Saturday, August 31, 2019

August 30-31: Two in One, Walter White, Just Around the Corner

August 30, 2019.  10:32 p.m.

I apologize for posting so late tonight.  After working at the medical office today, I went to my third (fourth?) job, cleaning a church.  I dusted pews, cleaned bathrooms, vacuumed carpets, and emptied garbage cans.  Started that job at 5 p.m. and finished around 7:30 p.m.

Then, I went to a little celebration dinner with my daughter, in honor of her first week of college and first week of her new job.  It was amazing to see how excited she got talking about the work she was doing, which today entailed cleaning out compost bins.  "Some of them smelled like puke," she said, "and some smelled like alcohol because of the fermenting fruit.  I didn't mind it."  She is so proud of herself, and I am so proud of her.  She really is embracing the college experience.

I just got home from dinner a little over an hour ago.  I am finally in my pajamas and ready for some sleep.  However, I wasn't going to let the day pass without checking in with the disciples of this blog.  This week, for me, has been exhausting, emotionally and physically.  I am kind of tired of my life tonight.  Nothing seems simple right now.  Just getting home and ready for the next day takes a few hours--job after job after job after computer work after lesson plan after . . . you get the idea.  I really miss the days when life was a lot simpler.  Too much to think about all the time.

August 31, 2019.  9:21 a.m.

A lecture on searching for truth from a mouse . . .

"Well, I mean, yes idealism, yes the dignity of pure research, yes the pursuit of truth in all its forms, but there comes a point I'm afraid where you begin to suspect that if there's any real truth, it's that the entire multidimensional infinity of the Universe is almost certainly being run by a bunch of maniacs.  And it if comes to a choice between spending yet another ten million years finding that out, and on the other hand just taking the money and running, then I for one could do with the exercise," said Frankie [the mouse].

A fairly cynical view of how the universe really works and who's in charge.  Of course, that's coming from a creature that I would rather see snapped in a trap.  I'm not a big fan of rodents, as most of my loyal disciples know.  They aren't cute, despite my affinity for Walt Disney World and Mickey Mouse.  I think I was traumatized by the movies Willard and Ben when I was a child.  (Terrible films about a guy who controls rodents with his mind and uses them to kill people.)  Therefore, if I were a mouse, I suppose I would think that the universe is run by maniacs.

As you can tell, I wasn't able to finish my blog post last night.  Exhaustion overtook me, and I had to stop writing.  Which is probably a good thing, considering the direction my thoughts were headed near the end last night.  I think I was one step away from composing a post-apocalyptic novel.  So, I decided to take a break.

I actually thought about deleting everything that I wrote last night, but the writer in me (which says to NEVER throw out anything I write) stopped my finger as it went for the delete key.  So, instead, you get this two-part post.  Think of it as a mosaic of Saint Marty.  The dark side and the light side.

This morning, I'm in a much better frame of mind.  As soon as I stepped outside into the sunshine, I could feel my mood brightening.  Yes, all the problems and worries that were weighing on me last night are still there, but seeing light in the trees, feeling it on my face, lifted me up a little bit.  When winter comes, I may be in trouble.  But today is full of possibility and hope.

I have taken to wearing my father's old hats.  My sister has been going through his closet and found some really cool stuff.  My current favorite is a fedora-type hat that probably dates back to the 1950s.  I wear it everywhere I go.  This morning, as we were leaving the house, my wife looked at me and said, "You remind me of Walter White from Breaking Bad in that hat."

"Don't tempt me," I said.

There are times when I've felt desperate enough to pull a Walter White.  Of course, I know nothing about chemistry or crystal meth, and I live in an area that's plagued with that drug.  There are Walter Whites all over the place.  My point is that desperation can force a person into contemplating the unthinkable at times.

Yet, I have to hold on to the idea that things will get better without me becoming a drug dealer or crime boss.  Guns and I aren't friends, and I'm not really big on the idea of going to jail.  One of the big challenges of being a faithful Christian, for me, is trust.  I have to constantly remind myself to trust that God is looking out for me and my family.  In the middle of all my struggles, I sometimes lose sight of that.

Then something happens to remind me.  Last weekend, it was a night of love, where friends came together and showered me with support.  A lot of support.  That was God, slapping me upside the head, saying, "I got this."  This morning, after another little excursion through the dark night of the soul, it was standing in front of my house and soaking in the sun.  That was God, too, reminding me that He's looking down on me, shining through me.

That is my wisdom for this last day of August.  In the Walter White moments of life, when breaking bad almost seems like an option, the sun will rise again.  Hope will come flitting back, like a hummingbird.  Just hang in there.  The Universe isn't being run by maniacs.  Love is just around the corner.

Saint Marty isn't positive about many things, but he is positive about this.

August 31: Last Day of August, Trust, "A Penny Saved"

And a poem for this last day of August, on the last weekend of real summer.  It's all about trust for me today.  I need constant reminders of that right now.

When I was looking for a poem to share today, this one sort of jumped out at me.  I think I've shared it before, a long time ago.  But, for some reason, I feel the pull to share it again.

Saint Marty wishes all his disciples love this sunny Upper Peninsula morning.

A Penny Saved

by:  Martin Achatz

My daughter hands me the penny,
Says, “Put it in your pocket,”
Pressing it into my fingers.
It’s hot, feels like it’s sweating.
Lincoln looks newly elected,
Before Chancelorsville and Shiloh,
Second Manassas and Antietam.
I put it in my pocket, with keys,
A rosary, black-beaded and broken,
Christ’s arm snapped, dangling
From the branch of the crucifix
Like a maple leaf in autumn.
She won’t ask for the penny back,
Trusts me to keep it precious and shiny,
The way she trusts me at night
When I lie beside her in bed,
My hand on her chest, feeling her
Rabbit heart against my fingertips.
Before she was born, in the swell
Of my wife’s belly, those beats sounded
Like gunshots underwater, the steady
Explosion of a cannon miles distant.
When Lincoln’s son Willie died of typhoid,
Lincoln held his shell hand,
Whispered over and over, “My poor boy,”
As if calling Willie back, begging
Willie’s still heart to return to battle.
Holding the broken and bloody Christ
In her arms, Mary, I’m sure,
Wanted to press her lips to His,
Breathe life into His mouth,
Hold His hand and feel His fingers
Tap like fat drops of rain
On the continent of her palm.
I want to give my daughter’s penny
To Mary, point to the alphabetical halo
Above Lincoln’s head, to the words
“In God We Trust,” remind
Her of those moments with her child,
When He slept beside her
In the dark, trusting her arms
Like a sparrow trusts the sky.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

August 29: Ultimate Question, Suffering and Love, Marriage

More on having dinner with white mice, discussing the Ultimate Question . . .

With a brief nod to the rest of the company he [Slartibartfast] turned and walked sadly out of the room

Arthur stared after him, not knowing what to say.

"Now," said Benjy mouse, "to business."

Ford and Zaphod clinked their glasses together.

"To business!" they said.

"I beg your pardon?" said Benjy.

Ford looked round.

"Sorry, I thought you were proposing a toast," he said.

The two mice scuttled impatiently around in their glass transports.  Finally they composed themselves, and Benjy moved forward to address Arthur.

"Now, Earth creature," he said, "the situation we have in effect is this.  We have, as you know, been more or less running your planet for the last ten million years in order to find this wretched thing called the Ultimate Question."

"Why?" said Arthur sharply.

"No--we already thought of that one," said Frankie, interrupting, "but it doesn't fit the answer.  Why?  Forty Two . . . you see, it doesn't work."

"No," said Arthur, "I mean, why have you been doing it?"

"Oh, I see," said Frankie.  "Well, eventually just habit I think, to be brutally honest.  And this is more or less the point--we're sick to the teeth with the whole thing, and the prospect of doing it all over again on account of those whinnet-ridden Vogons quite frankly gives me the screaming heebie-jeebies, you know what I mean?  It was by the merest  lucky chance that Benjy and I finished our particular job and left the planet early for a quick holiday, and have since manipulated our way back to Magrathea by the good offices of your friends."

"Magrathea is a gateway back to our own dimension," put in Benjy.

"Since when," continued his murine colleague, "we have had an offer of a quite enormously fat contract to do the 5D chat show and lecture circuit back in our own dimensional neck of the woods, and we're very much inclined to take it."

"I would, wouldn't you, Ford?" said Zaphod promptingly.

"Oh yes," said Ford, "jump at it, lake a shot."

Arthur glanced at them, wondering what all this was leading up to.

"But we've got to have product, you see," said Frankie.  "I mean, ideally we still need the Ultimate Question in some form or other."

Zaphod leaned forward to Arthur.

"You see," he said, "if they're just sitting there in the studio looking very relaxed and, you know, just mentioning that they happen to know the Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything, and then eventually have to admit that in fact it's Forty-two, then the show's probably quite short.  No follow-up, you see."

"We have to have something that sounds good," said Benjy.

"Something that sounds good?" exclaimed Arthur.  "An Ultimate Question that sounds good?  From a couple mice?"

The mice bristled.

I think we all go through our days asking questions.  What am I going to have for breakfast?  What idiotic thing did Donald Trump tweet this morning?  Should I pack the leftover pizza for lunch?  Why am I so tired?  Is my car going to start?  Like I said, each 24-hour period is just a series of questions in search of answers.

Most daily questions are small, inconsequential.  For example, I could answer the questions in the previous paragraph with the following 21 words:
1.  Life cereal.
2.  I don't care.
3.  The answer to pizza is always "yes."
4.  I stayed up way too late last night.
5.  Yes.

However, there are always the big questions, the ultimate questions, that are more difficult, perhaps even unanswerable.  These questions haunt us all.  What is the meaning of life?  Why do good people have to suffer?  What's love go to do with it?  (Okay, I stole that last one from Tina Turner.)  The answers to these questions are really impossible to discern without lapsing into subjective observations.  The meaning of my life, you see, is different than the meaning of your life.

The question that I've been wrestling a great deal with recently is about suffering and love.  I've been married for almost 25 years.  Those years have been filled with all kinds of joy and happiness.  The birth of children.  Wonderful trips (Hawaii, New York City, Walt Disney World, California).  Milestones (anniversaries, first days of school, last days of school, graduations, new jobs).  And simple quiet times of togetherness.

Of course, there have been struggles.  A lot of them.  Mental illness.  Money.  Addiction.  Suicides.  Deaths.  Health scares.  It's a very human thing, I think, to forget the good times and focus more on the bad times.  It would be amazing if all the days of marriage were like the first days of marriage, full of passion and surprise and sex and romance.  Marriage isn't like that, however.  To sustain that honeymoon state is impossible.

Instead, marriage is about how love matures into deep, abiding friendship and trust.  Passion is important, but, over the years, two shared lives settle into rhythms and cycles.  Out of necessity, routines emerge.  That's how everyone survives in this hectic world.  A person who thrives on chaos and turmoil will eventually flame out like a comet in the atmosphere.  That kind of existence simply isn't sustainable.  In fact, I would venture to say that it's unhealthy.

I believe in marriage.  It's a sacred thing--two people joining their lives, creating something that didn't exist before.  It's mysterious and beautiful and confounding and maddening and sustaining.  My wife knows me better than anyone else on this planet.  I think I can say the same for her.  She knows my weaknesses and fears.  I know her weaknesses and fears.  And it's in that knowing that marriage survives.

Sure, there are droughts in every marital union.  Boredom even.  Temptations.  Yet, at the end of the day, it's about knowing who you can count on when your life is at its lowest.  When depression sets in.  When bills are plentiful and money is scarce.  When the biopsy comes back positive.  That is when marriage is most important.  When it carries you through the dark valleys.

If you are in a relationship with someone you care about deeply, here is what you should do tonight, whether you've known each other five days or fifty years.  Look into that person's eyes.  Say how important she or he is to you.  Mean it with all your heart.  Count yourself lucky because you share your life with your best friend.

Saint Marty really does believe that love always wins in the end.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

August 28: Wednesday Almost Evening, Bad Guy in My House, Feeling So Much

I didn't want to miss sending out some love to all my disciples.

I have had another crazy day of work and whatnot.  That is why this post is not going to be long or very deep.  I'm sort of exhausted.  I will return to Hitchhiker's soon.  We only have a few more pages left.  And I promise something more substantive tomorrow or the next day.  The first week of the semester is always an adjustment for me.

It is Wednesday almost evening.  In about an hour, I will be teaching my second class of the day--a film class.  That is my schedule this semester.  Two film classes, one that meets Monday and Wednesday afternoon, and one that meets Wednesday evening.  Pretty sweet assignments.

I find myself today cast in the role of the bad guy in my house.  I won't go into details, but it has to do with expensive tickets to a show/concert/YouTube thing my son wants to go to near Detroit in two weeks.  My wife, in her mania, spent a great deal of money on the tickets and promised to take my son to it.  Now that we are in a very difficult money situation because of my wife's mania, I can't see the expense of driving downstate to attend.  My son, last night, was so mad he couldn't talk to me, and my wife just kept on insisting that they were going.

I'm not a horrible, strict father.  I'm not a cheapskate, either.  However, I find myself  at this time in my life holding the fragile fabric of my family together with thread and scotch tape, and now I have two enemies in my home.  A component of mania is stubbornness mixed with a brand of irrationality.  There is simply no discussion on this topic with my wife in a calm manner.  She is going period.  My son says the same thing.

I must say that adulting is not what it's cracked up to be.  I much preferred the time when bills were something that parents dealt with and the most important thing in my life was trying to go out and drink or smoke pot with my friends.  Life was so much easier back then.

I love my wife and son.  At the moment, I know that the feeling isn't mutual.  My wife, because of her addiction and mental illness.  My son, because he's ten and doesn't understand money and relationships.

Saint Marty isn't sad today.  He's just tired of . . . feeling so much.

P. S.  Anybody interested in good tickets to the Demonetized Tour with Mini Ladd on September 7 in Detroit, let me know.  I'd like to get some of the money back possibly.

Monday, August 26, 2019

August 26: Thank You Very Much, Gratitude, I Am Loved

Arthur meets some mice . . .

"Let me introduce you," said Trillian.  "Arthur, this is Benjy mouse."

"Hi," said one of the mice.  His whiskers stroked what must have been a touch sensitive panel on the inside of the whisky glasslike affair, and it moved forward slightly.

"And this is Frankie mouse."

 The other mouse said, "Pleased to meet you," and did likewise.  

Arthur gaped.

"But aren't they . . ."

"Yes," said Trillian, "they are the mice I brought with me from the Earth."

She looked him in the eye and Arthur thought he detected the tiniest resigned shrug.

"Could you pass me that bowl of grated Arcturan Mega-Donkey?" she said.

Slartibartfast coughed politely

"Er, excuse me," he said.

"Yes, thank you, Slartibartfast," said Benjy mouse sharply, "you may go."

"What?  Oh . . . er, very well," said the old man, slightly taken aback, "I'll just go and get on with some of my fjords then."

"Ah, well, in fact that won't be necessary," said Frankie mouse.  "It looks very much as if we won't be needing the new Earth any longer."  He swiveled his pink little eyes.  "Not now that we have found a native of the planet who was there seconds before it was destroyed."

"What?" cried Slartibartfast, aghast.  "You can't mean that!  I've got a thousand glaciers poised and ready to roll over Africa!"

"Well, perhaps you can take a quick skiing holiday before you dismantle them," said Frankie acidly.

"Skiing holiday!" cried the old man.  "Those glaciers are works of art!  Elegantly sculpted contours, soaring pinnacles of ice, deep majestic ravines!  It would be sacrilege to go skiing on high art!"

"Thank you, Slartibartfast," said Benjy firmly.  "That will be all."

"Yes, sir," said the old man coldly, "thank you very much.  Well, goodbye, Earthman," he said to Arthur, "hope the life-style comes together."

There is false gratitude at the end of this passage.  The mice are trying to dismiss Slartibartfast with their "thank you," and Slartibartfast barely withholds his anger in his return "thank you."  There is no real sense of thankfulness in the exchange.  All three are friendly hostiles.  Or hostile friendlies.  Either way, the true intent of those two words in the above paragraphs is not meant to convey any sort of thanksgiving.

I have been quite remiss this month in blogging, having disappeared for days at a stretch.  August has been a particularly difficult month for me.  Please accept my apologies.  It's never my intent to be neglectful of the disciples of this blog, most of whom I know personally and count as friends.  This particular absence was filled with work and a new job (my fourth, if you count playing the pipe organ) and a funeral.

None of that, however, is my subject this evening.  My subject is gratitude.

Last night, at the Joy Center in Ishpeming, I was honored by a group of people (poets and friends) who have been aware of my struggles these past months.  They wanted to do something to help me and my family out.  So, they did what poets do.  They got together, read poems, held a raffle, collected love offerings, and showered me with grace.

Those of you who know me will be surprised to know that I don't really feel comfortable being the center of attention.  Yes, I love sharing my poems and writings.  Yes, if there's an open mic, I will show up, pages in my hands, and wait my turn.  And yes, almost every night I send these blog posts out into the world for people to read and (hopefully) appreciate.  That is all part of being a writer.

Yet, I am much more comfortable helping other people out, using my gifts and energies to make the universe better in some way.  My specific problems pale in comparison to a homeless, legless veteran wheeling himself to a warming center in the middle of winter.  I have not lost my home to a flood or hurricane or fire.  My children are healthy.  I have jobs that (most of the time) fill my cupboards and refrigerator with food.  By all accounts, I am one of the lucky ones.

Yet, even saints experience doubt and darkness.  Mother Teresa, for the last half century of her life, felt God's absence.  She wrote, "The place of God in my soul is blank--There is no God in me."  John of the Cross called this state the "dark night of the soul."  Feeling abandoned and lost.  Unloved.  In a small way, this is where I've been living for a while.

But my friends brought me light last night.  For those of you who were present, I was so humbled by all the hugs and laughter and words of love.  (I am going to be using the word "love" a lot in this post, so get used to it.)  Before the event began, I imagined just one or two people showing up.  It was one of those late August days filled with warmth, sunshine.  A last gasp of summer.  Who will come to a poetry reading tonight?, I thought to myself.

Then, car after car began pulling into the drive.  People kept coming through the door.  Good people.  Loving people.  People who inspire me all the time to be better than I am.  They hugged me over and over.  They read poems.  Told stories.  Ate cheese.  Laughed and cried.  

Above all, they reminded me that I am loved, something that I haven't felt for quite a while.  There is something sacred, I think, in being told that who you are, what you do, has made a difference in the world.  It felt like . . . prayer to me.  Like God had reached down and touched me through my friends (those who were there in body, and those who were there in spirit).  When I rose at the end of the evening to read my poems, my words seemed inadequate.  "Thank you" was not enough, will never be enough.

My struggles aren't over, but I have been gifted and graced with gratitude tonight.  

For those of you who don't believe in angels, let the scrutable Saint Marty assure you, they exist.

August 26: Joy Center, Friends and Family, "Bigfoot Gives Thanks"

A poem I shared last night at the Joy Center.

Thank you to all my friends and family, near and far, body and spirit.

Marty is a better saint because of all of you.

Bigfoot Gives Thanks

by:  Martin Achatz

after Gerard Manley Hopkins

He doesn’t chase down a turkey, wring
its pink neck like a wet dish rag,
gut it with his thumb, cook it
in sun and fly and maggot for days,
serve it with sides of chewed yam,
moose marrow, fermented pumpkin
guts, green with time, smelling
strong as a bear den at winter’s end.
He doesn’t smooth his hair with mud,
brush his teeth with fresh milkweed,
cram himself into a church pew
beside blue-haired widows who look
at his gorilla arms and long
to feel their dead husbands’ dark
embraces in bed at night again.
Doesn’t stand when the organ
starts breathing music, raise the siren
of his voice to “Now Thank We
All Our God” until the stained glass
rattles and fractures, letting seams
of pure white stitch all gathered
with the shook foil of the world.
No.  His way is simpler, a morning
glory leaning toward day, unfolding,
shaking off the teary dew of darkness.
Stand outside at dawn or dusk.  The bent
world is charged with his hairy
gratitude, in the long-legged shadows
of first and last light as they stretch
and stretch and stretch down the street,
across railroad trestle, through hayfields,
cornfields, into pines and poplar--
further and further and further--mountain,
swamp and lake, canyon and cave,
ocean, glacier, savanna, desert,
until, at last, they have touched it
all.  All the grandeur of deep down things.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

August 22: Sudden Realization, Adjusting, Help

Arthur is in for a little surprise . . .

"What happened to you?" demanded Arthur.

"Well," said Zaphod, attacking a boneful of grilled muscle, "our guests here have been gassing us and zapping our minds and being generally weird and have now given us a rather nice meal to make it up to us.  Here," he said, hoicking out a lump of evil-smelling meat from a bowl, "have some Vegan Rhino's cutlet.  It's delicious if you happen to like that sort of thing."

"Hosts?" said Arthur.  "What hosts?  I don't see any . . ."

A small voice said, "Welcome to lunch, Earth creature."

Arthur glanced around and suddenly yelped.

"Ugh!" he said.  ""There are mice on the table!"

There was an awkward silence as everyone looked pointedly at Arthur.

He was busy staring at two white mice sitting in what looked like whisky glasses on the table.  He heard the silence and glanced around at everyone.

"Oh!" he said, with sudden realization.  "Oh, I'm sorry.  I wasn't quite prepared for . . ."

Arthur, the lone Earth man, isn't quite prepared to meet talking white mice.  This sort of thing exists outside of Arthur's normal expectations.  White mice are not things to sit at a dinner table with.  White mice, in Earth terms, are pets or pests or the subjects of laboratory experiments.  So, it takes Arthur a few seconds to adjust his view of the Universe.

Recently, I have found myself doing this a lot.  Reconsidering.  Rethinking.  Adjusting.  Notice that I am avoiding the word "change."  It's a lot easier for me to say that I'm "adjusting" versus "changing."  For some reason, adjusting sounds easier to me.  It's just a matter of making more room, sort of like when I invite my son to sleep with me if he has a bad dream.  I don't change my entire sleeping arrangement.  I simply move over, give him a pillow, let him get comfortable.

My daughter's car needs some work on her brakes, to the tune of about $500.  I found that out this evening.  I had to adjust to that news.  Because of this, I also had to adjust my plans for paying bills this week.  My daughter needs her car for Monday.  She starts college and her new job.  She needs wheels.  So, I simply said to the mechanic, "Get 'er done," or something like that.  (I don't speak colloquial male speak very often.  It's a foreign language to me, with words "caliper" and "brake pad.")

After I hung up the phone, I said a little prayer.  It was pretty simple, consisting of one word:  "help."  I have been using this prayer quite often.  It works in many situations.  If it's for something like finding a parking spot, say it once--"help."  If you're throwing up in the bathroom with an attack of vertigo, I recommend saying it at least five times, in quick succession--"helphelphelphelphelp."  If you're dealing with incredible loss or struggle (the dath of a loved one, alcoholism, mental illness), it can be used as a mantra or chant for as long as you want--"helphelphelphelphelphelphelphelphelp!"

That word really is about surrender.  You are admitting that you are powerless.  You're handing over the keys to your car and letting someone else take the wheel for a while, because you've driven into a swamp.  Of course, the real truth is that control is a fallacy.  If I apply for a new job, I'm not in control of whether I get that job or not after I submit my cover letter and resume.  If I'm sick, I dose myself with cold medicine and Nyquil and hope for the best.  If mental illness or alcoholism or (insert overwhelming problem here) is your issue, the sooner you admit that you're not in control, the better off you'll be.

Help.  I need help.  That's a prayer.  An easy, simple way of saying, "I give up!  It's all yours, God!  Round up some grace for me!"  I can say it anywhere, at any time.

I said it just now, for a person who's sick and doesn't recognize it.  I say it for this person's spouse and children.  I say it as an act of complete surrender.  I give this person and family over to God.

Say it with Saint Marty.  Loudly.  Often.  Don't be ashamed.  Try to sleep tonight, knowing that it's on the way. 

ADDENDUM:  My sister is helping to fix my daughter's car.  That's how effective that little prayer can be.  Grace walked through my front door.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

August 21: Light Was Rather Subdued, Long Light, Daughter's First Job

A family reunion of sorts is about to take place . . .

A short aircar trip brought Arthur and the old Magrathean to a doorway.  They left the car and went through the door into a waiting room full of glass-topped tables and Plexiglas awards.  Almost immediately, a light flashed above the door at the other side of the room and they entered.

"Arthur!  You're safe!" a voice cried.

"Am I?" said Arthur, rather startled.  "Oh, good."

The lighting was rather subdued and it took a moment or so to see Ford, Trillian, and Zaphod sitting round a large table beautifully decked out with exotic dishes, strange sweetmeats, and bizarre fruits.  They were stuffing their faces.

In a Magrathean waiting room, the crew of the Heart of Gold, minus Marvin the depressed robot, is reunited.  They've been separated for close to 50 pages at this point.  The key phrase for me from the above passage is "The lighting was rather subdued . . ."

I just went outside a little while ago.  It was close to 8 p.m., and I had spent the previous two-plus hours cleaning my house.  Sweeping.  Mopping.  Vacuuming.  Straightening.  Scrubbing sinks and the toilet.  Emptying garbages.  After all that, I was heading to McDonald's to pick up some dinner for my family.

I was greeted by the long light of late summer.  I'm sure you know what I'm talking about.  Near dusk at the end of August, the sun casts the world in tall shadows.  The light is almost golden, and everything seems to stretch in the glow.  I only notice this phenomenon as we approach September.

To me, it sort of symbolizes the last gasp of summer.  In some places, the leaves on the trees have already begun to turn toward autumn.  On my street, green is pretty much holding its ground.  But, after a few frosty mornings and evenings, the switch will happen.  The trees and bushes will put away their summer wardrobes, and, one surprising morning, I will realize that I have to drag out my fall jacket.

The season of long light is here.  Summer is drawing to a close.  That is my wisdom for this evening.  I have to say that I will not miss the summer of 2019.  It has not been good or rejuvenating for me.  In fact, I'm ready to place this year on the shelf with a few other bad ones--2015 (the death of my sister), 2005 (a bad year for my wife's bipolar and addiction), 2014 (the death of my brother) . . .

Of course, 2019 hasn't been all bad.  I got elected to serve a second term as Poet Laureate of the Upper Peninsula.  That was good.  My daughter graduated from high school.  Good.  My son is headed into middle school.  Good.  Lots of long light moments.  Things ending and beginning at the same time.

I know that life is all about moments like this.  Something comes to a close.  Something else starts to blossom.  My daughter is ecstatic tonight.  She landed her first job today.  In fact, she landed two jobs, so she had to turn one of them down.  At the moment, she is brimming with self confidence.  I am so proud of her, and sad to let go of my little girl in pigtails. 

So, in this season of long light, Saint Marty celebrates his daughter's accomplishment.  A first job is a big deal.  "Now," she said, "I can start paying for my own gas."  Can Saint Marty get an "amen" to that?

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

August 20: Just Life, Newton's Third Law, Action and Reaction

A little passage about cause and effect . . .

It is of course well known that careless talk costs lives, but the full scale of the problem is not always appreciated.

For instance, at the very moment that Arthur said, "I seem to be having tremendous difficulty with my life-style," a freak wormhole opened up in the fabric of the space-time continuum and carried his words far far back in time across almost infinite reaches of space to a distant Galaxy where strange and warlike beings were poised on the brink of frightful interstellar battle.  

The two opposing leaders were meeting for the last time.

A dreadful silence fell across the conference table as the commander of the Vl'hurgs, resplendent in his black jeweled battle shorts, gazed levelly at the G'Gugvuntt leader squatting opposite him in a cloud of green sweet-smelling steam, and, with a million sleek and horribly beweaponed star cruisers poised to unleash electric death at his single word of command, challenged the vile creature to take back what it had said about his mother.

The creature stirred in his sickly broiling vapor, and at that very moment the words I seem to be having tremendous difficulty with my life-style drifted across the conference table.

Unfortunately, in the Vl'Hurg tongue this was the most dreadful insult imaginable, and there was nothing for it but to wage terrible war for centuries.

Eventually, of course, after their Galaxy had been decimated over a few thousand years, it was realized that the whole thing had been a ghastly mistake, and so the two opposing battle fleets settled their few remaining differences in order to launch a joint attack on our own Galaxy--now positively identified as the source of the offending remark.

For thousands more years, the mighty ships tore across the empty wastes of space and finally dived screaming on to the first planet they came across--which happened to be the Earth--where due to a terrible miscalculation of scale the entire battle fleet was accidentally swallowed by a small dog.

Those who study the complex interplay of cause and effect in the history of the Universe say that this sort of thing is going on all the time, but that we are powerless to prevent it.

"It's just life," they say.

Cause and effect.  One action sets into motion a chain of reactions.  That's Newton's third law of thermodynamics:  "for every action (force) in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction."  Obviously, the implication of Newton's rule reaches far beyond simple physical forces.  Think about it.  Words can set things into motion, as demonstrated in the passage above. Or how about this:  one simple search on the Internet leads to another search on the Internet leads to another, and, months or years later, you find yourself in incredible debt or alienated from people you love and care about.  Actions and reactions.

That's the way things work.  I, myself, have always followed the rule of sending loving actions out into the universe.  Love begets love.  If you send anger out, you're going to end up with a black eye, eventually.  That's why, in situations where I have a choice between love or anger, joy or despair, generosity or greed, I will always try to embrace the light, even if it seems crazy at the time.

I have great, close friends and family who love me probably more than I realize.  Even when I am slogging through a dark swamp, they are always there for me, like the stars, guiding me to a better place.  Reminding me what love really is.  Yes, I stumble and fall sometimes along the way.  I get muddy, wet.  I battle R.O.U.S.'s.  (For those non-Princess Bride fans out there--those are "Rodents Of Unusual Size.")  I'm not perfect.  I feel sorry for myself sometimes.  Wallow in misery.  Everybody does it.

However, following Newton's third law, misery will only bring more misery.  Self-pity attracts depression and despair.  So, I have been trying to do something positive every day, whether it's a blog post about love or dropping a five dollar bill into a card for a coworker who is facing some challenge.  The universe has a way of returning favors like this.  If you're religious, you call this "grace."  If you're Christian, you call it the Holy Spirit.  The breath of God.

This evening, I have been the recipient of grace.  Work that will help me to pay some bills.  It's hard work, but I don't mind hard work.  I'm used to it.  So, I give thanks for this opportunity, this extra job.  It's a blessing, and it will hopefully bring more blessings into my life.

Saint Marty is full of gratitude tonight.

Some people who remind Saint Marty to be happy:

Monday, August 19, 2019

August 19: Fourth Anniversary, Sally, Heart Breaks a Little

Today is the fourth anniversary of my sister Sally's death.

Hard to believe that it was only four years ago.  So much has changed since she's been gone.  Still miss her daily.  Her no-nonsense approach.  How, when she thought I was being stupid, she would look at me over her reading glasses, her eyes saying it all:  "Bullshit."

I miss her generosity of spirit.  She dug my family out of quite a few holes when we needed it the most.  Her love came with no strings.  She gave and never expected anything in return.  Maybe that's why everyone loved her so much.

So, for today, I present a poem I wrote earlier this summer for her.

I miss you, Sal.  I love you.  I wish you were here.  I know you're still looking out for me and my family, the way you always did.

Saint Marty heart always breaks a little on this day.

Vigil Strange I Kept in Ann Arbor One Morning

by:  Martin Achatz

I sat by the bed railings, listened to you breathe.
Not the watery gasps of two weeks later, but breaths doing
the work they were meant to do, carrying oxygen to organs,
limbs, pink fingernails, fissured lips, to your damaged
and damaging brain where your voice nestled between
tumors, walled up against the apocalypse of your body.

I sat.  Held your hand.  Made small talk about the humid air
of Ann Arbor, school and work, because I couldn’t bring myself
to make big talk about goodbyes or letting go.  No, I talked to you
the way I talked when we used to eat lunch together, the smells
of vinaigrette and flax seed and bananas around us.  Everyday talk,
because I wasn’t ready for last day talk.

I told you about the film classes I would teach in the fall, listed
the movies we would watch.  Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights,
Singin’ in the Rain, Citizen Kane.  I sang a song to you,
the one Gene Kelly sings to Debbie Reynolds.  You’re my lucky
star.  I saw you from afar.  I got the words wrong.

I vigiled there for an hour, while your body went about the business
of closing up shop.  Never once did I say “I love you” or “I’m sorry for”
or “Don’t go.”  Instead, I talked about Charles Foster Kane and his sled.
Rosebud burning in the furnace at the end, crackling, peeling, ashing.
And, in those last minutes before the official acts of hospice and dying
took over, I asked you one question--“Do you want some ice?”--and you grunted
at me.  I placed a cube on your chapped tongue and watched it melt
down your chin.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

August 18: The Face of God, Two Beautiful Young People, Happiness and Hope

"To love another person is to see the face of God."
-- Victor Hugo

I am sorry for my prolonged absence from posting regularly.  I have been traveling and performing and wedding-ing.  I have not had much time to simply pause and reflect until this moment.

Yesterday afternoon, I attended the wedding of two beautiful young people.  My nephew and his fiance.  It was a day of sun and warmth and joy.  They got married in a garden filled with the sound of laughter, waterfall, insects.  I love being witness to the beginning of something wonderful.  It provides me with a healthy dose of happiness and hope.

Life is all about choices.  We choose what time to get up in the morning.  What to have for breakfast.  What the day will entail--working or reading or poet-ing or walking the dog.  We also choose who to spend those 16 or 18 waking hours with.  Children or coworkers or family.  Most importantly, as the day draws to a close, a lucky person returns home to someone who gives meaning to everything, even the smallest moments.  Making a bed.  Tying shoes.  Opening mail.

Of course, having this kind of day/life is a choice.  Finding love is about opening yourself up.  And it's also about making the choice to persevere, even in the face of incredible trials.  Marriage is not a sprint.  It's not always filled with the first blush of passion.  Those hot, breathless hours of infatuation.  No.  Marriage is a ultra-marathon, filled with meadows and mountains.  Cool streams in which to swim naked.  Desert roads to walk down. hand-in-hand

It is important to make the choice to say "I do" to someone you love.  It's even more important to stick by that person, in the face of anything--loss, temptation, depression, despair.  To keep saying "I do."  Because "I do" doubles the joys life provides, and it halves the sorrows.  I realize that this is a cliche, but it is a cliche that I firmly believe.  You simply don't give up on love.

That is why being witness yesterday when my nephew and his now wife said "I do" makes me happy.  Hopeful.  Love is sacred.  Even after close to 25 years, I still feel the same way about my wife.  Those years have been filled with pain and heartache.  But they've also given me so much joy, so much laughter.

When I look into my wife's eyes, feel her arms around me, I really do see the face of God.

I wish the same thing for my nephew and his beautiful bride today.  Hold each other tight, in times of joy and in times of tremendous loss.  Look into each other's eyes.  You will see God looking back at you.

Saint Marty sends you his love.

August 18: Gray Dark Morning, Loss, "Thoughts of Light and Darkness on the Winter Solstice"

A gray, dark morning after a day of sun and warmth and celebration.

I know that life is about seasons.  Seasons of joy followed by seasons of sorrow.  Seasons of peace followed by seasons of conflict.  Seasons of plenty followed by seasons of loss.  I get that.

But God sometimes seems to throw road blocks in the way happiness.  Things that make no sense whatsoever.  When that happens, I have to ask myself, "Where is God in this moment?"  It feels as though God takes a step back, turns off His phone, doesn't answer our texts on purpose.  (Of course, I know that God doesn't cause tragedy.  He doesn't work that way.  God takes human tragedy and transforms it, if we let Him.  Yet, in my limited human understanding, I sometimes still feel abandoned in a crisis.  Even Christ felt this in His most human moments.  "My God, my God!  Why have you abandoned me?"  Sound familiar?)

Today is one of those days.  A season of joy followed by sorrow.  I am at a loss for words this afternoon, so I turn to poetry, as I always do.  A poem I wrote about two years ago for a person I love who was struggling with grief.

Saint Marty sends healing thoughts out into the universe this rainy day.

Thoughts of Darkness and Light
on the Winter Solstice

by:  Martin Achatz

The night, as long as Cecil B. Demille’s
The Ten Commandments, starts with baby
wail in bulrushes, stones the size
of elephants, plagues of blood and darkness.
Ribs of light crack off, disappear
into the belly of star and cloud and cold.
No moon, just endless moments of ash,
smolder, embers of everything day.
I sit in the lobby of a hotel in a city
at the edge of polar night, think of you,
the eclipse of your life, how light
stays in the corners where you still find
pieces of paper with her handwriting,
books dogeared by her fingers,
presents purchased, waiting
for the bright wrap of morning.
Darkness can be a friend, hold you
when bright grief batters your heart, sneaks
into those fissures, cracks,
like light seeping under a door frame
into a lightless room.  Darkness holds
the possibility that you might see her again,
her shadow fingers in your hair,
rearranging gray locks, shadow
palms on your cheeks,
warming paper skin, shadow
words in your ears, whispering
about the resurrection of Christmas,
how you will find her in an evergreen
bush, burning with mountain fire.
She will carve her name in the stone
tablets of your heart.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

August 15: Rather Be Happy Than Right, Eating Pancakes, Meaningless Relationships

Arthur is having a conversation with Slartibartfast about worry and distress and paranoia . . .

"Maybe.  Who cares?" said Slartibartfast before Arthur got too excited.  "Perhaps I'm old and tired," he continued, "but I always think that the chances of finding out what really is going on are so absurdly remote that the only thing to do is to say hang the sense of it and just keep yourself occupied.  Look at me:  I design coastlines.  I got an award for Norway."

He rummaged around in a pile of debris and pulled out a large Plexiglas block with his name on it and a model of Norway molded into it.

"Where's the sense in that?" he said.  "None that I've been able to make out.  I've been doing fjords all my life.  For a fleeting moment they become fashionable and I get a major award."

He turned it over in his hands with a shrug and tossed it aside carelessly, but not so carelessly that it didn't land on something soft.

"In this replacement Earth we're building they've given me Africa to do and of course I'm doing it with all fjords again because I happen to like them, and I'm old-fashioned enough to think that they give a lovely baroque feel to a continent.  And they tell me it's not equatorial enough.  Equatorial!"  He gave a hollow laugh.  "What does it matter?  Science has achieved some wonderful things, of course, but I'd far rather be happy than right any day."

"And are you?"

"No.  That's where it all falls down, of course."

"Pity," said Arthur with sympathy.  "It sounded like quite a good life-style otherwise."

Somewhere on the wall a small white light flashed.

"Come," said Slartibartfast, "you are to meet the mice.  Your arrival on the planet has caused considerable excitement.  It has already been hailed, so I gather, as the third most improbable event in the history of the Universe."

"What were the first two?"

"Oh, probably just coincidences," said Slartibartfast carelessly.  He opened the door and stood waiting for Arthur to follow.

Arthur glanced around him once more, and then down at himself, at the sweaty disheveled clothes he had been lying in the mud in on Thursday morning.

"I seem to be having tremendous difficulty with my life-style," he muttered to himself.

"I beg your pardon?" asked the old man mildly.

"Oh, nothing," said Arthur, "only joking."

There is one statement in the above passage that strikes me the most, that I've been thinking about for close to five days now.  I've been struggling with it, actually.  It is when Startibartfast states:  " . . . I'd far rather be happy than right any day."  It's a really difficult conundrum.  Happiness over truth.  Happiness over self-respect.  Happiness over morality.  All of these things are rolled into Slartibartfast's tiny proclamation.

Of course, Slartibartfast is neither happy nor right, so he's not really a great gauge.  But the quest for happiness is eternal.  I don't think there's a person reading this post who would choose to be unhappy.  That's a no-brainer.  However, it's the idea of compromising yourself for that happiness that has kept me from finishing this post since Sunday.

Yes, I started writing this little reflection about five days ago, and then I stopped because I didn't really know how to answer the question of happiness versus rightness or uprightness.  I still don't.  I honestly contemplated deleting all of what I've written here and starting over.  I'm tired and alone in a hotel room in Calumet at the moment.  Not really the best time or place to think about a battle between being happy or being right.

It is Thursday morning now.  I fell asleep last night with this post glowing on my laptop screen, still unfinished.  I am no closer to an answer.  I guess I'm wondering if happiness and rightness are mutually exclusive things.  If I do what is right, shouldn't that make me happy?  If I'm happy, doesn't that mean that I'm doing what is right?  Sure there are activities that I could engage in that would give me pleasure but that would be really bad for me and/or the people I love--taking drugs, for example.  Quitting my medical office job.  Eating pancakes for every meal.  But pleasure doesn't always mean that I'm doing the right thing.  Taken to the extreme, pleasure can lead to addiction.

I guess that's the answer that I've been circling for days.  If I'm having fun but hurting myself or people I love, then that's not really happiness.  It's selfishness.  It's putting myself before everything and everyone else.  Sometimes, that's necessary for your health and sanity.  However, a life that is simply a series of selfish acts is pretty meaningless.  It won't lead to fulfillment.  It will lead to loneliness and isolation.  Meaningless relationships.

I know this is pretty deep for eight o'clock in the morning.  But I think I finally got it.  The moments that give me the most happiness are the moments when I do things for other people.  My kids.  My wife.  My friends.  By lifting others up, I lift myself up, as well.  That is true happiness.  That is true rightness.  They don't exist on separate planets.  Yes, there's tough love, where you have to do or say something that, on the surface, appears to be hard, even unfeeling.  That's the tough part.  In the end, though, it's all about trying to help someone you love.  That's the easy part.

I can't choose between happiness and rightness.  I can't separate them.  They are both necessary.  Both important.  In the end, for me, it's all about love.  Sometimes, love is going for a walk at sunset with someone, holding hands and listening to waves on a beach.  Easy.  Other times, love is holding up a mirror and letting a person see their mistakes.  Difficult.

Saint Marty believes, however, that, in the end, love always wins.

August 15: Extra Post, Sneak Peek, "What Auntie Em Did"

Because I have been absent for so long, I'm going to do a few extra posts in the following days, to catch up.  Today, I am in Calumet to do a show at the Calumet Theatre this evening.  One part of the show is a parody of The Wizard of Oz.  I wrote a poem for that portion of the show.  This is a sneak peek of tonight's performance, I guess.

I think that this poem is good.  It's about issues that I've been dealing with a lot recently.  The struggles of love, I guess I could call it.  If you heard me read this poem on Monday night, it's been revised.  A lot. 

Saint Marty hopes it's decent.

What Auntie Em Did

by:  Martin Achatz

The day Dorothy disappeared 
into the cornstalks, Emily plumped
the pillow on Dorothy's bed, smoothed
the hand-stitched quilt over the straw
tick mattress, stooped to pick up
a blue hair ribbon from the plank
floor.  After that, she went to the kitchen,
rolled out a pie crust, peeled, sliced
tart apples into a tin, sprinkled them
with sugar, cinnamon, draped them
with dough, fluted the edges into waves,
put it into the stove to bake.
Emily washed the dishes right away,
the way her mother taught her,
left them to dry on a cloth
near the sink.  Then, because she couldn't
think of anything else to busy with,
she pushed the screened door
open, stepped onto the porch,
stood staring into the green
sky, waited for the smell of cooking
apples to draw love back to her,
like a moth dizzy for flames,
a newborn crazed for colostrum,
a cyclone slurping houses
down its ruby-slippered throat.