, stupidity, and the actions of dedicated Trump-lovers. In many ways I deserve God’s wrath and brutal correction. I have come to truly believe that climate change is going to end life on Earth. I am horrible.

But I have learned from Alan Watts that all of those concerns mean nothing. I don’t believe in Heaven or an afterlife. But I do not fear death. I am one with the universe. And the universe goes on even if I do not. And I will always be a part of it, even after I am no longer alive. The universe has a mind and is intelligent And I take part in that because one small part of that intelligence is me, and lives in my head.

There is comfort to be found in the words of Alan Watts. And living in pain as I do, I really need that comfort most of the time. That is why I have attempted to share a bit of that comfort with you.

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Filed under artists I admire, commentary, feeling sorry for myself, finding love, foolishness, healing, health, humor, Paffooney, philosophy

Sunday Sermons in More Innocent Times

There are definitely tendencies in those of us who are really atheists and non-believers in our heads to look back fondly at a time when God and religion filled our childish hearts every Sunday Morning. I have been told that idiots like me with a penchant for writing humor ought not to indulge in making fun of religion and politics. But I look at modern humorists making fun of both those things with impunity and too often end up admiring their success. Because, not only does the the subject of religion provide an easy target for satire and mockery, but we can’t really keep something sacred in our porcelain and breakable human hearts for very long without making sure it is fire-tested. That’s why I intend to take a flame-thrower to it in today’s Sunday Sermon. And I don’t mean I will only make fun of belief in God, but making fun of belief in atheism as well.

Here is a piece of music that gives your heart peace that you might need to play in the background if you really plan to read this purple-paisley-prose post. It is Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major, a very spiritual piece to play for peace of personhood and a pinch of paradise.

Now, of course, the first thing to acknowledge in this idiot’s Sunday sermon is the idea of God Himself.

Is there a God?

Remember, I pass the test for believing what atheists normally believe. That should disqualify me from making the following statement. But remember too, I also identified myself in this essay as an idiot. So, I will say it anyway.

There is a God, not in Heaven, but in us. There has to be. I talk to Him all the time, and He answers me. And I keep asking Him, “If you don’t exist, then how can you be answering me?”

“Well, Michael, you are an idiot. And things don’t have to make sense for you to believe them. But also, I am the part of you that never gives up on you even when you have given up on yourself.”

And I try to look as intelligent as I can as I say, “What…?”

“People, Mickey, my son, have a secret power inside of themselves that, when they are in troubled times and dire dangers, they can reach deep into their souls for it and pull it out to save themselves from the situation in the best way possible.”

“So, if people use this power correctly, say the right words and everything, they can save their lives in any situation and even live on after death?”

“I know you are an idiot, my child, but try not to be quite so idiotic all the time.”

“But people who are very religious believe in eternal life of some kind, don’t they?”

“You are not the only idiot out there, my beloved.”

“So, we don’t get eternal life for praying the right things and doing the right things and fulfilling all the elements of the Live Forever Spell?”

“There is no such thing as eternal life nor eternal torment. But you exist. And existence is eternal. There was no life before you are born, and there is no life after you die. But once you exist, you always exist, even outside of the time-frame of your mortal life.”

“That’s why I call myself a Christian Existentialist, right?”

“You are, indeed, that flavor of idiot, yes. But the Christian part means you have to adhere to Christian values. And not the ones Christian Fundamentalist idiots interpret from the Old Testament. The real ones based on choosing love over hate.”

“So, is that all I need to bring this sermon to an end?”

“Well, you should probably thank William Bouguereau for providing most of the internet images you illustrated this thing with. He died before you were born, but he still exists.”

“Thanks, Billy B. You paint lovely naked angels.”

“And you should recognize that this idiotic thing you have written is not a sermon, but, rather, a fantasy dialogue. And then stop adding more to it like a good little idiot.”

“Amen.”

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The Ending Inevitable

Wednesday night, I got to see the musical Hamilton as it was playing in Dallas at Fair Park. I am not sure how I actually got to see it. Tickets are reputedly astronomically expensive. I myself am bankrupt because of medical bills. My wife, however, is not bankrupt, a thing accomplished by separating our finances over disagreements about feeding the credit card monster. Bankruptcy court is helping me escape from the vampire powers of predatory banks. My wife, however, has apparently not heeded my advice about finances. As a Jehovah’s Witness, she is sure the Bible prophecies about the end of the world will rescue her from the credit card monster. Armageddon will happen any day now, and the credit card monster will not get to eat her. I hate to disagree with her about matters of religion. Her faith is sincere, if self-serving. But I think I know the inevitable ending.

Hamilton, the musical, ends with the inevitable death of Alexander Hamilton, firing his dueling pistol into the sky as Aaron Burr kills him.

Sorry about the spoiler, but it has been a recorded outcome for over 200 years. It was in Hamilton’s very nature that he would end his career and life in that way. It was inevitable.

I also took my two younger kids to see the Avengers Endgame yesterday after the Princess’s doctor appointment. Don’t worry. I won’t spoil anything. You already know somebody will die at the end of this movie. And I am not talking about this movie in terms of plot or outcomes. It is, rather, a pivotal point in my own endgame. A couple of years ago, when I knew my fate was sealed by poor health and even poorer affordable healthcare and health insurance, I resolved that I would somehow manage to survive at least until I had seen this movie which brings closure to Marvel Universe stories that I have been invested in practically my whole comic-book reading and movie-watching life. Now I have seen it. Technically that means that I am now free to die without regrets. I have, in fact, been at peace with the idea of my life’s inevitable ending for a long time now.

But if you are worried that I will now just give up and die, don’t be. It is not in my nature. I will continue to fight on. I am on the verge of self-publishing Fools and Their Toys, a critical novel that was one of the stories I most needed to tell before my life is over. But it is far from the last story I have within me. And the fact that nobody is reading my books is not going to deter me. They simply have to exist.

And the third movie in the newest Star Wars trilogy is due to open in December. I feel I am owed at least one more Christmas. So the battle continues. And I may win the war with my final act like you see in the movies. That would be a good and noble thing. I think I have to live longer now. There are just too many goals to be reached before time runs out.

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