Things are not what they seem. Life throws curve balls across the plate ninety percent of the time. Fastballs are rare. And fastballs you can hit are even rarer. But if Life is pitching, who is the batter? Does it change the metaphor and who you are rooting for if the batter is Death?
If you think this means that I am planning on dying because of the Coronavirus pandemic, well, you would be right. Of course, I am always planning for death with every dark thing that bounces down the hopscotch squares of the immediate future. That’s what it means to be a pessimist. No matter what bad thing we are talking about, it will not take ME by surprise. And if I think everything is going to kill me, sooner or later I have to be right… though, hopefully, much later.
I keep seeing things that aren’t there. Childlike faces keep looking at me from the top of the stairs, but when I focus my attention there, they disappear. And I know there are no children in the house anymore since my youngest is now legally an adult. And the chimpanzee that peeked at me from behind the couch in the family room was definitely not there. I swear, it looked exactly like Roddy McDowell from the Planet of the Apes movies, whom I know for a fact to be deceased. So, obviously, it has to be Roddy McDowell’s monkey-ghost. I believe I may have mentioned before that there is a ghost dog in our house. I often catch glimpses of its tail rounding the corner ahead of me when my own dog is definitely behind me. And I am sure I shared the facts before that Parkinson’s sufferers often see partial visions of people and faces (and apparently dogs) that aren’t really there, and that my father suffers from Parkinson’s Disease. So, obviously it is my father and not me that is seeing these things… He’s just using my eyeballs to do it with.
But… and this is absolutely true even if it starts with a butt… the best way to deal with scary possibilities is to laugh at them. Jokes, satire, mockery, and ludicrous hilarity expressed in big words are the proper things to use against the fearful things you cannot change. So, this essay is nothing but a can of mixed nutz. Nutzy nuts. And fortunately, peanut allergies are one incurable and possibly fatal disease I don’t have. One of the few.
The case has been made in an article by John Welford (https://owlcation.com/humanities/Did-King-Henry-VIII-Have-A-Genetic-Abnormality) that English King Henry the VIII may have suffered from a genetic disorder commonly known as “having Kell blood” which may have made having a living male heir almost impossible with his first two wives. The disorder causes frequent miscarriages in the children sired, something that happened to Henry seven times in the quest for a living male heir. If you think about it, if Henry did not have this particular physical conflict at the root of his dynasty, he might’ve fathered a male heir with his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Then there would’ve been no opening for the machinations of Anne Boleyn. It follows that Elizabeth would not have been born. Then no Elizabethan Age; no sir Francis Drake, Spain might’ve landed their armada, no Church of England, possibly no William Shakespeare, and then Mickey would never have gotten castigated by scholars of English literature for daring to state in this blog that the actor who came from Stratford on Avon and misspelled his own name numerous times was not the author of Shakespeare’s plays.
History would’ve been very different. One might even say “sucky”. Especially if one is the clown who thinks Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare.
Conflict and struggle is necessary to the grand procession of History. If things are too easy and conflict is not necessary, lots of what we call “invention” and “progress” will not happen. Society is not advanced by its quiet dignity and static graces. It is advanced and transformed by its revolutions, its wars, its seemingly unconquerable problems… its conflicts.
Similarly, a novel, a story, a piece of fiction is no earthly good if it is static and without conflict. A happy story about a puppy and the children who love him eating healthy snacks and hugging each other and taking naps is NOT A STORY. It is the plot of a sappy greeting card that never leaves the shelf in the Walmart stationary-and-office-supplies section. Dick and Jane stories had a lot of seeing in them. But they never taught me anything about reading until the alligator ate Spot, and Dick drowned while trying to pry the gator’s jaws apart and get the dog back. And Jane killed the alligator with her bare hands and teeth at the start of what would become a lifelong obsession with alligator wrestling. And yes, I know that never actually happened in a Dick and Jane book, except in the evil imagination of a bored child who was learning to be a story-teller himself in Ms. Ketchum’s 1st Grade Class in 1962.
Yes, I admit to drawing in Ms. Ketchum’s set of first-grade reading books. I was a bad kid in some ways.
But the point is, no story, even if it happens to have a “live happily ever after” at the end of it, can be only about happiness. There must be conflict to overcome.
There are no heroes in stories that have no villains whom the heroes can shoot the guns out of the hands of. Luke Skywalker wouldn’t exist without Darth Vader, even though we didn’t learn that until the second movie… or is it the fifth movie? I forget. And James Bond needs a disposable villain that he can kill at the end of the movie, preferably a stupid one who monologues about his evil plan of writing in Ms. Ketchum’s textbooks, before allowing Bond to escape from the table he is tied down to while surrounded by pencil-drawn alligators in the margins of the page.
We actually learn by failing at things, by getting hurt by the biplanes of an angry difficult life. If we could just get away with eating all the Faye Wrays we wanted and never have a conflict, never have to pay a price, how would we ever learn the life-lesson that you can’t eat Faye Wray, even if you go to the top of the Empire State Building to be alone with her. Of course, that lesson didn’t last for Kong much beyond hitting the Manhattan pavement. But life is like that. Not all stories have a happy ending. Conflicts are not always resolved in a satisfying manner. A life with no challenges is not a life worth living.
So, my title today is “Conflict is Essential“. And that is an inescapable truth. Those who boldly face each new conflict the day brings will probably end up saying bad words quite a lot, and fail at things a lot, and even get in trouble for drawing in their textbooks, but they will fare far better than those who are afraid and hang back. (I do not know for sure that this is true. I really just wanted to say “fare far” in a sentence because it is a palindrome. But I accept that such a sentence may cause far more criticism and backlash than it is worth. But that is conflict and sorta proves my point too.)
Have you ever noticed that some celebrities with weird names are recognizable no matter how badly you mess up or mangle their names?
For example, take a name like Justin Timberlake.
If you call him Timber Just-in-the-lake, everyone still knows who you mean.
Yes, I’m talking about Laker Timberjust, that singer who used to be famous when he sang with that group Out O’ Sink. You know, that guy named Joozin Mimbolake who caused Joanie Jackelson’s wardrobe malfunction in the Superbowl. Muffin Limbersnake… you know, that guy.
Well, there’s this other actor named Ving Rhames.
Okay, that’s too scary to contemplate. Well, there’s always Kenderbick Bumbersnatch! He’s always good for a name-mangling good joke.
Very astute literary allusion delivered with Sherlockian poise, Benickle Bumberbatch!
I can think of a number of name mangles that make me laugh. Bumbershoot Bandersnatch, or Bimbleroot Snoodersnatch, or Smogthedragon Paddlebatch. What mangled names can you think of for the Mangled Name Game? You can put your bubbling genius-type answers to that question in the comments. For these guys, or any other mangle-able celebrity names you can think of.
I have to because somebody has to control the words.
People are made of words. Their identity, their inner self, their reason for existence… all made of words. The very thoughts in their heads are… words.
If I want to control the words I am made of, then I must be the writer who writes his own story.
I don’t want anyone else to write the words that essentially become me. Do you?
Of course, authors create characters. Even autobiographers create characters. Carl Sandburg could no more make his words into Lincoln than a bird can make its tweets into a cat. Sandburg can, however, help us to understand Lincoln as Carl Sandburg understands the words that are Lincoln.
Lincoln probably did not have the words for “bikini girls” in his head when he wrote those words in the second quote. But somebody thought that the picture would help us understand the words. By all accounts, Lincoln was not a particularly happy man leading a particularly happy life. But he showed us the meaning of his words when he stood firm against the strong winds of harsh words and bad ideas in a terrible time. And he was as happy about it as he made up his mind to be.
I, too, have not lived a particularly happy life. But I was always the “teacher with a sense of humor” in the classroom, and students loved me for it. Funny people are often not happy people. But they make themselves out of funny words because laughter heals pain, and jokes are effective medicine. And so I choose to write comedy novels. Novels that are funny even though they are about hard things like freezing to death, losing loved ones, being humiliated, being molested, and fear of death. Magical purple words can bring light to any darkness. I am the words I choose to write in my own story. The words not only reveal me, they make me who I am. And it is up to me to write those words. Other people might wish to do it for me. But they really can’t. The words are for me alone to write.
And so it is imperative that I write my words in the form of my novels, my essays, and this goofy blog post. I am writing myself to life, even if no one ever reads my writing.
I am diabetic. I am not supposed to have donuts for breakfast any more. Hence the obsession with donuts. I am only guessing here, but I think it may have something to do with the fact that the very name of donuts tells you what to do.
“What?!” you say. “What goofiness are you talking about now, Mickey?”
Well, I’ll tell you. I had a donut for breakfast this morning… with nuts.
The name “donuts” is literally a command. It tells you to “Do nuts”. So I had nuts with my donut this morning. Peanuts to be precise. Of course that’s what is wrong with the whole scenario. It doesn’t mean “peanuts”. It is commanding you to do something nutty. Maybe more like eating a donut when you have diabetes. No matter how good that particular donut tastes when you eat it, an hour later you are going to suffer.
So here’s the result of my being nuts this morning. I have come to the conclusion that the root of all evils in the modern world is “donuts”. Especially when it is pronounced “doo nutz”. Yes, eating a donut subjects you to the command, “Do nuts!”
And we all know how bad Trump’s diet is. Could he be imbibing donuts? Horrors! That explains Twitter, cabinet firings, tariffs for the fun of it, random protestations of “No collusion!”, and even “Covfefe”. Although Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary is an evil beyond even the power of donuts.
And how did Trump even get elected? Do people in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan glory in eating donuts before voting? How about disgruntled Bernie Bros? And one also suspects that middle-aged white women can’t resist a good donut… or an evil one either.
Could it be that I am down on donuts because I ate one and now I am writing this with a pounding high-blood-sugar headache? Well, yes. Eating one inspired this post. It was a chocolate donut with green, mint-flavored frosting. And it was evil. It is taking out its evil revenge on the blood vessels in my brain.
So, I implore you if you are reading this… no, I’m not going to tell you not to “Do nuts”… I am going to tell you, “Please, for the love of God, keep donuts away from me! Eat them yourself if you have to. But be warned! They have a secret meaning.”
When I started this whole blogging-every-day thing, I decided the rule had to be 500 words written in a day. And I meant to hold myself to writing 500 words somewhere in the writing day, whether it was my blog post or the novel I was working on, or a combination of both. I followed that rule religiously through more than 1,500 blog posts and five first draft novels. I found it easier and easier to surpass 500 words on a daily basis. There are all sorts of bits of time available and I collect ideas faster than a rich kid generates empty candy wrappers. The more I call on the well of words for more words, the more words are available. Now, it seems, writing only 500 words is the trick.
I suppose I have become an Old Man of Words. I know both the rules and the exceptions.
Knowing that I can write more than 500 words easily, then the question becomes, why don’t I? Well, the cardinalrule is “Say it short. Say it simple. And say it sweet.” That rule can generate a lot of wonderful writing, full of juicy ideas that splash with flavor when you bite into them. Ernest Hemingway knew that rule. Every poet knows it. Readers generally prefer the easily accessible idea expressed with elegance.
Now, I also have to admit a guilty pleasure in perpetrating purple paisley prose. That is the style of writing in which I generally write convoluted sentences with complex ideas that fold back in on themselves and over-use alliteration to criminal degrees. Charles Dickens liked to do that with descriptive details. Paragraphs about the boarding schools of London, the streets filled with child chimney sweeps and flower girls, and dingy mind-dulling workhouses could take up two or three pages per paragraph. And two pages further on, he layers more details on the same setting. Piles and piles of words and wordplay fill the pages of William Faulkner, James Joyce, and Marcel Proust. And if you haven’t read at least something from each of those gentlemen, you will never know what you are missing. But you can prune your paragraphs like a greenhouse master florist with limited space will do to his orchids, and you can actually end up fitting great beauty and powerful content into something even more limited than a 500-word essay. In fact, if you take your ideas and distill them, and keep distilling them, over and over, you will eventually have pared the words down into poetry.
So, there you have it. The reason my essays are about 500 words. This one is four hundred and forty one words.
Nobody who wants to be a writer gets by with just writing and never reading anything by anybody else. It is too easy to devolve into some kind of human mushroom that way, thinking only thoughts a mushroom could think, all fungus-like and having no chlorophyll of their own. You never learn to decode other people and other people’s thinking if you don’t read other people’s thoughts crystallized in writing.
And not every other writer is Robert Frost. Or even Jack Frost who thinks he’s Gene Kelly. There has to be some interpretation, some digging for understanding. What did that writer mean when she said political correctness was like a tongue disease? And what does it mean when a commenting troll calls me a nekkid poofter? Is that how he spells “exceptional genius”? I think it is. Trolls are not smart.
I know people have to make an effort to understand me. When I write, I am writing under the delusion that I can produce literary quality off the top of my head. In fact, I can barely produce hair off the top of my head, and it is gray when I do it. See what I did there? It is the kind of joke a surrealist makes, pretending the idiomatic expression you use is to be taken literally when it doesn’t literally make sense. That kind of nonsense is what my readers have to put up with, and probably also the reason why most of them just look at the pictures. If you have to think too hard when you read, your brain could over-heat and your hair could catch fire. I like that kind of purple paisley prose that folds back in on itself and makes you think in curlicues. But most people don’t. Most people don’t have fire-proof hair like I do.
Of course, there is the opposite problem too. Some writers are not hard to understand at all. They only use simple sentences. They only use ideas that lots of other people have used before. You don’t have to think about what they write. You only need to react. They are the reasons that words like “trite”, “hackneyed”, “boring”, and “cliche” exist in English. But simple, boring writing isn’t written by stupid people. Hemingway is like that. Pared down to the basics. No frills. Yet able to yield complex thoughts, insights, and relationships.
Sometimes, it doesn’t even take a word to make the point. For instance, why, in the picture, is Fluttershy trying to drink out of the toilet in the dollhouse bathroom? For that matter, why does a doll house even need a bathroom? Applejack doesn’t even fit in that yellow bathtub. I know. I tried to stuff her in there for this picture. And, as you read this, doesn’t this paragraph tell you a lot about me that you probably didn’t even want to know?
When I am reading the writing of others, I am looking for a cornucopia of things. I want to not only understand their ideas, I want to detect the limping footprints across the murder scene of their paragraphs and come to know the deeper things about them as well. I spent years decoding and trying to understand the writing of preliterate kids in my middle school English classes in order to be able to teach them to write better. And I learned that no writer is a bad writer as long as they are using readable words. I also learned that very few writers are James Joyce or Marcel Proust. Thank God for that! And given enough time I can read anything by anybody and learn something from it. I read a lot. And it may not always make me a better writer to read it, but it always has value. It is always worth doing.