Monday, March 31, 2014

March 31: Gratitude Twenty-Seven

I'm struggling a little bit with gratitude this evening.  Not really feeling it.

However, since it is my Lenten promise, I will try to come up with something for which to be grateful.

Tonight, I am grateful for...a hot shower, I guess.  That's the one thing I've enjoyed today.  The only thing.

Saint Marty is ready for this day to be over.

A Hitchcock hot shower...

March 31: Disappointing News, Down on Myself, "Web" Dip

I received a disappointing e-mail this morning about a job for which I applied.  Basically, the e-mail said, "Too bad.  Good luck.  Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out."  I didn't even get an interview.

I've been pretty down on myself all day.  It seems like I've worked almost 20 years for nothing.  I know that God has some kind of plan for my life, but, at the moment, that plan looks to include unemployment, loss of health insurance, and bouts of depression.

This post is not going to be upbeat.  I don't think I have any upbeat in me this evening.  I do have plenty of self-pity.  It's oozing from my pores.  I'm lousy with it.

My Web dip question tonight is this:

Am I going to get any good job news soon?

And Charlotte says:

...Everybody lined up at the fence and stood for a moment admiring Wilbur and the beautiful green crate...

Well, that's pretty positive.  People lining up to admire Wilbur and his crate.  Perhaps that means that, pretty soon, I'll have something of which to be proud.

Saint Marty can only hope.

So do I

Sunday, March 30, 2014

March 30: Gratitude Twenty-Six, Classic Saint Marty, New Cartoon

I am grateful for my family today.

I live very close to my parents and sisters.  One of my older brothers lives only an hour away.  Another of my older brothers lives in town.  I see my siblings, mom, and dad frequently.  Every Sunday evening, we have dinner at my parents' house.  It's a loud affair, usually with the TV blaring in the background.  Sometimes there's arguing or glaring, like a bad SNL skit.  Other times, there's jokes and laughter and good-natured teasing.

I love my family.  Even when they drive me crazy, I know, when the chips are down, that I can always depend upon them.  That's a huge blessing.  When my wife suffered a pulmonary embolism the month after my son was born, I didn't worry about my kids.  I knew my sisters would watch them while I worked, taught, and arranged hospital things.

We may not agree all the time, but we love each other.  All the time.

And I am grateful for that.

I have a Classic Saint Marty for you guys this afternoon.  This particular episode originally aired exactly two years ago.  It's about my go-to saint.

March 30, 2012:  Go-to Guy, Saint Anthony, Lost and Found
I went shopping at Wal-Mart this afternoon.  Then I drove home, unpacked the groceries, and put my son down for his nap.  After he was asleep, I cleaned the house.  Finally, I sat down to rest a little bit, until I realized my hip pack, containing my wallet and checkbook, was missing.  It wasn't in my car.  It wasn't in the house.

I distinctly remembered putting my groceries in the back of my car at Wal-Mart.  I also distinctly remembered walking my shopping cart to a cart keeper a few parking spaces away, looking down, seeing my hip pack in the cart, and thinking, I better not forget to grab that.  After that, things got a little fuzzy.  Therefore, I made the assumption that I left my hip pack in the cart.

Well, when I lose something, I tend to drive myself a little crazy.  I tore the house apart.  I tore my car apart.  No hip pack.  So, after I picked up my daughter from school, I drove back to Wal-Mart.

I think I've written about Saint Anthony before.  He is the patron saint of lost things.  Basically, if you lose something, you pray to Saint Anthony, and he's supposed to help you find your lost property.  It's a Catholic thing.  Tony is my go-to guy.  He has never let me down.  All the way to Wal-Mart, I was saying prayers to him.  The prayers went sort of like this:  Helpmehelpmehelpmehelpmehelpme, pleeeeeeease, Saint Anthony.

Well, I  went to the customer service desk when I got to Wal-Mart.  That's where the lost and found department is.  I know this fact because that's where I picked up my hip pack the last time I lost it.  (Yes, I have done this on a couple of occasions.)  My hip pack was sitting on the back counter, in plain view.  I breathed a huge sigh.

Tony is da man, I'm telling you.  He has always answered my prayers.   He's the kind of saint I want to be when I grow up.  Dependable.  All the time.

Saint Marty, on the other hand, would lose his halo if it weren't attached.

Have you seen my halo anywhere?
Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, March 29, 2014

March 29: Gratitude Twenty-Five, Coming of Wonders, Bruce Snider, New Cartoon

On Sunday the church was full.  The minister explained the miracle.  He said the words on the spider's web proved that human beings must always be on the on the watch for the coming of wonders.

The minister in Charlotte's Web is right.  We must always be aware of the wonders of the world.  Spider webs.  Icicles five feet long.  Rainbows on an oily puddle.  Green M&Ms.  Every day, God puts wonders in our paths.

Tonight, I went to church with my family.  During a Catholic mass, a lot of liturgical music is sung and played.  One of my favorites is the "Agnus Dei" or "Lamb of God."  There are several musical settings for it, and all of them are quite beautiful.  The English version, in one translation, is:

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.

For some reason, when the organ starts playing and the choir starts singing the "Lamb of God," I'm always moved to the point of tears.  I find something plaintive and longing in the words.  A yearning for compassion and harmony in the music.  It's a beautiful and moving point in the mass.  And I am grateful for it.

I'm also grateful for a poem by Bruce Snider tonight.  It was first published in The Gettysburg Review and reprinted in The Best American Poetry 2012:

The Drag Queen Dies in New Castle

Returning home
  at twenty-nine, you made
a bed your throne, your
  brothers carrying you
from room to room,

each one in turn holding
  the glass to your lips,
though you were the oldest
  of the brood.  Buried
by the barn you vanished,

but the church women
  bought your wigs
for the Christmas pageant
  that year, your blouses sewn
into a quilt under which

two newlyweds lay,
  skin to skin as if they
carried some sense
  of your undressing.  Skirts
swayed where sheep grazed

the plow and the farmer
  reached between legs
to pull out the calf,
  fluid gushing to his feet.
On lines across town,

dresses flapped empty
  over mulch while you
kept putting on your show,
  bones undressing like
it's never over, throwing

off your last great shift
  where a fox snake sank
its teeth into a corn
  toad's back, the whole
field flush with clover.

Saint Marty hopes all his disciples have something for which to be grateful this evening.  A song.  A poem.  A beautiful moon in a star-filled night.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, March 28, 2014

March 28: Gratitude Twenty-Four

Tonight, I am grateful for possibility.

I have three possible job prospects.  I've had two really good interviews.  At least one of the managers called me for additional information.  There is possibility, hope, in all that.  Perhaps next week this hope will evaporate.  I won't be offered either of the jobs for which I interviewed.  Won't even be called for the third.

That may happen.

I also may be offered both of the jobs for which I interviewed, and I may be called to interview for the third.  I may end up with three job offers.  Anything is possible.

Saint Marty chooses possibility, hope, tonight.

So do I, Emily

March 28: Dandelion Stems, Dilated Pupils, Dunce Fairy Tale

In early summer there are plenty of things for a child to eat and drink and suck and chew.  Dandelion stems are full of milk, clover heads are loaded with nectar, the Frigidaire is full of ice-cold drinks.  Everywhere you look is life, even the little ball of spit on the weed stalk, if you poke it apart, has a green worm inside it.  And on the under side of the leaf of the potato vine are the bright orange eggs of the potato bug.

The above passage from Charlotte's Web has nothing to do with this post.  I simply liked it because it's about summer, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan seems to be in a state of eternal winter, like Narnia.  I haven't seen the White Witch anywhere in my neighborhood, but we have enough snow to choke a whole herd of centaurs.

I woke up this morning to another eight or nine inches of wet, heavy snow and all kinds of school cancellations.  Yes, my children got to stay home today.  As my daughter said, when she finally dragged herself out of bed, "Spring break came one day early."

I spent most of the a.m. hours shoveling.  I started with my front porch steps.  Moved on to my car.  Drove over to a friend's house and got her cleared out.  Went back home, took a shower, and then drove to the university for my office hours.  By the afternoon, the world was blazing white under a clear, blue sky.  And things were melting.

I went to the eye doctor for a checkup.  I knew I needed bifocals.  I've needed bifocals for a couple of years now but have refused to admit it.  Today, I surrendered.  I'm tired of ripping my glasses on and off my face when I'm reading.  The doctor tried to dissuade me a little, spoke about periods of adjustment and additional costs.  He almost talked me out of it.  But, with my pupils dilated and light pounding my brain, I picked out a pair of frames and ordered bifocals.

I am officially middle-aged to old.

Once upon a time, a dunce named Rolf lived in a land of eternal winter.  In the morning, when Rolf woke up, it was snowing.  In the afternoon, when Rolf got home from dunce school, it was snowing.  At night, when he climbed into bed, it was snowing.  Rolf was tired of snow.

One day, Rolf asked his neighbor, "Is it ever going to stop snowing?"

His neighbor laughed and said, "It hasn't snowed in five years here."

Rolf blinked.  "What are you talking about?  It's always snowing here."

His neighbor reached over and took the glasses off Rolf's face.  "Your lenses are all scratched up, Rolf.  Plus, you have cataracts."

Looking around, Rolf said, "I'm too young to have cataracts."

The neighbor put his hand on Rolf's shoulder.  "You're 45 years old.  And a dunce."

Moral of the story:  Middle-aged people live in denial, especially if they're stupid.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

This pretty much says it all

March 27: Gratitude Twenty-Three

Tonight, I am grateful for a potluck.

My wife and I hosted our monthly book club meeting this evening.  Besides having really good conversations about literature, these get-togethers also feature food.  Everybody brings a dish.  Desserts.  Salads.  Soups.  Usually there's pizza.  In honor of Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, one member brought chicken wings.  Delicious.

And our fridge is stocked with leftovers.

It certainly cuts down on Saint Marty's grocery bill this week.

I've died and gone to heaven

Thursday, March 27, 2014

March 27: Wasps and Bees, My Book Bag, "The Incorruptibles"

"Oh, Avery," chuckled Mrs. Arable.  "Avery is always fine.  Of course, he gets into poison ivy and gets stung by wasps and bees and brings frogs and snakes home and breaks everything he lays his hands on.  He's fine."

Avery is a normal young boy, into all the things that normal young boys are into:  wasps and bees and frogs and snakes.  He's basically an earthquake with legs.  Avery is my five-year-old son.

I wasn't into the normal young boy things when I was Avery's age.  Didn't really care to be out in the woods where poison ivy resides.  I didn't like touching frogs.  Didn't like even stepping foot in the reptile house at the Detroit Zoo.  Too many large, scaly things with fangs.  I was a reader and a writer and a doodler.

However, I did have a weakness for the macabre.  I loved Vincent Price movies and Fangoria magazine.  At camp in the summers, I'd read those comic books full of zombies and empty graves.  And, as a good Catholic boy, I was into stories about the lives of saints, especially martyrs.  The grislier a saint's demise, the more I liked it.

In my book bag tonight is a little tome titled The Incorruptibles, by Joan Carroll Cruz.  It was one of my favorite reads as a kid.  Basically, it's about saints whose bodies remain incorrupt.  They don't decay or turn to dust.  In fact, many of these holy men and women simply look like they're taking a nap.  For some, their naps have lasted centuries.

It's not the greatest written book in the world.  Its style is matter-of-fact, history-book prose.  Nothing flowery or poetic.  Yet, the biographies of the saints are fascinating for their violent and, sometimes, gruesome description.  For instance, this description of the remains of Saint Catherine Laboure:

We cut the sternum on the median line.  The bone showed a cartilaginous, elastic consistency and was easily cut by the surgeon's knife.  The thoracic cavity being opened it was easy for us to remove the heart.  It was much shrunken but it had kept its shape.  We could easily see within it the little fibrous cords, remains of the valves and muscles.  We also took out a number of the ribs and the clavicle.  We disjointed the arms--these two will be conserved apart.  The two knee caps were taken out.  The fingers and toe nails were in perfect condition.  The hair remained attached to the scalp.

Terrifying.  This little saintly autopsy is better than anything found in an episode of The Walking Dead.  That's why I loved this book as a kid.  It wasn't made-up.  It was real, sometimes with real photos.

So, Saint Marty wasn't into wasps and bees as a boy.  He was into disjointed arms and knee caps.

The body of Saint Catherine Laboure--died in 1876

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

March 26: Gratitude Twenty-Two

Tonight, I am grateful for Donna Tartt.

I love her book The Goldfinch.  Tomorrow night, the members of my book club descend on my abode for a couple hours of food and conversation.  It's one of the highlights of every month for me.  I love each and every person in this group.  And I love the food they bring.

Saint Marty's hoping for a lot of leftovers.

Everyone's a critic

March 26: Daydreams, Escape, Reality

In Maine, as in Mount Vernon, Elwyn spent time alone or in daydreams.  Surrounded by his boisterous family but off in his own world, he would stare down through clear water to where pebbles and driftwood on the bottom were crossed by the shadows of water bugs and eclipsed by the boat's own shade...

Even as a child, E. B. White was cultivating the habits of a writer.  In the midst of his large and loud family, White would withdraw into himself.  His own thoughts and daydreams, fueled by the natural world that surrounded him.  It's no wonder he grew up to write a book about geese and cows and pigs and spiders.  These creatures were his muses.

Most writers I know cultivate isolation to some degree.  It comes with the territory.  Charles Dickens, after writing all day, would go for long walks at night.  Sometimes twenty or so miles.  Flannery O'Connor would sit in her room in Andalusia for several hours each morning, sometimes writing only two or three sentences.  That was her daily routine.

There's a certain aspect of escape in the life of a writer.  I know, when I'm working on a poem or story or essay, the world and its problems sort of fade away.  It's all about image and verb, turn of phrase and rhythm of line.  I can't think about jobs or car payments or water bills when I'm being a poet.

The bad part of this writerly escape is the return to reality.  It kind of sucks.  I'd rather daydream all day, watch shadows of water bugs like E. B. White.  That, of course, isn't a very realistic goal.  Most people don't get paid to daydream.  They get paid for answering phones and making beds and paving roads.  That's the real world.

Saint Marty's real world this evening:  he doesn't know if he's going to have a job in a couple of months.  Daydreaming is so much better.

So do I

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

March 25: Gratitude Twenty-One

Gratitude comes in many shapes and sizes
Tonight, I am grateful for my daughter's flute.

I went to my daughter's band concert this evening.  Some people find these events a little like undergoing a colonoscopy without anesthesia.  I actually love these occasions.  I love the music, good and bad.  I like seeing the kids laughing, pointing, making faces at each other.

It was, simply, a wonderful, peaceful time.

And, for Saint Marty, relaxing evenings are few and far between. 

March 25: Hysterics, One for My Sister, One for My Coworker's Wife

"That remains to be seen.  But I am going to save you, and I want you to quiet down immediately.  You're carrying on in a childish way.  Stop your crying!  I can't stand hysterics." 

Wilbur has just learned that Zuckerman is planning to have him for Christmas dinner, and he's a little distraught.  Charlotte, no-nonsense spider that she is, can't stand Wilbur's dramatics.  She promises to save his life and orders him to stop behaving like a baby.

It's difficult not to behave like a baby when you receive news like someone is planning to turn you into ham and bacon.  When I first heard I was being "displaced" from my job, I cried like a pregnant woman watching Terms of Endearment.  I understand the impulse to wallow and carry on.

I have two prayer intentions this evening.  One for my sister and one for my coworker's wife.

First, my sister, who works for the same healthcare organization that recently displaced me, found out last week that she is being displaced, as well.  She's a lot of things at the moment.  Panicked.  Sad.  Angry.  Worried.  Been there.  Done that.  Still doing it, as a matter of fact.  To make a long story short, my sister needs some prayer.

Second, one of my coworkers was in a terrible car accident this weekend.  He was banged up, but his wife suffered some fractured vertebrae and ribs.  She's in rough shape, facing months of rehabilitation.  She deserves to cry like a baby, if she wants to.  To make another long story short, my coworker's wife needs some prayer, too.

I'm not going to be Charlotte.  I don't care if my sister or coworker's wife want to indulge in hysterics.  It's understandable.  Losing a job, breaking a back--these are things that no words in a spider's web are going to cure.

So please, lift up these people in your thoughts.  Say something to God for them.

While you're at it, put in a good word for Saint Marty, too.  He feels a little hysterical.

Sometimes, this is all you can do

Monday, March 24, 2014

March 24: Gratitude Twenty

Today, I am grateful that my sister is safe.

Let me clarify.  I have several sisters.  Five, to be exact.  I also have three older brothers, but that's a whole other post.

Anyway, this morning, as my second eldest sister was driving to work, she got T-boned by a truck.  It was early and dark.  She didn't even see the vehicle coming.  The miracle is that, even though she was struck on the driver's side, she walked away uninjured.  The airbags deployed, and she had to crawl out through the passenger-side door.  But, aside from some cuts and bruises, she's fine.  (I have a feeling she's going to be sore as hell tomorrow.)

Her car, on the other hand, is probably totaled.  It was brand new.  She's only owned it for a few months.  When I spoke with her this morning, she was calm.  Almost zen-like.  I'm not sure if she was in shock or medicated.  She actually said to me, "I have to believe this is all God's plan."

That's a tough one for Saint Marty to swallow, but he's still very grateful his sister is alive and healthy.

I've never understood these damn diagrams!

March 24: Jobs, a Call, a "Web" Dip

As I've said in previous posts, I don't deal well with uncertainty.  I like knowing what to expect.  That's why I make detailed birthday and Christmas lists (with sizes, colors, shapes, editions, prices, and vendors clearly enumerated).  I don't want to risk the possibility of an ugly tie.

This morning, I received a phone call from one of the places where I interviewed last week.  The manager wanted me to spell out my availabilities in the afternoons again.  I think he's trying to work out a schedule that would allow me to work and teach.  That sounds very promising.  I have not heard from the other place I interviewed, which perturbs me.  I really don't want to make a decision until all the cards are on the table, so to speak.

I am happy that I'm at least getting interest in my applications.  I have to keep reminding myself that I'm a good employee.  My displacement has nothing to do with my job performance.  It's just a simple matter of policy changes and departmental adjustments.  I shouldn't be taking it personally.  It's business.  But, after you give close to 20 years of your life to a place, it feels very personal.

My question for E. B. White is straightforward this evening:

Am I going to enjoy whatever job I end up getting?

And the answer from the gospel according to Charlotte is:

...And then [Lurvy] took another look and he saw something that made him set his pail down.  There, in the center of the web, neatly woven in block letters, was a message.  It said:


Well, that's a pretty clear answer.  It's Charlotte's first message, and Lurvy is dumbfounded.  That means some kind of miracle is headed my way.  I don't need anything on the scale of a tenured university position falling out of the sky into my lap (although, that would be nice).  No, I'll take something small, like a spider web glistening with dew in early morning sunlight.

And tenure.

Saint Marty isn't picky.

Pick a street, any street

Sunday, March 23, 2014

March 23: Gratitude Nineteen, Classic Saint Marty, New Cartoon

I am grateful to be home tonight.

After a long day of travel, we arrived back at our snowy little house around five o'clock this evening.  We've been unpacking and settling back into normal life for the last couple of hours.  My daughter has been complaining about returning to school tomorrow, and I have to admit that I sort of feel like whining a little bit myself.  After being away from my normal, daily stresses, I'm not really looking forward to taking up my yoke again.

But, I'm still grateful to sleep in my own bed, surrounded by my books, my kids, and my wife.

I do have a Classic Saint Marty.  It originally aired on September 5, 2012.  It's all about my daughter growing up.  Appropriate for an end to this weekend.

September 5, 2012:  Old Marley's Head, Smooth Tile, Preoccupation

It was a very low fire indeed; nothing on such a bitter night.  He was obliged to sit close to it, and brood over it, before he could extract the least sensation of warmth from such a handful of fuel.  The fireplace was an old one, built by some Dutch merchant long ago, and paved all round with quaint Dutch tiles, designed to illustrate the Scriptures.  There were Cains and Abels, Pharoah's daughters, Queens of Sheba, Angelic messengers descending through the air on clouds like feather-beds, Abrahams, Belshazzars, Apostles putting off to sea in butter-boats, hundreds of figures, to attract his thoughts; and yet that face of Marley, seven years dead, came like the ancient Prophet's rod, and swallowed up the whole.  If each smooth tile had been a blank at first, with power to shape some picture on its surface from the disjointed fragments of his thoughts, there would have been a copy of old Marley's head on every one.

This is a paragraph about obsession.  Scrooge, having seen Marley's face on the knocker of his front door, finds himself preoccupied with his dead partner.  It doesn't matter what Scrooge is gazing at--his fireplace, his chamber pot, his bowl of gruel, his slippers--Marley's face is ever before him, haunting his thoughts.  It's the beginning of Scrooge's walk with the dead.

I find myself preoccupied.  My daughter just started sixth grade yesterday.  She got her locker, her schedule, and her homeroom teacher.  She got a calendar to keep track of her assignments, and she got sheets with a whole lot of classroom rules on them.  She had to sign the rules.  I had to sign the rules.  All day long, I thought about her, following the trail of bread crumbs from teacher to teacher.  Like Scrooge, I was haunted by thoughts of my daughter.

Of course, everything went really well for her.  She liked her homeroom teacher.  Her classes went well.  When I got home last night, she had already finished her homework.  Marley has been dead for seven years when his ghost appears to Scrooge.  Seven years ago, my daughter was going into kindergarten.  I can even remember the denim jumper she wore and the pigtails in her hair.  It doesn't seem that long ago to me.  For my daughter, it was half a lifetime.

Time is a strange thing.  It feels like my daughter should still be in pigtails and denim jumpers, but she's talking to my wife about boys and first kisses.  I'm not ready to let that little kindergartner go, and yet I have to.  She is growing up, and I have to loosen my fingers and give her some room to fly.

Saint Marty hopes she doesn't get too close to the sun too soon.  He wants to be there to catch her if she falls.

Letting go sucks...

Confessions of Saint Marty

March 22: Gratitude Eighteen, Don't Understand, Uncertainty, New Cartoon

"I don't understand it, and I don't like what I don't understand."

I don't deal well with uncertainty.  Like the above quote from Charlotte's Web says, I also don't like what I don't understand.  I don't do well with negative capability.

I'm still remote-posting from Middleton, Wisconsin.  It's early afternoon.  Pretty soon, we're all heading out to do something.  I'm not sure what that something is going to be.  A movie?  Shopping?  Sumo wrestling?  We've haven't finalized our plans.  Uncertainty.

This evening, we're going to the Outback Steakhouse.  That's for sure.  I will probably order some kind of martini when we get there.  That's for sure.  Steak will be my entree of choice.  That's also for sure.  I'm grateful for all of those certainties. 

However, my life has been an experiment in uncertainty recently.  I have interviewed for two jobs, and I'm waiting to hear back about another position for which I applied.  In two months, I don't know where I'm going to be working or how much I'm going to be earning.  It's all about trust in God at the moment.  Let go, let God.  That's one of my least favorite sayings, but, unfortunately, it's all I got right now.

In the mean time, Saint Marty has a steak dinner for sure this evening.  And a poem.  And a cartoon.

My Daughter at 14, Christmas Dance, 1981  

by Maria Mazziotti Gillan 

Panic in your face, you write questions
to ask him. When he arrives,
you are serene, your fear
unbetrayed. How unlike me you are.

After the dance,
I see your happiness; he holds
your hand. Though you barely speak,
your body pulses messages I can read

all too well. He kisses you goodnight,
his body moving toward yours, and yours
responding. I am frightened, guard my
tongue for fear my mother will pop out

of my mouth. "He is not shy," I say. You giggle,
a little girl again, but you tell me he
kissed you on the dance floor. "Once?"
I ask. "No, a lot."

We ride through rain-shining 1 a.m.
streets. I bite back words which long
to be said, knowing I must not shatter your
moment, fragile as a spun-glass bird,

you, the moment, poised on the edge of
flight, and I, on the ground, afraid.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, March 22, 2014

March 21: A Tired Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, a farmer named Robby went on a long trip to the sea to sell his corn crop.

When he got to the seaport, he checked into a hotel, tied up his tired donkey in the stable, and went to his room where he fell immediately asleep on his bed.

Moral of the story:  if your ass is dragging, it's time to go to sleep.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

This about says it all...

March 21: Gratitude Seventeen

It is deeply satisfying to win a prize in front of a lot of people...

Tonight, I am grateful for a dance prize.

When Wilbur wins his prize at the end of Charlotte's Web, he passes out.  He is a humble little guy, and all the praise and adulation make him a bit lightheaded.  But there is nothing better than being recognized for hard work.

I am posting from Middleton, Wisconsin, just a little ways from Madison.  I just got back from my daughter's dance competition, and it was a very good night for her.

She did her tap dance solo, and she was awarded a gold trophy.  On top of that, she took ninth overall in her category.  Nobody from my daughter's dance studio has ever placed in the overall part of a  competition before.  At the awards today, two dancers competing from the studio (my daughter and her friend) each placed.

My daughter was a little stunned.  She stood on stage in the crowded auditorium and collected her medal.  It was pretty darn exciting.

Yes, Saint Marty is living vicariously through his daughter's success.

So proud of my little girl

Thursday, March 20, 2014

March 20: Gratitude Sixteen

Saint Marty is grateful for his bed tonight.  He's beat.

P. S.  On the road this weekend.  Stay tuned.

Good night.

March 20: Charlotte Managed, In My Book Bag, "hold still"

Wilbur admired the way Charlotte managed...

Charlotte the spider is a survivor.  She doesn't depend on Lurvy to bring her food.  She doesn't scrounge through the garbage for scraps of moldy bread or rancid meat.  No.  Charlotte manages for herself.  Builds her own home.  Traps her own dinner.  In the end, she even chooses her own end, giving her last ounce of energy to save her best friend's life.

In my book bag tonight is hold still, Terry Godbey's newest poetry collection.  These poems are a testament to anger and humor, despair and joy.  They are psalms of survival.  Breast cancer.  Childhood.  Motherhood.  Hurricanes.  Godbey's insights are razor-sharp, cutting open the reader's heart and pumping it full of music and hope.

Early in the book, Godbey includes this epistle of misery:

Ice Train

It rumbles and groans and quivers
our nerves, halting under its burden
of suicide notes, biopsy results,

missives saying they are sorry
but we did not qualify, did not win,
were not approved.  Whose court summons

is that?  Whose pink slip, eviction,
letter from prison?  For years, we dawdle
on Good Luck Mountain, drink martinis,

sign the loan notes, fuss
with our hair and fold towels,
believing the ice train will skip us.  Until

it grumbles and stinks and strains
into town, stalls the blood in our veins,
delivers a new anniversary,

breaks it to us we were cheated
out of severance, love is gone,
the test was positive.

It's a hard, gut-punching poem, each word a clenched fist.  The ice train is coming 'round the bend, and it's loaded with lost health, lost jobs, and lost love.  No one is safe, Godbey proclaims.  We all have a ticket on this frozen locomotive.

Yet, in the middle of this desolation, there is laughter.  Out of this maelstrom come moments of holiness.  Godbey mines her dark material for veins of light:


When I was little
most nights I prayed,
elbows on the windowsill,
watching the sky for a sign.
Cold Canadian night
crept in through the cracks,
stars shivered
and he was out there somewhere,
scribbling a reply
in the Milky Way.
I pressed my moon face
against the panes
and watched snowflakes
land in his white gloved hands.

An image of a universe flooded with cold beauty and innocent trust.  Everything's going to be all right.  It's written in the very fabric of the cosmos.

That's the brilliance of hold still.   In the middle of a long winter of heartbreak and ruin, her poems push through the impossibly frozen ground, unfolding petal by petal, syllable by syllable, into the promise of spring.

Terry Godbey's hold still teaches Saint Marty not only how to survive, but also to sing and dance and love.

A poetic survival guide

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

March 19: Gratitude Fifteen

I am grateful for a good job interview this afternoon.

It was the first time I've interviewed for anything in almost 17 or 18 years.  I was quite nervous.  My hands were dry and warm, but I thought my heart was going to jump out of my ears.

I think the interview went well.  The manager was very nice and seemed impressed by my resume.  One of her initial comments was, "You should be a professor!"  And my response was, "Funny you should say that..."

The manager said she could work with my teaching schedule.  That was a huge relief.  Now, I have to play the waiting game.  She said she would be making the decision by early next week.

Saint Marty hates waiting.

I think she interviewed for the same job I did...

March 19: Under the Stars, Unafraid, Letting Go

...Elwyn crept through the dark and aromatic marsh, past croaking frogs and unexplained scurries, to the boulders, beyond which distant lights shone on the water.  There this short and slight boy, who would run blocks to avoid a bully but who felt safe in the natural world where no other people were around, would shed his clothes and slip into the black water.  Quietly, so as not to attract attention, he swam in the darkness, floating under the stars, unafraid.

There's a great deal of beauty in the above passage from the E. B. White biography The Story of Charlotte's Web.  White, as a boy, was small and scrawny.  A target at school for all kinds of negative attention.  Yet, he had an escape.  A place where he could shed the troubles of the world and just be happy and worry-free.

When I first read this description of White skinny-dipping in the night, I envied the sheer freedom of it.  Letting go of life's problems is not easy for me.  They float above me, like the stars above Elwyn as he swims in the darkness.  When I climb into bed at the end of a day, they follow me, make it difficult for me to fall asleep.

I'm going on a trip to Wisconsin this weekend.  My daughter has a dance competition.  It's going to be a quick little sojourn.  We leave Friday morning, and she competes that night at 10 p.m.   Saturday is free.  We'll probably swim in the hotel pool.  Shop (without buying anything--we don't have the cash).  Maybe go out to eat (we may splurge and buy KFC).  Then we come home on Sunday and dive right back into life.

I'm looking forward to the trip, but it certainly will not be without its share of stress.  We will not be skinny dipping or stargazing.  It's not that kind of hotel.  However, it will be a different kind of stress.  Not I'm-losing-my-job stress.  More do-I-take-this-off-ramp stress.

I don't think I will ever find a place where I can let go of worries.  When I'm in a new place, I simply find new worries.  Or I pack the old worries in my suitcase with my toothbrush.  But I do have moments of bliss.  Reading my son a story at night.  Listening to a Roger Miller song.  Sitting next to my wife at night, not talking, just being together.

That's Saint Marty's idea of floating under carefree stars.  Unafraid.  Happy.

Just take Exit I Don't Give a Shit...

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

March 18: Gratitude Number Fourteen

Tonight, I am grateful for my wife's help.

We got a lot of snow today.  Several inches.  Several more inches are in the forecast for tonight.  The National Weather Service has issued a winter weather advisory for tonight.  Snow and blowing snow tomorrow morning.

I attended my daughter's chorus concert this evening.  When I got home, I shoveled my driveway and front yard.  My wife helped me.  For 45 minutes, we pushed and piles snow.  By the time we finished, it was almost 9 p.m.  Without my wife, I would probably still be out there in the dark and cold, cursing every frozen flake and crystal.

Instead, Saint Marty got to sit down this evening, relax, eat a bow of cereal.

It ain't over yet

March 18: The Crickets, a Fire, Prayer for a Friend's Daughter

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

Charlotte's Web is about sadness and change.  As the summer comes to an end, the threat to Wilbur's life is serious.  If Charlotte's plan doesn't work soon, Wilbur will be bacon by Thanksgiving.  The approach of autumn means a life and death struggle on the Zuckerman farm.

Last week, a good friend's daughter suffered a terrible loss.  In the middle of last Wednesday night, her house was completely destroyed by a fire.  She lost everything, including three cherished pets.  On Thursday morning, a bulldozer took down what was left of her home.  She has no clothes, no car, no shoes.  Nothing.  Her life is all sadness and change.

I'm asking you to say a little prayer for my friend's daughter.  Of course, the community is rallying around her.  Bringing her clothing and food and money.  But she is heartbroken and needs to be lifted up.  The material loss is nothing compared to emotional and spiritual loss.

So, as you finish reading this post, say a few words to God for her, if you're a praying person.  If not, send some positive thoughts her way.  Surround her with every kind of goodness.

Saint Marty has faith in you.

Fold your hands for my friend's daugfhter

Monday, March 17, 2014

March 17: Gratitude Thirteen

I am grateful that I have a job interview on Thursday.

But it's a mixed bag.  I'm happy for the possibility of a job to replace the one that I'm losing, but it's still a replacement.  I'm not overjoyed at the prospect of new employment.  I was just speaking to a friend from the English Department, and I told her, "The idea of learning a completely new job makes me a little weary."

Now, I know I sound like a spoiled, whiny asshole.  There are people out there who would kill for this opportunity.  People who've been unemployed for years, not months.  I feel guilty complaining about my job search.  I need to change my attitude because I know any prospective employer is going to pick up on my lack of enthusiasm.

I am grateful for the hope this job interview gives me and my family.

Hope has been a rare commodity in Saint Marty's household for a while.  Like platinum or black truffles.

black blobs of truffle hope

March 17: Saint Patrick's Day News, Interview, "Web" Dip

Well, Saint Patrick's Day started out with a bang this morning.  I received a call from my manager at the medical office when I got to work.  She told me that I am required to take four hours of lost time per pay period, starting today.  If that doesn't make sense, let me translate it for you:  I'm going to be losing four more hours every paycheck.

I was sort of expecting the news, but that didn't make it any easier to hear.  I am so tired of having conversations that start out, "Well, I have some bad news for you..."  Just once, I want someone to start out a conversation with, "I have some milk and cookies for you" or "I have some cash for you to spend any way you like."  That would be really nice.

I can't even stress about this new development.  It's like having a paper cut on top of a blister.  It's all painful.

Other news:  I received a phone call for a job interview.  It's for another department within the hospital.  I posted for the position last week, so that's a pretty quick turnaround.  Either my application was really, really impressive, or the department is really, really desperate.  Whatever the reason, I have to dust off my interviewing skills.  I haven't had to do this in close to 20 years.

My wife told me, "Don't think of it as a make-or-break interview.  Think of it as practice."

That didn't help too much.

My question for Wilbur and friends today is:

Am I going to do well at this job interview?

And the answer from the good book of Web is:

"Oh, it's coming all right," she said lightly.  "The plan is still in its early stages and hasn't completely shaped up yet, but I'm working on it."

I don't know how to interpret that answer.  Charlotte is talking about her plan to save Wilbur's life.  She doesn't sound completely sure, but she does communicate a certain confidence that everything's going to turn out for the best.

Saint Marty's going to have to be satisfied that.

No milk and cookies for me today...

Sunday, March 16, 2014

March 16: Gratitude Number Twelve, Classic Saint Marty, New Cartoon

I am grateful for chocolate cake today.

After the worship service this morning, there was a potluck at church.  I'm a pretty picky person when it comes to food.  Generally, I don't care for the smorgasbord of noodle salads and meatballs soaked in various sauces of questionable origin at these affairs.  Proteins are suspect in the Upper Peninsula, as well.  A meatball may be beef, turkey, bison, moose, bear, venison, or whatever is left in the freezer from last year's hunting seasons.  I steer away from these offerings, sticking to identifiable things like fruit plates.  Maybe the occasional baby carrot.

The dessert table is another subject, altogether.  Methodists know how to do dessert right.  Cookies.  Bars with chocolate and caramel.  Lemon delicacies.  I do avoid anything topped or stuffed with coconut, which simply ruins any food to which it is added.  It's not my favorite in alcoholic beverages, either, thanks to an unfortunate New Year's Eve of pina coladas.

On the dessert table this afternoon was a chocolate cake that was close to perfection.  Almost the consistency of a brownie.  Frosting thick and dense, as well.  Cream cheese, I think, but I could be wrong.  The combination of cake and topping made my eyes roll back in my head.  I had two pieces at church, and I brought the leftovers home.

That cake was, simply, paradise.

The classic Saint Marty for today first aired exactly three years ago.

March 16, 2011:  Squeaky Cheese, Saint Urho, and Psalm 8
Well, this is going to be a short post.  It is Saint Urho's Day.  You see, the Finns got a little jealous of Saint Patrick's Day, where everyone wears green clothes, drinks green beer, pukes green puke, and, in general, celebrates being Irish.  Saint Patrick, according to legend, drove the snakes out of Ireland.  Finnish Americans wanted their own special holiday to eat, drink, and be sick on, so they invented Saint Urho, who supposedly drove the grasshoppers out of Finland, saving the grape crop.  Now, Saint Urho didn't really exist.  The legend of Saint Urho originated in Minnesota in the 1950s, as far as I can tell.  In the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, however, Saint Urho's Day is celebrated by wearing purple (a hold-over from the grape thing, I suppose) and eating squeaky cheese (don't ask--it's disgusting).

I forgot to wear purple this morning, so I am a huge loser.  I did write a praise psalm, however, that mentions my friend, who is Finnish and lived in Finland as a baby.  I don't think that makes a difference, but I thought it was worth a shot.  Anyway, here is my poem for today.  Hope you enjoy it.

Psalm 8:  Word Made Flesh

Lord, make my poem stretch, yawn.
Descend like the Blue Fairy, take
My words, mutter a blessing
Over them, give them muscle, tendon,
Make them pirouette, arabesque
Into a body on the brink of puberty.
Let my words sprout hair in secret
Places, girl chest bloom into orchids
Or boy sapling swell with resin
To fill buckets at Spring’s first blush.
I want my poem to kiss my lips,
Head out into the world, tote books,
Lunch pail, ready to redeem humankind
Stanza by stanza, line by line,
Syllable by syllable, my word made flesh.
Lord, did You sit at Your desk,
Scribble Jesus on a scrap of paper,
Then fold it, crease it, origami it
Into legs, arms, head, beard,
Let it walk away from Your pen
Into a world of critics, just waiting
To judge Your line breaks, imagery,
Your turn of phrase, your metaphor?
How much did it hurt when the reviews
Came in, when they took Your poem,
Tore it up, used it to wipe their asses?
Did You think of writing something else?
A sonnet that could bound like an elk,
A villanelle that sang like a loon,
A sestina that wallowed like a bison?
My friend, Lydia, makes paper cranes.
Perhaps You could write some haiku,
Give them to her.  She would take them,
Make neck and beak, body and tail.
She could give them wings, let them fly,
Hear them brush the air like jazz:
Praise, praise, praise, praise.

Lydia's Cranes

Saint Marty is going home, putting on a purple thong, and eating some squeaky cheese.  We imaginary saints have to stick together.

Confessions of Saint Marty


Saturday, March 15, 2014

March 15: Gratitude Number Eleven, Thought of Death, Jeffrey McDaniel, "The Grudge," New Cartoon

Twilight settled over Zuckerman's barn, and a feeling of peace.  Fern knew it was almost suppertime but she couldn't bear to leave.  Swallow's passed on silent wings, in and out of the doorways, bringing food to their young ones.  From across the road a bird sang "Whippoorwill, whippoorwill!"  Lurvy sat down under an apple tree and lit his pipe; the animals sniffed the familiar smell of strong tobacco.  Wilbur heard the trill of the tree toad and the occasional slamming of the kitchen door.  All these sounds made him feel comfortable and happy, for he loved life and loved to be a part of the world on a summer evening.  But as he lay there he remembered what the old sheep had told him.  The thought of death came to him and he began to tremble with fear.

I love this little paragraph from Charlotte's Web.  It contains so much quiet contentment.  The swallows, tree toad.  The slamming of the kitchen door.  A summer twilight on a farm.  It almost makes me want to live on a farm, if it weren't for the smell of manure.  And the bugs.  And getting up at dawn to milk cows and collect eggs and whatever other farm chores exist.  The last few lines in the paragraph, however, are tinged with unhappiness and fear.  Its emotional landscape completely changes in the space of two sentences.

Today, I am grateful for the calm of Saturday morning.  This morning, I slept in until 7:30 a.m.  Then I got dressed, went outside, and shoveled for a half hour.  It was so beautiful and quiet.  The snow was feathery, almost weightless.  The sky, white and  smooth as bed sheets on a clothesline.  As I worked, I actually found myself whistling a few times.  It was a wonderful time.

Yet, my contentment was colored by worry.  It came on suddenly, as it does for Wilbur in the above paragraph.  And then, for a few moments, I stood paralyzed and anxious over the future.  It's so easy to give in to negative emotions.  Wallow in them.  I've been in that place so much recently that I should forward my mail to it.

This morning, I pulled myself back.  I didn't want to be sad all day long.  It's so easy to feed those kinds of emotions.  Things can grow in darkness as well as light.  Mushrooms and mold.  Anger and disappointment.

The poem I have for you tonight is about this subject.  It's by Jeffrey McDaniel and was published in The Best American Poetry 2010.  In his discussion of the poem, McDaniel says, "In [this poem], the resentment only seduces and harms the speaker, which has been my personal experience with resentment.  Hence the adage:  pissing on your own leg and expecting someone else to get wet."

Oh, and Saint Marty is grateful for the pizza he had tonight.

The Grudge

I watered the grudge,
not with the fervent devotion
of a nun clutching rosary beads,
not with the destructive clockwork
of a drunk spilling vodka
tumblers on the cactus erupting
through his heart, but I watered it,
went out there at midnight,
with a can of spittle, moon dangling
like a lightbulb from its frail cord,
and I dripped the dark
nourishing fluid into its roots,
my face pulsing like blister
as the venom petals bloomed.

Confessions of Saint Marty


Friday, March 14, 2014

March 14: Gratitude Number Ten

Today, I am grateful for Christmas music.

As I sit here typing this post, I have my Accuradio tuned to a station that plays only holiday music.  Classic holiday music.  Bing Crosby.  Burl Ives singing "Silver and Gold."  The Peanuts gang crooning "Christmas Time is Here."  I'm waiting for Judy Garland and Rosemary Clooney.  Suzy Snowflake and some chestnuts roasting.

Why, you may ask, am I listening to Christmas music in the middle of March?  Because it lifts my spirits for some reason.  Makes me happy.  It's an easy, cheap way to make my day a little lighter.  Since I don't have a prescription for Valium, I depend on "Frosty the Snowman" to take the edge off stressful days.

It's legal, doesn't show up in urine tests, and has a good beat.

Now, if Saint Marty could lay his hands on some eggnog, the day would be perfect.

A good substitute for crystal meth

March 14: A Little Service, Getting Stuff Done, Piggy Fairy Tale

Wilbur admired the way Charlotte managed.  He was particularly glad that she always put her victim to sleep before eating it.

"It's real thoughtful of you to do that, Charlotte," he said.

"Yes," she replied in her sweet, musical voice.  "I always give them an anesthetic so they won't feel pain.  It's a little service I throw in."

Like Wilbur, I admire people who seem to manage their lives well.  People who have it all together.  Charlotte is self-sufficient.  She builds her own home, traps her own food, and sets her own schedule.  If I were a pig on a farm, I'd probably appreciate the life of a spider, too.

Even thought I'm not working today, I'm still busy.  I had an English Department meeting to attend this morning, and now I'm in my university office for some office hours.  I'm going to do my daily blogging, and then I have to finish writing a cover letter for a job for which I'm applying.  That's my big task to accomplish before my head hits the pillow tonight.

Of course, I'm pretty much my own boss today.  Don't have to punch a time clock.  My posts don't have to be done this afternoon, and I could write that cover letter any time I want this weekend.  I'm choosing to do these things now.  Spinning my own web, trapping my own flies, so to speak.  I like that kind of freedom.  I'm more productive working at my own pace.  Nobody looking over my shoulder.

I like being busy.  It makes me feel like I'm contributing to the world in some way.  That may be a false impression.  Really, the only things I'm contributing to the world today are two insignificant blog posts, and I'm not convinced that really makes a difference.  Maybe it does.  Maybe there are people out there in the ether of the Internet who depend on my daily words to fill some void in their lives.  Maybe.

Or maybe they just read my Friday posts for my weekly fairy tale.

Once upon a time, a pig farmer named Fritz lived on the edge of a huge forest.  Fritz was pretty self-sufficient.  He had a barn full of hay and manure.  His pigs were large and content.  Fritz spent his days thinking about how lucky he was.

You see, Fritz, from the time he was a little boy, had always wanted to be a pig farmer.  It was his dream.  Which was a little strange, since Fritz came from a family of accountants.  When Fritz told his father about his plan to raise pigs for a living, Fritz's father said, "Make sure you deduct your hay purchases as a business expense."

Yup, Fritz was living his dream.  Then, one night, just as he was dozing off in bed, Fritz heard the voice of God.

"Hey," God called.

Fritz tried to ignore the voice.  He'd had a long day shoveling manure.

"Hey," God called again.  "Hey, hey, hey, hey--"

"What?!" Fritz finally answered, sitting up.

"I just wanted you to know that I'm going to flood the world tomorrow and kill every living creature on the planet," God said.  "So you better get to the ark I told you to build."

Fritz shook his head.  "What are you talking about?  You didn't tell me to build an ark."

God said, "Is this 215 Sycamore Drive?"

Fritz said, "No, that's one cottage over.  Noah lives at 215 Sycamore."

"Oh," God said.  "Never mind."

Fritz went to sleep.

The next morning, it started to rain.  And it rained.  And rained.  And rained.  Fritz and his pigs drowned in the Great Flood.

Moral of the story:  keep an extra ark in the barn for emergencies.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

Don't forget to pack some extra paddles, too

Thursday, March 13, 2014

March 13: Gratitude Number Nine

I am grateful that it's Thursday night.

I don't have to wake up at 4 a.m. tomorrow.  I don't have to work tomorrow.  I don't have to teach tomorrow.  I get to drive my kids to school tomorrow, and I get to pick them up at the end of the day.  And, of course, on Thursday night, my house is completely clean.  There's lemon in the air, and the hardwood is swept and Swiffered.

The best thing about Thursday night is that I can crawl inside my skin and totally be myself for the next three days.  I don't have to pretend to be happy if I don't feel happy.  I don't have to put on a good face for anybody.  That's a great gift.

Saint Marty's taking off his mask.  This may not be pretty.

Saint Marty unmasked

March 13: Torn Web, "Confessions," Saint Augustine

...Wilbur often thought of Charlotte.  A few strands of her old web still hung in the doorway.  Every day Wilbur would stand and look at the torn, empty web, and a lump would come to his throat.  No one had ever had such a friend--so affectionate, so loyal, and so skillful.

I think this passage highlights something very significant about Charlotte's Web:  it's a beautifully written book.  White's prose is sparse and simple, and yet, with simple imagery (a torn web), he can conjure the deepest of emotions.  Charlotte's absence is a palpable ache in those few sentences.

Today is when I'm supposed to reach into my book bag, take out a book I'm carrying around, and talk about it.  Well, get ready.  The tome I pulled out is a copy of Saint Augustine's Confessions.  I had it in my possession for a while, and, every now and then, I read a few pages.

I'll be honest.  Sometimes it's not easy reading.  Augustine's writing, unlike E. B. White's, is dense.  He packs a lot into each paragraph.  But there's much beauty in his language, as well:

...So I was welcomed by the consolations of human milk, but it was not my mother or my nurses who made any decision to fill their breasts, but you who through them gave me infant food, in accordance with your ordinance and the riches which are distributed deep in the natural order.  You also granted me not to wish for more than you were giving, and to my nurses the desire to give me what you gave them...

A gorgeous little passage about God's generosity.  Yet, it also touches upon greed.  Augustine, in the image of the suckling infant, rejoices in the idea of having just enough.  It's a warning to be satisfied with the gifts God has provided.  Just enough milk.  Just enough desire.

Wilbur is learning this lesson at the end of Charlotte's Web.  Sure, he misses his spider friend, but he also rejoices in the gifts Charlotte has given him.  His first autumn.  First snow.  First Christmas.  He doesn't spend his days lamenting his loss.  Rather, he gives thanks for the friendship he had.  Just enough friendship.

That's something Saint Marty has to learn and relearn every day:  being happy with his "just enough."

Think of the web as half full...