Friday, November 30, 2012

November 30: Bad News, "A Cry Like a Bell," A Poem

A good poem on a bad day
The reason I'm in a bad mood today/tonight/the rest of the weekend/possibly until New Year's Day:  my wife got fired from her job today.  She's taking it much better than I am at the moment.  I've been angry all afternoon long.  Right now, I'm in bed, in my pajamas, typing this post and trying to avoid interaction  with any person.  In the mood I'm in, it's best if I just pretend that I've suddenly developed a case of acute onset muteness.

I have been posting poems on Friday evenings for the past few weeks.  Despite my foul mood, I will not disappoint any of my disciples who have tuned in for a poetry fix.  This poem is by Madeleine L'Engle (yes, she of A Wrinkle in Time fame) and comes from her collection of verse titled A Cry Like a Bell.  It's a Christmas poem, because I'm trying to rekindle my yuletide spirit.  While I don't think L'Engle is a great poet, she has her moments.  The poem below is one of those moments.

Saint Marty is going to have some liquor spiked with eggnog now.

The Bethlehem explosion

And it came to pass in those days that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.  And Joseph also went up from Galilee . . . to be taxed, with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.  Luke 2:1, 4-5

The chemistry lab at school
was in an old greenhouse
surrounded by ancient live oaks
garnished with Spanish moss.

The experiment I remember best
was pouring a quart of clear fluid
into a glass jar, and dropping into it,
grain by grain, salt-sized crystals,
until they layered
like white sand on the floor of the jar.

One more grain--and suddenly--
water and crystal burst
into a living, moving pattern,
a silent, quietly violent explosion.
The teacher told us that only when
we supersaturated the solution,
would come the precipitation.

The little town
was like the glass jar in our lab.
One by one they came, grain by grain,
all those of the house of David,
like grains of sand to be counted.

The inn was full.  When Jospeh knocked,
his wife was already in labour; there was no room
even for compassion.  Until the barn was offered.
That was the precipitating factor.  A child was born,
and the pattern changed forever, the cosmos
shaken with that silent explosion.

November 30: Can't Afford, Idle People, P.O.E. Day

"I wish to be left alone," said Scrooge.  "Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer.  I don't make merry myself at Christmas, and I can't afford to make idle people merry.  I help to support the establishments I have mentioned:  they cost enough:  and those who are badly off must go there."

I understand how Scrooge feels in the above passage.  I don't want to be around people.  I've had a pretty crappy day, and I want everyone dead at the moment.  Idle people.  Merry people.  Fat people. Skinny people.  I'm not discriminating here.  Like Scrooge, I wish to be left alone.

Today is traditionally P.O.E.T.S. Day.  That stands for Piss On Everything Tomorrow's Saturday.  For this week only, however, I'm proclaiming this Friday to be P.O.E. Day.  Piss On Everything Day.  I don't want to do anything but go to bed tonight.  I don't want to type this blog.  I don't want to drive my daughter to the birthday party she's been invited to attend.  I don't want to give my son his bath.  The name says it all:  piss on everything.

Everybody goes through moods like this.  There are reasons behind my crappy attitude.  I don't want to discuss those reasons right now.  I'm cashing in my Scrooge bucks.  If you meet me, don't talk to me.  If you have my phone number, don't call.  If you're tempted to send me a personal e-mail, don't do it.  I find it best to follow my instincts here, and my instincts tell me to have as little human interaction as possible.

Maybe Saint Marty will talk about what's on his mind in a future post.  Or not.  He needs to go to his safe place for a little while.

Even Dickens had bad days

Thursday, November 29, 2012

November 29: My Daughter, the Babysitter

While my wife and I are at the Toys for Tots Concert this evening, my eleven-year-old daughter is going to be taking care of her four-year-old brother.  This is the first time we have left her in charge of him for more than an hour..  She will be responsible for his well-being for close to three hours tonight.  She will have to read to him, say prayers with him, and put him to bed.

The last time she babysat for us, she also straightened up the house, practiced her flute for 20 minutes, and made us Diet Coke floats.  I'm not nervous about her childcare skills.  I know she is really good with kids.  I've had mothers from her dance school asking me if she babysits.  My apprehension comes from her babysitting her baby brother, who can drive her up a friggin' wall.

We will have our cell phone, and our daughter has the number.  I'm assuming, if she runs into any difficulties with her brother, she will call us instead of drowning him in the toilet bowl.  She's excited about the trust we are showing her.  She wants to prove herself, and that's great.

Maybe my biggest issue with my daughter babysitting is that I still think of her as a little girl.  I don't want to admit that she's wearing training bras.  I don't want to listen to her giggle about boys with her friends.  And, please God, don't talk to me about menstruation.  She is my little girl.  She will always be my little girl.

Saint Marty will let his daughter start dating at the normal age:  35.

My daughter--Super Babysitter!

November 29: Misery's Every Refuge, His Precepts, Toys for Tots Concert

In almshouse, hospital, and jail, in misery's every refuge, where vain man in his little brief authority had not made fast the door, and barred the Spirit out, he left his blessing, and taught Scrooge his precepts.

The Ghost of the Present teaches Scrooge about the precepts of Christmas.  He teaches Scrooge about compassion and laughter.  About misery and hope.  About family and friendship.  And about generosity and charity.  The Present is full of examples of people at their very best.

On this Blessing Thursday, I am going to do a commercial.  Tonight, I am participating in a Toys for Tots Benefit Concert at Mitchell United Methodist Church in Negaunee, Michigan.  There's quite the collection of musicians at this event.  Rock bands, pianists, Blues singers, church choirs, and violinists.  One thing connects each of us:  we want to help kids have a good holiday.  We are trying to do the work of the Ghost of Christmas Present.

It really doesn't take a whole lot to be a part of the blessings of Christmas.  Drop a few coins in a Salvation Army bucket.  Bring some canned corn or pumpkin to a local food pantry.  Visit an elderly neighbor.  All of these things contribute to the general air of yuletide kindness.  It's not really about money or presents or cookies.  It's about seeing a need and filling it.

Come join Saint Marty tonight at 7 p.m. in Negaunee.  The price of admission is one unwrapped toy for Toys for Tots.  See the need.  Fill it.

All aboard this train!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

November 28: Quality Time

My wife is at choir practice.  My daughter is at dance class.  I am taking care of my son.  And by "taking care of my son," I mean washing out three pairs of pants and underwear in the toilet.  Yes, our quality time has been an exercise in potting training hell.  My son knows when he has to go to the bathroom.  He just chooses not to inform me until after he has crap running down his leg.

All my family and close friends know I have a pretty strong stomach.  I can clean up vomit.  I can go through a refrigerator and empty all the containers of four-month-old chicken breasts and moldy broccoli.  I can scrape off dishes used as ash trays and cuspidors.  However, I have a real problem with fecal matter.  I can't stand the smell.  I can't stand the sight.  And I certainly can't stand the texture.  In my time with my son tonight, I have had to deal with more shit than Ed Norton from The Honeymooners.

I tend to lose my patience with my son in these instances, simply because I am trying not to throw up.    I want him to wash out his clothes.  He refuses to do it.  I stand there and wait.  He stands there and waits.  It is a battle akin to Godzilla versus King Kong.  Or should I say King Dung.  The score currently stands at Godzilla-2, King Dung-1.  I am winning, although I don't feel like a winner.  I feel like taking a three-hour shower in scalding water when I get home.

I am sure the fun is not over yet.  When I pick up my daughter, she will probably find some reason to hate me.  I will not have the heat at the correct temperature in the car.  Or the WiFi will not be working at home.  Or my eyes will be brown.

Saint Marty is having a shitty night.

Ed Norton knows his shit

November 28: Powerful Speaker, Parliament, Worry Wednesday

"...You're quite a powerful speaker, Sir...I wonder you don't do into Parliament.."

Yes, Scrooge admires his nephew's facility with words.  Fred can talk.  He gives good speech.  In some way, I think Fred is closest to Dickens' real voice and ideas.  Certainly, Fred eloquently points out the shortcomings of Scrooge's beliefs about Christmas.

Public speaking is the number one fear for almost everyone on this planet.  Given the choice between death and talking in front of a group of strangers, the "normal" person would select the grave.  That's a serious fear.

I have never had a problem with speaking.  I've been doing it for so long that it simply doesn't phase me any more.  There is only one time of the year when I have an issue with opening my mouth and talking.  Tomorrow is that one time.

I finished my Christmas essay the day after Thanksgiving.  Now I have to go to the local Public Radio Station and record it for a series of Holiday Readings that's going to air in December.  In the past, I've been able to complete this task in one take.  I have never had to repeat my performance.

However, when I sit in front of that microphone, I get a little anxious.  Actually, I get a lot anxious.  I only have one hour to accomplish this feat this year.  I scheduled my recording session for 2 p.m.  I have to teach at 3 p.m.  That doesn't leave a whole lot of wiggle room for making mistakes.  I've practiced and rehearsed.  I've read the essay twice aloud without stuttering or swearing.  That means absolutely nothing.  I've also read it three times, messing up the same sentence each and every time..

That is Saint Marty's worry this Wednesday.  He wants to sound like Fred the nephew, not Porky the Pig.

Th-th-th-th-that's all, folks!!

November 27: My Keyboard

I'm working on m iPad righ now, and it is ticking me off.  The keboard is not working properly.  More specifically, the "delete" key is not functioning.  I can't edit anything.  All I can do is type stuff in.  So, if I make any mistakes tonight, I'm just going to leave them in.  That will save me plenty of time.  Half the time I spend on my blog posts is going over them for typos and formatting issues.

now my "enter" key is acting up.  My "shitf" key is being difficult, as well.  i Want to capitalize the first letter of each sentence, byt it isn't easy.  I read somewhere that the only leters that really matter in a word are the first and last.  The mind fills in the other letters of the word.  OK, I just typed "in a word" and "of the word" right next teach other.  If I had a functioning "delete," that wouldn't be a problem.  Now, I have to be redundant.  Not only that, I have to repeat myself.

Mybe all Im ging to do is tpe tle frst and last ltters of eoch wrd.  See hw that wrks for all my readrs.

OK, I'm getting tired of seeing all these mistakes.  I'm going to have to call it quits.  I have another post to type for tomorrow morning.

Saint Marty is not perfect, and this post proves it.

Houston, we hve a prblem

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

November 27: Counting-House, Toys for Tots, Saint James of the March

Once upon a time--of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve--old Scrooge sat busy in his counting-house.

As far as I can tell, Scrooge lends money for a living.  I would like to say he's a loan shark, but there's simply not enough information in the novel for me to get a good idea about Scrooge's business.  There's one scene near the end of the book in which a poor couple is stressing over a debt.  It's a horrible scene.  The woman, at one point, asks her husband, "We are quite ruined?"  Scrooge is obviously the source of his stress.

I understand the kind of desperation the woman is expressing.  Money has been tight for my family.  I have never had to go to someone like Scrooge for my finances.  Thank goodness.  I have always somehow been able to pay my bills.  It's been difficult at times, but God has always provided us exactly what we've needed.

November 26 is the feast day of Saint James the March.  Among the things James did in his life was establish pawnshops to help the poor borrow money at very low rates.  He cared about the Bob Cratchits and Tiny Tims of the world.  He did a lot of other things, as well.  One story tells of how he converted over 50,000 people to Christianity with a single sermon.  Scrooge could have learned a lot from James the March.

This Thursday, I'm participating in a benefit Toys for Tots concert.  It's the second year my wife's church has sponsored the event.  My praise band is going to be performing.  I'm not comparing myself to James.  That would be the height of hubris.  James was the ambassador for popes.  I play keyboard in a Christian rock band.  But, like James, I'm using one of my gifts to help my neighbors.  James tried to make a difference in the world.  Scrooge eventually makes a difference in his world.

Saint Marty is trying to make a difference, as well, one song at a time.

I'm trying...

Monday, November 26, 2012

November 26: Dancing With the Blog

I'm sitting in my living room right now, watching the finals of Dancing With the Stars.  It's pretty obvious who's going to win tomorrow night.  It's been pretty obvious from the beginning of the season.  Shawn Johnson has pretty much stomped every other contestant.  However, I have seen some of my favorite people get kicked off shows like American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance.  Now, some of my disciples are probably thinking, "Who gives a shit?"  I understand.  Some nights, I feel the same way about these programs, but then I get sucked right back in.

I've had an idea for a reality show that would crush Idol and The Amazing Race.  It would be called Laureate, and it would feature people facing poetry challenges.  One week, a sonnet.  Another week, a sestina.  Free verse.  Ghazal.  Pantoum.  The judges would be award-winning poets like Sharon Olds and Phil Levine and Billy Collins.  At the end of the competition, the winner would be crowned the Poet Laureate and receive one million dollars and a book deal.

Tell me that's not a great idea.  I know I wouldn't miss a single episode.  Hell, who am I kidding?  I would be on the very first season.  I would win the first season.  Of course, if I'm the executive producer, that might be a little problem, but I would find some way around that little conflict of interest.  A million bucks and a book.

I know this idea isn't exactly for Fox or NBC.  Maybe PBS would be interested in it.  Laureate and Downton Abbey, the shows that saved Public Television.

Saint Marty is taking meetings if any TV execs are reading.

Yes, but can she write a haiku?

November 26: 4 a.m., Early Bird, "Carol" Dip

The Early Bird gets Coke Zero
I have never been an early bird.  I don't believe in catching worms or sunrises or anything related to mornings.  It is 5 a.m., and I have already taken a shower, gotten dressed, and driven to work.  I have piles of work to get done, and I am not looking forward to the day ahead of me.  Mornings pretty much suck in my book.

I don't know how I ended up with a job that gets me out of bed so early.  Don't get me wrong--I'm grateful to have a job.  I am completely aware that there are many people in this country who would kill to be in my position.  My job provides health and vision and dental insurance.  I have a ton of vacation time accrued.  I'm really lucky.

However, I don't like getting up early.  I don't like having to suck down 52 ounces of Coke Zero in order to make it past 8 a.m.  (Keep in mind, by 8 a.m., I have already worked three hours.)  On weekends, when I'm able to sleep in until 6:30 or 7 a.m., I feel positively decadent.

I know what job I want.  My dream job.  My Oprah job.  That is what my question for Carol Dip Monday concerns:

Will I ever be hired as a full-time instructor at the university?  (I may have already made this query, but it doesn't hurt to check back every once in a while, either.  And I have taken steps to accomplish this goal.)

The answer from the book of Dickens is:

Martha didn't like to see him disappointed, if it were only in joke; so she came out prematurely from behind the closet door, and ran into his arms, while the two young Cratchits hustled Tiny Tim, and bore him off into the wash-house, that he might hear the pudding singing in the copper.

I think I may have received that same answer the last time I asked this questions.  That's OK by me.  Martha doesn't like to disappoint her father, Bob Cratchit.  I don't like to be disappointed, either.  I will get that full-time job at the university.  Charles Dickens says so.

That's good enough for Saint Marty this morning.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

November 25: Christmas Eve, Candles, New Cartoon

I am in a Christmas mood at the moment.  I participated in a Christmas traditions service at church this morning.  It got me thinking about Christmas lights and Saint Nicholas and "Silent Night."  And that got me thinking about one of my favorite worship events of the entire year.

At 11 p.m. on Christmas Eve at my wife's church, we celebrate with candlelight.  The church is quiet.  The people gather with very little conversation.  Hugs are exchanged.  "Merry Christmas" is said like a prayer between friends and family.  It is not "high" church.  I don't play the pipe organ.  I use the piano.  The music is delicate and soft usually, like a light snowfall.

We read the Christmas narrative from one of the Gospels.  There's a special song, usually sung by my wife.  "All Through the Night" or "I Wonder as I Wander."  Something moody, contemplative.  We celebrate communion.  And then, near midnight or a little after, the lights are turned off in the sanctuary.  Candles are lit by everyone in the church.  And we sing "Silent Night."  We raise the candles at points during each verse, and, as the flames rise, I can feel my spirit taking flight.

When the final chords of "Silent Night" fade, the quiet returns.  The sanctuary glows with Christmas ornaments and garland and lights as we put on our coats and head out into the winter night.

Whether it's snowing and dark or the stars are clear as church bells, I am at peace.  Christmas has come.

The rest of Christmas is usually a blur of presents and relatives.  Noise and chaos dominate.

But Saint Marty holds on to that Christmas Eve service, the flickering candles, the singing, the stars or snow, the silent night.

Confessions of Saint Marty

November 24: Haunted, Good Reads, "The Dead and the Living," New Cartoon

"You will be haunted," resumed the Ghost, "by Three Spirits."

Scrooge is a haunted man.  He's haunted by his past.  He's haunted by his present.  He's haunted by his future.  He's haunted by his dead sister, Fan.  He's haunted by his lost love, Belle.  He's haunted by beggars and debtors, a whole army of the poor and destitute.  Scrooge has so many ghosts in his life that Marley and the Christmas Spirits are small potatoes, just four in a long line of specters.

The good read I'm going to tell you about today is my favorite collection of poems.  It's the book that made me decide to become a poet.  It's full of ghosts, from the poet's past, present, and future.  There are hosts of children and mothers, fathers and lovers.  There are ghosts of race riots and Marilyn Monroe.  It is one of the most haunted books I have ever read.

The book I'm talking about is Sharon Olds' The Dead and the Living, which won the 1984 National Book Critics' Circle Award for Poetry.  I first read this collection around 1990 or 1991, when I was a graduate student in college.  At the time, I was finishing my Master's in fiction writing, dreaming of being the next John Irving or Raymond Carver.  And then I took a class in Contemporary American Poetry, where I ran into this:

Photograph of the Girl

The girl sits on the hard ground,
the dry pan of Russia, in the drought
of 1921, stunned,
eyes closed, mouth open,
raw hot wind blowing
sand in her face.  Hunger and puberty are
taking her together.  She leans on a sack,
layers of clothes fluttering in the heat,
the new radius of her arm curved.
She cannot be not beautiful, but she is
starving.   Each day she grows thinner, and her bones
grow longer, porous.  The caption says
she is going to starve to death that winter
with millions of others.  Deep in her body
the ovaries let out her first eggs,
golden as drops of grain.

That is Sharon Olds.  She left me stunned, breathless.  I wanted to read more of her.  Each of her poems taught me something about myself and the kind of writer I wanted to be.  In a weird way, I wanted to be Sharon Olds, the way I wanted to be J. D. Salinger when I was a teenager.  Great writers do that to me.  The make me want to be better than I am.  I admired the raw honesty of Olds' poetry.  She didn't shy away from painful or private subjects.  She dissected them, in all their physical complexity.  The girl in the poem above is dying, and yet, within her body, is the golden promise of new life.  The juxtaposition of these two images is thrilling and heartbreaking.

About fifteen years after I first encountered Sharon Olds on the page, I had the privilege of attending a week-long writing workshop taught by her.  Every morning and afternoon, for two hours, I sat in a circle of poets and listened to Olds speak about the hard work of poetry.  She was the den mother to our group of Girl Scout poets.  It was one of the best writing experiences I have ever had.

I brought my copy of The Dead and the Living to that workshop with me.  At the end of our five days, I asked her to autograph it for me.  She didn't write anything special or earth-shattering in it.  It was a standard kind of autograph, "For Marty, with warm best wishes from Sharon, Big Sur, May 2005."  But it is proof that I met her, that she read my poetry and, for five days, knew who I was.

The Dead and the Living still haunts me.  Ghosts from my past and present haunt its pages.  I still want to be Sharon Olds.  I want her courage in choosing subject matter.  I want her gift of image and free association.  I want her ability to constantly surprise with each and every line of poetry she writes.

Saint Marty is going to let Sharon Olds have the last word tonight.

Blue Son

All day with my blue son,
sick again, the blue skin
under his eyes, blue tracing of his
veins over the bones of his chest
pronounced as the ribs of the dead, a green
vein in his groin, blue-green as the
numbers on an arm.  His eloquent face
grows thinner each hour, the germs use him
like a soap.  Exhaustion strips him, and under each
layer of sweetness a deeper layer of
sweetness is bared.  His white skin,
so fine it has no grain, goes blue-
grey, and the burning blue of his eye
dies down and goes out, it is the faded cobalt on the
side of a dead bird.  He seems to
withdraw to a great distance, as if he is
gone and looking back at me
without regret, patient, like an old
man who just dug his grave and
waits at the edge, in the evening light,
naked, blue with cold, in terrible

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, November 23, 2012

November 23: Still Storming, Donald Hall, "Carol"

It has been storming all day long in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  Actually, it's been storming in select counties in the U.P., and I happen to live in one of those counties.  By tomorrow morning, my little town will be drifted over with at least eight inches of freshly fallen snow.  Considering the fact that last night, when I came home from having Thanksgiving dinner, it was close to fifty degrees outside, this change is drastic.

Of course, I knew snow was inevitable.  At some point, the central U.P. was going to get nailed. It's a little thing called the lake effect.  I was simply hoping the lake effect was going to kick in closer to Christmas, like, say, December 24.  That was my hope.  However, I had to slog through drifts of white misery to get to my front door this evening.  Winter is upon us.

I have been listening to Christmas music all day long, at work and at home.  I think it's one of the side effects of today's weather.  Snow puts me in the mood to watch White Christmas with Bing Crosby.  Now that we are past Turkey Day, I can listen to Christmas carols without any apologies.

One of my favorite Donald Hall poems is a Christmas carol.  It's a simple little verse, full of silence and wonder.  I love the touch of darkness Hall brings into the final lines.  It's like he's reminding his reader:  Yes, the nativity narrative is beautiful, but beauty isn't free.

So, on this snowy eve, Saint Marty presents Donald Hall's poem "Carol" in celebration of P.O.E.T.S. Day.


The warmth of cows
     That chewed on hay
And cherubim
Protected Him
     As small He lay.

Chickens and sheep
     Knew He was there
Because all night
A holy light
     Suffused the air.

Darkness was long
     And the sun brief
When the Child arose
A man of sorrows
     And friend to grief.

Away in a Donald Hall poem...

November 23: After Tea, P.O.E.T.S. Day, Chocolate Potluck

After tea, they had some music.  For they were a musical family, and knew what they were about, when they sang a Glee or Catch.  I can assure you:  especially Topper, who could growl away in the bass like a good one, and never swell the large veins in his forehead, or get red in the face over it.

One of my favorite sections of A Christmas Carol concerns the party at Scrooge's nephew Fred's house.  Fred jokes about his uncle, about his wife's cooking, about his inability to tell a story.  He laughs at everything, especially himself.  Fred would be the character from this novel voted most likely to play beer pong.

I like Fred.  I aspire to be like Fred--affable and friendly with everyone.  I don't like being angry.  I prefer to overlook flaws of character or moments of asshole-ness.  I like laughing, even if it's at my own expense.  And I like being around people.

This P.O.E.T.S. Day, the day after Thanksgiving, I participated in our eleventh annual Chocolate Potluck.  There are basically only two people who work on Black Friday in the Medical Center--myself and a guy from I.T.  We have worked together on this day for over ten years.  And we are both chocolate lovers.  Eleven years ago, we decided to bring chocolate products to work.  A lot of chocolate products.  Dove and Godiva and Ghiradelli and Hershey.  White fudge Oreos.  Chocolate-covered cherries and raspberries.  Our selection has expanded and improved each year.

This year was no different.  Although a snowstorm was raging outside, we were inside, stuffing our faces to celebrate the commencement of the yuletide season.  I felt like Fred, welcoming guests and telling embarrassing stories and listening to Christmas music on my computer.  Bing Crosby has been at every Chocolate Potluck we've had.  He doesn't eat much, and he's a great baritone.

The Christmas holidays are upon us.  Saint Marty has the leftovers at work to prove it.  On Monday morning, he will rummage through the chocolate box, eat a Hershey Bell or peanut butter M&M, and think of Fred and his group of friends.  Maybe Saint Marty will sing a Glee or Catch, whatever the hell they are.

This puts a jingle in my bells

Thursday, November 22, 2012

November 22: Come to Dinner, Turkey Trot, Happy Thanksgiving

"It's I.  Your Uncle Scrooge.  I have come to dinner.  Will you let me in, Fred?"

One of the last stops Scrooge makes on Christmas Day is his nephew Fred's home.  Scrooge isn't sure whether Fred will welcome him or not.  The day before, Scrooge made it very clear to Fred that he had no intention of attending Fred's Christmas party.  The redeemed Scrooge craves the company and love of his only blood relative.  He wants to share the holiday with his nephew and niece.  Break bread with them.  Give thanks for his second chance.

Today, it is Thanksgiving Day in the United States.  It's a day when families sit down to turkey dinners and count their blessings.  I have two Thanksgiving dinners to attend.  One at my parents' house.  One at my wife's sister's house.  That's a lot of turkey and mashed potatoes and pecan pie.  There's not very many holidays during the year that focus on thanks.  Halloween has costumes and candy.  Christmas has presents and cookies.  Valentine's Day has hearts and chocolates.  Easter has hard-boiled eggs and baked ham.

Thanksgiving has food, too.  A lot of food.  But, above all, this day is a reminder to stop, think about all the abundance of love in your life, and say a little prayer of thanks to God.

One of my personal traditions on Thanksgiving morning is running a 10K race.  I have participated in the Turkey Trot for the past six or so years.  I started with the 5K and graduated to 10K a few years ago.  I was a little worried this year because I haven't been running a whole lot recently.  I thought I was going to be sucking wind by the first half mile.  Instead, I had a great time.  The weather was perfect, almost fifty degrees.  I ran the entire race with one of my best friends, and I didn't struggle at all.  In fact, I felt like I could have run another 6.2 miles when I crossed the finish line.

I give thanks for a great race this morning.  I give thanks for my wife being at the finish line, cheering me on.  I give thanks for my son, standing next to me right now, saying over and over, "Are you almost done with the iPad?  Are you almost done?  Are you almost done?"  I give thanks for turkey.  I give thanks for family.  I give thanks for love.  I give thanks for each and every blessing in my life.  Small and large.

Even if you aren't from the United States, take a few moments today to give thanks.  You won't regret it.

Saint Marty wishes everyone a "Happy Thanksgiving."

Saint Marty gives thanks for Turkey Trot friends

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

November 21: Eve of Thanksgiving

On this eve of Thanksgiving, I'm a little out of sorts.  I just finished making two pecan pies.  They are in the oven as I'm sitting here, typing this post.  My daughter is playing some game on the Wii.  I'm not sure what she's doing, but it involves a lot of really ugly monsters.  She is currently kicking some striped monster's ass.

I spent the day at work putting up Christmas decorations.  It was a little tiring.  Everything turned out beautiful, but it took close to seven or so hours to attain that beauty.  When I finished, I had just enough energy to work on one or two other projects.  Nothing too taxing.  By the time 5 p.m. rolled around, I just wanted to go home, slip into a hot chocolate spiked with Bailey's Irish Cream, and contemplate with fear the 10K I'm running tomorrow morning.  Instead, I had to go to Wal-Mart to pick up a few last-minute Thanksgiving necessities, like white fudge-covered Oreos.

When I got home, my four-year-old son greeted me in his underwear at the front door.  He wanted me to watch The Cat in the Hat Knows Christmas on PBS with him.  I sat on the couch, and he climbed up my legs into my lap.  I pulled a blanket up around our necks, and we stayed that way for quite some time.

The reason I'm out of sorts is the Turkey Trot, the pies, and exhaustion.  I haven't felt this tired in a very long time.  I'm actually falling asleep in front of my iPad.  I close my eyes and doze off for a second.  When I wake up, the screen looks something like this:


Saint Marty is ready for a little rest.  Actually, Saint Marty is ready for a lot of rest.  He's going to need all the energy he can muster tomorrow morning.

Who the hell arranges their pecans in a pie like this?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

November 21: Frisked, Perfectly Winded, Turkey Trot

He had frisked into the sitting-room, and was now standing there:  perfectly winded.

This is Scrooge at the end of the novel.  He has gone a little crazy with happiness, dancing around his rooms, not exactly sure what to do.  He is a man who has not really exerted himself in the last, oh, forty or so years.  He walks to work.  He walks home.  He walks over to Bob Cratchit's desk to tell Bob he can't buy any more coal to heat their office.  Scrooge will not be winning any marathons in the near future.

Today, I'm supposed to talk about a worry I have.  Well, there's only one that's preoccupying me at the moment:  the Turkey Trot.  It's a race that I run every Thanksgiving morning.  The first time, I ran the 5K race.  For the past four or so years, I've participated in the 10K.  That's 6.2 miles for those of you still using the English system of measurement.  My worry stems from the fact that I haven't been doing a whole lot or running recently.  In fact, I've been averaging about only four to five miles per week.  Yes, I said "per week." 

I'm worried that I'm not going to be able to do the Turkey Trot.  I haven't really trained enough.  This past summer, I would have been able to run this race no problem.  For three months, June through August, I didn't miss a day of running.  I was in really good shape.  Then I started teaching again.  And my daughter started taking dance lessons again.  Slowly, my practice of running became a preoccupation of running.  Then a hobby.  Now, it's barely a passing thought.

Like Scrooge, I'm out of practice.  The last race I ran was in July, and it was only two-miles long.  I'm totally unprepared for Thanksgiving morning.  I've already paid my registration fee.  $30.  
That includes money for the race and the 2012 Turkey Trot shirt.  There really isn't any turning back, unless I want to lose that $30.

That's my worry.  I have to run a race, and I'm not ready for it.  I am going to be slow.  I will come in dead last.  I may have a low blood sugar reaction in the middle of it.  At the end of those ten kilometers, I will be more than perfectly winded.

Saint Marty will be near death, sucking air hard enough to affect global warming.

Even this guy is going to beat me

November 20: What Did I Do?

I am tired of being the father of an almost-teenage girl tonight.  When I picked my daughter up from my parents' house this evening, she came unglued on me.  She was mad that I had showed up to bring her home.  When we got home, she came unglued on me again, this time because she had lost a notebook she needed for school.  Then, after she had calmed down, she came unglued once more because she left another school book at my parents' house.

Currently, we are sitting in silence in the living room.  We are at a stalemate.  She doesn't want to talk to me, and I don't want to be screamed at anymore.  Perhaps things will get better when we're both asleep.

I don't like fighting with my daughter.  Actually, I'm not fighting with her.  I have spoken a total of three or four times to her.  I have said "Let's get going, sweetie" and "Do you have any homework tonight?" and "What are you looking for?" and "Did you leave it at school?"  I think that's about it.  In return, I have gotten door slamming, screaming, tears, and glares.  It's like living with a skunk.  I walk around, trying not to startle her in order to avoid a big stink.

I miss the little girl who would sit in my lap while I read Charlotte's Web to her.  I have a friend who recently went on a trip to Pennsylvania.  When I asked my friend how her trip was, she said, "If I had to do it over, I would raise my kids Amish.  They're up at dawn, in the barns and fields.  They work all day and are too tired at night to cause any problems."  My friend has three daughters.  All three of them had babies when they were teenagers.

Maybe my friend is on to something.  Maybe the Amish are on to something.  No zippers.  Long, black dresses.  Church.  Barn raisings.  Arranged marriages.  Horses and carriages.

The only problem is that Saint Marty doesn't look good in a beard.

This would not be a good look for me

November 20: Scant Young Nose, Gnawed by Dogs, Saint Cecilia

The owner of one scant young nose, gnawed and mumbled by the hungry cold as bones are gnawed by dogs, stopped by Scrooge's keyhole to regale him with a Christmas carol:  but at the first sound of

     "God bless you, merry gentleman!
      May nothing you dismay!"

Scrooge seized the ruler with such energy of action, that the singer fled in terror, leaving the keyhole to the fog and even more congenial frost.

This passage is just one of many instances during the course of the novel in which a song is sung.  As I've pointed out before, music and singing are central motifs of the book.  The carols recall childhood and innocence and, sometimes, poverty and want.  The beggar boy above sings.  Tiny Tim sings.  At one point, an old lighthouse keeper sings.

As a poet and musician, I appreciate this aspect of Dickens' tale.  Some of my best memories of childhood involve music.  When I took naps as a child, my mother would put a Doris Day LP on her record player, and I would fall asleep to "Once I had a secret love..."  Many of my Christmas memories revolve around music, as well.  Choirs I've sung with.  Midnight masses.  Candlelight and Christmas Eve and "Silent Night."  Music connects all people.

November 22 is the feast day of Cecilia.  Cecilia is the patron saint of musicians, poets, and singers.  At an early age, she made a vow of virginity.  Even though her parents married her off to a nobleman named Valerian, Cecilia preserved her vow.  She converted her husband to Christianity.  I have no idea what her connections to poetry and music are.  However, they must be significant.  I can tell you that Cecilia and her husband were both martyred for their beliefs somewhere between the years 161 and 193 A.D.

Music is the great equalizer.  It provides solace for the lonely, joy for the despairing, and hope for the hopeless.  It can put children to sleep.  It can make them feel safe and loved.  Saint Cecilia knew that.  Charles Dickens knew that.

Saint Marty knows that, too.  Sing with him:  "Que sera, sera.  Whatever will be, will be..."

Doris knew that, too

Monday, November 19, 2012

November 19: Good News--Not That Anyone Noticed

So, I may have misinterpreted my Carol dip this morning (not that anyone has noticed since my earlier post has received no views).  If you are curious as to the subject, go and take a look at it.  It concerns having to speak with the English department head at the university about the courses I will be teaching next semester.  I was feeling pretty fatalistic about my prospects, imagining two sections of technical writing (or, as I like to call it, resume and cover letter hell).  My question for ol' Chuck Dickens was something along the lines of "Will I get two sections of Introduction to Film to teach in the winter?"

The response I got was pretty ominous--something with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come staring at Scrooge and making him feel more than a little uncomfortable.  Scary specter of the future.  That didn't seem like a very positive omen.  I was already preparing myself for the cover letters and research proposals before I phoned my boss.

Well, it turns out I may have been a little premature.  When I got him on the phone, the Department Head said, "How would you feel about two sections of Intro to Film?"

I think I said something like, "That sounds fine by me."  What I was thinking was, "Take me home and love me long time, sailor boy."

Good news.  Really good news.  If it weren't a work night, I'd have a drink to celebrate.  Something with gin and a twist of lime.   Instead, I will simply acknowledge an unexpected blessing.

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is smiling on Saint Marty this evening.


November 19: "Carol" Dip Monday, Classes for Next Semester, Hope

I have to make a phone call to the head of the English Department at the university this morning.  He sent me an e-mail about classes for next semester.  I'm hoping for another two sections of Introduction to Film.  However, I am a pessimist.  So, I am preparing for the worst.  I'm not exactly sure what the worst would be.  Perhaps Technical and Report Writing.  That is not an exciting class.  It's a good class.  Very useful.  It may even be the most useful writing class offered by the English Department.  However, having taught it many semesters in a row, I have burned out a little on resumes and cover letters and progress reports and proposals.

Plus, I've been a little spoiled the last few semesters.  Introduction to Mythology.  Good Books.  Introduction to Film.  I have had it good.  I can't remember the last time I've had to grade a paper.  I understand why the full-time professors avoid composition classes like herpes.  They are simply no fun compared to sexier subjects like film and poetry and fiction.

My question for Carol Dip Monday should be pretty obvious:

Will I be offered Good Books or Mythology or Film classes to teach next semester?

And the answer from Chuck Dickens is:

When he roused himself from his thoughtful quest, he fancied from the turn of the hand, and its situation in reference to himself, that the Unseen Eyes were looking at him keenly.  It made him shudder, and feel very cold.

Wow, that's not a very hopeful answer.  In fact, there is no hope in that little passage at all.  Unseen Eyes.  Shuddering.  Coldness.  That pretty much describes teaching Tech Writing.

Saint Marty better dust off his red pen.

I hope it hasn't dried up

Sunday, November 18, 2012

November 18: Favorite Things, Scrooge Obsessions, New Cartoon

It is Sunday and time to talk about one of my favorite things.

The favorite thing I'm going to talk about today is not going to come as a big surprise to any of my faithful disciples.  If you have been reading Saint Marty over the past 365 days, you know I made an oath last Christmas to focus on Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol for a full year.  Well, as we draw nigh to the yuletide season once more, I have a confession:  I collect editions of A Christmas Carol.  I have illustrated editions.  I have paperback editions.  I have it on cassette tape.  I have it on CD.  I have just about every film adaptation that's ever been made.  I have been obsessed with A Christmas Carol since I was a kid.

The edition I carry around with me for my blog is in a collection titled Charles Dickens' Christmas Ghost Stories.  In this anthology, all of Dickens' creepy Christmas tales are brought together.  There's A Christmas Carol, but there's also Ghosts at Christmas and The Goblins Who Stole a Sexton and The Rapping Spirits, among others.  As I've explained before, Dickens started the tradition of telling ghost stories during the Christmas holidays.  With A Christmas Carol, Dickens basically invented Christmas as we know it.  That's why I love editions of Scrooge's story.  In them, you can find the genesis of modern Christmas traditions.

One of my dreams is owning a first edition of A Christmas Carol.  When I have a spare hundred thousand dollars or so, I may investigate the possibility.  Right now, I will have to satisfy my Carol jones with George C. Scott or Kermit the Frog or Patrick Stewart.  

Saint Marty will be doing that tonight, when he decorates his Christmas tree with his family.
Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, November 17, 2012

November 17: Miners, The Bowels of the Earth, Good Reads, New Cartoon

"What place is this?" asked Scrooge.

"A place where Miners live, who labour in the bowels of the earth," returned the Spirit.  "But they know me.  See!"

I have used this passage from A Christmas Carol before.  The Ghost of Christmas Present has brought Scrooge to a mining village.  The Spirit's goal is to show Scrooge that even people who live in the most desperate of circumstances celebrate Christmas.  Yes, the Ghost is saying to Scrooge, even these poor schlubs enjoy this holy time.

For my Good Read today I have chosen a book near and dear to my own circumstances.  The book is titled In the Basement of the Ivory Tower, and it is written by a person who simply identifies himself as Professor X.  Professor X is an adjunct English instructor, and he performs the same job I perform at my university.  In his Introduction, he describes his duties:

We may look mild-mannered, we adjunct instructors, in our eyeglasses and our corduroy jackets, our bald heads and trimmed beards, our peasant skirts and Birkenstocks, but we are nothing less than academic hit men.  We are paid by the college to perform the dirty work that no one else wants to do, the wrenching, draining, sorrowful business of teaching and failing the unprepared.  We are not characters out of great academic novels such as Pain or Lord Jim.  We have more in common with Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men.

Adjuncts are the miners of higher education, working in the bowels of universities and colleges.  Professor X doesn't use his real name, doesn't name the academic institutions at which he teaches.  He says he maintains his anonymity to protect his school.  That may be true.  However, being a 17-year veteran of the adjunct wars, I also know that Professor X is protecting himself.  As "contract" teachers, adjuncts are hired semester-by-semester, depending upon enrollment.  We are hit men.  The analogy in the passage above is fairly accurate.  We teach classes that the full-time professors cannot or do not want to teach.  We adjuncts are always one disagreement with a department head away from unemployment.

Professor X captures the plight of this underclass of higher education fairly well.  Most adjuncts begin teaching as a way to supplement their incomes.  A bad mortgage or high credit card debt or sudden job loss forces a person with an advanced degree to join the ranks of these teachers at the bottom of the educational mineshaft.  If I remember correctly, Professor X's situation involves the purchase of an expensive new home.

Don't get me wrong.  Professor X also writes about the rewards of the adjunct business, which are abundant.  There's always the hope of improving students' lives.  That's one of the reason why I have been an adjunct for close to 20 years.  I believe I can make a difference in the world, every year, every semester, every class, every student.  That is the ultimate goal of my teaching career.  Professor X captures this hope pretty well in his final paragraph, where he describes meeting with his students in the basement of the ivory tower:

We are, all of us there gathered, trembling with fright, short of breath, sick at heart, but perhaps hopeful.  That our senses are so alive is thrilling.  The whiteboard markers give off a vaguely medicinal smell.  The edges of posters from semesters past curl away from the wall.  Motes of dust bob in the light from the overhead projector.  The old heating unit comes on with a shudder.  There seems a meaning in all this mundanity that lies just beyond our grasp.  Every new assignment, at least, starts us all thinking.

 Saint Marty is ever hopeful, ever thinking.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, November 16, 2012

November 16: Cheating, Galway Kinnell, "To Christ Our Lord"

I am going to cheat this weekend.  Since I am trying to finish my Christmas essay, I'm not writing a new poem.  Instead, I'm going to include one of my favorite poems in this post.  It's by the poet Galway Kinnell, and, every time I read it, it leaves me breathless.

I'm not going to analyze it.  I'm not going to discuss its themes or imagery.  This poem just needs to be read and experienced.

Saint Marty will never write anything this good.

To Christ Our Lord

by:  Galway Kinnell

The legs of the elk punctured the snow's crust
And wolves floated lightfooted on the land
Hunting Christmas elk living and frozen.
Indoors snow melted in a basin and a woman basted
A bird spread over coals by its wings and head.

Snow had sealed the windows; candles lit
The Christmas meal.  The special grace chilled
The cooked bird, being long-winded and the room cold.
During the words a boy thought, is it fitting
To eat this creature killed on the wing?

For he had shot it himself, climbing out
Alone on snowshoes in the Christmas dawn,
The fallen snow swirling and the snowfall gone,
Heard its throat scream as the rifle shouted,
Watched it drop, and fished from the snow the dead.

He had not wanted to shoot.  The sound
Of wings beating into the hushed morning
Had stirred his love, and the things
In his gloves froze, and he wondered,
Even famishing, could he fire?  Then he fired.

Now the grace praised his wicked act.  At its end
The bird on the plate
Stared at his stricken appetite.
There had been nothing to do but surrender,
To kill and to eat; he ate as he had killed, with wonder.

At night on snowshoes on the drifting field
He wondered again, for whom had love stirred?
The stars glittered on the snow and nothing answered.
Then the Swan spread her wings, cross of the cold north,
The pattern and mirror of the acts of earth.

Just three words for Galway:  A.  MA.  ZING.

November 16: A Visitation, Bell Tolled One, P.O.E.T.S. Day

Scrooge lay in this state until the chimes had gone three quarters more, when he remembered, on a sudden, that the Ghost had warned him of a visitation when the bell tolled one.  He resolved to lie awake until the hour was passed; and, considering that he could no more go to sleep than go to Heaven, this was perhaps the wisest resolution in his power.

Scrooge is awaiting the appearance of the first of the yuletide spirits.  He's not sure what he's in for.  Marley's Ghost was not a pleasant apparition, wrapped in chains and bellowing at the top of his vapory lungs.  This second ghost could be anything, and Scrooge is a little terrified, I think.

Today is P.O.E.T.S Day.  Some time in these next 24 hours, I vow to post a new, original poem.  The problem is that I'm sort of like Scrooge right now.  I'm waiting for my poem to appear.  I have no idea what shape or form it's going to take.  It could be a sonnet or haiku.  It could be free verse or iambic pentameter.  It could come screaming into my head, fully formed, or it could approach like a mouse, nibbling away until it is revealed or trapped.

Scrooge isn't sure the next spirit is even going to show up.  I, on the other hand, will post whatever crap I'm able to get down on paper.  Even if it's a bad poem, it will appear on this blog.  It's that threat that keeps me focused.  I do not want to be embarrassed by whatever I come up with.

I have another writing project to complete this weekend, as well.  It's my annual Christmas essay.  I've already got a strong start, but I haven't had a chance to return to it in the last day or so.  I have to record this essay for the local Public Radio station soon, so I must get it done.  The goal I have set for myself:  Sunday night it will be finished.

For now, though, Saint Marty is all about poetry.  He wonders if posting a poem by Robert Frost would be cheating.  Something obscure, not having to do with snowy woods or broken walls or forking roads.

I didn't write this.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

November 15: A Few Words About Rudeness

I am not going to make this long or turn it into a major bitch session.  I just want to say a few words about rudeness in the workplace.

This afternoon, I was taking a break, speaking with a colleague from the university who had stopped by to show me some poems we're considering for the university's literary magazine.  I was in the lounge, and a coworker came in, obviously perturbed.

"I'm sorry.  I needed our clerk to answer the phone," she said.

I started to apologize, saying that I hadn't heard the phone ringing.

She plastered a smile on her face that reminded me of an adult speaking to a very small, mentally-challenged child.  "It never rings in here, and my partner and I are trying to talk to our patients on the phone."

I apologized, not wanting to make a scene in front of my university colleague, and my coworker left. Obviously sensing the tension, my colleague made a hasty exit, as well.  I was left, red-faced and really pissed.

My coworker has a very strong personality.  (That's code for "my coworker can be a bitch.")  She is always right, even when she's wrong.  She enters situations that require tact and a modicum of diplomacy like a member of the Taliban at a Hillary Clinton fan club meeting.  My coworker takes no prisoners, ever.

My few words about rudeness in the workplace basically boil down to the golden rule:  treat others the way you want to be treated.  That way, nobody's feelings get stepped on, abused, or demolished.  My coworker needs to learn this lesson.

Saint Marty now needs to start planning his revenge.  He's contemplating a scathing poem in which his thinly-disguised coworker is transformed into Mitt Romney on election night.

It works for kids...

November 15: Humbug, Giving Thanks, Potty Training

"Bah!" said Scrooge.  "Humbug!"

Scrooge utters this little phrase so many times during A Christmas Carol that it has become part of the public consciousness, like "Frankly, my dear" or "I'll get you my pretty."  Everybody knows what "bah humbug" means and where it comes from.  If I say "bah humbug," I am expressing a particularly Scrooge-ish attitude toward something, whether it's Christmas or the latest episode of The Walking Dead.  I am basically saying, "This whole idea is a crock of shit."

That's a pretty unusual opening for my Blessing Thursday post.  I should be happy and exuberant about my subject.  Blessings are positive forces.  They fulfill hope or desire, whether spoken or unspoken.  I am ambivalent about my topic this morning because it has to do with one of my least favorite parental duties.

For the past couple years, we have been trying to potty train my son.  The process has been a series of successes and regressions.  My son will urinate in his potty.  I have seen him piss so much that I thought it was going to overflow the bowl.  My son is not attached to his pee.  He will surrender it willingly.  His poop, on the other hand, seems to be gold-plated.  He doesn't want to part with it.  He would prefer to stand in a corner, with his legs crossed, instead of sitting down and having a healthy BM.  Since he started potty training on Monday, we have gone through about eight or nine pairs of underwear and pants.  It hasn't been pleasant.

It was his preschool teacher who suggested simply switching to underwear.  Her reasoning went something like this:  if our son feels uncomfortable and gross when he craps his pants, he will choose to go on the toilet.  In theory, it sounds pretty good.  In practice, it kind of sucks.  At Burger King this evening, we went through two pairs of pants and underwear.  Not only does my son not care if he shits in his pants, but he also doesn't mind walking around with said fecal matter on his person.

I am not complaining, however.  I'm giving thanks.  My son will eventually grasp the concept of toilets  He'll realize that shit is gross.  It's just going to take a lot of soiled clothing to get there.  But he's on his way.  My daughter struggled with potty training, as well.  She was well into second grade before she had completely conquered this task.

For those parents who tell fairy tales of children who simply decide one day to quit diapers and use the toilet, Saint Marty has one thing to say:  "Bah!  Humbug!"

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

November 14: Dashing Off a Post


I'm dashing off a post.
I have to get to class.
If I don't hurry up,
It will be my ass.

It's almost time to leave.
I don't know what to say.
I haven't accomplished anything.
I've wasted all the day.


Teaching's fun, teaching's fun.
Brokeback and a test.
My students are all afraid.
The midterms weren't the best.

Oh, teaching's fun, teaching's fun.
Brokeback and a test.
My students are all afraid.
Saint Marty needs a rest.

A festive holiday post

November 14: Losing Your Situation, My Situation, My Worry

"Let me hear another sound from you," said Scrooge, "and you'll keep your Christmas by losing your situation..."

Of course, Scrooge is speaking to Bob Cratchit in the above quote.  Bob applauds for a little speech Scrooge's nephew, Fred, makes in defense of Christmas, and Scrooge puts his clerk in his place.  The old miser reminds Bob just who pays his meager wages.  Bob quickly quiets down.

Today is Worry Wednesday, and I want to speak of a worry that is always near and dear to my heart (as it is to Bob Cratchit in the above passage).  I am speaking, of course, of my fear of losing my job(s).  I am teaching a brand new class at the university this semester--Introduction to Film.  Whenever I teach a class for the first time, I feel like a failure.  I feel like I should pay my students for allowing me to experiment on them.  And, when I get my student evaluations back after the semester is over, I expect to be rated just half a step above Charles Manson as an instructor.

This has never happened to me.  I have never lost my job because of terrible student evaluations.  In fact, my evaluations are usually pretty great (aside from the errant disgruntled student who tells me I'm as useful as an undescended testicle).  I am not worried about losing my situation this semester.  I'm worried about getting classes to teach next semester.

Winter semester always has lower enrollment.  Lower enrollment means fewer classes to teach.  Fewer classes to teach means fewer instructors needed.  Fewer instructors needed means I get stuck teaching Introduction to Septic Tank Report Writing, or something equally as loathsome.  That is my worry at the moment.

The head of the English Department is not Ebenezer Scrooge.  However, I'm feeling very Bob Cratchit-esque this morning.

Perhaps Saint Marty should buy his son a crutch for Christmas.

This guy gets pretty good student evaluations

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

November 13: Saving My Complaints

I'm not going to complain this evening about my long day.  It's a situation I myself have created, out of necessity and guilt.  First, I have long days because of my jobs at the hospital and university.  While most people are still asleep, dreaming sweet dreams without care, I am on the road to my first shift at the medical office.  Then I go teach at the university.  Then I return to the medical office for a little while longer.  Tonight, I am sitting in my office at the university, and it is almost 8 p.m.  My daughter is at dance.  I want my daughter to dance.  She loves it.  I'm not complaining.

The guilt part of my long days is all of my own making.  I have to post to my blog twice a day.  It is a rule I have made for myself.  It is an arbitrary rule, but a rule, nonetheless.  By blogging, I reason with myself, I keep my writing muscles flexed.  These posts are my way of feeling like a writer, even if I have an audience of only two or three.  I still have an audience, and that audience is interested in what I write.  If I don't post twice a day, I feel guilty, as if I'm letting my faceless disciples down.  Last night, I was up until past 11 p.m. getting my blog posts done, and all I really wanted to do was climb under the covers and sleep for about three years.  However, guilt got the best of me.  I'm not complaining.

I have been living like this for several years now.  I will continue to live like this, because I like to believe that people care about what I say.  People want their daily dose of Saint Marty wisdom/insanity.  This belief, whether based in reality or fantasy, keeps me going.  Keeps my battery charged.

Saint Marty is going to let poet Bob Hicok have the last word this evening.  Hicok wrote a poem about being a poet, and Saint Marty thinks it's a fitting final punctuation to this post.

Making it in poetry

The young teller
at the credit union
asked why so many
small checks
from universities?
Because I write
poems I said.  Why
haven't I heard
of you?  Because
I write poems
I said.
This guy gets the last word

November 13: Simple Little Air, Saint Odo, Musician and Poet

...Scrooge's niece played well upon the harp; and played among other tunes a simple little air (a mere nothing:  you might learn to whistle it in two minutes), which had been familiar to the child who fetched Scrooge from the boarding school, as he had been reminded by the Ghost of Christmas Past...

Music is all through A Christmas Carol, from the boy who sings at Scrooge's office door at the beginning of the book to the church bells ringing on Christmas morning at the end.  In the passage above, Scrooge's niece plays a song upon the harp at Scrooge's nephew Fred's Christmas party.  Considering the title of the novel, it's no surprise that music pervades its pages.

Today's saint of the week is named Odo, and his feast day is November 18.  I chose Odo for a few reasons.  First, he studied music in Paris and wrote hymns.  Second, he wrote an epic poem on the Redemption.  And third, his name reminds me of the character Otho from the movie Beetlejuice.  Odo also happens to be the patron saint of rain, and, considering that snow is the norm this time of year in the U. P., I thought I'd put in a little plug for a form of precipitation I don't have to shovel or pay somebody to plow.

I appreciate saints who are painters or poets or musicians.  They remind me of the importance of the arts in the Christian tradition.  Stained glass windows.  Cathedrals.  Hymns and carols.  Psalms.  Artists have always held a place of honor in the Church.  Saint Odo was one of those artists.

I always worry that my writing won't make a difference in anyone's life.  It certainly won't feed anyone.  It won't clothe anyone or put a roof over anyone's head.  This post will probably be read by two or three people, if I'm lucky.  I'm not Charles Dickens.  I'm not Saint Odo.

Marty is a wannabe.  A wannabe poet.  A wannabe artist.  A wannabe musician.  A wannabe saint.

Niether of these guys is Saint Odo

Monday, November 12, 2012

November 12: New Cartoon, Deer Hunting, Church Meetings

I am currently sitting in a church meeting, typing this blog post as quietly as possible.  I want to be done with my work by the time I hit my front door.  I don't want to have anything to do when I get home.  I'm tired.

I realized this afternoon that I didn't post my second cartoon last night.  It was a complete oversight on my part.  For those of my disciples who are not residents of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I need to explain the importance of November 15.  That day, which is Thursday, is the opening day of Deer Season.  On that morning, well before the sun rises, hundreds of hunters will be trudging into the woods with firearms, hoping to slay some Bambis.  That is the genesis of today's Confessions of Saint Marty.

I am not a hunter.  I have never killed anything with a rifle.  I don't eat venison.  So not to worry.  I will not miss any opportunities to post.

It's almost Saint Marty's turn to speak.  He is the next agenda item.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Sunday, November 11, 2012

November 12: "Brokeback Mountain," "Carol" Dip Monday, Getting Published

These guys would like my poetry
It is Monday morning.  I am tired and a little cranky.  I didn't get to bed until after 11 p.m., and when you get up at 4 a.m. every morning, that makes for a really long day.  I need caffeine in the worst way.

Now that I have that out of my system, I will talk about the week ahead of me.  I will be screening the film Brokeback Mountain for my Intro to Film classes.  I wanted to show a Western, but I didn't feel like watching John Wayne or Clint Eastwood.  Thus, I went with a revisionist Western.  If you haven't seen the movie, do not start making jokes about gay sheep herders.  It really is a stunning piece of cinema, and Heath Ledger is brilliant.  I just hope I can get my students to get past their preconceived notions and really appreciate the artistry of it.  Ang Lee is hands-down one of the best directors working.

I'm beginning to think I should have chosen something a little "safer" for my Western.  Maybe The Searchers or Unforgiven.  I've never been one for playing it safe, however.  It's going to be an uphill battle.  But I took it easy on my students last week.  They got to watch Toy Story.  They should be up for a little challenge,  Plus, I need to give them something to talk about at their Thanksgiving dinners next week.

It is time for a Carol dip.  My question has nothing to do with bisexual cowboys, sheep, or Heath Ledger getting it on with Jake Gyllenhall.  It is about getting published.  More specifically, it's about getting my new book of poems published.  I still haven't placed the manuscript, and I finished it over a year ago.  That's a little depressing to me.  Not as depressing as being in love with a a married cowboy, but it's still damn depressing.  So my question is simple:

Will I publish my new poetry manuscript within the next six months?

And the answer from the great book of Dickens is:

My opinion is, that it was a done thing between him and Scrooge's nephew:  and that the Ghost of Christmas Present knew it.

A done thing.  I like the sound of that.  Looks like I'll be autographing copies of my new book before the ball drops in Times Square on December 31, 2013.

Sing with Saint Marty, "Should old acquaintance be forgot..."

November 11: "Snowmen at Night," My Favorite Thing, New Doorknob

It was my brother's birthday, and I gave him a wonderful present:  I let him replace the doorknob on my front door.

The doorknob broke about two weeks ago.  It wouldn't open.  It took me five minutes to get off the front porch.  I fixed it with masking tape.  Actually, I taped it so it wouldn't engage into the lock.  Of course, there was no way of locking the house up at night, and that made my wife and daughter a little nervous.

So, today, I decided to let my brother fix it for his birthday.  He had a great time.  In fact, he enjoyed it so much that he fixed the deadbolt and squared up my threshold, as well.  I was so glad to make his special day even more special.

Speaking of special, today I'm supposed to talk about my favorite things.  I decided to discuss one of my favorite children's books, Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Buehner.  My daughter got it as a birthday present when she was four years old.  She had it memorized by the time she was five.  The artwork is gorgeous, full of whimsical detail.

I just started reading it to my son a few days ago.  My daughter had stuffed it into a box of books in the attic.  It took me an hour to find it.  Now, both of my children are enthralled by it.  My son loves the poetry and pictures.  My daughter spends hours looking for the hidden shapes in each illustration. (I still can't find all the rabbits and cats and Santas and Tyrannosaurus Rexes in each painting.)  I love the idea of snowmen coming to life at night.

Maybe I'm being nostalgic.  Maybe I'm being sentimental.

But Saint Marty loves Snowmen at Night.  It really is one of his favorite things.

Two of my favorite things:  my daughter and Snowmen at Night

Saturday, November 10, 2012

November 10: New Poem, "Before 4:30 Mass"

No, I did not forget about my pledge to post a new poem.  I struggled most of the day, but, in the end, my poem finally came to me.  I think it has the tone and flavor of something by Donald Hall.  It's still rough, but it's at a stage right now that I don't mind sharing it with my disciples.

Saint Marty hopes you enjoy it.

Before 4:30 Mass

I look down from the choir loft
At the silence gathered below.
Mrs. MacDonald wears her wool coat
In the same pew she sat in
With her parents, seventy years ago.
She looks behind her, as if she expects
Her father to march up the aisle,
Sit next to her, his boots
Still red with dust from the mines.
Father George flits from person-to-person,
Like a hummingbird in an apple tree,
Pausing long enough to taste
The blossom of each sinner's grief
Before moving on.  My daughter, white
Acolyte, lights candles on the altar,
Checks chalice and paten, makes sure
Gospel and cloth are in place
For the coming show.  So much quiet
Desperation fills the sanctuary,
Everyone craving a piece of holiness
To bring home, bake with eggs and oatmeal,
Spaghetti and meatloaf for the week.
I reach down, press the red button.
The pipe organ takes a long breath,
Groans to life, resurrected again.
It waits for my fingers, holds
Music in its gold pipes that reach
Up and up to the vaulted ceiling,
To the bell in the steeple.  It waits
For that low D of the first hymn,
Voices rising like seagulls
Above the waves of Galilee.

November 10: How Mild, Poor Tiny Tim, Good Reads, New Cartoon

"And I know," said Bob, "I know, my dears, that when we recollect how patient and how mild he was; although he was a little, little child; we shall not quarrel easily among ourselves, and forget poor Tiny Tim in doing it."

Bob has a strong bond with Tiny Tim.  In this passage, he speaks to his family about Tim, who has died.  It is a heart-wrenching scene, full or sorrow and loss.  It is also a scene of happy remembrance as each member of the Cratchit family pledges to keep the spirit of Tim alive.  Bob and Tim are Dickens' version of the Madonna and Christ Child in A Christmas Carol.  The Cratchits are the Holy Family of Dickens' tale.

It's time for another episode of Saint Marty's Good Reads, the day where I talk about books I love.  Today's book, no surprise, is about a father and a son.  It's a memoir by film critic David Gilmour titled The Film Club.  As the dust jacket of the book says, it's "[t]he true story of a father who let his son drop out of school--if he watched three movies a week."  Gilmour makes the unusual decision to let his son quit high school if his son agrees to watch three films of Gilmour's choosing every week.  Gilmour continues his son's education, through cinema.  The first paragraph of the book pretty much says it all:

I was stopped at a red light the other day when I saw my son coming out of a movie theater.  He was with his new girlfriend.  She was holding his coat sleeve at the very end with her fingertips, whispering something into his ear.  I didn't catch what film they'd just seen--the marquee was blocked by a tree in full flower--but I found myself remembering with a gust of almost painful nostalgia those three years that he and I spent, just the two of us, watching movies, talking on the porch, a magic time that a father doesn't usually get to have so late in a teenage boy's life.  I don't see him now as much as I used to (that's as it should be) but that was a gorgeous time.  A lucky break for both of us.

It's a hopeful memoir.  Gilmour's choice to finish his son's education with film is both moving and inspiring.  Gilmour's son, Jesse, struggles through the normal teenage landscape of drugs and alcohol and sex, and Gilmour provides his fatherly wisdom through films like American Graffiti and The Big Sleep and Plan 9 from Outer Space and True Romance.  It's a great read about a father and son connecting on a deep level, and it inspires me as the father of a four-year-old boy.

Gilmour shares his passion with his son.  He dispenses his advice through the lens of film, and it works.  Jesse experiences heartbreak and disappointment, but, in the end, he triumphs and learns how to survive in an adult world.  Gilmour's writing is beautiful, full of moments of connection and, at times, frustration.  At it's heart, The Film Club is about the love of a father for his son.  It is smart and moving.  The final paragraph breaks your heart and gives you hope for future of Gilmour's son.  And the future of all the Tiny Tims of the world.  All because of one father's love.

Saint Marty hopes he can be half the father Gilmour is for his son in The Film Club.

Confessions of Saint Marty