Category Archives: strange and wonderful ideas about life

Conflict is Essential

The case has been made in an article by John Welford (https://owlcation.com/humanities/Did-King-Henry-VIII-Have-A-Genetic-Abnormality) that English King Henry the VIII may have suffered from a genetic disorder commonly known as “having Kell blood” which may have made having a living male heir almost impossible with his first two wives. The disorder causes frequent miscarriages in the children sired, something that happened to Henry seven times in the quest for a living male heir. If you think about it, if Henry did not have this particular physical conflict at the root of his dynasty, he might’ve fathered a male heir with his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Then there would’ve been no opening for the machinations of Anne Boleyn. It follows that Elizabeth would not have been born. Then no Elizabethan Age; no sir Francis Drake, Spain might’ve landed their armada, no Church of England, possibly no William Shakespeare, and then Mickey would never have gotten castigated by scholars of English literature for daring to state in this blog that the actor who came from Stratford on Avon and misspelled his own name numerous times was not the author of Shakespeare’s plays.

History would’ve been very different. One might even say “sucky”. Especially if one is the clown who thinks Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare.

Conflict and struggle is necessary to the grand procession of History. If things are too easy and conflict is not necessary, lots of what we call “invention” and “progress” will not happen. Society is not advanced by its quiet dignity and static graces. It is advanced and transformed by its revolutions, its wars, its seemingly unconquerable problems… its conflicts.

My Dick and Jane book,
1962

Similarly, a novel, a story, a piece of fiction is no earthly good if it is static and without conflict. A happy story about a puppy and the children who love him eating healthy snacks and hugging each other and taking naps is NOT A STORY. It is the plot of a sappy greeting card that never leaves the shelf in the Walmart stationary-and-office-supplies section. Dick and Jane stories had a lot of seeing in them. But they never taught me anything about reading until the alligator ate Spot, and Dick drowned while trying to pry the gator’s jaws apart and get the dog back. And Jane killed the alligator with her bare hands and teeth at the start of what would become a lifelong obsession with alligator wrestling. And yes, I know that never actually happened in a Dick and Jane book, except in the evil imagination of a bored child who was learning to be a story-teller himself in Ms. Ketchum’s 1st Grade Class in 1962.

Yes, I admit to drawing in Ms. Ketchum’s set of first-grade reading books. I was a bad kid in some ways.

But the point is, no story, even if it happens to have a “live happily ever after” at the end of it, can be only about happiness. There must be conflict to overcome.

There are no heroes in stories that have no villains whom the heroes can shoot the guns out of the hands of. Luke Skywalker wouldn’t exist without Darth Vader, even though we didn’t learn that until the second movie… or is it the fifth movie? I forget. And James Bond needs a disposable villain that he can kill at the end of the movie, preferably a stupid one who monologues about his evil plan of writing in Ms. Ketchum’s textbooks, before allowing Bond to escape from the table he is tied down to while surrounded by pencil-drawn alligators in the margins of the page.

We actually learn by failing at things, by getting hurt by the biplanes of an angry difficult life. If we could just get away with eating all the Faye Wrays we wanted and never have a conflict, never have to pay a price, how would we ever learn the life-lesson that you can’t eat Faye Wray, even if you go to the top of the Empire State Building to be alone with her. Of course, that lesson didn’t last for Kong much beyond hitting the Manhattan pavement. But life is like that. Not all stories have a happy ending. Conflicts are not always resolved in a satisfying manner. A life with no challenges is not a life worth living.

So, my title today is “Conflict is Essential“. And that is an inescapable truth. Those who boldly face each new conflict the day brings will probably end up saying bad words quite a lot, and fail at things a lot, and even get in trouble for drawing in their textbooks, but they will fare far better than those who are afraid and hang back. (I do not know for sure that this is true. I really just wanted to say “fare far” in a sentence because it is a palindrome. But I accept that such a sentence may cause far more criticism and backlash than it is worth. But that is conflict and sorta proves my point too.)

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Filed under humor, irony, old books, philosophy, strange and wonderful ideas about life, William Shakespeare, word games, wordplay, writing humor

Thanks for the Memories, Frances Gumm

Little Frances Gumm from Minnesota

She is older than both my mother and my father. In fact, if she were alive today, if she hadn’t died young when I was thirteen, she would be 98, and approaching the century mark. She was born in Grand Rapids, Minnesota in 1922.

And even though that’s right next door to where I was born in Mason City, Iowa, we were never really neighbors. Our families never met in person, and didn’t know diddly-boo about each other.

But she had a profound impact on our lives. And, boy! Could she ever sing and dance!

The Singing Gumm Sisters.
A little bit older Frances Gumm

I don’t know why she ever felt that way, but Frances from childhood onward was always desperate to not be seen as fat.

She took pills to keep the weight off. She eventually had to take pills to sleep at night. Pills would make her suffer through most of her life. In fact, pills would eventually take her life.

But Frances Gumm would have an impact on my life. Frances would have an impact on my parents’ generation through the movie theater, back when you paid a dime to watch a movie projected on a white sheet tacked up on the Rowan firehouse wall. And she had an impact on my generation when we watched her on TV, mostly in black and white like we saw Meet Me in St. Louis. But also around Thanksgiving time. That movie they played every year.

Yes, Frances was a movie star.

But she didn’t go by the name she was born with in the movies.

And, boy! Could she ever sing!

And now that I am old and fragile, that song can make me cry. Like it did just now. And why?

Because Frances Gumm taught me something important when I was a little boy. Something that stuck with me for a lifetime.

While it’s true that there is no place like home, we are allowed to think about what is over the rainbow… and even to go there… and back again.

And I owe Frances for that memory. Especially because she had to struggle so hard to give me that. Frances, I will always love you for it.

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Take the Midnight Train to Anywhere

 

Journey back with me to the 1980’s, and hear once again the music of escape.

There was a time when I was young when I did not know where I would be when the next new dawn came.  Yes, I once took the midnight train (except it was a bus) and I arrived in a teaching career in deep South Texas.  I crossed borders into another culture, another way of life, another journey made of words and pictures that hasn’t reached the final station yet.

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At the outset, we all take a risk.  Born and raised in South Detroit (although it was really North Central Iowa) I passed through established procedures, rules, and regulations to do things that desperately needed doing for people who could only help themselves in very limited ways.

Some spoke mostly Spanish.  Some lived in broken homes.  One boy lived for a while under the bridge of the Nueces River, but attended school every day because he was hungry to learn, and because free school lunch was the majority of the food he got to eat.  He got on a midnight train, and I never saw him or heard from him again.  His sister, though, lived with a tia who treated her like a daughter, and grew up to be a school teacher.  I let her teach the lesson for me during one class period, as part of an educational experiment, and it put her on her own midnight train.

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It was a train going on the same track I followed.  Not because of me and what I did for her.  But because she came to realize it was the right journey to take for her.  It was the perfect anywhere for her.

But there is danger inherent in getting on a midnight train going anywhere.  You don’t know who is waiting for you down the line, or what your circumstances will be at the next station along the way.  There may be strangers waiting up and down the boulevard, their shadows searching in the night.  I befriended other teachers, mentored some, learned from many,  even married one.  I had a run in or two with people who sell drugs to kids.  I had all four of my car tires slashed one night.  I had a car window broken out.  I had a boy once tell me he would kill me with a knife.  I later had that boy tell me he had a good job and a girlfriend and he was grateful that I talked him out of it and never turned him in to the police.

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And we end up paying anything to roll the dice just one more time…  At one time or another we have all been there, aboard that midnight train to anywhere.  There is a moment in everyone’s life when… well, some will win, and some will lose.  Some were born to sing the blues.  I have been there.  I have done that.  And it occurs to me, that song plays on in my head still.  I am still on that journey.  And I won’t stop believing.  Because it goes on and on and on and on…

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Filed under autobiography, insight, music, nostalgia, philosophy, poetry, review of music, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Dreams of the Mastiff

As a comic cartoonist sort of artist named Mickey, I was as a teenager obsessed with making artsy goofy books. One of those was unaccountably called Dreams of the Mastiff. These surrealistic picturations are examples from that silly Donald-Duck thing.

This page is supposed to explain the title. So I guess all of the following pages are somehow supposed to be from the nighttime brain of the dog in the nursery.

And what is this supposed to be about? My old-man memory has not a single clue.

It occurred to me long ago that both Fantasy and Science Fiction were surreal by nature. What is the story behind Black Peter? Ich weiss nicht! I do not know! Old-man memory again.

Inexplicable Sci-Fi from this little surrealist art-book-thing.

And more of the same…

Now back to cockroaches from doggy dreams…

…And mice, monkeys, and tea-drinking ladybird beetles…

…And what…? The whole world in a nutshell?

To a thing I used in two novels, Catch a Falling Star and The Baby Werewolf.

I offer no explanations or excuses for these nonsensical and unaccountable things. I am not sorry I once did them, if you want to know the truth… but I probably should be.

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Filed under artwork, autobiography, cartoons, humor, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life, surrealism

Lazy Sunday Silliness

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Imagination is always the place I go in times of trouble.  I have a part of my silly old brain devoted to dancing the cartoon dance of the dundering doofus.  It has to be there that I flee to and hide because problems and mistakes and guilt and pessimism are constantly building un-funny tiger-traps of gloom for me to rot at the bottom of.  You combat the darkness with bright light.  You combat hatred with love.  You combat unhappiness with silly cartoonish imaginings.  Well… maybe you don’t.  But I do.

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When reading the Sunday funnies in the newspaper on lazy Sunday afternoons, I spent years admiring Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes for its artistry and imaginative humor, believing it was about a kid who actually had a pet talking tiger.  I didn’t get the notion that Hobbes was actually a toy tiger for the longest time.  That’s because it was basically the story of my own boyhood.  I had a stuffed tiger when I was small. He talked.  He went on adventures with me.  And he talked me into breaking stuff and getting into trouble with Mom and Dad. It was absolutely realistic to me.

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I have always lived in my imagination.  Few people see the world the way I view it.  I have at least four imaginary children to go along with the three that everybody insists are real.  There’s Radasha, the boy faun, my novel characters Tim Kellogg and Valerie Clarke, and the ghost dog that lurks around the house, especially at night.  That plus Dorin, Henry, and the Princess (the three fake names that I use in this blog for my three real children).

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Have you noticed how Watterson’s water-color backgrounds fade into white nothingness the way daydreams do?  Calvin and Hobbes were always a cartoon about turning the unreal into the real, turning ideas upside down and looking at them through the filter-glasses of Spaceman Spiff.

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Unique and wonderful solutions to life’s problems can come about that way.  I mean, I can’t actually use a bloggular raygun to vaporize city pool inspectors, but I can put ideas together in unusual ways to overcome challenges.  I almost got the pool running again by problem-solving and repairing cracks myself.

 

So, I am now facing the tasks of working out a chapter 13 bankruptcy and having a swimming pool removed.  The Princess will need to be driven to and from school each day.  I will need to help Henry find another after-school job.  And the cool thing is, my imaginary friends will all be along for the ride.  Thank you, Calvin.  Thank you, Hobbes.  You made it all possible.  So, please, keep dancing the dance of the dundering doofus.

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Never Argue With Stupid People

As a general rule, I kinda like stupid people. Being around them makes me feel smarter than I probably really am.

But as a general rule, you should not argue with stupid people.

You cannot win the argument.

If you hire a debate judge to score your argument, and you technically trounce your stupid-person opponent according to the judge’s score card, the stupid opponent will lay a stupid insult based on nothing on you. The stupid people in the audience will cheer and whoop. The stupid person you argued with will declare himself the winner and take a victory lap.

You cannot win the argument. The stupid people outnumber the rest of us.

This is not a stupid person. He just plays one as Governor of Florida. He promotes all the stupid things stupid people love to see promoted because stupid people will love him for punishing the things and people the stupid people hate. That makes him an evil person who takes advantage of stupid people.

Stupid people have simple, one-way hearts. If they love you for some stupid reason, or some smart reason that’s simple enough to understand, they will basically love you fiercely for life. But if someone convinces them you are worthy of their stupid hatred, say for being a socialist, a Muslim, an opinionated and educated woman, black or Hispanic, they will definitely hate you until either you die or they die. And some of them will gladly help you die.

So, the secret is, to get them to love you rather than hate you. They can love a black or Hispanic person if they see them as a black or Hispanic friend that proves they are not a racist. They can love a socialist if you never use the word socialist and instead point out that taxpayer money should benefit the good people like them who actually pay the taxes, rather than solely benefitting the wealthy elite. Not being an opinionated and educated independent woman, I cannot tell you how to avoid stupid people hating you for being one. You should ask one how they do it. But not Hillary Clinton. She obviously doesn’t know.

This is not a stupid person. He just plays one on television. He is a smarmy bad actor who does evil things and convinces stupid people to vote stupidly because he’s rich and smart and you will be just like him if only you adopt his way of thinking that favors rich people over everybody else. (Join me in knowing the Dark Side of the Force, for it is more powerful. And if you stand by me, as the Sith apprentice of Darth Ted, you will know power and wealth beyond your wildest dreams.) (Except you won’t because he won’t let you.)

If you try to argue with a stupid person that he or she shouldn’t like Darth Ted because he takes advantage of them, you will only force them to stupidly like him more. But if you point out that Darth Ted has betrayed some other stupid person that the stupid person loves, they will stupidly join you in your stupid hatred of stupid Ted. (Of course, we have already established that stupid Ted is not really stupid, so, to pull it off, you have to lie and pretend… which makes you the same as Stupid Darth Ted, which is a stupid thing for you to do. You really can’t win arguing about evil Darth Ted.)

But there is always the hope that science will invent a cure for being stupid. It will probably be green and bubbly with a hint of lime flavor. It will probably be addictive. And it will probably mechanize your brain with Artificially Intelligent smart-people juice that will make you evolve into something that is no longer human. And that, too, would be a stupid thing for you to do.

Never argue with a stupid person. It is a stupid thing to do. You cannot win. But even though you can’t win an argument with them, stupid people are mostly everyone you know. All people are stupid at least some of the time. Even Stephen Hawking, Albert Einstein, and Elon Musk. Elon can be especially stupid on Twitter and he’s still alive to demonstrate how stupid he can be. So, don’t give up on stupid people. Just don’t argue with them.

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O Mio Babbino Caro

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This beautiful song, an operatic aria by Puccini, is from the comic opera Gianni Schicchi.  But, more important than that is what the song actually means in context.

In the opera, Gianni Schicchi is a con man intent on swindling a family out of their inheritance and knowing all along that he will be destined to go to hell when he dies.  The family is gathered for the reading of the rich man’s will, which is, because this is a comic opera, lost for the time being.  Their main concern is for the money, which rumor has it has all been willed to the church.  But one among them is actually worthy of inheriting the money, Rinuccio the son of the rich man’s cousin.  And, as luck would have it, as it always does in comedies, Rinuccio is the one who, during the manic and desperate search for the will, actually finds it.  And assuming he comes out well in the will, he secures a promise from his mother that if he inherits money, he can marry Schicchi’s beautiful daughter Laurretta whom he truly loves.

But when he reads the will, he is devastated.  The money all goes to a monastery.  He begs Schicchi to help him convince the family that he should marry Laurretta anyway.  This Gianni Schicchi tries and finds it harder than turning water into wine.  So Schicchi is about to give up when Lauretta finally speaks up for herself through the song,

O Mio Babbino Caro (My Beloved Father)

At this point Schicchi is moved by the beautiful song and even more beautiful love his daughter has surprised him with.  He not only agrees to help, but executes a bizarre plan, hiding the rich man’s body and pretending to be him come back to life to rewrite the will.  Now the will favors Rinuccio, and over the protests of the family, he inherits the money and marries his true love, Schicchi’s daughter.  The opera ends with Schicchi singing his case to the audience, telling them in song that going to hell is worth it to aid true love.

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And this, then, is the truth of O Mio Babbino Caro.

Love, expressed through the surprise of hidden talent suddenly revealed, is the most persuasive argument there is.

Whether it is the love in the music suddenly discovered in the overwhelming voice of a little girl like Jackie Evancho or Amira Willighagen, or the late great Maria Callas who also sang the role, or even the singer of Puccini’s greatest work who is yet to perform it and make silly old men like me weep for beauty’s sake, the song is the most persuasive argument there is in favor of true love.

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That is a thing I desperately want to capture in the novel I am writing now, Sing Sad Songs.  Love expressed in music.  Love that reverses loss.  Love that heals all things.  And Love that moves all people.  The love that is masterfully sung in O Mio Babbino Caro.

Francois spotlight

That book is now published and available on Amazon.

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Try Again, Mickey, Get it Right

Trying and making mistakes is how we learn. Trial and error built empires, created revolutions, and changed the very nature of reality. How do I know this? I tried. I failed. I tried again.

If I am not satisfied with the way things are, I must take steps to change the way things are.

Small steps at first.

But bigger things come along in time.

For today, I try again to get the tall grass cut in the yard. I walk the dog. I plan what I am going to do about the sorry state of air conditioning in the house. Every problem has a solution if only you can find it.

Right now, the world around me is direly concerned with mass shootings and how to control them. Especially after Uvalde lost 19 kids and two teachers to bullets from an AR-15.

Gun laws would help. But a Republican-controlled government refuses to regulate them sensibly.

Voting the morons and the evil, corrupt bastards out of office would be a good start. Men like Representative Louie Gohmert, Senator Ted Cruz, Governor Greg Abbot, and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, one moron and three bastards, have to no longer be in control. And voting in good, capable people like Beto O’Rourke would help. But too many idiots, fools, racists, and evil people have the privilege of voting, while minorities and people of good conscience face increased barriers to voting.

My privileged white friends and relatives I knew well in my school years long ago, have developed powerfully potent hate glands from listening to racist fears and hate-filled propaganda from FOX News and various elected leaders who’ve duped them into buying the bull-puckie.

So, what do I do about it?

Remind them who they used to be. Remind them they don’t want school children to die from bullets in their classroom on the next-to-last day of school anymore than I do. Remind them that I am a friend and a relative of some of them who will continue to listen, continue to care, and continue to point out where they are allowing their preferences to become prejudices and their fears to foster cruelty to certain groups of “others.”

Even though I have been retired for eight years now, I am still a teacher. I believe every kid and every adult who was once a kid has value and needs to be treated as an equal and worthy individual. I also believe in responsibility, and holding people responsible, but not in punishing someone for failing to live up to a responsibility… rather, letting them pick themselves up to try again to do it better.

We are not without hope for the future.

We trust that a leap of faith is worth taking.

And though we may fall…

We will live to get up and try again.

Until we don’t.

But at least we are trying to do it better.

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Imaginary People

Millis 2

It pretty much goes without saying that, since I am an author of fiction, determined to be a storyteller, I spend most of my time talking to people who exist only inside my goofy old head.  Sure, most of the imaginary people I create to keep me company are at least loosely based on real people that I either once knew, or still know.  You can tell that about Millis, the rabbit-man, pictured here on the right, can’t you?  Sure.  I had a New Zealand White pet rabbit that I raised as a 4-H project.  His name was Ember-eyes… because, well, yeah… red eyes.  It just happens that my goofy old memory transformed him into an evolution-enhanced science experiment in my unpublished novel, The Bicycle-Wheel Genius.  But he was a real person once… ’cause rabbits are people too, right?

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Anita Jones, a character from my unpublished novel, Superchicken, is based on a real person too.  I admit, there was a girl in my class from grades K through 6 that I secretly adored and would’ve done anything to be near, though every significant event I remember from my life that involved an encounter with her, involved red-faced embarrassment for me.  That’s why I remember her as having auburn-colored hair.  Charley Brown’s Little Red-Haired Girl… duh!  I would’ve died sooner than tell her how I really felt, even now, but by making her into one of a multitude of imaginary people who inhabit my life, I can be so close to her that sometimes I am actually inside her mind.  There’s a sort of creepy voyeurism-squared sort of thing.

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Dorin Dobbs, the main human character of my published novel, Catch a Falling Star, is an imaginary character based mostly on my eldest son, though, in fact, I started writing that novel five years before he was born.  Like most of the imaginary people in my life, I talk to Dorin repeatedly even when the real Dorin is half a world away in the Marine Corps.  And even though the Dorin I am talking to is not the real Dorin, he is still constantly using language that is extra-salty far beyond his years, and is often defiant of my fatherly wisdom, and always argues for the exact opposite of any opinion I express.  That’s just how it is to be the father of an imaginary son.

Realistically, I have to admit that even the flesh-and-blood people in my life are imaginary.  No one ever actually inhabits another person’s head except through the magic of imagination.  Even though I am talking to you at this moment, you are only an imaginary person to me.  I don’t even know your name as I write this.  And I am the same to you.  You may have read my writing enough to think you know something about me… but you really only know the Mickey in your mind that I have worked at putting there with my words.  And I really have no idea what that imaginary Mickey you have in your head is like.  He is probably really the opposite of who I think I am.

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I am, after all, married to this girl panda, Mandy Panda from the Pandalore Islands, and my three children are all Halfasian part-panda-people.  Yes, this is the imaginary person who is my real-life wife.  The secret is, we only ever know the imaginary people we have in our goofy little heads.  We don’t know the real person behind anyone in our lives, because it is simply not possible to really know how anybody else thinks or feels, even if they write out their lengthy treatise about how all people are imaginary people.  That stuff is just too goofy-dippy to be real.

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Islands of Identity

Island Girl2z

Who am I?

Why do I do the things that I do?

No man is an island.  John Donne the English poet stated that.  And Ernest Hemingway quoted it… and wove it into his stories as a major theme… and proceeded to try to disprove it.  We need other people.  I married an island girl from the island of Luzon in the Philippines.  She may have actually needed me too, though she will never admit it.

Gilligans Island

When I was a young junior high school teacher in the early eighties, they called me Mr. Gilligan.  My classroom was known as Gilligan’s Island.  This came about because a goofball student in the very first class on the very first day said, “You look like Gilligan’s Island!”  By which he meant I reminded him of Bob Denver, the actor that played Gilligan.  But as he said it, he was actually accusing me of being an island.  And no man is an island.  Thank you, Fabian, you were sorta dumb, but I loved you for it.

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You see, being Gilligan on Gilligan’s Island was not a bad thing to be.  It was who I was as a teacher.  Nerdy, awkward, telling stories about when I was young, and my doofy friends like Skinny Mulligan.  Being a teacher gave me an identity.  And Gilligan was stranded on the Island with two beautiful single women, Mary Ann and Ginger.  Not a bad thing to be.  And I loved teaching and telling stories to kids who would later be the doofy students in new stories.

But we go through life searching for who we are and why we are here.  Now that I am retired, and no longer a teacher… who am I now?  We never really find the answer.  Answers change over time.  And so do I.

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