Friday, January 31, 2014

January 31: A Poem Before Bed, Leah Furnas, "The Longly-Weds Know"

It's late, and I'm ready for bed.  However, I do have a poem for you guys.  My wife picked it out tonight.  She has good taste in poetry.  She likes everything I write.

Tonight's poem was written by Leah Furnas.

Saint Marty has a long day of ballet ahead of him tomorrow.

The Longly-Weds Know

That it isn't about the Golden Anniversary at all,
But about all the unremarkable years
that Hallmark doesn't even make a card for.

It's about the 2nd anniversary when they were surprised
to find they cared for each other more than last year

And the 4th when both kids had chicken pox
and she threw her shoe at him for no real reason

And the 6th when he accidentally got drunk on the way
home from work because being a husband and father
was so damn hard

It's about the 11th and 12th and 13th years when
they discovered they cold survive crisis

And the 22nd anniversary when they looked
at each other across the empty nest, and found it good.

It's about the 37th year when she finally
decided she could never change him

And the 38th when he decided
a little change wasn't that bad

It's about the 46th anniversary when they both
bought cards, and forgot to give them to each other

But most of all it's about the end of the 49th yeard
when they discovered you don't have to be old

to have your 50th anniversary!!!!

I do...

January 31: Surprise Work, End of a Long Day, Fairy Tale Work

It's going to be a busy weekend.  My daughter's ballet recital is tomorrow night.  That means she has a two hour rehearsal this evening and a two hour rehearsal tomorrow afternoon.  Then the show in the evening.  I am basically going to be a shuttle service Friday and Saturday.  And I still have to do some house cleaning to make some money.

On top of all that, I received an e-mail this morning from the English Department.  I have to write a document for my annual evaluation, and it's due by 5 p.m. on Monday.  I'm going to have to get that done this evening.  It's my only free time in the next few days.  Surprise work.  I have a feeling that, by Sunday afternoon, I'm going to be one tired little saint.

When Charlotte gets to the Fair Grounds with Wilbur, she's tired.  The end is very near for her, and she knows it.  Wilbur has no idea his friend is nearing the final days of her life:

"I'm awfully sorry to hear that you're feeling poorly, Charlotte," he said.  "Perhaps if you spin a web and catch a couple of flies you'll feel better."

"Perhaps," she said, wearily.  "But I feel like the end of a long day."  Clinging upside down to the ceiling, she settled down for a nap, leaving Wilbur very much worried.

Charlotte goes with Wilbur to the Fair because she knows her work is not finished.  Even when she feels like the end of a long day, she still has to save her friend's life.  At the end of my life, I know I'm going to be exactly like Charlotte.  There's still going to be some task I need to complete.  One last thing to do.  Work never goes away.  It just goes undone.

Once upon a time, there lived an old farmhand named Lotta.  Lotta rose every day before the sun, labored all day in the barn and fields, and fell into bed long after the sun was on the other side of the world.  Lotta never took vacations, and the milk from her cows was known to be the best in the kingdom.

One day, Lotta died, and nobody was there to take over her chores.  The cows went unmilked.  The corn rotted on the stalks.  And the pigs died of starvation.

Moral of the story:  Farms are a whole Lotta work.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

Who does give a damn?

January 30: "Life After Life," Book Club, To the Fair

A great book
I just finished up with my book club meeting tonight.  My guests have left.  The leftovers are in the fridge.  The dishes are done.  The house is back in order.  And now, I have two blog posts to type.  I'm pretty tired, so don't expect anything too deep or funny.

The novel we read this month was Kate Atkinson's Life After Life.  I didn't suggest the book.  However, it turned out to be one of my favorite reads of the last twelve months.  It's an enthralling story of birth, life, death, and then birth again.  Over and over, Ursula Todd lives her life, and, over and over, her life changes in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.  It's an amazing work of imagination and heart.

Most of the usual suspects showed up for tonight's book club, despite today's really crappy weather.  We ate, laughed, talked about the book, and ate some more.  We had a lively discussion about the choices we make, and how seemingly insignificant decisions can lead to life-altering events.  The main conceit of the book is summed up with this quote:

"What if we had a chance to do it again and again, until we finally get it right?  Wouldn't that be wonderful?"

I'm not sure I'd want to relive my life.  There are a few years that really sucked.  Of course, nobody's taking me out to the smokehouse to turn me into Christmas ham and bacon.  Wilbur only has one shot at surviving past Thanksgiving:

"Everybody in!" called Mr. Arable.  He started the motor.  The ladies climbed in beside him.  Mr. Zuckerman and Lurvy and Fern and Avery rode in the back, hanging onto the sideboards.  The truck began to move ahead.  The geese cheered.  The children answered their cheer, and away went everybody to the Fair.

If Wilbur had a choice, maybe he wouldn't go to the Fair.  He'd stay at home with his beloved manure pile,  eat his slops, and watch the seasons change.  I understand the little pig.  Change is not something Wilbur values.  He prefers all his days to be the same, sunrise to sunset.  So do I.

However, I know I have to step outside my comfort zone, accept new challenges.  This morning I submitted some poems to a contest.  That's really outside my comfort zone.  In fact, I almost talked myself out of it a few times.  But, I finally gave in.

I'm 99% sure I don't stand a chance of winning the poetry contest.  Maybe in one of the threads of my life out there, I do win first prize.  That would be $100 and the right to brag a little bit.  I think I could handle that.

And that's a piece of Saint Marty's mind, at least in this alternate universe.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

January 29: Poetry Contest

I'm horrible about sending my poems out for publication.  I need to do it more.  I got an e-mail this morning about a poetry contest.  Three poems.  One chance to win $100.  Deadline:  February 1.  I'm not going to fool myself.  There are probably a thousand other poets who are going to enter this competition.  Better poets.  But, as my wife told me this evening, "If you don't enter, you'll never know."

Before I go to bed tonight, I will pick the three poems I think are the best of what I have to offer.  I've got plenty from which to choose.

Saint Marty needs to take a leap of faith.  And pay twelve dollars.

Take a breath, take a step, and jump

January 29: Not Out of the Woods, Fair Grounds, Prayer for Sister

So my sister in Utah is not out of the woods yet.  She went to a doctor's appointment this afternoon and had to be transported from there to the hospital by ambulance.  Her oxygen levels were very low, which may indicate that her infection has spread to her lungs.

My other sister called to tell me the news at work this afternoon.  It really bothered me.  My coworker, who's one of my best friends, asked me, "How're you doing?"  I shrugged.  She said, "Have you made peace with your sister yet?"  It was a question that carried a certain finality about it, as if I only had a little time left to mend my relationship with my sister.

My sister's condition is very serious.  Possibly life-threatening.  I guess I wasn't admitting how serious it actually was.  I'm still not at the point where I think my sister could pull a Steel Magnolias on me.  I can't get there in my head.  It would feel too much like giving up.

Charlotte doesn't give up on Wilbur, either.  Even though she knows the end is near for her life, she decides to go to the County Fair with him:

"I shall go, too," she said softly.  "I have decided to go with Wilbur.  He may need me.  We can't tell what may happen at the Fair Grounds.  Somebody's got to go along who knows how to write..."  

I know nothing is guaranteed, but I have to believe that I still have time to get to the County Fair with my sister.  I'm just not sure who's Wilbur and who's Charlotte in our situation.  Who needs to be saved and who needs to do the saving.

Dear God of the County Fair,

My sister needs Your help again.  Or still.  I'm asking You to give us more time.  Put some healing in her life.  For her kids.  They need her.  And I need more time to find forgiveness and love in my heart.  She can be a blue ribbon person.  I know that.

Keep her in the Fair a little bit longer.  Her life deserves to be saved.

Your loving servant,

Saint Marty

Not ready for this yet

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

January 28: It's Late, Crickets, Prayer of Change

It's late.  Almost 10 p.m.  My kids had another day off from school.  I had another day off from teaching.  In fact, aside from working at the medical office, I didn't do anything productive today.  I think it has something to do with the cold.  It made me want to grab a blanket, sit on the couch, eat enough junk food to feed a small African nation, and watch episodes of The Big Bang Theory.  Maybe I'm pregnant.

The weather's going to be changing tomorrow.  It will be a good twenty or thirty degrees warmer.  That means schools will reopen.  My daughter will have dance class.  I will have to teach.  Everything will return to restart.  Change.  E. B. White writes of change in Charlotte's Web:

The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last forever.  Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year--the days when summer is changing into fall--the crickets spread the rumor of sadness and change.

I know that life is about change.  Sometimes that change brings sadness.  Sometimes it brings joy.  I am not a big fan of change, as many of my constant readers know.  In the past, change hasn't been good to me.  I've been struggling over the last year because of change in my work situations.  Mental illness.  Addictions.  Marital strife.  All these changes have caused me a lot of problems.

But I've come through these changes.  Stronger.  Smarter.  Better.  I'm still not a fan of change.  However, I know I can't avoid it.  I won't embrace it, buy it a negligee, take it home, and ravish it until daylight.  But I also won't take it down a dark alley and pop a cap in its ass.  I will accept it.  Period.

Dear God of change,

I know everything happens for a reason.  I know that light comes with darkness.  Warm with cold.  Happiness with sadness.  You can't have one without the other.

This may come as a surprise, but I want to say thanks for the changes in my life.  If I'm in the middle of a difficulty, I know You're going to see me through.  And that's enough to keep me going.

One little request:  less challenge, more success.  Please.

Your loving servant,

Saint Marty

Food for thought for all my atheist readers.  Change is good.  Even changing your minds.

Monday, January 27, 2014

January 27: Nothing to Say, Bert Lahr, "Gone With the Wind"

My daughter is waiting impatiently for me to finish typing this post.  She wants to do something called Minecraft on my laptop.  She's been stomping and whining for about an hour.  Thank God she's quieted down a little.  She's watching Minecraft videos on my iPad, I think.

I don't really have anything left to say today.  I just saw a guy on Antiques Roadshow (who happens to be the great grandson of actor Bert Lahr--the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz) have the Oz script used by his great grandfather appraised at $150,000.  I nearly crapped myself.

None of my stuff is that important or valuable.  I have a few signed additions of books, but nothing of real importance.

Saint Marty wishes his great grandfather was Clark Gable.  Then Saint Marty would have a Gone With the Wind script that could get his kids college educations.

This guy can send his kids to college because of his great grandfather's script

January 27: World is Closed, Wind Chills, "Web" Dip

My entire world closed today.  Every school.  The university where I teach.  My daughter's dance classes.  My son's religious education class.  My Monday night poetry workshop.  With wind chills approaching 40 below zero, nobody wanted to step outside, let alone wait at a bus stop or walk across a college campus.

I actually got to spend most of the day with my wife and children.  I watched a couple episodes of The Big Bang Theory.  Even took a nap.  I have reached the age where one of the greatest pleasures in my life is 40 or 50 winks in the middle of the day.  I'm not sure if that officially makes me old.

The weather isn't going to be much better tomorrow, either.  My kids' school has already canceled again.  So has every other school in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  When I drove home this evening, the temperature gauge on my car read -15 degrees.  I also heard the alarm going off at the fire station.  That means there's a house burning somewhere in town.  Not a good situation.  I once saw a house that caught fire on a night like this.  In the morning, the entire structure was encased in ice.

Of course, the university hasn't called off classes for tomorrow.  Yet.  I'm skeptical that I will get another day of leisure.  At best, the school will postpone opening until ten or eleven o'clock in the morning.  I teach at 4 p.m.  I will be in the classroom tomorrow.

But let's leave it up to Charlotte:

Will the university cancel classes again tomorrow?

And the answer from the Zuckerman barn is:

"Hurray!" cried everybody.

"Thank you very much," said Charlotte...

Well, Wilbur and friends seem to think that I will be getting another day of vacation.

Of course, Saint Marty doesn't really trust the opinions of animals who live and sleep in manure.

As Dean Martin says, "Baby, it's cold outside."

Sunday, January 26, 2014

January 26: Awards Show Junkie, Classic Saint Marty, New Cartoon

All the schools in the area are closed tomorrow because of the polar temperatures.  We're talking 35-below-zero wind chills.  My kids don't have school.  The poetry workshop I teach for the community schools is cancelled.  My son's religious education class is called off.  The only school that hasn't succumbed to the weather is the university for which I teach.  But I'm ever hopeful.

Tonight, however, my main focus is watching yet another awards show.  I am an awards show junkie.  The Tony Awards.  Emmy Awards.  NAACP Image Awards.  Soap Opera Digest Awards.  Academy Awards.  It doesn't matter.  I've even been known to sit and watch the Kid's Choice Awards.  This evening, I am partaking in the Grammy Awards.

Now, I'm not particularly "up" on all the current music.  In fact, I will probably be asking my daughter who a lot of the nominees are.  But, it's an awards show, and that's good enough for me.  Plus, Beyonce is going to be on it.  It's a win-win.

I do have a Classic Saint Marty for you guys tonight.  This particular episode originally aired exactly two years ago on this date.

And Saint Marty still thinks it's feckin' hilarious.

January 26, 2012:  Something to Laugh At, Cheap Flights, a Friend

The members of my book club left just a little while ago.  The house is clean.  The dishes are washed.  I'm ready to call it a night. 

This afternoon, a friend sent me an e-mail with a video attached.  My friend wanted to make me laugh.  I'm blessed by friends who share their laughter with me.

Tonight, after a long day of work and an evening spent with more good friends, I want to share my laughter.  Below is the video, called "Cheap Flights," that my friend sent me this afternoon.  Just a small warning:  the video contains some PG-13 language.  Be careful where you watch it and with whom you watch it.

Saint Marty thinks it's feckin' hysterical.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, January 25, 2014

January 25: Miracles, How to Spin a Web, New Cartoon

Yes, I'm going to talk about miracles again today.

I've been talking about my sister in Utah who's been very sick.  After ignoring an infected tooth for over seven years, she developed multi-system sepsis.  The doctors have been running all kinds of tests on her over the last few days.  She saw a dentist and facial surgeon yesterday.

I've admitted that my relationship with my sister is, at best, strained.  We haven't been close for a long time.  It's not that I don't love her.  I do.  However, distance is a good thing for us.  If we lived in the same town, we probably wouldn't be speaking to each other at all.

My sister's illness has made me regret the rift that has developed between us.  I haven't allowed our bad blood to be passed on to my kids.  My son and daughter love their aunt and cousins.  That's something of which I'm proud.  And it's a little bit of a miracle, too.  There was a time when I wanted simply to cut all ties with them.  I'm not sure we will ever be close again.  It would take an act of God for that to happen.

But God can do some pretty remarkable things.  Dr. Dorian, in Charlotte's Web, tells Mrs. Arable:

"...A young spider knows how to spin a web without any instructions from anybody.  Don't you regard that as a miracle?"

Dr. Dorian is right.  Miracles are everyday occurrences.  Spiderwebs.  Lightning storms.  Hummingbirds.  Snowstorms.  Human beings are just too busy to notice them.  Maybe animals really do speak to us, and we're too busy to listen to them.

My sister is being sent home from the hospital this evening.  Her heart wasn't harmed.  Neither was her brain.  Her jaw bone and muscles are fine.  A dentist pulled the crown in her mouth and cleared out the entire area.  She's going to be on massive intravenous antibiotics for several weeks. But she's going to be fine.

That's a miracle.

And Saint Marty thanks God for it.

Now, to lighten things up a little bit...

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, January 24, 2014

January 24: Busy Night, David Shumate, "Teaching a Child the Art of Confession"

I've had a busy night.  Lots of running around, getting things done.  Bought a new battery for my garage remote.  Dropped my daughter off at ballet practice.  Corrected quizzes from my film classes.  Recorded the grades in my grade book.  Finished up my lesson plan for Monday.  And now, for my final trick, I will type my second blog post of the day.

I've heard nothing new about my sister's condition.  Nothing about her heart test or discussion with the facial surgeon.  She was also supposed to see a neurologist today, as well.  I guess they're not sure if the infection has affected her brain.  Haven't heard anything about that, either.  It's strange, but I really have this feeling that she's going to be fine.  I don't know why.  Perhaps I'm simply not willing to entertain any other alternative.  Maybe it's faith.

I have a prose poem for you from a poet named David Shumate.  It's about confession and forgiveness.

Saint Marty was drawn to it for some reason tonight.

Teaching a Child the Art of Confession

It is best not to begin with Adam and Eve.  Original Sin is baffling, even for the most sophisticated minds.  Besides, children are frightened of naked people and apples.  Instead, start with the talking snake.  Children like to hear what animals have to say.  Let him hiss for a while and tell his own tale.  They'll figure him out in the end.  Describe sin simply as those acts which cause suffering and leave it at that.  Steer clear of musty confessionals.  Children associate them with outhouses.  Leave Hell out of the discussion.  They'll be able to describe it on their own soon enough.  If they feel the need to apologize for some transgression, tell them that one of the offices of the moon is to forgive.  As for the priest, let him slumber a while more.

An apple sounds pretty good to me tonight

January 24: Telling Stories, Once Upon a Time, Friday's Tale

Fairy tale time...
In some ways, Charlotte's Web reads like a fable.  Something that Aesop may have told, had he lived on a farm in the United States in the early part of the 20th century.  I mean, there's talking pigs and spiders and sheep and cows and geese.  And, really, the whole book is a lesson in loyalty and friendship.  The book even ends with a kind of moral:

It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.

 Charlotte herself tells tall tales for Wilbur sometimes.  One night, she spins a yarn about her cousin who catches a fish in a web:

"Once upon a time," she began, "I had a beautiful cousin who managed to build her web across a small stream.  One day a tiny fish leaped into the air and got tangled in the web..."

So begins an epic battle between spider and fish that rivals anything Homer wrote about Troy or Odysseus.  It's a great story.

Human beings love stories.  We live for narrative.  When family members get together for holidays or birthdays, we drag out our favorite memories, tell the tales, adding details, making them funnier or sadder or scarier.  A brother chopping wood who misses the log and slams the ax into his foot.  An infant daughter who pees in her father's face the first night she comes home from the hospital.  A grandmother in a nursing home who sings everything:  "I wo-onder how Helen Je-ennings is do-oing?  I haven't se-eeen herrrr is a lo-ong time!"  Great stories.

I think that's why I like blogging.  I can share my stories, good or bad, happy or sad.  (Sorry for the bad rhyming.)  I want to leave some kind of record of my days and thoughts.  Things that my family and friends can read.  I know I'm not the most interesting person in the world, but that's not the point.  The point is to communicate, put myself out there.  Tell people I love them.  Thank people for their kindness. Let people know about a worry.  Let people know about a joy.  Maybe make a new friend.  That's the point.

You know, once upon a time, a lonely old man lived on the edge of a vast green sea.  The old man's wife had died.  His children lived half-way across the world.  Nobody ever came to the edge of the vast green sea to visit the old man.

So, the old man began writing notes every day.  He put the notes in bottles and threw them into the waves of the vast green sea.  He wrote, "Hi, I'm lonely today" and "Hi, I had Rice Krispies for breakfast" and "Hi, I've been constipated for three days."  Every day, a bottle went into the green waters.  Every night, the old man went back to the beach to see if anybody had sent him a bottle in return.

One night in early January, the old man went to the beach of the vast green sea as he always did.  There, bobbing in the shallows, was a bottle with a message inside it.  Excitedly, the old man splashed into the water and grabbed the bottle.  He took out the cork and removed the paper inside.  He opened the note and read:

"Get high speed Internet from AT&T for only $19.99 a month!"

Moral of the story:  junk mail pisses me off.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

January 23: I Was Going to Write About...

I was going to write about guilt in this post, but I don't have the energy for it.  I'm too tired.

I was going to write about Citizen Kane and "Rosebud," but that would involve talking about childhood and loss of innocence.  I'm too tired.

I was going to write about Christmas music, and how it lifts my spirits even in the summer months.  But I don't have enough yule to deck my tide at the moment.  I'm too tired.

I was going to write about American Idol again, but I fell asleep watching it.  I'm too tired.

I was going to write about my how much snow we got this morning, but I'm sick of talking about the weather.  I did it all day long.  I'm too tired.

Saint Marty was going to write about a lot of things.  But he's just too damn tired.

Don't care about Rosebud tonight

January 23: My Sister's Life, Wilbur's Life, Charlotte's Trick

This morning, I found out that my sister in Utah is very ill.  She went to the hospital yesterday because she was experiencing back and chest pain.  The doctors admitted her and discovered she has sepsis.  It seems my sister had a root canal in 2007, and she's had an infection ever since.  My sister just chose to ignore it.  Now, she has a life-threatening condition.

I haven't been close to my sister in Utah for a long time.  It's complicated.  When she told us that she was moving out west with her family, I was almost relieved.  I'm a little ashamed to admit that.  But my life has been a lot less difficult since her departure.  Since I found out about her illness, I've been struggling with an incredible sense of guilt.

The doctors did an echocardiogram to find out if the infection has damaged her heart valves.  And she has to talk to a facial surgeon because her jawbone is infected, as well.  It's serious.  She is in need of a Charlotte-sized miracle.

At one point in Charlotte's Web, Charlotte calls a meeting of all the animals in the barn.  She needs their help to think of a new word to weave into her web:

"...Zuckerman thinks Wilbur is an unusual pig, and therefore he won't want to kill him and eat him.  I dare say my trick will work and Wilbur's life can be saved."

Charlotte knows she can't save Wilbur by herself.  She needs the help of the geese and the sheep and the cows.  She even needs the help of Templeton, the rat.

My sister needs a lot of help right now.  From doctors and nurses and surgeons and specialists.  And she needs good thoughts and prayers.  I know, in the last ten years or so, I haven't had a lot of good thoughts for my sister.  As I said before, it's complicated.  So I'm asking all the readers of this blog for lots of positive energy.  If you are a praying person, please say a quick prayer for her, because I'm not so sure how effective my prayers are going to be.  Complicated.

That's a piece of Saint Marty's mind tonight.  Please, God, watch over Saint Marty's sister.

Help me out, folks

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

January 22: A Good Tired

I'm tired tonight.  A good tired.  I've had a good day, full and busy.

It didn't start out good.  I stopped at the Holiday Gas Station on the way to work to buy a cherry Diet Mountain Dew.  Fifty-two ounces of liquid beauty.  As I was setting it on my desk, I knocked it over.  I had a 52 ounce puddle of beauty on the carpet.  I did let fly a few colorful words of beauty at 5 a.m.

However, I did not let that inauspicious beginning ruin my whole day.  Just a small, caffeine-deprived portion of it.  Other than that, I kept myself busy.  I even earned a little extra money this afternoon.  I wrote a cover letter and resume for a friend who's applying for a new job.

I cleaned the bathroom and vacuumed my house this evening.  My kids' report cards were fantastic this quarter.  And now I'm done with my posts for the day.

Saint Marty is tuckered out.

I'm all tuckered out from spilling shit

January 22: Snow, a Delicate Veil, Thankful Wednesday

When I got finished teaching this evening at the university, it was snowing.  A misty, fine snow.  The kind of snow that falls when it's arctically cold.  Even though I was on a busy college campus, students hurrying to class and cars circling for parking spots, the late afternoon was quiet as Christmas Eve.

As a life-long resident of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I'm allowed to complain about snow.  It's my inheritance.  But I'm not complaining tonight.  It was beautiful and peaceful.  I don't think I take enough time out of my day to really appreciate all the beautiful things I encounter.  E. B. White sort of touches on this in Chapter XI of Charlotte's Web:

On foggy mornings, Charlotte's web was truly a thing of beauty.  This morning each thin strand was decorated with dozens of tiny beads of water.  The web glistened in the light and made a pattern of loveliness and mystery, like a delicate veil...

That's how Charlotte saves Wilbur's life, with the beauty and mystery of nature.  If we all took a little time each day to look around, I think we'd all see little miracles.  Spiderwebs in the fog.  Icicles the size of thunderbolts.  Snow, fine and powdery.

This Wednesday, I'm thankful for the snowfall I walked in this evening.  I'm thankful for the silence of it.  The white of it.  The delicate veil of it.

Saint Marty has to say, it was "Some Snow."

Look around.  You never know what you might see.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

January 21: Change in My Life

Things have changed in my life.  In this first month of 2014, I no longer do many of the things I used to do.  I no longer plan worship at church.  I don't play the organ at a Methodist church.  I don't work 50 plus hours for the hospital any more.  I'm teaching a class for community schools.  I'm cleaning houses for money.

I don't like change that much.  I prefer stability.  Year after year.  Stability.  I think I'm trying to establish a new stability.  A new routine.  Normalcy.  It's going to take a while.  I have to be patient.  Really patient.

Saint Marty just hopes that it doesn't take another 15 years.

Scrambled or fried?

January 21: Working, Weaving, and Praying

I'm watching a documentary on PBS about J. D. Salinger at the moment.  The thing that strikes me about him is that he worked all the dime.  Writing was his life.  It gave him meaning, helped him understand who he was.  Salinger stopped publishing in 1965.  But he kept writing.  Every day.  For over 40 years.

I aspire to write daily.  It's one of the reasons I blog.  Blogging is my excuse.  After I've registered surgical patients, after I've taught at the university, after I've gotten my son to bed, I sit down, open up my laptop, and start to type.  I used to blog in the early morning.  Right now, my habit is to work at night, like Charlotte:

Charlotte tore quite a section out of her web, leaving an open space in the middle.  Then she started weaving something to take the place of the threads she had removed.  When Templeton got back from the dump, around midnight, the spider was still at work.

I don't always write things of worth.  In fact, I rarely accomplish more than laying bare my insecurities and worries.  That doesn't always make for compelling reading.  It makes for whining and angst and melancholy.  You know, writerly preoccupations.

I'm not writing whining tonight.  Tonight, I want to offer a little prayer for the work I do.

Dear Lord of Labor,

Bless these words I'm typing.  Let them do the work they need to do.  I don't know who's reading them.  I don't know what impact they're having, if any at all.  But let the work be good.  Let the words be good.  And give me the gift of words again tomorrow.

Your loving child,

Saint Marty

Salinger worked the words

Monday, January 20, 2014

January 20: Fun Was Had By All

Well, I just finished teaching my poetry workshop.  And I had fun.  I relaxed, told a few jokes, shared some good poems.  I thoroughly enjoyed tonight.  Of course, there were only three students present.  Perhaps the cold and wind kept the poets indoors.  It is colder than a glacier tonight.

The time flew by this evening.  The first time I looked at the clock, we had already been working for an hour.  I was shocked.  I had to cram a whole lot of information into that last thirty minutes.  I was doing a lesson on found poetry.  I think it went pretty well, and all three of the students there produced a draft of a poem.  Not bad for the second week of the workshop.

I am now experiencing an adrenaline crash.  Tired and hungry.  I have half an hour before my daughter's dance class is over.  Maybe I'll read a little or write a little or balance my check book or clean up my desk or start a novel.

Or maybe Saint Marty will sit and stare out his window until it's time to leave.  Ding-ding-ding.  We have a winner.

Didn't have this much fun

January 20: MLK Day, Poetry Workshop, "Web" Dip

Happy Martin Luther King Day.

Yes, I had to work today.  I was at the medical office at 5 a.m., sitting at my desk, shuffling papers, answering e-mails, figuring out what tasks I needed to complete.  However, I didn't have to teach at the university this afternoon, so I've had a good chunk of the day to prepare for my poetry workshop.

I have to admit that I find myself more than a little anxious about teaching poetry writing to a group of people.  It's not that I doubt my abilities to write poetry.  I'm just not so sure about teaching other people about the process of writing poetry.  I don't know why.  I've taught creative writing workshops before to all different age groups, from kindergartners on up.  I guess it's the whole idea of being the "expert" in  the classroom that gets me nervous.

I am no expert on poetry.  I've simply had more experience than most people.  Maybe that's the way I need to think about it.  I'm there to share the tricks I've learned over the years, not demonstrate how brilliant I am.  That just might take away some of the pressure I'm feeling.  I need to relax.  Have fun.  If I have fun, so will everyone else.

My question for this Web Dip Monday is:

Will I have fun tonight in the poetry workshop?

And the answer from Charlotte is:

"Tell me another story!" begged Wilbur.

Well, there you have it.  Wilbur's having fun listening to Charlotte's stories.  Fun.  The word of the day.

Now, if Saint Marty can just get Wilbur to show up for the poetry workshop this evening.

Time to play!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

January 19: Poetry to Write, Classic Saint Marty, New Cartoon

I have some pleasant work to do tonight.  After I'm done with this post, I'm going to write in my journal for a couple of hours.  Poetry journaling exercises.  I don't usually have an excuse to simply sit and write.  Tonight, I do.  I'm preparing for the poetry workshop I'm teaching tomorrow night.

I hope I don't get too tired.  I spent the weekend cleaning for money, one house yesterday and one today.  I'm a little sore at the moment, but that's about all.  I'm thinking about having some special hot chocolate tonight.  Bailey's Irish Cream and warm cocoa.  It might get my creative juices flowing, or it might put me right to sleep.  It's a chance I'm willing to take.

I do have a Classic Saint Marty for you guys this evening, from the very first year of the blog.  This episode first aired on October 7, 2010.  It's sort of about disappointment, but mostly it's about unexpected blessings.  And the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Enjoy.  Saint Marty has to go mix up some inspiration for himself now.

October 7, 2010:  Our Lady of the Rosary

And the winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature was...

Not me.

It wasn't the unpronounceable African writer.  It wasn't even Cormac McCarthy, the writer who wouldn't have pissed me off if he had won.  In fact, I might have even been able to work up a little happiness this morning if McCarthy took home the big kahuna.

The winner is.....NOT YOU!!!!!!!!
As I sat at my computer at 6:45 a.m., watching the webcast from the Swedish Academy in Stockholm, I experienced a kind of excitement I used to feel on my birthdays and Christmases as a child.  Now, I knew I didn't stand a snowball's chance in Fiji of winning.  Don't think I'm some kind of delusional egomaniac.  I'm not delusional.  I just was excited.  I can be excited without being mentally unstable. 

Any way, the commentator on the webcast was saying, "And, in about five minutes' time, the Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, Peter Englund, will walk through those doors into the Great Hall to announce the winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature."  I was sucking down my Diet Mountain Dew.  Then the commentator said, "Right now, the Permanent Secretary is calling the winner to congratulate him or her on being selected."

And the phone on my desk rang.

October 7 is the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.  It originated  around 1571 as a celebration of a "naval victory over the Turks" by Don Juan of Austria.  Don Juan credited his success to the recitation of the rosary.  In 1716, Emperor Charles VI again defeated the Turks in battle, and Pope Clement XI extended the feast to the entire church.  Finally, in 1961, the day officially became known as the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.  It's a day celebrating the power of prayer, of victory due to divine intervention.

Now my rational mind knew my ringing phone was pure coincidence, but the six-year-old-kid-on-Christmas-morning side of me thought, "IwonIwonIwonIwonIwonIwonIwonIwonIwonIwon!!!!!!"  For several seconds, I had a disconnect from reality as I reached for the phone.

I cleared my throat, picked up the receiver, and said, "Hello, this is Marty."

There was a pause.  Was that long distance static I heard?  Then a voice said, "Hi, daddy."

Five minutes later, Peter Englund entered the Great Hall and announced the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa had won the Nobel Prize.

My miracle was the conversation I had with my beautiful, nine-year-old daughter.

There's always next year.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, January 18, 2014

January 18: A Fly, An Idea, A New Cartoon

I've spent the day trying to come up with an idea for a new poem.  Which ensured I would not write a new poem.  Last Monday, I told the students in my poetry workshop, "Never plan to write a poem."  Yes, I broke my own damn rule.

I don't have a new poem tonight.  I barely have a thought in my head.  I'm tired.  Aside from working my brain overtime, I also earned money cleaning a house.  Tomorrow, I'm going to clean another house for some extra cash.  I'm hoping to find some kind of inspiration soon, although I also told the students in my poetry workshop last Monday, "Never wait for inspiration to write."  Yes, I broke my own damn rule again.

Charlotte, trying to come up with an idea to save Wilbur from Zuckerman's ax, spends a lot of time waiting for inspiration to strike:

Charlotte was naturally patient.  She knew from experience that if she waited long enough, a fly would come to her web; and she felt sure that if she thought long enough about Wilbur's problem, an idea would come to her mind.

Tomorrow, I will try not to be such a rule-breaker.  I will clean.  I will sit down with my journal and write.  Not a poem.  Or a short story.  Or an essay.  I'll just write and see what kind of flies I catch.  I told the students in my poetry workshop to do that last Monday.

Saint Marty is pretty smart.  He should listen to himself more often.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, January 17, 2014

January 17: Orval Lund, "wrist-wrestling father," Amazement

I'm not amazed by a lot of thing, and I probably should be.  My five-year-old son spends most of his day in a constant state of amazement.  He's amazed when he gets up in the morning and finds out he has to go to kindergarten again.  He's amazed when he opens his lunch box at school and finds a Hershey's chocolate Santa he didn't know was there.  He's amazed when he gets off the school bus and sees my wife waiting there for him.

I wish I were amazed like that.  All the time.  Each moment an exercise in appreciation of the world and life.

Orval Lund wrote a poem about amazement that I love.  I found it in the anthology Good Poems, edited by Garrison Keillor.

Saint Marty is amazed by this poem.

wrist-wrestling father

For my father

On the maple wood we placed our elbows
and gripped hands, the object to bend
the other's arm to the kitchen table.
We flexed our arms and waited for the sign.

I once shot a wild goose.
I once stood not twenty feet from a buck deer unnoticed.
I've seen a woods full of pink lady slippers.
I once caught a 19-inch trout on a tiny fly.
I've seen the Pacific.  I've seen the Atlantic.
I've watched whales in each.

I once heard Lenny Bruce tell jokes.
I've seen Sandy Koufax pitch a baseball.
I've heard Paul Desmond play the saxophone.
I've been to London to see the Queen.
I've had dinner with a Nobel Prize poet.

I wrote a poem once with every word but one just right.
I've fathered two fine sons
and loved the same woman for twenty-five years.

But I've never been more amazed
than when I snapped my father's arm down to the table.

Look up every once in a while and be amazed

January 17: Rushing, Sedentary Spider, Busy Fairy Tale

It has been a really busy morning.  I did some shoveling for a friend.  I took my daughter to her doctor's appointment to get stitches removed from her ear.  I attended an English Department meeting at the university.

The rest of the day isn't going to be much better.  Therapy appointment with my wife this afternoon.  My daughter's ballet class this evening.  I will not be getting home until well past 8 p.m.  And then it starts up all over again tomorrow.  House cleaning for money.  More shoveling.  Church.

It seems human beings keep busy in order to feel good about themselves.  I know that, if I don't accomplish a lot of work in a day, I feel lazy, worthless even.  At around 10 p.m. each night, I do a mental inventory of all the tasks I've completed.  If that inventory comes up short, I don't sleep very well, and I vow to do better the next day.

Charlotte the spider speaks a little about this human tendency to Wilbur.  She describes the Queensborough Bridge to him, and Wilbur asks her if humans catch bugs with this "web."  Charlotte responds:

"No," said Charlotte.  "They don't catch anything.  They just keep trotting back and forth across the bridge thinking there is something better on the other side.  If they'd hang head-down at the top of the thing and wait quietly, maybe something good would come along.  But no--with men it's rush, rush, every minute.  I'm glad I'm a sedentary spider."

That's a pretty strong indictment of the human race from such a small creature.  But the human race is guilty as charged.  I'm guilty.  I rarely just sit and think, as Charlotte does.  Perhaps, if I were more like her, I'd be a little less crazy all the time.  But I was taught at a very young age the importance of hard work.  Not that it's done much good.  My grandpa dropped dead of a heart attack in his fifties.  He was a hard worker.  One of my older brothers had a major heart attack when he turned 50.  He's a hard worker.  Another of my brothers had a debilitating stroke in his early fifties.  He was a hard worker.  From that evidence alone, maybe I should make a practice of hanging upside down every day, letting the blood rush to my head, being sedentary.

Right now, I'm sitting at my desk at the university, staring out my window at snow falling.  Big, fat, fluffy flakes.  It looks like a Currier and Ives Christmas scene.  Instead of enjoying the beauty of the moment, I'm thinking about the shoveling I'm going to have to do when I get home.  I think there's something really wrong with me.  When did I become a workaholic?

Once upon a time there was an ant named Bing.  Bing worked all the time.  From dawn to dusk, he was out in the world, finding crumbs of bread, bits of bologna, scraps of chewing gum.  He'd drag each treasure to the anthill, put it in storage, and head back out to find more.

Bing was constantly worried that his ant colony wouldn't have enough food for the winter.  He dreamed of cold, icy nights and starvation.  He convinced himself that the survival of the entire anthill depended on him.

One day, when Bing was trying to drag a chicken wing back home, a little boy trapped him.

"Please, giant, let me go," Bing begged the boy.  "My whole ant colony will die this winter if you don't."

The boy said, "But I want to take you home, put you in a jar, and play with you."

Bing shook his head.  "I can't play.  If I play, I'll die."

The boy shook his head.  "Play is fun.  You should try it."

The ant shook a leg angrily at the boy.  "If you don't put me down this minute, I'll bite you so hard you'll scream."

The boy immediately put Bing back on the ground and stomped on him, killing him instantly.

Moral of the story:  all work and no play makes Bing a dead ant.

And Saint Marty lived happily every after.

Don't piss off little boys

Thursday, January 16, 2014

January 16: TGIT

Well, I've made it through my first week back at work and teaching.  Thursday night, and I'm T-I-R-E-D.  I feel as though I could sleep for about 36 hours, get up and pee, and then go back to bed for another 12 hours.

Thank God it's Thursday.  My students at the university tell me that Thursday is the new Friday.  Since I stopped working on Fridays at the medical office, I find Thursday evenings tiring.  It's like my body knows its going to get a couple of hours more sleep tonight.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm going to be busy on Friday.  My daughter's getting the stitches out of her ears.  There's an English Department meeting.  I have office hours at school.  In the afternoon, there's a doctor's appointment and a dance class.

Saint Marty would love to have one day where there's nothing on his calendar.  No church.  No teaching.  No work.  No cleaning.  No shopping.  No school concerts.  No birthday parties.  No American Idol.  No Book Club.  Nothing.

Zero.  Zilch.  Goose egg.

A man can dream, can't he?

January 16: Our Ears, Angels and Pigs, Listening

I often wonder if young children can see and hear things that adults can't see or hear.  My daughter, when she was a baby, would lie in her crib and babble and laugh for half an hour sometimes.  It was like she was having a conversation with someone, telling jokes, sharing secrets.  My wife and I used to say that she was visiting with Grandma C_____, my wife's mother who passed away more than ten years before our daughter was born.

When Fern tells to her parents about Wilbur and Charlotte and the other animals in the barn, Mrs. Arable wants to speak to a doctor about Fern.  After all, Fern is talking to animals, and the animals are talking back to her.  Mr. Arable isn't quite as skeptical:

Mr. Arable grinned.  "Maybe our ears aren't as sharp as Fern's," he said.

I really follow Mr. Arable's logic.  I think kids can communicate with angels and pigs, and I think, somehow, angels and pigs communicate right back.  I think we all used to see and hear ghosts dancing, spiders singing, and grass whispering when we were young.  It's just that we got old and stopped listening.

Perhaps the world would be a better place if we all listened like children.  Maybe, then, we would hear the oceans crying when we drilled for oil.  Or a cherub singing a lullaby at an infant's crib.  Maybe we would see loved ones who've passed away sitting down at the dinner table with us.  Or playing hide-and-go-seek on the playground.

The world needs more people who listen for singing angels and talking pigs.

And Saint Marty hopes he's one of them.  Not an angel or pig.  One of the listeners.  Yeah, a listener who isn't afraid to give you a piece of his mind.

Do you see an angel in this photograph?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

January 15: Channel Surfing

Well, I cleaned my house this evening after I got my son in bed.  Usually, I clean the bathroom and vacuum on Friday mornings.  However, I have an English Department meeting this Friday.  So, I had to get 'er done tonight.

When I finally sat down on the couch, I grabbed the TV remote, intending to do some channel surfing.  Generally, I don't watch too much television at night.  If I have time, I prefer to watch a DVD or listen to music.  Or read.  Tonight, however, I didn't want to think or expend any mental energy.  I started flipping through the stations.  And then I came upon the Fox Network.  American Idol.  And I stopped.

Yes, I love American Idol.  I've loved it in all its incarnations.  All the judges.  Even Nicki Minaj.  It's not something of which I'm proud, but I own my character defects.  Plus, Jennifer Lopez is back.  C'mon.  What's not to love?

So, you'll excuse Saint Marty.  He's got some Idol to watch.

Eat your heart out, Simon Cowell

January 15: Beautiful Air, Gratitude, Peanuts

Wilbur burst into tears.  "I don't want to die," he moaned.  "I want to stay alive, right here in my comfortable manure pile with all my friends.  I want to breathe the beautiful air and lie in the beautiful sun."

Wilbur has just learned the fate of all young pigs on the farm.  The old sheep tells him that, as soon as the cold weather sets in, Wilbur will be turned into smoked bacon and ham.  As the sheep says, it's a regular conspiracy, involving every person in the Zuckerman family and employ.

Of course, Wilbur gets hysterical over all the things he'll miss if he's butchered:  the comfortable manure pile, the beautiful air, the beautiful sun.  All the things he normally takes for granted each day.

I think all of us go through life taking things for granted.  For example, I love Planters Dry Roasted Peanuts.  I usually have a huge container of them at home all the time.  When I'm in the kitchen, I'll sometimes grab a handful of them without even thinking about it.  I expect them to be there.

I'm like Wilbur.  Wilbur doesn't think about what he loves most until he's faced with the prospect of losing it.  Then, the manure pile becomes the pig-version of Citizen Kane's Rosebud. It's the warmth of summer mornings, the chuckle of the goose, the buzz of flies in Charlotte's web.

I've decided to do away with Worry Wednesdays.  From now on, every Wednesday I will write about something I take for granted.    Big things.  Small things.  Quiet things.  Loud things.  I want to cultivate more gratitude in my life.

So, this Wednesday, Saint Marty gives thanks for Planters Dry Roasted Peanuts.

Nothings comes between me and my nuts (yes, I went there)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

January 14: Out of Words

Well, I am officially out of words this evening.  After a day of working, teaching, blogging, I'm pretty much a dry well.  It doesn't help that I'm functioning on about four hours of sleep, too.

I'm a little disappointed with myself.  I hoped to accomplish a lot more today.  But, of course, I fell more than a little short.  I don't even have the energy to proofread this post.  I have done the bare essentials to get by today.  And I'm doing the bare essentials tonight.

I'm ready to teach tomorrow.  After I publish this post, I will lay out my work clothes, brush my teeth, and go to bed.

Hopefully, Saint Marty will be able to fall asleep.  That's been difficult these last few nights.

The best laid plans of Chicken and men

January 14: Hard Work, the Office, Tired Prayer

"Luck had nothing to do with this," said the goose.  "It was good management and hard work."

The goose is boasting.  Her eggs have just hatched after four weeks.  Seven goslings.  Charlotte remarks on the lucky number seven, and the goose is highly offended.  She doesn't believe in luck.  She believes in "good management and hard work."  She sounds like a motivational speaker at a Stephen R. Covey convention.

I went back to work this morning.  It was hard.  When the alarm went off at 4 a.m., I felt like I'd been hit in the head with a hammer.  The office was a mess. Piles of papers.  Hours of drudgery.  I started at 5 a.m. and, by 3:30 p.m., I still wasn't done.  I am exhausted.

I have one prayer for tonight:

Dear God,

Help me make it through another day.  Let me work well.  Teach well.  Love my family well.

Your loving servant,

Saint Marty

Hard work pays off

Monday, January 13, 2014

January 13: The Offending Poem by Thomas Lux

So, below is the offending poem by Thomas Lux.  It has not been edited.

Saint Marty hopes none of his readers have delicate constitutions.

Poem in Thanks

Lord Whoever, thank you for this air
I'm about to in- and exhale, this hutch
in the woods, the wood for fire,
the light--both lamp and the natural stuff
of leaf-back, fern, and wing.
For the piano, the shovel
for ashes, the moth-gnawed
blankets, the stone-cold water
stone-cold:  thank you.
Thank you, Lord, coming for
to carry me here--where I gnash
it out, Lord, where I'll calm
and work, Lord, thank you
for the goddamn birds singing!

Blame Mr. Lux, not me

January 13: Long Day, Quick Post, Quick "Web" Dip

It has been a very long day.  The start of the semester at the university.  First day of teaching.  I took my daughter to the pediatrician this morning for an ingrown toenail.  That might not sound like such a big deal, but, when you do ballet en pointe, an ingrown toenail is quite a problem.  Then I put together a few handouts for the poetry workshop I'm teaching for the community schools on Monday nights for the next six weeks.  This evening, I delivered one of my last Christmas presents to a friend from the university.  I attended the open house at my daughter's dance studio.  And I taught the poetry workshop.

I think the workshop went alright.  There were a few more participants than I was expecting.  I had five people on my roster this morning.  Tonight, there were eight poets in the room, including me.  Unfortunately, one person (a kind, older gentleman) seemed to get offended very early by the first poem I read to them.  It was a poem by the poet Thomas Lux, and it contains the word "goddamn."  I even prefaced my reading with a warning about the profanity.  However, after I read the poem, this gentleman packed up his belongings and left.

All night long, I've thought and thought about what happened.  My wife, when I told her the story, said, "If he can't take that word, he doesn't belong in a poetry workshop."  I don't think I did anything wrong.  It's not like I read them Sharon Olds' "The Pope's Penis."  It was, basically, a psalm of thanks full of genuine beauty.

Guess I'm going to have to let this one go.  I could fret and meditate on it all night long and still be no closer to any kind of resolution.

So, let me ask Wilbur and crew this question:

Did I offend a nice grandfather at my poetry workshop this evening with the word "goddamn"?

And the little pig says:

Fern nodded.  "I had the best time I have ever had anywhere or any time in all of my whole life."

Hmmm.  I don't think the nice grandfather left because he was having too much fun.  I'm not really buying that response.

And Saint Marty doesn't think it's over yet.  That would be too goddamn easy.

Yup, I offended Mr. Fredricksen

Sunday, January 12, 2014

January 12: Classic Saint Marty, New Cartoon

I recently spoke with a person who is totally clueless.  He made some comments about my wife's mental illness that drove home the realization that ignorance about mental illness is one of the last acceptable forms of bigotry. 

Just because someone suffers from a mental illness doesn't mean he's carrying a concealed weapon.  And just because someone with a mental illness gets angry doesn't mean he's about to turn into Freddy Krueger.

There's nothing more frightening than the idea that your mind might turn on you.  That you might not be able to control your actions.  That your life suddenly belongs to a stranger.  And that stranger is you.

I have a Classic Saint Marty about mental illness.  This particular episode originally aired almost four years ago, but I don't think its message is dated.  Please read it.  Take it to heart.

Saint Marty takes it to heart every day.

February 25, 2010:  Blessed Josepha Naval Girbes

I think I'm suffering from a rage hangover today. My little moment of insanity keeps replaying in my head the way the network news kept showing the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings the week after September 11. Like most people in the days following the attacks, I couldn't stop watching in slow motion as tiny forms leaped from the shattered windows; as the metal and glass collapsed into thick clouds of rubble and smoke; as survivors came stumbling out of the fog like zombies coated in flour. I just couldn't stop watching those images, simply because I couldn't believe it had happened.

I still can't believe I lost control of myself so badly yesterday. And it all, in some way, distills down to an inability of most people to understand the reality of mental illness.

Let me tell you a little about this reality.

When I leave home in the morning, there's always a part of myself that wants to stay with my wife and children, to protect them, to make sure that my daughter gets to school on time, my son's diaper gets changed, my wife eats breakfast and takes her meds on time. My wife has always been good about taking her pills, which, in the world of mental illness, is a miracle of saintly proportions. (She watched her uncle ride the roller coaster of going on and off his bipolar medications his whole life. He ended up committing suicide. "I'm not going to end up like him," she's told me on more than one occasion.) Things have been fairly stable for her for over three years, but I always remember walking into an ER examination room nine years ago and seeing my wife's arms laced up and down with bloody, self-inflicted gashes. That image is with me every morning I get in the car and drive to work. That's a reality.

My wife is constantly exhausted, partly due to the effects of the medications she takes. When I come home at night, I'm never sure what condition our home is going to be in. On good days, the beds are made, the dishes are done, the toys are put away, and a load of laundry is in the dryer. On bad days, the house looks like Ground Zero. Sometimes I get angry. I yell at my wife, or I storm around, putting everything in order. But then I stop in front of her. She looks as though she's just run a half-marathon, as if getting dressed is an Olympic event. It takes the wind right out of the sails of my boat, the H. M. S. Self-Righteous. That's a reality.

When AIDS first entered the public consciousness, it was a disease people whispered about, the "gay cancer." People even went so far as to proclaim it was a punishment sent by God on the gay community (as if the God who let his son be tortured and executed for our broken world needed to do something else to fix it). Then grandmothers and children and mothers started contracting the disease, and suddenly it was in our living rooms. In the year 2010, AIDS isn't a taboo topic anymore. While still a horrifying illness, it's talked about, researched, studied, and treated with compassion and understanding. Although it's been around a lot longer than AIDS, mental illness is still in the back room of society, the secret, demented grandmother who lifts her hospital gown and flashes her genitalia to passersby. It's the proverbial elephant in the living room that everyone ignores. That's a reality.

I come from a family that believes in hard work. My father was a plumber for over fifty years, leaving home at seven in the morning and sometimes not returning until six or seven in the evening. He instilled that work ethic in all of his children. Besides teaching at the university, I also work full-time in a medical office and play the pipe organ at two different churches on the weekends. This tax season, I have six W-2s to submit. Before my wife was diagnosed with bipolar, my line of thinking went something like this: if you have two good arms, two good legs, functional lungs, and at least one synapse firing in your brain, you can get a job and do your share of the housework. That thinking changed nine years ago. Unfortunately, many members of my family look at my wife sleeping in a chair or struggling to stay awake on the couch, and they see a woman who can't take care of her children or household properly. Mental illness, for them, is an excuse to be lazy. That's a reality.

My daughter has never known her mother without mental illness. A few weeks ago, my daughter was asked to draw a picture at school of the people who live in her house. She drew a picture of me in front of a classroom of students, lecturing. She drew her little brother in the midst of a heap of toys, creating mayhem and havoc. And she drew a picture of my wife in her pajamas, snoozing in bed. My wife blinked at my daughter's drawing a few times, trying to control herself. After the kids were in bed, my wife said to me angrily, "I don't want my daughter's only memory of me to be that I slept all the time." That's a reality.

As a family member of a person with mental illness, my reality is not unique. I have a coworker who has a daughter with schizophrenia. Another coworker's teenage son recently tried to commit suicide. I sit around the lunch table with these coworkers and exchange experiences like Iwo Jima veterans comparing scars at a battalion reunion. Bipolar. Depression. Mood disorder. Schizophrenia. Suicidal ideation. These are the realities in millions of homes, for millions of families.

Josepha Naval Girbes is a woman who is on her way to becoming a saint. There are quite a few steps in the process. She's considered "blessed" right now, which means she's sort of a Vice Saint, awaiting the next election. (I'm being flippant. Canonization involves miracles and investigations and background checks. It's almost as difficult as airline travel.) The thing that's astounding about Josepha is that she became a blessed by staying home. She taught needlework and prayer to young girls, and she received mystical visions and knowledge. All at home. When she's actually canonized, she may be the first agoraphobic saint. She didn't end famines with a wave of her hand. She didn't rub mud in blind eyes and restore sight. She did needlepoint and prayed. At home. That's a reality.

So, that's mental illness. It's a nameless, faceless problem, except for those people and families who live with it, 24-7, all their lives. The world is full of these flour-covered zombies, these ghosts, who live on the fringe, desperately clinging to life. They are wives, sons, daughters, husbands, priests, doctors, plumbers, beggars, and bishops. And they are even saints. That's a reality.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, January 11, 2014

January 11: No Morals, Templeton, New Cartoon

...The rat had no morals, no conscience, no scruples, no consideration, no decency, no milk of rodent kindness, no compunctions, no higher feeling, no friendliness, no anything.  He would kill a gosling if he could get away with it--the goose knew that.  Everybody knew it.

Templeton, the rat, is one of my favorite characters in Charlotte's Web.  For some reason, his utter lack of redeeming qualities appeals to me.  He's completely self-centered.  He doesn't give a whisker whether Wilbur is carted off to the smokehouse come autumn time.  Templeton is completely narcissistic, sort of like Kim Kardashian.

Some days, I wish I could be a little like Templeton.  There has to be something very liberating about worrying only about yourself, the rest of the world be damned.  I would venture to say that a majority of highly successful people in the world have streaks of Templeton in their makeups.  Mark Zuckerberg.  Bill Clinton.  Madonna.  Oprah Winfrey.  I'm not saying these persons have zero philanthropic impulses.  However, to get where they are today, they probably have a few rotten goose eggs in their pasts.

On the other hand, I personally know quite a few highly accomplished people who are the kindest, most generous individuals in the world.  For these persons, money and fame and success are merely happy addendums to their lives.  They genuinely care more about their family and friends than about six-figure salaries and book deals and awards.  They're kind of annoying.

As much as I want to be more like Templeton, I think I fall more on the Charlotte side of the spectrum.  I care too much.  I would make a horrible millionaire or billionaire, because I would be giving away most of my money to causes like malaria relief in sub-Saharan Africa and arts programs for inner-city kids.  I wouldn't hold onto my fortune very long.  I'm sure of that.

Right now, I don't have a lot of expendable income.  This past Christmas, I don't think I dropped two quarters in Salvation Army buckets.  I can't remember the last time I put an envelope in the collection plate at church.  Circumstances have turned me into Templeton.  I still have morals, conscience, scruples, consideration, decency, and all that.  They just have to take a back seat to self-preservation at the moment.

Saint Marty would sell his best halo if it would help pay the bills.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, January 10, 2014

January 10: A Winter's Night Poem, David Ignatow, "For My Daughter in Reply to a Question"

I have a poem for you guys on this winter night.  It's a poem that contains longing and love and tenderness.

It was written by David Ignatow and appeared in the anthology Good Poems for Hard Times, edited by Garrison Keillor.

Saint Marty wishes he had written this poem.

For My Daughter in Reply to a Question

We're not going to die,
we'll find a way.
We'll breathe deeply
and eat carefully.
We'll think always on life.
There'll be no fading for you or for me.
We'll be the first
and we'll not laugh at ourselves ever
and your children will be my grandchildren.
Nothing will have changed
except by addition.
There'll never be another as you
and never another as I.
No one ever will confuse you
nor confuse me with another.
We will not be forgotten and passed over
and buried under the births and deaths to come.

Sweet dreams this January night