Friday, May 31, 2013

May 31: Thunderstorms, a Poem, Mary Oliver

Okay, it's late.  I know, I know.  You've been waiting all day for this second post.  I'm sorry.  It's been a busy day.  It's an exciting night.  For the first time in four and a half years, my wife and I are childless.  Both my daughter and son are spending the night at Grandma and Grandpa's house.  We went out to dinner, and we're planning on going to bed early tonight.  We're whooping it up.

Saint Marty has a poem for you tonight from poet Mary Oliver.  This poem was first published in the magazine Five Points.  It was included in The Best American Poetry 2012.

Enjoy.

In Provincetown,
and Ohio, and Alabama

Death taps his black wand and something vanishes.  Summer, winter; the thickest branch of an oak tree for which I have a special love; three just hatched geese.  Many trees and thickets of catbrier as bulldozers widen the bicycle path.  The violets down by the old creek, the flow itself now raveling forward through an underground tunnel.

Lambs that, only recently, were gamboling in the field.  An old mule, in Alabama, that could take no more of anything.  And then, what follows?  Then spring again, summer, and the season of harvest.  More catbrier, almost instantly rising.  (No violets, ever, or song of the old creek.)  More lambs and new green grass in the field, for their happiness until.  And some kind of yellow flower whose name I don't know (but what does that matter?) rising around and out of the half-buried, half-vulture-eaten, harness-galled, open-mouthed (its teeth long and blackened), breathless, holy mule.

Mary Oliver is a goddess

May 31: Horsed Around, Daughter, Fairy Tale Friday

We horsed around a little bit in the cab on the way to the theater.  At first she didn't want to, because she had her lipstick on and all, but I was being seductive as hell and she didn't have any alternative...

Holden is a teenage boy.  Therefore, Holden is hormonal, which is a polite way of saying horny.  He hits on many girls and women in Catcher, including tourists in a bar, the mother of a classmate, and Sally in the above passage.  Even though he's headed toward a mental breakdown, he still lets his little head do his thinking at many points in the book.

I have an almost teenaged daughter.  She's very moody.  Sometimes she's my sweet little princess, and sometimes she's Linda Blair in The Exorcist.  I haven't had to deal with the boy-crazy side of puberty yet.  Either she's hiding it well from me, or it hasn't kicked in.  Let me tell you, though, I'm not looking forward to the drama and heartbreak of teenage love.

It is Friday, and I owe you a fairy tale this morning.  So...

Once upon a time, a humble, beloved man ruled over a far northern kingdom where snow covered the fields and roads for nine months of the year.  The man's name was King Marty.

King Marty was renowned as being a kind, gentle monarch, and he had a beautiful, twelve-year-old daughter named Princess Regan.  Princess Regan had deep auburn hair and dark eyes.  All the boys in the region loved her.  Several times a day, King Marty answered the drawbridge only to find some horny young shepherd or field hand asking to talk to Princess Regan.  While King Marty was a benevolent man, he grew impatient with these hormonal visitors.

One day, after a pimply apprentice blacksmith tried crossing the moat wearing only a thong, King Marty'd had enough.  "That's it," he declared.  "I'm tired of all these sweaty suitors.  From this day forward, Princess Regan will be sealed in the north castle tower.  She shall only study music and dance and poetry, and no person with a penis shall be allowed in her presence until she turns the age of 33!"

And so it was done.  Princess Regan was sealed away from the kingdom's lecherous boys.  Her hair was kept short so no wandering prince could climb her braid into the tower, and she excelled in her schooling, becoming the smartest, most beautiful woman in the land.

King Marty slept soundly every night, and Princess Regan thanked him every day for what he had done, saying, "Thank you, sir, for being the kindest, wisest, most handsome father in the universe."

The moral of this tale:  Don't nobody mess with my daughter!

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

Stay out of my tower!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

May 30: New Way to Make Money

This post is going to sound totally frivolous and self-centered.

I don't care.

I have found a new way to make money.

You see, every once in a while, just for fun, I Google my name to see what comes up.  Usually, it's nothing exciting or surprising.  For example, I have discovered, doing this, that there is a man in Germany who has a Facebook account with my name.  I have also found that I died in the nineteenth century.  At least that's when the guy underneath the tombstone bearing my name died.  And, surprisingly, I have also discovered that I have no hotness factor on ratemyprofessors.com.  This fact really depresses me.

Well, today, when I Googled my name, I found some bookseller in, I believe, Texas trying to sell an autographed copy of my book of poems (The Mysteries of the Rosary, $10 on Amazon) for a little over $200.  That's a 2000% mark up.  My book, bearing my signature, is being hawked on the Internet for two grand!  Now, I don't know if the bookseller will obtain his asking price, but it does make me wonder how far I can push this.

I've heard that Cormac McCarthy never autographs his books.  I've also heard that he's got a whole bookshelf filled with autographed first editions of The Road in his home.  Sort of like a collectible college fund for his kid.  Every time his son needs to pay for a semester or two of classes, all he has to do is sell one of these copies of The Road.  McCarthy is a pretty smart cookie.  (He also, notoriously, doesn't give a crap about money.  That's one of the luxuries of being wealthy and/or famous.)

Here's my plan.  I've codenamed it Operation Cormac:

Step One:  I'm going to start an Internet rumor that I'm one of the most brilliant and reclusive poets living.  I've been trying to do this for several years, so this step will take a lot of elbow grease.  I'm thinking a Wikipedia page and some well-placed blog posts about my unnatural hygiene habits.  (Hey, it worked for J. D. Salinger!)

Step Two:  After step one is firmly under way, I start another Internet rumor that I've disappeared under mysterious circumstances, possibly the victim of some anti-poetry terrorist organization named the Prose Warriors.

Step Three:  I slowly start selling autographed copies of my book (The Mysteries of the Rosary, $10 on Amazon) at astronomical prices on eBay.  When I top $100,000 in book sales, I start peddling my old journals and papers from high school for even steeper amounts.

Step Four:  After becoming a multimillionaire, I start publishing new collections of poetry under the pseudonym Marty St. Martin until The New Yorker runs an investigative essay on what it calls the "Cult of Saint Marty," revealing my true identity.

Step Five:  I become a poetic legend, winning every literary prize that exists on the planet.

Saint Marty thinks Operation Cormac is foolproof.

Do I hear $2000?  $3000?  How about 25 cents?

May 30: Pencey Prep, Higher Education, 70 Percent, Piece of My Mind

What I want to start telling is the day I left Pencey Prep.  Pencey Prep is this school that's in Agerstown, Pennsylvania.  You probably heard of it.  You've probably seen the ads anyway.  They advertise in about a thousand magazines, always showing some hotshot guy on a horse jumping over a fence.  Like as if all you ever did at Pencey was play polo all the time.  I never even once saw a horse anywhere near the place.  And underneath the guy on the horse's picture, it always says:  "Since 1888 we have been molding boys into splendid, clear-thinking young men."  Strictly for the birds.  They don't do any damn more molding at Pencey than they do at any other school.  And I didn't know anybody there that was splendid and clear-thinking and all.  Maybe two guys.  If that many,  And they probably came to Pencey that way.

Anybody familiar with The Catcher in the Rye knows about Holden's contempt for Pencey Prep and education, in general.  Holden has little patience for the teachers and students at Pencey.  Of course, his attitude has a lot to do with his deteriorating state of mind regarding life, in general.  Holden is depressed.  That's why he's flunking out of Pencey.  That's why he rides the train to New York.  That's why he checks into a hotel instead of going home.  He's at the end of his rope.

I have been a part of higher education for over half my life, as a student and teacher.  I've taught more than a few Holdens during my university career.  Kids who have no interest in learning at all.  And that's alright.  It takes young people a long time to figure life out.  I know it took me a while.

I started out in computer science major as an undergraduate.  Eventually, I started accumulating degrees in English and creative writing.  Today, I have a Master's in fiction writing and an MFA in poetry.  And I have a part-time teaching position at the local university.  That's right.  All of my energy and time has qualified me to be the academic equivalent of a French fry cook a McDonald's.

I'm not complaining.  Much.  I've been very lucky with the university on many levels.  The Department Head is good to me, and I get to teach classes that I love.  Good Books.  Mythology.  Intro to Film.  However, I'm an instructor with a terminal college degree working part-time.  According to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, "...some 70 percent of college courses offered are now taught by adjuncts--part-timers who are paid a pittance and have no job security."  And, I will add, no health insurance.  That's a huge number.

Now, those professors privileged enough to be tenured or tenure-track would respond, "Well, go out on the job market and get a tenure-track position at a university."  They know full well the chances of doing that are about as likely as capturing a leprechaun and shaking a pot of gold out of him.  And the tenured response to that statement would be, "Well, then go into another profession.  Find another career."  (I'm not kidding.  I heard one of my tenured colleagues say this.  Out loud.  In a department meeting.)

At my university, the contingent and adjunct faculty are now part of the professors' union.  That doesn't mean the full-timers are throwing us welcome parties.  No.  It means we have a little bit of protection, and the full-timers are nervous as cats.  Perhaps they see our inclusion as the first death rattle of the tenure system.  I don't know.  However, they feel threatened.

And maybe they should.  Instead of trying to make the part-timers' situations more secure and equitable, they have enforced a system of academic slave labor.  Maybe they deserve to feel like Nero fiddling while Rome burns.

That's a piece of Saint Marty's mind.

Be it ever so crumble, there's nothing like tenure

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

May 29: A Short Post About Absolutely Nothing

I think the title says it all.

I plan to say nothing of import in this post.  I will not discuss world politics.  I will not expound upon a great work of literature.  I will not provide the details of my dinner plans.  I will not complain about my job or wages or weight.  I will not express jealousy or envy over some friend's success.  I will not narrate a cute anecdote about my incredibly cute four-year-old son.  I will not brag about my terribly talented ballerina daughter.

I will do none of these things.

Instead, Saint Marty will simply wish all of his disciples a blessed and peaceful night.

P.S.  More pettiness and snark tomorrow.

Watch out for the abyss on the left

May 29: PRINTING HISTORY, Getting Published, Not Publishing

At the front of my copy of The Catcher in the Rye comes this information:

PRINTING HISTORY
One incident appeared in a different form as
a story in COLLIER'S December 1945
One incident appeared in a different form as a story
in THE NEW YORKER December 1946
Little, Brown edition published July 1951
26 printings through 1968
Book-of-the-Month Club selection July 1951
Grosset & Dunlap edition published June 1952
Modern Library edition published September 1958
Franklin Watts edition published February 1967
Bantam edition / April 1964
52 printings through February 1981

It's a little story in and of itself.  J. D. Salinger's book is one of the most famous novels in the world, beloved by angst-ridden teenagers and assassins alike.  I believe Salinger only published a couple other things after Catcher, and then, like Willy Wonka, closed his factory doors forever.  There has been speculation about a vault of unpublished manuscripts since Salinger died in 2010, but no new J. D. Salinger novel has surfaced as of yet.

The publication history of a book says a lot about the book and the author.  I pick up a collection of poems by Sharon Olds, and its history contains the names of some of the most prestigious journals and magazines in the United States:  Poetry, The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Slate, Ploughshares, and The American Poetry Review.  That's pretty friggin' impressive.  Sharon Olds could write and teach any where she wanted.  Salinger, regardless of his anemic publishing history, could have also walked into the English Department at Harvard and landed a tenured position with a six-figure salary.  (I can imagine the conversation with the Department Head:  "Oh, yes, Mr. Salinger.  Right away, Mr. Salinger.  Would you like a coffee enema, Mr. Salinger?")

I have a pretty unimpressive publishing history.  I've managed a couple of good print and online journals, but, for the most part, this blog has been my venue for transmitting my prose and poetry to the world.  I recently sent out a chapbook manuscript to a contest.  One of the requirements of submission was including a list of places where the poems in the collection had already appeared (a history).  I had to skip that page.  I could have made something up.  I've always wanted to publish in Paris Review and The New Yorker.  But some people frown upon that kind of thing.  They think of it as academic fraud.  Whatever.

I worry about publication.  I worry because publication is one of my tickets to full-time employment at the university.  If I won the Iowa Prize for poetry or the National Book Award, I would be offered a tenure-track job tomorrow.  I've thought about pulling a J. D. Salinger.  You know, publishing one really successful book and then disappearing from the public eye.  My fame would grow as I avoided photographers and reporters and Jehovah's Witnesses.  Hey, it worked for Salinger and Thomas Pynchon.

Of course, the hitch in that scenario is that I first have to publish something of real note.  Then I can turn into J. D. Salinger.  My worry is that I can't even get an obituary published right now.  So why would anybody want to hire me as a professor?

Saint Marty needs to publish or perish.  Unfortunately, perishing is a lot easier.

I could do this pose

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

May 28: If You Don't Want to Die, Die, Die....

Well, to go along with my earlier post, I'm going to share with you a song my four-year-old son wrote this evening.  He called it his "Scooter Helmet Song":

If you don't want to die, die, die,
Die, die, die.
And never see your mommy, mommy, mommy
Ever again, again, again,
You should wear your helmet.

But if you don't want to ever see
Mommy, mommy, mommy
Ever again,
Then don't.
And die.

I'm paraphrasing here, since my wife actually shared the song with me.  Plus my son didn't give me permission to reproduce his composition, so I didn't want to get into any legal trouble.  But I think it has some potential.  In the hands of Jay-Z or Kanye, it could be a very big hit.

 Watch out Eminem.

Saint Marty's kid is on the scene.

Next year's Best Rap Grammy goes to:  "Scooter Helmet Song"!

May 28: Dead Guys and Tombstones, Sick Kids, Prayer of the Week

When the weather's nice, my parents go out quite frequently and stick a bunch of flowers on old Allie's grave.  I went with them a couple of times, but I cut it out.  In the first place, I certainly don't enjoy seeing him in that crazy cemetery.  Surrounded by dead guys and tombstones and all.  It wasn't too bad when the sun was out, but twice--twice--we were there when it started to rain.  It was awful.  It rained on his lousy tombstone, and it rained on the grass on his stomach.  It rained all over the place.  All the visitors that were visiting the cemetery started running like hell over to their cars.  That's what nearly drove me crazy.  All the visitors could get in their cars and turn on their radios and all and then go someplace nice for dinner--everybody except Allie.  I couldn't stand it.  I know it's only his body and all that's in the cemetery, and his soul's in Heaven and all that crap, but I couldn't stand it anyway.  I just wish he wasn't there.  You didn't know him.  If you'd known him, you'd know what I mean.  It's not too bad when the sun's out, but the sun only comes out when it feels like coming out.

Holden is strongly attached to the memory of his brother, Allie.  In fact, I would say that a majority of Holden's problems in The Catcher in the Rye stem from his grief over Allie's death, a grief he's never really allowed himself to express in any healing way.  I think the whole Caulfield family was sort of torn apart by Allie's illness.  Holden has never dealt with his emotions because his parents have shut down, too.  Holden describes his father as distracted, removed, a workaholic.  His mother fares a little better, but not by much.  And I understand this portrait.  As a father, I will admit that one of my greatest fears is losing my children.  Any parent would agree with me.  I would probably shut down like Holden's dad.

My daughter has been sick for over a month-and-a-half.  This morning, she called me before school to say that her throat was sore and getting sorer by the minute.  She is already on her second round of antibiotics, and nothing seems to be doing the trick.  She still has an infected ear.  She still has a sore throat.  And now she's missing one of her last days of sixth grade.

I know that an infected ear and throat don't compare to Allie Caulfield's leukemia, obviously.  But there's a certain helplessness I'm experiencing right now that is driving me crazy.  I want my daughter to be well.  I want her to enjoy these last few days of the school year.  Her dance recital is next weekend.  I want her to enjoy the fruits of all her hard work in dance class over the last nine months.  She's worked her butt off.  Instead, she's probably coughing and sitting out most her rehearsals this evening.

Of course, the twisted part of my person is imagining horrible illnesses that my daughter could be suffering with.  Let's start with strep throat and work our way up to leukemia.  That pretty much covers the whole spectrum of my parental nightmares, from the treatable to the fatal.  Yes, I've entertained the notion that my daughter would come away from the pediatrician this morning with some kind of incurable, unpronounceable disease.  Cystifibroleukematicalysis or something like that.  She didn't.  She came away with a prescription for different antibiotic.

But, because of today's health crisis (if it can be called a crisis), I have been contemplating my daughter and son, and all that I hope and dream and pray for them.

Dear God,

It's me again.  I know You're probably getting tired of hearing from me.  It seems all I do is ask You for things.  Health.  Money.  A new job.  A new house.  Kellie Pickler to lose on Dancing With the Stars.  I don't mean to be so self-centered, but I'm human.  And a writer.  And a parent.  And a adjunct college instructor.  And a Zendaya fan.  I have a lot of strikes against me in the ego department.

Tonight, I want to ask You for health for my daughter.  Let her start feeling better.  Give her strength and stamina to battle this virus or cold or whatever it is.  Let her know how much I love and care for her.  And the same goes for my son.  Even though he's not sick at the moment, I ask You for good health for him.  Keep him safe from harm.  Let him grow into a strong, smart young man.  And let him know how much I love and care for him.

I know You understand the love I feel for my kids.  You had a Kid, too.  My son and daughter are great children.  I've tried to teach them about Your love for them.  Please, tonight, smile down upon them.  Touch them with healing.

Thanks for listening to me again.

Your loving child,

Saint Marty

If she couldn't beat Kellie Pickler, at least make my daughter well

Monday, May 27, 2013

May 27: Memorial Day, Parade, Service, Rest

We went to the Memorial Day parade this morning in Negaunee, Michigan.  From what I understand, the parade used to be huge, rivaling the Fourth of July, in years past.  Now, it lasts all of five minutes.  There's a police car, a fire engine, two marching bands, and a contingent from the VFW.  Not many people show up on Iron Street to watch it any more.

I try to impress upon my kids the real meaning behind this day.  I try to make them realize that it's more than just a vacation from school and a time to eat corn on the cob and barbecued hot dogs.  After the parade, we went to the memorial service at the cemetery.  It's difficult making a twelve-year-old and a four-year-old understand the sacrifices of war veterans.  For most of my daughter's life, the United States has been engaged in foreign military actions.  She doesn't know any different.  Almost every week, she's heard news reports of suicide bombings and soldiers killed in action.  My son doesn't know any different, either.

Maybe, some day, my children will know only peace in the world.

This is Saint Marty's solemn prayer.


Sunday, May 26, 2013

May 26: Classic Saint Marty Sunday, Saint Margaret of Cartona, New Cartoon

I am about to offer you one of my oldest posts.  It was also one of my most popular posts for a very long time.  I remember that it was a particularly difficult subject to tackle, and I was a little nervous about putting myself out there.  But I did it, and I'm about to do it again.

The original title of this post was "Saint Margaret of Cartona."  Hopefully, it stands the test of time.

Saint Marty is going to get some frozen yogurt now.

As a college writing teacher, I know about the healing power of putting pen to paper, fingers to keyboard. During my years in the classroom, I've read student essays about binge drinking, drug abuse, sexual violence, eating disorders, and gender confusion. (I've also read essays about gutting deer, fixing pickup trucks, killing goldfish, and kissing grandmothers. It ain't glamorous, but it's a living.) Above all, I've seen the expressions on students' faces when they share something painful or embarrassing. It's a combination of relief and fear, as if they've just revealed to me a vestigial tail or hermaphroditic sex organ they've kept hidden their whole lives. Baring yourself in all of your broken glory is like volunteering to be Zuzu the Ape Girl in a carnival sideshow.

Today's saint could be the patron of all the Zuzus of the world. Margaret of Cartona's story has all the ingredients of an 11th century Girls Gone Wild video. As a teenager, she ran off with a guy from a neighboring town, got knocked up, and had an illegitimate son. She lived in unwedded bliss for nine years, until her Tuscan stud was murdered. After returning home to her father and being rejected by him, Margaret and her son ended up receiving asylum at the Friars Minor at Cartona. Even living with a bunch of monks didn't curb her sexual appetites. I'm not Dr. Phil, but I would diagnosis this girl with seriously low self-esteem coupled with the possibility of abuse at a young age. (Cue the dramatic Law & Order: SVU chords. Dah-dum.) Eventually, Margaret went home on a Sunday and tried to "mutilate her face" to atone for her sins, according to my book. Saved by a priest, she became a Franciscan nun, nursed the poor, established a religious order, built a hospital, and had ecstatic visions in which she spoke directly with Jesus Christ. (Talk about an over-achiever.)

The fact that astounds me the most about Margaret's tale is how really fucked-up her life was. I got the feeling as I read about her that there's quite a few juicy details that the circumspect publishers of my Illustrated Lives of the Saints chose to omit. But that's human nature, to gild the messier side of life or ignore it altogether. That's especially Christian human nature, unfortunately, as if the last Judas in the world was named Iscariot. (I've always had a soft spot for Judas in the Bible. It might be my co-dependent nature, but I just think that a few home-cooked meals and maybe a couple of visits to Nazareth's red-light district might have made him less cranky.)

The kind of open-book quality of Margaret's life and the cleansing power I've witnessed of student essays makes me want to throw open the closet doors in my house and drag every last femur, tibia, ulna, rib, and skull into the light of day. My wife read Margaret's story and said, "I guess there's hope for me yet." Honesty is a mighty force. It can purge the soul of a lot of infected and broken crap (like cleaning out the attic in anticipation of a move).

When my wife and I were separated, I spent a lot of long evenings thinking about sex, sex addiction, sex addiction and the Internet, sex addiction and the Internet and pornography. (I also spent a great deal of time missing sex and the close, sweaty proximity of another human being.) I've always had an obsessive nature. So, during those endless nights of naval gazing, I started searching on the Internet. At first, I told myself I was only looking for my wife, trying to find her, connect with her, protect her, hurt her, whatever her. Those searches led me to adult websites. Those adult websites led me to more adult websites. Those adult websites led me to hardcore porn sites: blowjob.com, ratemenaked.com, titsandass.com, eatmeraw.com, pussygalore.com. Some nights, I would logon at 9:30 at night and logoff at 2 a.m. (Keep in mind, I leave for work at 5:30 in the morning.)

I knew I had a problem. My rational mind knew I needed help. But the abandoned part of me, the part that felt like the ragged socket of a tooth in a five-year-old's mouth, was not willing to give up the empty pleasure of cyber connection. Then, one night, I spent over eight hours pointing and clicking. I dragged myself into work and knew I couldn't continue.

I didn't try to mutilate my face. I slinked into my counselor's office and confessed the whole shitty, sticky business, expecting judgement and disappointment and shock. (My counselor is a good friend, and I truly carried a load of shame the size of a blue whale into that session.) What I got from her, instead, was understanding, compassion, some tissues, and a hug. (Pretty much what Jesus would have given me.)

I would like to say from that day forward I never clicked a mouse in an inappropriate manner again. Like any broken person, however, I have to take it a day at a time. Some days are easier than others. Some days are harder. That's the nature of brokenness, I guess. This blog is just another step on the road to wholeness.

So, I stand before you today--Zuzu the Hermaphroditic Ape Girl With the Vestigial Tail. Show times are 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Drop by the tent for a visit. The bearded lady in the next stall makes a mean blueberry muffin, and the Alligator Penis Boy across the midway always has the coffee pot on.

Confessions of Saint Marty


Saturday, May 25, 2013

May 25: Beatnik Saturday, New Poem, "Extreme Unction," New Cartoon

This Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, I'm looking forward to three days of relaxation.  Well, I'll relax as much as I can relax.  I still have to play the pipe organ for two church services (one tonight, one tomorrow morning).  I still have to write some blog posts, and I have a book I want to finish reading this weekend.  That's my definition of relaxation.

I have a new poem for you today.  This one's been sitting and percolating in my head for a couple of weeks, slowly taking shape.

Saint Marty can't wait to have some barbecue this weekend.

Extreme Unction

Swaddled by AIDS in hospital bed.
Unlimbed by bombs in Afghanistan.
Unhinged by helix in mind.
Stunned by stroke, macheted by Hutu.
Unbreasted by cancer, unvoiced by dictator.
Addicted by birth, unmemoried by age.
Jack Kennedy at Parkland Memorial,
wide-eyed on the stretcher,
Jackie staring into his wrecked face.
Twenty six at Sandy Hook,
taken on a sunny December morning
just before Christmas break.
My father sits with them all,
the wounded, ruined, helpless,
waits for the priest's prayer and oil.
To the man in black, he whispers,
This is for my wife, accepts it,
carries it home on his foreheard,
cupped in his palms, like winter
run-off.  He gives it to my mother,
pours it over her feet, legs, hands, head.
He hopes she will jump out of her chair
and start cooking him liver and onions
the way she did when they were first
married, standing in front of the stove,
singing a Doris Day song, hair wrapped
in a blue kerchief, hips swaying,
looking as if she will live forever.

Confessions of Saint Marty


Friday, May 24, 2013

May 24: Still Tired, Billy Collins, "Delivery"

I'm still pretty tired tonight.  I've got most of my chores already done.  I've cleaned my house and gone for a run.  Pretty soon, I'm going to give my four-year-old a bath and get him ready for bed.  He didn't get a bath last night, so right now he smells like sweat and dirt and stubbornness.

I have a poem for you tonight from Billy Collins, former poet laureate of the United States.  The poem originally appeared in the magazine Subtropics and was reprinted in The Best American Poetry 2012.

Saint Marty needs a nap.

Delivery

by:  Billy Collins

Moon moving in the upper window,
shadow of the pen in my hand on the page--
I keep wishing that the news of my death

will be delivered by a little wooden truck
or a child's drawing of a truck
featuring the long rectangular box of the trailer,

with some lettering on the side,
then the protruding cab, the ovoid wheels,
maybe the inscrutable profile of a driver,

and of course puffs of white smoke
issuing from the tail pipe, drawn like flowers
and similar in their expression to the clouds in the sky only smaller.

As my son says, "Beep!  Beep!"

May 24: So Damn Sleepy, Fairy Tale Friday, Sleeping Marty

He didn't say anything again for quite a while.  I don't know if you've ever done it, but it's sort of hard to sit around waiting for somebody to say something when they're thinking and all.  It really is.  I kept trying not to yawn.  It wasn't that I was bored or anything--I wasn't--but I was so damn sleepy all of a sudden.

The key phrase of the Catcher passage above is "...I was so damn sleepy all of a sudden."  For some reason, I am beat today.  I was tired when I woke up, and I've been tired all day long.  It's the kind of tired where your eyes feel like they've gone ten rounds with Apollo Creed.  I could fall asleep right now.

But I'm not going to.  I owe my disciples a fairy tale.  So, we begin, as we always do...

Once upon a time, in the kingdom of YouPee, there lived a hardworking cobbler named Marty.  Now, Marty was so hardworking that, when he was finished working on shoes during the day, he moonlighted at a local apothecary shop, making magic wart remover.  You see, every summer, YouPee was plagued by thousands of toads, and all of its citizens ended up being covered with warts.  So, September through May, the local union of apothecaries worked day-and-night to produce enough Wart-Be-Gone for June, July, and August.

Marty usually only got two to three hours of sleep a night.  One morning, as he was working on a pair of Hermes high tops for Phatboy, the royal hip hop dancer, Marty fell asleep.  When he woke up a little while later, a toad was sitting on the bench next to Phatboy's left shoe.

The toad cleared its throat.  "Greetings, Sleeping Marty," it croaked.  "I am a magic toad.  You see, many years ago, I lived one kingdom over in the palace.  I am actually a princess.  But I was a wicked little girl.  I stole money from the royal treasury and blamed it on Kermit, the court jester.  My father ordered that Kermit be drowned in the castle moat.  As Kermit was being dragged away by the guards, he cursed me to life of ugliness.  He said I would never be a girl again until I could convince a true and noble man to kiss me.  You are a true and noble man, Marty.  If you kiss me now, I promise you a life of wealth and leisure.  You will never have to work another day in your life, and I will love you until my dying day."

Sleeping Marty took his hammer and smashed the toad with it.  "Damn talking toads," he said, and he went back to work on the Hermes high tops.

The moral of the story:  Don't trust toads.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

Would you trust this thing?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

May 23: "The Round House," Louise Erdrich, Book Club

Yes, it's that time of the month again.  The members of The Good Book Club will be descending on my house at 7 p.m. for an evening of frivolity, lively literary discussion, and, most importantly, food.

This month's book is Louise Erdrich's National Book Award winning The Round House.  I've been reading it this past week, and all I can say about it is, "Holy shit, it is good."  That may sound crude.  That may sound uneducated.  But this book is riveting, from the first page to the last.  It deals with racism and sexual violence, innocence giving way to comprehension.  I loved it.

And, as far as I can tell, the members of the book club loved it, as well.  That's rare for our club.  Usually, club members are divided, one side really loving the selection, the other side really wanting to burn it.  This month's discussion will be pretty positive.

Saint Marty can't recommend The Round House enough.  It's thought-provoking and moving.  Plus, it goes well with cudighi pizza.

It goes well with good literature.


May 23: Professors and Doctors and Georges, Oh My!

...The worst part was, the jerk had one of those very phony, Ivy League voices, one of those very tired, snobby voices.  He sounded like a girl.  He didn't hesitate to horn in on my date, the bastard.  I even thought for a minute that he was going to get in the goddam cab with us when the show was over, because he walked about two blocks with us, but he had to meet a bunch of phonies for cocktails, he said.  I could see them all sitting around in some bar, with their goddam checkered vests, criticizing shows and books and women in those tired, snobby voices.  They kill me, those guys.

I know people like the guy Holden is talking about.  Self-important, privileged, ego maniacs.  The guy Holden describes is a friend of Sally, his date.  An Andover student, "George" embodies everything Holden holds in contempt.  To be honest, I can't blame Holden for hating this person.

I've worked with surgeons and university professors for most of my professional life.  A lot of them were normal, down-to-earth people.  A few of them have even become good friends of mine.  However, I have known a few Georges, as well.

Like Holden, I have little patience for people who thumb their PhD's or M.D.'s at me.  Recently, I have become aware of a small group of colleagues who seem to think their advanced degrees give them the right to bully and humiliate anybody they want.  I literally heard one of them say at a recent meeting, "I encourage you to earn a PhD, put yourself out on the international job market, get an on-campus visit, interview, and then land a job like the rest of us."  Yes, this person made obtaining a tenured position at a university sound like some hero's quest for the Golden Fleece.  And his answer for people who don't have the means or opportunity to pursue this course of action:  "Get out of academia and get a different job."  It was ludicrous and insulting.

A surgeon I know will frequently take the time before or after surgeries to discuss his opinions of over-paid public school teachers, lower-income African Americans, overweight patients on public assistance, and children with learning deficits.  I have even seen him berate a terrified high school student about his tax dollars paying for her education.  This gentleman thinks the world owes him instant respect and attention simply because he is fortunate enough to work in a high-paying profession and has the term "Dr." in front of his name.

I was discussing this very subject over dinner with a good friend from the university.  He and I both come from similar, blue collar backgrounds.  Before my friend earned his MFA, he worked in the food industry for many years.  He knows how lucky he is to have a job that pays him to talk about books and movies and writing he loves.  "Shit," he said, "I'd be doing the same thing drinking with my friends."  He and I both know we are privileged to be able to do the things we do.  Teaching at the university isn't our God-give right or duty.  We don't "deserve" it because we spent a few extra years in college.  We're lucky, and we know it.

All the Georges of the world have never progressed beyond an insular, middle-school mentality.  They are the bullies of the playground.  They eat the best grilled cheese sandwiches.  They wear the best high tops.  They go to ski lodges for Christmas vacation.  And they talk the loudest, because everyone should know how important they are.

And I simply have no time for them.

That's a piece of Saint Marty's mind.

This is a bully free blog.  Unless your name is George.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

May 22: Publishing and Luck

For all would-be writers who read this blog, I have some wisdom to share.

Getting published depends quite a bit on contacts.  I have published one book and some poems in a few pretty good journals and magazines.  The publisher of my book was a friend of a colleague at the university where I teach.  Several of the editors of the magazines where I've placed poems were acquaintances, poets I met at readings, and, again, friends of colleagues.  That doesn't mean that I was published simply because of my contacts.  No.  My work had to stand on its own, as well.  The contacts simply opened the doors.  It was up to me to land the publication.  I have more rejections than publications, believe me, and most of them are from contacts.

I have wanted to be a professional writer ever since I can remember.  I have learned that getting published is about 50% talent and 50% luck.  The talents helps quite a bit, but it's also about a manuscript landing on the desk of an editor at just the right time.

I have worked as an editor for a couple of literary journals.  The selection process for these publications is/was highly subjective.  Good poems can get rejected.  Bad poems can get accepted.  It all depends upon the first person who reads the manuscript.  Now, most editors are experienced readers (and usually writers themselves).  They generally know what they're doing.  They recognize quality work.  It all boils down to personal aesthetic.  I think that's why books like Poet's Market always recommend reading an issue of a journal/magazine before submitting to it, so you know what kind of stuff the editors favor.

I don't have a great track record when it comes to publication.  I have been very lucky.  The first publishing house to which I submitted my first book accepted it.  That was luck (plus a little talent).  I'm beginning to think my luck has run out recently.  I sent out ten or twenty poetry submissions last summer.  I got ten or twenty of rejections.  One magazine never even replied.  I've also entered two or three writing contests in the past year, as well.  Let's just say my rejection record stands firm.

The most important thing I can tell young (and not-so-young) writers is to never get discouraged.  Keep sending out manuscripts.  Don't think of rejection as failure.  Think of it as one step closer to publication.  Luck always changes.  You have to believe in yourself, or nobody else will.

Saint Marty believes in himself.  He also believes in Santa Claus and the Great Pumpkin.

Join me in the pumpkin patch

May 22: Anything Descriptive, Essay Writing, Deadlines

"Anything.  Anything descriptive.  A room.  Or a house.  Or something you once lived in or something--you know.  Just as long as it's descriptive as hell."  He gave out a big yawn while he said that.  Which is something that gives me a royal pain in the ass.  I mean if somebody yawns right while they're asking you to do them a goddam favor.  "Just don't do it too good, is all," he said.  "That sonuvabitch Hartzell thinks you're a hot-shot in English, and he knows you're my roommate.  So I mean don't stick all the commas and stuff in the right place."

About the only thing Holden admits to being good at is English.  That's why his roommate, Stradlater, wants Holden to write an English class essay for him.  Holden has an actual talent for writing.  The only subject Holden isn't flunking at Pencey Prep is English.  Maybe it runs in the family, since his brother, D. B., is a professional writer.

There's a difference between having a talent and having a gift.  I think I've written about this subject before.  If I have a talent for playing the piano, that means I have to practice a lot, that it isn't second nature to me.  If I have a gift for piano playing, I can simply hear a song on the radio, sit down at a keyboard, and play it immediately, without sheet music.  Or pick up a piece of sheet music, sit at the piano, and play it flawlessly.  That's a gift.

There's only one thing I have a gift for in my life.  Writing.  I love writing, and I've never had to work hard at remembering all the grammatical rules.  They sort of always existed in my head.  That may sound strange, but it's true.  Now, whether somebody would call me a gifted poet or short story writer is a whole other issue.

I have an essay I need to write.  A nature essay.  It's for a local writing contest.  I have my idea.  I simply need to sit down and put it to paper.  I've been putting that part of the process off for the last few days.  The contest pays well, and I need to do this.  It's not just for the $250, although that would be nice.  It's for the satisfaction of putting forth my best effort, come what may.

The deadline for the contest if June 7.  I need to get my writing butt into gear.  I also got some suggestions from a writer friend last night of where I should submit my newest poetry manuscript.  I need to follow up on that information, as well.  My worry is not that I'll fail.  That's all part of writing.  My worry is that I won't even try, that I'll miss the deadlines.

Saint Marty just needs to pick up his pen and get to work.

Chocolate is always a good reward

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

May 21: Tying Up Loose Ends

I'm going to tie up some loose ends with this post.

First, I did find my DVD remote last Friday night, shortly after I said my prayer to Saint Anthony, the patron saint of lost things.  In my fervor to straighten and clean, I had taken the remote and stored with with some of my son's toys.  In my defense, the remote was sitting in a pile of plastic hammers and saws and cars.

Second, the reading last night at Peter White Public Library went really well.  It wasn't my greatest moment ever as a reader, but I didn't suck, either.  Afterward, I went out for drinks with the other writers from the reading and ended up drinking one-too-many gin and tonics.  The world had a little glow to it on the way home.  (DISCLAIMER:  I do NOT endorse drinking and driving!)

Third, I'm still working on my nature essay for the writing contest.  I will share more details later about this subject.  I probably won't share the actual essay until after I learn if I win or lose.  My guess is I'm going to lose, and, when I do, I will publish the essay in total on this blog.

I think those are all the loose ends I have to report on.  If I think of any more, I'll have to write an addendum.

Meanwhile, Saint Marty has some sentences to write:

Saint Marty will not drink and drive.  Saint Marty will not drink and drive.  Saint Marty will not drink and drive.  Saint Marty will not drink and drive.  Saint Marty will not drink and drive.  Saint Marty will not drink and drive...

Those damn loose ends...They go better with gin and tonics...

May 21: A Christmas Pageant for Americans, Prayer of the Week, Daughter

"'A Christmas Pageant for Americans.'  It stinks, but I'm Benedict Arnold.  I have practically the biggest part," she said.  Boy, she was wide-awake.  She gets very excited when she tells you  that stuff.  "It starts out when I'm dying.  This ghost comes in on Christmas Eve and asks me if I'm ashamed and everything.  You know.  For betraying my country and everything.  Are you coming to it?"  She was sitting way the hell up in the bed and all.  "That's what I wrote you about.  Are you?"

Phoebe wants Holden to come to her Christmas program.  (By the way, doesn't the plot of her program sound a little like Dickens' A Christmas Carol.  Funny how things dovetail like that.)  Anyway, she is like any little kid with a solo or dance or recital.  She wants her big brother and sister and mother and father and aunt to be there.

Tonight, my daughter has her final chorus and band concert for the year.  It's called the Collage Concert, because it basically features every student who's involved in music in the middle school.  That may sound like a tedious and horrifying way of spending an hour.  It's not.  The musical selections are done one after another, without any pauses for applause.  One song ends, another begins.  It's the slickest school music program I've every attended.

My daughter has a solo flute part in a band ensemble tonight.  That's a big deal.  She had to audition for it and was chosen from all the other flutists.  She's really excited.  I, on the other hand, am a typical parent.  I will want to vomit until she is done with her solo.  Then I will relax and enjoy the rest of the concert.

My daughter sort of reminds me of Phoebe in the above passage.  My daughter isn't nervous about playing her part.  She knows it cold.  My daughter is interested in who's coming to see her.  Tonight, it will be my wife and me.  I know my daughter gets nervous.  However, her nerves manifest as temper tantrums and screaming.  It's not a pretty sight.  My whole goal this evening is to deliver my daughter to the band room before she melts into a puddle of adolescent sweat and tears.

I do have a prayer for this week, and it has to do with my daughter.

Dear God,

It's me again, you know, the one who calls himself a saint.  Yeah, yeah, I know you're getting tired of hearing from me.  I'm sorry for making a nuisance of myself.

Today, I'm asking you to look out for my daughter.  She's got that band and chorus concert tonight.  She's acting like it's no big deal, but I know she's nervous.  Give her strength and courage.  Let her play her piece the best she's ever played it.  Let her shine.

I'm not saying this as a jealous parent or because I want her to humiliate the other flutists in the band.  I'm saying this because I want my daughter to be confident.  I want her to know that she's beautiful and talented.  I want her to feel that tonight, in every cell of her body.

I know you're watching out for her.  You've been watching out for her ever since she was a baby and my wife was struggling with bipolar.  All those days my wife spent in bed, holding our infant daughter, afraid to let her go.  I know You were with her then.  Be with her again tonight, please.

Remember my little girl.  Your child.

Yours in love,

Saint Marty

P.S.  If You want to humiliate the other flutists a little bit, that would be OK, too.

Please, God, let the other flutists be jealous of my daughter.  Amen.

Monday, May 20, 2013

May 20: Meet Saint Marty and His Friends

I'm still crazy busy, but I wanted to use my second post of the day to invite anyone and everyone to Peter White Library in Marquette tonight.  Some fellow writers and I are going to be reading selections from The Way North, a new anthology of Upper Peninsula writers.  There will be poetry.  There will be fiction and nonfiction.  There will be people in costume.  (I've heard rumors of someone coming dressed as a hockey goalie, but don't hold me to that.)  And, afterward, there will be book signing.

The festivities kick off at 7 p.m. this evening.  Actually, the festivities are kicking off a little earlier than that for me.  I'm meeting a friend for drinks at 6 p.m.  Then I'm going out for drinks after the reading, as well.  Any disciple who's in Marquette, Michigan, tonight should stop on by.

You don't get many chances to meet a living, breathing saint.  Saint Marty promises to be on his best behavior.

Fun, fun, fun at Peter White

May 20: Reading Tonight, Nature Essay, Magic 8-Ball Monday

I have a lot of things on my mind this morning.  It's going to be an incredibly busy day.  Aside from working, I'm appearing at Peter White Public Library in Marquette for a book release event of The Way North, an anthology of U. P. writers.  I, along with several other authors in the collection, will be reading and answering questions.

I'm not quite sure how this reading is going to go.  Late last week, one of the other readers suggested we all dress in "traditional" U. P. clothing--flannel, swampers, hunter's orange, snowmobile helmets.  I think he was half-joking, but some of the other writers latched on to the idea.  I have no idea what I'm going to be walking into tonight.  I have an orange dress shirt I'm going to wear, but that's the only concession I'm making.

After the reading, I'm going out for drinks with the other readers.  I probably won't order anything with alcohol in it.  I've got to work tomorrow morning, after all.  However, it will be good to be included in a pack of writers.  I seldom get that opportunity in my daily existence.

The other thing I have to do today is work on a nature essay.  A local publisher is sponsoring a writing contest, and I've decided to give it a shot.  First prize is $250, for God's sake.  Now, I've never written a nature essay before.  I'm not really sure how to go about writing a nature essay, but I do have an idea for my subject.  I think it's going to be a hybrid of memoir and nature writing.  We'll see how it turns out.

Which brings me to Magic 8-Ball Monday.  The questions I have is simple:

Will I win the nature essay writing contest?

And the answer from the gospel according to Salinger is:

"I agree!  I agree they do, some of them!  But that's all I got out of it.  See?  That's my point.  That's exactly my goddam point," I said.  "I don't get hardly anything out of anything.  I'm in bad shape.  I'm in lousy shape.:

Well, the first half of that answer is pretty affirmative:  "I agree!"  The second half isn't quite as hopeful:  "I'm in lousy shape."  I'm, not quite sure how to interpret that answer.    Positive?  Negative?

Saint Marty is going with the first half of the answer this morning.  He wants to be happy, not depressed, today.

I won't be wearing one of these tonight

Sunday, May 19, 2013

May 19: Vintage Saint Marty, Communion with the Saints, New Cartoon

Today, on this first Vintage Saint Marty Sunday, I'm going back to the very beginning.  Post number one.  Episode one, season one.  Yes, what you are about to read is how Saint Marty all began.

The original name of this blog was Feasts and Famines.  I intended to focus on the feast day of a Catholic saint for each post.  Well, that was just the start.  Obviously, the shape and subject matter has changed quite a bit over the years.  However, the intent of Saint Marty remains the same:  to share my flawed life and maybe learn a few things along the way.

Without further adieu, Saint Marty presents the first post he ever wrote.  It was titled...

Communion with the Saints

Here I am, day one of my blog, and I really don't know what the hell I am doing. But that really doesn't matter, because nobody (except for a few, long-suffering and devoted family members and friends) is going to read this. So, aside from my dignity, I really have nothing to lose.

Allow me to tell you a little about myself. I am a 40-something poet/husband/father/teacher/Christian (not necessarily in that order). I teach writing and literature part-time at a local university, and (much like Dante at the beginning of The Inferno) I find myself at a crossroads right now in life. I have a great wife, beautiful daughter, and hilarious son. I have everything that a person could want--jobs that pay the bills, friends that listen to my problems, a house that doesn't belong on Extreme Makeover, and a good car. I go to church, teach Sunday school, sing in the choir, play the pipe organ for a couple of churches, and play keyboard in a Christian rock band. I also deal (sometimes well, sometimes not-so-well) with my wife's bipolar, various personal and family addictions, and a severe case of ennui. Facing all of these things (good, bad, and just plain irritating), I find myself wanting something more, even though I don't know what that something is. That's why I started turning to the Catholic saints...

Yes, Catholic saints. I grew up reading a book called The Lives of the Saints, a text that I think was given to all Catholic children on their First Communion days. I remember the copy I had as a child, a fat, red-covered tome with black, red, and white illustrations of holy men and women and children. Some of the portraits showed smiling monks and nuns looking as if they just stepped off a Bahama cruise. Others pictures were a little gruesome--martyrs riddled with arrows and gushing wounds, stalked by shadowy soldiers and pagans. As a child and adolescent, of course, I was more intrigued by the grislier stories of burning and dismemberment. (I grew up in the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th generation.) As an adult, what I recall is that, no matter what the art work depicted, all of the saints looked happy, joyous, ECSTATIC. It didn't matter if they were impaled with spears or holding their eyes on a plate (I swear to God I remember a picture like that!). They all looked like they had just won an Oscar for Best Saint.

So, a couple years ago, when I found myself dealing with a whole load of crap in my life, I remembered those smiling people in that crimson-covered book. I thought to myself, "I gotta get me some of what they're on." I went to the local Catholic supply store and bought a two-volume set of Lives of the Saints. I started reading it. Every day, I focused on the feast-day saint. (For you non-Catholic readers, the feast day is when the Church celebrates a particular saint. Usually, a saint's feast day is the day he or she died. I thought that was a little morbid at first. I would want my feast day to be my birthday. A saint, however, is celebrated on the day they went to heaven. Go figure. I think that was my first lesson in following in the footsteps of the saints.) I don't know if this exercise improved my attitude or psyche right away, but when I would come across a particularly gory martyrdom, I'd say to myself, "Well, at least I'm having a better day than him!"

So here I am, two years into the process. I am in a better place than when I started, I think. However, as I wrote earlier, I still have these nagging moments of unrest or emptiness or unfulfillment (is that a word?). So, I decided to start this blog. I hope that my one or two readers will put up with my whining and perpetual pessimism. I promise to try to be more saintly. That's what this is about, after all. Learning how to find joy when facing the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, to quote the Bard. I hope you'll take the walk with me. I promise to stop for ice cream every once in a while...
 
Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, May 18, 2013

May 18: Red Hunting Hat, Beatnik Saurday, New Poem, "May Snow," New Cartoon

You wouldn't even have known it had snowed at all.  There was hardly any snow on the sidewalks.  But it was freezing cold, and I took my red hunting hat out of my pocket and put it on--I didn't give a damn how I looked.  I even put the earlaps down...

It's around fifty degrees outside this morning.  That's quite a change from last Saturday when I woke up to about three inches of snow on the ground.  Of course, the snow didn't last long.  As Holden says in the above passage, "you wouldn't even have known it had snowed at all."  I've been able to go running almost every day this week, and I don't run in cold weather.  I didn't need a red hunting hat with earlaps.

Today is Beatnik Saturday, and I have a new poem to share with you.  I wrote it earlier this week.  It was inspired by last Saturday's surprise storm.  Snow this far into spring puts me in a reflective mood.  (It also pisses me off, but let's not go there.)

Anyway, put on your berets.  Turn down the lights.

Saint Marty would like to share with you his...

May Snow

This morning reminds me
of my grandmother's cheek
just before she died,
how her skin pearled, pooled
on her face, fresh snow,
translucent and temporal
over the blood and bone beneath.
She inhaled like dogwood
surprised by ice, each green
breath stunned and cold.
And when time came
for the sun to rise, I could see
the shift in her ground,
how she settled into morning light,
accepted the changes:  grass
pushing through night's white dust,
a worm working the thawed
soil, waiting to be plucked
by the first bird of the day.

Confessions of Saint Marty


Friday, May 17, 2013

May 17: Lost Remote, Saint Anthony's Help, Paul Muldoon, "Cradle Song for Asher"

Bet you thought you weren't going to hear from me again today.  Well, you were wrong.  I've had a very busy afternoon and evening.  Lots of cleaning.  Lots of errands.  I went for a run.  And I just spent an hour and a half searching for the remote to my DVD player.  I went through a garbage bag that was stuffed with rotten banana peels and strawberry tops.  No to mention two bottles of empty corn syrup and a whole bunch of sticky paper towels and magazines.  It sucked, and I still didn't find my remote.

I need to give this one up to Saint Anthony, the patron saint of lost things.  I've already said a prayer to him, and I'm waiting for an answer.  I need to still myself--my mind and body.  Then I will find that friggin' remote.

In the mean time, I'm going to turn to poetry.  To be specific, I'm turning to Paul Muldoon, winner for the Pulitzer Prize for his collection of poems Moy Sand and Gravel.  I found a little poem in that book that brought peace to my remote-obsessed mind.

Saint Marty hopes it brings you a little peace tonight, as well.

Cradle Song for Asher

When they cut your birth cord yesterday
it was I who drifted away.

Now I hear your name (in Hebrew, "blest")
as yet another release of ballast

and see, beyond your wicker
gondola, campfires, cities, whole continents flicker.

Help me find that damn remote!

May 17: Egyptians, Special Chemical, Fairy Tale Friday

"You know how the Egyptians buried their dead?" I asked the one kid.

"Naa."

"Well, you should.  It's very interesting.  They wrapped their faces up in these cloths that were treated with some secret chemical.  That way they could be buried in their tombs for thousands of years and their faces wouldn't rot or anything.  Nobody knows how to do it except the Egyptians.  Even modern science."

Holden seems preoccupied with staying young in The Catcher in the Rye.  The only thing he really knows about ancient Egyptians concerns their mummification techniques.  Preserving youth and life.  That's why he imagines catching kids in the rye fields, before they fall off the cliff into adulthood.  It's also why he brings two young boys to the mummy room in the Museum of Natural History, as well.  In some ways, he's looking for the fountain of youth through the whole book.

Today is Fairy Tale Friday.  I really have no plot for the tale I'm about to relate to you.  But, having taught the works of the brothers Grimm at the university before, I know many fairy tales concern a quest for eternal youth.  I also know most of them begin like this...

Once upon a time, there lived in the kingdom of Guggenheim a part-time bard named Marty.  All day long, Marty toiled in the king's fields, tilling, planting, and harvesting the royal crops.  As he worked, Marty sang songs.  Sometimes he sang songs about the sun or moon or love.  Most of the time, however, he sang songs about wanting to be the royal bard and live at the palace and eat lobster pizza all day long.  At night, Marty hit the pubs to do karaoke.

One day, as he was watering the royal summer squash, he accidentally stepped on a field mouse passing by, killing it instantly.

Another day, as he was tilling the royal string beans, he started singing this song, "Oooh, where in the world is my fairy godmother?  Where in the world is she?  The be-atch needs to get me out of these fields, and into the palace--eee."  I didn't say he was a good bard.

Suddenly, as he pushed his hoe into the ground, a bubbling black oil started issuing from the dirt.  Marty stood there, staring down at the liquid.  "What is this I see?" he sang.  "Is it the answer to my wish?  It's black and thick, like Cuban espresso.  Maybe I should drink it--ish."  Again, not the greatest bard in the world.

Marty stooped down and scooped up a handful of the oil.  He drank it in one big gulp.  Immediately, he noticed a difference in himself.  His left arm started aching.  His chest felt as if a mastodon was sitting on it.  The string bean field started swirling before his eyes.  He dropped his hoe and fell to his knees.

"Oh, what is the matter with me?" he sang out.  "I think there's something wrong.  Perhaps I shouldn't have drank from that fountain.  I want to play Donkey Kong."  Hey, you try to rhyme something with "wrong"!

Marty fell over and died of a massive coronary.  His body was discovered three days later, when the royal gardener came by to pick some string beans for the king's lunch.

The moral of this tale:  Don't be a dumb ass, and there's no such thing as a fountain of youth.  Oh, and I hate field mice.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

There's no such thing as the fountain of youth, dumb ass

Thursday, May 16, 2013

May 16: Thursday is the New Friday

The title of this post is the motto of most of the college students I teach.  Since more university courses are taught Monday through Thursday, most students end up with three-day weekends.  That means the partying begins on Thursday evening, after the last class of the day.

I have to agree with my students.  On Fridays, I don't work my usual twelve-hour day.  Instead, I clean the house, run errands, and relax.  Maybe I'll watch Shark Tank in the evenings, if I feel up to it.  I try not to schedule too much.  I have even been known to knock back a glass of wine or a mixed drink on a Friday, after the kids are in bed, of course.

Today is the new Friday.  I'm already done working.  I'm simply waiting to pick my daughter up from dance class, and then I'll be on my way home.  I hope to go for a run tonight.  Then I'll shower and watch the finale of American Idol.  That's about it.  It's time to relax.

I can't think of any weekend obligations.  I have to practice on the pipe organ at church for Sunday morning's worship.  I'll probably do that Saturday afternoon.  Aside from that, I have some writing I need to get done for a local writing contest I just found out about.  I'm going to write a nature essay.  Don't laugh.  There's a first time for everything.

Saint Marty plans to kick back a little these next few days.

Sounds good to me!

May 16: The Army, D-Day, a Piece of My Mind

...My brother D.B. was in the Army for four goddam years.  He was in the war, too--he landed on D-Day and all--but I really think he hated the Army worse than the war...

Holden is not a very patriotic kid.  The little excerpt above should demonstrate this fact.  It's part of a much longer passage about war, the Army, and his brother.  The upshot of the whole couple of pages is that Holden isn't a big fan of authority, doesn't know much about poetry, and really hates the idea of war.

Today, on this inaugural A Piece of My Mind Thursday, I want to talk a little bit about patriotism.  You see, I get a little tired of Republicans and Democrats accusing each other of being unpatriotic because they hold opposing view points.  Just because I believe in universal health care doesn't mean I'm a communist, and just because my father is a member of the NRA doesn't mean he's any better of an American than I am.  We simply disagree.

At the height of the last Iraq War, I attended a local Fourth of July parade.  A local contingent of anti-war protesters were marching as a unit in the parade, carrying signs, wearing tie-dyed clothes, smiling, and waving.  Most of the protesters were old enough to have been Vietnam War protesters.  The rest of the parade consisted of the normal array of dump trucks, fire engines, and demented clowns.

I was sitting with a group of people who were, to put it lightly, highly conservative.  They considered themselves very Christian and very moral.  When the Iraq War protesters passed by, this entire group of people stood up from their lawn chairs and turned their backs to the parade, walking a few steps away.  I heard a few of them saying things like, "If you don't like America, why don't you move somewhere else?"  I was a little embarrassed to be standing by this group.

After the protesters had passed, everyone sat back down in their lawn chairs.  I looked at one of them and said, "You know, just because they don't believe in the Iraq War doesn't mean they hate America."

"I support our troops," he said.

"So do they," I said.  "One of them was carrying a sign that said so."

"How can they support our troops and be against the war?"

"How could George W. Bush invade a country that had no weapons of mass destruction?"  I said.

The rest of the parade was pretty quiet.

I support the members of America's armed forces.  I don't support the idea of war.  My parade pals, in their red-white-and-blue shorts and tee shirts, somehow equated being patriotic and Christian with being Republican and jingoistic.  Those two things simply don't go together in my head.

But that's what's great about the United States of America.  I can hold my beliefs; my parade pals can hold their beliefs; and we can still be patriotic Americans.  My patriotism has nothing to do with my political affiliation or religious affiliation.  It doesn't matter whether I'm pro-life or pro-choice.  Support gay marriage or oppose gay marriage.  Watch American Idol or The Voice.

I am an American.  On Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, I fly my flag.  I sing "The Star Spangled Banner" at sporting events (when I'm forced to go to them).  There have been times when being patriotic was difficult.  The first eight years of the new millennium were quite challenging for me.  However, I still think the United States is the best country to live in, because of its diversity of people and beliefs.

So if you see me marching in a Fourth of July Parade this summer, wearing a George Clooney for President tee shirt and passing out DVDs of Syriana, don't turn your back.  I'm simply exercising my rights as a patriotic American.

Saint Marty just gave you a piece of his mind.


They're just exercising their rights, folks

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

May 15: A Run, an Awards Ceremony, and a Choir Practice

Yes, it's a gorgeous day in the Upper Peninsula.  The sun is shining.  A warm wind is blowing.  People are lining up at the Tastee Freeze for ice cream.  And I don't have that nagging anxiety any more.

I just got back from a 5K run.  It was wonderful.  My feet felt great.  I only took one short walking break (less than a quarter mile).  I didn't even start sweating until after I was finished.  When I stopped running, however, I looked like Jackie Gleason in a sauna.

It's going to be an eventful night.  I'm attending an awards ceremony with my family.  My daughter participated in a healthy living program all year long, and tonight is the culmination of all her work.  Supposedly, she's going to receive some kind of prize.  I just hope it's not a year's supply of cucumbers.

After the awards, I will head over to church to play for a choir practice.  Yes, I have to sit and play a pipe organ for an hour after a run, awards, and twelves hours of work.  And now all my disciples are thinking, "What did you do to piss off God?"

Well, that's between God and Saint Marty.

Imagine this guy in a steam bath

May 15: Seesaw, Kids, Daughter's Drama

I passed by this playground and stopped and watched a couple of very tiny kids on a seesaw.  One of them was sort of fat, and I put my hand on the skinny kid's end, to sort of even up the weight, but you could tell they didn't want me around, so I let them alone.

Holden learns a very important lesson about kids in the above passage:  they generally resent help from older people.  Even though Holden is a teenager, to the seesaw kids, he's the equivalent of a school principal or truant officer (do they eve have truant officers anymore?).  Kids want to be independent, until they can't get their little worlds to balance on the seesaw.

Last night, my daughter's world wasn't balancing.  She was practicing a speech she had to give today for her Language Arts class, and it wasn't going well.  The unpoppable bubbles she was trying to create were popping, and her life was coming to an end.  It was a two-hour drama, and, at times during this crisis, I was screamed at, walked away from, and glared down.  I wanted to help her, but every time I put my hand on her end of the seesaw, she went all Linda Blair on me.  Eventually, she accepted my assistance, but only after her universe had imploded a little.

This morning, my daughter trooped off to school with all the equipment for her speech.  At around 10:30 a.m., she got up in front of her classmates and delivered her talk.  I glanced at my watch at around 10:00 a.m. and said a little prayer for her.  I've been worried all day long about her unpoppable bubble.  I have no idea whether it popped or not.

I guess that's what parents do--to protect their bubbles, keep them from popping.  Balance out the seesaw whether the kids like it or not.

Saint Marty always hated seesaws when he was little.

Protect it.  Always.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

May 14: Anxiety All Day

I've been experiencing a great deal of anxiety all day.  It's unfocused anxiety, with no specific genesis to point at.  I'm healthy, except for a persistent twinge in my ankle (I think I twisted it on my run yesterday).  My car is healthy (the mechanic was unable to find the culprit of my ABS brake light's sudden appearance on my dashboard).  As far as I know, none of my household utilities are about to be disconnected, and I don't have any major job stresses at the present moment (I just signed my contract for the fall semester, and I'm getting paid this week from the hospital).  So this anxiety has me perplexed.

I've read that people who are going to have heart attacks often experience an impending sense of doom or dread beforehand.  That's not me, either.  I don't think I'm going to die.  It's more like I forgot to put on pants before I left the house this morning.  It's a nagging notion that I forgot something important.  I've checked for forgotten birthdays.  I've even gone so far as to Google this date in history, and I found nothing of note (unless you count the launch of the Lewis and Clark Expedition or the settling of Jamestown as an English colony).  Nothing.  Zip.  Nada.  Zilch.

I need to let this anxiety go, but it's difficult.  I keep expecting the phone to ring with some horrible news:  my wife found a mouse in the bathtub, my son fell down and knocked out a tooth, Mitt Romney really won the 2012 presidential election.  I've been practicing deep breathing for the last hour or so.  If anybody was sitting in the office with me, she or he would probably think I was surfing porn sites.

There's nothing to worry about, though.  No catastrophic event.  Not even a minor cut or bruise.

Saint Marty is just slowly going insane.

Room, please!