The Road Home

The Road Home

This sofa-sized oil Paffooney is called the Road Home because it was painted from a photograph looking west on US Highway 3 towards Rowan, Iowa, the little town I grew up in.  I painted it when I lived by myself in South Texas, believing that one day I would go back to Iowa to live out the rest of my life.  Here’s where today’s post gets mortifyingly morbid.  Yes, I know that last expression is repetitively repetitive, but that little bit of alliteration was necessary to lighten the load of this non-laughing part of my post.  I am not going to make it.  I am stuck in a North Dallas metroplex that I sincerely do not love.  My kids are not done growing up there.  I have family and roots there.  I have them in Iowa, too, but like a Sioux warrior, I belong to my wife’s tribe once I married into it.   I am old.  I have six incurable diseases and I am a cancer survivor since 1983.  Every day of life is a new miracle.  but the miracles are running out.  My COPD makes my chest hurt, and I have trouble breathing, especially at night.  The house is rotting away around us, courtesy of the housing bubble we bought it in back in 2005.  Doing what maintenance and repair that I can makes my arthritic body ache intolerably, more than Aleve can cure.  I will not go back to drugs like Vioxx or Celebrex and let them kill me to enrich the pharmaceutical industry.  My diabetes has made it almost impossible to eat without enduring a round of high blood sugar and nausea.  I do not look forward to either insulin or the possibility of losing an arm or leg.  So, if I get out of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, it will probably be by curling up my toes and going bye-bye, followed by a cremation.  I would like to have my ashes scattered in Iowa, but the family will probably find flush toilets much cheaper. Ah well… dark part done.  Now for the part about going home.

The reason I feel uplifted, and crazily feel justified in calling this post “humor” is because I have already won my battle.  I was a teacher for 31 years.  I touched more than 2,500 lives, some of them profoundly.  I have almost raised three wonderful, talented children.  I have written and published three books, and if I can scratch out enough time, I have at least two more ready to be published.  I have shared what little wisdom I have acquired along with a lot of really goofy artwork I have done in this blog, and, although I used to be the best author no one had ever read, people are actually reading and liking my books.  In my stories, I have told about growing up in Iowa, about being a teacher, about being a friend, about being in love, about facing fear, and ultimately about being able to laugh about all of it.  In my fiction, I have already gone home, repeatedly.  When I get my cheapo flushing-funeral, that will not be me.  I will be in the cornfields under the blue Iowa sky with a threat of thunderstorms in the distance.  And while I may cry a little bit, because what is life worth without some of that? I will be mostly laughing and laughing and laughing.  Because life may end in death, but nothing about it is sad if you don’t let it be.  I like to delude myself into thinking the world is a little bit better now than when I got here, and I pretend that I have had something to do with that.  The game is won.  Everything else is just gravy!  (Sorry about that.  I do realize that gravy goes on mashed potatoes, not a game, but mangled metaphors are one of my specialties.)

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Playing With Picture Paffooneys

Valerie n Butterfly

As an artist, you find many ways to cheat and make more with less.  I have discovered that with a cheap photo-shopping program, I can snip elements out of existing artworks and combine them together into something new.  My fingers no longer have the dexterity needed for intricately detailed backgrounds, but I find that photo-backgrounds fit my plan better anyway.  Here I took Valerie Clarke and pasted her on a photo of hollyhocks created by Belinda Buchanan.  I then pasted in the Swallowtail butterfly from a recent Paffooney.  Now, I know that if your mind doesn’t accept the butterfly as in the air and closer to the viewer than Valerie, then I have created a picture of pre-historic monster-bug.  Mothra does Iowa.  Oh well, I think it is pretty anyway… and it leads to further noodling with old art.

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Baring the Soul of Creativity

CreativitySo, I finished the Paffooney pencil drawing that I was working on to illustrate my struggles with the creative act.  I can noodle on the piano to some effect, but I cannot play Chopin’s Prelude in E Minor the way the boy (or is it a girl?) in the picture is doing it.  What I can do is create a symphony of words and pictures that reveal my inner self as thoroughly as if I were performing naked in front of the audience.  So what you see here is not the real naked me.  It is, rather, my naked thoughts, my soul, the beauty that is hidden inside my hideously aged and peeling flesh.  Inside my mind is beauty and rhythm and rhyme…  On the inside you can see what is there without the usual patina of pain and depression and pessimistic pondering.  I have explained the naked piano player, but you may be wondering still about the butterfly.  You see, long ago when I was a butterfly hunter, I longed to catch the tiger swallowtail that flitted about our back yard and played about the neighbors’ hollyhocks.  It was a very elusive butterfly, you see.  Monarchs and red admirals, mourning cloaks, fritillaries, painted ladies, and even spicebush swallowtails I had captured and mounted in my butterfly box.  But never the tiger.  He always seem to flit too high above my net at the last moment.  I would see him towards the tops of towering maples, but rarely within reach, and never long enough to grab him in my net.  So, one day, I was sitting under the little maple in the back yard, reading a book, when the tiger swallowtail came to light on the back of the hand I used to hold my book.  Now, I could have grabbed him right there.  I would have been victorious.  But in clapping my left hand over him to capture him, his wing dust might have smeared, or his lovely wings might’ve cracked and broken.  I had to make an instant decision.  I chose to let him flutter away.  I did not crush the butterfly, and so… my life, my art, my inner self have all benefited.  To this day I can say… “I did not crush the butterfly” and that has made me who I am.

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Tess of the D’Urbervilles (by Thomas Hardy)

9781411433267_p0_v1_s260x420I decided I wanted to be a novelist because of Charles Dickens.  I loved the way he told a story with vivid characters, rising and falling crises, and story arcs that arrive at a happily-ever-after, or a how-sad-but-sweet-the-world-is ultimate goal.  Sometimes he reached both destinations with the same story, like in David Copperfield or The Old Curiosity Shop.  I have wanted to write like that since I read The Old Curiosity Shop in 9th Grade.

Thomas Hardy has a lot in common with Chuck.  I mean, more than just being old Victorian coots.  Hardy knows the Wessex countryside, Blackmoor and Casterbridge with the depth and understanding that Dickens bestows on London.  Hardy can delineate a character as clearly and as keenly as Dickens, as shown by Diggory Venn, the Reddleman in Return of the Native, or Tess Durbyfield in the novel I am reading at the moment.  These characters present us with an archetypal image and weave a story around it that speaks to themes with soul-shaking depth.  Whereas Dickens will amuse and make us laugh at the antics of the Artful Dodger or Mr. Dick or Jerry Cruncher from a Tale of Two Cities, Hardy makes us feel the ache and the sadness of love wrecked by conflict with the corrupt and selfish modern world.  Today I read a gem of a scene with the three milkmaids, Izz, Retty, and Marian looking longingly out the window at the young gentleman Angel Clare.  Each wants the young man to notice her and fall in love with her.  Sad-faced Izz is a dark-haired and brooding personality.  Round-faced Marian is more jolly and happy-go-lucky.  Young Retty is entirely bound up by shyness and the uncertainty of youth.  Yet each admits to her crush and secret hopes.  Tess, meanwhile, overhears all of it, all the time knowing that Angel is falling in love with her.  And worse yet, she has sworn to herself never to let another man fall in love with her because of the shameful way Alec D’Urberville took advantage of her, a quaint old phrase that in our time would mean date rape.  There is such bittersweet nectar to be had in the characterizations and plots of these old Victorian novels.  They are more than a hundred years old, and thus, not easy to read, but worth every grain of effort you sprinkle upon it.  I am determined now to finish rereading Tess of the Durbervilles, and further determined to learn from it, even if it kills me.

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Wyzoll Hootigan – D & D Professor of Psionics and Magic

In the Dungeons and Dragons game I play with the two kids still at home, they were recently assisted in a killer adventure by a giant owl gifted with full awareness and intelligence.  He is a professor of psionic magic at Morgrave University in Sharn, City of Towers.  I don’t know if you have any idea at all of what the Eberron Campaign is, or can make any sense of any of the things I mention here, but it is a published game, a version of the D & D game currently published by Wizards of the Coast.  The player characters, the non-player characters, and the castle they invaded are entirely created by our little game group.  Professor Hootigan is entirely my creation.  So here is the portrait of an NPC that I created just today in another goofy colored-pencil Paffooney.

Wyzoll

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Ghost Hunter (an old one-shot comic)

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More Paffooney Progress!

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As you can see, I made a tiny bit of progress over yesterday… but in many different ways.  I got my son to finish his week’s worth of online school despite his not being completely well.  I got the fake shutters off the windows on the wall where the city is expecting me to put up new siding so the house doesn’t shame the neighborhood.  (I wonder if they threaten the other shabby yards and houses in the neighborhood with fines, or am I just special?)   I got the dog to choke down 30 per cent of her heart-worm pill.  And I added the keyboard and a tiny bit of Chopin to the Paffooney.

Why is the piano player naked, you ask?  (Well, really you don’t ask, that was really me.  But I have to connect the idea somehow, don’t I?  Don’t answer that.)  The piano player, like all writers, story-tellers, performers, artists, and other motley fools must put something of herself or himself into the piece.  It has to be the true self, the inner self, the often private self.  Having been the victim of sexual abuse as a child, the fear of being naked and vulnerable like that is nearly overwhelming.  And yet, in a very metaphorical way, it is what I am compelled to do.  (What?  You can stop screaming.  I’m not going to take my clothes off, if that’s what you’re afraid of.  I know how horrifying that thought is.)  I am only baring what I feel about the creative process.  I am writing that part near the end of The Bicycle-Wheel Genius (the fool novel project I am now working on) where the bad guy must be defeated, the good must be made clear and maybe win out, and somebody dies or does something else irretrievably sad.  I did it in Catch a Falling Star.  I did it again with a major character in Snow Babies.  And now, one of the characters that I have created and loved will die at the climax of this novel.  A resolution and a death at the end of the tale, just like some cheap Robert Altman movie.  How can you possibly have a comedy where nobody dies at the end?  Wait, am I doing something wrong here?  Who knows?

So that is the meat of this Paffooney process.  I give you the drawing, even though it is not complete.  I give you the ideas, even though they are half-formed and goofy as heck.  A naked piano player… and, I don’t know if you can see it yet, a tiger swallowtail butterfly.  The butterfly will be naked too.

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