Monday, December 31, 2018

December 31: Drama's Done, Balloons and Streamers, Old Acquaintance

The drama's done. Why then here does any one step forth?- Because one did survive the wreck.

It so chanced, that after the Parsee's disappearance, I was he whom the Fates ordained to take the place of Ahab's bowsman, when that bowsman assumed the vacant post; the same, who, when on the last day the three men were tossed from out of the rocking boat, was dropped astern. So, floating on the margin of the ensuing scene, and in full sight of it, when the halfspent suction of the sunk ship reached me, I was then, but slowly, drawn towards the closing vortex. When I reached it, it had subsided to a creamy pool. Round and round, then, and ever contracting towards the button-like black bubble at the axis of that slowly wheeling circle, like another Ixion I did revolve. Till, gaining that vital centre, the black bubble upward burst; and now, liberated by reason of its cunning spring, and, owing to its great buoyancy, rising with great force, the coffin life-buoy shot lengthwise from the sea, fell over, and floated by my side. Buoyed up by that coffin, for almost one whole day and night, I floated on a soft and dirgelike main. The unharming sharks, they glided by as if with padlocks on their mouths; the savage sea-hawks sailed with sheathed beaks. On the second day, a sail drew near, nearer, 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. 

And we have come to the end of the year of Moby-Dick.  The drama's done, as Melville says.  I survived.

New Year's Eve.  Balloons are inflated.  Streamers are strung.  The homemade pizza is in the oven.  The crescent weenies are being eaten.  Punch is poured.  Wheat Thins and Easy Cheese on the table.  M&Ms, peanut butter and plain.  That's how we do it in my family.

I have to say that I'm not sad that 2018 is coming to a close.  It has been a year of struggles and successes, personally and professionally.  My father passed in February.  The last four months have been a guessing game about my place of employment--will the office remain open or not?  I've written poems and essays.  Became co-host of a syndicated radio show.  Raised money for flood relief and homeless shelters.

I'm a little tired from worry at the moment.  Last night was sleepless.  I woke up at about 3 a.m. and lay in bed, my mind racing through what ifs.  Never a good thing that early in the morning.  Got up and went to work, did some end-of-year stuff.  Put together my syllabi for next semester.  Finished editing a book manuscript for a friend.

On Wednesday, I will be boarding an airplane with my family.  Ten days of sunshine, warmth, Mickey Mouse, and Harry Potter.  I don't feel quite ready for that yet.  I have packing to do, loose ends to tie up, and e-mails to send.  My entire December has been a race--to Christmas, to New Year's Eve, to Florida.  I'm kind of tired of running.

Tomorrow, I will be introducing the new Book of the Year.  I've been knocking around a few ideas.  Cormac McCarthy's The Road.  Joseph Heller's Catch-22.  Toni Morrison's Beloved.  Willa Cather's My Antonia.  A couple days ago, I made my decision.  I think it's going to be a surprise for most of my disciples.  It surprised me.

It's approaching 8 p.m.  In four hours, my family will blow horns, sing "Auld Lang Syne," and raise some cups of punch, toasting possibilities and hopes.  I am determined to leave my worries behind.  That will be difficult for me.  I tend to keep a tight grip on anxiety and fear.

So, goodbye Moby-Dick.  Goodbye worries and fears.  Goodbye 2018.  Should old acquaintance be forgot.

Saint Marty wishes everyone blessings and happiness for the coming year.

December 31: Sandra McPherson, "A Pumpkin at New Year's," Happy New Year

A Pumpkin at New Year's

by:  Sandra McPherson

Heads were rolling down the highway in high slat trucks.   
I knew it was time to buy you and found you,
The last sphere unscarred and undistorted in the store,   
Big as my own head.

It was time too to leave you uncut and full-featured,   
Like the grandpa of twenty-five pumpkins in my past,   
Khrushchev-cheeked and dwelling on yourself,   
Great knee of my childhood.

I plainly thought you would rot.
I remembered the fetor of other pumpkins,
Their blue populations coming out of hiding as if at the end   
Of some apocalypse.

I devoted a day to reading up on minor cucurbits:   
I learned your dozen names in African
And came home ready to raise or raze you,   
Positive of change.

But so far—eternity. I think I would not like   
Eternity, after I had used my senses up,
As I’ve tried with you—fingertips dragging over your world   
Pole to pole

Till they go dead like explorers, nostril cilia
Detecting your fragrance more delicate than they—
And my patience. It’s Christmas, it’s a new year   
And I hear

Of a family who’s kept you for four ...
You endure like matter manufactured
And indeed your stem seems punched into your orange gathers
Like a button in a mattress.

Shall I give you a room or a shrine? And shall I   
Purchase you a mate and family,
When ours is so inadequate, fixed upon your window   
Deathbed as we are,

Centered upon a time and birth, new holiday, new friends,   
New pumpkins, celebrating when all
That has failed us has passed away.
You have not failed.


A poem for New Year's.

I need to go play a game with my son now.  He's forcing me to play Pugopoly, which is Monopoly with pugs.  I have always hated that game.  These are the sacrifices we make.

Saint Marty needs some champagne.  Or Cheetos.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

December 29: Most Vital Hope, New Year's Weekend, Mouse and Magic

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

Vital hope.  That's what I have right now.  Welcome to New Year's weekend.  Saturday morning, to be exact.  The snow has stopped.  My sewer line is not coughing up into my bathtub and sinks.  When I flushed the toilet this morning, everything disappeared the way it was supposed to.  Yes, life is back to normal.  No more shit.

I know making that statement is a little dangerous.  It invites disaster.  Sort of like saying "Wow, my car is all paid off!" invites transmission problems, brake jobs, and head-on collisions.  However, in these last few days of 2018, I am going to try to ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive.  (Thanks, Johnny Mercer, for that line.)

For those of my disciples scratching their heads, don't worry.  I haven't partaken in special brownies or gummies, and I haven't sipped any weird Kool-Aid.  I simply am trying to end my year on a high note.  Come the first days of January, I will most likely be back to my old, dark self.  However, I am heading to Florida for ten days on January 2.  Walt Disney World.  Harry Potter World.  Sun.  Warmth.  No blocked sewers or frozen water pipes.  Just mouse ears and magic wands.

My son is going crazy to climb on that airplane.  Yesterday, my sister took him to the salon, and my son chose to have his hair dyed red.  He was going to go with pink but changed his mind at the last minute.  Red is his most current shade.  He's also been green and purple.  When he hits a swimming pool, who knows what color his hair will fade to?  He may be pink.

That is my wisdom for this day.  Being positive.  Ending the year on a high note.  Mickey Mouse.  Hogwarts.  Magic for all.

Saint Marty is thankful this day for his complicated, crazy life.

December 29: Joseph Fasano, "Elegy for a Year," Haunted

Elegy for a Year

by:  Joseph Fasano

Before I watched you die, I watched the dying
falter, their hearts curled and purring in them

like kitfoxes asleep
beside their shadows, their eyes pawed out by the trouble

of their hunger. I was
humbling, Lord, like the taxidermist’s

apprentice. I said
yes, and amen, like the monk brushing

the barley from the vealcalf’s
withers, the heft of it

as it leans against his cilice.
Winter, I have watched the lost

lie down among their bodies, clarified
as the birdsong

they have hymned of.
I have heard the earth sing longer than the song.

Come, I said, come
summer, come

after: you were the bull-elk in the moonlight
of my threshold, knocking off the mosses from its antlers

before it backed away, bewildered, into foliage.
You were thin-ribbed, were hawk-

scarred, were few.
Yes, amen, before I heard you giving up

your singing, you were something stumbling hunted
to my open door; you were thinning with the milkweed

of the river. Winter, Wintering, listen: I think of you
long gone now

through the valley, scissoring
your ancient way

through the pitch pines. Not waiting, but the great elk
in the dark door. Not ravens

where they stay, awhile, in furor,
but the lost thing backing out

among the saplings, dancing off the madness
of its antlers. Not stone, not cold

stone, but fire. The wild thing, musk-blooded, at my open
door, wakening and wakening and

wakening, migrations
in the blindness of its wild eyes,

saying Look at them, look at how they have to.
Do something with the wildness that confounds you.


I will say this has been a challenging year in many respects.  The death of my father affected me a lot more strongly than I expected.  He sort of haunts some days.

And then there's the whole "will I have a job or won't I?" thing.  A game I will continue to play into 2019.  Another thing that haunts me.

However, I have had poetry and friends.  Trips with my family.  Christmas this year has been a true celebration of love for me.

Saint Marty doesn't mind a few ghosts in his life.

Friday, December 28, 2018

December 28: Lurchingly Paced, Plugged Sewer, Drinking Tonight

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.

11:11 a.m.

Feeling a lot of anxiety today.  Sewer is plugged.  Again.  It's been plugged since about 7 p.m. last night.  The plumbers came out around 9:30 p.m., worked on it for over two hours, didn't finish.  The two guys are supposed to come back today.  When they left, they said they would be back in the morning.  This morning, they sent their sewer cleaning machines to Munising, a city about 70 miles in the complete opposite direction of where I live.  Now, they are supposed to return this afternoon.  In the mean time, my daughter is staying at her boyfriend's house, my son with his aunts, and I don't know if I'm going to be able to take a shit when I get home.

I'm sort of feeling a lot like Ahab at the moment.  Pacing the deck of the Pequod.  Talking to myself.  Cursing under my breath.  Barely able to hold my insanity in check.  As a plumber's son, I know the business.  I know emergencies happen.  However, I have a household containing, at the moment, five to six people who can't go to the bathroom, brush their teeth, or wash dishes.  That's kind of an emergency.

Now, it's pushing noon.  No messages.  No phone calls.  Radio silence on the home and plumber front.  And here I sit at work, Ahab, scanning the horizon for any sign of a white whale.  I'm pretty good at hiding my unraveling.  That's why I'm sitting at my desk right now, scribbling this post in my journal.  I'm trying to appear calm instead of unhinged.  I have to say that the door may be coming off the frame if nothing happens by early afternoon.

Saint Marty may be drinking tonight.  Heavily.  And peeing in the backyard.

6:24 p.m.

An update.

Arrived home about a half hour ago.  The toilet is back in place.  The water in the bathtub and sinks is gone.  I just flushed, and there were no hungry crocodile sounds coming from any drain.  Life is back to normal for the low, low price of $1250.

Anyone want to hire me to write a few poems?  Only $1200.  A bargain.

Pacing at work . . .

December 28: Joseph Brodsky, "December 24, 1971," A State of Mind

December 24, 1971

by:  Joseph Brodsky

For V. S.

When it’s Christmas we’re all of us magi.
At the grocers’ all slipping and pushing.
Where a tin of halvah, coffee-flavored,
is the cause of a human assault-wave
by a crowd heavy-laden with parcels:
each one his own king, his own camel.

Nylon bags, carrier bags, paper cones,
caps and neckties all twisted up sideways.
Reek of vodka and resin and cod,
orange mandarins, cinnamon, apples.
Floods of faces, no sign of a pathway
toward Bethlehem, shut off by blizzard.

And the bearers of moderate gifts
leap on buses and jam all the doorways,
disappear into courtyards that gape,
though they know that there’s nothing inside there:
not a beast, not a crib, nor yet her,
round whose head gleams a nimbus of gold.

Emptiness. But the mere thought of that
brings forth lights as if out of nowhere.
Herod reigns but the stronger he is,
the more sure, the more certain the wonder.
In the constancy of this relation
is the basic mechanics of Christmas.

That’s what they celebrate everywhere,
for its coming push tables together.
No demand for a star for a while,
but a sort of good will touched with grace
can be seen in all men from afar,
and the shepherds have kindled their fires.

Snow is falling: not smoking but sounding
chimney pots on the roof, every face like a stain.
Herod drinks. Every wife hides her child.
He who comes is a mystery: features
are not known beforehand, men’s hearts may
not be quick to distinguish the stranger.

But when drafts through the doorway disperse
the thick mist of the hours of darkness
and a shape in a shawl stands revealed,
both a newborn and Spirit that’s Holy
in your self you discover; you stare
skyward, and it’s right there:
                                                    a star.


I love Joseph Brodsky's Christmas collection Nativity Poems.  They never fail to leave me breathless and stunned.  It is still Christmas time.  There was snow today.  Tonight, I will sit in my living room with just the Christmas tree lights on.

There are Christmas cookies left to eat.  Another present to open this evening.  This weekend, the Christmas potluck of my Book Club.

Christmas isn't a day.  It's a state of mind.

Saint Marty is still following the star.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

December 27: Experienced Whale Surgeons, Like a Death, Rumor and Innuendo

It should not have been omitted that previous to completely stripping the body of the leviathan, he was beheaded.  Now, the beheading of the sperm whale is a scientific anatomical feat, upon which experienced whale surgeons very much pride themselves:  and not without reason.

I am drawn to this little passage because today was the last day of surgery for the year at the medical office where I work.  For some reason, this fact filled me with melancholy.  Perhaps, it's because so much has been made of the facility closing down these last few months.  The rumors have had us locking our doors on December 31.  So, leaving today felt a little like a death.

As far as I know, I will still have a job in the new year.  There are surgeries scheduled through the month of January, so far.  Many less than normal, however.  The rumors have had an effect on business.  Two of our main surgeons have taken their surgical cases to another hospital.  That's a loss of over a hundred surgeries a month.  That's a lot.

I'm a little stunned how much rumor and innuendo have led to this situation.  The surgeons who will no longer be doing surgery at the facility basically made their decisions based on nothing concrete.  They could be performing operations at the Surgery Center next week and the following week and the week after that.  Instead, based on nothing more than ifs and suppositions, they are sort of pounding coffin nails into my place of work.

Rumor.  It's a terrible thing.  Without one shred of credible proof, rumor can cause a lot of damage.  Lose people jobs.  Close businesses.  This particular rumor is damaging something that my sister built, from blueprints to reality.  She oversaw its day-to-day operation for over 20 years.  In the end, I believe, her dedication to her job killed her.  So I'm taking this turn of events a little personally.

And the thing that bothers me the most, as I've said in a post earlier this autumn, is that the people who work there--doctors, nurses, and scrub techs--are all jumping ship.  I understand the need for self-preservation.  I really do.  However, I also believe in making my decisions based upon verifiable facts.  Not fake news.

When the surgeon left today, he packed up his locker and, as he was leaving, said, "I've enjoyed working here."  The only thing I could say in response to him was "Hope you have a happy new year."

If you can't tell, I'm a little pissed, as well as sad, this evening.  I'm a professional.  Tomorrow, I'll get up, get dressed, and drive to work.  I'll smile at people.  Make jokes.  Get my shit done.  Because that's what I do.  I don't complain.  Or spread untruths.  Or repeat secondhand information.  Because that's unprofessional.

Saint Marty's sister taught him that.

December 27: Philip Larkin, "First Sight," Makes Me Smile

First Sight

by:  Philip Larkin

Lambs that learn to walk in snow
When their bleating clouds the air
Meet a vast unwelcome, know
Nothing but a sunless glare.
Newly stumbling to and fro
All they find, outside the fold,
Is a wretched width of cold.

As they wait beside the ewe,
Her fleeces wetly caked, there lies
Hidden round them, waiting too,
Earth's immeasureable surprise.
They could not grasp it if they knew,
What so soon will wake and grow
Utterly unlike the snow.


That poem makes me smile.  I needed that tonight.  It's been kind of a long and depressing day in many ways.

And here's a picture that makes Saint Marty smile, as well.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

December 26: Drama's Done, Final Christmas Flurry, Walt Disney World

The drama's done.  Why then here does anyone step forth?--Because one did survive the wreck . . . 

The drama is indeed done.  The day after Christmas.  Back to work, and my living room is a minefield of presents, piles of boxes and books.  I'm home alone at the moment.  My daughter is at her boyfriend's house, and my wife and son are in a neighboring city, playing KeyForge, which, I am led to understand, is a card game of some sort.

The Christmas tree is blinking in the corner of the living room, and snow is in the forecast for the next couple days.  A Winter Weather Advisory is in effect for about three to five inches of heavy white stuff by tomorrow night.  For those of my disciples who attach a certain nostalgia to white Christmases, I'm sure this little storm sounds thrilling.  To me, who has to rise at 4:30 a.m. tomorrow to drive to work, snow is an unwelcome prospect.  It slows me down, and it costs me money for plowing.

I'm still recovering from the final flurry of present wrapping and church going of the last couple days.  Plus, I didn't sleep well last night because of the little plumbing problem that I discovered.  I called a plumber, and they arrived at my house at 10 a.m. today.  According to my daughter, who was the only person home, they spent about 20 or so minutes taking up my toilet and cabling the sewer line.  In the end, the plumber found a makeup face wipe that had been flushed was causing the problem.  I am $150 poorer, but the drain in my bathtub is no longer burping every time we flush the toilet.

In one week's time, I will be in Florida at Walt Disney World, not worrying about snow or toilets or plowing or work.  It's the first major vacation the I've taken in years.  I think the last time I was on a plane was when I flew to California for a poetry workshop in Big Sur.  My daughter was about four years old.  To put that into perspective--my daughter is now a senior in high school.

I can't really get to the party yet for the trip.  It's sort of like preparing for Christmas.  I have so much that I need to accomplish before I step on that airplane.  Syllabi to create.  Citations for an essay to write.  Announcements about upcoming poetry workshops.  Clothes shopping and packing.  I have a feeling that I'm going to be sleeping a lot on the way to Florida.

It seems like I've been rushing headlong at 70 miles per hour into Christmas and New Year's since the beginning of the month.  Haven't had much of an opportunity to relax and enjoy myself.  Tonight, though, in my silent house, with my functioning toilet and sewer line, I am finally slowing down.  A little.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for heavy eyelids, hot chocolate, and butterscotch schnapps.

December 26: Chris Green, "Christmas Tree Lots," the Day After

Christmas Tree Lots

by:  Chris Green

Christmas trees lined like war refugees, 
a fallen army made to stand in their greens. 
Cut down at the foot, on their last leg, 

they pull themselves up, arms raised. 
We drop them like wood; 
tied, they are driven through the streets, 

dragged through the door, cornered 
in a room, given a single blanket, 
only water to drink, surrounded by joy. 

Forced to wear a gaudy gold star, 
to surrender their pride, 
they do their best to look alive.


A poem for the day after Christmas.  Dark, full of disappointment.  It's a day that always fills me with sadness.  Yes, all of the hubbub of the holidays is winding down, but, after weeks and weeks of anticipation, it's over in the space of 24 hours.

I'm all for the celebration of 12 days of Christmas, December 25 to Epiphany.  Can't really talk anybody into that, however.

Instead, I have Christmas lights on my tree.  A Christmas movie on the television.  And a Christmas poem.

Saint Marty isn't giving up the Ghost of Christmas Present yet.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

December 25: Merry Christmas, Christmas Traditions, "A Charlie Brown Advent"

Merry Christmas to all my disciples!

It has been a busy, joyful day.  Of course, I was up until 3:30 this morning, wrapping presents and eating Christmas cookies.  My son got me up around 8:30 a.m., which was later than I expected.  So, I got a full five hours of sleep.

Present opening at my house in the morning, my mom's house late morning, and my wife's cousin's house at 4 p.m.  It was a lovely day, filled with goodwill.  The only thing that would have made it better would have been a nap.

It's now 10:20 in the evening, and I just discovered that the sewer line to my toilet is blocked.  Every time it's flushed, it bubbles up in the bathtub.  This continues another holiday tradition.  Last year, the water lines in my house froze Christmas night, initiating several days of dealing with plumbers.  Looks like the tradition continues this year.

Speaking of traditions, Saint Marty always shares his annual Christmas essay on this night.  Here it is:

A Charlie Brown Advent

by:  Martin Achatz

1.     Would you believe me if I told you that I am haunted by Charlie Brown this December?   That, before I went to bed last night, as I was brushing my teeth, I heard a nine-year-old girl’s therapist voice in the dark kitchen say “Do you think you have pantophobia?” as if all the fears of the world—hunger and homelessness and isolation and abandonment and poverty and war—were lined up outside the bathroom door like second graders at recess?

2.     “The early bird gets the worm, but the late bird doesn’t even get the late worm.”
--Charles M. Schulz

3.     My dad had to be first.  Always.  He woke at 4:30 in the morning to get the first coffee.  At supper, his plate was full before anyone else sat down at the table, and he was forking meatloaf into his mouth before my mother intoned, “Bless us, O Lord, for these, Thy gifts . . .”  First to rake leaves in the fall, snowblow after a blizzard, mow his lawn come April.  The trees in his yard were the tallest in the neighborhood.  Grass, the greenest.  This past February, as he lay dying in a hospital bed, he kept kicking off his blankets, trying to pull himself upright, as if he wanted to be the first at the door to meet what was coming.  A tunnel of light.  Black hole of oblivion.  Saint Peter, surrounded by a cloud of cosmic dust.  Perhaps the soil of ancient Babylon, trod upon by Solomon or Nebuchadnezzar.

4.     “Decorate your home.  It gives the illusion that your life is more interesting than it really is.”
--Charles M. Schulz.

5.     It’s all about spreading and fluffing.  Making piles of branches on the floor, shortest to longest.  They used to be color-coded, their tips shades of blue jay blue, parakeet green, Woodstock yellow, snow bunting white.  The map of these colors has disappeared, so we navigate the process now like dirt roads in the woods.  Take Blue Branch Trail to where it forks at Brown Branch Gully.  Turn left.  Follow the two-rut until it intersects Gold Branch Pass and Black Branch Canyon.  Keep straight.  Follow the star up ahead all the way to County Road Tree Top.

6.     In the photo, Sparky Schulz stands in the backyard of his Minneapolis home.  It’s 1926, and he is four years old.  His dog, Snooky, sniffs at his feet.  Beside them squats a barrel of a snowman with a wide mouth and eyes like ink spots.  It’s three years before the Stock Market Crash.  Seventeen years before his mother, terminal with cancer, looked up at him from her bed when he was leaving for Army boot camp and said, “Well, good-bye, Sparky.  We’ll probably never see each other again.”  Twenty-four years before a boy with a barrel body and ink spot eyes first appeared in a comic strip with Shermy and Patty, Shermy remarking, “Good ol’ Charlie Brown . . . How I hate him!”

7.     “I have a new philosophy.  I’m only going to dread one day at a time.”
--Charles. M. Schulz

8.     Darkness is a thing now.  It pushes morning back to eight or eight-thirty.  Rushes afternoon out the door by four-thirty or five o’clock.  That’s about eight to nine hours of sunlight a day, most of it sweatered in clouds and snow.  In a week, the longest night of the year, when the dead can visit the living, when animals can speak.  Cows tell jokes to pigs:  What do you see when a duck bends over?  Butt quack.  Nuthatches and waxwings sing hosannas to a smirk of moon.  Beagles do impressions of sheep and penguins.

9.     My father died one week before Valentine’s Day, my mother—his little red-haired girl of 64 years—sitting beside his bed, holding his hand.  For several hours, his body had been playing a game of crack the whip, drifting one way, shifting suddenly in the opposite direction, then back again, as if trying to send him spinning off into a snowbank where he’d be swallowed in powder.  My mother rubbed her fingers against his knuckles, saying over and over, “You’ve been a good husband . . . a good father . . . Yes, you have . . .”  I watched his face crumple like an old lunch bag.

10.  Charlie Brown lamenting to Linus about never seeing the little red-haired girl again:  “. . . I thought I had plenty of time . . . I thought I could wait until the sixth grade swim party or the seventh grade class party . . . Or I thought I could ask her to the senior prom or lots of other things when we got older.  But now she’s moving away and it’s too late!  It’s too late! . . . I’ve never even said hello to her!!”

11.  Later in life, Sparky Schulz became obsessed with the movie Citizen Kane, especially the scene where Kane’s mother prepares to send her little boy away, never to see him again, saying, “I’ve got his trunk all packed.  I’ve had it packed for a week now.”

12.  In my mind, I see Charlie Brown inside the snow globe from Citizen Kane, standing beside the tiny Alpine-looking cabin, snowflake dander drifting around him like radioactive fallout.  He stares up at the convex glass heavens, whispers, “Rosebud?”

13.  “My life has no purpose, no direction, no aim, no meaning, and yet I’m happy.  What am I doing right?”
--Charles M. Schulz.

14.  My father was a chronic rearranger of lights and ornaments.  No bare spots.  No dark holes.  Everything full of sequin and incandescence and spark.  More Snoopy than Charlie Brown.  Maybe it was a grasping for perfection, something that reflected beginning more than ending.  Genesis over Revelations.  Big Bang over T. S. Eliot whimper.  Birth over death.  Christmas over Easter.

15.  Am I haunted or obsessed?  In my dreams, I’m an India-ink sketch, with words and sounds written above my head in thick, bold letters.  This morning, I turned on my car radio and heard Vince Guaraldi playing jazz piano, tripping across the keys like a parade of fat snowflakes, the bass line a steady plow.  It was still dark.  Down the street, my neighbor’s house was garish against the ice and stars, a spotlight of Yuletide attention that blinked like an “Open” sign at a gas station:  Christmas Here, Christmas Here, Christmas Here.  Over and over.  My father would have loved this.

16.  “I gave up trying to understand people long ago.  Now I let them try to understand me!”
--Charles M. Schulz

17.  Sparky Schulz was a religious guy who didn’t make his kids go to church.  They went horseback riding while he sat in his yellow chair and read the Scriptures.  In his house at Christmas time, a wooden crèche sat on a coffee table without explanation, as if its presence was significant enough without a Sunday school lesson.  In his Bible, scribbled across Matthew’s gospel narrative of Christ’s birth, were these words:  “The Christmas story is a story of purity and can be appreciated only by the pure mind.”  Cue music:  “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” with looing.

18.  My father would cut out Charlie Brown comic strips from the newspaper, scratch the name of one of his kids above Linus or Lucy or Sally, and magnet it to the refrigerator.  It would stay posted there for months.  He would use them for bookmarks, along with holy cards of Saint Francis and Saint John Vianney.  One of his favorites:  Charlie Brown sitting on a curb as it starts to rain.  Charlie looks up as the rain gets stronger, harder.  In the final panel, he’s nearly obscured by thick lines of downpour, and he comments, “It always rains on the unloved!”  My father wrote my name in wide blue letters over Charlie Brown’s head.  M. A. R. T. Y.

19.  “Get the biggest aluminum tree you can find, Charlie Brown, maybe painted pink.”
Lucy Van Pelt

20.  Near the top of my tree, a crystal Snoopy on a sled.  It catches the pink bulb behind it, refracts tiny prisms into the needles and branches.  At night, when the living room is dark, an arc of Snoopy light sits on the ceiling like a raised eyebrow or crescent of scar.

21.  My mother’s memory is an impermanent thing now.  Her days are a series of questions and observations.  “Is it cold outside?” and “How was your day?” and “I guess I should be heading home” (she is always home) and “Drive safe” (as I am going out the front door).  Most recent additions:  ‘Your father has been gone all day” and “Where is your father?” and “Your father never tells me where he’s going.”  She paces, shakes her head, pushes her walker back and forth, kitchen to living room to bathroom to bedroom, as if she’s Linus and her blanket is missing.

22.  A few months after Charlie Brown first learned the true meaning of Christmas, Sparky’s father died of a massive heart attack while visiting his son.  Sparky didn’t attend the wake or memorial service, claiming he was afraid to fly.  Much later, he said, “It’s so complicated.  I suppose I’ve always felt that way—apprehensive, anxious, that sort of thing.  I’ve compared it sometimes to the feeling that you have when you get up on the morning of a funeral.”

23.  Sitting in her chair one night a month or so ago, my mother looked over at my father’s empty seat and said, “There you are.  Where have you been?”  For the next 20 minutes, she spoke with my father about chicken noodle soup and car troubles and taxes.  How time was moving so fast from Great Pumpkin to Christmas.  At the end, she nodded, said, “I miss you, too,” then put her head back and closed her eyes.

24.  Linus to Charlie Brown:  “Sure, Charlie Brown.  I can tell you what Christmas is all about . . .”

25.  It’s about finding love when you’re lost.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

December 23: Cold Christmas, Sugar Cookies, Eve of Christmas Eve

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.  The long rows of teeth on the bulwarks glistened in the moonlight; and like the white ivory tusks of some huge elephant, vast curving icicles depended from the bows.

The Pequod, gliding off on Christmas day, shagged in ice.

It is the Fourth Sunday of Advent.  Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, and I feel completely unprepared for everything.  Gifts aren't wrapped.  Poem isn't done.  Music isn't rehearsed.  Driveway isn't shoveled.  I know Advent is supposed to be a time of preparation.  I've always imagined these four Sundays as a loaf of Christmas dough that needs to rise for a month.  It's almost time to bake now, and I feel like I've forgotten to add some ingredients.

Today, I should have spent writing.  Having trouble getting my Christmas poem to come together.  It's getting there, but it isn't done, and that makes me anxious.  I actually was planning to write all afternoon.  However, I decided to make some Christmas sugar cookies with my son instead.  And it was worth it.

My son was throwing sprinkles and green sugar on the cookies.  Pinching sprinkles and green sugar into his mouth.  Warm cookies were coming out of the oven.  My son looked at me and said, "This is the life!  Making Christmas cookies with my daddy!"  That was a great gift for me.  

Tonight, I'm going to an event at a meditation/arts center in my home town.  The place is called the Joy Center.  It's owned by one of my oldest friends.  We've known each other since the early 1990s, when we were in graduate school together.  Helen is always full of positivity and uplift.  Being around her always raises my spirits, even at very low times in my life.  This evening, it's Dinner and a Movie.  The dinner is potluck, and the movie is one of my favorite Christmas films.  Joyeux Noel.  I'm hoping to come away filled with some Yuletide spirit.

Those are my plans for this Fourth Sunday of Advent.  This eve of Christmas Eve.  

Saint Marty is thankful for his son tonight, who reminded him what Christmas is really all about.

December 23: Mary Oliver, "Christmas Poem," Tips Toward Christmas

Christmas Poem

by:  Mary Oliver

Says a country legend told every year:
Go to the barn on Christmas Eve and see
what the creatures do as that long night tips over.
Down on their knees they will go, the fire
of an old memory whistling through their minds!
[So] I went. Wrapped to my eyes against the cold
I creaked back the barn door and peered in.
From town the church bells spilled their midnight music,
and the beasts listened –
yet they lay in their stalls like stone.

Oh the heretics!
Not to remember Bethlehem,
or the star as bright as a sun,
or the child born on a bed of straw!
To know only of the dissolving Now!
Still they drowsed on –
citizens of the pure, the physical world,
they loomed in the dark: powerful
of body, peaceful of mind,
innocent of history.
Brothers! I whispered. It is Christmas!
And you are no heretics, but a miracle,
immaculate still as when you thundered forth
on the morning of creation!
As for Bethlehem, that blazing star
still sailed the dark, but only looked for me.
Caught in its light, listening again to its story,
I curled against some sleepy beast, who nuzzled
my hair as though I were a child, and warmed me
the best it could all night.

A poem from Mary Oliver as the world is tips toward Christmas.

I am trying to prepare, to fill my heart with anticipation and joy instead of worry and stress.  It's a struggle this year.  I've caught myself up in the frenzy.  It doesn't help that, in a little over a week, I'm getting on an airplane and heading to Florida for ten days.  I'm totally unprepared for that, as well.

Saint Marty has failed Advent 101 this year.

Friday, December 21, 2018

December 21: Dusk Descended, Longest Night of the Year, Different Exhaustion

When dusk descended, the whale was still in sight to leeward . . . 

Dusk descended in Calumet around 4:30 or 4:45 p.m., no whale in sight.  The longest night of the year.

Got back to my hotel about an hour ago after a day of rehearsal and an evening of performance.  I had such a good time with all my friends at the Calumet Theatre.  People for whom I've come to care a great deal.  We sang. Acted.  Told some jokes.  As the old saying goes--a little song, a little dance, a little seltzer in your pants.

Although I'm a little exhausted right now, it's different than the exhaustion I experience after a week of work and teaching.  My normal exhaustion is something that I feel in my bones.  There's not a whole lot of satisfaction in it.  The exhaustion I'm feeling at the moment is the kind your feel after doing something you love to do.  Like if you loved baking and you've spent the day making cheesecakes and sugar cookies.  There's a sense of fulfillment and happiness mixed in with the tired.

Tomorrow, I return to the hectic rush to Christmas.  The shopping, wrapping, possibly baking, and writing.

Tonight, however, Saint Marty is thankful for creating art with some good friends.

December 21: Timothy Steele, "Toward the Winter Solstice," Renewal and Rebirth

Toward the Winter Solstice

by:  Timothy Steele
Although the roof is just a story high,
It dizzies me a little to look down.
I lariat-twirl the cord of Christmas lights
And cast it to the weeping birch’s crown;
A dowel into which I’ve screwed a hook
Enables me to reach, lift, drape, and twine
The cord among the boughs so that the bulbs
Will accent the tree’s elegant design.

Friends, passing home from work or shopping, pause
And call up commendations or critiques.
I make adjustments. Though a potpourri
Of Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jews, and Sikhs,
We all are conscious of the time of year;
We all enjoy its colorful displays
And keep some festival that mitigates
The dwindling warmth and compass of the days.

Some say that L.A. doesn’t suit the Yule,
But UPS vans now like magi make
Their present-laden rounds, while fallen leaves
Are gaily resurrected in their wake;   
The desert lifts a full moon from the east
And issues a dry Santa Ana breeze,
And valets at chic restaurants will soon
Be tending flocks of cars and SUVs.

And as the neighborhoods sink into dusk
The fan palms scattered all across town stand
More calmly prominent, and this place seems
A vast oasis in the Holy Land.
This house might be a caravansary,
The tree a kind of cordial fountainhead
Of welcome, looped and decked with necklaces
And ceintures of green, yellow, blue, and red.

Some wonder if the star of Bethlehem
Occurred when Jupiter and Saturn crossed;
It’s comforting to look up from this roof
And feel that, while all changes, nothing’s lost,
To recollect that in antiquity
The winter solstice fell in Capricorn
And that, in the Orion Nebula,
From swirling gas, new stars are being born.

A poem for this long night of darkness.

It has been snowing, off-and-on, all day in Calumet.  And the temperature has turned arctic, with a wind to drive it into your bones.

The world begins tilting toward light now, reaching through stars and moon and meteors to a lengthening.  Tomorrow, the day will be a little longer than today was.  The next day, even longer.

Saint Marty is thankful for the promise of renewal and rebirth.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

December 20: Moons of Saturn, Winter Solstice Eve, Calumet

Seat thyself sultanically among the moons of Saturn, and take high abstracted man alone; and he seems a wonder, a grandeur, and a woe . . . 

Greetings from the AmericInn in Calumet, Michigan, on the Winter Solstice Eve.  Most of the time, when I come here in winter months, it feels and looks like I'm on a moon of Saturn.  Otherworldly.  The snowbanks are usually so tall that they obscure the buildings behind them at times.  Driving down a street is like traveling through a tunnel of ice and snow.  

Today, when I drove up, it was snowing and sleeting.  The roads were slick and treacherous.  When I turned into the city of Calumet, the road was coated in snow, as if, earlier, there had been a wicked half-hour blizzard.  However, there are no towering piles of white.  At the hotel, I spoke with the front desk person, and he said that six people had canceled their reservations for this weekend because of the lack of snow.  (Snowmobiling is a huge tourist draw in the area.)

I am here to be in a radio show at the Calumet Theatre.  Did some rehearsal tonight.  More tomorrow afternoon at 1 p.m.  Then, the performance at 7 p.m. on the longest night of the year.  Full moon and meteor showers in the forecast.

I'm still a little exhausted from this past week of grading.  Last night, I signed, addressed, and stuffed about 78 Christmas cards.  With my wife's help, I finished that little project at about 12:30 a.m.  So, if you're keeping track, that's three nights in a row where I only got about four hours of sleep.  Twelve hours total in the past 72 hours.

I plan on sleeping in a little tomorrow morning.  Then having a leisurely breakfast with my wife and son.  Yes, I have some writing to do.  A poem to work on.  Scripts to doctor a little bit.  Overall, though, it should be a fairly relaxing day up until show time.  Some people might get nervous about being on stage, acting, singing, and performing.  I sort of enjoy it.  There's always a little anxiety.  For the most part, however, I love the whole process--the creativity of it.  Trying to make something out of nothing.

This is my kickoff to the holiday weekend.  Fourth Sunday of Advent and them, immediately following on Monday, Christmas Eve.  I'm not ready.  Not even close.  Yet, here I am, sitting in a hotel room, not shopping or writing poetry or wrapping presents.  Instead, I'm blogging and eating M&Ms.

Maybe this is what Christmas should really feel like.  It should be relaxing.  Soul-satisfying.  Rejuvenating.  I wonder how many people actually experience this.  Don't get me wrong, when I drive home on Saturday, I'm going to go absolutely insane getting ready for the Yuletide.  

Right now, though, Saint Marty is enjoying the calm before the Christmas storm.    

December 20: Georg Trakl, "Winter Evening," Holy Time

Winter Evening

by:  Georg Trakl

When snow falls against the window,
Long sounds the evening bell...
For so many has the table
Been prepared, the house set in order.

From their wandering, many
Come on dark paths to this gateway.
The tree of grace is flowering in gold
Out of the cool sap of the earth.

In stillness, wanderer, step in:
Grief has worn the threshold into stone.
But see: in pure light, glowing
There on the table: bread and wine. 


Approaching the longest night of the year. 

The first day of winter. 

A holy time, full of darkness and light.

Saint Marty is ready for a long winter's nap.