Tuesday, August 23, 2016

August 23: Sunset at Stonehenge, Justin Runge, "Travelogue"

Today, I talked to someone who recently returned from a three-week-long trip to Europe.  For one of those weeks, he stayed in Paris and walked to a local candy shop every day to buy fresh chocolates.  He also shared pictures of sunset or sunrise at Stonehenge.  I don't remember which it was, and does it really matter?

I have been to Hawaii once.  Florida a couple of times.  New York City twice.  Big Sur for a week-long poetry workshop with Sharon Olds.  I've seen a California beach carpeted with manatees.  Stood on the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, watching the oil still leaking from the wreckage below.

I guess I've seen some pretty amazing things in my life.  No, I haven't been to Stonehenge or climbed the Eiffel Tower.  Or heard the thunder of Niagara Falls.  Maybe I will.  Some day.

That's Saint Marty's travelogue for this evening.

Travelogue

by:  Justin Runge

The boy
waving
at the train
did not
realize he was
waving at me.
Koi-colored
traffic cones
in the river.
How many
know fowl
go underwater
for a second.
Or know,
but forget.
Ornate tattoo
on the small
of the pregnant
woman’s back
says Beautiful.
I am trying
to keep this
poem on Earth.
The train stops
on a part of it
long enough
that I see rust
and we begin to.
Welcome to
Vancouver.


August 23: Sloughing Off, Sewer Problems Again, Simplifying

A kind of nothing is what I wish to accomplish, a single-minded trek toward that place where any shutter left open to the zenith at night will record the wheeling of all the sky's stars as a pattern of perfect, concentric circles.  I seek a reduction, a shedding, a sloughing off.

Hallelujah to Dillard!  I am totally with her this evening in her urge to reduce, shed, slough off, simplify.  She is talking about taking life down to its barest elements and being satisfied.  No city lights and sound and pollution.  No cell phone vibrating with texts.  Nothing but stars and clouds wheeling through the heavens.

I am sitting in my university office, waiting to teach my evening class.  First year composition.  Nineteen fresh and eager minds.  Well, nineteen minds.  Not so sure about the fresh and eager.  In a little over an hour, I will be able to see what kind of hand I've been dealt.

My day has been complicated.  I just finished a little over nine-and-a-half hours shift in the medical office.  From six in the morning until 3:45 p.m.  During that time, my sewer line backed up in my home.  Had to call a plumber.  I am happy to say that my toilet and bathtub are draining easily.  I am unhappy to report that it cost somewhere between OUCH! and BOING! to get said toilet and bathtub to drain easily.  I had to borrow money from my sister to cover the check.

Sometimes, I get the feeling that I have done something to offend the cosmos.  When floods and earthquakes happened in Ancient Greece, some angry god or goddess was to blame, exacting revenge on a stupid virgin who took a crap in a sacred orchard or something.  So, what I want to know is whose divine apple tree did I piss on recently?

Of course, God doesn't work that way really.  I know that.  However, after shelling out close to an entire paycheck to have a working toilet in my house, I'm beginning to feel like I have some target on my soul.  Yet, as the pastor at my wife's church always says, "God is good."  And we respond, "All the time!"  Then he says, "All the time!"  And we answer, "God is good!"

Saint Marty has to remind himself of God's goodness every once in a while, especially when he's got sewage in his bathtub and a classroom of composition students to entertain for three hours.


Monday, August 22, 2016

August 22: Freshman Comp, Poet of the Week, Justin Runge, "History"

Tomorrow, my semester begins with a freshman composition night class.  Three-and-a-half hours of it.  We won't accomplish a whole lot.  Introductions.  Diagnostic essays.  And a poem.

Last winter semester, I taught an evening composition class, as well.  I started each class with a poem, used it as a jumping off point for the night.  I plan to do the same this semester.  I'm comfortable with poetry.  It relaxes me.  Excites me.  It eases me into teaching mode at the end of a long day.  And I think that relaxes and excites the students.

Justin Runge excites and relaxes me.  Until I found the poem below on the Internet, I'd never heard of him.  Now, I'm a little obsessed, enough to name him Poet of the Week and start my class with him tomorrow night.

Recollection.  History.  Love.  Saint Marty wishes he had written this poem.

History

by:  Justin Runge

Here is what I’ve collected: He set fire to the front lawn. She learned and then forgot the guitar. Like all daughters, she was a vegetarian. He was sent to school on the mountain. She would run through the mountain. Their siblings stood in the way. The mountain was beautiful but merciless. Its trees loomed like chaperones. He took to botany. She slept in the haunted room. After the growth spurt, he was a natural athlete. She worked at a fast food restaurant. Both left without diplomas. He sat in a bunker, catching moths. She would walk to a payphone in the center of town. They would solve crossword puzzles days late. He escaped on a motorcycle, as in his favorite songs. They married on her birthday. Her hair was never longer. She left a home imploding. He had a television and a frying pan. They made mistakes—pepper oil, poison ivy. They had one child, then me.

This is what my students will be doing tomorrow night.

August 22: Excessive Emotions, Birthday Shopping, Pig Pen

Our excessive emotions are so patently painful and harmful to us as a species that I can hardly believe that they evolved.  Other creatures manage to have effective matings and even stable societies without great emotions, and they have a bonus in that they need not ever mourn.  (But some higher animals have emotions that we think are similar to ours:  dogs, elephants, otters, and the sea mammals mourn their dead.  Why do that to an otter?  What creator could be so cruel, not to kill otters, but to let them care?)  It would seem that emotions are the curse, not death--emotions that appear to have devolved upon a few freaks as a special curse from Malevolence.

It's an interesting idea that Dillard posits:  the curse of life isn't cancer or AIDS or lymphoma or flood or fire.  The curse of life is that we care about these things.  Emotions are God's special curse.  Sure, we experience joy and ecstasy, love and passion.  But we also undergo sadness and despair, grief and fear.  That is life's greatest tribulation.

I sort of agree with Dillard, and I sort of don't.  My life would be so much simpler without excessive emotions.  Today, I went to pick up a birthday present for my nephew.  As I stood before the cash register, waiting for my debit card to clear, I was in a panic.  I had no idea if there was enough money in my account to cover the purchase.  (I had shown up with a coupon for 60% off any merchandise.  Unfortunately, books weren't a part of that deal.  I had to pay full price)  By the time the approval finally came through, I had almost gone through all the stages of grief and was rounding the corner on acceptance.

Emotion turned that whole birthday shopping excursion into one of the circles of Dante's Inferno--the one reserved for people who overdraw their checking accounts.  It was not pleasant.  Without feelings, I wouldn't have had to deal with the worry and fear.  In fact, without feelings, life would simply be a series of happenings.  Christmas would be the day that comes after December 24.  In the United States, July 4 wouldn't be Independence Day--no parades, no fireworks.  It would just be another hot and muggy summer day.

And death wouldn't be saddled with all the emotional baggage, either.  No desperation or false hope.  Grief and despair would be dinosaurs--bones in the Museum of Natural Emotional History.  Terrorism would be completely ineffective because there would be no terror or fear or rage to fuel it.  Basically, we would all be flat lines, walking around--breathing, eating, sleeping, working, fucking--until we just stopped.  No wailing or gnashing of teeth at the end.  A last breath and then . . . nothing.

For the last year, one of my sisters has been mired in grief.  She walks around like Pig Pen, a cloud of dark emotions following her everywhere.  She hasn't been able to work.  Suffers panic attacks.  Spends days sleeping.  She's pissed at God for not saving our sister, Sally, last summer.  Guilty because she believes that she could have done something else to save Sally's life.  Sad because life didn't turn out the way she planned.

Of course, all these emotions have one root cause--helplessness.  My sister can't wrap herself around the idea that she's not in control (has never been in control).  So her way to stay in control of her life is through anger and guilt and sadness.  And, as a result, her life is completely out of control.

Now, I am not the poster child of emotional health.  Tomorrow night, when I step into the classroom for my first night of teaching, I will be a beehive of panic and anxiety.  I am human.  Therefore, I am an emotional creature, just like a dog or elephant or sea otter.  I can't escape it, and don't really want to.  Sure, sometimes there are tears and screaming, but, on the flip side, there are also embraces and passionate kisses.

Tears and hugs are gifts, not punishments.  Hopefully, Saint Marty's sister will learn that soon.