Monday, February 29, 2016

February 29: Fall Like Adam, Leap Day, Poet of the Week, Matt Gavin Frank

I am puffed clay, blown up and set down.  That I fall like Adam is not surprising.  I plunge, waft, arc, pour, and dive.  The surprise is how good the wind feels on my face as I fall.  And the other surprise is that I ever rise at all.  I rise when I receive, like grass.

Falling and rising.  Like Adam on that apple day, making a choice, accepting the consequences.  With one bite of that naked fruit, he sentenced Annie Dillard and me and you to a lifetime of falling, plunging, wafting, arcing, pouring, diving.  That's what life is:  a constant lesson in falling and learning how to rise, reaching down and then up again.

Today is Leap Day.  February 29.  It happens once every four years.  Always in a presidential election year in the United States.  Always in a Summer Olympics year.  On February 29, you're supposed to make a leap, do something you normally wouldn't do.  Sometimes, like Adam, you fall.  And then you pick yourself up, add some water, and turn your face upward.  Toward the sun.

This morning, it was snowing.  Blowing.  Cars were in the ditch, on top of snowbanks.  It felt like a day when something bad could happen.  Or good.  That was my state all day.  Waiting for something bad or good to come my way.  And I waited.  And waited.

I did not make a conscious leap today.  In the past, I've bought weird hats to wear.  Worn strange earrings.  Gone on trips.  Instead, I went to work and started taking an online class.  Nothing earth-shattering.  I haven't taken a class in a long, long time.  Don't like following other people's schedules, I guess.  Perhaps that's my leap today:  I am a student for the next four weeks.  For better or worse.

Hopefully, I will rise, not fall.

This week, I choose Matt Gavin Frank as Poet of the Week.  Matt is a friend of mine, a writer who always takes chances, makes leaps.

Saint Marty hopes you take the leap with him. 

Elegy for the Whitefish

by:  Matt Gavin Frank

The grandfather, surrounded by Illinois doves,
does not see his wife in the rowboat.  She imagines

smothering him in his sleep, his hair pulling off
with the pillowcase.  The greenest feather

remembers the earth.

The whitefish dive, their beds behind them. 
Women, tighter than glass, forget,


They raise their fingers before their hands,
whitefish hanging in the seaweed, throat

and spine disown their avenue, begin
to take in air.

Down the street, the synagogue closes its doors,
Rabbi Kaminker packing blue prayer books

into a blue duffel bag.  My grandparents can no longer
buy him lunch, but they still remember the pink

of his wrists.

He holds his son to the radiator vent.  Mrs. Papier
upstairs singing a Polish opera.  In the morning,

he writes my family name on a piece of yellow paper.
He forgets to prepare breakfast,

writing and writing.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

February 28: Oscar Night, Snow Storm, Classic Saint Marty

It is the night of the Oscars.  Traditionally, it snows in the Upper Peninsula on Oscar day.  I'm not talking about a dusting.  On my way home one Oscar night, I got stuck in a snowbank at the bottom of a hill.  Tonight, the snow is falling.  Winter weather advisories are in effect until tomorrow night.  Inches of white stuff predicted.

But, it is Oscar night.  The snacks are bought.  The ballots are filled out.  The Red Carpet pre-show is on the television.  The countdown has begun.  I will probably be up until past midnight.  I will be up around 5 a.m. tomorrow morning to shovel out my driveway after the city plows come down my street.  I will be VERY tired tomorrow night.

But, tonight is all gold.  Pulling for The Revenant and Sylvester Stallone.  I wouldn't cry if Kate Winslet wins tonight, either.

Four years ago, it was all about the Michigan presidential primary on this day...

February 28, 2012:  Selfishness in Our Name, Primary, Voting

"There are some upon this earth of yours," returned the Spirit, "who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived.  Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us."

The Spirit speaking here is the Ghost of Christmas Present. He is dressing down Scrooge for his comment about the Ghost depriving poor people of a meal every seventh day. I'm assuming Scrooge is referring to the Sunday closure of businesses or charities or almshouses that provide food and warmth to the less fortunate in Victorian London. I'm sure there's some historical reference I'm missing here, but the intent of Scrooge's observation is clear. The Ghost's response is one of the two times when he gets pissed in the novel. (The other time comes at the end when he reveals the specters of Ignorance and Want from under his robe.)

Today is primary day in the state of Michigan. Republicans and Democrats and Tea Party members and Green Party members all head to the polls to decide who should be running for President of the United States.  Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have been all over the state, from Detroit to Marquette.  In addition, their political ads have been eating up the airwaves, as well.  I, for one, am going to be glad when this day is over and the candidates move on to the next battleground.

I have never made a secret of the fact that I'm generally not fond of Republican politicians.  One of my biggest beefs with Republicans is the fact that they seem to view themselves as the only political party for good, Christian people.  Republicans call themselves Christians, but they spend most of their political energies taking away programs that benefit the poor and under-privileged:  universal health care, welfare, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment, Head Start programs.  If it doesn't help out people in the higher tax-brackets, Republicans aren't interested in it.

What the Spirit says in the above passage really resonated with me this morning.  Most Republicans, I think, give Christians a bad name.  They lay their decisions at the feet of Jesus, and, as a result, more poor people go without health care.  More poor kids get sub-standard educations.  In the meantime, Republicans go back to their six-bedroom homes and six-figure incomes, feeling like they've done their Christian duty by protecting the wealthy.

Ebenezer Romney and Ebenezer  Santorum
The Ghost of Christmas Present instructs Scrooge to put the blame for society's ills where it belongs.  I believe in that.  Mitt Romney is against the auto industry bail-out, until he meets an auto worker from Detroit on the campaign trail.  Rick Santorum is against President Obama's health care program, until he meets a single mother of five with no health insurance on the campaign trail.  All politicians (Republicans and Democrats, alike) need to take responsibility for their choices and deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness. 

Jesus and the Spirit of Christmas have no part in hungry or sick children, in men or women living on the cold streets.  That's all the Scrooges of the world.

Saint Marty won't be voting for any Scrooge, especially a Republican one.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

February 27: Silver Eels, Ennui, Amy Uyematsu, "Zumba Gold at 9 AM"

The sentence in Teale is simple:  "On cool autumn nights, eels hurrying to the sea sometimes crawl for a mile or more across dewy meadows to reach streams that will carry them to salt water."  These are adult eels, silver eels, and this descent that slid down my mind is the fall from a long spring ascent the eels made years ago.  As one-inch elvers they wriggled and heaved their way from the salt sea up the coastal rivers of America and Europe, upstream always unto "the quiet upper reaches of rivers and brooks, in lakes and ponds--sometimes as high as 8,000 feet above sea level."  There they had lived without breeding "for at least eight years."  In the late summer of the year they reached maturity, they stopped eating, and their dark color vanished.  They turned silver; now they are heading to the sea.  Down streams to rivers, down rivers to the sea, south in the North Atlantic where they meet and pass billions of northbound elvers, they are returning to the Sargasso Sea, where, in floating sargassum weed in the deepest waters of the Atlantic, they will mate, release their eggs, and die.  This, the whole story of eels at which I have only just hinted, is extravagant in the extreme, and food for another kind of thought, a thought about the meaning of such wild, incomprehensible gestures.  But it was feeling with which I was concerned under the walnut tree by the side of the Lucas cottage and dam.  My mind was on that meadow.

It's a weird sight to contemplate:  silvery white eels wriggling/slithering across land toward the gurgle and rush of stream and river, which will carry them to the roar and crash of sea and ocean.  It's not a migration I would care to witness. I am not a fan of serpents, and there's nothing Biblical behind it.  I just find the idea of eels invading land a little . . . well, creepy.  Intriguing, but creepy.

The world is full of these kinds of sargassum sights.  Creatures that have adapted to survive.  Animals of the sea becoming animals of the land.  Animals of the land taking to the water or air.  Flying squirrels.  Flying fish.  Deep-sea mammals.  My life is fairly sheltered.  I don't witness too many of these wonders.  I have seen albino deer in a blizzard.  I even saw an albino skunk once.  But wonder is something that makes me a little nervous.

Last night, I wrote about a person whose life has sort of spun out of control in unimaginable ways.  That's what happens, I guess.  Just when you have it all figured out, when life is comfortable/predictable, something happens.  Forest fire.  Heart attack.  Car accident.  Shark frenzy.  Whatever.  Suddenly, you're an eel crawling through a meadow toward the sound and smell of salt water.

It's almost fifty degrees outside right now.  The snow piles are quickly dwindling, and the streets are turning to soup.  It feels like everything is shifting from snow to mud.  Tomorrow, there will be snow again.  This whole week has felt like that to me--changeable, unstable.  I don't know why.

It may have to do with spring break at the university, which just began.  Or the fact that I have to take a four-week online class, starting tomorrow.  Or my ennui with work, in general.  There's this blossom of disquiet in my heart.  I want something, but I don't know what it is.

There is no easy way to end this post.  No piece of wisdom to reveal.  There's just a silver eel slithering through the mud, under a silver moon, toward the promise of a wider, happier Sargasso Sea.

Saint Marty has a poem for you this evening.  A poem that makes that blossom in his heart a little smaller, easier to prune.

Zumba Gold at 9 AM

by:  Amy Uyematsu (published in Rattle magazine)

We are a throng of older women--yes, we are silver- and white-haired, or in my case, color-enhanced reddish brown, some with new knees and hips, others sporting flashy neon wristbands to tally how many steps, all of us ready to rumble in our rubber-soled shoes.  Our teacher Yvonne used to weigh 300 pounds.  Now she zumbas and runs, sports a modified Mohawk, sparkly bracelets stacked from wrist to forearm, and pink, lime, or lavender tank tops and sweats.  Her constant command:  "Smile!  This is spose to be fun!"  And it is, though a few in the crowd just don't get the steps, their faces so labored and lost.  Most of us, though, are having the best time we've had in decades, feel like we did in our teens, maybe better since we don't care anymore if we look uncool--heck, no pressure anymore from ogling adolescents or lascivious men.  Now nothing matters more than the way this Latin music pulls us in--our bodies set loose to congas and timbales.  We learn salsa, very New York City smooth, while Dominican merengue is frenzied and almost too fast to keep on beat.  We all like the song where we gyrate our hips, follow Yvonne in an unhurried blend of hula and belly dance, then raise arms and hands to shoo away something toward the sky, all of us joining the chorus, "amor--amor,, amor, amor"--not sure if we're sending love out to the universe or saying goodbye to a lover, our voices rising as one.  But my favorite, as always, is the cha, cha, which we got from Cuba.  I didn't know this in the '60s, when I cha cha cha'd to Chicano and Motown discs, doing it Eastside style with a swivel and dip.  Cha cha feels like I'm coming home, so easy and free, just a zumba-crazed grandma with bad knees--that's me.

Friday, February 26, 2016

February 26: A Poem, Al Ortolani, "Paper Birds Don't Fly"

I didn't choose a Poet of the Week this week.  I had computer issues Monday and Tuesday, and, by Wednesday, it was too late.  Any poet that I chose would have gotten only four days of poems.

Tonight, however, I want to give you a poem from the current issue of Rattle magazine.  I received my copy a week or so ago, and I really fell in love with the poem below.

Saint Marty promises a new Poet of the Week will be crowned next Monday.

Until then . . .

Paper Birds Don't Fly

by:  Al Ortolani

Last night I had a dream
that my father, six years
dead now, left me a message
folded into some kind of origami bird.
There was a girl in the dream,
maybe a younger sister, maybe
a little dead girl sent as a messenger.
I don't know how these things worked.
Sitting at the table with the paper birds,
she unfolded mine and began to read.
I couldn't make out a word
she was saying.
I woke in frustration, trying to will
myself back into sleep
into the dream of my father
where I was sure he'd tried
to cross over
like he had so many times
when he was living.

February 26: Bobwhite, RW, Unhappiness, Gas Stove

Earlier a bobwhite had cried from the orchardside cliff, now here, now there, and his round notes swelled sorrowfully over the meadow.  A bobwhite who is still calling in summer is lorn; he has never found a mate.  When I first read this piece of information, every bobwhite call I heard sounded tinged with desperation, suicidally miserable . . .

Like Dillard, I never knew this little tidbit about bobwhites.  Summer mornings, when I heard bobwhites whistling in the sunlight, I always thought they were hungry or happy.  I translated each "bob-white!" into something like "free worm!" or "bright light!"  I never really thought they were singing "razor!" or "gas stove!"  Yet, there it is.  The sound of misery in the natural world.

I've been thinking a lot about sorrow tonight.  You see, I have a person very close to me who is absolutely the most miserable person I know.  Let's call her RW.  RW never smiles or laughs, and, when she sees other people enjoying themselves, she gets angry.  RW wants everyone to be as unhappy as she is.

This evening, I had a disagreement with RW.  My son was having a small temper tantrum, and, instead of letting me handle the situation, RW had to hover and stare and inject her venom into the proceedings.  The result was a shouting match between RW and myself.  And the thing that pissed me off the most:  RW, in the midst of the hollering and swearing, actually looked like she was enjoying herself.

A part of me feels bad for RW.  I know she's sad and angry and unstable.  But there's another part of me that just wants to run her over with my car.  She has a way of bringing out the worst in me.  I'm usually fairly easygoing.  I don't lose my temper very often.  I prefer calm and reason.  That pretty much goes down the toilet when I'm around RW.  Five minutes in her presence and I'm Charles Manson.

I have to remind myself constantly that there's a whole lot of sorrow behind RW's actions.  She lost a lot this past year (including a close family member).  She's pissed at God for that.  She has panic attacks at work.  At home, she mopes and mumbles and bitches.  All the time.  It's like being around a bobwhite in summer--a looped recording of "bob-white!" that plays incessantly.  Lorn and desperate.

I am trying not to hate RW right now, and I am failing miserably.  I love her, but I just can't stand being around her.  Funny thing is, I don't thing RW likes being around RW very much, either.  She simply won't or can't let herself be happy.

There is no happily ever after to this post.  After our little dispute earlier this evening, there weren't any apologies exchanged.  We simply ignored each other.  And now I'm at home, blogging about bobwhites and misery.

Saint Marty will probably wake up hearing bobwhites calling in the snow tomorrow morning:  bob-white!--kiss my ass!--bob-white!--you suck!--bob-white!--fuck you!--bob-white, bob-white!

I needed a good laugh . . .

Thursday, February 25, 2016

February 25: Guns of August, Matt Gavin Frank, "The Mad Feast," Artichoke Dip

Sounds fell all about me; I vibrated like still water ruffed by wind.  Cicadas--which Donald E. Carr calls "the guns of August"--were out in full force.  Their stridulations mounted over the meadow and echoed from the rim of cliffs, filling the air with a plaintive, mysterious urgency.  I had heard them begin at twilight, and was struck with the way they actually do "start up," like an out-of-practice orchestra, creaking and grinding and all out of synch.  It had sounded like someone playing a cello with a wide-toothed comb.  The frogs added their unlocatable notes, which always seem to me to be so arbitrary and anarchistic, and crickets piped in, calling their own tune which they have been calling since the time of Pliny, who noted bluntly of the cricket, it "never ceaseth all night long to creak very shrill."

Noise.  White and otherwise.  Cacophony.  Stridulations.  Piping.  Creaking and grinding.  Dillard writes about all the sounds of nature.  Cicadas and frogs and crickets.  Noise is constant, even in the quietest of places.  Dillard is lying in a sleeping bag in the woods, staring up through trees at the stars, and she's listening to this tiny symphony

This evening, the members of my book club convened at my house.  The book:  The Mad Feast.  The author:  Matthew Gavin Frank.  It's a challenging book that avoids labels.  It's not a cookbook, even though it contains recipes.  It's not a travel book, even though it spans all 50 of the United States.  Matt calls it an "artifact," which makes it sound like a loom from colonial Boston. 

Matt is a friend of mine, a colleague from the university, and he graciously joined us for our little soiree.  The discussion ranged far and wide.  We talked about the book.  And our favorite meal (rack of lamb with mint jelly for me).  Our least favorite food (liver--Matt says he's going to make me like liver somehow).  We discussed the poet John Ashberry and pigeons.  Sea urchin and beaver tail. 

All this may strike you as a bit discordant, like a roomful of violins playing different tunes at the same time.  It wasn't.  Like Dillard zipped up in her sleeping bag, listening to the chatter of insect and amphibian, our book club conversation somehow made sense in the context of Matt's book.  We verbally wrestled, and the night (seasoned with artichoke dip and lasagna) sounded beautiful.

For the record, I love The Mad Feast, in all its weirdness.  It's a book that stretches me as a reader and person.  Sure it can be frustrating (or "annoying" as one of the book club members said), but it's that quality that makes it irresistible.  For me, it really is like a song that you have to learn to love (something by Tom Waits or Neil Young--singers with confounding voices that stretch the definition of music).

So, it was a good gathering with good food and good noise (lots of conversation and laughter and stories).

Saint Marty is full tonight.  He had a mad feast with his friends.

Everyone's a critic . . .

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

February 24: Flash Flood, God's Thumbprint, Disappointing News

Later I lay half out of my sleeping bag on a narrow shelf of flat ground between the cottage porch and the bank to the dam.  I lay where a flash flood would reach me, but we have had a flood; the time is late.  The night was clear; when the fretwork of overhead foliage rustled and parted, I could see the pagan stars.

Dillard is camping out under the stars, doing what Dillard does:  listening to the drill of cicadas and crickets, thinking about eels slithering overland from ponds and creeks to rivers, contemplating the universe in all its wondrous and terrifying strangeness.  Above all, she sees God's thumbprint on everything, I think, from a mosquito sucking blood from a copperhead's head to a thunderstorm crashing through a mountain pass.

I'm not sure what I want to say about God's thumbprint tonight.  I'm not even sure why that particular passage from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek called to me just now.  Wednesdays are the longest days of the week for me.  I start at the medical office at 7 a.m. and end my day at the university around 9:30 p.m.  At the moment, I can barely keep my eyes open, so I'm not really looking for divine dermal ridges on anything.

Got some disappointing news this afternoon.  Had to do with my job in the medical office.  I don't want to go into detail, but let's just say that I am feeling a little stuck right now.  Stuck and exhausted and a little sorry for myself.  So, pretty much nothing has changed; today's news just reinforced already existing knowledge.

Now, where is God's thumbprint in all this stuckage?  I'm not sure, but I am also sporting a fairly jaded view of the world this evening.  I'm sure there's a reason for disappointment in God's plan.  There's the old saying that God never closes a door without opening a window. 

Saint Marty is looking for his window.

Speaking of a dead end job . . .

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

February 23: Apology, Broken Computer, Bad Puns

Last night, I had every intention of writing a blog post.  However, my computer made that impossible.  The power cord to my computer was not providing power.  Wires were exposed, and I had to go to the Help Desk at the university this afternoon to get a new cord.  Now, I am charging my battery and posting.

So, my apologies for being absent last night.  I will be back to my normal blogging routine tomorrow, after I'm done teaching.

Until then, Saint Marty is powerless.  Get it?  Power-less.  (Bad puns happen when you're tired.)

Sunday, February 21, 2016

February 21: Oscar Ballot, Online Teaching, Classic Saint Marty

I spent a good portion of the afternoon doing two things.  First, I put together the Oscar Ballots for my family's annual Oscar competition (including a rules sheet and a crossword puzzle based on famous movie quotes).  My sister who passed away last August was usually in charge of this task, so this chore made me a little sad. 

Second, I had to complete an online tutorial for being an online student.  You see, I have been assigned an online class to teach this summer, and, in order to be allowed to teach this course, I have to take a four-week online workshop in teaching online.  Yes, I know.  I feel like have ventured into sublimely ridiculous territory.  However, if I want to earn this money and be a little more financially stable this coming June, July, and August, I must submit to this online tutorial on being an online student in an online workshop on teaching a class online.  I hope that's clear.

Tonight, I will probably do a lot of grading.  Papers.  Quizzes.  Responses.  In a week, spring break begins.  A week of debauchery and drunkenness and naked beer pong.  At least, that's my plan.  I don't know what my students will be doing.  Unfortunately, I will be laboring away in my online workshop during those days.

I found out several years ago that I no longer enjoy taking classes.  After twenty-plus years as a professor, I have difficulty relinquishing control of the classroom (whether in real-time or virtually).  I am hoping that it does not eat up all of my time.  I'm hoping for something simple, like "upload a syllabus" and "design a quiz" and "post lecture notes."  That's what I need to practice.  Don't really want to discuss the philosophy of online instruction with anybody.  My philosophy is pretty simple:  show me how to do it so I can get paid.

Today's episode of Classic Saint Marty first aired three years ago, when my life was perfect.

February 22, 2013:  Most Terrific Liar, Gym, Fact from Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saint Marty's life is perfect.

Everybody tells the truth...sometimes

Saturday, February 20, 2016

February 20: Adam's Curse, Thistles and Thorns, Quincy Troupe, "Stillness," Confessions of Saint Marty

The thistle is part of Adam's curse.  "Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee."  A terrible curse:  But does the goldfinch eat thorny sorrow with the thistle, or do I?  If this furling air is fallen, then the fall was happy indeed.  If this creekside garden is sorrow, then I seek martyrdom.  This crown of thorns sits light on my skull, like wings.  The Venetian Baroque painter Tiepolo painted Christ as a red-lipped infant clutching a goldfinch; the goldfinch seems to be looking around in search of thorns.  Creation itself was the fall, a burst into the thorny beauty of the real.

Annie Dillard's little reflection on Creation and the fall is so typical of the poet/writer.  In the thorns and sorrow of the world, she sees beauty.  In fact, she seeks out the thistles, wears them like a crown.  She walks the cursed ground, seeing in everything, I think, reflections of God's goodness.  Dillard relishes the martyrdom of the fall.

That's pretty heady stuff for a Saturday morning, but I kind of find comfort in these thoughts.  I've spent most of my life listening to sermons and homilies about the fallen world, original sin, penance, and redemption.  I'm sure Dillard has, too.  The difference is that Dillard finds much to celebrate in the difficulties of the world, because it is through adversity that evolution/transformation happens.  After a forest fire, Nature rolls up its sleeves and gets to work.  Through ash and smolder, green appears.  Then gold and purple and red.  Destruction can be a prelude to creation.

I think I focus too much on the destruction.  It's an easy trap to fall into.  Sort of like the days following the 9-11 attacks, when all the television stations replayed the images:  the planes striking the Towers; the Towers collapsing; people stumbling out of the clouds of white dust.  Destruction for weeks, months.  It's comfortable to focus on sorrow, dwell in that place of pain.

It's harder to be the goldfinch, looking for thistles and thistledown.  Fluttering golden wings through the thorns.  In the last few weeks, I've found myself focused on the absences in my life.  Being unhappy because I don't have the perfect job or perfect home or perfect life.  I don't recommend this practice.  It leads to sleepless night and exhausting days, filled with anger and unhappiness. 

Today, I'm going to try to break this thorny cycle.  Say "thank You" to God when I feel challenged instead of "why me?".  I'm going to celebrate the ashes of Lent because I know Easter morning is coming.  I have to believe that.  That's what being a Christian is all about.

In the stillness of the storm, Saint Marty finds hope.


by:  Quincy Troupe

underneath a midnight sky, fresh snow rests still & white
as a summer cloud formation, stretching there, soft as a bed
of just-picked cotton, beneath tailfire of a streaking jet

& soon the wind will stir up again the murmuring dead voices
lying there, beneath that blanket of chilled glittering crystals
reminding of light refracting jewels covering the earth's hard floor

the tongue-lashing speech of god's sawblading breath is quiet now
so soon, again, after the cold shattering cacophony of language
an avalanche brings, the sound deafening in its power

& louder than the scream of god inside the voice of a shattering
tornado, louder than roaring screams sudsing in the curling finger
at the top of a swelling epiphany, above the wall of water

howling in a tidal wave, drowning everything within the blink
of an instant, the frenzy suddenly leveling off flat as quick as it came
& now lies there a dark still pool mirroring as in a dead duck's eye

wide open there, as if it were a midnight sky holding a full moon
above a whispering chilled landscape sculptured by hands of winter
the snow swept up into heaps & shapes by god's tongue there

reminds of sleeping polar bears huddled together when seen
from above:  scattered around still lifes, the wind picking up snow
swirling it like confetti--voices as if torn away from history.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Febraury 19: Small Pleasuures, Pencil Erasers, Quincy Troupe, "Simple Joys"

I have had a good evening, full of small pleasures.

I had a cheesy macaroni soup for dinner.  One of my favorite Lenten Friday repasts.  Then, I spent the next few hours writing a cover letter and resume for one of my best friends.  It was actually quite fun--the challenge of creating a persuasive letter.  That goes back to my days as an instructor of technical writing.  In the midst of all this, I gave my son a bath and ate some really good chocolate.  As I said, small pleasures.

I think that my time in my son's classroom this morning sort of helped me reevaluate my life a little bit today.  I was surrounded by these kids who were absolutely ecstatic over the fact that they had new pencil erasers and pencils.

Saint Marty bought a new pencil case tonight.  That made him very happy.

And this makes Quincy Troupe happy...

Simple Joys

by:  Quincy Troupe

my young son, porter, watching snowflakes
whoops, in ecstasy, as they collect, like lint
on the font windshield of my car, his growing
hands try to snag them through the tinted glass
as they hit & melt, like dead faces time erases
in a flash, though he misses & leaves only his
handprints on the tinted glass, there, his sudden
simple joy of discovering, suddenly, switching
like the attention span of television
his eyes now locked onto spinning, car wheels
churning in surprise, his imagination scotchtaping
itself to everything, tripping over everything, turning
snowflakes into flowers, brown brushstrokes stroking
the windshield become the tail of our cat, tchikaya
window bars, baseball bats in the eyes of his dazzling
invention, wonder residing there, like magic
everyday the curtain going up on his transforming
pure eyes that see metaphors everywhere
& it gives me sweet joy in this age of cynicism
 to watch & be with him, tripping through discovery--
his simple joys the envy of my caged wisdom

Ice cream . . . another small pleasure

February 19: Crossing the Dam, Facing Fears, Second Grade Poetry, Cool Dad

I like crossing the dam.  If I fell, I might not get up again.  The dam is three or four feet high, a thick green algae, combed by the drag and sudden plunge of the creek's current, clings to its submersed, concrete brim.  Below is a jumble of fast water and rocks.  But I face this threat every time I cross the dam, and it is always exhilarating.  The tightest part is at the very beginning.  That day as always I faced the current, planted my feet firmly, stepped sideways instead of striding, and I soon emerged dripping in a new world.

Annie Dillard writes about crossing a dam.  It's a little treacherous.  Slippery, surrounded by fast-moving water and sharp rocks.  To slip would mean serious bodily injury, not to mention the possibility of being swept away toward God-knows-what.  A waterfall?  Even faster rapids?  Yet, Dillard takes the risk.  Why?  The payoff--a new world, different and green.

I like this passage.  It's all about facing fears, surmounting obstacles.  And it's about the reward--emerging new or renewed.  Stronger than before.  This morning, I faced an obstacle.  I volunteered to teach poetry to my son's second grade class.  Now, I've done this before, for many elementary school grades, kindergarten up to fifth and sixth.  However, I found myself anxious today.  Sitting in my car, before I went into the school building, I had a few moments of panic as thoughts of failure ran through my mind at an alarming rate:  What if they hate me?  What if they don't understand the lesson?  What if my fly is open?  What if I fart in front of them?

Of course, I got of the car and went into the school.  I was greeted by my son's teacher, whom I've known for close to ten years--since my daughter had her in kindergarten.  She's a lovely woman, always supportive and enthusiastic.  And the class went really well.  The kids laughed at my jokes, wrote some good poems, and sang to me before I left.

And I emerged on the other side of the dam, into a new world where my seven-year-old son thought I was the coolest dad in the world.  It felt pretty darn good.  I've been living off that feeling all day long.

You see, when I found out that I was going to be the father of a boy, I was worried.  I am not your typical baseball-throwing, deer-hunting dad.  I knew I wasn't going to be able to give my son the typical father-son experience, and that worry has haunted me ever since he was born.

Today, I think that I proved to myself that I am not an embarrassment to my son.  He loves the fact that I write poetry and sing songs.  He kept running up and hugging me in front of his whole class.  When I left, he lifted his head and gave me a kiss.

Saint Marty is a cool dad.

Friday, February 19, 2016

February 18: Grasshoppers, Divine Plan, Winter Weather

I had stepped into the meadow to feel the heat and catch a glimpse of the sky, but these grasshoppers demanded my attention, and became an event in themselves.  Every step I took detonated the grass.  A blast of bodies like shrapnel exploded around me; the air burst and whirred.  There were grasshoppers of all sizes, grasshoppers yellow, green, and black, short-horned, long-horned, slant-faced, bad-winged, spur-throated, cone-headed, pygmy, spotted, striped and barred.  They sprang in salvos, dropped in the air, and clung unevenly to stems and blades with their legs spread for balance, as redwings ride cattail reeds.  They clattered around my ears, they ricocheted off my calves with an instant clutch and release of tiny legs.

Dillard is constantly surprised by the natural world, whether the reflection of clouds in Tinker Creek, praying mantis cocoons, or hoards of invading grasshoppers.  In Dillard's mind, there is something sacred in the very messiness of these phenomenon.  She does not see the universe as a victim of chaotic happenstance.  There is an order (even if we, in our limited human way,) cannot see it.

Tomorrow morning, I am supposed to teach poetry to my son's second grade class.  Tonight, winter has returned to the Upper Peninsula in the form of freezing rain and snow.  Winter weather advisories are in force until early Friday.  My daughter just danced through our living room, announcing that she could hear rain slapping the kitchen window.  She is hoping that the rain will beget ice will beget snow will beget ice will beget a school cancellation.

I, on the other hand, am not thrilled with the notion of a school cancellation.  For the entire week, I have been preparing my poetry lesson.  I have my visuals done.  I have my handouts copied.  All week long, I have been showing up to work early, working late, in order to have enough time off for this classroom visit.  And now, there may not be school tomorrow.  Messiness.  Chaos.

If I were Dillard, I suppose I would be looking for some kind of divine plan in all this.  Perhaps I am being spared some kind of tragedy.  Or, maybe, I needed the extra sleep.  I am too tired to contemplate God's mind right now.  If there is school tomorrow, I will show up and teach my son and his classmates about poetry.  If there is no school tomorrow, I will go back to bed.

For the record, Saint Marty does believe in a divine plan.  Also for the record, he hates grasshoppers.

A completely unrelated cartoon . . .

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

February 16: Cheshire Cat's Grin, Principle of Indeterminacy, Quincy Trouple, "The Other Night"

But in 1927 Werner Heisenberg pulled out the rug, and our whole understanding of the universe toppled and collapsed. For some reason it has not yet trickled down to the man on the street that some physicists now are a bunch of wild-eyed, raving mystics.  For they have perfected their instruments and methods just enough to whisk away the crucial veil, and what stands revealed is the Cheshire cat's grin.

Of course, what Dillard is writing about is the Principle of Indeterminacy, which basically says that it is impossible to know an atomic particle's velocity and position.  It's all about the unpredictability of nature.  Dillard goes on to describe an electron as a muskrat, a creature that cannot be tracked with any accuracy.  The universe is a constant surprise.

Recently, I think my life has been an experiment of indeterminacy.  Nothing I think should or will happen comes to pass.  I think that my sister will survive her cancer diagnosis, and she dies of lymphoma of the brain.  I think that it's not going to snow, and I wake up to five inches of fresh powder in the morning.  I think that Donald Trump will be the punchline of the entire presidential election, and he wins the New Hampshire primary.  Unpredictability.

As many of you already know, I am not a big fan of surprises.  I read the endings of books first.  I read spoilers for movies.  If I could, I would live in a world of complete and utter determinacy.  That's right.  When I wake up in the morning, I want to know what I'm having for dinner.  When I go to bed tonight, I want to know when I'm going to bed tomorrow night.  I embrace sameness.  Predictability.

Now, you probably know what I'm going to do at this point in my post.  That's right--I'm going to provide a poem by the Poet of the Week.  Quincy Troupe.  Troupe is not predictable.  In fact, his poems constantly surprise me, and that's a good thing.

Saint Marty can live with poetic surprise.  As long as he knows about it beforehand.

The Other Night

by:  Quincy Troupe

the other brandy
sweetened night we was
kissin so hard & good
you sucked my tongue
right on out
my tremblin mouth
& eye had to
sew it back in
in order to tell
you about it

 Nothing predictable about Pi . . .

Monday, February 15, 2016

February 15: Blindfolded, Grammy Awards, Quincy Troupe, "Eighth Avenue Poem"

In the eighteenth century, when educated European tourists visited the Alps, they deliberately blindfolded their eyes to shield themselves from the evidence of the earth's horrid irregularity.  It is hard to say if this was not merely affectation, for today, newborn infants, who have not yet been taught our ideas of beauty, repeatedly show in tests that they prefer complex to simple designs . . . 

It's a question of beauty.  Is beauty in simplicity or complexity?  Certainly, it's easy to find beauty in, say, a glass of water.  There's less to take in, consider.  A mere eight ounces of liquid and light.  But nobody in his or her right mind would argue that a glass of water is more beautiful than the Pacific Ocean.  Like a newborn infant, we would all choose complexity (Pacific Ocean) over simplicity (a glass of water).

I have been sitting in my living room, watching the Grammy Awards.  There have been some really great moments (Adele, tributes to Glen Frey and Lionel Richie).  Moments that touched beauty.  Then there have been other moments that simply made me feel old (performances by Kendrick Lamar, Justin Bieber and Skrillex).  I didn't find a whole lot of beauty in the latter.  Art, however, does not need to always be pleasing,  It can be challenging, upsetting.  It can make me feel like a Pope Benedict at a gay wedding.  There may have been beauty in the Biebster's act.  I just didn't see it.

But, that's the way with all art--music, paintings, poetry.  The song doesn't always have to be "Ave Maria."  The portrait doesn't always have to be a Norman Rockwell.  And the sonnet doesn't always have to be by William Shakespeare.  Sometimes there's a Kendrick Lamar or Jackson Pollock or Gertrude Stein.  Art that pushes the limits of beauty.

Quincy Troupe is Poet of the Week.  Troupe isn't always beautiful in what he writes.  He can challenge and confound.  But he isn't Justin Bieber.

Saint Marty is not a Belieber.

Eighth Avenue Poem

by:  Quincy Troupe

on eighth avenue
between 116th and
121st streets
some of the junkies
have feet so bad
they could step
on a dime
and tell you
whether it's
heads or tails

She must have seen Justin Bieber on the Grammy Awards, too . . .

Sunday, February 14, 2016

February 14: Valentine's Day, Joy and Sorrow, Classic Saint Marty

Happy Valentine's Day to all my disciples.

My wife and I didn't see each other too much today.  She worked until 6:30 p.m.  I was on kid duty, stomping out fires, refereeing disputes, keeping everyone alive.  I missed my wife a great deal.

If you're one of my two constant readers, you are already aware of my feelings for my wife.  You are also aware that our marriage has not always been roses and chocolates.  We've had more than our share of struggles.  We still do.  That's what marriage is all about.  Loving in times of joy and sorrow.

So, on this Valentine's Day night, I want to let my wife know how much I love her for everything she does, every day.  She has bipolar.  She has an addiction.  She takes tons of medications, goes to support meetings and therapy appointments.  Even when she's exhausted, sick of pills and phone calls and doctors.  She gets our kids to school, to dance lessons, to religion class.  Makes lunches.  Goes to basketball games.  Plans birthday parties.  She does it all.  Every day.  For love.

And that's why I love her.

From two years ago . . .

February 14, 2014:  St. Valentine's Day, Give My Life, Valentine Fairy Tale

It's a snowy St. Valentine's Day in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  I started hearing the snowplows roar past my house at about 5 a.m.  When the plows are out that early, it means a lot of snow has fallen.

On this cold winter day, I want to take the few moments I have your attention to tell you about the love of my life.

My wife and I will be celebrating our nineteenth anniversary this year.  We were together five years before we got married.  If you do the math, that's 24 years of togetherness.  That's a long time.

I'm not going to candy coat this Valentine's Day post.  My wife and I have had our share of problems.  We have endured struggles with mental illness, sexual addictions, separation.  I was a single father for nearly a year of our marriage.  It hasn't always been easy.

Yet, our love is intact.  A little bruised, but intact.  Even when we were living apart, we still cared about each other through all the darkness.  I have stood by my love through these 24 years, even when everyone else was turning away, giving up.

At the end of Charlotte's Web, Wilbur reflects on his friendship with Charlotte:

"Well," said Wilbur.  "I'm no good at making speeches.  I haven't got your gift for words.  But you have saved me, Charlotte, and I would gladly give my life for you--I really would."

Charlotte has saved her friend's life, and Wilbur pledges his undying love for her.  Charlotte tells him, "...By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle..."

That's what I think my devotion to my wife has done for me.  It's lifted up my life a trifle.  I am a better person for being her husband.

Once upon a time, there lived a saint in a snowy kingdom.  This saint had the good fortune to be married to the love of his life.

And he lived happily ever after.

Moral of the story:  Saint Marty is the luckiest guy alive.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

February 13: Pizzazz, God's Thumbprint, Quincy Troupe, "Untitled 3," Confessions of Saint Marty

Of all known forms of life, only about ten percent are still living today.  All other forms--fantastic plants, ordinary plants, living animals with unimaginably various wings, tails, teeth, brains--are utterly and forever gone.  That is a great many forms that have been created.  Multiplying ten times the number of living forms today yields a profusion that is quite beyond what I consider thinkable.  Why so many forms?  Why not just that one hydrogen atom?  The creator goes off on one wild, specific tangent after another, of millions simultaneously, with an exuberance that would seem to be unwarranted, and with an abandoned energy sprung from an unfathomable font.  What is going on here?  The point of the dragonfly's terrible lip, the giant water bug, birdsong, or the beautiful dazzle and flash of sunlighted minnows, is not that it all fits together like clockwork--for it doesn't, particularly, not even inside the goldfish bowl--but that it all flows so freely wild, like the creek, that it all surges in such a free, fringed tangle.  Freedom is the world's water and weather, the world's nourishment freely given, its soil and sap:  and the creator loves pizzazz.

Dillard is thrilled by the wonder of creation, the intricacies of atom, molecule, chloroplast, caterpillar, and cumulus.  She doesn't see the universe as some organized and planned-out event, a divine wedding or birthday party.  No, the universe is a riot of evolutionary leaps, evidence of a Creator in love with creation.  There's God, sitting in front of His canvas, laying on the paint like van Gogh.  Thick swathes and dimples of ocher and umber and canary.

God has been busy all week in the Upper Peninsula.  Looking out the window right now, I see huge swoops and scoops of white, like some frozen seascape.  It's beautiful and humbling at the same time.  Winter storms have a way of reminding me how small and insignificant my contribution to creation is.  This post, for instance, is not going to cure cancer or stop global warming (which exists, despite Republican statements to the contrary).  Perhaps my greatest part in God's chaotic scheme is my kids.  I have taken part in life-creation.  That's God's thumbprint on my life.

I'm watching my son playing in this frozen landscape right now.  He's climbing to the top of a mountain of snow, carrying great white boulders.  He stands there for a moment, and then he tosses them into the air, watches them tumble and roll to the ground.  In some way, I think my son gets God a lot better than I do.  When I see snow, I think of shoveling and muscle ache.  When he sees snow, he thinks of sculpture and play, climbing and falling.  Wonder and awe.

Tonight is all about ballet for me.  Watching my daughter practice and perform.  Another one of my contributions to the universe.  Music and movement and youth and beauty.  And I had a small part in it.  Setting aside her teenage tantrums and stomping, she also gets God a lot better than me, although she is developing a more adult sense of complacency daily.  It's harder and harder to make her joyful.

So, here's Saint Marty's advice to anyone reading this post:  stop and look.  Recognize the work of the Mad Scientist in charge of the universe.  See the beauty and wonder.  My son and daughter do this.  So does Annie Dillard.  And the poet Quincy Troupe.

Untitled 3

by:  Quincy Troupe

birds ski down the day's inscrutable smile
wheeling, banking their diaphanous
sawblading voices, their sword-like sleek feathers
cutting through the day's upper reaches of silence
their convoluted language cacophonous
& raucous, as a lynch mob
in old georgia, the rope-rasping burning of their syllables
hangin their twisting meanings around us & these blooming
dark hours stormy with chaos april brings--
spring leaping suddenly upon us
like a black panther clawing or breath
but is filled with so rare & mysterious
a beauty, it thrills us to death

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, February 12, 2016

February 12: A Make-up Post, Dash Off, Quincy Troupe, "Impression 12"

I owe you all a post.

I don't have much time.  In a few minutes, I must leave my office at the university to pick up my daughter from ballet practice.  Night has fallen.  It's almost 7 p.m.  The snow is still blowing, and the temperatures are still dropping.  In this big cavern of a building on the university campus, I am the lone professor in the English Department.  All the others have gone home to grade papers or ignore papers.

Tonight, I have a beautiful little poem for you guys and gals from the first Poet Laureate of the State of California.

Saint Marty needs to dash off now.

Impression 12

by:  Quincy Troupe

buck dance antlers frozen
in the still air
like fingers gripping death
by the side of the crooked road
a young deer dropped down
in its tracks
assumes a praying position
a bullet hole in the middle
of its shocked

February 12: Goat Moth, Ballet Recital, Jack London Novel

I have often noticed that these things, which obsess me, neither bother nor impress other people even slightly.  I am horribly apt to approach some innocent at a gathering and, like the ancient mariner, fix him with a wild, glitt'ring eye and say, "Do you know that in the head of the caterpillar of the ordinary goat moth there are two hundred twenty-eight separate muscles?"  The poor wretch flees.  I am not making chatter; I mean to change his life.  I seem to possess an organ that others lack, a sort of trivia machine.

After reading the entirety of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, I can absolutely imagine encountering Annie Dillard at a party.  She'd probably hover in the kitchen or backyard, since that is where most people at such gatherings tend to congregate.  Quiet but wild-eyed, she'd scope out the crowd until she noticed some person who somehow resonated for her.   Perhaps a lonely outsider who is standing uncomfortably apart from the group.  Or maybe a window-watcher, staring through the panes at the falling dusk.  Dillard moves in and begins talking about her latest obsession.  Gravity.  Caterpillar muscles.  Dead frogs.

When I sit down to type these posts every night, I often picture myself like Dillard at a party.  I start casting around for what's on my mind, and I start typing.  Sometimes it's God or loneliness.  Sometimes it's a snowstorm or cold pizza.  Sometimes it's poetry.  I can almost imagine my disciples raising their Google-ish eyebrows at me, reaching for the mouse to click to their next stop on the Internet bus stop.  Fleeing.

So, what's on my mind tonight, you may ask.  Well, as it turns out, not a whole hell of a lot.  I am sitting in my office at the university, waiting yet again for my daughter to finish up her ballet practice.  She has a ballet recital tomorrow night--Alice in Wonderland.  She is playing the Red Queen.  You know, the one who goes around wanting to decapitate every flamingo and Cheshire Cat she encounters.  The comic relief.

Because of this impending performance, my daughter's friend who's a boy is staying at our house for the weekend.  His parents dropped him off last night.  He slept on the couch and has been dutifully attentive to my daughter all day, according to my wife.  Tonight or tomorrow morning, he's going to help me shovel my driveway (he doesn't know this plan yet--but he will agree to it).

Currently, parts of the Upper Peninsula are being pounded by yet another lake effect snowstorm.  All day long the temperatures have been falling (they're supposed to reach about 22 below zero tonight), and the winds have been hitting 45 miles per hour.  That means, out of the last five days, four of them have been pages from a Jack London novel.

I am not complaining tonight, however.  It is Friday.  I don't have to get up at 4:30 a.m. to get to work on time.  Two glorious days of relative freedom, aside from the ballet rehearsals and performance, the grading and lesson planning, and the house cleaning.  Other than those things, the weekend is a blank page.

That's what's on Saint Marty's mind this evening.  Ballet.  Snowstorms.  Jack London.  By the way, did you know that in the head of the caterpillar of the ordinary goat moth there are two hundred and twenty-eight separate muscles?

Speaking of strange parties . . .

Thursday, February 11, 2016

February 11: You Are God, Lake Effect Snow Warning, God's Name

You are God.  You want to make a forest, something to hold the soil, lock up solar energy, and give off oxygen.  Wouldn't it be simpler just to rough in a slab of chemicals, a green acre of goo?

Dillard indulges in a common fantasy:  you are God.  Deity Dillard imagines making a forest to do all the things that forests do--soil retention, oxygen and solar energy generation.  It's not what a lot of people would do with divine powers.  There's winning lottery tickets and mansions.  Trips to Hawaii and Nobel Prizes in Literature.  Oh, yeah, there's also things like world peace and ending world hunger.

Tonight, if I were God, I would do one simple thing:  make sure it doesn't snow tonight.  No lake effect snow.  No arctic winds.  No snow plows blowing by my house at four o'clock in the morning.  Nope.  I'd use my divine breath to blow in warm air.

It's a simple dream.  This morning, I had to clear a mountain of heavy snow from my driveway.  It was cold and dark.  I could hear the snowplows screaming up and down neighboring streets.  For the 45 minutes I was shoveling, I invoked God's name.  Several times.  And I wasn't praying.

There's a lake effect snow warning in effect from 1 a.m. on Friday to 4 a.m. on Saturday.  Below-zero wind chills.  Zero visibility.  For me, it means another date with a shovel  tomorrow morning.  It is not going to be a good day.

Well, I need to get to bed.  If you were tuning in for a poem, I apologize.  I do have a Poet of the Week selected.  However, I am too tired for poetry.

Saint Marty is cold and tired and not God.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Febraury 10: An Apology

Please accept my apologies for being absent last night.  I was shoveling out from a huge snowstorm and also planning my lessons for today's classes.

Tomorrow, I will be rested and ready to post something of substance.

Tonight, Saint Marty is dead tired.

Too tired to laugh . . .

Monday, February 8, 2016

February 8: Duck Pond, Dance Competitions, Snow and Dead Frogs

All this comes to mind at the duck pond, because the duck pond is rapidly turning into a landfill of its own, a landfill paved in frogs. There are a million frogs here, bullfrogs hopping all over each other on tangled mats of algae.  And the pond is filling up.  Small ponds don't live very long, especially in the South.  Decaying matter piles up on the bottom, depleting oxygen, and the shore plants march to the middle.  In another couple of centuries, if no one interferes, the duck pond will be a hickory forest.

It's not a very beautiful picture Dillard paints.  A pond being eaten by the bodies of frogs.  Bullfrogs.  Piling up like snow during a blizzard.  The water dies, depleted of oxygen, and vegetation takes over.  Imagine the stink.  It's a story of decimation and reclamation.  Death and rebirth.  Rebirth and death.

I have had a bad day.  In the coming two months, my daughter has two dance competitions, one in March and one in April.  I will not be able to go to these competitions with my family as in years past.  I can't get the time off from work.  That means, for the first time since my daughter has been dancing, I will not be there to see her dance.

This morning, I shoveled my driveway.  Tonight, I shoveled my driveway again.  The snow will pile up again overnight, and I will have to shovel again tomorrow.  The frogs pile up, and the pond dies.  No matter how hard I work, how much I love my wife and daughter and son, I will be alone during those dance competition weekends in March and April.  There are things I simply cannot change.  Like snow in winter.  Dead frogs in a duck pond.

If you can't tell, my mood is a little fatalistic at the moment.  My life has not turned out as I planned.  I try to be a good person, hard worker, loving husband and father.  I treat everyone I meet with kindness, never act in anger.  I'm not perfect.  Far from it.  But I am not an asshole or abuser or Republican.  Yet, disappointment follows me around like a stray cat.

That's all I have to say.  The snow is falling already.  I will have to get up early tomorrow to shovel.  Probably have to shovel tomorrow night again.  Because that's life.  Or that's my life, anyway.

Saint Marty is tired of dead frogs.

I laugh because it's true

Sunday, February 7, 2016

February 7: Super Bowl Sunday, Simpler Life, Teenage Anger, Classic Saint Marty

Another weekend draws to a close.  Super Bowl Sunday (although I do not plan to watch the game or eat chicken wings--I may watch the half-time show because of Coldplay and Beyonce).

It always amazes me how slow the week seems, Monday crawling toward Friday.  Yet, come Friday night, I barely take a breath and it's Sunday night.  I have been working all day.  Lesson planning, grading, and whatnot.  This morning, my daughter climbed onto a bus at 7:15 to go on a class trip to see the musical Newsies.  It was a rough send-off, accompanied by much teenage anger and indignation, and, despite numerous texts, my daughter has maintained radio silence.  I am the enemy today, I guess.

Life used to be much simpler.  Work, simpler.  Teaching, simpler.  I used to enjoy my weeks, even if they were a little long.  My daughter, while not a perfect child, was, for the most part, very good-natured.  Sweet and affectionate.  My son, also not perfect, got up smiling and went to bed with little fuss.  At work, I was surrounded by friends who cared about my life, knew my struggles.  And, at the university, the English Department was run with kindness and compassion.

Now, looking back, I realize how good things were for me.  I was really blessed for a very long time.  Things have changed.  I have friends at work, but not friends who seem like family.  My daughter, still not perfect, is less frequently good-natured.  My son, also still not perfect, drags himself out of bed in the morning and fights bedtime.  The English Department has become more . . . corporate.  Kindness and compassion are, at times, in short supply during my weekdays. 

Looking back two years, I am reminded of the importance of small things (tiny kindnesses) by this episode of Classic Saint Marty.

February 7, 2014:  Most Important Part, Small Things, Small Fairy Tale

"Good-bye!" she whispered.  Then she summoned all her strength and waved one of her front legs at him.

She never moved again.  Next day, as the Ferris wheel was being taken apart and the race horses were being loaded into vans and the entertainers were packing up their belongings and driving away in their trailers, Charlotte died.  The Fair Grounds were soon forlorn.  The infield was littered with bottles and trash.  Nobody, of the hundreds of people that had visited the Fair, knew that a grey spider had played the most important part of all.  No one was with her when she died.

I remember reading these two paragraphs when I was about seven and being absolutely devastated.  I think it was one of my first experiences with death.  I mourned Charlotte for a couple of days.  I thought it was a huge injustice that she wasn't able to return to the barn with Wilbur, share his victory with the rest of the animals.  Plus, she dies by herself.  I still think it's one of the saddest passages ever put in a novel, even if it is about a spider.

Of course, being older, I know that spiders have very short life spans.  Charlotte couldn't return to the barn and live to see the hatching of her children.  It goes against nature.  E. B. White does something quite remarkable in this book.  He makes the reader love a spider, and then he lets her quietly die.  Of course, the spider saves her best friend first, sacrifices her last moments for him.  A small act of salvation.

I think it really is the small things we do in life that are really important.  Shoveling for an elderly neighbor after a snowstorm.  Bringing a sick friend a casserole.  Helping a child zip up his jacket.  Tiny acts of kindness that accumulate, like sand on a beach.  They aren't miracles on the scale of multiplying loaves and fishes or curing a person of leprosy. But they are miracles that restore faith in the human state.

People are pretty self-centered most of the time.  We don't think of the McDonald's worker who makes minimum wage and has three kids to support.  We ignore the man with chronic asthma and no health insurance.  We see newspaper stories about house fires and simply thank God it wasn't our house or our family.  We don't go out of our way to help out our neighbors, like Charlotte helps Wilbur.  I think that's one of the reasons the world is in the shape it's in.  Not enough spiders to write words in their webs.

Once upon a time, there lived an old man at the edge of a village.  He was the meanest old man in the entire kingdom.  He shot arrows at children who ventured into his yard.  He poisoned neighbors' dogs for crapping on his property.  He never bought any cookies from the local troop of Girl Scouts.  This old man's name was Gregorich.

One morning, Gregorich woke up and saw a spiderweb in the corner of his bedroom.  Woven into the web were two words:  "Be Kind."

Gregorich got out of bed, stunned.  He picked up a broom and swept away the web.  He sprayed insecticide all through his house.

Gregorich lived until the age of 103, and he never bought a Girl Scout cookie his entire life.  He died alone.  Unwept.  Unloved.

When the villagers came into his house to empty it out, they saw a spiderweb in the corner of his bedroom.  In the web were two words:  "Suck It."

Moral of the story:  spiders hold grudges.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

It's mean, but it's funny

Saturday, February 6, 2016

February 6: Grace Moments, Catie Rosemurgy, "Billy's Vision of Grace"

Everybody experiences grace.  Grace is a moment when the world suddenly seems good, or open to some kind of goodness.  I know, when I experience grace, it feels as if I'm opening up.  I'm a room with a door that's been locked for a couple of decades, and suddenly that door swings open and sunlight enters, along with wind, fresh air.

I really treasure those grace moments, because they give me hope.  Make me believe in God.  Christians experience grace.  Muslims experience grace.  Buddhists experience grace.  Atheists experience grace.  They all just call it something different.  Goodness.  Enlightenment.  Luck.  Whatever.

Saint Marty has a little poem about grace for you.

Billy's Vision of Grace

by:  Catie Rosemurgy

She lands next to me.  She hides in my heart
and pecks.  She's a sudden bird, my own
small, ruffled piece of nowhere.  She can't stay.
Her heartbeat forbids it.  She leaves me behind,
as blue as a robin's egg in the grass
She's the color of sand by day, the color
of the bottom of a well at night.
She's the color of everything at night.
She's a charming shape, and so the moon tries
to use her as a stencil.  She's what it wants
more and more of.  She emerges and emerges.
She's born and born.  Not very many things,
maybe only a bird at night, can keep
flying and still seem completely empty.

I like accordion music . . .

February 6: Sweet Dreams, Tyrannosaurus Poem, Lenten Promise, Confessions of Saint Marty

Finally I saw some very small children playing with a striped orange kitten, and overheard their mysterious conversation, which has since been ringing in my brain like a gong.  The kitten ran into a garden, and the girl called after it, "Sweet Dreams!  Sweet Dreams!  Where are you?"  And the boy said to her crossly, "Don't call Sweet Dreams 'you'!"

Annie Dillard describes the conversation she overhears between the little boy and girl as "mysterious."  There is something profound in the little boy's admonition, "Don't call Sweet Dreams you!"  Sweet Dreams is Sweet Dreams, not "it" or "he" or "she" or "you."  Certainly, the little girl did not mean to demean the little kitten in any way, but the little boy (perhaps because he's been called "you" in not so kind terms, as in "You better clean your damn room!" or "You are a pain in the ass!") attaches something negative, even threatening, to his friend's words.

Kids are a mystery, in what they say, the way they view the world.  My son can play outside for hours by himself.  When he returns, he's full of stories about fishing and aliens and zombies.  Last Sunday, when he came inside, he held out his hand to me.  I extended my palm to him.  He dropped a dollar bill into my hand.  "I found it," he said.  My daughter, when she was five, did the same thing, except she dropped a dead bird into my outstretched hand.

I've always believed that kids are born poets, seeing things that adults simply overlook or ignore.  There's a natural wonder in young people that, over time, is lost or forgotten.  Adult wants and needs and worries overtake things like zombies and aliens and dead birds.  Sweet Dreams isn't a kitten for an adult; it's a phrase you say to a child heading off to bed--as in, "Good night!  Sweet dreams!"

Every time I sit down to write a poem, I feel like I'm chasing my younger self, trying to recapture a wonder-filled way of looking at the universe.  When I was a kid, I had no problem in believing that I was going to be Charles Dickens or Sherlock Holmes.  It wasn't a huge leap of faith.  Now, I have difficulty believing in anything beyond the confines of my limited life and work.  I read stories of people who discover the bones of a tyrannosaurus in their backyard or an original Picasso in their attic, and the stories seem like fairy tales.  I have no room for wonder or mystery in my day-to-day existence.

Of course, I experience moments of inspiration.  In church.  In the classroom sometimes.  When I'm listening to certain music.  I feel my heart lifting, cracking open a little bit, letting escape a little bit of the child I used to be.  Lent starts this Wednesday, and I have been casting around for something I can do for those 47 days that will lend meaning to the Easter season.

In the past, I have done things like writing a poem a day (pure insanity) to praying for people who've hurt me (headache inducing, but rewarding).  I don't want to commit to anything that is doomed to failure (writing a novel or memoir in 47 days).  Maybe another poetic exercise of a smaller scale.  Something that tries to recapture that sense of child-like wonder and awe.  On every Sunday in Lent, I will write a poem about something strange, weird even.  Something that makes me feel like a kid again.  A tyrannosaurus poem.  A Picasso poem.

That is Saint Marty's Lenten promise.  Amen.

Confessions of Saint Marty