Category Archives: word games

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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Stupid Stuff I Think And Do

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Last night I spent a couple of hours avoiding washing the dishes that piled up in the sink for the weekend by submitting my rough draft novel Recipes for Gingerbread Children to the Inkitt free novel contest.   I am pretty sure that was a stupid thing to do.  I created the above cover to complete the submission.  I had previously decided by researching Inkitt that it was probably a bad idea to go for this kind of publishing scheme.  I cannot afford another vanity press price.  I can only manage free publishing opportunities.  I am probably better off publishing through KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing).

The novel is not entirely a stand-alone.  It is the companion story to The Baby Werewolf whose climax I am working on last week and this week.  It wouldn’t exist at all if it weren’t a pile of irresistible weird stuff left over from the creation of The Baby Werewolf and Superchicken.   It is full of fairy tales, “real” fairies created by fairy tales, Nazis, teenage nudist girls, and a sweet old German lady who managed to survive the holocaust.

The contest will only have four winners this month, and I did not submit it until four days before the end of the month.  Snowball’s chance in H-E-double-hockey-sticks, right? I cannot afford to pay them to publish it.  So if it doesn’t win, I tell them no.

I mistakenly believe I am a good writer and story-teller.  But that may be a totally delusional belief.  I am not any good at the publishing and promoting game.  I am forced to trust to luck, and am probably the unluckiest goober who ever lived.

And while I was tackling the crisis point of my horror novel last week, my Republican friends and family, rabid Trump supporters all, were on my case in social media about why I, as a former teacher, wasn’t completely on their side about making teachers with guns a line of defense against future school shootings.  I have to be careful what I say and support, because a single wrong word can blow up my friends on Facebook with an incendiary display of name-calling, Fox News facts (which are pretty far removed from true facts), accusations, recriminations, and crying about my stupidity.  And through it all, I am not totally convinced that the stupidity is all on my side of the word war.

So, we shall wait and see.  I did a stupid thing.  I said some stupid stuff. I have risked a lot on the current direction of the wind. And soon I will know if my stupidity has scuttled me, and I come crashing down in my sailboat to bottom of the sea… or if I am somehow right, and allowed, for now, to sail onward.

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What I Want to Know

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This colored-pencil picture is called “The Wings of Imagination”.

What I would like to know is…  how do you think outside the box if you don’t understand what the box is… and where it is?   Do you have a box inside your head that you normally think with?  Is it a cardboard box?  Mine is probably iron.  I do a lot of rather thick thinking.  Like now.  Trying to come up with a clever and new idea for what to write about after I have been squeezing my idea-maker with both hands while doing all the necessary bankruptcy paper work that proves I don’t have enough money to even be considered poor.  And how do I do that paperwork if I am already using both hands for squeezing?  Did I magically grow a third arm?  Or did I learn to write with my feet?

I waste a lot of time watching YouTube videos from the BBC with David Mitchell the comedian.  He doesn’t waste any time with a cardboard box in his brain.  He is a thinker after my own heart.

What I would also like to know is… what words should I use for talking to city pool inspectors so that I can properly express my thanks for causing me to have marital troubles and bankruptcy paperwork to do all because removing a defective pool is more expensive now than putting pool in was twenty years ago?  I mean, of course, words to properly express it without getting arrested.

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Tim Hawkins’ Handbook would appear at first to be useful here, but telling him to “Shut your pie hole!” might still result in further tickets that I can’t afford to pay and possible jail time in prison cells with other inmates who had to talk with city pool inspectors.

I kinda like the epithet, “You son of a motherless goat!”  That’s a Steve Martin line from the movie The Three Amigos, probably my favorite western movie of all time.

But I have to do something about my increasing use of foul language, dag nabbit!  I swear and use profanity too bleeping much.  Unlike Mark Twain, I don’t particularly care for the taste of it in my mouth.

But what I would really like to know is… the ultimate answer to the age-old question, “Mary Ann or Ginger?”

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After all, the biggest burning unanswered questions in my life are questions I have had since boyhood, and they don’t burn any bigger than that one.   I fell in love and married one that turned out to be more Ginger than I thought at first.  And I am not sure I ever really got to know or date a Mary Ann.

And another burning question I have had since childhood is, “How the great googly moogly does a question catch on fire?”  I would really like to know the answer to that one.  But I keep those kind of questions in the iron box in my head.  That should be safer than cardboard, because cardboard is flammable, and besides, I have to do my thinking outside the box where there is no danger of catching on fire from burning questions.

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Auf Deutsch

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Hier ist eine kleine Geschichte über die Verwendung von Deutsch, um eine Geschichte zu erzählen.  (Here is a little story about using German to tell a story.)  Ich habe es gelernt, Deutsch in der Schule zu sprechen.  (I learned to speak German in college.)  Aber natürlich habe ich es nicht sehr gut gelernt.  (But of course I didn’t learn it very well.)  Ich muss einfache Wörter wie “Schule” für “College” verwenden, weil mein Vokabular klein ist.  (I have to use simple words like “school” for “college” because my vocabulary is small.)  Ich habe echte deutschsprachige Leute gekannt. Meine große Tante Selma Aldrich kam aus Deutschland und sprach kein Englisch. Sie hatte noch einen dicken Akzent, als ich sie als einen kleinen Jungen kannte.  (I have known real german-speaking people. My great aunt Selma Aldrich came over from Germany speaking no English. She still had a thick accent when I knew her as a little boy.)  Die alte deutsche Dame, die in Rowan lebte, als ich ein Junge war, war ein Holocaust-Überlebender. Sie war eine echte Person, die es kennengelernt hatte.  (The old German lady who lived in Rowan when I was a boy was a holocaust survivor. She was a real person who I got to know.)  Aber auf deutsch zu schreiben braucht Google übersetzen, um die grammatik zu kontrollieren und die Worte zu füllen, die ich nicht schon weiß.  (But to write in German requires Google Translate to control the grammar and fill in the words I don’t know already.)  (Like “kontrollieren”)  Also, wenn Sie Deutsch lesen und meinen Deutschen mit meinen eigenen Übersetzungen vergleichen, werden Sie wahrscheinlich einige urkomisch falsche und falsche Fehler finden.  (So if you read German and compare my German to my own translations, you will probably find some hilariously wrong and misplayed mistakes.)  What can I say?  I am Iowegian.  Ich wuchs nicht auf Deutsch.

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What the Heck is this Blog About?

I read a lot of other people’s blogs for a lot of reasons.  As an old writing teacher and retired Grammar Nazi, I love to see where writers are on the talent spectrum.  I have read everything from the philosophy of Camus and Kant to the beginning writing of ESL kids who are illiterate in two languages.  I view it like a vast flower garden of varied posies where even the weeds can be considered beautiful.  And like rare species of flower, I notice that many of the best blossoms out there in the blogosphere are consistent with their coloring and patterns.  In other words, they have a theme.

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So, do I have an over-all theme for my blog?  It isn’t purely poetical like some of the poetry blogs I like to read.  I really only write comically bad poetry.  It has photos in it, but it isn’t anything like some of the photography blogs I follow.  They actually know how to photograph stuff and make it look perfect and pretty.  It is not strictly an art blog.  I do a lot of drawing and cartooning and inflict it upon you in this blog.  But I am not a professional artist and can’t hold a candle to some of the painters and artists I follow and sometimes even post about.  I enjoy calling Trump President Pumpkinhead, but I can’t say that my blog is a political humor blog, or that I am even passable as a humorous political commentator.

One thing that I can definitely say is that I was once a teacher.  I was one of those organizers and explainers who stand in front of diverse groups of kids five days a week for six shows a day and try to make them understand a little something.  Something wise.  Something wonderful.  Something new.  Look at the video above if you haven’t already watched it.  Not only does it give you a sense of the power of holding the big pencil, it teaches you something you probably didn’t realize before with so much more than mere words.

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But can I say this is an education blog?  No.  It is far too silly and pointless to be that.  If you want a real education blog, you have to look for someone like Diane Ravitch’s blog.  Education is a more serious and sober topic than Mickey.

By the way, were you worried about the poor bunny in that first cartoon getting eaten by the fox and the bear?  Well, maybe this point from that conversation can put your mind at ease.

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Mickey is tricky and gets good mileage out of his cartoons.

You may have gotten the idea that I like Bobby McFerrin by this point in my post.  It is true.  Pure genius and raw creative talent fascinate me.  Is that the end point of my journey to an answer about what the heck this blog is about?  Perhaps.  As good an answer as any.  But I think the question is still open for debate.  It is the journey from thought through many thoughts to theme that make it all fun.  And I don’t anticipate that journey actually ending anytime soon.

 

 

 

 

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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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Classroom Clownery (Not to be confused with Sean Clownery… He’s James Blond)

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See Dick?

See Jane?

See Sally?

See Dick run?

See Jane run?

See Sally…?   Wait a minute!  Why don’t I remember Sally?

Did Dick forget to feed Spot and Spot was forced to kill and eat Sally?

No…  I had Dick and Jane books in Kiddy-garter and they did have Sally in them.  And Spot never killed anyone.  But with all the running she did, Sally did not do anything memorable.  If my teacher, Miss Ketchum, had told the Spot eats Sally story, I’m sure I would’ve remembered Sally better and learned to read faster.

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But I actually did learn to read faster because there was a Cat in the Hat, and a Yertle the Turtle, and because Horton the elephant heard a Who, and a Grinch stole Christmas.  Yes, humor is what always did it for me in the classroom.  Dr. Seuss taught me to read.  Miss Mennenga taught me to read out loud.  And in seventh grade, Mr. Hickman taught me to appreciate really really terrible jokes.    And those are the people who twisted my arm… er, actually my brain… enough to make me be a teacher who taught by making things funny.  There were kids who really loved me, and principals who really hated me.  But I had students come back to me years later and say… “I don’t remember anything at all from my classes in junior high except when you read The Outsiders out loud and did all those voices, and played the Greek myth game where we had to kill the giants with magic arrows, and the stupid jokes you told.”  High praise indeed!

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I think that teaching kids to laugh in the classroom was a big part of teaching them how to use the language and how to think critically.    You find what’s funny in what you learn, and you have accidentally examined it carefully… and probably etched it on the stone part of your brain more memorably than any other way you could do it.  And once it’s etched in stone, you’re not getting that out again any time soon.

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Humor makes you look at things from another point of view, if for no other reason, then simply because you are trying to make somebody laugh.  For instance, do you wonder like I do why the Cat in the Hat is trying to pluck the wig off of Yelling Yolanda who is perched on the back of yellow yawning yak?  I bet you can’t look at those two pictures positioned like that and not see what I am talking about.  Of course, I am not betting money on it.  I am simply talking Iowegian… a totally different post.

But the point is, humor and learning go hand in hand.  It takes intelligence to get the joke.  Joking makes you smarter.  And that is why the class clowns in the past… the good and funny ones… not the stupid and clueless ones… were always my favorite students.

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