Saturday, March 31, 2018

March 31: Trumpa Whale, Easter Narrative, Hope

*I am aware that down to the present time, the fish styled Lamatins and Dugongs (Pig-fish and Sow-fish of the Coffins of Nantucket) are included by many naturalists among the whales. But as these pig-fish are a noisy, contemptible set, mostly lurking in the mouths of rivers, and feeding on wet hay, and especially as they do not spout, I deny their credentials as whales; and have presented them with their passports to quit the Kingdom of Cetology.

First: According to magnitude I divide the whales into three primary BOOKS (subdivisible into CHAPTERS), and these shall comprehend them all, both small and large.

I. THE FOLIO WHALE; II. the OCTAVO WHALE; III. the DUODECIMO WHALE. As the type of the FOLIO I present the Sperm Whale; of the OCTAVO, the Grampus; of the DUODECIMO, the Porpoise. FOLIOS. Among these I here include the following chapters:- I. The Sperm Whale; II. the Right Whale; III. the Fin Back Whale; IV. the Humpbacked Whale; V. the Razor Back Whale; VI. the Sulphur Bottom Whale.

BOOK I. (Folio), CHAPTER I. (Sperm Whale).- This whale, among the English of old vaguely known as the Trumpa whale and the Physeter whale, and the Anvil Headed whale, is the present Cachalot of the French, and the Pottsfich of the Germans, and the Macrocephalus of the Long Words. He is, without doubt, the largest inhabitant of the globe; the most formidable of all whales to encounter; the most majestic in aspect; and lastly, by far the most valuable in commerce; he being the only creature from which that valuable substance, spermaceti, is obtained. All his peculiarities will, in many other places, be enlarged upon. It is chiefly with his name that I now have to do. Philologically considered, it is absurd. Some centuries ago, when the sperm whale was almost wholly unknown in his own proper individuality, and when his oil was only accidentally obtained from the stranded fish; in those days spermaceti, it would seem, was popularly supposed to be derived from a creature identical with the one then known in England as the Greenland or Right Whale. It was the idea also, that this same spermaceti was that quickening humor of the Greenland Whale which the first syllable of the word literally expresses. In those times, also, spermaceti was exceedingly scarce, not being used for light, but only as an ointment and medicament. It was only to be had from the druggists as you nowadays buy an ounce of rhubarb. When, as I opine, in the course of time, the true nature of spermaceti became known, its original name was still retained by the dealers; no doubt to enhance its value by a notion so strangely significant of its scarcity. And so the appellation must at last have come to be bestowed upon the whale from which this spermaceti was really derived.

And we continue with our lesson in nineteenth-century whale science.  Of course, Melville is incorrect in one of his assertions:  the sperm whale is NOT the largest inhabitant of the globe.  That distinction belongs to the blue whale.  For the sake of his narrative, Melville needs to make the sperm whale into the largest, most terrifying creature on the planet.  I get that.  I'm a writer.

Narrative is an important part of Easter weekend--from the story of Christ's passion to His resurrection tomorrow morning.  Whether you are a believer or not, it's an incredibly moving tale.  It strikes at the core of humanity--betrayal and torture, sacrifice and forgiveness, and then, at the end, salvation for the world.

I don't want to be all evangelical here, because the people in Washington, D. C., right now have given evangelicals a bad name.  Evangelicals are associated, now, with intolerance and hatred, homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia, white supremacy, subjugation of the poor, and misogyny.  By the way, that's an abbreviated list.

Keep in mind, though, that the REAL story of Easter is about love and forgiveness and acceptance.  Regardless of how humankind has distorted the essential message of the Gospels, that's what it's all about.  And that narrative uplifts me.  Gives me hope for the world.  The Donald Trumps of the world aren't going to win.  Love wins in the end.

That's the narrative for today and tomorrow.  Light over darkness.  Compassion over intolerance.  Love over hate.  Hope over despair.

Saint Marty is thankful today for the message of Easter.

March 31: "Divination," Kwame Dawes, Happy Easter


by:  Kwame Dawes

You give them names only after you wake,
after you have studied the patterns of threes--
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fire,
but none of these are hobos, none traveling
from Nazareth to Jerusalem, and not a sheep
in sight, but thieves on the cross, and the noble
Magi have least to say--still you dream these
train hoppers, bleak with hunger, their clothes
loose, ragged, their eyes dancing with mischief
and in the dream you know to follow them
through doors into hallways.  You know
to count to three, the third being the closure
of all stories, the arrival at peace.  Every
gathering has the loose-legged dancer
with his knobby stick and a mouth full
of lies that rise like moths over the heads
of folks; it has a hand of steel, that engine
soul scowling in the shadows, wanting
everyone to scowl or laugh, and then
the clear-eyed diviner, one eye shut,
the other reading that pattern in the clouds--
every fathering has a sermonizer to balm
the faithful, has a rod to beat against
the stone, to frighten the wolves in the gloom;
every meeting place has its anchors,
and the believers will come softly.


A little poem from Kwame Dawes that, for some reason, feels like Easter to me.  The real Easter, full of hobos and thieves and wolves in the gloom.  And believers coming together softly to celebrate.

The snow is falling in the Upper Peninsula right now.  It's supposed to snow most of the day--white filling the ground and trees and roofs and steeples.  For some reason, this also makes me think of Easter.  It's like a cleansing.

Saint Marty wishes you all a blessed Easter.

Friday, March 30, 2018

March 30: Lungless and Cold Blooded, Good Friday, Sacrifice

First: The uncertain, unsettled condition of this science of Cetology is in the very vestibule attested by the fact, that in some quarters it still remains a moot point whether a whale be a fish. In his System of Nature, A.D. 1776, Linnaeus declares, "I hereby separate the whales from the fish." But of my own knowledge, I know that down to the year 1850, sharks and shad, alewives and herring, against Linnaeus's express edict, were still found dividing the possession of the same seas with the Leviathan.

The grounds upon which Linnaeus would fain have banished the whales from the waters, he states as follows: "On account of their warm bilocular heart, their lungs, their moveable eyelids, their hollow ears, penem intrantem feminam mammis lactantem," and finally, "ex lege naturae jure meritoque." I submitted all this to my friends Simeon Macey and Charley Coffin, of Nantucket, both messmates of mine in a certain voyage, and they united in the opinion that the reasons set forth were altogether insufficient. Charley profanely hinted they were humbug.

Be it known that, waiving all argument, I take the good old fashioned ground that the whale is a fish, and call upon holy Jonah to back me. This fundamental thing settled, the next point is, in what internal respect does the whale differ from other fish. Above, Linnaeus has given you those items. But in brief they are these: lungs and warm blood; whereas, all other fish are lungless and cold blooded.

Next: how shall we define the whale, by his obvious externals, so as conspicuously to label him for all time to come. To be short, then, a whale is a spouting fish with a horizontal tail. There you have him. However contracted, that definition is the result of expanded meditation. A walrus spouts much like a whale, but the walrus is not a fish, because he is amphibious. But the last term of the definition is still more cogent, as coupled with the first. Almost any one must have noticed that all the fish familiar to landsmen have not a flat, but a vertical, or up-and-down tail. Whereas, among spouting fish the tail, though it may be similarly shaped, invariably assumes a horizontal position.

By the above definition of what a whale is, I do by no means exclude from the leviathanic brotherhood any sea creature hitherto identified with the whale by the best informed Nantucketers; nor, on the other hand, link with it any fish hitherto authoritatively regarded as alien.* Hence, all the smaller, spouting and horizontal tailed fish must be included in this ground-plan of cetology. Now, then, come the grand divisions of the entire whale host.

This little passage proves that the world knew little about whales.  Melville/Ishmael proclaims the leviathan to be a fish, despite the fact that it is warm-blooded and breathes air through lungs.  If it looks like a fish--fins and tail and such--it is a fish.

It is Good Friday.  The last day I will have to eat fish for Lent.  (See how I did that--the segue from whales to fish to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.  Pretty slick, huh?)  I'm not much of a fish-eater.  During Lent, my staples are cheese, peanut butter, and did I mention cheese?  Of course, there was also fasting between meals, as well.

A lot of people don't understand the idea of abstaining from meat and fasting, including other Christian denominations.  A friend of mine recently said to me, "You know, that fish thing is a man-made rule."

"Yes," I responded, "I understand that."  I watched my friend's face take on a glow of self-satisfaction.  Then, I said, "However, I do believe that it's a good practice,  A reminder of how important sacrifice is during the Lenten season."  My friend's smile faltered a little bit.  "You do believe in sacrifice, don't you?"

I know, I know.  It was a pretty passive aggressive move on my part.  Don't worry, my friend and I are still talking.  But I get a little perturbed by Christians who seem hell-bent (pardon the term) on criticizing the practices of other follower of Christ.  Because, the last time I checked, Jesus really wasn't about judging.  He was pretty much all about forgiveness.

I just got done playing the organ and singing at the Good Friday service at my church.  When I was younger, this service used to last three hours.  Noon to 3 p.m.  It involved a rosary and Stations and the Cross and chanting and incense.  It has been scaled back a little now.

But one of my favorite elements of the service is still intact:  the reading of Christ's passion.  It moves me in a way that only the gospels read on Christmas night and day move me.  One moment in particular always moves me to tears.  It is when the lector reads this line (or a variation of it):  "And bowing His head, He surrendered His spirit."  And then everyone in the church kneels in silence for over a full minute.

I am easing into Easter weekend.  Tomorrow night is the Easter Vigil service, starting at 9 p.m. and ending somewhere around midnight.  Starting with the church in darkness.  Then the lighting of candles.  Lots of chanting.  Ten readings.  Baptisms.  First Communions.  Confirmations.  It will be beautiful and stressful.  I'm not really comfortable with Gregorian chant, and I have to do a whole lot of it.

So, tonight, I will rest, write, and prepare myself for tomorrow and Sunday.

Saint Marty is thankful today for sacrifice.

March 30: "Requiem," Kwame Dawes, Sacrifice and Sadness


by:  Kwame Dawes

I sing requiem
for the dead, caught in that
mercantilistic madness.

We have not built lasting
monuments of severe stone
facing the sea, the watery tomb,

so I call these songs
shrines of remembrance
where faithful descendants

may stand and watch the smoke
curl into the sky
in memory of those

devoured by the cold Atlantic.
In every blues I hear
riding the dank swamp

I see the bones
picked clean in the belly
of the implacable sea.

Do not tell me
it is not right to lament,
do not tell me it is tired.

If we don't, who will
recall in requiem
the scattering of my tribe?

In every reggae chant
stepping proud against Babylon
I hear a blue note

of lament, sweet requiem
for the countless dead,
skanking feet among shell,

coral, rainbow adze,
webbed feet, making as if
to lift, soar, fly into new days.


Saw and heard Kwame Dawes read at the university last night.  He was . . . How can I say this? . . . Ah-mazing.  I knew he would be.  He filled me with the urge to write, which, for me, is the litmus test of a really great poetry reading.  (Another great test--if the reading is so good that it makes me want to abandon pen and journal.)

It is Good Friday.  This afternoon, I heard the Gospel account of the trial and death of Christ.  As always, it moved me deeply.  Throws me into a deep funk until tomorrow night, when the candles are lit at the Easter Vigil Mass.

The poem for tonight is in honor of sacrifice and sadness.

Saint Marty is ready for a little more light, a little less fish.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

March 29: A Ponderous Task, Holy Thursday, Poetry Reading

There are only two books in being which at all pretend to put the living sperm whale before you, and at the same time, in the remotest degree succeed in the attempt. Those books are Beale's and Bennett's; both in their time surgeons to the English South-Sea whale-ships, and both exact and reliable men. The original matter touching the sperm whale to be found in their volumes is necessarily small; but so far as it goes, it is of excellent quality, though mostly confined to scientific description. As yet, however, the sperm whale, scientific or poetic, lives not complete in any literature. Far above all other hunted whales, his is an unwritten life.

Now the various species of whales need some sort of popular comprehensive classification, if only an easy outline one for the present, hereafter to be filled in all-outward its departments by subsequent laborers. As no better man advances to take this matter in hand, I hereupon offer my own poor endeavors. I promise nothing complete; because any human thing supposed to be complete must for that very reason infallibly be faulty. I shall not pretend to a minute anatomical description of the various species, or- in this space at least- to much of any description. My object here is simply to project the draught of a systematization of cetology. I am the architect, not the builder.

But it is a ponderous task; no ordinary letter-sorter in the Post-Office is equal to it. To grope down into the bottom of the sea after them; to have one's hands among the unspeakable foundations, ribs, and very pelvis of the world; this is a fearful thing. What am I that I should essay to hook the nose of this leviathan! The awful tauntings in Job might well appal me. "Will he (the leviathan) make a covenant with thee? Behold the hope of him is vain! But I have swam through libraries and sailed through oceans; I have had to do with whales with these visible hands; I am in earnest; and I will try. There are some preliminaries to settle. . . 

So Melville/Ishmael continues with his whale discourse, appointing himself as the drafter of a classification system for whales.  As he points out, ". . . it is a ponderous task," made even more ponderous by the severe lack of scientific inquiry.  Indeed, at the time Melville wrote Moby-Dick, I imagine whales were still seen as sea monsters, barely removed from mythology.

Last night, I attempted a revision of an essay.  Note the word "attempted."  I didn't get it done.  The essay requires a fairly substantial rewrite, so it is probably going to take me a couple of days.  To paraphrase Melville, it is a ponderous task.  I will put some more time into it this evening, after I go to a poetry reading at the university. 

It is Holy Thursday, so I feel a little guilty that I'm forgoing the first part of the Easter Triduum to hear Kwame Dawes read his poems.  But listening to poetry is sort of a religious experience for me.  (Okay, I know I'm trying to justify my dereliction of Christian duty.  Cut me some slack.  I'm playing the organ and singing for Good Friday, AND I'm cantoring, playing the organ, and singing for the Easter Vigil Mass, which is going to be a three-and-a-half hour marathon of readings and baptisms and confirmations and incense.  I deserve a little poetry.)

I'm hoping to get some inspiration tonight for my rewrite.  Kind of struggled a bit last night.  I thought that it was going to be easy, and it wasn't.  The plan that I had in my mind sort of fell apart.  Now I'm trying to pick up the pieces to see what I have left.  It's one of those writing situations where I'm trying to force the essay in one direction, and it seems to want to go in another.  I may just have to surrender and just let the words show me the way.

It is almost time for me to leave for the poetry reading.  I have really said nothing in this blog post, aside from the fact that I'm a terrible Christian and, at the moment, a terrible writer, struggling, like Melville, with a seemingly gargantuan project.

Saint Marty is thankful for poetic distraction tonight.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

March 28: Sperm Whale Now Reigneth, Manuscript Process, Good Friends Who Are Good Readers

Already we are boldly launched upon the deep; but soon we shall be lost in its unshored harborless immensities. Ere that come to pass; ere the Pequod's weedy hull rolls side by side with the barnacled hulls of the leviathan; at the outset it is but well to attend to a matter almost indispensable to a thorough appreciative understanding of the more special leviathanic revelations and allusions of all sorts which are to follow.

It is some systematized exhibition of the whale in his broad genera, that I would now fain put before you. Yet is it no easy task. The classification of the constituents of a chaos, nothing less is here essayed. Listen to what the best and latest authorities have laid down.

"No branch of Zoology is so much involved as that which is entitled Cetology," says Captain Scoresby, A.D. 1820.

"It is not my intention, were it in my power, to enter into the inquiry as to the true method of dividing the cetacea into groups and families.... Utter confusion exists among the historians of this animal" (sperm whale), says Surgeon Beale, A.D. 1839.

"Unfitness to pursue our research in the unfathomable waters." "Impenetrable veil covering our knowledge of the cetacea." "A field strewn with thorns." "All these incomplete indications but serve to torture us naturalists."

Thus speak of the whale, the great Cuvier, and John Hunter, and Lesson, those lights of zoology and anatomy. Nevertheless, though of real knowledge there be little, yet of books there are a plenty; and so in some small degree, with cetology, or the science of whales. Many are the men, small and great, old and new, landsmen and seamen, who have at large or in little, written of the whale. Run over a few:- The Authors of the Bible; Aristotle; Pliny; Aldrovandi; Sir Thomas Browne; Gesner; Ray; Linnaeus; Rondeletius; Willoughby; Green; Artedi; Sibbald; Brisson; Marten; Lacepede; Bonneterre; Desmarest; Baron Cuvier; Frederick Cuvier; John Hunter; Owen; Scoresby; Beale; Bennett; J. Ross Browne; the Author of Miriam Coffin; Olmstead; and the Rev. T. Cheever. But to what ultimate generalizing purpose all these have written, the above cited extracts will show.

Of the names in this list of whale authors only those following Owen ever saw living whales; and but one of them was a real professional harpooneer and whaleman. I mean Captain Scoresby. On the separate subject of the Greenland or right-whale, he is the best existing authority. But Scoresby knew nothing and says nothing of the great sperm whale, compared with which the Greenland whale is almost unworthy mentioning. And here be it said, that the Greenland whale is an usurper upon the throne of the seas. He is not even by any means the largest of the whales. Yet, owing to the long priority of his claims, and the profound ignorance which till some seventy years back, invested the then fabulous or utterly unknown sperm-whale, and which ignorance to this present day still reigns in all but some few scientific retreats and whale-ports; this usurpation has been every way complete. Reference to nearly all the leviathanic allusions in the great poets of past days, will satisfy you that the Greenland whale, without one rival, was to them the monarch of the seas. But the time has at last come for a new proclamation. This is Charing Cross; hear ye! good people all,- the Greenland whale is deposed,- the great sperm whale now reigneth!

About a third of the way into the novel, Melville pauses to provide a chapter titled "Cetology"--the science of whales.  Keep in mind that the science that he includes is pushing 200 years of age.  It is by no means current.  Also keep in mind that Melville is trying to tell a story and anything that he chooses to include is slave to that narrative.  Thus, "the great sperm whale reigneth" as the lord of the seas.  Large and majestic and terrifying.

I am currently revising a manuscript of essays that I have compiled.  I have a good friend reading the book and giving me feedback.  He's a person whose eyes and ears I trust.  Thankfully, he isn't finding a whole lot wrong with what I've written.  I have worked and reworked most of the essays many times over several years.  Most of my usual readers and editors have read and reread these things several times.  In short, they are sick of them.  That's why I asked another good friend, with fresh eyes, to read them over for me and offer advice.

In some ways, this point in the manuscript process is my favorite.  I find out what is seaworthy and what is taking on water.  I love patching the holes of the leaky boats.  (I know, I know.  I'm pushing this sailing metaphor way too far.)  Today, my friend pointed out quite a few leaks in one of the essays.  And tonight, I plan to sit down and give it a look.  I need to save this piece.  It's one of my favorites.  However, I'm not quite sure what it needs.  Perhaps an entire section on the science of whales?

Let me use a Melville-inspired metaphor:  I am confident that I can save this beached whale.  At the moment it's rolling in the surf on the shore, collecting sand and gazing forlornly at the stars and ocean with great watery eyes.  It needs to be slowly dragged back into the waves where it can float and find its flukes and fins again.

I am learning to admire something about Moby-Dick that I hadn't before.  I am really jazzing on Melville's experimentation, how he will interrupt the entire novel to wax eloquent for a few pages on the sperm whale.  He breaks the rules in order to create something completely new.  He is doing postmodernism before the word "postmodernism" existed.  That is amazing to me.

Melville sort of gives me permission to try something new.  Something different.  Weird, maybe.  That's the kind of stuff that excites me as a reader and writer.  That's what I'm going to do tonight as I go back to revise my little beached boat.  I'm going to follow Toni Morrison's advice:  "If there's a book you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it."

Tonight, I'm going to revise that essay into something I would want to read.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for good friends who are good readers.

March 28: "Assemblage of Ruined Plane Parts, Vietnam Military Museum, Hanoi," Paisley Rekdal, My Friend

Assemblage of Ruined Plane
Parts, Vietnam Military
Museum, Hanoi

by:  Paisley Rekdal

My eye climbs a row of spoilers soldered
into ailerons, cracked bay doors haphazarded
into windows where every rivet bleeds
contrails of rust.  An hour ago, the doctor's wand
waved across my chest and I watched blood
on a small screen get back-sucked
into my weakened heart.  It's grown a hole
I have to monitor:  one torn flap
shuddering an infinite ellipses of gray stars
back and forth.  You're the writer, the doctor said
in French.  Tell me what you see.  Easier to stand
in a courtyard full of tourists scrying shapes
from this titanic Rorschach.  Here's a pump stub
shaped like a hand; something called,
cavernously fluted as a lobster's
abdomen.  How much work
it must have taken to drag these bits
out of pits of flame, from lake beds
and rice paddies, and stack them in layers:
the French planes heaped beneath
the American ones, while the Englishwoman
beside me peers into this mess
of metals, trying to isolate one image
from the rest.  Ski boot buckle
or tire pump, she muses at me, fossilized
shark's jaw, clothespin, wasp nest?
According to the camera, it's just a picture
changing with each angle, relic
turned to ribcage, chrome flesh
to animal:  all the mortal details
enumerated, neutered.  I watch her trace
an aluminum sheet torched across a thrust
as if wind had tossed a silk scarf
over a face.  If she pulled it back, would I find
a body foreign as my own entombed
in here, a thousand dog tags
jangling in the dark?  I tilt my head:  the vision slides
once more past me, each plane reassembling
then breaking apart.  Spikes of grief--
or is it fury?--throb across the surface.
Everything has a rip in it, a hole, a tear, the dim sounds
of something struggling to pry open
death's cracked fuselage.  White sparks,
iron trails.  My heart rustles
in its manila folder.  How the doctor smiled
at the images I fed him:  Stone towers,
a flock of backlit swallows--
                                             Now I kneel beside a cross
of blades on which the Englishwoman
tries to focus.  Do you thing I'll get it
all in the shot?  She calls as she steps back.
Steps back and back.  Something like a knife sheath.
Something like a saint's skull.  The sky
floats past, horizon sucked into it.  She won't.


I love this poem because it speaks to human wreckage.  To people struggling with health issues.  It challenges me to try to put a name or image to all the burned out planes and cars and loves of my life.

I have a friend who was diagnosed with breast cancer a while ago.  She's had surgery and is undergoing chemo.  Now, something is wrong with her eyes.  Her doctors think it's some kind of infection (viral or fungal).  She's lost the vision in one eye.  A day or so ago, she woke up to find the vision in her other eye hazed over.  She had another surgery today.

In a blog post she wrote a couple days ago, she said she was frightened.  She's beating cancer, but her cure may cause her to go blind.

This is what I think that poem is about.  Trying to name the unnameable.  Sorting out the wreckage.

Say some prayers for Saint Marty's friend tonight.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

March 27: Bloody on His Mind, Bad Dreams, School Problems

Next morning Stubb accosted Flask.

"Such a queer dream, King-Post, I never had. You know the old man's ivory leg, well I dreamed he kicked me with it; and when I tried to kick back, upon my soul, my little man, I kicked my leg right off! And then, presto! Ahab seemed a pyramid, and I like a blazing fool, kept kicking at it. But what was still more curious, Flask- you know how curious all dreams are- through all this rage that I was in, I somehow seemed to be thinking to myself, that after all, it was not much of an insult, that kick from Ahab. 'Why,' thinks I, 'what's the row? It's not a real leg, only a false one.' And there's a mighty difference between a living thump and a dead thump. That's what makes a blow from the hand, Flask, fifty times more savage to bear than a blow from a cane. The living member- that makes the living insult, my little man. And thinks I to myself all the while, mind, while I was stubbing my silly toes against that cursed pyramid- so confoundedly contradictory was it all, all the while, I say, I was thinking to myself, 'what's his leg now, but a cane-. a whale-bone cane. Yes,' thinks I, 'it was only a playful cudgelling- in fact, only a whaleboning that he gave me- not a base kick. Besides,' thinks I, 'look at it once; why, the end of it- the foot part- what a small sort of end it is; whereas, if a broad footed farmer kicked me, there's a devilish broad insult. But this insult is whittled down to a point only.' But now comes the greatest joke of the dream, Flask. While I was battering away at the pyramid, a sort of badger-haired old merman, with a hump on his back, takes me by the shoulders, and slews me round. 'What are you 'bout?' says he. Slid! man, but I was frightened. Such a phiz! But, somehow, next moment I was over the fright. 'What am I about?' says I at last. 'And what business is that of yours, I should like to know, Mr. Humpback? Do you want a kick?' By the lord, Flask, I had no sooner said that, than he turned round his stern to me, bent over, and dragging up a lot of seaweed he had for a clout- what do you think, I saw?- why thunder alive, man, his stern was stuck full of marlinspikes, with the points out. Says I on second thought, 'I guess I won't kick you, old fellow.' 'Wise Stubb,' said he, 'wise Stubb;' and kept muttering it all the time, a sort of eating of his gums like a chimney hag. Seeing he wasn't going to stop saying over his 'wise Stubb, wise Stubb,' I thought I might as well fall to kicking the pyramid again. But I had only just lifted my foot for it, when he roared out, 'Stop that kicking!' 'Halloa,' says I, 'what's the matter now, old fellow?' 'Look ye here,' says he; 'let's argue the insult. Captain Ahab kicked ye, didn't he?' 'Yes, he did,' says I- 'right here it was.' 'Very good,' says he- 'he used his ivory leg, didn't he?' 'Yes, he did,' says I. 'Well then,' says he, 'wise Stubb, what have you to complain of? Didn't he kick with right good will? it wasn't a common pitch pine leg he kicked with, was it? No, you were kicked by a great man, and with a beautiful ivory leg, Stubb. It's an honor; I consider it an honor. Listen, wise Stubb. In old England the greatest lords think it great glory to be slapped by a queen, and made garter-knights of; but, be your boast, Stubb, that ye were kicked by old Ahab, and made a wise man of. Remember what I say; be kicked by him; account his kicks honors; and on no account kick back; for you can't help yourself, wise Stubb. Don't you see that pyramid?' With that, he all of a sudden seemed somehow, in some queer fashion, to swim off into the air. I snored; rolled over; and there I was in my hammock! Now, what do you think of that dream, Flask?"

"I don't know; it seems a sort of foolish to me, tho.'"

"May be; may be. But it's made a wise man of me, Flask. D'ye see Ahab standing there, sideways looking over the stern? Well, the best thing you can do, Flask, is to let the old man alone; never speak to him, whatever he says. Halloa! What's that he shouts? Hark!"

"Mast-head, there! Look sharp, all of ye! There are whales hereabouts!  If ye see a white one, split your lungs for him!"

"What do you think of that now, Flask? ain't there a small drop of something queer about that, eh? A white whale- did ye mark that, man? Look ye- there's something special in the wind. Stand by for it, Flask. Ahab has that that's bloody on his mind. But, mum; he comes this way."

Stubb dreams of Ahab, and it's strange.  Pyramids and a badger-haired merman.  All to deliver the message that a kick from Ahab's ivory leg is not an insult, but an honor.  Ahab is placed on the level of royalty or, even, divinity.  And poor Stubb has no idea what to make of this visit from Queen Mab.

I never have Stubb's problem, because I can never remember my dreams.  For the first waking seconds, they remain with me, whether nightmare or nocturnal emission.  Then, they're gone like rain sliding off the windshield of a moving car.  What stays with me is the accompanying emotions.  If I wake from a bad dream, I carry that dread with me into the day.  If I wake from a pleasant dream, I remain in a good mood as I rise and prepare myself to face the sun.

Last night, I had a dream about my son.  That's all I can remember about it.  It wasn't a good dream.  Before I went to bed last night, my wife and I were discussing problems that my son is having at school. 

My son suffers from a couple conditions--ADHD and ODD.  Most people are familiar with ADHD.  ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) is not as well known.  Without getting too technical, ODD makes my son bridle against rules and authority.  ADHD makes him quite impulsive.  He's not able to control his emotions and actions at times.

Well, it seems that yesterday my son punched a classmate in the face for seemingly no apparent reason.  My son wouldn't talk to the principal or my wife about it.  Recently, he's been having these outbursts quite a bit, and we can't figure out why.  He's been doing really well in school up to now.  And my son just presses his lips together and won't say a word.

My wife and I talked about his latest episode right before I fell asleep, and it caused me to have some kind of nightmare.  I woke in a cold panic, and I've been worried about my son all day long.  Can't say why.  Every time my son crossed my mind today, I said a little prayer for him, something along the lines of "Dear Jesus, please don't let him injure or maim anyone today."

In about an hour, when I see my wife, I will find out what kind of day my son had, and I'm not looking forward to it.  My son has a doctor's appointment tomorrow.  My wife is going to speak to his pediatrician about increasing one of his medications so that he takes a dose of it at lunch time.

This was actually my son's idea.  He said something to my wife before bed about not being able to control himself in the afternoon.  So he knows that he's having a problem, and he wants to stop punching and kicking and yelling at his classmates.  That sort of breaks my heart.  It's almost as if he's watching himself from above, realizing that what he's doing is wrong.  But he can't stop himself.

I'm not saying my son is innocent.  I'm saying that my son has a problem that needs to be addressed, not through detentions and punishments and groundings.  Those things aren't going to make a bit of difference.  It's something physical/chemical in his brain.  I can honestly say that my son would not intentionally heart a living thing.  Ever.  He cares about people and things very deeply.

I am hoping for good news soon:  a day without bloodshed or bruises.  It's that simple.

Saint Marty is thankful today for good dreams, when they come.

Monday, March 26, 2018

March 26: Lurchingly Paced, "Les Miserables," ADHD Brain

When Stubb had departed, Ahab stood for a while leaning over the bulwarks; and then, as had been usual with him of late, calling a sailor of the watch, he sent him below for his ivory stool, and also his pipe. Lighting the pipe at the binnacle lamp and planting the stool on the weather side of the deck, he sat and smoked.

In old Norse times, the thrones of the sea-loving Danish kings were fabricated, saith tradition, of the tusks of the narwhale. How could one look at Ahab then, seated on that tripod of bones, without bethinking him of the royalty it symbolized? For a Khan of the plank, and a king of the sea and a great lord of Leviathans was Ahab.

Some moments passed, during which the thick vapor came from his mouth in quick and constant puffs, which blew back again into his face. "How now," he soliloquized at last, withdrawing the tube, "this smoking no longer soothes. Oh, my pipe! hard must it go with me if thy charm be gone! Here have I been unconsciously toiling, not pleasuring- aye, and ignorantly smoking to windward all the while; to windward, and with such nervous whiffs, as if, like the dying whale, my final jets were the strongest and fullest of trouble. What business have I with this pipe? This thing that is meant for sereneness, to send up mild white vapors among mild white hairs, not among torn iron-grey locks like mine. I'll smoke no more-"

He tossed the still lighted pipe into the sea. The fire hissed in the waves; the same instant the ship shot by the bubble the sinking pipe made. With slouched hat, Ahab lurchingly paced the planks.

Nothing is soothing Ahab's tempest-tossed mind.  He paces.  Berates his crew.  Doesn't sleep.  He can't even find solace in smoking his pipe, and so he tosses it into the sea, where is hisses and sinks in the wake of the Pequod.  And paces and paces and paces.

I do feel a bit like Ahab this afternoon.  Ill at ease.  I tried to relax at lunch by reading.  It didn't help.  Couldn't concentrate on more than four or five words without my mind wandering over the list of chores I have to accomplish before I go to bed tonight.

Please forgive my absence from blogging last weekend.  I was on the road.  I went with most of my family to see a traveling production of Les Miserables in Appleton, Wisconsin.  It was the first time my nine-year-old son had ever seen a Broadway-quality show.  I was a little concerned, since my son has ADHD and usually has a hard time paying attention to a full episode of Teen Titans Go!  Like myself and Ahab, his mind doesn't rest a whole lot.

However, my son lasted the entire three hours without asking to go to the bathroom or opening his Nintendo Switch.  For the last twenty minutes, he was sobbing in his seat.  (Spoiler alert:  almost everyone dies at the end of Les Miz.)  He was practically inconsolable.  Thank God there was a curtain call so that he could see that all of the actors were still alive and kicking.

Today, I have been playing catch-up from taking Saturday and Sunday off.  Lesson Plans.  Quizzes.  Grading.  Midterm grading.  It seems as though my mind is like a nervous robin, looking at the sky, not really sure if it's winter or spring.  I haven't had a real moment of peace since I woke up this morning.  If you can't tell, I suffered/suffer from ADHD, as well.

As a kid, I was never really diagnosed.  It was a different time.  Instead of being ADHD, I was labeled "energetic" and "unfocused."  I bounced from one obsession to another.  Taught myself how to sit down long enough to do my homework or read a book.  Taking piano lessons helped quite a bit, as well.  Piano was something that really quieted my mind when I was an adolescent and teenager.

Sometimes though, like today, my ADHD brain kicks in, and I find myself scattered--a pile of leaves blowing in the breeze.  I'm not sure how I'm going to make it through teaching this afternoon and evening.  I can barely stay seated at my desk now to finish this post.  I have started and deleted sentences five times since I began this paragraph.  I can't see my way to the end, don't know what I'm trying to say.

I need a little grace.  Possibly some caffeine to center my brain a little.  (Caffeine tends to have the opposite effect on kids/people with ADHD.  It calms them down.)

Saint Marty is thankful this afternoon that he . . . okay, that thought is gone, too . . .

March 26: Jamaal May, "Things That Break," Failure

Things That Break

by:  Jamaal May

Skin of a plum.  Rotting tooth.

Switches cut down by a child
to lash a child's legs.

A siege does something like this
against sturdy walls.  The wrong rules.

A dozen angel figurines flying
from a balcony.

Flailing fist.  Splint.
Forefinger and index,

dislocated (not broken).  One points
to the left of a man

and the rubbery thing inside quivers

familiar.  Raise your hand
if you know how to do this.

If enough hair fails to escape
the pull of a drain and the drain

sputters and fails to swallow water
we will likely say it's broken. 

Waves.  Traffic lights.

The craven infantry
of roaches at the flick of a switch.

Will--A child in a shrinking living room
sitting more still than the father.


Feeling a little broken myself today.  I think that's why this poem spoke to me.  The list of things that don't work.  Snap.  Fail.  Give up.  I appreciate not feeling alone is my contemplation of failure.

I was supposed to finish grading my students' midterm exams by class time this afternoon.  Didn't happen.  That makes me feel like a loser as an instructor.  I was supposed to rewrite some of the manuscript I finished last week.  Didn't happen.  In fact, out of the ten things I set out to do today, I only was able to check off three.

Just add Saint Marty to the list of things that break.

Friday, March 23, 2018

March 23: Ten Times a Donkey, Mean Drunks, Pretty Darn Pleasant

Some days elapsed, and ice and icebergs all astern, the Pequod now went rolling through the bright Quito spring, which at sea, almost perpetually reigns on the threshold of the eternal August of the Tropic. The warmly cool, clear, ringing perfumed, overflowing, redundant days, were as crystal goblets of Persian sherbet, heaped up- flaked up, with rose-water snow. The starred and stately nights seemed haughty dames in jewelled velvets, nursing at home in lonely pride, the memory of their absent conquering Earls, the golden helmeted suns! For sleeping man, 'twas hard to choose between such winsome days and such seducing nights. But all the witcheries of that unwaning weather did not merely lend new spells and potencies to the outward world. Inward they turned upon the soul, especially when the still mild hours of eve came on; then, memory shot her crystals as the clear ice most forms of noiseless twilights. And all these subtle agencies, more and more they wrought on Ahab's texture.

Old age is always wakeful; as if, the longer linked with life, the less man has to do with aught that looks like death. Among sea-commanders, the old greybeards will oftenest leave their berths to visit the night-cloaked deck. It was so with Ahab; only that now, of late, he seemed so much to live in the open air, that truly speaking, his visits were more to the cabin, than from the cabin to the planks. "It feels like going down into one's tomb,"- he would mutter to himself- "for an old captain like me to be descending this narrow scuttle, to go to my grave-dug berth."

So, almost every twenty-four hours, when the watches of the night were set, and the band on deck sentinelled the slumbers of the band below; and when if a rope was to be hauled upon the forecastle, the sailors flung it not rudely down, as by day, but with some cautiousness dropt it to its place for fear of disturbing their slumbering shipmates; when this sort of steady quietude would begin to prevail, habitually, the silent steersman would watch the cabin-scuttle; and ere long the old man would emerge, gripping at the iron banister, to help his crippled way. Some considering touch of humanity was in him; for at times like these, he usually abstained from patrolling the quarter-deck; because to his wearied mates, seeking repose within six inches of his ivory heel, such would have been the reverberating crack and din of that bony step, that their dreams would have been on the crunching teeth of sharks. But once, the mood was on him too deep for common regardings; and as with heavy, lumber-like pace he was measuring the ship from taffrail to mainmast, Stubb, the old second mate, came up from below, with a certain unassured, deprecating humorousness, hinted that if Captain Ahab was pleased to walk the planks, then, no one could say nay; but there might be some way of muffling the noise; hinting something indistinctly and hesitatingly about a globe of tow, and the insertion into it, of the ivory heel. Ah! Stubb, thou didst not know Ahab then.

"Am I a cannon-ball, Stubb," said Ahab, "that thou wouldst wad me that fashion? But go thy ways; I had forgot. Below to thy nightly grave; where such as ye sleep between shrouds, to use ye to the filling one at last.- Down, dog, and kennel!"

Starting at the unforseen concluding exclamation of the so suddenly scornful old man, Stubb was speechless a moment; then said excitedly, "I am not used to be spoken to that way, sir; I do but less than half like it, sir."

"Avast!" gritted Ahab between his set teeth, and violently moving away, as if to avoid some passionate temptation.

"No, sir; not yet," said Stubb, emboldened, "I will not tamely be called a dog, sir."

"Then be called ten times a donkey, and a mule, and an ass, and begone, or I'll clear the world of thee!"

As he said this, Ahab advanced upon him with such overbearing terrors in his aspect, that Stubb involuntarily retreated.

"I was never served so before without giving a hard blow for it," muttered Stubb, as he found himself descending the cabin-scuttle. "It's very queer. Stop, Stubb; somehow, now, I don't well know whether to go back and strike him, or- what's that?- down here on my knees and pray for him? Yes, that was the thought coming up in me; but it would be the first time I ever did pray. It's queer; very queer; and he's queer too; aye, take him fore and aft, he's about the queerest old man Stubb ever sailed with. How he flashed at me!- his eyes like powder-pans! is he mad! Anyway there's something's on his mind, as sure as there must be something on a deck when it cracks. He aint in his bed now, either, more than three hours out of the twenty-four; and he don't sleep then. Didn't that Dough-Boy, the steward, tell me that of a morning he always finds the old man's hammock clothes all rumpled and tumbled, and the sheets down at the foot, and the coverlid almost tied into knots, and the pillow a sort of frightful hot, as though a baked brick had been on it? A hot old man! I guess he's got what some folks ashore call a conscience; it's a kind of Tic-Dolly-row they say- worse nor a toothache. Well, well; I don't know what it is, but the Lord keep me from catching it. He's full of riddles; I wonder what he goes into the after hold for, every night, as Dough-Boy tells me he suspects; what's that for, I should like to know? Who's made appointments with him in the hold? Ain't that queer, now? But there's no telling, it's the old game- Here goes for a snooze. Damn me, it's worth a fellow's while to be born into the world, if only to fall right asleep. And now that I think of it, that's about the first thing babies do, and that's a sort of queer, too. Damn me, but all things are queer, come to think of 'em. But that's against my principles. Think not, is my eleventh commandment; and sleep when you can, is my twelfth- So here goes again. But how's that? didn't he call me a dog? blazes! he called me ten times a donkey, and piled a lot of jackasses on top of that! He might as well have kicked me, and done with me. Maybe he did kick me, and I didn't observe it, I was so taken aback with his brow, somehow. It flashed like a bleached bone. What the devil's the matter with me? I don't stand right on my legs. Coming afoul of that old man has a sort of turned me wrong side out. By the Lord, I must have been dreaming, though- How? how? how?- but the only way's to stash it; so here goes to hammock again; and in the morning, I'll see how this plaguey juggling thinks over by daylight."

Another first--we finally hear Ahab's voice.  It's not a very pleasant encounter between Ahab and Stubb.  In fact, I would venture to say that Ahab is kind of an asshole.  Of course, he's not in his right mind.  Sleep-deprived.  Driven to the brink of madness in his desire to hunt down the whale that cost him his leg. 

When I read books, I sometimes play a little game.  I try to decide which character I wouldn't mind getting drunk with.  Holden Caulfield would be an obnoxious drunk.  Bob Cratchit, on the other hand, would know how to have a good time.  So would McMurphy from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.  Billy Pilgrim from Slaughterhouse wouldn't be the life of the party.  Most of the characters from The Great Gatsby would be able to hold their liquor.  However, Ahab and Ebenezer Scrooge would be mean drunks. 

It has been a really long week.  Lots of drama with kids.  My daughter was taking tests, performing in concerts, and preparing for her trip to Florida.  When I got home from work this evening, she was stressing about the end of the marking period.  For about a half hour, she thought she was going to receive less than an "A" in one of her online classes.

I am happy to report that my daughter is on her way to the sunshine state, and she has retained her 4.0 GPA.  My wife and I did not receive any phone calls from the principal of my son's school this week, and, tomorrow, we head to Wisconsin to see a traveling production of Les Miserables in Appleton.  Nobody from my family is in the hospital or near death, and I am not on the brink of bankruptcy.

I think that my wife and I have earned a few drinks tonight.  I am not Ahab, although some of my students this semester would probably beg to differ.  Alcohol tends to amplify personality.  If you tend to be an asshole naturally, like Ahab, you will be a flaming asshole after a carafe or two of wine. 

I'm a fairly easy-going guy.  I enjoy good jokes, good food, and good friends.  So, when I drink, I tend to be pretty darn pleasant.  If you don't believe me, I invite you to drive to Jasper Ridge Brewery in Ishpeming tonight.  I will be the guy in the dining room, guzzling Tanqueray and tonics and eating cheese curds. 

If you are an Ahab, please stay below decks in your cabin. 

Saint Marty is thankful for Friday and alcohol and Victor Hugo.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

March 22: Captain Ahab, Years of Struggle, Control Freak

For several days after leaving Nantucket, nothing above hatches was seen of Captain Ahab. The mates regularly relieved each other at the watches, and for aught that could be seen to the contrary, they seemed to be the only commanders of the ship; only they sometimes issued from the cabin with orders so sudden and peremptory, that after all it was plain they but commanded vicariously. Yet, their supreme lord and dictator was there, though hitherto unseen by any eyes not permitted to penetrate into the now sacred retreat of the cabin.

Every time I ascended to the deck from my watches below, I instantly gazed aft to mark if any strange face was visible; for my first vague disquietude touching the unknown captain, now in the seclusion of the sea became almost a perturbation. This was strangely heightened at times by the ragged Elijah's diabolical incoherences uninvitedly recurring to me, with a subtle energy I could not have before conceived of. But poorly could I withstand them, much as in other moods I was almost ready to smile at the solemn whimsicalities of that outlandish prophet of the wharves. But whatever it was of apprehensiveness or uneasiness- to call it so- which I felt, yet whenever I came to look about me in the ship, it seemed against all warranty to cherish such emotions. For though the harpooneers, with the great body of the crew, were a far more barbaric, heathenish, and motley set than any of the tame merchant-ship companies which my previous experiences had made me acquainted with, still I ascribed this- and rightly ascribed it- to the fierce uniqueness of the very nature of that wild Scandinavian vocation in which I had so abandonedly embarked. But it was especially the aspect of the three chief officers of the ship, the mates, which was most forcibly calculated to allay these colorless misgivings, and induce confidence and cheerfulness in every presentment of the voyage. Three better, more likely sea-officers and men, each in his own different way, could not readily be found, and they were every one of them Americans; a Nantucketer, a Vineyarder, a Cape man. Now, it being Christmas when the ship shot from out her harbor, for a space we had biting Polar weather, though all the time running away from it to the southward; and by every degree and minute of latitude which we sailed, gradually leaving that merciless winter, and all its intolerable weather behind us. It was one of those less lowering, but still grey and gloomy enough mornings of the transition, when with a fair wind the ship was rushing through the water with a vindictive sort of leaping and melancholy rapidity, that as I mounted to the deck at the call of the forenoon watch, so soon as I levelled my glance towards the taffrail, foreboding shivers ran over me. Reality outran apprehension; Captain Ahab stood upon his quarter-deck.

There seemed no sign of common bodily illness about him, nor of the recovery from any. He looked like a man cut away from the stake, when the fire has overrunningly wasted all the limbs without consuming them, or taking away one particle from their compacted aged robustness. His whole high, broad form, seemed made of solid bronze, and shaped in an unalterable mould, like Cellini's cast Perseus. Threading its way out from among his grey hairs, and continuing right down one side of his tawny scorched face and neck, till it disappeared in his clothing, you saw a slender rod-like mark, lividly whitish. It resembled that perpendicular seam sometimes made in the straight, lofty trunk of a great tree, when the upper lightning tearingly darts down it, and without wrenching a single twig, peels and grooves out the bark from top to bottom ere running off into the soil, leaving the tree still greenly alive, but branded. Whether that mark was born with him, or whether it was the scar left by some desperate wound, no one could certainly say. By some tacit consent, throughout the voyage little or no allusion was made to it, especially by the mates. But once Tashtego's senior, an old Gay-Head Indian among the crew, superstitiously asserted that not till he was full forty years old did Ahab become that way branded, and then it came upon him, not in the fury of any mortal fray, but in an elemental strife at sea. Yet, this wild hint seemed inferentially negatived, by what a grey Manxman insinuated, an old sepulchral man, who, having never before sailed out of Nantucket, had never ere this laid eye upon wild Ahab. Nevertheless, the old sea-traditions, the immemorial credulities, popularly invested this old Manxman with preternatural powers of discernment. So that no white sailor seriously contradicted him when he said that if ever Captain Ahab should be tranquilly laid out- which might hardly come to pass, so he muttered- then, whoever should do that last office for the dead, would find a birth-mark on him from crown to sole.

So powerfully did the whole grim aspect of Ahab affect me, and the livid brand which streaked it, that for the first few moments I hardly noted that not a little of this overbearing grimness was owing to the barbaric white leg upon which he partly stood. It had previously come to me that this ivory leg had at sea been fashioned from the polished bone of the sperm whale's jaw. "Aye, he was dismasted off Japan," said the old Gay-Head Indian once; "but like his dismasted craft, he shipped another mast without coming home for it. He has a quiver of 'em."

I was struck with the singular posture he maintained. Upon each side of the Pequod's quarter deck, and pretty close to the mizzen shrouds, there was an auger hole, bored about half an inch or so, into the plank. His bone leg steadied in that hole; one arm elevated, and holding by a shroud; Captain Ahab stood erect, looking straight out beyond the ship's ever-pitching prow. There was an infinity of firmest fortitude, a determinate, unsurrenderable wilfulness, in the fixed and fearless, forward dedication of that glance. Not a word he spoke; nor did his officers say aught to him; though by all their minutest gestures and expressions, they plainly showed the uneasy, if not painful, consciousness of being under a troubled master-eye. And not only that, but moody stricken Ahab stood before them with a crucifixion in his face; in all the nameless regal overbearing dignity of some mighty woe.
Ere long, from his first visit in the air, he withdrew into his cabin. But after that morning, he was every day visible to the crew; either standing in his pivot-hole, or seated upon an ivory stool he had; or heavily walking the deck. As the sky grew less gloomy; indeed, began to grow a little genial, he became still less and less a recluse; as if, when the ship had sailed from home, nothing but the dead wintry bleakness of the sea had then kept him so secluded. And, by and by, it came to pass, that he was almost continually in the air; but, as yet, for all that he said, or perceptibly did, on the at last sunny deck, he seemed as unnecessary there as another mast. But the Pequod was only making a passage now; not regularly cruising; nearly all whaling preparatives needing supervision the mates were fully competent to, so that there was little or nothing, out of himself, to employ or excite Ahab, now; and thus chase away, for that one interval, the clouds that layer upon layer were piled upon his brow, as ever all clouds choose the loftiest peaks to pile themselves upon.

Nevertheless, ere long, the warm, warbling persuasiveness of the pleasant, holiday weather we came to, seemed gradually to charm him from his mood. For, as when the red-cheeked, dancing girls, April and May, trip home to the wintry, misanthropic woods; even the barest, ruggedest, most thunder-cloven old oak will at least send forth some few green sprouts, to welcome such gladhearted visitants; so Ahab did, in the end, a little respond to the playful allurings of that girlish air. More than once did he put forth the faint blossom of a look, which, in any other man, would have soon flowered out in a smile.

Twenty-eight chapters into the book, Ahab finally makes an appearance.  Grim.  Scarred by tragedy.  Ahab is the kind of guy that makes everyone around him uncomfortable without even trying.  By his very presence, he exudes doom into the air.  Even those crew members familiar with his ways seem to give him wide berth.

Of course, Ahab is, to paraphrase Norman Bates' description of his mother, not quite himself.  In fact, his previous encounter with the great white whale has left him more than a little unhinged.  I think one of the reasons Ahab has taken his place in the collective consciousness of the world is because of this madness.  We have all been there at some time or other.  There are things that have happened to me that have greatly affected my demeanor and character.  Life does that to you.

Longtime readers of this blog already know of the issues my wife and I have faced because of mental illness and addiction.  For a great while when my daughter and son were young, I didn't really know if our marriage was going to be able to weather all the hurricanes and tropical depressions that came our way.  There was even one day where my wife and I ended up in court to discuss custody of our daughter.  Yes, we were that close to ending it all.

Obviously, my wife and I are still married.  This year, we will celebrate our twenty-third anniversary.  Somehow, we were able to hold things together.  It took a LOT of therapy and counseling.  Hundreds of hours.  We still go to sessions with a wonderful psychologist once a month.  It's like bringing a car in for a monthly check of the oil and tire pressure.  We want to make sure our marriage keeps running smoothly.

Of course, sometimes, I have to hold my doubts and suspicions in check.  It doesn't happen very often any more.  But it still does.  I literally have to talk myself off the ledge every once in a while.  It has to do with living for five years in a state of constant worry and doubt.  During that time, I was never quite sure what I would encounter when I arrived at home.  It was exhausting.

I still deal with the effects of that half-decade of struggle.  I have difficulty trusting people.  Given the choice, I prefer to handle most problems myself.  I have been accused of being a control freak.  That part of me was fostered by my wife's mental health issues.  By being in complete control, I won't get hurt.  That's the way my mind works.

Now, I know that I can't really control my wife or what she does.  Can't be certain that my marriage will last.  Can't banish mental illness or addiction from my life.  I am a control freak because it makes me feel safer, more secure.  Even if it is a false sense of security.

So, I will continue to be Ahab, pacing the decks of the Pequod with my leg of bone, watching the horizon for any white whales.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for calm seas.

March 22: A Cardinal, Charles Simic, "Seeing Things"

Seeing Things

by:  Charles Simic

I came here in my youth,
A wind toy on a string.
Saw a street in hell and one in paradise.
Saw a room with a light in it so ailing
It could've been leaning on a cane.
Saw an old man in a tailor shop
Kneel before a bride with pins between his lips.
Saw the President swear on the Bible
While snow fell around him.
Saw a pair of lovers kiss in an empty church
And a naked man run out of a building
Waving a gun and sobbing.
Saw kids wearing Halloween masks
Jump from one roof to another at sunset.
Saw a van full of stray dogs look back at me.
Saw a homeless woman berating God
And a blind man with a guitar singing:
"Oh Lord remember me,
When these chains are broken set my body free."


For the first time in a few weeks, nothing really calamitous has happened during my day.  I haven't had to deal with any crises.  No broken hearts to bandage.  No school principals to call.  No hospital rooms to visit.  Today has simply been . . . quiet.

I typed that word with a little trepidation, because the day is not over yet.  I still have to go to my daughter's choral concert.  My wife is at an appointment to get our taxes done--that in itself could turn the rest of this day to shit.  However, I am cautiously optimistic.  Very cautiously.

Charles Simic's poem is a list of wonders in a way.  Things that are everyday that don't happen every day.  It reminds me that, in the midst of struggle and worry, there is still a cardinal outside my window, begging to be noticed.

Saint Marty is looking for cardinals on this quiet night.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

March 21: Hailed a Hero, Bullies and Bullying, My Daughter

And since in this famous fishery, each mate or headsman, like a Gothic Knight of old, is always accompanied by his boat-steerer or harpooneer, who in certain conjunctures provides him with a fresh lance, when the former one has been badly twisted, or elbowed in the assault; and moreover, as there generally subsists between the two, a close intimacy and friendliness; it is therefore but meet, that in this place we set down who the Pequod's harpooneers were, and to what headsman each of them belonged.

First of all was Queequeg, whom Starbuck, the chief mate, had selected for his squire. But Queequeg is already known.

Next was Tashtego, an unmixed Indian from Gay Head, the most westerly promontory of Martha's Vineyard, where there still exists the last remnant of a village of red men, which has long supplied the neighboring island of Nantucket with many of her most daring harpooneers. In the fishery, they usually go by the generic name of Gay-Headers. Tashtego's long, lean, sable hair, his high cheek bones, and black rounding eyes- for an Indian, Oriental in their largeness, but Antarctic in their glittering expression- all this sufficiently proclaimed him an inheritor of the unvitiated blood of those proud warrior hunters, who, in quest of the great New England moose, had scoured, bow in hand, the aboriginal forests of the main. But no longer snuffing in the trail of the wild beasts of the woodland, Tashtego now hunted in the wake of the great whales of the sea; the unerring harpoon of the son fitly replacing the infallible arrow of the sires. To look at the tawny brawn of his lithe snaky limbs, you would almost have credited the superstitions of some of the earlier Puritans and half-believed this wild Indian to be a son of the Prince of the Powers of the Air. Tashtego was Stubb the second mate's squire.

Third among the harpooneers was Daggoo, a gigantic, coal-black negro-savage, with a lion-like tread- an Ahasuerus to behold. Suspended from his ears were two golden hoops, so large that the sailors called them ringbolts, and would talk of securing the top-sail halyards to them. In his youth Daggoo had voluntarily shipped on board of a whaler, lying in a lonely bay on his native coast. And never having been anywhere in the world but in Africa, Nantucket, and the pagan harbors most frequented by the whalemen; and having now led for many years the bold life of the fishery in the ships of owners uncommonly heedful of what manner of men they shipped; Daggoo retained all his barbaric virtues, and erect as a giraffe, moved about the decks in all the pomp of six feet five in his socks. There was a corporeal humility in looking up at him; and a white man standing before him seemed a white flag come to beg truce of a fortress. Curious to tell, this imperial negro, Ahasuerus Daggoo, was the Squire of little Flask, who looked like a chess-man beside him. As for the residue of the Pequod's company, be it said, that at the present day not one in two of the many thousand men before the mast employed in the American whale fishery, are Americans born, though pretty nearly all the officers are. Herein it is the same with the American whale fishery as with the American army and military and merchant navies, and the engineering forces employed in the construction of the American Canals and Railroads. The same, I say, because in all these cases the native American literally provides the brains, the rest of the world as generously supplying the muscles. No small number of these whaling seamen belong to the Azores, where the outward bound Nantucket whalers frequently touch to augment their crews from the hardy peasants of those rocky shores. In like manner, the Greenland whalers sailing out of Hull or London, put in at the Shetland Islands, to receive the full complement of their crew. Upon the passage homewards, they drop them there again. How it is, there is no telling, but Islanders seem to make the best whalemen. They were nearly all Islanders in the Pequod, Isolatoes too, I call such, not acknowledging the common continent of men, but each Isolato living on a separate continent of his own. Yet now, federated along one keel, what a set these Isolatoes were! An Anacharsis Clootz deputation from all the isles of the sea, and all the ends of the earth, accompanying Old Ahab in the Pequod to lay the world's grievances before that bar from which not very many of them ever come back. Black Little Pip- he never did- oh, no! he went before. Poor Alabama boy! On the grim Pequod's forecastle, ye shall ere long see him, beating his tambourine; prelusive of the eternal time, when sent for, to the great quarter-deck on high, he was bid strike in with angels, and beat his tambourine in glory; called a coward here, hailed a hero there!

Melville treads a fine line of racial stereotype in these paragraphs.  Queequeg, a cannibal from the islands of the Pacific.  Tashtego, an unmixed Indian from a "village of red men."  And Daggoo, a "gigantic, coal-black negro-savage."  Of course, Melville has already gone a long way to prove Queequeg's moral fiber.  We already know that Queequeg is kind and spiritual and brave.  Yet, what Melville writes is a product of his time--anyone of a different shade of skin was automatically wild and uncivilized.  Sadly, those stereotypes have persisted into the 21st century.  It is so easy to label and demonize.

One of the places this happens most prevalently is in school.  Kids who are struggling to figure out who they are, what they want and believe, are quick to judge and point fingers and mock.  It could be because of skin color or sexual orientation or gender.  My daughter, at the moment, is feeling this.  Without infringing on her privacy, I will simply say that she finds herself the subject of whispers and furtive glances.  Last night, as I was driving her home, she told me, "I hate being at school."  It broke my heart.

I don't know how to help my daughter right now.  If I went to school and talked to her teachers or the principal or guidance counselor, she would be mortified.  If I waited outside the school and beat the shit out of those responsible for this situation, I would go to jail.  If I sit back and do nothing, my daughter continues to hurt.  I'm stuck.

I want to tell her that this situation will soon pass.  That a new person will soon become the target of those whispers and furtive glances.  However, I'm passing the buck by saying that.  Basically, another girl or boy will inherit what my daughter is enduring right now.  That's not right, either.  Solves nothing.  Perpetuates the victimization that exists in our society.

Bullies and bullying can take so many forms.  Physical.  Mental.  Emotional.  Spiritual.  I'm sure I myself, at some time, have been a bully, either wittingly or unwittingly.  At the very least, by not standing up or speaking out when I witnessed bullying, I become a bully.  I know I was guilty of that in high school, and, even after all this time, it shames me.

It's easy to turn away.  Not get involved.  It's safe.  However, bullying eventually bites that hand (and arm and leg and eyes and ears) that ignores it.  I've tried to teach my kids to speak up for classmates who are picked on and ostracized, and I think that lesson has sunk in.  In grade school, my daughter befriended a girl who had a severe form of Asperger syndrome.  My son will play with anyone--gay or straight or black or white or boy or girl.  Doesn't matter.

 I don't know what the answer is here.  All I can do for my daughter is listen.  Provide a hug.  Tell her that I love her.  Unconditionally.  Somehow, that doesn't seem good enough this evening.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for the good days when they come.

March 21: Words, Shane Koyczan, "To This Day"

Yes, I've been thinking a lot about bullying today.  Because of my daughter.  Because of my son.  I've been thinking about how much words can hurt.

For a person who loves words, makes somewhat of a living with them, I am always angry when I hear words used as weapons to tear people down, to kick people out of their tree houses.  To push people on swings to the highest point, and then cut the ropes.  To see someone beautifully happy, eating a banana split at Dairy Queen, and add glass to the hot fudge.  To watch a kid learning to ride a bike, and throw a brick at his head.

Words shouldn't be guns or knives or pieces of dynamite or hunks of barbed wire.

Words should be clouds in a blue sky on an August afternoon, just before it's time to jump in the car to go swimming.  Words should be forty degrees on a January day, when the world gets all soft and watery and muddy.  Words should be ice cubes in water.  Whipped cream in cocoa.  Lime in gin and tonic. 

Words should always make things a little sweeter.

I found this spoken word poem by Shane Koyczan this evening.  It tore my heart out.

Saint Marty is tired of living in a world run by bullies.

To This Day

by:  Shane Koyczan

When I was a kid
I used to think that pork chops and karate chops
were the same thing
I thought they were both pork chops
and because my grandmother thought it was cute
and because they were my favourite
she let me keep doing it
not really a big deal
one day
before I realized fat kids are not designed to climb trees
I fell out of a tree
and bruised the right side of my body
I didn’t want to tell my grandmother about it
because I was scared I’d get in trouble
for playing somewhere that I shouldn’t have been
a few days later the gym teacher noticed the bruise
and I got sent to the principal’s office
from there I was sent to another small room
with a really nice lady
who asked me all kinds of questions
about my life at home
I saw no reason to lie
as far as I was concerned
life was pretty good
I told her “whenever I’m sad
my grandmother gives me karate chops”
this led to a full scale investigation
and I was removed from the house for three days
until they finally decided to ask how I got the bruises
news of this silly little story quickly spread through the school
and I earned my first nickname
pork chop
to this day
I hate pork chops
I’m not the only kid
who grew up this way
surrounded by people who used to say
that rhyme about sticks and stones
as if broken bones
hurt more than the names we got called
and we got called them all
so we grew up believing no one
would ever fall in love with us
that we’d be lonely forever
that we’d never meet someone
to make us feel like the sun
was something they built for us
in their tool shed
so broken heart strings bled the blues
as we tried to empty ourselves
so we would feel nothing
don’t tell me that hurts less than a broken bone
that an ingrown life
is something surgeons can cut away
that there’s no way for it to metastasize
it does
she was eight years old
our first day of grade three
when she got called ugly
we both got moved to the back of the class
so we would stop getting bombarded by spit balls
but the school halls were a battleground
where we found ourselves outnumbered day after wretched day
we used to stay inside for recess
because outside was worse
outside we’d have to rehearse running away
or learn to stay still like statues giving no clues that we were there
in grade five they taped a sign to the front of her desk
that read beware of dog
to this day
despite a loving husband
she doesn’t think she’s beautiful
because of a birthmark
that takes up a little less than half of her face
kids used to say she looks like a wrong answer
that someone tried to erase
but couldn’t quite get the job done
and they’ll never understand
that she’s raising two kids
whose definition of beauty
begins with the word mom
because they see her heart
before they see her skin
Because she’s only ever always been amazing
was a broken branch
grafted onto a different family tree
not because his parents opted for a different destiny
he was three when he became a mixed drink
of one part left alone
and two parts tragedy
started therapy in 8th grade
had a personality made up of tests and pills
lived like the uphills were mountains
and the downhills were cliffs
four fifths suicidal
a tidal wave of anti depressants
and an adolescence of being called popper
one part because of the pills
and ninety nine parts because of the cruelty
he tried to kill himself in grade ten
when a kid who could still go home to mom and dad
had the audacity to tell him “get over it” as if depression
is something that can be remedied
by any of the contents found in a first aid kit
to this day
he is a stick of TNT lit from both ends
could describe to you in detail the way the sky bends
in the moments before it’s about to fall
and despite an army of friends
who all call him an inspiration
he remains a conversation piece between people
who can’t understand
sometimes becoming drug free
has less to do with addiction
and more to do with sanity
we weren’t the only kids who grew up this way
to this day
kids are still being called names
the classics were
hey stupid
hey spaz
seems like every school has an arsenal of names
getting updated every year
and if a kid breaks in a school
and no one around chooses to hear
do they make a sound?
are they just the background noise
of a soundtrack stuck on repeat
when people say things like
kids can be cruel?
every school was a big top circus tent
and the pecking order went
from acrobats to lion tamers
from clowns to carnies
all of these were miles ahead of who we were
we were freaks
lobster claw boys and bearded ladies
juggling depression and loneliness playing solitaire spin the bottle
trying to kiss the wounded parts of ourselves and heal
but at night
while the others slept
we kept walking the tightrope
it was practice
and yeah
some of us fell
but I want to tell them
that all of this shit
is just debris
leftover when we finally decide to smash all the things we thought
we used to be
and if you can’t see anything beautiful about yourself
get a better mirror
look a little closer
stare a little longer
because there’s something inside you
that made you keep trying
despite everyone who told you to quit
you built a cast around your broken heart
and signed it yourself
you signed it
“they were wrong”
because maybe you didn’t belong to a group or a clique
maybe they decided to pick you last for basketball or everything
maybe you used to bring bruises and broken teeth
to show and tell but never told
because how can you hold your ground
if everyone around you wants to bury you beneath it
you have to believe that they were wrong
they have to be wrong
why else would we still be here?
we grew up learning to cheer on the underdog
because we see ourselves in them
we stem from a root planted in the belief
that we are not what we were called we are not abandoned cars stalled
out and sitting empty on some highway
and if in some way we are
don’t worry
we only got out to walk and get gas
we are graduating members from the class of
fuck off we made it
not the faded echoes of voices crying out
names will never hurt me
of course
they did
but our lives will only ever always
continue to be
a balancing act
that has less to do with pain
and more to do with beauty.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

March 20: Momentous Men, Obsession, Book Manuscript

Stubb was the second mate. He was a native of Cape Cod; and hence, according to local usage, was called a Cape-Cod-man. A happy-go-lucky; neither craven nor valiant; taking perils as they came with an indifferent air; and while engaged in the most imminent crisis of the chase, toiling away, calm and collected as a journeyman joiner engaged for the year. Good-humored, easy, and careless, he presided over his whaleboat as if the most deadly encounter were but a dinner, and his crew all invited guests. He was as particular about the comfortable arrangements of his part of the boat, as an old stage-driver is about the snugness of his box. When close to the whale, in the very death-lock of the fight, he handled his unpitying lance coolly and off-handedly, as a whistling tinker his hammer. He would hum over his old rigadig tunes while flank and flank with the most exasperated monster. Long usage had, for this Stubb, converted the jaws of death into an easy chair. What he thought of death itself, there is no telling. Whether he ever thought of it at all, might be a question; but, if he ever did chance to cast his mind that way after a comfortable dinner, no doubt, like a good sailor, he took it to be a sort of call of the watch to tumble aloft, and bestir themselves there, about something which he would find out when he obeyed the order, and not sooner.

What, perhaps, with other things, made Stubb such an easy-going, unfearing man, so cheerily trudging off with the burden of life in a world fail of grave peddlers, all bowed to the ground with their packs; what helped to bring about that almost impious good-humor of his; that thing must have been his pipe. For, like his nose, his short, black little pipe was one of the regular features of his face. You would almost as soon have expected him to turn out of his bunk without his nose as without his pipe. He kept a whole row of pipes there ready loaded, stuck in a rack, within easy reach of his hand; and, whenever he turned in, he smoked them all out in succession, lighting one from the other to the end of the chapter; then loading them again to be in readiness anew. For, when Stubb dressed, instead of first putting his legs into his trowsers, he put his pipe into his mouth.

I say this continual smoking must have been one cause, at least of his peculiar disposition; for every one knows that this early air, whether ashore or afloat, is terribly infected with the nameless miseries of the numberless mortals who have died exhaling it; and as in time of the cholera, some people go about with a camphorated handkerchief to their mouths; so, likewise, against all mortal tribulations, Stubb's tobacco smoke might have operated as a sort of disinfecting agent.

The third mate was Flask, a native of Tisbury, in Martha's Vineyard. A short, stout, ruddy young fellow, very pugnacious concerning whales, who somehow seemed to think that the great Leviathans had personally and hereditarily affronted him; and therefore it was a sort of point of honor with him, to destroy them whenever encountered. So utterly lost was he to all sense of reverence for the many marvels of their majestic bulk and mystic ways; and so dead to anything like an apprehension of any possible danger encountering them; that in his poor opinion, the wondrous whale was but a species of magnified mouse, or at least water-rat, requiring only a little circumvention and some small application of time and trouble in order to kill and boil. This ignorant, unconscious fearlessness of his made him a little waggish in the matter of whales; he followed these fish for the fun of it; and a three years' voyage round Cape Horn was only a jolly joke that lasted that length of time. As a carpenter's nails are divided into wrought nails and cut nails; so mankind may be similarly divided. Little Flask was one of the wrought ones; made to clinch tight and last long. They called him King-Post on board of the Pequod; because, in form, he could be well likened to the short, square timber known by that name in Arctic whalers; and which by the means of many radiating side timbers inserted into it, serves to brace the ship against the icy concussions of those battering seas.

Now these three mates- Starbuck, Stubb and Flask, were momentous men. They was who by universal prescription commanded three of the Pequod's boats as headsmen. In that grand order of battle in which Captain Ahab would probably marshal his forces to descend on the whales, these three headsmen were as captains of companies. Or, being armed with their long keen whaling spears, they were as a picked trio of lancers; even as the harpooneers were flingers of javelins.

There you are--the Holy Trinity of the mates on the Pequod.  Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask.  Each, as Ishmael describes them, good and trustworthy men.  Each with his own set of peculiarities.  And Ishmael has yet to clap eyes on the Old Testament God of the ship--Ahab himself.  Of course, if you are familiar with Moby-Dick at all, you already know Ahab's singular, driving motivation.  Spoiler alert:  it's big and white and swims in the ocean.

Everyone has some force that motivates them.  For Stubb, it seems to be his pipe.  For Ahab, it's a whale.  Me?  I guess it's writing.  The best part of my day is when I sit down to write these blog posts and then, afterward, when I try to scratch out a new poem in my journal.  I feel really alive at these moments.

That is not to say that I neglect my duties as husband or father.  Never.  Wasn't raised like that.  Today, for instance, I have to cut my writing time short to take my daughter dress shopping.  She has a choral concert on Thursday and needs an appropriately black and modest outfit.  So, in about two hours, I will be standing in Kohl's, arms laden with possibles, as my daughter scours the racks.

That is my life, and I've been doing it for quite some time.  Frankly, I don't know what I'd do with eight or nine hours of writing time in a day.  Once in my life, I went to a writing workshop retreat in Big Sur.  It was a week long and overseen by poet Sharon Olds.  In the morning, I would wake up with the sun and go walking along the cliffs above the Pacific with my journal and pen.  Then I would go to workshop.  In the afternoon, I would go for another walk with my journal and pen.  Then I would go to workshop again in the evening.  All that was expected of me was to write.  All day long.

At the end of those five days, I had working drafts of ten new poems.  It was a glorious time, driven only by the motivation to create poetry.  That was my white whale in Big Sur.

Since my life is more complicated now with work worries and family worries, I rarely get long stretches of writing time.  Instead, I steal time from other activities.  Five minutes here.  An hour there.  If I'm lucky, a two hour stretch of uninterrupted concentration before I have to pick up my daughter from her dance studio.  Small whaling voyages rather than extended excursions around the Cape of Good Hope.

Yesterday, I cobbled together a couple hours to piece together a book of Christmas essays that I've been working on.  It felt pretty good to have an actual, honest-to-God manuscript in my hands.  It's nowhere near done, but it felt like I had landed a pretty big fish.

So, you see, I'm just like Ahab or Starbuck or Stubb or Flask.  A little obsessed.  A little driven.

Saint Marty is thankful today for a new book, even if it's a little rough around the edges.