Saturday, October 31, 2015

October 31: A Monk, Halloween, Edgar Allan Poe, "The Raven," Confessions of Saint Marty

Yet while a lot of the street kids wanted to be Superman or like the Paladin character on Have Gun Will Travel on television, his son's mind always drifted in a certain direction.  In those days, anything regarding the church seemed to fascinate him.  He remembered how one of the old Puerto Rican ladies who lived in the building would say, "Su hijo es un angel?"  How the boy had memorized his Baltimore catechism, memorized all the altar-boy Latin for the Mass in the good old days before it was changed by the reforms of the Ecumenical Council, how he had actually dressed up as a monk on Halloween one year.

Ives' son, Robert, is a different boy.  While his friends are into superheroes and cowboys, Robert meditates God and life after death.  There's a depth to his thinking, as if, in some way, he knows his destiny.  He loves going to church.  Loves the prayers and incense.  Even when he goes trick-or-treating at Halloween, Robert walks a different path--eschewing the "normal" for the sacred and holy.

My children are not dressing up as nuns or monks or saints today.  When they hit the neighborhood to gather their sugared and chocolate-covered booty, they will both be dressed as ninjas.  It's cold and rainy this Halloween morning.  The rain is supposed to last all day, into the night.  Last year, we had a snowstorm, so a little rain doesn't bother me.

Once the sun starts to go down, we will visit the neighbors' houses, and they will say stuff like, "I can't believe how big your kids are getting!"  My son will walk for a while and then start complaining that his feet are sore or that he's too cold.  My daughter will grow impatient with her brother and start sighing and snapping at him.  We will hop in my car and visit the houses of friends and aunts.  And, at the end of the night, I will carry the pumpkins into the front porch.  They will smell of wax and burned squash.  Perhaps I will hop in the shower to warm up.  Then, I will flop on the couch, turn on the TV, and try to find an old horror movie.

That will be my Halloween, barring any unforeseen circumstances, like torn costumes or sudden illness or a blood battle between my kids.

Saint Marty loves Halloween.

The Raven

by:  Edgar Allan Poe

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
''Tis some visitor,' I muttered, 'tapping at my chamber door-
Only this, and nothing more.'

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;- vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow- sorrow for the lost Lenore-
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore-
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me- filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
''Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door-
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;-
This it is, and nothing more.'

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
'Sir,' said I, 'or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you'- here I opened wide the door;-
Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortals ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, 'Lenore!'
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, 'Lenore!'-
Merely this, and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
'Surely,' said I, 'surely that is something at my window lattice:
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore-
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;-
'Tis the wind and nothing more.'

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door-
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door-
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore.
'Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,' I said, 'art sure no
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the Nightly shore-
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!'
Quoth the Raven, 'Nevermore.'

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning- little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blest with seeing bird above his chamber door-
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as 'Nevermore.'

But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered- not a feather then he fluttered-
Till I scarcely more than muttered, 'other friends have flown
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.'
Then the bird said, 'Nevermore.'

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
'Doubtless,' said I, 'what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore-
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
Of 'Never- nevermore'.'

But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and
Then upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore-
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking 'Nevermore.'

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamplight gloated o'er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamplight gloating o'er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then methought the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose footfalls tinkled on the tufted floor.
'Wretch,' I cried, 'thy God hath lent thee- by these angels he
hath sent thee
Respite- respite and nepenthe, from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!'
Quoth the Raven, 'Nevermore.'

'Prophet!' said I, 'thing of evil!- prophet still, if bird or
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted-
On this home by horror haunted- tell me truly, I implore-
Is there- is there balm in Gilead?- tell me- tell me, I implore!'
Quoth the Raven, 'Nevermore.'

'Prophet!' said I, 'thing of evil- prophet still, if bird or
By that Heaven that bends above us- by that God we both adore-
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore-
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.'
Quoth the Raven, 'Nevermore.'

'Be that word our sign in parting, bird or fiend,' I shrieked,
'Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!- quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my
Quoth the Raven, 'Nevermore.'

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamplight o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted- nevermore!

Confessions of Saint Marty

October 30: Creature from the Black Lagoon, Wife's Birthday, Edgar Allan Poe, "Annabel Lee," Pumpkin Fairy Tale

Halloween with my coworkers
He lived for their excursions out.  Trips here and there around the city.  Brought them into the office, showed them the photographer's studio, a television commercial being shot, a printing plate.  Took them to triple-feature movie shows at the Nemo on 110th Street and Broadway (Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Time Machine, Hercules Unchained--in one bill!) and to see the museums:  ostriches posed as if in a gallop at the Museum of Natural History, and Egyptian sarcophagi over at the Metropolitan...

Ives lives for these moments with his son and daughter--taking them to work with him, treating them to movies and museums, trying to give them everything that his foundling childhood lacked.  He is in the business of making memories for his kids because he himself has no memories of his real mother or father.  That is why holidays like Halloween and Christmas, which revolve around family, are so important to Ives.  Abandoned as a child, Ives wants to make sure that his children feel loved and cherished.  Wanted.

Today is my wife's birthday.  Unfortunately, we have not been able to spend much time together.  I worked.  She worked.  Since it is the day before Halloween, I was able to play dress-up for the medical office, as you can see.  It was great fun.  In the afternoon, my wife and I attended my son's elementary school costume parade.  It's an event where all the parents are packed into the gym and each classroom of kids march through in their Halloween costumes.

There were Batmans and Darth Vaders and Spidermans galore.  My son chose to be a white ninja.  He was the only white ninja in the entire school.  My wife and I sat in the bleachers and cheered for him.  He waved at us as he paraded by.  I was easy to spot.  I was the only Cat in the Hat in the building.

And then, my wife and I went out separate ways.  She went to work.  I picked my daughter up from dance class, gave my son a bath, made sure each were fed.  Now, I'm sitting on my couch at home, waiting for my wife to come home.  There isn't going to be cake or ice cream.  No presents.  It will just be me, my wife, and Jimmy Fallon.  A quiet night in preparation for the craziness of All Hallow's Eve tomorrow.

Once upon a time, a pumpkin farmer named Jack grew tired of growing pumpkins.  He was tired of everything that had to do with pumpkins.  He was tired of eating pumpkin soup and pumpkin pie and pumpkin seeds and pumpkin bread.  He was tired of the smell and color of pumpkins.  So Jack decided to become a lemon farmer.

Jack tore up his pumpkin patch and planted lemon trees.  He fertilized and watered.  He covered the trees when there was frost.  He read books about lemons, collected lemon recipes.  When he went to bed at night, he dreamed of lemon bars and lemonade and lemon meringue pie.  For a year, all Jack did was eat, sleep, and breathe lemons.

In October, when Halloween time arrived, people began showing up at Jack's farm to buy their pumpkins.  When they found out that Jack no longer grew pumpkins, they went down the road to the other pumpkin farm.  Jack called after them, "Come back!  I have lemon pudding!"  But nobody came back.

Jack never sold a single lemon and ended up working for the pumpkin farmer down the road.

Moral of the story:  When life gives you pumpkins, don't be a dumbass and make lemonade.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

Annabel Lee

by:  Edgar Allan Poe

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of ANNABEL LEE;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea;
But we loved with a love that was more than love-
I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsman came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went envying her and me-
Yes! - that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we-
Of many far wiser than we-
And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee.

For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling- my darling- my life and my bride,
In the sepulchre there by the sea,
In her tomb by the sounding sea.

Off the Top of My Head

Thursday, October 29, 2015

October 29: Eternal Afterlife, Cremation Stone, Edgar Allan Poe, "The Sleeper," Off the Top of My Head

Lost in a kind of delirium and frightened by the prospect of an eternal afterlife in such a world, Ives would begin to doze, and finally sleep, or nearly so, soon let out a shout, waking everyone in the apartment.

After his mystical vision, Ives spends a great deal of time thinking about life after death.  Even though he is a devout Catholic, brought up to believe in Heaven and angels and salvation, Ives is uneasy about the afterlife.  His vision of colored winds and spinning suns simply confuses him even further, since it doesn't fit into the Christian paradigm of eternity.  Ives simply doesn't know what to think.

It has been a little over two months since my sister died.  My family has been waiting this whole time for her interment.  We haven't done it yet because we ordered a cremation stone.  My sister never wanted to be buried, so, instead, her cremains are going to be placed in a sculpted boulder.  It's a beautiful object, but it takes a long time to be delivered and placed.

The goal was to have the interment by about mid-October, before the snow started flying.  It is now two days away from Halloween.  No snow yet.  No stone yet.  I feel as though during these last couple of months we've all been in a kind of limbo, waiting for the final step in letting go of my sister's physical being.  When it does happen, which will be soon (I hope), it will be like tearing the scab off of a wound that's sort of healing.

This afternoon, on my way home from work, I drove by the cemetery where my sister will be laid to rest.  I stared down the road, at the place where her cremation stone will be placed.  For just a moment, I thought I saw my sister standing there.  It was a vision that came and went so fast that I'm not sure I actually saw anything at all.  However, it just reminded me of what remains unfinished.

Forgive my lachrymose mood.  I think it's the time of year.  The cold setting in.  All Souls' Day approaching.  Winter on the doorstep.

Saint Marty needs some kind of closure.  He's having a hard time moving forward.

The Sleeper

by:  Edgar Allan Poe

At midnight, in the month of June,
I stand beneath the mystic moon.
An opiate vapor, dewy, dim,
Exhales from out her golden rim,
And, softly dripping, drop by drop,
Upon the quiet mountain top,
Steals drowsily and musically
Into the universal valley.
The rosemary nods upon the grave;
The lily lolls upon the wave;
Wrapping the fog about its breast,
The ruin molders into rest;
Looking like Lethe, see! the lake
A conscious slumber seems to take,
And would not, for the world, awake.
All Beauty sleeps!- and lo! where lies
Irene, with her Destinies!

O, lady bright! can it be right-
This window open to the night?
The wanton airs, from the tree-top,
Laughingly through the lattice drop-
The bodiless airs, a wizard rout,
Flit through thy chamber in and out,
And wave the curtain canopy
So fitfully- so fearfully-
Above the closed and fringed lid
'Neath which thy slumb'ring soul lies hid,
That, o'er the floor and down the wall,
Like ghosts the shadows rise and fall!
Oh, lady dear, hast thou no fear?
Why and what art thou dreaming here?
Sure thou art come O'er far-off seas,
A wonder to these garden trees!
Strange is thy pallor! strange thy dress,
Strange, above all, thy length of tress,
And this all solemn silentness!

The lady sleeps! Oh, may her sleep,
Which is enduring, so be deep!
Heaven have her in its sacred keep!
This chamber changed for one more holy,
This bed for one more melancholy,
I pray to God that she may lie
For ever with unopened eye,
While the pale sheeted ghosts go by!

My love, she sleeps! Oh, may her sleep
As it is lasting, so be deep!
Soft may the worms about her creep!
Far in the forest, dim and old,
For her may some tall vault unfold-
Some vault that oft has flung its black
And winged panels fluttering back,
Triumphant, o'er the crested palls,
Of her grand family funerals-
Some sepulchre, remote, alone,
Against whose portal she hath thrown,
In childhood, many an idle stone-
Some tomb from out whose sounding door
She ne'er shall force an echo more,
Thrilling to think, poor child of sin!
It was the dead who groaned within.

Off the Top of My Head

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

October 28: Believe in Something, Hope, Edgar Allan Poe, "The Forest Reverie"

In fact, he still had many doubts, but pushed onward with the conviction that sooner or later there would be some kind of payoff, some sense that goodness, in and of itself, was its own reward; that events, even cruel ones, happened for reasons that, in one way or another, wold benefit the community of man.  Ives winced at some of the stories he heard, for underlying every tragedy was the question:  Why?  Yet he had to believe in something, otherwise he would have died, he loved his son so much.

This is Ives attending support-group meetings for victims of crimes and their families.  Like most of the people present, Ives has been struggling with the "why."  But he never loses hope.  He believes that there is going to be a reward.  A kind of goodness begets goodness thing.  It's that idea that keeps Ives going.  Without that belief, for Ives, the world is a cold and meaningless place.

I have hope.  Yes, every day seems like a series of worries and tragedies averted right now.  I get new tires for my car, and its brakes start grinding.  That's pretty much the way my life goes.  Currently, I'm rationing trips in my car until Friday, when I get paid.  I can't even think about my daughter's birthday or Christmas.

Yet, like Ives, I have to believe in something, or else I don't think I would have the energy to get out of bed in the morning.  I choose hope.  My car will get fixed, somehow.  My daughter will have birthday presents, and Santa Claus will be paying our house a visit on Christmas Eve.  All these things will happen, because I have hope.

I don't believe the world is cold and meaningless.  That would be like surrendering to doubt and fear.  Goodness is not random.  I have been the recipient of too many unexpected blessings to not believe in God's grace.  I know that I've said all this before, but it bears repeating.  Grace is not random.  Everything (good and bad) has meaning.  I think that we, as human beings, simply lack the vision to see that meaning sometimes.

The last few months have been pretty trying for me.  There's been death and financial struggle and job insecurity.  Like the speaker in Edgar Allan Poe's "Forest Reverie," however, I need to look past the wreckage and try to focus on seeds taking root.  Petals opening.  Something new being born, full of life and hope.

That is what keeps Saint Marty going.

The Forest Reverie

by:  Edgar Allan Poe

'Tis said that when
The hands of men
Tamed this primeval wood,
And hoary trees with groans of woe,
Like warriors by an unknown foe,
Were in their strength subdued,
The virgin Earth Gave instant birth
To springs that ne'er did flow
That in the sun Did rivulets run,
And all around rare flowers did blow
The wild rose pale Perfumed the gale
And the queenly lily adown the dale
(Whom the sun and the dew
And the winds did woo),
With the gourd and the grape luxuriant grew.

So when in tears
The love of years
Is wasted like the snow,
And the fine fibrils of its life
By the rude wrong of instant strife
Are broken at a blow
Within the heart
Do springs upstart
Of which it doth now know,
And strange, sweet dreams,
Like silent streams
That from new fountains overflow,
With the earlier tide
Of rivers glide
Deep in the heart whose hope has died--
Quenching the fires its ashes hide,--
Its ashes, whence will spring and grow
Sweet flowers, ere long,
The rare and radiant flowers of song!

I'm having computer problems, too

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

October 27: No Greater Reward, Kindness and Respect, Edgar Allan Poe, "Spirits of the Dead"

She [Annie Ives] liked to talk about the circumstances of his most famous story, A Christmas Carol.  Dickens was in the habit of taking very long walks through the city of London at night, she would say, and had seen so many poor children working in sweatshops and starving in the streets that he had been moved to write a story about a rich man who has a change of heart toward the poor.  And if she had the time, she would read parts of it aloud, and always reiterated that tale's moral:  There can be no greater reward than goodness to your fellow man.

Ives and Annie try to live by that moral.  They volunteer at community centers.  Annie substitute teaches in inner-city schools in New York.  She volunteers at community centers for at-risk youth.  Ives sends care packages and letters to his son's murderer in prison; writes letters to the parole board on his behalf; and, eventually, meets him in a gesture of forgiveness and love. 

I try to be a good person every day.  At work, I treat my coworkers with respect and understanding, even when I'm not having a good day.  I hold my tongue when I'm angry.  I try not to talk negatively about other people.  Basically, I treat people the way I want to be treated--with kindness and respect.

Of course, I always fall short of this ideal, because I'm human.  I get angry and jealous.  Harbor resentments.  Goodness to my fellow man isn't really high on my list of priorities most days.  For example, I have two good friends who have recently published books.  I should celebrate their good fortune.  Instead, I'm sort of consumed by envy.

I wish I had some kind of wisdom to share with you this evening.  I wish that I could say I had a Scrooge moment.  A change of heart.  I haven't.  When I picked up my son at the dance studio tonight, I saw all of these mothers whose kids are in four and five dance classes.  These mothers pay their tuition on time.  They sit around and talk about the kids' swimming lessons and soccer practices.  I just sat there and got pissed.

There you have it.  Saint Marty failed at being a saint today. Instead, he had dark thoughts of the grey tombstone.

Spirits of the Dead

by:  Edgar Allan Poe

Thy soul shall find itself alone
'Mid dark thoughts of the grey tomb-stone;
Not one, of all the crowd, to pry
Into thine hour of secrecy.

Be silent in that solitude,
Which is not loneliness- for then
The spirits of the dead, who stood
In life before thee, are again
In death around thee, and their will
Shall overshadow thee; be still.

The night, though clear, shall frown,
And the stars shall not look down
From their high thrones in the Heaven
With light like hope to mortals given,
But their red orbs, without beam,
To thy weariness shall seem
As a burning and a fever
Which would cling to thee for ever.

Now are thoughts thou shalt not banish,
Now are visions ne'er to vanish;
From thy spirit shall they pass
No more, like dew-drop from the grass.

The breeze, the breath of God, is still,
And the mist upon the hill
Shadowy, shadowy, yet unbroken,
Is a symbol and a token.
How it hangs upon the trees,
A mystery of mysteries!

I know how he feels

Monday, October 26, 2015

October 26: Poet of the Week, Edgar Allan Poe, "The Haunted Palace," "Ives" Dip, Off the Top of My Head

In keeping with the spirit of the season, I have chosen Edgar Allan Poe as the Poet of the Week.  After my Halloween poetry reading last week, where I read "The Raven," it really was a no-brainer for me.

Most people only know Poe's "The Raven," and maybe "Annabel Lee."  There's a little more to Poe than that.  For instance:

The Haunted Palace

by:  Edgar Allan Poe

In the greenest of our valleys
By good angels tenanted,
Once a fair and stately palace-
Radiant palace- reared its head.
In the monarch Thought's dominion-
It stood there!
Never seraph spread a pinion
Over fabric half so fair!

Banners yellow, glorious, golden,
On its roof did float and flow,
(This- all this- was in the olden
Time long ago,)
And every gentle air that dallied,
In that sweet day,
Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,
A winged odor went away.

Wanderers in that happy valley,
Through two luminous windows, saw
Spirits moving musically,
To a lute's well-tuned law,
Round about a throne where, sitting
In state his glory well-befitting,
The ruler of the realm was seen.

And all with pearl and ruby glowing
Was the fair palace door,
Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing,
And sparkling evermore,
A troop of Echoes, whose sweet duty
Was but to sing,
In voices of surpassing beauty,
The wit and wisdom of their king.

But evil things, in robes of sorrow,
Assailed the monarch's high estate.
(Ah, let us mourn!- for never morrow
Shall dawn upon him desolate!)
And round about his home the glory
That blushed and bloomed,
Is but a dim-remembered story
Of the old time entombed.

And travellers, now, within that valley,
Through the red-litten windows see
Vast forms, that move fantastically
To a discordant melody,
While, like a ghastly rapid river,
Through the pale door
A hideous throng rush out forever
And laugh- but smile no more.

There's more to Poe than black birds and swinging pendulums.  He isn't taught enough in college classrooms, in my opinion.  Any author who achieves any sort of success becomes an object of ridicule and scorn by the academics.  In order to be a real artist, I guess you have to be destitute, mentally ill, and suffering from ringworm.  (Not that Poe didn't have his share of troubles.  He certainly did.  But he was also fairly well known during his lifetime.)

Anyway, Edgar Allan Poe and a little Halloween verse.

It is Ives dip Monday.  I do not have a whole lot of time to pose a deep, meaningful question about the inner machinations of the universe.  Instead, I'm just going to ask,

Is Donald Trump an idiot?

And the answer from Oscar Hijuelos:

Whatever had happened, it reinforced his feelings that a God existed . . . and yet?  Weighing the possible meaning of what he had experienced that Christmas season, he believed that he had been privy to the inner workings of God.  He was not crazy and had not come easily to that conclusion, his route having been circuitous and riddled with doubts and terrifying thoughts...

So Donald Trump is not crazy, and God exists.  Well, Hijuelos got it half-right tonight.

President Trump--now there's a Halloween scare for Saint Marty.

Off the Top of My Head

Sunday, October 25, 2015

October 25: Carving Pumpkins, a Yellow Woods, Classic Saint Marty

My son's pumpkin
I have spent the day dealing with squash.  After church this morning, I drove to Walmart, and my daughter picked out two pumpkins--one for herself and one for her brother.  We also picked up some candy for next Saturday.  All Hallow's Eve. 

Then we went to my parents' house where I proceeded to scoop out and carve jack-o-lanterns.  My son and daughter designed the faces.  My son was inspired by Minecraft.  It's a Creeper--basically a pixel zombie.  he's very happy with the results.

My daughter's design is a little more, shall we say, graphic.  Her inspiration was a flu epidemic, I think.  Anyway, she's very happy with her jack-o-lantern, as well.  And my fingernails smell like pumpkin slime.  But I had fun.  Up until Thursday night, when I sold two of my books, I was thinking that we were going to have a pumpkinless Halloween.  Thank goodness for poetry and poetry lovers.

Yesterday, it stormed all day.  Rain and wind and cold.  Today was the exact opposite.  A cool autumn day of color and sunshine.  A two-roads-diverged-in-a-yellow-wood day.  I have been at a lot of crossroads in a lot of yellow woods.  Sometimes, I've taken the easier paths.  Most of the  time, however, I've chosen the harder paths.  And it has made all the difference.

I mean, look at me.  I'm still married (despite a year of separation and struggle).  I have two wonderful kids.  I've published a book of poems, and I teach for a university (part-time--you can't win them all).  I have had much success in my life.  And I am surrounded by people who love me.  I am a lucky guy because of those yellow woods and those unused paths.

This evening's episode of Classic Saint Marty first aired two years ago.  It's about hunger and waiting.

October 25, 2013:  Sandwich Bar, Burger, Fairy Tale

...After I put my bags in one of those strong boxes at the station, I went into this little sandwich bar and had breakfast.  I had quite a large breakfast, for me--orange juice, bacon and eggs, toast and coffee...

Holden really doesn't eat a whole lot in Catcher.  Near the end of the book, he stops in a diner and orders a doughnut that he doesn't eat, as well.  He does eat his breakfast from the sandwich bar, though.

If you can't tell from the above discussion, I'm a little hungry.  My wife and I are going out to lunch with a friend in a little while.  My friend, out of the blue last Friday, said to me, "I've been craving a burger.  Let me take you and your wife out to lunch.  In the spirit of friendship."  Well, I don't pass up free food.  Ever.  So, this afternoon, we're going out for burgers at a nice restaurant on the shores of Lake Superior.

That's my focus right now.  Food.  I didn't have much for breakfast, and dinner is a long way off.  I'm so hungry right now that I'm physically tired.  In between each sentence of this post are long minutes of sitting and staring.  Bus station minutes, when you're waiting for the Greyhound to pull in from Chicago.

Which reminds me...

Once upon a time, a man name Phillips lived on the banks of a great lake.  Phillips was a patient man.  In fact, he was known throughout the kingdom as the most patient man alive.  When he got up in the morning, he'd patiently say to himself, "I think I'll wait until lunch time to eat breakfast.  That way I'll enjoy breakfast even more."  When lunch time came, he'd patiently say, "I've already waited this long.  I might as well hold off 'til dinner.  Then I'll have the best meal ever."  At dinner time, he'd patiently sigh and say, "I'm a patient man.  I think I can wait until tomorrow morning to have breakfast."

Day after day, it went like this.  Phillips kept putting off breakfast, and he became thinner and thinner.  One day, he was so weak from hunger that he couldn't even get out of bed.  "That's OK," he whispered.  "I'll just wait until my strength returns."  He patiently closed his eyes, listened to the waves of the great lake outside his window, and fell back asleep.  He never woke up again.

Outside his window, a beautiful bluebird sang, "Dumbass, dumbass, dumbass."

Moral of the story:  "breakfast is the most important meal of the day" or "do not put off until tomorrow what you can eat today" or "my fairy tale really sucked today."

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

Mmmmm....toast good!

My daughter's pumpkin--disgusting

Saturday, October 24, 2015

October 24: Mysterious Planet, Questions, Mary Oliver, "The Man Who Has Many Answers," Confessions of Saint Marty

Not one to read books on spiritual subjects, on out-of-body experiences, reincarnation, spiritualism, or mysticism, witchcraft or voodoo, Ives was left confounded by the strangeness of his vision.  He sighed, wishing that he had seen the Virgin Mother floating over Forty-first Street and Madison Avenue instead.  Somehow, in his mind, it all related to his ideas of afterlife.  He would think of all the depictions of Christ on the Cross, his tortured eyes looking upward, heaven just beyond, and wonder, to his horror, just what Christ might have been seeing.  What if he had looked up and seen the whirling center of a chaotic universe swallowing him up?  He felt disappointed that he had neither the education nor intelligence to fathom what had happened to him.  On some of those nights, he had concluded that death would not be a joyous ramble with ethereal and eternally pleasant angelic beings, but a chaotic, mysterious, and dark experience, as if a soul, in leaving the body, would alight upon the surface of Jupiter or Mars or some other mysterious planet, such as he had read about in Astonishing Stories magazine, on in the science-fiction books whose covers he had upon occasion illustrated.

Ives spends the rest of his life with questions.  About the meaning of his mystical vision, the four colored winds swirling above the streets of New York.  About the meaning of his son's death.  About Heaven and Hell and the goodness of God.  About the birth of Christ and the crucifixion.  Basically, Ives has a lot of questions and, by the end of the book, very few answers.  Ives lives with mystery his whole life and, finally, embraces it.

I wish that I could simply accept the questions of the universe without feeling confused or angry or unfulfilled.  Of course, it takes Ives quite a few decades to reach that point in his life.  For almost three hundred pages, Ives' day-to-day existence is gilded with doubt and sorrow.  That's pretty much where I am now.

Certainly, I ask questions like "Why did my sister get lymphoma of the brain?" and "Why don't I ever have enough money to pay the bills?" and "Why is Donald Trump leading in the polls?" every day of my life.  It's human nature to search for answers when faced with baffling situations.  It's difficult living with question marks floating over your head.  But, even when I get the answer to some plaguing question, there is always a new, and frequently more troubling, question to replace it.

I'm not sure that answers are really what I need.  What I need, I think, is the ability, like Ives, to live with mystery.  Comfortably.  Without tearing out what's left of my hair in the pursuit of explanations.  Living at ease with mystery is a matter of trust.  If I trust that God is good, looking out for me in every situation, then mystery becomes less challenging.   It's simply a goldfinch or nightingale sitting on a branch outside my window, singing, filling the world with music.

I'm not quite there yet, though.  I hear the goldfinch chirping, but, more often than not, my reaction is not to sit back and enjoy the sound.  I run for a book to try to figure out what kind of bird is in my maple tree.  I find comfort in answers, not questions.

Saint Marty has trust issues.  He double checks his order before he leaves the drive-thru at McDonald's, and he still reads the last page of books first, so that he's never surprised.

The Man Who Has Many Answers

by:  Mary Oliver

The man who has many answers
is often found
in the theaters of information
where he offers, graciously,
his deep findings.

While the man who has only questions,
to comfort himself, makes music.

Confessions of Saint Marty

October 23: Take Care of Business, Pumpkins, Mary Oliver, "The Way of the World"

". . . Just remember, if you don't take care of business, no one else will.  Do you really think God gives a shit?"

After the death of his son, Ives is confronted by several men who urge him to hire somebody to kill his son's murderer.  It's a frightening scene, with Ives half-drunk surrounded by angry thugs and small-time gangsters.  And they want blood.  God isn't a part of their equation.  God, as one of them so eloquently put it, doesn't really give a shit.

I can't buy into that line of thinking.  Sure, I think we're expected to work hard in our lives.  God rewards hard workers.  Of course, I sometimes wonder over the success of some people.  I'm only human.  I get jealous and angry when I struggle financially or professionally while others seem to coast.  I can't remember the last time that I felt content with my life.  It's hard to feel content when I can't even scrape up the money to buy a couple of pumpkins for my kids for Halloween.

I have friends who are tenured professors.  I have friends who are lawyers and doctors, priests and pastors.  Yet, I don't think many of these friends really think of themselves as lucky.  It's a very human thing to focus on what you lack versus what you have.  I do it all the time.

Tonight, I received some good news.  Earlier this week, I thought I was only going to be teaching one class in the winter semester, which would have meant a loss of about $3000 of income.  A disaster.  Tonight, I found out that I have been assigned another class.  A class I love to teach at a time that is very good for my schedule.

God gives a shit.  I am living proof this evening.  Tomorrow, I will probably still be worrying about pumpkins and the brakes on my car.  But, tonight, I know that God is watching out for me.  And that will help me sleep well.

I know you're all expecting a fairy tale and a new Stickman this evening.  It is Friday.  However, it's late, and I'm tired.  It has been a pretty exhausting week.  I promise to write a fairy tale next Friday and the return of Stickman.  Sometimes, I simply have to cut myself some slack.

This evening, Saint Marty knows the way of the world, and it is full of unexpected grace.

The Way of the World

by:  Mary Oliver

The chickens ate all the crickets.
The foxes ate all the chickens.

This morning a friend hauled his
boat to shore and gave me the most
wondrous fish.  In its silver scales
it seemed dressed for a wedding.
The gills were pulsing, just above
where shoulders would be, if it had
had shoulders.  The eyes were still
looking around.  I don't know what
they were thinking.

The chickens ate all the crickets.
The foxes ate all the chickens.

I ate the fish.

Stickman couldn't have said it better

Thursday, October 22, 2015

October 22: All Souls' Day, the Hindenburg, Mary Oliver, "Three Things to Remember"

"Well," her son said cheerfully, "I'm going up to the Cloisters in a little bit to check out the choir.  They've got something going on with All Souls' Day, would you like to come with me?"

All Souls' Day is the day after All Saints' Day, which follows All Hallow's Eve. So, in translation, All Souls' Day is November 2; All Saints' Day, November 1; and All Hallow's Eve, October 31.  All Souls' Day celebrates family members who have died in the last year.  Robert, himself, will soon join the ranks of the lost souls.

This evening, I gave a poetry reading at my local library.  I billed it as a celebration of Halloween.  There was poetry and music (provided by a good friend).  I told ghost stories and read Emily Dickinson. We sang a little Paul Simon and Jim Morrison.  I think it was a good event.

I had spent many hours picking out poems.  Attended two music practices.  Spent a couple hours doing research.  Hung up posters.  Sent a mass e-mail to every member of the university's English Department.  I did everything I could to insure success.

If success is measured in attendance, then I just gave the Hindenburg of poetry readings.  However, if success is measured in audience engagement, then I am Robert Frost reincarnated.  The people who showed up were truly enthusiastic and wonderful.  That's what I'm going to remember about the reading.

Plus, I may have booked another reading for the Christmas season--a release party for the Christmas CDs I recorded last year with my band.  I suggested doing it as a fundraiser for a local charity and donating a percentage of the proceeds to the charity.  The librarian who organizes the reading series seemed very interested in the idea.

So, I'm building bridges, doing a little poetic song and dance.  Hopefully, making a little extra cash, as well.

Saint Marty is playing the game, making up the rules as he goes.

Three Things to Remember

by:  Mary Oliver

As long as you're dancing, you can
     break the rules.
Sometimes breaking the rules is just
    extending the rules.

Sometimes there are no rules.

Oh, the humanity!  Oh, the poetry!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

October 21: Life's Work, Selling a Kidney, Mary Oliver, "I Happened to be Standing," Adventures of Stickman

Honor classes were her favorite, because faced with attentive students she could give talks about writers like Lawrence or Charles Dickens, the latter a favorite of hers to teach.  She would point out to the poorest kids that not all writers were upper-class fops, as was their impression.  Dickens came from humble stock, as did Lawrence.  She would tell them about how Charles Dickens had the greatest sympathy for the poor because he had known suffering himself:  his father had gone to the poorhouse and died young, and he himself had worked as a kid in a "blacking house," the deprivations of that time something he would never forget.  Dickens, she said, had lived for his fame and wrote out of a need for acceptance, but he had also deeply believed that a man's life's work might bring about social change.

Annie Ives has a very strong social conscience.  As a teacher in the New York City public school system, she tries to instill hope and a hunger for excellence in her students' lives.  Of course, after the death of her son at the hands of a Hispanic youth, Annie becomes a little jaded.  She sees her earlier idealism as a little naive.  Yet, she continues to volunteer at community centers and do charitable work.  She and Ives believe in social change.  That the world can be made better through good deeds.

Today has been a challenge for me.  I think that I'm a hard worker.  I always try to do my best, and I always expect the best out of the people around me.  So, when the people around me fall short of those expectations, I feel a little like Annie after her son's death.  Jaded.  A little angry.

I won't go into detail, but I have been a little upset for most of the day.  To top it off, I found out that I may only be assigned one class to teach next semester.  That means a loss of about $3000 in income.  I can't imagine how my family is going to stay afloat if that happens.  It's not a done deal.  I may be offered another class, depending on enrollment.  Right now, though, I'm contemplating selling a kidney on the black market.

I have been working in medical offices and teaching at the university for close to 20 years.  It has been my life's work.  Tonight, I'm not feeling all that great about the choices I've made.  In fact, I'm feeling pretty shitty, as though I can't trust a whole lot of people.  That makes me sad.

I'm sure I'll be in a better frame of mind tomorrow.  I will say my prayers tonight, as I always do.  Like Mary Oliver does in the poem below.  Maybe God will grant me some perspective on the events of today.  Tomorrow night, I'm giving a poetry reading, so I won't have a whole lot of time to brood over these little wounds. 

If you're in my neck of the woods and are looking for something to do tomorrow evening, stop by the Carnegie Library in Ishpeming, Michigan, at around 6 p.m.  I will be there, with poems and stories for All Hallow's Eve.

Saint Marty promises to conjure up the spirits of a few dead poets, and maybe some living ones, as well.

I Happened to be Standing

by:  Mary Oliver

I don't know where prayers go,
     or what they do.
Do cats pray, while they sleep
     half-asleep in the sun?
Does the opossum pray as it
     crosses the street?
The sunflowers?  The old black oak
     growing older every year?
I know I can walk through the world,
     along the shore or under the trees,
with my mind filled with things
     of little importance, in full
self-attendance.  A condition I can't really
     call being alive.
Is a prayer a gift, or a petition,
     or does it matter?
The sunflowers blaze, maybe that's their way.
Maybe the cars are sound asleep.  Maybe not.

While I was thinking this I happened to be standing
just outside my door, with my notebook open,
which is the way I begin every morning.
Then a wren in the privet began to sing.
He was positively drenched in enthusiasm,
I don't know why.  And yet, why not.
I wouldn't persuade you from whatever you believe
or whatever you don't.  That's your business.
But I thought, of the wren's singing, what could this be
     if it isn't a prayer?
So I just listened, my pen in the air.

Adventures of STICKMAN

Monday, October 19, 2015

October 19: Pollyanna-ish, Poet of the Week, Mary Oliver, "I Go Down to the Shore," Adventures of Stickman

My wife seems to think that I have been a little . . . dark in my posts of late.  I have not noticed.  Sure, I've been talking a lot about money problems and work problems.  Yeah, I'm still struggling with the loss of my sister.  Then there's the hole in my kitchen ceiling, and the fact that I'm getting about four hours of sleep every night.  Aside from that, I think that I'm a pretty friggin' positive person.

Okay, maybe I haven't been Pollyanna-ish this last month or so.  I have been struggling to find balance in my life.  At the medical office (where I spend the majority of my days), I'm paid to be positive and helpful for patients.  I have been faking it for a long time, but I find it exhausting now.  When I get home at night, I don't feel like smiling or talking or laughing.  I feel like sleeping.

So, my wife has challenged me to write about four things for which I'm thankful every day in November (the month of Thanksgiving).  I have to say that I'm not excited by the idea.  It sounds a little too Oprah for me.  But I will do it.

I do have something to be thankful for tonight, even if it's not November yet.  Last Thursday, a good friend of mine dropped off a Saint Marty's Day gift for me--Mary Oliver's collection of poems A Thousand Mornings.  I was completely taken by surprise, and I have been finding great solace in the poems.

So, even though she has already been chosen once before, Mary Oliver is Saint Marty's Poet of the Week.  She has a way of putting things into perspective.  The world is a very big place, and human struggle, for the most part, is very tiny in comparison:

I Go Down to the Shore

by:  Mary Oliver

I go down to the shore in the morning
and depending on the hour the waves
are rolling in or moving out,
and I say, oh, I am miserable,
what shall--
what should I do?  And the sea says
in its lovely voice:
Excuse me, I have work to do.

So, I am going to strive to be more positive in my posts.  For example, I'm positive that I'm going to be completely exhausted tomorrow morning when the alarm goes off if I don't get to bed right now.  Hey, it's a start.

Since it's Ives dip Monday, I am obliged to ask a question:

Am I being too negative?

The answer:

...She had friends, female teachers, who'd been spit at, had been "flashed," had their teeth knocked out by students they'd tried to discipline, had cigarette butts put out in their hair, friends who had been raped under stairwells...

Well, that certainly puts things into perspective.  The world really is a shitty place, at least according to Ives.

Saint Marty gives thanks he hasn't had his teeth knocked out by any of his students.

Adventures of STICKMAN

Sunday, October 18, 2015

October 18: Autonomy, Normal Life, Classic Saint Marty, Confessions of Saint Marty

I was going to say that it has been a lazy Sunday, but I've been working all day long.  Church work this morning.  School work this afternoon.  I've corrected two sets of quizzes, updated my grade book, and created the handouts for two writing assignments.  I still have two lesson plans and a crapload of reading to complete.

I always think of Sundays as lazy.  Probably because the pace of the day is so different from the rest of the week.  Yes, I have a lot of work to do, but I don't have to punch a time clock or worry about supervisors breathing down my neck.  That's the difference.  Frankly, I work well when I'm not under constant scrutiny.  I think that's why I enjoy my teaching so much more than working in the medical office.  When I have autonomy, I thrive.

If it weren't for my medical office job, I wouldn't have health insurance.  I probably wouldn't have a house or a car, either.  Everything I own would be repossessed or in foreclosure.  I am fortunate to have my jobs.  I know this.  However, on days when I am my own boss, making the decisions, I am much happier, less stressed.  The only thing that ruins Sunday for me is the looming prospect of Monday morning.

I'm not complaining.  Well, maybe I am a little bit.  Mostly, I'm dreaming.  Of being a full-time professor.  Setting my own work schedule.  Seeing my kids get on the school bus every morning.  Spending my days on campus, relaxed and confident.  Having a normal life.

Last year around this time, I was dealing with snow and exhaustion and change.  Things haven't changed much.  On October 18, 2014, I couldn't wait for the year to be over.  I thought 2015 was going to be happier, less chaotic.  As my seven-year-old son says, "Humph!"  Every year is filled with challenges  The best for which I can hope is a little happiness among the challenges.  That's just how it is.

October 18, 2014:  Over and Gone, First Snow, Maxine Kumin, "How It Is"

"Summer is over and gone," repeated the crickets.  "How many nights till frost?" said the crickets.  "Good-bye, summer, good-bye, good-bye!"

Yes, in the fall, when the weather turns cold, the crickets seem to cry in the dark.  It's a sad sound, an elegy for hot summer nights.  The morning air is crisp, like a drink of cold water.  The afternoons are golden; the evenings, full of the promise of winter.  In two little sentences, E B. White captures the shift from hot to cold, from hot sand to orange leaves, from August sun to harvest moon.

This morning, the first snow fell in my little corner of the Upper Peninsula.  I looked outside, and the world was a chaos of white.  The snow didn't accumulate.  In fact, it almost looked like it was melting before it even hit the ground.  It was a warning, a reminder of the long months to come.

Winter used to be my favorite season of the year.  I loved the shortened days and the long, black nights.  I loved the chimney smoke funneling into the sky and the bleary Christmas lights in the sweaty windows.  And I loved being at home, drinking hot chocolate, reading huge novels while Christmas music played.  (Christmas still is my favorite holiday, but not because of the snow and cold.)

As an adult who has to battle his way to work in snowstorms, who has to shovel all that white crap, who has to pay astronomical heating bills, I can no longer call myself a fan of winter.  My idea of a perfect winter has drastically changed.  I would like an extended autumn.  One that lasts until Christmas Eve.  Then, on December 24, a light dusting of snow can fall.  Just enough to give everything that Martha Stewart touch.  Not enough to require a snow shovel.  The day after Christmas, the snow can melt.  For the rest of winter, I would accept temperatures in the forty- to fifty-degree range.  Enough to require a heavier jacket.  Then, around the middle of March, spring arrives.  Perfect.

Of course, that's not how the world works in the Upper Peninsula.  I am a realist, not an optimist.  I know what I'm in for in the coming months.  If last winter is any indication of what's to come, it's going to suck tremendously.  However, it's one of the trade-offs of living in this beautiful, hard place.  We are hardy folk who choose to dwell in this little, shark-shaped piece of land surrounded by water.

My daughter complained today about the fact that she will probably have to wear a winter jacket when trick-or-treating this year.  She knows that's part of the bargain of a Yooper Halloween.  Maxine Kumin has a great poem about the acceptance of difficult experiences.  Of course, Kumin's not speaking of frozen days or killer blizzards.  Her poem is about absence.  Loss.  Loneliness so profound it sits in the room with you like a sleeping cat.

The year 2014 has not been fun for me or my family.  Professional upheaval.  Loss of income and jobs.  The death of my brother.  I will be honest.  Come December 31, I will be happy to have 2014 in my rear view mirror.  That doesn't mean that 2015 will be any easier.  It may be worse for all I know, but I'm still hoping for something better.

That's just how it is with Saint Marty right now.  The crickets are singing.  Change is coming.

How It Is

by:  Maxine Kumin

Shall I say how it is in your clothes?
A month after your death I wear your blue jacket.   
The dog at the center of my life recognizes   
you’ve come to visit, he’s ecstatic.
In the left pocket, a hole.
In the right, a parking ticket
delivered up last August on Bay State Road.   
In my heart, a scatter like milkweed,
a flinging from the pods of the soul.
My skin presses your old outline.
It is hot and dry inside.

I think of the last day of your life,
old friend, how I would unwind it, paste   
it together in a different collage,
back from the death car idling in the garage,   
back up the stairs, your praying hands unlaced,   
reassembling the bits of bread and tuna fish   
into a ceremony of sandwich,
running the home movie backward to a space   
we could be easy in, a kitchen place
with vodka and ice, our words like living meat.

Dear friend, you have excited crowds
with your example. They swell
like wine bags, straining at your seams.   
I will be years gathering up our words,   
fishing out letters, snapshots, stains,
leaning my ribs against this durable cloth
to put on the dumb blue blazer of your death.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, October 17, 2015

October 17: Numbness Descending, Dark Night of the Soul, Psalm 25, Confessions of Saint Marty

He went to church and prayed for guidance, begging God to bring forgiveness into his heart.  He would kneel before the creche, the crucifix, and wonder how and why all these things had happened.  At night he would dream of black threads twisting in the air and slipping into his body from afar.  Though he bowed his head and trembled at the funeral, though he spoke kindly with the priests and repeated to himself a thousand times that God was good and that the manifestations of evil that come to men are ultimately explicable in some divine way, His wisdom greater than what any of them would ever know, Ives felt a great numbness descending over him.

Yes, after his son's death, Ives really battles with God.  Ives doesn't reject God publicly, but, in his heart, he questions God's goodness.  It's what Saint John of the Cross called a dark night of the soul.  Ives feels abandoned, alone, as if God has somehow turned away.  God's back is the universe, and it's empty, devoid of happiness.

I have a friend right now who's experiencing a dark night.  He recently realized he was an addict and has been an addict for quite some time.  There are certain epiphanies in life that are easy.  I need to lose a few pounds--easy.  I think I may need bifocals--easy.  And then there are tough epiphanies.  I need to declare bankruptcy--tough.  I have cancer--tough.  I am an addict--tough.

My friend doesn't realize that he's already taken the most difficult step:  admitting that he has a problem.  Now that he's reached this point, as long as he remains honest with himself and his therapists/doctors, he is well on the way to becoming a recovering addict.

It won't be easy.  There's a great deal of shame and self-hatred that needs to be expunged from his emotional vocabulary.  He's at about 2 a.m. in his dark night of the soul.  It's going to get a little darker before sunrise.  Yet, I am proud of my friend.  He's a good person.  Loving.  Generous.  Spiritually connected.  He has the strength to overcome this obstacle.

Right now, he doesn't think that God will forgive him for his problem.  He thinks he's unlovable, unforgivable.  Of course, I know that my friend is wrong.  I know that God has already forgiven him for everything he's done.  That's the way He works.  My friend simply needs to lift himself up to God, and trust.  Through trust, God can do some pretty amazing things.

If you're reading this post and going through your own dark night of the soul, I want you to know that God has forgiven you.  He loves you.  And you need to trust in Him.

That's Saint Marty's wisdom for tonight.

Psalm 25

A Psalm of David

Unto thee, O LORD, do I lift up my soul.

2.  O my God, I trust in thee:  let me not be ashamed, let not mine enemies triumph over me.

3.  Yea, let none that wait on thee be ashamed:  let them be ashamed which transgress without cause.

4.  Show me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths.

5.  Lead me in thy truth, and teach me:  for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day.

6.  Remember, O LORD, thy tender mercies and thy lovingkindnesses; for they have been ever of old.

7.  Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions:  according to thy mercy remember thou me for thy goodness' sake, O LORD.

8.  Good and upright is the LORD:  therefore will he teach sinners in the way.

9.  The meek will he guide in judgement:  and the meek will he teach his way.

10.  All the paths of the LORD are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies.

11.  For thy name's sake, O LORD, pardon mine iniquity; for it is great.

12.  What man is he that feareth the LORD?  him shall he teach in the way that he shall choose.

13.  His soul shall dwell at ease:  and his seed shall inherit the earth.

14.  The secret of the LORD is with them that fear him; and he will show them his covenant.

15.  Mine eyes are ever toward the LORD; for he shall pluck my feet out of the net.

16.  Turn unto me, and have mercy upon me; for I am desolate and afflicted.

17.  The troubles of my heart are enlarged:  O bring thou me out of my distress.

18.  Look upon mine affliction and my pain; and forgive all my sins.

19.  Consider mine enemies; for they are many; and they hate me with cruel hatred.

20.  O keep my soul, and deliver me:  let me not be ashamed; for I put my trust in thee.

21.  Let integrity and uprightness preserve me; for I wait on thee.

22.  Redeem Israel, O God, out of all his troubles.

Confessions of Saint Marty

October 16: Decent People, Grieving and Struggling, Psalm 100, Adventures of Stickman

Ives' sister, Katherine, came to stay in the apartment and cooked their meals; Harry had flown in from San Diego with his third young pretty wife, and he dealt with the situation by giving Ives a check for a thousand dollars to help defray costs, and said things like "Why you brought the kid up around here, in these times, is beyond me," again and again, a sentiment that Annie's family shared, in their opinion it seemed incomprehensible that decent people would even want to subject themselves to the noise and filth of the city, let alone expose themselves to the potential for violence.

In the aftermath of Robert's murder, Ives' family members try to help in their, sometimes, misguided ways.  His sister cooks and cleans, takes care of everyday necessities.  His brother provides money and plenty of guilt.  His in-laws bring helpings of intolerance and judgement into the equation.  In the wake of tragedy, there are no perfect responses.  In fact, tragedy seems to magnify weaknesses and flaws in survivors.

In the wake of my sister's death, everyone in my immediate family is struggling.  One of my sisters has been wracked with guilt, and it manifests as incredible anger.  Another of my sisters confessed to my wife that she feels "choked by death."  She spends her days thinking about my parents, who are in their eighties, and my sister with Down Syndrome.  She sees the specter of death lurking in the shadows of every room.  Me?  I alternate between sadness, anger, dismay, more anger.  Depends on the time of day.  I find it difficult being around my family at times.  I get impatient very quickly.

The most difficult part of grieving for my sister is the anger.  I'm pissed at her.  She was always a person whom I could count on when I ran into difficulties.  A voice of reason with a generous heart.  Once, when my sister found out I was struggling financially, a few hundred dollars suddenly appeared in my checking account.  She listened to my complaints about work and school, and I listened to her worries about her job.  Now, I'm pissed that all that is gone from my life.

My family has gone a little crazy.  I, myself, feel a little off-center.  And we aren't getting better.  We''re getting crazier.  There's a whole lot of resentment and not a whole lot of honesty going around.  On good days, I can do my time around my family and then retreat without a fight.  On bad days, I brood and bite my tongue.  I have only once let my true feelings surface, and it wasn't pretty.

I am including a happy psalm this evening.  A song of praise.  I figured it couldn't hurt.

Saint Marty hopes to keep his mouth shut and his feelings repressed this weekend.  You know, a normal Saturday and Sunday.

Psalm 100

A Psalm of Praise

Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands.

2.  Serve the LORD with gladness:  come before his presence with singing.

3.  Know ye that the LORD he is God:  it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

4.  Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise:  be thankful unto him, and bless his name.

5.  For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.

Adventures of STICKMAN

Thursday, October 15, 2015

October 15: Stealing Kisses, Anniversary, Psalm 150, Adventures of Stickman

Leaving Macy's, they spent an hour walking uptown and lingered by the Rockefeller Center ice-skating rink, on the promenade, directly across from the bronze statue of Prometheus reclining, the great tree, a Maine pine, some fifty feet high and as wide as a house, covered with thousands of lights, towering cheerfully over the scene.  Down below, a hundred skaters, of all ages, circled the ice, some gracefully as professionals, others clumsily, their faces and twisting bodies in colored caps and suits, vivid in the surrounding floodlights.  Leaning against the railing, Annie and Ives were caught up, as were so many others, by the romance of the setting, and, ever so happy, held each other tightly, nudging one another with their chilled noses and stealing kisses, until laughing, she said, "Oh, Eddie, you make me feel like a kid again."

Ives and Annie never lose their passion for each other.  This moment, mere hours before their son is murdered, shows the strength of their marriage.  At times, Annie considers leaving Ives in the aftermath of Robert's death, but she doesn't.  She can't.  She loves Ives too much.

I apologize for my absence last night.  It was my wedding anniversary.  Twenty years.  My wife and I didn't do a whole lot.  Couldn't really afford it.  Instead, we attended our daughter's concert.  Now, sitting in a gymnasium listening to several high school choruses might not sound like the most romantic way to celebrate 20 years of marriage, but we had a really good time.

Afterward, I spent the rest of the evening correcting papers.  I had no choice.  My wife made lunches, and I corrected.  My wife watched the ten o'clock news, and I corrected.  My wife went to bed, and I corrected.  I graded that stack of essays until about 1 a.m.  I know.  Call me Mr. Romance.

I have been brain dead today.  No sleep.  Headache.  I can barely string together two sentences tonight.  But, I do want to celebrate my wife tonight.  She has had a lot of struggles over these last twenty years.  Life hasn't been easy.  Separation.  Financial distress.  Health problems.  Yet, our marriage has survived.

And for that, Saint Marty gives thanks.. 

Psalm 150

Praise yet the LORD.  Praise God in his sanctuary:  praise him in the firmament of his power.

2.  Praise him for his mighty acts:  praise him according to his excellent greatness.

3.  Praise him with the sound of the trumpet:  praise him with the psaltery and harp.

4.  Praise him with the timbrel and dance:  praise him with stringed instruments and organs.

5.  Praise him upon the loud cymbals:  praise him upon the high sounding cymbals.

6.  Let every thing that hath breath praise the LORD.  Praise ye the LORD.

Adventures of STICKMAN

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

October 13: Sleepless Nights, Poet of the Week, Psalm 28

.He had endured a year of nearly sleepless nights, his restlessness getting to the point where Annie would send him off to the living room

Ives endures many difficulties in his life.  An inexplicable mystical vision.  The murder of his son.  Decades of paralyzing grief.  At times, Ives doubts in God, gets angry with Him.  Yet, he never turns his back on the Church.  Even in his darkest hours, Ives still attends Mass and believes in God's goodness.

I, myself, am struggling this evening.  Money problems again.  I don't want to get into details, but there have been a few unexpected expenses.  Tomorrow night, my daughter has her first high school band/choral concert.  She needs some clothes.  Then there's car insurance and my daughter's braces..  It's a pretty deep hole, and I can't seem to see the sunlight at the top.

Tomorrow is my twentieth wedding anniversary.  I can't buy my wife anything.  Not even a card.  That's pretty much the story of our lives.  I feel bad that I haven't provided a better life for my wife and kids.  Every bill is a struggle, and one missed paycheck would be a disaster.  I am a failure in this arena.  My family has never really known a day without financial woes.

I have chosen King David as my Poet of the Week.  The Book of Psalms is full of happy poems and sad poems.  Poems of great rejoicing, and poems of great despair.  They are for everyday life and everyday strife.

Saint Marty has a little strife to deal with tonight.

Psalm 28

A Psalm for David

Unto thee will I cry, O LORD my rock; be not silent
to me:  lest, if thou be silent to me, I become like them
that go down into the pit.

2.  Hear the voice of my supplications, when I cry unto
thee, when I lift up my hands toward thy holy oracle.

3.  Draw me not away with the wicked, and with the
workers of iniquity, which speak peace to their neigh-
bours, but mischief is in their hearts.

4.  Give them according to their deed, and according to
the wickedness of their endeavours:  give them after the
work of their hands, render to them their desert.

5.  Because they regard not the works of the LORD, nor
the operation of his hands, he shall destroy them, and
not buld them up.

6.  Blessed be the LORD, because he hath heard the voice
of my supplications.

7.  The LORD is my strength and my shield, my heart
trusted in him, and I am helped:  therefore my heart
greatly rejoiceth and with my song will I praise him.

8.  The LORD is their strength, and he is the saving
strength of his anointed.

9.  Save thy people, and bless thine inheritance:  feed
them also, and lift them up for ever.

Monday, October 12, 2015

October 12: Recuperating, No Poet of the Week, No Cartoon, Technical Difficulties

Today, I had to recuperate from my weekend at the Wisconsin Dells.  Exhausted and run-down.  That's how I would describe myself.  I called early this morning to cancel my class, even though I spent a good portion of my time at the Kalahari correcting essays.  I'm still not feeling 100%, but I will return to my daily grind tomorrow.  I have no choice.

Being away this weekend has filled me with the desire to carve out a little more time for myself during the week.  I have felt a little insane recently, what with the chaos of work and school and my sister's death.  I am less patient.  Less focused.  Less energetic.  Less everything, except tired.

I haven't picked out a new Poet of the Week.  I didn't have a chance to draw a new cartoon.  Wasn't feeling particularly inspired to do anything besides sleep.  Tune in tomorrow for our regularly scheduled programming.

Right now, Saint Marty is experiencing technical difficulties.  Please stand by.

October 11: Dancing, Wisconsin Dells, Turkey Day, Classic Saint Marty

I have been grading papers all day while my daughter danced.  I am brain dead, and my daughter is exhausted.  Day three at the Wisconsin Dells was a marathon, and I'm just finishing mile 26.

It has been a good weekend.  I needed this break from my normal life.  Tomorrow, it's back to the grind.  Work and school.  No breaks until Thanksgiving.  That rather depresses me.  I'm hoping for some sort of happy distraction between now and Turkey Day.  Anything.  I don't know if this weekend is enough to get me to the end of November.

Today's episode of Classic Saint Marty first aired a year ago, from the Wisconsin Dells yet again.  No cartoon this evening.  Too tired.  Too uninspired. 

October 11, 2014:  The Crowd, I Could Have Danced, Madeleine L'Engle, "Ephesus:

But the crowd loved it.  Avery heard nothing but the applause.  He liked being a clown in a ring, with everybody watching, in front of a grandstand...

Yes, Fern's brother is a ham.  (Pardon the porcine meat reference.)  He loves performing for a crowd.  Eats it up when they laugh at his antics.  Applause is an addicting sound, and Avery has learned this fact early in his life.

I am sitting, watching my daughter in a dance class.  She's been dancing since about 8 a.m.  It is now almost three o'clock in the afternoon.  She's getting a little tired and cranky.  We got lunch late, and now her ears are hurting from so much swimming in the water park last night.  Long story short:  she's all glares and stomps at the moment.

I don't take these moods personally.  It's all part of thirteen-year-old girlhood.  Nothing I did.  Just the world not being thirteen-year-old girl perfect.  I've learned that it's a powerful anger, fueled by hormones and exhaustion and hunger.  She doesn't really understand what's making her act like a feral cat.  What she knows is that she's not in control of herself.  The teenage years are a scary time.

I have a poem for you guys from Madeleine L'Engle.  It's a poem about Mary after the death of Christ, about the time she spent in Ephesus following his execution.  I find the joy in this poem tinged with melancholy.  Joy outlined in sadness, like the chalk outline of a body at a murder scene.

Like Saint Marty's daughter, out on the floor, her anger outlined by dance, waiting for the applause to begin.


by:  Madeleine L'Engle

They walked these self-same stones.
Mary was wilting, weary from the journey,
weary with the years and all that she
had understood and had not understood.
Obedient always, she deferred to John,
smiling a mother's smile at his great joy.
Chariots of gold raced through the godless streets:
Apollo and Diana had grown dim;
only the emperor was god.
They paused, perhaps, Mary and John,
at these same vacant gates
of the sad temple of forgotten gods,
and Mary smiled and turned and said,
"My son, the old gods have been lost."
And John replied, "Bring we now the new--"

And in his harrowing of a shadowed Hell
perhaps the old gods were redeemed as well,
and joyfully sing their praise to him
with cherubim and seraphim.