Saturday, June 30, 2012

June 30: Dark Night, Scary Movie, New Cartoon

I'm going to see a scary movie this afternoon with my sister.  Ever since I was a young kid, I've loved horror films.  I lived for the creature features on Saturday afternoons.  However, as I've matured (read that:  gotten old), my tolerance for this genre of filmaking has changed.  When I watched The Exorcism of Emily Rose a few years ago with one of my best friends, I was practically sitting in his lap by the end of it.

The film I will be watching this afternoon is Abraham Lincoln:  Vampire Hunter.  My sister has been anxiously waiting to see this movie since our book club read the novel last October.  I, on the other hand, am looking forward to the popcorn.  I don't like being scared any longer.  (This from a guy who subscribed to the horror film mag Fangoria for all of his childhood and adolescence.)  Thus, we are going to a matinee so that I can recover sufficiently by the time the moon rises.

Which brings me to today's passage from A Christmas Carol:

...When they were within two paces of each other, Marley's Ghost held up its hand, warning him to come no nearer.  Scrooge stopped.

Not so much in obedience, as in surprise and fear:  for on the raising of the hand, he became sensible of confused noises in the air; incoherent sounds of lamentation and regret; wailings inexpressibly sorrowful and self-accusatory.  The spectre, after listening for a moment, joined in the mournful dirge; and floated out upon the bleak, dark night.

There's one thing you can't get around about Charles Dickens' book:  it's a ghost story.  It's designed to scare you.  The above passage is just one example of the more gothic moments in the novel.  There are chains being dragged through wine cellars.  Unseen rats gnawing in walls.  Open graves.  Little monster children hiding under ghostly robes.  It sounds like a Stephen King Christmas, doesn't it?

Anyway, I will go to the theater this afternoon.  I will watch Abraham Lincoln decapitate a few vampires.  I will eat popcorn, chew on licorice, and drink pop.  I will emerge into the sunshine, having survived my walk on the dark side.

Saint Marty has his crucifix and garlic (bread) and holy (vitamin) water at the ready.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, June 29, 2012

June 29: Stream of Consciousness, Hiccups

This is your brain on stream on consciousness
I really don't have anything new to say right now.  Therefore, I will just let my mind go where it wants to go, follow the butterfly, and trust in God to get me where I need to be.  This process may be difficult, since the editor for Blogger seems to work in fits and starts today.  I can be typing away, and suddenly the entire system grinds to a halt. A little blue circle of death appears for almost a full minute.  Thus, my stream of consciousness writing will have to take a break, and there may be a few hiccups.  Like the one I just experienced.  I will make a deal with you.  Every time my computer hiccups, when it comes back, I will type the word "hiccup," which will explain any great cognitive leaps that may occur.  I will try to keep my fingers moving on the keyboard as fast as possible.

I hiccup My hiccup My wife and daughter are going to see the movie Brave this afternoon.  My son and I will be going stag for a few hours.  We may take  hiccup We may take a walk, although the temperature is supposed to be in the ninety-degree range.  I like being out in weather like that, but it may not be too good for a three-year-old toddler who likes to run a lot.  Perhaps I'll just strap him into the running stroller and go for a run.  Yes, I'm crazy.  I like hot weather running.  I like to sweat.  I like the sun and the humidity.  It makes me feel like I've actually worked hard.

Tonight, my wife and I are entertaining a notary who's coming to our house to have us sign the final documents on our mortgage refinance.  I'll be so glad to get that out of the way.  I'm hoping it won't take more than a half hour.  For some reason, signing my name on so many pieces of paper in succession makes me a little nervous.  I have this fear that I hiccup

I really want to see the hiccup I really want to see Brave as well,  but we couldn't get a babysitter for this afternoon.  Plus, we really couldn't afford a babysitter.  My wife and I drew straws, and I lost.  I figure if the movie is any good, my daughter will want to see it again.

I am coming hiccup This may be the end of this post.  I'm getting a little frustrated with the pauses today.  I wish I had something more substantial to talk about.  I have no new poem.  Yet.  I will be on a writing panel discussion on Sunday evening as part of the 2012 U. P. Book Tour.  I'm sort of looking forward to that, although I'm sort of terrified at the same time.  I believe Linda Nemec Foster is going to be on the panel with me, and that's a little intimidating.  We'll see if I can hold my own or if I just sit there, stuttering and saying things like, "Me like poetry lots I do."  That hiccup

Saint Marty has hiccup Saint hiccup Saint Marty hiccup Oh, screw it.

June 29: Food Blog, Darkest Night, Pathetic Ploy

I've noticed, through my years of blogging, that some of the most popular blogs deal with food.  You know the kind I'm talking about.  People taking pictures of their dinners and then posting them to the Internet, or people who prepare some kind of raspberry-pumpkin souffle and post the recipe to a blog titled something like "Saucy Souffles" or "Souffle Sex."  Well, in a pathetic ploy to court the foodies out there, I have decided to try my hand at a food post.  Sort of.

First, let me say that my breakfast this morning consisted of a spinach/bacon quiche.  It was rich and fluffy, brushed with a hint of onion and rich with mozzarella cheese.  The bacon was cooked to perfection, just crisp enough to provide a crunch with every bite, but tender enough to almost melt on the tongue.  (How am I doing?)

Today's passage from A Christmas Carol is taken from "Stave Three:  The Second of the Three Spirits":

And now, without a word of warning from the Ghost, they stood upon a bleak and desert moor, where monstrous masses of rude stone were cast about, as though it were the burial-place of giants; and water spread itself wheresoever it listed, or would have done so, but for the frost that held it prisoner; and nothing grew but moss and furze, and coarse, rank grass.  Down in the west the setting sun had left a streak of fiery red, which glared upon the desolation for an instant, like a sullen eye, and frowning lower, lower, lower yet, was lost in the thick gloom of darkest night.

The first thing I'd like to say about this passage is that it is rich and dark, full of a kind of a smoky bite.  There is an old-fashioned heft to its adjectives, which blend together to create a thick layer of frosted gloom.  I would suggest reading this passage with a strong espresso, perhaps Cuban.  Something that needs to be sipped over an hour or so.  You don't want to rush through the reading of this paragraph, or else you will miss the nuance of each savory word.  No, you want to take your time.  Sit at the table.  Take a bite of the "coarse, rank grass," experience its dry snap, its almost cabbage-like tang.  Then, let the passage's darkness overtake your senses.  Enjoy the mossy give of its nouns, like a moist sponge cake.  At the end, you, too, will lose yourself in the darkest desolation of these sentences.  You will find, after you have consumed the final comma and period, your mouth will want more.

That is the mark of a fine description created by a master chef.  So, if you are in the mood for something on the dark, challenging spectrum of taste, pick up this small dish.  It will leave you breathless, craving the deepest ryes and pumpernickels of night.

Saint Marty suggests a blueberry jam to go with it.

Anybody want a bite?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

June 28: Caramel Puffcorn, Roasted Vegetables, Book, and Movie

Well, it is late afternoon, and the members of my book club will be descending on my home in a couple hours.  My wife is cooking the caramel puffcorn as we speak.  The pop is in the fridge (Diet Coke, Diet Mountain Dew, and Diet Vernors).  One of the ladies is bringing roasted vegetables.  Another of the ladies is bringing crock pot brownies (don't ask--I have no idea).  I ordered the DVD last week, and it arrived on Tuesday.  The house is clean, and the air conditioner is ready to go.

Now, all I have to do is finish the book.  No problem.  I'm almost done with it.  Not that any of you really give a crap.  You all probably have much more exciting lives than I do.  You're all going out for yacht rides tonight.  Or to the movies to see a special preview of Dark Night Rising with the director Christopher Nolan and star Christian Bale.  Or on a flight to Milan for a pizza dinner.  I know my life is pedestrian or uninteresting.  I don't care.

I like pedestrian.  I like uninteresting.  I like roasted vegetables.  I like caramel puffcorn.  I like brownies (the crock pot thing is pushing the envelope).  And I like the Michaels (Chabon and Douglas).

Saint Marty is looking forward to a completely ordinary evening.

This is where I live

June 28: Interview, Approving Affability, Book Club

My interview yesterday evening with the woman making the documentary on U. P. writers went really well.  I think.  We set up near Lake Superior.  It was humid and sunny.  (I believe Anne Ramsey of Throw Momma from the Train fame would have described it as "sultry.")  The interview lasted around 40 minutes.  We spoke about poetry and blizzards and bipolar disease.  She made me feel pretty smart.  She even set up her camera a second time to record  a off-hand comment I made about alcoholism and mental illness in the Upper Peninsula.  The whole experience was pretty thrilling.  We'll see if I actually end up in the finished product.

It is the fourth Thursday of the month, and everyone knows what that means.  Well, at least everybody who reads this blog.  Well, everybody who reads this blog and pays attention.  Well, everybody who...Oh, never mind.  Tonight, my book club meets at my house for our monthly gathering, which brings me to today's Dickens quote:

It was a great surprise to Scrooge, while listening to the moaning of the wind, and thinking what a solemn thing it was to move on through the lonely darkness over an unknown abyss, whose depths were secrets as profound as Death:  it was a great surprise to Scrooge, while thus engaged, to hear a hearty laugh.  It was a much greater surprise to Scrooge to recognise is as his own nephew's and to find himself in a bright, dry, gleaming room, with the Spirit standing smiling by his side, and looking at the same nephew with approving affability.

What follows this paragraph in the book is a description of Fred's annual Christmas party.  Games.  More laughter.  Singing.  Food.  Scrooge has a helluva time, so much so that, when the Ghost of Christmas Present informs him that they must depart, Scrooge begs the spirit for more time at the gathering.  The spirit relents.

The people in my book club love to eat.  To talk.  To eat some more.  Talk some more.  Above all, we like to laugh.  This month's read was Michael Chabon's The Wonder Boys.  Tonight, we will not just be discussing the book.  We'll also be watching the movie adaptation with Michael Douglas and Tobey Maguire.  And we'll be talking and eating and laughing.  It promises to be a really good night.  Scrooge would have enjoyed himself immensely.

So, as you may be able to tell, my day is off to a good start.  Hopefully, it will stay this way.

The Ghost of Christmas Present is looking at Saint Marty with approving affability.

Just Mike and a few friends coming over tonight

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

June 27: Interview Tonight, Sounding Unintelligent, Poems

I will be interviewed tonight by the documentary filmaker.  I'm a little nervous about it.  It's the same sort of nervousness I get when I give a poetry reading or sit on some kind of discussion panel or teach a class.  I know what the source of this anxiety is:  I'm worried about sounding unintelligent.  My biggest fear, when I'm speaking as an authority on any subject (and I'm not an authority on any subject), is that I will look or sound like an absolute idiot.  (I'm picturing the scene from Bruce Almighty where Jim Carrey makes Steve Carell blather and babble like a rabid chimp during a news broadcast.  That's what I'm worried about.)

However, I'm just going to show up with my little notebook of poems and be myself.  I've already picked out a few poems that I think are appropriate.  Either the filmaker is going to like me or she's not.  I will either end up in her film or deleted from her hard drive.  I can't do anything about it, except be the best "me" I can be.

Hopefully, Saint Marty won't fart when the camera starts recording.

This is what I don't want to sound like

June 27: Topper, Daughter's Friend, Boys

"Well!  I'm very glad to hear it," said Scrooge's nephew, "because I haven't any great faith in these young housekeepers.  What do you say, Topper?"

Topper had clearly got his eye upon one of Scrooge's niece's sisters, for he answered that a bachelor was a wretched outcast, who had no right to express an opinion on the subject.  Whereat Scrooge's niece's sister--the plump one with the lace tucker; not the one with the roses--blushed.

Topper is Scrooge's nephew Fred's best friend.  He also seems to be pretty horny, since he spends most of the party at Fred's house chasing after the young woman above.  It's a charming little detail in the book, and certainly Topper seems harmless enough.  He just wants to grab himself some Christmas cheer, put a little nog in his egg, if you get my meaning.

Which brings me to my subject for this morning:  boys.  Particularly, horny boys.  My daughter's best friend is a boy.  Notice that I didn't say, "my daughter's boyfriend."  My daughter has been hanging with this boy since she's been seven or eight years old.  They're the same age and get along well, when they're not annoying the shit out of each other, which they frequently do.  Just this past weekend, they unfriended themselves on Facebook on Saturday, and then friended themselves again on Sunday.

I'm not naive.  I know my daughter is reaching the age where boys start coming into the picture.  (She's eleven years old.)  One of my friends (who is of the opposite gender) said to me yesterday, "Oh, yeah.  They're going to end up dating," speaking of my daughter and her best friend.

My initial reaction to her statement was, "Over my dead body."  Even though I really like this kid, and have for several years, I just can't make that leap in my mind from best friend who is a boy to boyfriend.  Of course, I'm still in the mindset that my daughter is going to be too focused on dancing or music or collecting comic books or anything else besides hanging out with someone who has a penis.

It didn't help that my daughter sent me a picture she took of herself yesterday:

Saint Marty is in big trouble.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

June 26: Being Forgetful, Lost Envelope, Losing My Mind

I hate losing things.

This morning, I had an envelope to mail.  My wife gave it to me last night and told me, "Make sure you mail it tomorrow.  This bill is due."

I have no idea what I did with that envelope.  I've checked through my books, my bag, and my car.  I called my wife and had her search the house for it.  Then I rechecked my books, my bag, and my car.  I have no idea where that envelope is.

I am a forgetful person.  I always have been.  Losing an envelope with a check inside isn't something new for me.  I lose something important at least once a week (keys, books, fanny packs, wallets).  I spend half a day looking for said lost item.  It almost always turns up.  However, the whole process of searching for the misplaced article screws with me.  When I'm in the middle of tearing my house apart looking for it, I feel like I'm losing my mind.  Literally.  I become unhinged until I find what I'm looking for.

That's were I am right now.  The top of my head has come off, and I'm slowly unravelling.  I'm coming apart.  I can't stand feeling like this.  I've totally lost control.  That stupid envelope is all I can think about.  If I don't find it soon, I may have to be medicated.

Now, I know the check can be stopped.  I know a new envelope can be addressed and stamped.  That doesn't solve my dilemma.

Saint Marty is going crazy.

I forogt what I was going to say about this cartoon...

June 26: New Look, Extravagance, Putting on the Ritz

Well, I changed the stained glass of Saint Marty yesterday afternoon.  I was getting a little tired of the Flannery O'Connor peacocks.  I wanted a look that was a little brighter for the summer months.  Although I'm not a big fan of change, I do get tired of the same old blog design day after day.  It's like wearing the same outfit for three months solid.  At some point, you have to change your socks and underwear.

Which brings me to today's passage from A Christmas Carol:

His hands were busy with his garments all this time:  turning them inside out, putting them on upside down, tearing them, mislaying them, making them parties to every kind of extravagance.

It is Christmas morning, and Scrooge has just returned from the world of ghosts.  He's a little exuberant.  In the movie adaptations of this scene, he looks like he's on cocaine or suffering a manic episode.  He actually does violence to his clothing.

I can understand Scrooge's difficulty with clothing.  This morning, I walked around for almost two hours before somebody pointed out that my shirt wasn't buttoned correctly.  Of course, my garment issue wasn't the result of excitement.  It was the result of getting dressed at 4:30 a.m. with my eyes practically closed.  I'm having a little trouble getting my brain moving.  I'm also wearing a shirt I haven't worn in over a year, and I'm not very comfortable in it.

Tonight, I believe I'm being interviewed for a PBS documentary on U. P writers.  If everything goes according to plan.  That's the reason I'm sort of focused on wardrobe at the moment.  I didn't want to wear something that would look like I just stepped out of an episode the The Brady Bunch.  I want to look a little classy, a little eccentric, a little unique.  You know.  I want to look like a poet.  Instead, I think I look like I went shopping at Goodwill.  Ebenezer Scrooge ain't got nothin' on me.

One time, I did a live interview on TV.  When I saw a playback of the interview, I noticed that I sat for the entire half hour with my pant leg stuffed into the top of my sock.  I looked like an idiot.  Ever since that time, I've been paranoid about my clothing at public events like poetry readings and interviews.  I don't want to appear on television with my fly unzipped or my shirt turned inside out.  (I've done both of those things in front of audiences.)

That's the extent of my wisdom today.  Make sure your fly is zipped, your shirt is buttoned correctly, and your underwear isn't visible.

And, above all, don't pick any wedgies out of your butt.  Trust Saint Marty on this.

Putting on the ritz for PBS

Monday, June 25, 2012

June 25: Have You Ever Noticed...

Have you ever noticed that I rarely ask questions in my posts?

Am I the only blogger who avoids questions?  Am I the only person who read a criticism in a print magazine (TimeNewsweekThe New Yorker?) of how bloggers tend to ask tons of questions in their blogs?  Why is that a bad thing?  Does it make the writing weak?  Trite?  Precious?  Is it some kind of pathetic ploy to get readers to respond to posts?  Are all bloggers that desperate for attention?  Are we all kids who got picked last for teams in gym class?  Did we all go through high school yearning to be the popular basketball player or class president or star of the school's production of Our Town?

Can we ever overcome adolescent need for acceptance and validation?  Am I still just a pathetic teenager inside, still too insecure to ask the girl in chemistry class to go to prom?  Isn't that the question all writers want answered:  "Will you go to the dance with me?"  Don't we write our poems or stories or blog posts or novels to get the thrill of having the pretty cheerleader or handsome cross country runner talk to us, laugh with us, make us feel cool?  (Is there any way to make that last sentence parallel in grammatical structure?  Does anyone care if it's in parallel grammatical structure?)

Am I just a blogger in search of recognition?  Will I just keep asking questions until somebody, anybody actually responds to my pathetic pleas for human connection?  Am I being too open?  Too honest?  Should I conceal this nervous, monkey-side of my personality?  Or should I continue to eat my bananas, scratch my balls, fling my shit into the cyberspace zoo for all to see?  Am I just Bobo, the well-hung chimpanzee blogger, wagging my hairy goods in the faces of all my readers?

Will Saint Marty ever be able to answer any of these questions?  Is anybody out there?

Is this cartoon funny or what?

June 25: An Explanation, a Worry, a "Carol" Dip

This is not Jesus Christ
Having reread my post from yesterday, I think I need to explain my thinking a little bit.  When I used the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast as an example of unconditional love, I was in no way trying to intimate that the Bible, gospels, Jesus, or God are fairy tales.  That was the furthest thing from my mind.  I was simply trying to provide an explanation to readers of this blog who may not be familiar with Christian beliefs and narratives.  I was not saying that Jesus Christ was a Disney character voiced by Robby Benson, or that the Virgin Mary was going to start suddenly belting out Alan Menken Broadway tunes.  I have great respect for Christian beliefs, and I would never want to in any way diminish the power of the Jesus narrative.

Now, some of you are probably thinking, "What the hell is he talking about?"  Some of you might actually be scrolling back to yesterday's post to see what kind of controversial statements I made.  And then some of you are probably going to think, "This idiot is delusional.  He actually thinks people take him seriously."  I will accept any and all criticism/mocking.  I deserve it.  It keeps me grounded.

The second thing on my mind this morning is a worry about a drop-off in readership.  Yes, I keep track of how many people are reading Saint Marty on an hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis.  It's part of my unhealthy preoccupation with being popular.  I don't want to be the only girl not invited to the prom.  Until last week, I've been averaging around 500 to 700 views a day for June.  Suddenly, I'm lucky if I make it to 400.  I can't account for the sudden decline in views.

I'm asking my faithful disciples (and my not so faithful disciples) to let me know what kinds of posts are their favorites.  Perhaps I need to include more original poetry.  Or discussion of literature.  Or perhaps nude pictures of myself.  (Wait a minute.  I want to attract people to this blog, not send them fleeing for the nearest bottle of eye wash.)  You tell me, and I'll try to do it.  I'm a cheap date.  You don't even have to get me drunk.

Now, I owe you a Carol dip this morning, since it is Monday.  I've already written about the things that are on the forefront of my thoughts this early a.m.  However, I do have one more pressing question:

Will NBC kick Ann Curry off the Today show?

And the answer from the great book of Dickens is:

To sit, staring at those fixed, glazed eyes, in silence for a moment, would play, Scrooge felt, the very deuce with him.  There was something very awful, too, in the spectre's being provided with an infernal atmosphere of its own.  Scrooge could not feel it himself, but this was clearly the case; for though the Ghost sat perfectly motionless, its hair, and skirts, and tassels, were stil agitated as by the hot vapour from an oven.

"You see this toothpick?" said Scrooge, returning quickly to the charge, for the reason just assigned; and wishing, though it were only for a second, to divert the version's stony gaze from himself.

There you have it, folks.  A description of Jacob Marley's phantom.  That means Ann Curry is history.  She's a ghost, a spectre.  She's dead on arrival.  (That sort of depresses me, because Ann Curry is the nicest person on that program.  Why can't nice people come out on top?)

Take it to the bank, folks.  You heard it from Charles Dickens and Saint Marty first.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

June 24: Unconditional Forgiveness and Love, Gifts, New Cartoon

When I read my devotions and prayers this morning, I received a huge message about forgiveness.  I've been down on myself about some things recently, the kinds of things that sort of eat away at you.  I'm not going to get into details.  Fill in that blank yourself.  They fall somewhere on the spectrum between serial killing and voting Republican.

The message I received this morning was about unconditional forgiveness and unconditional love.  In my devotional, I read about God's ability to look through the crap of life and see the underlying goodness in everybody.  For those of you who prefer to keep God out of it, think Beauty and the Beast.  Beneath the hair and fangs and snout is the handsome prince worthy of love.  However you look at it, it's about the inherent worth of a person, despite character flaws and mistakes.

That's the message for today.  God's gifts aren't contingent upon how perfect you are.  They aren't dependent upon volunteering at a soup kitchen or donating tons of money to Haiti relief.  Don't get me wrong.  Those things are important.  We all should do things like that.  However, God (or Belle) will still love us, even if we don't.  That's what the "unconditional" part of unconditional love means.

We all deserve happily ever afters.

Saint Marty just got a happily ever after this weekend.  A brand new, HD flat screen TV.  Lawrence Welk never looked  better, right down to every last mole and ingrown hair.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, June 23, 2012

June 23: Softening Influence, Tears, New Cartoon

Not a latent echo in the house, not a squeak and scuffle from the mice behind the panelling, not a drip from the half-thawed water-spout in the dull yard behind, not a sigh among the leafless boughs of one despondent poplar, not the idle swinging of an empty store-house door, no, not a clicking in the fire, but fell upon the heart of Scrooge with softening influence, and gave a freer passage to his tears.

This little softening occurs early in Stave Two when the Ghost of Christmas Past and Scrooge observe Scrooge's younger self, sitting alone in a schoolhouse on Christmas day.  The implication of this passage is that Scrooge had a pretty miserable childhood, and the memory of it begins the slow disassembly of Scrooge's defenses.  Scrooge is reduced to a young, abandoned child again.  It's a pretty heart-breaking moment, and, for the first time, the reader feels compassion and sorrow for Scrooge.

Last night, when my son was going to bed, he asked me to read him Love You Forever by Robert Munsch and Sheila McGraw.  It's a book about a mother and her son, the unending love of a parent for her child.  I didn't get past the second page before I was ready to cry.  I found myself skipping huge portions of the book just so I wasn't a weeping mess by the end.  Robert Munsch definitely had a softening influence on me.  I felt a little ridiculous.

Anything about kids growing older sort of puts me over the edge right now.  I'm sitting across from my eleven-year-old daughter right now, and I'm looking at her closely.  She looks like a teenager.  She's going to be in sixth grade in September.  In six more years, she'll be a senior in high school.  As my daughter might say, "OMG!"  It depresses me a little.  Actually, more than a little.

It seems like yesterday when I was sitting beside her toddler bed, reading Charlotte's Web to her.  Now, she has me locked out of her iPod, and she's self-conscious about her clothes.  She wants to get her hair streaked pink, and she stays up late watching vampire movies.

I'm standing with the Ghost of Christmas Past, watching my daughter open her Barbie Dream Castle.  She's tiny, beautiful, excited.  She throws her arms around my neck and kisses me.

Saint Marty's little girl isn't so little anymore.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, June 22, 2012

June 22: Facing the Rest of the Day With a Smile

I am trying to face the rest of my day with a smile.  I will wait for a representative from Blue Cross to call me back with a smile.  I will clean my house with a smile.  I will buy my new TV with a smile.  I will set up my new TV with a smile.  I will work on my new poem with a smile.  I will read Michael Chabon's The Wonder Boys with a smile.  I will go running with a smile. 

In between all those things, I will have lunch and dinner with a smile.  I will probably change a shitty diaper with a smile.  I may go for a walk with my wife and kids with a smile.  I will give my son a bath with a smile.  I will put my son to bed with a smile.  I will watch my new TV with a smile.  I will try to go to bed with a smile. 

Saint Marty will now finish this post with a smile.

Smiling the day away

June 22: Sweet Fresh Air, Glorious, Good Day

Running to the windows, he opened it, and put out his head.  No fog, no mist; clear, bright, jovial, stirring, cold; cold, piping for the blood to dance to; golden sunlight; heavenly sky; sweet fresh air; merry bells.  Oh, glorious.  Glorious!

Scrooge is having a good morning.  It's Christmas.  He's done with ghosts.  He's alive, and he now has a chance to change his future.  No wonder everything looks bright and stirring and glorious.  He's back from the lip of the grave, and he wants to embrace the whole world.

I want to feel like Scrooge this morning.  I want to go dancing around the room, finding everything a source of joy.  Ain't gonna happen.  I'm tired, and I have to make some phone calls to Blue Cross about my health insurance.  If that isn't enough to ruin a day, I don't know what is.  I'm hoping I won't find myself in some kind of automated dungeon, pressing buttons, hoping I'll hear some kind of real human voice on the other end.

Of course, I have my usual litany of chores to complete, as well.  Bathroom to clean.  Floor to sweep, Carpets to vacuum.  Laundry to fold.  I'm also going to pick up a new TV to replace the one my son demolished last Friday.  That will be the one bright spot in a pretty busy day.  Perhaps when I get my new TV hooked up, I'll dance around like a crazy man, kissing and hugging everyone who comes within kissing and hugging distance.  Depends on whether the toilet is already scrubbed.

Saint Marty is going to try to be jovial and bright today.  He may lean out a window and shout, "Hallo!" to a complete stranger.  He may buy a prize turkey from the Poulterer's in the next street but one.  Saint Marty might get arrested and sent to the psych ward, as well.

I'll take a drumstick

Thursday, June 21, 2012

June 21: Poetry in the Air, Waiting for Donald Hall, New Poem

Play me some Jimmy Buffett!
Tonight, there is poetry in the air again.  My wife and I are attending the final event at the university for Donald Hall.  It's going to be some sort of panel discussion between Hall and two other poets--Ellen Airgood and Ander Monson. 

Before we go to this event, however, my wife and I are going to a local Mexican restaurant to listen to some friends play in a band.  It is the second date night my wife and I have had this week.  That's one more actual date than we've had in the last six months.  We're feeling a little like teenagers sneaking out for a quickie on the beach or something.

Anyway, I don't have much else to add.  I did write a new poem last night while waiting for Donald Hall to begin reading.  Oddly enough, it's about waiting for Donald Hall.

Saint Marty is ready for some margheritas.

Waiting for Donald Hall

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

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

Like driftwood in Lake Superior surf.

June 21: Fifty Pounds, Pity Him, Faith

"I was only going to say," said Scrooge's nephew, "that the consequence of his taking a dislike to us, and not making merry with us, is, as I think, that he loses some pleasant moments, which could do him no harm.  I am sure he loses pleasanter companions than he can find in his own thoughts, either in his mouldy old office, or his dusty chambers.  I mean to give him the same chance every year, whether he likes it or not, for I pity him.  He may rail at Christmas till he dies, but he can't help thinking better of it--I defy him--if he finds me going there, in good temper, year after year, and saying 'Uncle Scrooge, how are you?'  If it only puts him in the vein to leave his poor clerk fifty pounds, that's something; and I think I shook him yesterday."

Once more, I turn to the voice of Scrooge's nephew, Fred, for the text of my post this morning.  As many of your may know, Fred, along with Bob Cratchit, seems to me to be the moral compass of the book.  Fred just says wise things consistently.  He has no dark motives.  He isn't waiting for his uncle to kick the bucket in order to collect some huge inheritance.  In fact, I'm pretty sure Fred knows he doesn't stand a chance of getting any of his uncle's fortune (which is substantial).  The only person Fred hopes will profit from Scrooge's demise is Bob, who has suffered patiently and longly (is that a word?) as the old bastard's clerk.

Fred doesn't worry about money.  Even when confronted by Scrooge with the fact that Christmas is not a profitable venture, Fred sticks to his beliefs, inventorying the non-material benefits of the holiday (charity, compassion, goodwill, etc.).  Money just isn't a high priority for Fred, and Scrooge doesn't get it.

I wish I could say money wasn't a big priority in my life.  Well, I could say it, but it wouldn't be true.  At the moment, money is a big priority in my life.  Or, rather, lack of money.  However, this post will not be one of those I-don't-know-how-I'm-going-to-pay-for-my-car insurance/water bill/groceries/property taxes/mortgage posts.  This post is about faith.  The kind of faith that Fred has.

Fred doesn't worry about money, as I said.  He's kind and considerate, generous with his friends and family.  He loves his uncle, despite his uncle's best efforts to the contrary.  He has the kind of peace that comes with a total faith and trust in God.  Yes, I'm going to use the "G" word.  The only way Fred can be so calm and...nice is for him to have a strong faith in God.  (For those of my disciples who are atheists or agnostics, you may substitute "science" or "humanity" or "Kentucky Fried Chicken" for the word "God."  As long as it's something you really believe in.)  With that kind of faith, worry never even enters your mental vocabulary.

Let me share a little story about faith that Marlene T. Elias tells:

Beirut was in the midst of a horrendous war, shelled and bombed relentlessly.  Many were homeless.  Mother Teresa heard of retarded children left behind to die.  She approached President Jamail of Lebanon to ask permission to cross the Green Line to rescue them.  He told her it was too dangerous.  "If the war stops, may I go in after them?" she asked.  He agreed, though he knew it was impossible.

She gathered her nuns around her in the Chapel and prayed all night.  Suddenly the noise of the bombing stopped.  She rushed to call President Jamail.  "May I go for the children now?"

He not only allowed her to go, but sent several Red Cross trucks, personnel and equipment with them to rescue the children.  They found 64 retarded children, half-starved, crying.  They cleaned them up and got them aboard the trucks.  As they crossed back over the Green Line, the shelling and bombing resumed.

That's the kind of faith I'm talking about.  The kind of faith that can make Scrooge give Bob fifty pounds.  That can supply money to pay my bills.  The kind of faith that can stop a war.

Saint Marty wishes he had that kind of faith.

Money wasn't a big priority for her, either 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

June 20: A Poet Raising a Tweenager

Last night, at the Donald Hall dinner, I felt like an actual poet.  Everyone recognized me as a writer and English professor, not as the person who registered them for their cataract surgeries or urological procedures.  I had the director of the local library tell me I was "absolutely wonderful" in the podcast interview I did a few weeks ago.  When I met a stranger, I didn't begin the conversation by saying, "And are you ready to provide your urine specimen?"  It was a great night.

I have been riding that feeling all day long.  Tonight, I'm going to Donald Hall's poetry reading.  More of the same type of mutual admiration society.  However, when I get home, I will once more be reduced to the father of a tweenage girl.  That means hugs, then hostility.  "I love you, daddy" followed by "You just don't understand me!"  Laughter then tears then laughter again.  In between all those mood swings, I will try to tiptoe my way through the night until it's time to go to bed.

I've written about my worries for my daughter's mental health before.  Because of my wife's bipolar disease, every time I see my daughter step off the dock of sanity into the seas of tweenage girlhood, I wonder if I'm witnessing an episode of manic fury or hormonal normality.  I rock back and forth in my convictions.  Depending on the time of day, the temperature outside, the chicken sandwich I had for lunch, I can convince myself that my daughter is completely normal or is headed for some kind of psychotic break.

I'm hoping what I'm expressing are the normal concerns of the father of a tweenage girl.  I don't want to see my daughter struggle the way my wife has struggled with her illness.  I want my daughter to grow into a confident, beautiful, successful young woman.  Today, I believe that my daughter is in the throes of adolescence.  Tonight, after being in the company of poets, I may go home believing my daughter is on the ridge of madness.

There is no easy solution to my dilemma.  This fear has been with me since my daughter was just a mitten in the crook of my arm.  It sleeps in the top bunk of my daughter's bed.  It follows her to the school bus stop.  When I come home tonight, it will be standing in her shadow when she comes to the front door to greet me.

Saint Marty is going to be a poet tonight.  A father later on.  A worrier always.

Fearing the shadows

June 20: A Very Good Dinner, Dessert Upon the Table, Donald Hall

"Indeed, I think he loses a very good dinner," interrupted Scrooge's niece.  Everybody else said the same, and they must be allowed to have been competent judges, because they had just had dinner; and, with the dessert upon the table, were clustered round the fire, by lamplight.

One of the more joyful scenes in A Christmas Carol occurs at Scrooge's nephew's house.  It is Fred's annual Christmas dinner party, and the crowd of gathered friends knows how to have a good time.  They eat, dance, play games.  And, at least in the Ghost of Christmas Present stave, they discuss Scrooge and his annual refusal to attend the party.  Scrooge's niece is a little incredulous in the above passage, for Fred has just made the comment,"What's the consequence!  He don't lose much of a dinner--"  Even in phantom form, Scrooge manages to have a hell of a good time at Fred's little holiday soiree.

The celebration dinner for Donald Hall last night was amazingly good.  I'm not much for mingling and small talk, but there were plenty of good friends and acquaintances present to make the talking small almost painless.  Donald Hall, who is, from what I heard, around 85 years old, was gracious and funny.  A true gentleman in every sense of the word.  The food was spectacular.  My chicken cordon bleu was not frozen and reheated.  It was fresh and delicious.  And the chocolate truffle that capped off the meal was just one step away from orgasmic.  (Judging by the facial expressions of the other people at my table, it might have actually been orgasmic.)  I know how Scrooge felt at Fred's party, enjoying the food and drinks and desserts and conversation.  It was a hell of a good time.

Then there was Donald Hall being, well, Donald Hall.  He talked about his past times in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  He talked about his son, who attended the university here.  He talked about his son's college girlfriend.  He talked about being a writer for sixty plus years.  And then he read a poem.

Basically, it was the definition of a perfect evening.

Saint Marty was happier than a hog in a mudslide.

Donald Hall and Saint Marty

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

June 19: Phone Frustration, Doctors, Nurses, Poetry

I'm a man on the edge
First, let me begin by saying I am not one of those people who complain.  Much.  I don't like getting on the phone and being nasty to the person on the other end.  In my job at the medical office, I am often on the receiving end of phone calls like that, and I don't like passing along that kind of karma.

That being said, I have had a day of phone frustration.  I have been on the horn with doctors' offices, nurses, medical records clerks, and medical equipment suppliers.  I'm sick of people shifting blame and not doing anything to help me solve my dilemma.  The last person I spoke to on the phone yet again told me it was somebody else's fault that I'm having trouble getting supplies for my insulin pump.  (Yes, I am an insulin pump diabetic.)  I wanted to tell "Kim" that I really didn't give a shit whose fault it was.  I simply wanted the problem resolved.  I did, however, stop short of profanity.

Now, I'm waiting for yet another phone call, and I have a sinking feeling it's not going to come before I have to leave for my dinner with Donald Hall and company.  I'm looking forward to my night of poetry, sitting in a room with one of my favorite writers.  This game of phone dodge ball has begun to sour my mood.

If the phone call I'm expecting doesn't come, I'm going to try to put the whole thing out of my head until tomorrow morning, when I will take up my quest for the Holy Grail yet again.  I want to enjoy my evening.  I do not want to spend dinner with Don brooding about the inadequacy of the medical establishment in this country.  Believe me, I could go on for a while on that subject.

Saint Marty is seeking his happy place, where chicken cordon bleu and poetry roams.

June 19: A Mortal, Upheld, Donald Hall

"I am a mortal," Scrooge remonstrated, "and liable to fall."

"Bear but a touch of my hand there," said the Spirit, laying it upon his heart, "and you shall be upheld in more than this."

Scrooge is arguing with the Ghost of Christmas Past, who is leading Scrooge to an open window.  Scrooge does not want to take the leap of faith and step out of the window with the Ghost.  Rightfully so, he fears for his mortal life.  The Ghost's response intimates that he will protect and uphold Scrooge both physically and spiritually.  At least, that's the way I've always interpreted the Ghost's words.  The response itself is poetic, hinting at both pain and redemption.

Tonight, my wife and I are going to a dinner in honor of Donald Hall, former U. S. Poet Laureate.  He's in the area as part of the 2012 U. P. Book Tour, and this little shindig this evening is the meet-and-greet portion of his visit.  It's chicken cordon bleu with Don.

Donald Hall has been one of my favorite poets since I've been aware of poetry.  His poetic voice is deeply human, and his subject matter touches upon deeply human experiences.  Whether he's writing about the death of his wife, poet Jane Kenyon, or a children's Christmas program, Hall upholds the universe, raises his eyes to heaven and doesn't blink in the face of sorrow or joy.

If you can't guess, I really like Donald Hall.  His words have upheld me through a lot of things in my life, and it's going to be exciting to just shake his hand and thank him.

That's about all Saint Marty has to say this morning.  He's going to let Donald Hall have the last word.

Christmas party at the South Danbury Church

December twenty-first
we gather at the white Church festooned
red and green, the tree flashing
green-red lights beside the altar.
After the children of Sunday School
recite Scripture, sing songs,
and scrape out solos,
they retire to dress for the finale,
to perform the pageant
again: Mary and Joseph kneeling
cradleside, Three Kings,
shepherds and shepherdesses. Their garments
are bathrobes with mothholes,
cut down from the Church's ancestors.
Standing short and long,
they stare in all directions for mothers,
sisters and brothers,
giggling and waving in recognition,
and at the South Danbury
Church, a moment before Santa
arrives with her ho-hos
and bags of popcorn, in the half-dark
of whole silence, God
enters the world as a newborn again.

          ----Donald Hall

Donald Hall and his wife, poet Jane Kenyon

Monday, June 18, 2012

June 18: Rain, Poetry, and Pumpkins

It has been storming all day long.  Each time I looked out a window, the rain was pouring down.  I don't mind so much when I'm stuck inside all day long.  Plus, I planted some pumpkin sprouts in my backyard on Friday afternoon.  From everything I read about growing pumpkins (yes, I actually did a little research), pumpkins need two things in abundance to flourish:  water and sunlight.  Well, those pumpkins probably drowned today.

While I was putting medical charts together at work, I also managed to watch City Lights with Charlie Chaplin.  I'm using that movie in my Intro to Film class this fall, and I found it on YouTube.  I had seen it a looooong time ago, but I barely remembered it.  Now that I've reacquainted myself with it, I have to say that I think it's Chaplin's best film.  The final scene, with the slow fade to darkness, is heartbreaking and ambiguous and sublime.  I can't believe I actually forgot it.

For the rest of the day, I'm going to be working on my new poem, which is turning into a behemoth.  I think.  Who knows?  I may finish it and decide that the only thing worth saving is the first line.  It's happened before.  In the mean time, enjoy the final moments of City Lights.  It's visual poetry.

Saint Marty needs a hankie to watch this.

June 18: "Carol" Dip Monday, On My Mind, Rain

Not a very auspicious start this morning.  It is raining barrels.  I heard it hammering my air conditioner as I made my way to the bathroom.  It sounded like I was under attack.  Plus, the only reason I'm coherent and functioning this morning is because of a big cup of Diet Mountain Dew and a Dove chocolate.  The breakfast of champions.

I began surveying my head for a possible subject for this morning's post as soon as my alarm rudely snatched me out of sleep.  It wasn't a very fruitful survey.  Here is what I found on my mind:

  1. I'm going to a dinner with former U. S. Poet Laureate Donald Hall tomorrow night (more to come on this subject).
  2. I have a meeting at church tonight (not exciting).
  3. I have twelve hours at the office ahead of me (my longest day of the week).
  4. I'm hungry for some peanuts (random thought).
  5. I introduced my daughter to the film The Princess Bride last night (still one of my fave movies of all time--and my daughter loved it).
  6. Peanuts again (I'm really hungry).
  7. I need to get a new TV (yes, I am still dealing with the aftermath of my son's destructive temper tantrum from Friday).
  8. I have to work on my poem today (it's becoming gargantuan).
  9. I really like blueberry muffins (again, I'm hungry).
  10. Lindsay Lohan just needs to disappear (I'm tired of hearing her name and her drama--she wasn't that talented to begin with).
  11. Peanuts (me want some...).
So, that's just a random sampling of what's going through my brain at the moment.  Pretty scary.

And now it's time for a Carol dip.  I've been hunting around for a good question to ask the great book of Dickens.  I have a good feeling from the Spirits of Christmas this a.m.  My query has to do with my broken TV:

Am I going to get a new TV this week?

And the answer from A Christmas Carol is:

"Ghost of the Future!" he exclaimed, "I fear you more than any Spectre I have seen.  But, as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart.  Will you not speak to me?"

Scrooge has just met the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, and he's scared out of his wits (everyone is afraid of the future, unless she/he is a billionaire or a monk).  However, Scrooge has faith in the phantom's intentions, and he's grateful for the future.

Looks like Saint Marty's getting a new 48" plasma screen TV this week.  He accepts it with a thankful heart.

That's what I'm talking about!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

June 17: Father's Day, Eggs and Hot Dogs, McDonald's

Today, I'm going to let my daughter and son write my post for me.  What follows below are letters they wrote to me today in honor of Father's Day.  For the record, I do love eating scrambled eggs and hot dogs, and I do not work at McDonald's.

Saint Marty wishes all the fathers out there a happy Father's Day.

From my daughter (11 years old):

My daddy is 36 years old.

His hair is brown and his eyes are brown.  My dad likes to wear a beret.  He loves to eat eggs and hot dogs.  He is smart because he knows how to be nice and care for everyone.  My daddy works hard at running and keeping us happy.  Daddy always tells me that he loves me, even when he's SUPER mad at me.  It makes my daddy happy when he sits down with the family, and he'll read to us.  If he could go on a trip, he could go to the tundra lodge with us.  I really love it when daddy laughs.  If I could give my daddy anything, It would be more love.  My favorite thing about daddy is that he is my loving, caring, smart, awesome daddy.

From my son (3 years old) with help from Mommy:

My Daddy is 3 and 4 years old.

His hair is brown and pink and his eyes are blue and purple and red.

He loves to eat strawberries, bananas, and Sissy's ice cream.  He is smart because he knows me and the crayons. 

My Daddy works hard at McDonald's.  (Sissy suggested that answer.)

It makes my daddy happy when he's with Mommy.

If he could go on a trip, he would go to the food store and get me 2 big trucks and a big, HUGE dump truck and I want a big, blue beep-beep.

If I cold give my daddy anything, it would be I don't know--I want to get Daddy a big truck for his birthday.

My favorite thing about my Daddy is I like to poop on him.  I like to give him a big, fat kiss.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, June 16, 2012

June 16: Very Merry and Very Happy, No Doubt, Letting Go

"I'll drink his health for your sake and the Day's," said Mr.s Cratchit, "not for his.  Long life to him!  A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!  He'll be very merry and very happy, I have no doubt!"

Mrs. Cratchit has a grudge against Scrooge.  For good reason.  Scrooge makes Bob's life absolutely miserable, and, by extension, her family's life, as well.  Scrooge doesn't pay Bob a living wage, and therefore keeps the Cratchit household in poverty.  Her children wear hand-me-downs, and their Christmas dinner is paltry, barely enough to feed everyone.  That's why Mrs. Cratchit hates Scrooge.  Scrooge perpetuates her misery.

Of course, Bob, being practically a saint (like me), tries to point out the error of his wife's attitude.  It doesn't do any good to hold grudges against anybody.  All that Mrs. Cratchit's anger accomplishes is to cast a shadow on the Cratchit family Christmas.  It makes her unhappy.

Yesterday, when I got home from grocery shopping, my son was on his Hot Wheel in front of our house.  I was still pretty angry about the broken TV, and I had every intention of letting him know it.  I stepped out of my car, and my son immediately started saying, "Sorry I broke the TV.  Sorry I broke the TV.  I sorry I broke the TV.  Sorry.  Sorry I broke the TV.  I sorry.  Daddy, I sorry I broke the TV.  Sorry.  Sorry."

It immediately disappated my anger and made me realize how ridiculous I was being.  My anger was useless.  It was only making me miserable, nobody else.  There's a reason Jesus says to love your enemies.  First, it makes you a better person.  Second, it takes the power away from your enemies.  They no longer control your life.  The third, unspoken bonus of loving your enemies is that it may just piss them off and make them feel really shitty.  I know my son's apology made me feel about as big as a flea.  It brought me back down to earth from Planet Anger.

That's the wisdom I wish to impart today.  If you hold on to anger instead of letting go, you simply look like an asshole.

It took Saint Marty a lifetime to learn that lesson.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, June 15, 2012

June 15: A Son, a Box, and a TV

This morning, my son (three years old with the temper of a hungry grizzly bear) got angry with my wife.  He wasn't getting his way with his toys or his SpongeBob.  While my wife was collecting his extensive collection of Matchbox cars from the floor where he dumped them, my son decided to throw something.  He picked up the large, empty, plastic container for his cars and heaved it.  Right into the screen of our 48" flat screen TV.

Needless to say, our 48" flat screen TV did not appreciate the assault.  The screen cracked, leaving, my wife informs me, a beautiful rainbow of colors on a quarter of the screen's image.  When my wife called and told me of this episode, I couldn't speak.  I sat there literally unable to string together two words.  What I finally choked out was, "I can't talk," and I hung up.

Having had a few hours to digest this information, I have decided to stake my son out in the backyard, cover him with honey, and let the ants have him.  I will be purchasing the rope and honey this afternoon.

All kidding aside, I'm still pretty pissed.  Now I have to go grocery shopping, and the list my wife dictated to me is about three pages long.  Then, when I get home and survey for myself the TV damage, I have to clean the house.  By the time I finish all that, I may get a few hours of sleep before I have to get up tomorrow morning.

If you can't tell, Saint Marty is in a pretty sucky mood, and it's not going to improve for the rest of the day.  He hopes the rope and honey are on sale.

Stay out of my way today!

June 15: A Farthing Less, Goodness, Guilt

“Yes,” said Scrooge.  “That is my name, and I fear it may not be pleasant to you.  Allow me to ask your pardon.  And will you have the goodness”—here Scrooge whispered in his ear.

“Lord bless me,” cried the gentleman, as if his breath were gone.  “My dear Mr. Scrooge, are you serious?”

“If you please,” said Scrooge.  “Not a farthing less.  A great many back-payments are included in it, I assure you.  Will you do me that favour?”

This Scrooge is post-ghost Scrooge.  He has been to the edge of the grave and returned.  As my father would say, “He finally got his head out of his ass.”  Now, Scrooge is trying to make amends for years of greed and cruelty and self-centeredness.  He meets two gentlemen on the street who’d solicited charity for the poor and destitute from him at the beginning of the book, (“Are there no prisons?”—sound familiar?), and Scrooge now makes a donation to their cause.  A really big donation, by the gentleman’s reaction.

I believe in giving back.  I believe, when you have been blessed with money and “stuff,” you should return a portion of it to God in the form of donations to food banks and disaster relief and social organizations like the Red Cross or St. Vincent DePaul.  It’s just the right thing to do.  When you’ve been given a lot, a lot should be expected of you.

Before we became a one-income family, I used to give money to charities.  I used to tithe my ten percent every week at church (or try to).  I felt it was my moral responsibility.  Not only that, it made me feel good about myself.  It made me feel like a contributing member of society.  I still feel that sense of moral responsibility, but I can’t give like I used to.  Actually, aside from a canned good here and there, a few quarters dropped into a Salvation Army bucket, I haven’t made a donation to any cause for a very long time.

That sort of depresses me.  It also fills me with a great deal of guilt.  I’m like a sea lamprey right now, attaching my vampiric mouth to the underbelly of society, sucking and chewing to my heart’s content.  I know I’m being melodramatic and, perhaps, a little too hard on myself.  However, I still crave the gratification I received from helping other people out.  Right now, I feel like I’m one of the “other” people, and it isn’t very satisfying.

Perhaps I just need to change my mindset, reduce my expectations.  Sure, I can’t give my ten percent every week at church, but I could give some.  My vision is obstructed by a forest of financial worries.  The phone bill payment is late, and my car insurance is due today.  I have to order some books and DVDs for teaching in the fall semester, but I don’t have the money to do it.  It’s a little dispiriting.

Saint Marty isn’t post-ghost Scrooge.  He’s more like pre-adoption Oliver Twist:  “Please, sir, I want some more."

Yes, it's like looking in a mirror

Thursday, June 14, 2012

June 14: What I Have Learned About "Howl"

I'm currently at work on a poem for my new collection.  The poem I'm writing is based on Allen Ginsberg's poem "Howl."  Thus, I have been reading up on Ginsberg's poem, and I have found out that "Howl" has a history paralleling, in some ways, the evolution of culture in 1960s American (the drug culture, the sexual culture, the political culture).  I thought I'd share some of the information I've acquired since I started this little endeavor, since I'm probably not going to use it anywhere else.  (Most of the background I'm about to relate comes from Wikipedia and a few other online sources.)

Allen Ginsberg wrote "Howl" in 1955 and published it in 1956 in a book titled Howl and Other Poems.  Upon publication, "Howl" made a huge splash in the literary world and established Ginsberg as one of the most important writers of the Beat Generation.  It also spawned obscenity trials and arrests.

Ginsberg wrote the poem (or a good portion of it) in a coffee house in Berkeley, California, called the Caffee Mediterraneum.  He was heavily influenced by Kenneth Rexroth (who told him to "free his voice and write from the heart") and the writers William Carlos Williams and Jack Kerouac.  Eventually, Ginsberg settled on his signature form and style that comprises "Howl."  His style, as described in Wikipedia, is "a long line based on breath organized by a fixed base."  "Howl" is dedicated to Carl Solomon, whom Ginsberg met when the two were confined in a mental institution together.  Ginsberg also admitted that the poem deals with his feelings for his mother, who was schizophrenic and, eventually, lobotomized.

Ginsberg first performed the poem at the Six Gallery in San Francisco on October 7, 1955.  His reading left the audience standing in wonder, stunned and cheering.  Soon after this reading, Lawrence Ferlinghetti published Howl and Other Poems through his City Lights Press.

On June 3, 1957, a bookstore manager in San Francisco was arrested for selling the book to an undercover police officer.  Ferlinghetti was subsequently arrested for publishing the book.  His arrest spawned a famous obscenity trial, covered by Time and Life.  Ferlinghetti won the case, with a judge declaring that "Howl" had "redeeming social importance."

"Howl" went on to become the most famous poem of the Kerouac generation, and Ginsberg became the poetic voice of the 1960s.  He died on April 5, 1997, of liver cancer.

That's what Saint Marty's been doing with his spare time:  falling in love with the "Howl" of a magnificent poet.

Ginsberg (left) and his partner of 40 years, Peter Orlovsky

June 14: Neglected Grave, Mortal Coil, Last Day

Scrooge crept towards it, trembling as he went; and following the finger, read upon the stone of the neglected grave his own name, EBENEZER SCROOGE.

Most of my disciples can probably guess where this little paragraph occurs in A Christmas Carol.  It is the culmination of the visit of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.  In it, Scrooge is given the unpleasant revelation of his imminent demise.  Judging from all the evidence, Scrooge's death is fast approaching.  Not ten years down the line.  Not five years down the line.  The impression I've always gotten from reading the book is that Scrooge is going to die within a year. 

The main clues for this assumption come from the death of Tiny Tim.  The Ghost of Christmas Present predicts, "If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, none other of my race...will find him here."  That means that Tiny Tim will be dead within a year.  In the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come stave, Scrooge sees Bob Cratchit mourning over his son's body.  A few scenes later, the paragraph above appears.  That means that Scrooge is already planted in the ground by the time Tiny Tim shuffles off this mortal coil.  Scrooge has less than a year to live at this point in the narrative.

I've posed this scenario to my Good Books students in the past:  if you suddenly heard God's voice in your ear, and God's voice told you, "You will die next Tuesday at 3:17 p.m. EST," what would you do?  The answer I invariably receive is not sit in a classroom with me, talking about Great Expectations or The Grapes of Wrath.  They would be out with their family or girlfriends or boyfriends.  They would spend their remaining time with their kids.  They wouldn't worry about their finances.  In fact, 100% of my students don't even mention money, unless they intend to purchase gifts for loved ones.  That last mortgage payment for J. P. Morgan Chase doesn't even make a blip on the radar.  It doesn't even make the top 100 list of things to do.

Certainly, when Scrooge is faced with the reality of his untimely end, it changes him.  Actually, it scares the shit out of him.  He can no longer go back to his old life and old habits.  He must embrace a different way of thinking and acting.  I know, if I were in the position of knowing my final dance was approaching, I wouldn't be blogging.  I wouldn't be working.  I wouldn't be doing a lot of the things I normally do every day.

That's what makes the difference for Scrooge.  It should make a difference for everybody.  There's no guarantee, when you eat that bowl of Rice Krispies this morning, that you will be around to finish off the box of Rice Krispies tomorrow.  That should make us hug our daughters a little longer.  Enjoy that Milky Way bar a little more.  Listen to those birds singing for a few extra minutes.  I know it would change my day(s) drastically.

Maybe I should live today like it is my last day.  Make choices that really count, that make me happy.

Saint Marty needs to go.  He has a family-size bag of Cheetos and a pan of brownies to eat.

Judgement Day is here.  Grab a spoon.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

June 13: Taking a Deep Breath, Fight or Flight, Gaining Control

Yesterday, at a therapy appointment with my wife, we talked about deep breathing.  Our therapist told us about the physical act of taking a deep breath as a means of regaining control in a tense situation.  She said that, when we start panicking, it's a throwback to a primeval part of our psyches.  Back in the time of dinosaurs and saber tooth tigers, our reaction to a threat was either to fight (and probably die) or resort to flight (and probably die).  When I allow myself to become overwhelmed by financial worries, I am in the jungle again, wondering when that sound in the trees will jump out and maul me to death. 

Taking a deep breath physically arrests that anxiety.  It allows me to gain control of myself and the situation.  I am not going to die because I got an overdraft notice in the mail (which I did today).  Deep breath.  I am not going to die if my mortgage refinance falls through.  Deep breath.  I'm not even going to die if, for some reason, I lose one of my jobs.  Deep breath.  None of those circumstances will physically end my existence.  Deep breath.

The neanderthal in me has just taken the back seat.  It's no longer driving my actions, and the saber tooth tiger is no longer breathing down my neck.  That's what deep breathing does.  There are also some very physical reactions in the body that deep breathing triggers, and those reactions also help quell panic and anxiety.  I've been practicing deep breathing today.  I've even been practicing it as I type this post.

Saint Marty is just one...Deep breath...Deep...Deep breath...Cleansing...Deep breath...Breath...Deep breath...Away...Deep breath...From.  Deep breath...Sanity...Deep breath...

Run for your life!  The cable bill payment is late!

June 13: Martha, Bob Cratchit Moment, Daughter

"Why, where's our Martha?" cried Bob Cratchit, looking round.

"Not coming," said Mrs. Cratchit.

"Not coming!" said Bob, with a sudden declension in his high spirits; for he had been Tim's blood horse all the way from church, and had come home rampant.  "Not coming upon Christmas Day!"

Martha didn't like to see him disappointed, if it were only in joke; so she came out prematurely from behind the closet door, and ran into his arms, while the two young Cratchits hustled Tiny Tim, and bore him off into the wash-house, that he might hear the pudding singing in the copper.

Bob Cratchit is almost too perfect.  Leafing through my copy of A Christmas Carol, I can't find a single instance where he loses his temper, utters an unkind word, or pisses in Scrooge's ink well.  He endures Scrooge's abuse without a hint of malice.  His kids adore him, and he's a pillar of fatherhood.  Patient.  Loving.  Compassionate.  He's so good that his kids can't even play a joke on him without feeling twinges of guilt.  Martha, his daughter, can't stand to see him upset.

My daughter woke me up this morning at around 3 a.m.  She's been staying up late since summer vacation started, and she's been sleeping in until 11 a.m. or noon.  "Daddy," she whispered, "I haven't been able to fall asleep all night."  She was absolutely miserable.  Over-tired and wound as tight as a ball of twine.  I get up at 4 a.m. for work.  All I wanted to do was go back to sleep, but I told my daughter to climb into bed with me and my wife.  I held her close, and I sang her "Hush, Little Baby."  I said a prayer with her, and I tried to relax her with deep breathing.  When my alarm went off at four o'clock, we were both still wide awake.  I wanted to cry.

Instead, I dragged myself out of bed with my daughter.  We stumbled to the bathroom together, and I started a hot shower for her, thinking it might relax her.  Then I went about getting ready for work.  When I left our home, she was tucked back into bed next to my wife, who slept through the entire insomnia episode.  As I drove up our street, away from our house, I said a little prayer for my daughter.  I knew she was lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, wide awake.  I prayed that she would find peace of mind and heart.  I prayed that her eyes would grow heavy.  I prayed that rest would find her.

I'm not Bob Cratchit.  I make mistakes as a father.  Lots and lots of mistakes.  But sometimes I get it right.  Before I left for work, my daughter hugged me, whispered, "Thank you, Daddy."

Saint Marty had a good Bob Cratchit moment today.

Robert Young ain't got nothin' on me

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

June 12: Date Night, Cajun Food, Friends

My wife and I have a babysitter tonight.  We hired the babysitter so we could go to a counseling session together.  (Don't worry.  There's nothing wrong.  We are going to counseling to keep things on an even keel.  No stormy seas in our marriage at the present time.)  Then we decided to call up some friends to see if they wanted to go out for dinner.  It all sort of fell into place rather easily.

We'll be eating Cajun cuisine.  It's a restaurant my wife and I have never tried before, so it's going to be an adventure.  I may be trying some fried alligator.  I'm not sure what else is on the menu.  I really don't care.  The food is secondary.  The primary focus is my wife and our friends.  Adult conversation.  Adult dinner. 

My wife and I haven't been out on an actual date for several months.  Babysitters are expensive.  Then there's the cost of dinner or movies or whatever we decide to do.  It's just too much money to fork out on a regular basis.  We have "mini" date nights, when we actually don't go out anywhere.  We just sit at home, with the TV off, and, after the kids are in bed, we just talk.  It's relaxing and reconnects us.  We talk about things that have been on our minds.  We talk about things that are completely inane.  We talk about politics.  We talk about work.  We talk about the episode of SpongeBob our son was just watching.  We talk about anything.

Tonight, with our friends, we will talk about poetry and food and movies and literature and sex and travel.  It will be three or four hours of meaty conversation.  It will be heavenly.

Saint Marty just isn't sure what to order with his conversation:  red or white wine.

Which goes better with SpongeBob?

June 12: Door, Keeping An Eye, Survey

The door of Scrooge's counting-house was open that he might keep his eye upon his clerk, who in a dismal little cell beyond, a sort of tank, was copying letters.

I don't have a lot of time for introspection or wit this morning.  The outpatient surgery center where I work is being surveyed by its new owners, and I have to prepare myself, mentally, physically, emotionally, professionally, and gastrically (I have to go to the bathroom).  Therefore, my disciples, you are not going to be getting much in the way of wisdom from me this a.m.  I have a whole lot of Scrooges who are keeping their eyes upon me today in my tank.

Saint Marty just needs to keep copying letters, hoping that the coal holds out.

They look friendly, don't they?

Monday, June 11, 2012

June 11: One Dove Chocolate, Going, Going, Gone

I'm going to try an experiment.  I have a Dove chocolate before me.  I'm going to now put the chocolate into my mouth and allow it to dissolve.  I'm not going to bite or chew.  While the chocolate melts, I will type.  When the chocolate is completely gone, I will finish my post.  We'll see how long I last.

OK, chocolate in...

It is starting to melt.  It's lovely and creamy between my cheek and gum line.  I can feel it slowly disappearing.  It's filling my mouth with a sweet, almost paste-like texture.  Think Colgate.  Or melting peanut butter.  Saliva is building up in my mouth now, the kind you get when you eat Oreos.  Thick, almost slimy.  If I spit right now, my sputum would look like the contents of a spittoon.  The paste is breaking down to components that are a little smoky and fruity.  There's a reason why I'm not a chocolate sucker.  I prefer my chocolate quick and dirty.  Usually, by this point in consuming a chocolate product, I'm chewing, swallowing, and washing it down with Diet Mountain Dew.  When I eat M&M's, I take them singly and split the candy coating off the chocolate with my teeth.  Then I rub the chocolate with my tongue against the roof of my mouth until it's gone.  I'm almost done with the Dove now.  It's leaving the inside of my mouth a little raw, as if it's been exposed to something intensely hot.  It's going, going...I'm swallowing, swallowing...going, going...slimy, coffee taste...gone.

Saint Marty needs a drink of water.
Are you a sucker or a chewer?