Wednesday, July 31, 2019

July 31: The Earth, Jean-Paul Sartre, Happiness Poetry Workshop

Phouchg, a secondary character in the novel, is trying to find out the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything (he already has the answer--42) . . .

"Well, you know, it's just Everything . . . everything . . ." offered Phouchg weakly.

"Exactly!" said Deep Thought.  "So once you do know what the question actually is, you'll know what the answer means."

"Oh, terrific," muttered Phouchg, flinging aside his notebook and wiping away a tiny tear.

"Look, all right, all right," said Loonquawl, "can you just please tell us the question?"

"The Ultimate Question?"


"Of Life, the Universe and Everything?"


Deep Thought pondered for a moment.,

"Tricky," he said.

"But can you do it?" cried Loonquawl.

Deep Thought pondered this for another long moment.

Finally:  "No," he said firmly.

Both men collapsed onto their chairs in despair.

"But I'll tell you who can," said Deep Thought.

They both looked up sharply.

"Who?  Tell us!"

Suddenly Arthur began to feel his apparently non-existent scalp  begin to crawl as he found himself moving slowly but inexorably forward toward the console, but it was only a dramatic zoom on the part of whoever had made the recording, he assumed.

"I speak of none but the computer that is to come after me," intoned Deep Thought, his voice regaining its accustomed declamatory tones.  "A computer whose merest operational parameters I am not worthy to calculate--and yet I will design it for you.  A computer that can calculate the Question to the Ultimate Answer, a computer of such infinite and subtle complexity that organic life itself shall form part of its operational matrix.  And you yourselves shall take on new forms and go down into the computer to navigate its ten-million-year program!  Yes!  I shall design this computer for you.  And I shall name it also unto you.  And it shall be called . . . the Earth."

Phouchg gaped at Deep Thought.

"What a dull name," he said, and great incisions appeared down the length of his body.  Loonquawl too suddenly sustained horrific gashes from nowhere.  The computer console blotched and cracked, the walls flickered and crumbled and the room crashed upward into its own ceiling . . . 

Slartibartfast was standing in front of Arthur holding the two wires.

"End of the tape," he explained.  

And that, as they say, is the beginning of life on Earth as we know it.  At least in the Hitchhiker's fictional universe.

Of course, questions about the meaning of life have plagued the human race since the beginning of recorded time.  I'm sure that one night, millions of years ago, a neanderthal stood at the mouth of his cave, looked up at the full moon, and thought, "Mmmmmmrph groooowwwwllll oooooowwlll."  (He's a neanderthal.  What did you expect?  Jean-Paul Sartre?)

I, myself, have been wrestling with meaning a lot recently.  When dealing with struggles, particularly personal struggles, it's very easy to see meaninglessness in just about everything, from eating that piece of toast for breakfast to brushing your teeth at night before bed.  This past week, in particular, has been extremely challenging for me.

I find myself at the bottom of a very deep well.  I can see the mouth of the well above me, but there isn't anybody at the top to lower the bucket down.  How about another obscure metaphor?  I am adrift in the middle of the ocean, and my lifeboat is taking on water quickly.  One more for good measure?  I am the only Hillary supporter at a MAGA rally.

As a poet, I try to look for meaning in most of my life experiences.  I don't find a whole lot of meaning in what I'm going through at the moment.  It all seems like a big pile of steaming cow manure.  Of course, the poet Natalie Goldberg will tell you to to stir the compost, and, eventually, something beautiful will blossom.  It's inevitable.  Out of fertilizer comes life in some form.

Tomorrow night, I'm supposed to teach a poetry workshop.  August is National Happiness Happens month.  So I'm supposed to be leading the poets in attendance through writing prompts about happiness.  Let me tell you, this is going to be rough for me.  Happiness and I haven't been on speaking terms for a while. 

Now, before you skip off to another blog because you're tired of my depressing posts, let me tell you that I know happiness is all about attitude.  I can choose to be either joyful or sorrowful, regardless of the circumstances of my life.  I will admit that I have been wallowing quite a bit this evening.  Today, I have had one of the shittiest days of my life.  Ever.  I am not exaggerating.  Now, what do I do with that?

I will tell you what I'm going to do after I publish this post.  First, I'm going to finalize the plans for tomorrow night's happiness poetry workshop.  Then, I'm going to work on a manuscript that a friend asked me to edit for her.  And I'm going to remind myself, somehow, that God really is working in my life.  (God and I haven't been a speaking terms for a while, either.)

If you have any spare miracles, send them Saint Marty's way.  He's running a little short at the moment.  Look for the house with the leg lamp in the window.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

July 30: Ultimate Question, Emergency Room, Blueberries

Deep Thought is receiving some criticism for his answer to the Big Question of life, the universe, and everything . . .

"Forty-two!" yelled Loonquawl.  "Is that all you've got to show for seven and a half million years' work?"

"I checked it very thoroughly," said the computer, "and that quite definitely is the answer.  I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you've never actually known what the question is."

"But it was the Great Question!  The Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything," howled Loonquawl.

"Yes," said Deep Thought with the air of one who suffers fools gladly, "but what actually is it?"

A slow stupefied silence crept over the men as they stared at the computer and then at each other.

That is the crux of the whole problem.  They have an answer, but they don't know what the actual question is.  For example, I could type "blueberries" right now, with no context.  You, my dear disciples, have no idea what the significance of "blueberries" is, although you can probably guess they are going to be important considering the photo at the beginning of this blog post.  So, knowing a question is important to understand the answer.

If I typed "Emergency Room" right now, you would not know that it is the answer to the question "Why didn't Saint Marty write a post last night?"  Yes, my wife and I were at our local ER for almost seven hours last night.  We arrived at around 3 p.m., and we didn't leave until about 9:30 p.m.  It was a long, exhausting night.

As I said in earlier posts, my wife has been teetering on hypomania/mania for a good portion of this summer, if not longer.  After some events this part week, it was suggested to me by the nurse of my wife's psychiatrist that I try to convince my wife to go to the Emergency Room for an evaluation.

I broached the suggestion with my wife yesterday afternoon, and, to my surprise, she agreed.  Her one worry was that they were going to try to keep her in the psychiatric ward at the hospital.  She has been there before, and she isn't particularly fond of the idea of returning.  I had to keep reassuring her several times, "Honey, they can't keep you if you don't consent."

At the end of that long, long afternoon and evening, a really nice ER doc, who seemed to know his stuff about psychiatric medications, suggested some changes in dosages and added Vistaril, a drug that will help her sleep at night.  Frankly, walking through the doors of the ER yesterday afternoon, I help little hope that anything constructive was going to come of the visit.  I was wrong, I think.

Ten o'clock last night, we were home, and my wife was taking her first dose of the new medication.

Now, as much I would love to say that Vistaril was the answer to all the problems that have plagued us this summer, it wasn't.  There isn't a drug that exists that will have that kind of effect.  No, the medication changes are part of a very complex solution to a very complex problem.  There is simply no magic pill for bipolar disorder and its attendant problems.

However, my wife did get a really good night's sleep last night.  That's makes me happy.  We are not out of the woods by far yet.  Sleep is just one of the first steps for my wife's recovery and stability.  I will not go into the other issues that revolve around this particular episode.  They are personal and difficult and not for me to share.  That is up to my spouse.

This afternoon, my family and I went blueberry picking at a friends' property.  There were six of us, including my wife.  As I sat, squatting on my haunches, I began to find a little peace of mind.  (My mind has been on overdrive for about two or three weeks.)  It was just me, the blueberries in front of me, and my bucket.  After about an hour or so, I mentioned to my wife how peaceful it was collecting blueberries.

"It's meditation," she said.

And she was write.  I was breathing more easily.  The worries that have been plaguing me weren't present in my thoughts.  I just moved from one spot to another, hunting for patches of blue on the ground.  As I picked berries, I prayed a little, had a conversation with the Almighty.  Asked Him to take away all the doubts and fears that have stressing me.

When I left my friends' house, I was more relaxed that I have been in a long time.  It was a perfect kind of evening.  I love being with my family, sans television and cell phones.  Just a man and his bucket and his kids and his wife.  It's a memory I will hold onto for harder times.

This evening is going to help me with the stresses coming my way tomorrow and the rest of this week.  Because I have this one perfect moment to hold on to.  A couple hours of happiness.

Saint Marty will take that.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

July 28: Tough Assignment, Curve Balls, Playing God

After learning the answer to the Big Question of life, the universe, and everything . . .

It was a long long time before anyone spoke.

Out of the corner of his eye Phouchg could see the sea of tense expectant faces down in the square outside.

"We're going to get lynched, aren't we?" he whispered.

"It was a tough assignment," said Deep Thought mildly.

Sometimes life doesn't always turn out the way you want or expect.  After seven and a half million years, Phouchg has been given the answer to the Big Question by the stupendous super computer Deep Thought.  That answer is 42.  Hardly mind-blowing or mind-expanding.

Like I said, life has a way of throwing you curve balls.  Sort of like prayer.  People pray to God for a lot of things.  Cure my mother of cancer.  Let me win the lottery.  Help me to pay my bills.  Make my wife's mental illness go away.  The list goes on and on, a different need for every person on the planet. 

In our society of instant gratification, we expect God to answer those prayers immediately, and exactly the way we want them answered.  In essence, most people, in their prayer lives, play God.  They think they know what's best, and they tell God exactly what He should do.

That's a control thing.  I'm guilty of it frequently.  I write a script for my life, and I expect everybody to follow that script.  When someone doesn't follow that script, I get angry, frustrated, afraid.  Of course, nobody knows the lines and stage directions in the script I've written. 

When I tell my son that it's time for bed, his lines should be:  "Yes, father.  Thank you for reminding me."  And his stage direction should be:  Gets up from chair, goes to bathroom, brushes his teeth, then immediately crosses to bed and falls asleep.

The answer I received tonight:  "Just a second!"  The actual stage directions tonight:  Gets up from his chair after another ten minutes, goes directly to bed without brushing his teeth, and then screams at the top of his lungs "Get your butt in here!!!"

People rarely follow my script.  That's because they don't know anything about my script.  I'm playing God, just like when I tell God how to answer my prayers.  God simply doesn't work that way.  He's in control, and I have to understand and accept that.   Prayers always get answered, but not always in the time-frame or way I expect/demand.

It's exhausting playing God, because I set myself up for constant frustration.  I can barely handle it some days.  No wonder God is continually disappointed in the human race in the Bible.  We break His heart on a daily basis.

Saint Marty needs to stop casting himself as God because God always reminds Saint Marty that he's not in charge.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

July 27: Forty-Two, Simple Solutions, Bigfoot Hunting

Deep Thought will reveal the answer to life, the universe, and everything by the end of this passage:

"An awesome prospect, Phouchg," agreed the first man, and Arthur suddenly realized he was watching a recording with subtitles.

"We are the ones who will hear," said Phouchg, "the answer to the great question of Life . . .!"

"The Universe . . .!" said Loonquawl.

"And Everything . . .!"

"Shhh," said Loonquawl with a slight gesture, "I think Deep Thought is preparing to speak!"

There was a moment's expectant pause while panels slowly came to life on the front of the console.  Lights flashed on and off experimentally and settled down into a businesslike pattern.  A soft low hum came from the communication channel.

"Good morning," said Deep Thought at last.

"Er . . . good morning, O Deep Thought," said Loonquawl nervously, "do you have . . . er, that is . . ."

"An answer for you?" interrupted Deep Thought majestically.  "Yes, I have."

The two men shivered with expectancy.  Their waiting had not been in vain.

"There really is one?" breathed Phouchg.

"There really is one," confirmed Deep thought.

"To Everything?  To the great Question of Life, the Universe and Everything?"


Both of the men had been trained for this moment, their lives had been a preparation for it, they had been selected at birth as those who would witness the answer, but even so they found themselves gasping and squirming like excited children.

"And you're ready to give it to us?" urged Loonquawl.

"I am."


"Now," said Deep Thought.

They both licked their dry lips.

"Though I don't think," added Deep Thought, "that you're going to like it."

"Doesn't matter!" said Phouchg.  "We must know it!  Now!"

"Now?" inquired Deep Thought.

"Yes!  Now . . ."

"All right," said the computer, and settled into silence again.  The two men fidgeted.  The tension was unbearable.

"You're really not going to like it," observed Deep Thought.

"Tell us!"

"All right," said Deep Thought.  "The Answer to the Great Question . . ."

"Yes . . .!"

"Of Life, the Universe and Everything . . ." said Deep Thought.

"Yes . . .!"

"Is . . ." said Deep Thought, and paused.

"Yes . . .!"

"Is . . ."

"Yes . . .!!! . . .?"

"Forty-two," said Deep Thought, with infinite majesty and calm.

There you go.  That is the answer to the great question of life, the universe, and everything.  Forty-two.  42.  Six times seven.  Or two times three times seven.  6 X 7.  2 X 3 X 7.  It took Deep Thought seven and a half million years to come up with that answer.  Of course, nobody really asked what the big question really was, did they?

I wish that all the big problems in life had such simple solutions.  My wife has mental illness, how can I help her?  42.  My friend's significant other is an out-of-control alcoholic, what can she do?  Forty-two.  My child has leukemia, how can I get her well?  Six times seven.  Donald Trump is President of the United States, what should I do?  Two times three times seven.  (Actually, the 42nd President of the United States was Bill Clinton.  I'd take him over Donald Trump any day.)

I know that, when I was studying computer science and math as an undergraduate, some of the most complex problems had the simplest, most elegant solutions.  There was a clear, black-and-white path to that answer, and it involved logic and objectivity.

Of course, big life questions are not algebraic or geometric.  Rather, they are huge and hairy and mysterious.  They're Bigfoot.  When I think about it like this, I've been hunting for Bigfoot my whole life.  In fact, we're all Bigfoot hunters, trying to capture and tame the wild questions/problems/issues that plague us.  Love and sickness and mental health and alcoholism and . . . well, you get the idea.

It has been a Bigfoot summer for me.  The hairy guy has been with me, in the shadows, since the beginning of May.  I can smell him sometimes.  Spy him darting into the darkness of my backyard at night.  A couple of times, I've caught him in stark light.  Huge.  Looming.  Terrifying.  Of course, charging at Bigfoot with a metal pipe in my hand is going to end with me being heart-wounded, soul-dead, or physically incapacitated.  I know that as a fact.

Bigfoot hunting takes time.  You need to understand him.  His habits and habitats.  His favorite foods.  Nocturnal wanderings.  You need to find Bigfoot support groups and friends.  People who know and have been hunting Bigfoot longer than you.  People with Bigfoot experience.  If you're going out, hunting Bigfoot by yourself, you will not know what to do when he comes charging through the woods at you, roaring like a jet engine.

So, the answer may be simple.  Forty-two.  But the question is feral, skunky, beasty.  It buries its dead in the woods, and the bodies are never found.  I know that I'm in for a lifetime of Bigfoot hunting.  So is everybody else.  Bigfoot will never be caught.  Or tamed.  Or killed.  Rather, if we're lucky, he will stay where he belongs.  In the woods.  On his side of the lake.  Happily hunting for grubs, scooping salmon out of the water.  Co-existing peacefully with us.  I won't intrude on his life.  He won't intrude on mine.

For now, however, Saint Marty is going to sleep with a metal pipe under his pillow.

Friday, July 26, 2019

July 26: A Moment's Panic, Miss Lonelyhearts, Dorothy Gale

An answer to the Big Question of life, the universe, and everything is about to be revealed . . .

As the crowd erupted once again, Arthur found himself gliding through the air and down toward one of the large stately windows on the first floor of the building behind the dais from which the speaker was addressing the crowd.

He experienced a moment's panic as he sailed straight toward the window, which passed when a second or so later he found he had gone right through the solid glass without apparently touching it.

No one in the room remarked on his peculiar arrival, which is hardly surprising as he wasn't there.  He began to realize that the whole experience was merely a recorded projection which knocked six-track seventy-millimeter into a cocked hat.

The room was much as Slartibartfast had described it.  In seven and a half million years it had been well looked after and cleaned regularly every century or so.  The ultramahogany desk was worn at the edges, the carpet a little faded now, but the large computer terminal sat in sparkling glory on the desk's leather top, as bright as if it had been constructed yesterday.

Two severely dressed men sat respectfully before the terminal and waited.  

"The time is nearly upon us," said one, and Arthur was surprised to see a word suddenly materialize in thin air just by the man's neck.  The word was LOONQUAWL, and it flashed a couple of times and then disappeared again.  Before Arthur was able to assimilate this the other man spoke and the word PHOUCHG appeared by his neck.

"Seventy-five thousand generations ago, our ancestors set this program in motion," the second man said, "and in all that time we will be the first to hear the computer speak."

That's a long time to wait for a computer to run a program.  Seventy-five thousand generations.  That's almost as bad as waiting for your laptop to update and restart.  It's an eternity of anticipation, with little pay off for most of the waiters.  Yet, all of the planet's inhabitants have gathered for the occasion.  The Time of Waiting is over

Miracles happen every day.  Just don't sit around waiting for them, though.  Recognize them, give thanks for them.  Even in the middle of the darkest moments of my life, I have experienced grace and blessing.

I have a friend right now who's really hurting because someone close to her is in the grips of an addiction.  She is distraught, lonely, and heartbroken.  There's a great novella called Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West.  It's one of my favorites.  For the sake of this post, I'm going to call my friend "Miss Lonelyhearts."

Well, Miss Lonelyhearts, I know right now it's hard to find a rainbow in the storm that you're in.  It's really easy to get lost in dark clouds and tornadoes.  Just ask Dorothy Gale.  She tried running away from her problems, and her problems swept in and carried her away.  (She also got a bitchin' pair of ruby slippers along the way.)  Of course, the problem with Dorothy is that her troubles really did melt like lemon drops.  Your problems are not quite as easy to solve.

I know where you are.  Have been where you are.  Am there every day of my life.  You see, Miss Lonelyhearts, addiction isn't some puzzle you solve once.  It's a puzzle that you have to keep working on all the time.  That's what I've learned dealing with my wife's addiction.  Addiction isn't the common cold.  You can't cure it with chicken soup and bed rest.  Addiction is something you work on every day of your life, whether you're the addict or a family member of the addict.

That sounds a little preachy, doesn't it?  Sorry about that.  It's just what I know, Miss Lonelyhearts.  I've tricked myself into believing sometimes that my wife's addiction and mental illness have gone away.  They haven't.  That's magical thinking, believing that your thoughts and ideas can actually influence that material world.  I think my wife is cured of addiction and mental illness.  Therefore, my wife is cured of addiction and mental illness.  Doesn't quite work that way.

My definitive answer so far this evening is this, Miss Lonelyhearts:

  1. Treat yourself kindly.  Don't blame or beat yourself up for your addict's behavior.
  2. Don't think that you're going to force your addict into becoming sober.  Again, that's magical thinking.  Not gonna happen.
  3. Addiction is selfish, stubborn, hurtful, confounding, frustrating, painful, debilitating, and devastating.
  4. Recovery is a long, yellow brick road through cornfields, enchanted forests, and poppy fields.  When you get to the Emerald City, they won't let you in.
  5. Recovery is lifelong, for yourself and your addict.
Please know, Miss Lonelyhearts that you are not alone.  I remind myself that tonight, as well.  Loneliness is just one of the lands your have to travel through before you get to see the Wizard.

Also, remember to pay no attention to that man behind the curtain, Miss Lonelyhearts.

Saint Marty will meet you at the witch's castle with a bucket of water.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

July 25: Nagging Little Problems, the Meaning of Life, a Miracle

Some more about Deep Thought's answer to the Big Question . . .

A man standing on a brightly dressed dais before the building which clearly dominated the square was addressing the crowd over a tannoy.

"O people who wait in the shadow of Deep Thought!" he cried out.  "Honored Descendants of Vroomfondel and Majikthise, the Greatest and Most Truly Interesting Pundits the Universe has ever known, the Time of Waiting is over!"

Wild cheers broke out among the crowd.  Flags, streamers and wolf whistles sailed through the air.  The narrower streets looked rather like centipedes rolled over on their backs and frantically waving their legs in the air.

"Seven and a half million years our race has waited for this Great and Hopefully Enlightening Day!" cried the cheerleader.  "The Day of Answer!"

Hurrahs burst from the ecstatic crowd.

"Never again," cried the man, "never again will we wake up in the morning and think Who am I?  What is my purpose in life?  Does it really, cosmically speaking matter if I don't get up and go to work?  For today we will finally learn once and for all the plain and simple answer to all these nagging little problems of Life, the Universe and Everything!"

The Honored Descendants of Vroomfondel and Majikthise are gathered to find out the meaning of the universe from Deep Thought, the stupendous super computer that has been working on the answer for seven and a half million years.  Of course, Douglas Adams is providing satire and parody here.  He's making fun of philosophers and "deep thinkers" everywhere.

The most serious part of this satire is that all of this race of beings is looking to a machine to provide purpose and guidance and happiness in their lives.  Of course, that is not going to happen.  I could pose the question to Google, "What is the meaning of life?"  Here is one of the answers I will get:
Life has different definition in the eyes of different people. ... For many life is all about love. For a few, life is all about religious practices. For philosophers like Aristotle life is about happiness: "Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence."
So, that isn't necessarily a definitive answer.  It's simply an overview of several philosophical and religious and cultural responses.  Those responses weren't created by Google.  They were compiled by Google.

Last night, I spoke about the current financial circumstance my wife and I find ourselves in at the moment.  No money to get groceries.  Bills we can't pay.  I was feeling pretty desperate.  I simply was at the end of my rope.  I had no answers.  I had no where to turn.

After I published that post, I said a prayer.  Gave all my worries and problems to God.  I couldn't think of anything else to do.  Then, I went home, heated up a frozen pastie, made an omelet with the last four eggs in my house, and I fed my daughter and her boyfriend.

Then I received a whole lot of grace.  I'm not going into any details, but, by about ten o'clock last night, our cupboards and refrigerator were full.  God sent some angels our way, and I am so humbled by this act of love and generosity for me and my family.

You know, it's really easy to look at the state of the world and be really cynical about the human race.  Then, God steps in and does what He does best--restores your faith.  I want to thank those angels who helped us out so much yesterday.  They made a miracle happen last night.  I went from feeling alone and desperate to loved and hopeful.

We're not out of the woods yet.  The credit union turned down our loan application this afternoon.  Still trying to figure out how to pay a pile of bills.  As I said last night, it has a whole lot to do with the lack of a paycheck from the university over the summer.  And a few other things that I had no control over.  It's a little frightening being this powerless.

However, last night proved to me that God is on my side.  I place these worries and problems in His hands tonight, because that's all I can do.

Saint Marty learned last night that God really does listen to prayer.  And angels are right around the corner.  That is the real meaning of life, the universe, and everything.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

July 24: Extraordinarily Lonely, Sinking, My Good Friend

Arthur is about to witness the conclusion of the Deep Thought narrative, where the stupendous super computer provides the answer to life, the universe, and everything . . .

Slartibartfast's study was a total mess, like the results of an explosion in a public library.  The old man frowned as they stepped in.

"Terribly unfortunate," he said, "a diode blew in one of the life-support computers.  When we tried to revive our cleaning staff we discovered they'd been dead for nearly thirty thousand years.  Who's going to clear away the bodies, that's what I want to know.  Look, why don't you sit yourself down over there and let me plug you in."

He gestured Arthur toward a chair which looked as if it had been made out of the rib cage of a stegosaurus.

"It was made out of the rib cage of a stegosaurus," explained the old man as he pottered about fishing bits of wire out from under tottering piles of paper and drawing instruments.  "Here," he said, "hold these," and passed a couple of stripped wire ends to Arthur.

The instant he took hold of them a bird flew straight through him.

He was suspended in midair and totally invisible to himself.  Beneath him was a pretty tree-lined city square, and all around it as far as the eye could see were white concrete buildings of airy spacious design but somewhat the worse for the wear--many were cracked and stained with rain.  Today, however, the sun was shining, a fresh breeze danced lightly through the trees, and the odd sensation that all the buildings were quietly humming was probably caused by the fact that the square and all the streets around it were thronged with cheerful excited people.  Somewhere a band was playing, brightly colored flags were fluttering in the breeze and the spirit of carnival was in the air.

Arthur felt extraordinarily lonely stuck up in the air above it all without so much as a body to his name, but before he had time to reflect on this a voice rang out across the square and called for everyone's attention.

Sometimes, I feel as if I'm floating above everything, watching life bustle below me, above me, around me.  At the moment, I am listening to my sister plan a two-week trip to Washington state.  She's looking at airfare, trying to figure out the cheapest day to fly.

I will never have this problem.  I can barely afford my monthly trips to Calumet to perform at the Calumet Theatre.  Buying plane tickets to anywhere is an impossibility.  We are currently at a zero balance in our checking and savings accounts.  My wife's car is probably dead (something about head gaskets), so, tomorrow possibly, we have to go car shopping for a car that we can't really afford.  My wife can't get to work otherwise.  To top it all off, we have next-to-nothing in our cupboards and refrigerator, and my daughter just texted me to inform me of that fact.

I have reached that time in the summer when I literally have no money.  Usually, we barely make it, paycheck-to-paycheck.  This summer, we are sinking.  Tomorrow, my wife and I are going to our credit union to try to get a short-term loan to get us through August, which is when I start getting paid by the university again.  This financial stress has been sort of fueling my wife's hypomania, as well.  We have been borrowing and begging money for several weeks, barely treading water.

I'm not sharing this information to make you feel sorry for me.  I tell you this information to explain why I'm not writing about the testimony of Robert Mueller before Congress today.  I don't have the time or the energy at the moment to worry about much more than how I'm going to be able to feed my kids and pay my bills.  Donald Trump and his obstruction of justice are not very close to the surface of my thoughts.

 And I have a very close friend who's facing her own personal crisis at the moment.  She's one of the most positive people I know, but she is struggling mightily this evening.  I know she'll read this post tonight.  She reads all my posts.  I know what she's going through.  Have been there myself.  My current problems pale in comparison.

Listen to me, my good friend.  You are in my thoughts.  As I sit here typing this post, with a statue of the Virgin Mary looking down on me, I'm lifting you up in prayer.  I have felt your pain and worry.  Please know that you are loved and treasured.  You remind me every day that I can be a better person.

I don't know how to end this post.  As I said, tomorrow, my wife and I are going to go to the credit union to see about getting a loan to pay our bills, no matter what the interest rate.  We might also do some car shopping, depending on the mechanic's final diagnosis on her Subaru.  And currently my friend is at home, trying to hold her life together.

Saint Marty wishes for his friend good rest and healing and love.  Saint Marty wishes for himself a distant relative with a terminal health condition, a large bank account, and a generous spirit.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

July 23: Mind-Numbing Wall, State of Exhaustion, Stigma of Mental Illness

Arthur has just heard the beginning of the story about the stupendous super computer Deep Thought . . .

"Yes, very salutary," said Arthur, after Slartibartfast had related the salient points of this story to him, "but I don't understand what all this has got to do with the Earth and mice and things."  

"That is but the first half of the story, Earthman," said the old man.  "If you would care to discover what happened seven and a half million years later, on the great day of the Answer, allow me to invite you to my study where you can experience the events yourself on our Sens-O-Tape records.  That is, unless you would care to take a quick stroll on the surface of the New Earth.  It's only half completed, I'm afraid--we haven't even finished burying the artificial dinosaur skeletons in the crust yet, then we have the Tertiary and Quaternary Periods of the Cenozoic Era to lay down, and . . ."

"No, thank you," said Arthur, "it wouldn't be quite the same."

"No," said Slartibartfast, "it won't be," and he turned the aircar round and headed back toward the mind-numbing wall.

Arthur is still trying to get his bearings in this new Universe where the Earth has been blown into oblivion and white mice were conducting experiments on the human race instead of vice versa.  That's a lot to take in in a short period of time.  Yet, he seems to be doing alright with his new reality.  I, on the other hand, would not be.  I'd probably be catatonic.

This evening, I find myself again in a state of exhaustion.  It's funny.  I got over six hours of sleep last night, which is a LOT for me.  Work in the medical office wasn't all that taxing today.  Yet, at the moment, I am barely able to keep my eyes open.  It feels as if I could go to sleep immediately and not wake up until after Labor Day.

I have to say that I wasn't sure about sharing that personal information in last night's post.  Generally, I don't write about other people's struggles in my blog, unless given express permission.  However, my wife has never avoided the subject of her mental illness and addiction.  In fact, if you meet my wife at a party, I'd bet that within ten minutes she'd be telling you about her sleepless nights, racing thoughts, and careless spending.  (She talked me into buying a brand new minivan once, which we traded in for something more within our budget a few months later.)

I don't want to be pitied.  My wife doesn't want pity, either.  There's already too much shame and stigma that surrounds mental illness.  This is our reality.  For a long time, my wife's bipolar has been fairly well-controlled with her medications.  For some reason, they are not doing the same job anymore.  They need to be adjusted.

The biggest impediment to Beth getting better happens to be Beth herself.  She needs to make phone calls, schedule doctors' appointments, and commit herself to getting better.  Until that happens, she's going to be under that power of her illness instead of vice versa.  Bipolar comes with a lot of stubborn thinking--feelings of euphoria and grandiosity.  Beth doesn't seem willing to give up this "high" feeling at the moment.  And that is my dilemma, among other things.

Tonight, I'm hoping that my wife gets another good night's sleep.  She went to bed last night around 11 p.m., and she didn't get out of bed until morning.  That's over eight hours of uninterrupted sleep.  If she can get back on a normal sleep schedule, I think she will start to feel a whole lot more in control of her life.

In the mean time, I am trying to practice a little self-care.  I'm not going to be of use to anyone if I'm out-of-my-mind tired and obsessed every minute of the day.  So, I try to pray every day.  Try to meditate every day (that means writing in my journal).  Try to release my fears and worries, give them over to my higher power.

The problem is that Saint Marty has a habit of taking those fears and worries back.

Monday, July 22, 2019

July 22: Deep Thought, Hypomanic Episode, Powerless

Deep Thought needs a little time for some deep thought . . .

"Yes," declared Deep Thought, "I said I'd have to think about it, didn't I?  And it occurs to me that running a program like this is bound to create an enormous amount of popular publicity for the whole area of philosophy in general.  Everyone's going to have their own theories about what answer I'm eventually going to come up with, and who better to capitalize on that media market than you yourselves?  So long as you can keep disagreeing with each other violently enough and maligning each other in the popular press, and so long as you have clever agents, you can keep yourselves on the gravy train for life.  How does that sound?"

The two philosophers gaped at him.

"Bloody hell," said Majikthise, "now that is what I call thinking.  Here, Vroomfondel, why do we never think of things like that?"

"Dunno," said Vroomfondel in an awed whisper; "think our brains must be too highly trained, Majikthise."

So saying, they turned on their heels and walked out of the door and into a life-style beyond their wildest dreams.

I really don't have a whole lot of time or energy tonight for deep thought.  I certainly don't have seven and a half million years.  Plus, my thoughts will never put me on the gravy train for the rest of my life.  They probably won't even buy me an order of French fries from McDonald's.

I think my big problem right now is that I'm trying to control circumstances over which I have no control.  My wife, at the moment, is in a hypomanic state.  For those of you not familiar with that term, here is the definition:  "a hypomanic episode [includes], over the course of at least four days, elevated mood plus three of the following symptoms OR irritable mood plus four of the following symptoms:  pressured speech, inflated self-esteem or grandiosity, decreased need for sleep."

I, myself, don't sleep much when my wife is rattling around the house at three o'clock in the morning or jumping in a car to go for a midnight drive.  If you haven't noticed, I'm kind of a worrier.  I want to help fix her situation, but I can't.  That's makes me feel quite alone and helpless.  I can suggest to my wife that she take her sleeping pills and go to bed, but she rightfully resents when I do this.  She feels like I'm treating her like a child, which is never my intention.

Last night, I got a total of about two hours of sleep.  I'm kind of exhausted.  I'm hoping that tonight will be different. 

I love my wife, and I only want what's best for her.  Unfortunately, her bipolar doesn't always make that an easy process.  At times, I simply have to step back and let God take over.  That's where I am this evening.

Saint Marty is ready for a long winter's nap, in the middle of July.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

July 21: Ultimate Question, Chasing Dreams, Fishing

And now a few words from the stupendous super computer, Deep Thought . . .

"Might I make an observation at this point?" inquired Deep Thought.

"We'll go on strike!" yelled Vroomfondel.

"That's right!" agreed Majikthise.  "You'll have a national Philosophers' strike on your hands!"

The hum level in the room suddenly increased as several ancillary bass driver units, mounted in sedately carved and varnished cabinet speakers around the room, cut in to give Deep Thought's voice a little more power.

"All I wanted to say," bellowed the computer, "is that my circuits are now irrevocably committed to calculating the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything."  He paused and satisfied himself that he now had everyone's attention, before continuing more quietly.  "But the program will take me a little while to run."

Fook glanced impatiently at his watch.  

"How long?" he said.

"Seven and a half million years," said Deep Thought.

Lunkwill and Fook blinked at each other.

"Seven and a half million years!" they cried in chorus.

Seven and a half million years for a stupendous super computer to figure out the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.  I don't feel quite so bad that I'm still working out what I'm going to be when I grow up.

When I was my son's age, I was sure I was going to be a full-time writer/movie director.  That was my dream.  I read biographies of famous writers all the time.  Robert Frost,  Charles Dickens.  Ernest Hemingway.  William Faulkner.  I studied the work of directors I admires.  Steven Spielberg.  George Lucas, Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford.  I was committed to this dream.

Of course, as so often happens with dreams, reality intervened.  I graduated from high school and found myself majoring in computer science at college, while stealthily stacking up credits from the English Department.  Eventually, I realized that I didn't want to spend my life communicating with computers (even if they were stupendous super computers).  Then I went to graduate school and stacked up some advanced degrees in English and creative writing.

And here I sit now.  Poet Laureate of the Upper Peninsula.  Contingent English professor at a university.  Full-time medical office worker.  I am NOT Robert Frost or Alfred Hitchcock.  I can barely cobble together enough time to write a little, 500-word blog post every day.  I struggle with depression on a daily basis.  My wife struggles with mental illness and sexual addiction.

Hardly the happily ever after I envisioned as a ten-year-old boy armed with a library card and a boatload of dreams. 

I miss those times when anything seemed possible.  I know that I will probably never direct a Hollywood film like Jaws or Vertigo.  I'm not going to be the next Stephen King or J. K. Rowling.  I still have those writerly aspirations, but they are mostly relegated to daydreams driving home from work.  That's right.  I have become Walter Mitty, imagining myself as a world-famous writer, winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, owning a mansion with a swimming pool and library. 

Last night, my kids went fishing.  They landed a couple big ones.  My kids are full of dreams right now.  The future is a wide sea, and they have the fishing rods in their hands.  I hope they never give up or settle.  I hope they keep chasing their dreams until they come true, whatever they are.  I hope they continue to land the big ones.

Saint Marty will be happy if he lands a nap sometime this week. 

Saturday, July 20, 2019

July 20: May or Not be a God, Science and Faith, a Seagull

More deep conversation from philosophers who do NOT want solid facts . . .

"Though we may not be [philosophers]," said Vroomfondel, waving a warning finger at the programmers.

"Yes, we are," insisted Majikthise.  "We are quite definitely here as representatives of the Amalgamated Union of Philosophers, Sages, Luminaries and Other Thinking Persons, and we want this machine off, and we want it off now!"

"What's the problem?" said Lunkwill.

"I'll tell you what the problem is, mate," said Majikthise, "demarcation, that's the problem!"

"We demand," yelled Vroomfondel, "that demarcation may or may not be the problem!"

"You just let the machines get on with the adding up," warned Majikthise, "and we'll take care of the eternal verities, thank you very much.  You want to check your legal position, you do, mate.  Under law the Quest for Ultimate Truth is quite clearly the inalienable prerogative of your working thinkers.  Any bloody machine goes and actually finds it and we're straight out of a job, aren't we?  I mean, what's the use of our sitting up half the night arguing that there may or may not be a God if this machine only goes and gives you his bleeding phone number the next morning?"

"That's right," shouted Vroomfondel, "we demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!"

Let me tell you that this is a battle that I fight all the time in the college classroom.  Teaching research in a writing class, I am constantly butting up against the notion that computers can provide all the answers.  Nowadays, people don't seem to question information that they find via Google.  I actually had a student say to me once (only half-jokingly), "If it's on Google, it has to be true."

I don't think that any computer is going to be able to provide the answers to the big questions like "Does God exist?" or "Is there life after death?" or "What is the meaning of life?"  Philosophers can rest easy on that point.  However, computers have made us (myself included, sometimes) more complacent about those questions.  Science thinks it has all the answers.  Ditto people of faith.  Just ask Google.

I have scientist friends who completely refute the idea of God.  It's all about verifiable, quantifiable information.  Anything that can't be explained through science is either myth or hysteria or cultural constructions that have no basis in reality.  I have religious friends who refute all kinds of scientific truths like evolution or climate change.  Anything that contradicts the Biblical narrative in any way is heresy.  Thus, we are all descendants of Adam and Even, and, therefore, we are all brothers and sisters--man, woman, black, white, gay, straight, Republican, Democrat, Muslim, Jew, or Christian.  (That one can be quite problematic for fundamentalists.)

Me?  I walk the line between these viewpoints.  I think that science and faith are both essential to understand the nature of the universe.  To hold to science and completely turn a blind eye to faith is wrong-headed.  It dismisses eternal questions about good and evil and the purpose of life.  If I'm just a collection of cells that will simply decay and cease to exist at the end of my life, I'd be more likely to be a self-centered egotist, pursuing my interests alone to the detriment of everyone and everything else.  In short, I'd be Donald Trump.

On the other hand, if I'm a religious fanatic, dismissing all scientific knowledge and truths that contradict my view of the universe, I would be allowed to ignore the shrinking polar icecap, carbon emissions.  I could use my faith to justify all kinds of terrible things like racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, misogyny, and anti-Semitism.  In short, I'd also be Donald Trump.

No, I think faith and science are two legs that propel a full understanding of the universe.  One without the other would inhibit my ability to fully embrace the wonders that exist on this rock of a planet in this little speck of a solar system in this particle of a galaxy.  Science enhances our ability to see and understand the complexity of creation.  Faith enhances our ability to love and respect this creation and maybe become a little better than we are right now.

Here's a little food for thought on this relationship.  Pope Francis has spoken about science and climate change.  He has said this about the beginning of the universe:  "The Big Bang, that today is considered to be the origin of the world, does not contradict the creative intervention of God, on the contrary it requires it."

This whole post was inspired by something I saw this morning in the parking lot of McDonald's.  As I pulled my car into a parking space, there was a seagull on the pavement in front of me.  I expected the bird to fly away quickly.  Instead, it hopped off.  Yes, hopped.  When I got out of my car, I approached the gull and realized that it was missing a leg.  It was balancing on one foot, using its wings to steady itself.  It wasn't wounded or bleeding.  It had obviously adapted to this physical challenge, because it appeared well-fed and strong.  But it looked slightly unsteady, off-balance.  In a flock of seagulls, it would be the weak one.  The one that wouldn't survive an attack by a predator.

Yes, I got this all from a one-legged seagull.  That's the way my mind works.  Maybe I'm a scientific philosopher.  Maybe philosophic scientist.

Or maybe Saint Marty is simply a poet with too much time on his hands.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

July 18: Vroomfondel, Philosophers, Human Connection

And now an interruption from some philosophers . . .

A sudden commotion destroyed the moment:  the door flew open and two angry men wearing coarse faded-blue robes and belts of the Cruxwan University burst into the room, thrusting aside the ineffectual flunkie who tried to bar their way.

"We demand admission!" shouted the younger of the two men, elbowing a pretty young secretary in the throat.

"Come on," shouted the older one, "you can't keep us out!"  He pushed a junior programmer back through the door.

"We demand that you can't keep us out!" bawled the younger one, though he was now firmly inside the room and no further attempts were being made to stop him.

"Who are you?" said Lunkwill, rising angrily from his seat.  "What do you want?"

"I am Majikthise!" announced the older one.

"And I demand that I am Vroomfondel!" shouted the younger one.

Majikthise turned on Vroomfondel.  "It's all right," he explained angrily, "you don't need to demand that."

"All right!" bawled Vroomfondel, banging on a nearby desk.  "I am Vroomfondel, and that is not a demand, that is a solid fact!  What we demand is solid facts!"

"No, we don't!" exclaimed Majikthise in irritation.  "That is precisely what we don't demand!"

Scarcely pausing for breath, Vroomfondel shouted, "We don't demand solid facts!  What we demand is a total absence of solid facts.  I demand that I may or may not be Vroomfondel!"

"But who the devil are you?" exclaimed an outraged Fook.

"We," said Majikthise, "are philosophers."

I have taken some philosophy and critical theory classes in my life.  Have known some philosophers and critical theorists.  Let me tell you, Douglas Adams, although he is using satire here, pretty much hits the nail on the head with Majikthise and Vroomfondel.  I could have gone to grad school with these two guys.

Well, it is Thursday morning, about four hours from the time that I have to be at the Calumet Theatre to rehearse for tonight's show.  It has been a quiet, kind of lazy start to the day.  I'm sitting in the dining room of the Oak Street Inn, trying to get this post done before the craziness of the day starts.  I don't think two robed philosopher priests are going to come barging into the room, but I know that the Red Jacket's producer/writer/creator will be showing up soon to work with me on the scripts for the shows.

I have been trying to stay focused on writing this a.m.  I've read some, written some, ate a bowl of Life cereal, and read some more.  I am still in a fairly reflective state of mind.  I had some good, long conversations last night with some of my favorite people from the Red Jacket.  Conversations of real connection, not just small talk about weather or writing or music (although I enjoy conversations like that, as well).

I think the art of conversation is sort of dying in modern society.  It's being taken over by Twitter and Instagram and texts and blogs.  Yes, blogs can be a problem, too.  All of these forums require the absence of real people talking to each other.  Instead, it's one person sending messages out into the void (sort of like throwing a picture or written note in a bottle and casting it into the ocean).  I'm never sure, when I write these posts, who is actually reading and responding to them.  Maybe friends.  Maybe people in the Ukraine whom I will never meet.

Real human connection is fairly rare in our sound byte world.  Instead, everybody wants to go viral with a video or photograph or Tweet.  It's not about really caring anymore.  It's about getting as many downloads/views/shares as possible.  Somehow, that indicates to the world how important or smart or popular you actually are.

Having a real conversation with real human connection is very rare.  In my day-to-day, I hardly ever experience that.  Mostly, that's due to the busyness of my life.  I live a pretty fast-paced existence, and I literally have to plan if I want to have a meaningful interaction with another human being.  Television, I think, started pushing us in the direction of staring at a screen instead of talking to each other.  Computers and cell phones have simply accelerated the process.  We are all philosophers with Facebook accounts.

Here, in Calumet, where I am away from most of the things that distract me daily, I am able to be a listener.  Hand out some advice, if asked.  Be a good friend and human being.  Connect.

Saint Marty sends out good, listening vibes to all of y'all today.

July 17: And Everything, Calumet, My Passion

More on the history of the stupendous super computer Deep Thought . . .

Fook was losing patience.  He pushed his notebook aside and muttered, "I think this is getting needlessly messianic."

"You know nothing of future time," pronounced Deep Thought, "and yet in my teeming circuitry I can navigate the infinite delta streams of future probability and see that there must one day come a computer whose merest operational parameters I am not worthy to calculate, but which it will be my fate eventually to design."

Fook sighed heavily and glanced across to Lunkwill.

"Can we get on and ask the question?" he said.

Lunkwill motioned him to wait.

"What computer is this of which you speak?" he asked.

"I will speak of it no further in this present time," said Deep Thought.  "Now.  Ask what else of me you will that I may function.  Speak."

They shrugged at each other.  Fook composed himself.

"O Deep Thought computer," he said, "the task we have designed you to perform is this.  We want you to tell us . . ." he paused, "the Answer!"

"The Answer?" said Deep Thought.  "The Answer to what?"

"Life!" urged Fook.

"The Universe!" said Lunkwill.

"Everything!" they said in chorus.

Deep Thought paused for a moment's reflection.

"Tricky," he said finally.

"But can you do it?"

Again, a significant pause.

"Yes," said Deep Thought, "I can do it."

"There is an answer?" said Fook with breathless excitement.

"A simple answer?" added Lunkwill.

"Yes," said Deep Thought.  "Life, the Universe, and Everything.  There is an answer.  But," he added, "I'll have to think about it."

For those of my disciples familiar with the Hitchhiker series, you will already know that one of the sequels to this novel is titled Life, the Universe and Everything.  Thus, this little scene with Deep Thought is sort of pivotal, touching upon one of Douglas Adams' most important themes:  the meaning of existence.

Greetings from the city of Calumet, Michigan, a place that makes me contemplate big life questions.  I am currently sitting in the dining room of the Oak Street Inn.  I'm here to perform in a show called The Red Jacket Jamboree at the Calumet Theatre tomorrow night.  It's a radio show that has comedy skits, poetry, music, singers, and (sometimes) conspiracy theories.  (You'll have to come to the show tomorrow evening to understand that last item.)

Yes, I have a lot of time to ponder the meaning of life when I'm in Calumet.  I am away from my family, and, therefore, have a great deal of empty time on my hands.  I usually do a lot of reading and writing when I'm here.  I haven't had a whole lot of time this week to reflect and brood, which is both good and bad.  Good for my mental health, which has not been the most positive recently.  Bad for my art, which has taken a back seat.

On Monday night, because my son is at Bible camp for this entire week, my wife and I went out for dinner at McDonald's.  (We also did this to escape the heat for a little while.  It has been in the high 80s for the last couple weeks.  Our house has become a soup bowl of humidity.)  Last night, my wife and I had a therapy appointment.  (She and I have marriage counseling appointments every month.  I recommend this practice to all married couples--whether you've been together six weeks or sixty years.)  After therapy, we went out for a quick bite of dinner.  The rest of the night was about packing for this trip.

And now I sit, after long, wide-ranging conversations with my Red Jacket cohorts about teachers and beer and poetry and music and storytelling.  I rarely get to be around artists for extended periods of time.  People who know and respect me solely as a poet and performer.  Usually, when I meet a new person, I identify myself as a poet first.  (This introduction usually leads to either stilted conversations about Robert Frost or a quick retreat from my company.)  Therefore, I highly value these two days of living as an artist.

You see, while I have great friends at my medical office job (actually, one of my best friends works there), I wouldn't say that I'm passionate about the work I do.  And I love being in a college classroom, trying to pry open young minds for new ideas and experiences.  I can get passionate about that.  However, it is not what really makes me happy.

If I could make my living as a full-time writer, I would jump out of bed every morning.  After brushing my teeth, I would sit down with my journal and pen--or at my laptop--and just lose myself in words.  I could write for eight hours a day, because it wouldn't seem like eight hours.  Even in the struggle of syntax or line break or narrative structure, I would find joy.  All the time.

For the next 48 hours, I am not registering patients.  Not talking about sentence fragments to college freshmen.  Instead, I am . . .

Saint Marty, the poet.  Saint Marty, the actor.  Saint Marty, the script writer.  Saint Marty, the happy.

July 17: Sally's Birthday, Every Day, "Strawberry Picking"

Today would have been my sister Sally's birthday.  I still miss her every day.  Think about her every day.

Saint Marty wants to hear his sister's laugh again.

Strawberry Picking

for Sally

by:  Martin Achatz

You took me strawberry picking
once, drove out to a farm
where we paid to squat in green
beds laced with tongues of red.
I could feel my ears and neck
tighten under the punishing
sun as we filled Morning Glory
ice cream buckets with our
harvest, each berry looking to me
like some vital body part,
an organ or muscle necessary
for life.  You sat on your haunches,
fingers staining red, as if you
were some battlefield surgeon
patching up the fallen with only
your hands.  Every now and then,
you would lift a berry to your lips,
eat it in a hummingbird moment,
smiling the smile of the freshly
healed at Lourdes, where miracles
are common as empty wheelchairs
or dandelions in a July field.

The days since you've been gone,
I see strawberries everywhere,
in a welt of blood on my lip
after shaving, a stop sign,
a friend's dyed hair,
my son's sunburned shoulders,
oxygen in the gills of a perch.
Last night, I stood outside, under
ribbons of borealis, watched
them glide between the stars
like garter snakes in a midnight
Eden.  The Bible says that, in the cool
of the day, Adam and Eve heard
God taking a stroll through
the garden.  There were probably
peacocks nesting in the pines,
a stream talking with moss and stone,
the scurry of mole and spider
in the ferns.

That's what I believe you heard
in your last moments of breath.
You heard peafowl screams,
brook trout leaps.  Grasshopper wing
and corn silk.  And you heard
His divine toes in the grass, walking
along.  When He came to you,
He couldn't resist.  He reached down,
plucked you from the stem.  You were
ripe.  Sweet.  Ready.  He put you
in His Morning Glory bucket, continued
on into the dew and sunlight.

Monday, July 15, 2019

July 15: Deep Thought, Bigger and Better, Constancy

More on the stupendous super computer built by the race of hyperintelligent pandimensional beings . . .

Its main console was installed in a specially designed executive office, mounted on an enormous executive desk of finest ultramahogany topped with rich ultrared leather.  The dark carpeting was discretely sumptuous, exotic pot plants and tastefully engraved prints of the principal computer programmers and their families were deployed liberally about the room, and stately windows looked out upon a tree-lined public square.

On the day of the Great On-Turning two soberly dressed programmers with briefcases arrived and were show discretely into the office.  They were aware that this day they would represent their entire race in its greatest moment, but they conducted themselves calmly and quietly as they seated themselves deferentially before the desk, opened their briefcases and took out their leather-bound notebooks.

Their names were Lunkwill and Fook.

For a few moments they sat in respectful silence, then after exchanging a quiet glance with Fook, Lunkwill leaned forward and touched a small black panel.

The subtlest of hums indicated that the massive computer was now in total active mode.  After a pause it spoke to them in a voice rich, resonant and deep.

It said:  "What is this great task for which I, Deep Thought, the second greatest computer in the Universe of Time and Space, have been called into existence?"

Lunkwill and Fook glanced at each other in surprise.

"Your task, O computer . . ." began Fook.

"No, wait a minute, this isn't right," said Lunkwill, worried.  "We distinctly designed this computer to be the greatest one ever and we're not making do with second best.  Deep Thought," he addressed the computer, "are you not as we designed you to be, the greatest, most powerful computer in all time?"

"I described myself as the second greatest," intoned Deep Thought, "and I am."

Another worried look passed between the two programmers.  Lunkwill cleared his throat.

"There must be some mistake," he said, "are you not a greater computer than the Milliard Gargantubrain at Maximegalon which can count all the atoms in a star in a millisecond?"

"The Milliard Gargantubrain?" said Deep Thought with unconcealed contempt.  "A mere abacus--mention it not."

"And are you not," said Fook, leaning anxiously forward, "a greater analyst than the Googleplex Star Thinker in the Seventh Galaxy of Light and Ingenuity which can calculate the trajectory of every single dust particle throughout a five-week Dangrabad Beta sand blizzard?"

"A five-week sand blizzard?" said Deep Thought haughtily.  "You ask this of me who have contemplated the very vectors of the atoms in the Big Bang itself?  Molest me not with this pocket calculator stuff."

The two programmers said in uncomfortable silence for a moment.  Then Lunkwill leaned forward again.

"But are you not," he said, "a more fiendish disputant than the Great Hyperlobic Omni-Cognate Neutron Wrangler of Ciceronicus Twelve, the Magic and Indefatigable?"

"The Great Hyperlobic Omni-Cognate Neutron Wrangler," said Deep Thought, thoroughly rolling the r's, "could talk off all four legs of an Arcturan Mega-Donkey--but only I could persuade it to go for a walk afterward."

"Then what," asked Fook, "is the problem?"

"There is no problem," said Deep Thought with magnificent ringing tones.  "I am simply the second greatest computer in the Universe of Space and Time."

"But the second?" insisted Lunkwill.  "Why do you keep saying the second?  You're surely not thinking of the Multicorticoid Perspicutron Titan Muller, are you?  Or the Pondermatic?  Or the . . ."

Contemptuous lights flashed across the computer's console.

"I spare not a single unit of thought on these cybernetic simpletons!" he boomed.  "I speak of none but the computer that is to come after me."

You can't really argue with Deep Thought's logic here.  If Deep Thought was designed to be the greatest computer in the universe of time and space, eventually Deep Thought will be used to build a better computer.  That's just the way the universe works.  Einstein was the smartest man to ever live.  Then along came Stephen Hawking.  It only makes sense that a smarter someone will come along to displace Stephen Hawking.

Of course, we live in a world of bigger and better.  I remember when the first iPad came out.  Everybody had to have one.  I wanted one.  But they were expensive, and only the really cool people got that first iteration.  Then the iPad 2 came along, knocking the iPad off its pedestal.  Eventually, it was the iPhone, and, every year, there's a newer (not necessarily better) one on the market.  Bigger (or smaller) and better.

That sort of reflects how disposable our society is.  People are never satisfied with what they have.  They're constantly on the lookout for the newest iterations.  Boyfriend 4.0.  Obama 2.0.  The next Harry Potter.  (For the record, Harry Potter will never be displaced.)  Wife 3.0  Stranger Things 3.  The original of anything is never good enough nowadays.  The thinking goes something like this:  if Girlfriend 1.0 is this great, Girlfriend 2.0 is going to be (to use the teenage vernacular of today) fucking awesome.

Of course, that is not the case.  The newest model isn't always the best.  There's something to be said for "classics."  On Saturday, I saw a teenage girl walking down the street.  She was wearing an outfit and hairstyle that was completely out of the '80s, including the teased-out-to-infinity bangs and Flashdance off-the-shoulder sweatshirt.  Take away about three decades, and I could have graduated with her.  Classics are sometimes best.

I'm not saying that all change is bad.  For example, I can't wait for a change in the Presidency of the United States right now.  However, change for the sake of change isn't good.  If you're looking for happiness by buying a new cell phone or trading-in your wife for a younger model, you're going to find yourself completely miserable tomorrow, just like you were completely miserable today and yesterday. 

I prefer constancy.  My wife and I have been through a lot of difficult times, but we are still together because of stubbornness and devotion and love.  I have always believed that, in the end, love wins.  And, quite frankly, I've been in love with my wife since the day we met.  That has never changed, through mental illness, sexual addiction, financial strain, and two kids.  She is my heart, and I don't know if I tell her that enough.

So, tonight, I'm having a dinner date with my wife.  Nothing fancy.  Chicken strips at McDonald's.  It's not about the menu.

Saint Marty hopes everyone has strong, abiding love in their lives this evening.  If you do, count yourself blessed.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

July 14: 92nd Birthday, Memory, "The Quiet Man"

As my previous post said, it would have been my father's 92nd birthday today.

It is close to 85 degrees outside,  My dad's favorite kind of weather.  He would mow his lawn in heat like this and then sit down and drink a brown, long-necked sweaty bottle of beer, mopping his forehead with his red handkerchief (the kind with white patterns on it).

I can't believe, in the year-and-a-half since he's been gone, how much I think about him.  Perhaps it's because I'm dealing with the graduation of my daughter from high school.  My dad did that with nine children.  Plus, he buried two of his kids, as well.

Saint Marty wants to honor his memory this day with a poem . . .

The Quiet Man

by:  Martin Achatz

Last night, I dreamed my dad and John Wayne
were sitting around a campfire, eating
peaches out of a can.  Stars thick as cattle herds
milled above them, and the prairie grass
hummed some sweet old song like "Red River Valley"
or "Shenandoah."  I'm not sure if it was heaven,
but my father was young and perfect, the hook
of his back as straight as a railroad spike.
Duke was young, too, the retired prizefighter
who chased Maureen O'Hara through the green
Galway countryside.  There weren't any Nazis
crawling along the ground in ambush, no
Richard Boone-faced kidnappers, skin
leathery as buffalo jerky, trying to steal
their sleeping horses.  I'm not sure
if you can smell in dreams, but I remember
smelling manure and smoke and something else.
Maybe the coming of rain.  My dad and Duke
didn't talk, just forked golden crescents
into their mouths, looking as if they were eating
solar eclipse after solar eclipse.  Their forks
made hollow cowbell noises in the dark.
When they were done, they tipped the cans
to their lips, drank the syrup inside
until it ran down their chins.  I kept
waiting for something more to happen,
a runaway stagecoach to crash through
or a baby elephant nosing for hay.
Instead, my dad took a deck of cards
from his pocket, started dealing.
They played gin rummy, hand after hand.
My dad let John Wayne win, because he was
John Wayne and because that's what
my dad did every morning with my mother
for years and years.  He did it because
it was a habit of love.  Maybe that's the name
of this movie:  Habit of Love.  It starts out
simply enough.  Two cards.  Dealt face up.
The king and queen of hearts.

July 14: Stupendous Super Computer, Life's Problems, Old School

And now, for all you hyperintelligent pandimensional beings out there . . .

Many many millions of years ago a race of hyperintelligent pandimensional beings (whose physical manifestation in their own pandimensional universe is not dissimilar to our own) got so fed up with the constant bickering about the meaning of life which used to interrupt their favorite pastime of Brockian Ultra Cricket (a curious game which involved suddenly hitting people for no readily apparent reason and then running away) that they decided to sit down and solve their problems once and for all.

And to this end they built themselves a stupendous super computer which was so amazingly intelligent that even before its data banks had been connected up it had started from I think therefore I am and got as far as deducing the existence of rice pudding and income tax before anyone managed to turn it off.

It was the size of a small city.  

If only solving life's problems were as simple as designing a stupendous super computer that could handle the biggies--Why is there suffering in the world?  Is there life after death?  Why do fools fall in love?  If I lived in science fiction universe, it would be as simple as typing in a question and waiting for a printout.  The people at Apple and Google like to think that they have all the answers, but they don't.  So, here I sit on a Sunday afternoon, contemplating a lot of difficult emotions and problems.

First, today would have been my father's 92nd birthday.  He's been gone over a year-and-a-half now, and I still feel his absence.  He and I had a complex relationship, and we didn't see eye-to-eye on, well, anything.  Perhaps the most important thing that I learned from him was the importance of family.  My dad would have done anything for his wife and family.  Anything.  He worked long hours as a plumber, sometimes six and seven days a week.  As a kid, I never had to worry whether there was going to be food on the table or clothes in my closet.  He provided me a very happy childhood for the most part.  I have tried to emulate that same commitment to family in my own marriage and parenthood.

Second, I just dropped my son off at a week-long summer Bible camp.  My wife was working this afternoon, so I had to do it by myself.  In the car on the way to the camp, my son was pretty silent, chewing his nails.  I asked him how he was doing.  He said, "I'm a little nervous."  Now, that's pretty normal.  He hasn't been away from home by himself for extended periods of time ever.  I wanted to pull the car over and hug him.  Instead, I said something like, "Well, it's okay to feel nervous.  That's normal.  But you're going to make a lot of great new friends at camp."  Standard Leave It to Beaver fatherly advice.  As I was leaving the camp after seeing him safely ensconced in his cabin and bunk, I found myself near tears.  He seemed so small and vulnerable, and I couldn't really do anything to make him feel better.  Had to stop on the way home to cry a little bit.

Third, I'm still worrying and praying constantly about my wife's mental health.  As I said in a post recently, she is on the verge of a manic episode (if not already in full-blown mania), and, when she's like this, she becomes very . . . self-centered.  That's the best, kindest way to describe it.  Everything becomes secondary to her own wants and needs.  That's just the nature of the beast that is bipolar disorder.  It's emotionally draining for her, and it's exhausting for the people who love her, as well.  Every day, I go through an inventory of my thoughts and feelings.  Eventually, I always come to the conclusion that I have no power in this situation.  That I need to step aside, offer the support I can, and give my wife's well-being up to God.  That's not always so easy.

Fourth, I have reached that time in the summer when money becomes a huge issue for my family.  For the fall and winter months, I have two paychecks coming in--one from the medical office where I work full-time, the second from the university where I teach part-time.  In the summer months, the university money goes away completely, and we have to survive on my one paycheck plus tax return money.  Come July, the tax return money is pretty much gone, and paying bills is a challenge.  That is my situation at the moment as I sit here trying to figure out how to pay a mortgage and car loan with non-existent balances in savings and checking.

Those are the problems I would punch into a stupendous super computer that could provide all the answers to the problems of my life.  However, that is science fiction, and, in reality, I don't see any immediate solutions forthcoming any time soon.

Perhaps I could go old school . . .

If you see Saint Marty on the street corner, selling lemonade from a stand, stop and buy a couple cups from him.  Give him a generous tip.  Maybe a hug, too.