Category Archives: wisdom

The Sardonic Solliloquy

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The homeless man wandered onto center stage just as the spotlight went on.  He shaded his old eyes against the brightness and looked outward into the dark  theater.  It was probably some kind of mistake.

“Oh, so now it’s my turn to talk, eh?”

There was no response.

“Well, if you’re expecting something funny to come out of my mouth, good luck with that.  More than half of what I say that makes people laugh is the result of depression, ill health, and just plain ignorant stupidity.  And the other half of it is not meant to be funny, but is because I don’t always understand what I am saying.”

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There was an embarrassed chuckle somewhere in the darkness.

“I mean, you can’t expect too much from me. I’m a bum.  I have no money.  I have no job.  Not having any work to be bothered with is kinda good.  But the other thing kinda sucks.

And all the great comedians that used to stand on this stage and try to save the world through humor are dead now.  It’s true.  Robin Williams died recently.  George Carlin, Bill Hicks, Richard Pryor, and Bill Cosby are all long gone.”

There was some nervous laughter in the theater.

“Oh, I know, Cosby only thinks he’s dead.  But he kinda killed the character delivering the wisdom in the form of observational comedy, didn’t he.”

 

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“But most of them old boys tried to come up here and tell you the truth.  And the truth was so absolutely unexpectedly wacky and way out of bounds that you just had to laugh.  And the more wicked the humor, the more you just laughed.  You didn’t do anything about the problems they talked about.  But you sure did laugh.”

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“It seems like the more they told you the truth and the more you just laughed about it, the more old and bitter they got.  Sardonic?  You know that word?  Not sardines, fools, but sardonic.   Bitterly humorous and sadly funny.  Seems like a lot of them old boys got more and more bitter, more and more depressed up to the end.  More and more sardonic.”

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“I mean,  Carlin was calling you stupid right to your face at the end.  And you just laughed it off.”

The theater had grown eerily silent.

“But it ain’t all bad, is it?  I mean, at least you all can still laugh.  Only smart people get the jokes.  The ones Carlin moaned about were laughing because everybody else was laughing.  Those weren’t the ones we were talking to.  There’s still life out there somewhere.  Maybe intelligent life.  Maybe aliens ain’t located any intelligent life on Earth yet, but they’re still trying, ain’t they?”

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“You shoulda listened more carefully to what they were saying.  Life and love and laughter were bound up in their words.”

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“So I guess what I’m really saying is… just because I happened to get a rare chance to say it to you all… learn to listen better.  The voices are quiet now.  But the words are still there. And laughing at them is still a good thing.  But remember, you need to hear them too.”

The theater suddenly filled with the roar of a standing ovation.  The old man bowed.  And this was ironic because… the theater had always been empty.  No one at all was there now.

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Do Not Crush the Butterfly…

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Art on the bedroom wall, with Christmas lights being used as a night light.

Talking to a school administrator the other day about the challenges my children and I have been facing in the last year, I had one of those experiences where you get a look at your own life through someone else’s eyes.  “Wow, you have really been on a difficult journey,” he said.  I just nodded in response.  Financial difficulties, health problems, dealing with depression… life has been tough.  But you get through things like that by being centered.  Meditation tricks.  Things you can do to smooth out the wrinkles and keep moving forward.

I always return in the theater of my mind to a moment in childhood where I learned a critical lesson.  My life has been one of learning how to build rather than destroy.  It has been about creating, not criticizing.

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Electric lights have come to Toonerville, helping to light the darkness.

When I was a boy, I was a serious butterfly hunter.  It started when Uncle Don gave me a dead cecropia moth that he had found in the Rowan grain elevator.  It was big and beautiful and perfectly preserved.  Shortly thereafter, I located another cecropia in the garage behind the house, a building that had once been a wagon shed complete with horse stalls and a hay loft.  I tried to catch it with my bare hands. And by the time I had hold of it, the powder on its wings was mostly gone.  The wings were broken in a couple of places, and the poor bug was ruined in terms of starting a butterfly collection.

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A cecropia moth

Undeterred by tragedy, I got books about butterfly collecting at the Rowan Public Library and began teaching myself how to bug hunt.  I learned where to find them, and how to net them, and how to kill and mount them.

I discovered that my grandfather’s horse pasture had thistle patches which were natural feeding grounds for red admiral butterflies (pictured top left)  and painted lady butterflies (top right).  But if you wanted to catch the rarer mourning cloak butterfly (bottom picture), you had to stake out apple trees, particularly at apple blossom time, though I caught one on the ripening apples too.

swallowtailBut my greatest challenge as a butterfly hunter was the tiger swallowtail butterfly.  They are rare.  They are tricky.  And one summer I dueled with one, trying with all my might to catch him.  He was in my own back yard the first time I saw him.  I ran to get the butterfly net, and by the time I got back, he was flitting high in the trees out of reach.  I must’ve watched him for half an hour before I finally lost sight of him.  About five other times I had encounters with him in the yard or in the neighborhood.  I learned the hard way that some butterflies are acrobatic flyers and can actually maneuver to avoid being caught.  He frustrated me.

The tiger swallowtail was the butterfly that completed my collection, and it was finished when one of my cousins caught one and gave it to me because she knew I collected them.

But then, one day, while I was sitting on a blanket under a maple tree in the back yard with my notebooks open, writing something that I no longer even recall what I wrote, the backyard tiger swallowtail visited me again.  In fact, he landed on the back of my hand.  I dropped the pencil I was writing with, and slowly, carefully, I turned my hand over underneath him so that he was sitting on my palm.

I could’ve easily closed my hand upon him and captured him.  But I learned the lesson long before from the cecropia that catching a butterfly by hand would destroy its delicate beauty.  I would knock all the yellow and black powder off his exquisite wings.  I could not catch him.  But I could close my hand and crush him.  I would be victorious after a summer-long losing battle.

But that moment brought an end to my butterfly hunting.  I let him flutter away with the August breeze.  I did not crush the butterfly.  It was then that I realized what beauty there was in the world, and how fragile that beauty could be.  I could not keep it alive forever.  But it lasted a little big longer because I chose to let it.

So, here is the lesson that keeps me whole.  Even though I had the power, I did not crush the butterfly.

 

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Wisdom from the Outsider

There is so much left to be said before my time runs out.  Wisdom, whether hard won or acquired entirely through wit, bears a certain responsibility in the possession of it.  We are duty-bound as wizards, the masters of wisdom, to pass it on.mrFuture

Now, you certainly have every right to protest that I am not wise and I have no wisdom.  You are certainly right to point out that I am a doddering old fool that sits around the house all day in the midst of his poor-health-enforced retirement doing little beyond writing silly stories and drawing pictures of mostly naked cartoon girls.  I get that.  But the beginning of wisdom is the realization of how big everything is and how little I really know about anything.

Take for instance the question of where we came from and what our purpose is?  (And the question of why I put a question mark on that when it really wasn’t a question.)

I originally believed in the God of the Christians and in the promises of Jesus… everlasting life and an eternity of sitting on a cloud with a harp and…  Okay, it didn’t take me long to see the logical holes in that line of reasoning.  So much of that is fear of death and the need to believe that I am the center of all things, the most important person in existence.  The truth is I am only a tiny part of a nearly-infinitely-large universe.  And the universe is conscious… self aware.  How do I know this?  Because I am conscious and self-aware.  I am an infinitely tiny piece of the whole… but there are untold trillions of others just like me.   Mai LingAnd when I die… when this body ceases to function, as it already has a great deal of trouble doing, the parts that make up the individual creature and thought patterns I identify as me will be scattered to the far corners of everywhere to be gathered up once again and be something new.  All of mankind passes away.  Human beings and the planet Earth will one day be no more.  But that is not what matters.  There is so much more beyond the boundaries of what my limited eyesight can behold, and what my limited mind can comprehend.   I am made of star-stuff (just ask Neal DeGrasse Tyson or Carl Sagan), and I am a part of the universe as a whole.  I am in no hurry to die.  Life is worth fighting through the pain for… but I do not fear death.  Like birth, it is only a stop along the way in a journey that, as far as I can tell, never ends.

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Wisdom of the Mickey

 

 

MickeyOne must end the year on a note that is either upbeat or regretful.  A heartfelt, “Meh,” just won’t cut it.

So here are a few particles of wisdom from the dustbowl of Mickey’s imagination.

The world is getting brighter… also hotter.  If we continue to chill on the topic of global warming, soon we will be fricasseed.

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You should definitely pay attention to your teachers.  They are mostly old and cranky and undervalued, and it makes them sad when they realize that no one really listens to them.

I learned this from the poet Dylan Thomas, “Rage! Rage! Against the dying of the light!”  He cursed death, and then he promptly went out and drank so much liquor, he died at a very young age.  Thank God I have lived to be old.

You are also pretty much stuck with the face that you are born with, so you better get used to it, and it has many varied uses… especially in the comic sense.

And I would also like to re-iterate the wisdom of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery;

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It is a bit of a disappointment to an artist to realize that what is essential is actually invisible to the eye… but I know it is true.  Truth resides in words.

The only wisdom I truly possess is the knowledge that I am a fool.

Since I was a mere stupid boy, and before I grew up to be a mildly stupid man, I always yearned to have wisdom.  And wisdom comes through experience and pain.  Now, years later, I realize what true wisdom is… I’d have been better off without all that pain.

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People are a lot like rabbits, except that they are not.

They can never eat too many carrots… unless they do.  And then their skin can turn orange.

There is no beast as noble as a rabbit… except for practically every other beast.

Turtles are not as noble as rabbits.  When you challenge them to a race, they cheat.

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People really ought to be naked more.  It’s true.  If you can strip yourself down to only what is fundamentally nothing but you yourself… you begin to know who you really are.  And it is not shame to let other people see.  Oh, wait a minute!  You thought I was talking about being literally naked?  Oh, no!  Metaphorically naked only!

One should be so opaque and obtuse that other people can see acutely right through you.  It is the only thing that makes nonsense into sense.

And we need to sing and dance a little more than we do.  A good song is healthy for the soul, no matter how badly you sing it.  And even if you are old and arthritic like me, dancing a good jiggity-jig keeps the bones loose and the heart thumping.

Everyone needs to dance with their children.  And talk to them.  You can learn more from them than they can from you.  They have more recently come here from the hand of God.  And they know things that you have forgotten… and will need to remember before you return to Him.

 

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I hope my anti-wisdom has not seriously screwed everybody up.

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I Love to Laugh

“Mickey, why can’t you be more serious the way smart people are?”

“Well, now, my dear, I think I take humor very seriously.”

“How can you say that?  You never seem to be serious for more than a few seconds in a row.”

“I can say it in a high, squeaky, falsetto voice so I sound like Mickey Mouse.”

“You know that’s not what I mean.”

“I can also burp it… well, maybe not so much since I was in junior high.”

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“I distinctly remember getting in trouble in Mrs. Mennenga’s third grade class in school for pantomiming pulling my beating heart out of my chest and accidentally dropping it on the floor.  She lectured me about being more studious.  But I made Alicia sitting in the row beside me laugh.  It was all worth it.  And the teacher was right.  I don’t remember anything from the lesson on adding fractions we were supposed to be doing.  But I remember that laugh.  It is one precious piece of the golden treasure I put in the treasure chest of memories I keep stored in my heart.”

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“I always listened to the words Groucho Marx was saying, even though he said them awfully fast and sneaky-like.  I listened to the words.  Other characters didn’t seem to listen to him.  He didn’t seem to listen to them.  Yet, how could he respond like he did if he really wasn’t listening?  In his answers were always golden bits of wisdom.  Other people laughed at his jokes when the laugh track told them to.  I laughed when I understood the wisdom.”

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“Laughing is a way of showing understanding.  Laughing is a way of making yourself feel good.  Laughing is good for your brain and your heart and your soul.  So, I want to laugh more.  I need to laugh more.  I love to laugh.”

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Children of the Land

Children are a resource that we, as a people, cannot live on without.

If we stop having children, nurturing children, raising children, providing children discipline and education, entertaining children, guiding children, and, most of all, loving children, in eighty or so years, human beings will be extinct in this universe.

How many universes are there with humanity being extinct in them? It is impossible to answer. But if there is more than one universe, there is more than one.

When I was a child myself, family farms were still the rule in Iowa. Couples would try for lots of kids to help with the farm work. Chores! I fed animals. I went with my grandfather to the feed store, the hardware store, and the hatchery. I drove a tractor. I walked bean fields and pulled weeds. I mucked out a hog house once (and believe me, once is enough for a lifetime.) I have slopped hogs. I shingled a house and a garage. I painted the family house (in town, not Grandpa’s farmhouse.) As a child, I helped my uncles who were farmers, and worked for other farmers in the area. I was just as important as fertilizer to the maintenance of the world I lived in. (I did not say I was important to USE AS fertilizer. They would’ve had to kill me to use me that way. But my work was a part of what made the land yield plenty.)

I was left, as a child, with the distinct impression that we were meant to live in the land as a part of the land. Nature was our friend. We didn’t cut down all the trees and pave over everything like the city folks did. The kid who never went skinny dipping was rare indeed.

There once were people who knew they lived with the land, and they were good stewards of the land. They knew if the land was not living well and healthy, then neither would they live well and healthy.

But I am not arguing that we should go back to the world of the 1960s. The work I did in the land back then is now mostly mechanized and done by machines, computers, automation, and factorization. But we can teach our precious children the values of old to use in new ways. If we don’t, well… I hope the AI Terminator Robots of the future will have a happy life without us.

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My Brother’s Keeper

It is a Biblical question. After Cain killed Abel, God came asking for Abel’s whereabouts. And Cain stupidly answered, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Stupid Cain! Did he not know that God already knew the answer?

And stupid God. Why did he ask a question to which he already knew the answer? And why did he ask stupid Cain whom he must’ve already known was stupid?

But the answer to the question in this bit of Biblical moral mythology is supposed to be, “Yes, Cain. You are your brother’s keeper.”

So, why am I, a confirmed Christian Existentialist (an atheist who believes in God), trying to tell you something from a Biblical story?

Well, the matter is simple. As I will very likely die soon from Coronavirus (which I am not yet infected with, but, you know, the kindness of fate…), I am trying like heck to impart what little wisdom I have gathered in my life so that I may leave something behind me that has worth.

This current pandemic is itself a demonstration of the truth behind the claim that I am my brother’s keeper.

I wear a mask everywhere I go now because a mask protects not only me but it also protects others from me. After all, I have no access to testing. I may have the virus and just not know it. Then my exhalations would contain droplets of water that have viruses swimming in it. The mask, combined with six feet of distance, keeps my exhalations from reaching the lungs of uninfected others, and potentially slaying them as Cain did to Abel.

It is because of Texan prejudices against mask-wearing and social distancing that I know I will probably be infected before this pandemic is over. And my diabetes, blood pressure problems, and previous difficulty with bronchitis and COPD insure that I am not part of the 80 percent of people who will survive the virus. I will get pneumonia and die.

When I suggest, however, that we should each take on the responsibility for the safety and well-being of others, I do not mean that we should become a zoo-keeper, and keep them all safely in cages (the Senator Cruz method of keeping Mexican immigrants safe). You cannot presume to control the thoughts and behaviors of others. You must only adopt the way of love and brotherhood. You put the interests and needs of others before your own. You lead by example, not by decree.

Before you start complaining in the comments about how stupid I am in this essay because I blaspheme against God, and at the same time don’t see people for how they really are, remember that I used to be a school teacher. You don’t do that job because you want to be rich and powerful. You do that job for love of others… specifically, other people’s children. And it is true that everybody has their bad points. Everybody is thoughtless, or wicked, or deeply troubled at times. But everyone also has qualities about them that make them beautiful, or kind, or noble, or selfless, or… well, the list of good things I have seen and nurtured in other people’s children is far longer and more profound than the bad things. No matter who they are, no matter what color or culture or religion they are, my brothers and sisters and their children have worth.

So, here I am, declaring that I am, most definitely, my brother’s keeper. (And unlike Cain, I did not kill him. He and his wife live along the Texas coast, near Houston. And they are not in a cage.)

And here is the question most critical to my survival…

Are you your brother’s keeper too?

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Why Wizards Write Writing That’s Wonky

To be a wizard is to be wise. Look at the word origin if you don’t believe me.

wizard (n.) early 15c., “philosopher, sage,” from Middle English wys “wise” (see wise (adj.)) + -ard . Compare Lithuanian žynystė “magic,” žynys “sorcerer,” žynė “witch,” all from žinoti “to know.” (Wisely plagiarized from http://www.etymonline.com/word/wizard)

Mickey, the old fool that he is, thinks of himself as a wizard

Mickey is a wizard. He writes down foolish things like that because he knows that the beginning of wisdom is to recognize that you are no more than a fool. You can laugh, but it’s true. Some wise guy that I am paraphrasing here said so. (Probably Socrates.) So, that makes it true

Don’t believe me? Want to debate me?

Have you taken the step yet of recognizing your own foolishness?

How can you be wise if you never take the first step down the path to wisdom?

And what defines a wizard, is that a wizard writes. He must write his wisdom down. Otherwise, there are no fruits of his wisdom. I tend to write mostly strawberry wisdom. That kind of fruit is tart and sweet in season, but sours easily and spoils in hot weather and dry kitchens. Blueberry fruits are probably better. They become tarter and sweeter with dryness, kinda like good humor and subtle jokes. But enough of the fruit-metaphor nonsense. The best fruit of wisdom is the Bradbury fruit. I confess to having eaten often of Bradbury Pie. Dandelion Wine and The Illustrated Man leap to mind, but there are far more Bradbury Pies than that.

My latest published Beyer-berry Pie. (but only if you go back in time to 2020)

So, if Mickey is a wizard, and wise wizards write wisdom, then where do we get Beyer-berry Pie?

The strawberry-flavored pies are found in the My Books page of this blog, though the author’s page on Amazon is a more up-to-date list.

Here’s a link https://www.amazon.com/Michael-Beyer/e/B00DL1X14C/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1

Recently the fool of a wizard, Mickey, planned to set up a free-promotion weekend for A Field Guide to Fauns. But because he cast a time-warp spell and leaped from 2020 to 2022, he now is offering a free copy of Sing Sad Songs until the end of May 2022. Honestly, as Mickey Books go, Sing Sad Songs is one of his very best.

The foolishness begins below..

Of course, I probably can’t sell a single copy of A Field Guide to Fauns. Potential readers will see that there are naked people in this book about nudists and automatically think that Mickey is too weird and crazy to be a good writer. But good writers like Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut can be bizarre in their writing too. (I wonder what Vonnegut-berry Pie would taste like? I must read Cat’s Cradle again, for the third time.) Probably at least blueberry-flavored, if not gooseberry.

But even failed wizards can write wizardly writing if they write with wit and, possibly, with real wisdom,

If I have any wisdom at all to share in this post about wisdom, it can be summed up like this;

  • Writing helps you with knowing, and knowing leads to wisdom.  So take some time to write about what you know.
  • Writing every day makes you more coherent and easier to understand.  Stringing pearls of wisdom into a necklace comes with practice.
  • Writing is worth doing.  Everyone should do it.  Even if you don’t think you can do it well.
  • You should read and understand other people’s wisdom too, as often as possible.  You are not the only person in the world who knows stuff.  And some of their stuff is better than your stuff.
  • The stuff you write can outlive you.  So make the ghost of you that you leave behind as pretty as you can.  Someone may love you for it.  And you can never be sure who that someone will be.

So, there you have it. The full measure of the wacky wizard’s wisdom was written down by the wise-fool-wizard Mickey.

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The Insufferable Superiority of Dead Guys

I may have stupidly revealed this secret before, but since it is already probably out there, here it is again; I have been on a lifelong quest to find and learn wisdom.

Yep, that’s right.  I have been doing a lot of fishing in the well of understanding to try and find the ultimate rainbow trout of truth.  Of course, it is only incredibly stupid people who actually believe that trout can survive living in a well.

So I have been looking at a lot of what passes for wisdom in this world, and find that for the most part, it consists of a bunch of words written by dead guys.

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Boris Pasternak qualifies.  He is a dead guy.  At least, he has been since 1960.  Pasternak is a Russian.  His novel Doctor Zhivago is about the period in Russian history between the beginnings of the revolution in 1905 and the First World War.  He won the Nobel Prize for Literature for it in 1958, but the Soviet government, embarrassed by it, forced him to turn down the prize.

Nobel novelist is probably something that qualifies a dead guy as wise.

I am led to believe that he knew where to fish for the trout of truth.

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I like the idea that the real value in literature, as in the life it portrays, is found in the ordinary.  And yet, Boris speaks of it oxymoronically as extraordinary.  Wisdom is apparently found in contradicting yourself.

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I like the idea of a world infused with compassion.  But is he saying love may lead to misperceptions of how the objects of our love are mistreated?

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This man saw Leo Tolstoy on his deathbed when he was himself but a boy.  Like Tolstoy he questioned everything.  And like Tolstoy, when the end came, he believed in hope for the future.

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The worst part of getting wisdom from dead guys, guys you never met in real life but only came to know from books, is that you cannot argue with them.  You can’t question them about what they meant, or ask them if they ever considered one of your own insights.  You never get to tell them if you happen to fall in love with their ideas.

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Richard Feynman is a physicist, scientist, and writer of science-based wisdom.

Richard Feynman is also dead since 1988.

He is considered a brainiac superhero by science nerds everywhere, and not only do his words still live in his writings, but so does his math.

But what he is actually saying is, that in truth, we really never “know” anything.  It can never be fully understood and maybe the questions that we ask are more important than the answers.

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Wait a minute!  Feynman, are you calling me a fool?  

Of course, I can’t get an answer out of him.  Richard Feynman is dead.

But he does suggest what I can do about it.

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I had or worked with a large number of teachers in my life who would be absolutely horrified by that advice.

So, what conclusion can I reach other than that Richard Feynman thinks I’m a fool even though he never met me?

I don’t really know.  Maybe I should learn the lesson that you must be careful when you listen to dead guys talking.  But I do like what some of them say.  Perhaps that is my trout of truth.

 

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Hurtful Words

Yesterday’s post got me thinking about how words and the power behind words can actually hurt people.  They can you know.  Words like “brainiac”, “bookworm”, “nerd”, “spaz”, “geek”, and “absent-minded professor” were used as weapons against me to make me cry and warp my self-image when I was a mere unformed boy.  I do not deny that I was smarter than the average kid.  I also recognize that my lot in life was probably better than that of people assaulted with words like “fatty”, “moron”, “loser”, and “queer”.  Being skinny as a child, there was actually only one of those deadly words that was never flung my direction.  Words like that have the power, not only to hurt, but even to cripple and kill.

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We all stand naked at times before a jury of our peers, and often they decide to throw stones.

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I try to commit acts of humor in this blog.  Or, at least, acts of verbal nit-witted goofiness that make at least me laugh.  I have been told by readers and students and those forced to listen that I only think I am funny, and I am a hopelessly silly and pointless old man (a special thank you to Miss Angela for that last example, used to tell me off in front of a science class I was substitute teaching years ago.)  But those words do not hurt me.  I am immune to their power because I know what the words mean and I am wizard enough to shape, direct, and control their power.

I have stated before that I don’t approve of insult humor (usually right before calling Trump a pumpkin-head, or otherwise insulting other members of the ruling Empire of Evil Idiots).   And I don’t mean to shame others or make them feel belittled by my writing.  But sometimes it happens and can’t be helped.

This blog isn’t about entertainment.  I am not a stand-up comedian working on joke material.  I use this blog as a laboratory for creating words and ideas.  It is mostly raw material that I mean to shape into gemstones that can be used to decorate or structurally support my crown jewel novels.  I use it to piece ideas together… stitch metaphors and bake gooseberry pies of unusual thinking. I use it to reflect on what I have written and what I have been working on.  And sometimes, like today, I use it to reflect on how readers take what I have written and respond or use it for ideas of their own.  That’s why I never reject or delete comments.  They are useful, even when they are barbed and stinging.  I made an entire post out of them yesterday.

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I try hard myself to be tough in the face of hurtful words.  You have to learn that essential Superman skill to be a middle school and high school teacher.  It is there in those foundries for word-bullets that the most hurtful words are regularly wielded.  The skill is useful for when you need the word-bullets to bounce off you, especially if you are standing between the shooter and someone else.  But I can never feel completely safe.  Some words are kryptonite and will harm me no matter what I do.  Some words you simply must avoid.

Anyway, there is my essay on hurtful words.  If you want to consider all of that being my two cents on the matter… well, I probably owe you a dollar fifty-five.

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