It has always been a hopeful sign for me when my favorite sports teams do well in the playoffs. The St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series in 2011 and the blossoming of my novel-writing career began right after in 2012. The Arizona Cardinals made it to the Super Bowl in 2008, and though they lost, they came extremely close to winning, losing only in the final minutes, presaged my successful shift to the ESL teacher position at Naaman Forest High School in Garland, Texas. And now the St. Louis Blues hockey team won a first round playoff series for the first time in a while, against a top-ranked team that was supposed to beat them, and set themselves up for a deep playoff run that might turn into their first ever Stanley Cup championship of the NHL.
Jaden Schwartz, a Blues scoring star, got three goals in one game, called a hat trick in hockey, in the final game against the Winnepeg Jets this last weekend. They are on the road to more victories, and even if they lose going forward, it is still a positive sign for me at a time when I desperately need something positive to happen.
I intend to to spend a lot of time in this essay talking about Twitter nudists, but that is not what this essay is about. A rather large amount of the meaning behind all of this has more to do with setting priorities, what things to pursue, and what things to abandon.
If I manage to stay alive long enough to see the next Avengers movie, and hopefully even beyond that, then I am going to have to budget my time and moderate my efforts towards certain endeavors. Does that mean I intend to give up all association with nudists? Or possibly twitter?
Of course not. I am simply not that smart. To give up on Twitter, I mean. It is an ungodly waste of time. It is a media of questionable value to me because I have achieved no measurable marketing value as a writer from it. I have learned a lot about actual nudists and naturists from it. I have made connections with naturist authors and thinkers and other websites through Twitter. I have even learned how valuable some young women and men find pictures and .gifs of Tom Hiddleston with his shirt off and smiling. I am not sure I understand it. But I have learned the obsession is very real.
And I have come to accept, to a degree that nudism is a good thing. It is way of life that has good effects on the people who participate in it. They have more confidence in themselves. They are definitely firm in their beliefs about most things. They are positive. And they get enough vitamin D from sunshine to be happy most of the time, and are rarely depressed. I wish I had embraced nudism when I had the chance back in the 1980’s. I might have been happier and healthier than I am now. And even now they are a very accepting group of people, willing to welcome me even when I am old and weathered and covered in psoriasis plaques and sores. They are almost as inclusive as Tom Hiddleston fans. But I don’t actually know why his fans want to fill my Twitter feed every day with Loki’s face.
But I said this essay was really about setting priorities. And, like the video suggests, I have to be willing to let go of things. I have to adapt to circumstances and stop doing things that don’t really help me. I have to finish more of my long list of projects. I have to focus.
Uber driving is on my list of things to evaluate and possibly discard. It does not pay well. The accident I had last August was a difficult financial blow as well as an effective confidence-shaker. The penalties for Uber driving become apparent at tax time because they don’t take care of withholding like other employers are required to. So there is extra money to pay at tax time. I will undoubtedly have to continue Uber driving for a while simply because I now have another large tax bill to pay on top of the expenses that go along with the sin of being in poor health. But I will work into the plan a decisive step of quitting Uber when I can and finding other sources of income.
I also have to finish things I have started.
I have to finish paying taxes. I have to finish rebuilding the retaining wall in the yard. I have to finish driving for Uber to make money. I have absolutely no problem finishing writing projects, considering all the novels I have published in the last three years. And I definitely need to finish this essay.
So, what have I decided to give up? Twitter? Twitter nudists? No. I might give up following rabid Tom Hiddleston fans, though.
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 gave you a list of places where my ideas for fiction come from, and in the end, I failed to explain the thing about the bottle imp. Yes, I do get ideas from the bottle imp. He’s an angry blue boggart with limited spell powers. But he’s also more than 700 years old and has only been trapped in the bottle since 1805. So, he has about 500 years of magical life experience to draw from and answer my idea questions. Admittedly it would be more helpful if he were a smarter imp. His name is Bruce, and his IQ in human terms would only be about 75. But, then, I don’t have to worry about misfired magic. If I asked him to, “Make me a hamburger,” he wouldn’t immediately change me into a fried, ground-beef patty because he is not smart enough to do that high of a level of magic spell.
But he is just barely intelligent enough to tell me a truthful answer if I asked him a question like, “What would happen if I put an alligator’s egg in a robin’s nest as a joke, and the robin family decided it was their own weird-looking egg and then tried to hatch it?” The answer would be truthful according to his vast knowledge of swamp pranks. And it would also be funny because he’s too dumb to know better. In fact, he told me about a mother robin who worked so diligently at hatching an alligator egg that a baby alligator was hatched. She convinced it that it was actually a bird. And when it came time for the baby birds to learn to fly, the baby alligator couldn’t do it… until she talked it into flapping madly with all four legs. Then, a mother’s love and faith in her child got an alligator airborne.
Yeah, that hasn’t proved to be a very useful story idea. I put it into a story I was writing during my seven years in high school, and then lost the manuscript. (I was a teacher, not a hard-to-graduate student.) But it was proof that you can get your writing ideas from a bottle imp.
So, if you decide to use bottle imps as an idea source for fiction, the next step is to find and acquire the right sort of bottle imp. I got mine from Smellbone, the rat-faced necromancer. I bought it for an American quarter and three Canadian loonies more than a dozen years ago. I found it at his Arcana and Horse-Radish Burger Emporium in Montreal. But I am not sure how that information helps you. Smellbone died in a firey magical-transformation accident involving an angry Wall-Street financier and a dill pickle. The whole Emporium went to cinders in an hour.
If you are going to try to capture the bottle imp yourself, which I strongly do not recommend, you are going to need a magical spell-resistant butterfly net, a solid glass jar, bottle, or brass urn. A garlic-soaked cork to fit the bottle. A spell scroll ready to cast containing at least one fairy-shrink spell. And an extremely limited amount of time to actually think about what you are doing.
Now I have told you how I get writing ideas from a bottle imp. Aren’t you glad I did not include this idea in the post about where ideas come from? After all, I am a fiction writer. I get my jollies from telling lies in story form. And bottle imps, especially angry blue bottle imps named Bruce, or Charlie, or Bill, are more trouble than they are worth. They can curse you with magical spells of infinite silliness and undercut your serious nature for a lifetime.
The secret to this essay is that the title is a pun. And yes, I know you probably don’t find it very punny. But I wanted to talk about the difficulties of portraying the difficulties of communication in a talk-a-lot-sometimes-talk-too-much world.
Yes, my current work in progress, Fools and their Toys, is about a man who can hardly talk at all because of undiagnosed autism who suddenly, miraculously finds a voice through ventriloquism, and then finds himself needing to communicate to a boy who is deaf and only speaks sign language and another boy who is profoundly distracted with ADD and bipolar disorder. He needs to communicate desperately because he knows things that have been locked up in his head for years that may help the FBI stop a cereal killer. No, that is a pun again. Shame on me. The murderer commits multiple murders of young boys, not breakfast food
I chose to write this rather insane novel about how not to communicate with real people because I, myself, as a kid was given to all kinds of communication theatrics and tricks of entertainment. I was also a shy kid after the age of ten for very sinister reasons.
It is important to realize that you absolutely have to communicate with others in life. Even if something is preventing you, like my own bout of self-loathing brought on by a sexual assault committed against me by an older boy. I got a ventriloquist’s dummy for Christmas near the time of the terrible event. It was Danny O’Day from the Montgomery Ward’s Christmas catalog. I taught myself to do ventriloquism. And then I gave it up when I realized the puppet would say things I didn’t want anyone to hear.
Never the less, I continued to be fascinated life-long with ventriloquists and the little people they created.
Edgar Bergen was often in movies on TV during the Saturday afternoon matinee on Channel 3. I often saw his lips move. I was actually a better mouth-still ventriloquist than the old master.
Paul Winchell used to have a TV show in the 50’s which I saw on re-runs as a boy in the 60’s. He was also the voice of Tigger, Dick Dastardly, and Gargamel. (If you don’t recognize any of those cartoon characters, I mourn for your inadequately-filled childhood.)
And, of course, I was fascinated and enthralled by Shari Lewis and Lambchop any time they were on TV, especially Sunday nights with Ed Sullivan.
Learning about ventriloquism never solved any problems for me. But it gave me a way to talk to myself that simulated having real friends. It helped me survive the dark years of being a teenager.
Ventriloquism, humor, made-up characters, and the ability to talk with them is what I am chiefly concerned with now. My life and my current novel is taken up with talking, though not the normal talking of normal people. Talking with the voices that come from strange locked trunks inside you, the secrets you always meant to keep, but sooner or later have to be said out loud by someone. And maybe that someone is a dummy.
Describing the feeling of entering the Ghost House for the
first time would prove quite difficult for Valerie when she tried to do it later
on in Miss Bierstadt’s class for an English essay assignment. But at the moment she crawled through the
Tunnel of Doom, she would’ve described it as a feeling in her belly like eating
a bowl of iced earthworms and trying to find a place to throw up in a jungle
full of man-eating plants that smelled an awful lot like marigolds or
something. It was that kind of
combination of anticipation, bad smells, icky things to see and touch, and the sensory
deprivation of entering a candle-lit darkness from the bright September world
“Welcome, Miss Valerie Clarke,” said freshman football hero
and huge Polish hunk Pidney Breslow.
Valerie was deeply in love with the square-shouldered giant, and
sincerely hoped he would be the leader of this Pirate club.
“Hello,” she said, almost timidly.
“You are just in time for the first official meeting of the
reforming Norwall Pirates’ Club,” said Mary Philips brightly. Mary had extended the official invitation to
Valerie to come here, although Val didn’t really know why. Mary had said that she didn’t want to be the
only girl in the club, but why would a girl like Mary want to be in a boys’
club? She had a bad feeling that the
high school freshman girl also had her cap set for winning Pidney as a
boyfriend. But, plain-looking as Mary
was, Val was only mildly concerned.
A quick look around as Danny Murphy crawled in after her
revealed the other boys in attendance at the secret meeting. Ray Zeffer, another high school freshman was
there. He was kinda handsome in a way,
too, but he was always so sad-looking with those big puppy-dog brown eyes of
his. He had a neatly combed mess of jet
black hair too, which was also attractive.
Val could easily learn to like this club.
The other boy, a high school junior, was kinda creepy. His name was Conrad Doble. He was the only one at the meeting who had
been a member of the original Norwall Pirates.
He was tall and thin, with lank blond hair that hadn’t had a haircut in
too long. He had a distinct problem with
facial Acne. And he insisted on leering
at Valerie, like he wanted to take a bite or two and eat her up. For the first time Val understood why he had
the semi-Shakespearian nickname of King Leer.
“You know that re-forming the Pirates is a sucky idea,
right?” said Doble, leering at Mary Philips for the moment. “There’s no way to go back to those
things. Milt Morgan had all the ideas
and told us what to do. Brent Clarke was
the leader and made the ideas happen.
How are we gonna fight werewolves or undead Chinese wizards without them?”
“You know that those adventures were mostly lies and fairy
tales,” Mary said.
“Still, who will be the wizard? And who will be the leader?” Doble glared at Mary accusingly. “I actually saw the werewolf!”
The two older boys, Ray and Pidney looked at each other
“Re-forming the Pirates was my idea,” said Mary. “I think I should be the leader.”
“A girl as leader?” asked Doble. “We only used to let girls in for sex
“Be careful what you say to Mary, Goon,” said Pidney.
“Or what? You’ll beat
me up with your football muscles?”
“No,” said Ray. “The
two of us will beat the crap out of you.”
The fire flashing in Ray Zeffer’s eyes was even more intimidating than
Pidney’s football muscles, and Pidney’s football muscles were seriously huge.
“Yeah, well… I guess
there might be benefits to having girls in the Pirates,” grumbled Doble
“So, it’s settled.
The Norwall Pirates exist once more,” said Mary with a sparkly
smile. “I will be the leader and Pidney
will be second in command.”
“Who is the wizard?” growled Doble. “Milt is the hard one to replace.”
“I get that you always thought of Milt Morgan as Merlin and
Brent Clarke as his King Arthur,” said Mary, “but do we really need a wizard?”
“Yeah, I think we do,” insisted Doble.
“You know we don’t have to let you be a Pirate this time,”
“I’m the only real
Norwall Pirate here,” said Doble imperially.
“You have to have my permission to even do this.”
“It’s all right,” said Mary.
“What is it you think we need a wizard for?”
Conrad Doble stood up to his full height and lightly bonked
his head on a cellar rafter. After he
rubbed his somewhat flattened head of hair, he went over to a nearby cabinet,
and removed the right hand door which basically fell out when you touched
it. He reached in and brought out a
large peanut-butter jar filled with formaldehyde. Floating in it was the severed head of a huge
black cat, its dead eyes popped and staring.
He placed that on the crate in front of the old couch.
“Gack! What’s that?”
“The secret mystical symbol of the Pirate leader,” said
“Smart girl,” said Conrad Doble. “If you know that, then surely you know what
a wizard is for.”
“I’m guessing the keeper of secrets,” said Mary.
“The teller of stories!” Valerie blurted out.
“Yes!” said Doble.
“Both of those things. But
story-teller most of all. That’s what
Milt used to do. He told us stories and
made us believe in stuff.”
“So, who here is a story-teller?” asked Ray Zeffer.
“Tell us the story of your Uncle Noah,” Pidney said to Mary.
“He is NOT my uncle,” said Mary. “He’s just Dad’s friend. I used to call him uncle when I was little.”
“But that’s the idea, isn’t it?” asked Pidney. “That story you were telling me about your
dad’s friend on the freighter in the South Seas? You could tell us that.”
“Maybe. You have to
give me time to pull it all together. I
think we need to leave that position open for the moment, to give others here a
chance to tell a story of their
own.” Mary glared in Conrad’s direction for a change.
“Okay,” said Doble.
“It’s a deal.”
“Who will be in the club?” asked Pidney.
“I invited everyone here to be a Pirate,” said Mary. “I think all of us need to be here. The Norwall Pirates used to be a group of
friends that supported each other and helped each other through hard times. That’s what we all need again. Especially Ray.”
Ray Zeffer blushed and looked off into the darkness of the
far corner of the cellar. Valerie
wondered why. She decided she would find
“Why didn’t you invite Billy Martin?” asked Danny
Murphy. “He needs to be a Pirate too.”
“You are right,” said Mary with a smile. “But I didn’t know where to find him or how
to get the message to him. Inviting him
can be our first club project.”
“Club project? You
make it sound all girly!” complained Doble.
So it was decided. Valerie Clarke was now the second girl ever to be a Norwall Pirate. She smiled to herself, but when she caught Doble looking at her again, she changed the smile for a frown.