Alone on the Prairie

Saturday October 22, 2016, I was watching my son and my nephew on my sister and brother-in-law’s acreage near Buffalo, IA. By way of entertaining ourselves on the long, pleasant afternoon, we made a movie. It’s scary because, you know, Halloween is near and whatnot.


Wanna see it? Here it goes!

Maybe we’ll make another somethin’ somethin’ for Halloween . . . .

Good Schools

A strange thing occurred on the social medias last week. I noticed several discussions on what constitutes a “good school.” I don’t know if there was something in the news about it, or if there was just a temporary zeitgeist that got people to thinking about schools more than they normally do. Maybe it’s this strange election season . . . .


For whatever reason, the discussions popped up and I read comments, articles, and replies on the topic. I didn’t add anything. I have found in my history with social media that when I comment on serious posts and/or articles my distinct world view and sardonic voice can be . . . lost and/or misinterpreted. Also, I’ve made my fair share of social media stumbles that I don’t care to repeat. So I try to keep a voyeuristic social media presence when it comes to all things of a serious nature.


I read and read and came to the conclusion that no one really knows with any specificity what a good school looks like. People have different values, after all. So I thought, as an education veteran, I would attempt to create a good school. I boiled it down to a list. We all like lists, right? Buzzfeed, I’m looking at you.

Before going any further though, I must caution you, dear reader. This list is by no means finished. It is by no means perfect. It is merely a collection of thoughts on the net. I am not 100% committed to any of these concepts and would gladly take suggestions and criticisms.

  1. Though I hate to start with a negative . . . a good school must NOT be politically neutral. A good school must support the politicians and public figures that both verbally and literally (that’s the key) support them. It is time to break the legal shackles that prevent this. School systems should be allowed to endorse political candidates.
  2. A good school must put education over athletics. It seems obvious, doesn’t it . . . ?
  3. A good school must employ teachers who are also scholars. If you are teaching science, you better damn well be a scientist. If you’re teaching writing, you better damn well be a writer. Knowledge without application and understanding, after all, is useless.
  4. A good school must employ administrators who never leave the classroom. In other words, the principal should teach at least one class a day . . . or maybe a week . . . I guess I’d be fine with a week. If this means there is no principal in the traditional sense, but a committee of teachers that runs the school, then so be it.
  5. A good school must be allowed to operate in a way that is best suited to support the students attending classes there. Does that mean some schools will have different classes than others? Does it mean, certain schools will be required to do less or more by way of state and national requirements? Yes.
  6. Speaking of state and national requirements . . . that one is tricky. I support a national plan for public schools. For instance, in English 9, across the nation, I’m not against the idea that all students should learn about thesis development or some such thing. It could be a required aspect of students’ education. That said, it should be up to the teachers how that knowledge is disseminated. I guess that’s the ultimate take away here–how the knowledge is disseminated should be up to the person doing the teaching.
  7. A good school should be rigorous. I have found that most people can and will do what is expected of them. High expectations are a must. for all parties involved: students, teachers, and administrators. Additionally, a good school must be supportive. For example, understand the tree climbing fish scenario and/or understand that expecting teachers to get multiple degrees without financial support is ludicrous.giphy-15
  8. A good school has zero tolerance for bullying.
  9. A good school does not bow to the whims of parents who have no concept of what education is like beyond what it was like when they were students in classrooms many moons and seasons prior to today. Nor does a good school let a teacher who has lost his or her way keep teaching.
  10. A good school is there, on paper anyway, to teach children how to take in and interpret information. That said, in the meantime, students also develop relationships with their teachers, friends, and administrators. They learn how to interact with people they disagree with. They learn how to behave in professional environments and non-professional ones. In other words, they learn how to survive. A good school must employ teachers, administrators, counselors, food workers, custodians, and IT professionals who all understand that school is about so much more than traditional book learning.
  11. Oh, and finally, good schools should have uniforms.
    1. BAM!

Midnight Circus is looking for your work . . . .

I sat through the portents of the end of our great nation last night. Now I’m depressed and I wonder if others like me are as well . . . . If so, I’ve got some good news. Writing makes me feel better and, I hope, when people read my work, they too feel better. Or at least they come to some understanding not provided them in their day-to-day lives.

I hope you writers and poets out there feel the same way about your work. I mean, we could all use something to be happy about these days, right? So, if you are a writer, what better way to feel better than to get published? EAB Publishing, the little publisher out of Omaha, NE I edit for is seeking submissions for the 14th issue of their lit mag, Midnight Circus, right now. Check out their submissions page and submit.

I think it will be good for everyone.



Lately I’ve been working on a few different posts. Some were political. Some were simple writing lessons. A couple were about education. One was even comic book centric.

But the world is a mess and it always has been and that makes me sad. This weekend, it was draining me of any effort to write. Then I came home today and found this shirt in my mailbox and my sadness simply overtook me:

“Hold the door” is now one of the saddest phrases in the English language.



The best villains are… (a writing lesson)

Since the presidential debates are tonight, I thought I’d do a little writing lesson on villainy. Take that how you choo-choo-choose.



The best villains are heroes in their own minds. They are complex. They are people with loves, hates, hopes, dreams, desires, and friends as well as enemies. They have heart, for evil without heart is weak and can be, from a philosophical standpoint, destroyed by the idea of “what’s right.”

“I want to rule the world and enslave mankind!” or “I’m all about killing puppies!” are so clearly evil that the ideas themselves can be soundly countered. After all, only a madman wants to rule the world and enslave its people and it is universally understood that killing puppies is bad. Villains with no motivations beyond the generic lack of understanding of right and wrong are almost always unappealing.

Now, a villain who legitimately, 100% believes what he’s doing is the right thing to do for all parties, the best thing to do in a given situation, a villain that can convince me his reasoning comes from an honest, sincere place . . . that is the interesting villain. Even in comic books and movies, characters like Ultron and Thanos, I would argue, are more complex than their desire to kill everyone.


Ultron, after all, believes mankind is a great, multi-headed monster. Every time he takes a human life, he believes he’s doing the right thing. He believes he is making the world a better place. Occasionally it is difficult to argue with him.


Thanos, so enthralled by the idea of Death, wants only to make her happy, he wants to give her the gift of trillions of lives. He puts Death’s happiness above everyone else’s. In fact, to a certain degree, by bringing people closer to Death, he believes he is giving them a great gift, for when he is done with them, they are nearer to Death. That, dear readers, is a crazy complexity.

Or, if we’re talking comics, you really don’t have to go any further than Magneto.


I disagree with his actions, but I understand his motivations. This is one villain (of many in the world of comic books–Deadpool and Harley Quinn, I’m looking at you) who have been so well-liked by fans that they have actually become something akin to heroes.


Look, it’s simple really. A villain you can empathize with, that shit is crazy, crazy good. A villain that is nothing more than a generic evil, that’s, frankly, lame. Even everyone’s favorite serial killer, Jason Voorhees, has a sympathetic back story to make viewers at least in part understand his anger.


So, writers, if you’re out there in writer land, trying hard to come up with a profound villain, an evil for the ages, if you will, do your best at making them good. It’s a paradox, I know, but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The devil’s greatest trick was convincing mankind we needed the word “paradox.”

My summer in Westeros







Along with spending plenty of time in Gravity Falls this summer, I also visited Westeros . . . a lot. You know, George R.R. Martin’s fictional fantasy land inhabited by lots of bad, bad people? Yeah–that place is awful. Anyway, I got a free month’s worth of HBONow and used it to watch 60 episodes of Game of Thrones.

I started on July 12th and finished the sixth season on August 10th, the day before students came to school. Since I had spent nearly 30 days in the various violent locales in and around Westeros, I felt prepared to deal with a bunch of American teenagers . . . .

But seriously, this show is wild. In many ways, the first season is similar to the first book. As I watched it, I thought to myself, “Why am I watching this? I mean, I already read the books, right?” But friends told me to keep going. They said that the further along I go the more significant changes I would see.

And they were right.

They’re are significant changes . . . .

Though the essential’s of Martin’s twisted fantasy are there. There’s so much violence and war. So many women are murdered. So many children are used . . . and the number of characters who are eunuchs is astounding. Like I said, I had read all the books beforehand, so I knew what was coming. That said, the show is, at times, almost too intense. I’m looking at you “Battle of the Bastards.”

I like it though, despite its graphic content. I think it has a cold, harsh reality that few television shows possess, which is a bit of a paradox since it has zombies and dragons . . . . It’s both a good thing and a sad thing to see all of this extreme content. It’s good because it shows how awful war is and how awful mankind can be. It’s sad for the same reasons and more. It’s sad because, like most good fantasy and sci-fi, it’s allegorical . . . . If this show is allegorical, what is it saying about our world?

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It’s 7:57am, a Wednesday, a week and a half before this post is due. I just got my daughter off to school but my son is upstairs in his bedroom curled into the fetal position because every time he straightens out he gets, “. . . a sharp stabbing pain . . .” in his belly. It’s probably nothing. It’s probably some weird flu bug. Or maybe he ate something he shouldn’t have eaten. He is in middle school; God only knows what goes on in that wasteland of hormonal madness . . . .

I shouldn’t be worried. I shouldn’t have a growing pit of despair (cliche intended) in my belly. But I do. Fourteen years ago, when my son was born, it was rough. He had open-heart surgery when he was five days old. He has a specialist he sees regularly. Those regular appointments are coming less and less, which is, obviously, a good thing. All of his knobs and whistles seem to be operating as they should. However, this doesn’t mean I will be pushing him toward an athletic career anytime soon. He’s interested in computers anyway, so my wife and I caught a break there . . . maybe. Maybe my wife and I molded him to be the way he is. Nature vs. Nurture, who knows?


He’s up there, in his attic bedroom, miserable like any other kid with any other ailment is miserable. He’ll probably be back to his old self by the end of the day, making mildly entertaining jabs at . . . well . . . at everything and everyone. He’s a bit of a smartass. I don’t know where he gets it . . . . Right now though, he’s sick.

And I’m terrified.

His mom doesn’t get this way. She’s stronger than me, more hopeful, less cynical. “Kids get sick,” she says when it happens. “They can’t help it. He’ll be fine.”

I grimace and worry because I can’t help it. He’s not fine. Even though it’s his stomach, I see every possible awful scenario running through my mind. It’s like there’s a race track in there and it’s a baton run and all of these terrible outcomes that have him back in the hospital hooked up to various life saving and heart monitoring devices are battling for the finish line. I can see those bastards now, vying for the #1 slot.

My plan is for none of them to win so on his 14th birthday, when I publish this blog, we’ll both have stomach aches because we ate a birthday dinner of his choosing . . . because we’ll probably overeat.


He got better. We had pancakes, bacon, and eggs for supper tonight. I definitely overate, but the 14-year-old showed some mature restraint. My wife and I must be doing something right . . . .