Wednesday, February 28, 2018

February 28: X Mark, Being Queequeg, Past Life

As we were walking down the end of the wharf towards the ship, Queequeg carrying his harpoon, Captain Peleg in his gruff voice loudly hailed us from his wigwam, saying he had not suspected my friend was a cannibal, and furthermore announcing that he let no cannibals on board that craft, unless they previously produced their papers. "What do you mean by that, Captain Peleg?" said I, now jumping on the bulwarks, and leaving my comrade standing on the wharf.
"I mean," he replied, "he must show his papers."
"Yes," said Captain Bildad in his hollow voice, sticking his head from behind Peleg's, out of the wigwam. "He must show that he's converted. Son of darkness," he added, turning to Queequeg, "art thou at present in communion with any Christian church?"
"Why," said I, "he's a member of the first Congregational Church." Here be it said, that many tattooed savages sailing in Nantucket ships at last come to be converted into the churches.
"First Congregational Church," cried Bildad, "what! that worships in Deacon Deuteronomy Coleman's meeting-house?" and so saying, taking out his spectacles, he rubbed them with his great yellow bandana handkerchief, and putting them on very carefully, came out of the wigwam, and leaning stiffly over the bulwarks, took a good long look at Queequeg.
"How long hath he been a member?" he then said, turning to me; "not very long, I rather guess, young man."
"No," said Peleg, "and he hasn't been baptized right either, or it would have washed some of that devil's blue off his face."
"Do tell, now," cried Bildad, "is this Philistine a regular member of Deacon Deuteronomy's meeting? I never saw him going there, and I pass it every Lord's day."
"I don't know anything about Deacon Deuteronomy or his meeting," said I; "all I know is, that Queequeg here is a born member of the First Congregational Church. He is a deacon himself, Queequeg is."
"Young man," said Bildad sternly, "thou art skylarking with me- explain thyself, thou young Hittite. What church dost thee mean? answer me."
Finding myself thus hard pushed, I replied, "I mean, sir, the same ancient Catholic Church to which you and I, and Captain Peleg there, and Queequeg here, and all of us, and every mother's son and soul of us belong; the great and everlasting First Congregation of this whole worshipping world; we all belong to that; only some of us cherish some crotchets no ways touching the grand belief; in that we all join hands."
"Splice, thou mean'st splice hands," cried Peleg, drawing nearer. "Young man, you'd better ship for a missionary, instead of a fore-mast hand; I never heard a better sermon. Deacon Deuteronomy- why Father Mapple himself couldn't beat it, and he's reckoned something. Come aboard, come aboard: never mind about the papers. I say, tell Quohog there- what's that you call him? tell Quohog to step along. By the great anchor, what a harpoon he's got there! looks like good stuff that; and he handles it about right. I say, Quohog, or whatever your name is, did you ever stand in the head of a whale-boat? did you ever strike a fish?"
Without saying a word, Queequeg, in his wild sort of way, jumped upon the bulwarks, from thence into the bows of one of the whale-boats hanging to the side; and then bracing his left knee, and poising his harpoon, cried out in some such way as this:-
"Cap'ain, you see him small drop tar on water dere? You see him? well, spose him one whale eye, well, den!" and taking sharp aim at it, he darted the iron right over old Bildad's broad brim, clean across the ship's decks, and struck the glistening tar spot out of sight.
"Now," said Queequeg, quietly, hauling in the line, "spos-ee him whale-e eye; why, dad whale dead."
"Quick, Bildad," said Peleg, his partner, who, aghast at the close vicinity of the flying harpoon, had retreated towards the cabin gangway. "Quick, I say, you Bildad, and get the ship's papers. We must have Hedgehog there, I mean Quohog, in one of our boats. Look ye, Quohog, we'll give ye the ninetieth lay, and that's more than ever was given a harpooneer yet out of Nantucket."
So down we went into the cabin, and to my great joy Queequeg was soon enrolled among the same ship's company to which I myself belonged.
When all preliminaries were over and Peleg had got everything ready for signing, he turned to me and said, "I guess, Quohog there don't know how to write, does he? I say, Quohog, blast ye! dost thou sign thy name or make thy mark?
But at this question, Queequeg, who had twice or thrice before taken part in similar ceremonies, looked no ways abashed; but taking the offered pen, copied upon the paper, in the proper place, an exact counterpart of a queer round figure which was tattooed upon his arm; so that through Captain Peleg's obstinate mistake touching his appellative, it stood something like this:-
his X mark.
Melville is indulging in some comedy here again, mostly at the expense of Peleg and Bildad.  The two captains hold Queequeg suspect because of his tattoos and color of his skin.  They must somehow be assured that Queequeg has abandoned his pagan ways and converted to Christianity.  I suppose they want to be confident that they don't hire a cannibal who is going to (one-by-one) consume the other members of the ship's crew.  Of course, the fact that Peleg can't even get Queequeg's name right ("Quohog" is very near to the "quahog," which is, according to, a "large, rounded edible clam of the Atlantic coast of North America").

The biggest joke of the passage is that Queequeg is a very experienced whaler, and the two owners of the Pequod fall all over themselves trying to hire him, even offering him a larger stake in the profits of the voyage.  Christianity goes right out the window when it comes to money.

I suppose it's all about judging a person by appearance.  Queeqeug is dark-skinned with pointed teeth.  He's covered in tattoos from head to foot.  He carries a harpoon wherever he goes and sells shrunken human heads.  Not to mention the little wooden idol that he worships.  All these things mark him as questionable.  In the United States today, Queequeg would have been picked up and deported by the FBI a long time ago.  He wouldn't have lasted one week in Trump America.

I've been thinking about otherness quite a bit today.  I think we all have a little bit of Queequeg in us.  I know I do.  In my family, I pretty much stand out like Dorothy in the Land of Oz.  I teach at a university and write poetry.  I'm very liberal-minded in a family of conservatives.  I think my dad voted for a Democrat for President just once in his life--John F. Kennedy.  I'm a musician and performer.  Directed a few musicals in my years, as well.  Totally comfortable in a crowd of theater geeks and artists.

If there are such things as past lives, I think I could have been Charles Dickens.  I've always been drawn to his writing and life.  I have a 1200-page biography of Dickens on my bookshelf.  Every year or so, I reread it.  I stopped counting how many times I've made my way through its pages.  Well over eight or nine times.  Dickens was an actor and writer.  He had a huge family, but he didn't really "fit in."  Had a complicated relationship with his dad.  Was passionate and driven in everything he did.  He existed on the fringe of normal, but he was well-loved by everyone who knew him.

Charles Dickens was a Queequeg.  Tonight, after I'm done with these blog posts, I have to finalize my plans for a poetry workshop that I'm leading tomorrow night.  After that, I think I may work on a new poem.  Tomorrow afternoon, I'm meeting someone from the university where I teach.  We are planning a poetry reading for the month of April.  Poet Laureate stuff.

It's not so bad being a little Queequeg-ish.  As a matter of fact, it allows me quite a bit of freedom.  I don't have to live up to anyone's expectations.  Instead, I create my own expectations.  Success for other people may be a large bank account.  Vacations twice a year.  A nice car.  Nice house.  Right now, I'd say that my idea of success would be publishing a collection of Bigfoot poems.

Different expectations, yet I will put my X mark on the world.  Just like Queequeg.

Saint Marty is thankful this evening for everything that makes him different.

February 28: Helping My Daughter, Philip Levine, "Among Children"

These last couple nights, I have been helping my daughter construct a resume for her application for the National Honor Society.  It has been a wonderful experience, because we've been together and she listens to my advice and laughs at my jokes.  We have bonded over this mundane task.  The first resume of many she will probably have to write in her lifetime.

It's difficult for me to think about her as a junior in high school.  That, as a friend of mine pointed out a couple days ago, she is not longer my "little girl."  She's a beautiful young woman.  Pretty independent, too.  I count that as a parental success. 

Tonight will probably be the last for this task.  I will also, probably, read the essay she has written about success in life.  It will be full of hope and ambition and excitement.  All the things that accompany youth.  And it will fill me with pride and a little sadness.

Children can't stay children forever, I know.  I just want to arm my daughter with what little wisdom I have gained in my life, so that she can learn from my mistakes.

Saint Marty has made plenty of those.

Among Children

by:  Philip Levine

I walk among the rows of bowed heads--
the children are sleeping through fourth grade
so as to be ready for what is ahead,
the monumental boredom of junior high
and the rush forward tearing their wings
loose and turning their eyes forever inward.
These are the children of Flint, their fathers
work at the spark plug factory or truck
bottled water in 5 gallon sea-blue jugs
to the widows of the suburbs.  You can see
already how their backs have thickened,
how their small hands, soiled by pig iron,
leap and stutter even in dreams.  I would like
to sit down among them and read slowly
from The Book of Job until the windows
pale and the teacher rises out of a milky sea
of industrial scum, her gowns streaming
with light, her foolish words transformed
into song, I would like to arm each one
with a quiver of arrows so that they might
rush like wind there where no battle rages
shouting among the trumpets, Ha! Ha!
How dear the gift of laughter in the face
of the 8 hour day, the cold winter mornings
without coffee and oranges, the long lines
of mothers in old coats waiting silently
where the gates have closed.  Ten years ago
I went among these same children, just born,
in the bright ward of the Sacred Heart and leaned
down to hear their breaths delivered that day,
burning with joy.  There was such wonder
in their sleep, such purpose in their eyes
closed against autumn, in their damp heads
blurred with the hair of ponds, and not one
turned against me or the light, not one
said, I am sick, I am tired, I will go home,
not one complained or drifted alone,
unloved, on the hardest day of their lives.
Eleven years from now they will become
the men and women of Flint or Paradise,
the majors of a minor town, and I
will be gone into smoke and memory,
so I bow to them here and whisper
all I know, all I will never know.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

February 27: Senseless and Insane, Being a Good Person, Action

I wonder, thought I, if this can possibly be a part of his Ramadan; do they fast on their hams that way in his native land. It must be so; yes, it's a part of his creed, I suppose; well, then, let him rest; he'll get up sooner or later, no doubt. It can't last for ever, thank God, and his Ramadan only comes once a year; and I don't believe it's very punctual then.
I went down to supper. After sitting a long time listening to the long stories of some sailors who had just come from a plum-pudding voyage, as they called it (that is, a short whaling-voyage in a schooner or brig, confined to the north of the line, in the Atlantic Ocean only); after listening to these plum-puddingers till nearly eleven o'clock, I went up stairs to go to bed, feeling quite sure by this time Queequeg must certainly have brought his Ramadan to a termination. But no; there he was just where I had left him; he had not stirred an inch. I began to grow vexed with him; it seemed so downright senseless and insane to be sitting there all day and half the night on his hams in a cold room, holding a piece of wood on his head.
"For heaven's sake, Queequeg, get up and shake yourself; get up and have some supper. You'll starve; you'll kill yourself, Queequeg." But not a word did he reply.
Despairing of him, therefore, I determined to go to bed and to sleep; and no doubt, before a great while, he would follow me. But previous to turning in, I took my heavy bearskin jacket, and threw it over him, as it promised to be a very cold night; and he had nothing but his ordinary round jacket on. For some time, do all I would, I could not get into the faintest doze. I had blown out the candle; and the mere thought of Queequeg- not four feet off- sitting there in that uneasy position, stark alone in the cold and dark; this made me really wretched. Think of it; sleeping all night in the same room with a wide awake pagan on his hams in this dreary, unaccountable Ramadan!
But somehow I dropped off at last, and knew nothing more till break of day; when, looking over the bedside, there squatted Queequeg, as if he had been screwed down to the floor. But as soon as the first glimpse of sun entered the window, up he got, with stiff grating joints, but with a cheerful look; limped towards me where I lay; pressed his forehead again against mine; and said his Ramadan was over.
Now, as I before hinted, I have no objection to any person's religion, be it what it may, so long as that person does not kill or insult any other person, because that other person don't believe it also. But when a man's religion becomes really frantic; when it is a positive torment to him; and, in fine, makes this earth of ours an uncomfortable inn to lodge in; then I think it high time to take that individual aside and argue the point with him.
And just so I now did with Queequeg. "Queequeg," said I, "get into bed now, and lie and listen to me." I then went on, beginning with the rise and progress of the primitive religions, and coming down to the various religions of the present time, during which time I labored to show Queequeg that all these Lents, Ramadans, and prolonged ham-squattings in cold, cheerless rooms were stark nonsense; bad for the health; useless for the soul; opposed, in short, to the obvious laws of Hygiene and common sense. I told him, too, that he being in other things such an extremely sensible and sagacious savage, it pained me, very badly pained me, to see him now so deplorably foolish about this ridiculous Ramadan of his. Besides, argued I, fasting makes the body cave in; hence the spirit caves in; and all thoughts born of a fast must necessarily be half-starved. This is the reason why most dyspeptic religionists cherish such melancholy notions about their hereafters. In one word, Queequeg, said I, rather digressively; hell is an idea first born on an undigested apple-dumpling; and since then perpetuated through the hereditary dyspepsias nurtured by Ramadans.
I then asked Queequeg whether he himself was ever troubled with dyspepsia; expressing the idea very plainly, so that he could take it in. He said no; only upon one memorable occasion. It was after a great feast given by his father the king on the gaining of a great battle wherein fifty of the enemy had been killed by about two o'clock in the afternoon, and all cooked and eaten that very evening.
"No more, Queequeg," said I, shuddering; "that will do;" for I knew the inferences without his further hinting them. I had seen a sailor who had visited that very island, and he told me that it was the custom, when a great battle had been gained there, to barbecue all the slain in the yard or garden of the victor; and then, one by one, they were placed in great wooden trenchers, and garnished round like a pilau, with breadfruit and cocoanuts; and with some parsley in their mouths, were sent round with the victor's compliments to all his friends, just as though these presents were so many Christmas turkeys.
After all, I do not think that my remarks about religion made much impression upon Queequeg. Because, in the first place, he somehow seemed dull of hearing on that important subject, unless considered from his own point of view; and, in the second place, he did not more than one third understand me, couch my ideas simply as I would; and, finally, he no doubt thought he knew a good deal more about the true religion than I did. He looked at me with a sort of condescending concern and compassion, as though he thought it a great pity that such a sensible young man should be so hopelessly lost to evangelical pagan piety.
At last we rose and dressed; and Queequeg, taking a prodigiously hearty breakfast of chowders of all sorts, so that the landlady should not make much profit by reason of his Ramadan, we sallied out to board the Pequod, sauntering along, and picking our teeth with halibut bones.

I think Queequeg is probably the most sensible person in Moby-Dick.  He knows who he is.  He's comfortable with his beliefs and doesn't really care about other people's opinions, including his newly-found best friend, Ishmael, who claims to care not one bit what religion a person practices.  Yet, Ishmael tries to evangelize Queequeg because of his pagan friend's Ramadan.  Of course, Ishmael's reasoned arguments fall on deaf ears, because Queequeg has no interest in being anything but himself.  Queequeg the pagan and cannibal and harpooner and friend.  For me, that makes him a pretty honorable man.

I have met very few persons in my lifetime who are as comfortable with themselves as Queequeg.  I think it has much to do with strong self-esteem (which I, for the most part, lack) and a clear faith in something (be it science or religion or philosophy or ice cream).  Those two qualities provide a solid sense of self and the universe.

While I am Christian, some of my best friends are atheists or agnostics.  Those friends practice a certain kind of faith.  They believe in helping the poor, feeding the hungry, protecting the vulnerable.  In short, they are highly moral and ethical.  Truth be told, they are probably more spiritual, in their own ways, than a lot of lifelong Christians whom I know.

These so-called Christians harbor beliefs that are antithetical to the teachings of Jesus Christ.  They're anti-immigrant.  Anti-Muslim.  Pro-gun.  Pro-capital punishment.  They want to end welfare and healthcare for the poor.  They somehow believe that the wealthy give a damn about what happens to the underemployed and unemployed.

I'm not going to name names here.  Point fingers.  That's not what this post is about.  This post is about accepting people for who they are.  Queequeg accepts Ishmael and his beliefs without question.  Ishmael, the more "civilized" of the pair, can't seem to extend the same courtesy to his companion because Queequeg's practices are so other to him.

In my experience, trying to talk to somebody about religion is about as effective as telling a starving person he should eat more and then not providing any food.  It doesn't work.  A good person is good because s/he does good things.  That's pretty much the basis for most world religions.  It's not the talk.  It's the practice.

I try to be a good Christian.  Put my faith into action.  I'm certainly no Billy Graham.  Yet, in my own small ways, I try to make a difference in the world.  It's not hard to be kind.  It simply requires an open heart and an open mind.  Sometimes an open wallet, too.  I don't always succeed in following in the footsteps of Christ, but I haven't yet given up trying.  It's not about perfection.

It's about sharing your last handful of M&Ms with a friend.  Buying a burger and fries for a homeless person begging outside of Walmart.  Loving a stranger, no matter the color of her skin or the God he worships.  Accepting Trump supporters, regardless of how stupid, prejudiced, or blind they seem.

That's the sign of a truly good person.

Saint Marty ain't there yet.

February 27: Bert, Philip Levine, "Ascension"

In these last weeks, I find myself drawn to poets and poems that remind me of my father in some way.  Poems by older men, of my father's generation.  Poets who look like my father.  Poems in which I can hear my father's voice.

I don't think that I'm wallowing in grief.  I think that I'm searching for something.  I'm not sure what.  Closure?  Acceptance?  Love?

Yesterday, I found myself listening to a speech given by former United States Poet Laureate Philip Levine at the Library of Congress at the end of his laureateship.  His lecture was about forgotten poets who had influenced him.  Poets who, he thought, should be remembered.  I found myself incredibly moved my his words, as he spoke about these writers as if they were friends he'd lost to war and cancer and car accidents.

This evening, I found out that a wonderful gentleman and local poet passed away yesterday.  He was also of my father's generation, full of wit and kindness.  He will be greatly missed by all who knew him.  His name was Bert.

Saint Marty is thankful to have been able to call him a friend.


by:  Philip Levine

Now I see the stars
are ready for me
and the light falls upon
my shoulders evenly,
so little light that even
the night birds can't see
me robed in black flame.
I am alone, rising
through clouds and the lights
of distant cities until
the earth turns its darker
side away, and I am ready
to meet my guardians
or speak again the first words
born in time.  Instead,
it is like that dream
in which a friend leaves
and you wait, parked
by the side of the road
that leads home, until
you can feel your skin
wrinkling and your hair
grown long and tangling
in the winds, and still you
wait because you've waited
so long.  Below, the earth
has turned to light but,
unlike the storied good
in Paradise, I see no going
and coming, none of the pain
I would have suffered had I
merely lived.  At first
I can remember my wife,
the immense depth of her eyes
and her smooth brow in morning
light, the long lithe body
moving about her garden
day after day, at ease in the light
of those brutal summers.  I can
see my youngest son again
moving with the slight swagger
of the carpenter hitching
up his belt of tools.  I
can even remember the feel
of certain old shirts
against my back and shoulders
and how my arms ached
after a day of work.  Then I
forget exhaustion.  I forget
love, forget the need to
be a man, the need to
speak the truth, to close
my eyes and talk to someone
distant but surely listening.
Then I forget my own trees
at evening moving in the day's
last heat like the children
of the wind, I forget the hunger
for food, for belief, for love,
I forget the fear of death,
the fear of living forever,
I forget my brother, my name,
my own life.  I have risen.
Somewhere I am a god.
Somewhere I am a holy
object.  Somewhere I am.

Monday, February 26, 2018

February 26: Qeequeg's Ramadan, Meditation, Unbalanced

As Queequeg's Ramadan, or Fasting and Humiliation, was to continue all day, I did not choose to disturb him till towards night-fall; for I cherish the greatest respect towards everybody's religious obligations, never mind how comical, and could not find it in my heart to undervalue even a congregation of ants worshipping a toad-stool; or those other creatures in certain parts of our earth, who with a degree of footmanism quite unprecedented in other planets, bow down before the torso of a deceased landed proprietor merely on account of the inordinate possessions yet owned and rented in his name.
I say, we good Presbyterian Christians should be charitable in these things, and not fancy ourselves so vastly superior to other mortals, pagans and what not, because of their half-crazy conceits on these subjects. There was Queequeg, now, certainly entertaining the most absurd notions about Yojo and his Ramadan;- but what of that? Queequeg thought he knew what he was about, I suppose; he seemed to be content; and there let him rest. All our arguing with him would not avail; let him be, I say: and Heaven have mercy on us all- Presbyterians and Pagans alike- for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending.
Towards evening, when I felt assured that all his performances and rituals must be over, I went to his room and knocked at the door; but no answer. I tried to open it, but it was fastened inside. "Queequeg," said I softly through the key-hole:- all silent. "I say, Queequeg! why don't you speak? It's I- Ishmael." But all remained still as before. I began to grow alarmed. I had allowed him such abundant time; I thought he might have had an apoplectic fit. I looked through the key-hole; but the door opening into an odd corner of the room, the key-hole prospect was but a crooked and sinister one. I could only see part of the foot-board of the bed and a line of the wall, but nothing more. I was surprised to behold resting against the wall the wooden shaft of Queequeg's harpoon, which the landlady the evening previous had taken from him, before our mounting to the chamber. That's strange, thought I; but at any rate, since the harpoon stands yonder, and he seldom or never goes abroad without it, therefore he must be inside here, and no possible mistake.
"Queequeg!- Queequeg!"- all still. Something must have happened. Apoplexy! I tried to burst open the door; but it stubbornly resisted. Running down stairs, I quickly stated my suspicions to the first person I met- the chamber-maid. "La! la!" she cried, "I thought something must the matter. I went to make the bed after breakfast, and the door was locked; and not a mouse to be heard; and it's been just so silent ever since. But I thought, may be, you had both gone off and locked your baggage in for safe keeping. La! la, ma'am!- Mistress! murder! Mrs. Hussey! apoplexy!"- and with these cries she ran towards the kitchen, I following.
Mrs. Hussey soon appeared, with a mustard-pot in one hand and a vinegar-cruet in the other, having just broken away from the occupation of attending to the castors, and scolding her little black boy meantime.
"Wood-house!" cried I, "which way to it? Run for God's sake, and fetch something to pry open the door- the axe!- the axe! he's had a stroke; depend upon it!"- and so saying I was unmethodically rushing up stairs again empty-handed, when Mrs. Hussey interposed the mustard-pot and vinegar-cruet, and the entire castor of her countenance.
"What's the matter with you, young man?"
"Get the axe! For God's sake, run for the doctor, some one, while I pry it open!"
"Look here," said the landlady, quickly putting down the vinegar-cruet, so as to have one hand free; "look here; are you talking about prying open any of my doors?"- and with that she seized my arm. "What's the matter with you? What's the matter with you, shipmate?"
In as calm, but rapid a manner as possible, I gave her to understand the whole case. Unconsciously clapping the vinegar-cruet to one side of her nose, she ruminated for an instant; then exclaimed- "No! I haven't seen it since I put it there." Running to a little closet under the landing of the stairs, she glanced in, and returning, told me that Queequeg's harpoon was missing. "He's killed himself," she cried. "It's unfort'nate Stiggs done over again there goes another counterpane- God pity his poor mother!- it will be the ruin of my house. Has the poor lad a sister? Where's that girl?- there, Betty, go to Snarles the Painter, and tell him to paint me a sign, with- "no suicides permitted here, and no smoking in the parlor;"- might as well kill both birds at once. Kill? The Lord be merciful to his ghost! What's that noise there? You, young man, avast there!"
And running after me, she caught me as I was again trying to force open the door.
"I won't allow it; I won't have my premises spoiled. Go for the locksmith, there's one about a mile from here. But avast!" putting her hand in her side pocket, "here's a key that'll fit, I guess; let's see." And with that, she turned it in the lock; but alas! Queequeg's supplemental bolt remained unwithdrawn within.
"Have to burst it open," said I, and was running down the entry a little, for a good start, when the landlady caught at me, again vowing I should not break down her premises; but I tore from her, and with a sudden bodily rush dashed myself full against the mark.
With a prodigious noise the door flew open, and the knob slamming against the wall, sent the plaster to the ceiling; and there, good heavens! there sat Queequeg, altogether cool on his hams, and holding Yojo on top of his head. He looked neither one way nor the other way but sat like a carved image with scarce a sign of active life.
"Queequeg," said I, going up to him, "Queequeg, what's the matter with you?"
"He hain't been a sittin' so all day, has he?" said the landlady.
But all we said, not a word could we drag out of him; I almost felt like pushing him over, so as to change his position, for it was almost intolerable, it seemed so painfully and unnaturally constrained; especially, as in all probability he had been sitting so for upwards of eight or ten hours, going too without his regular meals.
"Mrs. Hussey," said I, "he's alive at all events; so leave us, if you please, and I will see to this strange affair myself."
Closing the door upon the landlady, I endeavored to prevail upon Queequeg to take a chair; but in vain. There he sat; and all he could do- for all my polite arts and blandishments- he would not move a peg, nor say a single word, nor even look at me, nor notice my presence in the slightest way.

I find myself today in a prodigiously unfriendly state of mind.  If I could, I would drive home right now, lock myself in my bedroom, pull the covers over my head, and--just like Queequeg--remove myself from the daily anchors of the world.  I'm tired, and it has nothing to do with any kind of religious fast.  In fact, I'm not sure what is the cause of my exhaustion.

I din't blog last night because my day was simply too full.  I had church in the morning. Book Club at my house in the afternoon, my daughter's dance show in the evening, and then school work until about 11 p.m. or so.  I simply had no room to sit back and reflect and write.  I barely have time now--teaching starts in about 40 minutes and lasts until about 9:30 tonight.

I don't believe in complaining about things in my life.  Generally, I am always on the cusp of being exhausted.  Perhaps the events of the last weeks (my father's death, funeral home, funeral Mass) are catching up with me.  I simply want not to be around people for a while.  Tired of dealing with my daily grind, I guess.

I wish that I practiced some kind of meditation or yoga.  I have many friends who do it.  The two times that I have attempted these things, I fell asleep.  Yes, I am the proverbial stereotype--snoring in the middle of a session of zazen.  My prayer life has also dwindled to non-existent over the last few months.  Again, I fell out of practice.  Now, I think that I'm paying for it.

I feel a little at sea.  Unfocused and unbalanced.  In this last couple weeks, the two or three times I've meditated and prayed in the morning have helped.  However, I did not continue.  Again, life has broken down my locked door (like Ishmael) when I've tried to take a few minutes for myself.  Last night, I spent a few hours helping my daughter put together a resume for the National Honor Society.

I have about five-and-a-half hours of teaching ahead of me.  I've been trying to conserve my energy all day, but this terrible lethargy has set in.  Right now, I will be happy if I don't fall asleep mid-sentence in class.

Saint Marty will be thankful for his bed tonight.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

February 24: Memories, Billy Collins, "Carry"

You know, memories have a way of creeping up on you.

The days after my sister died three years ago, I saw and heard her everywhere.  Walking across the parking lot at work.  In the evening, sitting on the couch, I would hear her voice.  On the anniversary of her death, I came across the holy card with her picture on it.

The same thing has been happening to me with my father.  I see my dad disappearing around the corner at Walmart.  I hear his gravelly whisper at night.  Just yesterday, I swear I saw him at Menards when I shopping for a bathroom vanity and sink.

I carry these people around with me everywhere.  Can't get away from them.

Saint Marty is thankful today for these moments when my dead are alive again.


by:  Billy Collins

I want to carry you
and for you to carry me
the way voices are said to carry over water.

Just this morning on the shore,
I could hear two people talking quietly
in a row boat on the far said of the lake.

They were talking about fishing,
then one changed the subject,
and, I swear, they began talking about you.

February 24: Ahab, Mental Illness, Eloise Psychiatric Hospital

"Captain Peleg," said I, "I have a friend with me who wants to ship too- shall I bring him down to-morrow?"
"To be sure," said Peleg. "Fetch him along, and we'll look at him."
"What lay does he want?" groaned Bildad, glancing up from the Book in which he had again been burying himself.
"Oh! never thee mind about that, Bildad," said Peleg. "Has he ever whaled it any?" turning to me.
"Killed more whales than I can count, Captain Peleg."
"Well, bring him along then."
And, after signing the papers, off I went; nothing doubting but that I had done a good morning's work, and that the Pequod was the identical ship that Yojo had provided to carry Queequeg and me round the Cape.
But I had not proceeded far, when I began to bethink me that the Captain with whom I was to sail yet remained unseen by me; though, indeed, in many cases, a whale-ship will be completely fitted out, and receive all her crew on board, ere the captain makes himself visible by arriving to take command; for sometimes these voyages are so prolonged, and the shore intervals at home so exceedingly brief, that if the captain have family, or any absorbing concernment of that sort, he does not trouble himself much about his ship in port, but leaves her to the owners till all is ready for sea. However, it is always as well to have a look at him before irrevocably committing yourself into his hands. Turning back I accosted Captain Peleg, inquiring where Captain Ahab was to be found.
"And what dost thou want of Captain Ahab? It's all right enough; thou art shipped."
"Yes, but I should like to see him."
"But I don't think thou wilt be able to at present. I don't know exactly what's the matter with him; but he keeps close inside the house; a sort of sick, and yet he don't look so. In fact, he ain't sick; but no, he isn't well either. Any how, young man, he won't always see me, so I don't suppose he will thee. He's a queer man, Captain Ahab- so some think- but a good one. Oh, thou'lt like him well enough; no fear, no fear. He's a grand, ungodly, god-like man, Captain Ahab; doesn't speak much; but, when he does speak, then you may well listen. Mark ye, be forewarned; Ahab's above the common; Ahab's been in colleges, as well as 'mong the cannibals; been used to deeper wonders than the waves; fixed his fiery lance in mightier, stranger foes than whales. His lance! aye, the keenest and surest that out of all our isle! Oh! he ain't Captain Bildad; no, and he ain't Captain Peleg; he's Ahab, boy; and Ahab of old, thou knowest, was a crowned king!"
"And a very vile one. When that wicked king was slain, the dogs, did they not lick his blood?"
"Come hither to me- hither, hither," said Peleg, with a significance in his eye that almost startled me. "Look ye, lad; never say that on board the Pequod. Never say it anywhere. Captain Ahab did not name himself .'Twas a foolish, ignorant whim of his crazy, widowed mother, who died when he was only a twelvemonth old. And yet the old squaw Tistig, at Gayhead, said that the name would somehow prove prophetic. And, perhaps, other fools like her may tell thee the same. I wish to warn thee. It's a lie. I know Captain Ahab well; I've sailed with him as mate years ago; know what he is- a good man- not a pious, good man, like Bildad, but a swearing good man- something like me- only there's a good deal more of him. Aye, aye, I know that he was never very jolly; and I know that on the passage home he was a little out of his mind for a spell; but it was the sharp shooting pains in his bleeding stump that brought that about, as any one might see. I know, too, that ever since he lost his leg last voyage by that accursed whale, he's been a kind of moody- desperate moody, and savage sometimes; but that will all pass off. And once for all, let me tell thee and assure thee, young man, it's better to sail with a moody good captain than a laughing bad one. So good-bye to thee- and wrong not Captain Ahab, because he happens to have a wicked name. Besides, my boy, he has a wife- not three voyages wedded- a sweet, resigned girl. Think of that; by that sweet girl that old man had a child: hold ye then there can be any utter, hopeless harm in Ahab? No, no, my lad; stricken, blasted, if he be, Ahab has his humanities!"
As I walked away, I was full of thoughtfulness; what had been incidentally revealed to me of Captain Ahab, filled me with a certain wild vagueness of painfulness concerning him. And somehow, at the time, I felt a sympathy and a sorrow for him, but for I don't know what, unless it was the cruel loss of his leg. And yet I also felt a strange awe of him; but that sort of awe, which I cannot at all describe, was not exactly awe; I do not know what it was. But I felt it; and it did not disincline me towards him; though I felt impatience at what seemed like mystery in him, so imperfectly as he was known to me then. However, my thoughts were at length carried in other directions, so that for the present dark Ahab slipped my mind.

The first appearance of Captain Ahab.  It's a mysterious kind of introduction, more legend than reality.  Ahab remains offstage, sort of like Kong in the jungle on Skull Island.  A huge, dark presence.  Of course, we get a few details of his life.  He lost a leg to that "accursed whale" on his last voyage.  Has a young wife and child.  And he's been "desperate moody, and savage sometimes" since that encounter with the white monster.  Peleg even says that he was "a little out of his mind for a spell" on his return to port.  From Peleg's description, Ahab seems to be suffering from some kind of mental health issues.  Depression.  Obsession.  Mania.  Something.

I know that I wrote about the current gun and mental illness debate in my last blog post.  However, I find myself getting really angry when I hear the President of the United States using such words as "sicko" and "crazy" to describe a person who, obviously, has some serious mental illness going on.  In fact, mental illness has become equivalent to illegal immigration and terrorism in political circles right now.  Donald Trump is even calling for funding to create "mental asylums" to lock the mentally ill up.

The United States (and pretty much the rest of the world) has a pretty bad track record in its treatment of the mentally ill.  These "asylums" were simply prisons where those who suffer from any form of mental illness were placed in and forgotten.  There wasn't any kind of treatment going on.  There was abuse, neglect, and, eventually, a lot of deaths.  And this wasn't too long ago, either.  These institutions were still in operation in the 1970s and early 1980s.

And they weren't just for the mentally ill.  People who were different, who simply didn't "fit in" to societal norms, were locked up, as well.  I've taught a literature class that focuses on books dealing with mental illness.  One of the works I taught centered around a huge mental asylum that existed just outside of Detroit, Michigan.  It was called Eloise Psychiatric Hospital, and it operated from 1839 to 1982.  At its height of operation, it was a little city unto itself, housing 10,000 patients and 2,000 staff members.  It was a horrifying place of secret experiments and clandestine burials.  And it was still running when I was in high school.  When I mentioned it to my father, he clearly remembered the hospital and how huge of a facility it was.  People went in.  They didn't come out.

If that is Donald Trump's answer to gun violence and mental illness, I think Donald Trump needs to visit Eloise, hear about its history, visit the graves of people who died and were buried on the grounds.  Maybe he should be locked up there for a day or two.  Receive the same treatment that the patients/inmates received.  Then, maybe, he might understand what treatment for the mentally ill used to be.  Or maybe he won't.

People, mental illness didn't kill those 17 beautiful kids in Florida.  It was bullets.  It was a semiautomatic gun.  That's what needs to be locked up and/or done away with.  Don't buy into the Trump game of bait and switch.  Keep your eyes on the real problem.

Those who struggle mental illness deserve compassion, kindness, and the best treatment in the world.  We all struggle at times with sadness, depression, isolation, loneliness.  The solution to sadness, depression, isolation, and loneliness isn't the sadness, depression, isolation, and loneliness of mental asylum prisons, as proposed by the current leadership in Washington, D. C.

Saint Marty is tired of ignorant people who don't understand mental illness.

Unmarked graves at Eloise Psychiatric Hospital

Thursday, February 22, 2018

February 22: Peleg and Bildad, Bert and Ernie, Passion and Logic

But one thing, nevertheless, that made me a little distrustful about receiving a generous share of the profits was this: Ashore, I had heard something of both Captain Peleg and his unaccountable old crony Bildad; how that they being the principal proprietors of the Pequod, therefore the other and more inconsiderable and scattered owners, left nearly the whole management of the ship's affairs to these two. And I did not know but what the stingy old Bildad might have a mighty deal to say about shipping hands, especially as I now found him on board the Pequod, quite at home there in the cabin, and reading his Bible as if at his own fireside. Now while Peleg was vainly trying to mend a pen with his jack-knife, old Bildad, to my no small surprise, considering that he was such an interested party in these proceedings; Bildad never heeded us, but went on mumbling to himself out of his book, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth-"
"Well, Captain Bildad," interrupted Peleg, "what d'ye say, what lay shall we give this young man?"
"Thou knowest best," was the sepulchral reply, "the seven hundred and seventy-seventh wouldn't be too much, would it?- 'where moth and rust do corrupt, but lay-'"
Lay, indeed, thought I, and such a lay! the seven hundred and seventy-seventh! Well, old Bildad, you are determined that I, for one, shall not lay up many lays here below, where moth and rust do corrupt. It was an exceedingly long lay that, indeed; and though from the magnitude of the figure it might at first deceive a landsman, yet the slightest consideration will show that though seven hundred and seventy-seven is a pretty large number, yet, when you come to make a teenth of it, you will then see, I say, that the seven hundred and seventy-seventh part of a forthing is a good deal less than seven hundred and seventy-seven gold doubloons; and so I thought at the time.
"Why, blast your eyes, Bildad," cried Peleg, "thou dost not want to swindle this young man! he must have more than that."
"Seven hundred and seventy-seventh," again said Bildad, without lifting his eyes; and then went on mumbling- "for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."
"I am going to put him down for the three hundredth," said Peleg, "do ye hear that, Bildad! The three hundredth lay, I say."
Bildad laid down his book, and turning solemnly towards him said,
"Captain Peleg, thou hast a generous heart; but thou must consider the duty thou owest to the other owners of this ship- widows and orphans, many of them- and that if we too abundantly reward the labors of this young man, we may be taking the bread from those widows and those orphans. The seven hundred and seventy-seventh lay, Captain Peleg."
"Thou Bildad!" roared Peleg, starting up and clattering about the cabin. "Blast ye, Captain Bildad, if I had followed thy advice in these matters, I would afore now had a conscience to lug about that would be heavy enough to founder the largest ship that ever sailed round Cape Horn."
"Captain Peleg," said Bildad steadily, "thy conscience may be drawing ten inches of water, or ten fathoms, I can't tell; but as thou art still an impenitent man, Captain Peleg, I greatly fear lest thy conscience be but a leaky one; and will in the end sink thee foundering down to the fiery pit, Captain Peleg."
"Fiery pit! fiery pit! ye insult me, man; past all natural bearing, ye insult me. It's an all-fired outrage to tell any human creature that he's bound to hell. Flukes and flames! Bildad, say that again to me, and start my soulbolts, but I'll- I'll- yes, I'll swallow a live goat with all his hair and horns on. Out of the cabin, ye canting, drab-colored son of a wooden gun- a straight wake with ye!"
As he thundered out this he made a rush at Bildad, but with a marvellous oblique, sliding celerity, Bildad for that time eluded him.
Alarmed at this terrible outburst between the two principal and responsible owners of the ship, and feeling half a mind to give up all idea of sailing in a vessel so questionably owned and temporarily commanded, I stepped aside from the door to give egress to Bildad, who, I made no doubt, was all eagerness to vanish from before the awakened wrath of Peleg. But to my astonishment, he sat down again on the transom very quietly, and seemed to have not the slightest intention of withdrawing. He seemed quite used to impenitent Peleg and his ways. As for Peleg, after letting off his rage as he had, there seemed no more left in him, and he, too, sat down like a lamb, though he twitched a little as if still nervously agitated. "Whew!" he whistled at last- "the squall's gone off to leeward, I think. Bildad, thou used to be good at sharpening a lance, mend that pen, will ye. My jack-knife here needs the grindstone. That's he; thank ye, Bildad. Now then, my young man, Ishmael's thy name, didn't ye say? Well then, down ye go here, for the three hundredth lay."

Peleg and Bildad are quite the pair.  Peleg is all salt and storm; Bildad, the calm eye of the hurricane.  This moment, like so many in Moby-Dick, is full of comedy.  The pair remind me of Bert and Ernie or Abbott and Costello.  Out of the two, I would say that Bildad is more Abbott/Bert and Peleg is more Costello/Ernie.  It's the difference between being passionate and emotional versus cool and rational.

I think I am a mixture of Peleg and Bildad.  At times, I can get pretty worked up (read my post last night about mental illness and guns if you don't believe me).  Other times, I have the ability to remain almost Spock-like in my demeanor.  Logical and detached.  These dual natures have served me well as a writer.

When I start a writing project (whether it's a new poem or essay or short story), I'm all Peleg.  I rush at it full throttle, ready to wrestle it to the ground in a stranglehold until it surrenders or throws me off.  Those first moments are full of emotion and excitement.  I throw everything I have into it, including the kitchen sink and a unicycle.  I juggle.  Balance a beach ball on my nose.  Tightrope walk without a net.  I am a freakin' Flying Wallenda with a pen.

After that first assault, my Bildad side kicks in.  I step back, read what I've written.  On bad days, I think I'm without talent.  What I have on the page is stupid.  Artless.  If it were a teenage girl, it would be Carrietta White, without friends.  A high school outcast.  Tormented and miserable.

Of course, Carrietta had telekinetic powers and ended up killing most of the people in her high school, along with destroying a good portion of the town.  There is something really visceral about those early drafts.  There's muscle and bone exposed.  But there's also something else.  The writing is able to move things inexplicably.

I think that I'm extending this metaphor a little too far.  You get the idea.  I think all good writers have a little Peleg and Bildad in them.  Passion and rationality.

Tonight, I'm going to work on my Lenten project.  It's going to require some Bildad.  I need to shape and edit.  I have to see if what I have is going to be able to make a house crumble or a mountain walk across the street.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for pen and paper.

February 22: Bad Dreams, Billy Collins, "Scenes from Hell"

I had a dream last night.  Problem is, I never remember my dreams.  All I can recall is that I woke up in a cold sweat.  Terrified.  It took me a long time to fall back asleep.

When I was a kid, I used to have dreams about Hell.  I think they were fueled by my Catholic upbringing.  Terrible visions about lakes of molten lead.  Unquenchable hunger and thirst.  Demons.  All the usual cliches.  They kept me awake at night.

And then I took a class in Dante as a graduate student.  During that semester, those dreams returned.  Almost every night.  The lake of ice in the Ninth Circle.  Ugolino gnawing on his son's head.  Lovers in a torrent of wind, never able to touch.

I don't know if I dreamed about Hell last night.  It could have been the poem I read just before I went to sleep.  Billy Collins' visions of Hell.  It's terrifying.

Saint Marty needs to start reading something a little lighter before bedtime.  Something like William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist.

Scenes from Hell

by:  Billy Collins

We did not have the benefit of a guide,
no crone to lead us off the common path,
no ancient to point the way with a staff,

but there were badlands to cross,
rivers of fire and blackened peaks,
and eventually we could look down and see

the jeweler running around a gold ring,
the boss trapped in an hour glass,
the baker buried up to his eyes in flour,

the banker plummeting on a coin,
the teacher disappearing into a blackboard,
and the grocer silent under a pyramid of vegetables.

We saw the pilot nose-diving
and the whore impaled on a bedpost,
the pharmacist wandering in a stupor

and the child with toy wheels for legs.
You pointed to the soldier
who was dancing with his empty uniform

and I remarked on the blind tourist.
But what truly caught our attention
was the scene in the long mirror of ice:

you lighting the wick on your head,
me blowing on the final spark,
and our children trying to crawl away from their eggshells.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

February 21: Loss, Billy Collins, "All Eyes"

So many people I know have experienced loss in the last couple weeks.  I lost my dad.  A good friend lost her sister.  Tonight, another friend lost his mother-in-law.  I am tired of death.

Tonight, I have no words of comfort that will work, because I know that nothing I say will take away any of the pain that accompanies the loss of a someone you love.

Instead, I offer this poem by Billy Collins.  It's about death, but it's also about life.  It's about my dad.  My friend's sister.  My other friend's mother-in-law.

Saint Marty can hear his father's voice in this poem . . . 

All Eyes

by:  Billy Collins

Just because I'm dead now doesn't mean
I don't exist anymore. 
All those eulogies and the obituary
in the corner of the newspaper
have made me feel more vibrant than ever.

I'm here in some fashion,
maybe like a gust of wind
that disturbs the upper leaves,
or blows a hat around a corner,
or disperses a little cloud of mayflies over a stream.

What I like best about this 
is you realizing you can no longer
get away with things the way your used to
when it would be ten o'clock at night
and I wouldn't know where you were.

I'm all ears, you liked to say
whenever you couldn't bother listening.
And now you know that I'm all eyes,
looking in every direction,
and a special eye is always trained on you.

February 21: Old Quaker, "Crazy" People, Gun Violence

Like Captain Peleg, Captain Bildad was a well-to-do, retired whaleman. But unlike Captain Peleg- who cared not a rush for what are called serious things, and indeed deemed those self-same serious things the veriest of all trifles- Captain Bildad had not only been originally educated according to the strictest sect of Nantucket Quakerism, but all his subsequent ocean life, and the sight of many unclad, lovely island creatures, round the Horn- all that had not moved this native born Quaker one single jot, had not so much as altered one angle of his vest. Still, for all this immutableness, was there some lack of common consistency about worthy Captain Peleg. Though refusing, from conscientious scruples, to bear arms against land invaders, yet himself had illimitably invaded the Atlantic and Pacific; and though a sworn foe to human bloodshed, yet had he in his straight-bodied coat, spilled tuns upon tuns of leviathan gore. How now in the contemplative evening of his days, the pious Bildad reconciled these things in the reminiscence, I do not know; but it did not seem to concern him much, and very probably he had long since come to the sage and sensible conclusion that a man's religion is one thing, and this practical world quite another. This world pays dividends. Rising from a little cabin boy in short clothes of the drabbest drab, to a harpooneer in a broad shad-bellied waistcoat; from that becoming boat-header, chief mate, and captain, and finally a shipowner; Bildad, as I hinted before, had concluded his adventurous career by wholly retiring from active life at the goodly age of sixty, and dedicating his remaining days to the quiet receiving of his well-earned income.
Now, Bildad, I am sorry to say, had the reputation of being an incorrigible old hunks, and in his sea-going days, a bitter, hard task-master. They told me in Nantucket, though it certainly seems a curious story, that when he sailed the old Categut whaleman, his crew, upon arriving home, were mostly all carried ashore to the hospital, sore exhausted and worn out. For a pious man, especially for a Quaker, he was certainly rather hard-hearted, to say the least. He never used to swear, though, at his men, they said; but somehow he got an inordinate quantity of cruel, unmitigated hard work out of them. When Bildad was a chief-mate, to have his drab-colored eye intently looking at you, made you feel completely nervous, till you could clutch something- a hammer or a marrling-spike, and go to work like mad, at something or other, never mind what. Indolence and idleness perished before him. His own person was the exact embodiment of his utilitarian character. On his long, gaunt body, he carried no spare flesh, no superfluous beard, his chin having a soft, economical nap to it, like that worn nap of his broad-brimmed hat.
Such, then, was the person that I saw seated on the transom when I followed Captain Peleg down into the cabin. The space between the decks was small; and there, bolt upright, sat old Bildad, who always sat so, and never leaned, and this to save his coat-tails. His broad-brim was placed beside him; his legs were stiffly crossed; his drab vesture was buttoned up to his chin; and spectacles on nose, he seemed absorbed in reading from a ponderous volume.
"Bildad," cried Captain Peleg, "at it again, Bildad, eh? Ye have been studying those Scriptures, now, for the last thirty years, to my certain knowledge. How far ye got, Bildad?"
As if long habituated to such profane talk from his old shipmate, Bildad, without noticing his present irreverence, quietly looked up, and seeing me, glanced again inquiringly towards Peleg.
"He says he's our man, Bildad," said Peleg, "he wants to ship."
"Dost thee?" said Bildad, in a hollow tone, and turning round to me.
"I dost," said I unconsciously, he was so intense a Quaker.
"What do ye think of him, Bildad?" said Peleg.
"He'll do," said Bildad, eyeing me, and then went on spelling away at his book in a mumbling tone quite audible.
I thought him the queerest old Quaker I ever saw, especially as Peleg, his friend and old shipmate, seemed such a blusterer. But I said nothing, only looking round me sharply. Peleg now threw open a chest, and drawing forth the ship's articles, placed pen and ink before him, and seated himself at a little table. I began to think it was high time to settle with myself at what terms I would be willing to engage for the voyage. I was already aware that in the whaling business they paid no wages; but all hands, including the captain, received certain shares of the profits called lays, and that these lays were proportioned to the degree of importance pertaining to the respective duties of the ship's company. I was also aware that being a green hand at whaling, my own lay would not be very large; but considering that I was used to the sea, could steer a ship, splice a rope, and all that, I made no doubt that from all I had heard I should be offered at least the 275th lay- that is, the 275th part of the clear net proceeds of the voyage, whatever that might eventually amount to. And though the 275th lay was what they call a rather long lay, yet it was better than nothing; and if we had a lucky voyage, might pretty nearly pay for the clothing I would wear out on it, not to speak of my three years' beef and board, for which I would not have to pay one stiver.
It might be thought that this was a poor way to accumulate a princely fortune- and so it was, a very poor way indeed. But I am one of those who never take on about princely fortunes, and am quite content if the world is ready to board and lodge me, while I am putting up at this grim sign of the Thunder Cloud. Upon the whole, I thought the 275th lay would be about the fair thing, but would not have been surprised had I been offered the 200th, considering I was of a broad-shouldered make.
As Ishmael notes, Captain Bildad is a bit of a contradiction.  When Ishmael first meets him, Bildad is studying the Bible.  Being a Quaker, Bildad is supposed to embrace kindness and non-violence.  Yet, he has the reputation for being a difficult leader, hard on his men, not sparing any of the saltier language of the sailor in order to motivate his crew.   Godly and profane.  That's Bildad.

I have been trying to avoid commentary on the recent school shooting in Florida last week.  I know that's unusual.  Simply put, I get so weary of seeing those heartbreaking images on the television and hearing the empty platitudes of politicians offering up prayers while still accepting massive campaign donations from the National Rifle Association.

This time, however, the major scapegoats that the current man residing in the Oval Office and his crew of sycophants are blaming are people with mental illnesses.  I know I shouldn't be surprised by this tactic.  Scapegoats seem to be the source of all woes in the United States according to these "leaders."  Mexicans.  Illegal refugees.  Legal immigrants.  Women.  Muslims.  Now, the mentally ill.

Let me be clear here:  I think that my country is woefully negligent in helping people suffering from mental illnesses.  There is lack of funding.  Lack of understanding.  Lack of compassion.  "Crazy" people don't deserve the kind of support and research that people suffering from other illnesses deserve.  That's pretty much the attitude held by the majority of the population in the United States.  Good, "Christian" people.

And so, the mentally ill are being blamed for the fact that the United States has a major problem with guns.  It's not the weapons themselves that are the problem.  It's the crazy people who use them to kill students in schools, worshipers in church, concertgoers in Las Vegas.

I find this logic faulty and, frankly, offensive.

Yes, anyone who goes into a school with a weapon and kills innocent people probably has some mental health problems.  However, had the person not been able to purchase said weapon, there would be 17 people alive today who are, instead, being buried.  That's the simple, honest truth.  "Crazy" doesn't kill people.  Guns kill people.

My wife has bipolar disorder.  Therefore, there is a possibility that my children may develop bipolar disorder.  I have a friend whose daughter has been struggling with schizophrenia for most of her adult life.  My wife's uncle, who had bipolar disorder, committed suicide.  So, I am not talking out of my ass here.  I know mental illness.

The majority of people with mental illnesses are not violent murderers.  Just like the majority of Muslims in the world are not terrorists, and the majority of Mexicans are not rapists and drug dealers.  To believe otherwise is simply false.  And stupid.

I'm tired of trying to sugarcoat my ideas about gun control, so let me say it as clearly as I can:

Guns kill people.  Take away the guns, and people don't die.  There is no need for automatic or semiautomatic guns for "sport."  These are weapons designed simply to kill a lot of people in a very short period of time.  Anyone who can't wait 28 days to buy a gun--who needs it within 48 hours--probably shouldn't be able to buy a gun.  And the answer to school shootings is NOT to arm kindergarten teachers.

So.  There it is people.  I stand with those students from Florida.  The problem here isn't mental illness.  The problem here is that we have a country filled with leaders who have been bought and paid for by the National Rifle Association.  Those leaders will never allow common sense to rule their decisions in regard to gun control.

And in two weeks' time, we will be talking about another school shooting.

If you have a problem with anything that I have just said, I'm sorry.  I'm tired of young people dying.  You probably should be, too.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for freedom of speech.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

February 20: Series of Love Affairs, Billy Collins, "Aimless Love"

I slept in this morning because my kids got a day off from school.  Freezing rain last night that shagged the entire world with ice.  When I shoveled, the snow flaked up like pieces of dried paint.  It was heavy and wet.

I cleaned my house this afternoon, took my daughter to her orthodontist appointment.  Tomorrow morning, I rejoin my regular life.  Work and teaching and parenting and poetry.  Each competing for my attention.

Today, however, I had a chance to fall in love with a lot of things.  The layer of ice on my car.  The branches of the trees outside my window, still holding some frozen winterberries, red as paper cuts against the snow.  The omelet I had for breakfast.  The nap I took after lunch.

That really is what a day is all about.  A series of love affairs.  Ask Billy Collins.

Saint Marty is ready to fall in love with his pillow.

Aimless Love

by:  Billy Collins

This morning as I walked along the lakeshore,
I fell in love with a wren
and later in the day with a mouse
the cat had dropped under the dining room table.

In the shadows of an autumn evening,
I fell for a seamstress
still at her machine in the tailor's window,
and later for a bowl of broth,
steam rising like smoke from a naval battle.

This is the best kind of love, I thought,
without recompense, without gifts,
or unkind words, without suspicion,
or silence on the telephone.

The love of the chestnut,
the jazz cap and one hand on the wheel.

No lust, no slam of the door--
the love of the miniature orange tree,
the clean white shirt, the hot evening shower,
the highway that cuts across Florida.

No waiting, no huffiness, or rancor--
just a twinge every now and then
for the wren who had built her nest
on a low branch overhanging the water
and for the dead mouse,
still dressed in its light brown suit.

But my heart is always propped up
in a field on its tripod,
ready for the next arrow.

After I carried the mouse by the tail
to a pile of leaves in the woods,
I found myself standing at the bathroom sink
gazing down affectionately at the soap,

so patient and soluble,
so at home in its pale green soap dish.
I could feel myself falling again
as I felt its turning in my wet hands
and caught the scent of lavender and stone.

February 20: Sign the Papers, Bakery or Newspaper, Cautious and Careful

"Very good. Now, art thou the man to pitch a harpoon down a live whale's throat, and then jump after it? Answer, quick!"
"I am, sir, if it should be positively indispensable to do so; not to be got rid of, that is; which I don't take to be the fact."
"Good again. Now then, thou not only wantest to go a-whaling, to find out by experience what whaling is, but ye also want to go in order to see the world? Was not that what ye said? I thought so. Well then, just step forward there, and take a peep over the weather bow, and then back to me and tell me what ye see there."
For a moment I stood a little puzzled by this curious request, not knowing exactly how to take it, whether humorously or in earnest. But concentrating all his crow's feet into one scowl, Captain Peleg started me on the errand.
Going forward and glancing over the weather bow, I perceived that the ship swinging to her anchor with the flood-tide, was now obliquely pointing towards the open ocean. The prospect was unlimited, but exceedingly monotonous and forbidding; not the slightest variety that I could see.
"Well, what's the report?" said Peleg when I came back; "what did ye see?"
"Not much," I replied- "nothing but water; considerable horizon though, and there's a squall coming up, I think."
"Well, what does thou think then of seeing the world? Do ye wish to go round Cape Horn to see any more of it, eh? Can't ye see the world where you stand?"
I was a little staggered, but go a-whaling I must, and I would; and the Pequod was as good a ship as any- I thought the best- and all this I now repeated to Peleg. Seeing me so determined, he expressed his willingness to ship me.
"And thou mayest as well sign the papers right off," he added- "come along with ye." And so saying, he led the way below deck into the cabin.
Seated on the transom was what seemed to me a most uncommon and surprising figure. It turned out to be Captain Bildad who along with Captain Peleg was one of the largest owners of the vessel; the other shares, as is sometimes the case in these ports, being held by a crowd of old annuitants; widows, fatherless children, and chancery wards; each owning about the value of a timber head, or a foot of plank, or a nail or two in the ship. People in Nantucket invest their money in whaling vessels, the same way that you do yours in approved state stocks bringing in good interest.
Now, Bildad, like Peleg, and indeed many other Nantucketers, was a Quaker, the island having been originally settled by that sect; and to this day its inhabitants in general retain in an uncommon measure peculiarities of the Quaker, only variously and anomalously modified by things altogether alien and heterogeneous. For some of these same Quakers are the most sanguinary of all sailors and whale-hunters. They are fighting Quakers; they are Quakers with a vengeance.
So that there are instances among them of men, who, named with Scripture names- a singularly common fashion on the island- and in childhood naturally imbibing the stately dramatic thee and thou of the Quaker idiom; still, from the audacious, daring, and boundless adventure of their subsequent lives, strangely blend with these unoutgrown peculiarities, a thousand bold dashes of character, not unworthy a Scandinavian sea-king, or a poetical Pagan Roman. And when these things unite in a man of greatly superior natural force, with a globular brain and a ponderous heart; who has also by the stillness and seclusion of many long night-watches in the remotest waters, and beneath constellations never seen here at the north, been led to think untraditionally and independently; receiving all nature's sweet or savage impressions fresh from her own virgin voluntary and confiding breast, and thereby chiefly, but with some help from accidental advantages, to learn a bold and nervous lofty language- that man makes one in a whole nation's census- a mighty pageant creature, formed for noble tragedies. Nor will it at all detract from him, dramatically regarded, if either by birth or other circumstances, he have what seems a half wilful overruling morbidness at the bottom of his nature. For all men tragically great are made so through a certain morbidness. Be sure of this, O young ambition, all mortal greatness is but disease. But, as yet we have not to do with such an one, but with quite another; and still a man, who, if indeed peculiar, it only results again from another phase of the Quaker, modified by individual circumstances.

Ishmael is doing something here that I would never do.  He has just stepped aboard the Pequod and, within of few minutes of meeting Captain Peleg, is ready to sign on for a three-year whaling voyage.  Of course, that's why he and Queequeg came to Nantucket.  And, of course, Moby-Dick wouldn't be much of a book if Ishmael were less impulsive in his decision here.  There wouldn't be Ahab.  Or a monstrous white whale.

I am not a person who rushes decisions.  I prefer to think about things.  A lot.  Examine all sides of an issue.  Sometimes, I've been accused of being overly cautious.  It's just my nature.  If I were Ishmael, I wouldn't have ended up on the Pequod.  I'm sure of it.  In fact, I would have visited every whaling ship in the harbor, taking notes in my journal, maybe writing down names and drawing pictures.  Weighing my options.  And then I would have hopped on a boat for the mainland, turned my back on the ocean, and found a nice job in a bakery or newspaper.

I am not a coward.  I stand up in front of a group of 35 college students every day, talking about film and writing and poetry.  Subjects that 18- and 19-year-old men and women don't really give two shits about.  I sit at a pipe organ every Saturday night, making music to a church filled with people.  I've played the lead in the musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.  I've directed musicals.  And I've attended a clothing optional poetry workshop. choosing the optional one night.

So, you see, I take chances.  Do things that would make other people incredibly uncomfortable.  Yet, I'm not impulsive in the choices I make.  Before I took up teaching college English, I worked in a book store.  Cleaned a hospital operating room at night.  Studied computer programming.  I tried my hand at a lot of things.  Then I decided I wanted to teach.

Before I played Pseudolus in Forum, I was part of a lot of choruses in musicals.  That's like being the second guy at the bus stop in a movie.  Or the fifth member of the landing party on an episode of the original Star Trek.  I built up some experience before I stepped into the spotlight.

That's how I roll.  I'm Poet Laureate of the Upper Peninsula at the moment.  I love meeting people, sharing poems, encouraging other poets.  It's exciting.  However, I've been practicing poetry for close to 20 years now.  I'm still practicing.  Every time I sit down with my pen and journal to work on a new poem, it's like I'm in my first poetry workshop all over again.

I'm not an impulsive person.  I'm careful.  I don't think that makes me timid.  That makes me smart.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for being cautiously fearless.