Category Archives: self portrait
These are a few of the main characters of the old story which is now my newest novel.
Superchicken is Edward-Andrew Campbell. He is basically a me-character. His embarrassing nickname, from a Jay Ward cartoon that used to be on TV Saturday mornings, was actually my nickname in junior high and high school. Many of the emotional changes he goes through and the embarrassments he endures to be a super hero were based on my own experiences. But he definitely embraces the nickname as his superhero name in a way I can only wish that I did.
Brent Clarke is the outgoing athlete sort of kid who was definitely not me. He becomes leader of the Norwall Pirates because he pitched for the softball team, and because anyone who met him naturally assumed he was the most important kid in the group. Others look to him for leadership even when they don’t need it. Making friends with Brent is one of the most difficult and important tasks the Superchicken must undertake.
Milt Morgan is the wizard of the group. He is obsessed with magic and imagination. And though Brent is nominally the leader of the group, all their evil plans and hair-brained schemes come from Milt’s imagination. The picture of Milt is drawn from me as a boy, but in reality he is the other Mike from my childhood, the one with a rather tough life and a heart of… well… maybe not gold, but at least silver. He is also the one who insists on making Edward-Andrew part of the gang.
The Cobble Sisters, Sherry and Shelly, are a pair of identical twin girls. They are both nudists at home on the farm place and at the nudist club in Clear Lake. They are problematic for a shy boy just discovering girls, but Sherry definitely pursues a crush on the Superchicken and tricks him into a family camping trip at the nudist camp.
Anita Jones is the shy girl who has a crush on the Superchicken. And he secretly has a crush on her. But she is also the girl who becomes, completely by accident, the first girl that Edward-Andrew sees naked. Love and hate, embarrassment and attraction, she is the one girl whose opinion seems to matter most. I, of course, will never reveal the real life girl she is based on. I could never live that down, even though we are both now more than sixty years old.
So those are a few of the main characters that make this novel work for me. They are real people to me now that the novel is written, just as they were once real people when I was a boy and living the nightmare of being a mere boy in a world that needs heroes.
Days like today make me wonder about how long I can keep going. It has been so many years since I last had a day in which I felt no arthritis pain anywhere in my whole body, that I can’t actually remember what that felt like. With my movements and activities curtailed, I spend most of my retired life now sitting on my bed with my laptop, drawing paper, and colored pencils. I have been watching Green Eggs and Ham on Netflix, the Duck Tales reboot on Disney+, and numerous history videos on YouTube. And I have been writing a novel about teen depression and trauma, and, at the same time, a novella about a Fairy named Poppensparkle being taught magic by a master wizard who is a selfish idiot.
My bankruptcy is paid off, and my taxes have been paid for more than a month. I still have to get my second booster shot of Covid vaccine, but there is nothing else on my calendar for this month.
My writing has been increasingly going harder. The Pubby review exchange continues to get worse. The reviewing of others’ works is becoming harder, while the quality of reviews I get in return continues to get worse. Others don’t even read the books, just cobbling together reviews based on the comments in other reviews.
On WordPress I lost my ability to have ads on my site. Too many nude figures. No matter how innocent they might be. That is a loss of only pennies. But I may have gotten labeled an adults-only site even though there is not even remotely a hint of pornography.
And my views have drastically dropped from a year ago when my “Nudist Notions” post blew the number up to the highest I ever got.
Book sales are driven by Pubby reviews, so those have dropped off too.
So, the best thing that I can truly say at this point is that life is good and I enjoy being alive…with the complaints I registered duly noted. And today is about self-reflection, so I followed my overall plan for one day. And I have posted something 424 days in a row.
Don’t get too excited. I searched every box, trunk, bag of tricks, safe, closet, and jelly bean jar that I have in my rusty old memory. I didn’t find much. In fact, the old saying is rather applicable, “The beginning of wisdom is recognizing just how much of a fool you really are.” The little pile of bottle caps and marshmallows that represent the sum total of my wisdom is infinitely tiny compared to the vast universe of things I will never know and never understand. I am a fool. I probably have no more wisdom than you do. But I have a different point of view. It comes from years worth of turning my ideas inside out, of wearing my mental underwear on the outside of my mental pants just to get a laugh, of stringing images and stupid-headed notions together in long pointless strings like this one.
One thing I can say with certainty, nothing makes you understand “home”, the place you grew up in and think of as where you come from, better than leaving it and going somewhere else. Federal Avenue in Mason City looks nothing now like it did when I was a boy in the 1960’s going shopping downtown and spending hours in department stores waiting for the ten minutes at the end in the toy section you were promised for being good. You have to look at the places and people of your youth through the lenses of history and distance and context and knowing now what you didn’t know then.
The only thing that stays the same is that everything changes. If I look back at the arc of my life, growing up in Iowa with crazy story-telling skills inherited from Grandpa Aldrich, to going to Iowa State “Cow College” and studying English, to going to University of Iowa for a remedial teaching degree because English majors can’t get jobs reading books, to teaching in distant South Texas more than a thousand miles away, to learning all the classroom cuss words in Spanish the hard way, by being called that, to moving to Dallas/Fort Worth to get fired from one teaching job and taking another that involved teaching English to non-English speakers, to retiring and spending time writing foolish reflections like this one because I am old and mostly home-bound with ill health. I have come a long way from childhood to second childhood.
Six incurable diseases and being a cancer survivor since 1983 have left their marks upon me. Literally. Little pink bleedy spots all over me are the mark of psoriasis. The fuzzy-bad photo of me spares you some of the gory details. The point is, I guess, that life is both fleeting and fragile. If you never stop and think about what it all means then you are a fool. If you don’t try to understand it in terms of sentences and paragraphs with main ideas, you are an even bigger fool. You must write down the fruit of your examinations and ruminations. But if you reach a point that you are actually satisfied that you know what it all means, that makes you the biggest fool of all.
If I have any wisdom at all to share in this post about wisdom, it can be summed up like this;
- Writing helps you with knowing, and knowing leads to wisdom. So take some time to write about what you know.
- Writing every day makes you more coherent and easier to understand. Stringing pearls of wisdom into a necklace comes with practice.
- Writing is worth doing. Everyone should do it. Even if you don’t think you can do it well.
- You should read and understand other people’s wisdom too, as often as possible. You are not the only person in the world who knows stuff. And some of their stuff is better than your stuff.
- The stuff you write can outlive you. So make the ghost of you that you leave behind as pretty as you can. Someone may love you for it. And you can never be sure who that someone will be.
So by now you are probably wondering, where is all that wisdom he promised us in the title? Look around carefully in this essay. If you don’t see it there, then you are probably right in thinking, just as I warned you about at the outset, “Gosh darn that Mickey! He is a really big fool.”
I read a lot of other people’s blogs for a lot of reasons. As an old writing teacher and retired Grammar Nazi, I love to see where writers are on the talent spectrum. I have read everything from the philosophy of Camus and Kant to the beginning writing of ESL kids who are illiterate in two languages. I view it like a vast flower garden of varied posies where even the weeds can be considered beautiful. And like rare species of flower, I notice that many of the best blossoms out there in the blogosphere are consistent with their coloring and patterns. In other words, they have a theme.
So, do I have an over-all theme for my blog? It isn’t purely poetical like some of the poetry blogs I like to read. I really only write comically bad poetry. It has photos in it, but it isn’t anything like some of the photography blogs I follow. They actually know how to photograph stuff and make it look perfect and pretty. It is not strictly an art blog. I do a lot of drawing and cartooning and inflict it upon you in this blog. But I am not a professional artist and can’t hold a candle to some of the painters and artists I follow and sometimes even post about. I enjoy calling Trump President Pumpkinhead, but I can’t say that my blog is a political humor blog, or that I am even passable as a humorous political commentator.
One thing that I can definitely say is that I was once a teacher. I was one of those organizers and explainers who stand in front of diverse groups of kids five days a week for six shows a day and try to make them understand a little something. Something wise. Something wonderful. Something new. Look at the video above if you haven’t already watched it. Not only does it give you a sense of the power of holding the big pencil, it teaches you something you probably didn’t realize before with so much more than mere words.
But can I say this is an education blog? No. It is far too silly and pointless to be that. If you want a real education blog, you have to look for someone like Diane Ravitch’s blog. Education is a more serious and sober topic than Mickey.
By the way, were you worried about the poor bunny in that first cartoon getting eaten by the fox and the bear? Well, maybe this point from that conversation can put your mind at ease.
Mickey is tricky and gets good mileage out of his cartoons.
You may have gotten the idea that I like Bobby McFerrin by this point in my post. It is true. Pure genius and raw creative talent fascinate me. Is that the end point of my journey to an answer about what the heck this blog is about? Perhaps. As good an answer as any. But I think the question is still open for debate. It is the journey from thought through many thoughts to theme that make it all fun. And I don’t anticipate that journey actually ending anytime soon.
How does an artist know himself? Now there’s a difficult question. I spend all my time looking at the world with the eyes of imagination. I don’t even seem to be able to take photographs in the normal way other people do. Maybe I should consider this self-think through the medium of pictures I have made with captions added to them?
I like to draw students as I saw them, not as they really were.
My high school art teacher told me that when an artist draws someone, he always ends up making it look a little bit like himself. That is because, I suppose, an artist can only draw what he knows and he really only knows himself. That being said, this post should really look just like me.
A critical teacher-skill is welcoming students as they enter your class each day. According to instructional leaders and classroom-management experts, you should stand in the doorway, greet them with a big idiot’s grin on your face, call them by name, if you can, and shake their hands if you can, pulling them into your classroom as if they are certainly doomed to be there even if they accidentally walked into the wrong classroom. I realize now that I am retired, how much I miss that ritual.
“Good morning, Sasha. How nice to see you this wonderful day.”
“Hi, Mr. B. Are we going to learn anything today?”
“Of course we are! Wonderful things! You are going to learn the most important lesson of your life today.”
“What lesson is that?”
“That we need to learn something each and every day.”
“Oh, great… yeah.”
“Ola, El Gongie, kay-paw-so, my dude!”
“Ay, vato… remember, you gotta address me like the OG I am. If I gotta respect you, you gotta show proper respect for me and my reputation, dude.”
“Oh, sorry. I thought that’s what I was doing. What did I get wrong?”
“Nothing, my dude. I am jes messin’ wit you. Gotta remind you to do it right.”
“Marissa, good morning! So nice to see you and your smiling face.”
“Don’t talk to me, Beyer. I’m mad at you right now.”
“Oh? What did I do now?”
“You didn’t do anything, but I’m not talking to you today.”
“So, you’ll yell at me about something later?”
“Yeah. But I won’t yell. I just need to talk to you… later.”
“Okay, right after class, just stay put when the bell rings.”
“In front of your next class?”
“No, they can wait outside the door for a minute or two.”
“Ruben! Good morning!”
“Hello, Mr. B. I read that book you lended me yesterday.”
“All in one evening?”
“It was only 200 pages. I read five times that in a week.”
“Well, that’s good. What did you think?”
“It was awful. No way it shoulda ended the way it did. It made me laugh, it made me cry, and then I reached the last ten pages, and I almost threw it out the window. Except I still had to read the last nine pages.”
“So, you didn’t like the book?”
“I loved it. It’s now my new favorite book!”
Now that I am retired and can’t even substitute teach anynore, I don’t have that excitement of greeting them and never knowing what I’m going to get in return. But i am saying hello to everyone I meet on the walking path. And sometimes I get an answer.
“Hey, I like your beard! You really need to be wearing a red hat this time of year.”
“Oh, I know… I get confused with him all the time around Christmas. And I don’t even own any flying reindeer.”