Wednesday, August 3, 2022

August 3: Slowly and Steadily, Surprises, Arbitrariness

Santiago finally sees the fish . . . 

Then, with his right hand he felt the difference in the pull of the line before he saw the slant change in the water. Then, as he leaned against the line and slapped his left hand hard and fast against his thigh he saw the line slanting slowly upward.

"He's coming up," he said. "Come on hand. Please come on."

The line rose slowly and steadily and then the surface of the ocean bulged ahead of the boat and the fish came out. He came out unendingly and water poured from his sides. He was bright in the sun and his head and back were dark purple and in the sun the stripes on his sides showed wide and a light lavender. His sword was as long as a baseball bat and tapered like a rapier and he rose his full length from the water and then re-entered it, smoothly, like a diver and the old man saw the great scythe-blade of his tail go under and the line commenced to race out.

It is a moment that Santiago's been waiting for and expecting.  The fish finally surfaces, and, even though the old man was expecting it to be large large, the sheer size of the fish stuns him.

Surprises can be good or bad.  They can make you feel as if you're holding the Golden Ticket to tour Willy Wonka's factory, or they can knock you on your ass like a fork of lightning.  There's no way to truly prepare for them, unless you're like me.

Let me explain.

I try to think of all the possibilities in every situation.  This usually works for things like packing a suitcase for planning a Christmas program.  I try to anticipate good weather, bad weather, hurricanes, blizzards, loss of singers, and size of audiences.  By doing this, I have contingency plans for everything--from an ingrown toenail to a North Korean missile strike.  And this gives me peace of mind and helps me sleep better at night.  (I've never been a great sleeper, so trying to eliminate worries stomps out insomnia fires before they can even start smoking.)

Today, however, I received news that took me completely by surprise, like the fish jumping for Santiago.  Even though I should have been prepared, I found myself reeling from the black-and-white reality of it.  Perhaps I'd been living in denial, not really wanting to accept the truth.

Now, most people reading this blog post right now are going to be very frustrated because I can't really give any details.  They are not my details to give, and I have to respect that.  But I have spent most of the day dwelling and contemplating and writing.  Met with a close poet friend by a little lake, and we scribbled poems about it.  That helped a little.

Tonight, I have to admit that I'm a little pissed at my Higher Power.  The universe at the moment doesn't seem fair or just.  In fact, it seems somewhat feckless.  I know that good things happen to bad people and vice versa.  That doesn't make me feel any better.  

I do believe that everything has a purpose.  If I didn't hold this belief, then I have to embrace the complete and total arbitrariness of . . . everything.  That's not very comforting.  According to NPR, Dr. Ali Binazar calculated that the probability of any person existing is one in ten to the power of 2,685,000.  Those odds are a pretty amazing argument against chance.

So, I sit here tonight more than a little heartbroken, but also convinced there is meaning in this messy experiment we call life.  Figuring out that meaning is the job of philosophers and theologians.  Maybe poets, too.

Saint Marty's blessing today:  a beautiful blue lake on a warm sunny afternoon.


August 2: Loosen Up, Still Breathing, Vacation

Santiago's hand cramps . . . 

His left hand was still cramped, but he was unknotting it slowly.

I hate a cramp, he thought. It is a treachery of one's own body. It is humiliating before others to have a diarrhea from ptomaine poisoning or to vomit from it. But a cramp, he thought of it as a calambre, humiliates oneself especially when one is alone.

If the boy were here he could rub it for me and loosen it down from the forearm, he thought. But it will loosen up.

Everyone's body eventually betrays them.  That's what aging and mortality is all about.  I can't do stuff that I could easily do ten years ago.  Like run long distances or ride roller coasters without throwing up.  As the years pass, time slowly chips away at us, carving small and large losses.  Those losses remind us that we are still breathing, alive.

I'm on vacation now.  I worked for about nine hours today, finishing up loose ends at the library.  By the time I left my office, I was really beat.  Still am.  When I was younger, I could easily stay up until 3 a.m., sleep for a couple hours, get up at 6 a.m., work all day, go home, write a poem, jog a few miles, and stay up to watch reruns of Kolchak:  The Night Stalker.  Not any more.

My life is pretty complicated.  I maintain a schedule that can be exhausting.  My friends often worry about me and my lack of rest and sleep.  I push myself to my limits frequently.  On a good night, I probably get, on average, about five solid hours of sleep.  On a normal night, between three and four hours.  When I am in a blue funk, as I am now, sleep evades me.  That doesn't mean I'm not tired.  It means, when I put head to pillow, my mind finds 27 topics that need my immediate attention.

But I'm hoping to find moments of rest these next few days.  I'm traveling to the Chicago area on Thursday to take my family to Great America.  That means many hours in a car followed by many hours trying to avoid a case of vertigo.  That upside is that I'm not driving.  That means I will have no choice but to relax for almost a full day.  Maybe even nap.

And that will be a blessing for Saint Marty's tired old body and mind.

Monday, August 1, 2022

August 1: Piles of Ice Cream, Cloud Watching, John Voelker

Santiago does some cloud watching . . . 

He looked at the sky and saw the white cumulus built like friendly piles of ice cream and high above were the thin feathers of the cirrus against the high September sky.

"Light brisa," he said. "Better weather for me than for you, fish."

I remember cloud watching when I was a kid.  Finding polar bears and Darth Vader and Linda Blair from The Exorcist.  (Yes, I was an odd child.)  Everyone sees what they want to see in clouds.  Santiago sees good weather for himself, bad weather for the fish.  My son would probably see some Pokemon thing.  Cloud watching is like a natural Rorschach test.  If you're happy, you see hummingbirds and angels.  If you're sad or anxious, you see Dracula and Donald Trump.

It was a long day of work.  I got to my office a little before 8 a.m. and got home around 9 p.m.  I'm going on vacation later this week, so I'm trying to get ahead with reports and programs and funding requests.  It's the tedious but necessary part of my job at the library.  I didn't have a whole lot of time for cloud watching, that's for sure.

The final thing I did this evening was host an event by an author.  I wasn't sure how many people were going to show up.  I told myself that, if I had an audience of ten, I would mark it down as a success.  Over 30 individuals showed up.  Basically, I sold out Madison Square Garden.  (Of course, the program was about John Voelker and his book Anatomy of a Murder, so it had a built-in audience.  Many people who attended were old family friends of Voelker and had stories of when Otto Preminger and Jimmy Stewart came to town to make the film adaptation.)

I didn't do any cloud watching on the way home tonight, either.  I was too tired to engage in dreaming like that.  In fact, I find myself devoid of any kind of creative energy.  I loved listening to tonight's author speak of John Voelker's writing habits, which were influenced greatly by fishing seasons.  If the fish were biting, Voelker was casting flies, not scribbling at his desk.  

I suppose that fishing was a form of cloud watching for Voelker, prodding his imagination.  As I write this post, I'm seeing John Voelker in the clouds of my mind.  And Jimmy Stewart.  George C. Scott.  Duke Ellington.  Lee Remick.  

That's Saint Marty's blessing tonight.

July 31: Some Men Feared, "The West Wing," Josiah Bartlet

Santiago thinks about hurricane weather . . . 

He thought of how some men feared being out of sight of land in a small boat and knew they were right in the months of sudden bad weather. But now they were in hurricane months and, when there are no hurricanes, the weather of hurricane months is the best of all the year.

If there is a hurricane you always see the signs of it in the sky for days ahead, if you are at sea. They do not see it ashore because they do not know what to look for, he thought. The land must make a difference too, in the shape of the clouds. But we have no hurricane coming now.

Some people live in fear.  

It's an easy place to take up residence.  Living in fear means you don't take any chances.  Instead, you simply stay at home, binging TV shows or Twilight films or poetry collections.  It's so much easier than stepping out the front door into a world of killer viruses and crazy politicians and melting polar icecaps.  What I'm about to say may sound crazy, but I sort of miss that time at the beginning of the pandemic when everyone was ordered to shelter in place.

I had a shelter-in-place kind of day.  Not because I am living in fear.  Nope.  I did play two church services this morning.  Went grocery shopping after church.  Then, I binged about seven or eight episodes of The West Wing.

I was addicted to the Martin Sheen presidency when I was first married.  When the series started, Bill Clinton had just been impeached.  It ended while George W. Bush was still lying to the American people.  In short, Josiah Bartlet was my favorite President before Obama started working in the Oval Office.

Watching The West Wing now, I still get inspired by the starry-eyed idealism of its main characters.  It's a series that revolves around hope for a better world.  That particular sentiment has been in short supply in recent years.  In fact, I would venture to say that hope has been under attack, at least in the United States.  So, living in a Bartlet country for seven or eight hours today has been comforting.  

Of course, the problem with binging The West Wing is that, eventually, I have to return to a country plagued by Trumpism.  I'm not quite ready for reentry just yet.  Once I'm done typing the blog post, I think I'm going to watch another episode.  Forty-two more minutes of hope before I go to bed.

Saint Marty's blessing today:  President Martin Sheen.