Category Archives: philosophy

Becoming

The classic line from the visionary poet Theodore Roethke;

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But the truth is, before you can BE you must first BECOME.

I know what you are probably thinking.  “What is this idiot rambling on about now?”

Well, sometimes you simply have to spout a lot of love and hoo-haw and just pretend it means something.  That is the core, I think, of what philosophy is all about.

But maybe a list of what I have already become will get the idea knitting itself together.  You know, a list of the things I can already just BE.

I have already become college educated.  I have a BA in English and an MAT in Education (Master of the Art of Teaching).  Those letters my college years bestowed upon me are only an “N” short of being an anagram for BATMAN.  So I have almost become BATMAN.

I have also finished becoming a teacher.  In fact, I have spent 31 years becoming a teacher.  I have gotten so teacherfied over the years that I am actually now becoming a retired teacher.  I haven’t learned the art of retired teacher yet.  It is still gonna take a bit of practice to start getting it right.  But I can get a kid to sit down and shut up with just a look.  I can read the mind of a glum-faced student and know we are about to have a bad day.  And I always know when to tell a really awful joke so that the students know their only hope of keeping their lunch down and retaining their sanity is to ask me to please get back to today’s lesson.  So I can BE that, at least in theory.  I am still BECOMING retired.

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Why-ever would I draw myself as a naked boy?  I have inexplicably weird urges sometimes.

I am a living, breathing human being.  I have been that now for sixty years and eight months.  I have practiced it enough that I can BE that without even thinking about it.  Well, not now, just most of the time I don’t have to think about it.

But I did make a huge mistake fairly recently in applying for a chance to be a blogger for an AANR-affiliated website.  Yes, that’s right, the American Association for Nude Recreation.  I signed on to write about being a nudist.

I am asked to write a review of the nearest naturist park, the Bluebonnet Naturist Park in Alvord, Texas.  I am hoping to find a day for a day-visit that won’t find a lot of people there.  Ummm.  How did I get roped into BECOMING a nudist?  Is it too late to back out now?  Or would that be UNBECOMING?

But most of all, I have labored long and hard at BECOMING a real writer.  I have two books already published.  Aeroquest and Catch a Falling Star.    You can find them both on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.  But don’t buy Aeroquest.  Those cheap burgle-binkies don’t deserve to make any more money off of me.  I have another book coming out soon from Page Publishing, Magical Miss Morgan.  It is a book I am really proud of, though these foofy publishers have done nothing to help it and a lot to mess it up for me.
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But, I must admit, I have just finished reading Mitch Albom’s masterpiece, The Magic Strings of Frankie Pesto.  It is a miraculous, engaging read that made me laugh and made me cry and made me fall in love with the story.  And it is so far beyond what I can do that I must write a review on it, maybe tomorrow, and gush praises all over it.  I can only dream of BEING a writer like that.  It proves to me that I have a lot more BECOMING to work on.  Sorry, Ted, I am just not there yet.

 

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The Insufferable Superiority of Dead Guys

I may have stupidly revealed this secret before, but since it is already probably out there, here it is again; I have been on a lifelong quest to find and learn wisdom.

Yep, that’s right.  I have been doing a lot of fishing in the well of understanding to try and find the ultimate rainbow trout of truth.  Of course, it is only incredibly stupid people who actually believe that trout can survive living in a well.

So I have been looking at a lot of what passes for wisdom in this world, and find that for the most part, it consists of a bunch of words written by dead guys.

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Boris Pasternak qualifies.  He is a dead guy.  At least, he has been since 1960.  Pasternak is a Russian.  His novel Doctor Zhivago is about the period in Russian history between the beginnings of the revolution in 1905 and the First World War.  He won the Nobel Prize for Literature for it in 1958, but the Soviet government, embarrassed by it, forced him to turn down the prize.

Nobel novelist is probably something that qualifies a dead guy as wise.

I am led to believe that he knew where to fish for the trout of truth.

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I like the idea that the real value in literature, as in the life it portrays, is found in the ordinary.  And yet, Boris speaks of it oxymoronically as extraordinary.  Wisdom is apparently found in contradicting yourself.

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I like the idea of a world infused with compassion.  But is he saying love may lead to misperceptions of how the objects of our love are mistreated?

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This man saw Leo Tolstoy on his deathbed when he was himself but a boy.  Like Tolstoy he questioned everything.  And like Tolstoy, when the end came, he believed in hope for the future.

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The worst part of getting wisdom from dead guys, guys you never met in real life but only came to know from books, is that you cannot argue with them.  You can’t question them about what they meant, or ask them if they ever considered one of your own insights.  You never get to tell them if you happen to fall in love with their ideas.

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Richard Feynman is a physicist, scientist, and writer of science-based wisdom.

Richard Feynman is also dead since 1988.

He is considered a brainiac superhero by science nerds everywhere, and not only do his words still live in his writings, but so does his math.

But what he is actually saying is, that in truth, we really never “know” anything.  It can never be fully understood and maybe the questions that we ask are more important than the answers.

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Wait a minute!  Feynman, are you calling me a fool?  

Of course, I can’t get an answer out of him.  Richard Feynman is dead.

But he does suggest what I can do about it.

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I had or worked with a large number of teachers in my life who would be absolutely horrified by that advice.

So, what conclusion can I reach other than that Richard Feynman thinks I’m a fool even though he never met me?

I don’t really know.  Maybe I should learn the lesson that you must be careful when you listen to dead guys talking.  But I do like what some of them say.  Perhaps that is my trout of truth.

 

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Why Do You Think That? (Part Two)

In my short, sweet sixty years of life, I have probably seen more than my share of movies.  I have seen classic movies, black-and-white movies, cartoon movies, Humphrey Bogart movies, epic movies, science fiction movies, PeeWee Herman movies, Disney movies, Oscar-winning movies, and endless box-office stinkers.  But in all of that, one of the most undeniable threads of all is that movies make me cry.  In fact they make me cry so often it is a miracle that even a drop of moisture remains in my body.   I should be a dried-out husk by now.

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I wept horribly during this scene.  Did you?

And the thing is, people make fun of you when you cry at movies.  Especially cartoon movies like Scooby Doo on Zombie Island.  (But I claim I was laughing so hard it brought tears to my eyes.  That’s the truth, dear sister.  So stop laughing at me.)  But I would like to put forth another “Why do you think that?” notion.  People who cry while watching a movie are stronger and more powerful than the people who laugh at them for crying.  A self-serving thesis if ever there was one.

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Movies can make you cry if you have the ability to feel empathy.  We all know this.  Old Yeller is the story of a dog who endears himself to a prairie farm family, saves Travis’s life at one point, and then gets infected with rabies and has to be put down.  Dang! No dry eyes at the end of that one.  Because everyone has encountered a dog and loyal dog-love somewhere along the line.  And a ten-year-old dog is an old dog.  The dogs you knew as a child helped you deal with mortality because invariably, no matter how much you loved them, dogs demonstrate what it means to die.  Trixie and Scamper were both hit by cars.  Queenie, Grampa’s collie, died of old age.  Jiggs the Boston Terrier died of heat stroke one summer.  You remember the pain of loss, and the story brings it all back.

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Only psychopaths don’t feel empathy to some degree.  Think about how you would feel if you were watching Old Yeller and somebody you were watching with started laughing when Travis pulls the trigger on the shotgun.  Now, there’s a Stephen King sort of character.

But I think I can defend having lots of empathy as a reason for crying a river of tears during Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  You see, identifying with Quasimodo as the main character, hoping for what he hopes for, feeling like a monster and completely unloved, and fearing what he fears connect you to the story in ways that completely immerses you in the experience.  This is basically a monster movie.Original-Hunchback_of_Notre_Dame

But the film puts you inside the head of the malformed man, and you realize that he is not the monster.  Righteous Judge Frollo and the people who mistreat Quasimodo for his deformity of outward appearance are the real monsters.  If you don’t cry a river of tears because of this story, then you have not learned the essential truth of Quasimodo.  When we judge others harshly, we are really judging ourselves. In order to stop being monstrous, and be truly human, you must look inside the ugliness as Esmeralda does to see the heroic beauty inside others.  Sometimes the ideas themselves are so powerful they make me weep.  That’s when my sister and my wife look at me and shake their heads because tears are shooting out of me like a fountain, raining wetness two or three seats in every direction.  But I believe I am a wiser man, a more resolved man, and ultimately a better man because I was not afraid to let a movie make me cry.

The music also helps to tell the story in ways that move my very soul to tears.  Notice how the heroine walks the opposite way to the rest of the crowd.  As they sing of what they desire, what they ask God to grant, she asks for nothing for herself.  She shows empathy in every verse, asking only for help for others.  And she alone walks to the light from the stained glass window.  She alone is talking to God.

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Yes, I am not embarrassed by the fact that movies make me cry.   In fact, I should probably be proud that movies and stories and connections to other people, which they bring me, makes me feel it so deeply I cry.  Maybe I am a sissy and a wimp.  Maybe I deserved to be laughed at all those times for crying during the movie.  But, hey, I’ll take the laughter.  I am not above it.  I am trying to be a humorist after all.

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Pen and Ink in Progress

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This drawing is not done.  I have plans.  But this pen and ink Paffooney is a good example of a doodle-point I probably need to make.  The plan does not occur before the ink hits the drawing pad.  No, this one started with a circle.  And for no good reason, I had to draw the girl’s face in the circle.  But what was the face doing inside a circle like that?  I next drew the bird.  But if she’s so surprised to see a bird inside a birdhouse…  Well, you get the idea.  The story comes after the scribbling.

And here comes the controversial conclusion.  This is exactly how life happens.  Stuff becomes… and the reason why only becomes clear later.  Curse me for a doodling philosopher!

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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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Three Books at Once

No, this isn’t some kind of multiple-book book review.  This is an ungodly silly claim that I can actually read three books at once.  Silly, but true.

Now I don’t claim to be a three-armed mutant with six eyes or anything.  And I am relatively sure I only have one brain.  But, remember, I was a school teacher who could successfully maintain a lesson thread through discussions that were supposed to be about a story by Mark Twain, but ventured off to the left into whether or not donuts were really invented by a guy who piloted a ship and stuck his pastries on the handles of the ships’ wheel, thus making the first donut holes, and then got briefly lost in the woods of a discussion about whether or not there were pirates on the Mississippi River, and who Jean Lafitte really was, and why he was not the barefoot pirate who stole Cap’n Crunch’s cereal, but finally got to the point of what the story was really trying to say.  (How’s that for mastery of the compound sentence?)  (Oh, so you could better?  Really?  You were in my class once, weren’t you.)  I am quite capable of tracking more than one plot at the same time.  And I am not slavishly devoted to finishing one book before I pick up the next.

I like reading things the way I eat a Sunday dinner… a little meatloaf is followed by a fork-full of mashed potatoes, then back to meat, and some green peas after that…  until the whole plate is clean.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson is the meatloaf.  I have read it before, just as I have probably had more meatloaf in my Iowegian/Texican  lifetime than any other meat dish.  It’s pretty much a middle-America thing.  And Treasure Island is the second book I ever read.  So you can understand how easy a re-read would be.  I am reading it mostly while I am sitting in the high school parking lot waiting to pick up the Princess after school is out.

fbofw1Lynn Johnston’s For Better or Worse is also an old friend.  I used to read it in the newspaper practically every day.  I watched those kids grow up and have adventures almost as if they were members of my own family.  So the mashed potatoes part of the meal is easy to digest too.

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So that brings me to the green peas.  Green peas are good for you.  They are filled with niacin and folic acid and other green stuff that makes you healthier, even though when the green peas get mashed a bit and mix together with the potatoes, they look like boogers, and when you are a kid, you really can’t be sure.  Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter wrote this book The Long War together.  And while I love everything Terry Pratchett does, including the book he wrote with Neil Gaiman, I am having a hard time getting into this one.  Parts of it seem disjointed and hard to follow, at least at the beginning.  It takes work to choke down some of it.  Peas and potatoes and boogers, you know.

But this isn’t the first time I have ever read multiple books at the same time.  In fact, I don’t remember the last time I finished a book and the next one wasn’t at least halfway finished too.  So it can be done.  Even by sane people.

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Shakespeare Knows Fools

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The fact that Shakespeare was a master of the art of creating and mocking fools does not really help decide the question of who Shakespeare really was.  A stage actor who owned a theater in Elizabethan times and apparently focused on being the bit player, the butler, the second man on the castle wall in the great plays, would certainly know enough of flim-flam, being a con man, or artfully throwing turds at kings and queens in ways that get rewarded rather than beheaded.  But a nobleman who has unpopular and unwelcome-but-probably-wise insights into the back-stabbing-goings-on of the royal court of England would equally be capable of putting the most memorable of critiques of humanity into the mouth of the fool or the clown in the great stage-play of life.  Even the most depressing and violent of the Shakespearean tragedies is enhanced and made pointed by the presence of the fool and the comic relief.  In some ways everything that Shakespeare wrote was a comedy.

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Whoever Shakespeare was, he shared Mark Twain’s overall assessment of “That damned human race” and often declared all men fools in the eyes of the playwright.  Puck’s observation on humanity is delivered about not only Bottom and the other poor players who carry on their vain attempts at performing Pyramus and Thisbe while Bottom magically wears the head of an ass, but also the easily fooled lovers who mistake their true loves for one another, and even the clueless mortal King Theseus of Athens.

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In the play within a play, Nick Bottom wants to be not only his own role, Pyramus the romantic lead, but argues that he should be Thisbe, the lion, and Pyramus all at once, making a satire of human nature and its overreaching ways that we could only pray Donald Trump will one day watch and magically understand.  In fact, Shakespeare’s entire body of work is an extended investigation of foolishness versus wisdom, and with Shakespeare, the verdict always goes to the fool.

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The plays of William Shakespeare are filled with fools doing foolish things… and fools being accidentally wise. (Think Jacques in As You Like It giving his famous “All the world’s a stage” soliloquy in which he elucidates the seven ages of man.)  There are fools too who prove to be wise.  (Think of the ironic advice given by the jester Touchstone in As You Like It, or the pithy commentary of King Lear’s fool).  The fools in Shakespeare’s work are not merely the comedy relief, but the main point that Shakespeare makes about humanity.

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Whoever the man was who wrote the plays of Shakespeare, he was someone who had a deep understanding of the basic irony underlying all of human life.  And someone with that vital sense of the bittersweet, a philosophy of life that encompasses the highest heights and lowest depths that a soul can reach, is someone who has suffered as well as known great joy, someone who has experienced loss as often as profit, and has known real love as well as real hatred.  It is the fool that Shakespeare shakes us by the neck with to make us recognize the fool in all of us which makes the plays resonate so deeply within us.  It is watching the path of the fool unfolding that makes us shake our head and say to ourselves, “Yes, that is what life is really like.”

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