Sunday, May 28, 2017

May 28: A Musical, Classic Saint Marty, "Lilacs"

Went to see a musical today with my wife and son.  Once Upon a Mattress.  It was a community theater production, and my son loved it.  I had to drag him away from his computer game to get him to go.  Half-way through the performance, he turned to me and whispered, "I regret not wanting to come."  Then he hugged my arm.

It was a great daddy moment for me, introducing my son to something that I love.  I may not be able to change a flat or change the oil in my car.  I don't fish or hunt or throw footballs.  But I can sit in a dark auditorium with my kids, tell them about Carol Burnett and Nathan Lane and Stephen Sondheim.

Three years ago, I was thinking about my differences again . . .

May 28, 2014:  Cars, Mechanically Challenged, Google

...Elwyn [E. B. White] loved cars.  So did the boys' father.  After selling two of his three carriage horses, Samuel bought a Pope-Tribune runabout, which looked sporty with its long, straight-steering shaft and boxy engine bonnet, until he replaced it with a sleek Maxwell roadster whose short running board swooped forward and back to form elegant tire guards like wings.  But Samuel never learned how to drive and left that particular twentieth-century excitement to his children.

White was in love with the horseless carriage, as were his brothers and father.  Typical guys.  They're interested in cars that are fast, elegant, sleek.  I'm sure that if Elwyn were a teenager in the twenty-first century, he'd probably own the newest iPhone.


I've never been into cars.  The only thing I look for in a car is that, when I turn the key in the ignition, it starts.  That is my definition of a good car.  Of course, I like driving new cars.  But I really don't care if I'm driving a station wagon or a Lexus.  If it gets me to where I want to go, I'm satisfied.

I've always been mechanically challenged.  All of my brothers know cars inside and out.  They can do crap like brake jobs and oil changes.  I'm happy if I can change a taillight (and I usually have to ask my brother to help me).  I just don't do car stuff.  However, I can spot a bad metaphor from a mile away.  Give me a bad poem and pencil, and I will turn it into a verbal Corvette.

That's who I am.  I'm not the oily jeans kind of guy.  Sometimes I wish I was.  I could probably save myself a lot of money.  This morning, I heard a story on the radio about Google creating a car that drives itself.  Just enter your destination, and the car does the rest.  If Google invents a vehicle that changes its own oil and fixes its own valves (whatever the hell those are), I am totally sold.

Until then, Saint Marty will continue to put his key in the ignition, say a prayer, and turn it.


If it gets me to work, I'll drive it.

And an early summer poem . .

Lilacs

by:  Martin Achatz



Early June, lilacs begin to bloom
In my backyard, along paths
I walk at sunrise.  They swell
The air with rain and dirt,
The promise of warm months
Just around the corner, a battalion
About to roll into town,
Unstoppable as a tank.
Bushes bud, slow fireworks
The color of midnight
Blueberry and silk cocoon.
By summer solstice,
Lilacs overrun my neighborhood,
The way the Mississippi overruns
Its banks during hurricanes,
The way fire and bricks and blood
Overran the streets of Los Angeles
After Rodney King.  For days,
The world smolders, burns
Purple and white, unchecked,
Until the killing heat of July
Comes, withers petals to husks
Of brown, to burned-out shells,
To reminders of that first
Crush of summer, when we all
Spill into the sun, sure,
If we shout loud enough,
Spread our lilacs far enough,
The children of America and Pakistan,
Of Israel, Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan
Will somehow blossom into peace.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

May 27: My Little Girl, Carol Ann Duffy, "We Remember Your Childhood Well"

My daughter is going away for the weekend.  She is going with her boyfriend's family out to their camp.  It's rustic.  No electricity.  Outhouses.  Bugs.  Trees.  Snakes.  Bears.  Deer.  I fear for her safety.

I find it a little difficult sometimes to let my daughter go on trips like this, because I'm her father and I've looked out for her my whole life.  I'm still getting used to this whole growing up and spread the wings stuff with her.  I trust her.  She's a good girl with a very good head on her shoulders.

I am a little nostalgic for the days when she really depended on me, when she really was my little girl.  Childhood is slipping away, and that makes me a little sad.  I miss braiding her hair and saying prayers with her at night.  I do not miss Dora the Explorer.

Saint Marty is thankful for his beautiful daughter.

We Remember Your Childhood Well

by:  Carol Ann Duffy

Nobody hurt you. Nobody turned off the light and argued
with somebody else all night. The bad man on the moors
was only a movie you saw. Nobody locked the door.

Your questions were answered fully. No. That didn't occur.
You couldn't sing anyway, cared less. The moment's a blur, a Film Fun
laughing itself to death in the coal fire. Anyone's guess.

Nobody forced you. You wanted to go that day. Begged. You chose
the dress. Here are the pictures, look at you. Look at us all,
smiling and waving, younger. The whole thing is inside your head.

What you recall are impressions; we have the facts. We called the tune.
The secret police of your childhood were older and wiser than you, bigger
than you. Call back the sound of their voices. Boom. Boom. Boom.

Nobody sent you away. That was an extra holiday, with people
you seemed to like. They were firm, there was nothing to fear.
There was none but yourself to blame if it ended in tears.

What does it matter now? No, no, nobody left the skidmarks of sin
on your soul and laid you wide open for Hell. You were loved.
Always. We did what was best. We remember your childhood well.


May 27: Book to Read, Dirty and Tired and Wounded, Heroes

Billy was put to bed and tied down, and given a shot of morphine.  Another American volunteered to watch over him.  This volunteer was Edgar Derby, the high school teacher who would be shot to death in Dresden.  So it goes.

Derby sat on a three-legged stool.  He was given a book to read.  The book was The Red Badge of Courrage, by Stephen Crane.  Derby had read it before.  Now he read it again while Billy Pilgrim entered a morphine paradise.

Sitting in a prisoner of war camp, next to Billy Pilgrim, who is now quietly having a nervous breakdown in a morphine cloud, Edgar Derby is given The Red Badge of Courage to preoccupy himself.  Of course, I would think it would be hard to take your mind off war by reading a book about war.

Of course, Stephen Crane's book is about a young man who is struggling with an impulse to flee from battle, desert his regiment, and run for peace and safety.  At one point in the story, that's exactly what Henry, the main character, does.  Eventually, he returns and marches into battle as a flag bearer.  I'll never forget the last few paragraphs of the book:

It rained. The procession of weary soldiers became a bedraggled train, despondent and muttering, marching with churning effort in a trough of liquid brown mud under a low, wretched sky. Yet the youth smiled, for he saw that the world was a world for him, though many discovered it to be made of oaths and walking sticks. He had rid himself of the red sickness of battle. The sultry nightmare was in the past. He had been an animal blistered and sweating in the heat and pain of war. He turned now with a lover's thirst to images of tranquil skies, fresh meadows, cool brooks, an existence of soft and eternal peace. 

Over the river a golden ray of sun came through the hosts of leaden rain clouds.
It's not a pretty picture.  Union and captured soldiers marching along, dirty and tired and wounded.  Crane, just like Vonnegut, does not glorify war in any way.  It's brutal and terrifying, and everyone involved yearns for one thing--"tranquil skies, fresh meadows, cool brooks, and existence of soft and eternal peace."  Crane wrote about the American Civil War.  Vonnegut is writing about World War II.  Nobody would argue with the fact that both of these wars were fought for just and noble purposes.  Yet, there is still blood and pain and loss.  Brothers and fathers and sons and daughters and mothers and sisters never returning home.

That is the reality of armed conflict.  Terror and grief.  I'm not saying that sometimes there aren't justifiable reasons for war.  Slavery.  Genocide.  Incredible violations of human rights.  Threats to world peace.  And there are brave men and women from countries all over the world who have or will endure the red sickness of battle for people they will never know.  That is an amazing thing.

As I said last night, I am not a fan of nationalism.  I believe in peace and acceptance and compassion.  Always.  But I am also amazed by people who are willing to put their lives on the line for others.  Police officers.  Firefighters.  Soldiers.  Missionaries.  These people are true heroes in my eyes.  As it says in John 15:13, "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends."

Saint Marty is thankful for these heroes today.


Friday, May 26, 2017

May 26: Old Saying, Carol Ann Duffy, "History"

There's an old saying that if you don't know history, you are bound to repeat it.  Something like that.

I believe that statement is true.  It's true for people, for countries, for the whole human race.  We need to learn from our mistakes.  Wars that we've fought.  Genocides.  Slavery.  Famine.  Drought.  Poverty.  Climate change.  We need to learn from all of the things that humanity has wrought on this little chunk of rock we call home.

If we don't learn, we will kill each other.

'Nuff said from Saint Marty tonight.

History

by:  Carol Ann Duffy

She woke up old at last, alone,
bones in a bed, not a tooth
in her head, half dead, shuffled
and limped downstairs
in the rag of her nightdress,
smelling of pee.

Slurped tea, stared
at her hand- twigs, stained gloves-
wheezed and coughed, pulled on
the coat that hung from a hook
on the door, lay on the sofa,
dozed, snored.

She was History.
She'd seen them ease him down
from the Cross, his mother gasping
for breath, as though his death
was a difficult birth, the soldiers spitting,
spears in the earth;

been there
when the fisherman swore he was back
from the dead; seen the basilicas rise
in Jerusalem, Constantinople, Sicily; watched
for a hundred years as the air of Rome
turned into stone;

witnessed the wars,
the bloody crusades, knew them by date
and by name, Bannockburn, Passchendaele,
Babi Yar, Vietnam. She'd heard the last words
of the martyrs burnt at the stake, the murderers
hung by the neck,

seen up-close
how the saint whistled and spat in the flames,
how the dictator strutting and stuttering film
blew out his brains, how the children waved
their little hands from the trains. She woke again,
cold, in the dark,

in the empty house.
Bricks through the window now, thieves
in the night. When they rang on her bell
there was nobody there; fresh graffiti sprayed
on her door, shit wrapped in a newspaper posted
onto the floor.


May 26: A Broken Kite, PTSD, Honor and Respect

Hold on.  This is a longer passage from Slaughterhouse:

There was silence now, as the Englishmen looked in astonishment at the frowsy creatures they had so lustily waltzed inside.  One of the Englishmen saw that Billy was on fire.  "You're on fire, lad!" he said, and he got Billy away from the stove and beat out the sparks with his hands.

When Billy made no comment on this, the Englishman touched him exploratorily here and there, filled with pity.  "My God--what have they done to you, lad?  This isn't a man.  It's a broken kite."

"Are you really an American?" said the Englishman.

"Yes," said Billy.

"And your rank?"

"Private."

"What became of your boots, lad?"

"I don't remember."

"Is that coat a joke?"

"Sir?"

"Where did you get such a thing?"

Billy had to think hard about that.  "They gave it to me," he said at last.

"Jerry gave it to you?"

"Who?"

"The Germans gave it to you?"

"Yes."

Billy didn't like the questions.  They were fatiguing.

"Ohhhh--Yank, Yank, Yank--" said the Englishman, "that coat was an insult."

"Sir?"

"It was a deliberate attempt to humiliate you.  You mustn't let Jerry do things like that."

Billy Pilgrim swooned.

Billy came to on a chair facing the stage.  He had somehow eaten, and now he was watching Cinderella.  Some part of him had evidently been enjoying the performance for quite a while.  Billy was laughing hard.

The women in the play were really men, of course.  The clock had just struck midnight, and Cinderella was lamenting:

          "Goodness me, the clock has struck-- 
            Alackday, and fuck my luck."

Billy found the couplet so comical that he not only laughed--he shrieked.  He went on shrieking until he was carried out of the shed and into another, where the hospital was.  It was a six-bed hospital.  There weren't any other patients there.

Whew.  That was a long one.  Billy is teetering on the verge of a nervous breakdown.  He blacks out.  Eats.  Sits and watched the entertainment that the Englishmen provide.  Then, he falls into the canyon of mental illness, shrieking with laughter.  It is probably PTSD, after the long train ride without sleep and the German delousing shower/gas chamber.

At the beginning of Memorial Day weekend, I think this passage is fairly important.  There are so many combat veterans in the United States who suffer from PTSD.  Just this past Sunday, a friend from church (and a veteran) told me that he is going away for six weeks of treatment for PTSD.  For this man, the firecrackers of the Fourth of July are triggers for panic attacks and flashbacks.  Instead of going to parades and picnics, he spends most of the holiday at home, in the dark, teetering like Billy.

I often forget to be thankful for the freedoms I have in this country.  I can criticize the President of the United States and government, peacefully demonstrate, hold unpopular opinions.  I can do all this without fear for my life or safety.  Those rights are guaranteed to me by the United States Constitution (regardless of what Donald Trump says), and that Constitution has been defended and protected over and over, through the centuries, by brave men and women who were/are willing to risk their lives to preserve it.

I am not getting all nationalistic here.  I think nationalism is dangerous.  What I am saying is that there are people who have sacrificed greatly so that I can say what I want to say, live the way I want to live.  And those people deserve honor and respect, whether they are living or dead.

Tonight, Saint Marty is thankful for those who have defended his freedom.


Thursday, May 25, 2017

May 25: Patient Sort of Fire, Ann Patchett, "Commonwealth"

Billy Pilgrim was on fire, having stood too close to the glowing stove.  The hem of his little coat was burning.  tt was a quiet, patient sort of fire--like the burning of punk.

Billy wondered if there was a telephone somewhere.  He wanted to call his mother, to tell her he was alive and well.

Billy is literally burning up, and he doesn't even realize it.  He's too preoccupied with the idea of letting his mother know that he isn't dead.  Meanwhile, the flames are slowly eating away his overcoat.

I think that's always the case.  When some significant life event happens, most people are completely unaware of it.  Tonight, I hosted the monthly meeting of my book club.  This month's selection was Ann Patchett's Commonwealth, which is all about major life events and their disastrous aftermaths.  Two families destroyed with a kiss.  I love this book.

Book Club is always one of my favorite nights of the month.  I get to sit around with some of my favorite people in the whole world, talking about good literature (in Fannie Flagg months, mediocre literature).  And everybody brings food.  Tonight, it was pesto ravioli, a great salad, vegetables and dip, and banana bread bottom cheesecake.  So good.

One of the things I appreciate the most about these gatherings are the conversations that occur.  Yes, we talk about themes and characters and symbolism.  But we also talk about how the month's book intersects with our own lives.  For example, tonight we spent a lot of time talking about childhood and parenting and dysfunction and forgiveness.  Those are the kind of conversations I love the most.

So, I am tired.  I am also full.  Satisfied.  It was a great time.

Saint Marty is thankful this evening for his book club friends.


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

May 24: Love Poems, Carol Ann Duffy, "Warming Her Pearls"

I find myself drawn to love poems this week for some reason.  Perhaps it's the heat of them.  Or the hope.  Or the passion.  Reading a good love poem makes me feel like the world is okay.  That the Donald Trumps aren't going to build their walls.  That more people will embrace compassion and understanding and charity.

As John, Paul, George, and Ringo said, "All you need is love."

Saint Marty believes in the gospel of the Beatles.

Warming Her Pearls

by:  Carol Ann Duffy

          for Judith Radstone
 
Next to my own skin, her pearls. My mistress
bids me wear them, warm them, until evening
when I'll brush her hair. At six, I place them
round her cool, white throat. All day I think of her,

resting in the Yellow Room, contemplating silk
or taffeta, which gown tonight? She fans herself
whilst I work willingly, my slow heat entering
each pearl. Slack on my neck, her rope.

She's beautiful. I dream about her
in my attic bed; picture her dancing
with tall men, puzzled by my faint, persistent scent
beneath her French perfume, her milky stones.

I dust her shoulders with a rabbit's foot,
watch the soft blush seep through her skin
like an indolent sigh. In her looking-glass
my red lips part as though I want to speak.

Full moon. Her carriage brings her home. I see
her every movement in my head.... Undressing,
taking off her jewels, her slim hand reaching
for the case, slipping naked into bed, the way

she always does.... And I lie here awake,
knowing the pearls are cooling even now
in the room where my mistress sleeps. All night
I feel their absence and I burn.

May 24: Cinderella, Most Popular Story, Happily Ever After

The banquet hall was illuminated by candlelight.  There were heaps of fresh-baked white bread on the tables, gobs of butter, pots of marmalade.  There were platters of sliced beef from cans.  Soup and scrambled eggs and hot marmalade pie were yet to come.

And, at the far end of the shed, Billy saw pink arches with azure draperies hanging between them, and an enormous clock, and two golden thrones, and a bucket and a mop.  It was in this setting that the evening's entertainment would take place, a musical version of Cinderella, the most popular story ever told.

The most popular story ever told.  That's Vonnegut's claim about Cinderella.  An abused girl rescued from her wicked step-family by a handsome prince, swept away to a castle where she will be married and live happily ever after.  Of course, in the original version of the story, I believe Cinderella has her stepmother and stepsisters blinded by a flock of crows or seagulls.  There's also a point where the stepsisters cut off their toes in order to make their feet fit into the glass slipper.  So it goes.

I'm sure there are other stories that could make a claim to the "most popular story ever told" award.  There's the tale of Scrooge and the ghosts.  Or the one about Belle and her hairy love interest.  Let's not forget the Jesus narrative from the gospels.  Don Quixote sparring with windmills.  Gilgamesh.  There are a lot of stories that have been around for a very long time.

Of course, the one thing that most of these narratives have in common is the ending.  Everyone, in the most popular stories, lives happily ever after.  Belle kisses the Beast.  Presto.  Instant Brad Pitt.  Ebenezer Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning and goes on to save Tiny Tim's life.  Jesus rises from the dead and redeems all of humankind.  Don Quixote finds his Dulcinea.  Love wins.

That's why these narratives are so enduring.  They provide hope.  In the ash heaps of life, there's a Fairy Godmother waiting to change you into a princess.  Even if you're the biggest son of a bitch in London, there's a ghost willing to rescue your soul from eternal misery.  And, of course, the biggest and most important narrative, God sends His son to suffer and die for our sins. 

That's why we tell stories.  It's the promise of salvation, the light of hope.  We are all children who want to live happily every after.  Billy Pilgrim wants it.  You want it.  I want it.  Nobody wants to live forever in world of darkness and pain and death. 

So, we sit on our parents' laps, open a book, pay attention in Church.  And we listen:  "In the beginning . . . Once upon a time . . . "

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for stories.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

May 23: Bombing in Manchester, Carol Ann Duffy, "If I Was Dead"

I was looking for an uplifting poem this afternoon.  The day after the bombing in Manchester, England, I wanted something that spoke of hope and life and love.

I think the poem below fits the bill. 

Saint Marty is praying for peace in the world today.

If I Was Dead

by:  Carol Ann Duffy

If I was dead,
and my bones adrift
like dropped oars
in the deep, turning earth;

or drowned,
and my skull
a listening shell
on the dark ocean bed;

if I was dead,
and my heart
soft mulch
for a red, red rose;

or burned,
and my body
a fistful of grit, thrown
in the face of the wind;

if I was dead,
and my eyes,
blind at the roots of flowers,
wept into nothing,

I swear your love
would raise me
out of my grave,
in my flesh and blood,

like Lazarus;
hungry for this,
and this, and this,
your living kiss.


May 23: Warm Milk, In the Midst of Life, God's Graces

Now he was indoors, next to an iron cookstove that was glowing cherry red.  Dozens of teapots were boiling there.  Some of them had whistles.  And there was a witches' cauldron full of golden soup.  The soup was thick.  Primeval bubbles surfaced it with lethargical majesty as Billy Pilgrim stared.

There were long tables set for a banquet.  At each place was a bowl made from a can that had once contained powdered milk.  A smaller can was a cup.  A  taller, more slender can was a tumbler.  Each tumbler was filled with warm milk.

At each place was a safety razor, a washcloth, a package of razor blades, a chocolate bar, two cigars, a bar of soap, ten cigarettes, a book of matches, a pencil, and a candle.

Only the candles and the soap were of German origin.  They had no way of knowing it, but the candles and soap were made from the fat of rendered Jews and Gypsies and fairies and communists, and other enemies of the State.

So it goes.

An amazing little section that moves from the glory of a welcome banquet to the reality of war.  The Englishmen are doing their best to make the Americans at home in the prison camp, sharing their food and toiletries and provisions.  None of them know the ingredients of the German candles and soap.  Those items sit there innocently beside the warm milk and chocolate bars. 

I suppose that's what life is.  As the saying goes, "Media vita in morte sumus in the midst of life we are in death."  I have experienced this kind of juxtaposition many times.  The day my sister died, I went to an English Department meeting.  The first meeting of the fall semester.  Before the meeting, people were laughing and telling stories about summer vacations and accomplishments.  New graduate students sat in the back of the room, taking in their first glimpse of academia in action.  And in the middle of all of that, I sat next to my office mate, absolutely destroyed.

Of course, I didn't have to be at that meeting.  Nobody would have blamed me if I hadn't shown up.  There was something about being there, however, that I found comforting.  I think it was the hubbub.  The laughter, jokes.  It was a reminder that life continues.  Happiness and excitement and hope still existed.  And there were the words and hugs of close friends.  To this day, I think it was the best thing for me at the time.

Maybe that's the point of this section of Slaughterhouse.  Life and death coexist.  Perhaps they are symbiotic.  I'm not sure.  Certainly, that day in the English Department, I found myself lifted, just a tiny bit, out of my grief.  The disagreements in the department meeting seemed a little less urgent.  The friendships, a little sweeter.  The break from death and its attendant responsibilities, a little reminder of God's graces.

Saint Marty is thankful this afternoon for the brownie he ate at lunch.  It was manna.


Monday, May 22, 2017

May 22: Poet of the Week, Carol Ann Duffy, "The Light Gatherer"

My daughter has stopped throwing up, but she's still squirreled away in her bed, under a levee of blankets, pillows, and quilts.  The bucket is still sitting on the floor.  Her room is dark and a little funky.  But she is on the mend.

There is nothing worse for a parent than not being able to make your child feel better, to just watch her cry and shiver and heave.  It makes you feel absolutely useless, like you're being derelict in your duties.

Scottish poet Carol Ann Duffy, the Poet of the Week understands this.

Saint Marty does, too.

The Light Gatherer

by:  Carol Ann Duffy

When you were small, your cupped palms
each held a candleworth under the skin, enough light to begin,
and as you grew,
light gathered in you, two clear raindrops
in your eyes,
warm pearls, shy,
in the lobes of your ears, even always
the light of a smile after your tears.
Your kissed feet glowed in my one hand,
or I'd enter a room to see the corner you played in
lit like a stage set,
the crown of your bowed head spotlit.
When language came, it glittered like a river,
silver, clever with fish,
and you slept
with the whole moon held in your arms for a night light
where I knelt watching.
Light gatherer. You fell from a star
into my lap, the soft lamp at the bedside
mirrored in you,
and now you shine like a snowgirl,
a buttercup under a chin, the wide blue yonder
you squeal at and fly in,
like a jeweled cave,
turquoise and diamond and gold, opening out
at the end of a tunnel of years.


May 22: Tennis or Croquet, Sick Kids, Ebola Hospital Ward

They were adored by the Germans, who thought they were exactly what Englishmen ought to be.  They made war look stylish and reasonable, and fun.  So the Germans let them have four sheds, though one shed would have held them all.  And, in exchange for coffee or chocolate or tobacco, the Germans gave them paint and lumber and nails and cloth for fixing things up.

The Englishmen had known for twelve hours that American guests were on their way.  They had never had guests before, and they went to work like darling elves, sweeping, mopping, cooking, baking--making mattresses of straw and burlap bags, setting tables, putting party favors at each place.  

Now they were singing their welcome to their guests in the winter night.  Their clothes were aromatic with the feast they had been preparing.  They were dressed half for battle, half for tennis or croquet.  They were so elated by their own hospitality, and by all the goodies waiting inside, that they did not take a good look at their guests while they sang.  And they imagined that they were singing to fellow officers fresh from the fray.

They wrestled the Americans toward the shed door affectionately, filling the night with manly blather and brotherly rodomontades.  They called them "Yank," told them, "Good show," promised them that "Jerry was on the run," and so on.

Billy Pilgrim wondered simply who Jerry was.

The Englishmen are throwing a welcome party for the newly arrived Americans.  They've cooked, cleaned, and freshened up.  They're singing and clapping, treating them like long-lost comrades.  And the Germans love it all.  Their British prisoners are acting exactly the way they imagined British prisoners should act.

Today, I have been trying to act exactly the way that a father should act when he has two sick kids.  My son threw up all day yesterday.  This morning, at about 12:30 a.m., I heard my daughter getting up-close-and-personal with a bucket.  She threw up all night long.  I emptied the bucket all night long.  Then, I got up and went to work at 4:45 a.m.

My son is back to his normal self, pestering me for time on my laptop to play Minecraft.  My daughter has finally stopped vomiting.  I just made her a bowl of chicken noodle soup a little while ago.  I have not heard the soup making a return visit yet.  I think my household may be on the other side of this mountain now.  Thank God.

My daughter is pasty white.  Her bedroom smells like an Ebola hospital ward.  My son just took a bath, washed off the residue of the last 24 hours.  I'm sure my daughter will hop in the shower tonight, once she has regained a little of her strength.

The Englishmen can make a party in a prisoner of war camp.  There was no party in my house yesterday.  Now, I am simply hoping not to contract this particular plague of chunk blowing.

Saint Marty is thankful for good health this evening.


Sunday, May 21, 2017

May 21: Empty Eggshell, Classic Saint Marty, "Waiting for Donald Hall"

I am an empty eggshell right now.  I've been working all day on computer stuff.  I'm tired of staring at my laptop, planning out my students' academic lives for the next six weeks.  Tonight, I see a good book and maybe a drink or two in my future.

My son has been throwing up for most of the day, although he's regaining some of his normal piss and vinegar, as my brother in Grand Rapids would say.  My son's still looking pale, but he's eaten some ice cream and kept it down.  He's already talking about not going to school tomorrow. 

I am ready to be done.  Really ready.  I am going to get my son in bed, and then I'm going to either pass out or disappear into Ann Patchett's Commonwealth.

And now for a flashback.  Seven years ago, I was thinking about winning the Nobel Prize in Literature.  Some things never change . . .

May 24, 2010:  Saint Simeon Stylites the Younger

A few days ago, I found out that I've been chosen Employee of the Month for the health care system I work for. (Yes, I teach college, as well. Need to pay the bills, people.) This is the same award my coworker and friend won back in February or March. You may remember my jealous rant about the subject some weeks ago. This award came as a complete surprise. Usually, if someone from a department wins Employee of the Month, the rest of the employees are pretty much screwed for a few years. So I wasn't expecting even a nomination until the year 2013.

Winning this award puts me in a bit of a quandary. As most of my readers know, I spend a good deal of my time in this blog complaining about the fact that some idiot has received some kind of award or blessing that he or she does not deserve. Now, I am that undeserving idiot. It sort of takes all of the wind out of my writing sails. How can I be sarcastic and cutting about myself?

Despite the fact that I have a blog and write many witty postings about being unrecognized and unappreciated, I generally feel uncomfortable when people start complimenting me. I prefer to make people laugh. When I start receiving praise, it's my nature to deflect or joke about it. I truly don't go out of my way to draw attention to myself. I like being the funny one, not the one that's held up as an example of excellence. Generally, if you're put on a pedestal, someone's sneaking up behind you to knock you off of it. (Take it from someone who usually does the knocking.)

Saint Simeon Stylites the Younger knows a few things about pedestals. A disciple of a monk named John, Simeon, from the age of five onward, lived a good portion of his life on platforms mounted on top of columns. He did this to avoid distractions in his life of prayer and devotion. (I'm not sure what he did about certain bodily functions, but I can imagine he spent a lot of time yelling "Incoming!" or "Look out below!") When he turned 20, he moved to the mountains, put up another column and platform, climbed to the top of it, and spent the last 45 years of his life on top of that perch.

Nobody ever knocked Simeon off his pedestal. He sat up there, praying, meditating, celebrating mass (the bishop scaled the column to ordain him), eating, sleeping, defecating, urinating, and receiving pilgrims. I sort of picture him as Mel Brooks' 1000-year-old man, dispensing one-liners with a Yiddish accent.

Anyhow, I would prefer to be Mel Brooks than Simeon. Being on a pedestal is too precarious. One false move and you could find yourself at the bottom of the column in a big old pile of saintly shit.

But, since I'm up here for the moment, I might as well make the most of it. Therefore, I've decided to write my acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature. I know Employee of the Month isn't quite in the same league, but I believe in planning ahead, killing two birds with one stone. So, imagine, if you will, a lavish hall, long tables set with royal china and crystal. The Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy announces my name. I stand up, check to make sure my fly is zipped, and then make my way to the podium amid a fanfare of trumpets. (Honest to God, that's how they do it every year, more or less.)

Then I speak:

NOTE: I have included two versions of my speech. The first is humorous; the second, more serious. If you prefer a chuckle, read Version 1. If you want something a little more somber, read Version 2.

VERSION 1:

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Ever since I won Employee of the Month several years ago at my place of work, I've dreamed of winning this prize. Every writer secretly does. We might say we write for truth or art or grace or understanding. But really, it's all about moments like this, when you stand before the world and are acknowledged as the very best, all your peers looking up to you with blood in their eyes, an envy so intense it causes constipation in a generation of writers. That is when you know you have reached the pinnacle, as I have. I am, at this moment, Saint Simeon on his mountain perch, evacuating myself on the less-talented masses below.

I want to thank the members of the Swedish Academy for finally coming to their senses, recognizing a talent that is unparalleled, a talent Biblical in power and truth. I am humbled by the company I am now a part of: Hemingway, Faulkner, Heaney, Shaw, Lessing, Yeats, and all of those foreigners whose names I can't pronounce. I know, in years to come, younger writers will compare their works to mine and realize how much they fall short. That is as it should be.

The world applauds the wisdom of your decision that culminates in this great hall tonight. I applaud your good taste. Thank you.

VERSION 2:

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have had much grace in my life. I have been graced by a beautiful wife. I have been graced by beautiful children. I have been graced by family and friends who have supported me, carried me through difficult times, danced with me in joyful times. And I have been graced with a love of words, of language, of the transformative and healing power of poetry.

The Catholic saint Simeon Stylites the Younger spent almost 60 years of his life sitting on top of a platform balanced on a column. He put himself in this dizzying position to eliminate worldly distractions, to bring himself closer to creation and the Creator. I find myself balanced on a similar pinnacle tonight, gazing down from this prestigious vantage into the faces of people I cherish and admire.

I am humbled by the company you have placed me in, and I am humbled by the faith you have placed in my palms. I will eventually come down from this height, either gracefully or violently, but I will be sustained, lifted up by this faith.

Thank you to the members of the Swedish Academy. Toni Morrison, upon receiving this award, asked everyone present "to share what is for me a moment of grace." Like Simeon, I feel as though I have been lifted up to touch the face of the eternal. Thank you.





And a poem from Saint Marty, just for fun.

Waiting for Donald Hall

by:  Martin Achatz



Is like looking out the kitchen window
     at fists of clouds,
Wondering when those fingers
     will relax,
When bullets of water will spill
     from that palm
Of sky, sail down to black soil
     in the pumpkin patch
Where two leaves have sprouted,
     green as swamp, with promise
Of orange in their tender
     stems, a wide orange,
Full of mulch and hay, vines
     of frost on morning panes,
Candle grin of jack-o-lantern
     on All Hallow's Eve,
When souls wander all night
     in search of an open gate.

He appears in the doorway, hunched
     over his walker, shuffles
To his chair, sits, lifts his beadle
     eyes to the gathered crowd,
Clears his throat, ushers words
     to his tongue, and makes a sound

Like driftwood in Lake Superior surf.