Every year that passes, life becomes more challenging, more difficult.
Ill health denies me many things. The poverty that comes with ill health and teacher retirement denies me even more. But I made it home to Iowa to visit the family farm once more. It could well be the last time. My parents are in their 80’s and more ill than I am. I lost my aunt a little more than a week ago. She passed away one day after her 80th birthday. Nothing is permanent. But those things that resist the ravages of time, the places, the people, the culture, the wind in the corn…
As an atheist who believes in God, paradoxes and contradictions are something I am entirely comfortable with. So, it should come as no surprise that I don’t believe in ghosts… with notable exceptions.
Cool song, right? Did you listen to it? It’s a song about ghosts. It’s a lot older than I am. And the singer here, Burl Ives, has been dead since April of 1995. Hearing it today, at random, proves that Burl Ives is a ghost I believe in.
He came back to haunt me today as I am recovering from pink-eye, reminding me of my childhood and youth when he was the snowman in Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer on TV around Christmas time.
He is also haunting me because 1995, the year he died, was the year I got married. I was married to my wife in Dallas in January. In March, we found out that we were going to have our firstborn child before the year was over. And we also found out that my grandfather was dying.
I was not able to make it from Texas to Iowa to see Grandpa Aldrich before he passed away. But he was told while he was in the hospital that we were expecting at about the same time that he got to hold my cousin’s newborn second son. Grandpa loved the music of Burl Ives. In many ways he was like Burl Ives. He even vaguely looked like Burl Ives. And we did get to attend his funeral. (My Grandpa, I mean.) And shortly after that, Burl Ives died and I saw the announcement on the news. This is one sort of ghost I believe in. He came to commune with me as I lay on my sickbed thinking about death. And on a day after finding out that my son, now in the Marines, is about to be discharged after five years and will be home next week. He is ghost of memory. A vibrant and talented spirit of the past who lives on through his work. And he brings with him the ghost of my Grandpa Aldrich, They are both no longer living, but lingering still in the echoes of memory, and still affecting life.
Then, of course, there’s the whole matter of the ghost dog. Yes, I continue to see flashes and images and shadows of a brown dog in our house, larger and browner than our own dog, that disappear as soon as you look directly at them. My oldest son has said that he has seen the very same thing, so it is not merely brain damage or impending insanity on my part, unless it is something that also runs in the family. And it has been suggested to me by an elderly neighbor that two families ago, a brown family dog lived in this house and may be buried in the yard.
I believe it is possible that life and love in a family leaves its imprint in many ways on a house, a home, an inhabited place.
I know it can easily be put down to misinterpretations of things seen in peripheral vision, or even mental misinterpretations responding to subtle suggestions. I doubt that there is actually a protoplasmic or energy form that continues after death. But if there is something there, it is benevolent rather than malevolent. Ghosts, if they exist, are a good thing, not a bad one. It doesn’t scare me to live in a place that has a soul capable of absorbing and incorporating a faithful family dog.
Basically, I am insisting that the existence of ghosts is irrelevant. I do not require the artificial reassurance of belief in a life after death to make me unafraid of facing death. I am a part of everything that exists, and I will continue to be a part of it even after my body is dissolved and my consciousness is silenced. Even if life on Earth is extinguished, the fact of my existence is not erased or invalidated. The poet says, “You are a child of the universe. No less than the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, the universe is unfolding as it should.” -from Disiderata by Anonymous
So, I am ill and thinking about death, for it is not very far away now. And I do not fear it. As I do not fear ghosts. For I don’t believe in them… except for the ones I do.
Of late I have been rather obsessed with the coming darkness. Death. Ragnarok. Mass extinction of all life on Earth. My own situation as a pessimist quickly approaching the end of my own personal life has probably colored my obsession to a very large degree. And I should point out, my own prognosis is not going to change for the better. I do not have the financial power to prevent the problems I already have using modern effective healthcare. I am personally doomed. But even though the whole world seems easily as doomed by climate change, that doesn’t mean everyone shares my sad fate. There are potential solutions to the problem that only require the people who do have the financial power to fix it to decide that life on Earth has more value than their personal wealth and privilege. (Uh-oh… there’s a dependence on goodness where it seems like none actually exists.)
I often turn to science and books by very smart people to give me ideas that comfort me and give me hope. I recently did some binging on YouTube’s Answers With Joe. He does an excellent job of providing answers to things that worry me underpinned with scientific facts.
I have been worried about the environment from the times in high school science class when we learned about Paul Ehrlich and his book The Population Bomb.
Then we were learning about how the overpopulation of the Earth and its attendant need to produce food for all those people threatened massive famine, resource scarcity, and eventual extinction for humans. It was pointed out that, at the time in the 1970s, we were using chemical fertilizers and pesticides on the fields in Iowa to increase yields that would not only pollute the water and air in Iowa, but would eventually make its way through the watershed system into the oceans where it would overstimulate the algae and create an ocean environment throughout the world devoid of oxygen, fish, and all other lifeforms. I could see the threat and the validity of the science that Ehrlich had done.
I learned, over time, that population stresses do not necessarily cause extinction events in a matter of decades. The 1980s came and went and we were not extinct, despite eight years of Ronny Ray-gun, the jelly-bean president, and massive success in increasing food production. As Joe does an excellent job of explaining in the video above which you didn’t watch, population problems proved at least partially self-correcting. Families generally slowed their growth rate as health and wealth improved and made them more productive, more intelligent, and better able to support the heavy layer of living people that now covered the Earth.
Recently I became obsessively and pessimistically concerned with the dire predictions of environmental scientist Guy McPherson. I do recognize that his work reflects the extremist point of view among climate scientists, but ;there are a number of facts that he presents that are irrefutable in the same way as the arguments of… Paul Ehrlich.
In the second video above that you also didn’t watch, Joe explains how the problem of greenhouse gasses can be undone by renewable energy, carbon capture and air-scrubbers, and the search for viable products made from CO2, helping to reverse greenhouse gasses. He also explains how chemical cooling of the atmosphere and actual planetary weather control are possible. Technology already exists to solve the climate problem. The only drawback is that somebody has to pay for it. And the people in control of that kind of financial power are all entitled low-down greedy bastards that would rather build massive survival bunkers in the Ozarks than pay for the rest of us to survive. So, there is hope, which comes not with a grain of salt, but with a giant’s saltshaker filled with rock salt. Still, it isn’t time for all of you to give up. Just me. I am the one most completely doomed.
I suppose it was inevitable, given my spectacularly bad luck at marketing. that I would have to move into new ways of self-promoting and marketing my books. So, I decided I had to move on into the realm of YouTube video blogging. I can handle this, right? It is just talking to people on video. I don’t expect to be as skilled as some of the other content creators you find there, but if I can get some people to be foolish enough to click on my videos, I might… well… you know, sell a book.
My goodness! That was certainly more difficult than I thought it would be. Of course, I only did one take. After all, as a teacher. you don’t normally get do-overs. I know some of you do videos, and you know how to do them a lot smoother than that, and time them better too. But I am trying to teach a really old dog new tricks here. (My age expressed in dog years is 434.) I will get better with practice. And since the first video is always expected to be the worst video, I anticipate having nowhere to go but up.
Well, maybe the second one is worse. I can’t help it. I am old and not exactly media savvy. I know too that video editing software is available to make things better. But I don’t really have the time and money to spare on that right now. Seriously, even five dollars is too much to spend on this blog post. But perhaps it will add to my two huge paychecks from Amazon this month, one of $0.85 and the other at $0.35, to help me afford better in the future. Creativity can help you through a lot of things. But technology you can’t afford ain’t one of them. And I hope you weren’t too badly traumatized by my hairy old face. We’ll try again next week, next Thursday most likely, and hopefully do a bit better.
Veterans day is here again. It means something different now that my son is a Marine. It was always a solemn and somber occasion in the past. My great uncle on my father’s side died in World War II, a training accident inside a Navy gun turret. My great uncle on my mother’s side was part of the second wave on the beach in Normandy. He was injured by a German grenade and moderately disabled for the rest of his life. I never got to hear war stories. He was too damaged to ever talk about anything that happened in the war. My mother’s cousin was flying a plane in the Viet Nam Conflict. It went up, and didn’t come down again. You think of those things, and wish it could be different. You pray that it will be different for your son who is a soldier.
But when the worst that can happen comes to pass… there are no regrets. Whatever future we have is rooted in the past. Pain and suffering are difficult to manage, but when you manage them, it leaves you stronger… better as a person than you were before. So I don’t take anything for granted. I was not a warrior in this life. I was a teacher, a story-teller. And I made some mistakes along the way. I have lost some whom I cared about very deeply. Ruben, Fernando, and J.J. are all gone tragically. I will always feel I should have done more to help them when they were boys and needed help. Miraculously with the Gulf War, Afghanistan, and Iraq I have lost no former students to war, though many of mine have fought. I pray that my luck continues to hold.
But there are no regrets. And “you can listen as well as you hear”, so listen to this. I love you.
Yes, I am talking to sons and daughters, to former students, to former colleagues, to everyone I have ever known. And even if I don’t know you, never met you, even if you never get a chance to hear this message… I am talking to you also. We are all one. We all live and love and strive together, and even if we disagree to the point of war… we still belong to each other. Thank you for being you. You needed to hear that at least as much as I needed to say it.
My son is coming home on leave for Thanksgiving. I will be giving thanks.
Let’s begin with some stupid advice. I don’t have time to write a lot today because the Princess is ill and must go see the doctor in Plano. So the advice is; Set aside time for writing and always allow plenty of time for it. You will probably notice already that I am giving you advice that I am not taking myself this morning. So don’t follow that advice. It is stupid advice. I have given it to creative writing classes for years and thought I meant it. But looking back on real life, I realize, it has never been true for me. My best ideas, my best writing, always seem to come in the middle of the pressure-cooker of daily struggle and strife. I have battled serious illness for most of my adult life. I have the luck of a man who tried to avoid letting a black cat cross his path by crashing his bicycle at the top of a hill covered in clover with only three leaves each and then rolling down the hill, under a ladder, and crashing into a doorpost which knocks the horseshoe off the top. The horseshoe lands on my stupid head with the “U” facing downward so the luck all drains out. Bad things happen to me all the time. But it makes for good writing. Tell me you didn’t at least smile at the picture I just painted in your mind. You might’ve even been unable to suppress a chuckle. I am under time pressure and misfortune pressure and the need to rearrange my entire daily schedule. So it is the perfect time to write.
This essay, however, is about bad advice. And I am a perfect person to rely on as a resource for bad advice. I am full of it. Of course, I mean I am full of bad advice, not that other thing we think of when someone tells me I am “Full of it!” So here’s another bit of writing advice that is probably completely wrong and a bad idea to take without a grain of salt, or at least a doctor’s prescription. You should stop bird-walking in your essay and get to the damn point!
I know a lot about the subject of depression. When I was a teenager, I came very close to suicide. I experienced tidal waves of self-loathing and black-enveloping blankets of depression for reasons that I didn’t understand until I realized later in life that it all came from being a child-victim of sexual assault. Somehow I muddled through and managed to self-medicate with journal writing and fantasy-fixations, thus avoiding a potentially serious alcohol or drug problem. This is connected to my main idea, despite the fact that I am obviously not following the no bird-walking advice. You see, with depression, Bad advice can kill you. Seriously, people want to tell you to just, “Get over it! Stop moping about and get on with life. It isn’t real. You are just being lazy.”
I have been on the inside of depression and I know for a fact that not taking it seriously can be deadly. In fact, I have faced suicidal depression not only in myself, but in several former students and even my own children. I have spent time in emergency rooms, mental hospitals, and therapists offices when I wasn’t myself the depression sufferer. One of my high school classmates and one of my former students lost their battles and now are no longer among the living. (Sorry, have to take a moment for tears again.) But I learned how to help a depression sufferer. You have to talk to them and make them listen at least to the part where you say, “I have been through this myself. Don’t give in to it. You can survive if you fight back. And whatever you have to do, I will be right here for you. You can talk to me about anything. I will listen. And I won’t try to give you any advice.” Of course, after you say that to them, you do not leave them alone. You stay by them and protect them from themselves, or make sure somebody that will do the same for them stays with them. So far, that last bit of advice has worked for me. But the fight can be life-long. And it is a critical battle.
So taking advice from others is always an adventure. Red pill? Green pill? Poison pill? Which will you take? I can’t decide for you. Any advice I give you would probably just be stupid advice. You have to weigh the evidence and decide for yourself. What does this stupid essay even mean? Isn’t it just a pile of stupid advice? A concluding paragraph should tell you the answer if it can. But, I fear, there is no answer this time.
Napoleon the Pig makes himself ruler of the Animal Farmin Orwell’s 1945 book by lying about Snowball, his rival Pig, and blaming the destructive acts of the former human Farmer Jones on poor Snowball. He is driven away from the farm by the farm dogs whom Napoleon has taught to think since they were puppies. This, even though Snowball was actually the hero of the animal rebellion that drove the humans away. Collusion? Perhaps. But definitely a lie. And the PIG Napoleon, once in power begins to keep all improvements to living conditions for the PIGs. Other animals, he says, are happier with a simpler, hard-working life. The PIGs begin to dress like men and walk upright and wear long red ties.
Keith Olbermann in the video is very much like Benjamin the Donkey, who is cynical and skeptical about Napoleon’s methods. He also reads as well as any Pig. When Boxer the workhorse is wounded defending the farm against neighboring farmers who attack and destroy the windmill, he shrugs off the the wound and works at rebuilding the windmill until he collapses. Then Napoleon declares Boxer will only get better if he’s taken to the vet’s animal hospital. But he calls the Knacker (the man who renders dead horses into glue) to take Boxer away. Benjamin calls him out. He points out that it says “Knacker” on the van that takes Boxer away, not “veterinarian”. He points out that Russian Facebook trolls used targeted troll-posts to help get Napoleon his position of power. But Napoleon gets away with his lies. Boxer apparently dies in the so-called animal hospital.
Now, I am not sure which tiny animal on the farm Robert Reich is like, but he is pointing out in this video that once the PIGS got themselves into power on the animal farm, they lie in order to get their agenda operating, enriching all PIGs (or is that GOPs?) and their political donors. They are doing it all by LYING. Pigs lie. We should have learned that lesson by now. They don’t care who dies and gets rendered into glue.
In 1945 Orwell intended Napoleon to be a satire of Joseph Stalin in communist Russia. But I truly believe, as we are living on the Animal Farmnow as the hard-working farm animals, that he has a bad wig on his head with whippy straw-yellow hair, and a distinctly orange face, with the same little piggy eyes he always had. And he is in power because he tells lies. And what’s worse, he gets away with the lies. As long as the PIGs are in power, controlling both houses of congress and the Supreme Court, he will not lose his lying grip on the farm. We are all doomed to continue being hard-working animals who eventually get rendered into glue.