Sunday, June 30, 2019

June 30: Dentarthurdent, Mystery and Myth, All the Wonder Things

Arthur is trying to unravel the mystery of the old man he has just met on the surface of Magrathea, which itself, up until a couple chapters ago, was a myth--like the Golden Fleece or the city of Troy . . .

Arthur, a regular Guardian reader, was deeply shocked at this.

"That's a pretty unpleasant way to behave, isn't it?"

"Is it?" asked the old man mildly.  "I'm sorry, I'm a bit out of touch."

He pointed down into the crater.

"Is that robot yours?" he said.

"No," came a thin metallic voice from the crater.  "I'm mine."

"If you'd call it a robot," muttered Arthur.  "It's more a sort of electronic sulking machine."

"Bring it," said the old ma.  Arthur was quite surprised to hear a note of decision suddenly present in the old man's voice.  He called to Marvin, who crawled up the slope making a big show of being lame, which he wasn't.

"On second thought," said the old man, "leave it here.  You must come with me.  Great things are afoot."  He turned toward his craft which, though no apparent signal had been given, now drifted quietly toward them through the dark.

Arthur looked down at Marvin, who now made an equally big show of turning round laboriously and trudging off down into the crater again, muttering sour nothings to himself.

"Come," called the old man, "come now or you will be late."

"Late/" said Arthur.  "What for?"

"What is your name, human?"

"Dent.  Arthur Dent," said Arthur.

"Late, is in the late Dentarthurdent," said the old man, sternly.  "It's a sort of threat, you see."  Another wistful look came into his tired old eyes.  "I've never been very good at them myself, but I'm told they can be very effective."

Arthur blinked at him.

"What an extraordinary person," he muttered to himself.

"I beg your pardon?" said the old man.

"Oh, nothing, I'm sorry," said Arthur in embarrassment.  "All right, where do we go?"

"In my aircar," said the old man, motioning Arthur to get into the craft which had settled silently next to them.  "We are going deep into the bowels of the planet where even now our race is being revived from its five-million-year slumber.  Magrathea awakes."

Arthur shivered involuntarily as he seated himself next to the old man.  The strangeness of it, the silent bobbing movement of the craft as it soared into the night sky, quite unsettled him.

He looked at the old man, his face illuminated by the dull glow of tiny lights on the instrument panel.

"Excuse me," he said to him, "what is your name, by the way?"

"My name?" said the old man, and the same distant sadness came into his face again.  He paused.  "My name," he said, "is Slartibartfast."

Arthur practically choked.

"I beg your pardon?" he spluttered.

"Slartibartfast," repeated the old man quietly.


The old man looked at him gravely.

"I said it wasn't important," he said.

The aircar sailed through the night.

The old man could be the last survivor of Magrathea or Atlantis.  He could be Methuselah or Noah.  A resident of Shangri-La or Brigadoon.  He may be a man or a god or a demon or a robot.  At this point, Arthur isn't sure who or what he is dealing with.  It's all mystery and myth.

As I've said before in this blog, I'm fine living with negative capability, to borrow from John Keats.  Living with uncertainty is part of the human condition.  That pretty much describes my whole life.  Especially these last couple months, I'm never sure when I wake up what the day will bring me.  Ever.

Now, I would be happier living in certainty, but that's not a realistic goal.  Benjamin Franklin said, "In this world, nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes."  However, even that quote is draped in mystery, for it may have been Daniel Defoe or Christopher Bullock who first uttered it more than 60 years before Franklin, making one of the Founding Fathers of the United States a plagiarist.

We all live in negative capability.  There are no guarantees when you wake up in the morning that you will come home at night.  No guarantees that you will keep your job or your wife or your children.   I think that everyone has to fool themselves every day in order to face life.  For instance, when I got out of bed today, it was with the understanding that I would be going to church and then spending the afternoon mowing the lawn at my mother's house.  Those were my plans.

Now, those plans kind of panned out.  I did worship with my wife, and then I did spend a couple hours pushing the lawnmower at my mother's.  However, it could have easily gone in another direction.  My car could have been sideswiped in the parking lot at McDonald's as I was picking up breakfast.  The lawnmower could have refused to start.  It could have rained.  None of those things happened.

Today, my wife is struggling with her bipolar disorder.  She hasn't been sleeping well recently.  That, in itself, is not cause for major concern.  However, she's also been unable to be restful at home, suffers from racing thoughts.  (She told me this afternoon, "I feel like I'm jumping out of my skin.")  She also had a pretty bad episode of depression on Thursday evening.

All of these things point toward a problem that needs to be addressed with her doctor.  My wife has already called her doctor's office once.  She's going to call again tomorrow.  In the mean time, she didn't go to work today.  Instead, she stayed home and slept.  (She only got three hours of sleep, if that, last night.)

Bipolar is a mysterious disorder.  It can be completely controlled for years with a certain medication, and then, one day, that medication can stop working properly, with serious results.  My wife and I have been through some difficult times with her mental illness.  I remember nights where my wife would jump in our car and disappear to Walmart to go grocery shopping at 3 a.m.  She would start home improvement projects that went unfinished.  One weekend, we drove to Wisconsin and bought a brand new minivan.  (Several months later, we had to trade in the minivan for a car we could actually afford.)

So, you see, I have some experience with myth, mystery, and negative capability.  I know that a day can turn from mundane to insane very quickly.  I also know that I can't do anything to control the negative capabilities of my life.  This may sound very twelve-steppish, but I have come to accept very recently that I am powerless.  I can't control the weather.  I can't control my wife's mental illness.  I can't control what happens in the Star Wars franchise.  (If I could have, Han Solo would still be alive.)

What can I do in the face of mystery?  I can confront it when it happens.  Deal with it.  Move on.  I certainly can't live my life trying to avoid it.  If I did that, I wouldn't ever get out of bed.  I'd just live my life in fear of the unknown.  And I would miss all the wonderful things God sends my way.  A daughter graduating from high school  A son winning a poetry contest.  A dinner of lobster ravioli.  A evening walk with my wife, holding her hand, talking about tomorrow and the next day and the next.

Yes, the future is full of myth and mystery and unknowns. 

But it also contains hope, and that (along with a little bit of chocolate and a good book) makes Marty a happy saint.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

June 29: Man in the Act, Taking a Nap, Speaking Out

A little lesson in Galactic economics . . .

"Ah," said Arthur, "er . . ."  He had an odd feeling of being like a man in the act of adultery who is surprised when the woman's husband wanders into the room, changes his trousers, passes a few idle remarks about the weather and leaves again.

"You seem ill at east," said the old man with polite concern.

"Er, no . . . well, yes.  Actually, you see, we weren't really expecting to find anybody about in fact.  I sort of gathered that you were all dead or something . . ."
"Dead?" said the old man.  "Good gracious me, no, we have but slept."

"Slept?" said Arthur incredulously.

"Yes, through the economic recession, you see," said the old man, apparently unconcerned about whether Arthur understood a word he was talking about or not.

Arthur had to prompt him again.

"Er, economic recession?"

"Well, you see, five million years ago the Galactic economy collapsed, and seeing that custom built planets are something of a luxury commodity, you see . . ."

He paused and looked at Arthur.

"You know we built planets, do you?" he asked solemnly.

"Well, yes," said Arthur.  "I'd sort of gathered . . ."

"Fascinating trade," said the old man, and a wistful look came into his eyes, "doing the coastlines was always my favorite.  Used to have endless fun doing the little bits in fjords.. . . so anyway," he said, trying to find his thread again, "the recession came and we decided it would save a lot of bother if we just slept through it.  So we programmed the computers to revive us when it was all over."

The man stifled a very slight yawn and continued.

"The computers were index-linked to the Galactic stock-market prices, you see, so that we'd all be revived when everybody else had rebuilt the economy enough to afford our rather expensive services."

There you go.  An entire planet's population linked to the economy.  Instead of suffering through a recession and all of its attendant problems--poverty, bankruptcy, hunger, social injustice, social inequality, uprisings, wars--the citizens of Magrathea choose to take a nap.

If only it were that simple.  Lose a job.  Take a nap.  Get divorced.  Take a nap.  Cancer diagnosis.  Take a nap.  Donald Trump is president.  Take a nap.  Broken heart.  Take a nap.  If sleep were a cure for all the world's problems, I think we'd have a whole lot of the world's peoples hitting their snooze buttons about now.

Of course, sleep is just a way of avoiding pain and hurt and struggle.  I would venture to guess that we've all done it once or twice, as well.  Rather than deal with a problem head-on, I've retreated to my bed, turned off the lights, and just gone to sleep.  Of course, when I woke up, the problem was there waiting for me in the next room, just as big and ugly.

Most of the time, I prefer to address struggles immediately.  Work on them.  Solve them.  Move on.  That's more my style.  If I can do all that in the space of an hour, even better.  Whether it's brakes failing on a car or a kid getting sick or immigrants living in concentration camps, I want an immediate cure.  I don't want prolonged suffering or strife.

The world doesn't work that way, unfortunately.  For example, everyone knows that keeping children locked up in warehouses without their parents is wrong.  Inhuman.  Unconscionable.  We should have learned that lesson from Nazi Germany or the Japanese internment camps during World War II.  Yet, here we sit in the year 2019, and we're doing the same thing again.  We haven't learned.

There's a paragraph in the passage above where Douglas Adams makes a joke about a man caught in the act of adultery.  It's like a Monty Python moment--a husband catching his wife committing adultery, and the husband simply talks about the weather with his wife's fuckbuddy and leaves the room.  While this little section may strike the funny bone of some readers, I don't find it particularly amusing.

You see, my wife has struggled with sexual addiction in the past.  Thus, I have been that husband in the paragraph above.  Adams is trying to be humorous, and I don't find it funny.  It would be like somebody telling a joke about a drowning person to a child whose father just died in a boating accident.  So, I don't find jokes or books or movies or TV shows about people committing adultery very funny.

That kind of humor attempts to diminish the pain and hurt of the people involved.  I may be sounding like an incredible wet blanket right now, but I do have a point to make.  Most people reading that passage in Hitchhiker's would laugh at the absurdity of the situation that Adams describes.  I get that.  I, myself, wouldn't laugh, for very personal reasons. 

I am not saying that I don't find inappropriate humor funny.  I do.  Generally, though, humor at the expense of another person's/people's hurt is never good.  Anything (whether a joke or political agenda) that diminishes the suffering of a fellow human being is part of the problem, not a solution.

Language is one of the most basic ways to address any wrong.  Don't apply the word "gay" or "retarded" to a person or situation that you find irritating or ridiculous.  Use words to uplift instead of beat down.  And, when you witness something that is blatantly racist or homophobic or Islamophobic or sexist or ageist, something that violates human dignity is some way, speak out.  Keep speaking until your voice is heard.  If everybody did this, the world would be a much better place.

That's my soapbox rant of the week.  I'm stepping down now.  It's hot outside. 

Saint Marty's thinking it's time for some ice cream.

Friday, June 28, 2019

June 28: Stopped Talking, This Land is Your Land, Sugarloaf

Arthur encounters a stranger . . .

He was standing with his back to Arthur watching the very last glimmers of light sink into blackness behind the horizon.  He was tallish, elderly and dressed in a single long gray robe.  When he turned, his face was thin and distinguished, careworn but not unkind, the sort of face you would happily bank with.  But he didn't turn yet, not even to react to Arthur's yelp of surprise.

Eventually the last rays of the sun vanished completely, and he turned.  His face was still illuminated from somewhere, and when Arthur looked for the source of the light he saw that a few yards away stood a small craft of some kind--a small Hovercraft, Arthur guessed.  It shed a dim pool of light around it.

The man looked at Arthur, sadly it seemed.

"You choose a cold night to visit our dead planet," he said.

"Who . . . who are you?" stammered Arthur.

The man looked away.  Again a look of sadness seemed to cross his face.  

"My name is not important," he said.

He seemed to have something on his mind.  Conversation was clearly something he felt he didn't have to rush at.  Arthur felt awkward.

"I . . . er . . . you startled me . . ." he said, lamely.

The man looked round to him again and slightly raised his eyebrows.

"Hmmm?" he said.

"I said you startled me."

"Do no be alarmed.  I will not harm you."

Arthur frowned at him.  "But you shot at us!  There were missiles . . ." he said.

The man gazed into the pit of the crater.  The slight glow from Marvin's eyes cast very faint red shadows on the huge carcass of the whale.

The man chuckled slightly.

"An automatic system," he said and gave a small sigh.  "Ancient computers ranged in the bowels of the planet tick away the dark millennia, and the ages hang heavy on their dusty data banks.  I think they take the occasional potshot to relieve the monotony."

He looked gravely at Arthur and said, "I'm a great fan of science, you know."

"Oh . . .  er, really?" said Arthur, who was beginning to find the man's curious, kindly manner disconcerting.

"Oh yes," said the old man, and simply stopped talking again.

Some things leave you speechless in life.  The Grand Canyon.  Times Square.  The Pacific Ocean.  The Atlantic Ocean.  Yosemite.  The aurora borealis.  The first time you watch Star Wars:  A New Hope.  (Okay, that may just be me.)  And encountering a stranger on a supposedly dead planet.  All these things can rob you of the ability to speak.

This afternoon, my son and I went on an adventure.  I told him last night that we were going to climb a mountain together.  He was a little skeptical, but he went along with it.  After I was done with work, I picked him up, and, while my wife went grocery shopping, we hiked Sugarloaf Mountain in Marquette together.

This was not the first time the he'd climbed Sugarloaf.  Several years ago, when he was quite young, he climbed it.  However, he didn't remember the experience at all.  But when we first started up the trail, he said something like, "Oh, yeah, I think I remember this rock," looking at a huge boulder in the path.  It was my turn to be skeptical.

Now, climbing Sugarloaf does not require a Sherpa guide, crampons, or bottles of oxygen.  (Well, when we got to the top, I could have used a little jolt of O2, but that's just me.)  It's a fairly well-worn hike, with stairs and railings to help you up the steepest parts. 

When we started, right near the base, my son and I started singing Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land"--"This land is your land.  This land is my land,  From California, to the New York Island."  Again, we had just started, so we had plenty of air as we crooned--"From the redwood forest, to the Gulf Stream wa-a-a-a-ter.  This land was made for you and me!"  We were having a great time.

And then things got real.  The tree roots and rocks became a little harder to traverse, and the incline became steeper.  My son was sucking his water down like he was crossing the Gobi.  "You might want to save some of that for the top," I warned him.  He didn't listen.

Up and up we went, and the whining started.  "How much longer?" he huffed.  Eventually, he was saying things like, "Just go on ahead and leave me here for the bears" and "I hate all these bugs" and "My legs are attacking me" and "God, is that you?" and "I see a tunnel of light."  I was laughing so hard I could barely breathe.

When we finally reached the summit, he threw himself down on the closest bench and said, "I'm not going back down.  I'm going to sleep."  Eventually, he opened his eyes and looked around, at Lake Superior on one side, and the vast green of the forest on the other.  "What do you think," I asked him as he stared at the trees, "is Bigfoot down there?"

He thought for a moment and said, "It's too hot for Bigfoot to be out."

It was a wonderful adventure, even if my son was having near-death experiences on the way up and down.  And the view from the top of Sugarloaf always takes the words away from me.  I live in one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

Next week, Saint Marty is going to take his son to see a waterfall.  Don't tell him, or he may run away from home.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

June 27: Two Suns Set, My Day in Pictures, Blessings

Arthur has enough of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy . . .

Arthur read this, and put the book down.

The robot still sat there, completely inert.

Arthur got up and walked to the top of the crater.  He walked around the crater.  He watched two suns set magnificently over Magrathea.

He went back down into the crater.  He woke the robot up because even a manically depressed robot is better to talk to than nobody.

"Night's falling," he said.  "Look, robot, the stars are coming out."

From the heart of a dark nebula it is possible to see very few stars, and only very faintly, but they were there to be seen.

The robot obediently looked at them, then looked back.

"I know," he said.  "Wretched, isn't it?"

"But that sunset!  I've never seen anything like it in my wildest dreams . . . the two suns!  It was like mountains of fire boiling into space."

"I've seen it," said Marvin.  "It's rubbish."

"We only ever had the one sun at home," persevered Arthur.  "I came from a planet called Earth, you know."

"I know," said Marvin, "you keep going on about it.  It sounds awful."

"Ah, no, it was a beautiful place."

"Did it have oceans?"

"Oh yes," said Arthur with a sigh, "great wide rolling blue oceans . . ."

"Can't bear oceans," said Marvin.

"Tell me," inquired Arthur, "do you get on well with other robots?"

"Hate them," said Marvin.  "Where are you going?"

Arthur couldn't bear any more.  He had got up again.

"I think I'll just take another walk," he said.

"Don't blame you," said Marvin and counted five hundred and ninety-seven billion sheep before falling asleep again a second later.

Arthur slapped his arms about himself to try and get his circulation a little more enthusiastic about its job.  He trudged back up the wall of the crater.  

Because the atmosphere was so thin and because there was no moon, nightfall was very rapid and it was by now very dark.  Because of this, Arthur practically walked into the old man before he noticed him. 

A good portion of this passage is simply Arthur's thoughts and observations.  I thought that, today, I'd do the same thing.  I've been taking pictures during my day, and I thought I'd share them.

First, the sunrise, which I see every day in the summer since I drive to work so early.  It's not double suns, but it's still beautiful:

Then there's my station at work in the cardiology office.  Here's what I stare at for most of eight hours:

And a couple of my coworkers/friends who make my days go by a lot faster:

At the end of the day, I prepare the assignment board for the following day.  I always add an artistic flair to it:

At the end of the day, I come home to the people I love most.  The reason I do what I do every day.  Here are two of them.  My beautiful wife and my hilarious son:

Then, I usually write my daily blog post(s), depending on what I have going on in the evening:

This evening, I'm getting together with some poet friends to do a little impromptu Walt Whitman poetry workshop.  Two of my favorite people in the world.

And that is my day in pictures.  I am full of blessings.

Saint Marty is a work in progress.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

June 26: Shades of the Color Blue, Coating of Silly, Okay

Arthur pages through The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy . . .

Ford had thoughtfully left him his copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy to while away the time with.  He pushed a few buttons at random.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a very unevenly edited book and contains many passages that simply seemed to its editors like a good idea at the time.

One of these (the one Arthur now came across) supposedly relates the experiences of one Veet Voojagig, a quiet young student at the University of Maximegalon, who pursued a brilliant academic career studying ancient philology, transformational ethics and the wave harmonic theory of historical perception, and then, after a night of drinking Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters with Zaphod Beeblebrox, became increasingly obsessed with the problem of what had happened to all the ballpoints he'd bought over the past few years.

There followed a long period of painstaking research during which he visited all the major centers of ballpoint loss throughout the Galaxy and eventually came up with a quaint theory that quite caught the public imagination at the time.  Somewhere in the cosmos, he said, along with all the planets inhabited by humanoids, reptiloids, fishoids, walking treeoids and superintelligent shades of the color blue, there was also a planet entirely given over to ballpoint life forms.  And it was to this planet that unattended ballpoints would make their way, slipping away quietly through wormholes in space to a world where they knew they could enjoy a uniquely ballpointed lifestyle, responding to highly ballpoint-oriented stimuli, and generally leading the ballpoint equivalent of the good life.

And as theories go this was all very fine and pleasant until Veet Voojagig suddenly claimed to have found this planet, and to have worked there for a while driving a limousine for a family of cheap green retractables, whereupon he was was taken away, locked up, wrote a book and was finally sent into tax exile which is the usual fate reserved for those who are determined to make fools of themselves in public.

When one day an expedition was sent to the spatial coordinates that Voojagig had claimed for this planet they discovered only a small asteroid inhabited by a solitary old man who claimed repeatedly that nothing was true, though he was later discovered to be lying.

There did, however, remain the question of both the mysterious sixty thousand Altairian dollars paid yearly into his Brantisvogan bank account, and of course Zaphod Beeblebrox's highly profitable secondhand ballpoint business.

Pure silliness of course.  I love the idea, however, of a planet of lost ballpoint pens.  Sort of like a planet of lost socks.  This passage just makes me smile for its sheer absurdity.  Sometimes, life needs to be dipped in a coating of silly and sprinkled with absurdity.  Today is one of those days for me.

This post will be one of those elliptical ones that I write sometimes where I am hovering above a subject that is possessing me but that I just can't write about.  Think of it as a missing ballpoint pen that is wandering around in the ballpoint planet of my head.

It will come as no surprise to the faithful disciples of this blog when I say that addicts and addictions have been a part of my life for a very long time.  Friends.  Family members.  Acquaintances.  People I love.  But that is not the subject of this post.

It will also not come as a surprise to the faithful disciples of this blog when I say that mental illness has been a part of my life for a very long time, as well.  Friends.  Family members,  Acquaintances.  People I love.  But that is not the subject of this post, either.

Ditto for poetry and Donald Trump and my daughter's high school graduation and my son's ADHD and the bills that are piled on my kitchen table.  None of these things are the subject of this post.  All of these things are stumbling around on their own mythical planets right now, and I will not pay attention to them this evening.

As I sit here, eating a chicken pot pie, I am thinking about resiliency and the ability to exist in difficult situations and remain positive and happy.  You may recall that I am working my way through a book about joy written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama.  I am always struck by the passages in which these two figures talk about living through apartheid and exile, the darkest times of their lives, enduring difficulties that I can't even imagine.  Yet, every picture in the book shows these two men smiling, grinning, laughing, dancing.

As I look at those pictures, I think to myself, "I want me some of that."

How do they do it?  How do they remain so joyful?  Here is the answer that I've been hearing, over and over:  powerlessness.  Accepting that state.  Fear and anger and doubt and sadness--all of these emotions are products of trying to control situations that are simply out of your control.  The quicker you recognize your powerlessness, the quicker you will be on the road to happiness and joy.

This evening, when I got home, I was on the brink of something.  It wasn't joy.  Basically, I changed out of my work clothes, crawled into bed, and pulled the covers over my head.  It was a moment of feeling completely alone with some very dark thoughts.  It was a hole I dug for myself all day long, and I was at the bottom of it.  It was pretty deep.

After a couple hours, I got a text message from a really good friend who knows a few things about joy.  I responded to the text, telling my friend of my current state of mind.  My friend's words were pretty simple:  " . . . you're doing it, climbing out of the hole.  That's big, all you can ask of yourself, to reach for a better-feeling thought.  And know you are loved and have Big Love for yourself."  After a few more texts with my friend, I felt better.  Then I got an IM from another good friend, and we exchanged messages about poetry and happiness, mixed with some jokes.  And I felt better.

I am not completely out of the hole yet, but I can now see light.  I know that, in the situation causing me so much struggle, I am completely, totally, utterly powerless.  I understand why people turn to alcohol or drugs or cutting or suicide.  It's all about escape.  Lessening the pain.  A seeming way of taking control of the uncontrollable.  (The key word in that last sentence is "seeming.")

Tonight, God texted me and IMed me as I was spiraling.  He reminded me that I am loved.  That I am important.  That I make a difference, however tiny, in the world.

Saint Marty is okay, and okay is best he can do at the moment.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

June 25: Wandered About Moodily, Sidewalk Chalk Poetry, My Son

Arhtur Dent is wandering about moodily . . .

On the surface of Magrathea Arthur wandered about moodily.

See, what'd I tell you?

It has been a long day that ended really well.   

This afternoon, when I was done with work, I volunteered to judge a local sidewalk chalk poetry contest at the local library.  It was part of the city's annual Art Week.  I was in charge of the Grades 6 to 8 division.  So I stood outside, on the first really beautiful summer day we've had, and watched a whole lot of people scribbling and drawing on the pavement.

I love events like this.  They fill my heart and soul with gratitude that so many people want to create something beautiful in the world, adults to preschoolers.  Funny thing, the preschoolers are usually the ones that always write things that amaze me.

This year, my son decided to enter the contest.

Let me tell you about my son.  He's smart, funny, and physical.  He loves playing on the computer and playing outside.  And he loves being around people.  But I think he's starting to suffer from low self esteem.  You see, since he was young, he's struggled with ADHD.  He loses his attention and patience very easily.  His classmates have quickly realized this character trait, and they love exploiting it.  They push his buttons until he reacts and gets in trouble.  He often calls himself "stupid" because he can't control himself or concentrate.

My son also loves his pizza.  His four major food groups are:  pizza, pasta, Ramen, and ice cream bars.  He often tries healthier options, but he hasn't found too many fruits or vegetables that are better the Little Caesar's.  Now, he's noticed that he has put on some weight (this may also be due to the medications he takes for his ADHD), and so he's started calling himself "fat."

For Father's Day this year, my son wrote me a poem.  It was clever and funny and really well-written.  I told my son what a good writer he is, but he didn't believe me.  Shrugged it off.  This past weekend, I told him about the sidewalk chalk poetry contest.  I told him, "It's theme is 'the forest.'  Do you think you can write about that?"  That night, he sat down and wrote a poem.

At the contest tonight, he calculated the possibility of him winning the contest.  There were two other kids in his age division, so my son walked around saying, "I stand a 33-and-a-third chance of winning.  If another kid shows up, it's 25%."

Well, I stepped aside as the judge for the Grades 6 to 8 division so that Gideon could enter.  Therefore, I had nothing to do with the results of that portion on the competition.  I ended up judging Grades 3 to 5.  Everything was on the up-and-up.  

My son won his division.  I think he'd already convinced himself that he wasn't going to win.  He said to me before the announcement, "I didn't win.  The other ones were better."

My wife said that when he got home after winning, he immediately called his sister and spent a good deal of time telling her about the contest.  He probably even read his poem to her.

I am so proud of my son.  He didn't ask my advice on his poem.  He didn't even want me to read it before the contest.  It was his own, from start to finish.

Maybe, now, instead of thinking of himself as "stupid" or "fat," Saint Marty's son will claim different titles.  Talented.  Creative.  Poetic.

Monday, June 24, 2019

June 24: Using My Mind, Literature of Madness, a Rabbit

A revelation about Zaphod and his brain . . .

Zaphod paused for a while.  For a while there was silence.  Then he frowned and said, "Last night I was worrying about this again.  About this fact that part of my mind just didn't seem to work properly.  Then it occurred to me that the way it seemed was that someone else was using my mind to have good ideas with, without telling me about it.  I put the two ideas together and decided that maybe that somebody had locked off part of my mind for that purpose, which was why I couldn't use it.  I wondered if there was a way I could check.

"I went to the ship's medical bay and plugged myself into the encephalographic screen.  I went through every major screening test on both my heads--all the tests I had to go through under Government medical officers before my nomination for presidency could be properly ratified.  They showed up nothing.  Nothing unexpected at least.  They showed that I was clever, imaginative, irresponsible, untrustworthy, extrovert, nothing you couldn't have guessed.  And no other anomalies.  So I started inventing further tests, completely at random.  Nothing.  Then I tried superimposing the results from one head on top of the results from the other head.  Still nothing.  Finally I got silly, because I'd given it all up as nothing more than an attack of paranoia.  Last thing I did before I packed it in was take the superimposed picture and look at it through a green filter.  You remember I was always superstitious about the color green when I was a kid?  I always wanted to be a pilot on one of the trading scouts?"

Ford nodded.  

"And there it was," said Zaphod, "clear as day.  A whole section in the middle of both brains that related only to each other and not to anything else around them.  Some bastard had cauterized all the synapses and electronically traumatized these two lumps of cerebellum."

Ford stared at him, aghast.  Trillian had turned white.

"Somebody did that to you?" whispered Ford.


"But have you any idea who?  Or why?"

"Why?  I can only guess.  But I do know who the bastard was."

"You know?  How do you know?"

"Because they left their initials burned into the cauterized synapses.  They left them there for me to see."

Ford stared at him in horror and felt his skin begin to crawl.

"Initials?  Burned into your brain?"


"Well, what were they, for God's sake?"

Zaphod looked at him in silence again for a moment.  They he looked away.

"Z. B.," he said quietly.

At that moment a steel shutter slammed down behind them and gas started to pour into the chamber.

"I'll tell you about it later," choked Zaphod as all three passed out.

What Zaphod describes here is something that sounds very familiar.  I sometimes teach a class on the literature of madness (my term) at the university.  For the semester, we read novels, graphic novels, and memoirs by people who suffer from some mental illness.  Bipolar disorder,  Schizophrenia.  Major depression.  It's a heavy semester, and I often joke as I hand out the syllabus that I have a supplement of Prozac to go along with it.

Anyway, how Zaphod describes his condition--"that someone else was using my mind to have good ideas with, without telling me about it"--sounds a whole lot like schizophrenia.  The fact that he has two heads sort of enforces the metaphor.  Two brains.  Two heads.  Someone else controlling his thoughts.  I'm not a psychiatrist, but it sounds pretty textbook to me.

In the last couple months, I have felt a little driven by outside forces myself.  Things that I simply couldn't control.  (If you think I'm writing about my daughter's graduation again, you are mistaken.  My life has been in a state of upheaval for various other reasons, and I have been struggling to find my equilibrium.)  Some days, it literally feels as if somebody completely outside of myself is piloting the ship.  On those days, I have to wrestle my thoughts to the ground and pin them down.

Today has been a good day.  While not without stress, I have pretty much remained at an even keel.  I haven't chased the white rabbit down any holes.  In fact, when I got home from work today, there was a rabbit sitting in my backyard.  I got out of my car and slowly began walking toward it.  Step by step.  Not rushing,  For me, it was an exercise in meditation.  Deep breathing.  Slow movements.  Patience.  I got within a few feet of the rabbit before it moved.  It didn't bolt away from me.  Instead, it nonchalantly hopped just a few steps and then stopped again.  It wasn't panicked.  Just curious.

The rabbit and I simply occupied the same space together for a few minutes.  The same oxygen.  And then, as if by mutual agreement, with both turned away from each other and moved on with our lives.

Perhaps I sound a little insane here.  I might be.  But I think of my encounter with this rabbit as a victory.  A sign that, maybe, my life is regaining some balance and peace.  Either that, or I am one step away from the bell jar.

Now, if Saint Marty shows up for work tomorrow dressed as the Queen of Hearts, screaming "Off with his head!"--that's going to be a real problem.

June 24: Raining, Maggie Smith, "Good Bones"

It is raining outside right now, has been for about an hour.  At first, it was a deluge, so thick I couldn't see the houses across the street from my window.  Now, it is light, flickering rain, as if the clouds are wet bathing suits hung on a line to dry.  Drip, drip . . . drip . . drip, drip . . .

If you have been reading this blog for the past couple months, you know that I have been struggling with the world.  There's been more rain than sun in my days.  Yet, I get reminders every day that there are "good bones" in my life (to borrow Maggie Smith's term).  A rabbit nibbling in my backyard when I get home.  My son, so smart and funny.  Ice cream on a warm evening.  My wife, mercurially beautiful.  A great poem.  My daughter, bright in kindness.

Saint Marty just needs to keep reminding himself of these good bones.

Good Bones

by:  Maggie Smith

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I've shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I'll keep from my children.  The world is at least
fifty-percent terrible, and that's a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake.  Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children.  I am trying
to sell them the world.  Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones:  This place could be beautiful,
right?  You could make this place beautiful.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

June 23: Freewheel a Lot, Surprises, Adrenaline Withdrawal

Zaphod and Ford talking about Zaphod's thought process of finding the mythical planet, Magrathea . . .

"Research.  Government archives.  Detective work.  Few lucky guesses.  Easy." [said Zaphod.]

"And then you stole the Heart of Gold to come and look for it with." [said Ford.]

"I stole it to look for a lot of things."

"A lot of things?" said Ford in surprise.  "Like what?"

"I don't know."


"I don't know what I'm looking for."

"Why not?"

"Because . . . because . . . I think it might be because if I knew I wouldn't be able to look for them."

"What, are you crazy?"

"It's a possibility I haven't ruled out yet," said Zaphod quietly.  "I only know as much about myself as my mind can work out under its current conditions.  And its current conditions are not good."

For a long time nobody said anything as Ford gazed at Zaphod with a mind suddenly full of worry.

"Listen, old friend, if you want to . . ." started Ford eventually.

"No, wait . . . I'll tell you something," said Zaphod.  "I freewheel a lot.  I get an idea to do something and, hey, why not, I do it.  I reckon I'll become President of the Galaxy, and it just happens, it's easy.  I decide to steal this ship.  I decide to look for Magrathea, and it all just happens.  Yeah, I work out how it can best be done, right, but it always works out.  It's like having a Galacticredit card which keeps on working though you never send off the checks.  And then whenever I stop and think--why did I want to do something?--how did I work out how to do it?--I get a very strong desire just to stop thinking about it.  Like I have now.  It's a big effort to talk about it."

I could never exist like Zaphod.  I'm not a freewheeling kind of person.  I get ideas, work out how best to execute the ideas, and follow through.  For me, life is about planning and putting those plans into action.  If I don't do this, I get anxious.  I don't enjoy feeling unprepared. 

For example, this morning, as I was taking my shower before heading out to church, I suddenly realized that it was my Sunday to play the pipe organ for the service.  There I stood, shampoo dripping into my eyes, in a sudden state of panic.  My pulse rate increased.  My breathing quickened.  I was on my way to a full-blown anxiety attack. 

Here's what I did--I quickly finished my shower, got dressed, ran out the door, drove to church, and practiced for a good 45 minutes before the service began  (Usually, I practice three or four hours the day before until I feel comfortable with everything--the music, songs, and organ settings.)  I played under a state of almost terror.  But, I made it through the hour with very few noticeable mistakes.

At the moment, I'm still recovering from this morning's adrenaline rush.  Now that it's all over, I'm feeling drained.  My body is going into adrenaline withdrawal, which means I could take about a two-hour nap. 

That is what surprise does to me.  It gives me hours of absolute worry and fear, followed by several more hours of recovery.  I may feel normal again by about eight o'clock tonight, just in time to get ready for another day of stress at work tomorrow.

Yesterday, I set myself up for stress.  I had a lot of things on my to-do list:  blog, mow my lawn, pick out church music, play for Mass, create the discussion guide for my Book Club meeting, and then clean my house.  It was an exhausting day, but I did manage to get all of those tasks done.  Surprisingly.  As I was heading into the bathroom with a bucket and sponge, I really had second thoughts of continuing.  However, I persevered and finished my work.

Here is what I have to accomplish for the rest of the day:  print out my discussion guide, throw together and meat-and-cheese tray, and take a nap.  Then Book Club.

Hopefully, no more surprises for Saint Marty today.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

June 22: Strange Symbols, Dreams, Mowing the Grass

Ford, Zaphod, and Trillian are exploring a subterranean passage on the mythical planet of Magrathea . . .

Zaphod marched quickly down the passageway, nervous as hell, but trying to hide it by striding purposefully.  He flung the beam around.  The walls were covered in dark tiles and were cold to the touch, the air thick with decay.

"There, what did I tell you?" he said.  "An inhabited planet.  Magrathea," and he strode on through the dirt and debris that littered the tile floors.

Trillian was reminded unavoidably of the London Underground, though it was less thoroughly squalid.  

At intervals along the walls the tiles gave way to large mosaics--simple angular patterns in bright colors.  Trillian stopped and studied one of them but could not interpret any sense in them.  She called to Zaphod.

"Hey, have you any idea what these strange symbols are?"

"I think they're just strange symbols of some kind," said Zaphod, hardly glancing back.

Trillian shrugged and hurried after him.

From time to time a doorway led either to the left or right into smallish chambers which Ford discovered to be full of derelict computer equipment.  He dragged Zaphod into one to have a look.  Tillian followed.

"Look," said Ford, "you reckon this is Magrathea . . ."

"Yeah," said Zaphod, "and we heard the voice, right?"

"Okay, so I've bought the fact that it's Magrathea--for the moment.  What you have so far said nothing about is how in the Galaxy you found it.  You didn't just look it up in a star atlas, that's for sure."

Zaphod and Ford grew up with the legend of the planet of Magrathea.  My dad grew up with the films of John Wayne.  My mother loved Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals like Oklahoma.  I think all of us spend our lives chasing the dreams of our youth.  Little boys want to fly off to Neverland.  Little girls want to be Hermione Granger and get an owl from Hogwarts.  For me, it was the Star Wars universe.  I wanted to be Luke Skywalker and spent many a summer afternoon in the woods, searching for my own private Yoda.

Welcome to my Saturday morning.  I have a busy day ahead--mowing and cleaning and playing the pipe organ and getting ready for my Book Club tomorrow evening.  Lots of stuff to do.  Now, I hate cutting my grass.  This antipathy stems from being forced to perform this task by my father when I was a kid.  I would spend an afternoon pushing the lawn mower in the blazing sun, and then my dad would come home and point out places that I missed and make me go out and mow again.  I can't tell you how much I HATED mowing grass.

Of course, now that I'm an adult, I have to do all the other adult things that my dad and mom did that I never noticed--like paying bills, going grocery shopping, spending eight to ten hours every day at a job.  I don't think kids ever really notice these parental acts.  They happen in the background, because kids are more focused on chasing Yoda through the forest, dreaming of discovering dinosaur bones in their backyards.  That is the job of kids.  Chasing dreams.

Me?  My biggest dream was always to be a full-time writer.  In fifth grade, when everyone was tasked to build shoe box dioramas of what we wanted to be when we grew up, I made an office lined with books.  There was a desk with a toy typewriter on it.  Behind the desk, I put a doll of the Wizard from The Wizard of Oz, because he was dressed in a three-piece suit with a top hot and pinstriped pants.  To me, he looked like a writer.  That was my dream.

I don't think I've ever stopped dreaming.  Granted, I no longer believe that there's a brontosaurus buried in my backyard.  I don't think I shall ever receive an owl from Dumbledore requesting my services as a professor of magical spell grammar.  (Now that would be a dream job!)  And I don't think that I will ever experience a jump to hyperspace.  (It would probably give me a case of vertigo now, and I'd spend the entire trip throwing up.)

But I still dream of writing full-time.  The closest I get are these daily blog posts.  An hour or two on my laptop, composing something and then sending it out into the world.  It doesn't pay any of my bills, and I don't get health insurance through Blogger.  However, it makes me feel, for a little while like I'm the Wizard, sitting in my shoe box office, writing my next bestselling novel or collection of Bigfoot poems or Broadway play.

And then, when I'm done blogging, I have to close my computer, drag out the lawn mower, and cut the friggin' grass.

Stop by Saint Marty's house this afternoon if you want.  Share some dreams with him.  He'd appreciate the break from working on his lawn to be Indiana Jones for a while.

June 22: Dreamers, Joy Harjo, "Invisible Fish"

I'm thinking a lot about dreams this morning for some reason.  Maybe it's because I've spent the last couple months preparing for and witnessing my daughter's high school graduation.  There's a whole lot of talk about dreams and ambitions during these moments.  You can see it in the kids' eyes, too.  Their gaze is focused somewhere on the horizon, where the future exists like some wavering scene from a favorite movie.  Star Wars: A New Hope or Raider's of the Lost Ark.

I have a poem about dreams from the newly named Poet Laureate of the United States.  I love Joy Harjo, because so much of it contains this beautiful, almost-dream imagery.

Saint Marty has his eye focused on the horizon today, as well.  He sees Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

Invisible Fish

by:  Joy Harjo

Invisible fish swim this ghost ocean now described by waves of sand, by water-worn rock.  Soon the fish will learn to walk.  Then humans will come ashore and paint dreams on the dying stone.  Then later, much later, the ocean floor will be punctuated by Chevy trucks, carrying the dreamers' descendants, who are going to the store.

Friday, June 21, 2019

June 21: A Really Miserable Time, Fight or Flight, Challenges

The crew of the Heart of Gold deals with the death of a sperm whale on the surface of an alien planet . . .

"Come," said Zaphod, and started back down into the crater.

"What, down there?" said Trillian with severe distaste.

"Yeah," said Zaphod, "come on, I've got something to show you."

"We can see it," said Trillian.

"Not that," said Zaphod, "something else.  Come on."

They all hesitated.

"Come on," insisted Zaphod.  "I've found a way in."

"In?" said Arthur in horror.

"Into the interior of the planet!  An underground passage.  The force of the whale's impact cracked it open, and that's where we have to go.  Where no man has trod these five million years, into the very depths of time itself . . ."

Marvin started his ironical humming again.  

Zaphod hit him and he shut up.

With little shudders of disgust they all followed Zaphod down the incline into the crater, trying very hard to avoid looking at its unfortunate creator.

"Life," said Marvin dolefully, "loathe it or ignore it, you can't like it."

The ground caved in where the whale had hit it, revealing a network of galleries and passages, now largely obstructed by collapsed rubble and entrails.  Zaphod had made a start clearing a way into one of them, but Marvin was able to do it rather faster.  Dank air wafted out of its dark recesses, and as Zaphod shone a flashlight into it, little was visible in the dusty gloom.

"According to legends," he said, "the Magratheans lived most of their lives underground.

"Why's that?" said Arthur.  "Did the surface become too polluted or overpopulated?"

"No, I don't think so," said Zaphod.  "I think they just didn't like it very much."

"Are you sure you know what you're doing?" said Trillian, peering nervously into the darkness.  "We've been attacked once already, you know."

"Look, kid, I promised you the live population of this planet is nil plus the four of us, so come on, let's get on in there.  Er, hey, Earthman . . ."

"Arthur," said Arthur.

"Yeah, could you just sort of keep this robot with you and guard this end of the passageway.  Okay?"

"Guard?" said Arthur.  "What from?  You just said there's no one here."

"Yeah, well, just for safety, okay?" said Zaphod.

"Whose?  Yours or mine?"

"Good lad.  Okay, here we go."

Zaphod scrambled down into the passage, followed by Trillian and Ford.

"Well, I hope you all have a really miserable time," complained Arthur.  

"Don't worry," Marvin assured him, "they will."

In a few seconds they had disappeared from view.

Arthur stamped around in a huff, and then decided that a whale's graveyard is not on the whole a good place to stamp around in.

Marvin eyes him balefully for a moment, and then turned himself off.

Zaphod and Trillian and Ford are heading into a dark subterranean passage beneath a crater created by a falling whale on a planet whose inhabitants just tried to blast them out of the sky with nuclear warheads.  If that is not the definition of a stressful situation, I don't know what is.

Stress is something that everyone deals with, at work, at home, on the drive from home to work.  It's something that makes the heart beat faster and the lungs work harder.  Usually, stress is induced by some perceived threat, and the body's reaction to it is ancient.  Fight or flight.  Imagine a cave person encountering a hungry saber-toothed tiger.  The reaction is either to protect yourself by battling it, or running like hell.  (Either way, the cave person is dinner.)  So, the physiological reaction to stress is heavily implanted in our DNA.

It seems like I always have stress.  I work in a cardiology office where patients frequently call with life-threatening complaints--chest pain, arm pain, shortness of breath.  During the school year, I couple this stress with teaching at a university.  That's a whole other kind of stress--grading and lesson planning and (sometimes) counseling troubled students.

And then there's financial stress and family stress.  Even though I work three jobs (and my wife works a part-time job, as well), it's always the same story--too many bills, not enough paycheck.  I just can't get away from this problem.  Of course, family carries its own brand of stress, requiring more energy and money and time.

I'm not complaining here.  These are just the facts.  Throw into the mix car problems or college tuition or addiction, and you have the makings of a pretty good soap opera or a night at the Saint Marty household.

The Book of Joy says this about stress:  "One simply notices the fight-or-flight stress response in one's body--the beating heart, the pulsing blood or tingling feeling in your hands and face, the rapid breathing--then remembers that these are natural responses to stress and that our body is just preparing to rise to the challenge."  Instead of giving into fear or tensions, the book suggests a rebranding of stress.  Instead of viewing a bill as stress, it is simply a challenge.  When struggling with addiction, a person is challenged to become better, sober, and generous of heart.

I suppose that using the term "challenge" is more constructive.  a challenge is something that can be dealt with and overcome.  Stress, on the other hand, is nebulous and frightening.  It's the Blob oozing under your bedroom door, ready to consume you.  I'd rather deal with a challenge than an alien life form.

So, it is Friday, and the weekend is stretching before me right now.  I have some challenges these next couple days.  I have to mow my lawn.  Clean my house.  Host my book club.  I would like to run away from some of these things.  However, I will fight the good fight, overcome these bumps in the road, and find some peace and joy.

Here is how the Dalai Lama deals with stress:  ". . . if I relate to others, thinking that I am the Dalai Lama, I will create the basis for my own separation and loneliness.  After all, there is only one Dalai Lama in the entire world.  In contrast, if I see myself primarily in terms of myself as a fellow human, I will then have more than seven billion people who I can feel deep connection with.  And this is wonderful, isn't it?  What do you need to fear or worry about when you have seven billion other people who are with you?"

Again, it's all about connection.  In my life, I surround myself with loving people.  Friends and family whom I know will make me laugh, give me hugs, say "I love you" when I need it.  Sharing stress is one of the best ways I know to overcome life's challenges/stresses.

Saint Marty sends his love out into the world this Friday night.  If you drop by Saint Marty's house tonight, he'll probably hand you a mop and tell you to love his bathroom floor.

June 21: Summer Solstice, Joy Harjo, "An American Sunrise"

I have another Joy Harjo poem for all of you this Summer Solstice evening.  One of my favorites.

Saint Marty is going to go dance naked in the woods now.

An American Sunrise

by:  Joy Harjo

We were running our of breath, as we ran out to meet ourselves.  We
were surfacing the edge of our ancestors' fights, and ready to strike.
It was difficult to lose days in the Indian bar if you were straight.
Easy if you played pool and drank to remember to forget.  We
made plans to be professional--and did.  And some of us could sing
so we drummed a fire-lit pathway up to those starry stars.  Sin
was invented by the Christians, as was the Devil, we sang.  We
were the heathens, but needed to be saved from them--thin
chance.  We knew we were all related in this story, a little gin
will clarify the dark and make us all feel like dancing.  We
had something to do with the origins of blues and jazz
U argued with a Pueblo as I filled the jukebox with dimes in June,
forty years later and we still want justice.  We are still America.  We
know the rumors of our demise.  We spit them out.  They die

Thursday, June 20, 2019

June 20: Whalemeat, Dukkha, Chicken Pot Pie

The planet of Magrathea is not what the crew of the Heart of Gold expected . . .

Trillian hugged herself, shivered and frowned.  She could have sworn she saw a slight and unexpected movement out of the corner of her eye, but when she glanced in that direction all she could see was the ship, still and silent, a hundred yards or so behind them.

She was relieved when a second or so later they caught sight of Zaphod standing on top of the ridge of ground and waving for them to come and join him.

He seemed to be excited, but they couldn't clearly hear what he was saying because of the thinnish atmosphere and the wind.

As they approached the ridge of higher ground they became aware that it seemed to be circular--a crater about a hundred and fifty yards wide.  Round the outside of the crater the sloping ground was spattered with black and red lumps.  They stopped and looked at a piece.  It was wet.  It was rubbery.

With horror they suddenly realized that it was fresh whalemeat.

At the top of the crater's lip they met Zaphod.

"Look," he said, pointing into the crater.

In the center lay the exposed carcass of a lonely sperm whale that hadn't lived long enough to be disappointed with its lot.  The silence was only disturbed by the slight involuntary spasms of Trillian's throat.  

"I suppose there's no point in trying to bury it?" murmured Arthur, and then wished he hadn't.

The results of an innocent sperm whale suddenly appearing miles above the planet and then plummeting to its inevitable death.  The Heart of Gold crew are confronting the results of engaging the Improbability Drive and causing a death.  It's a painful moment for some of them.

Of course, in life, pain is inevitable.  If you are a human being, you will experience heartbreak, loss, and grief.  Think about it.  With the first breath you take, you begin the process of dying.  It may be 80 or 90 years away.  It may be hours away.  The march of time in unavoidable.

Not surprisingly, Archbishop Tutu and the Dalai Lama have some words to share about dealing with pain in life.  The first Noble Truth of Buddhism is that life is filled with dukkha (the stress and anxiety that arise from the attempt to control what is fundamentally impermanent and unable to be controlled).  Thus, dukkha can consist of dealing with your mother who has Alzheimer's or watching your sister die of lymphoma of the brain.  You want to control these circumstances, make your loved one whole and well again.  But you can't.  So, you experience dukkha

The Dalai Lama says, "People would like to be able to take a pill that makes their fear and anxiety go away and makes them immediately feel peaceful.  This is impossible."

The Dalai Lama is not (and I'm not) discrediting the use of psychiatric drugs to deal with conditions like depression or bipolar or schizophrenia.  Those are medical conditions that require (for most people) the use of medications to alleviate the pain caused by them.  My wife benefits daily from such prescriptions.  What the Dalai Lama is talking about is something deeper--a discontent or void that seems bottomless, filled with fear and anxiety. 

This void could exist in your job or in your home.  The natural reaction to these feelings of emptiness is to try to find something to fill that hole.  Some people turn to drugs.  Some to food.  Some to pornography.  Some to indiscriminate sex with strangers.  There's a reaching for an immediate fix, and these pleasures that I've just listed provide (for a very brief moment) pleasure.  However, after that very brief moment, those anxieties and fears return, and the void seems even deeper and darker.

Of course, the answer to dukkha doesn't exist anywhere outside of yourself.  It is a matter of acceptance and letting go.  I can't control anything but my own reaction to bad things.  My attitude makes the difference.

So, the lesson of joy for today is that pain is inevitable.  I will stub my toe.  I will lose people whom I love.  I will worry about my children.  However, if I recognize my powerlessness in these situations and give them up to my Higher Power, I will be able to reestablish the joy in my day-to-day existence.

Saint Marty is letting go tonight, and celebrating the grace of a chicken pot pie for dinner.

And a poem that touches upon letting go/emptying yourself from the newly named Poet Laureate of the United States, Joy Harjo . . .

Ah, Ah

by:  Joy Harjo

Ah, ah cries the crow arching toward the heavy sky over the marina.
Lands on the crown of the palm tree.

Ah, ah slaps the urgent cove of ocean swimming through the slips.
We carry canoes to the edge of the salt.

Ah, ah groans the crew with the weight, the winds cutting skin.
We claim our seats.  Pelicans perch in the draft for fish.

Ah, ah beats our lungs and we are racing into the waves.
Though there are worlds below us and above us, we are straight ahead.

Ah, ah tattoos the engines of your plane against the sky--away from these waters.
Each paddle stroke follows the curve from reach to loss.

Ah, ah calls the sun from a fishing boat with a pale, yellow sail.  We fly by
on our return, over the net of eternity thrown out for stars.

Ah, ah scrapes the hull of my soul.  Ah, ah.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

June 19: Don't You Understand, Change Your Attitude, Ice Cream

Arthur explains why, standing on the blighted surface of the planet of Magrathea, he finds what he sees "fantastic" . . .

"No," Arthur insisted, "don't you understand, this is the first time I've actually stood on the surface of another planet . . . a whole alien world . . . !  Pity it's such a dump though."

Yes, I'm stopping at one paragraph tonight, because Arthur pretty much sums up what I want to talk about tonight. 

I'm sure you've all had a parent tell you to "change your attitude" and "be happy with what you have."  I heard it a lot as a kid.  I have said it to my children more times than I can count.  I don't make a whole lot of money with my jobs.  My wife works part-time at the local OfficeMax.  We haven't moved since we started our family.  We currently live in a three-bedroom (formerly two-bedroom)/one bathroom household.  Our house is what kind people and realtors would call "cozy."  Other (perhaps more realistic) people would call it "small" or "cramped."

There have been many days when I've dreamed of a bigger home--a place with four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a big kitchen with an island, and a bathroom that doesn't contain our washing machine.  Maybe even a library/writing room.  I'm human.  I easily give into envy and slide into the hole of self-pity.  However, I also know that I will never experience joy by focusing on what doesn't exist in my life.

It's all about attitude.  Being grateful for my blessings.  In order to lead a truly happy life, Archbishop Desmond Tutu says you must "be a reservoir of joy, an oasis of peace, a pool of serenity that can ripple out to all those around you."  In order to be this, I need to look at the books on my shelves, the clothes in my closet, my beautiful wife and daughter, my funny son, and be at peace.  Know that 99% of the people in the world don't have as much as I have.  In comparison, I'm wealthy.

It's all about attitude.  Sure, I've been dealing with struggles these last few months.  Tutu and the Dalai Lama claim that "the way to heal our own pain is actually by turning to the pain of others."  So, we must not only be an oasis of peace and joy for other people, we must also be a reservoir of compassion and spiritual generosity, as well.  That's why, when facing national or international tragedies (things that seem to have nothing to do with our day-to-day lives), we come together, collect money, donate blood, gather food and clothing.

Human beings are social animals, and we do not thrive in isolation.  Joy is multiplied by sharing it with more people, and pain is diminished when people come together in grief and loss and struggle.  That's how things work in the universe. 

Tonight, I feel like being alone.  Wallowing in isolation.  However, I haven't done that.  I'm sitting in my parents' living room with my mother and two of my sisters.  We had dinner together.  We've talked about our daily irritations, shared moments of laughter.  By doing this, I have made my night not all about me.  It's about my mom's dementia.  My sister's Alzheimer's.  It's about the tortellini I ate a little while ago.  The garlic bread I'm taking home for my wife and son.

Cultivating an attitude of joy is about being connected--not through text messages or Facebook posts.  That's not real joy.  That's outsiders trying to convince the world how wonderful their lives are.  It's false joy, based on other people's envy.

My happiest moment of the last two days--taking my son to get ice cream last night.  He had birthday cake ice cream.  I had an M&M flurry.  He didn't have his Nintendo with him.  I left my phone in the car.  We just had each other.  And, without recording it on Facebook as proof, we were happy.

Saint Marty needs more ice cream moments like that in his life.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

June 18: Dullish Gray, Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Joy

The planet of Magrathea is . . . underwhelming . . .

Five figures wandered slowly over the blighted land.  Bits of it were dullish gray, bits of it dullish brown, the rest of it rather less interesting to look at.  It was like a dried-out marsh, now barren of all vegetation and covered with a layer of dust about an inch thick.  It was very cold.

Zaphod was clearly rather depressed about it.  He stalked off by himself and was soon lost to sight behind a slight rise in the ground.

The wind stung Arthur's eyes and ears, and the stale thin air clasped his throat.  However, the thing that was stung most was his mind.

"It's fantastic . . ." he said, and his own voice rattled his ears.  Sound carried badly in this thin atmosphere.  

"Desolate hole, if you ask me," said Ford.  "I could have more fun in a cat litter."  He felt mounting irritation.  Of all the planets in all the star systems of all the Galaxy--many wild and exotic, seething with life--didn't he just have to turn up at a dump like this after fifteen years of being a castaway?  Not even a hot-dog stand in evidence.  He stooped down and picked up a cold clod of earth, but there was nothing underneath it worth crossing thousands of light-years to look at.

So, the crew of the Heart of Gold is not happy about where they have landed.  In fact, they are depressed, stung, stale, and irritated.  All of those words do not evoke joy or excitement.  They evoke day-after-a-nuclear-apocalypse.

Currently, I'm reading a book titled The Book of Joy.  It's about the meeting of two of the most important spiritual leaders of the twentieth century--the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  They spend a week together, discussing one specific subject:  joy.  What it is.  How to cultivate it.  How to sustain it.  How to live it. 

I can honestly say that I have reread some of the Dalai Lama's pronouncements many times  They make sense, and then they perplex me.  Tutu, on the other hand, comes from a Christian tradition, and I understand his words much quicker.

You see, I'm seeking a way to embrace joy in my life.  For the last few months (for various reasons), I've been walking around in a dullish gray/dullish brown haze.  I've had moments of joy and happiness, but depression has had a strong grip on many of my days.

Tonight, I came across this little bit of knowledge from my reading:  "There are four independent brain circuits that influence our lasting well-being"--

  1. "our ability to maintain positive states"--if you can do this, you're on the road to a joyful day
  2. "our ability to recover from negative states"--obviously, negativity enters your day, but being able to resist staying in that abyss is another key to joy
  3. "our ability to focus and avoid mind-wandering"--this circuit involves meditation and/or prayer and the ability to avoid the niggling voices of doubt and fear
  4. "our ability to be generous"--this one involves cooperation, compassion, and empathy, with yourself and everyone else you encounter
I have to admit that I struggle with the second and third circuits.  A lot.  I tend to dwell on the negative, allow it to sometimes drive the car of my life.  And I am prone to those whispers of doubt and fear.  Many times a day, I will be doing something that brings me happiness and joy, and suddenly, some part of my brain says, "Yes, but . . ."  Fill in that blank with whatever dampens the spirit and brings darkness into the light.

That is my self-revelation for this evening.  I need to work on my well-being circuits.  Need to pray and meditate more, in whatever form works for me.  Most of the time, it's writing.  Plus, I need to somehow quiet my doubts and fears and suspicions.  All of those things are related to trying to control aspects of my life over which I have no control whatsoever.

This is what I plan to do tonight to combat these negative parts of myself:
  1. I will write in my journal.  Lay all of my worries on the page, and then I will let them go.  Give them up to my higher power.
  2. In doing that writing, I will give those whispering voices time to say what they want on the page, and then I will close my journal and silence them.
Saint Marty craves joy in his life.  Time to take a few steps in the right direction.

A face of joy . . .