Wednesday, January 31, 2018

January 31: Flouts at God, Computer Issues, State of the Week

"Shipmates, this book, containing only four chapters- four yarns- is one of the smallest strands in the mighty cable of the Scriptures. Yet what depths of the soul Jonah's deep sealine sound! What a pregnant lesson to us is this prophet! What a noble thing is that canticle in the fish's belly! How billow-like and boisterously grand! We feel the floods surging over us, we sound with him to the kelpy bottom of the waters; sea-weed and all the slime of the sea is about us! But what is this lesson that the book of Jonah teaches? Shipmates, it is a two-stranded lesson; a lesson to us all as sinful men, and a lesson to me as a pilot of the living God. As sinful men, it is a lesson to us all, because it is a story of the sin, hard-heartedness, suddenly awakened fears, the swift punishment, repentance, prayers, and finally the deliverance and joy of Jonah. As with all sinners among men, the sin of this son of Amittai was in his wilful disobedience of the command of God- never mind now what that command was, or how conveyed- which he found a hard command. But all the things that God would have us do are hard for us to do- remember that- and hence, he oftener commands us than endeavors to persuade. And if we obey God, we must disobey ourselves; and it is in this disobeying ourselves, wherein the hardness of obeying God consists.
"With this sin of disobedience in him, Jonah still further flouts at God, by seeking to flee from Him. He thinks that a ship made by men, will carry him into countries where God does not reign but only the Captains of this earth. He skulks about the wharves of Joppa, and seeks a ship that's bound for Tarshish. There lurks, perhaps, a hitherto unheeded meaning here. By all accounts Tarshish could have been no other city than the modern Cadiz. That's the opinion of learned men. And where is Cadiz, shipmates? Cadiz is in Spain; as far by water, from Joppa, as Jonah could possibly have sailed in those ancient days, when the Atlantic was an almost unknown sea. Because Joppa, the modern Jaffa, shipmates, is on the most easterly coast of the Mediterranean, the Syrian; and Tarshish or Cadiz more than two thousand miles to the westward from that, just outside the Straits of Gibraltar. See ye not then, shipmates, that Jonah sought to flee worldwide from God? Miserable man! Oh! most contemptible and worthy of all scorn; with slouched hat and guilty eye, skulking from his God; prowling among the shipping like a vile burglar hastening to cross the seas. So disordered, self-condemning in his look, that had there been policemen in those days, Jonah, on the mere suspicion of something wrong, had been arrested ere he touched a deck. How plainly he's a fugitive! no baggage, not a hat-box, valise, or carpet-bag,- no friends accompany him to the wharf with their adieux. At last, after much dodging search, he finds the Tarshish ship receiving the last items of her cargo; and as he steps on board to see its Captain in the cabin, all the sailors for the moment desist from hoisting in the goods, to mark the stranger's evil eye. Jonah sees this; but in vain he tries to look all ease and confidence; in vain essays his wretched smile. Strong intuitions of the man assure the mariners he can be no innocent. In their gamesome but still serious way, one whispers to the other- "Jack, he's robbed a widow;" or, "Joe, do you mark him; he's a bigamist;" or, "Harry lad, I guess he's the adulterer that broke jail in old Gomorrah, or belike, one of the missing murderers from Sodom." Another runs to read the bill that's stuck against the spile upon the wharf to which the ship is moored, offering five hundred gold coins for the apprehension of a parricide, and containing a description of his person. He reads, and looks from Jonah to the bill; while all his sympathetic shipmates now crowd round Jonah, prepared to lay their hands upon him. Frightened Jonah trembles. and summoning all his boldness to his face, only looks so much the more a coward. He will not confess himself suspected; but that itself is strong suspicion. So he makes the best of it; and when the sailors find him not to be the man that is advertised, they let him pass, and he descends into the cabin.
"'Who's there?' cries the Captain at his busy desk, hurriedly making out his papers for the Customs- 'Who's there?' Oh! how that harmless question mangles Jonah! For the instant he almost turns to flee again. But he rallies. 'I seek a passage in this ship to Tarshish; how soon sail ye, sir?' Thus far the busy Captain had not looked up to Jonah, though the man now stands before him; but no sooner does he hear that hollow voice, than he darts a scrutinizing glance. 'We sail with the next coming tide,' at last he slowly answered, still intently eyeing him. 'No sooner, sir?'- 'Soon enough for any honest man that goes a passenger.' Ha! Jonah, that's another stab. But he swiftly calls away the Captain from that scent. 'I'll sail with ye,'- he says,- 'the passage money how much is that?- I'll pay now.' For it is particularly written, shipmates, as if it were a thing not to be overlooked in this history, 'that he paid the fare thereof' ere the craft did sail. And taken with the context, this is full of meaning.

Yes, Jonah flouts at God.  He doesn't want to do what God has told him to do.  So, he schemes, somehow thinks he can trick God by sailing two thousand miles in the opposite direction of Joppa.  Of course, we all know what happens.  A storm.  Superstitious sailors.  Jonah gets thrown overboard.  Swallowed by a whale.  The rest, as they say, is Old Testament.  You can't mess with God's will.
It seems that God's will for me this past week was not writing blog posts.  I have been struggling with computer issues since Monday night.  And now, after two days, a trip to the help desk at the university, two computer scans, and 34 malwares quarantined, plus some help from my 17-year-old daughter, I am back in blogging business.  Sort of.
I am still encountering glitches that I have to work around.  I'm still sitting on my couch, cursing the heavens mightily.  Thumbing my nose at the Divinity who has allowed my entire week to be an exercise in frustration and anger.  Plus, I'm really tired, having also spent the past five days working on my annual evaluation materials for the university.  It's a document that, for the most part, determines whether or not I will be teaching in the next academic year.  No pressure there.

Let's take a little survey of the State of the Week, then:

  1. frustration
  2. anger
  3. malware
  4. exhaustion
  5. anxiety
Yes, it has been a crappy five or so days.  I'm REALLY looking forward to the weekend, where I don't have anything planned besides a little alcohol consumption.

Saint Marty is thankful for his bed tonight.

Monday, January 29, 2018

January 29: At the Bottom of the Sea, Belly of the Whale, Ritz Crackers

Father Mapple rose, and in a mild voice of unassuming authority ordered the scattered people to condense. "Star board gangway, there! side away to larboard- larboard gangway to starboard! Midships! midships!"

There was a low rumbling of heavy sea-boots among the benches, and a still slighter shuffling of women's shoes, and all was quiet again, and every eye on the preacher.

He paused a little; then kneeling in the pulpit's bows, folded his large brown hands across his chest, uplifted his closed eyes, and offered a prayer so deeply devout that he seemed kneeling and praying at the bottom of the sea.

This ended, in prolonged solemn tones, like the continual tolling of a bell in a ship that is foundering at sea in a fog- in such tones he commenced reading the following hymn; but changing his manner towards the concluding stanzas, burst forth with a pealing exultation and joy-

The ribs and terrors in the whale, Arched over me a dismal gloom, While all God's sun-lit waves rolled by, And lift me deepening down to doom.

I saw the opening maw of hell, With endless pains and sorrows there; Which none but they that feel can tell- Oh, I was plunging to despair.

In black distress, I called my God, When I could scarce believe him mine, He bowed his ear to my complaints- No more the whale did me confine.

With speed he flew to my relief, As on a radiant dolphin borne; Awful, yet bright, as lightning shone The face of my Deliverer God.

My song for ever shall record That terrible, that joyful hour; I give the glory to my God, His all the mercy and the power.

Nearly all joined in singing this hymn, which swelled high above the howling of the storm. A brief pause ensued; the preacher slowly turned over the leaves of the Bible, and at last, folding his hand down upon the proper page, said: "Beloved shipmates, clinch the last verse of the first chapter of Jonah- 'And God had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.'"

It seems as though I have been running a race all day.  Haven't had time to sit and pray, like Father Mapple.  Or raise my voice in any kind of praise.  I have simply been too busy to think about God's mercy or God's wrath.

This may sound a little sacrilegious.  I am sorry about that.  However, I have been busy since the moment my alarm went off this morning, and now I'm preparing for a marathon of teaching.  Two classes.  Five-and-a-half hours.  I won't be getting done until around 9:30 this evening.  I have a feeling that I'm going to be brain dead by that time.

I feel like I'm sort of in the belly of the whale.  Lots of deadlines coming up this week.  Annual evaluation.  Poem.  Writing workshop.  Next week, it's more of the same.  I'm not very centered.  Of course, as I said a couple posts ago, I haven't made much time for prayer and meditation in my daily chaos.

I need to have a come to Jesus moment.  Maybe a few come to Jesus moments.  Soon.

Saint Marty is thankful that there are Ritz crackers in his cupboard at home, and cheese spread in the fridge.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

January 27: An Angel's Face, Prayer Life, Construction/Remodeling

I had not been seated very long ere a man of a certain venerable robustness entered; immediately as the storm-pelted door flew back upon admitting him, a quick regardful eyeing of him by all the congregation, sufficiently attested that this fine old man was the chaplain. Yes, it was the famous Father Mapple, so called by the whalemen, among whom he was a very great favorite. He had been a sailor and a harpooneer in his youth, but for many years past had dedicated his life to the ministry. At the time I now write of, Father Mapple was in the hardy winter of a healthy old age; that sort of old age which seems merging into a second flowering youth, for among all the fissures of his wrinkles, there shone certain mild gleams of a newly developing bloom- the spring verdure peeping forth even beneath February's snow. No one having previously heard his history, could for the first time behold Father Mapple without the utmost interest, because there were certain engrafted clerical peculiarities about him, imputable to that adventurous maritime life he had led. When he entered I observed that he carried no umbrella, and certainly had not come in his carriage, for his tarpaulin hat ran down with melting sleet, and his great pilot cloth jacket seemed almost to drag him to the floor with the weight of the water it had absorbed. However, hat and coat and overshoes were one by one removed, and hung up in a little space in an adjacent corner; when, arrayed in a decent suit, he quietly approached the pulpit.

Like most old fashioned pulpits, it was a very lofty one, and since a regular stairs to such a height would, by its long angle with the floor, seriously contract the already small area of the chapel, the architect, it seemed, had acted upon the hint of Father Mapple, and finished the pulpit without a stairs, substituting a perpendicular side ladder, like those used in mounting a ship from a boat at sea. The wife of a whaling captain had provided the chapel with a handsome pair of red worsted man-ropes for this ladder, which, being itself nicely headed, and stained with a mahogany color, the whole contrivance, considering what manner of chapel it was, seemed by no means in bad taste. Halting for an instant at the foot of the ladder, and with both hands grasping the ornamental knobs of the man-ropes, Father Mapple cast a look upwards, and then with a truly sailor-like but still reverential dexterity, hand over hand, mounted the steps as if ascending the main-top of his vessel.

The perpendicular parts of this side ladder, as is usually the case with swinging ones, were of cloth-covered rope, only the rounds were of wood, so that at every step there was a joint. At my first glimpse of the pulpit, it had not escaped me that however convenient for a ship, these joints in the present instance seemed unnecessary. For I was not prepared to see Father Mapple after gaining the height, slowly turn round, and stooping over the pulpit, deliberately drag up the ladder step by step, till the whole was deposited within, leaving him impregnable in his little Quebec.

I pondered some time without fully comprehending the reason for this. Father Mapple enjoyed such a wide reputation for sincerity and sanctity, that I could not suspect him of courting notoriety by any mere tricks of the stage. No, thought I, there must be some sober reason for this thing; furthermore, it must symbolize something unseen. Can it be, then, that by that act of physical isolation, he signifies his spiritual withdrawal for the time, from all outward worldly ties and connexions? Yes, for replenished with the meat and wine of the word, to the faithful man of God, this pulpit, I see, is a self-containing stronghold- a lofty Ehrenbreitstein, with a perennial well of water within the walls.
But the side ladder was not the only strange feature of the place, borrowed from the chaplain's former sea-farings. Between the marble cenotaphs on either hand of the pulpit, the wall which formed its back was adorned with a large painting representing a gallant ship beating against a terrible storm off a lee coast of black rocks and snowy breakers. But high above the flying scud and dark-rolling clouds, there floated a little isle of sunlight, from which beamed forth an angel's face; and this bright face shed a distant spot of radiance upon the ship's tossed deck, something like that silver plate now inserted into Victory's plank where Nelson fell. "Ah, noble ship," the angel seemed to say, "beat on, beat on, thou noble ship, and bear a hardy helm; for lo! the sun is breaking through; the clouds are rolling off- serenest azure is at hand."

Nor was the pulpit itself without a trace of the same sea-taste that had achieved the ladder and the picture. Its panelled front was in the likeness of a ship's bluff bows, and the Holy Bible rested on a projecting piece of scroll work, fashioned after a ship's fiddle-headed beak.

What could be more full of meaning?- for the pulpit is ever this earth's foremost part; all the rest comes in its rear; the pulpit leads the world. From thence it is the storm of God's quick wrath is first descried, and the bow must bear the earliest brunt. From thence it is the God of breezes fair or foul is first invoked for favorable winds. Yes, the world's a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete; and the pulpit is its prow.

You will forgive me if I focus on one specific image from this little chapter--the angel's face in the isle of sunlight above the storm-tossed ship.  It's a Thomas Kinkade-ish kind of painting.  Bright light in a storm.  Darkness suffused with grace.

It has been a long week, will be a longer weekend.  I have much to accomplish this Saturday and Sunday.  My house, which is in a state of construction, needs to be put in some kind of order for Book Club tomorrow night.  Straightening, sweeping, mopping, and vacuuming.  Then, we also have to empty out our attic by Monday, because the construction/remodeling is switching upstairs.  Then I have writing and school stuff to get done.  Lesson plans.  Quizzes to grade.  Poems to assemble for a radio program.  And, to top it all off, I have to put together my annual evaluation materials for the university.

If you are one of my Constant Readers, you will know that I am sort of like that ship in the storm right now.  Feeling a little tossed about.  Rough seas this weekend and next week.  I try not to panic in times like this, but I don't always succeed in controlling my sense of overwhelmingness.  Yes, I made up that word.  It's the best way to describe what I'm feeling at the moment.

I used to pray a lot.  Had a devotional that I read daily.  A series of prayers that I recited.  My spiritual life was pretty good.  I still go to church every weekend, on Saturday AND Sunday.  Play the pipe organ.  Sing in the choir.  However, a while ago, for some reason, I fell out of the habit of prayer.

When I did pray daily, I felt more centered.  As a Catholic, I grew up saying the rosary daily with my family.  (Actually, I was forced to do that by my parents.)  For those of you unfamiliar with the rosary, it's like meditation.  You say certain prayers, contemplate mysteries, and use "prayer beads" to do this.  It's a practice that's calming, grounding.  It's Catholic yoga.

Basically, when I'm in the middle of a hurricane, I have always found harbor in prayer and meditation.  And I need to get back to that practice.  Especially this weekend and week.

Saint Marty is thankful for grace in the middle of chaos.

January 27: Monster Movies, Dorothea Lasky, "Monsters"

I have always been a freak for monster movies.  Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolfman, Creature from the Black Lagoon.  I used to watch all of them, over and over, as a kid.  I sort of identified with them, like Guillermo del Toro.

I'm hoping to see The Shape of Water tonight--a monster love story.  In the spirit of that film, I have a little poem from Dorothea Lasky about a monster.  A little one.  It's sort of a kids' poem, and it's sort of NOT a kids' poem.  It touches the monster in all of us.

Saint Marty is ready to howl at the moon a little tonight.


by:  Dorothea Lasky

This is a world where there are monsters
There are monsters everywhere, racoons and skunks
There are possums outside, there are monsters in my bed.
There is one monster. He is my little one.
I talk to my little monster.
I give my little monster some bacon but that does not satisfy him.
I tell him, ssh ssh, don’t growl little monster!
And he growls, oh boy does he growl!
And he wants something from me,
He wants my soul.
And finally giving in, I give him my gleaming soul
And as he eats my gleaming soul, I am one with him
And stare out his eyepits and I see nothing but white
And then I see nothing but fog and the white I had seen before was nothing but fog
And there is nothing but fog out the eyes of monsters.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

January 25: Goodwin Sands, Predictability, William Carlos Williams

Oh! ye whose dead lie buried beneath the green grass; who standing among flowers can say- here, here lies my beloved; ye know not the desolation that broods in bosoms like these. What bitter blanks in those black-bordered marbles which cover no ashes! What despair in those immovable inscriptions! What deadly voids and unbidden infidelities in the lines that seem to gnaw upon all Faith, and refuse resurrections to the beings who have placelessly perished without a grave. As well might those tablets stand in the cave of Elephanta as here.

In what census of living creatures, the dead of mankind are included; why it is that a universal proverb says of them, that they tell no tales, though containing more secrets than the Goodwin Sands! how it is that to his name who yesterday departed for the other world, we prefix so significant and infidel a word, and yet do not thus entitle him, if he but embarks for the remotest Indies of this living earth; why the Life Insurance Companies pay death-forfeitures upon immortals; in what eternal, unstirring paralysis, and deadly, hopeless trance, yet lies antique Adam who died sixty round centuries ago; how it is that we still refuse to be comforted for those who we nevertheless maintain are dwelling in unspeakable bliss; why all the living so strive to hush all the dead; wherefore but the rumor of a knocking in a tomb will terrify a whole city. All these things are not without their meanings.

But Faith, like a jackal, feeds among the tombs, and even from these dead doubts she gathers her most vital hope.

It needs scarcely to be told, with what feelings, on the eve of a Nantucket voyage, I regarded those marble tablets, and by the murky light of that darkened, doleful day read the fate of the whalemen who had gone before me. Yes, Ishmael, the same fate may be thine. But somehow I grew merry again. Delightful inducements to embark, fine chance for promotion, it seems- aye, a stove boat will make me an immortal by brevet. Yes, there is death in this business of whaling- a speechlessly quick chaotic bundling of a man into Eternity. But what then? Methinks we have hugely mistaken this matter of Life and Death. Methinks that what they call my shadow here on earth is my true substance. Methinks that in looking at things spiritual, we are too much like oysters observing the sun through the water, and thinking that thick water the thinnest of air. Methinks my body is but the lees of my better being. In fact take my body who will, take it I say, it is not me. And therefore three cheers for Nantucket; and come a stove boat and stove body when they will, for stave my soul, Jove himself cannot.

Goodwin Sands.  Had to look that one up.  It's a sandbank off the coast of Kent, England.  There have been more than 2,000 shipwrecks on Goodwin Sands because it is so close to shipping lanes.  Tides and currents are constantly shifting the shoals, making the area incredibly unpredictable to navigate.  Hence the loss of so many vessels.

For the most part, I live a pretty predictable life.  I have to.  Every morning during the week, I get up at the same time--4:45 a.m.  I'm at work by 6 a.m., and my day is filled with the same tasks.  Patients and medical charts.  Students and classwork.  In the evenings. I am the dance dad chauffeur.  For example, tonight, I'm driving my daughter to her dance studio at 7 p.m.  Her classes get over at 8:45 p.m.  Then, it's home and preparing for the next day.

Some people might find this kind of schedule tedious.  No room for spontaneity.  I sort of like that element of non-surprise.  It allows me to navigate my weeks without ending up a shipwrecked, underwater, on the Goodwin Sands, if you get my analogy.  While I can't completely avoid the unexpected (brake jobs, collapsing ceilings, and the like), I have learned that routine also gives me freedom.

Because of my crazy life, I sometimes struggle to carve out time to write or read or create.  William Carlos Williams is famous for writing tiny poems.  The reason he was so economical in language and image is that he was a busy physician.  Some of his poems were written on the backs of prescription pads between visiting patients.  Williams found the time in his busy life to be a poet.  So do I.

And it's the predictability that helps me to do this.  I know that I will have at least three or four hours every Thursday afternoon/evening where I can fully concentrate on whatever creative project I currently have on my plate.  I also have couple hours on Tuesday and Wednesday night, as well.

Yesterday, I didn't write any blog posts.  I had another writing project that needed my attention.  I knew that I had the time to do that.  In fact, I had blocked it out on my schedule to complete the project.  I got it done and submitted last night at about 11:30.

I think most writers, if they are honest, thrive on predictability.  One of my writer friends religiously sits at his desk from about 7 a.m. to 10 or 11 a.m. every day.  Sometimes, he says, he accomplishes a great deal.  Other times, he gets three or four sentences written.  That is his creative life.  No unpredictable sandbars for him.

So, don't scoff at routine.  Don't laugh at daily lists.  Spontaneity, while exciting every once in a while, can get in the way of serious creative endeavor.

Saint Marty is thankful for the one hour and forty-five minutes he will have to work on his new poem tonight.

January 25: #MeToo, Ursula K. Le Guin, "The Maenads"

Wanted to do this yesterday when I found out about the passing of writer Ursula K. Le Guin.  Groundbreaking artist.  Feminist.  Her book, A Wrinkle in Time, was one of the reasons why I wanted to become a writer.

Later in her life, Le Guin turned more and more to poetry, publishing several collections.  In this past year of #MeToo and the Women's March(es), I sort of feel like all the seeds that Le Guin had planted through the years were coming to bloom.  She really was a woman whose voice simply couldn't be ignored.

So, in her honor, I want to share her poem, "The Maenads."  It's about women in power.  Women who frighten men.  Women who protect.  Women who will not stay in any kind of box created for them.  That's the kind of woman Ursula K. Le Guin was.

Light a candle with Saint Marty for a voice crying out in the wilderness.

The Maenads

by:  Ursula K. Le Guin

Somewhere I read
that when they finally staggered off the mountain
into some strange town, past drunk,
hoarse, half naked, blear-eyed,
blood dried under broken nails
and across young thighs,
but still jeering and joking, still trying
to dance, lurching and yelling, but falling
dead asleep by the market stalls,
sprawled helpless, flat out, then
middle-aged women,
respectable housewives,
would come and stand nightlong in the agora
as ewes and cows in the night fields,
guarding, watching them
as their mothers
watched over them.
And no man
that fierce decorum.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

January 23: Bleed Afresh, Kentucky School Shooting, No Sense

In the same New Bedford there stands a Whaleman's Chapel, and few are the moody fishermen, shortly bound for the Indian Ocean or Pacific, who fail to make a Sunday visit to the spot. I am sure that I did not.

Returning from my first morning stroll, I again sallied out upon this special errand. The sky had changed from clear, sunny cold, to driving sleet and mist. Wrapping myself in my shaggy jacket of the cloth called bearskin, I fought my way against the stubborn storm. Entering, I found a small scattered congregation of sailors, and sailors' wives and widows. A muffled silence reigned, only broken at times by the shrieks of the storm. Each silent worshipper seemed purposely sitting apart from the other, as if each silent grief were insular and incommunicable. The chaplain had not yet arrived; and there these silent islands of men and women sat steadfastly eyeing several marble tablets, with black borders, masoned into the wall on either side the pulpit. Three of them ran something like the following, but I do not pretend to quote:

SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF JOHN TALBOT, Who, at the age of eighteen, was lost overboard Near the Isle of Desolation, off Patagonia, November 1st, 1836. THIS TABLET Is erected to his Memory BY HIS SISTER.

SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF ROBERT LONG, WILLIS ELLERY, NATHAN COLEMAN, WALTER CANNY, SETH MACY, AND SAMUEL GLEIG, Forming one of the boats' crews OF THE SHIP ELIZA Who were towed out of sight by a Whale, On the Off-shore Ground in the PACIFIC, December 31st, 1839. THIS MARBLE Is here placed by their surviving SHIPMATES.

SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF The late CAPTAIN EZEKIEL HARDY, Who in the bows of his boat was killed by a Sperm Whale on the coast of Japan, August 3d, 1833. THIS TABLET Is erected to his Memory BY HIS WIDOW.

Shaking off the sleet from my ice-glazed hat and jacket, I seated myself near the door, and turning sideways was surprised to see Queequeg near me. Affected by the solemnity of the scene, there was a wondering gaze of incredulous curiosity in his countenance. This savage was the only person present who seemed to notice my entrance; because he was the only one who could not read, and, therefore, was not reading those frigid inscriptions on the wall. Whether any of the relatives of the seamen whose names appeared there were now among the congregation, I knew not; but so many are the unrecorded accidents in the fishery, and so plainly did several women present wear the countenance if not the trappings of some unceasing grief, that I feel sure that here before me were assembled those, in whose unhealing hearts the sight of those bleak tablets sympathetically caused the old wounds to bleed afresh.

I find myself a little weary this evening.  Got up at 4:30 this morning to shovel out my car.  It was buried under about a foot-and-a-half of thick, wet snow, thanks to the city snowplows.  It took a good 45 minutes to dig it out.  And then it took another 40 minutes to drive to work.  Three cars in the ditch and one nasty-looking accident later, I was sitting at my desk in the medical office.

Half-way through the day, a coworker told me about the school shooting that happened today in Kentucky.  Two fifteen-year-old students killed.  Seventeen other people injured, including a special needs student.  I haven't been watching or listening to the news today, so I haven't really heard many of the details.

As most of you know, I am not a fan of guns.  I don't follow the logic of "solving" the gun problems in the United States by allowing more people to have guns.  It makes no sense.  And, again, there is going to be the normal dog-and-pony show, with politicians saying things like "Our prayers are with the victims' families" and "We shouldn't bring politics into this tragedy."

Two young lives gone.  In comparison to other recent shootings, that figure is low.  The jaded--or numb--will hardly pay attention to this day.  It isn't a Columbine or a Las Vegas or Virginia Tech.  That's the sad thing.  Nothing is going to change.  In another day or week or month, this is all going to happen again.

Read that passage above.  Ishmael going to the Whaleman's Chapel, being surrounded by memorials to those who've lost their lives at sea, widows and grieving family and friends.  As Melville writes, there is unceasing grief, unhealing wounds.  Reminders that bring about fresh bleeding in broken hearts.

That is what every person in that school in Kentucky today is going to have to endure.  All for the sake of a political ideal that really should have gone the way of the Dodo a very long time ago.  Once again, every person in Washington, D. C., who has voted or lobbied against responsible gun legislation has to answer for this--grieving families, wounded lives, two more headstones.

Saint Marty is tired of writing posts like this.

Monday, January 22, 2018

January 22: Nondescripts from Foreign Parts, Story on the Radio, Melting Pot

If I had been astonished at first catching a glimpse of so outlandish an individual as Queequeg circulating among the polite society of a civilized town, that astonishment soon departed upon taking my first daylight stroll through the streets of New Bedford.

In thoroughfares nigh the docks, any considerable seaport will frequently offer to view the queerest looking nondescripts from foreign parts. Even in Broadway and Chestnut streets, Mediterranean mariners will sometimes jostle the affrighted ladies. Regent Street is not unknown to Lascars and Malays; and at Bombay, in the Apollo Green, live Yankees have often scared the natives. But New Bedford beats all Water Street and Wapping. In these last-mentioned haunts you see only sailors; in New Bedford, actual cannibals stand chatting at street corners; savages outright; many of whom yet carry on their bones unholy flesh. It makes a stranger stare.

But, besides the Feegeeans, Tongatobooarrs, Erromanggoans, Pannangians, and Brighggians, and, besides the wild specimens of the whaling-craft which unheeded reel about the streets, you will see other sights still more curious, certainly more comical. There weekly arrive in this town scores of green Vermonters and New Hampshire men, all athirst for gain and glory in the fishery. They are mostly young, of stalwart frames; fellows who have felled forests, and now seek to drop the axe and snatch the whale-lance. Many are as green as the Green Mountains whence they came. In some things you would think them but a few hours old. Look there! that chap strutting round the corner. He wears a beaver hat and swallow-tailed coat, girdled with a sailor-belt and a sheath-knife. Here comes another with a sou'-wester and a bombazine cloak.

No town-bred dandy will compare with a country-bred one- I mean a downright bumpkin dandy- a fellow that, in the dog-days, will mow his two acres in buckskin gloves for fear of tanning his hands. Now when a country dandy like this takes it into his head to make a distinguished reputation, and joins the great whale-fishery, you should see the comical things he does upon reaching the seaport. In bespeaking his sea-outfit, he orders bell-buttons to his waistcoats; straps to his canvas trowsers. Ah, poor Hay-Seed! how bitterly will burst those straps in the first howling gale, when thou art driven, straps, buttons, and all, down the throat of the tempest.

But think not that this famous town has only harpooneers, cannibals, and bumpkins to show her visitors. Not at all. Still New Bedford is a queer place. Had it not been for us whalemen, that tract of land would this day perhaps have been in as howling condition as the coast of Labrador. As it is, parts of her back country are enough to frighten one, they look so bony. The town itself is perhaps the dearest place to live in, in all New England. It is a land of oil, true enough: but not like Canaan; a land, also, of corn and wine. The streets do not run with milk; nor in the spring-time do they pave them with fresh eggs. Yet, in spite of this, nowhere in all America will you find more patrician-like houses; parks and gardens more opulent, than in New Bedford. Whence came they? how planted upon this once scraggy scoria of a country?

Go and gaze upon the iron emblematical harpoons round yonder lofty mansion, and your question will be answered. Yes; all these brave houses and flowery gardens came from the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. One and all, they were harpooned and dragged up hither from the bottom of the sea. Can Herr Alexander perform a feat like that?

In New Bedford, fathers, they say, give whales for dowers to their daughters, and portion off their nieces with a few porpoises a-piece. You must go to New Bedford to see a brilliant wedding; for, they say, they have reservoirs of oil in every house, and every night recklessly burn their lengths in spermaceti candles.

In summer time, the town is sweet to see; full of fine maples- long avenues of green and gold. And in August, high in air, the beautiful and bountiful horse-chestnuts, candelabra-wise, proffer the passer-by their tapering upright cones of congregated blossoms. So omnipotent is art; which in many a district of New Bedford has superinduced bright terraces of flowers upon the barren refuse rocks thrown aside at creation's final day.

And the women of New Bedford, they bloom like their own red roses. But roses only bloom in summer; whereas the fine carnation of their cheeks is perennial as sunlight in the seventh heavens. Elsewhere match that bloom of theirs, ye cannot, save in Salem, where they tell me the young girls breathe such musk, their sailor sweethearts smell them miles off shore, as though they were drawing nigh the odorous Moluccas instead of the Puritanic sands.

This chapter of Moby-Dick is crowded with aliens.  The streets of New Bedford are bustling with all sorts of nondescripts from foreign parts, presumably arriving on the whaling vessels that harbor there.  The place abounds with Queequegs and Ishmaels.  Yet, there are no ICE agents dragging people off for questioning.  No prisons filled with hardworking immigrants, dreaming the American dream.

On my way home this evening, I heard a story on the radio about a 19-year-old Irish man whose parents legally brought him to the United States when he was twelve.  He grew up here.  Went to school here.  He works for his uncle's roofing company.  Now, he's married and has a child.  Pretty much, he was doing everything right.  If his last name was Trump, he'd be sleeping in the Lincoln bedroom right now.

However, four months ago, this Irish nondescript was arrested by ICE agents.  He's been sitting in jail ever since, with no court hearing.  This week, the United States government is going to put him on an airplane and send him back to Ireland, a place he hasn't even visited in close to a decade, even though he's married to a United States citizen and has an American child.

And this is what we have come to.  Instead of having streets bustling with Feegeeans, Tongatobooarrs, Erromanggoans, Pannangians, and Brighggians, we have become a nation ruled by fear and hate.  Listening to that story on the radio tonight made me so angry that I was literally yelling in my car.  In elementary school, I was taught that the United States was a melting pot, filled with the wretched refuse of the world.  The people in Washington, D. C., seem hell-bent on turning this country into a gallon of homogenized white milk, instead.

We used to be a beacon of hope and freedom for the world.  I remember the first time I saw the Statue of Liberty.  I was flying into New York, and I looked out the airplane window and saw her.  She was huge and took my breath away.  Filled me with pride.

Saint Marty is thankful tongith for all the people who have come to this country for a better life.  They are what make America great.

January 22: Routine, Kwame Dawes, "Coffee Break"

Life is really short.  I am the father of a high school junior.  In a little over a year, I will be the father of a high school graduate.  That astounds me.  I still think of my daughter as the little girl whose hair I would braid every night.

I am sitting in my living room.  It's almost 11 o'clock at night.  There's a winter storm raging outside my front door.  It's supposed to continue all night long.  School has already been called off for my kids.  Pretty soon, I'm going to brush my teeth and go to bed.

That is my life.  A series of routines.  I like the comfort of routine.  It make me feel safe.  However, as Kwame Dawes poem demonstrates in its short lines and simple narrative, life has a way of disrupting things, pulling the blanket off of you.

Saint Marty prays for uninterrupted routine for everyone he loves tomorrow.

Coffee Break

by:  Kwame Dawes

It was Christmastime,
the balloons needed blowing,
and so in the evening
we sat together to blow
balloons and tell jokes,
and the cool air off the hills
made me think of coffee,
so I said, “Coffee would be nice,”
and he said, “Yes, coffee
would be nice,” and smiled
as his thin fingers pulled
the balloons from the plastic bags;
so I went for coffee,
and it takes a few minutes
to make the coffee
and I did not know
if he wanted cow’s milk
or condensed milk,
and when I came out
to ask him, he was gone,
just like that, in the time
it took me to think,
cow’s milk or condensed;
the balloons sat lightly
on his still lap.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

January 21: Coming Storm, Classic Saint Marty, "White Apocalypse"

It is 6 p.m.  The windows that I'm staring at right now are completely black.  No stars or moon.  There is a storm coming tomorrow to the Upper Peninsula.  A pretty big one.  I'm sure kids all across the area are checking weather reports and snow day predictor apps tonight. 

Of course, the real snow isn't supposed to begin until mid-morning.  I predict school for everybody in the a.m.  Tomorrow evening, however, is another matter.  I'm not so sure there will be night classes at the university.  I am prepared to teach, come rain or sleet or tsunami. 

I remember nights like this when I was young, when I would look out the windows every fifteen minutes, listen for the wind moaning through the trees.  There was something truly magical about the prospect of Mother Nature deciding whether there would be school in the morning.  It's the closest a kid can come to playing the lottery--do your homework or put all your money on the weather.

Speaking of storms, there were protest marches all across the United States today,  The second annual Women's March.  It was a blizzard of pink hats.  Days like this give me hope for the future, that change is possible.  Perhaps there will be a pink snow day for the Republicans in Washington, D. C., soon.

A year ago, my daughter was fighting the good fight, too . . .

January 21, 2017:  You Dumb Bastard, Militarism, Bleeding Heart

"Saved your life again, you dumb bastard," Weary said to Billy in the ditch.  He had been saving Billy's life for days, cursing him, kicking him, slapping him, making him move.  It was absolutely necessary that cruelty be used, because Billy wouldn't do anything to save himself.  Billy wanted to quit.  He was cold, hungry, embarrassed, incompetent.  He could scarcely distinguish between sleep and wakefulness now, on the third day, found no important differences, either, between walking and standing still.

He wished everybody would leave him alone.  "You guys go on without me," he said again and again.

Billy Pilgrim isn't stupid.  He's naive, hasn't seen much in the world.  I think a lot of guys who fought in World War II were Billy Pilgrims.  Young and inexperienced.  Barely out of high school.  And they were given guns and sent across the globe to fight enemy Billy Pilgrims.  Most of them young and scared shitless.

I had a talk with my daughter about militarism last night.  She has been debating with her friends from school about the transition from sanity to insanity in Washington, D.C.  She is in the minority among her peers.  She's thoughtful, accepting, compassionate, and rational.  She was telling me how her friends believe that an increase in military spending in the United States will somehow make the world a better place.

I admire war veterans and the sacrifices they have made for the cause of freedom.  Every Veteran's Day and Memorial Day, I attend services with my family because I think it's important to honor those sacrifices.  The Billy Pilgrims deserve our gratitude and respect. My daughter understands this, as well.

I want the world to be safe for Billy and Milly Pilgrims.  I don't want to have innocent young men and women dying because political leaders are trying to make a point.  I don't think my daughter's friends understand this.  I am old enough to remember the last years of the Vietnam War.  I remember the black armbands and casualty reports on the nightly news.  The military recruiters calling my newly graduated brothers, trying to convince them to enlist.

The world is not going to be a safer place if we build bigger and better weapons.  Because then others will build bigger and better weapons.  It's an unending cycle.  Then, suddenly, someone decides to pull the trigger, and triggers start getting pulled all over the world.  And Billy and Milly Pilgrims, our sons and daughters, will die.

So, call me a liberal, bleeding heart bastard.  Call my daughter a liberal, bleeding heart bastard.  I will always err on the side of compassion, common sense, love, and acceptance.

Today, Saint Marty is grateful for the men and women who have fought and died for peace and freedom.

For my daughter's friends . . .

And a little something in honor of the coming storm . . .

White Apocalypse

by:  Martin Achatz

It wasn’t white Christmas.  It was white apocalypse.  The kind of storm where you start shoveling, and, by the time you’re done, you have to start again.  My wife and I owned one shovel and an ice cream bucket.  We shoveled and bucketed all day.  By the time we got to Mitchell Methodist at 11 p.m., we were weary.  The world was a cataract.  Cars.  Fences.  Hedges.  All coated in heavy, white film.

Pastor Bunce joked about the blessing of snow and how we were the most blessed people on Earth this Christmas.  We laughed, lit candles, sang “Silent Night.”  As we left the church at midnight, a friend handed us a loaf of homemade cardamom bread, with icing thick as the polar cap.  We stepped outside.

The sky had cleared.  Moonlight.  Snowlight.  Everywhere.  And a quiet so profound it seemed like we weren’t real.  We’d been erased.  Like Pompeii after Vesuvius.  Hiroshima after the bomb.  Silent, holy annihilation. 

Saturday, January 20, 2018

January 20: Queequeg's Peculiarities, Government Shutdown, Honors Band

I quickly followed suit, and descending into the bar-room accosted the grinning landlord very pleasantly. I cherished no malice towards him, though he had been skylarking with me not a little in the matter of my bedfellow.

However, a good laugh is a mighty good thing, and rather too scarce a good thing; the more's the pity. So, if any one man, in his own proper person, afford stuff for a good joke to anybody, let him not be backward, but let him cheerfully allow himself to spend and to be spent in that way. And the man that has anything bountifully laughable about him, be sure there is more in that man than you perhaps think for.

The bar-room was now full of the boarders who had been dropping in the night previous, and whom I had not as yet had a good look at. They were nearly all whalemen; chief mates, and second mates, and third mates, and sea carpenters, and sea coopers, and sea blacksmiths, and harpooneers, and ship keepers; a brown and brawny company, with bosky beards; an unshorn, shaggy set, all wearing monkey jackets for morning gowns.

You could pretty plainly tell how long each one had been ashore. This young fellow's healthy cheek is like a sun-toasted pear in hue, and would seem to smell almost as musky; he cannot have been three days landed from his Indian voyage. That man next him looks a few shades lighter; you might say a touch of satin wood is in him. In the complexion of a third still lingers a tropic tawn, but slightly bleached withal; he doubtless has tarried whole weeks ashore. But who could show a cheek like Queequeg? which, barred with various tints, seemed like the Andes' western slope, to show forth in one array, contrasting climates, zone by zone.

"Grub, ho!" now cried the landlord, flinging open a door, and in we went to breakfast.
They say that men who have seen the world, thereby become quite at ease in manner, quite self-possessed in company. Not always, though: Ledyard, the great New England traveller, and Mungo Park, the Scotch one; of all men, they possessed the least assurance in the parlor. But perhaps the mere crossing of Siberia in a sledge drawn by dogs as Ledyard did, or the taking a long solitary walk on an empty stomach, in the negro heart of Africa, which was the sum of poor Mungo's performances- this kind of travel, I say, may not be the very best mode of attaining a high social polish. Still, for the most part, that sort of thing is to be had anywhere.

These reflections just here are occasioned by the circumstance that after we were all seated at the table, and I was preparing to hear some good stories about whaling; to my no small surprise nearly every man maintained a profound silence. And not only that, but they looked embarrassed. Yes, here were a set of sea-dogs, many of whom without the slightest bashfulness had boarded great whales on the high seas- entire strangers to them- and duelled them dead without winking; and yet, here they sat at a social breakfast table- all of the same calling, all of kindred tastes- looking round as sheepishly at each other as though they had never been out of sight of some sheepfold among the Green Mountains. A curious sight; these bashful bears, these timid warrior whalemen!

But as for Queequeg- why, Queequeg sat there among them- at the head of the table, too, it so chanced; as cool as an icicle. To be sure I cannot say much for his breeding. His greatest admirer could not have cordially justified his bringing his harpoon into breakfast with him, and using it there without ceremony; reaching over the table with it, to the imminent jeopardy of many heads, and grappling the beefsteaks towards him. But that was certainly very coolly done by him, and every one knows that in most people's estimation, to do anything coolly is to do it genteelly.

We will not speak of all Queequeg's peculiarities here; how he eschewed coffee and hot rolls, and applied his undivided attention to beefsteaks, done rare. Enough, that when breakfast was over he withdrew like the rest into the public room, lighted his tomahawk-pipe, and was sitting there quietly digesting and smoking with his inseparable hat on, when I sallied out for a stroll.

Above is the entire Chapter 5 of Moby-Dick, all about breakfast with the whalers at the Spouter-Inn.  Beefsteaks and coffee and rolls.  Of course, Queequeg, being a "savage," focuses only on the rare beef, thereby furthering the image of him as a cannibal peddling shrunken heads of the street.  Yet, Queequeg is also good-natured and polite, exhibiting none of the stereotypical affectations of a "savage cannibal."

It is going to be a long day of driving for my wife and me.  We are traveling to Wisconsin to see my daughter play in an honors band concert.  She actually requested that we come, although I think her primary reason was to avoid a long ride home on a school bus.  However, being of fragile parental ego, I am going with the belief that my daughter really wants us to be there to see her perform.

Of course, all this comes on the day where the Federal Government of the United States has been forced to shut down, even though both houses of Congress and the White House are occupied by the same political party.  I woke up to that news.  Even though I was expecting it, I found myself shaking my head.

Of course, there's a lot of finger-pointing going on.  Republicans pointing at the Democrats.  Democrats pointing at the Republicans.  Democrats pointing at Donald Trump.  And Donald Trump pointing at everyone BUT himself.  Now, the Constant Reader of this blog knows that my political leanings fall just left of Jesus Christ.  (By the way, Jesus Christ was NO conservative.  He was all about caring for the poor and the sick and the downtrodden.  That is what a true Christian does.)  Therefore, I fall squarely on the side of funding the government IF it does what it is supposed to do--take care of EVERYBODY, not just the wealthy and politically-connected.

Yes, that means that I support helping refugees and the children of undocumented immigrants.  I think that health care workers need to provide the best care for ALL patients, regardless of the health care workers' religious beliefs.  (See my comment above about what a true Christian should believe and do.)  It's really simple, actually.  Let's take care of all the Queequegs in our country.  Let's fund school honors band concerts.  Let's provide the best healthcare for every person in this country, not just those who can afford it.  Let's send young people out into the work world WITHOUT tens of thousands of dollars of student debt.

I thought I lived in a country like this.  Regardless of political affiliation, I thought people, in general, wanted to do what was best for everybody.  I'm not so sure about that now.  Certainly, nothing that's happened in Washington, D. C., has convinced me of the goodwill of Republican politicians.

Tonight, I will sit in an public school auditorium.  I will listen to wonderful public school students play beautiful music.  Then I will drive home, hopefully with a little of my faith in humanity and the future restored.  It's about what connects us, not about what divides us.

Saint Marty gives thanks today for public education and teachers and schools. 

January 20: Hero, Sarah Browning, "The Fifth Fact"

I have been wondering about heroes recently.  In school, they make my son and daughter learn things about men and women who have done great things.  Abraham Lincoln.  Martin Luther King, Jr.  Susan B. Anthony.  Harriet Tubman.  Jesse Owens.  These are all people who stood up to great injustices.  Looked them straight in the eye.  Said, "No."

You don't hear a whole lot about heroes anymore.  Yes, the men and women who are soldiers, fighting against hatred and terrorism, are heroes.  Police officers and firefighters.  School teachers and missionaries.  For the most part, these people are faceless heroes.  They do what they do, not expecting recognition or praise or awards or statues.  They do what they do because it's right.  It helps their community, society, world, universe.

I don't see a whole lot of Abraham Lincolns and Harriet Tubmans out there.  And remember, the heroes of the past, for the most part, were pretty hated and vilified in their lifetimes.  Hunted even.  Assassinated.  There's a reason why John Wilkes Booth went to Ford Theater with a gun.  Why Harriet Tubman risked her own life to run the Underground Railroad.  Why Jesus Christ was executed.  They all challenged the status quo.

Today's poem is all about heroes of the past and present.  It says what I'm trying to say a lot more eloquently.  It's not about people.  It's about action in the face of great opposition.

Saint Marty hopes everybody can hero a little today.

The Fifth Fact

by:  Sarah Browning

For Ben’s project he must research five facts
about his African-American hero and write them
on posterboard. He chooses Harriet Tubman,
whose five facts are: Her father’s name was Ben.
Her mother’s name was Old Rit. She was born
in 1820 and died in 1913. She was born in Maryland
and died in New York. Ben asks for advice
about his fifth fact and I suggest: She led more than
300 people to freedom. Ben sighs the way he does
now and says, Everyone knows that, Mom.

So I try to remember the book we read yesterday,
search for the perfect fact, the one that will match
his four facts and satisfy his almost-seven mind.
Remember, I ask, she was a spy for the North
during the Civil War? It’s a hit! He writes it:
Harriet Tubman was a spy for the north during
the civil war. It was a war between the north
which is where the slaves were trying to get
and the south which is where they were.
Before the war, Abraham Lincoln signed a form
that said All the slaves everywhere are free!
which is one of the reasons they were fighting.

On summer mornings, Lincoln rode his horse
to work down the Seventh Street Turnpike
close to my new home. Down Georgia Avenue
past The Hunger Stopper and Pay Day 2 Go and liquor
stores and liquor stores. Past Cluck-U-Chicken
and Fish in the ’Hood and Top Twins Faze II
Authentic African Cuisine and the newish Metro station
and all those possibilities gleaming in developers’ eyes.

There goes Lincoln’s horse down Georgia Avenue
from the Soldier’s Home to the White House –
much cooler up here in the country, in the neighborhood,
at the hospital. And there’s Walt Whitman, the sworn poet
of every dauntless rebel the world over, hanging around
his street corner every morning to bow to the president
at Thomas Circle by the homeless guys. It’s 100 years now
since any president summered at the Soldier’s Home.
But I was born only 50 years after Harriet Tubman died,
all these centuries we drag into the next century and the next.

And sometimes I see the ghosts of Harriet Tubman
and Lincoln and Uncle Walt and the true stories
and sometimes our own despair like Washington’s
summer malaria, her 40 war hospitals, Whitman moving
from bed to bed, stroking the hair of so many dying boys.

Head north up Georgia Avenue now to our own
soldiers’ home – Walter Reed – where the boys and now
girls too mourn the ghosts of their own legs and arms
and capacity for love. Where is their sworn poet?
I write here in my new neighborhood, the city old
and new around me, Harriet Tubman born so close,
all these heroes under our feet.

Friday, January 19, 2018

January 19: Marshal's Baton, Snow Tubing, Joy and Panic

Now, take away the awful fear, and my sensations at feeling the supernatural hand in mine were very similar, in the strangeness, to those which I experienced on waking up and seeing Queequeg's pagan arm thrown round me. But at length all the past night's events soberly recurred, one by one, in fixed reality, and then I lay only alive to the comical predicament. For though I tried to move his arm- unlock his bridegroom clasp- yet, sleeping as he was, he still hugged me tightly, as though naught but death should part us twain. I now strove to rouse him- "Queequeg!"- but his only answer was a snore. I then rolled over, my neck feeling as if it were in a horse-collar; and suddenly felt a slight scratch. Throwing aside the counterpane, there lay the tomahawk sleeping by the savage's side, as if it were a hatchet-faced baby. A pretty pickle, truly, thought I; abed here in a strange house in the broad day, with a cannibal and a tomahawk! "Queequeg!- in the name of goodness, Queequeg, wake!" At length, by dint of much wriggling, and loud and incessant expostulations upon the unbecomingness of his hugging a fellow male in that matrimonial sort of style, I succeeded in extracting a grunt; and presently, he drew back his arm, shook himself all over like a Newfoundland dog just from the water, and sat up in bed, stiff as a pike-staff, looking at me, and rubbing his eyes as if he did not altogether remember how I came to be there, though a dim consciousness of knowing something about me seemed slowly dawning over him. Meanwhile, I lay quietly eyeing him, having no serious misgivings now, and bent upon narrowly observing so curious a creature. When, at last, his mind seemed made up touching the character of his bedfellow, and he became, as it were, reconciled to the fact; he jumped out upon the floor, and by certain signs and sounds gave me to understand that, if it pleased me, he would dress first and then leave me to dress afterwards, leaving the whole apartment to myself. Thinks I, Queequeg, under the circumstances, this is a very civilized overture; but, the truth is, these savages have an innate sense of delicacy, say what you will; it is marvellous how essentially polite they are. I pay this particular compliment to Queequeg, because he treated me with so much civility and consideration, while I was guilty of great rudeness; staring at him from the bed, and watching all his toilette motions; for the time my curiosity getting the better of my breeding. Nevertheless, a man like Queequeg you don't see every day, he and his ways were well worth unusual regarding.

He commenced dressing at top by donning his beaver hat, a very tall one, by the by, and then- still minus his trowsers- he hunted up his boots. What under the heavens he did it for, I cannot tell, but his next movement was to crush himself- boots in hand, and hat on- under the bed; when, from sundry violent gaspings and strainings, I inferred he was hard at work booting himself; though by no law of propriety that I ever heard of, is any man required to be private when putting on his boots. But Queequeg, do you see, was a creature in the transition stage- neither caterpillar nor butterfly. He was just enough civilized to show off his outlandishness in the strangest possible manners. His education was not yet completed. He was an undergraduate. If he had not been a small degree civilized, he very probably would not have troubled himself with boots at all; but then, if he had not been still a savage, he never would have dreamt of getting under the bed to put them on. At last, he emerged with his hat very much dented and crushed down over his eyes, and began creaking and limping about the room, as if, not being much accustomed to boots, his pair of damp, wrinkled cowhide ones- probably not made to order either- rather pinched and tormented him at the first go off of a bitter cold morning.

Seeing, now, that there were no curtains to the window, and that the street being very narrow, the house opposite commanded a plain view into the room, and observing more and more the indecorous figure that Queequeg made, staving about with little else but his hat and boots on; I begged him as well as I could, to accelerate his toilet somewhat, and particularly to get into his pantaloons as soon as possible. He complied, and then proceeded to wash himself. At that time in the morning any Christian would have washed his face; but Queequeg, to my amazement, contented himself with restricting his ablutions to his chest, arms, and hands. He then donned his waistcoat, and taking up a piece of hard soap on the wash-stand centre table, dipped it into water and commenced lathering his face. I was watching to see where he kept his razor, when lo and behold, he takes the harpoon from the bed corner, slips out the long wooden stock, unsheathes the head, whets it a little on his boot, and striding up to the bit of mirror against the wall, begins a vigorous scraping, or rather harpooning of his cheeks. Thinks I, Queequeg, this is using Rogers's best cutlery with a vengeance. Afterwards I wondered the less at this operation when I came to know of what fine steel the head of a harpoon is made, and how exceedingly sharp the long straight edges are always kept.

The rest of his toilet was soon achieved, and he proudly marched out of the room, wrapped up in his great pilot monkey jacket, and sporting his harpoon like a marshal's baton.

Queequeg's ablutions don't seem that strange to me.  He basically does the same things I do every morning.  I wash, shave, get dressed, put on my shoes.  The fact that Queequeg shaves with a harpoon makes sense.  As Ishmael observes, its steel is "exceedingly sharp," considering it has to puncture the thick hide of a whale.  Again, it's a matter of simply being different.  To Queequeg, I'm sure that Ishmael is just as alien.

A good friend recently commented that she had forgotten how funny Melville's novel is.  The scene of Ishmael trying to escape the marital arm of Queequeg is worthy of Steve Martin and John Candy in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.  Most people think of Moby-Dick as this incredibly dense and serious tome about obsession and death, and it does have all that.  However, layered in its pages is also a lot of comedy.  I had forgotten this fact, as well.

Tonight, I am taking my son snow tubing.  Rather, my wife and I are driving my son to the hill, and we are watching him tube.  I will not lower my ass into a circular piece of inflated rubber and launch myself down a steep slope of snow to a frozen lake.  That, for me, is a thing of nightmares, the ice, as I careen out of control, opening up and swallowing me like a cherry Lifesaver.

Nay, I will stand at the top.  Take pictures.  Trudge down to the lodge at the base of the hill to partake in watery hot chocolate, and then trudge back up the hill to take more pictures.  Tubing is my son's idea of a great night.  My fun comes later, when I shed my clothes, get into my pajamas, and make myself a more adult brand of hot chocolate.

That is my Friday night.  The start of my weekend.  Perhaps I'll meet Queequeg on the slopes.  Or Ishmael.  They'll be sailing down the icy hill on tubes, whooping, finally united in their joy and panic.

After all, underneath, we are all the same. 

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for his crazy, daredevil son.  And alcohol.

January 19: 2018 Women's March, Robert Hayden, "Frederick Douglass"

This Sunday, people are joining together once again for the Women's March.  Last year, after the inauguration of Donald Trump, hundreds of thousands of women took to the streets in a show of protest and solidarity for women's rights and issues.  It happened all over the globe.  Washington, D. C.  Paris.  London.  Helsinki.

Tonight, I share a poem in honor of the 2018 Women's March.  It's a poem of hope and strength, written in the voice of the great African American writer and activist, Frederick Douglass.  It digs deep.  Reminds us of the need for action in the face of injustice.  The struggle isn't over until the dream is made real in our children and our children's children.

Saint Marty believes in this dream.

Frederick Douglass

by:  Robert Hayden

When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful
and terrible thing, needful to man as air,   
usable as earth; when it belongs at last to all,   
when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole, systole,   
reflex action; when it is finally won; when it is more   
than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:   
this man, this Douglass, this former slave, this Negro   
beaten to his knees, exiled, visioning a world   
where none is lonely, none hunted, alien,   
this man, superb in love and logic, this man   
shall be remembered. Oh, not with statues’ rhetoric,   
not with legends and poems and wreaths of bronze alone,
but with the lives grown out of his life, the lives   
fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

January 18: Silent Form or Phantom, Student, Litany of Excuses

DISCLAIMER:  Names and details in this post have been changed to protect privacy.

Upon waking next morning about daylight, I found Queequeg's arm thrown over me in the most loving and affectionate manner. You had almost thought I had been his wife. The counterpane was of patchwork, full of odd little parti-colored squares and triangles; and this arm of his tattooed all over with an interminable Cretan labyrinth of a figure, no two parts of which were of one precise shade- owing I suppose to his keeping his arm at sea unmethodically in sun and shade, his shirt sleeves irregularly rolled up at various times- this same arm of his, I say, looked for all the world like a strip of that same patchwork quilt. Indeed, partly lying on it as the arm did when I first awoke, I could hardly tell it from the quilt, they so blended their hues together; and it was only by the sense of weight and pressure that I could tell that Queequeg was hugging me.

My sensations were strange. Let me try to explain them. When I was a child, I well remember a somewhat similar circumstance that befell me; whether it was a reality or a dream, I never could entirely settle. The circumstance was this. I had been cutting up some caper or other- I think it was trying to crawl up the chimney, as I had seen a little sweep do a few days previous; and my stepmother who, somehow or other, was all the time whipping me, or sending me to bed supperless,- my mother dragged me by the legs out of the chimney and packed me off to bed, though it was only two o'clock in the afternoon of the 21st June, the longest day in year in our hemisphere. I felt dreadfully. But there was no help for it, so up stairs I went to my little room in the third floor, undressed myself as slowly as possible so as to kill time, and with a bitter sigh got between the sheets.

I lay there dismally calculating that sixteen entire hours must elapse before I could hope for a resurrection. Sixteen hours in bed! the small of my back ached to think of it. And it was so light too; the sun shining in at the window, and a great rattling of coaches in the streets, and the sound of gay voices all over the house. I felt worse and worse- at last I got up, dressed, and softly going down in my stockinged feet, sought out my stepmother, and suddenly threw myself at her feet, beseeching her as a particular favor to give me a good slippering for my misbehaviour: anything indeed but condemning me to lie abed such an unendurable length of time. But she was the best and most conscientious of stepmothers, and back I had to go to my room. For several hours I lay there broad awake, feeling a great deal worse than I have ever done since, even from the greatest subsequent misfortunes. At last I must have fallen into a troubled nightmare of a doze; and slowly waking from it- half steeped in dreams- I opened my eyes, and the before sunlit room was now wrapped in outer darkness. Instantly I felt a shock running through all my frame; nothing was to be seen, and nothing was to be heard; but a supernatural hand seemed placed in mine. My arm hung over the counterpane, and the nameless, unimaginable, silent form or phantom, to which the hand belonged, seemed closely seated by my bed-side. For what seemed ages piled on ages, I lay there, frozen with the most awful fears, not daring to drag away my hand; yet ever thinking that if I could but stir it one single inch, the horrid spell would be broken. I knew not how this consciousness at last glided away from me; but waking in the morning, I shudderingly remembered it all, and for days and weeks and months afterwards I lost myself in confounding attempts to explain the mystery. Nay, to this very hour, I often puzzle myself with it.

A dark, funny little passage about Ishmael being punished as a child for being disobedient.  Ishmael remembers a ghostly encounter with a phantom arm in his dark bedroom.  He wakes in the middle of the night and feels something sitting next to him, its arm and hand on his body.  Even as an adult, Ishmael has no explanation for the experience, whether it was a dream or a ghost or a demon.  He doesn't know.

I think that young people experience things more intensely sometimes than adults.  It's part of the process of growing up, experiencing pains and sorrows and joys, learning how to deal with them.  Perhaps Ishmael's ghostly encounter was his mind's way of coming to terms with his bad behavior that resulted in his confinement to bed on the longest day of the year.  The phantom arm is some kind of manifestation of his guilt and anger.  I don't know.

I found out this morning that one of my students from last semester took her life this past weekend.  I remember the student distinctly.  Funny and quiet, she didn't say a whole lot in class.  She was an observer.  About the beginning of November, she stopped attending.  By that time, she'd submitted three papers, and I thought I had gotten to know her pretty well.  I was surprised by her absences.  She seemed, to me, conscientious and hard-working.

Of course, having taught college courses for a long time, I am fairly used to students simply disappearing from classes, never to be seen or heard from again.  I have learned to chalk this behavior up to immaturity.  I had sixty other students.  Didn't have time to track down one student who was missing in action.  I was busy and stressed.

If all the litany of excuses in the previous paragraph seem lame, they are.  I know this.  I have been kicking myself all day for not being a little more proactive.  Not trying to reach out to this young woman to find out what was going on.  I didn't, and I will probably be beating myself up about this fact for the rest of my life.

As I said, I think young people feel things a lot more intensely than mature adults.  Maybe she experienced some kind of romantic heartbreak or the death of someone she loved.  Maybe she suffered from some form of lifelong mental illness.  She could have been overwhelmed by money worries.  Or she could have experienced some kind of physical trauma.  I will never know.

Tonight, however, I feel a dark arm around me, like the young Ishmael.  It's an arm of regret and guilt.  I did nothing to help a person who was in pain.  I didn't recognize any of the signs of distress.  Didn't even send a simple e-mail, asking how she was doing.  I did nothing.

I will be saying a prayer for this young person and her family tonight.  Somehow, that feels too little, too late.

Saint Marty missed the boat on this one, folks.

January 18: Connected, Toi Derricotte, "Black Boys Play the Classics"

I have been reminded in the last couple days how much we are all connected.

Last night, I discovered paintings in my office that were done by a former student who recently died in a house fire.  This morning, I found out that another of my former students recently took her own life.  Both of these people were connected to close friends of mine.

It seems like I'm being haunted by loss in some form right now.  And I am reminded how we are all drawn together by these kinds of human tragedies.  Tonight's poem is about that, as well.  It's about those miracles of connection.  How we all speak the same language, yearn for the same things.  Love.  Respect.  Acceptance.  Compassion.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for this connection.

Black Boys Play the Classics

by:  Toi Derricotte

The most popular “act” in
Penn Station
is the three black kids in ratty
sneakers & T-shirts playing
two violins and a cello—Brahms.
White men in business suits
have already dug into their pockets
as they pass and they toss in
a dollar or two without stopping.
Brown men in work-soiled khakis
stand with their mouths open,
arms crossed on their bellies
as if they themselves have always
wanted to attempt those bars.
One white boy, three, sits
cross-legged in front of his
idols—in ecstasy—
their slick, dark faces,
their thin, wiry arms,
who must begin to look
like angels!
Why does this trembling
pull us?
A: Beneath the surface we are one.
B: Amazing! I did not think that they could speak this tongue.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

January 17: Sober Cannibal, First Day Teaching, Facing Fears

"Landlord, for God's sake, Peter Coffin!" shouted I. "Landlord! Watch! Coffin! Angels! save me!"

"Speak-e! tell-ee me who-ee be, or dam-me, I kill-e!" again growled the cannibal, while his horrid flourishings of the tomahawk scattered the hot tobacco ashes about me till I thought my linen would get on fire. But thank heaven, at that moment the landlord came into the room light in hand, and leaping from the bed I ran up to him.

"Don't be afraid now," said he, grinning again, "Queequeg here wouldn't harm a hair of your head."

"Stop your grinning," shouted I, "and why didn't you tell me that that infernal harpooneer was a cannibal?"

"I thought ye know'd it;- didn't I tell ye, he was a peddlin' heads around town?- but turn flukes again and go to sleep. Queequeg, look here- you sabbee me, I sabbee- you this man sleepe you- you sabbee?"

"Me sabbee plenty"- grunted Queequeg, puffing away at his pipe and sitting up in bed.

"You gettee in," he added, motioning to me with his tomahawk, and throwing the clothes to one side. 

He really did this in not only a civil but a really kind and charitable way. I stood looking at him a moment. For all his tattooings he was on the whole a clean, comely looking cannibal. What's all this fuss I have been making about, thought I to myself- the man's a human being just as I am: he has just as much reason to fear me, as I have to be afraid of him. Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian.

"Landlord," said I, "tell him to stash his tomahawk there, or pipe, or whatever you call it; tell him to stop smoking, in short, and I will turn in with him. But I don't fancy having a man smoking in bed with me. It's dangerous. Besides, I ain't insured."

This being told to Queequeg, he at once complied, and again politely motioned me to get into bed- rolling over to one side as much as to say- I won't touch a leg of ye.

"Good night, landlord," said I, "you may go."

I turned in, and never slept better in my life.

I love Ishmael's comment in this passage:  "Better to sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian."  Of course, there is still a hint of racism involved.  Ishmael assumes, because of Queequeg's appearance (skin coloring and tattoos), that he is a cannibal.  Yet, Melville does something that's pretty remarkable then.  He compares a sober cannibal to a drunken Christian.  The cannibal wins this character contest.

Of course, there's also a lot of comedy in this little passage that ends chapter three of Moby-Dick.  But the comedy is at Ishmael's expense.  Queequeg is not the fool here.  Ishmael--with his prejudices and fears--comes out looking like the village idiot, and he quickly realizes his error in judgement.

Just finished teaching my first class of the semester--Introduction to Film.  It's one of my favorite courses.  Of course, we did all of the normal things--syllabus and introductions and such.  I always think of the first day as a sort of blind date.  The students don't know if they're going to like me, and I don't know what kind of student hand I've been dealt, either.  So, it's all about first impressions.  Sort of like Ishmael and Queequeg.

I think things went alright tonight.  We ended up watching Charlie Chaplin's City Lights for the last 40 minutes.  It's a great film to break the ice.  A little silly.  A little serious.  Slapstick and melodramatic.  By the end of class, the students were laughing and relaxed.  I count that as a success.  I think I came across as half-cannibal, half-drunken Christian.

Now, I have a couple hours to relax in my office until my daughter is done at her dance studio.  Time to decompress, think about the coming days.

A lot of my life is like Ishmael's first encounter with Queequeg.  I'm thrown into situations that give me stress and anxiety (like teaching a roomful of 35 jaded undergraduates), and I usually end up really enjoying myself.  It's a matter of not letting fear rule my choices.

If I had played it safe my whole life, I would be a plumber right now, spending my days cabling sewers and fixing leaky faucets.  There's nothing wrong with the plumbing profession.  It's hard, honest labor.  However, since my father and brothers and sister were all master plumbers, I wouldn't have been taking any chances if I had chosen the same line of work.  (I'd also be a lot more financially stable.)

Instead, I'm sitting in an office in the English Department of a university, having just finished talking about Charlie Chaplin with a bunch of young people barely older than my daughter.  I'm a poet.  This past December, I added radio performer to my list of credits.  My life has pretty much been about stepping out on ledges, looking down, and then leaping.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for his fears and where they have led him.