Thursday, February 28, 2013

February 28: Book Club Times Two

Tonight, my book club is meeting at my house.  We're talking about two books this month, since we had to cancel last month's get-together because of bad weather.  So, we have Stephen King's 11/22/63 and Randy Alcorn's Courageous on the agenda.  It's going to be a busy evening.

For the first time in a few months, I actually finished the books before book club.  I love Stephen King, and I didn't love Randy Alcorn.  Two different styles, two different purposes.  I'm kind of interested to see what all the others think about these books.  If I had to choose two novels to read that are polar opposites, Courageous and 11/22/63 would certainly qualify.

Perhaps it's a good thing we have to double-up tonight.  At least there won't be any uncomfortable silences.

Unless Saint Marty's mouth is full of pizza.

No fruit tonight

February 28: Affectionate, Glad as Hell, Guilt and Love

"Holden!" she said right away.  She put her arms around my neck and all.  She's very affectionate.  I mean she's quite affectionate, for a child.  Sometimes she's even too affectionate.  I sort of gave her a kiss, and she said, "Whenja get home?"  She was glad as hell to see me.  You could tell.

Holden has a habit in the novel of repeating himself, adding intensity each time.  In the passage above, he's talking about his sister, Phoebe, and he says, first, that she's "affectionate."  Then he describes her as "quite affectionate."  The third time, he qualifies it even more:  Phoebe is "too affectionate."   It's almost as if Holden is apologizing for her affection.

Yesterday, I wasn't doing well with my father feelings.  I was guilty, worried about all the time I spend away from home, which is the majority of the day.  In short, I'm not convinced I'm doing that great of a job as a dad.

Yet, my son and daughter greet me like returning royalty when I walk through the door.  Yesterday, when I met my wife at Burger King, my son practically floated over to me because he was so happy.  And he always yells the same thing:  "Daddeeeeeeee!"   He wrapped his arms around my legs and wouldn't let go until I picked him up.  Talk about being affectionate.

Perhaps that proves I am doing something right as a father.  I'm not sure I'd get that kind of response if I were channeling Pappy Finn in my fathering techniques.  I may be going too hard on myself.  Of course, at the end of last night, I had to place my son on a time-out for slugging his sister in the face.  He threw himself on the floor and somehow managed to give himself quite a little scrape on his belly.  When I saw the injury, I was back in the father toilet for the rest of the night.

I think affection comes easily for kids like Phoebe and my son.  They aren't careful like adults.  Fatherhood is an exercise in extravagant child affection, guilt, and love.

Saint Marty has all of that and then some to spare.

Pappy gets it right sometimes...

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

February 27: Spring Break--Not Soon Enough

Next week is spring break for the university.  Despite all of the days this semester that have been canceled due to inclement weather (translation:  all this friggin' snow), I am totally ready for some time off.  Spring break can't come soon enough for me.

I have two more days of teaching left.  I have a lot to accomplish in those two days.  I have to finish a portion of my faculty evaluation.  I've been putting it off for quite some time.  Having two jobs really gets in the way.  My 40-hour-a-week, part-time job interferes with my part-time university teaching responsibilities.  At this point in my life, I've had this work schedule for so long that I don't know what I'd do if I had a full-time position at the university.  I can't imagine having all that extra time.

Maybe I'd write a novel, or finish one of the novels I've already started.  Perhaps I'd start fixing up my house instead of falling asleep on the couch after my son is in bed at 7 p.m.  I think I'd visit my son's classes more often.  I'd volunteer at my daughter's school, as well.  I'd love to be a music booster or some kind of poet-in-residence.  I know I'd go running every morning, and then I'd take up oil painting.  I've always wanted to do oil landscapes.

Yes, I drifted off into fantasy in that third paragraph.  It's fun to dream every once in a while.  I know I should be more realistic, but, if you're going to dream, dream big.

Saint Marty's dreaming the impossible dream.

Where's my windmill?

February 27: Father, Corporation Lawyer, Dad Worries

...My father's quite wealthy, though.  I don't know how much he makes--he's never discussed that stuff with me--but I imagine quite a lot.  He's a corporate lawyer.  Those boys really haul it in.  Another reason I know he's quite well off, he's always investing money in shows on Broadway.  They always flop, though, and it drives my mother crazy when he does it....

Holden doesn't hold too high of an opinion about his father.  He knows what his father does for a living, and he knows that he doesn't want to follow in his father's footsteps.  He thinks all lawyers are only interested in making "a lot of dough," playing golf and bridge, buying cars, drinking Martinis, and looking "like a hot-shot."  In short, Holden thinks his dad is a phony.

My worry this Wednesday is a worry that has plagued me since the birth of my daughter almost 13 years ago.  I worry I'm not being a good father.  It doesn't help that I'm reading this book called Courageous for my book club, and all it's about is being a good father.  I'm not saying it's a good book.  It's a novelization of a movie made by a bunch of right-wing, conservative Christians.  I don't really buy into all the ideas being put forth in its pages.  Lots of stuff about the man being the leader of the house, and women having to listen to them.  Having been basically raised by five older sisters and a mother who could put the fear of God into any member of the Taliban, I can't really see the women in my life following me in the Charge of the Light Brigade, if you get my meaning.  Plus, the writing in the book is bad.

One thing Courageous does manage is to make me feel incredibly guilty.  See, all the guys in the book are workaholic cops whose families are falling apart.  I've always felt guilty about the amount of time I spend at work.  Take yesterday, for example.  I left the house at 4:30 a.m., and I didn't return until 8:40 p.m.  I didn't even see my son awake yesterday.  On good days, I get about two hours of waking time with him before he goes to bed, and I get about three-and-a-half hours with my twelve-year-old daughter.  And it's not quality time.  It's me nagging my daughter to do her homework or practice her flute, forcing my son into the bathtub, making school lunches, and...Well, you get the idea.  I'm the ogre of the house when I walk through the door.

I actually can live with that.  But last night, when I picked my daughter up from her dance class, her instructor came up to me and said, "I'm just wondering if your daughter is planning to go to Green Bay for the competition."  I actually felt my face flush with embarrassment.  My daughter would love to go to this dance competition.  All her friends are going to this competition.  She is not going.  I don't have the money for it.  "No," I told her teacher, "we can't this year."

When we got to the car, I told my daughter I was sorry she couldn't go.  "That's OK, Daddy," she said.  "I don't mind."

That should have been it, but I've been in failure-father mode ever since.  I can't shake it off.  Here is a list of what is going through my head:

  1. I spend so much time at work and away from home that my son in going to join the Crips when he's seven.
  2. I make so little money that my daughter is going to start doing lap dances in high school so she can afford the prom.
  3. The roof of my house is going to collapse, and we're going to have to live in an pre-Extreme Home Makeover home.
  4. My son is going to end up flunking out of Pencey Prep...Oh, wait.  That's Holden.  Never mind.
You  get the idea.  I'm feeling life a failure with a capital "F."

Saint Marty needs something happy to think about, like the sequestration cuts.

At least I don't have a mullet...any more

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

February 26: Chocolate Cravings

I have been craving chocolate all day long.  Unlike most days, I have no outlet for this jones.  I did eat a white fudge-covered Oreo a little while ago.  That quenched my hunger for about five minutes.  There is a box of chocolate bars sitting in the break room, filled with Hershey Bars, Caramellos, and Take 5 Bars.  They are calling to me.

I'm about to take off to the university to teach my Intro to Film and do some office hours.  I'll be on campus until after 8 p.m. tonight.  All I have in my pocket, money-wise, is two quarters, two dimes, a nickel, and three pennies.  Useless in the chocolate trade.  Perhaps I'll stumble upon a discarded M&M in the snow on my way to class.  If nobody is looking, I will be tempted to reach down and pick it up.

I do have a Weight Watchers chocolate muffin my wife made yesterday.  If I smothered it with frosting and sprinkled chocolate chips on top of it, it would satisfy my cravings, I think.

Saint Marty would trade a kidney for a Twix right now.

Me want some

February 26: Allie's Dead, in Heaven, Saint Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows

"I like Allie," I said.  "And I like doing what I'm doing right now.  Sitting here with you, and talking, and thinking about stuff, and--"

"Allie's dead--You always say that!  If somebody's dead and everything, and in Heaven, then it isn't really--"

Holden is arguing with his sister, Phoebe.  She's challenged him to name one thing he likes a lot.  Holden struggles to answer her, begins thinking of one of his classmates from school, James Castle, who jumped from a window to avoid a group of bullies.  He thinks of how quiet Castle was, how nobody would go near him as he lay on the steps where he landed.  And then Holden answers Phoebe.

Holden wasn't really friends with James Castle.  Holden loaned him a turtleneck sweater, the same sweater he was wearing when he leaped to his death.  That's Holden's strongest memory of his classmate, seeing him sprawled on the stairs.  Then Holden thinks of his dead brother, Allie.  Memories of Allie bring Holden pleasure.  At the end of the book, it's Allie Holden invokes to protect him as he's having his breakdown.  Holden recognizes the power of innocence, especially innocence cut short.

February 27 is the feast day of Saint Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows, whose life was cut short.  As a young boy in Assisi, Francis (his given name), was popular with his fellow students and teachers at the Jesuit College in Spoleto.  He loved literature and the arts.  As a youth, he was "miraculously cured from two bouts of illness."  This experience led him to the religious life.  He entered the Passionist Institute and took on the name "Gabriel."  He died at age 24 of tuberculosis in 1862.

Gabriel's story doesn't end there, however.  After his death, miracles began occurring at his tomb.  One girl was healed of pulmonary tuberculosis and periostitus, and a boy was cured of an inoperable hernia.  Gabriels tomb and monastic house have become shrines in his memory.  He is known as the patron saint of clerics and youth.

Gabriel is a saint Holden could get into.  Still really a child when he died, Gabriel is like Allie and James Castle.  Always young and innocent, untouched by adult worries and cares.  Holden sees the world of adults as corrupt, disingenuous, phony.  He sees the world of children as care-free, true, and pure.

Last night, I wanted to kill my four-year-old son.  I was trying to undress him for his bath.  He started punching and kicking me.  Then, as I was carrying him to his time-out corner, he bit my arm hard enough to break skin.  When I put him in that corner, I said, very quietly, "," and I walked away from him.  If I had stayed by him, I'm afraid would have cut my son's innocence short on the spot.

After ten minutes of crying, shouting, and weeping (not mine, my son's), I went back to him.  He was a puddle on the floor.  I stood him up and told him I loved him a lot, but, I said, "You really hurt daddy."  He started gulping sobs, reached out, and put his arms around my neck.

It was a strong, good hug.  A loving hug.  A healing hug.  It was a hug Holden and Saint Gabriel would have appreciated.  Full of real innocence and love.

Saint Marty's son survived the night .  Barely.

Saint Gabriel's Death

Monday, February 25, 2013

February 25: "Confessions," Memoir, "First Confession"

As promised, this post contains the next installment of my Lenten memoir.  I'm pretty happy with myself.  Two weeks of Lent, and I have two sections of my Confessions done.  Last week, I went to the university library and picked up a copy of Augustine's Confessions.  I figure I better check out my competition.

Anyway, Saint Marty has part two of Confessions.  It's called...

First Confession

I frequently convince myself I have fatal illnesses.  When I was thirteen or fourteen, I started experiencing sharp pains in my left testicle.  These scrotal attacks occurred several times a day and sometimes made it impossible for me to walk.  I would sit in whatever chair was available and contemplate the source and meaning of my affliction.  At night, I would lie in bed, fondling my balls, searching for a lump or dent, anything abnormal.  I convinced myself I was being punished.  Being a teenage boy, I'd fallen into the habit of abuse.  At least that's what the priest called it in the confessional.  "How often do you abuse yourself, my son?" he asked.  "Once or twice a week," I said, although it was like once or twice a night, more if I watched an episode of Family Ties before I went to bed; I had a thing for Mallory.  Up until that point in my life, I never realized abuse could be such good company.

Of course, with this company came a whole lot of guilt, and with this guilt came the belief that God was using my left nut to visit divine justice upon me.  Over several months, I progressed from believing I had some kind of penile toothache (painful, but treatable) to full-blown testicular cancer that had already invaded my major organs (a stigmata of the dick, so to speak).  Thus, when I ended up on the pediatrician's examination table, I was prepared for martyrdom.

The doctor, a kind man from India, poked and prodded and rolled me for a minute or two.  Then he said, "Sometime testes can twist in scrotum."  He looked at me.  "It can make short breath," he said, "like this."  He panted like an overheated cocker spaniel.  "And pain."

It took me a few moments for me to realize I wasn't dying.  I sat up.  "Then," I said, "I don't have cancer?"

"No cancer," he said.  "Just twisting."  He made a motion with his fist in the air.  "Twist."  He rotated his testicle/fist several times violently.

That was one of the first times in my life I was given a stay of execution by the Almighty.  I'd like to say it ended my nightly sessions of self abuse, but I'm reminded of an old joke:  Why does a dog lick his balls?  Because he can.

Bless me, Father...

February 25: Burning Eyes, Burning Question, "Rye" Dip Monday

My eyes are burning.  I was up until almost 1 a.m. watching the Oscars.  I got up at 4 a.m. for work.  Yes, I'm functioning on around three hours of sleep, and I don't even have a golden statue to show for it.  That's right.  I didn't win the faux-Oscar prize last night at the party.  I needed two more correct guesses to tie, and three to win outright.  Damn Ang Lee and Christoph Waltz and Quentin Tarantino.  They screwed me over.

Anyway, I'm beat today.  My goal is to simply survive this Monday without falling asleep in front of my film class at the university.  That will be difficult.  I'm starting to show 2001:  A Space Odyssey.  That's not exactly a pulse pounder, if you know what I mean.

To accompany my burning eyes, I need to ask a burning question.  Since Pope Benedict retires at the end of this week (on Thursday, to be exact), there's a whole lot of speculation right now about who will be his successor.  That's what my question is about today.  No, I'm not going to ask whether I'm going to be elected pope.  I know I'm a little too young for that still.  My question is:

Will the next pope be from the continent of Africa, like Saint Augustine?

And the answer from the good book of Holden is:

"No, thanks.  G'night!" old Phoebe said.  She was trying to get rid of her, you could tell.

Okay, so here's Holden's sister, Phoebe, trying to hustle their mother out of her bedroom.  Their mother has asked, "Do you want another blanket?"  Phoebe answers her.

And Phoebe answers Saint Marty.  No African pope this time.

I can barely tell them apart...

Saturday, February 23, 2013

February 24: Oscar Night, Party, New Cartoon

Yes, tonight Hollywood celebrates itself in the year's biggest pageant of cinematic self-absorption.  The dresses, the tuxedos, the jewelry, the hairdos.  The limos and red carpet.  And, of course, the burning question on everyone's mind:  "Who are you wearing?"

I recognize the supreme shallowness of the Oscars.  I know that, really, who wins Best Supporting Actor or Best Actress isn't going to bring about peace in the Middle East.  I also know that, tomorrow morning, when the Oscar parties on the West Coast are winding down and all the stars are stumbling back to their hotel rooms, my life will be the same.  Same job.  Same money problems.  Same worries.

Yet, for one night, I can be selfish and catty and vapid.  I can imagine my life revolves around whether Lincoln or Argo wins Best Picture.  I will be at an Oscar party.  There will be cheese and crackers and rotelle dip.  I will compete against my siblings and parents and children and in-laws for the honor of taking home a mock-Oscar statuette.  It will be cut-throat.  We will tease and taunt and humiliate each other.  It's one of my favorite nights of the year.

Yes, the Saint Marty clan takes its Oscars seriously.

P.S. Stay tuned for the next installment of Confessions.

Confessions of Saint Marty

February 23: David Copperfield Crap, The Paris Review Interviews Vol. 1, New Cartoon

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.

 That's how Salinger opens The Catcher in the Rye.  It's one of the most famous quotes from the book.  It touches on Charles Dickens and his largely autobiographical novel, David Copperfield.  Dickens never wrote an autobiography.  The closest he ever came was Copperfield, which contains several details from Dickens' youth.  Of course, Holden isn't interested in all the trappings of autobiography--the requisite navel gazing.  And, of course, the next 200-plus pages of Catcher is an exercise in just that, on a Holden Caulfield level.

For my birthday last year, I received a box-set of The Paris Review Interviews, Vol. 1-3.  Basically, these three volumes include a selection of interviews with some of the most famous writers of the twentieth century.  In the introduction to the first volume, Philip Gourevitch writes about the process of a Paris Review interview, which strays a great deal from the normal journalistic approach.  There is no attempt to surprise of "catch" the interviewee.   It is a collaborative process, conducted over several seasons, sometimes years.  The writer being interviewed is given several attempts to edit and revise his/her statements in the interview.  The results are illuminating portraits of the writer's thoughts about the life and the craft of fiction, poetry, theater, biography, essay, whatever.

The first volume of the series contains interviews with the likes of Dorothy Parker, Truman Capote, Ernest Hemingway, Kurt Vonnegut, and Joan Didion.  Rather than try to capture the essence of the interviews in this little post, I'm simply going to give you a smattering of some of the pearls of wisdom and truth displayed by the interview subjects:

I suppose my superstitiousness could be termed a quirk.  I have to add up all numbers:  there are some people I never telephone because their number adds up to an unlucky figure.  Or I won't accept a hotel room for the same reason.  I will not tolerate the presence of yellow roses--which is sad because they're my favorite flower.  I can't allow three cigarette butts in the same ashtray.  Won't travel on a plane with two nuns.  Won't begin or end anything on a Friday.  It's endless, the things I can't and won't.  But I derive some curious comfort from obeying these primitive concepts.
     --Truman Capote

When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible.  There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write.  You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there.  You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again.  You have started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon or be through before that.  When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love.  Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again.  It is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through.
     --Ernest Hemingway

I think it's awfully dangerous to give general advice.  I think the best one can do for a young poet is to criticize in detail a particular poem of his.  Argue it with him if necessary; give him your opinion, and if there are any generalizations to be made, let him do them himself.  I've found that different people have different ways of working and things come to them in different ways.  You're never sure when you're uttering a statement that's generally valid for all poets or when it's something that only applies to yourself.  I think nothing is worse than to try to form people in your own image.
     --T. S. Eliot

It was stated by Paul Engle--the founder of the Writers' Workshop at Iowa.  He told me that, if the workshop ever got a building of its own, these words should be inscribed over the entrance:  Don't take it all so seriously.
     --Kurt Vonnegut

Although a novel takes place in the larger world there's always some drive in it that is entirely personal--even if you don't know it while you're doing it.  I realized some years after A Book of Common Prayer was finished that it was about my anticipating Quintana's growing up.  It wrote it around 1975, so she would have been nine, but I was already anticipating separation and actually working through that ahead of time.  So novels are also about things you're afraid you can't deal with.
     -Joan Didion

Just last week a friend and I went to visit a wonderful lady I know in Quebec.  She's seventy-four or seventy-five.  And she didn't say this to me but she said to my friend, Alice, I'd like to ask my neighbor who has the big house next door to dinner, and she's so nice, but she'd be bound to ask Elizabeth what she does and if Elizabeth said she wrote poetry, the poor woman wouldn't say another word all evening!  This is awful, you know, and I think no matter how modest you think you feel or how minor you think you are, there must be an awful core of ego somewhere for you to set yourself up to write poetry.  I've never felt it, but it must be there.
     --Elizabeth Bishop

This is the end of this blog post.
     --Saint Marty

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, February 22, 2013

February 22: Prose Poem, "A Story About the Body," Robert Hass

One of my favorite poetic forms in the prose poem, which is sort of a hybrid of the short story and poetry.  I took a whole class one summer in the subject.  I'm not sure I've ever written a really successful prose poem, but Robert Hass has.

Saint Marty loves this poem:

A Story About the Body

by: Robert Hass

The young composer, working that summer at an artist's colony, had watched her for a week.  She was Japanese, a painter, almost sixty, and he thought he was in love with her.  He loved her work, and her work was like the way she moved her body, used her hands, looked at him directly when she made amused and considered answers to his questions.  One night, walking back from a concert, they came to her door and she turned to him and said, "I think you would like to have me.  I would like that too, but I must tell you that I have had a double mastectomy," and when he didn't understand, "I've lost both my breasts."  The radiance that he had carried around in his belly and chest cavity--like music--withered very quickly, and he made himself look at her when he said, "I'm sorry.  I don't think I could."  He walked back to his own cabin through the pines, and in the morning he found a small blue bowl on the porch outside his door.  It looked to be full of rose petals, but he found when he picked it up that the rose petals where on top; the rest of the bowl--she must have swept them from the corners of her studio--was full of dead bees.

Don't mess with this lady...

February 22: Most Terrific Liar, Gym, Fact From Fiction

I'm the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life.  It's awful.  If I'm on my way to the store to buy a magazine, even, and somebody asks me where I'm going, I'm liable to say I'm going to the opera.  It's terrible.  So when I told old Spencer I had to go to the gym to get my equipment and stuff, that was a sheer lie.  I don't even keep my goddam equipment in the gym.

Lying is something Holden does very well.  He lies to his teachers.  He lies to the mother of one of his Pencey Prep classmates.  He lies to many of the women he meets in New York.   Most of all, Holden lies to himself.  He hasn't dealt with his feelings over his brother's death.  His hands are scarred from the windows he broke the night Allie died.  In this book, which is, basically, a conversation he's having with his therapist, Holden comes cleans about his life and emotions.  For the first time, he's telling the truth.

I thought I would try an experiment on this P.O.E.T.S. Day.  I'm going to lie or exaggerate through this entire post.  If I do it well, you won't be able to tell fact from fiction.  Sometimes, fiction is more interesting anyway.  So, read on, but take everything in this post with a grain of salt, or an entire salt shaker, depending on how full of crap you think I am.

I have nothing to do today.  When I get home from work, I'm going to go up to my office in the attic and read and work on my memoir until it starts getting dark.  Jacinta, our housekeeper, will be busy downstairs cleaning, so I want to stay out of her way.  Perhaps I'll get some Thai take-out for dinner.  I'm feeling a little hungry for something spicy this Friday.

During the course of the afternoon, I'll probably respond to an e-mail I received from J. K. Rowling asking me to look over the manuscript of her new novel.  I can't divulge any of the details, but I will say that it involves a certain character with a scar on his forehead.  Then, I'll return a phone call to Pope Benedict.  He's trying to get me to come to a big retirement party the cardinals are throwing for him, but I'm going to decline.  Partying with those guys in the red beanies is like going to a Weight Watchers buffet.

This evening, I will call Steven Spielberg and wish him good luck this Sunday at the Oscars.  Stevie is a little insecure since Ben Affleck is getting all this attention for Argo.  Just last week, he drunk dialed me at 1 a.m., sobbing into the phone about how ""  I had to remind him of E.T. and Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark.  I told him to snap out of it and check his bank statements versus Ben's bank statements.  That made Steve feel better.

I am so flush with money right now that I'm thinking of booking a vacation in Hawaii.  My wife and I have been wanting to go back since our honeymoon.  Or maybe we'll surprise our friend from New Zealand and show up on his doorstep this weekend.  I'm not sure I want to be around all those Kiwis, however.  The Swedish Academy has been trying to get me to come to Stockholm to deliver a lecture ever since Mo Yan showed up in his rented tux for the Nobel Prize ceremony in December.  It's nice not to have to worry about finances.

Yes, my son is totally potty trained, and my daughter has just been invited to dance the part of Clara in The Nutcracker for the New York City Ballet this coming Christmas.

Saint Marty's life is perfect.

Everybody tells the truth...sometimes

Thursday, February 21, 2013

February 21: Naked Truth

Yes, I am going to cater to the prurient disciples of blogs again with my title.  I've noticed a definite increase in pageviews for my afternoon/evening posts since I've been using words like "raw" and "naked" and "blow."  As I've said many times before, I am not above playing dirty to get readers.  Anything that will get me the Blog of Note recognition from the people at Blogger.

I actually have to teach this afternoon.  It will be the first time I've stepped into a classroom since Monday.  It's going to be an easy day.  I'm giving a quiz, and I'm screening Singin' in the Rain.  If I get done early with that film, I've also got 2001:  A Space Odyssey to begin.  That's it.

The naked truth of this day is that I'm ready for it to be over.  Tonight at church, I have to play a mini-concert with Underground Praise, my band.  I'm a little anxious about the gig.  I'm not sure who's going to show up to listen.  I'm not sure who's going to show up to play (besides myself and our lead singer/guitar player).  I don't even know what I'm going to play.  I will eventually go home and relax, after 8 p.m.  That's about an 18-hour day.

If Saint Marty's tired now, he's going to be freakin' exhausted in a little while.

This is as naked as the truth gets

February 21: Allie, Disappearing, Angels

Anyway, I kept walking and walking up Fifth Avenue, without any tie on or anything.  Then all of a sudden, something very spooky started happening.  Every time I came to the end of a block and stepped off the goddam curb, I had this feeling that I'd never get to the other side of the street.  I thought I'd just go down, down, down, and nobody'd ever see me again.  Boy, did it scare me.  You can't imagine.  I started sweating like a bastard--my whole shirt and underwear and everything.  Then I started doing something else.  Every time I'd get to the end of a block I'd make believe I was talking to my brother Allie.  I'd say to him, "Allie, don't let me disappear.  Allie, don't let me disappear.  Allie, don't let me disappear.  Please, Allie."  And then when I'd reach the other side of the street without disappearing, I'd thank him.  Then it would start all over again as soon as I got to the next corner.  But I kept going and all.  I was sort of afraid to stop, I think--I don't remember, to tell you the truth.

This passage comes near the conclusion of The Catcher in the Rye.  Holden is almost at the end of his rope, headed toward a mental breakdown that will land him in a hospital.  He's physically ill, feeling abandoned/alone.  In an earlier part of the novel, he describes how he wants to be the catcher, saving children who are about to plunge off the cliff at the edge of the field of rye.  Now, Holden is at the edge of the cliff, and he's calling on his brother, Allie, to save him from going down, down, down.  To save him from disappearing.

I think we all have angels we call upon in times of great stress and trouble.  Holden's angel is Allie, his brother who died of leukemia.  I always find this moment in Holden's tale a little heartbreaking.  Allie's death was, in a lot of ways, the start of Holden's downward spiral.  The amount of love and loss that are expressed in the above passage are immense.

My mother-in-law died before my wife and I married.  She was a wonderful woman, full of laughter and life, and she loved her three daughters fiercely.  When we put the decorations on our tree every Christmas, there are certain ornaments that receive special places.  Those ornaments were made by my wife's mother.  A picture of her hangs on our living room wall.  She's laughing, her face a vision of joy, no shadow of her future illness present.  That's the way I remember her.  Joyful.

Last night, my daughter was sitting next to my wife on our couch.   We were watching Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.  Sirius, Harry's godfather, had just been killed, and my daughter looked up at my wife and said, "Do you miss your mommy?"

My wife looked up at her mother's picture hanging above the entertainment center.  "Every day," my wife said.  "I think about her and miss her every day."

My daughter leaned her head on my wife's shoulder.  "I'm glad you're still here with me," she said.

"So am I," my wife said.  "So am I."

I know my mother-in-law would have loved my daughter and son just as fiercely as she loved her daughters.  She would have laughed with them and played with them.  She would have been in the front row at each of my daughter's dance recitals.  I have no doubt of that.

My mother-in-law's memory and spirit are guiding angels in my house.  From the times we share just sitting on the couch, watching TV together, to the trips to get ice cream on hot summer nights, she's watching over us.  I truly believe she has held my family together, through my wife's mental illness and sexual addiction, through the lean times and the times of abundance.  She's with us.  Every day.

She has kept Saint Marty's family from disappearing.

She's there.  Evey day.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

February 20: Down and Dirty

Proceed with caution...

Yes, I'm using another title for this post that will probably attract Internet browsers looking for something a little more explicit than what they will find here.  I don't care.  I'm getting down and dirty.  A pageview is a pageview, even if it's by a man typing with one hand.  I need to increase the traffic to Saint Marty somehow.

It has been another day of cancellations in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  The winter storm/blizzard is still blowing, and snow is still flying.  By 5:30 a.m., almost every school in my area had shut down, including the university, for the second day in a row.  When I drove in this morning, I followed a line of county plows clearing the highway.  A trip that usually takes me about 20 minutes on a normal winter day took close to 45 minutes.  I'm getting really tired of winter.

Today is Worry Wednesday.  However, everything that I usually worry about on hump day has already been called off.  I don't even have to go to choir practice tonight at church.  It looks like it's going to be another evening of pajamas, comfort food, and Harry Potter movies.  My daughter recently finished reading Deathly Hallows, and now she's watching all of the films in order.  It's been a quite enjoyable experience.  We are currently half-way through Order of the Phoenix.

Of course, first I will have to shovel out my front porch and garage before I can get comfortable when I get home tonight.  My daughter is out and about with one of her best boy friends.  Notice I didn't type boyfriend, because the very thought of dating "T-Bone" (my nickname for him) makes my daughter pull a face that reminds me of sour lemonade.  So I will have to track her down in the snow.

Saint Marty is ready for Easter and Spring.

February 20: Cliques, Catholics, Cadillacs, and Expectations

"You ought to go to a boys' school sometime.  Try it sometime," I said.  "It's full of phonies, and all you do is study so that you can learn enough to be smart enough to be able to buy a goddam Cadillac some day, and you have to keep making believe you give a damn if the football team loses, and all you do is talk about girls and liquor and sex all day, and everybody sticks together in these dirty little goddam cliques.  The guys that are on the basketball team stick together, the Catholics stick together, the goddam intellectuals stick together, the guys that play bridge stick together.  Even the guys that belong to the goddam Book-of-the-Month Club stick together.  If you try to have a little intelligent--"

Holden doesn't fit in.   He's not an athlete.  He's not a future entrepreneur of America.  He's not an intellectual (although he is emotionally smart).  He's on the fencing team at Pencey, but he loses the team's foils on the way to a competition.  Although cliques aren't his thing, he seems to have a lot of friends, or people with whom he's friendly.  He's not economically challenged (poor).  He's been kicked out of all the best prep schools on the East Coast.  His brother's a semi-famous writer, and his dad is a lawyer.  Everyone expects Holden to be successful, and he's doing everything he can to not be successful.

I sometimes worry whether I've made wrong choices in my life.  When I started college, I majored in computer science, and I was good at it.  Granted, I wasn't a natural like some of the other people in my programming classes.  There was one guy I knew who wrote computer code for fun.  On a Saturday night, he didn't search for computer porn.  He worked on artificial intelligence.  I didn't fit in with this crowd.  I knew I didn't, but I hung on because my family expected me to be successful.  Graduate and get a mid-level IT job where I spent my time chasing down binary code bugs   I wasn't happy.

In my last semester as an undergraduate, I changed my career plans.  I applied to graduate school in English, and I switched my degree.  Instead of a Bachelor's in computer science, I graduated with a major in English and a minor in computer science and math.  I've never looked back.  Until now.

The last couple weeks of financial worries have made me a little reflective.  I've been playing a game of What-If.  As in, what if I had stuck with computers?  What if I'd moved to California and started programming?  What if I'd created an Internet search engine and called it by some kind of funky name, like "Google"?  What if, what if, what if...

The problem is that I wasn't a natural computer science geek.  I didn't eat, sleep, breathe, and have sex with silicon chips.  My classmates never let poor Rudolph play in any computer games, if you know what I mean.  The girls in my major were only interested in the guys with the biggest...pocket calculators.  I wasn't really interested in being a part of the Turbo Pascal clique.

Writing came naturally to me.  I was good at it.  Other people recognized I was good at it.  Girls read my stories and poems and wanted to talk to me.  English was where I belonged.  And that's where I've stayed.

I wish I could find a way to make more money with my English creds.  About 15 years ago, I had an idea about a series of books about a young orphan boy who attends a school for wizards and battles the most evil wizard who ever lived, but I didn't think anyone would be interested in it.  So here I am, working four jobs, teaching part-time, and cranking out blog posts.

Saint Marty has no regrets, except maybe the wizard book thing.

I don't fit in with any of these people...

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

February 19: If It Ain't Rain...

When I played the Stage Manager in the play Our Town in high school, I remember one line in particular.  I'm pretty sure it was said by an actor playing a dead towns person, and, in a cast of horny high schoolers, it usually caused a wave of dirty snickers.  Imagine me, standing in costume as the Stage Manager (hat and suit coat and pipe and glasses), listening with a straight face as somebody said, "If it isn't a rain, it's a three-day blow..."

Every night, I had to hear that line, and every night, I could hear my classmates laughing backstage.

The reason I'm thinking about that line today is the weather.  When I came to work this morning, it was snowing a little bit, and the roads were a slightly drifted over.  Not bad.  Well, all the schools closed down, and the university where I teach has just canceled afternoon and evening classes.  Each time I look out a window, all is see is a white sheet of wind.  The weather forecaster is now saying this storm is going to last until tomorrow evening.  It isn't quite a three-day blow.  More like a day-and-a-half blow.

I don't mind bad weather, as long as I'm home, in my pajamas, with a cup of hot chocolate spiked with Bailey's Irish Cream in my hands.  However, currently, I'm still at work, and I have about three hours before I can leave.  Perhaps things will be better in a few hours.

And perhaps Saint Marty isn't in the middle of a three-day blow.  Metaphorically, of course.

I took this last night before the storm

February 19: Old Straw Basket, Two Nuns, Blessed Sebastian of Aparicio

After I had my breakfast, it was only around noon, and I wasn't meeting old Sally till two o'clock, so I started taking this long walk.  I couldn't stop thinking about those two nuns.  I kept thinking about that beat-up old straw basket they went around collecting money with when they weren't teaching school.  I kept trying to picture my mother or somebody, or my aunt, or Sally Hayes's crazy mother, standing outside some department store and collecting dough for poor people in a beat-up old straw basket.  It was hard to picture...

Holden can be a pretty keen observer of people.  He recognizes genuine people and, as he fondly refers to them, phony bastards.  Most of the characters in The Catcher in the Rye don't measure up to Holden's high standards.  Holden doesn't even measure up.  However, the two nuns he meets at a diner score pretty high on his goodness meter.  They teach school (one of them is an English teacher), and they collect alms for the poor.  They're the kind of individuals that make me feel guilty about just being myself.

I have a pretty good life.  I've got a job (three or four, actually), a house, a full refrigerator, two healthy kids, and a supportive wife.  Granted, right now, money is pretty tight for us.  Actually, money has a grip on my throat that's turning my lips blue.  But it's all relative.  Compared to the two nuns that Holden meets, I live a very comfortable life.

And compared to the life of Blessed Sebastian of Aparicio, I live like the pope.  Sebastian was born in 1502 in Spain and emigrated to Mexico in 1531, where he worked hard and became a very wealthy man.  Eventually, when he was entering his seventh decade of life, he gave up all of his money and joined the Franciscans.  For the next 25 years, he was a "begging brother," using a wagon drawn by oxen to gather food for the religious of his community.  He died in 1600 when he was 98, after having spent nearly a third of his life in poverty, living on charity.

If Holden's two nuns make me feel guilty, Sebastian makes me feel like Veruca Salt.  I don't think of myself as a spoiled or greedy person.  I try to be grateful for everything I have and to keep my complaining to a minimum.  I'm not always successful.  This week, especially, I've been what my coworkers would call, um, really whiny, if not downright bitchy.

Saint Marty has to keep in mind that he's not begging on the street with a beat-up old straw basket or wandering the countryside with a team of oxen looking for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for dinner.  Blessings really do abound.

I don't think I'm this bad

Monday, February 18, 2013

February 18: Blog in the Raw

My last post today is going to be a blog in the raw.  That means I'm not going to proofread or correct what I'm typing.  I'm just going talk about whatever comes into my head.  I'm not going to backspace or speell check or anything.  (OK, that's funny, misspelling "spell.")

Pretty much, when I type in a post, they all pretty much look like this.  I'm a pretty fast typiest, so my fingers sometimes work faster than my brain.  Especially when it comes to spelling and grammar.  After I'm done entering a post, I usually spend a good 15 or 20 minutes proofreading and correcting it.  I hate reading blogs that are poorly written, which is about 98% of them.  Either that or they're about food or fashion or crafts.

Yes, I'm bitching about the state of blogdom.  I wish there were more really good writers blogging out there, instead of the vomit that's usually posted.  Perhaps it's my sensibilities as a college English professor.  It could be.  I've read so many comma splices and sentence fragments that I think my own skills are detriorating.  The final word in that last sentence proves it.

I usually tell my students not to worry about grammar or spelling on their first drafts.  The problem with that advice is that they apply it to their second, third, fourth, and final drafts, as well.  And now I read that they're not going to be teaching kids in elementary school how to write in cursive.  It makes me weep for the state of the world.  If the power goes out and the wireless towers are disabled, nobody is going to able to communicate with each other any more.  We'll be reduced to a planet of people wandering around like the walking dead, staring at our blank computers and smart phones and tablets.

Yes, this is a rant.  A poorly spelled and punctuated but deeply felt rant.

Maybe Saint Marty should have lived on the prairie with Laura Ingalls.

It's never stopped me, either

February 18: A Dip in the "Rye" on Monday, Insecurities

Back to our regular Monday programming after the special memoir update this morning.

Of course, I'm not going to wander far from the memoir excerpt I posted, because it is one of the things that is most on my mind.  I'm not feeling very secure about it, which is a little unusual for me.  When I put something on this blog or send it out for publication, I'm pretty confident about what I've done.  Not this time.  But, as I promised, I'm going to be forging ahead this Lent, come hell or high water.  The one thing I can say about "Prologue Confession" is that I had fun writing it.

The other thing on my mind today (EVERY day) is money.  After bills were payed this Friday, we had just enough left over to buy a Chicken McNugget or a stick of gum.  It's going to be a very difficult month for finances.

So, my question for Rye Dip Monday is:

Will I ever not have to worry of money all the time?

And the answer from Mr. Caulfield is:

"She's fine, thanks.  I haven't seen her too recently, but the last I--"

OK, it's an incomplete thought, but the answer is there in Holden's dialogue:  she's fine.  That means everything's going to be fine.  Somehow.  I think.

Funny, that answer doesn't make Saint Marty feel any better today.

This pretty much says it all

February 18: Apology, Memoir, Confessions," New Cartoon

Sorry I didn't post yesterday.  I had to play a gig with my praise band at a local church, and that little obligation took up most of my Sunday.

As promised, I do have the first installment of my Lenten memoir.  I'm not sure if it's any good.  You're going to have to be the judge of that.  Let me know what you think.  Drop me a comment.

Saint Marty is really insecure, as always.


Prologue Confession

I hate surprises.  I hate surprise parties.  People jumping out of hiding places and shouting at me isn't fun.  It's like being pummeled by dodge balls in gym class.  I hate surprise endings.  When I read a book, I start with the last page, sometimes the last chapter.  The genre doesn't matter--mystery, fantasy, biography, fiction, non-fiction.  Whatever.  I was in line at midnight on July 21, 2007, to buy Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  The first thing I did when I had it in my hands was flip to the final page to find out if Harry lived, Snape died, and scar boy and Ginny moved past the kissing stage to some serious skin magic.  If Harry had died and ended up with Moaning Myrtle or Voldemort had destroyed the muggle world like a North Korean missile strike, I wouldn't have cared.  I can accept happily ever after or misery ever after, as long as I'm prepared for it.

If I could read my life, I would already know the details of my end.  The date and time and circumstance.  Cancer.  Car accident.  Stroke.  Chicken bone.  It wouldn't matter.  I hope for a long tenure on this planet, but if my last page was tomorrow morning at 6:57 a.m., I would accept my fate.  I'd probably cancel class, since I wouldn't want to spend my final moments with 25 surly eighteen-year-olds who don't know a run-on sentence from a death sentence.  I wold pop in my DVD of It's a Wonderful Life, order a stuffed-crust pizza with mushrooms and chicken, and watch George Bailey save Bedford Falls from Mr. Potter.  Maybe I would ask my daughter if I could braid her hair like I used to when she was small.  I would slip my hand under my wife's pajamas to feel the warmth of her body.  I'd let my four-year-old son eat ice cream for dinner and skip his bath.  And, at the end of the film, I'd sing "Auld Lang Syne" with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, crying like I always do.  I'd kiss my kids the way Stewart does, as if I'm having a low blood sugar and they're a pile of Skittles.  With my children all nestled, snug in their beds, I'd climb into bed with my wife.  We'd talk about something small, unimportant.  The potluck at church on Sunday or the new John Irving novel.  When it was time for sleep, I'd press my lips to her mouth the way I did when we first met, hungry, full of breath and tongue.  The end.

Yes, I've thought about my final pages a lot.  When I was nine or ten, I wrote the instructions for my funeral in my journal, including seating arrangements and hymns and the menu for my wake (pancakes and bacon).  My family and friends thought I was just left of Gomez Addams in my weirdness.  I preferred to think of myself as considerate, making all the hard choices for my survivors.  No surprises.  Simply read and follow the instructions on the box, like making brownies.

My life has not been all brownies, however, and I think that may account for my almost phobic avoidance of surprise.  I haven't been successful at maintaining an uneventful life.  In fact, I've sometimes navigated my days like a visually-impaired mountain climber, toeing the summit of Pikes Peak at midnight in a dense fog.  If I manage to travel from alarm clock off in morning to alarm clock set at night with a minimum of spikes on my surprise meter, I consider those waking hours golden.  Being a pessimist and a realist, I know life rarely works that way.  Scratch "rarely."  Life never works that way.

Being a poet and a writer, I know literature can work that way.  With foreshadowing and symbolism, I can prepare readers for surprises.  If these literary devices aren't explicit enough, readers can flip or scroll ahead to find out whether this Prince Charming finds the owner of the glass slipper filled with lithium.  To eliminate the possibility of unpleasant plot twists, I provide a catalog of upcoming events and subjects:

I will talk a good deal about mental illness and sexual addiction.  Accompanying these subjects, I will also discuss Internet pornography and masturbation.  There will be a pregnancy, a stroke, a birth, and a pulmonary embolism.  Throw in the election of the first African American to the Oval Office, and an Iraqi journalist pitching his shoes at the President of the United States. 

That takes care of most of the Richter Scale quakes and tremors in this book.  I will avoid subtlety at all costs.  If something bad is about to happen, I will provide plenty of warning.

Most of all, I can promise, if not a happily ever after, a happily ever final paragraph, filled with snow and colored lights and possibility.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, February 16, 2013

February 16: Radio City, Joseph Girzone, "Joshua," New Cartoon

...Then, after him, they had this Christmas thing they have at Radio City every year.  All these angels start coming out of the boxes and everywhere , guys carrying crucifixes and stuff all over the place, and the whole bunch of them--thousands of them--singing "Come All Ye Faithfull" like mad.  Big deal.  It's supposed to be religious as hell, I know, and very pretty and all, but I can't see anything religious or pretty, for God's sake, about a bunch of actors carrying crucifixes all over the stage.  When they were all finished and started going out the boxes again, you could tell they could hardly wait to get a cigarette or something.  I saw it with old Sally Hayes the year before, and she kept saying how beautiful it was, the costumes and all.  I said old Jesus probably would've puked if He could see it--all those fancy costumes and all.  Sally said I was a sacrilegious atheist.  I probably am...

I'm not sure Holden is far off in the above passage about Jesus.  The Jesus I read about in the Bible isn't about show and fireworks and smoke.  He isn't a rock star or a Radio City Rockette.  When big crowds gathered around to hear Him, He spoke His mind, told them what He wanted to tell them, and then He usually slipped away to some place quiet to pray or meditate or rest.  There's a whole lot about Jesus that Holden really gets.  Holden knows Jesus isn't a phony bastard, full of Himself and His power.

Today, I want to talk about another guy who gets Jesus. Joseph Girzone is a retired Catholic priest and author of the book Joshua.  I first read this novel around 1986 or '87.  I was an undergraduate in college and not very religious.  Like any twenty-something, I was interested in more important things, like girls and clothes and sex and movies and music.  Jesus wasn't something I thought about very much, even though I played the organ for Mass every weekend.

Girzone's Joshua is a parable almost.  It's about the second coming of Christ, but Christ doesn't descend from the clouds after a nuclear holocaust and reaping of souls.  No, Joshua (Girzone's Jesus) moves into a cabin on the edge of the little town of Auburn and slowly, quietly goes about his business.  He makes friends.  He does carpentry.  And he changes the lives of everybody he meets.  In one memorable passage, he talks to the local Catholic bishop about Jesus' beliefs on religion:

"Jesus was not interested in religion as you understand it.  For you religion is the passing on of finely chiseled doctrines and rigid codes of behavior.  For Jesus religion was finding God and enjoying freedom of being close to God--seeing Him in all creation, especially in God's children.  Perfecting those relationships was Jesus' understanding of religion.  In the mind of Jesus the Church's great concern should be to foster people's relationship with God and show people how to work together, caring for one another and building trust and love among the families of nations."

Yes, some of Girzone's prose reads a little like a sermon, but the story of Joshua inspired me in the mid '80s to revisit my ideas and beliefs about Jesus and religion.  It made me see Jesus as a real guy, simple, full of grace and love.   Eventually, Joshua ends in Rome with Joshua having a conversation with the Pope, whom he calls Peter.  I won't tell you the outcome of that audience, but I will say that when the conclave of cardinals meets in the Vatican at the beginning of March to choose the next Bishop of Rome, they would all do well to read Girzone's novel first.

Joshua also does something else for me:  it makes me feel peaceful.  In Girzone's portrait of Jesus/Joshua, I find a man-God who is a friend, protector, and healer.  It may sound crazy, but this slim little book reads like a fifth Gospel to me.  It may be a little corny and preachy at times, but it's also inspiring and deeply moving.

Saint Marty can get behind the Gospel of Girzone.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, February 15, 2013

February 15: New Poem, "Lent Flu," Be Kind

It has been a while since I've written a new poem.  I've been rereading Sarah Vap's poetry collection Faulkner's Rosary all week, and she has inspired this poem.  I love her form, her imagery, her surprise.  I hope what I have is good.  I'm not sure.  My first and most honest critic is my wife, and she didn't say she liked it.  But she didn't say it sucked.

Saint Marty can live with that tonight.  Be kind.

Lent Flu

He calls at two a.m. 
     My body hurts
in his crib

I stand beside him
     his fever in the air
like needles on a midnight pine

I can't help him
     snuff this flame
in his muscles

Can only watch him
     suffer, squirm
on his cross

He looks up at me
     eyes full of foresaken
If you love me

He seems to say
    through his thorns
You would take this cup

I know, I know, I know
    my son
these nails

Are sharp sacrifice 

February 15: Feverish, Sick Kid, Rotten P.O.E.T.S. Day

"Feel my forehead," she said all of a sudden.


"Feel it.  Just feel it once."

I felt it.  I didn't feel anything, though.

"Does it feel very feverish?" she said.

Phoebe is trying to make herself have a fever, forcing Holden to touch her forehead.  She's not really sick.  She's just being a kid, thinking she has the power to raise or lower her body temperature at will.

I have a sick kid.  My son woke up this morning at 2 a.m. and puked all over the floor.  This is round number two for him with the stomach flu.  I spent the next two hours lying on the floor next to the couch, holding his head every time he threw up in a bucket.  By the time I left for work, he was at the dry heaves stage.

So this has been a pretty rotten P.O.E.T.S. Day.  I'm tired, and I still have to stop at Wal-Mart to pick up some Gatorade and diapers.  Then, when I get home, I have to clean the house.  From there, I don't know where this vomitty day is going to take me.

Saint Marty is ready to go back to bed.

It wasn't quite this fun!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

February 14: Red Lobster and Chocolate

It has been a good Valentine's Day.  My wife came down to the medical office where I work for lunch, and she brought take-out from Red Lobster.  We didn't even have to pay for it.  A friend gave us a $25 gift certificate for Christmas, so I got my lobster pizza for free.

And, of course, I've had my share of chocolate.  My coworker bought some Valentine M&Ms, and she shared.  Pieces of pink and white, chocolate-filled love.  Oh, yeah, we also worked, but it was really all about the candy for me.  Another coworker shared her chocolate-dipped pretzels.  All I need now is a bowl of Parmesan artichoke dip, and my day will be complete.

I'm about ready to head off to class to teach.  We're finishing off Pulp Fiction and starting Singin' in the Rain.  I truly love teaching this film class.  Who else, besides critics like Roger Ebert and David Ansen, gets paid to talk about movies?  This year of teaching has been great.  Movies and more movies.  I even had an excuse to show It's a Wonderful Life to my students.  These two semesters have been like Valentines from the English Department Head.

Yes, Saint Marty is feeling very loved right now.

Happy Valentine's Day!

February 14: Jane Gallagher, Doberman Pinscher, Valentines

"Jane Gallagher," I said.  I even got up from the washbowl when he said that.  I damn near dropped dead.  "You're damn right I know her.  She practically lived right next door to me, the summer before last.  She had this big damn Doberman pinscher.  That's how I met her.  Her dog used to keep coming over in our--"

Holden has a thing for Jane Gallagher.  All through the novel, he keeps thinking about her.  A couple of times, he even comes close to calling her.  He never does.  Jane remains this unattainable love for Holden.  Every time he thinks or speaks about her, there's a sense of melancholy and longing.  In the years since I first read The Catcher in the Rye, I've always imagined that Holden finally did call Jane.  I want a happy ending for him.  I want Holden and Jane to date, get married, and have normal, well-adjusted kids.  That's the romantic in me.  (Yes, I do have a romantic in me.  I just choose to keep it locked away from the sunlight.)  In reality, considering Holden's instability,  I would expect him to drift through life, flunking out of college, bouncing from job to job.  Jane is not in his future.

But, since it's Valentine's Day, let's focus on the former option.  Love.  Romance.  Happily ever after.  Not too many people get that.  In 2015, my wife and I will celebrate our twentieth anniversary.  That's crazy.  I'd love to say it's been roses and chocolate all the time.  It hasn't.  We've struggled a great deal.  Because of my wife's mental illness and its accompanying complications, I would say we are survivors of the love trenches.  I have the scars to prove it.

And yet, love won.  We have a home.  Two cars.  Two beautiful kids.  From the outside, we are living the American dream.  Sort of.  We still have problems, concerns that keep me awake at night.  Today is not the day to think about worries, however.  Today is a day to celebrate the love I have in my life.  I have hung on to that love, through the battles of the past two decades.  It has been my armor.  I think Holden holds on to his love for Jane for the same reason.  It gives him hope.

Saint Marty bows to the wisdom of Saint Paul this morning:  " bears all thing, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails."

It hasn't failed me yet

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

February 13: Ashes to Ashes

Tonight, I will be at the Ash Wednesday service at church.  The praise band is playing, and the ashes and oil are probably being mixed as I type this post.

I may be the only person on the planet who enjoys Ash Wednesday.  Most Christians probably wake up thinking, "God, is it Lent already?"  I love the solemnity of the night, the ritual of lining up and having ashes smudged on my forehead in the shape of a cross.  The Scriptures and prayers.  The invocation of penance and preparation.  If I lived in the Middle Ages, I probably would have worn burlap and ate grasshoppers.  Lightly toasted with butter and sugar and cinnamon.

My faith has always informed other parts of my life.  It's always informed my writing.  I love the cyclical nature of the Church year, moving from the Nativity narrative to the Passion and resurrection.  From birth to death to redemption and salvation.  While Lent is a darker period of waiting, it fills me with a sense of hope, just like Advent.

So, yes, I'm excited for tonight's worship service.  It will be beautiful, full of moments of silence and celebration.

Saint Marty will be in the front pew, making an ash of himself.

I hear they taste just like chicken

February 13: Ash Wednesday, Stradlater's Composition, Lenten Worry

Anyway, that's what I wrote Stradlater's composition about.  Old Allie's baseball mitt.  I happened to have it with me, in my suitcase, so I got it out and copied down the poems that were written on it.  All I had to do was change Allie's name so that nobody would know it was my brother and not Stradlater's.  I wasn't too crazy about doing it, but I couldn't think of anything else descriptive.  Besides, I sort of liked writing about it.  It took me about an hour, because I had to use Stradlater's lousy typewriter, and it kept jamming on me.  The reason I didn't use my own was because I'd lent it to a guy down the hall.

Holden is a writer.  Holden's brother is a writer.  Even when he flunks out of Pencey, Prep, Holden still passes his English class.  Out of all the things he does in The Catcher in the Rye, writing this essay is one of the few things that actually brings him pleasure.  Holden loves writing about his brother, Allie.

I have been struggling for a couple weeks trying to decide what I'm going to do for Lent this year.  For those disciples who have been following me for a while, you already know that two years ago, I made the commitment to write a poem a day, Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday.  That was crazy, but I did it.  Last year, I said I was going to write a chapter of memoir every week and post it.  That Lenten commitment didn't go so well.  I got some writing done, but it was a hit and miss kind of affair.  I wasn't very disciplined.  Sort of like giving up chocolate for Lent and then stashing Milky Ways in your sock drawer for midnight snacks.

Every time I've thought and prayed about Lent this year, I kept coming back to that memoir thing.  I don't know if it's a God thing or a guilt thing.  However, I'm going to try again this Lent to write my memoir.  I'm not going to commit to any page count or length per week.  Last time, I said I was going to write a chapter a week, and I started panicking on Sundays when I had exactly two sentences written.  Nope, this time, I will simply write and post whatever I come up with on Sunday, whether it's a word or sentence or paragraph or book.

I'm worried that I'm not going to able to complete this task again.  However, I have to keep Holden and his composition about Allie's mitt in mind.  I have to like what I'm writing.  It has to be fun.  I had fun writing a poem a day two years ago.  It gave me stress sometimes, but I still loved the challenge.  I have to love this challenge, too.

So, Saint Marty is making it official.  This Lent, he will start writing his memoir.  Stayed tuned on Sundays for the fruits of his labors, even they are just raisins.

Challenge accepted

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

February 12: Waking Up on the Wrong Side

I woke up this morning on the wrong side of the bed.

I've always wondered where that phrase came from.  I thought it had something to do with falling out of bed because you're sleeping on a side that is unfamiliar to you.  I've also thought it had something to do with getting drunk and waking up with somebody you don't know.  Perhaps it refers to waking up too early or too late.

Whatever the source of this phrase, I can honestly say that I did wake up on the wrong side of the bed today.  I was in a horrible mood for most of the a.m.  Everybody was ticking me off.  The most innocent questions and requests from people instilled an urge in me to make the questioner or requester cry.

Things have gotten better this afternoon.  My compulsion to inflict pain has subsided.  It took quite a few hours, however.  I'm not sure what kind of mood I'm going to be in when I hit the classroom to teach.  Thank God all I have to do is pop Pulp Fiction into the DVD player and press play.  I think that the film's blood and profanity will improve my disposition, as well.

Perhaps Saint Marty needs to do some deep breathing.  Or kick a puppy.

See what I mean?

February 12: Biggest Sex Maniac, Crumby Stuff, Saint Valentine

The trouble was, that kind of junk is sort of fascinating to watch, even if you don't want it to be.  For instance, that girl that was getting water squirted all over her face, she was pretty good-looking.  I mean that's my big trouble.  In my mind, I'm probably the biggest sex maniac you ever saw.  Sometimes I can think of very crumby stuff I wouldn't mind doing if the opportunity came up.  I can even see how it might be quite a lot of fun, in a crumby way, and if you were both sort of drunk and all, to get a girl and squirt water or something all over each other's face...

Holden is a teenager.  He's staying in a hotel by himself in the above passage, and he's looking out the window of his room, watching the kinky stuff people are doing in the hotel rooms across the street.  He sees an older businessman dressing up in women's clothes, and he watches a couple spitting water on each other's bodies.  It's a very sexual passage, and totally in keeping with what a 16- or 17-year-old boy would be fascinated by.  Holden isn't really a sex maniac.  He's hormonal, pubescent, and naturally curious.

One of the reasons The Catcher in the Rye is so popular with young readers over 60 years after it was published is because of its frank approach to sexuality and teenage angst.  Holden, despite what he believes, is pretty normal when it comes to his obsession with girls and sex.  The first time I read Catcher, I was a freshman in high school, and I totally latched onto passages like the one above.  I remember reading the description of the man and woman spitting water at each other over and over.  I won't say I was obsessed, but I will admit to being a little turned on.  Hey, I was thirteen at the time.  Give me a break.

Being raised Catholic, I found Holden's story a little bit of a revelation.  It made me feel not alone.  Holden was just like me, or I was just like Holden.  I had a few Jane Gallaghers in my life I was obsessed with.  We didn't talk about sex at home.  It was secret, dirty.  I was taught as a boy that having an impure thought about a girl was as much a sin as actually committing an impure act.  I was screwed, not literally, no matter what I did or did not do.

Which is why I always find Valentine's Day a little surprising.  A day that is dedicated to love and romance and sex is a saint's feast day.  Valentine was a Roman priest in the third century.  His association with the modern practice of sending valentines to lovers comes from an ancient pagan ritual.  Boys used to draw the names of girls in honor of the Roman goddess, Februata Juno, on February 15.  In order to do away with this custom, Saints' names were substituted for girls' names on the billets.  Thus, instead of receiving the prize of pretty maidens, young boys got the names of holy people like Valentine, who was eventually beaten with clubs and beheaded for his faith.  Doesn't really seem like a fair trade to me.

My wife and I will exchange cards on Thursday.  We don't buy candy or presents for each other, mostly because we don't have the money for it.  My coworker at the medical office is getting a brand new sewing machine from her husband for Valentine's Day.  I wish I could do stuff like that for my wife.  I wish I could take her to a nice restaurant and maybe a movie.  We just can't afford it.

I've come a long way from that thirteen-year-old who first read The Catcher in the Rye.  I still find Holden's musings on sex and girls fascinating, but in a different way.  Now, I think about all the Holdens who are going to be sniffing around my daughter in the years to come, and I think about the Holden my son will eventually become.

Maybe Saint Marty should keep his kids home on Valentine's Day.

The original inspiration for Valentine's Day