Saturday, December 31, 2011

December 31: New Year's Eve, Family Love, New Cartoon

Tonight, we will gather at my parents' house to celebrate New Year's Eve.  It's a tradition we've been carrying on for close to 25 years.  I started throwing a New Year's Eve party when I was a teenager.  My brothers and parents used to go out to the local bars and restaurants when I was a kid.  They'd come back wearing hats and toting horns.  I got a little tired of being left out of the fun.  So I started collecting their hats and noisemakers.  Then, one year, I threw my own party with balloons and streamers and hats and noisemakers and home-made pizza.  Eventually, my brothers and parents started staying home for my party.

That's how it all began.

This year, one of my sisters is trying to convince me to hold New Year's Eve at 7 p.m. so everybody can go to bed early.  She claims she's thinking of the kids, but we've never had a problem with the kids staying up until midnight before.  The other excuse she's using is that my mother has a hard time staying up late.  My mother's fallen a few times in the last year and hasn't really fully recovered yet.  I told my sister that whoever wanted to go to bed early could go to bed.  Now, the battle is the decorations.  I always put up tons of streamers and balloons.  My sister says it will stress my parents out.  I told her I would host the party at my house tonight.  She didn't answer me.

I love my family, but sometimes my family creates stress in situations where there doesn't need to be stress.  One of the problems is that several of my siblings no longer have a lot of tolerance for small children in large doses.  My wife's sister and her family usually come to the party.  My wife's sister has been coming to the party since she was 12 or 13 years old.  She now has two children--a seven-year-old daughter and a five-year-old son.  When they get together with my kids, the results can be a little chaotic.

Family can be frustrating.  Family can be aggravating.  Family can be stressful.  I'm sure tonight is going to be great.  We will gather at my parents' house or my house, and we will play board games and watch on TV as the ball drops in Times Square at midnight.  We will ring in 2012 together.  There will undoubtedly be shouting and arguing.  There will be biting comments (my family's specialty).  Most of all, however, there will be family love.

There is a new cartoon for today.  The last of 2011.  Be safe tonight.  Love your family.  If you're not with your family, know that you are loved by God and me.  Don't forget to enter the 500th Post Name My iPad Contest.  The deadline is tomorrow at noon.  So far, "George" is the only entry.

Saint Marty wishes all his disciples a blessed New Year.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, December 30, 2011

December 30: Today's Blog of Note, Being Grateful

I have a lot to be thankful for right now.

I just looked at today's Blog of Note (BON).  Generally, I make fun of the BONs.  I can almost predict what they will be about:  cooking, fashion, art and artists of different media, and crafts.  Sometimes, the BON is about a mother who's trying to change her life because she's reached a milestone birthday--usually 30 or 40.  Yes, I'm mocking because I find the subjects of most BONs a little, well, stupid.  I also mock because I'm jealous of anybody who is named a BON.

Today's BON is called Jamesie beats the tumor.  It's written by a mother whose young child recently died of some kind of cancer.  I say some kind of cancer because I could only read the most recent post on the blog.  I had to stop.  The mother is struggling this Christmas season, the first without her child, I believe.  She's writing about the corneal infection she herself has at the moment.  I found the post a little overwhelming and incredibly moving.  And I started to cry.  Then I exited the site.

I'm on vacation.  I have two beautiful, healthy children.  I have a home, for the moment.  Everyone I love is well as 2011 draws to a close.  That's enough to be thankful for tonight.

Go visit Jamesie beats the tumor.  Leave a message for its author.  Tell her you're praying for her.  Then pray for her.

Saint Marty salutes today's BON.

A worthy BON

December 30: V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N

I'm caught up with work and ready to head out the door for vacation.  Never fear, I'm not taking a vacation from the blog, just the rest of my life.  I am so looking forward to some time off.  This morning nearly killed me.  Now, it's off for lunch with my sister and then grocery shopping for New Year's Eve.

Saint Marty is cutting loose.

Can you tell I need a vacation?

December 30: Book Club, Almost Vacation, First Entry

A book club member.  Image changed to protect identity.
Last night, our book club meeting went really well.  We got together.  We ate.  We talked about our favorite Christmas presents.  We talked about our hopes for the new year.  Oh, yeah, we also talked about the book we read.  With our book club, sometimes the book takes a backseat to other topics.  We usually get around to the book.  Usually.

Today is my last day of work before vacation begins.  I have a lot to accomplish still.  I have to take down the Christmas decorations in another area of the surgery center.  I have to finalize some surgical schedules.  I have to send some charts over to the hospital.  I have to clean the business office.  It's going to be a rough couple of hours.

Then, I have to go grocery shopping for the week, and I have to get supplies for our annual New Year's Eve party.  I have given up cleaning the house this weekend.  I just don't have the energy or time for it.  I will also be stopping by the AT&T store to talk to someone about my iPad.  I can't really figure out how to do a few things.  Plus, I want to discuss getting 3G with it.  I'm not quite sure what that means, but it will allow me to use the Internet at home.

By the way, I finally have an entry in my 500th Post Name My iPad Contest.  My friend Keith has suggested "George" for very obvious reasons if you've read my December posts.  I kinda like it.  If you have other ideas, you still have a few days to get them to me.

Saint Marty needs to get his holy ass in gear now.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

December 29: Bah Humbug

Well, the deed is done.  I spent most of my work day undecorating the office of Christmas.  As I was in the process of undecking the halls, I had more than one person say to me, "You're already taking down the Christmas decorations?"  Today, I joined the ranks of people I hate:  the ones who take down their Christmas trees and finery within a few days after the holiday is over.  It put me in a really bad mood, and that mood is persisting.

I had to make up my own discussion questions for the book club's book tonight.  Seems not too many people are interested in Dave Barry's little Christmas tale.  It's also strange that Barry wrote a book about Christmas when he's a professed atheist.  I think I'm going to bring that point up during our discussion tonight.  I want to hear what people think about that.

Well, I'm done bah humbugging.  I'm going to eat egg nog pie this evening, and I'm going to drink hot chocolate laced with caramel Bailey's Irish Cream.  I may even make everybody sing a Christmas carol, just to bolster my flagging yuletide spirits.

Now, the battle of New Year's Eve begins.  My sister, who has suddenly turned into an 80-year-old woman, wants to celebrate midnight at 7 p.m.  WTF?  She says it's because of the young children who will be there.  Actually, the young children have never had a problem making it until the ball drops in Time's Square in the past.  I just couldn't fight that battle this afternoon.  I'm going to deal with it later.

Saint Marty is tired of being a Mr. Potter.

Lookin' pretty sad

December 29: My Beautiful Decorations

Saint Marty just wanted to share his beautiful Christmas displays before he annihilates them.

These pictures don't do them justice.

December 29: Undecking the Halls, Frustrations, Book Club

My boss told me yesterday that I needed to take down the Christmas decorations in the office before I go on vacation next week.  She seems to forget that it takes me over a week to put everything up.  I don't have anybody to help me undecorate, so today is really going to suck.  Plus, taking down Christmas decorations tends to depress me.  I'm not in the greatest of moods as it is.  Therefore, this day is going to kill me.

I made some egg nog pies last night.  I think they turned out fairly well.  The filling tasted pretty good.  I wanted to use Nilla Wafer crusts, but my wife bought two graham cracker crusts instead.  I could have freaked, but I chose to remain calm.  And I didn't feel like going through the hassle of returning the graham cracker crusts at Wal-Mart.  I kind of hate going into that store.

As you may notice, my frustrations are plentiful this morning.  When people start showing up at work, I know it's going to make my skin crawl.  I'm also having some problems getting my iPad to do things I want it to do.  Like e-mail pictures.  Like upload pictures onto a blog post.  Like get my wife a job.  Like refinance my mortgage.  Like  buy me a bigger house.  Like get me a full-time teaching job at the university.  Like publish my new book of poems.  Like win me the Pulitzer Prize.  Like win me the Nobel Prize in Literature.  Perhaps I'm being a little unrealistic.

My book club is coming to my house tonight, and I've actually finished the book already.  I just need to print out a discussion guide, and I'll be all set.  I found one yesterday without too much trouble.  I just have to remember where I found it.

Saint Marty needs to start undecking the halls now.

Mr. Potters of the world celebrate!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

December 28: Bad News, No Windows

My wife got some bad news this morning.  She's been waiting to hear about a permanent job as a teacher's aide in a preschool classroom.  She spent almost all of December subbing with these kids, and she thought she'd bonded with them.  My wife called the office this morning to see if the organization had made the decision about who was going to be hired permanently.  The decision was made, and it wasn't my wife.

My wife was crying on the phone, and I found myself getting really angry.  And worried.  As a family, we've been struggling for a while.  This job could have really made a difference.  A few extra hundred dollars a month would have allowed us to start saving money again, instead of constantly draining our bank account.  Since my wife's unemployment ran out, we've had one bad thing after another happen to us, financially.  It's pretty much sucked.  Even the thought of my wife earning some extra income was allowing me to sleep easier at night.  Now it's back to tossing and turning.

Some people would say, in circumstances like this, "God never closes a door without opening a window."  I'm here to tell you that little piece of wisdom is a load of shit.  I've been looking for a window for the past several months, and all I've found are more closed doors.  My wife's news this morning was just the latest in the series of doors that have slammed shut in our faces.  My nose has splinters in it.

Yes, I'm giving into discouragement.  I'm pissed and frightened.  Things need to start looking up soon.  If not, in a few months, I might not be able to make house payments or car payments.

Saint Marty has his hand on the panic button.

Care to join me in my anxiety?

December 28: Book to Finish, Charts to Complete, Pies to Make

I have a few things to do today. 

First, I need to finish reading the book for my book club meeting tomorrow night.  We're reading Dave Barry's The Shepherd, the Angel, and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog.  It's a quick reading book, and I'm about half-way through it.  Generally, I'm not one for stories about animals.  I'm probably the only person I know who hasn't read Marley and Me.  Just can't get into tales about adorable animals who save people's lives and then die.  Not my cup of tea.  I didn't even like watching the Benji movies when I was a kid.  When I read a book or watch a movie, I want human drama, not trained creatures doing tricks.  Don't send me any angry messages.  I'm not Saint Francis of Assisi.

At work, I have a ton of charts to complete.  That means looking up a lot of missing reports and printing them out.  I just learned how to do this last week.  It was not a fun process.  My dearly departed coworker (no, she didn't die; she moved to another job) could complete this task in a matter of minutes.  It took me a few hours to figure out what I was doing wrong the first time.  Now, I have to go back and try again.  I sure hope it doesn't take me quite so long.

Then, tonight, I have to make a couple of egg nog pies and some crescent weenies.  If you haven't noticed, crescent weenies are a staple at potlucks/dinners I host.  The pies are something new.  I've never made one before, and I'm not really following a recipe.  I'm following the advice of another coworker who makes a lot of pies.  I think they will turn out alright.  If they don't, there will be plenty of other dishes at book club for people to fill up on.  This meeting is our holiday gathering.  Usually, the food is just a little bit better.  We usually eat well at book club, but at Christmas, we feast.

Yes, I did pick out a pair of glasses yesterday.  They are quite stylish.  I will post a picture of myself wearing them when they come in.  Think Buddy Holly and George Clooney mixed together.  That's what I'll look like.

Well, Saint Marty needs to get reading and working.  The baking comes tonight.

P.S.  Don't forget to enter the 500th Post Name My iPad Contest.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

December 27: New Glasses, New Post, New Snow

In a few minutes, I'm going to be picking out a new pair of glasses.  I'm trying to get the glasses ordered before the first of the year, when my medical insurance changes and becomes decidedly shittier.  I always depend upon my friend Wonder Twin to help me pick a stylish frame.

This new post is going to be very short.  I have a doctor's appointment this afternoon, and I need to leave in a little while.  Therefore, I don't have a whole lot of time to reflect on my first day back at work.  It was long.  It was busy.  It was a little frustrating.  I didn't get half as much accomplished as I was planning.

The weather has turned foul since I left home this morning.  It's been snowing and blowing all day long.  My wife took my son outside to play this morning, and, after about a half hour, his cheeks were bright red with white spots.  My wife decided it was time to go inside.  I probably would have lasted about five minutes.

Not much more to add.  Sorry my posts were a little on the lame side today.  I'll try to do better tomorrow.  I will work on a poem.

Now, Saint Marty needs to go pick out glasses.

Hopefully, I won't look like this...

December 27: Back to Work, Christmas Tie, No Eggs

Well, this morning I go back to work.  I always find it difficult to resume my job duties after a really long weekend.  I've had four days off.  It's going to be a few hours before I'm totally back in the game.  I'm going to feel like I'm one step behind all morning long.

It doesn't help that I forgot to bring eggs for my breakfast.  Without my eggs in the morning--a little runny with cheddar cheese--I tend to get all thrown off.  Remember, I'm the person who doesn't like change.  I need those eggs in order to keep the universe in its proper alignment.  Worlds are going to shift this a.m.

When I was getting dressed for work, I decided to wear one of my Christmas ties.  I don't know why.  I hardly ever wear ties to the office.  I guess I'm just not ready to let Christmas go yet.  And I'm sure that I'm going to be totally annoyed by the other workers in the office, so anything I can do to bolster my good spirits will help.  If I can just sustain that Christmas iPad glow, I'll be able to make it through the day without killing anybody.

I haven't got much else this morning.  Back to work.  No eggs.  Christmas tie.  I'm going to try to work on a poem today, but no promises.

Let me remind everyone about my 500th Post Contest.  Yesterday, I wrote post number 500 for my blog.  To commemorate the occasion, I'm running another contest.  The rules are pretty simple:
  1. You must come up with a creative nickname for my new iPad. 
  2. You must put your suggestion into a comment. 
  3. You must do this by 12 noon on January 1. 
  4. The winner of the contest will receive two items:  an autographed saint holy card and an autographed copy of my book of poems, The Mysteries of the Rosary.
Put on your thinking caps.  Be creative.  Be funny.  Be irreverent.  Be whatever you want.  I'm not against some good, old-fashioned sucking up, either.  If you ave problems posting a comment, try enabling third party cookies on your computer.  That usually does the trick.

Saint Marty is waiting to hear from you.

You know you want to win this...

Monday, December 26, 2011

December 26: Post Number 500

Yes, this post will be number 500.  It's hard to believe I've been blogging that long.  I should do something special to commemorate this moment.  Maybe some kind of contest.  Everybody loves free stuff, and I love hearing from my disciples.

Now, my contests, in the past, have not yielded too many entries.  In fact, my friend, Wonder Twin, has won both of my previous competitions.  My goal, then, is to get at least five people to enter my 500th Post Contest.  That shouldn't be too hard to accomplish.

Since I just received an iPad 2 for Christmas, I think will have a "Name My iPad" Contest.  That's right, I want you to tell me what nickname I should give my iPad.  Something that really reflects my personality.  I was just going to call it "St. Nick" since I got it on Christmas, but that's a little too obvious.  Then I thought about "App-ostle."  Get it?  That doesn't really work for me, either.  Therefore, I'm going to leave it to you guys and gals.

Don't disappoint me.  I don't want to end up with some lame nickname for my iPad 2.  Be creative.  Be wild.  Be clever.  If I choose your nickname, you will receive a Saint Holy Card, autographed by me, and I'll send you an autographed copy of my book of poems, The Mysteries of the Rosary.  If that isn't enough incentive, the winner will also be placed on the fast track for canonization and have a schnitzel dinner with Pope Benedict.  (OK, that was pushing it, I know.)

Put on your thinking caps, disciples.  I will give you until  noon on January 1, 2012, to send me your entries.  You have less than a week.  Put your suggestions in the comments section of the blog.  I will consider all reasonable responses.  I'll consider the unreasonable ones, as well.

Help Saint Marty name his iPad.

Taken with my iPad

December 26: A Very Merry Christmas

I had a great Christmas.

After four church services, tons of wrapping, and a frantic version of "Carol of the Bells" on Christmas morning, I was pretty much toast when I hit my parents' house for the family orgy of presents.  A few years ago, we instituted a name-picking tradition with my siblings, mother , and father.  My father chose my name this year.  I wasn't expecting a whole lot.

They put a box in my lap.  It wasn't very heavy.  I sat there and watched other people open their gifts.  Then, I started to unwrap mine.  It was the size of a shoebox.  The first box was from Amazon.  Great, I thought, I got a book.  I'm always happy with new reading material.  I opened the Amazon box, and, low and behold, inside was...

AN iPAD 2!!!!!!
I was so astounded, I couldn't speak.  The only thing I remember saying, over and over, is, "Oh, my God!  Oh, my God!"  The rest of the day is kind of a blur.  I don't remember what anybody else received, including my kids.  Later on, I did make a Brownie Trifle and crescent weenies for Christmas with my wife's family in the evening.  Even then, I just sort of floated through the rest of the holiday.

I got home and put my son to bed about 8:30 p.m.  Then, I just sort of sat on the couch and basked in the presence of my present.  My father and oldest sister pooled their funds to purchase it.  My sister told me it was my birthday present, too, because she didn't get me anything back in October.

Saint Marty went to bed with visions of sugar apps dancing in his head.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

December 25: The Richest Man in Town

"To my big brother, George--the richest man in town!"

Harry's toast
Harry Bailey makes this toast to his brother George at the end of It's A Wonderful Life.

Included in this post is my Christmas essay.  A Blessed and Merry Christmas to all my disciples.

Saint Marty is a very rich man, indeed.

A Bipolar Christmas

My daughter was born at the end of an early December snowstorm.  I remember the wind that night while my wife was in labor, the kind of wind that shakes parked cars.  It tore up the darkness, as if it was mad at the sun for disappearing to the other side of the planet.  At some point during that long, midnight vigil, I joked to my wife, Beth, “Keep it down.  I can’t hear the wind.”

She didn’t laugh.

At 7:29 the following morning, our daughter was born, screaming and healthy.
The storm had blown itself out like a birthday candle by the time Beth gave the final push that brought our baby into the world.  Outside, everything was blinding white and calm, a scene from Currier & Ives.  Inside, I stood by my wife’s bed and stared at her and my newborn daughter, felt myself opening up, unfolding like some rare orchid in the moment.  So serene.  So perfect.
I’d like to end with that Madonna and child moment, tell you that later in the morning, three kings showed up and showered us with presents and food and free camel rides.  But that isn’t quite what happened.
Before she became pregnant, my wife had been battling crippling bouts of depression.  She’d been to counselors and therapists, talked about her mother’s death, started taking Prozac.  Nothing worked. The depressions kept getting deeper and longer, as if she were on some endless donkey ride through the Grand Canyon at night during a full lunar eclipse.  These lows were always followed by periods of respite, chrysalis times when my wife broke free, became all wing and sun and light.
Then Beth got pregnant.  For those nine months, the darkness simply vanished.  At first, we kept watch, waiting for the nose of an iceberg to appear on the horizon.  After a few months of clear seas, however, we relaxed, began planning our future with something like hope.  My wife seemed to be waking up after a long fallow season.  Our life became a series of doctor’s visits and firsts.  First hearing of our daughter’s heartbeat.  First ultrasound.  First time our daughter moved.
When we painted the nursery walls that autumn, my wife’s depressions were like shadows in the corners of a well-lit room.  I was in graduate school, writing poems about mosquitoes and moons.  Beth only had one bout of morning sickness her entire pregnancy.  Approaching her due date and the upcoming holidays, we never heard the chains of the Ghost of Mental Illness Yet to Come rattling at our front door.
It took only a couple days after our daughter was born for the honeymoon to end.  Beth woke up one morning and said to me, “I have a nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach.”  These nervous feelings were omens that something dark was about to descend, and I could see it in my wife’s eyes.  She had the look of a rabbit being chased by a screech owl, ready to bolt down the nearest burrow.
Her OB-Gyn seemed concerned but not panicked.  She gave Beth estrogen patches and told her it was the post-partum blues.  We liked this doctor a lot, and both of us clung to the belief that these little round stickers of hormone would steer the UPS truck to our house to deliver a glowing package of joy to our front porch.
As the winter solstice approached, however, I would come home from work night after night to find Beth still in bed, our daughter on the pillows beside her.  The bedroom was a cave filled with the smell of sour breast milk.  I’d climb into bed with them and hold Beth while she wept.  As a writer, I don’t often use the word “wept.”  It’s too melodramatic a verb, summoning up Heathcliff and Jane Eyre on the moors.  But there’s no other word for how my wife clung to my shirt and sobbed, her body convulsed with a grief so profound it made her seem unstitched, as if her bones and muscles and skin couldn’t contain it.  Sadness seeped out of her pores like thick, black sap.
There’s a popular cultural myth that surrounds December 21, the shortest day and longest night of the calendar year.  On December 21, the legend goes, during the hours from sunset to sunrise, the animals of the world are given the gift of speech.  I don’t know how this story became a part of my childhood lore.  I do remember watching a Rankin/Bass holiday special on TV about a donkey named Nestor who had ears as long as elephant trunks.  Like Dumbo, Nestor was teased for his anatomical anomaly and eventually got kicked out of the barn during a blizzard on the winter solstice.  Nestor’s mother followed him and ended up lying on top of him to keep him warm.  She saved Nestor but lost her life in the process.
The druids and Celts understood this dual nature of the winter solstice, this battle between death and life, darkness and light.  I think early Christians understood it, as well.  That’s why they chose to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ around December 21.  They saw it as a time when human beings reached through the black and cold of winter toward the warmth and rebirth of spring, the very planet tilting from sorrow to hope.
On Christmas Eve, Beth was having a good spell.  For a few days, she’d been able to get out of bed, play with our daughter, and wrap presents.  During the day on December 24, we made sugar cookies and fudge, watched one of the multiple broadcasts of It’s A Wonderful Life on TV.
Outside, the clouds were the color of a dirty gum eraser, smudged with the promise of snow.  The lilac bushes along our property line were capped with white.  Their branches rattled in the wind like startled deer hoofs on ice or stone.  A storm was coming.  The weatherman was forecasting several inches by Christmas morning.
At church that night, Beth and I sat with family.  Our daughter slept in the crook of my arm the entire service, her velvet dress the color of evergreen.  As we lit candles and sang “Silent Night,” my wife slipped her fingers into my open palm and looked at me, a thin smile on her face.  She wasn’t doing well, I could tell.  It wasn’t anything physical in her appearance.  It was the pressure of her body against mine as we stood, as if she wanted to climb inside my skin, disappear into me.
We drove home in silence, her hand holding mine so tight my fingers ached.  I thought of the new ornament hanging in the branches of the tree in our living room.  It was an angel sleeping on a cloud, and on the cloud were the words “Baby’s First Christmas.”  It should have been that simple, that peaceful.
As we walked to the front steps of our house, Beth leaned into me.  The moon pressed through the clouds above, shedding a dim silver on the snow banks along the sidewalk, like a failing flashlight.  Familiar shapes, shovels and garbage cans and bushes, became looming shadows.  My arms ached, as if they were holding up not just my wife and baby, but the heavens, as well.  All of the talk of light and hope and joy from the church seemed as distant as Orion or Antares.
Then I saw something move in the night.  A small, hunched shape on the apex of a snow pile.  I stopped and stared at it.  For a few moments, it remained frozen, and I started to believe it was simply a chunk of ice, that my mind was playing tricks on me.  But it eventually stretched upward, like a crocus blooming in time-lapse, until it stood half in darkness, half in moonlight.
It was a rabbit, brown and tall.  Its ears twitched back and forth, testing the night for danger.  I could see the Christmas lights from our front porch reflected in the black marbles of its eyes.  Its body was taut, like the band of a slingshot.  It stayed balanced on its hind feet, regarding me.  I suddenly thought of the legend of the talking animals, of Nestor crying for his mother in the night.  The rabbit looked as if it was going to speak, to impart some ancient lepus wisdom of how to avoid pain and sorrow.
I waited on that Christmas Eve, that night of turning from darkness to light, for some kind of miracle to happen.  I wanted to believe that a rabbit could tell me how to help my wife, that God could become human, that happiness could overcome the black of winter.
My daughter cried out in my arms, and the rabbit bolted.  I watched it scramble out of the moonlight into the pitch of the lilac bushes.  Then, silence and snow and dark.  We began moving toward our front door.  For some reason, the distance seemed unusually hard, as if we were struggling through water or against a strong wind.  It would be half a year before Beth was diagnosed with bipolar disease.  Those six months were filled with more deep depressions, followed by flights of sleepless energy.  Some days, Beth would carve hieroglyphs into her arms with razors or knives.  Other days, she would book airfare to Florida and Walt Disney World.  The journey was long and difficult.
That Christmas Eve, as we walked to our home, I thought of the magi, struggling through desert and mountain.  I thought of the sand in their teeth and hair.  Their tired camels and mules.  Their muscles and bones aching for water and rest.  Their long journey, following a star, through the darkness toward the promise of light.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

December 24: An Awful Hole

"Each man's life touches so many other lives.  And when he isn't around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?"

George gets pissed at Clarence
Clarence says this to George near the end of It's A Wonderful Life.  George has just visited his mother who, without having George as a son, has turned into an angry, bitter, old woman.  Mrs. Bailey runs a boarding house, and she tells George that Uncle Billy has been committed to an insane asylum since he lost the Building and Loan.  George's brother, Harry, died at age eleven when he fell though the ice on a lake and drowned.  George wasn't there to save Harry.  Without George, everyone's lives have become empty and dark.  George's wish of never being born has brought disaster to each person he loves.

No person really knows about how big a difference his or her life has made.  I often wonder if what I do every day has any impact.  Getting up at 4 a.m., registering patients, teaching writing and literature, singing in the church choir, playing the pipe organ--I'm not sure any of this really affects anything.  Living my life is like writing my blog.  I send these posts out into the ether, not knowing if anybody's reading them, if my words are making any kind of impact at all.  That's a pretty good metaphor for life, I think.

George really is given a great gift.  He gets to see what life would be like without him, and he learns what an awful hole his absence would leave behind.  I just found out a husband and wife from church lost their twenty-something son to a drug overdose yesterday.  An awful hole.  My wife lost her mother to ovarian cancer when my wife was 19.  An awful hole.  My aunt just lost her husband of over 50 years this fall.  An awful hole.  George gets a second chance.  Not many people get second chances.

I've actually gotten a few second chances in my life, and I'm grateful for each and every one of them.  I have a son because of a second chance.  I have a wife because of a second chance.  I've lived a George Bailey life.

Saint Marty really has a wonderful life.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, December 23, 2011

December 23: Bust in the Jaw

“Yeah, I got a bust in the jaw in answer to a prayer a little bit ago.”
George and the answer to his prayer
George at his lowest.  He has just “rescued” Clarence the angel from drowning, and they’re warming themselves by a fire.  George still thinks his life has been a waste.  He still thinks he’s going to jail.  And he still thinks that everyone would be better off without him.  Clarence asks George about his bloody lip, and George provides the above explanation.
I think we’ve all been in the place where George is when he says this to Clarence.  I was there just a few days ago when I found out that our mortgage refinance had been denied.  I’d been praying that God would somehow help us with our finances, give us some relief from our monetary stress.  When the letter came a couple of days ago from the credit union, it seemed like a “bust in the jaw” in answer to my prayers.  I know that God had nothing to do with our denial, but, at the moment, it sure seemed like He was the chief loan officer.  I was angry and confused, just like George.
As a Christian, I try to live a good life.  When I walk by Salvation Army bell ringers, I always give them money.  I contribute to the church love fund for people in trouble.  I drop my envelope in the collection plate every Sunday.  I sing in the choir.  I play in a Praise Band.  I’m the head of the freaking Worship Committee at church.  I do my best to treat everybody I meet as if they are Jesus Christ in disguise.  (This last thing is the one at which I fail most frequently.)  So, when I suffer some kind of setback, I think to myself, “What in the world did I do wrong, God?”
Of course, I didn’t do anything wrong.  The denial of our refinance is not some kind of divine punishment.  My prayer is still going to be answered, just like George’s prayer is answered.  George’s answer isn’t the one he’s looking for.  My answer is still coming.  A lot of people labor under the mistaken impression that, because you’re a follower of Christ and have been saved, your life is going to be blessed and easy.  That ain’t quite the way it works.  Jesus was the Son of God, and He still had a pretty rough Easter weekend once.
It’s all a matter of faith.  When George learns what real success is (his friends and family), he learns to trust in God.  He learns that God doesn’t answers prayers by busting your jaw.
Saint Marty lost sight of this fact a little while ago.  He just needs to keep his eyes peeled for his Clarence now.

December 23: Can I Have Seventeen-Fifty?

“Could I have seventeen-fifty?”
George begs
On October 24, 1929, George Bailey marries Mary Hatch.  They are on their way to the train station for their honeymoon, when Ernie, the cab driver, notices a mob outside the local bank.  The Great Stock Market Crash has happened, and the citizens of Bedford Falls are panicking.  George sees a mob outside the Building & Loan building, and he knows he’s in trouble.  Sure enough, everybody lines up, demanding their money.  George reasons with them.  He cajoles.  He begs.  Eventually, Mary offers up their wedding money to satisfy the crowd’s needs.  Each person asks for $20, until a little mouse of a woman named Mrs. Davis gets to the counter.  She asks the above question timidly, and George leans across the counter and kisses her.
Especially at this time of year, when all the stores are trying to get you to buy the newest gadgets, the latest DVD releases, the name-brand fashions, I can get swept up in the fever of commercialism  Yes, this post is going to be about the commercialism of Christmas.  I'm just as guilty as the next person.  I have a free laptop from the university.  At the top of my holiday wish list, however, is an iPad 2.  I have a house.  I'm praying for a bigger house.  We live in a society that's geared toward making you feel like you're never good enough, and, no matter how hard I try to resist, I always get sucked into that mentality.
Most of the people demanding money from George ask for $20.  It's a nice, round amount, and twenty dollars was probably more than most people needed in a week to survive back in 1929.  Mrs. Davis doesn't ask for more than she needs.  She asks for exactly what she needs.  I often wonder what state the world would be in if everyone was happy with just enough to get by, if we all did the math and realized we needed just $17.50.  My guess is there would be a lot less hungry people in the world.  Probably less poverty, less disease, less misery, as well.

It's Christmas, folks.  Let's all try to be satisfied, like Mrs. Davis, with just enough.  It may make us all happier people.

Saint Marty wonders if George has an iPad 2 back in his safe.  That would be just enough for him.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

December 22: Mary Hatch, Why in the World...

"Mary Hatch, why in the world did you ever marry a guy like me?"

Donna Reed--hubba, hubba
George Bailey says this to his wife after a particularly difficult day at the office.  He's been faced again and again with what he considers his "failures."  He's just turned down an offer from Mr. Potter of a very lucrative job.  He returns home, and gazes at Mary, the one choice he's made in his life that he considers "lucky."  It's sort of a heart-breaking moment.

I think I've made some terrible choices in my life.  Choices that have changed my life in very permanent ways.  I never finished my Ph.D.  I moved back to the U. P. instead of searching for a teaching job in more populated areas.  I'm a part-time adjunct and a part-time medical records clerk.  I barely make enough money to scrape by.  I'm friends with other people who are in much better places in their lives--better careers, better homes, better health insurances, better job security.  I know where George is coming from when he asks Mary this question.

I have a beautiful wife and two beautiful kids.  My family is the only thing that keeps me going.  My wife.  My daughter.  My son.  They're why I bust my ass six days a week with work.  I want them to have everything they deserve.  Sometimes I think they would be better off with a guy who had the ambition to complete his education and get a tenured job at a good university.  Instead, they get a guy who's one huge pleasure in life is writing blog posts and keeping track of his blog stats.  I sometimes do think, "Why in the world did my wife ever marry a guy like me?"

No, I'm not feeling sorry for myself.  It's more a question of good fortune.  I've had good fortune with my family.  While we've had our struggles with mental illness and addictions, we really do love each other.  I feel that every day I get home.  To put George's question another way, he's asking himself, "How did I ever get so lucky?" 

Saint Marty is the luckiest man this side of Bedford Falls, even if Jimmy Stewart gets to make out with Donna Reed.

December 22: Never Thinks of Himself

The original Bert and Ernie
"He never thinks about himself, God, that's why he's in trouble."

Ernie Bishop, the cab driver played by Frank Faylen, says this prayer at the beginning of It's A Wonderful Life.  It's one of several prayers that start the film.  The whole town of Bedford Falls, all of the people George Bailey has helped, is praying for George, who has reached the brink of suicide.  Ernie's prayer pretty much sums up George's character.  Selfless.  Generous.  Loving.  He gives and gives, without any thought of himself.

I'd like to say I'm exactly like George Bailey.  That I always think of others.  That I'm never jealous of other people's successes.  That I would take the last dollar in my pocket and give it to a Salvation Army bell ringer.  However, I am not George.  If you're one of my loyal disciples, you already know:  I can be petty, angry, envious, small, stingy, cheap, vindictive.  You name it.

Everyone should be more like George, and everyone should have a George in their lives.  In the last few days, I've been pretty focused on my problems.  It's the time of year when generosity of spirit and wallet are expected.  All I can say about myself is that my spirit is willing, but my wallet is weak.  That's what gets me into trouble.  I would love to buy my sister the laptop computer she has on her Christmas wish list.  She's getting a calendar.  I'd love to give my daughter the cell phone she wants.  She's getting some clothes I got at a clothing resale (and maybe a board game, if it's not too expensive).

If I were a better person, and a better Christian, I wouldn't worry so much about money.  I would put my faith in God, trust that the money for the car loan or the mortgage or the gas bill will be available when I need it.  Instead, I'm worrying about the $350 I wasted on trying to get my mortgage refinanced.  My faith isn't strong enough to let go of my worries.  I have too many control issues.  I don't even like to change what I eat for breakfast.

Of course, George isn't perfect, either.  He gets into a little trouble.  Not because he's cheap or vindictive or petty.  No, George's problem is that he doesn't recognize the treasures of his life.  He's blind to all the goodness of his friends and family.  Clarence helps him with this myopia.  By the end of the film, George doesn't care whether he's in prison or the hospital or Buckingham Palace.  As long as he's surrounded by the people he loves.

I guess being a good George isn't about being perfect.  It's about being the best friend/husband/father I can be.  That's what Ernie's talking about in his conversation with God.  That's why God sends Clarence to help George out.

Now, if only Clarence had a spare Nobel Prize in his pocket for Saint Marty.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

December 21: You'll Get Your Wings

Heaven according to Capra
 "Clarence, you do a good job with George Bailey and you'll get your wings."

At the beginning of It's A Wonderful Life, we are privy to a conversation between God, an angel named Joseph, and another angel name Clarence.  God and Joseph are speaking about George Bailey, who is about to commit suicide.  God is going to send an angel down to Earth to help George.  Clarence is an angel, second class.  He's been passed up for his wings for close to 300 years.  According to Clarence, the other angels are beginning to talk about him.  The angels and God take the forms of celestial balls of light.  Clarence asks God if he will finally get his wings if he performs well on his assignment.  God's reply is the above quote.

I realize my last couple of posts have been a bit depressing, so I decided to write about some good news I got this afternoon.  I checked my university e-mail around 2:30 p.m., and my classroom evaluations were in my inbox.  I opened the documents with more than a little apprehension.

You see, this past semester was the first time I ever taught Mythology, and I think I really didn't do the greatest of jobs.  I prepared for class, knew the material, read extra sources, and delivered the lectures.  However, I wasn't really confident in my abilities or my knowledge.  I felt like Clarence when the other angels whisper behind his back.

The evaluations, however, were glowing.  I didn't have a single negative comment or score from anybody.  And I'm stunned.  My evaluations for Mythology were actually better than my evaluations for Good Books (and I did a great job with that class this past semester).  I felt truly validated.  Someone actually does think I'm worth more than a pile of donkey dung.  Now I know I shouldn't base my self-worth on the opinion's of others.  That just leads to therapy.

But today, because of those evalutions, Saint Marty earned his wings.

December 21: To Mama Dollar and to Papa Dollar

"A toast!  A toast!  A toast to Mama Dollar and to Papa Dollar, and if you want to keep this old Building and Loan in business, you better have a family real quick." 

George celebrating with Mama and Papa
George Bailey keeps the Building and Loan afloat through the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression.  On October 24, 1929, a mob descends on his business, demanding their money.  Of course, George doesn't have it.  What he has is his money which he was about to spend on his honeymoon.  It amounts to about two thousand dollars.  At the end of the day, George has exactly two dollars left of that kitty.  He dubs those two bucks "Mama Dollar" and "Papa Dollar."  He makes the statement above and then parades around the office with Mama and Papa, as if he's in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.  He's full of joy and triumph.  Over two dollars.

I went home last night to my drafty old barn.  I wasn't in the greatest of spirits, if you couldn't tell by my last post.  I struggled to be happy and upbeat for my daughter and son.  They'd both had great days.  My daughter won a lunch with a local celebrity singer at school, and my son had his Christmas program at school.  My daughter was bouncing around the house, singing Christmas carols, and my son was chasing her.  I had to get them dressed in their Christmas outfits to take a picture in front of the tree, which was about the last thing I felt like doing.  I'd sort of lost my taste for Christmas.

But I got my son dressed up.  I combed out my daughter's hair and braided it.  I put them in front of our Christmas tree, and I snapped a bunch of pictures.  I don't know if any of the pictures are that good, but they're done.  Now I just have to get some printed for our Christmas cards.

I didn't parade around the house with the camera after I took the pictures.  I didn't feel like I'd accomplished anything of great importance.  No Mama Photo and Papa Photo.  I spent the rest of night trying to shake off the disappointing news about the mortgage.  It didn't work.  I went to sleep and had horrible dreams filled with dark bridges and homeless people.

I can't work up much enthusiasm this morning to finish my Christmas poem or think about choir practice tonight.  I'm not George Bailey.  At this point in my day, I can't celebrate the three dollars I have in my pocket, because I know they're not going to magically procreate.  Even sitting at the breakfast table this morning with my coworkers drove me crazy.  I couldn't stand listening to their talk about Christmas brunches and Christmas mornings and family squabbles.

I know I'm supposed to turn to God at times like this, put my faith in Him.  One of my best friends has had a really rough few years with her kids.  We're talking suicide attempts, hospitalizations, and rehab.  The last two years, she's come to church on Christmas Eve with her family.  This year, things are quiet for her.  No huge crises brewing.  She's not coming to church this Christmas Eve.  I guess she doesn't need to thank God for the fact that her life, at the moment, is peaceful.  God is only for times of turmoil and despair.

At one point in It's A Wonderful Life, George folds his hands and prays.  It's the first time he's ever turned to God.  Sitting in Mr. Martini's bar, George is at the absolute end of his rope.  He starts out his prayer with these words:  "Dear Father in Heaven, I'm not a praying man..."  Turmoil and despair can turn atheists into praying men and women.

For most of his life, George's motivating factor is money.  Not greed.  Money.  Enough money to provide for his family and friends.  He dreams of tons of cash to go on trips, buy expensive cars.  In the end, Mama Dollar and Papa Dollar abandon him.  Then he turns to God, and God comes through.

Saint Marty has been worrying too much about Mama and Papa Dollar.  Maybe he needs to visit Mr. Martini's bar.  Say a little prayer.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

December 20: Drafty Old Barn

"I don't know why we don't all have pneumonia.  This drafty old barn!  Might as well be living in a refrigerator."

George's drafty old barn
This is George Bailey at his lowest.  He thinks he's going to prison for Uncle Billy's mistake.  He thinks Mr. Potter has finally gotten the best of him.  He thinks his whole life has been an exercise in failure.  In a couple hours, George will be standing on an icy bridge, thinking of killing himself.  The Granville house, Mary and George's home, is a fixer-upper.  Actually, it's more like a tear-it-down-and-build-againer.  Of course, George can't afford a new home.  He can barely afford his drafty old barn.  So his wife spends her days wall papering, painting, and decorating.

Sometimes things happen that just take the wind out of your sails.  My wife just called me.  We've been going through the process of trying to refinance our mortgage.  It's been a long a expensive endeavor.  Appraisals.  Paperwork.  Fees.  The light at the end of this train ride was the possibility of lowering our house payments by almost $100 per month.  After three months and $350, the credit union sent us a letter today saying that our refinance has been denied.

I think I understand what George is feeling when he calls his house a drafty old barn.  He's pissed and disappointed and tired.  I'm pissed and disappointed and tired.  My house isn't a drafty old barn.  More like a drafty old shed.  I'm not quite clear about the reason the refinance was denied.  My guess is that the appraisal came in lower than how much we owe on our current mortgage.  It sucks.  It feels like I've just paid $350 for someone to tell me my home is a piece of shit.

Don't worry.  I'm not going to end up on a bridge tonight.  I promise.  There's no bridges that close to where I live.  Right now, however, I understand why George ends up staring at that icy black water, thinking about taking a swim.  Life isn't wonderful all the time.

For Saint Marty, this is one of those bridge moments.

December 20: Can You Sing, Daddy?

"Can you sing, Daddy?"

How can you get mad at this face?
 Tommy Bailey is George's youngest son.  George comes home after a day of frantically trying to find a great deal of money that his Uncle Billy has misplaced.  George thinks he is facing scandal, prison, and humiliation.  Mr. Potter (who actually has appropriated the missing money) has sworn out a warrant for George's arrest.  George is tired, desperate, and beaten.  For George, at the moment, this disaster seems like the sum total of his life's work.  He has screamed at Uncle Billy for losing the funds, and now he walks into his house, where his wife and children are preparing for Christmas Eve festivities.  George is preoccupied, angry, and despairing.  His children begin asking him normal children questions.  "Where's the Christmas wreath?" and "How do you spell 'frankincense?'"  Little Tommy asks George the above question.  George snaps at him.

I've been where George is at this point in the movie.  Many times when I come home from work, I'm out of sorts.  Crabby.  Tired.  Fed-up.  I look around our small house (which is bigger, probably, than 99% of the houses in the world) and see clutter and failure.  And then I have kids who want my attention, want Daddy to give them some love.

Last night, I was in a frenzy when I got home.  I was late.  I had a meeting at church to get to.  My wife and daughter had to rush off to another church function.  My three-year-old son came rushing at me, throwing his arms around my legs.  I kept moving around the house, getting things ready for the babysitter who would soon be arriving.  Then, in the middle of all the chaos, my son walked up to me with a book in his hands.  It was The Night Before Christmas.  He held the book up to me and smiled.

I stopped what I was doing, sat down, and read to him.  And then I read it to him again.  And a third time.  It turned out to be the best part of my day.  George doesn't learn that lesson until Clarence the angel visits him.  I didn't need an angel.  I had my son.

Saint Marty sang with Tommy last night.

Monday, December 19, 2011

December 19: You Want the Moon?

"You want the moon?  Just say the word and I'll throw a lasso around it and pull it down."

Mary's Cartoon
Again, the quote comes from George Bailey.  He's walking home from a high school dance with his future wife, Mary.  Mary has had a crush on George since she was a little girl.  George has just noticed that Mary is Donna Reed.  He's flirting with her in his way, which is awkward and goofy.  Then he asks Mary what she wants in life.  Really, all Mary wants is to marry George and settle down in Bedford Falls.  George, on the other hand, has his sights set a little higher.  That's why he offers her the moon, because, at this time in his life, he still thinks he can do anything.  Mary eventually draws the cartoon above.

I think this part of the film is about dreams.  Mary's dreams are more realistic than George's dreams.  George spends the majority of his life chasing the moon, never realizing that he's already got his lasso around it.

George isn't much different from me.  I'm always jealous of people who seem to be happier or more secure.  I'm jealous of people who have things that I want (jobs or publications or better health insurance or cars or houses--I could go on forever).  I'm always looking to lasso the moon, too.  It's not an easy way to live.  It's not an easy way for George to live.  George is, at times, monumentally unhappy.  Sounds familiar to me.

I have friends who have tenured or tenure-track jobs at the university. 
They spend their days teaching, writing, and grading.  For me, that's the moon.  And, I'm ashamed to say, I'm jealous of these friends, just like George is jealous of his friend Sam Wainwright, who ends up richer than Mr. Potter.  Sam is doing the things that George has dreamed about his entire life.

But George has Donna Reed.  George has beautiful children.  George has great, loyal friends.  George has the moon.

So does Saint Marty.  He just needs to remind himself every once in a while.

December 19: Anchor Chains, Plane Motors, and Train Whistles

Anchor chains, plane motors, and train whistles.

George Bailey is talking to his Uncle Billy at the train depot, waiting for his brother, Harry, to return from college.  George has been running the Building & Loan while his brother went off to school, a situation that came about because of the death of their father.  Now, Harry is coming home to take the reins of the business while George gets his chance to follow his dreams.  While they're waiting for Harry's train, George asks Uncle Billy what the three most exciting sounds in the world are.  His answer is the quote above.

I've never been much for long trips, especially long car trips.  They tire me out and usually don't seem worth the effort or expense.  I do like going to new places.  I just don't like the process of getting to new places.  One of the best times of my life was my honeymoon in Hawaii.  My wife and I island-hopped, stayed in Volcano National Park, and snorkeled in Hanauma Bay.  It was a gorgeous vacation.  However, we were on planes for about twelve hours getting there.  On the way home, it was an eight-hour direct flight from Honolulu to Chicago.  I hate flying.  I nearly went crazy.

Most of the vacations I take are stay-cations.  I don't generally go anywhere.  I just hang around, go to a movie or two, and read a book I've been dying to read.  That's my idea of a good time.  No stress.  No gas tanks to fill.  No plane tickets to purchase.  No hotel rooms to book.  Now, most of you are thinking that I'm the most boring person on the planet, and you may be right.  However, I don't have a problem with boring.

Boring means nothing is changing.  Boring means stability.  Boring means no surprises.  I'll take boring any day over exciting.

Of course, this attitude stems from past turmoil in my life.  I've had plenty of excitement in the last ten years.  I don't need any more.  About the only excitement I want are awards and accolades:  Pulitzer Prize, Nobel Prize, National Book Award, Blog of Note.  That's good excitement.  That's the kind of excitement I can go home and celebrate without having to board and jet or Greyhound. 

Some of the worst moments of my life have begun with someone saying this to me:  "I know how much you don't like surprises, but..."  Marriage going south.  Best friends moving away.  Coworkers getting other jobs.  Surprise has never been a friend of mine.

George Bailey learns that his life has been pretty good without the sounds of anchor chains, plane motors, and train whistles.  He learns that fulfillment can be found in his backyard, his living room, his kitchen.  No surprises needed.  That's a pretty good lesson in my book.

Saint Marty is liking George Bailey more and more.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

December 18: Shabby Little Office

I couldn't face being cooped up for the rest of my life in a shabby little office.

George's shabby office
George Bailey makes this statement to his father, Peter Bailey, when Peter asks his son to consider taking over the family business, a Building & Loan. George, being young and ambitious, wants to escape the small town of Bedford Falls and make his mark on the world.  He's dreamed his whole life of travelling and building things.  His father's request would pretty much sentence George to a lifetime of scraping by, always worrying about money and bills.  Basically, because of Peter's untimely death, George ends up with just the existence he was trying to escape.  He ends up being his father.  A good man whom everybody loves and respects.  George will never live in the best house or drive the best car.  He will never be Mr. Potter.

I think I've lived my life always dreaming of something better.  I come from a family of plumbers.  My grandpa.  My dad.  All of my brothers.  My sister.  Plumbers.  I knew at a pretty young age I did not want to be a plumber.  I don't have anything against the profession.  It's a very honorable trade.  However, I knew I didn't want to spend my life worrying about people bathtubs and sewers.  It just wasn't for me.

That doesn't mean that I have my dream job right now.  I work in a medical office, registering patients and putting together medical charts.  The office is, by no means, shabby.  However, I really don't want to be working as a medical records clerk for the rest of my life, either.  My dad worked his ass off his whole life, and now he's living on social security checks.  He wasn't able to save a whole lot of money, so he's still pinching pennies.  But my dad loved what he did.  He loved plumbing.  Peter Bailey loves what he does, as well.  He loves helping people get a leg up in the world.  Buy their own houses.  Save some money.  George's big problem in the movie is that he doesn't see the rewards of his life.  George only sees his problems.

I think that's my problem right now, too.  I focus on the job I don't have, the things I can't do.  I need to start giving thanks for the blessings of my life.  My family.  My wife.  My children.  My shabby little office.

That really will give Saint Marty a wonderful life.

A new cartoon to provide a chuckle:

Confessions of Saint Marty