Sunday, September 30, 2012

September 30: My Son's Birthday Party, New Cartoon

We celebrated my son's birthday with my family this afternoon.  He got a a LeapPad 2 from Mommy and Daddy, and he got a scooter from his aunts.  Every gift he opened, he got so excited, whether it was a book or a truck or a game.  He loved everything.

I wish I could get as excited as my son over small things like toy trucks or birthday cards.  As we get older, we sort of lose our ability to become really joyful for tiny pleasures.  I remember one Christmas as a kid when I received a huge book about animals.  It covered animals from every continent and ocean.  It was awesome.  I spent the rest of the day sitting on the couch, flipping pages and reading about zebras and gorillas and giant squids.  I think I took that book to bed with me that Christmas night.  I felt like I had won the lottery or been canonized.

As an adult, the closest I've ever come to experiencing that kind of joy again was the New Year's Eve I received a letter from an editor informing me that my book of poems had been accepted for publication.  I remember that night being a little magical.  It was a really good New Year's.

I think the whole world would be a much better place if everyone, from presidents to kings to scientists to popes, would get excited over a Lego truck or a vanilla ice cream cone.  If we could all just be four year olds in spirit, many of the problems that exist in the world would vanish.

Saint Marty is doing his part for world peace.  Give him a bag of Cheetos, and he will be one happy toddler.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, September 29, 2012

September 29: Shadows of the Things, Halloween Dance, New Cartoon

"You are about to show me shadows of the things that have not happened, but will happen in the time before us," Scrooge pursued.  "Is that so, Spirit?"

Scrooge is talking to the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.  He has just met this specter, and he is a little nervous about what he is about to witness.  Considering the Ghost is an incarnation of the Grim Reaper, I would probably be a little apprehensive if I were in Scrooge's slippers.

The future is not something I like thinking about.  I am the kind of person who imagines worst case scenarios when it comes to future events.  My thinking goes something like this:  if I prepare myself for the absolute worst possibilities in the future, then I will be relieved if anything less than Armageddon occurs.  It may seem like an unhealthy way of living, but it works for me.

My wife told me yesterday night that my daughter wants to go to a Halloween dance at her middle school.  It would be her first dance.  "Will there be boys there?" I asked.

"Yes," my wife replied.

"I'm against it," I said.  My wife laughed at me.  Last night, I had a dream that my daughter went to the dance and came home pregnant.  Now, you might call me crazy or reactionary, but I'm not ready for my daughter to be attending dances and mingling with kids who have penises.  She got out of kindergarten only six years ago, for God's sake.

Yes, I'm not a big fan of the Ghost of Middle School Dances Yet to Come.  I'm not interested in my daughter getting older, dating, thinking about boys in that way.  Maybe I'll take her to Disney World or lock her in her bedroom on the night of the Halloween dance.

Or maybe Saint Marty will just chaperon the dance and make sure she doesn't interact with any undesirable genders.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, September 28, 2012

September 28: Ready for the Weekend

It has been a pretty long day of work and meetings and cleaning.  My normal Friday.  But, my house is cleaned, my beds are made, my dishes are done, and, pretty soon, my second blog post will be complete.  I even went for my run already, and it's only 6 p.m.  I am so far ahead of the game that I'm already on Saturday.

Tonight, I plan on watching 2001:  A Space Odyssey.  That's the next movie for my film class.  I started watching it this afternoon while I was cleaning, but I was a little distracted.  I need to focus a little more closely on the apes and spaceships and HAL.  I'm not too sure my students are going to like Kubrick's vision of the future, but it is/was a groundbreaking sci-fi movie.  They will thank me in about ten years.

Well, I have to give my son a bath now.  It's Friday night, and, as soon as he's in bed, I can kick back and start worrying about all the work I have to get accomplished this weekend.  I can also start feeling anxious about next week.

It's a complicated life Saint Marty leads.

A little light viewing for the weekend

September 28: Good Humour, So It Was, God-ness

...And it was a very uncommon kind of torch, for once or twice when there were angry words between some dinner-carriers who had jostled with each other, he shed a few drops of water on them from it, and their good humour was restored directly.  For they said, it was a shame to quarrel upon Christmas Day.  And so it was!  God love it, so it was!

Yes, I've used this passage before, but I was thinking about my attitude this morning, and I thought of Dickens' little description of the Ghost of Christmas Present shedding happiness and peace upon the London multitudes.  I wish I had a little of the Ghost's torch to sprinkle around some days.

Earlier this week, I was speaking with a friend about prayer life.  My friend said that he experiences something really frustrating on a constant basis.  He says his nightly prayers, does his devotions, and goes to bed feeling very close to God.  When he wakes up in the morning, however, he can't find God.  It's as if the God who was his best friend the night before has packed up His suitcase and left.  He said he spends a good portion of each day searching for God and feeling a little abandoned.

I understand my friend's experience.  He's speaking to a situation almost every thinking/praying person goes through.  We all want to be close to God, sense God working in our lives.  Every once in a while, we achieve that closeness, that sense of God's presence.  For the most part, however, we wander around, searching for inspiration and enlightenment.  That's my description of the plight of modern humanity.  We are seekers of light.  Whether a person is living in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan or in Kabul, Afghanistan, that person wants to feel respected, loved, and at peace.

This morning, there was a lot of conflict in my house.  My wife was sick.  My daughter was tired.  My son was acting like a four-year-old.  (He's four years old.  He's allowed to do that.)  It wasn't a good scene.  They were all whining and yelling at each other.  While I was speaking to my daughter on the phone, my son walked up and kicked her in the leg.  That's the kind of morning it was.  My son wanted to play with my daughter's iPod.  My daughter wanted my son to leave her alone.  My wife wanted to drink NyQuil and go back to bed.  They all had their own agendas concerning the morning, and those agendas did not fit together.  There wasn't a whole lot of God-ness being passed around.

I've been struggling to find God-ness in my life recently.  I understand my friend's dilemma of feeling distant in prayer and spirit.  I want peace and stillness in my days, but I end up focusing on stupid, petty insults or injuries or situations.  The current pebble in my shoe is my daughter's dance classes.  My daughter has a friend who she's been dancing with since they were in kindergarten.  My daughter's friend seems to be advancing and getting all the attention from the dance instructor.  It irritates me.  It doesn't irritate my daughter.  I, on the other hand, can't even look at my daughter's friend without getting a little angry.

That's one of the things that's interfering with my ability to feel God-ness in my life at the moment.  My coworker is on maternity leave in the medical office, leaving me to do all the work for the next three months.  I'm not feeling a whole lot of God-ness at work, either.

I need to listen to some Christmas music or take a stroll down a London street with the Ghost of Christmas Present.

Or maybe, Saint Marty simply needs to sit down, relax a little, and let the God-ness that's all around him, all the time, sink in.

Every person wants God-ness in the world

Thursday, September 27, 2012

September 27: Work, Work, and More Work

Yes, it has been a long day of work.  I haven't really had a chance to take a deep breath all day long.  As soon as I completed one task, another task took its place.  I'm not even done right now.  I just decided to stop.  I'm a little exhausted.  My brain feels worn out, the way my legs feel after a long, hard run.  But I'm not experiencing the sense of satisfaction I usually have after a run.  I'm tired.  Period.  In fact, I just shut my eyes and dozed off for a few seconds.  That's bad.

I have my book club meeting at my house this evening.  We read John Irving's new novel, In One Person, this month.  It's about a bisexual man growing up in the 1950s and coming to terms with sexual identity and confusion.  There's a transgender librarian and a cross-dressing grandfather.  There's wrestling and a confused writer.  It's pretty much a standard John Irving novel.  He even sends his character to Amsterdam.  If the book had a brother and sister having sex with each other, plus a retired circus bear, it would be The Hotel New Hampshire.  Don't get me wrong.  I love John Irving.  I think it would be a blast to teach a graduate level class on his novels.  There's all kinds of confusion and sex and weird violence.

That's what I'm going to be doing with my evening:  discussing sexual identity and transgender men.  That and home-made chicken noodle soup is my definition of a perfect evening.

Saint Marty's excited for a little literary interaction tonight.

A perfect book to end a busy day

September 27: Glorious, Glorious, Glorious Saint Marty's 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 has reached the end (or beginning) of his Christmas journey in this paragraph, and he is beside himself with joy.  He doesn't know what to do or how to celebrate.  We're all familiar with the scene:  Scrooge rushing around in his nightshirt, flagging down young boys in the street, buying turkeys the size of cows, wandering the streets of London, wishing everyone a "Merry Christmas."  It's the big payoff of the entire book.

Not many people know it, but Charles Dickens wrote a sequel to A Christmas Carol.  The novel, titled A Saint Marty's Day Carol, focuses on a grown-up Tiny Tim, who, much like a young Scrooge, has turned into a stingy, mean, greedy man.  His business, Tiny Tim's Crutches-R-Us, rents crutches and wheelchairs at jacked-up rates to poor families without health insurance.  Tim still celebrates Christmas with the Cratchit family, but he has turned his back on Saint Marty's Day.  He thinks it's a made-up holiday of shameless self-promotion.  Well, the Ghost of Ebenezer Scrooge shows up at Tim's house on Saint Marty's Day Eve to try to bring about Tim's change of heart.

Yes, the Ghosts of Saint Marty's Day Past, Present, and Future pay visits to Tiny Tim.  They drag him around London to Saint Marty's Day parties and celebrations.  They make him dance Saint Marty's Day polkas and tap dance numbers.  They show him how empty and meaningless his life will be without Saint Marty's Day.  The climax of the entire book is when Scrooge's nephew, Fred, appears, dressed as Saint Marty, and beats Tiny Tim over the head with a copy of Saint Marty's annual gift list, screaming, "You cheap, worthless human being!  Uncle Scrooge should have let you die as a child!"

Tiny Tim returns from his walk with the Spirits a new man.  He runs around, buying presents for Saint Marty, baking Saint Marty chocolate chip cookies, and preparing Saint Marty's Day feasts of chicken Alfredo pizza and Snickers cheesecake and Wisconsin cheese soup.  Tiny Tim becomes the greatest, most out-spoken proponent of Saint Marty's Day.  He even founds the Saint Marty's Day Orphanage, forcing thousands of homeless, parentless waifs to beg on the streets of London to finance the city's annual Saint Marty's Day parade, which includes a 50-foot-tall, helium-filled balloon of Saint Marty.  Yes, Tiny Tim understands the significance of Saint Marty's Day.  And so did Charles Dickens.

This synopsis has been sponsored Saint Marty, who would like to remind you that there are only eight more shopping days until Saint Marty's Day.

This is NOT Saint Marty

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

September 26: A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

Saint Marty is going to say it with a picture tonight.  Actually, two pictures, so that equals two thousand words.

Make a wish...

My son gets his birthday wish!

September 26: Tiny Tim, Until the Last, My Son

...Scrooge had his eye upon them, and especially on Tiny Tim, until the last.

Yes, I've used this little passage before, but it seemed quite appropriate for me to use it again this morning.  Scrooge has a soft spot for Tiny Tim.  In fact, at the end of the book, Dickens writes, "...and to Tiny Tim, who did NOT die, he was a second father."  Tiny Tim becomes the child Scrooge never had.

Today is my son's fourth birthday.  Before I left the house for work this morning, I stood by his bed in the dark and watched him sleep.  I watched his small chest move up and down with his deep breaths.  I watched his fingers curl and uncurl into his palm. 

My children are miracles to me.  I sometimes can't believe I actually had anything to do with creating these creatures.  My daughter is tall and graceful, with thick auburn hair.  My son is funny and strong, a little bull in a proverbial china shop.  If it ain't broke when he enters a room, it will be by the time he exits.  I find myself fiercely protective.  If one of my children gets hurt or upset, I want to fix them.  Heal them.  Make sure nothing hurts them or upsets them again.

My children are smarter than me, thank goodness.  I like to say they're made of rubber because they're so resilient.  They bounce back, fast and hard.  They don't let hurts hurt them for very long. When some child or adult causes injury to my daughter or son, they forgive them quickly.  (For my son, who has the attention span of an amoeba, hurt and forgiveness are the same thing.)  They don't understand grudges and seething resentment like me.  They don't understand the satisfaction of harboring anger for days or months or years.

I have learned so much from my son and daughter about forgiveness and love.  Daily, they teach me how to be a better person, just like Tiny Tim teaches Scrooge.

Saint Marty celebrates one of the two biggest miracles of his life this day:  his beautiful son.

Happy birthday, my wonderful son

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

September 25: Cupcake Happiness

Well, I have one thing that's making me happy right now, and it has vanilla cake with strawberry frosting and red sprinkles.  That's right, I said cake and frosting and sprinkles.  I am in possession of a beautiful cupcake.  As soon as I am done writing this post, I will be digging into it.  My friend just came along and slipped her finger through my frosting, ticking me off a little bit.  I told her I was blogging about the cupcake, and she said, "Now you have something else to blog about."  I am surrounded by Philistines.  Neanderthals.  Frosting stealers.  I now have to guard my prize, like Merlin guarding Excalibur or Harry Potter guarding his wand.  (OK, the Harry Potter thing sounds a little perverse, but you get the message.  If anybody touches my cupcake, blood will be spilled.)

There is a pulse of anticipation running through me at the moment, not unlike the sensation of looking at a pile of presents on Christmas Eve.  I will not be able to hold back much longer before my face looks like a rocket attack at a bakery.  I can feel the urge building in my salivary glands as I sit here and type.  I've almost reached for the cupcake twice already during this very sentence.  I will not be able to restrain myself much longer.  I am a blogger in search of an ending.  A cupcake owner in search of a fork.

A Saint Marty in search of a...Oh, screw it.  Time for some cupcake.

R. I. P. cupcake

September 25: Only Once a Year, Making Rather Merry, Full Circle

The clerk observed that it [Christmas] was only once a year.

Of course, the sentence above is part of one of the most famous passages from A Christmas Carol.  Scrooge's response to Bob Cratchit's statement is repeated in stage and movie adaptations all the time.  I bet anybody reading this post could quote it verbatim:  "A poor excuse for picking a man's pocket every twenty-fifth of December!" 

Most people do not know that Bob repeats the exact observation at the end of the novel. He is late for work the day after Christmas, and Scrooge, playing a joke on his clerk, demands, ""What do you mean by coming here at this time of day?"  Bob, stammering, says, "It's only once a year, Sir...It shall not be repeated.  I was making rather merry yesterday, Sir."

The story has come full circle.  The difference, this time, is that Scrooge is a changed man.  Christmas is no longer a nuisance to him; it is a cause for rejoicing.  He no longer fears life; he rejoices in it.

Life has a way of repeating itself.  I think it has something to do with the fact that human beings are pretty flawed creatures.  We have bad habits, and we repeat the same mistakes.  Over and over and over.  That's the nature of being human.  It takes Scrooge almost an entire lifetime (and a few pretty scary ghosts) to change his ways.

I know my life goes in cycles.  Autumn (settling into teaching, trying to catch up with money problems).  Winter (preparing for the holidays, teaching again, feeling a little more caught-up with money issues).  Spring (ending of school, getting ready for Lent and Easter and summer, starting to worry about money again).  Summer (swimming, running, holding my breath over dwindling money).  Those are the seasons of my life, every year.

Like me, like Scrooge, I think most people live in fear of something.  I wish I could be more calm and secure in my life.  I wish I could be more like Bob Cratchit, whose life is shitty, but who seems content and at peace with his circumstances.  It's a matter of faith.  Bob has a lot of faith.  He believes Tiny Tim will get better.  He believes Scrooge is the founder of the Cratchit Christmas feast.  He believes in the goodness of people, even when he can barely feed his wife and children.  I wish I could have that kind of spirit.  The cycles of Bob's life are not ruled by doubt and worry.  They're ruled by hope and joy.  That's what I want.  More hope and joy.

Maybe Saint Marty needs to move to London and find a job as a clerk in a business office.  God Bless Us.  Everyone!
The real Circle of Life

Monday, September 24, 2012

September 24: Keeping Ahead of Things

Yes, that title pretty much says it all.  I have been running a race all day long, trying to keep up with all my work in the medical office.  My coworker is officially on maternity leave, so, for the next three months, I am the only show in town.  If I fall behind in scheduling or charging or anything, I am sunk.  Thus, today, I have been a slave to the FAX machine and my computer.  It has kind of sucked, but it has also made the day pretty much fly by.

The other element of my day that has helped my disposition has been Singin' in the Rain.  While sitting at my desk, putting together charts and answering phones, I have been re-watching that great musical, preparing for my film classes this week.  Yes, I am the master of multi-tasking.  I defy anyone to watch that movie and not be in a good mood.  I just finished the scene where Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor, and Debbie Reynolds sing "Good Mornin'."  I was literally smiling through the entire song.

Perhaps I'm off-balanced.  Perhaps I'm tired from watching the Emmy Awards last night.  Perhaps I'm being nostalgic for my childhood, when MGM movie musicals were a staple in my home. 

Whatever the reason, Saint Marty's toes are tapping, and he's whistling away.  Life is good.

September 24: His Work, His Voice, "Carol" Dip Monday

So, I had an interesting conversation in my Sunday School class yesterday morning.  We were discussing the valleys and peaks of our lives.  In particular, we were discussing how to maintain hope when your life is in the toilet, and how to recognize God's voice and blessings.  Most people, when they are in real trouble, will turn to prayer of some sort, whether it's to some kind of "higher power" or Jesus or Jehovah or Muhammad.  As the saying goes, there aren't any atheists in foxholes.  When the chips are down, we turn to God (in whatever form) to pick those chips up for us.

The topic came up about how we sometimes don't recognize God working in our lives or talking to us because we're too wrapped up in ourselves.  When I get up in the morning, I immediately start going through my list of what I have to do.  Work.  Teaching.  Papers and quizzes to correct.  Kids to get to dance and daycare.  My mind doesn't stop.  Then, of course, as the day goes on, all the other noise of the world crowds in, grabs my attention.  Rain and bad tires on my car and doctors appointments for children with ear infections.  Most of life is an unending parade of worries and distractions.

And in the middle of all that is God, talking to us, working for us.  We are just too preoccupied to take notice.  For example, in August one day, I was worried about money (probably the biggest noise in my head all day, every day).  I was looking at bills and paychecks, thinking, "This just isn't going to work."  I could come up with no solution to reconcile the shortage of cash.  I closed my eyes and said a little prayer, something like, "OK, God, I handing this one over to you.  Can't handle it.  I need a break."

Within a couple of minutes, my wife called and told me I'd received a letter in the mail from the city of Marquette, where I spend most of my days working/teaching.  I thought it was another reminder to pay a parking ticket that I've been ignoring for quite some time.  "No, no," my wife said.  "I opened it up, and there was a check inside for $250."

I sat there, stunned.  Finally, I said, "What's it for?  Is there a note or something?"

It turned out I was getting paid for a couple of poetry readings I did this summer as part of the U. P. Book Tour.  I couldn't believe it.  It was out of the blue.  I'd never been told I was going to get compensated.  In fact, the year before, I did quite a few readings for the Book Tour and never saw a dime.  I wasn't looking to be paid.  I wasn't expecting to be paid.

When I spoke with one of the organizers of the events, he said, "Well, when we paid all the bills, we had money left over from the grants we received.  All the authors got money."

The nonbeliever would call it a coincidence, good fortune, whatever.  I call it God's work or God's voice.  God made me stop, take a deep breath, and surrender.  Then God stepped in, rolled up His sleeves, and did a little miracle.

That's what I'm talking about.  Worries never accomplish anything, except maybe disrupting sleep and ruining dinners.  Worries are all about fear, and fear is the exact opposite of faith.  It's the worrying we all do, every day, that interferes with our ability to recognize God's work, to hear God's voice.

Today is Carol Dip Monday.  I'm going to ask a question and then turn to the great Christmas book of Dickens for an answer.  Perhaps, when I do this little exercise every Monday, God is at work, giving me an answer through the characters of Scrooge and Tiny Tim and Fred the nephew.  I like to think that's the case.  So, my question for today is,

Will I ever be hired as a full-time professor at the university?

And the answer from Charles Dickens (and maybe God) is:

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.

Martha doesn't like to disappoint her father, Bob Cratchit, and God will not disappoint me.  No joking about it.

Saint Marty will be a full-time professor at the university, according to the Christmas Carol Magic 8 Ball.  And God.

Time to unplug and listen!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

September 23: Fruitcake Weather, Emmy Awards, New Cartoon

In his short story A Christmas Memory, Truman Capote's character, an older woman who's a little peculiar, puts her head out the window one morning and declares, "Oh, my, it's fruitcake weather."  It's the time of year when the world is on the cusp, between fall and winter.  Capote also describes it as a coming-of-winter day.  Yes, today is one of those days.

We started off with frost on the pumpkin (there was actual frost on the one pumpkin that is still clinging to life in my backyard), and the temperatures haven't risen much past chilly.  The wind is crisp and the air is sharp as a splinter.  I went for a run this afternoon, and I had to wear gloves and a stocking cap.  The rain was coming down in little needles.  It felt like autumn.  I could even smell the leaves, wet and full of color.

The other indication that summer is over and fall has commenced is the beginning of awards season.  Tonight, the Emmy Awards are on.  I will be watching, and I will enjoy each and every long and tedious moment.  It may be a sickness, but I love awards shows.  It doesn't matter what kind of award is being handed out.  I've even watched the ESPN Awards, and I hate most organized sports.  There's something about the anticipation, the announcement, the teary acceptance speech, that appeals to my sense of drama.

Thus, Saint Marty will be up late tonight until the last award is handed out, which will probably be something like the Best Animated Miniseries Based on an Unpublished Teleplay by Tennessee Williams Adapted from a Poem by Elizabeth Bishop.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, September 22, 2012

September 22: Conduct Me Home, Delight to Torture, New Cartoon

"Spirit!" said Scrooge, "show me no more!  Conduct me home.  Why do you delight to torture me!"

Scrooge begs the Ghost of Christmas Past to return him to his sheltered life.  The phantom has been showing him some pretty painful scenes from his youth, and Scrooge is in some serious psychological pain.  He has seen his neglected childhood and the end of his engagement to Belle, the love of his life.  He doesn't want to see any more of his damaged past.

I have many regrets in my past.  There is one memory, in particular, that distresses me when I think about it.  It happened when I was a teenager in high school.  Every noon hour, I would walk home to lunch with my older sister, who has Down's syndrom.  She always moved slowly, almost unsteadily at times.  We didn't have much time to get home, eat lunch, and get back to school.  Less than 50 minutes.  Being young and thoughtless, I always rushed my sister, yelling, "Come on.  We have to hurry.  Move it."  My sister tried to keep up with me, but always lagged behind.

One day, I was urging my sister to cross a street as a traffic light was turning.  "Hurry up," I called over my shoulder.  I didn't see what happened, but the next thing I knew, my sister was on the ground in the middle of the intersection, crying.  I was more annoyed than concerned.  I went to her, pulled her to her feet, and told her to start walking.  She limped to the corner and stopped.

"It hurts," she said.  "It hurts."

I looked at her.  "We have to get home to eat," I said.  "Start walking."

I made her walk all the way home, at least five or six more blocks.  She fell further and further behind, and I got more and more angry.  When we finally got home, I told my family, "She fell on the way here."

My family descended on her, sitting her down, putting her foot up.  My sister didn't come back to school with me after lunch.

When I got home from school that evening, my mother told me, "Her ankle is really broken.  Really broken.  She's going to need surgery tomorrow.  The doctor's going to put some pins in the bones."

I have never forgiven myself for my actions that day.  I have never forgiven myself for being so cruel to my sister.  To this day, she still walks with a limp.  Because of me.

Saint Marty is going to end this little stroll down memory lane.  Conduct him home.  He does not wish to torture himself anymore.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, September 21, 2012

September 21: Poetry Meeting and Stuff

I don't have much time for this second post.  I have to dash off to a meeting with the poetry editors at the university literary magazine.  We're finalizing the edits for the next issue.  It's a long process of proofreading, proofreading the proofreading, and then proofreading the proofreading of the proofreading.  It's a little tedious, but I love it.

I am running behind this morning, and I have a feeling I will be running behind for the rest of the day.  Such is my life.  It's always a race to bedtime.  I have grocery shopping to do.  I have a house to clean.  I have dinner to make.  My daughter has a doctor's appointment this afternoon.  My son gets off the school bus at around 3:30 p.m.  That will give me about an hour and a half to scour the bathroom, sweep and mop the floors, and vacuum the carpets.  It's going to be close.

Fridays are my favorite days of the week.  The whole weekend stretches out before me, and I don't have anything I absolutely have to do in the evening.  I can do work if I want to, or I can sit on the couch and watch Shark Tank, one of my guilty pleasures along with American Idol and America's Got Talent.  I'm not sure what I'm going to do tonight yet.

Whatever he chooses to do, Saint Marty will be in his pajamas, possibly eating a bowl of Rice Krispies, which is his snack of choice at the moment.

My guilty pleasure

September 21: Compulsion, Profit, Poetry

"Spirit," said Scrooge submissively, "conduct me where you will.  I went forth last night on compulsion, and I learnt a lesson which is working now.  To-night, if you have aught to teach me, let me profit by it."

This version of Scrooge is quite humbled.  He's addressing the Ghost of Christmas Present and is obviously a very chastened man.  He has had the opportunity to view the mistakes he made in the past, and now he is ready to learn a few lessons from the next Christmas spirit.  Scrooge is no dummy.  He is trying to save himself from Marley's fate, and he knows the key to his salvation are these yuletide phantoms.

We all have made mistakes in our past, just like Scrooge.  I have made so many mistakes that I could start a separate blog completely devoted to them.  But my screw-ups are not the main issue.  The main issue is what I do in response to my screw-ups.  In response to his past, Scrooge became angry and bitter and mean.  While I can be all of those things, I prefer to learn from the mistakes I've made.  That's how you grow as a person.

Last night, I made a mistake.  I was tired and hungry when I got home.  My eleven-year-old daughter, who is in a state of constant adolescent hormonal imbalance, sat down on the couch to watch TV and do homework.  My daughter started struggling with her math problems.  I suggested she turn off the TV so she could concentrate better.  That was all it took to send my daughter into a fit of angry tears.

Now, you may have read the above paragraph and thought, "Saint Marty, you didn't do anything wrong."  I would agree with you, if the story ended as above.  However, after my daughter launched into her tantrum of weeping, I lost my temper and started saying things like, "You don't need to cry.  If you want the TV on, I don't care.  I was just trying to help you out.  You can sit up until midnight watching TV for all I care."  It escalated from there, until my daughter ended the episode by asking, "Why are you being so mean to me?"

I was a bad father last night.  I should have recognized my daughter's frustration.  I didn't.  I gave into my baser instincts--anger, sarcasm, and dismissal.  That unholy trinity has gotten in so much trouble in the past, I should have known better.  I need to learn from my mistakes, especially when it comes to my daughter.  Last night, she needed love, understanding, and compassion from me.  I think I was just afraid she was going to ask for my help with her math homework.

Saint Marty has learned his lesson.  Math and America's Funniest Home Videos don't mix.

If only it were this simple

Thursday, September 20, 2012

September 20: Singin' In the Rain Finally

I was finally able to lay my hands on a copy of the movie Singin' in the Rain for my film class next week.  I thought about buying it, but I couldn't find a DVD for sale that was less than $80.  I was unwilling to spend that much money, so I decided to rent it.  The only place that had a copy of the DVD was the local library, and it has been checked out until today.  I now have Singin' in the Rain in my possession.  I will watch it this weekend to prepare for class next week.  I'm looking forward to seeing it.  The last time I recall watching it was when I was a kid.  A long time ago.

I haven't done a whole lot of anything but work and teach today.  I haven't even had a chance to think of more gifts for my birthday list.  I will therefore just present the next five items:

6.  Movie passes to GKC

7.  One-week trip to London

8.  Help, Thanks, Wow:  The Three Essential Prayers by Anne Lamott

9.  Axe body wash

10.  The Best American Poetry 2012 by David Lehman

So, there you go.  Five more items to purchase in honor of Saint Marty's Day.  I hope everyone is well on their way to preparing for the big day.  Only fifteen more shopping days left.

Don't be caught empty-handed on October 5.  You don't want to disappoint Saint Marty.

Time to do a little splasing

September 20: Good to be Children, Forfeits, Kids

But they didn't devote the whole evening to music.  After a while they played at forfeits; for it is good to be children sometimes, and never better at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child himself...

This little passage comes smack dab in the middle of Scrooge's wanderings in the world of the Christmas ghosts.  Scrooge is at his nephew Fred's house with the Ghost of Christmas Present, watching Fred's guests enjoy themselves at Fred's Christmas party.  As the above sentences imply, the gathered men and women behave like children, throwing themselves into the eating and drinking and singing and playing with abandon.

My kids keep me young in heart.  They force me out of my adult life of money and work and teaching.  They make me see everything new, as if it's just snowed and the world is white and fresh and untouched. 

Yesterday, I was at Burger King with my family.  My daughter was in between dance classes.  As we were sitting in the play area by the window, a homeless man came up to the garbage can outside and started rummaging through its contents.  My daughter watched him for a few seconds and then said, "What is he doing, daddy?"

I sat there for a few seconds, not sure what to say to her.  Do I tell her that the world can be a really hard place, with hunger and poverty and mental illness and homelessness?  Do I tell her that we're lucky to have a roof over our heads and warm clothes and enough money to buy a burger every once in a while?  Do I tell her that, even in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, on the shores of Lake Superior, people starve and freeze to death?

Finally, I said, "That man is probably hungry, sweety, and he's looking for pop cans to return for money.  Or something to eat."  I thought about the Founder of Christmas, saw him in that man at the garbage can, scrounging through old French fries and scraps of hamburger.

Saint Marty hopes he always sees things like his daughter does, with wonder and amazement and compassion.  A compassion to feed the hungry of the world, remembering the homeless Founder, born in manure and hay and cow breath and starlight.

What my daughter saw last night at Burger King

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

September 19: The Approach of Saint Marty's Day

Yes, it is that time of year again.  Time to bring out the Saint Marty's Day tree and decorations.  Time to festoon the house with streamers and garland and lights.  Time to dance the Saint Marty's Day Polka and the Saint Marty's Day Twist.  Time to make Saint Marty's Day cookies and fudge.  Time to sing Saint Marty's Day carols.  It's that time of year when the whole world stops to celebrate the birth of Saint Marty.

It's not too late to get your Saint Marty's Day shopping done.  There are Saint Marty's Day specials going on in all the major shopping outlets--Wal-Mart, Target, Shopko,, and Kohl's.  The sales include all of Saint Marty's favorite things.

As is tradition, Saint Marty has just released his annual Saint Marty's Day list of possible gifts for Saint Marty.  The whole world has been waiting with bated breath for this moment.  Saint Marty's list includes some old favorites and a few surprises this year.  He will release the list five items at a time, starting today.

Thus, here are the first five items on Saint Marty's Birthday List:

1.  Gift certificate to Johnson's Sports for new running shoes.

2.  The Pulitzer Prize in Poetry.

3.  The Nobel Prize in Literature.

4.  New pens.

5.  Movie passes to Country Village Cinemas.

There you have it, folks.  The first installment of the Saint Marty's Day chronicles.  Stay tuned in upcoming days for further items from the list and special ideas on how to celebrate Saint Marty's Day in a way that especially pleases Saint Marty.

In the mean time, Saint Marty wishes you happy shopping!

Watch for the Saint Marty's Day TV specials!

September 19: Peculiar Flavor, Torch, Morning People

"Is there a peculiar flavour in what you sprinkle from your torch?" asked Scrooge.

"There is.  My own."

"Would it apply to any kind of dinner on this day?" asked Scrooge.

"To any kindly given.  To a poor one most."

Scrooge is speaking to the Ghost of Christmas Present, who spends a good deal of his time sprinkling Christmas dinners and revellers with some kind of magic dust from the torch he carries.  Scrooge never really finds out exactly what the Ghost is distributing from the torch, but, whatever it is, it has the power to make angry people happy and joyful people joyfuller (yes, I went there).

I just got off the phone with my daughter and wife.  My daughter was heading out to catch the school bus, and my wife was getting ready to go to work.  My three-year-old son was sitting on the couch, whining at anybody who came within ten feet of him.  None of my immediate family are very pleasant in the morning.  They snap.  They snarl.  They complain.  They stomp.  They slam doors.  It's like talking to the Osbournes in the morning.  If my son ripped off his diaper and crapped in the middle of the living room floor, I think I'd start calling his Ozzy.

I always call home before my daughter goes to school.  I've been doing it since she was in kindergarten.  It used to be one of my favorite things to do in the morning.  Now, it just causes me stress.  My daughter is surly.  My son is crabby.  My wife is snappy.  I still call, but the questions I ask usually receive monosyllabic responses that aren't really words.

ME:  Are you ready for your math test?

DAUGHTER:  Unnnnnnnn.

ME:  Are you excited to ride the school bus?

SON:  Snarf.

ME:  Have a good day in the classroom.

WIFE:  Huuuh?

I have never been a morning person, but my wife, daughter, and son are vampires.  They don't want to face the day, especially if it entails being friendly and nice, or, at the very least, civil.  They all need a sprinkle from the torch of the Ghost of Christmas Present.  I'm not a saint when it comes to waking up.  I'm not a saint when it comes to being pleasant.  I'm not a saint until after about 10 a.m.

But Saint Marty is Mother Teresa compared to his family.

My son and a pet

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

September 18: Royale with Cheese

I think it may be the weather, but everybody I'm around today is hungry.  Bottomless stomach hungry.  I, myself, am experiencing this phenomenon, as well.  I think that when the temperatures start to dip below the 40-degree range at night, us Yoopers (people who live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan) have this instinct to start eating.  It's in preparation for the upcoming winter months.  We're packing on the pounds to keep warm.  It's all about survival.

Of course, I'm probably simply justifying my consumption of not-so-healthy foods.  I find myself craving cheese products today.  Cheese sticks.  Cheesy broccoli soup.  I watched the first part of Pulp Fiction this afternoon with my film class, and, when Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta started talking about a Royale with Cheese from McDonald's, I got so hungry I could have eaten the textbook.  It's just one of those days.  Milky Ways.  Fritos.  Cheetos.  Baked potatoes.  Bacon.  Lucky Charms.  Vanilla Coke Zero.  Chicken Alfredo pizza.  I want it all.

But especially, Saint Marty wants a Royale with Cheese.

I want a bite of that mother fu#@er!

September 18: Cellar-Door, Booming Sound, Phone Call

The cellar-door flew open with a booming sound, and then he heard the noise much louder, on the floors below; then coming up the stairs; then coming straight towards his door.

This describes the entrance of Marley's ghost.  It's Dickens trying to scare the pants off his readers, a passage that you might find in any Stephen King story (with a lot more profanity and someone crapping himself to boot).  It all boils down to one fear:  the approach of something unknown and frightening.

This morning, just as I was about to jump in the shower, the phone in my house started ringing.  Now, when a phone rings at 10 a.m., I don't necessarily jump to the conclusion that it's anything dire or tragic.  When a phone rings at 4 a.m., I make a couple of assumptions:  (1) someone is dying, or (2) someone is dead.  So I picked up the receiver with a little bit of anxiety.

It was one of my sisters.  She was calling to tell me they had to call an ambulance for another one of my sisters.  Most of my siblings are diabetic.  The sister for whom they called the ambulance had an extremely low blood sugar (hypoglycemic) reaction in the middle of the night.  When the EMS people got there, my sister's blood glucose was 23.  She was thrashing and screaming in bed.  They worked on her for close to an hour and got her stable.  She's doing well.  At least at 4 a.m. she was doing well.  Speaking from experience, however, she's going to have one heck of a headache for about two days.

I didn't need any caffeine to get myself moving today.  That phone call was enough, better than any ghost rattling around in a cellar or booming doors open.  I have been a diabetic for close to 30 years now, and I've had my share of close calls.  They scare the hell out of you.  They scare the hell out of the people who care about you.  I'd prefer no more phone calls at four o'clock in the morning.

Unless you are the Swedish Academy, calling to tell him he's won the Nobel Prize, don't dial up Saint Marty before 8 a.m.

Unless you speak Swedish, don't call

Monday, September 17, 2012

September 17: Still Busy and Getting Busier

This post is a first for me.  I have never brought my laptop to my campus office and blogged before.  However, I have such a busy evening ahead of me, I thought I would make use of my office hour and type my second message in a cyber-bottle today.

It has been a busy day, and it just keeps getting busier.  I didn't get a break at the medical office I work in.  Right now, this moment, is the only chance I will get to take a breath and relax.  After I teach, I have church meetings to attend and chair.  I probably won't get home for good, with my feet on the couch, until about 8:30 this evening (if I'm lucky).  I don't mind being busy, but, after this weekend of busyness, I'm still a little beat.

The day seems to reflect my physical state.  It's cold and rainy.  At the moment, it's pouring outside my office window.  I have a view of a grassy hill, and there are no undergrads tromping down the slope with Everest-worthy backpacks slung over their shoulders.  Nope, just umbrellas and a lot of them.  I would take a picture with my iPad to post, but I haven't set up my iPad to work with the university network yet.  Therefore this paragraph of description will have to be this post's image.  Imagine it:  grey sky, rain, green grass, soggy students, and lots of parked cars.  That's my view.

Saint Marty has to run.  Time to teach.

September 17: One of Those Mornings, Lists, "Carol" Dip Monday

It has been one of those mornings.  I overslept a little bit, and I have been running my butt off ever since, trying to make-up for the lost time.  I will probably feel rushed for the rest of the day.  That's what happens when my day starts off like this.  I have a lot of stuff to accomplish.

One of the first things I did when I was finally able to sit down was make a list.  I know, I know.  Lists are nothing new for me.  This list, however, was requested by a friend of mine who is putting together an anthology of Upper Peninsula writers/poets for a university press.  He wanted me to come up with a list of the three best U.P. poems.  Well, I came up with a list, but it's the three best U.P.-based short stories.  I think it's a really good list.  Let me share it with you:

1.  "Indian Camp" by Ernest Hemingway from the collection In Our Time.  The quintessential U.P. story for me.  A young Nick Adams visits a Native American camp with his physician father to deliver a baby.  His father has to perform a C-section without anesthetic.  After the operation is complete, Nick's father discovers that the woman's husband has committed suicide in his bunk.

2.  "Road Kill" by John Vandezande from the collection Night Driving.  This story deals with an experience almost everyone who lives in the U. P. has had--encountering a deer that's been hit by a car.  The three characters in the story deal with questions of mortality and death.

3.  "Winter Mines" by Sharon Dilworth from the Iowa Short Fiction Prize-winning collection The Long White.  This story is about a laid-off miner who sinks into depression.

Those are the three stories that capture important elements of what it means to live and survive in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  When I look at that list, I realize those tales are pretty dark and depressing.  All of them.  But they are increbile pieces of writing.

Now that I have that out of the way, I can move on to other tasks, like doing a Carol dip for this Monday.  And I have just the question to ask:

Will I ever end up at the top of a writer's list for poetry?  (Say, the top three greatest poets to have ever lived?)

And the answer from the great Charles Dickens is:

But if you had judged from the numbers of people on their way to friendly gatherings, you might have thought that no one was at home to give them welcome when they got there, instead of every house expecting company, and piling up its fires half-chimney high.  Blessing on it, how the Ghost exulted!

There you have it.  Numbers of people and friendly gatherings and blessings, all to celebrate me on the top of a list of great poets.

Saint Marty can't ask for much better than that.

A poet in search of a list

Sunday, September 16, 2012

September 16: Halloween Costumes, Pumpkin, New Cartoon

Yesterday, my daughter was online, looking at Halloween costumes.  She's not sure what she wants to be.  I suggested Hermione from Harry Potter (she has the hair for it), but one of her friends is already going to be Hermione.  We looked at princesses and sorceresses.  We looked at witches and vampiresses.  We didn't find anything that caught her attention.  We're still on the hunt.

Speaking of Halloween, I just watered my pumpkin plant about an hour ago.  I have one pumpkin that has any chance of being a jack-o-lantern.  Actually, I'm deluding myself.  If I'm lucky, I will have a decorative squash by the time All Hallow's Eve is upon us.  After nearly four months of watering and fertilizing and pruning and weeding, I will have one stinking pumpkin the size of a small zucchini or cucumber.

It has been a long day of church-related activities.  Junior choir practice.  Sunday school.  Worship.  Then, in the afternoon, a special worship service at another church for the installation of the new district superintendent for the United Methodist Church.  The bishop was there.  The bishop's entire cabinet was there.  It was a big deal.  And there I was with my band, a little Catholic boy rocking out in front of the Methodist bishop.  It was great.  However, I am completely beat right now.  I barely have the energy to hit "publish" for this post.

Saint Marty is ready for a bowl of Rice Krispies and bed.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, September 15, 2012

September 15: Shovelling Away, Facetious Snowball, Frost on the Pumpkin, New Cartoon

For, the people who were shovelling away on the house-tops were jovial and full of glee; calling out to one another from the parapets, and now and then exchanging a facetious snowball--better-natured missile far than many a wordy jest--laughing heartily if it went right and not less heartily if it went wrong...

Yes, I chose a passage about snow this morning, even though "snow" is really a four-letter word in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan at this time of year.  Every person who lives here knows it's coming, but we don't want to admit it.  In the passage above, people are celebrating, enjoying the white stuff.  Well, it's Christmas day in the book.  You're supposed to enjoy snow around Christmas.  In mid-September, summer isn't quite a distant memory for Yoopers yet.  We're not ready for the eight months of winter ahead.

However, this morning, there was frost on the pumpkin.  Literally.  The one pumpkin that is still clinging to life on my blighted pumpkin plant in the backyard was coated in a white rime.  I don't think it harmed it.  However, it no longer feels like summer to me.  I am dressed in layers today.  Long sleeve shirt underneath a tee shirt.  That's how we do it in the U. P.  If you don't dress in layers, you may be caught off guard by a stray blizzard or ice storm this time of year.  I don't think we have to worry about that eventuality quite yet, but the frost was a good reminder of where we live.

Today, the forecasters are predicting temperatures in the 70-degree range.  That's livable.  Nice, even.  It's when the temps don't get past 50 that I start worrying.  The teenagers are still wearing shorts right now, so I know I'm safe for a few more weeks.  Of course, teens are hearty folk.  They aren't affected by cold as much as their elders.

Saint Marty's furnace kicked in for the first time since May this a.m.  He wanted to lie in front of the vent and bake himself.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, September 14, 2012

Setember 14: My Bacon Number

So, I've been playing a new Google game--Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.  Basically, you choose an actor, say John Wayne, and, on the Google search box, type, "bacon number John Wayne."  Within a few seconds, Google returns how many moves separate your actor from Kevin Bacon, connecting them through movies.  John Wayne's bacon number is 2:  John Wayne and Robert Duvall appeared in True Grit, and Robert Duvall and Kevin Bacon appeared in Jayne Mansfield's Car.

It may not sound like fun, but it's really addicting.  I have not been able to get past 3 for any actor's bacon number so far.  Just for kicks, I tried to figure out my bacon number.  I typed in the name of one of the celebrities I've met:  Alec Baldwin.  Well, Alec's bacon number is 1.  He was in She's Having a Baby with Kevin Bacon.  That makes my bacon number 2.  Not bad for a poet with only one book to his credit and no National Book Award or Pulitzer.

Saint Marty needs some eggs to go with his bacon.

Bacon number 2--beat that!

September 14: Fluttered, Glowing, a Reprieve

He was so fluttered and so glowing with his good intentions, that his broken voice would scarcely answer to his call.  He had been sobbing violently in his conflict with the Spirit, and his face was wet with tears.

Scrooge at the end of his little night with the Ghosts of Christmas.  He is alive and full of the conviction to change his life.  He has been given a reprieve, and he intends to make good use of it.  He is a new person.

Last night, I was a little distressed, if you couldn't tell from my afternoon post.  I couldn't see beyond my problems, and I ended up in this whirlpool of worry and doubt.  It was not a good scene.  I said a few prayers, tried to hand my concerns over to God (not very successfully).  I was headed for a pretty rough night.

And then I got some news from my wife that changed things.  It was good news, a reprieve.  I can't describe the relief I experienced.  After a little while, I thought about, and I realized that my prayers had been answered.  God brings you right to the brink of complete panic, and then solves your problem.  He does that to me every once in a while, reminds me of who really is in control.  It certainly isn't me.

So, I'm like Scrooge this morning.  Renewed.  Relieved.  Rejuvenated.  I know I'm going to make it.

Saint Marty is very thankful for the blessings in his life.

I got the message

Thursday, September 13, 2012

September 13: Waiting for Godot

I just looked at the balances in my checking and savings accounts.  It wasn't a pretty sight.  In fact, I was gripped by panic for a few seconds.  I just got paid by the university, and I know all of the money is already gone.  In fact, all the money plus a little bit more is already gone.  I'm feeling quite anxious and depressed about the whole thing.  My life has become some weird, absurdist drama.

The two characters is Samuel Beckett's absurdist play Waiting for Godot are simply waiting for someone to show up.  The entire drama is these two guys, talking and waiting for this other guy named Godot to appear.  Vladmir and Estragon (the two guys) are trapped in this eternal state of anticipation.  It's a play that has always caused me more than a little distress.  In fact, it has caused me a great deal of distress.

Over the last year, I have gone from having a nice cushion in my bank account to living paycheck to paycheck.  I have no backup plan, and when unexpected expenses occur, I have no reserve to draw from.  I'm living in a constant state of expectation.  I always expect bad news in the mail.  I don't like checking my e-mail, because there's going to be some other financial obligation waiting my attention.  I'm Vladmir or Estragon, knowing that some horrible Godot is headed my way.

I've spoken about having to trust God in moments like this.  I know I will be fine.  I will survive this shortage of funds.  I've been in this position before, and I will, undoubtedly, be in it again in the future.  That doesn't make this Godot place any more comfortable.  It's always cold and bleak and frightening.  Plus, my son's birthday is coming up in about a week.  More money is needed.

I wish I could relax more.  Maybe I could if I had stronger faith.  Faith would allow me to know that God is going to take care of me.  (Not Godot.  God.)  That should provide me with a little peace of mind, but it doesn't.  However, I just saw the totals in my accounts.  Give me a few minutes to catch my breath.

Saint Marty's waiting for Godot to give him some pocket change.  Brother, can you spare a dime?

I wish Godot would just show the hell up!

September 13: Entered Timidly, Hung His Head, Poetry Reading

Scrooge entered timidly, and hung his head before this Spirit.  He was not the dogged Scrooge he had been; and though the Spirit's eyes were clear and kind, he did not like to meet them.

Scrooge is mighty humbled by the time he encounters the Ghost of Christmas Present, as evidenced by his entrance into the Ghost's presence.  The magic of Christmas is already working on Scrooge's person.  He is on his way to redemption.

There are many occasions where I enter a room timidly, head hung.  When I go to church, I try to adopt this attitude.  When I am in a social situation with a group of strangers, I tend to be a little shy, if you can believe that.  When I meet someone I admire (a writer or celebrity of some kind), I will be very respectful.

Tonight, I'm going to a poetry reading by poet Traci Brimhall sponsored by the university.  I don't know Traci Brimhall.  I didn't even know her name until last week, when I received the e-mail announcement about her reading.  Since then, I've read some of her poems and a list of accomplishments.  I've prepared myself for what I'm going to encounter tonight.

Traci Brimhall is not a person I would be timid with.  She has had some very great success with her first collection of poems, which won a prestigious prize.  She publishes all over the place and is what I would call an up-and-comer.  That means she is the current flavor of the week in the poetry world.  She's doing well for herself.

Most people who have read my blog for any length of time know that I tend to be a little envious of people who attain as much success as Brimhall has.  I can be quite rude about it at times, making snarky and cutting comments about people who have won anything from a local short story contest to the Nobel Prize in Literature.  Yes, my jealousy knows no bounds.  It's not a character trait I'm proud of.  In fact, I think it is one of the most unattractive parts of my personality.  However, I'm able to mask it with wit and charm.  Usually.

Traci Brimhall has nothing to fear from me.  I will not sit in the back of the audience, heckling her.  That's not my style.  I think she is a fine poet whose work is quite remarkable.  That doesn't mean I won't go home at the end of the evening and make fun of her in private.  Not because she deserves my ridicule.  Because I am jealous of her.  Plain and simple.  As I said, it's not an attractive aspect of my personality.

The one good thing that usually comes out of my attendance of a poetry reading is that I go home and say to myself, "I can write better than that."  And I write.  Whether I admit it or not, Traci Brimhall will inspire me to write some poems.  I know that.

If you're going to the Traci Brimhall reading tonight in Marquette, Michigan, look for Saint Marty.  He'll be the one sitting by the refreshments, sneaking brownies and muttering to himself.

I'm sure this picture is airbrushed

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

September 12: Sarcasm, My Natural State

I have a sarcastic streak.  I can't help it.  It's my natural state.  I think it comes from being the youngest of nine children.  I use sarcasm as a defense mechanism.  I'm not proud of this character trait, but it does come in handy when something or somebody is annoying me.

For some reason, I find myself being incredibly sarcastic today.  Just a few minutes ago, I was viewing pictures of newborn babies on a local hospital's website.  Instead of cooing and ooohing over each and every photo, I found myself pointing out flaws. 

"Oh, look how cute that one is."

"If you like kids with points on their heads," says I.  "That kid could double as a tent spike."

"Oh, look at little Penelope."

"What's with that hat?" says I.  "She looks like a damaged Cabbage Patch Kid."

"Little Tyson is so cute."

"Tyson?  Really?  What is he--a slice of chicken?" says I.  "Maybe his mom was hungry when she named him."

"Lulu is absolutely adorable."

"If you're into dumplings with eyes," says I.

You get the idea.  I didn't see a single cute baby.  I really pity my students today.  When I'm in this kind of mood, I generally don't hold it back in the classroom.  I hope nobody irritates me.

Saint Marty needs to watch what he says today, lest he offends some unsuspecting bystander.

The cutest little boy in the world--no sarcasm involved

September 12: A Piece of My Mind, Feast Upon, Tiger Mother

"The Founder of the Feast indeed!" cried Mrs. Cratchit, reddening.  "I wish I had him here.  I'd give him a piece of my mind to feast upon, and I hope he'd have a good appetite for it."

God bless Mrs. Cratchit.  Bob is trying to toast Scrooge as the benefactor of the Cratchit family's meager Christmas celebration, and his wife is having no part of it.  She's pissed and ready to unload a little of her anger on Bob.  In defense of Mrs. Cratchit, she has been cooking all day for her family.  She's probably tired and cranky.

Last night, my entire family was tired and cranky.  My wife is still adjusting to her new job.  My daughter had dance classes for four hours in the evening.  I was at my office on campus until almost 8 p.m.  Those are the ingredients for a pretty rotten night.  We were sniping and yelling at each other.  My daughter was crying because her feet hurt and she didn't want to take a shower.  By bedtime, I found myself making this declaration:  "Nobody talk to anybody for the rest of the night!"

Granted, my solution was probably not the most constructive way of dealing with the general cloud of grumpiness pervading the house, but it did the trick.  The shouting and screaming stopped, and all that was heard for the rest of the night were quiet sobs.  I was able to fall asleep.

Of course, I'm not a big believer in the use of verbal abuse.  Sometimes, however, venting your frustrations can be a very freeing act.  Ask Mrs. Cratchit.  There was a book published last year, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, in which the author, Amy Chua, made this statement:  "The solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish, and shame the child."  Chua literally bullied her daughters into success.

I'm sure not too many child rearing experts would agree with Chua's methods.  However, you can't argue with Chua's results:  her older daughter, Sophia, was accepted by Yale and Harvard and is currently attending Harvard.  Results.  I'm not saying I'm going to start calling my daughter a piece of garbage because she can't play Mozart on the piano, but I think there's something to be said for strict parenting.  My mother and father were fairly strict, and I ended up with two advanced college degrees (a Master's in fiction and an MFA in poetry).  Of course, I can't do anything with those degrees except cook hamburgers and chicken strips, but I have a first-rate education.

Maybe tiger women like Amy Chua and Mrs. Cratchit got it right.  I mean, Tigress Cratchit is just trying to give Bob a little backbone to stand up to his boss.  So what if a few tears are shed in the process.  Or self-esteem takes a few blows.  Or therapy is needed.

If Saint Marty's daughter ends up winning a Nobel Prize in medicine or economics, it will all be worth it.

Just call me Tiger Father

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

September 11: "Il Postino" and Poetry

I started screening one of my favorite movies for my class this afternoon--Il Postino:  The Postman.  My students are liking it a whole lot more than Citizen Kane.  There's something very beautiful and gentle about the movie.  I think it has something to do with Massimo Troisi's performance.  He's so engaging and funny.  And nothing can beat Philippe Noiret's Pablo Neruda.  Noiret made me want to travel to Chile and visit Neruda's home.

I remember the first time I saw Il Postino.  It was around 1994 or 1995, and I was living downstate, laboring in a PhD program.  My friend, Lisa, told me about this little Italian film about a postman who learns about love from Pablo Neruda.  She started talking about it and then lapsed into silence, holding a small, sad smile on her face.  "Just see it," she said.

I followed her advice.  I think it was Il Postino that convinced me I was a poet.  Before, I was under the impression I wanted to write fiction and be Flannery O'Connor.  After, I knew I wanted to write poetry and be Pablo Neruda (or at least Charles Bukowski).  I have held on to that belief ever since, much to my family's chagrin and consternation.  (I suppose there is the possibility of more money in fiction.)

Well, I am going to try to communicate my love of this film to my students.  I will probably fail, miserably.  But, at the very least, I will have introduced a whole new generation of students to Mario the postman and Pablo the poet.

Saint Marty thinks that's a pretty good deal.

Orson Welles or Pablo Neruda, take your pick

September 11: Old Marley's Name, All the Same to Him, Not Caring

Scrooge never painted out Old Marley's name.  There it stood, years afterwards, above the warehouse door:  Scrooge and Marley.  Sometimes people new to the business called Scrooge Scrooge, and sometimes Marley, but he answered to both names; it was all the same to him.

This passage is an example of Scrooge not caring.  He doesn't like change, is a creature of habit.  Thus, he leaves Marley's name on his business's door.  I'm convinced it's less a matter of cheapness and more a matter of constancy.  Scrooge craves sameness.  He likes the security of the same office, house, gruel.  Change brings upheaval, and Scrooge wants nothing to do with that.

I am very much like Scrooge in this respect.  I do not like upheaval.  The chaos of change can be a good thing sometimes, but, most of the time, chaos is just chaos.  Disorderly.  Hectic.  Anxiety-inducing.  I'm not sure I would have painted out Marley's name if I had been Scrooge.  It's much easier to ignore change until it's staring at you like some phantom or ghost, insisting to be noticed.

I am a creature of habit.  During the school year, my life is pretty structured.  For four months (September to December), my life stays the same.  Work.  School.  Work.  Home.  Then a new semester arrives, and I fall into a new routine for another four months (January to April).  There's a great deal of comfort in that kind of order and harmony.  Like Scrooge, I crave that kind of order and harmony.

My coworker in the medical office is nine months pregnant.  Very shortly, she will not be my coworker for about three months.  I have another change coming, and I'm not looking forward to it.  In fact, I'm a little panicked.  I don't do well with prioritizing tasks.  I tend to get overwhelmed.  The last time my coworker was gone for an extended period of time, I got so far behind in my work that I felt like I was drowning under a pile of medical charts.

I'm not going to acknowledge that my coworker is on maternity leave.  I'll just pretend she's in the medical records room, filing away charts.  Maybe that's what Scrooge did when his partner died.  He convinced himself that Marley was in the vault, counting money, for seven years. 

Saint Marty is haunted today, by the Ghost of Change Past, the Ghost of Change Present, and the Ghost of Change Yet to Come.

It's not denial.  It's Medical Records.