Category Archives: strange and wonderful ideas about life

Examining the Wood Grain

When I was a child I often had to fight on school nights to shut down my brain and get to sleep so that getting up the next morning wouldn’t be torture. The bedroom door was always left open and the single light in the upstairs hallway made it possible to get to the bathroom safely in the middle of the night. I would often find myself staring at the wood grain of the door with all its knots and spots and flowing wiggles. That low-light and wood-grain combination was enthralling.

And as I stared, my over-active imagination would find pictures there. There was a werewolf looking out of the wood grain at me with knotty eyes and wiggly fangs. Boy, that really helped me get to sleep.

But I could conjure other things too. I always longed to see Annette Funicello naked. I worked long and hard to make the naked lady in the corner of the door’s wood grained panel into Annette. It never truly worked. The naked lady had two grossly misshapen boobs that formed the central feature of her character, and that was nothing like perfect and sweet Annette from the Mickey Mouse Club.

But the point in all this is, a boy has to examine the wood grain of his life if he is going to develop into the kind of person he wants to be in the future. The things you see when you look into the knots and spots and flowing wiggles of a nearly infinite set of possibilities is limited only by your powers of imagination. There is truth to find there. There is often also deception. Sometimes the truth and the deception are the very same thing. But you have to follow the lines and make sense of the patterns.

Now, as I am old and have less to look forward to than I have to look back on, I am still looking at the wood grain. I am still looking at the patterns of my life and love and laughter. I try to trace the lines into fiction stories based on all things I have experienced in a life of humble service to the gods of education. And I have to look carefully. Is that a demon face on the left? Grinning at me with a crooked smile? Or is it a fox looking at me through a hole in the door. And on the right… Is that a hooded man standing next to a barber pole? Or is it a meadow lark reaching his stretched neck up to the top of the panel so that his bill is out of the picture at the apex of his reach?

You don’t see what I see? I fully understand. The wood grain of each person’s life is different. And not even his or her own interpretation can be called either “right” or “wrong”.

But the wood grains straight ahead are the pictures of the end of me. So, I must study the wood grains of the past to be sure of all the good that I have had, and I attempt to get it all down to hand onward to my children and the world to come. What else can I do? I see the patterns. Some are terrible… The werewolf of my bedroom door. Some are beautiful… Annette Funicello naked. And I get choose what they mean.

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Filed under battling depression, commentary, dreaming, goofy thoughts, humor, metaphor, Paffooney, philosophy, strange and wonderful ideas about life

A Bit of Naked Truth

As a nudist… well, I am not a very good spokesman for nudism, because I rarely get to be nude… and never really socially. I have seen a lot of nude people in my life. My own children, my nieces and nephews… I have at various times seen all but one of them naked. I have actually changed a lot of diapers, though that has been pretty much a long time ago. I have been around naked nudists a number of times. And I even spent an afternoon at a nudist camp one time. But this isn’t about being a nudist… even a never-nude nudist. It is about the morality of drawing nude people.

A new nude not posted before.

I enjoy drawing the nude human form. Man, woman, or child… nudes are beautiful to contemplate. But in our generally sexually repressive society, child nudes are a touchy subject. A lot of people who want to tell you what is wrong with your life and what to correct about yourself believe nudity is always about sexuality. And here’s a bit of naked truth about nudity… I am a victim of a sexual assault when I was a mere boy. Not an assault that provided any sexual gratification to me. I was sexually tortured and caused pain, both physically, and long-lastingly psychologically. It interferes with the entirety of my psycho-sexual development. I have never touched a niece or a nephew when they were naked, except when changing them as babies. I have trouble touching my own children, nude or not, as a result of what my attacker did to me. I have missed out on a humongous number of hugs and caresses, and maybe even kisses. My love life has always been a challenge, and it makes me approach child-nudity with great caution and trepidation.

another never-before-posted nude

The thing I have learned about the nudes I draw and paint, especially the child nudes, is that the pictures, no matter how innocent in concept, have a dark edge. They are not evidence of any sexual misconduct on my part. Considering the facts of my own life, I am determined to never be any kind of threat to any child. In fact, they are safer with me than with most other people. I know what can actually happen if you do not guard against it.

That is not the way some people will see them, though. I have been accused of being too fond of young boys before. But no kid who ever spent time with me as a mentor, dungeon master, or friend would fail to contradict that. Several did contradict that. I am provably not a homosexual, let alone a child predator threatening to boys. But this picture of Fernando Faun is not evidence of anything anyway. The actual model wore swim trunks in the photo I made it from. Only the face is Fernando’s, and I definitely changed his race and skin-color. And if anything at all can be learned about this picture, it is that, in truth, it is more a picture of me than it was of Fernando. It is about enjoyment of the naked part of being a boy, a zest for life and sensuality, that I painted because the fact of it was denied to me. I never got the chance to be like that anywhere but in my imaginary world where this painting is actually set.

I really can’t claim, though, that young girls would be as safe around me as boys are. I would never actually touch one, or even intentionally make her feel uncomfortable if I could help it. I could not promise, though, that my old brain would be completely free of all lustful thoughts.

But the whole point I am trying to make is that we are naked in more ways than just the physical. There is a need to be naked more. And by that I mean, we need to shine lights on our inner selves, to show the world who we truly are. I should not hide myself or my work from the sight of others. Letting you see these naked pictures, and at the same time, talking about my naked fears, is a kind of naked honesty that helps me to talk about what happened to me once upon a time. And it helps me heal. Repressing such things does harm to the soul.

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Notions About Novels

I am a novelist. In the same way that a pianist is a pianist because he plays music on the piano, I am a novelist because I have written 12 novels and published eleven of them. I am not a professional novelist. I have made $1.75 in royalty payments for August 2019. But not being a successful writer for money does not prevent me from being a novelist.

So, don’t be surprised when I say that I have strong opinions about what a novel is and what it should be.

Yes, I have already published more than just these.

First of all, a novelist must also be an avid reader. Not merely a reader of other novels by other novelists, but of anything and everything. Essays, plays, non-fiction books about a wide array of factual things, and pseudo-factual things, and conjecture, and conspiracy theories, and poetry, and science books, and Mark Twain, and Isaac Asimov, and Charles Dickens, and Ray Bradbury, and comic books, and graphic novels, and more, and more, and more… for as long as your brain shall work. A novelist should try to read everything, because to be a good novelist, you must know everything. Certainly you must know far more than what you actually write down into novel form.

A good novelist must be good at short fiction as well. Because a novel is more than just one story. It is made up of parts. I call them Cantos. Most writers call them Chapters.

But whatever you call them, or even if you don’t give them separate titles or sections in the novel, they are like short stories in themselves. They must have their own lead sentence, their own beginning, middle, and end. They must have their own end line, or punch line, or thesis statement. And they must have, by their end, a point to make about setting, plot, character, or theme.

A novel is layer cake of little stories, each layered upon other layers, and all baked together into the same over-arching cake.

And a novel, when it is published, is never really done. Sequels, prequels, and serialization are always possible and sometimes even necessary. Rewrites and new editions are also a thing. And even in the mind of the reader, the novel never really ceases to have an effect. I still carry around A Tale of Two Cities in my head everywhere I go, and through everything I do, even when I am writing my own novels. Sidney Carton is very much alive to me, even though he dies at the end of the novel.

So, there you have it. A bunch of burbling about novels from an unsuccessful novelist. For whatever it is worth, I am truly a novelist. And I do not apologize for being that sort of low-down, despicable sort of human being.

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Filed under humor, novel, NOVEL WRITING, Paffooney, short story, strange and wonderful ideas about life, writing

The Peak Year

Last night I watched the movie version of Jersey Boys the musical. It touched me deeply. And the band was asked to each answer the question,
“What was your best year as a member of the Four Seasons, your peak year?” Frankie Valli’s answer got me thinking about the answer to that question as it applies to who I am and what was the peak year of my career.

Now, I can’t deny that, having been a successful public school teacher who loved teaching for more than 30 years, there were a number of very successful years I could point to. But scoring well on State writing tests and reading tests despite teaching in a poor rural school district in South Texas, nor competing in the Odyssey of the Mind creativity contest with my gifted students were really what I would call my peak year. That honor has to go to the year I was twelve (for most of the year), 1969,

That was the year that men walked on the moon. I had followed the whole thing for several years, since Mom and Dad had gotten me excited about space by trying to spot John Glenn in his Mercury capsule crossing the blue sky in our back yard. I had watched religiously as Walter Cronkite and Wally Schirra told us on CBS about Mercury and Gemini and finally Apollo.

It made me believe in myself and the power of people for the first time since the tornado and the sexual assault from 1966 had toppled my world.

I had numerous self-confidence issues after 1966. I really, deep down, blamed myself for what happened to me. I was convinced that I was worthless and evil. But watching Neil Armstrong step onto the surface of the moon on that late July evening made me yearn to reshape the world the way he did, even if I could only do it in a much smaller way.

’69 was the “Summer of Love” in more than one way for me. I wasn’t really able to think about myself as a virgin in ’69 for… reasons. But it was the summer that I got to see a girl who wasn’t my sister naked because she wanted me to see her. We were not able to actually do what both of us wanted to do, and my double-clutching at the last moment destroyed any chance of her ever even talking to me again for the rest of my life, but it proved that I was at least desirable to girls. And music from that moment on began to underscore everything in my life. She had “Sugar Sugar” by the Archies playing in her bedroom. And the same song was playing again at the roller rink in Lake Cornelia the night she refused to do the couple’s skate with me, and I asked Leslie instead. Leslie accepted. I was not a monster made from the horror of ’66. i proved that to myself to the beat of “Sugar Sugar”.

And, of course, even though I was a Cardinals fan, the New York Mets proved to me that year that the impossible can happen. Of course, I rooted for the Orioles. You know, a team with a bird for a mascot.

But 1969 was also a year of big decision for me. I already knew at that point that I was destined to be a storyteller. But that was the year of the My Lai massacre. I remember looking at the photos in Life and Look magazines of the dead bodies of women and children, killed by American bullets. I could not, at that point, stomach the idea of going to war after turning 18, a possibility that became very real to me that year.

It was the year I made up my mind I would never kill anyone in my lifetime, never pick up a gun to harm others, or be a part of any such atrocity. I still have great respect for soldiers and what they do, but if I had been there, I would’ve been moved to lay down my weapon and stand with the victims in front of the machine guns. They would’ve had to kill me too. And I was determined to go to jail sooner than fight in the war. Luckily, that was never put to the test. The war ended in 1975, before I graduated high school.

The peak year was not for me a year of great personal success or wealth or accomplishment. 1969 was the year I chose who I was going to be in life. The year of decision. The year that brought me all the way through from there to now. It was 50 years ago. It was the year I was 12.

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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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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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