Category Archives: philosophy

I Believe in Sunshine More Than Night

This picture was originally supposed to be combined with another picture of a charging grizzly bear. The boy in the picture could definitely be characterized as a “brave.” After all, he stands almost entirely unprotected and undefended in the face of danger. One small, determined arrow stands between him and endless night.

It is the story of my entire life summarized in a picture.

Only my skill and determination helped me overcome my boyhood trauma, a life plagued with ill health, the ravages of depression, and fear.

As a child you live with the notion your mind creates that there are monsters out there in the darkness just beyond the edges of the lantern’s illumination.

But there is an important principle you learn from the night terrors that plague you at age eleven. The monsters under the bed slink away when you turn on the light. Even if your nightmares are caused by being sexually assaulted before anybody had tried to explain to you what sex was and the other facts of life, when you shed light on the matter and learn the truth the darkness was hiding, the nightmare becomes unraveled.

Sunshine is the medicine that cures the darkness. Any problem you have is best solved by careful study and illuminating it with the sunshine of truth.

Leave a comment

Filed under metaphor, Paffooney, philosophy

The Philosopher King’s Quest

Marcus Aurelius was a Roman Emperor, one of the good ones, not like Caligula, Nero, or even Commodus, his son who was emperor after him.

But what made him good? Obviously the fact that he was beloved by the Roman people, even the senators and the very people who would’ve benefitted personally by his failure and demise.

He was a good administrator that benefitted the people with public works. He was a good military leader who maintained the Pax Romana until his death in 180 A.D.

Of course, his son, Commodus, blew that all up by being such an incompetent dictator that his own Praetorian Guard assassinated him (as portrayed in the movie Gladiator, though that movie also made him out to be his father’s murderer, of which there is no real evidence.)

But my friend Emperor Marcus was so much more than just a good ruler. He was a good man. And this is due almost entirely to the fact that he was a well-known Stoic Philosopher.

He embraced the philosophy of Greek philosopher and Roman slave Epictetus. Stoicism is the belief that you, as an individual do not control anything in the outside world to the degree you can control yourself. It is not the things, people, and events around you that matter, since you can’t control those. It is your own set of principles that you have to put in place and adhere to that affect the outcomes in life. In fact, you should view the setbacks and roadblocks to your accomplishments not as a negative thing, but as a learning opportunity. Learn all you can while you may, and at every opportunity. The Stoic welcomes hardship, because the overcoming of hardships shapes the man or woman you will become.

I found this philosophy to be the only way forward some days during the course of my teaching career. I was always more successful in meeting challenges head-on as they arose in front of me. Delaying, making excuses, or running away are all easier to do than that. But those other wimpy tactics never yield the success you can have by defeating your opposition and hardships face-to-face. Of course, you have to remember too that overcoming opposition does not have a selfish quality if you are a Stoic. In fact, you must respect all men, even your enemies. Marcus Aurelius, in response to victory in battle won by having thirsty troops offer a Christian prayer and then have their problem solved by a fortuitous rain storm, told the Senate they must no longer persecute Christians. They started to be considered good Roman citizens no matter what their religion.

Marcus Aurelius made it clear in his writings, the Meditations written in Greek, that, “In order to win the day, you must first win the morning.” To him this meant you had to be an early riser, tackling each problem of the day as it came up in the order they happened, morning to night.

So, the Philosopher King’s Quest, by this Stoic philosophy, is managed by first putting yourself right. You must examine your beliefs, test your hypotheses, and prove yourself to yourself before trying to tackle the world.

2 Comments

Filed under commentary, compassion, heroes, Paffooney, philosophy

Things Probably Worth Knowing

The picture is called “One Day the Old Mad Gods Will Be Made Whole Again.”

It comes from a time in my life, in the early 80’s when I was fascinated with Medieval art and their conception of Armageddon and the end of everything.

They believed that everything, even the end of the world, was somehow cyclical. Like Odin, Thor, and Ragnarok, the end of everything merely wiped away what was and started again with something new.

It will not be too long before I am putting such notions to the test with my own life. Signs of the onset of Parkinson’s Disease plague me, and make me worry about losing control of my body and probably something worse, control of my mind.

I may be finding out soon if there is an afterlife. Of course, as a Christian Existentialist, I don’t need one. I am satisfied with my life the way it is, and I don’t anticipate messing it up significantly before it is complete.

But there is definitely evil in this world. The fossil fuel industries decided back in the 1970’s that they would do anything to preserve short-term profits, even sacrificing the long-term existence of life on Earth to continue to exploit the resources they gripped tightly in their evil, green hands.

We only have about twelve years left to reverse the destruction of the entire ecosphere on Earth. And it will require massive technological problem-solving by the very best of us, and probably an impossibly difficult reeducation of stupid people and Republicans. That means we are more likely to become extinct than survive as a species. Probably good to know so that we can be prepared for it.

Hopefully the evil people burn with us.

But because we have existed in this reality, our existence is now permanent. If we reach the point of no longer being here, we still existed, and for whatever reason or purpose, the fact of our existence will still be real.

I can’t prove it, but I firmly believe there is life out there. We are not alone in this universe. The odds are astronomically against us being all there is. And, truth-be-told, they are more like us than they are different from us. When and if you meet them, be kind and welcoming. They may still kill and eat you, but the same can be said about all of us. And we are better off dying ignorant and happy than we are when we curl up in a ball of misery and refuse to participate in anything… ever, Who knows? Our interstellar pen pals may be the salvation of us in the end.

Leave a comment

Filed under humor, Paffooney, philosophy

Penguin Proverbs

Penguins

You know how creepy penguins in cartoons can be, right?  The Penguins of Madagascar are like a Mission-Impossible Team gone horribly wrong and transformed into penguins.  The penguin in Wallace and Gromit’s The Wrong Trousers disguised himself as a chicken to perform acts of pure evil.  Cartoonists all know that penguins are inherently creepy and evil.

I recently learned a hard lesson about penguins.  You know the joke, “What’s black and white and red all over?  A penguin with a sunburn.”  I told that joke one too many times.  Who knew the Dallas metroplex had so many loose penguins lurking around?  They are literally everywhere.  One of them overheard me.  And apparently they have vowed a sacred penguin vow that no penguin joke goes unpunished.

As I walked the dog this morning, I spotted creepy penguin eyes, about three pairs, looking at me from behind the bank of the creek bed in the park.  When I went to retrieve the empty recycle bins from the driveway, there they were again, looking at me over the top of the neighbor’s privacy fence.

“Penguins see the world in black and white,” said one of the Penguins.

“Except for purple ones,” added the purple one.

“Penguins can talk?” I tried unsuccessfully to ask.

“Penguins only talk in proverbs,” said one of the penguins.

“But the purple one gives the counterpoint,” said the purple one.

“The wisdom of penguins is always cold and harsh,” said one of the penguins.

“Except on days like this when it’s hot,” said the purple one.

“You should always listen to penguins,” said one of the penguins.

“Of course, people will think you are crazy if you do,” said the purple one.

“People who talk to penguins are headed for a nervous breakdown,” said one of the penguins.

“Unless you are a cartoonist.  Then it is probably normal behavior,” said the purple one.

“Is this all real?” I tried unsuccessfully to ask.

“Everyone knows that penguins are real,” said one of the penguins.

“But there are no purple penguins in nature,” said the purple one.

So, I sat down to write this post about penguins and their proverbs with a very disturbing thought in my little cartoonist’s head…  Why am I really writing about penguins today?  I really have nothing profound to say about penguin proverbs.  Especially profound penguin proverbs with a counterpoint by a purple penguin.  Maybe it is all merely a load of goofy silliness and a waste of my time.

“Writing about penguins is never a waste of time,” said one of the penguins.

“And if you believe that, I have some choice real estate in the Okefenokee Swamp I need to talk to you about,” added the purple one.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under artwork, birds, cartoons, goofy thoughts, humor, Paffooney, philosophy, surrealism

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

16473244_1449448801783847_8086681324837506057_n

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!

funny-pinoy-jokes-grammar-nazi-natzi-hitler-alert-2013

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.

dr_cat.jpg

12140070_10153033719407821_7711720876061693795_o

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.

3 Comments

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.

2 Comments

Filed under commentary, humor, inspiration, Paffooney, philosophy

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under artwork, autobiography, commentary, family, health, humor, mental health, Paffooney, philosophy, strange and wonderful ideas about life

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under commentary, philosophy, soliloquy, Uncategorized

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.

Leave a comment

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.

2 Comments

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