Category Archives: strange and wonderful ideas about life

Writing with Fire

The old saying goes, “If you play with fire, sooner or later you will get burned.”

But I am not playing. I am writing. With fire.

The criminal we elected president knows what I am talking about. He speaks at rallies with fire. Currently he is trying to demonize Representative Ilhan Omar and the Squad, the four freshman Congresswomen of color whom he said were unpatriotic, enemies of our democracy, and should go home to their countries filled with crime, poverty, and communism. Of course, the Congresswomen are all American Citizens. Three of them were born here. This is actually the country they are from. So, this is an example of the kind of verbal fire that needs to be put out with cold water. Preferably before some enraged Trumpist actually assassinates a member of the Squad. The fire he spews is destructive and evil.

But, truly, the way to fight fire is with fire. Firemen use a fire-break to interrupt the path of the fire. You can bulldoze or chop the wood in the way of the fire. Or you can burn it in the opposite direction. Many forest fires are ended in this way.

And I have been writing my fiction with fire. Controversial issues taken head on and given a clarity that burns brightly enough to leave burn marks on the psyche and write messages in ash on the heart of the reader. This is why beloved characters die in fictional stories and bad things happen to good people… to make a lasting scar or burn on the idea-collections in the readers’ brains.

I have in the past few novels written about sexual assault, attempted rape, murder, greed, brutality, excessive anger, and the current work-in-progress tackles suicide. And I battle these raging fires with positive fires set from empathy, community and familial love, preserverance, determination, and simple faith. I am trying to fight fire with a better fire, destructive fire replaced by zeal.

Okay. So, I’m an idiot, expressing foolish ideas with loopy metaphors. But I can make you think. And thinking is electrical fire in the brain. And I have been steadily pouring gas on that word-fire.

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Filed under commentary, insight, metaphor, Paffooney, politics, strange and wonderful ideas about life

The Tree of Life

When you get to your sixties, but are in poor health, you can’t help but obsess about your own mortality. No man lives forever.

That point was driven home yesterday. My aunt, whom I have known for my entire lifetime, had her 80th birthday on Monday. Yesterday she had a heart attack and died. It was sudden. It was shocking. It occurred five days before a planned family reunion of Great Grandma Hinckley’s extensive family of descendants. My aunt, of course, was related to all of us, so there is no way the reunion occurrs without a dark cloud over it.

Of course, there are many dark clouds hovering over us in these times, The threat of nuclear war has returned to terrorize us again in the way it did in the 50’s and 60’s.

The climate crisis threatens to make life on Earth extinct. That could all begin this year with crop failures due to excessive rain and flooding during planting season.

But the corn this year, which world-wide food supplies depend upon because of the versatility of corn oil in foods of all kinds, is taller than I am in July and beginning to sprout tassels. So there is reason to hope.

And our moron criminal president seems to be self-destructing instead of fulfilling the promises of Dr. Strangelove.

And I am reaching the final home stretch on my novel, When the Captain Came Calling. Soon this twenty-year story-telling quest to tell a tale of family struggle and fathers versus daughters will be at an end. I have successfully negotiated the suicide scene. I have also achieved the character balance and plot completion that had eluded me for a handful of years. The story is basically about family resilience in the face of adversity. It is ironically consistent with the adversity my family faces this week.

And this is the week I chose to promote my book Recipes for Gingerbread Children. I had some success giving away copies of Snow Babies four months ago. And I had hoped to do the same for Recipes. It is also a book about resilience in the face of tragedy and adversity.

So, as far as I am concerned, the tree of life is a family tree. We are its branches, it’s knots and warped bark, its parasites and possibilities. And in its final analysis, many leaves are still soaking up the sunshine and nourishing every branch, even the dead ones soon to fall off. And I am not a dead branch yet.

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Filed under autobiography, metaphor, novel plans, Paffooney, philosophy, strange and wonderful ideas about life, the road ahead

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

My Surreal Youth

I must confess that I chose to be a surrealist from about the time I discovered the artwork of Salvador Dali at the age of fifteen. I did a report on Dali and Surrealism for 9th grade Art Class. I wanted to be a surrealist because I realized that surrealists got to draw really weird stuff and then pretend it meant something real in the modern real world. So let me show you some of my weirder high school surrealist messings on paper.

Of course, like most teenagers, I was obsessed with death and mortality at a time in which I had not yet learned how to live and stay alive… one of the serious dangers of being a teenage half-brain in a post invention-of-the-atom-bomb world.

So, I start this gruesome dissection of teen-y art apoplexy with a depressingly angst-y picture and poem about the urgency of nameless coming doom.

And at the same time I was basically an angst-y pre-Goth Goth, I was also a lollipop Disneyphile romantic… A pre-My-Little-Pony Brony as it were. I was goofy as all get out and determined to latch onto all the big-eyed art ideals of the many girls I stalked and watched and comprehended incorrectly while never, ever talking to even one of them. (Well, not counting sisters and the several non-aggressive Mickey-lovers who were chasing me and courting me while I was totally oblivious to facts of it.)

But I was also aware of a spiritual something that lurked in my church-going Sunday self that needed to metaphorically tackle ideas of God and life-after-death notions of something that I knew in my head weren’t really real, but were necessary to the heart I possessed and its dire need for love and life and laughter.

And then too, I was seriously teaching myself to draw. And I drew things like nudes from pictures in National Geographic and Post magazines… but of course, only non-sexualized nudes like kids playing soccer in the nude and in the rain in a school yard in Indonesia so they don’t get their school uniforms soaked.

But what is Surrealism that I can accomplish it any way as an Art movement that is really probably in the past and not relevant to anything in the real world now? Well, what I always thought it was… was a way of seeing the world through a rose-colored lens of imagination (with flying purple jelly-bean spots in it). It is a way of taking my Mickey-and-Goofy strangeness and mixing it into the Donald-Duck Soup of Art. It is a way to simply be true to myself rather than the truth nature insists on putting in front of my face.

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Filed under artwork, humor, old art, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life, surrealism

Risky Pictures

picture title; “Once I feared the Griffon”

Drawing nudes is a risky business. People judge you more harshly when you draw a nude and don’t explain the context. What a pervert you must be. They forgive you a little when you explain that you are an artist and once you took an anatomy drawing class in college where you were drawing from actual nude models. But understand, artists probably take classes like that because they are perverts to begin with.

And you have the added complication of being a victim of sexual assault as a child, so you have a PTSD-sort-of fear of nudity and physical contact while at the same time having all the natural urges that flesh is heir to.

The nude above was drawn actually from a photograph, a Polaroid. The griffon (who represents the fear in your PTSD-inspired dreams) did not want to pose nude in real life. So, you were given a photograph in which she was actually holding on to her boyfriend’s shoulder. Oh, wait! You mean “he” not “she”. The griffon was a boy. But she smiled when she saw the picture. And she asked why there was an eagle in it.

“But that’s not an eagle, it’s a griffon,” you said. “It represents being afraid of being nude.”

Obviously you did not give her the version of the picture with the “eagle” in it. She was happier with the nude you did give her, though it wasn’t drawn as well as this one.

And you are always a little leery of posting nudes you have drawn over the years on your blog, but somehow they get more views than anything else you post, and while you have to wonder why these pictures are so popular among judgmental people who have told you that you are probably a pervert, you secretly know the real reason.

This picture of Karla gets lots of views. You have posted it three or four times before. (Of course, that is not Her real name.)

It is kinda the thing that started the college nude drawings. She was your roommate’s girlfriend, and she was looking at your drawings because Bill told her about your artworks and she was curious. She challenged you to draw her. It was the first nude model you ever drew outside of class. Bob sat in the room with the two of you and watched you draw. (Oh, wait. You called him Bill before. Change that. Bob Bill. There, that’s better.) You drew in pencil.

You did two versions of it. The pen and ink that you drew of it in 1996 was made from the one that you kept.

If you had never done that picture of Karla, the one of the griffon wouldn’t exist either. She had to go and show her picture off to her friends. After all the great cartoons you drew over the years, you might know that the biggest reputation you ever got as an artist came about because of a pencil drawing of a smiley nude girl. And she had a big mouth… both figuratively and literally. But she was nice, and you couldn’t be mad at her. She and Bob Bill got married, and she probably still has that picture in its little frame somewhere in her house.

My novel Snow Babies reveals things from my life that are only metaphorically nudity.

There was a time in my life, in fact, for a majority of my life, that all these things were pretty much secrets that I kept to myself. I didn’t show the nude pictures to others. I kept them in a portfolio in a closet. I never would’ve admitted to being a nudist at heart either. Or anything about being assaulted as a boy. Or told anyone about any of it in a blog post like this. I can only do that now that I am old and know that none of my sins are really that awful and need to be kept secret. There is a certain beauty in that. You don’t even really need to keep doing it in second person point of view, confusing the audience into thinking it’s about them and not about you. Sorry about the meta-messaging. I just find it funny that I can be completely open at the end of the essay of life, and no longer feel the need to hide all the things that we hide under our clothing. Sometimes there is beauty to be found in the depths of a risky picture.

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Filed under art criticism, artwork, autobiography, drawing, humor, nudes, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Practical Magic

Wizards do magical spells. It kinda goes without saying. But to do magical spells, you have to know how the magic works… and why.

Me, imprisoned in my own crystal ball by my naughty familiar.

The secret is in knowing what the word “magic” actually means. It is not supernatural power, nor the creation of something out of nothing. It is entirely the act of uncovering and understanding the underlying truth, the actual science that most people don’t yet comprehend that underpins the thing you are trying to accomplish. Jonas Salk was a wizard. His polio vaccine was a successful magical potion. But magic can be evil too. Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer were wizards. And the atom bomb was an act of necromantic evil.

Me, in my early green wizard phase.

So, being a wizard, I have learned lessons over a lifetime that uncovered for me the secrets of practical interpersonal magic. Being a teacher has taught me far more than I taught to others.

So let me share with you some of my hard-won practical magic.

In a room full of rowdy children, most of whom are not minding any of the teacher’s directions, you can get their attention easily by shouting, “What the poop is going on here?” with the biggest evil grin on your face that you can manage. They will immediately quiet down like magic and look at you. Some will be wondering if their teacher is having a fatal stroke. Some will be wondering what punishments their behavior has earned as indicated by your evil grin (and here it should be noted, their little imaginations will cook up something much worse and much scarier than anything you could’ve thought of to unwisely threaten them with. A few will begin recording you with their cell phone cameras in hopes of future behavior they can post online and get you fired with. And the rest will laugh at the word “poop” and forget why they were acting out. At that point, with their full attention, you can ask them to sit down and look at page 32, and, not knowing what else to do, they will probably do it.

Here are some other rules of practical magic that apply to the wizarding arts of being a public school teacher;

  1. Violence is never the answer. Change their actions and reactions by making them laugh, making them cry, or making them think about something else entirely. The last thing you would ever want to do is hit them, even if they hit you first.
  2. Anything they can be forced to repeat eight times in eight different ways is something that will be fixed in their memory for more than just the duration of a class period. It moves things into their long-term memory, and that is itself a very magical thing.
  3. Students laugh when you surprise them or present them with the absurd. Tell them they should imagine themselves as pigeons who have to act out Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet. What costumes will they wear, and why? What stage directions are necessary to add to the play that are unique to pigeons, and how will they word them? How does pigeon Mercutio go about his death soliloquy when stabbed by pigeon Tibault? Will he have to say, “Look for me tomorrow and you will find me a very grave pigeon?” By the end of the lesson they will have learned more about this play they are supposed to learn about as ninth graders than they ever would have otherwise.

Being able to do any of those things is actually a manifestation of magical power, and only producible by a wizard. The simple fact is, every good teacher is a wizard.

Me, as a wizard in my blue period. The period at the end of this essay.

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Filed under autobiography, magic, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life, teaching, William Shakespeare, wizards

On the Flip of a Coin…

An African coin from Kenya worth 5 cents in 1969, a Sacajawea dollar, and a Bi-Centennial quarter.

How do you make a difficult and consequential decision? Me? I often flip a coin. Heads, yes. Tails, no. So, that makes me as crazy as Two-Face, the Batman villain, who decides everything not in terms of good or evil, but rather, heads or tails. This is not normally a good method of decision-making. Unless, of course, you wish to become a Batman villain.

My coin collection, kept in a 1940’s cigar box, consists of African coins my great grandfather left me in his will, Mexican coins, a Canadian Loony and a Canadian Twoney, an Andrew Jackson dollar coin, a Washington dollar coin, all the State quarters, and lots of other old coins and keepers.

But flipping a coin never actually makes the decision. If I get a yes, I often think about the consequences of yes and flip again… best two of three, three of five, four of six, and on and on until I have given it a thorough thinking-through… or until I get the answer I wanted from the beginning. It is not really the decider, but rather, the think-about-er.

My Space Jam collector’s coin on the cigar box lid.

On Sunday I made a coin-flip decision to not go out Uber driving in the afternoon. A half hour after making the decision, the damaging high winds hit the city. So, the coin flip kept me from being caught out in the storm.

Life is not random. It is merely ordered in really weird ways.

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