Category Archives: philosophy

Classroom Clownery (Not to be confused with Sean Clownery… He’s James Blond)

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See Dick?

See Jane?

See Sally?

See Dick run?

See Jane run?

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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Filed under clowns, goofiness, high school, humor, irony, kids, philosophy, teaching, word games

Contradictions

You know what a contradiction is, don’t you? It is whatever comes out of your wife’s mouth whenever you make a statement asserting that whatever you said is factually true. She will promptly and always explain to you how wrong you are… loudly… and in great detail. No matter if you happen to be provably right or not.

What’s that, you say? I’m wrong about that too? Of course, I am, dear. I only deserve the catfood cookies.

The fact is, if you raise your hand and give the teacher the correct answer often enough, you get a certain reputation amongst your classmates. Instead of continuing to call you, “dumbhead,” or “stupidhead,” or the simplified form of “caca-poo-poo-head” like they endearingly call everybody else, they begin calling you pejoratives like “Einstein,” or “Brainiac,” or “Supernerd, taah tah taaah!” And they begin pointing out in detail everything that is wrong about you. How you dress… how you talk… especially how you laugh. You have become the enemy. You must be contradicted.

“You are wrong, Mickey!”

“So, I get to be Dumbhead again?”

“No. you are still “Supernerd, taah tah taaah!” But you are wrong. We all think so, so that must be right.”

The truth is, Life itself is a contradiction. Considering the violence and hostility of the physical universe towards life, it is a miracle that anything at all is alive in the universe. The chaos of everything guarantees that if you are born into the miracle of life, then at some point, caused by a nearly infinite variety of possible aids to chaos, you will die. Order is whittled away into chaos. Civilizations fall eventually. Things die all the time.

But if all order must, by physical laws of the universe, be broken down into chaos, then, how is it that we have any order at all in the first place? Where does order come from? I’d give you a possible answer. But I would just be contradicted by the majority

Except for fundamentalist Christians who would say, “Let me think for a moment about why you are still wrong… and then I’ll tell you what I think the Bible says about why you are actually still wrong.”

One thing about being “only book-smart, but without common sense” that makes being contradicted all the time worth it, is that the more challenged the answers you come up with are, the more deeply you dig into them, and the more of a real-world understanding of why I am wrong about everything begins to make a bit more sense. Or not. Because I’m probably wrong in your estimation anyway.

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Strawberry Fields

This foolish essay about berries that mean love to me is only partly inspired by the Beatles song, “Strawberry Fields Forever.” That’s because, of course, their song was only about meditating. In the lyrics they take you to the “Strawberry Fields where nothing is real… but it’s nothing to get hung up about…” They are talking about a blissful place of no worries where we all need to go. And then staying there forever.

This, of course, I could never do. Worrying about the future is tattooed on my behavioral imperatives in the dark part of my stupid old brain. And while I often found that place of no worries, and lingered there for a bit, I found you could never really get anything done if you stayed in that state of strawberry fields forever.

But don’t get me wrong, strawberries are a critical part of every healthy mental diet.

You see, my meditations on strawberries when I was a child of eight, nine, and ten centered on the strawberry patch at Great Grandma Hinckley’s place.

She was, as I incorrectly recall, slightly older than Jesus when I was that age. By that I mean, though she seemed museum-quality ancient to me, I had derived wisdom about life, love, and laughter from her before Sunday School taught me any of those things said in Jesus’s words.

And I was given the task of mowing her lawn in the little plot of land surrounding her little, tiny house in the Northern part of Rowan where I also lived and grew and celebrated Christmas and Halloween and Easter and the 4th of July. And though I was doing it because she was so old, I never even once thought she was too old and frail to do it herself. Grandma Hinckley’s willpower was a force of nature that could even quell tornados… well, I thought so anyway when I was eight. And she gave me a dollar every time I did the lawnmowing.

But there were other things she wanted done, and other things she wanted to teach me. There was the garden out back with the strawberry patch next to it. She wanted me to help with keeping the weeds and the saw grass and the creeping Charlie from overrunning the strawberries and choking them to death. (Creeping Charlie wasn’t an evil neighbor, by the way. He was a little round-leafed weed that grew so profusely that it prevented other plants from getting any sunlight on their own leaves, causing a withering, yellowing death by sunlight deprivation. I took my trowel to them and treated them like murderers. I showed them no mercy.)

And Grandma always reminded me not to be selfish and eat the very berries I was tending in the garden. She taught me that eating green strawberries (which are actually more yellow than green, but you know what I mean) was bad because they could give you a belly ache, a fact that that I proved to myself more than once (because eight-year-olds are stupid and learn slowly.) She also taught me that it is better to wait until you have enough strawberries to make a pie, or better yet, strawberry shortcake with whipped cream. She taught me that delayed gratification was more rewarding in the long run than being greedy in the short run and spoiling everything for everybody.

She always gave me a few of the ripe strawberries every time I helped her with them, even if I had eaten a few in the garden without permission. Strawberries were the fruit of true love. I know this because it says so in the strawberry picture. Even though I probably never figured out what true love really means.

My Great Grandma Nellie Hinckley was the foundation stone that my mother’s side of the family was built on. She was the rock that held us steadily in place during the thunderstorms, and the matriarch of the entire clan of Hinckleys and Aldriches and Beyers and other cousins by the dozens and grandchildren and great grandchildren and even great great grandchildren. I painted the picture of her in 1980 when she passed away. I gave it to my Grandma Aldrich, her second-eldest daughter. It spent three decades in Grandma’s upstairs closet because looking at it made Grandma too sad to be so long without her. The great grandchild in the picture with her is now a grandmother herself (though no one who has seen this picture knows who it is supposed to be because I painted her solely from memory and got it all wrong.) But Grandma Hinckley taught me what true love means. And true love has everything to do with how you go about taking care of the strawberry patch.

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What Will One Day Be…

No king rules forever.

No man we know of lives eternally.

The planets and all the stars have their appointed ends.

Through science and observation and logical extrapolation….

We learn how small we really are in the vast universe around us.

And we see how impermanent everything is…

We are made from the dust of exploded stars. All elements beyond helium and hydrogen were formed in the flaming hearts of distant, ancient suns.

And when we die, we dissolve back into the elements from which a volatile and creative planet with a life-filled biosphere created us. And may decide to create us anew.

So, we will one day be mere dust again. Free to create something new.

We are but the words of the puzzle, making one crossword one day, and another anagram the next.

But the stories we make of those random, meaningless words…

Are the reason for existence.

And they are just as eternal and undying as anything else is.

And there-in lies the reason for hope.

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How is it Humor?

Mickey intends to pontificate again… This will not be funny.

I write novels that I think of as being basically humorous. But I have had readers ask of me after reading them, “What the hell makes you think these stories are funny?”

And besides the fact that they are invoking the name of the Norse goddess of the underworld, they do have a point.

My stories have unsavory things in them. I have stories where the plot is driven by the conflicts caused by physical and emotional child abuse, a pornographer who becomes a murderer when denied the opportunity to make kiddie porn, a father abandoning his wife and daughter through suicide, fools causing others to freeze to death in a blizzard, murderous robot hit-men, space pirates that kill a quarter of the population of a high-population planet, and lizard people from outer space that eat human flesh and each other. (Of course, one could argue the last few things are dark humor created by gross exaggeration and random bizarre details.)

A girl who always got an “A” in English class because the teacher couldn’t be sure she wouldn’t turn into a werewolf and eat him.

But not everything in a comedy is a laugh line. I would argue that a perfect example of a comic novel with dark things in it is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. That novel begins with a slave running away from a kind mistress because he is to be sold away from his family., and a boy who narrowly escapes death by the rages of his drunken father and runs away to protect not only himself, but the kind widow who took him in after the events of the previous novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

In the course of the novel Huck sees his young friend, Buck Grangerford, killed during a pointless family feud between the Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons. He comes upon the body lying in a creek, and no laughter is generated by the scene.

Further, two snaky old con men, the King and the Duke, try to steal away everything from three girls, newly orphaned, by posing as two uncles come to take them back home to England. Huck is forced to aid them as his friend Jim is held hostage and threatened with a return to slavery. There is plenty to laugh at, but not until Huck manages to do the right thing and commit the King and the Duke to their well-earned tar and feathers.

The Telleron kid-aliens who do not get cooked and eaten in Catch a Falling Star and Stardusters and Space Lizards.

Comedies, I would argue, have to have conflict, and some of the best comedies have terrible things in them that the characters you learn to love and laugh with have to overcome. It is in overcoming hard things with love and laughter that a comedy is made different than a tragedy. The comedy does not depend on the laugh lines. In fact, some of the hardest-hitting tragedies have laughter scattered throughout.

I am not trying to educate you. I am merely offering excuses for why I call my stories humor when they often horrify and upset readers. (How dare he write about naked people!!!) But if you learned something, I won’t be terribly disappointed.

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Filed under humor, Paffooney, philosophy, strange and wonderful ideas about life, writing, writing humor

Can We Be Clear?

Mai Ling uses psionic ninja powers to separate the flowers from the weeds, a thing that is not easy to do.

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.

But I am definitely not giving up on writing in despair. Those were never the reasons I wrote novels to begin with.

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.

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Filed under autobiography, blog posting, commentary, feeling sorry for myself, irony, philosophy

Love Life and Live Happy

I hardly ever have a day now where I am not going through some kind of suffering. I have just been through rainy days that make my arthritis sore to crippling levels of hurting-ness. Okay, that’s not a real word, so let’s say hurtyness… not a real word either, but funnier sounding. I have been through a number of months of budget-squeezing economic pain, not making enough to afford medicine the doctor orders, or even enough for the doctor’s visit so he can tell me what expensive medicines (like insulin) that I may need to stay alive and yell at me for not taking the medicine I used to be on and couldn’t afford anymore. The news is unrelenting with pandemic infections out of control and death tolls rising while the criminal we elected in 2016 screams that it is all the fault of radical ANTIFA Democrats like me (ANTIFA meaning anybody against fascism) and we are entirely to blame for everything, and we better be opening schools soon or he will cut education funds again… and even more… and make us put up Betsy DeVos posters in our bedrooms so she can watch us sleep and make us have nightmares about schools because we had the audacity to be educators and pro-public-school advocates.

So, maybe, you think, I am bitter and hate my life. Ha! No! If I had it all to do over again, I would not change a thing!

One bad kid my first year nicknamed me “Mr. Gilligan” as if I were a skinny, dopey fool. For years afterward my classroom was known as Gilligan’s Island. I loved it!

Two times in my life I have had a job that I hated. Both were teaching jobs. Each of them only lasted for one year. The first time, my very first teaching job, I came back the second year to a new principal and mostly new kids. I worked really hard and turned it into a job I loved for the next 23 years. The second time was a job for a principal who was decidedly dictatorial and hated by most of the staff. She ended up firing me because I liked black and brown kids too much, and it resulted in me finding a much better job which I loved for seven more years. I have never regretted becoming a teacher. In fellow faculty and the vast majority of over two thousand students, I encountered some of the most interesting and best people I have ever known. Including my wife. Now, when pain and suffering are lonelier things to deal with than the hubbub and struggle of daily school life, I have all of that to look back upon and remember and grin insanely about with high levels of life-satisfaction. Doing things you love to do is a key to happiness.

This is called “A Portrait of Mark Twain with Drumsticks Involved”

Another reason I am in love with life in spite of it all is the chance I had to be an artist and express myself through drawing, painting, coloring, and telling stories. As you can see by this blog, I have done a lot of doodling since I discovered I could draw at somewhere around the ripe old age of four. And because I rarely throw artwork away, I have a lot of it to share. Some of it I am very proud of. The stuff I am ashamed of that I have not trashed, I am only mildly ashamed of.

I claim to be humorist. Some of my best stories can make you laugh. And some of my drawings can too.

But not every part of the world of humor is about laughing, chortling, giggling, snickering, or full-blown donkey-like hee-haws. Some humor only makes you smile.

Some humor is gentle and thoughtful, even ironic.

And some of the best humor calls up truths and feelings that can bring you to tears.

But all of us “normal” human beans love to laugh (or even groan about that bean-pun) and laughter is good for us. Expressing yourself through art, especially if it makes us laugh, is another reason I love being alive.

Being dead, of course, makes it awful hard to laugh. This is why I generally try to avoid being dead. But thoughts of death can too easily become a way of life. That is why I try to put fear and anger and Republican Senators from Texas far away from me. They will not take me out of my laughing place while I am still alive.

Stand resolute against evil and protect the ones you love.

And most important of all, you need to love life because of love itself. Now, I am not saying anything about sex here. Not that sex isn’t a good thing, and that it doesn’t pop into your old head every time you think about love, but that sex isn’t the most important part of love. It is possible to love everybody unconditionally. As much as Mark Twain and I both complain a lot about “That damned human race!” we both understand that the most wonderful thing about people is that, in spite of the fact that the word “people” is a little label on a very big thing… they are, in fact, an ever-expanding balloon of infinitely hilarious and detestable and cuddly things that threaten to pop at any moment and spew weird and wild personalities all over the damned universe. No matter how much you hate some people, or even if you hate people generally, loving people is the spicy Italian meat sauce on the spaghetti pile of your life. So, do some acts of pure gluttony upon it, and just be happy to be alive.

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Filed under autobiography, battling depression, commentary, happiness, humor, Mark Twain, mental health, Paffooney, philosophy, self portrait, strange and wonderful ideas about life

All That Really Matters

I was not able to post yesterday for a number of reasons. Not the least of which is the turmoil caused by this nation trying to come to terms with those sins of the past that come back to haunt us and hunt us in the present.

I am an old white man. I suffer from “white privilege” in ways I can’t explain to some of my white friends back in Iowa, a State that was almost entirely white when I was growing up there. (And I pray that I grew UP, not just old.)

I learned yesterday that it matters how you put in order the things that you can say on matters of race. You can’t just say, “Black lives matter” to some white people. They will angrily insist that “All lives matter.” They will then proceed to tell you that you are being a racist when you suggest that black people are somehow more important than white people. I learned that you should say instead, “All lives matter, which means black lives certainly matter too. And the debate now is about a few recent black lives that were treated like they didn’t matter, and so, their lives ended in being murdered.” You can’t give white people a reasonable-sounding way to get out of admitting that, or they will. (See, I can be a bit racist too. I sometimes have a hard time believing all white people have positive human feelings in them somewhere.)

My illustrations for this post all came from Pinterest.

It has often, in my teaching career, been a disadvantage to be a white male. Black kids don’t believe you can see them as a good person. If you have to call them down for misbehavior, the worst ones will automatically assume it is about their race and not their behavior. A good teacher needs to listen more than they talk. You have to get them to open up about what happens in their lives that makes them behave the way that they do. You have to make them understand that you actually care about them and want to help. You have to earn their trust to get their best learning behavior. And being white makes that all so much harder. Not just with Afro Americans. Hispanic kids too. Vietnamese kids too. And I promise you, if you take the time to really get to know a kid… from any race or culture… you will discover that underneath it all, there are no bad kids. You stand a very good chance of learning to love them… no matter their racial or cultural differences from you.

And as an old white man, I suffer the disadvantage of never being able to truly understand what it feels like to have to worry that, at any moment, the police might kill you with a gun, or press the life out of you with a knee on your neck… just because of the color of your skin. That is in no way a fair thing that black men, black women, and black kids have to worry about that.

I am saddened and frustrated too that I can’t do any more to correct this terrible injustice than I am doing. I can’t attend protests because of my poor health and the pandemic that will probably kill me anyway. I am too old and crippled and broke to do any more than write this essay and post things on social media that make some of my old white friends angry and ready to argue.

I feel bad. The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, and too many more diminish me, make me hurt in my heart. And all I can do about it is tell you that there needs to be more love in this world, and less hate. And I hope maybe you have a little more of it to add to the world. After all, that’s all that really matters.

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Filed under 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion, angry rant, commentary, compassion, empathy, kids, Liberal ideas, philosophy, racial profiling

My Brother’s Keeper

It is a Biblical question. After Cain killed Abel, God came asking for Abel’s whereabouts. And Cain stupidly answered, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Stupid Cain! Did he not know that God already knew the answer?

And stupid God. Why did he ask a question to which he already knew the answer? And why did he ask stupid Cain whom he must’ve already known was stupid?

But the answer to the question in this bit of Biblical moral mythology is supposed to be, “Yes, Cain. You are your brother’s keeper.”

So, why am I, a confirmed Christian Existentialist (an atheist who believes in God), trying to tell you something from a Biblical story?

Well, the matter is simple. As I will very likely die soon from Coronavirus (which I am not yet infected with, but, you know, the kindness of fate…), I am trying like heck to impart what little wisdom I have gathered in my life so that I may leave something behind me that has worth.

This current pandemic is itself a demonstration of the truth behind the claim that I am my brother’s keeper.

I wear a mask everywhere I go now because a mask protects not only me but it also protects others from me. After all, I have no access to testing. I may have the virus and just not know it. Then my exhalations would contain droplets of water that have viruses swimming in it. The mask, combined with six feet of distance, keeps my exhalations from reaching the lungs of uninfected others, and potentially slaying them as Cain did to Abel.

It is because of Texan prejudices against mask-wearing and social distancing that I know I will probably be infected before this pandemic is over. And my diabetes, blood pressure problems, and previous difficulty with bronchitis and COPD insure that I am not part of the 80 percent of people who will survive the virus. I will get pneumonia and die.

When I suggest, however, that we should each take on the responsibility for the safety and well-being of others, I do not mean that we should become a zoo-keeper, and keep them all safely in cages (the Senator Cruz method of keeping Mexican immigrants safe). You cannot presume to control the thoughts and behaviors of others. You must only adopt the way of love and brotherhood. You put the interests and needs of others before your own. You lead by example, not by decree.

Before you start complaining in the comments about how stupid I am in this essay because I blaspheme against God, and at the same time don’t see people for how they really are, remember that I used to be a school teacher. You don’t do that job because you want to be rich and powerful. You do that job for love of others… specifically, other people’s children. And it is true that everybody has their bad points. Everybody is thoughtless, or wicked, or deeply troubled at times. But everyone also has qualities about them that make them beautiful, or kind, or noble, or selfless, or… well, the list of good things I have seen and nurtured in other people’s children is far longer and more profound than the bad things. No matter who they are, no matter what color or culture or religion they are, my brothers and sisters and their children have worth.

So, here I am, declaring that I am, most definitely, my brother’s keeper. (And unlike Cain, I did not kill him. He and his wife live along the Texas coast, near Houston. And they are not in a cage.)

And here is the question most critical to my survival…

Are you your brother’s keeper too?

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A New Song

I have been feeling ill for three days now. Every morning I wake up feeling that I must’ve caught the Coronavirus. Head all congested, body aching, chest hurting and giving me breathing difficulty, and possibly fever…

And yet, every day, my head clears, my chest stops hurting. No fever is detected. Who knows? I have lived yet another day.

I have honestly been treating every day as if it were my last. I have been doing that for six years now. One day at a time. I have convinced myself that it is the only way to live. Careful of my fragile mortality, yet savoring the music of every single day.

Who knows if tomorrow will be another day? I will do as I must tomorrow if tomorrow is given, and I am thankful for today.

In my time living every single day as my last one, I have written a number of stories. This is one of the good ones that I cherish. It has nudists and Nazis in it. It has gingerbread men (and girls) in it who magically come to life. There are also fairies. And one old German woman with some stories to tell to children. It is built of the sweet memories and cookies and milk from my own boyhood. And it may offend some people. But everyone who will admit to me that they read it, loves it. I love it. Twitter nudists think it represents naturism well.

And the next book I write, if I can string together enough last days at 500 words a day, will be nothing like it, completely different, and maybe better.

And so, on the chance that today really is the last, here is the wisdom that I would leave behind as my legacy.

Words, if chosen wisely, have meaning. And meaning, applied to life, is a priceless treasure. But only if you give it away when you find it.

All people are worth knowing. The unpleasant ones have even more to teach you than the ones who love you. But do not fail to make time for those you love.

Live in the moment. Sing your best. Dance whenever you can. There’s no time like now. At least until tomorrow becomes now.

Hopefully this gift of wisdom is enough for now. If it isn’t, then may the next day make me wiser so that I will do better.

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