Tag Archives: writing

Potpourri

“Potpourri” is a word I learned in 5th grade from Mrs. Reitz, my 5th and 6th grade teacher in Rowan Elementary School.  It means a mixture of flower petals and spices put together in a cloth bag or in a bowl, placed in a room to make it smell better in a perfumed sort of way.  But on her yellow bulletin board in dark blue letters, she taught us that it meant a mixture of things put together to make things better.  And she told us that education was a kind of potpourri because it took many different things all put together to truly educate a child.

So, why am I writing about a goofy word like that?  Well, thanks to Mrs. Reitz with her 1960’s polka-dotted old-lady dresses, her black and very staid cat-eye glasses that magnified her eyes, and her sensible shoes… I know that potpourri is the real secret to good writing.  That is my excuse for why this blog is so full of a variety of excessively goofy and off-the-wall things.  But it is not easy to do this every day, cherry-picking excessively goofy stuff out of my library, or out of my memory, or out of my own teaching experience, or even my nightly nightmares to post as another interesting bug in my butterfly-collection-style blog.  Therefore today’s post will be one of those gawd-awful list posts that gives you fair warning about what my fevered old retired teacher brain is trying to cook up for the daily lesson.

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  1.  It is time to do the happy dance because my curse worked.  For the 107th straight year the Chicago Cubs will not win another World Series.  The Mets beat them in four straight games.  I did it by switching my allegiance temporarily from the Cardinals to the Cubs.  They have always been either my second or third favorite team in all of baseball.  Yet, every time I want them to win something, they lose.  Important regular season games, playoff games after the Cardinals are eliminated, or even happen-to-be-watching Saturday afternoon games between the Cubs and a team I hate like the San Francisco Giants, the Cubs always lose.  (I know it is not nice to hate anybody, but really, what is baseball good for without teams to hate like the Giants, the Yankees, and the Reds?  There have to be hated foes for the good guys to overcome.)  Me rooting for the Cubs to win is a much more effective curse than anything Bill Sianis’ stupid pet billy goat could ever conjure.
  2. I watched a PBS Frontline documentary about the struggle in Congress to create immigration reform and the unsuccessful Herculean efforts of Democratic Congressman Luis Gutierrez from Chicago to build a consensus in the House of Representatives.
    Representative Luis Gutierrez of Illinois

    Representative Luis Gutierrez of Illinois

    Immigration is important to me because my wife is an immigrant.  So far, after 20 years of marriage she is still not a U.S. citizen.  And with Donald Trump preaching venom against anchor babies, we could end up having my wife and kids deported to the Philippines simply because all the mean old white guys in Congress (and possibly Ben Carson) hate foreigners on principle and only allow them as means to high profits.  This is an issue I care about because of my family and so many of my ESL students whom I love and treasure.  And this is an issue that can potentially be combatted by cartoon.  Trump and Congressman Trey Gowdy (with a football-shaped head) and basset-hound-looking Paul Ryan (and possibly Ben Carson) are all already cartoon characters who I would only have to draw realistically to make them into funny cartoons.  They are also key players in this ring-around-the-rosy-all-fall-down debate.

  3. I also need to tell you more stories about wonderful teachers like Mrs. Reitz and Mrs. Mennenga.  And about kids I have taught who lit my pants on fire (both figuratively and metaphorically), made my blood pressure rise, and touched my heart.  It goes without saying that those stories are probably the most valuable things I have hoarded over the course of my career as a teacher.  They will lose all their value if they go unshared before I die.
  4. I want to tell you about some of my cartoonist heroes.  I haven’t blogged anything yet about Walt Kelly, the wonderful Disney veteran who created Pogo and Albert Alligator.
    comicsalliance.com

    comicsalliance.com

    I plan to go on and on like this in bumblebee fashion, from flowering idea to blossoms of insight to posies of great beauty… flower, to flower, to flower… making potpourri.

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Filed under humor, potpourri, writing

The Nutter’s Nest

Eurasian_Nuthatch_(Sitta_europaea)_by_nest_hole wikimediaThese little birds of gray and white and often some other pastel color are synonymous with crazy people.  Why?  Because while the rest of the world orients itself upright from gravity, these little nutters are always hopping along the tree bark upside down, or at a truly odd angle from the rest of the world.

Red-Breasted-Nuthatch-NestThere is something eerily off about an upside-down bird.  And you should listen to the bird calls on the Audubon website; https://www.audubon.org/bird-family/nuthatches   Don’t they sound like absolutely demented little buggers (bugger in the sense that they pick bugs out of bark and then eat them)?  And where do they keep their nests?  In those holes?  Yes!

1st-nh-eggsWhat a truly daft little bird!  And why is daft little Mickey obsessing today about nuthatches and where they keep their eggs?  Because the nutsy noodler needs a new idea every day to make a completely daft and dewy-eyed post about something that could possibly only matter to Mickeys.  So where does Mickey get his ideas to screw into concentric circles of purple paisley prose?  Does he make a list of ideas and schedule his posts?  Does he keep notes?

Of course not!  That would make too much sense.  No, he putters around the house all day, retired and ill, but with his brain constantly on fire.  And he keeps all the pots of memory, trivia, silliness, and factoids boiling as they perch upon the grill in the kitchen of his mind.  Something is constantly cooking.

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Take, for instance, the matter of moose bowling.  Where does an ultra-goofy idea like that come from?  Well, that was in the memory pot.  Having been a teacher for kiddos that don’t handle English very well, I have a number of mangled-language stories to share.  One time I had a drawing of a Bullwinkle-like cartoon on the board (which I generally refer to as a Moosewinkle).  A Vietnamese child was asking me about the Moosewinkle, wanting me to explain what that was all about.  I said something about him being a really good guy, someone I would like to go bowling with some time.  So, the boy asks me, “Mr. B, how is that you throw a moose to knock down the bowling pins?”  He understood about bowling, but not about how you could have a moose as a friend.  And this from a culture that thinks Doremon is perfectly normal and okay to live with.

So it can be said that Mickey picks random memories out of the air and twists them into pretzels to get an idea for a post.  Or maybe it is not totally out of the air.  I don’t know how many times Mickey has seized on an idea from Facebook, posted by friends of all kinds… former students, fellow teachers, other writers, racist cracker friends from Iowa and Texas, and a distinct lack of normal people.  They post all kinds of weird stuff… not pictures of food and kids and kids eating food like normal people.  And Mickey’s brain is always on fire and boiling up the pots.  He makes connections to random things and ends up with a post about nuthatches.  What a Nutter!

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Why I Must Write

Blue in the back yard

Why I Must Write

Life is simply poetry,

And I must write it down.

Without the rhyme and beat of words,

I am a hopeless clown.

But if I can but set the theme,

And manipulate the sound,

The music of the world is mine,

And Meaning is unbound.

Here is a simple truth about why I write.  I believe I have the power to define myself, a power that not even God can take away.  I hope to leave words and stories and poems and drawings behind to speak to others, especially my children, after I am dead and gone.  That is a writer’s immortality.  And you should probably know that as a retired school teacher, I have over 2,500 children.  But even if none of them ever reads a word of it, or looks at one of my Paffooney pictures, I will have made poetry enough to be me.  And that is really all a writer does.

Here are a couple of poems of mine;

sunnyface

Broken People Parts (a goofy poem from messed-up Mike)

Sometimes people break,

And then, they fall apart,

And it takes a jigsaw master,

To Puzzle back their heart.

And if a foot falls off,

Quite busted on Monday’s hump

They may be legless, headless, limp

And lying in a lump.

But no face is ever busted

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To a point of no repair,

And lips are pasted back in place

With a smile that wasn’t there.

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When Comes the Dawn?

We never seem to see it coming,

When the dark times are here,

Depression, black… is out of whack,

And everything looks drear…

And then a glimmer… maybe hope?

When will the sun appear?

But gray men in their dread gray suits,

Make the paperwork loom near…

And we must fill out in triplicate,

The forms you sign right here.

This dawn you want is pink and blue?

The proper form, my dear…

Sign it, scribe it, write in ink,

And make no mistake appear

And then you write and write and write…

To make the dawn shine clear.

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Fog in the City (A Melancholy Poem)

It doesn’t come in on cat feet.

That’s probably Chicago you’re thinking of.

It comes in on the sound of screeching tires…

and ambulance sirens…

because of all the idiot drivers…

in their silver-gray WASP rockets…

that don’t know how to slow down…

or turn on their low beams…

for safety in the big, cold city of Dallas…

where the air is yellow…

except in the fog…

and rush, rush, rush…

business never waits…

for a foggy day.

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Toy Tyger (a silly nod to William Blake)

Tyger!  Tyger! Burning bright!

I see thee holy in the night,

This for that, and that for this,

Shoot the gun,

And never miss!

A sillier poem there will never be,

And Tyger!  Tyger!  this poem’s for thee.

So, ultimately, here is my full understanding of poetry;  Poems are made by fools like (Joyce Kilmer), but only God (with help from Mickey) can make a ME!

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Filed under humor, Paffooney, poetry

One True Thing

Sometimes I wonder why I write and what purpose it serves.  And the fact that it is impossible to know the answer to things like that doesn’t even slow me down.  The speculation-and-imagination machine chugs on, churning out all sorts of clever platitudes and sophomoric sayings that the editorial glands in my brain sometimes make me choke on.  Purple paisley prose rolls out of my pen and curls and swirls across the page being more about the silly sounds and internal rhymes and alliterations than about the actual ideas.  And I enjoy the process far more than you do.

newwkid

Making connections is probably the most important process of the whole endeavor.  Having returned home to Iowa for a week in July, I can testify that connecting your childhood to your recent past and your promising present is essential to determining both who you are and who you are supposed to be.  The boy I was in the 60’s and 70’s is a key to understanding why I write what I do.  I was smarter than a kid is supposed to be.  A nerd is a target for verbal and physical abuse based on a shared feeling among those not as cerebral that it is somehow unfair to be smarter than ordinary folks.  I learned to defend myself with wit and superior planning.  I found it is possible to create an indispensable role for myself in practically any situation.  I learned to be a good listener.  I absorbed all the fascinating little nuances of personality and possibility that other people unintentionally exude.  I learned to organize and prioritize and use all the other ize-es that help you structure reality to your liking.  And I learned that it is possible, as a teacher, to pass the secrets of life and love and laughter on to others.  Here is one true thing… The point of learning anything is to pass it on to others.

Skater girl

If you get nothing else at all out of this silly, meandering post of purple paisley prose, I hope it is that previous sentence.  I delude myself into believing that all the experiences I have had and all the things I have learned can be wrapped up into pretty packages and given as gifts to coming generations.  I strive to write with quality and make the ideas engaging and powerful.  I am always experimenting with style.  For example, this post is based on free-writing and associative thinking.  I intended to create a “boneless” structure of gelatinous prose centered around one true thing.  And I intentionally wrote it to resemble a blobby pile of mud in which the reader must dig for that nugget of gold.  And I think I have succeeded in making it thoroughly muddy with random big words, loose connections that risk bursting the paragraph’s seams, and word eddies that could potentially explode the flow.  If you have waded this far through the mess, then let me reward you with one more pointless Paffooney, re-posted like a pirate.

Blue and Mike in color

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Filed under humor, Paffooney, wisdom

Telling Lies

Every day of my life I have dealt with lies.  After all, I was a public school teacher for 31 years and taught middle school for 24 of those years.  

“Please excuse Mauricio from writing the essay today.  He was chopping ham for me yesterday and his hand got numb.”  

“I have to go to the bathroom at 8:05, Teacher!  Not 8:10 or 8:00!  And no girl will be waiting by the water fountain… oh, ye, vato!”  

“Can’t you see I have to go home sick?  I have purple spots all over my face!  It is just a coincidence I was drawing hearts on my notebook with a purple marker.”

Teaching rabbit

But now the classroom is quiet.  I am retired.  

Okay, I know, the first part of that is a lie.  The classroom is not quiet.  I am retired and don’t go there any more.  Some other teacher (or long-term substitute after the rookie teacher ran out screaming after the first week of school) is now listening to the lies.

So, nothing but the truth now, right?  Who is around during the day to tell me lies?   The dog?  Well, yes…  when she wants to go outside and pretends the poop and pee are bursting out of her, but really only wants to sniff the street lamp and all the male dogs who have peed there.  

But there is also me.  Yes, me!  I am working at being a writer now… so I tell myself lies… and not little ones, either.  Whole episodes of my past have come pouring out in my stories… and I am not always the good guy or the main character in the tale.  Sometimes I was the villain, the mistake-maker, or the fool.  I’m definitely not perfect now, nor was I then, but I’m a writer now.  I can change it.  I tell lies.  I can make it work out in ways that never happened in real life.

I put lies in this blog.  For instance, I may have suggested, a few posts back, that because of psoriasis in my usually-covered region, I sit around naked all day when I type this post.  Not true.  I suggested that for comedy value at the time.  Well, it’s mostly not true.  I don’t know how much you know about severe-plaque psoriasis, but it only flares up at times.  Some days, like today, a half hour in a steaming hot Sitz-bath with extra salt allows me to wear clothes for quite a while after.  So I merely exaggerated because I thought making you picture plump and pasty-skinned old me sitting around nude and typing a blog was funny… but… okay, maybe that was just weird.  Still, a good lie is always at least twelve cents better than the ugly truth. (I must note, the truth of this paragraph has changed since I originally wrote this post. Now I am more of a nudist and enjoy being naked while I type. But that now being a lie does not spoil the point of this essay.)

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Millis 2
George Jetson

And the fact that my stories are filled with little-boy liars, giant rabbit-men who can talk and cook vegetables like people, and invading invisible alien frog-people, derives naturally from the fact that I have been a highly imaginative liar since childhood.  Just ask any of my grade school classmates.  I used to make them believe there was an evil clone Michael out there somewhere trying really, really hard to get me in trouble.  I told them that I was in contact with a race of blue-colored people that lived in an underground world deep beneath our little Iowa town.  I even showed them the knotty old stump that was the doorway to the tunnel that led to the Blue World.  Of course, the key was never available when I showed them. And my friends were not completely gullible.  In fact, I suspect that once in a while, they knew I was… lying.

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Filed under humor, Paffooney, telling lies

Writing with Power

Troubled hearts can be soothed with words.  In 1Samuel 16:23 David plays the harp and his singing was a relief for Saul and the bad spirit departed from upon him.  In the same way, the written word can touch the soul of the reader and, like Saul, free the reader from the demons besetting him.  That is power.  That is responsibility.

solomon

Of course, I am the last person to claim that I can teach you to write with power… I can’t even claim that I can write with power myself.  But I know how to write well enough to make myself laugh, cry, and feel through my writing.  And occasionally someone else reads my writing and agrees.  Through years worth of being a writing teacher, I do have some thoughts about how it may be done.

First of all, I am not wrong to choose David’s harp playing, inspired by Jehovah as it was, as a metaphor for writing power.  It is in the very sounds of the words that a great deal of emotion and meaning is embedded.  One can evoke a very bitter and angry feeling by describing a cruel woman not as a “mean girl” but as one whose laughter is “like the crass cackling of devious old witch”.   Mean girl has too soft a labial sound, even with the hard g, to be as ugly and staccato as the repeated sounds added to the tch and the fact that “devious” comes so close to “devil”… a related word.  A happy feeling can be created by describing a smile as “a sudden sunburst of white teeth and happiness”.  That almost makes me laugh…unless you add “shark’s” between “white” and “teeth”… and then I am convinced I am about to be eaten.  The sounds in the description are like a sizzling burn that leads into the firework display at the end of the word “sunburst”.  To write with the music inherent in words, at some point you have to hear it out loud.  I always hear the words in my head when I write, spoken in a wide variety of voices.  But to truly get it right, I have to read aloud to hear with my ears… which I have already done three times to this paragraph alone.

In order to have power, writing must manipulate feelings.   I don’t mean by using the word “manipulate” that it is some sort of Machiavellian bad thing.  Simply put, a writer must control the feelings of the reader, not by sound alone, but by the depth of meaning of the words.  You must be able to weave a paragraph together not only with the simple meanings of the words themselves, but all the connotations and denotations in those words.  You must use metaphor and simile, comparison, allusion, and sensory details.  Ernest Hemingway had a working style almost completely devoid of metaphor and the writer’s own personal commentary… but that only worked because all his themes were about dispirited people suffering tragedy and loss and a pervasive sense of disconnectedness.  Hemingway is a powerful writer… but his books never make me laugh.  Purple prosey over-describers like Charles Dickens can make me laugh with a simple list of things.  “The boy’s desk had a nearly dry ink bottle, several pens that needed new nibs and were chewed about the grip, and a small stack of papers crammed full of ink drawings of skulls and skeletons.”   It is that last startling detail in the list that makes the mundane suddenly funny.

I suppose to do today’s topic true justice, I should write about it in book length.  There is so much more to say.  But I have bored you long enough for one post with writing nuts and bolts.  It is enough to say that I believe in the magic of words, and I think that if, like any good Dungeons and Dragons wizard, you study your books of magic long enough, you can soon be casting fireballs around the room made up of nothing but words.

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Filed under humor, Paffooney, writing, writing teacher

Wide-Eyed Wonder

bad dayThere is no doubt about it, being a writer is like getting naked in public.  It never used to really sink in before I published books, and when no one read my writing or listened to me when I talked.  Suddenly, I am being read… and even… frighteningly, being believed.Creativity

I now have 678 followers, a number of whom actually read and comment on my posts.  I do my best to entertain and make them laugh, but it is the nature of real writing that the contents of my life as a whole spill out for all to see.  I try to keep private things private, but it is becoming more and more obvious that I need a much bigger purple teddy bear.  Readers of my blog know that I was a public school teacher for thirty-one years.  They also know that I did not want to leave that job, but I have six incurable diseases and am a cancer survivor, and my health let me down.  They may also know that I was the victim of a sexual predator when I was a child and recovery has taken a lifetime… in fact, it is still going on.  They may know that my family life has become difficult because health issues affect an entire family, especially when the costs of care are turned into gigantic scary monsters by an increasingly greedy and corrupt health-care industry (not doctors and nurses. mind you, but the higher-ups who really make all the money off drugs, tech, and insurance.)   There are no longer skeletons in my closet.  All my darkest secrets become fuel for writing and bubble out of my cauldron, transforming into butterflies, who may have started as worms, but have worked themselves into filigreed winged creatures that flit about in the sunlight.  I turned one of my most horrible experiences into a post for https://www.facebook.com/groups/1000Speak/.  It was the story of Ruben Vela, and it was about my inability to prevent a tragedy.  Here is the link; When Compassion Fails.  Gobs of sobs from readers in the comment section.  I usually try to make them laugh… but crying is a part of the reading game too.

And where are the Trolls?  I see them on the internet everywhere.  I know other bloggers who have cut off comments because of Trolls.  They don’t seem to come around me with their leg-breaking, gut-busting insults and four-letter-wordy mayhem.  Do I not deserve that as much as anybody else?  But I know better than to actually wish for what I don’t really want.  It is okay, Trolls, if you decide you’d rather apply the soul-crushing efforts elsewhere.

The point is, while I have always wanted to be a writer and have some experience with naturists and nudists, I have never before now had to come to terms with dancing naked in the sunlight in front of God and everybody… but continuing to write means dealing with it now.

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