Friday, November 30, 2018

November 30: The Anchor Was Up, Friday, Brief Pauses

At last the anchor was up, the sails were set, and off we glided.  It was a short, cold Christmas, and as the short northern day merged into night, we found ourselves almost broad upon the wintry ocean, whose freezing spray cased us in ice, as in polished armour . . . 

Friday.  Finally.  I am setting sail, like the Pequod, into the wintry ocean of the weekend.,

For some reason, this week has seemed long.  Really long.  It started with finishing my water essay.  It's ending tonight with a basketball game, dinner, and, maybe, some of my Christmas essay.  That's what I have tonight.  Not much.  I'm too tired.

I've been working out the ideas for my new essay all day long as I sat answering phones at the medical office.  It's the way that I've written for years.  Moments stolen during the day.  Perhaps that's why I write poems as opposed to novels or short stories.  I think it's easier to think poetically in these brief pauses in my days.  Images recorded on sticky notes and paper scraps.  Yes, I keep my journal close by, but I don't always have enough time in between phone calls to drag out it out and scribble.

At the basketball game this evening, I will be reading a biography of Charles Schulz.  That's part of my research for my Christmas essay.  I think.  I know I want to write about Charlie Brown.  Somehow.  Don't know what shape all this is going to take.  Yet.

Saint Marty is thankful this evening for time to write and read.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

November 29: Be Cheery, Christmas Essay, "Joyeux Noel"

So be cheery, my lads, let your hearts never fail,
While the bold harpooneer is striking the whale!

Thursday night.  I'm trying to be cheery.  I don't plan on doing a whole lot.  Teaching is done for the week.  One day of work left.  I'm celebrating a little.  I've made it five more days, and I still have a job.  That's a blessing, I suppose.  Certainly, things could change come Monday.  This weekend, however, I am still gainfully employed.  I'll drink to that tonight.

I have reserved these next few hours to prewrite and write.  After I'm done with a couple blog posts, I will get a start on my annual Christmas essay.  I have some ideas, but they are all unformed at the moment.  Scraps really.  I will throw them onto a page and see what grows.  If I'm lucky, I'll get the seed of something fruitful.

At the moment, however, I'm watching one of my favorite Christmas movies--the French film Joyeux Noel.  It's about the Truce of 1914.  It's a beautiful story and fills me with hope in the goodness of people.  French, German, and Scottish soldiers coming together on the front lines of World War I to celebrate Christmas Eve.  One holy night of peace between enemies.  No Santa Claus.  No singing snowman or reindeer with glowing noses.  Just people, being the best they can be.

Hope.  I need that right now.  It is the season of light.  The world is tipping toward the longest night of the year.  Winter solstice.  After that, light takes over.  I think that I've been focusing way too much on darkness.  It's been kind of hard not to.  That's why I put on this film.  It reminds me that, in the middle of all the struggle, there's goodness to be found.

That's what I'm going to leave you with tonight.  Goodness.  Light.  Hope.

Saint Marty is thankful for all of those things.

November 29: John Barr, "First Light," George Bailey Moment

First Light 

by:  John Barr

Spiders in the cold,
bees in inarticulate bunches
hang from a day's work.
Waiting for light they wait
to see what they will be.
A tree lets down
green undersides and is maple.
A window glints--
a thing of saffron
kindles with singlehood.
In the broad yard
each thing dandles
its blue, its name, its consequence.


Okay, so this poem isn't really wintery or Christmasy.  But it is about light.

I'm on my second movie of the night--It's A Wonderful Life.  My absolute favorite holiday film.  Nothing can beat Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed.  And it's about appreciating your life, even if things aren't necessarily going your way.  George Bailey has been my hero for a long time.

For those of my disciples who are getting tired of hearing about my job worries, I apologize.  I haven't had my George Bailey moment yet.  Didn't get drunk and punch anybody.  Haven't met my guardian angel.  It does seem like I'm working at a Building & Loan at the moment.  Mr. Potter breathing down my neck.

Saint Marty is ready to sing "Auld Lang Syne" and collect buckets of money

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

November 28: Call Me Ishmael, Circling a Runway, Simple Blessings

Call me Ishmael.

Call me exhausted. 

I've been working all day, and now I'll be teaching all night.  It's that time of year when the grading piles up.  I won't be seeing daylight for a while.  It's all red pens and papers for me.  This evening, I'll be listening to student presentations for about three hours.

I have no news to report on the job front.  It feels like I'm in an airplane, circling a runway, waiting for clearance.  I'm not sure what the future holds.  Guess I'm doomed to just keep circling until I either get permission to land or run out of fuel.  Either way, I'll end up on the ground.

I've been thinking a lot about happiness today.  What makes me happy.  What makes me joyful.  What fills me with contentment.  On Monday, I finished an essay that I'd been working on for about a month.  I was happy with the final product.  So was my editor.  That filled my cup to the brim yesterday.  I was overflowing with gratitude.

Tonight, I'll be happy around 9 p.m. when I can walk out to my car, drive home, and put on my pajamas.  Be done with the day.  On the way home, I'll listen to a podcast I recently discovered.  It's called 'Tis the Podcast, and it's about Christmas movies and television specials.  That will bring me a great deal of happiness, as well.

Ultimately, it's the simple blessings in life that really make the difference.

Saint Marty just ate a brownie.  Simple blessing.  Big happiness. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

November 27: Billy Collins, "Winter," Irving Berlin


by:  Billy Collins

A little heat in the iron radiator,
the dog breathing at the foot of the bed,

and the windows shut tight,
encrusted with hexagons of frost.

I can barely hear the geese
complaining in the vast sky,

flying over the living and the dead,
schools and prisons, and the whitened fields.


A cold winter night.

After I'm done typing this post, I'm going to make myself something warm.  Hot chocolate.  Bailey's Irish Cream.  White Christmas on the TV.  Bing Crosby.  Danny Kaye.  Irving Berlin.

Saint Marty is dreaming of . . . alcohol.

November 27: Breach Your Last, Scratchy Pair of Pajamas, Ebenezer Scrooge

"Aye, breach your last to the sun, Moby-Dick!" cried Ahab, "thy hour and harpoon are at hand!  --Down!  Down all of ye, but one man to the fore.  The boats! --stand by!" 

Sometimes, I think I understand Ahab's obsessive focus.  Morning, Moby Dick.  Afternoon, Moby Dick.  Evening, Moby Dick.  Night, Moby Dick.  For years, that has been his life, with his ivory leg to remind him if his mind wanders to contemplate things like breakfast or prayer or his young wife.  It's all he can think about.

That pretty much describes my life these last few weeks.  I've been worried about two things:  work and teaching.  It's kind of impossible for me not to be preoccupied.  It's a matter of being able to pay my bills, feed my family, and buy the medicines my family needs.  Or not.  I wake up in the middle of the night, lie in bed, and stew about it for a couple hours.  When I'm at the medical office, I look around and wonder how much longer I'll be working there.  When I'm in the classroom, my students ask me what I'm teaching next semester.  I'm like Ahab at sea--I can't escape my white whales.

Today, one of my worries was settled.  I found out the classes I will be teaching next semester.  I won't be teaching film or literature.  The life of a contingent is pretty simple:  you accept the scraps left over after all the full-timers and teaching assistants get their teaching assignments.  The pickings were pretty slim this time.  However, I have two classes.  I should be grateful.  One of my worries is gone.

My other white whale is still out there somewhere.  That means another fairly sleepless night for me.  I know that I should have a little more faith.  At least, that's what I'm taught every Sunday.  Putting my trust in my Higher Power.  That's a little difficult for me.  I'm much more comfortable with worry.  I put it on every morning like a shirt.  Change into it every night like a scratchy pair of pajamas.

My life would be so much better if I could practice what I hear preached in church.  I'm not really good with unknowns.  Or change.  I'm sitting in my living room at the moment, watching the George C. Scott version of A Christmas Carol.  I'm struck that Scrooge lives most of his life in fear.  He hoards money and possessions because he fears the possibility of failure and poverty.  His stinginess is a symptom of his lack of faith and compassion.

My life would be very different if I could leave my Ahab-self and Scrooge-self behind.  I certainly would be sleeping better.  I haven't had my Scrooge moment yet.  That's when Ebenezer abandons his fear and doubt.  When he embraces hope and joy and faith.

Saint Marty needs to be visited by three spirits tonight:  the Ghosts of Special Hot Chocolate Past, Present, and Future.

God bless us!  Everyone!  At least until the spirits wear off.

Monday, November 26, 2018

November 26: Exceedingly Laborious, Back to the Grind, Water Essay, Writing and Rewriting

When in the Southern Fishery a captured Sperm Whale, after long and weary toil, is brought alongside late at night, it is not, as a general thing at least, customary to proceed at once to the business of cutting him in. For that business is an exceedingly laborious one; is not very soon completed; and requires all hands to set about it.

Back to the grind.  If I were on the Pequod, I'd be cutting in the captured sperm whale.  Instead, I was at my desk at 6 a.m., working through a pile of faxes, answering e-mails, and writing.  After a four-day-weekend, I found myself profoundly unmotivated.  I missed seeing my wife and kids in the morning.  Missed the warmth of my house.  All I wanted to do was continue the Thanksgiving weekend.

That being said, I have been fairly productive today.  I finished one of the three writing projects that have been on my to-do list.  A little essay about water that a friend of mine asked me to write for a local publication.  It has been a month-long process.  Starts and stops.  Long stretches and dead ends.  It finally all came together this morning.  I typed it up and sent it off.  Now, I wait for my friend's feedback.  As Truman Capote once said, "Good writing is rewriting."

I'm actually not sure how my friend is going to respond to what I sent him.  It's a little weird.  A lyric essay with some linguistics thrown in for good measure.  It's the kind of stuff I like reading.  Half poetry.  Half prose.  Flights of images.  And Jesus walking on water.  What more could a person want?

I taught this afternoon, as well.  Mythology.  We're finishing up our section on Grimms fairy tales.  It's been a long half-semester, and I'm eyes-deep in piles of grading.  Papers and quizzes.  Pretty soon, final exams and more papers.

On top of all that, I'm still waiting to hear whether I will have a job after December 31st.  There's an air of fatalism that seems to be hanging over the medical office where I work.  Everybody has already decided that the end times are upon us.  Now, I'm not wearing blinders.  I've got contingency plans.  Not really appealing contingency plans, but they will get me through until I find something better.

Work.  Writing,  Teaching.  Worry.  That has been my day.  I'm kind of exhausted.

Saint Marty isn't ready to rewrite his life anymore tonight.

November 26: Conrad Hilberry, "Christmas Night," Holidays Approaching

Christmas Night

by:  Conrad Hilberry

Let midnight gather up the wind
and the cry of tires on bitter snow.
Let midnight call the cold dogs home,
sleet in their fur--last one can blow

the streetlights out.  If children sleep
after the day's unfoldings, the wheel
of gifts and griefs, may their breathing
ease the strange hollowness we feel.

Let midnight draw whoever's left
to the grate where a burnt-out log unrolls
low mutterings of smoke until
a small fire wakes in its crib of coals.


My next writing project is my annual Christmas essay.  But, after just finishing my last project, I think I'm going to take tonight off.

I think that I'm too hard on myself sometimes.  I have papers that I need to grade.  Stuff to write.  E-mails to send.  Two manuscripts to put the finishing touches on.  And now, with the holidays approaching, Christmas shopping to do, Christmas cards to address, and Christmas cookies to make.

Saint Marty has a lot of chestnuts to roast in the next 30 or so days.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

November 24: Watery Part of the World, Water Essay, Nostalgia

Call me Ishmael.  Some years ago--never mind how long precisely--having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.

Saturday morning.  Rainy and gross.  The snow has been melting pretty quickly the last couple days in the Upper Peninsula.  I'm down to bare pavement and driveway at my house.

Usually, I avoid writing about weather in my blog.  I think it reflects an inability to come up with anything interesting to discuss, or that I'm avoiding a subject.  I've used both of those tactics in the past.  Saint Marty is not a weather blog.  I'm not an amateur meteorologist, and, generally, the only time weather preoccupies me is when I have to shovel it.

Today, however, I will be preoccupied with Nature and weather.  I'm working on an essay about water that focuses quite a bit on weather, so it's unavoidable.  I've been struggling a little with this project because it's writing that was solicited from me, and I'm feeling like a high school student trying to finish a term paper by deadline.  It's not something that encourages creativity in me.

In fact, I have three separate writing projects that need to be completed in the next few weeks.  The water essay.  A Christmas essay.  My annual Christmas poem.  Plus, I have teaching and grading and all the uncertainty at work.  AND I don't know what I'm teaching next semester at the university yet.  (That is the life of a contingent professor.  Classes based on student enrollment.  I will get classes.  I know that.  I'm just not sure if I'm going to be teaching composition, film, good books, mythology, or a combination of these subjects.  It's a little frustrating, considering I've been teaching in the department longer than all but two of the full-timers.)

If I didn't have all these other worries pressing in on my mind, I'd be gold right now.  I'd just disappear into my writing study (yes, I'd have a writing study) and pound out these pieces of writing.  That is not my life, though.  My times to write are smuggled in between one job and the next, carved out of the time before I go to bed, and stolen from grading time/reading time/teaching time/medical officing time.  That is how I've lived a majority of my writing life.

When I was in graduate school, working as a teaching assistant, I never really realized how lucky I was to be paid to simply teach, take classes, and write.  The hours I had to sit in my office with my journal and pen, plucking poems and stories and essays out of the air.  Even then, I felt stressed and rushed.  There was never enough time to get everything done.  I was always running a race.  I wish I had realized then how lucky I was.

In a few years, I'll probably be looking back at these minutes spent blogging and essaying and poeming with nostalgia, as well.  That's the way nostalgia works.  It makes you feel wistful for moments that weren't necessarily but are now gilded with gold because they are in the past, have been lived.  In retrospect, they seem better and happier and easier.  They weren't, though.  They were filled with sadness and anger and frustration, as well.

I'm not Marcel Proust, nibbling on a cookie that launches me into writing a multi-volume reflection on my life.  I'm just a little Upper Peninsula poet, staring out my window, trying to keep my head above water (or snow).

Call me Saint Marty.  Some years ago--never mind how long precisely--having little or no money in my purse and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sit down and write about the watery part of the world . . .

November 24: Mark Doty, "Messiah (Christmas Portions)," Darkness and Light

Messiah (Christmas Portions)

by:  Mark Doty

A little heat caught
in gleaming rags,
in shrouds of veil,
   torn and sun-shot swaddlings:
   over the Methodist roof,
two clouds propose a Zion
of their own, blazing
   (colors of tarnish on copper)
   against the steely close
of a coastal afternoon, December,
while under the steeple
   the Choral Society
   prepares to perform
Messiah, pouring, in their best
blacks and whites, onto the raked stage.
   Not steep, really,
   but from here,
the first pew, they’re a looming
cloudbank of familiar angels:
   that neighbor who
   fights operatically
with her girlfriend, for one,
and the friendly bearded clerk
   from the post office
   —tenor trapped
in the body of a baritone? Altos
from the A&P, soprano
   from the T-shirt shop:
   today they’re all poise,
costume and purpose
conveying the right note
   of distance and formality.
   Silence in the hall,
anticipatory, as if we’re all
about to open a gift we’re not sure
   we’ll like;
   how could they
compete with sunset’s burnished
oratorio? Thoughts which vanish,
   when the violins begin.
   Who’d have thought
they’d be so good? Every valley,
proclaims the solo tenor,
   (a sleek blonde
   I’ve seen somewhere before
—the liquor store?) shall be exalted,
and in his handsome mouth the word
   is lifted and opened
   into more syllables
than we could count, central ah
dilated in a baroque melisma,
   liquefied; the pour
   of voice seems
to make the unplaned landscape
the text predicts the Lord
   will heighten and tame.
   This music
demonstrates what it claims:
glory shall be revealed. If art’s
   acceptable evidence,
   mustn’t what lies
behind the world be at least
as beautiful as the human voice?
   The tenors lack confidence,
   and the soloists,
half of them anyway, don’t
have the strength to found
   the mighty kingdoms
   these passages propose
—but the chorus, all together,
equals my burning clouds,
   and seems itself to burn,
   commingled powers
deeded to a larger, centering claim.
These aren’t anyone we know;
   choiring dissolves
   familiarity in an up-
pouring rush which will not
rest, will not, for a moment,
   be still.


Trying to fill myself with some Christmas spirit through poetry.  Those of my disciples who know me personally may be surprised to know that I sometimes struggle with keeping the holidays in my heart.  I love the music and decorations and movies and all, but there is something about this time of year that also calls me to darkness.

Of course, that isn't unusual for this time of year.  The world is tilting toward night right now.  Winter solstice is coming.  Darkness battles with light in my heart.  I've been climbing out of a hole since the beginning of September, and, while I'm much better than I was a couple months ago, I still have daily moments of struggle.

Things that lift me up:  my wife and kids, my family, poetry, friends, old movies, and music.  Hence, today's poem from Mark Doty.  Music always has the ability to transport and transform darkness into light for me.

Sing with Saint Marty, "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine . . ."

Friday, November 23, 2018

November 23: Fatal Pride, Black Friday, Yellow Brick Road

In his fiery eyes of scorn and triumph, you then saw Ahab in all his fatal pride.

If you haven't ever been in a crowd of Black Friday shoppers, this description pretty much nails it.

Welcome to the flip side of Thanksgiving--Black Friday, the day where everyone forgets how grateful they were just to be surrounded by family and friends, counting their blessings, and hit Walmart to kill someone for that $199 flat screen television.  American life at its best.

For those of my disciples who are not American, let me provide some context.  The day after Thanksgiving is the busiest shopping day of the year in this country.  All the major retail stores send out newspaper flyers with insanely discounted merchandise.  People literally stand in line for hours in subzero temperatures simply to purchase laptops and printers and TVs and watches and fleece blankets and chocolates and . . . It's a feeding frenzy of shopping.

I do not partake in this day of the holiday season.  I've never been a big fan of crowds, and crowds that are rabid with retail sort of frighten me.  That's a funny thing coming from a guy who worked retail for almost ten years.  That's right.  On Black Friday, I was the guy behind the cash register at a local chain bookstore, answering questions, directing traffic, ringing up sales, and wishing customers "Happy holidays!"

Perhaps that explains my aversion to this particular day.  Watching people engage in blood sport for the latest Christmas Beanie Babies would turn anybody off day-after-Thanksgiving shopping.  So, right now, while my wife is working at Office Max (she left for work at 6:30 this morning), I am sitting in my pajamas in my living room with my son, staring at our Christmas tree and thinking about the future.

I have been awake for several hours.  Had a hard time getting back to sleep once my wife's alarm went off.  It's the whole uncertain job thing.  Not knowing whether I'll be employed after the end of the year has been giving me some sleepless nights.  This morning, I found myself really dreading the coming December.  I don't really want to be a part of shutting down a medical office where I've been employed for close to 20 years.  A medical office that my sister built and managed until she got sick.  She literally gave her life for the place.

If you are getting tired of hearing me talk about this subject, I apologize.  I love the holiday season.  All the lights and warmth.  The focus on hope and joy.  But this time of year also makes me think about things that I've lost, as well.  This will be the first Christmas without my father.  The third without my sister.  Fourth without my brother.  If my sister were alive, I know she would be able to calm my worries about the future.  She had that way about her.  Always had a plan that seemed to make sense.  (By the way, my sister was a huge Black Friday shopper.  She spent most of Thanksgiving night poring over the sales papers.  This day always makes me think of her.)

Again, I know that life has a way of working out.  It's the path getting to the future that can be a little frightening.  It ain't no Yellow Brick Road, and I can't even see the Emerald City from the couch right now.

Saint Marty is looking for his rainbow.

November 23: Michael Ryan, "In Winter," Some Light

In Winter

by:  Michael Ryan

At four o’clock it’s dark.
Today, looking out through dusk
at three gray women in stretch slacks
chatting in front of the post office,
their steps left and right and back
like some quick folk dance of kindness,
I remembered the winter we spent
crying in each other’s laps.
What could you be thinking at this moment?
How lovely and strange the gangly spines
of trees against a thickening sky
as you drive from the library
humming off-key? Or are you smiling
at an idea met in a book
the way you smiled with your whole body
the first night we talked?
I was so sure my love of you was perfect,
and the light today
reminded me of the winter you drove home
each day in the dark at four o’clock
and would come into my study to kiss me
despite mistake after mistake after mistake.


A poem for a gray winter day.  I know my last couple posts have been on the dark side, so I decided to share a poem that has some light in it.

Yesterday was a day for thankfulness and gratitude.  I am grateful to have leftover turkey and mashed potatoes today.  Some cranberry sauce over stuffing.  Maybe some day-old pecan pie.  And for people who love me, despite all the mistakes I make.  Every day.

Saint Marty is a walking billboard for screwing up.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

November 21: Blush Like Wine, Thanksgiving Eve, Building & Loan

Yonder, by ever-brimming goblet's rim, the warm waves blush like wine. The gold brow plumbs the blue. The diver sun- slow dived from noon- goes down; my soul mounts up! she wearies with her endless hill. Is, then, the crown too heavy that I wear? this Iron Crown of Lombardy. Yet is it bright with many a gem; I the wearer, see not its far flashings; but darkly feel that I wear that, that dazzlingly confounds. 'Tis iron- that I know- not gold. 'Tis split, too- that I feel; the jagged edge galls me so, my brain seems to beat against the solid metal; aye, steel skull, mine; the sort that needs no helmet in the most brain-battering fight!

Ahab musing on his life.  Instead of enjoying the warm waves and ocean sunset, he focuses instead on his iron crown of thorns.  He is incapable of any sustained moments of happiness.  Sadly, I'm feeling a lot like Ahab today.

It's Thanksgiving Eve.

I have been trying all this week to focus on gratitude.  Most people who know me would probably describe me as a pretty positive person.  At work, I tell jokes, make people laugh, try to see the glass as (at least) half-full.  At the university where I teach, I would bet that most of my colleagues would describe me similarly.  Upbeat.  Always smiling.  Helpful.

Sometimes, that's an act.  To paraphrase a therapist friend of mine, I have to fake it 'til I make it.  Today is one of those days for me.  I'm not able to focus fully on my blessings right now.  Nothing terrible has necessarily happened today.  Yet.  However, I received a text from a really good friend that pretty much said that the outpatient surgery center where I work is closing at the end of the year.  Now, keep in mind this is not an official notification from my boss of imminent closure.  It is simply another text full of "this person heard from this person who heard from this person that the Surgery Center is closing."

That being said, it was not a text that instilled in my soul a spirit of thankfulness.  I try to ignore secondhand and thirdhand rumors.  Generally, these kinds of rumors only make you feel terrible about yourself or your life.  I'm in that particular head space right now.  In this post, my plan was to focus on my medical office job.  Being grateful that no bad news had come my way.  Can't do that now.

I will say that I am grateful to have this blog to be able to air my daily meditations on life, positive and negative.  Of course, I know all the old chestnuts about change.  My favorite:  God never closes a door without opening a window.  That really doesn't help when you happen to be on the 30th floor with a whole lot of asphalt and cement underneath you.  Maybe, when I'm on the other side of this whole experience, I will have a different outlook.  Right now, however, I'm standing in a doorway, waiting for the door to be slammed in my face.  Not really looking around for windows.

Until I officially hear otherwise about my job, I'm sticking with the half-full glass, as hard as that may be today.  I'm going to go home tonight to make pecan pies.  Maybe I'll watch It's A Wonderful Life, let Frank Capra remind me:  "Remember no man is a failure who has friends."  I sing to my son when he goes to bed.  Play a game of Trivial Pursuit with my daughter.  Crawl into bed with my beautiful wife.

Saint Marty really does have a wonderful life, whether the Building & Loan remains open or closes.

November 21: Ross Gay, "Thank You," Small Graces that Cause Blisters

Thank You

by:  Ross Gay

If you find yourself half naked
and barefoot in the frosty grass, hearing,
again, the earth's great, sonorous moan that says
you are the air of the now and gone, that says
all you love will turn to dust,
and will meet you there, do not
raise your fist. Do not raise
your small voice against it. And do not
take cover. Instead, curl your toes
into the grass, watch the cloud
ascending from your lips. Walk
through the garden's dormant splendor.
Say only, thank you.
Thank you.

I needed this poem today to remind me to say "thank you" for all the grace present in my life.

Even those small graces that get in your shoes and cause blisters,

Saint Marty says thanks to the world today.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

November 20: Terrible Old Man, Selfish People, Throwing Up Blood

Terrible old man! thought Starbuck with a shudder, sleeping in the gale, still thou steadfastly eyest thy purpose.

Starbuck could easily be thinking of Ebenezer Scrooge, Mr. Potter from It's A Wonderful Life, or Donald Trump.  As the first mate notes, the terrible old man is all about self-centeredness and ego.  A person who only thinks of himself and his purpose.

I don't understand selfish people.

My daughter's boyfriend is in the Boy Scouts.  Two summers ago, he was participating in a can drive to raise funds for a camping hike he was going on.  He went to a house and was confronted by an old man who decide to berate him for the Boy Scouts organization's decision to be more inclusive, accepting LGBTQ scouts/leaders and (GASP!) girls.  The old man was downright ignorant and mean to my daughter's boyfriend.

Prime selfishness.  An adult verbally abusing a young person to make himself feel superior and smart.  Of course, all this old man succeeded in doing was prove that he was a homophobic misogynist.

That's what all selfish people do--they expose their own fears and failings.  Lack of human compassion.  Racism.  Antisemitism.  Homophobia.  Misogyny.  Islamophobia.  Just plain lack of kindness and goodwill.  Selfish people are the bullies who shove you into high school lockers.  Who refuse to help coworkers who are sick.  Who, when you say "I was throwing up blood all last night," respond with something like "I got a paper cut last night, and then I peeled an orange and got some juice in the cut and it hurt really bad."

If you can't tell, there's a story behind this post that I won't share.  All I will say is kindness and compassion are pretty easy things to indulge in.  They make lives better, and they make you feel better about yourself.  Sure, selfishness may initially make your life easier.  You won't have to work late for a coworker or visit somebody in the hospital or drop your last dollar in a Salvation Army Christmas kettle.  However, in the long run, being selfish will alienate friends and family, irritate acquaintances, turn you into a Republican, and make you wear a MAGA hat.  Who wants that?

Sure, if you say "yes" all the time, you will be taken advantage of from time to time.  But I'll take that chance.

Saint Marty will always err on the side of kindness.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

November 18: Holiday Weather, Crafty Christmas, Hope and Light

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.

Even Ahab is not immune to the holiday season.  As serious as a hurricane, the captain of the Pequod is able to enjoy the "playful allurings of the girlish air."  Even the hardest of hearts can melt a little bit at this time of the year.

I have spent most of this weekend preparing my house for Christmas.  Yesterday, I cleaned my house with my daughter.  Then we dragged the plastic totes down from the attic, and last night we put A Christmas Story on the DVD player and set up the Christmas tree.  It's an artificial tree that my wife and I bought after our first Christmas as a married couple.  It was deeply discounted, and it has served us well ever since.  Twenty-three years.  That has to be some kind of record.

This afternoon, we went to work on our front porch.  It was my year to choose the theme for our outside decorations.  I have close to twenty years' worth of framed poetry broadsides that I've been giving to friends and family.  I decided to put them to good use this year, as well.  So, it's "Crafty Christmas" outside.  My daughter folded a bunch of origami animals for her English class last year.  We used her creations as ornaments for the tree.  I found some latch hook Christmas rugs that my sister Rosemarie made many years ago.  I hung those up, too.  Add a few of my framed poems, and I have a home-made Christmas that would make Martha Stewart proud.

Now, I'm sitting in my living room.  No lights in the house on, except for the Christmas tree.  Miracle on 34th Street is playing on the television, and I'm pretty darn tired.  But I'm full of holiday spirit.  Now, those of you who know me personally will not be surprised by any of my confessions here.  My coworkers hear me playing Christmas music on my computer all year long.  I listen to 'Tis the Podcast weekly.  (That's a podcast by three people who talk about Christmas movies and television specials and music all year long.  It's my new obsession.)  I love all things Christmas.

I know there are people reading this post who probably won't put up their trees and decorations until after Thanksgiving.  There are probably a few of you who even wait until Christmas week to glitter and light up your houses.  I also know that Christmas is not always the happiest time of the year for everyone.  I am sensitive to everyone's feelings about the holiday season.  I, myself, have had some pretty dark Yuletides.

This year, however, I'm determined to make the season bright, as the carol goes.  Sure. I have worries at work.  Still don't know if I'm going to have a job come January 1st.  Yeah, money is still really tight.  Always robbing Peter to pay Paul, as my mother says.  But, it doesn't cost any money to be cheerful or friendly.  To play a game of Trivial Pursuit with my daughter.  Watch The Year Without a Santa Claus with my son.  Bake some cookies.  Sing some songs.  Spread some goodwill around.  Because the world seems in short supply of all of that right now.

This isn't just about Christmas.  It's about hope and light.  Ever since President He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named took office, there hasn't been a whole lot of these things available.  Saint Marty intends to be an agent of hope and light this holiday season.

November 18: Joy Harjo, "Perhaps the World Ends Here," the Kitchen Table

Perhaps the World Ends Here

by:  Joy Harjo

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.


A little poem about the importance of the kitchen table for this Thanksgiving week.  I know I've used it before, but it's so appropriate for the upcoming holiday.

Some of the most important family conversations happen in the kitchen, around the table of eating.  It's where people let their guards down because they are simply hungry for what's in front of them.  That's when truth can be dished up with mashed potatoes.  Hurt can be sweetened by pecan pie.  Pain can be salted and seasoned with onion. 

Saint Marty gives thanks for dinner conversation.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

November 17: Praying at the Bottom of the Sea, Ritual, Change

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

Father Mapple at a church service that Ishmael attends.  Church services, whether they are Catholic or Methodist or Baptist, involve a certain amount of ritual.  You can't get away from it.  That's how organized religion works.  It's organized.  Tradition plays a big part in it.  Change doesn't happen very often.  Changing anything in a church is like turning the Titanic.  It doesn't happen quickly or easily.

Change.  Don't like it.  Never have.

Usually, I am at McDonald's on Saturday morning with my family.  That's our little tradition.  We sit there for a few hours, talking, listening to music, solving the world hunger and conflicts in the Middle East.  My sister, Sally, started this little ritual.  Since her death, it seems like a disservice to her memory if we're not sitting in our booth by 9 a.m. on Saturday.

Today, because of remodeling, the lobby of McDonald's is closed.  So, we are at Burger King instead.  Many of you are thinking, "Big deal!  Greasy BK food instead of greasy McD's food."  It's not necessarily about the good, however.  It's about the atmosphere and vibe.  Different place, different feel.

Of course, as I said above, I don't like change, big or small.  It bothers me.  I'm a creature of habit.  When I wake up in the morning, I know exactly what my day will hold.  For example, today, after our little breakfast peace summit at Burger King, I am planning on cleaning my house with my daughter and her boyfriend.  This afternoon, it's church.  Thanksgiving songs.  Tonight, we're putting Christmas decorations up at home.  My day.

You see what I mean.  My three constant readers know this about me.  I am the patron saint of habit and ritual.  There's something very comforting in hearing an old song on the radio, coming across an old episode of Bewitched or Gilligan's Island on the TV.  It's part nostalgia, I suppose.  Conjuring up old memories of bygone times (which can be dangerous if you allow yourself to get lost in them).  There's a feeling of safety in it, as well.

Of course, with habit and ritual comes the possibility of stagnation.  I know that change is a necessary part of life.  Almost every student I teach at the university has changed majors at least once (some multiple times).  It's a proven fact that most people change careers at least twice in their lives.  I, myself, ordered a different breakfast sandwich this morning than my normal sausage biscuit.

When the change is something I choose, as opposed to something that's forced upon me, I can get into that.  Embrace it, even.  However, when I'm told that I HAVE to do something, I find myself bridling a little.  For example, every Christmas morning, I usually play a Mass at my church.  This year, because of a change in pastor and pastor assignments, I am not playing a Mass this Christmas at all.  Not my choice, and I find myself a little upset about it.  I love playing Christmas songs and music.  Not to mention the fact that I'm losing money by not playing.  However, I have no voice in this decision.  It's necessary and unavoidable.

So, you see, this Christmas season will be different for me.  Perhaps I will appreciate being able to relax on Christmas morning.  Sit around in my pajamas.  Drink eggnog.  Watch A Christmas Story on TBS.  Then, go over to my parents' house for a Christmas breakfast.  It my be the start of a new Christmas tradition.   Maybe I'll learn to accept it.  Enjoy it, even.  Or, for the rest of my life, maybe I'll feel like something's missing on Christmas morning.  I don't know.

Saint Marty is thankful this morning for Bailey's and hot chocolate on a cold November night.  That's a tradition he can really get into.

November 17: Elizabeth Alexander, "Butter," Bounty


by:  Elizabeth Alexander

My mother loves butter more than I do,
more than anyone. She pulls chunks off
the stick and eats it plain, explaining
cream spun around into butter! Growing up
we ate turkey cutlets sauteed in lemon
and butter, butter and cheese on green noodles,
butter melting in small pools in the hearts
of Yorkshire puddings, butter better
than gravy staining white rice yellow,
butter glazing corn in slipping squares,
butter the lava in white volcanoes
of hominy grits, butter softening
in a white bowl to be creamed with white
sugar, butter disappearing into
whipped sweet potatoes, with pineapple,
butter melted and curdy to pour
over pancakes, butter licked off the plate
with warm Alaga syrup. When I picture
the good old days I am grinning greasy
with my brother, having watched the tiger
chase his tail and turn to butter. We are
Mumbo and Jumbo's children despite 
historical revision, despite
our parent's efforts, glowing from the inside
out, one hundred megawatts of butter. 


Can't get around it:  one of the things everyone focuses upon around Thanksgiving is food.  After all, the holiday is all about giving thanks for the bounty in your life.  Food.  Friends.  Family.  The smell of turkey cooking in a steaming kitchen.  Pies sitting out on the back porch with Cool Whip, waiting for dessert.  Five people, chopping vegetables, setting out silverware and plates.  Glasses of wine.  And laughter and jokes and old stories.

This poem reminds me of all of that, and that's why I love it.

Saint Marty is kind of a sucker for butter, too.

Friday, November 16, 2018

November 16: Another Orphan, Work Fate, Root Canal

. . . On the second day, a sail drew near, and picked me up at last.  It was the devious-cruising Rachel, that in her retracing search after her missing children, only found another orphan.

Yes, these are the last two sentences of Moby-Dick.  Ishmael, adrift at sea after the sinking of the Pequod, being saved by the crew of the Rachel.  It doesn't feel like a victory.  The ending of the book is too littered with death and loss for any kind of happy ending.

Welcome to Friday.  The end of the week.  In some ways, it sort of feels like the conclusion of Moby-Dick.  I have had a strange day of disappointment, pain, and numbness.

Today was the day I was supposed to find out whether I will have a job come January 1, 2019.  The powers-that-be who own the outpatient surgery center where I work were supposed to reveal their decision some time during these 24 hours.  I checked my e-mail this morning.  Nothing.  I texted my boss, asking her if she had heard anything.  She told me that she would personally call me if she found out.  I have waited all day for my phone to ring.  Nothing.  It is now almost 6 p.m.  I have a feeling that no news is coming this weekend.

This afternoon, I had a root canal.  I sat for about an hour-and-a-half in my dentist's chair being needled, drilled, drained, ground down, and filled up.  I left the dental office numb and feeling like my nostril was collapsing on my face, which was a little disconcerting.  Got home and had a roaring headache, so I went to bed for a couple hours.

My face has come back to life, so I now don't feel as though my nostril is trying to suffocate me.  And I have resigned myself to the fact that I am not going to know my fate at work this weekend.  I will have to live in a state of negative capability, accepting my uncertainty for the time being.

Tonight, I plan to go out to dinner with my family.  I will have a couple drinks.  Order a burger and waffle fries.  Try to laugh and enjoy myself and the people I love.  Perhaps God is trying to teach me something.  Patience?  Acceptance?  Faith?  Doubt?  Fear?  I don't know.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for possibility and hope.