Sunday, March 31, 2013

March 31: Easter, New Cartoon

Christ is risen!  Christ is risen indeed!

That was the greeting in church this morning.  I was picking my way across an icy parking lot on my way to the Easter Sunrise service, and a gentleman I know called out to me, "Christ is risen!"  Without missing a beat, I called back, "Christ is risen indeed!"

It's something I learned from the Methodist church.  I don't recall ever hearing anyone using that particular exchange in the Catholic churches I attended as a child.  I think it might sound a little too Pentecostal.  Anything that even hints at arm raising and speaking in tongues is a little suspicious in Catholic circles.  We're more of the candle-lighting, falling-asleep-in-the-pew brand of Christians.

One of my favorite things about Easter is the variety of worship services that take place during the week leading up to today.  There's the dark and solemn (Good Friday).  There's the procession from darkness to light (Easter Vigil).  And then there's raucous and loud (Easter Sunday).  There are many opportunities to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit during Holy Week.

The only problem is that I'm usually pretty tired come Easter Sunday afternoon.  It's all the music and worship, late nights and early mornings.  For instance, I got home from the Easter Vigil at around 11 p.m. last night.  I got to bed around 12:30 a.m., and my alarm went off at 6:30 this morning.  I was at church by 7:15 a.m. to get ready for the Easter Sunrise service at eight o'clock.  This service, which I thought was going to be just left of disaster for various complicated reasons, turned out to be the most beautiful and meaningful.  The readings, music, and message all rocked.

I've had a great Lenten/Easter season.  Lots of surprising God moments.  It's sort of been like today's weather.  Cold and windy sometimes.  Blue sky and sun right now.  That's what it's all about.  Periods of desert and periods of communion.

Christ is risen, Saint Marty.  He's risen indeed..

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, March 30, 2013

March 30: What the Hellya Reading, John Smolens, "Quarantine," New Cartoon

He kept standing there.  He was exactly the kind of a guy that wouldn't get out of your light when you asked him to.  He'd do it, finally, but it took him a lot longer if you asked him to.  "What the hellya reading?" he said.

"Goddam book."

He shoved my book back with his hand so that he could see the name of it.  "Any good?" he said.

In the last couple of Rye posts, I keep returning to Ackley for some reason.  He's a relatively minor character, really, but he sort of stays with you.  I think it's because everybody knows a guy like Ackley.  A person whom nobody really likes that much.  He just sort of hangs around, buzzing in your ear like a persistent mosquito.  Ackley doesn't really care about the book Holden is reading.  He just wants Holden's attention.

If Ackley had been buzzing around me yesterday, he would have found me reading the latest novel from a friend and colleague of mine, John Smolens.  John's latest is titled Quarantine, and it's simply a great story.  It's set in the year 1796 in the town of Newburyport, Massachusetts.  A trading ship arrives in the harbor one night, bearing a crew that's afflicted by a mysterious fever.  Soon, the residents of Newburyport start dying at an alarming rate.  Giles Wiggins, one of the town's doctors, sets up a pest-house in the middle of town.  Throw in a preacher who believes the plague is the result of loose morals and sin, a mother scheming to kill her son, and a mysterious woman who may or may not be the daughter of French royalty, and you have the makings of a page-turning historical thriller.

John's prose is clean and precise.  His characters are complex and flawed.  The first time Giles appears, he's drunk and at first unwilling to treat the ailing sailors aboard the soon-to-be quarantined ship.  Miranda, his mother, holds court on her estate, abusing her servants and doing everything she can to control of her dissolute son.  Leander Hatch, one of the moral centers of Quarantine, navigates the minefields of the narrative as any nineteen-year-old boy would, full of confusion and anger and passion.

John's description of Newburyport in the throes of fevered panic is chilling:

They didn't speak again as they rattled along High Street toward the Mall.  When the smoke above the pest-house came into sight, they could hear voices--a large group of people stood outside the gates, singing "My Soul Doth Magnify the Lord."  By the time the last verse was finished, Leander and his father reached the Mall.  Reverend Cary, a stout man with thick side-whiskers, stood on a crate addressing the crowd.  He pointed at Leander's father and bellowed, "Come noooo closer with thy burden!"

In the tale of Newburyport is the ghost of the modern-day AIDS  hysteria, scientists squaring off against religious zealots, or the battle between capitalism and health care in the United States.  History repeats itself, and Smolens' cinematic writing connects past with present to provide a bleak warning about the future.

On this Holy Saturday, when light breaks through the darkness, John Smolens' Quarantine is a novel of Biblical ambiguity, where good people are afflicted with a black plague and the powerful and wealthy hold the keys to both damnation and salvation.

Yes, Ackley, Saint Marty has a goddam good book for you to read.  John Smolens' Quaratine.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, March 29, 2013

March 29: A Good Friday Poem, Madeleine L'Engle, "Mary Speaks:"

I have a poem for my disciples tonight from the writer Madeleine L'Engle.  It's from her collection A Cry Like a Bell which I reviewed several weeks ago in a post.  I find this poem particularly moving because it focuses on Mary and her part in the Jesus narrative.

I'm currently in between Good Friday services.  In a few hours I'll be heading off to the Episcopal church.  I'm looking forward to this one a little more.  The way the Passion is read during tonight's worship is particularly effecting.

Saint Marty is a sucker for a crucifixion story.

Mary Speaks:

O you who bear the pain of the whole earth,
     I bore you.
O you whose tears give human tears their worth,
     I laughed with you.
You, who, when your hem is touched, give power,
     I nourished you.
Who turn the day to night in this dark hour,
     light comes from you.
O you who hold the world in your embrace,
     I carried you.
Whose arms encircled the world with your grace,
     I once held you.
O you who laughed and ate and walked the shore,
     I played with you.
And I, who with all others, you died for,
     now I hold you.

May I be faithful to this final test:
in this last time I hold my child, my son,
his body close enfolded to my breast,
the holder held:  the bearer borne.
Mourning to joy:  darkness to morn.
Open, my arms:  your work is done.,

March 29: Good Friday, Ackely, Church

"Only around!"  Ackley said.  "Listen, I gotta get up and go to Mass in the morning, for Chrissake.  You guys start hollering and fighting in the middle of the goddam--What the hell was the fight about, anyhow?"

If you can't tell from this little piece of dialogue, Ackley isn't a model Christian.  There's a lot of irony in what he says.  He has to go to Mass in the morning, followed up with "for Chrissake."  Then he starts complaining about Holden fighting with his dorm room mate in the middle of "goddam..."  Don't get me wrong.  I like Ackley, and I think Holden does, too.  As Holden says at one point, Ackley's a prince.

I have to go to church this weekend.  A lot of church.  It started last night, with a Maunday Thursday service.  At one o'clock this afternoon, I have to play for a Good Friday service at a Catholic church.  Tonight, I'm going to be singing with an ecumenical choir at an Episcopal church.  Tomorrow night is the main event--the Easter Vigil Mass.  It starts at 9 p.m. and lasts about two-and-a-half hours.  Lots of candles and chimes and reading and singing.  Probably smoke and water, as wellThen, on Easter Sunday morning, it's the Easter Sunrise service at 8 a.m., followed by an 11 a.m. Easter worship service.

No wonder the Easter Bunny brings chocolate on Sunday.  He has to give everybody energy to make it through the last church services.  I'm feeling pretty good right now, but I have a feeling that, when the alarm goes off on Sunday morning, I'm going to feel more like Ackely, muttering something like, "I just go to sleep a little while ago, for Chrissake."

Today is one of the holiest days of the year.  It's also P.O.E.T.S. Day.  I still have a lot to get done before the sun sets.  Cleaning and writing and reading.  Maybe I'll watch a movie tonight with my wife.  Something light and easy.  Perhaps The Passion of the Christ.

Saint Marty is up for a few laughs.

Have you heard the one about the rabbi and the priest?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

March 28: Work, Work, and More Work

Well, for a day that started out with chaos and uncertainty, I have certainly kept myself busy.

I've been in my office at the university since around nine this morning.  I've corrected midterm exams, written a blog post, e-mailed some colleagues, and watched a movie.  Then, I took a break and went back to the medical office to survey the fire/smoke damage done at the facility.  Aside from a strong smell of smoke in the hallway, our suite was pretty much clear.  If I thought really hard and went searching with my nose, I could detect a faint odor in some of the rooms.  Aside from that, nothing.

Then I came back to my university office and corrected more midterms.  After I'm done typing this post, I'm going to my daughter's dance studio to drop off a check to her instructor, and then I'm going to try to get some Easter candy shopping done before I have to teach.

This morning's little catastrophe has allowed me to be very productive.  Basically, I've done work, work, and more work.

You'll have to excuse Saint Marty now.  He's got some work to do.

Busy, busy, busy

March 28: Maunday Thursday, Sort of Cosy, Fire

It was pretty nice to get back to my room, after I left old Spencer, because everybody was down at the game, and the heat was on in our room, for a change.  It felt sort of cosy.  I took off my coat and my tie and unbuttoned my shirt collar, and then I put on this hat that I'd bought in New York that morning.  It was this red hunting hat, with one of those very, very long peaks.  I saw it in the window of this sports store when we got out of the subway, just after I noticed I'd lost all the goddam foils.  It only cost me a buck.  The way I wore it, I swung the old peak way around to the back--very corny, I'll admit, but I liked it that way.  I looked good in it that way.  Then I got this book I was reading and sat down in my chair.  There were two chairs in every room.  I had one and my roommate, Ward Stradlater, had one.  The arms were in sad shape, because everybody was always sitting on them, but they were pretty comfortable chairs.

Sort of cosy.  That's how Holden feels.  None of the bad crap has happened to him yet.  His roommate has a date with Jane, the girl Holden loves, but Holden doesn't know about it.  Holden is being kicked out of Pencey Prep, but he's still safe in his dorm room for the moment.  He hasn't started drinking.  He hasn't had his encounter with the prostitute.  His life hasn't started to completely unravel.  Yet.  He's "sort of cosy" in his warm dorm room, wearing his new hunting hat.

That's what I am right now.  I'm feeling safe and warm in my office at the university.  It's mid-morning, and usually I'm working at the medical office at this time of day.  However, about two hours into my shift, the building's fire alarms started going off.  Generally, I ignore the fire alarms.  They go off frequently (for tests or because some kid has pulled the alarm and run like hell).  I continued registering my patient.  The alarms kept flashing.  Then, over the PA system, a voice said, "Please evacuate the building.  Please evacuate the building."

What ensued was about ten minutes of chaos and panic.  I called the nurses in the back of the facility and told them they needed to get out.  I called my boss over at the hospital and told her there was a fire.  Then I packed up all my belongings--my computers, my books, my teaching stuff--and ran like hell.

People were milling around the entrance to the medical center, and I could hear the sirens in the distance, when I got outside.  I stood there with my coworkers and said, "Perhaps everyone should move away from the building?"

One coworker looked at me and said, "Do you want to go have breakfast?"

We went to Hardees and ate.  It was quite lovely.  When we got back to the medical center, the chaos had subsided.  We found the nurses, and they told us that the building was shut down until at least noon.

So here I am in my nice, cosy, university office.  Safe.  Warm.  That's a blessing.  (I'm not wearing a red hunting hat.)  Everybody got out of the building safely.  No injuries.  That's a blessing.  It's Maunday Thursday, and I'm going to a Seder meal tonight.  That's a blessing.

Saint Marty is ready for a little calm after this big storm.

I think I look like Paul Newman

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

March 27: A Gloaming Baby

I have a friend whose son's girlfriend is in the hospital at this moment giving birth to a baby girl.

In other circumstances, this news would be happy.  In this case, however, his girlfriend isn't talking to him.  Her family went to their apartment and cleaned the place out--furniture, curtains, dishes, bedsheets, computers.  All gone.  I'm not sure what the whole story is, but it ain't good.

My friend's son is just not a teenager.  He turned 20 a little while ago.  His girlfriend is 18 or 19.  Their relationship has been unstable for quite some time, and his girlfriend's mother has only made the situation worse.  This baby about to enter the world is in for quite a bumpy ride.  With her first breath, she may look around the room and say, "Put me back in."

She is a gloaming baby.  Born on Gloaming Wednesday.  Born at the gloaming of a troubled pairing of two young people.  There will be a lot of darkness surrounding her young, fragile life.

Saint Marty asks you to pray for this child.  Pray for happiness.  Pray for peace.  Pray for her.

Sometimes, the stork has to fly through a lot of crap

March 27: Gloaming Wednesday, Backasswards, Houses of Friends

"God damn it."  He was sore as hell.  He was really furious.  "You always do everything backasswards."  He looked at me.  "No wonder you're flunking the hell out of here," he said.  "You don't do one damn thing the way you're supposed to.  I mean it.  Not one damn thing."

Stradlater, Holden's dorm mate, is pissed at Holden.  Holden has written en essay for Stradlater's English class.  Being Holden, he has not followed the directions Stradlater gave him to write something "descriptive as hell."  He was supposed to write about a place.  Instead, Holden wrote about his dead brother's baseball mitt, and now Stradlater is taking him to task.

It's the day before Maunday Thursday and the whole start of the Easter Triduum.  My name for this day is Gloaming Wednesday.  "Gloaming" is defined as "the time of day immediately following sunset."  It's been one of my favorite words for a long time.  I like the sound of it, the feel of it on my tongue.  It's a pleasant word.  The reason I'm using it to refer to the day before Maunday Thursday is that it has a gentle finality.  Christ's life is coming to an end.  The sun has set.  There's a sense of gathering darkness.  Yet, today/tonight is the calm before the chaos of the next 72 hours.  I think "gloaming" describes this time perfectly.

The passage I opened with appears at the gloaming of Holden's tenure as a student at Pencey Prep.  In a few words, Stradlater is able sum up one of Holden's major flaws (or strengths) as a person:  he does everything "backasswards," or, to put it nicely, he doesn't follow directions well.  Holden is an original thinker.  He doesn't buy into the whole prep-school mentality and doesn't aspire to be successful in that "phony" way.

I have never been successful in any sense of the definition of the word "success."  Yes, I've published a book.  Yes, I teach at a university.  And, yes, I have two post-graduate degrees with another three years work toward a PhD.  Perhaps I appear successful to some people.  However, I only teach part-time at the college; I hold down three or so jobs to pay the bills (which barely happens most weeks); and my Master's in Fiction and MFA in Poetry simply qualify me to write about making french fries at McDonald's with style.

Most days, I'm in a constant state of self-abuse (and not in a good way) about my lack of success.  If I had only finished my PhD and interviewed at a university that was looking for an itinerant specialist in 20th century American lit, I might be more successful today.  Perhaps I would own a house like the houses of my tenured friends in the English Department--big, sprawling, five-bedroom, three-bathroom fixer-uppers that they can afford to fix-up.  Perhaps I would go on vacations to Hawaii or Europe once a year.  (At this point in time, I'm happy for a weekend at the Holiday Inn.)  And perhaps I wouldn't feel quite so gloaming today, like I'm heading into the twilight of a mildly successful career as a mediocre writer and part-time professor.  Maybe I am a grown-up Holden Caulfield.

Yes, I've done things backasswards in my life, but I do have a beautiful wife and two gorgeous kids.  I have friends I adore and who adore me.  My house is a two-bedroom, one-bathroom fixer-upper that I can't afford to fix-up, but I have a house.  And I'm able to teach classes in poetry and film and literature and get paid for it.

Saint Marty guesses that's not such a bad gloaming after all.

Care to join me for a stroll in the gloaming?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

March 26: Poodle Skirts and Concerts

My daughter is performing in a chorus concert tonight.  Her class is doing a medley from the musical Hairspray.  She went to school this morning wearing a poodle skirt, her hair ratted and plastered with Aqua Net.  We practiced the hairdo last night.  Neither myself nor my wife have experience with ratting, so it really was a trip into the Bermuda Triangle of hairstyling.  It looked decent last night, but my wife had to do it by herself this morning.

There was a 1 p.m. concert, which my wife attended, and there is a repeat at 7 p.m.  For this evening's performance, my daughter's hair will be styled by my sister, who is much handier with a comb, blow dryer, curling iron, and hairspray.  I'm looking forward to seeing my daughter sing.  She's been crooning her little trio part over and over and over at home.  I don't mind.  I love the music.

That is my night in a nutshell.  I get done teaching at 5:40 p.m.  I get home around 6 p.m.  My daughter needs to be at school at 6:30 p.m.  The concert begins a half hour later.

Maybe Saint Marty will have some time to each a piece of cheese and some saltines in the middle of all that.

Keep this hair away from a lit match

March 26: Dolorous Tuesday, Choke to Death, the Annunciation

Then, all of a sudden, I started to cry.  I couldn't help it.  I did it so nobody could hear me, but I did it.  It scared hell out of old Phoebe when I started doing it, and she came over and tried to make me stop, but once you get started, you can't just stop on a goddam dime.  I was still sitting on the edge of the bed when I did it, and she put her old arm around my neck, and I put my arm around her, too, but I still couldn't stop for a long time.  I thought I was going to choke to death or something.  Boy, I scared hell out of poor old Phoebe.  The damn window was open and everything, and I could feel her shivering and all, because all she had on was her pajamas.  I tried to make her get back in bed, but she wouldn't go.  Finally I stopped.  But it certainly took me a long, long time.

Yesterday, I promised to provide names for the three days of Holy Week without special titles.  Yesterday I christened Lachrymose Monday.  Today is...Dolorous Tuesday.

"Dolorous" means "causing, marked by, or expressing misery or grief."  That's certainly what Holden is doing in the passage above.  He becomes so overwhelmed by sadness and desperation that all he can do is sit on his little sister's bed and weep.  Phoebe tries to comfort her brother as best as she can, but she is young and doesn't understand the workings of grief.  Holden doesn't understand them, either.  He is simply the poster child for dolor.

I'm not quite as unsettled as I was yesterday.  My emotions aren't as quicksilver.  Last night, I went to a Faith Formation session with my daughter at one of the local Catholic churches.  The deacon spoke about the meanings and traditions of Easter.  He really didn't say a whole lot about the actual Easter Triduum (Maunday Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil) that I didn't already know.  It was the discussion after his lecture that made me stop and think.  In fact, it was one question he asked:  "What does Easter mean to you?"

Of course, I was sitting in a church filled with lifelong Catholics, so all the standard answers were offered:  salvation, resurrection, redemption, forgiveness.  Each time someone brought up one of these old chestnuts, it was all I could do not to roll my eyes.  I mean, they sounded like they were quoting answers they learned in second grade cathecism.  I was waiting for something more real or surprising.

I, of course, never opened my mouth.  I didn't want to be drawn into a discussion where I had to explain my answer.

What does Easter mean to me?  It means Christmas.

That's right, I said Christmas.  That's why I didn't want to open my mouth last night.  Yesterday, March 25, was the feast day of the Annunciation of the Lord.  That's the day Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her she was going to bear the Christ Child.  It's also celebrates the conception of Christ in Mary's womb.  In nine months, we will be celebrating Christmas Day once again.  And the feast of the Annunciation usually comes right around the end of Lent or during Holy Week.  I think that's significant.

In my mind, Christmas and Easter are linked.  Christmas is all about hope and light.  Easter is all about hope and light.  Christmas is about a promise made.  Easter is about a promise kept.  Christmas is a period at the end of the Old Testament sentence.  A quiet, humble sentence.  Easter is the exclamation point at the beginning of the New Testament sentence.  A blaring horn of a sentence.

Yet, on the day Gabriel appeared to her, Mary knew.  She knew about everything her baby would have to endure.  The crowds and the prison.  The thorns and scourges.  The hill and the cross.  The tomb.  The Annunciation is about dolor as much as it is about joy.  And so is Christmas.  Ditto Easter.  That's the story of humankind.  Periods of joy.  Periods of grief.  Quiet moments of reading and chocolate in between.

Welcome to Dolorous Tuesday of Holy Week.

That's Saint Marty's answer.

Mary doesn't look overjoyed here

Monday, March 25, 2013

March 25: Lunch with a Friend

Soon, I will be having lunch with a good friend.

I have written about this gentleman before.  When he phones me, he always begins the conversation by saying, "Hello, son, this is dad."  We've known each other for close to ten years.  What started off as a friendly acquaintance has become something deeper and more meaningful.  I send him pictures of my kids at Christmas, and he pesters me about writing my memoir.  (You may remember that I promised to deliver the first four chapters to him at our next encounter.  This lunch doesn't count.)

He, himself, is a published author.  He writes books of humorous essays, and they're quite popular around these parts of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  He's a retired professor from the university and seems to spend his golden years making people happy.  He's everything I want to be when I grow up.

My friend will make my Lachrymose Monday a little less lachrymose.

Now, if Saint Marty can have lunch with his friend on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, Saint Marty will have a great week.

I want to be just like him...

March 25: Lachrymose Monday, Unsettled, "Rye" Dip

I've always thought that the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Holy Week get short shrift.  They have no special name to identify them.  Sunday is Palm Sunday.  Thursday is Maunday Thursday or Holy Thursday.  Friday is Good Friday.  Saturday is Holy Saturday or, in the Catholic Church, Easter Vigil.  Then, of course, comes Easter Sunday.

I've decided to give names to Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.  We'll see if they catch on.  Today is Monday.  I've been feeling a little unsettled since I woke up.  I don't know why.  I have a lot going on.  Work and teaching and a Faith Formation session with my daughter this evening.  I'm supposed to meet a friend for lunch at noon.  In between all that, I have Easter plans to finalize with members of the praise team, and I have to correct midterm exams.  Plus, Holy Week always gets me worked me up emotionally.  It's the Gospel readings about Christ's Passion and focus on pain and suffering, I think.  Anyway, these seven days leave me a little worn out.

Which brings me to the name I've come up with for the Monday of Holy Week.  Henceforth, this day shall be known as Lachrymose Monday.  So let it be done.

"Lachrymose" is defined as "crying, sad, tearful, weepy, pensive, gloomy."  It pretty much describes my mood at the moment.  I would think it describes Christ's mood on Monday of the last week of His life, as well.  I mean, He knew what was coming.  I'd have been a little glum if I were Him.

My Rye dip question for this inaugural Lachrymose Monday is obvious:

Will the snow stop falling and weather warm up soon?  (OK, maybe it's not an obvious question, but I'm tired of all this snow.)

The answer from the Gospel according to J. D. Salinger is:

"Go home, Mac, like a good guy.  Go home and hit the sack."

That's not very encouraging.  I need to go home and sleep until the thaw arrives.  That's what I've been doing for the last four months.

Saint Marty wishes all his disciples a Happy Lachrymose Monday.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

March 24: Palm Sunday, Holy Week, New Cartoon

I'm weird.  You might have already noticed this fact.

Last night, I played for a Catholic Palm Sunday Mass.  At the beginning, the priest led members of the parish into the church, waving palms and singing "All Glory Laud and Honor."  Clouds of incense and tons of singing.  The sanctuary was decked out in red.  We heard the entire Passion of Christ from the Gospel of Luke, with the pastor reading the words of Christ; the deacon reading the words of Peter and Pontius Pilate and all the other juicy parts; and the congregation droning "Crucify Him!" at the appropriate moments.  It went on for about an hour-and-a-half, and it was glorious.

This morning, at the Methodist church, we had a baptism and a video depicting the Passion of Christ.  The choir sang "Now Sing We all Hosanna," and the band sang the Vince Gill song "Go Rest High on that Mountain."  I cried.  It went on for about an hour-and-a-half, and it was glorious.

I'm weird because Holy Week is one of my favorite things, with all its incense and drama and darkness and light.  I love Maunday Thursday and Good Friday.  I love the three-hour Catholic Easter Vigil Mass on Holy Saturday that starts at 9 p.m. and gets done around midnight.  I love sitting up in the choir loft in the blackness, waiting for the Easter fires to be lit.  I love watching the flame passing from person-to-person, until everyone's faces are glowing like raptured souls.  And I love the Easter Sunrise Service at the Methodist church, all the congregation, still bleary with sleep, listening one last time to the story of Christ's triumph over sin and death.  And the lilies and music and singing.  Then there's breakfast.  Ham and eggs and toast and juice and milk.  Maybe some danish and coffee cake.

There's great sadness and joy in all of these proceedings, and I can't get enough of it.

Saint Marty is a weirdo for Jesus.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, March 23, 2013

March 23: Pneumonia, Anne Lamott, "Help, Thanks, Wow," New Cartoon

Finally, I sat down on this bench, where it wasn't so goddam dark.  Boy, I was still shivering like a bastard, and the back of my hair, even though I had my hunting hat on, was sort of full of little hunks of ice.  That worried me.  I thought probably I'd get pneumonia and die...

Near the end of The Catcher in the Rye, Holden gets pretty sick.  He's been wandering around New York City in December, drinking quite a bit.  By the time he gets to the carrousel with Phoebe, he's pretty much at rock bottom, physically and mentally.

My daughter has been ill since Wednesday.  Low fever.  Tired all the time.  She missed school Thursday and Friday, including the school dance.  I know she's not feeling well.  It's Saturday, and she's too sick to go to her dance lesson.  In about twenty minutes, I have to take her to a doctor's appointment.  My sisters, the daughters of doom, think she has mono.  I do know there is a kid in my four-year-old son's class who has chicken pox.  Two of the symptoms of chicken pox--low grade fever, lethargy.  My daughter isn't covered in red spots.  Yet.

Writer Anne Lamott recently released a book titled Help, Thanks, Wow:  the Three Essential Prayers.  In the Prelude to the book, she says,

I do not know much about God and prayer, but I have come to believe, over the past twenty-five years, that there's something to be said about keeping prayer simple.

Help.  Thanks.  Wow.

Basically, she says that all prayer boils down to these three principles.  First, help.  That's when you reach the end of your rope and don't have any where to turn.  You raise your eyes to God and say, "Help me, God.  Help me, help me, help me."  Second, thanks.  That's when something good happens to you, whether it's expected or unexpected.  Then, you breathe a sigh of relief and say, "Thanks, God, for the toast I had for breakfast" or "Thanks, God, my kid doesn't have chicken pox."  Last, there's wow.  That's when you're totally in awe of something God has done.  You kind of sit back, shake your head with a little smile, and say, "Wow, God, that snowstorm was incredible" or "Wow, that pizza was really good."  Prayer is that simple, Lamott says.  That easy.

At the end of her book, Lamott writes,

More than anything, prayer helps me get my sense of humor back.  It brings me back to my heart, from the treacherous swamp of my mind.  It brings me back to the now, to the holy moment, whether that means watching candles float on the Ganges or bending down in my front yard to study a lavish dandelion, delicate as a Spirograph drawing, that looks like its very own galaxy.  Amen, amen, amen!

Saint Marty is going to the doctor this morning with "help" in his heart.  He hopes he can quickly progress to "thanks" and "wow."  And then amen.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, March 22, 2013

March 22: Rita Dove and "Your Death," Poem

Today, I have a poem for you by Rita Dove.  Dove was the second African American to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.  She was also the first African American to hold the position of U. S. Poet Laureate, from 1993 to 1995.  She did that at the age of 40.  Her vita reads like a history lesson of firsts for African Americans and women.

Saint Marty hopes you enjoy the following poem from Dove's 1989 collection Grace Notes.

Your Death

On the day that will always belong to you,
lunar clockwork had faltered
and I was certain.  Walking
the streets of Manhattan I thought:
Remember this day.  I felt already
like an urn, filling with wine.

To celebrate, your son and I
took a stroll through Bloomingdale's
where he developed a headache
among the copper skillets and
tiers of collapsible baskets.
Pain tracked us through
the china, driving us
finally to the subway
and home,

where the phone was ringing
with bad news.  Even now,
my new daughter
asleep in the crib, I can't shake
the moment his headache stopped
and the day changed ownership.
I felt robbed.  Even the first
bite of the tuna fish sandwich
I had bought at the corner
became yours.

Rita Dove and some other guy

March 22: Ackley, Need a Friend, P.O.E.T.S. Day Friend

All of a sudden, Ackley barged in again through the damn shower curtains, as usual.  For once in my stupid life, I was really glad to see him.  He took my mind off the other stuff.

Holden has love/hate relationships with a lot of the people.  His roommate Stradlater, who goes on a date with Jane.  His mother and father, who can't seem to see how Holden is struggling after his younger brother's death.  His brother D.B., who sells out to Hollywood.  And Ackley, the guy who keeps barging into his dorm room uninvited.

I think most relationships are like this.  Love.  Hate.  Sometimes, you want to spend the whole day with a person, from breakfast to lunch to dinner to sauna where you whip each other's asses with birch branches.  Okay, maybe not the sauna thing.  Other times, the way that person chews a banana can make you want to commit ritual seppuku.  It's the normal ebb and flow of interpersonal interaction.  (I learned that in therapy.)

This morning, as I was driving into work, I passed a bank with a flashing sign.  It flashed the time and temperature and date.  It flashed "Happy Saint Patrick's Day," even though Saint Patrick's Day was last weekend.  Then it flashed this message:  "Need a friend?"  Now, I know that it was some kind of sales gimmick to generate business for the friends at Scru-U Savings and Loan.  Need a friend?  Come in and talk to our loan officer.  She'll give you enough money to buy the entire cast of Glee as friends.  However, that simple question made me reflect on the people who make me feel good about myself.

Last night, I gave a poetry reading.  There were three people in the audience.  Two good friends and my wife (who is my best friend).  I had two other friends playing music and singing, as well.  I was surrounded by love, and it was great.  For an hour, I read poems, told stories, and listened to some really great songs that I got to pick out.

My phone rang about an hour after I got home from the reading.  It was my friend, Linda, who sang and played guitar during the reading.  "I just want to thank you," she said.  "I want to let you know how good that was."  I said something about how her music really made the difference.  "Oh, no," she said.  "You really are great.  Thank you for letting me be a part of that."

That's what friends are for.  Even though the number of people in the audience wouldn't even make up a bowling team, Linda made me feel like I'd just delivered my Nobel Prize lecture.  I was blessed and grateful.

Need a friend?  This P.O.E.T.S. Day, Saint Marty knows he has the best friends in the world.

You've got a friend in me

Thursday, March 21, 2013

March 21: Excitment is Building

Well, the count of people who I know are attending my poetry reading tonight is growing.  Instead of two people, I now can say for certain that there will be at least four people in the audience.  The tide is turning.  I can feel the excitement growing.  When I show up tonight, I know the crowd is going to look like this:

I hope everybody keeps their clothes on
Saint Marty is going to be a poetry rock star tonight.  Only green M&Ms, please.

March 21: Sort of Funny, Stupid Laughs, Poetry Reading

The whole thing was sort of funny, in a way, if you thought about it, and all of a sudden I did something I shouldn't have.  I laughed.  And I have one of these very loud, stupid laughs.  I mean if I ever sat behind myself in a movie or something, I'd probably lean over and tell myself to please shut up.  It made old Sally madder than ever.

Holden does a lot of things to piss people off in The Catcher in the Rye.  In the above paragraph, he manages to offend his date.  He laughs in uncomfortable situations.  He has just told Sally that she gives him "a pain in the ass," and she is not reacting well to his constructive criticism.  That's why Holden is laughing.

I tend to be like Holden in stressful circumstances.  When I go out to my car at the end of a crappy day and I have a flat tire, or when I leave for work at 4:30 a.m. in a blizzard, I laugh, giggle, chortle, guffaw, snicker.  I probably look and sound like Norman registering Marion Crane into the Bates Motel.  It's about tension release in a situation over which I have no control.

Tonight, I'm giving a poetry reading at church.  Before Ash Wednesday, I sat down with the pastor and worked out the schedule for a series of Thursday night events during the Lenten season.  The first week was a concert by the church's praise band (a bust).  The second week, nothing happened (I was busy, the pastor was out-of-town).  The third week was a slide show and discussion of the pastor's recent trip to the Holy Land (a success--over twenty people attended).  The fourth week, a Christian comedy video (hilariously funny, but only two other people showed up).  The fifth week, tonight, is my poetry reading.  I'm not holding out too much hope.

That doesn't mean I won't enjoy myself.  I will have at least three or four people in the audience.  One of those people will be a colleague from the university.  The possibility of supreme embarrassment is huge.  If only three people attend, I will laugh, perhaps make a joke about trying the veal and tipping the waiter, and then read my poems.

However, I've enjoyed preparing for tonight.  Going through my poems, selecting what I'm going to read, talking to the musicians who are helping me out.  That's all been great fun.  Now comes the litmus test.  There are a two possible scenarios for this evening:

Poetry + Musicians - Audience = Embarrassed Laughter + Humiliation


Poetry + Musicians + Audience = Blessings + Grace

Stop by Mitchell United Methodist Church in Negaunee, Michigan, at 7 p.m. tonight.  Be a part of the equation.

Saint Marty will do his part to establish equilibrium.

Where's Sean Connery when I need him

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

March 20: Quiet Before the Storm

All morning, all afternoon.  Quiet.  No phones ringing off the hook.  Faxes have been trickling in by electronic Snail Express.  I've had time to think and reflect today.  I worked with people who don't drive me insane, and one of them even bought me a dessert from a bake sale downstairs.  By all this evidence, you may say that I've had a good day.

And I have.

However, when my morning and afternoon is so blissfully non-hectic, I expect the night to go straight to hell.  There's always a quiet before the storm.  I might come down with the stomach flu.  I'll go out to my car after work, and one of my tires will be flat.  My son will crap his pants.  My daughter will fall in dance class and break every toe on her left foot.  Something's going to happen.  Bliss can't exist without payment.

That may sound incredibly pessimistic, but it's a rule I live my life by.  Enjoy the goodness now, because, in a short while, the conductor of the Bliss Express is going to be coming through to collect the tickets.  If you don't have a ticket, he's going to throw you off the train as it's rumbling across a trestle over a deep ravine.

Perhaps today will be different.  Perhaps I will have a completely happy day.  No drama.  No catastrophe.  No phone calls from bill collectors.  Just blue sky and melting snow and a thick, gooey brownie at the end of the day.  And...

A fax just came in.  The phone's ringing.  My e-mail is flashing "You've got mail!"

It's time for Saint Marty to pay up.  Bliss ain't cheap.

Storms a' comin'

March 20: Mrs. Morrow, Hot-Shot, Mother

Old Mrs. Morrow didn't say anything, but boy, you should've seen her.  I had her glued to her seat.  You take somebody's mother, all they want to hear about is what a hot-shot their son is.

Holden meets Mrs. Morrow on a train to New York City.  She's the mother of one of his classmates at Pencey, a "sonuvabitch" in Holden's estimation.  Yet, Holden likes Mrs. Morrow and tells her a pack of lies about her son, making Ernie out to be a "hot-shot" at school.  Popular,  Humble.  Shy.  Modest.  By the time the train reaches New York, Mrs. Morrow is inviting Holden to visit her son during summer vacation.

Mothers always want to hear the best about their sons and daughters.  Holden tells Mrs. Morrow exactly what she wants to hear.  Her child is a future President of the United States or Nobel Peace Prize winner.  I've had people tell me what a sweet, quiet girl my daughter is.  I usually look at them like they're describing a stranger.  Quiet?  My daughter?

My mother just became an octogenarian a little while ago.  She's always been a strong force in my life.  More than once, she marched up to the high school office when she thought they weren't giving me challenging classes.  When I was a freshman, she had a conversation with the principal on the first day of classes.  The next day, I found myself transferred out of study hall into geometry.  When she dropped me off at school that morning, she looked at me and said, "Don't disappointment me."  I got all A's the entire year.

I appreciate the fact that my mother pushed me as much as she did.  She was a tiger mother before the term "tiger mother" entered the popular lexicon.  She drove me to college scholarship interviews (I eventually received a full-ride from my school of choice).  She was the one who forced me to double-major--English and Computer Science.  She encouraged me to go to graduate school (where I received another full-ride).  After I earned my Master's degree, she suggested a PhD program might be a good idea (although I'd already started applying).  My mother has pushed, nudged, and prodded me through my whole life.  At the release party for my first book of poems, she was in the front row at the reading, smiling and nodding at her hot-shot son.

My mother's mind isn't what it used to be.  When I'm around her, she repeats herself a lot, asks the same questions over and over.  She suffers from macular degeneration.  A voracious reader her whole life, she's reduced to large-print James Patterson and Nicholas Sparks novels.  Last Sunday afternoon, I had dinner at her house.  We talked about my college teaching, and, in a moment of tiger mother clarity, she said, "When are they going to make you a full-time professor?"

I laughed and said, "When I hire a hit man to take out one of the poets in the department."

I worry about my mother now, grieve for the hurricane of woman she used to be.  She doesn't leave the house much anymore and uses a walker to get from her chair to the kitchen to the bathroom.  She could no longer strike fear into the hearts of school principals and counselors.  Yet, I still sense her over my shoulder when I teach or write or give a reading.

She's always there, smiling, whispering in Saint Marty's ear, "Don't disappointment me."

She is mother, hear her roar.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

March 19: The La-la-la Guy

I've had a pretty rotten afternoon, so I'm going to post a video that gives me great pleasure for some reason.  You may not agree with me, but it doesn't matter.

It makes Saint Marty laugh, and he needs it right now.

March 19: Harrowing Letter, Dad, Saint Joseph

"Apparently before he phoned me he'd just had a long, rather harrowing letter from your latest headmaster, to the effect that you were making absolutely no effort at all.  Cutting classes.  Coming unprepared to all your classes.  In general, being an all-around--"

Mr. Antolini is speaking to Holden.  Antolini has recently had lunch with Holden's dad, and his father has just received some bad news from the headmaster at Pencey, the prep school Holden is currently flunking out of.  Holden doesn't express a whole lot of respect or admiration for his father throughout The Catcher in the Rye.  In fact, Mr. Caulfield ranks right at the top of the the list of phonies in the novel.   Fathers and father figures don't do well in Salinger's world.

I don't know a whole lot about traditional "dad" stuff.  You know, cars and tools and football and hunting.  I'm not sure how excited my son is going to be on bring-your-son-to-work day.  I can just see him, sitting in a college classroom, listening to me explain the difference between Shakespearean and Italian sonnets.  He's going to think he's got the lamest father in the world.

Today, March 19, is the feast of Saint Joseph, husband of Mary and foster-father of Jesus.  Talk about pressure.  I can't imagine the thoughts that went through Joe's head while he was making tables and chairs in his workshop.  It's bad enough for me having a son who's into guns and swords and trucks.  Joe had a Son who was into souls and salvation and redemption.  Yet, Jesus was a dutiful Jewish child, I'm sure.  He did His chores, carved wood with Joe, swept up the sawdust at the end of the day, and loved His foster-father.  For his part, Joe protected the Child and His mother.  He worked hard to provide food and shelter; he celebrated the Jewish holy days and taught Jesus, in a human way, to love God.  Joe was a good dad.

On the dad scale of Mr. Caulfield to Saint Joseph, I fall smack dab in the middle in my estimation.  I will disappoint my kids.  I will lose my temper and make mistakes.  When my son shoots his first deer, I will be appalled, but tell him that I'm proud.  I will sit in the bleachers in snowstorms if he plays football, and I will go to sweaty gymnasiums if basketball's his game.

But I will talk to him about poetry and literature, too.  I'll read him my favorite kid's books.  Charlotte's WebCharlie and the Chocolate Factory.  I'll enroll him in dance class.  (Hey, I can always hope.)  I'll take him to church and teach to him about another Son and Father.  I will be the best dad I can be.

Hopefully, Saint Marty's son won't flunk out of prep school.

I wonder how Jesus would do in ballet

Monday, March 18, 2013

March 18: What I Have Learned About Worship

As a church organist and worship leader, I have learned a few things about worship.  I have been in this ministry for going on 30 years.  I've had members of congregations praise me and condemn me.  I've received anonymous letters, telling me I'm a horrible musician and father.  I've worked with a variety of priests and pastors (Catholic and Methodist), and I've learned to adapt to their various beliefs and styles.  I've had an irate woman accost me after a worship service, fairly shaking with anger.

I've also seen entire congregations, filled with the Holy Spirit, raising arms and voices in praise.  I've heard speakers deliver messages so moving that they've left me breathless and weeping.  I've felt the finger of God touch me through song and music.  People have hugged me, kissed me, after worship services.  They've sent me cards and letters of thanks.

Yes, I've pretty much seen it all in my almost three decades of worship.

The best worship teacher I ever had, however, was my sister, Rose.  She is two years older than me and has Down's syndrome.  And she loves to sing.  From the first time I sat on the bench of a church pipe organ and played a hymn, Rose has loved to sing.  Every Sunday, she would be in the choir loft, singing at the top of her lungs, her face full of joy.  There's only one problem:  Rose can't stay on pitch or key.  If I'm playing a song in D Major, Rose is singing in F Major.  If the song is supposed to be quiet and contemplative, Rose is singing like Beverly Sills at the Metropolitan Opera.

For my first ten or so years as an organist, my sister's contribution to worship used to bother me.  I'd tell her to sing quieter or not at all.  Each time she opened her mouth, I'd sit at the organ, cringing.

Then, one morning, I watched my mother as Rose sang a song in church.  Rose was in full voice, loud as a flock of geese.  My mother listened to her sing, and my mother's face looked as if she were listening to Gabriel and the heavenly host on Christmas Eve.

I realized that day that I had been doing things all wrong.  I was striving for beauty and perfection in worship.  God doesn't care about that.  He doesn't care what we sing or how we sing.  He doesn't care where we sit in the choir loft or whether we play an organ or drums.  Worship isn't about me or you.  It's not about traditional or contemporary.  Or "Jesus Loves Me" versus "Jesus Messiah."  Worship is about One and for One only.

My sister Rose was singing for that One, and He was smiling down on her.

Saint Marty knows that's true worship.  Authentic worship.  One worship.

Do you get it?

March 18: Blog Stress, Mediocre Post, "Rye" Dip

I have a confession:  I suffer from blog stress.

Every morning, when I sit down at my laptop to type my first post of the day, I try to come up with a topic that's thought-provoking or funny.  I worry about it, stress over it.  It's absolutely ridiculous.  I know I can't post something amazing every time I sit down to write.  Statistically, it's impossible.  I have written over 1,200 posts for Saint Marty.  I'm sure that, if I took the time to review some of my older posts, I would develop a migraine.  My eyes might even start bleeding.  I write an average of 14 posts a week.  If I'm lucky, I may come up with an amazing piece of writing every couple of weeks.  If I'm lucky.

So I'm going to try to alleviate my blog stress.  I'm not going to shoot for amazing every time I write a post.  I'm going to shoot for adequate to mediocre.  By lowering my expectations, I may enjoy blogging a whole lot more.  Heck, maybe I'll stop proofreading.  (OK, I'm lying there.  I can't stand blogs with a whole bunch of grammar and spelling mistakes.  It turns me off.)  However, I might, on occasion, allow myself to write something that I would categorize as (to use the technical term) shitty.

Now, those disciples out there who've been following me for a while may notice no change in the quality of my writing.  That will probably be due to the fact that I've been writing shitty posts all along, without even realizing it.  In that case, I'm just embracing my shitty-ness.  I'm becoming one with it.  That's a good thing, as well.

I'm supposed to do a Rye dip this morning.  Again, in the past, I've tried to ask serious, life-changing questions on prior Mondays.  Not today.  Today, my question is,

Will this post be shitty?

And Holden Caulfield's answer is,

Anyway, we danced about four numbers, and then I turned off the radio.  Old Phoebe jumped back in bed and got under the covers.  "I'm improving, aren't I?" she asked me.

There you go.  That little passage says it all.  It isn't about being perfect every time.  It's about improving, dance-by-dance, step-by-step, post-by-post.

Saint Marty can live with that piece of wisdom.


Sunday, March 17, 2013

March 17: Matholic, Pope Francis, New Cartoon

I categorize myself as a Matholic.  I was born and raised Catholic, and I still got to Mass every Saturday night.  When I met my future wife twenty years ago, I started going to worship services with her at a United Methodist Church.  I have been attending both churches ever since.

There are things I love about the Catholic Church.  I love the traditions and history.  There's something incredibly beautiful about the Catholic liturgy.  I love the focus on sacraments and the concept of transubstantiation.  I love the idea that I can go to a Catholic Mass every weekend and witness a miracle--the transformation of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.  I don't know if there is any other religion that offers a weekly miracle matinee, so to speak.

There are things I love about the United Methodist Church, as well.  There's enough focus on liturgy to make me feel Catholic comfortable, but there's also a freedom when it comes to Methodist worship.  In the Methodist Church, worship centers on the best way to communicate the message of Christ to non-Christians or seekers (people who are looking for something to fill the God-sized holes in their lives).  That may include modern music and songs, drama, films, poetry, visual art, or dance.  Whatever spreads the Word of God most effectively.  I love the embrace of the arts in the Methodist Church.

That is not to say that the Catholic Church doesn't embrace the arts, as well, but I have found the Methodist Church a little more accepting.  I have done poetry readings and workshops at the Methodist Church.  I will be doing a poetry reading this Thursday at the Methodist Church.  I have felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in during Catholic Mass, but I have also felt the Holy Spirit in Methodist worship services, as well.

Some of my family members don't get my dual spiritual life.  When I'm doing something at the Methodist Church (where I'm head of the Worship Committee), they shake their heads or mutter.  I truly believe I have preserved my Catholic faith because of my participation in the Methodist faith.  The two are not mutually exclusive.  They both feed my soul.

This morning at the Methodist Church, a friend stopped me after worship.  He's a wonderful man, full of a real love of Christ.  He grabbed my hand and shook it.  "I think you guys picked a good one," he said, smiling.

"What are you talking about?" I said, staring at the shamrocks on his St. Patrick's Day tie.

"Well," he said, "I know you didn't get to vote for him, but I think they picked a winner."

I finally realized what he was talking about.  "Oh," I said, "you mean Pope Francis."

"I like him," my friend said, "a lot."

I nodded.  "Taking a bus instead of a limousine.  Stopping to pay his hotel bill himself."

"And asking the people in St. Peter's to pray for him," my friend said, shaking his head.  "He's going to do some good at the Vatican."  My friend looked full of hope and admiration.

That's why I love being a Matholic.  It's about shared belief in humility and prayer and mission.

Now, if Saint Marty can just get elected at the next conclave, he may be the first Roman Matholic pope.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, March 16, 2013

March 16: Terrific Friend, Seamus Heaney, "The Spirit Level," New Cartoon

What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much, though.

I know I've used this Holden quote before when I've talked about books and writers I love.  I can honestly say that I love the writer I'm going to talk about today, but I don't think I'd want to call him up on the phone whenever I felt like it.

Seamus Heaney, the Nobel Prize winning Irish poet, is one of my favorite writers.  His poems are like precious stones, cut and polished and glinting with light.  However, I've talked to people who have met Heaney, and, from their reports, he's kind of an asshole in person.  He can afford to be.  He's brilliant and accomplished and doesn't suffer fools very gladly.  I wouldn't mind having dinner and drinks with him, but I don't know if I'd be able to hold up my end of the conversation for very long.  I have a feeling I'd end up being one of those fools.

The Spirit Level is Heaney's collection of poems published in 1996 by Farrar Straus Giroux.  His poems, as always, are stunning, filled with the music and myth and mud of the world.  He's able to take ordinary stuff of everyday life and transform into something beautiful.  In the poem "St. Kevin and the Blackbird," he takes as his subject the sacred nature of Nature:

St. Kevin and the Blackbird

And then there was St. Kevin and the blackbird.
The saint is kneeling, arms stretched out, inside
His cell, but the cell is narrow, so

One turned-up palm is out the window, stiff
As a crossbeam, when a blackbird lands
And lays in it and settles down to nest.

Kevin feels the warm eggs, the small breast, the tucked
Neat head and claws and, finding himself linked
Into the network of eternal life,

Is moved to pity:  now he must hold his hand
Like a branch out in the sun and rain for weeks
Until the young are hatched and fledged and flown.


And since the whole thing's imagined anyhow,
Imagine being Kevin.  Which is he?
Self-forgetful or in agony all the time

From the neck on out down through his hurting forearms?
Are his fingers sleeping?  Does he still feel his knees?
Or has the shut-eyed blank of underearth

Crept up through him?  Is there distance in his head?
Alone and mirrored clear in love's deep river,
'To labour and not to seek reward,' he prays,

A prayer his body makes entirely
For he has forgotten self, forgotten bird
And on the riverbank forgotten the river's name.

Heaney is a master of making these kinds of moves, from hagiography into legend into feather and finger.  His poems have that kind of muscle, assured in each leap of thought and image.  I'm not always sure where his leaps land.  Sometimes, I find myself in places strange and frightening.  But Heaney is always there, in command, leading me where he wants me to go: 


And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you'll park and capture it
More thoroughly.  You are neither here not there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.

That's what Seamus Heaney does.  He blows our hearts open with his every word.  He may puzzle me, make me feel inadequate, a little foolish.

But Seamus Heaney also makes Saint Marty want to be a better writer, to strive to understand the mysteries of everyday life just a little more.
Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, March 15, 2013

March 15: End of Day, Seamus Heaney, "The Rain Stick"

I am approaching my twelfth hour of waking.  The day's chores are done.  The house smells clean.  Lemon.  Lysol.  I'm sitting in the living room in the quiet, awaiting the noise of son and daughter.  For now, though, there is peace.  An end-of-day peace.  A peace in which all I hear is the tick-tick-tick of the clock on the wall, counting down the seconds to night.  I am tired but full as I look around this room.  It is like a yard shoveled after a snowstorm, an empty basket waiting dirty clothes.  I know how Noah felt standing on the deck of the ark as the rain clouds rolled in.  He felt worthy of a nap, a time to sit and pick the splinters from his calloused hands.

This P.O.E.T.S. Day, I have chosen to share a poem by Seamus Heaney, in honor of Saint Patrick's Day.  You see, Heaney was the second writer from Ireland to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.  The first was W. B. Yeats.  Anyway, this poem comes from Heaney's collection The Spirit Level.

Saint Marty wishes all of you a restful evening.

The Rain Stick

for Beth and Rand

Upend the rain stick and what happens next
Is a music that you never would have known
To listen for.  In a cactus stalk

Downpour, sluice-rush, spillage and backwash
Come flowing through.  You stand there like a pipe
Being played by water, you shake it again lightly

And diminuendo runs through all it scales
Like a gutter stopping trickling.  And now here comes
A sprinkle of drops out of freshened leaves,

Then subtle little wets off grass and daisies;
Then glitter-drizzle, almost-breaths of air.
Upend the stick again.  What happens next

Is undiminished for having happened once,
Twice, ten, a thousand times before.
Who cares if all the music that transpires

Is the fall of grit or dry seeds through a cactus?
You are like a rich man entering heaven
Through the ear of a raindrop.  Listen now again.

The ear of a raindrop

March 15: Same Stuff, Big Glass Cases, Different P.O.E.T.S. Day

I took my old hunting hat out of my pocket while I walked, and put it on.  I knew I wouldn't meet anybody that knew me, and it was pretty damp out.  I kept walking and walking, and I kept thinking about old Phoebe going to that museum on Saturdays the way I used to.  I thought how she'd be different every time she saw it.  It didn't exactly depress me to think about it, but it didn't make me feel gay as hell, either.  Certain things they should stay the way they are.  You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass gases and just leave them alone.  I know that's impossible, but it's too bad anyway.  Anyway, I kept thinking about all that while I walked.

Holden repeats himself a lot.  Much of it has to do with the spoken quality of Salinger's narrative voice in The Catcher in the Rye.  People repeat themselves in verbal interactions.  Casual conversation is sloppy.  In the above paragraph, Holden uses several words and phrases more than once:  "knew" appears twice in the same sentence; "walking and walking" in the third sentence, along with "kept"; "thinking about" and "think about" and "kept thinking about"; and the last word of the entire passage is "walked," echoing the earlier "walking and walking."

There is a point to my little paragraph parsing.  I think Holden's repetition reflects his urge to keep things the way they are, "in one of those big glass cases."  He's trying to hold on to a life that's slipping through his fingers.  He's already lost his little brother, and he doesn't want to lose anything more.  That's one of the qualities of Catcher that has kept it so popular for over 60 years.  Salinger is able to capture that teenage angst about growing older.  We're all Holden.

I'm Holden right now.  I look at my twelve-year-old daughter and have moments of quiet grief for the little girl who came into my life one snowy December morning over a decade ago.  I find shirts she used to wear when she was three and four.  "Daddy's Little Girl" and "Daddy's Princess."  I want to put her in one of those big glass museum cases, keep her young, untouched by that big old bully Time.  I want to be my daughter's catcher in rye.

That's pretty heavy stuff for P.O.E.T.S. Day.  I'm supposed to be all "fuck it, tomorrow's Saturday."  I can't do that this morning.  I'm in a reflective mood, a little sad and thoughtful.  I've been like this all week long.  When I got home last night, I was in such a bad mood that I didn't talk much for over an hour.  My son was in bed, and my daughter spent the night at my parents' house.  It wasn't my "normal" Thursday night.  Perhaps that's why I wanted to kick a puppy.  I was "out of sorts," as they would say at Hogwarts.

There's something to be said for museums, where the past is preserved and held sacred.  Everything stays the same.  I'm with Holden on this one.  That kind of stability is comforting.

Put Saint Marty under glass.  He's ready for his exhibit.

I'm the tall, good looking one in the fur coat

Thursday, March 14, 2013

March 14: White Smoke, Habemus Papam, Frists

Yes, the papal conclave is at an end.  It concluded yesterday afternoon, around 2 p.m., with white smoke and lots of bells.  I missed the whole announcement and first blessing from the balcony of Saint Peter's Basilica.  I had to teach a class.

However, there's a new guy in white.  He is a cardinal from Argentina.  His name is Jorge Mario Bergoglio, and he's 76 years old.  That means he's only two years younger than Joseph Ratzinger when Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI.  Bergoglio is a Jesuit and the first non-European to become Bishop of Rome in over 1600 years.  He's also the first pope from the Americas.

The other first is the name Bergoglio chose:  Pope Francis, in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi.  Of course, everyone is speculating about his name choice.  It could reflect the new pontiff's dedication to battling poverty, since Saint Francis gave up all his worldly possessions and spent the rest of his life ministering to the Italian poor.  It could also reflect his determination to break away from the "old" way of doing things in the Vatican and plot a new course for the future.

Whatever ideology his name reflects, Pope Francis is both  a revolutionary and conservative.  For the reasons mentioned above, he's a revolutionary.  However, he is still pretty reserved in his theology, a product of the papacies and leadership of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

I'm withholding judgement.  The guy's only been in office less than a day.  I'm going to give him time to figure out where the little pope's room is before I start criticizing or praising him.  In the mean time, "Habemus Papam!"  We have a pope.

And it ain't Pope Bubba I, aka Saint Marty.

The guy who beat me at the conclave

March 14: Some Dough, Blue as Hell, Economic Ignorance

After they left, I started getting sorry that I'd only given them ten bucks for their collection.  But the thing was, I'd made that date to go to a matinee with old Sally Hayes, and I needed to keep some dough for the tickets and stuff.  I was sorry anyway, though.  Goddam money.  It always ends up making you blue as hell.

Yes, this little piece of wisdom from Holden isn't exactly warm and fuzzy.  In fact, it's the opposite of warm and fuzzy.  Cold and prickly, maybe.  Anyway, money, if you don't have enough of it, sucks.  That's what Holden is saying, and I agree with him.

The only time money doesn't make me feel "blue as hell" is when I don't think about it.  When I go on a vacation, I don't think about money.  I will actually walk into a Barnes & Noble, see a book I want, and buy it without worrying about the cost.  I will let my daughter buy hats and clothes she wants.  I eat what I want, where I want, and don't scrutinize the prices on the menus very much.  That's what a vacation is for.  Time off from my normal, day-to-day worries and frustrations.

Of course, I just had a vacation at the beginning of January.  Two full weeks of economic ignorance.  I went out to breakfast with my wife.  I saw The Hobbit at the movie theater, and bought a big buttered popcorn and candy.  I even allowed myself to sleep in until 7 a.m. one day.  It was bliss.

My next vacation is coming at the end of May, when I go downstate with my daughter to her dance competition.  We'll stay at a hotel that's next to a outlet mall.  We'll buy tons of stuff that we really don't need and eat a lot of food that we really can't afford.  It will be a welcome blessing from what I'm experiencing right now, which is economic panic.

Money can make you blue as hell if you let it, as Holden says.

Saint Marty wishes he could be on vacation every day of his life.  He would sleep a heck of a lot better until he filed for bankruptcy.

This pretty much says it all

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

March 13: A Memoir-able Encounter

Yesterday, I wrote about working on my memoir in my first post.  There was a reason for that.

I have a writer friend I see every few months.  Ever since he heard my Christmas essay on the local NPR station last year, he's been encouraging me to write a memoir.  He's recommended memoirs to me to read.  Almost every time I speak to him on the phone, he asks me how my memoir writing is going.  I love this man a great deal.  He's funny and kind.  When he calls me, he always starts our conversations the same way, "This is dad."

Well, yesterday when I saw him, I did a foolish thing.

He said to me, "I'm hoping to live long enough to have a copy of your memoir in my hands."

"Well," I said, "the next time I see you, I will give you the first four confessions to read."  That means, in about three months, I have to have the first four chapters of my memoir completed.  After I made him that promise, I immediately thought to myself, What in the hell were you thinking?

But, there's no getting around it.  I have to work, and work hard.   In three months, I will have those four confessions done.  Perhaps it's not such a bad thing, having a deadline.  It gives me a goal, and I work better with goals in mind.

Saint Marty has a lot of writing to do.  Stay tuned.

March 13: F$#k You, Nice and Peaceful, Same Story

WARNING:  This post contains language that may be offensive to some readers.

That's the whole trouble.  You can't ever find a place that's nice and peaceful, because there isn't any.  You may think there is, but once you get there, when you're not looking, somebody'll sneak up and write "Fuck you" right under your nose.  Try it sometime.  I think, even, if I ever die, and they stick me in a cemetery, and I have a tombstone and all, it'll say "Holden Caulfield" on it, and then what year I was born and what year I died, and then right under that it'll say "Fuck you."  I'm positive, in fact.

Holden is right.  The world is full of "fuck yous."  You can't get away from them.  They're in schools and museums and cemeteries and churches.  Every day, I walk across the university campus, and, nine times out of ten, I will hear some student talking, sprinkling "fucks" and "fuck yous" into casual conversation.  Like Holden, I think that, when I die, someone at my funeral will be on a cell phone, whispering, "I won't be long.  I swear.  I swear.  Fuck you."

My worry this Wednesday is one that I carry around with me constantly.  Money.  Same story, different day.  My daughter is going to a dance competition in May.  She wanted to go to one last month, but we couldn't afford it.  She brought home the handout with the prices of the entry fees for the May competition last night.  Let's just say it was between "ouch" and "fuck you."  I sat on the couch, staring at the paper for about half an hour.  I could feel myself slowly slipping down the slopes of panic, but I held on and remained calm.

That's the way my life has been working for a while.  I get one bill taken care, take a deep breath to sigh with relief, and another collection note is thrust into my hands.  I've been moving from one "fuck you" to another "fuck you."  In fact, I'm surprised most invoices don't include those two words some place, as in:

Monthly Service Charge:          $2567.18
Monthly Tax:                                   420.22
Monthly Fee for Popcorn                36.13
Monthly Fee for Toilet Paper        320.15
Monthly Fee for Sleep                   543.80
TOTAL FUCK YOU                   $3887.48

I'm about ready to check into the hospital with Holden.  I can't think of anything more relaxing than having somebody tell you when to get up, eat, take your pills, make an ashtray, talk to a therapist, take some more pills, and go to bed.

Saint Marty'd be relaxed until the hospital sent him the bill, with a little note saying, "Due within ten fucking days."

This says it all...

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

March 12: Black Smoke

Yes, black smoke is billowing over the Sistine Chapel, indicating that there will be no band concert at my daughter's middle school tonight.  Sources close to the Vatican had been anticipating this musical event all evening.  Alas, shortly before 4 p.m., the dark plumes appeared above the conclave building, dashing all hopes.

The dark smoke also indicates that I will sequestered at the university for the next couple hours, doing my obligatory time in my office.  While the Italian press had speculated I may skip this part of my professorial duties, I will not alter my daily schedule during the conclave.  I sit by my phone, awaiting the call from Rome.

The dinner menu for the conclave cardinals is unknown.  I will be dining on potatoes and ham tonight.  Later, I will walk to the fountain down the hall for a cup of water.  Papal elections are thirsty business.  So are office hours.

While the smoke blowing is done for the night, I will continue to pray and pack my bags.

Saint Marty must be ready to head to St. Peter's Square at the drop of a hat.  Or pick up his daughter in about an hour.

What do the cardinals mean by this?

March 12: The Egyptians, History, Saint Theophanes the Chronicler, Memoir

The Egyptians are extremely interesting to us today for various reasons.  Modern science would still like to know what the secret ingredients were that the Egyptians used when they wrapped up dead people so that their faces would not rot for innumerable centuries.  This interesting riddle is still quite a challenge to modern science in the twentieth century.

This paragraph from Holden's history exam proves a couple of things.  First, he knows very little about ancient Egyptians.  Second, he has a thing for mummies, which come up later in the novel when he goes to the Museum of Natural History in New York.  I think Holden likes the idea of something that doesn't change, remaining the same for "innumerable centuries."  Holden has lost his little brother to leukemia, and this loss has sent him on a downward spiral.

Holden doesn't really care about history.  He cares about girls and sex and bullies and his family.  He's a normal teenage boy.  Perhaps he's a little more sensitive than some, but what it all boils down to is hormones.  A lot of hormones.  Teenagers (and tweenagers) are so self-absorbed they wouldn't notice the burning of the Hindenburg unless it was posted on Facebook by one of their friends.

In some ways, The Catcher in the Rye reads like a memoir.  It's a slice of Holden Caulfield's life.  I have learned, since I started working on my memoir, that it's difficult to make yourself interesting.  Salinger creates a narrative voice for Holden that is authentic and entertaining.  It drives the entire book.  That's what I've been struggling with.  I write a fragment of memoir and then spend hours wondering if I'm being self-indulgent or boring.  Perhaps if I thought of myself as a fictional character, I would find composing a memoir a little easier.  Maybe I need to think of myself as Holden Caulfield.

Or Saint Theophanes the Chronicler, whose feast day is today.  Theophanes was born in Greece around 759 a.d. to a wealthy family.  Of course, being predisposed to saintliness, he soon divested himself of his wife (who joined a convent) and money.  Among Theophanes' many accomplishments is his attempt to write a history of the world.  I don't think he ever finished this project.  He ran afoul of Leo the Armenian who imprisoned him for his Christian faith.  Theophanes died in exile, away from his home and studies and history of the world.

Holden has a great story.  Saint Theophanes has a great story, too.

Saint Marty has a blog and a lot of insecurity.

Check out this cool picture I saw on Facebook