Sunday, February 28, 2010

Taking a Sabbath

I am taking a day off from writing. Hey, even God rested on the seventh day. Not to worry, though. I am on the moderate scale of obsessive compulsive, so you will more than likely get two postings tomorrow morning. Ah, the pleasures of being slightly off-balance.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

February 26: Saint Porphyrius

When Porphyrius was living as a hermit near the Jordan River, he was suffering from a disease that caused hardening of his liver. For the jaded 21st century reader, this fact sounds like he passed the long nights in his cave hitting the wine skins a little too hard. Let me assure you, there are ways for a liver to go bad that don't involve the abuse of alcohol, and all of my Googling has revealed not even a hint of Porphyrius maintaining a still in the hills of Palestine. My research did reveal, however, that there is a disease called porphyria in which the red blood cells basically eat each other. The coincidence may be just that, a coincidence. Or Porphyrius may be the only saint I've encountered with a disease named after him.

One day, this desert monk, while praying on Mount Calvary, was "miraculously cured" of his disease. (Cue the Gospel choir singing "Just a Closer Walk.") Porphyrius went on to become a priest and, eventually, the Bishop of Gaza. He died at the age of 68.

Stories of healing interest me. If that healing is miraculous and sudden, even better. I'm, for the most part, an impatient person. I like the notion of submitting a request to God in triplicate, with all the correct signatures in place, and receiving an immediate miracle. Heck, I'll put up with a little wait time. Even Amazon Prime takes two days for delivery. Coming from a society where instant gratification is just a credit card and mouse click away, however, I've learned to expect quick turn-around. In reading the Bible and stories of the saints, I'm always encountering miracles of healing. Sometimes they require taking a healing bath, but pretty soon crutches are being tossed aside and blind beggars have to find another line of work.

My personal experience with healing is not quite so satisfying. I've had requests on my prayer list for years with no indication that I've moved to the top of God's to-do list. (Okay, I know that winning the Pulitzer Prize requires an alignment of circumstances that takes a little time, but twenty-plus years seems a little excessive.) Ever since Beth was diagnosed with bipolar and then developed sexual addiction, I've prayed that God would cure her, balance the chemicals in her brain, silence the unhealthy sexual appetite that sometimes overtakes her. So far, I've only gotten three-year respites between crises. I've been grateful for those quiet times, don't get me wrong. But for a being who created the entire universe, God seems to go out to Starbucks in my life every once in a while. When I pray, I feel like tapping the microphone during these divine coffee breaks and saying, "Is this thing on?"

Now, most people who profess to be Christians will pat your hand and tell you that God has a plan for everything. There's a reason why your mother died of ovarian cancer. There's a reason why your duaghter was raped. There's a reason why you have to hide your hunting rifles from your teenager who has a death wish. There's a reason why your wife would rather have sex with complete strangers than with you at times. It's all part of God's plan, these Christians will tell you.

Well, to quote a good friend whose daughter has schizophrenia, "If God has a plan, I wish he'd give me a shittin' clue."

I don't think that mental illness or sexual violence or teenage suicide or genocide or war are part of God's plan. These things are just reflections of the fact that we've seriously fucked up the world. God didn't plan for my wife to be bipolar. God didn't plan for my co-worker's son to attempt suicide. But, I do believe that God can take the biggest pile of crap and make a daisy or crocus or orchid blossom out of it. God can take a hermit monk with a liver disease and make a bishop and a saint.

Some miracles can be instantaneous: water + dirt + blindness = sight. Other miracles take a lot of time: Colorado River + desert = Grand Canyon.

Friday, February 26, 2010

February 25: Blessed Sebastian of Aparicio

Humility is a difficult quality to cultivate in yourself. If I claim I'm full of humility, I'm basically proving I'm full of shit. That would be like donating a kidney to a family member and then expecting that family member to thank me every time he takes a leak. Humility just doesn't work that way.

Sebastian of Aparicio had humility. A Spanish immigrant to Mexico in the 1500s, he made a ton of money building roads to facilitate trade and commerce. Even after he was richer than Thurston Howell, he still lived like a beggar, sleeping on the ground and eating "the poorest of foods," according to the book, which, in my mind, translates as sauerkraut and lutefisk. When he was 70, he joined the Franciscans, donating every last peso he had to the Poor Clares. (That would be like Bill Gates trading all of his stuff to the Salvation Army in exchange for a job as a Christmas bell ringer.) He became what is called a "begging brother" for his religious community. That basically means that, for the last quarter century of his life, he hooked his little red wagon to some oxen and traveled the countryside for hundreds of miles, begging for corn, picante sauce, salsa, whatever to feed his fellow friars. He died at the age of 98 with only a pair of fallen arches to his name, I imagine. Currently, he's one of the blesseds, a saint-in-waiting.

Now, I'm not a theologian or Doctor of the Church, but if this guy doesn't deserve a pass to the head table in the Saint Banquet Hall, I don't know who does. (He wouldn't eat much, that's for sure.) Sebastian didn't cultivate humility. He walked around and collected it in an ox cart.

God seems to be doing a number on me with humility. If you are one of my five Constant Readers, you are familiar with the earlier posting about my decision to pray during Lent for people who have injured or hurt me. While it has not been a trip to Disney World in any sense, I've been feeling pretty proud of myself. I mean, c'mon. I'm praying for people who have been assholes to me. I couldn't be doing a more Christian, forgiving, selfless act this side of rubbing my face with ashes, putting on sackcloth, and retreating to a desert cave for a dinner of locusts and honey. Then I had to go and fuck it up by erupting like Mount Vesuvius a few days ago. Now I'm the one who needs to be forgiven, and let me tell you, there's nothing more humbling in the world than having to look someone in the eye and say, "I'm sorry."

But that's what I did tonight. I apologized for my behavior to two people present at my Exorcist moment on Tuesday. It was humiliating. I could feel the blood in my face as I spoke, and my palms became sweatier than a virgin's palms at the Chicken Ranch. It was over in less than 30 seconds (apology offered, forgiveness received), but I would rather have had a colonoscopy. Afterward, however, I felt like one of the contestants on The Biggest Loser after losing 25 pounds in a week. It was a tremendous relief.

That doesn't mean I'm looking forward to the other mea culpas I will be offering this weekend. Root canal sounds more attractive right now. But, as I said earlier, God's teaching me a lesson. So, I'll hitch up my oxen and head out on the road. This is turning out to be one bitch of a Lent. My cart is loaded with corn-fed humility, and I think I'm developing a couple of humble bunions.

I just hope I don't have to eat lutefisk.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

February 24: Blessed Josepha Naval Girbes

I think I'm suffering from a rage hangover today. My little moment of insanity keeps replaying in my head the way the network news kept showing the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings the week after September 11. Like most people in the days following the attacks, I couldn't stop watching in slow motion as tiny forms leaped from the shattered windows; as the metal and glass collapsed into thick clouds of rubble and smoke; as survivors came stumbling out of the fog like zombies coated in flour. I just couldn't stop watching those images, simply because I couldn't believe it had happened.

I still can't believe I lost control of myself so badly yesterday. And it all, in some way, distills down to an inability of most people to understand the reality of mental illness.

Let me tell you a little about this reality.

When I leave home in the morning, there's always a part of myself that wants to stay with my wife and children, to protect them, to make sure that my daughter gets to school on time, my son's diaper gets changed, my wife eats breakfast and takes her meds on time. My wife has always been good about taking her pills, which, in the world of mental illness, is a miracle of saintly proportions. (She watched her uncle ride the roller coaster of going on and off his bipolar medications his whole life. He ended up committing suicide. "I'm not going to end up like him," she's told me on more than one occasion.) Things have been fairly stable for her for over three years, but I always remember walking into an ER examination room nine years ago and seeing my wife's arms laced up and down with bloody, self-inflicted gashes. That image is with me every morning I get in the car and drive to work. That's a reality.

My wife is constantly exhausted, partly due to the effects of the medications she takes. When I come home at night, I'm never sure what condition our home is going to be in. On good days, the beds are made, the dishes are done, the toys are put away, and a load of laundry is in the dryer. On bad days, the house looks like Ground Zero. Sometimes I get angry. I yell at my wife, or I storm around, putting everything in order. But then I stop in front of her. She looks as though she's just run a half-marathon, as if getting dressed is an Olympic event. It takes the wind right out of the sails of my boat, the H. M. S. Self-Righteous. That's a reality.

When AIDS first entered the public consciousness, it was a disease people whispered about, the "gay cancer." People even went so far as to proclaim it was a punishment sent by God on the gay community (as if the God who let his son be tortured and executed for our broken world needed to do something else to fix it). Then grandmothers and children and mothers started contracting the disease, and suddenly it was in our living rooms. In the year 2010, AIDS isn't a taboo topic anymore. While still a horrifying illness, it's talked about, researched, studied, and treated with compassion and understanding. Although it's been around a lot longer than AIDS, mental illness is still in the back room of society, the secret, demented grandmother who lifts her hospital gown and flashes her genitalia to passersby. It's the proverbial elephant in the living room that everyone ignores. That's a reality.

I come from a family that believes in hard work. My father was a plumber for over fifty years, leaving home at seven in the morning and sometimes not returning until six or seven in the evening. He instilled that work ethic in all of his children. Besides teaching at the university, I also work full-time in a medical office and play the pipe organ at two different churches on the weekends. This tax season, I have six W-2s to submit. Before my wife was diagnosed with bipolar, my line of thinking went something like this: if you have two good arms, two good legs, functional lungs, and at least one synapse firing in your brain, you can get a job and do your share of the housework. That thinking changed nine years ago. Unfortunately, many members of my family look at Beth sleeping in a chair or struggling to stay awake on the couch, and they see a woman who can't take care of her children or household properly. Mental illness, for them, is an excuse to be lazy. That's a reality.

My daughter has never known her mother without mental illness. A few weeks ago, my daughter was asked to draw a picture at school of the people who live in her house. She drew a picture of me in front of a classroom of students, lecturing. She drew her little brother in the midst of a heap of toys, creating mayhem and havoc. And she drew a picture of my wife in her pajamas, snoozing in bed. My wife blinked at my daughter's drawing a few times, trying to control herself. After the kids were in bed, my wife said to me angrily, "I don't want my daughter's only memory of me to be that I slept all the time." That's a reality.

As a family member of a person with mental illness, my reality is not unique. I have a coworker who has a daughter with schizophrenia. Another coworker's teenage son recently tried to commit suicide. I sit around the lunch table with these coworkers and exchange experiences like Iwo Jima veterans comparing scars at a battalion reunion. Bipolar. Depression. Mood disorder. Schizophrenia. Suicidal ideation. These are the realities in millions of homes, for millions of families.

Josepha Naval Girbes is a woman who is on her way to becoming a saint. There are quite a few steps in the process. She's considered "blessed" right now, which means she's sort of a Vice Saint, awaiting the next election. (I'm being flippant. Canonization involves miracles and investigations and background checks. It's almost as difficult as airline travel.) The thing that's astounding about Josepha is that she became a blessed by staying home. She taught needlework and prayer to young girls, and she received mystical visions and knowledge. All at home. When she's actually canonized, she may be the first agoraphobic saint. She didn't end famines with a wave of her hand. She didn't rub mud in blind eyes and restore sight. She did needlepoint and prayed. At home. That's a reality.

So, that's mental illness. It's a nameless, faceless problem, except for those people and families who live with it, 24-7, all their lives. The world is full of these flour-covered zombies, these ghosts, who live on the fringe, desperately clinging to life. They are wives, sons, daughters, husbands, priests, doctors, plumbers, beggars, and bishops. And they are even saints. That's a reality.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

February 23: Saint Milburga

Anger is not an emotion I ever feel comfortable expressing. I prefer to deal with anger the normal way: I swallow it like six-alarm chili and let it eat away at my stomach lining. I know I inherited this trait from my mother who retreats into her shell like a hermit crab when confronted with a situation that sparks confrontation or some form of vitriol. For the most part, this tactic works for her. When she presses her lips together and withdraws into her cone of silence, I get the feeling I've just watched the torture and mutilation of a miniature schnauzer puppy. Guilt is her most effective weapon. My dad, on the other hand, is much simpler to read: if his voice rises a few decibels, face turns red, and words like "god dammit" and "son of a bitch" come from his mouth, he's pissed.

In some ways, I think my father's method is a little healthier, although he has a tendency to hold grudges longer than the Hatfields and McCoys. On the other hand, my mother simply acts as if no disagreement or argument has occurred after the fact. If I didn't know better, I'd swear she suffers some kind of narcoleptic spell when tempers flare, wakes up when order returns, and looks around like Rip Van Winkle, bewildered that everyone appears ready to cough up a hedgehog.

If you're wondering why I'm giving you this lesson in the archeology of familial anger, it's because I lost my temper today. Actually, saying I lost my temper is like describing the burning of the Hindenburg as static electricity. My bout of fury was the equivalent of a California wildfire, the kind that leaves behind acres of ash, smoke, and the skeletons of houses. Even as I was in the middle of my tirade, screaming like a rabid chimpanzee, I thought to myself, "Have you lost your fucking mind?"

I don't really remember all I said. I know I used some colorful verbiage and that my heart felt like it was crawling up my throat to do a flamenco dance in my temples. For a few moments, I had an out-of-body vision of myself: spit flying from my mouth, face flushing the shade of a boiled lobster, hands shaking like I was in detox. I swear at one moment I began speaking in tongues.

Let me say that my explosion was a long time in coming. It was the result of quite a few months of overlooking and ignoring and avoiding. I'm not going into details or naming names. This blog is not the forum for that, no matter how tempting that prospect is. (I'm not a big fan of revenge, but I do like justice. And if that justice resembles revenge, all the better.) However, when you start calling people on the carpet, you take the risk of sounding like a kindergartner, at best, and like an asshole, at worst.

So, let me clear up any confusion or questions for my readers right now: I was an asshole. And I was an asshole in front of a sizable group of people. That doesn't mean I didn't have good reason to be angry. That means I came off looking like Joaquin Phoenix on a bad David Letterman day: a little weird, a little scary, just this side of violent, but much better groomed. I'm not proud of the way I behaved. I'm not proud of the manner in which I expressed myself, although I should get a few extra credit points for creative use of the word "fuck." In the aftermath of the episode, I felt like a citizen of Hiroshima, walking around the city after the bomb, surveying the devastation, and saying, "Wha' happened?"

(On a side note, this encounter is so unlike me that most of the people present sat in dumbfounded silence. This may be because they didn't want to become collateral damage, but, for the most part, I think it was just plain shock. It would be like my father meeting John Wayne's secret gay lover. I saw it written on all their faces: "Who is this guy and why is he waving his gloves around like he wants to challenge someone to a duel?")

So, as I sat down to write this post, I was drawn to Saint Milburga, an eighth century princess who gave up her castle, Cinderella gowns, and tiaras to become a nun. She founded a convent, gave sight to the blind, and, in the last years of her life, came down with a "painful and wasting disease," according to my book. Of course, Milburga never complained about her illness. (Complaining, for me, is an art form I cultivate. It requires two parts smart ass to one part truth, with a dash of irony. I will never make the roll call of saints, unless God needs a patron of sarcasm.) But these facts aren't what drew me to this holy women. There I was, wallowing in the Pit of Despair, and I read Milburga's dying words: "Blessed are the peacemakers."

It's bad enough thinking you're an asshole without having a saint's last words verify it. So, I guess I've learned, the hard way, that anger, while a valid emotion, needs to be trained and focused, like a bonsai tree. It can be used as a catalyst for good and change and beauty. Jesus was a peacemaker, but he blew his top a few times. He whipped the money lenders and merchants in the temple, and he got a little testy with Peter.

But I'm pretty sure he didn't tell anyone to "fuck off."

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

February 22: Saint Margaret of Cartona

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:,,,, 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.

Monday, February 22, 2010

February 21: Saint Peter Damian

Lent has never been an easy time of year for me. As a kid, I was taught that Lent meant sacrifice. I had to give something up for Jesus to be a good, Catholic boy. More often than not, I always fell back on the old standby: I gave up chocolate. For most of my childhood, I ranged from what my mother termed "husky" to just plain fat. Chocolate was one of my best friends. I was on a first-name basis with the whole family: Hershey, Nestle (Nessie to pals), Cadbury, and Elmer's (the black sheep of the sibs, cheap but passable in a pinch). Forty days without even a nibble of brown Nirvana was a difficult struggle for a pudgy child/adolescent. (I usually never made it through the entire Lenten season, which brings up the whole issue of Catholic guilt which I'm not prepared to deal with right now.)

As I got older, the whole "giving up" thing fell by the wayside for me. It's not that I don't believe in sacrifice, but I just couldn't come up with anything that really seemed worthy of Lent. I mean, how does abstaining from, say, masturbation as a teenager compare with the narrative of Christ's Passion? Being a horny fifteen-year-old doesn't really measure up to scourging and spears and nails and crosses. So, I just stopped the charade around the age of twenty, which scandalized most practicing Christians of my acquaintance who trade their Lenten sacrifices like baseball cards around the Easter season.

This year, however, I came up with an idea that really seemed equal to the solemnity of Lent. This year, every morning, I'm going to pray for people who have wounded me in some way. Usually, on my way to work in the morning (a 25-to-30-minute commute, depending on the weather), I say the rosary. (For my non-Catholic readers--if I have any readers at all besides family--a rosary is a form of prayer and meditation using a string of linked beads.) So, since last Ash Wednesday, I have been dedicating that meditation and prayer time to people on whom I usually heap piles of "fuck yous" and "assholes." And, let me tell you, it has not been a pleasant experience.

I thought I only had a few people I had not forgiven for past offenses. As I started to pray, however, suddenly the Ghosts of Trespasses Past started lining up, and the queue wound around the metaphorical block. I've always thought of myself as a pretty forgiving person, but, as I prayed for these individuals, I started feeling anger and pain and shame I thought I'd dealt with and buried long ago. It was like lancing boils. All the pus and poison came pouring out. By the end of the first day, I had a raging headache and nausea. Thursday, the same thing happened. It hasn't gotten easier with time, and each day, new ghosts continue to appear.

I have a confession to make at this point. My wife and I have had our share of marital problems since she was diagnosed with bipolar. Living with mental illness, and living with a person with mental illness, is not a bed of roses. More like a bed of glass. Broken glass, sometimes. People who have a mental illness frequently have addiction issues, as well. Alcohol, drugs, whatever. My wife's addiction is sex and the internet. This was pre-Tiger Woods, before sexual addiction became the addiction d'jour. I am not going to turn this into a list of crimes and misdemeanors. Suffice to say, this addiction led my wife and I to separate for over a year. We have reconciled, and Beth has been sexually sober for over three years. (That doesn't mean that we don't have sex. That means she doesn't have sex outside of our marriage bed or couch or living room floor or kitchen counter. You get the idea.) And we now have a new son.

So, when I started my Lenten prayer practice, I had to pray for the men with whom Beth has had sex. (I know a couple of them, but, for the most part, they are a nameless, faceless mob.) I knew praying for them would be difficult. I didn't know that doing it would give me such intense headaches and physical distress. (By the way, for those of you familiar with the Christ story, I now have an inkling of the agony Jesus suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane.)

Which leads me to the saint for today, Peter Damian, an 11th century Benedictine abbot and confidant of Pope Gregory VII. Peter Damian is also the patron of headache sufferers. The brief description of his life in the Lives of the Saints makes no mention of him suffering from migraines or chronic cranium pain, but I have to think he did. Why else would he be the go-to guy for headaches? Anyway, I'm sending a shout-out to Saint Peter Damian tonight, hoping he'll make my Lenten journey a little easier.

Forgiveness is not just a word for me anymore. It is a physical act that sometimes hurts like a bastard. I don't think I will listen to an apology the same way again. Those words--"I'm sorry"--require a purging on the part of the person accepting them. It's almost like taking the Presidential Oath of Office. It's a responsibility to forgive, and keep forgiving, until there are no ghosts left haunting the halls of your mind. Obviously, I'm not at that point yet. I don't know if I'll be there after 40 days, 40 weeks, or 40 years.

But I do know this: If you can't say "I forgive you," you'll never be able to say "I love you."

Saturday, February 20, 2010

February 20: Saint Tyrannio

DISCLAIMER: All of my posts are going to be for the previous day's saint. I write these blogs at the end of the day, so there's going to be about a 24-hour lag time.

This post is not easy to write. I don't like admitting my weaknesses and failings. But, when I decided to do this blog, I told myself I would have to be completely truthful and utterly transparent, no matter how embarassing or painful.

One of my greatest downfalls is jealousy. I find myself constantly (and childishly) questioning the good luck of people. For example, my wife and I are in the process of trying to sell our home. We live in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom house that's over a century old. The place has served us well, but with the addition of a little boy to our family about sixteen months ago, we are facing the eventuality that our nine-year-old daughter is not going to want to share her bedroom with a sibling who has a penis. So, last December, we contacted a real estate agent. Our house has been on the market for over two-and-a-half months. We've had quite a few people walk through our abode, but we have as yet to receive an offer.

This week, a coworker listed her house for sale on Friday. She and her husband are in much the same situation as my wife and me. Having just acquired another daughter in November, they have outgrown their current house. They want an upgrade. In the days leading up to Friday, they've packed, decluttered, cleaned, retiled, and patched. As they readied their home, I kept saying encouraging things like "you won't get any offers for a while" and "remember, it's a buyers' market, not a sellers' market." Secretly, I was looking forward to having someone to commiserate with over the shitty real estate situation in the area.

Yesterday morning, my coworker had the first showing of her home, which is listed, I might add, for over twice the price of my home. Near noon, my coworker's cell phone rang. Here it comes, I thought, the big let-down. (I remember the first time our house was shown and the pall of disappointment that sat on me like a ratty mink coat for days when no offer was forthcoming.) She answered the phone, said "uh-huh" a couple of times, "you're kidding" a couple of times, and ended with "Okay, thanks." She hung up, looked at me, and said, "We got an offer on the house."

"That's great," I said, smiling. You've got to be fucking kidding me, I was thinking. The old green monster crawled out of the cave of my chest and started whispering in my ear: She hasn't worked hard enough. She should have to struggle for at least a few months. What did she do to deserve this? Sonofabitch. Now, let me say that I really love my coworker. She's a good, supportive friend who has always been kind and generous toward me. So I'm not proud of this flaw in my personality. In the past, I've been jealous over some pretty ridiculous things and people, including J. K. Rowling, Wally Lamb, any poem or poet in the New Yorker, PT Cruisers, laptop computers, students who write really well, anyone who wins the Nobel Prize in Literature, pregnant couples, teenagers walking down the street hand-in-hand, and houses that have more than one bathroom, which brings me back to Friday and my coworker--

"That means you've only got about a month to find a new house," I said, trying my hardest to smile and rain on her parade at the same time.

She shrugged and smiled. "Oh, well."

Let it be known that I have no idea at this time how much the offer on her house was or whether she and her husband accepted the offer. Let it also be known that my coworker has just come back to work after having a baby and then suffering a seriously broken bone a month later (she has the pins and plates in her foot to prove it). She deserves some good fortune. That being said, I'm still having trouble stifling my jealous nature.

And today's feast saint, Tyrannio, ain't offering me much in the way of guidance or help. He's one of those early bishops who was surrounded by martyrs. He witnessed a group of Christians face down a pack of wild animals (think lions and tigers and bears, oh my) before being slaughtered with swords. Later, Tyrannio himself was arrested, tortured, and drowned for being a Christian. I was sort of hoping for the patron saint of real estate today, and I'm stuck with a man who makes my problems seem about as significant as a shortage of suntan lotion at a nude beach.

So, I guess I'm on my own to deal with my wild jealousy. I know I'll be able to force it back into its cage and lock the door eventually. I won't be able to kill it; I'll just throw it some raw hamburger and make sure it's got enough water to keep it quiet for the time being. And I will be happy for my coworker, geniunely happy, if her house sells. I will. I just need perspective. I'm not being stretched on the rack or thrown into a river with a boulder chained around my neck. I'm living in a house that 95% of people in the developing world would consider luxurious. I'm lucky. So what if I have to wait in line to use the toilet? I'm a lucky man.

I just have to keep reminding myself of that.

I'm lucky...I'm lucky...I'm lucky...I'm lucky...If you want to own my two-bedroom, one-bathroom, detached-garage piece of luck, make me an offer.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Communion With 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, and 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 Bahaman 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 gotto 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 exercie improved my attitude or psyche right away, but when I would come across a particularly gory martydom, 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 pertpetual 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...