Tuesday, April 30, 2019

April 30: Nicer and Nicer and Nicer, Virtual Living, Computers

Zaphod is trying to do a complicated mathematical improbability problem . . .

"Bat's dos, I can't work it out."


Zaphod knocked his two heads together in irritation and gritted his teeth.

"Okay," he said.  "Computer!"

The voice circuits sprang to life again.

"Why, hello there!" they said (ticker tape, ticker tape).  "All I want to do is make your day nicer and nicer and nicer . . ."

"Yeah, well, shut up and work something out for me."

"Sure thing," chattered the computer," you want a probability forecast based on . . ."

"Improbability data, yeah."

"Okay," the computer continued.  "Here's an interesting little notion.  Did you realize that most people's lives are governed by telephone numbers?"

A pained look crawled across one of Zaphod's faces and on to the other one.

"Have you flipped?" he said.

"No, but you will when I tell you that . . ."

Trillian gasped.  She scrabbled at the buttons on the Improbability flight-path screen.

"Telephone number?" she said.  "Did that thing say telephone number?"

Numbers flashed up on the screen.

The computer had paused politely, but now it continued.

"What I was about to say was that . . ."

"Don't bother, please," said Trillian.

"Look, what is this?" said Zaphod.

"I don't know," said Trillian, "but those aliens--they're on the way up to the bridge with that wretched robot.  Can we pick them up on any monitor cameras?"

I have spent a lot of my life sitting in front of wretched computers, doing wretched computer work.  As an undergraduate in college, I spent the better part of five years taking programming and math classes, learning the ins and outs of a now practically extinct computer language called Turbo Pascal.  I can't begin to tell you how many thousand lines of code I wrote in that language.  As I was nearing the end of my undergraduate days, Turbo Pascal was already going the way of the stegosaurus. 

Of course, I've sat in front of computers for hours, writing papers and essays and short stories and poems during my graduate school days.  In my healthcare career, I've spent hours in front of computers, registering patients, typing up surgical schedules, entering billing charges, answering e-mails, completing online education.  And now, the future of college education:  online classes.  I've taught three online classes in my career at the university, interacting with my students virtually. 

Computers and smart phones have become as common as toilet paper in the modern world.  Everybody uses them.  People get up in the morning and immediately check their phones to see if anybody has liked their Facebook posts or sent them a text message.  The last thing people do at night is pretty much the same--check their Facebook posts and text messages again.  I guess you could call it virtual living.

I, myself, am sitting alone in my kitchen right now, typing this blog post, pretending to talk to all of my unseen and unknown blog friends out there.  It's a way of being a part of the world without being a part of the world, if you get what I mean.  Frankly, when I get home at night, after dealing with people all day, I find the solitude of a blinking, silent computer a little comforting.  Computers don't complain about grades or doctor's appointments.  They don't have feelings to hurt or respect.  Their only need is a power source.  Plug them in and forget about them, if you want.

As you can tell, I have a love/hate relationship with computers.  I've had this relationship since my undergraduate days.  At the moment, I would be in love with any computer that could grade and comment on stacks of student papers.  That is what is in store for me this evening, after I hit the "publish" tab on this post.  Lots of time with a red pen and dead trees. 

I know there are people out there at the moment perusing/skimming this blog post.  You may be reading it just a few minutes after I send it out into the world.  You may be reading it five years from now.  Ten years.  A hundred years.  Maybe you're doing research on my life for some reason.  Perhaps I won the Nobel Prize in Literature twenty years from now for my virtual literary contributions.  Perhaps all of my 4,413 current posts have been collected in volumes of books.  (Books were these objects that existed, containing words printed on bound pages of papers.  People read them.  Cherished them.)  Maybe, in the future, I'm an erstwhile Emily Dickinson, surrounded in mystery and questions, my blog posts dissected and reflected by admiring fans.

For those researchers out there, let me set the record straight about a few things.  I'm a poet.  Currently, I hold the position of Poet Laureate of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  (Yes, that was an actual thing back in the day.)  I've been married to my wife for almost 25 years.  My teenage daughter is about to graduate from high school in less than a month.  My ten-year-old son got into trouble on the school playground today with a group of boys, and he currently wants to become an elementary school dropout and embark on a lucrative career in computer gaming.  I'm a contingent professor at a university, which means I do all the work of full-time professors without the compensation or recognition or respect of my full-time colleagues.  And, at the moment, I'm feeling fairly overwhelmed by life and the world.

And now, Saint Marty has to respond to some important e-mails.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

April 28: Two-to-the-Power-of-Infinity-Minus-One, Donald Hall, Book Club

Zaphod and Trillian are still discussing coincidence and improbability:

"Yeah, but that's one wild coincidence, isn't it?" [said Zaphod.]


"Picking someone up at that point?  Out of the whole of the Universe to choose from?  That's just too . . . I want to work this out.  Computer!"

The Sirius Cybermetics Shipboard Computer, which controlled and permeated every particle of the ship, switched into communication mode.

"Hi there!" it said brightly and simultaneously spewed out a tiny ribbon of ticker tape just for the record.  The ticker tape said, Hi there!

"Oh God," said Zaphod.  He hadn't worked with this computer for long but had already learned to loathe it.

The computer continued, brash and cheery as if it were selling detergent.

"I want you to know that whatever your problem, I am here to help you solve it."

"Yeah, yeah," said Zaphod.  "Look, I think I'll just use a piece of paper."

"Sure thing," said the computer, spilling out its message into a waste bin at the same time.  "I understand.  If you ever want . . ."

"Shut up!" said Zaphod, and snatching up a pencil sat down next to Trillian at the console.

"Okay, okay," said the computer in a hurt tone of voice and closed down its speech channel again.

Zaphod and Trillian pored over the figures that the Improbability flight-path scanner flashed silently up in front of them.

"Can we work out," said Zaphod, "from their point of view what the Improbability of their rescue was?"

"Yes, that's a constant," said Trillian, "two to the power of two hundred and seventy-six thousand, seven hundred and nine to one against."

"That's high.  They're two lucky lucky guys."


"But relative to what we were doing when the ship picked them up . . ."

Trillian punched up the figures.  They showed two-to-the-power-of-Infinity-minus-one to one against (an irrational number that only has a conventional meaning in Improbability Physics).

"It's pretty low," continued Zaphod with a slight whistle.

"Yes," agreed Trillian, and looked at him quizzically.

"That's one big whack of Improbability to be accounted for.  Something pretty improbable has got to show up on the balance sheet if it's all going to add up into a pretty sum."

Zaphod scribbled a few sums, crossed them out and threw the pencil away.

Believe it or not, I am pretty good at math.  Of course, I don't think I could do complicated statistics with sums like two-to-the-power-of-Infinity-minus-one.  That goes a little bit beyond the math and computer science minor I earned as an undergraduate.  But I used to be able to do calculus problems in my sleep.  Took a class in abstract algebra, and figured out how many moves exist on a standard Rubik's Cube.  (It's a very large number.)  Yes, I used to be on speaking terms with math.

Right now, I'm calculating the possibility that I am home alone yet again.  It happened on Friday evening, and it has happened again this afternoon.  That's twice in one weekend.  Unprecedented.  It might be two-to-the-power-of-Infinity-minus-one.  Of course, it's not going to last forever.  In two hours, the members of my Book Club will appear at my front door, and we will eat and talk and discuss poet Donald Hall's final book--a collection of essays titled A Carnival of Losses:  Notes Nearing Ninety.  Hall died last summer at the age of 89.

I am a fan on Donald Hall's work, although his poetry can be a little uneven at times.  When you write as much as Hall did during his life, you're bound to write some mediocre material.  His best work, for me, are the poems he wrote after the death of his wife, poet Jane Kenyon.  They are full of so much sorrow and beauty and longing.  (Some of you might argue with me, but I've always thought that Jane Kenyon was a better poet than Hall.  Just sayin'.)

One of the members of my book club is the widow of a retired English professor.  She and her husband used to be friends with Hall.  Hall came to the university a few times, to give readings and do interviews and visit classes.  They became friends through these occasions.

I, myself, met Donald Hall once at a dinner honoring him.  It was a brief encounter.  He was quite frail at the time, sitting in a char, signing books.  I knelt beside him, told him how much his work had meant to me as a poet.  I'm not sure how much he actually heard of my gushing.  Then, I mentioned my friend from book club to him.  He immediately brightened and spoke to me for a couple of minutes of their friendship.  It was an honest moment of connection at an occasion that really bred superficial interaction.  The food was pretty good, but seeing Donald Hall come to life for those skinny moments was kind of magical.

So, tonight's book club meeting is sort of like visiting a person that I really knew.  As I was reading Carnival of Losses this month, I could hear Hall's voice full of gravel and cigarettes.  It reminded me of how lucky I've been to meet and listen to so many great poets and writers in my lifetime.  Donald Hall.  Sharon Olds.  Jorie Graham.  Kurt Vonnegut.  Maya Angelou.  Gwendolyn Brooks.  Many others.  These are people who have shaped American literature AND culture.  And, despite the improbability against it, I've met them, if only for a few brief moments.

Saint Marty is two-to-the-power-of-Infinity-minus-one grateful for that.

April 28: Downers Recently, Something Different, "Glory Be Bop"

I think that a lot of my posts have been kind of downers recently.  That happens, especially when I'm in the middle of busyness.  National Poetry Month and work and teaching has kept me hopping this year.

So, to counteract the darkness of the last few days of posts, I am turning to poem I wrote over 17 years ago for a friend who was having a baby.  It's a poem I don't turn to very much.  I don't know why.  It's different for me, I guess.  Not what people expect.

Saint Marty doesn't mind being a little surprising every once in a while.

Glory Be Bop

by:  Martin Achatz

for Kristina, in labor
February 23, 2002

Glory be the sound of moans,
Across sky,
Black in cock-crow dawn.

Glory be the sound of blood,
Tug and wash, push and wail,
Wild midnight tide.

Glory be the sound of sweat,
Electric rain,
Hissing, kissing dark sea.

Glory be the sound of breath,
Hurricane sigh,
Hot licks on coast lips.

Glory be the sound of screams,
Seagull cry for mullet,
Wing crash, beak shred.

Glory be the sounds of you,
Bruise thick,
Bright starfish on the sand.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

April 27: Every Point in the Universe, Coincidence, Rose

Zaphod and Trillian, in the Heart of Gold spaceship, are dealing with their two new passengers . . .

 "Listen," she said, "we picked up those couple of guys . . ."

"What couple of guys?"

"The couple of guys we picked up."

"Oh, yeah," said Zaphod, "those couple of guys."

"We picked them up in Sector ZZ, Plural Z Alpha."

"Yeah?" said Zaphod, and blinked.

Trillian said quietly.  "Does that mean anything to you?"

"Mmmm," said Zaphod, "ZZ, Plural Z. Alpha ZZ, Plural Z Alpha?"

"Well?" said Trillian.

"Er . . . what does the Z mean?" said Zaphod.

"Which one?"

"Any one."

One of the major difficulties Trillian experienced in her relationship with Zaphod was learning to distinguish between him pretending to be stupid just to get people off their guard, pretending to be stupid because he couldn't be bothered to think and wanted someone else to do it for him, pretending to be outrageously stupid to hide the fact that he actually didn't understand what was going on, and really being genuinely stupid.  He was renowned for being amazingly clever and quite clearly was so--but not all the time, which obviously worried him hence the act.  He preferred people to be puzzled rather than contemptuous.  This above all appeared to Trillian to be genuinely stupid, but she could no longer be bothered to argue about it.

She sighed and punched up a star map on the visiscreen so she could make it simple for him, whatever his reasons for wanting it to be that way.

"There," she pointed, "right there."

"Hey . . . yeah!" said Zaphod.

"Well," she said.

"Well what?"

Parts of the inside of her head screamed at other parts of the inside of her head.  She said, very calmly, "It's the same sector you originally picked me up in."

He looked at her and then looked back at the screen.

"Hey, yeah," he said, "now that is wild.  We should have zapped straight into the middle of the Horsehead Nebula.  How did we come to be there?  I mean, that's nowhere."

She ignored this.

"Improbability Drive," she said patiently.  "You explained it to me yourself.  We pass through every point in the Universe, you know that."

I am not a believer in coincidence.  I don't think seemingly random extraordinary things occur without reason.  For example, several years ago, B. C. (that's Before Children), my wife and I were at Walt Disney World on vacation.  We were shopping in a place called Disney Village, which was a collection of stores and restaurants.  We ran into cousins from Wisconsin who were in the same store, and we had a little family reunion.  On that same vacation, a week or so before, my wife and I were at an attraction at one of the parks, and there was a child at the same attraction whom my wife had as a student when she was doing her student teaching.  Those kinds of things happened through that whole vacation.  I started to believe that we had fallen into some kind of weird wormhole in the universe.

Looking back at that vacation now, I have this feeling that all that was meant to be for some reason.  It was one of the last vacations when almost all of my family (siblings and parents) were together.  The Wisconsin cousins hadn't seen my parents in years.  We took a family picture with them, just to prove that it happened.

So, in my mind, there's no such thing as coincidence.  There's order in the universe.  Just because something is improbable doesn't mean that it's random.  I'm sure my science friends would argue with me on this point, but it would simply be a battle of beliefs or philosophies.  I'm a Christian, and I believe in a Higher Power.  A guiding force.  Everything has a reason.

Now, at this point in this rather long discussion of coincidence versus order, you're probably thinking, "What is his point?  What's he getting at?"

I do have a point.  Or maybe it's a question.  I spend a lot of time wondering why things happen in my life.  Recently, it's been the closure of the surgery center where I've worked for over 20 years, and all that change that has accompanied this event.  At this point, I don't understand the reason for this, aside from a healthcare system that is inherently broken and places more value on money over people.  I'm waiting for the dust to settle on that one so that I can see the larger picture.

The thing that is preoccupying my thoughts at the moment involves my sister, Rose, who has Down syndrome.  In the last few days, she has started having episodes that resemble seizures.  Five or six in a day.  She's fallen and injured herself.  Now, Rose is suffering from Alzheimer's.  It happens to a majority of people with Down syndrome when they get older.  My sister is 53 years old now.  She asks the same questions over and over.  Spends a good deal of her day running to the bathroom.  And she sleeps.  A lot.

What is happening with my sister is not unusual.  In fact, it's to be expected.  The episodes/seizures could be related to medications she's taking, or they could simply be a part of her progressing illness and aging.  She will be checked by doctors.  But I am truly questioning the reasons behind Rose's struggles.  My medical friends would probably say that there isn't really a metaphysical reason behind her condition.  It's physiological.  Changes in her brain due to age and her Down syndrome.  I understand that.  Really, I do.

Yet, I see meaningless suffering, and I try to make meaning out of it.  Since the onset of her dementia, Rose's personality has changed.  She's become argumentative and stubborn and obsessive.  Gone is the sister who spent most of her days writing long, discursive, handwritten letters to aunts and uncles and cousins and friends.  Gone is the sister who would jump on her three-wheeled bike and go for long rides around the neighborhood.  Gone is the sister that I remember.

And I'm left wondering why.  I don't know if I'll ever answer that question satisfactorily.  It's sort of an ageless question:  why does God allow suffering in the world?  The answer to that question, I guess, would be that God doesn't allow suffering.  The suffering is part of living in a broken world.  What God does is give us the strength and wisdom and love to deal with the brokenness.

My sister, Rose, has Down syndrome.  My sister, Rose, has Alzheimer's.  My sister, Rose, is having seizures.  Nothing in that is random coincidence.  Perhaps I just need to stop asking "Why?"  I'll probably never understand the answer to that question.

Perhaps the question Saint Marty needs to ask is "How do I deal with this with compassion and love?"

April 27: On My Mind, Rose's Brother, "Fear Not"

I know that I shared this poem a few months ago, but, obviously, my sister, Rose, is on my mind.  I think this is one of the only poems that I've ever written about her.  I don't know why that is.  I've written about a lot of really personal subjects in my poetry, but Rose hasn't been one of those subjects.

It's difficult speaking about having a special needs sibling.  It's all I've ever known.  It's my normal.  I've never thought of my life as different simply because of my sister.  One of the reasons for this is because we've never treated her any differently than anyone else in the family.  That is a testament to my parents.  Rose is simply Marty's sister.

And Saint Marty is simply Rose's brother.

Fear Not

by:  Martin Achatz

My sister Rose spoke with the Virgin
One night when lightning laced
The sky and thunder rolled
Like a wailing ambulance.
Rose, with black hair, eyes dark
As baker's chocolate.  Rose, who listened
To the rain drill the ground, felt terror
In her chest, blooming like a mushroom.
Rose, with Down's Syndrome,
Her speech thick,
Weighing on her tongue like rust.

She knew nothing of atmospheres,
Weather fronts, lightning that traveled
From the ground to the heavens
Like a white hot soul.  She knew
Nothing of raining frogs,
Hailstones the size of peach pits.
Hers was a child's fear, as simple
As shadow in a closet.
When she knelt at the foot of her bed,
Folded small fingers,
Her prayers opened like sunflowers
In the still air.

Mother found Rose that night,
Speaking with the darkness.
She looked like moonlight, her words
Agates, smooth, round, polished.
Rose, imperfect since birth,
Slower than summer heat,
Filled the room with light.

Anne came upon her daughter
Like that, too, Mary in the dark,
Her childhood fears sitting
On the windowsill like empty bowls
Waiting for rain.

Mary spread her arms,
Wrapped them around the angel,
Pressing her mouth to his neck.
She tasted lightning and shadow
On his bright skin, swallowed them,
Felt them take root
In her belly.  She opened
Her robe, guided his lips
To her boy chest,
Motherhood swelling
In her rose nipple.

Friday, April 26, 2019

April 26: More Important Than My Ego, Perfect Storm, Fragmentary Life

A little snapshot of Zaphod Beeblebrox's towering ego:

"Hey," he said, "what you do that for?"

Trillian was tapping her finger on a screenful of figures.

"I've just thought of something," she said.

"Yeah?  Worth interrupting a news bulletin about me for?"

"You hear enough about yourself as it is."  

"I'm very insecure.  We know that."

"Can we drop your ego for a moment?  This is important."

"If there's anything more important than my ego around, I want it caught and shot now."  Zaphod glared at her again, then laughed.

I started this blog post almost three days ago, but I have not had one second to sit down and reflect on life and the world this week.  It had nothing to do with my towering ego (I do sort of understand Zaphod in the above passage).  No, it has just been a perfect storm of events that has kept me away from my laptop.

It is now Friday evening.  I just arrived home from work.  My daughter is on a school trip to compete in the State Solo and Ensemble Festival with her musical theater solo.  My wife and son are over at my mother's house.  I am by myself.  The house house is absolutely silent, except for the wind shaking the windows a little.  And I am sort of enjoying the solitude.

Let me give you a little shakedown of my life these last five days:

  • Monday--home sick from work, taught in the afternoon and evening
  • Tuesday--work all day, a therapy appointment (I'm a mess), and helping my daughter with scholarship applications and essays
  • Wednesday--work all day, teaching, my daughter's final high school chorus concert, and a poetry reading
  • Thursday--work all day, travel to Escanaba, Michigan, for a poetry reading with the wonderful Margaret Noodin (a fellow Poet Laureate of the Upper Peninsula nominee)
  • Friday--work all day
If that doesn't seem like a lot, let me assure you that it was exhausting.  I'm weary in my bones this evening.  On my lunch break at work, I took a 20-minute nap.  And after I'm done writing this blog post, I may just stumble into my bedroom for another short nap.  The festivities of National Poetry Month and  Easter are catching up with me, I think.  Next week is finals week at the university.  Translation:  lots and lots of grading.  Additional translation:  I won't be resting fully for another week-and-a-half.  

That is my life.  It has been my life for over 20 years.  It's fragmentary--me running from one job to another job to teaching to grading to poetry gig to more grading.  In my younger years, I was able to maintain this fairly hectic schedule without getting tired.  Nowadays, I teeter on the brink of a breakdown these last weeks of the semester.

I love teaching.  I love giving and attending poetry readings.  I love my life, for the most part.  The first four months of 2019, however, have been emotionally and physically draining for me, with the loss of a job, search for a new job, start of a new job, daughter moving quickly toward graduation, etc., etc.  The word I would use to describe 2019 thus far is "overwhelming."

Saint Marty needs a drink and a nap this evening.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

April 21: News of Himself, Bad Publicity, Holy Week Plague

Zaphod Beeblebrox, President of the Galaxy and now thief of the Heart of Gold spaceship, is listening to the radio for updates about himself . . .

A loud clatter of gunk music flooded through the Heart of Gold cabin as Zaphod searched the sub-etha radio wave banks for news of himself.  The machine was rather difficult to operate.  For years radios had been operated by means of pressing buttons and turning dials; then as the technology became more sophisticated the controls were made touch-sensitive--you merely had to brush the panels with your fingers; now all you had to do was wave your hand in the general direction of the components and hope.  It saved a lot of muscular expenditure, of course, but meant that you had to sit infuriatingly still if you wanted to keep listening to the same program.

Zaphod waved a hand and the channel switched again.  More gunk music, but this time it was background to the news announcement.  The news was always heavily edited to fit the rhythms of the music.

" . . .and news reports brought to you here on the sub-etha wave band, broadcasting around the Galaxy around the clock," squawked a voice, "and we'll be saying a big hello to all intelligent life forms everywhere . . . and to everyone else out there, the secret is to bang the rocks together, guys.  And of course, the big news story tonight is the sensational theft of the new Improbability Drive prototype ship by none other than the Galactic President Zaphod Beeblebrox.  And the question everyone's asking is . . . has the Big Z finally flipped?  Beeblebrox, the man who invented the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, ex-confidence trickster, once described by Eccentric Gallumbits as the Best Bang since the Big One, and recently voted the Worst Dressed Sentient Being in the Known Universe for the seventh time . . . has he got an answer this time?  We asked his private brain care specialist Gag Halfrunt . . ."

The music swirled and dived for a moment.  Another voice broke in, presumably Halfrunt.  He said, "Vell, Zaphod's just zis guy, you know?" but got no further because an electric pencil flew across the cabin and through the radio's on/off sensitive airspace.  Zaphod turned and glared at Trillian--she had thrown the pencil.  

Zaphod Beeblebrox likes to hear about himself.  He is sort of a social media star--the Kim Kardashian of the Galaxy.  Like any social media star, he seems to court publicity--good or bad.  And, of course, there is the saying that there's no such thing as bad publicity.

For example, when I was directing a production of the musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas for a local community theater organization, I had this message placed on the marquee:  "Whorehouse Opens June 14!"  That little message did exactly what I wanted it to do--it got people talking about the theater and the production.

I went to my dentist to get my teeth cleaned one day.  The office was just down the street from the theater.  The receptionist who checked me in shook her head and said, "Did you see that marquee out there?  I think it's a disgrace."  I played stupid, nodding my head as she said that she was telling all of her church friends about that "terrible show."  Two weeks later, the show opened to standing-room-only crowds.  People were lined up down the street to buy tickets.

I did the same thing one Easter season when I was a worship leader for my wife's church.  On Good Friday, I arranged a screening of the Mel Gibson film The Passion of the Christ.  At the time, it was still quite controversial.  On the posters advertising the event, I think my tagline was, "Come see what everybody's been talking about!"  And lots of people did.

It is Easter Sunday at 5 p.m.  I am still recovering from Holy Week.  I'm a little exhausted, not feeling the greatest.  Probably from lack of sleep and being physically rundown.  From Good Friday to now, I've spent hours rehearsing, playing, and singing.  Just yesterday, I practiced for four hours in church and then played the Easter Vigil Mass last night.  That service started at 9 p.m. and didn't end until just before midnight.  Then, I went home, made a dessert for a family get-together this afternoon, and crawled into bed a little after 1:30 a.m.  I got up at 5:30 a.m., took a shower, got dressed, and drove to my wife's church to play a 7 a.m. Easter sunrise service.  Then I sang in the choir at an 11 a.m. Easter service.  All that doesn't even take into account the hours I've spent on the organ bench these last few weeks practicing music.

Easter and Christmas are the big shows on the Christian calendar.  Churches will actually take out advertisements in the newspaper to publicize their services.  And the crowds do increase.  Last night, for the Easter Vigil Mass, there were a LOT of people there, sitting in the pews for three hours of Gregorian chant and music.  This morning, at 7 a.m., the church was also quite full--which might have been because of the breakfast that was served after the Sunrise Service.

Easter publicity.  Come to the Catholic Church and witness all the bells and incense and chanting.  Worhsip at the Methodist Church and get a free Easter breakfast.  I've been doing this for close to 30 years now, and  I always end up in the same condition on Easter night:  exhausted and sick.  I call it my Holy Week plague.  Sometimes it's a matter of catching up on all the hours of sleep that I've lost over the last few weeks.  Other times, it's a little more serious.  One Easter, after I was done with all the services and Masses, I spent the rest of the day throwing up in a bucket.  Didn't even get to eat my mother's baked ham.  I just laid on the couch and watched Cecil B. Demille's The Ten Commandments, sucking on ice cubes.

I don't think I will be throwing up tonight, but I am feeling really under the weather.

Here's Marty's headline:  "Easter Weekend Gives Saint Leprosy."

April 21: Easter Poems, Rebroadcast, "Pange Lingua Gloriosi"

Surprisingly, I have not written a whole lot of poems that I would call Easter poems.  Just a few.  The one below happens to be one of my favorites.  I know that I posted it a couple months ago, but, because it is Easter evening (and because I'm too tired to search for another poem), I'm going to do a repeat.

Think of it as a rebroadcast of your favorite episode of Saint Marty.

Pange Lingua Gloriosi

("Sing My Tongue the Savior's Glory")

by:  Martin Achatz

On Holy Saturday, I put my daughter
To sleep and think of death.
Tonight, milk is her enemy.
She stands in her crib, dark eyes watering,
Her chin slick with fear.  I lift her,
Strip off her wet pajamas, wash her fevered body
With a cold cloth.  She shivers, yet lies still,
Accepting the bath in silence.  I dress her,
Fresh and lotioned, place her back inside the crib
My wife has just cleaned, cover her with a quilt,
And watch her settle into the pillows
Like a sleeping fish.

Before Easter, these quiet moments
In the dark, there is this:
I listen to my daughter's breaths,
As Mary might have listened to her son's,
Counting them
Like stars in the night.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

April 20: Something Extraordinary, Improbabilities of Jesus, Homeless

Arthur and Ford are about to learn the truth about the spaceship they are currently on . . .

"Which government . . ." started Ford again.

"No government owns it," snapped the robot, "it's been stolen."


"Stolen?" mimicked Marvin.

"Who by?" asked Ford.

"Zaphod Beeblebrox."

Something extraordinary happened to Ford's face.  At least five entirely separate and distinct expressions of shock and amazement piled up on it in a jumbled mess.  His left leg, which was in midstride, seemed to have difficulty in finding the floor again.  He stared at the robot and tried to disentangle some dartoid muscles.

"Zaphod Beeblebrox . . .?" he said weakly.

"Sorry, did I say something wrong?" said Marvin, dragging himself on regardless.  "Pardon me for breathing, which I never do anyway so I don't know why I bother to say it, oh God, I'm so depressed.  Here's another of those self-satisfied doors.  Life!  Don't talk to me about life."

"No one even mentioned it," muttered Arthur irritably.  "Ford, are you all right?"

Ford stared at him.  "Did that robot say Zaphod Beeblebrox?" he said.

There you go.  Arthur and Ford are riding through the universe in a hot spaceship, boosted by the President of the Galaxy.  Since the spaceship is powered by Improbability Physics, this information is not really surprising.  Improbable, but not surprising.  On this Easter weekend, when the miracle of Christ's resurrection is celebrated by Christians throughout the world, this seems like an appropriate passage on which to reflect.

Think about the improbabilities of the life of Jesus Christ and Easter.  Jesus, who grew up the son of a carpenter in a nothing town near the Sea of Galilee, wasn't seen as anybody important.  Just a guy who made tables maybe.  Repaired oxcarts and fences.  That's it.

He probably didn't look all the special, either.  Olive-skinned, with dark, curly hair.  Muscled from working with heavy wood.  There weren't any power tools back then.  Everything was done with his own two calloused hands and backbreaking labor.  I'm sure he carried some scars from his carpentry work.  Times when a hammer or chisel or saw slipped, bit into his skin.

This person, a handyman, a no one, literally changed the world.  That is real improbability.  And now, 21 centuries later, we still celebrate him.

Yesterday, I played the organ at the Good Friday service at my church.  Lots of chanting, singing, and prayers.  We venerated the cross.  Celebrated Holy Communion.  At one point during the service, we did a litany of intentions.  We prayed for Pope Francis.  The bishop of the diocese.  Priests and clergy.  Then we prayed for Jewish people.  Those who don't believe in Christ.  Those who don't believe in God.  Lastly, we prayed this:
Let us pray, dearly beloved, to God the Father almighty, that he may cleanse the world of all errors, banish disease, drive out hunger, unlock prisons, loosen fetters, granting to travelers safety, to pilgrims return, health to the sick, and salvation to the dying.
When I heard those words, I wondered how many of the people in the congregation below really thought of their implications--cleansing the errors of the world.  Feeding the hungry.  Healing the sick.  Freeing prisoners.  Welcoming travelers and pilgrims.  If people were really listening, they should have felt pretty uncomfortable with themselves and conditions in the United States.

Think about it.  We have a healthcare system that denies people necessary medical treatment because they can't afford it.  We have families starving while CEOs of billion-dollar corporations are getting tax breaks.  We are imprisoning pilgrims (including children) who come to this country, seeking a better life.  We aren't feeding the hungry or comforting the sick or welcoming the stranger. 

That bothers me.  Makes me angry and sad.  Notre Dame Cathedral burned on Monday.  By Tuesday night, over one billion dollars had been pledged for the rebuilding of it.  That's a miracle, and I hope that Notre Dame does rise from the ashes.  However, if the world can do that in the space of 24 hours, why can't it solve world hunger just as quickly?  End poverty?  Cure cancer?

You might hear tomorrow morning.  Easter.  Two of Jesus's disciples are walking toward the city of Emmaus after his resurrection.  They encounter Christ on the road, but they don't recognize him.  Now, as disciples, they probably had seen Jesus.  A lot.  They knew what he looked like.  Sounded like.  Walked like.  Yet, they don't know who he is on this road.  The same thing happens with Mary Magdalene.  She encounters a guy who she thinks is a gardener near Jesus's tomb on resurrection morning.  She, also, doesn't seem to be able to identify Christ, even though she washed his feet with her hair.

I can only think that Jesus wasn't appearing as Jesus.  He was changed.  Transformed.  Perhaps, he was a beggar.  Or a leper.  Or a woman.  Christ was appearing in the form of someone completely unrecognizable to them.  To drive home a point.  From that time forward, he would be a part of everyone.  The poor, sick, dying, hungry.  He would be the immigrant at the border.  The AIDS patient in the emergency room.  The guy at the entrance to Walmart holding a sign that reads, "Homeless.  Anything will help."

Maybe that's the real message of Easter.  It's not the incense or chanting or music or hard boiled eggs or ham.  It's opening our eyes and seeing Jesus Christ everywhere.  In everyone. 

Saint Marty hopes so.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

April 18: Job Satisfaction, Out Loud, Church Musicians

Arthur and Ford have just met Marvin the robot, who just expressed his disdain for the programming of the Heart of Gold spaceship . . . 

Marvin regarded it [the door] with cold loathing while his logic circuits chattered with disgust and tinkered with the concept of directing physical violence against it.  Further circuits cut in saying, Why bother?  What's the point?  Nothing is worth getting involved in.  Further circuits amused themselves by analyzing the molecular components of the door, and of the humanoids' brain cells.  For a quick encore they measured the level of hydrogen emissions in the surrounding cubic parsec of space and then shut down again in boredom.  A spasm of despair shook the robot's body as he turned.

"Come on," he droned, "I've been ordered to take you down to the bridge.  Here I am, brain the size of a planet and they ask me to take you down to the bridge.  Call that job satisfaction?  'Cos I don't."

He turned and walked back to the hated door.

"Er, excuse me," said Ford, following after him, "which government owns this ship?"

Marvin ignored him.

"You watch this door," he muttered, "it's about to open again.  I can tell by the intolerable air of smugness it suddenly generates."

With an ingratiating little whine the door slid open again and Marvin stomped through.

"Come on," he said.

The others followed quickly and the door slid back into place with pleased little clicks and whirrs.

"Thank you the marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation," said Marvin, and trudged desolately up the gleaming curved corridor that stretched out before them.  "Let's build robots with Genuine People Personalities, they said.  So they tried it out with me.  I'm a personality prototype.  You can tell, can't you?"

Ford and Arthur muttered embarrassed little disclaimers.

"I hate that door," continued Marvin.  "I'm not getting you down at all, am I?"

Marvin is comic relief.  A depressed robot that hates his job, knows he's smarter than everyone around him, and yet still worries about people's feelings.  He's a metaphor for every person who has ever worked at McDonald's or retail.  Underemployed and underpaid and underappreciated.

Now, I know you're thinking I'm going to launch into a long rant about my current employment situation.  I'm not.  Yes, the pay stinks.  Yes, the hours are long.  Yes, I get yelled at a lot on the phone by dissatisfied patients.  It's all part of working in healthcare.  Sick people are frightened, angry, and lost.  Like Marvin, they have very few outlets for these emotions.

No, I'm going to talk about what I'm doing tonight.  It's my monthly dose of Out Loud at the Joy Center.  Out Loud is an event where poets, writers, storytellers, and artists come together to share their thoughts and work.  Every time I attend Out Loud, I walk away somehow uplifted and enriched.  Rolling into Easter weekend, I need that.

If you have never been a church musician or involved in music ministry, you probably don't understand the stress of Holy Week.  It's the most important time in the entire Christian year.  The Big Show, if you get what I mean.  There are liturgies followed by more liturgies followed by side liturgies followed by a small nap followed by liturgies.  It's stressful and beautiful at the same time.  In the next four days, I will be involved in five separate Masses and church services.  

All of this wouldn't cause me so much stress if I were a truly gifted musician.  I'm not.  I'm a hard-working musician, requiring a lot of practice.  I have already spent many hours at the organ going over music for this weekend, and I still don't feel prepared.  Gifted musicians practice as much as I do, but that practice is so much easier and more joyful for them.  

No, my gift is writing and poetry.  It comes easily to me.  Working on a poem is not stressful.  It's a wonderful challenge.  I enjoy it.  A lot.  Practicing music, on the other hand, is a chore for me.  I love the results, but the process is incredibly difficult.  By noon on Easter Sunday, I will be brain dead.  That is a guarantee.  

Thus, I need Out Loud this evening.  To charge my batteries for a long weekend of holy stress.  Poetry may not pay much, but it's where I feel most alive.

Saint Marty hopes you all hug a church organist this weekend.  They will need it.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

April 17: Low and Hopeless, the Burning of Notre Dame, Holy Week, Happily Ever After

Arthur and Ford are about to meet Marvin the robot . . .

Arthur listened for a short while, but being unable to understand the vast majority of what Ford was saying, he began to let his mind wander, trailing his fingers along the edge of an incomprehensible computer bank.  He reached out and pressed an invitingly large red button on a nearby panel.  The panel lit up with the words Please do not press this button again.  He shook himself.  

"Listen," said Ford, who was still engrossed in the sales brochure, "they make a big thing of the ship's cybernetics.  'A new generation of Sirius Cybernetics Corporation robots and computers, with the new GPP feature.'"

"GPP feature?" said Arthur.  "What's that?"

"Oh, it says Genuine People Personalities."

"Oh," said Arthur, "sounds ghastly."

A voice behind them said, "It is."  The voice was low and hopeless and accompanied by a slight clanking sound.  They spun round and saw an abject steel man standing hunched in the doorway."

"What?" they said.

"Ghastly," continued Marvin, "it all is.  Absolutely ghastly.  Just don't even talk about it.  Look at this door," he said, stepping through it.  The irony circuits cut in to his voice modulator as me mimicked the style of the sales brochure.  "'All the doors in this spaceship have a cheerful and sunny disposition.  It is their pleasure to open for you, and their satisfaction to close again with the knowledge of a job well done.'"

As the door closed behind them it became apparent it did indeed have a satisfied sighlike quality to it.  "Hunnnnnnnyummmmmmm ah!" it said.

Again, the hero of this scene for me is Marvin, with his low and hopeless voice.  Especially this evening.  I have been absent from blogging these last two days for a few reasons:  teaching, Holy Week, and the burning of Notre Dame Cathedral.  All of these things have overwhelmed me, left me speechless, and, in a strange way, they all seem bundled together.  It has been a low and hopeless 48 hours.

I learned of the burning of Notre Dame as I was heading to the university to teach on Monday afternoon.  I opened up Facebook on my phone and saw a news post with a picture of the cathedral ceiling engulfed in orange flames and yellow smoke.  At the time, the spire was still standing, but it was a huge finger of fire pointing toward the heavens.  And then I received a text from my daughter:  "Notre Dame is on fire."

As I continued to campus, I felt a huge heaviness descend on me, and I can't really identify why.  I have never been to Notre Dame, although it was on my bucket list.  For me, it has always been the backdrop in movies and books and art.  Although it was human-made, it seemed eternal.  Like something God placed in the world and nothing could destroy.  Not plagues or bombings or world wars.  It seemed divinely protected.

I taught my first class of the day, and then I went back to my office, looked at my phone again, and watched a video of the spire of Notre Dame buckling, bending, and collapsing.  I heard the crowd in the video gasp as this happened.  Sitting alone, I thought about the meaninglessness of what I had said in class an hour before, the pointlessness of what I was going to say to the students in my evening class.  One phrase was on an infinite loop in my mind--"It just doesn't matter"--as that 800-year-old sanctuary infernoed toward oblivion.

It is now Wednesday night.  The day before Holy Thursday, the beginning of the Easter Triduum for Catholics around the globe.  The towers of Notre Dame are still standing, the Rose windows still refracting prisms of light.  But the floor of the sanctuary is a charred and melted pile of roof and spire.  Even before the blaze was extinguished, companies and millionaires and billionaires began pledging funds for the restoration of Notre Dame.  French President Emmanuel Macron said in a speech, "I believe profoundly that we will turn this tragedy into a moment to come together, to be reflective of what we were and what we have to be.  We must be better than we were."

The burning of Notre Dame Cathedral is a lesson for me this Holy Week, and I tried to turn it into a lesson today for my students.  In my mythology class, we have been reading Grimm fairy tales, reflecting on what "happily ever after" really means, whether or not it's even relevant in the 21st century.  Or whether that phrase is just a holdover from a bygone time in history.  This is what I told my class today, after we talked about the fire and destruction of Notre Dame:  "I think that everyone in this room wants a 'happily ever after.'  You wouldn't be here as students if you didn't believe, somehow, the world can be a better place.  Even in the face of immense loss and tragedy, people come together, rally, believe that the future will be brighter and stronger.  That's what I think happily ever after is all about."

Teaching.  The burning of Notre Dame Cathedral.  Holy Week.  For me, these all reinforce the central tenet of this time of the Christian year.  Becoming better, stronger, happier people.  Letting go of past hurts, destructive beliefs and behaviors.  Traveling through the darkness toward light.  Embracing the power of redemption and resurrection.

It doesn't matter whether you're Catholic or Methodist or Buddhist or Jewish or Muslim or agnostic or atheist.  Everyone deserves this chance.  This hope.

Saint Marty wishes everyone who reads this post tonight a happily ever after.  Amen.

April 17: 800 Years, Resurrection, "Vigil"

Tonight, I have a poem in honor of 800 years of beauty and music and prayer and sacredness.  This Holy Week, there are ashes and smoke and sorrow.  But there will be resurrection.  That is the promise of Easter.

Saint Marty believes this with his whole heart.


by:  Martin Achatz

When my grandmother died, my dad
Sat by her bed all night, recited
Rosaries, listened as her breaths
Became lighter, lighter, the space
In between, longer and longer,
Like waves on the beach of Kesennuma
The day before the tsunami, soft
Swells and troughs breaking on sand.
Hiss.  Silence.  Hiss.  Greater silence.
My dad kept vigil, waited for the dawn,
The last wave, the greatest silence.

The night before my wife gave birth
To our daughter, the hospital room
Was filled with family, friends.
We took turns holding my wife’s hand
When the pain overcame her,
Preparing her body to deliver new life.
Outside, snow tore through darkness
As we kept vigil, waited for sunrise.

This Holy Saturday, I will go to church
After night falls.  In the black pews,
I will wait for the priest to light
The first fires of Easter, for the flame
To pass from candle to candle
Until the walls, pillars, ceiling
Of the sanctuary flood with light.
I will go with my daughter,
Keep vigil with her, wait
For the church to bloom
With bells and incense and hymns,
Psalms of deserts and seas,
Hunger and manna.
I will sing with her, loud,
Joyful songs, calling all the children
Out to the playground, under the stars,
To slide, to clap, to dance, to shout,
To swing so high their feet
Kick the last breath of night
To the first cry of the morning.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

April 14: Years of His Exile, Holy Week, Pounding Headache

A short passage about what's going on with Arthur and Ford . . .

The pink cubicle had winked out of existence, the monkeys had sunk away to a better dimension.  Ford and Arthur found themselves in the embarkation area of the ship.  It was rather smart.

"I think this ship's brand new," said Ford.

"How can you tell?" asked Arthur.  "Have you got some exotic device for measuring the age of metal?"

"No, I just found this sales brochure lying on the floor.  It's a lot of 'the Universe can be yours' stuff.  Ah!  Look, I was right."

Ford jabbed at one of the pages and showed it to Arthur.

"It says:  'Sensational new breakthrough in Improbability Physics.  As soon as the ship's drive reaches Infinite Improbability it passes through every point in the Universe.  Be the envy of other major governments.'  Wow, this is big league stuff."

Ford hunted excitedly through the technical specs of the ship, occasionally gasping with astonishment at what he had missed during the years of his exile.

Okay, I sort of feel like I've been in exile most of this weekend.  I spent most of yesterday in an organ loft, practicing and writing music for the upcoming Masses of Holy Week.  (If you are not a church musician, you will not understand the stress of the next seven days.  Six church services total for me--including two on Friday and two on Sunday.  I will be doing a lot of deep breathing.)  Last night, I helped my daughter with some scholarship essays for a few hours.  Today, I've been grading, lesson planning, and troubleshooting problems with my laptop and printer.

At the moment, I feel as if the top of my head is about to explode.  I have a pounding headache and piles of grading left to do.  My new job allows me very little free time during the day.  There's lots of people looking over my shoulder, all the time.  Therefore, I must cram a lot of stuff in my "free" time on the weekend--although I don't really even know what "free" time really is.  In my "free" time, I usually sleep.  

Sorry that I don't have something more profound to say today.  If you can't tell, I'm a little overwhelmed.  Not to worry, though.  In a couple weeks, I'll be worrying about other things--like how to pay my bills this summer when my paychecks from the university cease.  That's always a fun June/July/August game to play.

Outside my window, the icicles are melting.  Slowly.

Well, back to the red pen for Saint Marty.  

Saturday, April 13, 2019

April 13: First Against the Wall, Elks Club, the Future

A little bit about robots . . .

The Encyclopedia Galactica defines a robot as a mechanical apparatus designed to do the work of a man.  The marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation defines a robot as "Your Plastic Pal Who's Fun to Be With."

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy defines the marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation as "a bunch of mindless jerks who'll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes," with a footnote to the effect that the editors would welcome applications from anyone interested in taking over the post of robotics correspondent.

Curiously enough, an edition of the Encyclopedia Galactica that had the good fortune to fall through a time warp from a thousand years in the future defined the marketing division of Sirius Cybernetics Corporation as "a bunch of mindless jerks who were the first against the wall when the revolution came."

I don't think I want to know the future.  An encyclopedia from even 100 years in the future would be a dangerous thing to possess.  Sure, I'd be tempted to read entries about economics and technology.  Maybe check out the entry on winning Lotto numbers for the late 2010s or early 2020s.  Check out how the Trump presidency ended ("a bunch of mindless jerks who were the first against the wall when the revolution came").  However, living in the future would negate the present, I think.

Last night, I went to a scholarship presentation for my daughter at the local Elks Club.  She took first place at the local level, so she was treated to a shrimp dinner, endured endless pictures, and collected an envelope containing a nice check for her future plans.  It was a surreal moment because, when I was her age, I spent a lot of time at this Elks Club.  My father was deeply involved in the club's activities.  Served as its Exalted Ruler (yes, that was the title) for a year.  His picture is still on the wall.  I worked spaghetti dinners and taco nights there when I was a teenager.  As an undergraduate, I was employed as a bus boy for the Friday fish fry.  My wife and I had our wedding reception there.  So, stepping through the doors of the club was like walking through a time portal into the past.

I took a picture of my daughter standing beneath my father's photo on the wall.  She was really excited to find it.  The photo is over 30 years old.  Looking at all those photos on the wall, I recognized quite a few of the faces.  Men who were my father's closest friends.  A lot of them are no longer alive.  My father was probably one of the final members of his group of pals to pass away.  The last few years of his life, he spent time reading the obituaries, seeing them disappear one-by-one.

That's why I don't think I would want to know the future.  Yes, I'd like to know that my kids will have long, fulfilling lives filled with love and happiness and abundance.  I'd like to know that my wife and I celebrate our golden anniversary in Hawaii, lounging on a white sand beach.  Other than that, I'm happy taking it one day at a time.  Savoring the gifts every 24 hour brings.  Because everything changes so quickly.  Just ask the pictures on the wall at the Elks Club.

Saint Marty wants to work on slowing down the present, not gazin into the future.

April 13: Reflective, My Father Nature, "Watching My Daughter Dance at Kaufman Auditorium"

So, you can imagine, having attended the first of undoubtedly several end-of-high-school events for my daughter last night (a scholarship awards dinner), I'm feeling slightly . . . reflective.  I don't know how time has flown by so quickly.  It seems like only yesterday I was dropping her off at her first dance class.  That was over 13 years ago.

Things have been changing really quickly these last couple months, and, in 47 days, my daughter will be a high school graduate.  Forty-seven short days of childhood left.  I can't even comprehend that.  I've spent the better part of almost two decades protecting her, bandaging her cuts, drying her tears, planning her birthday parties, taking her to dance competitions, and now I somehow have to let her go into a world that's so full of division and outright hate at the moment.  It seems antithetical to everything in my father nature.

I know she's smart, strong, beautiful, and independent.  I've told her that so many times over the years.  That's her armor against a society that wants to tell her that she's dumb, weak, ugly, and useless without a man by her side.  She's going to soar.  I have no doubt about that.  Having her in my life has been one of my greatest joys and honors.

And now, Saint Marty's heart is breaking a little.

Watching My Daughter Dance at Kaufman Auditorium

by:  Martin Achatz

She’s a comet of leg and arm and sound,
burns gold in the atmosphere of this place,
whirls, spins, eats the oxygen near her,
a celestial body that appears on no
star chart, sails through the universe
on no set orbit, glances off moons,
blasts through asteroid belts and clouds
of gas, ever expanding in her own
big bang, flinging herself out and out
beyond the edges of Lepus and Lupus,
Cygnus and Scorpius, until she becomes
her own constellation of dervish light.

Me?  I believe the Earth is flat,
that if I listen hard enough, I will
hear oceans spilling off the horizon
into the bowl of space, that I am
still the center of her cosmology and my
gravity still calls to her, pulls her back into
the collapsing star of my heart.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

April 11: Just Part of Life, Blue Funks, a Balm

Marvin the depressed robot experiences some guilt over bringing his companions down . . .

"No, don't worry about that," the lilt continued, "you just act as comes naturally and everything will  be just fine."

"You're sure you don't mind?" probed Marvin.

"No, no, Marvin," lilted Trillian, "that's just fine, really . . . just part of life."

He turned hopelessly on his heel and lugged himself out of the cabin.  With a satisfied hum and a click the door closed behind him.

"I don't think I can stand that robot much longer, Zaphod," growled Trillian.

Dealing with mental illness is not easy for anyone.  Not for the person with the mental illness.  Not for the person's family or friends.  It's draining for everyone.  I speak as a person who has experienced this from both sides.  It can be all-consuming.

One of the common misconceptions about mental illness (like depression) is that it is easily remedied.  Old school advice:  "just snap out of it" and "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" and "go exercise."  If those words have come out of your mouth when speaking to somebody suffering from depression, you clearly don't understand mental illness.  A person doesn't choose to be depressed.  Think about it.  That would be like choosing to be diabetic because of all the cool injections you get to take.

I say this tonight as an individual who is in the throes of depression right now.  For the last month or so, the weather in the Upper Peninsula has been spring-like.  The snowbanks have been dwindling, and sun has been in abundant supply.  That kind of weather helps combat some of the effects of my "blue funks"--a term I coined as a teenager for these periods in my life.  Tonight, however, winter has returned (sort of like Game of Thrones).  Big fat flakes outside my window, with the promise of strong winds later.  Just like that, I'm in deep again.

Last night, I did something that truly lifted my spirits.  I gave a poetry reading for National Poetry Month.  It was at one of my favorite places in my home town--the Joy Center, a yoga/art/writing retreat located in the woods.  In the audience were some of my favorite people in the whole world, as well.  Friends whom I dearly love.  They showed up.  We ate kumquats and guacamole and chocolate, and they listened to me tell stories and read poems.  It was a balm.

For the reading, I sort of went on a journey of how I became a poet, which was circuitous at best.  Started out as a computer science major as a undergraduate.  Then, through a series of fortunate events, ended up in a Master's program, studying fiction writing.  That immediately catapulted me into a PhD program in literature, which I found thrilling.  I left that program after three years (I was practically ABD), and returned to my home by Lake Superior, where I worked part time in a bookstore until school came calling again.  This time it was an MFA program in poetry.  Two years later, I had a terminal degree in an eminently competitive job market.  And I just kept writing, husbanding, fathering, teaching, and working.  Along the way, I was elected Poet Laureate of the Upper Peninsula.  Twice.  Like I said, it was a long and winding road, made easier by good friends and family.

So, I told this tale through a series of poems, a short story, and an essay.  It was a reading that I'd been shaping in my head for quite some time.  And the audience last night (as I said before, some of my best friends) seemed to really like it.

This morning, as I left for work, I was greeted by a brilliant sky of pink and orange and yellow.  As I stood on my front steps, I felt like everything was going to be okay.  Like my life, which has always been filled with detours and side roads, is simply finding another path to something wonderful.  I felt hope, which has been a term that I've been thinking about quite a bit recently.  Weighing its benefits and dangers.  I think that hope, for me, really rests in my ability to accept the present as a gift.  After all, in the Lord's Prayer, the line is NOT "my will be done" but "Thy will be done."  I get in trouble when I forget that little distinction.

My life is not turning out the way I anticipated right now.  I've gone through years of loss recently.  I'm not where I want to be professionally.  Yet, I have joy.  Moments of poetry each day.  Friends who will listen to me and applaud my accomplishments, hug me closely, and say, "You really are wonderful."

Saint Marty couldn't ask for much more.  Thy will be done.  Amen.

April 11: New Snow, Tired of Shoveling, "Spring Snow Storm"

I am looking out my front door right now, seeing my car disappear under a layer of new snow.  A spring snow storm.  Every Yooper expects and dreads this last big blast of winter.  

I'm heading out soon to attend a poetry open mic with a friend.  We might be crazy.  Well, we are crazy, for poetry's sake.

Saint Marty is tired of shoveling.

Spring Snow Storm

by:  Martin Achatz

The weather guy, in his ugly tie,
Predicts six to twelve inches tonight,
A spring storm out of Alaska, Canada,
Winds as strong as cattle trains.
Tomorrow, I will wake to this creature,
This force of different fronts from ocean,
Mountain, glacier, tundra.  I’ve heard
It said a butterfly’s wings, trembled
On African savannah, causes hurricanes
On the Gulf Coast, another flood
In the Big Easy, wipes out Mardi Gras
For good, an oil slick of jazz
On magnolia, pelican wing, bayou.
I wonder if the collective gasp in Japan
After earthquake and tsunami caused
This early spring snow, set into motion
Winds across the Pacific, bore
That shock and grief through salt,
Through supermoon, mixed it with cries
Of caribou and polar bear, brought
It to me, to my home, snow falling
On roof and car, snow on street, lawn,
Gas station, church steeple, snow
Everywhere, heavy as a thousand souls.
Tonight, when I press my lips to my son’s
Fingers, somewhere on this planet
Rain will start to fall in a desert place,

Filling the land with green life.

Monday, April 8, 2019

April 8: Getting You Down, Pig-Pen, Cloud of Darkness

How do you deal with a depressed robot? . . .

Zaphod leaped out of his seat.

"She's not asking you to enjoy it," he shouted, "just do it, will you?"

"All right," said Marvin, like the tolling of a great cracked bell, "I'll do it."

"Good . . ." snapped Zaphod, "great . . . thank you . . ."

Marvin turned and lifted his flat-topped triangular red eyes up toward him.

"I'm not getting you down at all, am I?" he said pathetically.

"No, no, Marvin," lilted Trillian, "that's just fine, really . . ."

"I wouldn't like to think I was getting you down."

Again, I totally get Marvin here, worrying about how his attitude is affecting the people around him.  I think about this all the time, with my family and friends and disciples.  Yes, I realize that my blog posts have been less than uplifting recently.  They're sometimes not fun to write, so I'm sure they're not all that fun to read.  I sort of feel like Pig-Pen from Peanuts, walking around with my own little cloud of darkness.

First day of work at my new job.  Showed up at 6 a.m. and scanned medical reports for an hour-and-a-half.  Believe it or not, that was the best part of the day.  I was by myself.  It was quiet.  Didn't have to worry about anybody interrupting me.  I think I liked it because it sort of felt a lot like the job I just left where I functioned independently for a good portion of the time.

After that, I answered phones for the next seven hours.  And there were a lot of calls.  A lot.  By the time I punched the time clock to leave, I had a pounding headache and hated the entire world.  After teaching this afternoon, I can say that my attitude has NOT improved much at all.  And I still have my evening class to get through.

Each time I've changed jobs in the last five years, I've gone through this rough period of adjustment.  However, this time it's been a little rougher because of the permanence of it.  By the end of next week, I will have settled into a new routine, and my attitude will probably improve.  At the moment, though, I feel a little . . . trapped.

If you see me in the next week or so, pay no attention to the storm clouds swirling around my head.  They are just outward manifestations of my inner joy.  Yeah, that's it.  I'm trapped in joy.

If Saint Marty says that enough times, it might come true.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

April 7: Low and Hopeless, Trying to Adjust, Shell Game

You are about to meet one of my favorite characters in Hitchhiker's--Marvin, the depressed robot:

"Look, Zaphod," she said, patting his arm, "don't worry about the aliens.  They're just a couple of guys, I expect.  I'll send the robot down to get them and bring them up here.  Hey, Marvin!"

In the corner, the robot's head swung up sharply, but then wobbled about imperceptibly.  It pulled itself up to its feet as if it was about five pounds heavier than it actually was, and made what an outside observer would have thought was a heroic effort to cross the room.  It stopped in front of Trillian and seemed to stare through her left shoulder.

"I think you ought to know I'm feeling very depressed," it said.  Its voice was low and hopeless.

"Oh God," muttered Zaphod, and slumped into a seat.

"Well," said Trillian in a bright compassionate tone, "here's something to occupy you and keep your mind off things."

"It won't work," droned Marvin, "I have an exceptionally large mind."

"Marvin!: warned Trillian.  

"All right," said Marvin, "what do you want me to do?"

"Go down to number two entry bay and bring the two aliens up here under surveillance."

With a microsecond pause, and a finely calculated micromodulation of pitch and timbre--nothing you could actually take offense at--Marvin managed to convey his utter contempt and horror of all things human.

"Just that?" he said.

"Yes," said Trillian firmly.

"I won't enjoy it," said Marvin.

There you go.  Marvin, a robot after mine own heart today.  I am trying to adjust to my new working hours today.  In my old position, I was independent.  Able to prioritize and get my jobs done in my own way during the day.  Not any more.  So, I have been lesson planning all afternoon for my entire teaching week.  Grading quizzes and papers.  Researching.  My mind is slowly turning to mush, and I haven't even clocked in for my first day of work.

Now, let me say that I am grateful that I have a job that provides health benefits for my family.  I am.  However, I'm having a difficult time summoning enthusiasm for this position, which I've held before.  I like my coworkers.  One or two are really, really good friends.  I think the thing that I'm having difficulty with is losing the sense of freedom I had at my old job.  I was sort of my own boss, which I really appreciated.

Now, I'm going to be working long hours for little compensation.  I've been at this whole healthcare job thing for over 20 years, and I have never made enough money to completely pay my bills every month.  It's always a struggle.  I was hoping to land some position which would alleviate this problem.  I didn't.

And now I'm trying to figure out how to pay for the replacement of the radiator in my wife's car.  That happened on Thursday night.  I'm just hoping that's all that's wrong with it.  We really can't afford an additional car payment if her engine is toast, as well.  That is why I'm a little discouraged heading into this new job tomorrow morning.  It seems as though I'm going to be working for the rest of my life, and that life is always going to be a shell game of money.

Stop reading this post now.  Please.  I'm whining again.  Feeling sorry for myself.  And I shouldn't.  I'm at my mother's home at the moment, and I'm watching her wander around, confused, talking to herself.  She's really confused today.  My sister who has Down syndrome has been wandering back-and-forth,too, from dining room to living room to bathroom.  Since my father died, I've watched them both decline pretty rapidly. 

So, my job worries and money worries really are nothing compared to what they're going through.  I am so lucky to be able to think and work and write and go to movies and correct papers and tell jokes and write blog posts. 

Yet, I find myself struggling.  This morning, I simply wanted to stay in bed rather than face the day.  I'm sure I will feel that doubly tomorrow morning.  I'm not sure if I can call this state I'm in depression, but it is certainly robbing me of motivation and energy.  I've been sleeping a lot more than usual.  Small tasks seem like Everest expeditions.  All I want to do is stay home, read, write, and take naps.  That's it.

Maybe Saint Marty should just call in sick for the next, say, five years.