I am not a politician. I am not a political writer. But I have opinions about the policies that affect my life and livelihood. And my opinions, though often expressed poetically, or even humorously, are based on real troubles never-the-less.
I am disturbed by the problems I see in education. Teachers are not paid what they are worth. Anyone with half a brain can see that, for the level of education required of them, the professionalism expected of them, and the ever-increasing responsibilities foisted upon them, they are not compensated for their work in a manner comparable to people who do the same work in the corporate world. And those comparable workers never have to endure the conditions of a teacher’s job, overloaded with students, forced to stand and deliver to a hostile audience whose behavior you are responsible for controlling six or seven times a day, and then being evaluated by how that audience does on tests that often measure the wrong thing with financial punishments waiting for failure and rarely any rewards waiting for success.
I started teaching in 1981 in South Texas for a salary of $11,000 dollars a year. That was below the poverty line in 1981. If I had a family at that time, we would’ve been eligible for food stamps. The highest I ever earned was $55,000 with a master’s degree, 28 years of experience, and a summer of teaching summer school. Some one who delivers similar forms of information to a receptive audience in a boardroom, only has to deliver maybe once per day, and is paid upwards of twice that highest amount is treated far better.
And when teachers strike in West Virginia for being the lowest paid in the country, or a teacher complains on social media by revealing their actual yearly salary from Arizona, or a teacher is forced to move from Oklahoma to Texas for higher pay even though they were the teacher of the year in the State the year before, there is blow-back. There are stupid people out there that think teachers are overpaid. They think all teachers have to do is talk to kids every day, and they have only 185 work days a year, they have the summer off, and their job is one anyone can do. These stupid people have less than half a brain. What makes a guy who sits in an office all day with his feet up making decisions about stocks and bonds and business deals worth thousands of dollars a minute? Teachers, in my amateur political opinionater’s opinion, are underpaid.
To quote the Beatles’ 1969 animated movie, the Yellow Submarine, “It’s a blue world, Max.” Unfortunately, in the world of education, the Blue Meanies are now in charge.
When I started this whole blogging-every-day thing, I decided the rule had to be 500 words written in a day. And I meant to hold myself to writing 500 words somewhere in the writing day, whether it was my blog post or the novel I was working on, or a combination of both. I followed that rule religiously through more than 1,500 blog posts and five first draft novels. I found it easier and easier to surpass 500 words on a daily basis. There are all sorts of bits of time available and I collect ideas faster than a rich kid generates empty candy wrappers. The more I call on the well of words for more words, the more words are available. Now, it seems, writing only 500 words is the trick.
I suppose I have become an Old Man of Words. I know both the rules and the exceptions.
Knowing that I can write more than 500 words easily, then the question becomes, why don’t I? Well, the cardinal rule is “Say it short. Say it simple. And say it sweet.” That rule can generate a lot of wonderful writing, full of juicy ideas that splash with flavor when you bite into them. Ernest Hemingway knew that rule. Every poet knows it. Readers generally prefer the easily accessible idea expressed with elegance.
Now, I also have to admit a guilty pleasure in perpetrating purple paisley prose. That is the style of writing in which I generally write convoluted sentences with complex ideas that fold back in on themselves and over-use alliteration to criminal degrees. Charles Dickens liked to do that with descriptive details. Paragraphs about the boarding schools of London, the streets filled with child chimney sweeps and flower girls, and dingy mind-dulling workhouses could take up two or three pages per paragraph. And two pages further on, he layers more details on the same setting. Piles and piles of words and wordplay fill the pages of William Faulkner, James Joyce, and Marcel Proust. And if you haven’t read at least something from each of those gentlemen, you will never know what you are missing. But you can prune your paragraphs like a greenhouse master florist with limited space will do to his orchids, and you can actually end up fitting great beauty and powerful content into something even more limited than a 500-word essay. In fact, if you take your ideas and distill them, and keep distilling them, over and over, you will eventually have pared the words down into poetry.
So, there you have it. The reason my essays are about 500 words. This one is four hundred and forty one words.
I do write poetry. But I must admit, I am not a serious poet. I am a humorist at heart, so I tend to write only goofy non-serious poems like this one;
So here is a poem that rhymes but has too much “but-but-but” in it. A poem about pants should not have too many “buts” in it. One butt per pair, please. So this is an example of spectacularly bad poetry. Why do we need bad poetry? Because it’s funny. And it serves as a contrast to the best that poetry has to offer.
As a teacher I remember requiring students to memorize and recite Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken”. Now this sort of assignment is a rich source of humorous stories for another day. Kids struggle to memorize things. Kids hate to get up in front of the class and speak with everybody looking at them. You get a sort of ant-under-a- magnifying-glass-in-the-sun sort of effect. But in order to truly get the assignment right and get the A+, you have to make that poem your own. You have to live it, understand it, and when you reach that fork in the road in your own personal yellow wood, you have to understand what Frost was saying in that moment. That is the life experience poetry has a responsibility to give you.
Hopefully I gave that experience to at least a few of my students.
Bad poetry makes you more willing to twirl your fingers of understanding in the fine strands of good poetry’s hair. (Please excuse that horrible metaphor. I do write bad poetry, after all.)
But all poetry is the same thing. Poetry is “the shortest, clearest, best way to see and touch the honest bones of the universe through the use of words.” And I know that definition is really bad. But it wasn’t written on this planet. (Danged old Space Goons!) Still, knowing that poetry comes from such a fundamental place in your heart, you realize that even bad poetry has value. So, I will continue writing seriously bad poetry in the funniest way possible. And all of you real poets who happen to read this, take heart, I am making your poetry look better by comparison.
-a poem written by Mickey and pasted on a picture.
Poetry is life
Like life, it is sometimes fat and over-gorged
Like life, it is sometimes lean and starving
Like life, it sometimes rhymes
But that is only simile
Simile is not reality
Reality is metaphor
Metaphor is life
Like life, it has to mean something
Like life, it has rhythm, pace, and resonance
Like life, it sometimes rhymes
But this one doesn’t rhyme
And it may not really mean something
And it certainly isn’t reality
So, poet, you don’t know life!
And life is poetry
So you really don’t know poetry
THE WISDOM OF THE LITTLE FOOL
A fool can’t really sum up all of life in a sentence.
But a fool tries.
A fool can’t really say something in immortal words.
Because a fool dies.
A fool can’t really do the job of the wise.
But never-the-less, the fool applies.
But a fool can write a really dumb poem,
And let it sit to draw some flies.