On Thanksgiving

It was a lonely day. My family was away. My Thanksgiving dinner was purchased at the drive-thru at Jack in the Box. Just me and the dog, hanging out with Netflix. I watched what I wanted to. The dog complained there were no dogs in the shows. There was a monkey. But that didn’t impress the dog.

I have had time to write. And I have made progress. I reached 35,000 words on my work-in-progress. I watched a really good movie in the theater in Lewisville.

But what am I truly thankful for?

My wife and I are headed towards separation. I am bankrupt and must pay off my bankruptcy in the next two and a half years. I am in terrible health. I am forced to earn extra money in order to keep making all the payments I must make. Working is hard because my diabetes and arthritis both interfere. No one reads my books beyond a few random discoverers of the power of the stories I tell. And it all will probably end sooner rather than later. I may be developing cancer again. Diabetes may be wrecking my heart, or possibly setting me up for a stroke. It will all be over soon… probably.

But my hardships are what I am thankful for.

Pain reminds me that I am still alive, and dealing with pain makes me stronger to live a little longer.

Sadness reminds me that there are people and endeavors that I truly love and care deeply about. My sadness is proof that I have really known love.

Being poor and nearly destitute reminds me to take stock of all I do have, and to make the wisest possible use of all that is left to me.

I am not homeless.

I have a wife and kids. My parents are both still alive. My brother and my two sisters are still thriving. The dog still loves me. Some of my people do too.

I am free to think and feel and be… no matter what the thoughts and feelings and facts of my being are.

It is true that some people are luckier than I, have more than I do. But more people are given a lot less in life. And what I am truly thankful for is the greatest gift I have been given. I have the honor of being me, and I actually know what that means, who that person is. That is a rare and priceless gift.

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Filed under being alone, feeling sorry for myself, finding love, insight

I’d Like to Share Something Really Special…

I am spending Thanksgiving week at home in Texas by myself, except for the dog. The rest of my family is having a Thanksgiving meal together in Iowa (hopefully, if the weather doesn’t have other plans) or on a road trip to Central Florida, a trip I was supposed to also attend. I simply cannot travel to either place. My arthritis is too bad to sit for long car rides, and in the Trump economy, school teachers can’t afford air travel. So, I had to practice being selfless once again. They needed to do these things, and I had to talk them into doing these things without me. My misfortunes can’t be allowed to ruin my family’s grace and peace, not when I can still give gifts of myself by allowing them to go and do without worrying about me.

I can’t actually say that I learned to be selfless and encouraging from Fred Rogers. He was really only one of many such teachers, a list headed by my maternal grandfather. But in a way, he is responsible for giving me the tools I use to make things like that happen.

https://www.cinemovie.tv/Movie-Reviews/a-beautiful-day-in-the-neighborhood-movie-review

Yesterday I went to the movie “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” at the Music City Mall in Lewisville. I can drive those few miles. And I freely admit to crying through a good portion of the movie. It is not really a sad movie. It is not actually a biopic. It is based on a real article in Esquire magazine by journalist Tom Junod. It is a partially fictionalized story about how the innate goodness of a man like Fred Rogers has a profound impact on the journalist, and all of the rest of us as well, through that act of caring and loving and gentle being-just-the-way-you-are. There is no doubt about it, when Tom Hanks, channeling Fred Rogers in the restaurant scene, asks for one minute of silence to think of all those people who have had a hand in making you who you are, he looks directly into the audience, he looks directly at me individually, and the entire theater is dead silent as everyone is doing exactly what the movie character is asking you to do. It was a singular moment in cinema that I have never experienced before. It touched my soul.

I left that movie theater feeling amazingly fulfilled. Was it because it was an excellent movie? It definitely was excellent. Was it because of the wonderful way Tom Hanks brought Fred Rogers back to life even though he looks nothing like him? He definitely made that happen. Or was it because the movie invoked a true angel, a once-living hand of God now gone from this world? Because Fred Rogers was that for so many kids for more than 800 episodes.

I must confess, when I was a teenager, I didn’t think much of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood“, though I saw some of those first black-and-white episodes, back when King Friday and Daniel Striped-Tiger were new. If I had to watch kids’ shows on PBS, which I often did because of younger siblings and cousins, I much preferred the color and the Muppets in “Sesame Street”.

But when I had been a teacher for a few years, and had to search hard for ways to communicate and teach for use with South Texas middle-schoolers, I began to see the true genius of Fred Rogers. He never talked down to kids. He never lost patience, even when things went wrong. He was always trying to keep it simple, even when the point he was making was as metaphorical as talking about keeping a “garden in your mind”. He was understandable. He was welcoming and relentlessly nice. And it wasn’t a TV character. It was really him.

I can’t really say this was a movie that changed my life. But maybe it did. I cried silently during a large portion of it, not because of the sad parts in the movie, but because I recognized so much of myself in the journalist waking up to the need to be as real and honest and able to connect to other people as Fred Rogers always did.

So, my conclusion to this essay that may be a movie review, or possibly an homage to Fred Rogers, is really quite simple. Thank you, Mr. Rogers. I really like you, just the way you are.

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Filed under artists I admire, compassion, education, empathy, heroes, humor, inspiration, movie review, sharing from YouTube, strange and wonderful ideas about life, teaching

AeroQuest 3…

Canto 69 – Coffee Time on the Shadowcat (the Blood-Red Thread)

My first meeting with Ham Aero and the crew of the Leaping Shadowcat was in the Trophy Lounge on the lower deck of the Shadowcat herself.  The charming white-furred Lupin boy, Sahleck Kim, led me there when I arrived from the White Duke’s shuttle. 

“So, you’re the cabin boy?”

“Oh, yes, Dr. Marou.  It’s hard to believe, I know.  I’ve gone in a matter of a few weeks from Count Nefaria’s dungeons where I was destined to die, to working aboard the space ship of the great Safari Master and adventurer, Ham Aero.  My future is suddenly bright.”

The child’s eyes glistened like an excited puppy’s as he told me his tale of rescue.  He led me to a seat in the Trophy Lounge where I could sit and eat one of Sinbadh’s sumptuous meals.  There was a stuffed head of a dragon-mouthed pakoollie beast from the planet Samothrace looking directly down on my plate, trying his hardest to ruin my appetite with his ugliness.

            “My boy, do you have any coffee?” I asked.

Sahleck grinned in a wide-mouthed way that only Lupins can manage.  “It’s one of Commander Sinbadh’s specialties!” He said.

“Bring me some.  Please.”

The boy hurried to the mess.  At that same moment, Ham and Duke Ferrari entered.

            “I guess, with Cloudstalker’s departure, you are the Captain of the ship again,” said Ferrari of the curly moustaches. 

“Oh, I think you still out-rank me,” answered Aero modestly.  “Hello…  You must be Professor Googol Marou.”

Ham offered his hand to me and I gladly shook it.  “Yes, I’m honored to meet a man who has traveled almost as much as any explorer.”

            “The reputation has not entirely been earned,” said Ham.

            “This is YOUR ship, Ham,” said Ferrari, frowning slightly.  “I think you should be the captain.”

Ham smiled.  “I won’t argue that now, Han.  Have you met Dr. Marou?”

“No, no…  Nice to make your acquaintance, Doctor.”

“I too, am honored,” I said.  “I am not used to meeting such powerful inter-planetary politicians.”

Ferrari looked at me as if he were slightly annoyed.  “You know the White Duke.  He’s a bigger light in this galaxy than I am.”

“Well, if you say so.”  I know I must’ve been grinning ear to ear to hear my own friend being praised in this way.  I wonder how Ferrari actually took that.

Ham looked at me quizzically.  “Professor, what’s in all the boxes you had installed in the skinning and mounting lab?”

“Oh!  My invention!  I have to tell you about it.”  Gleefully I related everything they needed to know about the Marou Ancient Light Holo-Assembler Telescope and maybe a tad bit more as well.  I explained how my sheer genius had allowed events to be viewed from light years away, and thusly, years in the past.

“Umm, that’s very good, professor,” Ham said.  “I guess that will come in handy…”

He didn’t speak with enthusiasm, but I knew he was actually quite impressed with me.

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Filed under aliens, humor, novel, NOVEL WRITING, Paffooney, science fiction

People in My Head at the Moment

Anita Jones

As a writer seriously immersed in a particular work in progress, I find myself talking more and more to certain people who exist only in my head. They are the characters in my novel, The Boy… Forever.

The novel is itself an epistolary novel. That means, like Bram Stoker’s Dracula, it is made up of letters, notes, diary and journal entries, and other personal writing of the central characters. It also means that I have to become the different people who write these things. At least while I create each individual artifact that goes into the mosaic of first-person narratives.

Anita Jones, pictured here, is the letter-writer who starts the plot in motion when she gets a very disturbing letter from her cousin, Icarus Jones.

Icarus writes about his problem with becoming a midget, and his response to it being a plan to kill himself. It seems that he simply stopped growing at the age of ten. Now, being a fifteen-year-old in the body of a ten-year-old, he writes a suicide note in the form of a letter, and then goes to jump off a bridge into the Mississippi River. But when he does, he survives. Or, rather, he succeeds, but cannot remain dead. He doesn’t know it, yet, but he has become a human mutation known in the secret world of unknown things as an Immortal.

Tian Long, the Celestial Dragon

Icky’s problem becomes worse when it is discovered he is being pursued by another immortal, a sort of vampiric immortal who needs to consume the essence of other immortals to stay alive. He is a three-thousand-year-old Chinese Celestial Dragon who is able to assume a human form.

Neither Icky Jones nor Tian Long the dragon, though, really needs to be in my head. Icarus himself only writes the first and last letters of the book. Tian Long, the villain, does not have a say at all in telling the story. The only part of it he writes are the wizard spells he uses to confound everyone, and most of those are in Chinese.

Milton John Morgan, the Wizard of the Norwall Pirates

Besides the letters that Anita Jones writes to her cousin in Dallas, Dot Jones, the story is also advanced in the journal entries of Milt Morgan, one of the leaders of the boys’ gang in rural Iowa known as the Norwall Pirates. He has been asked by the Freshman English teacher to keep a daily journal and write every day in 1976. This he struggles to do, but gains writing and typing skills as he goes along, especially when he befriends Icarus and learns about the dragon pursuing Icky.

Milt is full of imagination and a sense of adventure, a thing that makes him an unreliable narrator, not above embellishing the truth as he writes his not-so-much- daily-as-infrequent journal entries.

Brent “the Cat” Clarke

The story is also taken up by Brent Clarke, the leader of the Norwall Pirates. Brent wants to be a policeman or a detective or something like that when he grows up. He takes careful investigation notes on everything, and he is the first one to become suspicious of the Chinese man and his step-daughter who pick a house in the town of Norwall that they want to live in right before the actual owner and occupant of the house mysteriously dies in a falling accident. Brent befriends the local Sheriff’s Deputy and sets out on a serious possible murder investigation that yields some very disturbing results. His notes are very detail-oriented and generally fact-based. He carefully records his own eye-witness accounts of everything.

Sherry Cobble, the nudist, calls herself the smarter and more beautiful twin.

Sherry Cobble, the more outgoing of the identical twins known as the Cobble Sisters, is a happy nudist with a very positive body image for herself and her twin sister. She is a very positive person over-all. She and her sister Shelly had started out keeping a “Lovely Nudist’s Diary” between them, but Shelly is not nearly as interested in writing and storytelling as her sister. So, Sherry takes over the diarist duties with the same sort of glee and enthusiasm she has for promoting nudism to her friends, especially the Norwall Pirates. It is her goal to eventually see all of the kids in Norwall naked and happy just as she and her sister Shelly always are.

Those four different character voices are the main voices I have to work with in telling this fantasy adventure story in much the same way as Stoker tells the story of Dracula.

So, if I begin to seem like I have a disordered mind full of multiple personalities, it’s because I am a novelist, not a mental patient or a vampire or even a Chinese dragon in human form. I am simply trying to tell a story by allowing four distinctly different characters to live inside my head.

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Filed under characters, humor, novel, NOVEL WRITING, Paffooney, surrealism, work in progress, writing humor

Writing and Netflix

Like many writers, I have a plethora of weird voices in my head, constantly criticizing me, making jokes out of me doing ordinary things like brushing my teeth with the old brush my daughter used to scrub mud off her sneakers, characters who have actually come to life in my head and are constantly telling me stories about themselves… Good golly! Maybe many writers don’t hear these voices and I am simply nearly insane.

But, this is to be expected. I am a Baby Boomer. A child of the ’50s. So, I was raised by the black-and-white television. “I Love Lucy“, “My Three Sons“, and “The Munsters” taught me morals and an ability to laugh at myself. I learned about History, Politics, and the World from Walter Cronkite, the ultimate neutral news commentator. I also learned a lot about story-telling from old movies on Saturday afternoon. Television gave me empathy, knowledge of the world, and a boost to my imagination that I wouldn’t have had if I had been a child a generation earlier. Of course, I know it would also have been very different if I had been an internet child like my own children are. There is presently such a flood of free facts available that our information-soaked little brains are often drowning.

So, why am I talking about television today?

This coming week is a week spent alone. I was left behind with the dog as the rest of my family took a trip to Florida. It was my own choice. I am not capable of sitting in a car for long enough to make the car trip from North Texas to Central Florida. And I did not want to keep them from going. Days of good health are long ago and fading from memory.

So, I am left behind with time to write and time to watch whatever I want to on Netflix.

And this is useful because… well, I am a child of good television. I can work on my two WIP projects at once with Netflix series and movies in between word-munching sessions. I can be totally immersed in the writing act. I can write naked anywhere in the house (with the windows closed) without hearing complaints or distress from my non-nudist wife and my embarrassed-by-their-parents kids. It is almost as good as being well enough to go with them.

And Netflix (as well as, soon I hope, Disney Plus) affords me a chance to select exactly what I want to watch in ways that television on three networks, the way it used to be, could not provide. It is a chance to time-travel, to explore, to reach new levels of laughter and understanding… as well as tears. And I can watch TV too.

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Filed under autobiography, being alone, commentary, humor, novel plans, TV as literature

Cover Art for a New Novel

I have been working on a new story that I have been writing in my head for at least twenty years. The novel was originally untitled. But I started working on it by calling it the Forever Boy. But that made it sound like a super-hero sort of comic-book story. So, I adjusted the title to The Boy… Forever.

I had the idea for a cover when I turned the villain’s primary hench-person into a character formerly used in a Dungeons and Dragons game.

Her name is Firefang, but as she enrolls in the Belle City High School freshman class, she is known as Fiona Long, whose name the gang shortens to Fi. The reason for the name change is that Fi is actually a red Chinese dragon disguised in a human form, a teenage girl.

Her stepfather is secretly a thousands-of-years-old Chinese Celestial Dragon disguised in human form. His name is Tian Long. And in order to stay alive for another twenty years, he must consume the essence of an immortal human being. That immortal happens to be Anita Jones’s young cousin Icarus who became immortal at the age of ten.

So, I tried putting those last two images together to make a cover. As you can plainly see, that didn’t work very well. The dragon seems to be coming out of Fi’s hair like a giant cootie. So. I tried to make it more of a collage.

That was still not good enough. So, I tried even harder to make it look like a collage.

I added the main character, Icarus Jones, and some color contrasts.

To me, that’s better. You are welcome to criticize. It will still be a while before the story is done. I may still change it more. But I am basically satisfied… not Forever… but for now.

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Filed under artwork, humor, illustrations, novel, novel plans, NOVEL WRITING, Paffooney

Snide Sniping at Snarky Bunnies

Jungle Warrior Judy

Yesterday I went once more into the breech, willingly, stupidly, but also bravely. I put in a whole day of Pre-AP English classes for 8th-grade smarty-bunnies. I know those kids are supposed to be the good bunnies. And many of them were. But Pre-AP classes can also contain many little snarky bunnies who are smart enough to carry out evil plans and do truly sinister and wicked things.

Yes, snarky bunnies can eat you, and some will not even spit out the bones when they are finished.

A good share of the problem was that the weather had turned rainy and cool in the early morning hours. That cranks up the pain input on my arthritis meter and makes me feel cranky and out of sorts. That also makes it harder to control what stress does to my diabetic blood-sugar levels. Yelling at kids makes the blood-sugar levels shoot upwards, and then my stressed body chemistry will make everything crash. Bummer. Pity the snarky bunnies. I took it out on them. (I should here point out that I am one of those teachers who calls it yelling when I quietly recite a sin-list to a snarky-bunny perpetrator and run down the menu of possible consequences just to make him or her squirm before taking them back out of the hallway after forcing them to choose the behavior they will excel in rather than suffer the appropriate consequence. They often don’t realize their actual peril because I tend to smile and enjoy pronouncing sentences.)

I tell off a snarky bunny, though forgetting to draw the plewds of nervousness… on him.

I actually only had a handful of snarky bunnies to sharpen my teeth on. Too many good bunnies inhabit Pre-AP classes. But there were two in 3rd period, and a handful in the last 7th-period class.

I told them the story of how English teachers, especially old ones, are often afflicted with Lycanthropy. (That is… werewolf disease. I had to define it for them, as well as the word, “afflicted”. Pre-AP students, yes, but only 8th-grade little ones.) I told them that they didn’t have to worry because the full moon was last week and that I hadn’t actually eaten a misbehaving student since 1863 (at least, as far as I could remember.)

“Are you threatening to kill us?” one bright snarky bunny said.

“No, of course not. I am just warning you that I do not like afternoon misbehavior, and I am capable of growing my fangs in the late afternoon class.”

They were mostly quiet and busy little bunnies. But two of them, who were actually best friends, started arguing with each other just after the last bell. Instead of scurrying home to afternoon carrots and gruel, one pushed the other with two hands, and then that bunny lost control and hit the other on his shoulder-blade with a slap-fist. I got to keep them after class for more sin-lists, confessions, and good-behavior-vows.

So, all in all, I had a good day at Field Middle School. I enjoyed chewing on some snarky bunnies. And I thanked the teacher thoroughly for being out and giving me the chance. Oh, and I think I earned at least a couple of dollars for doing it.

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Filed under humor, kids, Paffooney, rabbit people, strange and wonderful ideas about life, teaching