Monday, February 28, 2011

February 28: And the Oscar goes to...

Not me.

It became fairly clear by the first half hour of the Oscar telecast that I didn't stand a chance.  I was trailing by two categories within 40 minutes, and I never regained momentum.  I spent most of the evening nursing my wounded ego with a family-size bag of Cheetos and the occasional sarcastic comment.  OK, it was more than occasional, but I just can't control myself when it comes to that stupid faux Oscar statuette.

At the end of the evening, the big winners were The King's Speech, Colin Firth, two of my sisters, and my ten-year-old daughter.  That's correct--it was a three-way tie for first place in my family competition.  Therefore, the faux Oscar will reside at my house for the next four months, in the possession of my beautiful and deserving child.  I'm so happy for her.  Really, I am.  Really.  I am.  Really.  (Yes, my horrible, envy-monster side can even be jealous of my little girl.  I'm not proud of this fact.)

I'm tired.  I'm disappointed.  And I am more than slightly annoyed.  I need to let go of this whole experience and move on.  But first, I have to act excited for my daughter when I see her tonight.  God help me.

Saint Marty is currently running on four hours of sleep, a two liter of Diet Mountain Dew, and a lot of chocolate.

And prayer, of course.  Lots of prayer.

Nursing My Wounded  Ego

Sunday, February 27, 2011

February 27: Saint Anne Line and the Oscars

Tonight, I'm going to watch the Oscars with my family.  That might sound like an incredibly tedious evening for most people.  It's a big deal for me.  You see, since I was a teenager, I've had a competition with my family over who can guess the most Oscar winners.  It started out as just acquiring bragging rights, as in, "Hey, all you losers, you eat shit, and I'm awesome!"  Then, about ten or eleven years ago, we bought an actual statuette that has the size, shape, look, and heft of an actual Oscar.  It goes home with the winner for the year.  This innovation has turned an evening of good-natured sportsmanship into a blood sport.

My sisters spend hours on Google, doing "research."  This afternoon, they were huddled in a corner, whispering to each other.  The Oscars have caused tears and arguments.  The winner, now, can't even savor the moment of triumph.  I won two years ago, and I had to wait to do my in-your-face-sucka dance until I was at home, alone.

I realize this may sound over-the-top, maybe even a little ludicrous.  But there's nothing worse than watching the Oscar ceremony for three or four hours and walking away empty-handed.  No wonder Woody Allen never shows up.  It's even worse when you realize you don't even stand a chance half-way through the night.  At that point, I usually start hitting the Cheetos hard.

There will be nothing even remotely saintly about my behavior or feelings tonight.  I want to crush my competition.  Every year, I vow to not get caught up in the fever.  Every year, I fail.  Right now, I'm sitting here, trying to calculate my odds of bringing home that gold trophy for a year.  It ain't looking good.

Saint Anne Line's life sort of puts this whole night into perspective.  She was disowned by her parents for converting to Catholicism.  In 1585, she married a fellow convert.  Her husband, however, was sent into exile for participating in a Mass.  He died in exile in 1594.  Anne, herself, was arrested on February 2, 1601, for hosting a Mass in her home.  On February 27, she was hanged for "harboring priests."

So, compared to Anne Line's life, my little competition for a faux Oscar seems, at best, silly.  I readily admit this fact.  Anne put her life on the line for her country and her faith.  I'm watching vapid celebrities stroll down a red carpet to attend a gala event that, in the grand scheme of the universe, really means absolutely nothing.  It won't bring about world peace.  It won't topple a bloodthirsty dictator.  It won't make Sarah Palin a Rhodes Scholar.

Saint Marty is trying to keep everything in perspective.  But Saint Marty would give his left testicle to take that statue home tonight.

Wish me luck!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

February 26: Saint Victor

Okay, anybody who has been following my blog for any length of time knows one of my greatest faults is jealousy. It's a running theme in my life and blog, along with mental illness, sex addiction, food addiction, and chocolate.  I can become ridiculously obsessed with the successes of relatives, friends, authors, and celebrities, especially if I find the successes completely undeserved.

Let me give you a pretty innocuous example. I have an uncle who paints oil landscapes.  He started this artistic pursuit a few years before he retired after 30-plus years at GM in Detroit. In his retirement, his output has increased. He's like the Grandma Moses of our family, minus the fact that he wasn't born before Lincoln became president, didn't work on a farm most of his life, and wasn't a woman. Uncle Moses doesn't sell his artwork.  He does his own matting and framing, and he usually gives it away to family and friends.

He donated several of his paintings to the medical office in which I work. I'm surrounded by his talent, and every week some person asks me if his artwork is for sale. I have never had any kind of artistic ability with oil painting. My visual arts abilities are restricted to pen and pencil sketches. I've tried to duplicate my uncle's landscapes with colored pencils with limited success. Very limited. I envy my uncle for his gift, and the fact that he's sort of become a semi-legend in our extended family. I will never reach the stature he's reached among our relatives, unless I win a Pulitzer Prize or publish a bestselling book that Oprah chooses for her book club. Even if I become a Blog of Note it won't matter. And the most frustrating thing is that Uncle Moses remains kind and humble. It's sickening.

Victor, today's feast saint, is another example.  He was born in France and spent most of his life as a hermit in the region of Champagne.  He's famous for converting many to the Christian life, but he remained a recluse.  Most of what we know about Vic comes from hymns and an Office about him written by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.  Vic never wrote, composed, painted, or performed.  His whole life was defined by "prayer, fasting, and almsgiving."

I guess I should take a few cues from Vic and Uncle Moses.  They never wanted fame or notoriety.  They lived and used their gifts, quietly and without fanfare.  They didn't care who was paying attention.  (By the way, my uncle is still alive, still painting, and still full of humility.)

Saint Marty needs to practice his humble act a little more.  He might become a Blog of Note that way.  Not that his relatives would give a shit.

Here's a few examples of Uncle Moses' paintings:

Thursday, February 24, 2011

February 24: Blessed Josepha Naval Girbes

Well, this post is going to be another quick one.  It's already almost 4 p.m., and I just finished teaching my last class before Spring Break.  I'm back at my other job, trying to finish up my "To Do" list.  One of the last things on the list is to write a quick blog.

Tonight, my Book Club is coming to my house for our monthly get-together.  I made a pepperoni-cheese quiche yesterday.  I'm not sure what else is going to be on the menu.  It's always a great feed.  Our book of choice this month is Kathryn Stockett's The Help.  I've been avoiding this book for over a year, simply because it's so damn popular.  Popularity in literature doesn't necessarily mean quality.  And I don't really like to be a trend follower.  I prefer to be a trend setter, or at least to be ahead of the pack by a few days.  I, however, bowed to the popular vote of my other club members for The Help, and I have to say I've been enjoying it very much.  Haven't finished it yet.  Won't finish it until this weekend.  I hate being in this position.  It's a hold-over from being a boot-licking, brown-nosing, straight-A student.  I like to have all of my homework done.

Well, I promise you a longer, more considered post in the near future.  Today's saint, Josepha Naval Girbes, was a 19th century Spanish woman who became a saint by staying home.  She ran her father's household, taught people about Jesus in her living room, and led the life of a mystic.  She's the kind of saint I want to be.  She phoned in her holiness.  I bet you she would have had time to finish The Help before her book club met.  I'm always amazed by people who find mission work in their own backyards.  You can do you bit for God and still be home in time for American Idol.

Saint Marty will finish The Help this weekend.  He will also post something a little meatier, more thought-provoking in the next day or so.  Tonight, however, Saint Marty has to pretend like he's read a book he hasn't read.  It won't be hard.  He used to do it in graduate school all the time.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

February 23: The Chocolate Drawer

The chocolate drawer
It's been a chocolate drawer kind of day.  It is almost 5 p.m., and I have just enough time to write that I don't have time to write today.  Yesterday, cake was my solace.  Today, I visited the chocolate drawer in our office about 4,291 times.  During those visits, I consumed about 53 mini Hershey bars, 231 Reese's peanut butter eggs, and 237 Butterfingers.  According to my calculations, I have to run approximately 568 miles (basically from my house to Detroit) to work off those candy bars.
My coworker was off today because her spouse had surgery.  Please send good thoughts/prayers their way.  So I was the only game in town, and it was quite busy.  On top of my work in the business office, I had to give a mid-term exam to my Good Books class at the university.

My work, for the moment, is now all done, and I have a few minutes to reflect on how busy I've been.  But it isn't over completely.  I have choir practice and band practice at church tonight.  Then I have to help my daughter with some homework.  (Oh, by the way, I just found out my daughter may have impetigo on her face.  That was worth a couple Hershey kisses from the drawer.)

Now, if I were I real saint, I would find something wonderful in all this crap.  Maybe I would say a prayer over the chocolate drawer, multiply the dark Milky Ways, and feed a small, East European country with them.  However, I don't feel like sharing my chocolate today.

Saint Marty is tired.  Saint Marty is bloated.  Saint Marty isn't giving thanks today.  Saint Marty is eying up another peanut butter egg at the moment.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

February 22: Let Them Eat Cake

Okay, so I really didn't do anything special today.  I worked.  I taught.  I ate.  Later on, I'll eat.  I'll work.  I'll sleep.  I had every intention of accomplishing a lot today.  I was going to finish grading some essays.  I was going to write a lengthy blog post.  I was going to finish reading The Help for my book club on Thursday.

What did I actually end up doing?  I worked. I taught....

I wonder if a saint ever feels this way.  I wonder if a saint gets up in the morning and says, "Here we go again.  I pray.  I levitate.  I heal a leper.  I pray.  I fast.  I eat communion.  I pray.  I pray.  I bi-locate.  I sleep.  Same old stuff."  Probably not.

My coworker's cake
 A coworker brought a cake to work today.  It was delicious.  Funfetti.  I wasn't going to eat a piece, but then I just cut a sliver of it and crammed it into my mouth.  I went away.  Then I came back and cut another sliver, since the first one was so small.  I went away.  A little while later, I returned for another sliver.  You get the idea.

I imagine, for saints, doing God's work is sort of like that.  You just keep coming back for more, because it tastes so freakin' good.  And the best thing?  The cake never runs out.

Saint Marty's going to check the kitchen to see if there's any cake left.  With my luck, the saints I work with probably polished it off.

Monday, February 21, 2011

February 21: Blessed Noel Pinot

Today is just a "checking-in" kind of post, quick and dirty.  I've been too busy to sit down and compose anything substantive.  It's one of those days that start at 4:15 a.m. and won't end until about 9:30 tonight.  Work.  Teach.  Office hours.  Snarf down dinner.  Worship Committee.  Administrative Council.  I'm going to see my wife, daughter, and son for a total of about 20 minutes this evening.  I know that, when I finally get home, I'm going to be cranky, tired, and stressed.

Saint Marty seeking a little "Help"

I've already worked a few hours on creating a Mid-Term Exam for my Good Books class.  I have to finish grading a stack of 30-some response papers, and then I have a stack of 23 essays for my other class to get through.  I just typed the agenda and minutes for the church meeting I'm running this evening.  Now, I'm headed back into my grading, with a short stop in The Help, which I have to finish reading by Thursday night for my Book Club.

I'm trying not to complain.  Saints don't complain.  They just take whatever crap God sends their way and turn it into opportunities for grace.  For instance, today's saint d'jour is Noel Pinot, an 18th-century priest.  He "excelled at ministering to the sick," and, when he was sentenced to death for being loyal to the Church, he walked to the guillotine still wearing his vestments for Mass.  His last words were, "I will go to the altar of God, to God Who gives joy to my youth."

Today, in the midst of my crazy, hectic day, I had a private meeting with a student.  She apologized for not handing in her assignments.  She told me she's been struggling with depression.  She just found out her parents are divorcing, and she and her boyfriend of a few years were just diagnosed with "a certain disease."  I sat and listened to her story.  Then I reached over, put my hand on her shoulder, and told her, "Take care of yourself.  Get the school work done when you can."  She nodded, staring down at the floor.  "Is there anything I can do?"  I said.  She shook her head.  Then she stood and said, "I have to go meet with another one of my professors."  I watched her walk down the hallway, looking particularly small and fragile.

I got the message.  My burdens aren't that huge.  I'm not marching to the guillotine.  I'm grading papers and reading a really good novel.  God's telling me to shut up and be thankful.  Saint Marty's going to stop bitching and feel a little grace.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

February 20: Technical Difficulties

Sorry I didn't get yesterday's post up until today.  We were experiencing some technical difficulties.  Translation:  I couldn't figure out how to upload pictures from my digital camera.  I had to rely on my computer whiz sister to work through the problem.  As you can tell from my last post, the wrinkles have been ironed out.

So, I told you I would give you some more details of how this blog will be changing/improving.  All of the new features are based on the advice of my blog-stalking friend and aimed at bringing in new followers.  I appreciate all of my loyal readers who have been with me since the beginning.  Now what I'm trying to do is become a friggin' Blog of Note and spread the good news as I see it.  So, tell your friends, sign up as a follower, and insure your place in heaven.  (OK, I can't really guarantee the last thing, but I'll say a prayer for each and every person who becomes an official follower of "Saint Marty."  It's the best I can do.)

Here are some of the suggestions my friend Blogstalker gave me:

1)  Change the name of the blog to something snappier.  Hence the new name and site.

2)  Use more personal pictures.  As you can tell, I even used a picture of myself in the last post, and I hate pictures of myself.  Expect more candid shots.

3)  Have some kind of gimmick or hook.  Not sure what I'm going to do for this.  I'm considering the 40-day desert fast diet, tips for performing exorcisms, and writing in tongues.  Just a few things I'm kicking around.

4)  Give-aways.  My friend says people love free stuff.  I'm not sure what I have that anyone will want.  I'll try to work on corporate sponsorship.  I think a free car might attract some attention.  The best I can do right now is hand-made rosaries (and they're not made by my hands--I'm craft-tarded).

Those are the coming attractions.  I hope you'll hang in there with me during this time of transition.  Just a few more steps on my road to sainthood.

Bless all of my readers.  Keep an eye out for the give-aways.  Saint Marty's sure there's something in his attic that may make a good segment on The Antique's Roadshow

Anybody interested in a teddy bear the size on a water buffalo?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

February 19: Blessed Elizabeth of Mantua

Well, today is the day.  I'm going to take the Christmas decorations down on my front porch.  I know what you're probably thinking:  are you lazy, stupid, or just getting a jump-start on next Christmas?  The answer is maybe, no, and that's not a bad idea.  But even my ten-year-old daughter has been saying, "When are we going to take the Christmas stuff down?"  So, today the porch gets undecorated.

One of the most popular Christmas stories is Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.  Basically, the message of the novel is that you have to keep Christmas in your heart all year long.  After his redemption, Scrooge pretty much says that's what he's going to do.  I guess it's OK to treat every day like Christmas, do things like be kind to people, be generous, be jolly.  I suppose if you said "Merry Christmas" to people all year, you may be thought a little off-balance.  But if you leave Christmas decorations up until past Valentine's Day, suddenly your neighbors start worrying about their property values.

The Day of Undecoration, as it will henceforth be known, always makes me a little sad.  My front porch is the final vestige of a time of year when people have daily visual reminders to be kind to each other.  Saints don't need that kind of reminder.  If I were an actual saint, I'd probably glow like a Christmas tree, ooze peace like a Nativity scene or Christmas carol.  I, myself, would be the reminder.  Elizabeth, today's saint, was born in Mantua in 1428, and she had the Christmas-every-day thing down cold.  She was pretty much raised to be a saint.  Her father taught her Latin.  Her mother taught her how to meditate.  When Elizabeth became a nun, she was known for her "supernatural gifts."  That usually means she could do cool saint stuff like heal people and levitate.  She even predicted her own death a year before it happened, according to legend.  Elizabeth was a Christmas carol.  She reminded everyone around her about kindness, generosity, and joy.
Saint Marty says, "Merry Christmas!"

I'm going to listen to a Christmas CD while I'm working this afternoon.  I might even put on my Santa Claus hat.  For a half hour or so, I'm going to hold on to the holiday just a little longer.  If you see me today, I may wish you a "Merry Christmas."

Saint Marty isn't losing it.  He's just reminding himself to be a better person.

Friday, February 18, 2011

February 18: Welcome Aboard!

One tired little terrorist

Welcome to all who made the leap from my old blog ("Feasts & Famines") to "Saint Marty."  I promise to provide the same quality posts, plus a few new twists.  One of the new twists is that I plan to "check in" every day, even if it's for just a short, little bitch session.  And I want to welcome my first follower, Nicole.  You rock.  Now just spread the word to your friends.

I don't have anything profound or insightful to say tonight.  I'm just checking in, remember.  The wind is howling, and my son is getting crabby.  It's almost time for him to go to bed.  When his screams cause my ears to bleed, I know he's tired.  I am recovering from my terminal bad mood of the last few days.  This morning nearly drove me over the edge.  You see, when I went to leave for work at 4:45 a.m., my car keys were M.I.A.  I think my son went into my pocket last night and decided to play with my head.  (He's only two-years-old, but I think he's a terrorist in training sometimes.)

I do need to get my son home, so I'm going to call it a night.  Some days, saints work miracles.  Some days, saints change shitty diapers and warm up bottles.  Saint Marty has a diaper to change.

I hope everyone has a miraculous night.  More tomorrow on the changes that are on the way.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

February 16: Saint Juliana

Let me tell you about a few things that piss me off.  Be warned, what you are about to read may come off as mean, petty, stupid, angry, sinful, envious, and cranky.  I will own that.  If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you already know what a flawed and broken person I am.  No big surprise.

I have not ranked the things I'm going to bitch about in any specific order.  These rants are spontaneous and fueled by my general need every once in a while to go a little postal (no offense if you're a mail carrier).  So, here I go...

I'm pissed that I'm a part-time adjunct English instructor at a university that I probably don't stand a chance of ever working for on a full-time basis as a "real" faculty member.  I've been an adjunct for close to 15 years now.  In fact, I think I'm considered the "senior" adjunct, which is sort of like being the head fry cook at McDonald's.  The only way I probably even stand a chance of being allowed to play with the grownups is if I win the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, or the Nobel Prize in Literature.  I can't even be selected as a shitty Blog of Note, which brings me to my next subject...

I'm pissed that I haven't been chosen as a Blog of Note.  I follow the BONs every week.  One of the latest Blogs of Note is written by a woman who pretty much goes out to eat at different restaurants around the world, takes pictures of her food, and posts the pictures.  Big friggin' deal.  She now has hundreds of new followers because of her BON status.  Me, I can't get any new followers.  I have to personally remind most of my old followers to read my blog.  I guess the people of Blogger have something against someone who writes blogs that are literate, funny, spiritual, intelligent, and not about food.

I'm pissed that no matter how hard I work, I never seem to get ahead.  I start work at around 5:15 every morning.  During the day, I register patients, put together medical records, answer phones, and schedule surgeries.  Some time during that day, I sneak off to campus to teach one or two classes.  Then I come back to the first job and work until 5 p.m.  Tonight, because it's Wednesday, I have to go to church for choir practice at 7 p.m. and then praise band practice at 8 p.m.  I'll eventually get home around 9:30, just in time to make my daughter's school lunch, pick out my work clothes for tomorrow, and go to bed.  For my taxes this year, I have four W-2 forms.  Yet I still have trouble staying ahead of the bills.

I'm pissed that I've been trying to sell my house for over a year now and haven't gotten a single offer yet.  I spent about a month this autumn tearing up carpeting and painting walls, injuring my fingers and feet on carpet staples and tacks about 15,000 times.  I'm not a home improvement kind of guy.  The other night, I told my wife that I've resigned myself to the fact that I'm going to die in this house.  (It doesn't help that my coworker put her house on the market for a day, got three offers, and sold it immediately.)

I'm pissed that they changed the question format of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

I'm pissed that Justin Bieber didn't win the Best New Artist Grammy.  Just kidding.

I'm pissed that change is inevitable and that people try to convince me change is a good thing.  Change, for the most part, only brings about pain, hurt, hardship, and hard work.  Change sucks.

If you haven't realized it yet, I'm not in a great mood right now.  There's a legend about today's saint, Juliana.  In the third century, Juliana was thrown into prison for (what else?) being a Christian.  The story goes that, while she was in prison, the devil appeared to her, and she spent days wrestling with him and fending off his attacks. 

Right now, I'm Juliana, and I'm wrestling with some devils.  At the moment, it feels like the devils are winning.  And guess what?  That pisses me off, too.

Monday, February 14, 2011

February 14: Saint Valentine

Yes, there really was a Saint Valentine.  He was a Roman priest who lived in the third century.  A good portion of his ministry was caring for Christians who were being hunted down, tortured, and killed by Emperor Claudius II.  Eventually, Valentine was captured and beheaded around the year 270.  He is the patron saint of greetings, which seems like a pretty logical explanation for the origins of the customs of Valentine's Day (and the use of Hallmark).  In actuality, giving cards to your love on this day had pagan origins.  In ancient times, boys drew "the names of girls in honor of their goddess, Februarto Juno, on February 15."  Christians, to combat this pagan custom, substituted the names of saints for the goddess, sort of the way Christians co-opted the Winter Solstice from the Druids and Celts by transforming it into Christmas.  We Christians recognize a good thing when we see it.  And if it gives me an excuse to receive free chocolate, all the better.

Really, when you think about it, having a day dedicated to love, whether it's pagan or Christian, isn't such a bad idea.  There's really not many holidays that, by their very definitions, are designed to make us appreciate people.  My daughter, of course, will be coming home from school this afternoon with a bag full of the latest in sugar crack for kids.  She herself is contributing Airheads and Fun Dips.  Airheads are just bastardized versions of Laffy Taffy.  Fun Dips consist of a stick of candy that the consumer licks, scoops into a packet of crystallized powder, then licks or sucks again.  It's a pretty disgusting confection, ranking right up there in my books with Pixie Stix, which are just paper straws filled with flavored sugar.  Kids love this shit.

For the two or three long-time readers of my blog, you already know my affinity for chocolate.  Along with books, American Idol, and Jesus, chocolate is one of the few things I take very seriously.  At the top of my list of favorite reads from the last few years is Candyfreak by Steve Almond.  It's a non-fiction account of Almond visiting candy factories and writing about the manufacture of various popular sugary treats.  He talks about the origin of his candy obsession, categorizes and ranks the favorite candies of his childhood, and discusses issues like fame and mortality.  And he gets tons of free chocolate to boot.  The guy is a genius.

Aside from exchanging cards, my wife and I aren't really do anything special for Valentine's Day today.  We went to Red Lobster last Friday, but that really had nothing to do with our love for each other and everything to do with lobster pizza and artichoke dip.  I bought my wife some heart-shaped Reese's Peanut Butter cups, which she began eating on Friday night.  Tonight, I'm chauffeuring our daughter from religion class to dance class to home.  My wife is going out with friends from her women's group at church.  We probably won't see each other until after 9:30 p.m.  Not much room for romance.  I don't think I'll even have the energy for a dirty thought by the time I see my wife this evening.

So, I'm all for a pagan/Christian holiday focused on love and chocolate.  I really believe in the importance of telling people you love them, in letting them know you respect and appreciate their contributions to your life.  I wish each and every one of you a Happy Valentine's Day.

And for the record, I love chocolate creams (anything but maple, coffee, and coconut).  Just in case you were wondering what to get me.

Friday, February 11, 2011

February 11: Our Lady of Lourdes

My daughter has been at Walt Disney World all week with her aunts.  She calls me every morning before she heads out for whatever adventure the day holds in store.  This morning when she called, she was crying.  Between her sobs, I got a story about one of my sisters teasing her in front of a group of people.  I also got the impression that I was talking to a very tired little girl.  Last night, she stayed at the Magic Kingdom for the fireworks and the electrical parade.  My guess is she didn't get back to the hotel room until well past midnight.  And I know when my daughter gets tired, she cries at the smallest of slights.  A mosquito bite can send her into hysterics.  So I spent most of my conversation with her this morning listening to her cry.

My daughter has always been mature, having spent the first eight years of her life as an only child.  When my daughter was newly born, my wife went through a six-month cycle of depressions and manias.  My daughter spent a good portion of those six months in a dark bedroom, contentedly nursing and sleeping with my weeping wife.  I've always thought those formative early days with my wife gave my daughter an emotional intelligence well beyond her age.  It has also made her incredibly sensitive.

Later, when my wife moved out of our house because of her sexual addiction, my daughter rarely exhibited any signs of distress or trauma.  She was five-years-old at the time, and I was in worse shape than she was.  During that year, she helped me clean the house; she climbed into bed with me and asked me to read her Shel Silverstein and Roald Dahl books.  When I got quiet and moody, she asked to sit in my lap, put her head against my chest, and listened to my breaths and heartbeats.  When she did cry for my wife, she was usually overwhelmed and very tired.  The way she was this morning on the phone.

Saint Bernadette, age 14
In the Catholic Church, when a young person gets confirmed, she or he can pick a confirmation name.  It's supposed to be the name of a saint for which the confirmand feels some kind of attachment or affinity.  In reality, it's usually a name that belongs to a popular movie or rock star (for a girl) or an NBA/NFL player (for a boy).  My daughter, when she was confirmed, chose the name Bernadette.  She chose this name because it's also the confirmation name of one of her favorite aunts and also because of Saint Bernadette.  Bernadette was a 14-year-old girl from Lourdes, France, who saw visions of the Virgin Mary.  At the grotto where the Virgin supposedly appeared to Bernadette, a spring of water flows.  This water has been used in the miraculous healing of many people.  A friend of mine visited Lourdes seven or eight years ago and brought me a vial of the water.  When I first learned of my wife's addiction, I would take the vial of water and, when my wife was asleep at night, put drops of it on her forehead, praying for her to be cured.  Those of my readers who don't believe in such miracles probably view me as some fanatic, snake-kissing faith healer.  I'm not.  I was just desperate for hope and comfort.

My daughter loved the story of a little girl being able to talk to the Virgin Mary.  The first of Bernadette's visions of Mary occurred on February 11, 1858.  Therefore, today is the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, in commemoration of the Virgin's first visit.  Bernadette, at a very young age, had to shoulder a lot of adult responsibility.  She dealt with skeptical townspeople, hostile Church officials, and fame that began to rival Hannah Montana's.  Bernadette remained grounded and compassionate.  My daughter has also faced a lot of adult circumstances.  Mental illness.  Sexual addiction.  Hostile relatives.  A broken mother.  A broken father.  Yet my daughter is still grounded and loving.  She chose her confirmation name well.

The other day, in my Good Books class where we're reading The Color Purple, I had my students write a letter to a person whom they lost or to whom they couldn't talk any more.  I chose to write a letter to my daughter when she's 43-years-old.  Here's that letter:

Dear C. at 43,

By the time you read this letter, I may no longer be alive.  You are as old as I am right now.  I hope you are happy and have people in your life whom you love and who love you.  If you have followed the path you've had your heart set on since kindergarten, you illustrate children's books, have a husband and three kids, and still dance ballet.

What I want to tell you is how much joy you brought into my world.  Even in the most difficult times in my life, you have been a light for me.  You know, or will know, the struggles we've had in our family because of mental illness.  You know, or will know, your mother struggled/struggles with bipolar and sexual addiction  I hope when you are my age that you realize I did my best to give you the most normal childhood I could. 

My biggest fear is that you will be touched by mental illness, as well.  It's something I think and pray about every day.  If you have been diagnosed with a mental illness, never hang your head.  Don't let people treat you like a freak or an outcast.  You are my daughter.  Don't ever be ashamed.  You have a mental illness.  It's just a part of you like your freckles or red hair or smile.  Don't let it define you.

You are beautiful.  You are strong.  You are the best thing that ever happened to me.



Tuesday, February 8, 2011

February 8: Saint Josephine Bakhita

Right now, I'm teaching Cormac McCarthy's novel The Road to my writing and literature class.  It's one of my favorite books, but my students, as I anticipated, are struggling.  They're struggling with McCarthy's language and style.  His themes and ideas.  More than one of them have said out loud during discussions, "I hate this book."

What I really think my students are struggling with is maturity.  Most of them are only just out of high school a year or so.  I guess I can't really expect them to feel the terror of the dying father for his young son in The Road when they can barely keep a goldfish or fern alive.  They just don't have the life experience to appreciate the book.  Today, I tried again to make them "get it."  I had them write a journal entry about the one thing that's most important in their lives.  My goal was to make them think about the difference between need and want.

One of my students wrote about his eyesight.  Another wrote about her cocker spaniel.  One girl wrote about her faith in God.  They were all incredibly sincere and earnest.  The students who didn't read their journal entries out loud looked stricken, as if I were going to ask them to strip naked and dance to "Funky Town" for everybody.  I could tell that I hit pay dirt with some of them, that I pushed through the layers of Facebook and iPhone numbness to something real, raw, and alive.  Then I read them what I had written:

"This novel makes me stop and evaluate all the things I regard as important or necessary on a day-to-day basis:  Diet Mountain Dew, books, teaching, students, lobster pizza, car, jobs, money.  However, when I reflect on the nittiest and grittiest, those things in my life that really do give me a reason to get up every morning, I would have to list just three:  my son, my daughter, and my wife.  I can't winnow the list any more.  It's a choice I can't even contemplate.  There's a terrible scene in William Styron's book Sophie's Choice where his main character, Sophie, is forced to choose which of her two children will live and which will be executed.  It's a moment so brutal and agonizing that I can barely read it.  If I were asked to choose just one thing I cherish most, the one thing I would rescue from destruction, I couldn't.  I couldn't make a choice like Sophie makes.  It's unthinkable to me.  Wife?  Daughter?  Son?  I know I'd end up like Sophie, haunted the rest of my days by the cries of the choice I didn't make."

Too many people in the world today are forced to make decisions like that in places like Sudan, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone.  Life-and-death decisions.  Today's saint, Josephine Bakhita, was stolen from her family in Sudan by slave traders around the year 1879.  After many years and many owners, Josephine was freed.  She wound up in the convent of the Canossian Daughters of Charity.  She joined the order and served as "cook, gate keeper, and keeper of linens."  She died on February 6, 1947.  When Pope John Paul II canonized her in 2000, he referred to her as a "universal sister...[who] can reveal to us the secret of true happiness."

Josephine Bakhita--former slave, nun, servant--found happiness in the religious life, in throwing her energies into helping others.  She became Christ in the lives of people who were sick, broken, cast-off.  She took a life of slavery and turned it into a life of compassion and love.  That was Josephine Bakhita's choice.

You see, it's all about the choices we make.  That's what I wanted my students to understand today.  When all the elements of my life are distilled--job, money, iPad, Kindle, car, clothes, stuffed-crust pizza, all of it boiled off--what are the oxygen and hydrogen of my daily existence?  What do I need to survive?

If it's a cell phone, I may be a student. 

If it's food, money, a car, I may be a janitor.  A nurse.  A lawyer.  The President of the United States.

If it's love and compassion, I may be a husband.  A father.  Or a saint.

It's my choice.

Monday, February 7, 2011

February 7: Saint Moses

It's so easy to get angry and remain angry.  I inherited the ability to hold grudges for years, as evidenced by my last two blogs about Professor Ihateyourshittywriting.  That experience occurred over ten years ago, and I still go around telling people not to read her books because she was an asshole to me 15 or so years ago.  But I come across this trait naturally.  My father is the most stubborn man I've ever met.  He's, I believe, 83-years-old, and I don't think he's recovered from FDR being re-elected three times.  (My dad's a Republican in the let's-rid-the-world-of-the-red-menace-Ronald-Reagan kind of way.)  So, you see, I'm a bottle-fed grudge holder.

I'm not proud of this aspect of my personality.  It's un-Christian and unhealthy.  But I'm really good and funny at it, which makes me sort of a warmer, more charming version of someone like Bill O'Reilly (less the bigoted, small-minded, sphincter-headed, Republican opinions).  I've learned to accept my shortcoming and even turn it to my advantage in my blog posts.  I was watching a talk given by Ron Reagan Jr. on TV this weekend.  He was discussing how people who absolutely hated his father's politics would meet his father for a few minutes and come away saying, "Yeah, I don't agree with his policies, but he's a helluva nice guy."  I hope that's the way I come off.

You might be wondering where I'm headed with this little ramble.  Well, when I taught my Sunday School class yesterday, I had the people in it write about a time "when you gave in/surrendered to something you've been fighting a long time."  In my journal response, I found myself writing about a feud I've been having with a relative for years.  Let's call him Robert, because I harbor a dislike for the actor Robert Pattinson (mostly because he's young, good-looking, and over-rated).  My Robert is just as stubborn, mean, petty, and spiteful as I can be.  As I said, it runs in the family.  However, he is not half as witty or winning as me.  Therefore, he's just plain angry and ugly at times. Even thinking about my altercations with him right now causes my heart to pound a little faster and harder. As I wrote about him for Sunday School, I realized how much effort I expend at being angry at him, how tired and frustrated it makes me feel. It's like watching an episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and realizing that the "before" condition of the house is better than the current condition of your own home. It just sucks the energy and happiness right out of you.

Moses, today's feast saint, is known for being a peacemaker.  He was a hermit who lived "in the region between Syria and Egypt" in the fourth century.  Because of his reputation for holiness, Moses was eventually persuaded to become bishop of the region, and he spent the rest of his life securing peace between the Romans and the Saracens ("nomad tribes of the Syro-Arabian desert").  Considering the current unrest in the Middle East and Egypt, the world could still use the healing powers of Moses.

And so could I.  It's so easy, however, to hang on to old hurts and habits.  I've gotten so used to disliking and dismissing Robert that to change my ways is tantamount to turning the Titanic.  Even though the iceberg's dead ahead, it takes a good mile of sea to alter course.  This is what I wrote in my journal for Sunday School:  "I'm just going to have to learn to love and accept Robert the way he is.  I know that's what Jesus does with me.  Therefore, I accept Robert, and all of his petty, childish, mean, competitive, cruel ways."

I guess Saint Moses would even want me to forgive him for Twilight and New Moon.

Friday, February 4, 2011

February 4: Saint Veronica

The story of Veronica is full of story and legend.  According to tradition, Veronica met Christ on His way to Calvary and gave Him a cloth to wipe His blood-soaked face.  Christ left the image of His face on the cloth.  According to an Italian legend, Veronica kept the veil and used it to cure Roman Emperor Tiberius of some serious illness.  Eventually, she gave the cloth to Pope Clement for safe-keeping.  She may have married a convert named Zacheus.  She may have carried relics of the Virgin Mary to France, where she may have died in the city of Soulac.  She also may have been the "woman with an issue of blood" whom Christ miraculously cured.  Nothing about Veronica is verifiable, including whether she even existed.  However, her story is one of great compassion and sacrifice, an identification with the suffering Christ.  For that alone, her story is worth knowing.

When a friend read my last blog on John Bosco, she suggested I post the story that my professor hated so much and let you, my readers, tell me if it's as bad as I was led to believe.  Since Veronica has so many stories swirling around her, I thought her feast would be the perfect day to post my story.  I still harbor some mental scars from my workshop of this story.  And it doesn't help that my instructor has become a somewhat big-name author.  (She never made it on Oprah's Book Club, but, as you may recall, she did win the National Book Award.)  Every time I see her name or face in print, my stomach still clenches a little bit.  But I've decided, in honor of Saint Veronica, to post my story without any changes or editing.

I'd love it if my readers would post some comments and feedback on the story.  Let me know if it's really bad.  Hopefully, you can be a little kinder than Professor Ihateyourshittywriting.  So please, let me know what you think.  I'm not sure how many people actually read my blog or simply stumble upon it by mistake and immediately redirect their computer searches.  But, if you have the time to read and leave a comment, you will be doing me a great favor.  I think.  Remember Veronica comforting the wounded Christ.  Lay a little Veronica on me.  Read on and then leave your opinion.  I can take it.  I think.  The story's called...

Danny's Feet

Danny and I used to swim naked in Lake Superior when we were kids.  Under the July sun, we would strip on the shore, our seven-year-old bodies smooth as polished agates.  Our hair glowed, like driftwood bleached white by the summer days.  Danny and I were the same age, height, and weight.  Our skin tanned to walnut, and as we shed our shorts and t-shirts, the cool air from the lake raised goose-flesh on our arms and legs.  Standing beside Danny, ready to charge into the lake, I knew even our mothers wouldn't have been able to tell us apart, if only Danny would have taken off his socks.

Danny never took off his socks.  His feet and calves flashed like lighthouses in the dark of the forest when we played hide-and-seek at dusk.  When he was allowed to spend a night with us at our family camp in Calumet, we never needed a flashlight when we had to go to the outhouse.  I just sent him down the path ahead of me.  The white of his socks were like flares.  We never went inside the outhouse, instead creeping behind it to pee into the black forest.  I imagined deer and bears fleeing in panic from the beacons of Danny's feet.

One night, standing behind the outhouse, listening to our urine hissing against the ground before us, I asked Danny why he never took off his socks.  His pee stopped mid-stream and then resumed.

"My feet are different," he said.  His voice flattened the noises of the woods, as if the crickets and birds had been stunned silent by his answer.

I waited until he finished peeing, and as he turned to go back to the camp, I touched his back.  "Different how?"  I couldn't see his face in the darkness.  My hand was hot against his shirtless shoulder.

His breath quickened, like he had just finished a foot race.  "Mom says," he paused.  "Mom says the Greek god Mercury had wings on his ankles.  She says he could run faster than a lightning bolt."  He turned to face me, and even though I couldn't see his eyes, I felt his stare.

After almost a minute of silence, I reached over and pulled Danny's right sock down.  He lifted his foot, and I pulled the sock off.  I did the same with the left sock.

The darkness ate Danny's legs.  I reached out and found his calf.  I ran my hand down to his ankle and felt the smooth knob of bone.  His leg was tense, like the eye of a tornado, a boiling calm.  My fingers explored his foot, the arch, the veins.  Danny lifted his foot again, and my fingertips found the hard callouses on the heel and ball.  I moved to his toes, feeling each long digit's joint, nail, ridges, and pad.  When I reached the pinkie, I found Danny's secret.

Danny had two pinkie toes, webbed together.  I ran my fingers over them again and again, feeling the two nails and the two knuckles branching from a single base.  The tissue connecting them was paper thin, allowing each toe to move independently of the other.

I reached over to Danny's other foot and found the same:  two pinkies joined in one thin embrace of skin.  I moved back and forth between his feet, caressing, flexing, rolling each of the paired toes until their skin burned from my attentions.

Then Danny stepped away from me.  His feet disappeared into the darkness, removing from my grasp his toes.  I stared down at the discarded socks, glowing in the path like misplaced moonlight.  Danny made a noise that might have been a whimper, and then he was gone.  I heard him run to the cabin, open the screen door, and gently close it behind him.

I reached down and scooped up Danny's socks, half expecting their whiteness to run through my fingers like water.  I stood and started up the path to the cabin.  Feeling the packed earth beneath my toes, I wondered if Mercury ever felt the dirt, cool and damp, beneath the miracle of his feet.