Monday, September 30, 2019

September 30: Horsehead Nebula, Change, Pink Sand

The crew of the Heart of Gold has escaped annihilation again . . .

That night, as the Heart of Gold was busy putting a few light-years between itself and the Horsehead Nebula, Zaphod lounged under the small palm tree on the bridge trying to bang his brain into shape with massive Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters; Ford and Trillian sat in a corner discussing life and matters arising from it; and Arthur took to his bed to flip through Ford's copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  Since he was going to have to live in the place, he reasoned, he'd better start finding out something about it.

Arthur doesn't know where he's going.  His home planet is no more.  Everything that was familiar or brought him comfort is gone.  He's lost everything.  And now he's sailing through the universe in a stolen spaceship with a couple aliens, a girl who rejected him at a party, and a suicidal robot.  That sounds pretty rock bottom to me.

I understand Arthur's predicament, when everything joyful and safe turns alien and dangerous.  It's not a pleasant place to be.  It's like waking up one morning and realizing that the world as you knew it has ceased to exist.  You have to reinvent your whole life.

I don't understand some people's need for change.  Like change is always good and heals whatever ails your heart.  I'm hear to tell you that change can be a pretty destructive force, as well.  It can tear families apart.  Create unemployment.  Cause addiction.  As much as change can be a constructive force, it can be pretty destructive, too.

Now, how you deal with change is a whole other thing.  Arthur is choosing to learn and adapt to his new life situation.  That's a healthy and positive reaction.  He can do nothing to un-destroy the planet Earth.  Or bring back his family.  He has to accept his plight and make that best of it.

I wish I had a Hitchhiker's Guide to my life.  Something that I could refer to for answers.  Reality, unfortunately, is not as easy as fiction most of the time.  You can't jump on a spaceship headed for the Horsehead Nebula to escape mental illness.  And you can't reprogram someone you love to eliminate addiction.  If only it were that easy.

Instead, you hold on.  Pray.  Hope.  Wait.  Pray some more.  Hope some more.  Along the way, there might be bright moments on the surface of beautiful, alien worlds.  Or dark moments of Vogons torturing you with Vogon poetry. 

Yesterday evening, for me, was Vogon poetry.  This evening, a warm beach of pink sand and purple seas on some distant world.  I feel some hope tonight.  Like God is watching out for me.  Don't ask me why.  I just do.

Saint Marty wants to stay on this pink planet of hope for a little while.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

September 29: Sunday Night, Feeling Prepared, Powerlessness

Sunday night.  Probably my least favorite time of the week.  It's all about getting my 11-year-old son to take a shower and put on his pajamas.  Making my lunch.  Setting out my work clothes for tomorrow.  Double checking that my lessons are planned and my books are gathered.  Leaving nothing to chance before I go to bed.

However, I know that I'm going to forget something.  I always do.  That's the way I roll, always feeling as if I'm forgetting something.  It could be a bill that is coming due.  Or an assignment I forgot to grade for my students.  Or some writing deadline that went whooshing by me like a freight train.  There's always some shadow looming over my shoulder that I can't quite make out.

I like feeling prepared.  That's why I addressed my Christmas cards for this year back in February.  And I bought a Christmas present for my nephew back in January in Florida.  At the moment, I'm planning to order the pictures that I'll stuff into those Christmas cards.  I just made a reservation for a little trip I'm taking to Calumet on Thursday, and I've completed two writing tasks that were on my to-do list for today.  Like I said, I like feeling prepared.

Of course, there are things for which you can never prepare yourself.  Illnesses.  Car problems.  Marriage problems.  Money problems.  Kid problems.  These things strike like lightning from a blue sky.  There's no way to anticipate them.  That's when you go into survival mode and live minute-by-minute, as opposed to day-by-day.

I've been doing the minute-by-minute thing for quite some time now.  It's exhausting.  And I don't see an end in sight.  Yesterday, I talked about everyone leading lives of quiet desperation, as Thoreau said.  It's a pretty apt description.  You can prepare and prepare all you want, but there will always come that moment when lightning strikes and everything changes.  Then, chaos for a while.  Desperation.

I'm looking for a way to end this post on a positive note.  Something hopeful to say.  The only thing that you can do sometimes is acknowledge your powerlessness and give your problem up to your higher power.  Because it's always at the lowest times when God steps in and helps out.  That's pretty much the way it works.  When you hit rock bottom, there's nowhere else to go.

Saint Marty embraced his powerlessness quite some time ago.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

September 27-28: Bored and Depressed, Lulu and Marvin, Love

Marvin, the depressed robot, reappears . . .

Ford could sense it and found it most mysterious--a ship and two policemen seemed to have gone spontaneously dead.  In his experience the Universe simply didn't work like that.

The other three could sense it too, but they could sense the bitter cold even more and hurried back into the Heart of Gold suffering from an acute attack of no curiosity.

Ford stayed, and went to examine the Blagulon ship.  As he walked, he nearly tripped over an inert steel figure lying face down in the cold dust.

"Marvin!" he exclaimed.  "What are you doing?"

"Don't feel you have to take any notice of me, please," came a muffled drone.

"But how are you, metalman?" said Ford.

"Very depressed."

"What's up?"

"I don't know," said Marvin, "I've never been there."

"Why," said Ford, squatting down beside him and shivering, "are you lying face down in the dust?"

"It's a very effective way of being wretched," said Marvin.  "Don't pretend you want to talk to me.  I know you hate me."

"No, I don't."

"Yes, you do, everybody does.  It's part of the shape of the Universe.  I only have to talk to somebody and they begin to hate me.  Even robots hate me.  If you just ignore me I expect I shall probably go away."

He jacked himself up to his feet and stood resolutely facing the opposite direction.

"That ship hated me," he said dejectedly, indicating the policecraft.

"That ship?" said Ford in sudden excitement.  "What happened to it?  Do you know?"

"It hated me because I talked to it."

"You talked to it?" exclaimed Ford.  "What do you mean you talked to it?"

"Simple.  I got very bored and depressed, so I went and plugged myself in to its external computer feed.  I talked to the computer at great length and explained my view of the Universe to it," said Marvin.

"And, what happened?" pressed Ford.

"It committed suicide," said Marvin, and stalked off back to the Heart of Gold.

It's pretty difficult dealing with chronic depression.  Yes, even a robot with chronic depression is difficult, even though you can simply deactivate or reprogram it.  It takes a lot of energy to combat the constant barrage of darkness.  Having dealt with my wife's depressive episodes, and dealt with my own depression, I understand both sides of this equation.

At the moment, someone I care about very deeply is dealing with someone who seems to be dealing with depression/anger issues.  (Yes, this is going to be one of those posts where I write in veiled terms and changed names, like a psychiatrist writing a case study for the American Psychiatric Association.  It's not my place to reveal this person, or her personal business, to the virtual world.)  Let's call my person "Lulu," just because I like typing that name.

Now, Lulu has a significant other who is much like Marvin the robot at the moment.  His view of the universe pretty much mirrors Marvin's view.  People (and robots) who are depressed can't help it.  It's all about brain chemistry.  Speaking as a person who has suffered from episodes of depression, I understand where Lulu's significant other is.  Nothing seems bright.  There are brief vacations from the darkness, times with family or friends that make you laugh and forget for a little while.  But, when you return to your normal day, your normal routine, the darkness is always  there waiting for you.

Sometimes, when you're depressed or unhappy, those emotions can mask themselves as dissatisfaction with your significant other.  Because you are feeling inadequate, you find inadequacies with your significant other.  You question their loyalty or love.  Trust becomes difficult.  Remember, all of this exists only in the mind of the depressed person.  Love and loyalty and trust have nothing to do with it.

Lulu has done nothing wrong.  She loves her Marvin very much.  Yet, Lulu is struggling to remain happy and positive around Marvin's constant negativity and self doubt.  These are two really good people who have been committed to each other for several years.  I can't do anything for Lulu but offer love and a open ear, if she wants to talk or vent or complain.  The same goes for Marvin, but he is less likely to open up to me about what he's going through.  Emotionally, he's a little closed off.

So, I offer you my case study:  Lulu and Marvin.  Two people who love each other but are being wedged apart by depression.  More than likely, they will be okay.  Marvin will come out of his depression, as he's done before, and realize all of his perceived trust issues are simply that.  Perceived.  Not real.  The product of his current state of mind.

I'm sending some positive energy out into the universe for them both.  For some sunlight and happiness.  As I've been saying quite a bit over the last few months in this blog, I firmly believe that love always wins.  In the face of depression.  Addiction.  Adult financial or work problems. Teenage hormone problems.  If love guides your actions, it will always win.

But don't take Saint Marty's word for it.  Try it yourself.  Send some love out into the world.  See what happens.

September 28: Quiet Desperation, Joys and Sorrow, "Before 4:30 Mass"

Henry David Thoreau wrote, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." 

I agree with that statement.  Think about it.  Walking through Walmart, imagine the stories of every person that you pass in the aisles.  Each person has a story, full of joys and sorrows, triumphs and failures.  And we all started out the same way:  newborn babies, placed in our mothers' arms, pink and innocent, full of all kinds of hope.

I remind myself of that fact almost every day.  The man who flips me off as I'm driving down the highway may have just received a cancer diagnosis.  The woman who glares at me when I bump into her shopping cart may have a grown child suffering from schizophrenia.  The teenage boy who jokes about me with his pack of friends in McDonald's may have a father or mother with a drinking problem.  We just don't know.

I am not immune to being judgmental.  I'm human, and I fall into the same traps as everybody else.  But that makes me one of the mass of men, as well.  Leading my life of quiet desperation.

Saint Marty is in good company.

Before 4:30 Mass

by:  Martin Achatz

I look down from the choir loft
At the silence gathered below.
Mrs. MacDonald wears her wool coat
In the same pew she sat in
With her parents, seventy years ago.
She looks behind her, as if she expects
Her father to march up the aisle,
Sit next to her, his boots
Still red with dust from the mines.
Father George flits from person-to-person,
Like a hummingbird in an apple tree,
Pausing long enough to taste
The blossom of each sinner's grief
Before moving on.  My daughter, white
Acolyte, lights candles on the altar,
Checks chalice and paten, makes sure
Gospel and cloth are in place
For the coming show.  So much quiet
Desperation fills the sanctuary,
Everyone craving a piece of holiness
To bring home, bake with eggs and oatmeal,
Spaghetti and meatloaf for the week.
I reach down, press the red button.
The pipe organ takes a long breath,
Groans to life, resurrected again.
It waits for my fingers, holds
Music in its gold pipes that reach
Up and up to the vaulted ceiling,
To the bell in the steeple.  It waits
For that low D of the first hymn,
Voices rising like seagulls
Above the waves of Galilee.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

September 26: Unnaturally Dark and Silent, Son's Birthday, Generous Heart

The return of our heroes to the Heart of Gold starship . . .

The aircar flung itself through the air at R17 and above, deposited them next to the Heart of Gold which stood starkly on the frozen ground like a bleached bone, and then precipitately hurled itself back in the direction whence they had come, presumably on important business of its own.  

Shivering, the four of them stood and looked at the ship.

Beside it stood another one.

It was the Blagulon Kappa policecraft, a bulbous sharklike affair, slate-green in color and smothered with black stenciled letters of varying degrees of size and unfriendliness.  The letters informed anyone who cared to read them as to where the ship was from, what section of the police it was assigned to, and where the power feeds should be connected.

It seemed somehow unnaturally dark and silent, even for a ship whose two-man crew was at that moment lying asphyxiated in a smoke-filled chamber several miles beneath the ground.  It is one of those curious things that is impossible to explain or define, but one can sense when a ship is completely dead.

There is quite a bit of truth in the last statement of this little passage.  When something is completely dead, you can sense it without even checking for power or a pulse.  It exudes a kind of quiet that is unlike any other kind of quiet.  A quiet that simply lacks any spark of life.

Tonight, my house is not dead.  In fact, up until a few minutes ago, it was filled with adolescent excitement.  It was my son's eleventh birthday today.  We celebrated with cupcakes and singing and presents.  My son did a little happy dance that was a cross between a hula and tango.  He was quite excited.

It's difficult for me to believe that so much time has passed since the day I first saw him being wheeled out of the operating room in an incubator, on his way to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.  He screamed his lungs out the whole way.  Now, he's sleeping by himself, without the need for one of us to stick around until he drifts off.

He has grown up quite a bit, even since the beginning of the school year.  He deals with his emotions better.  Doesn't fly off the handle so much.  Breathes himself through bouts of anger and frustration.  Plus, he seems more sensitive and appreciative of all the stuff that my wife and I do for him every day.  For example, he's saving his allowance right now to buy me a birthday present.  That's right.  Instead of blowing his cash on a new video game or pizza, he's stockpiling it to purchase something for me.  Amazing.

Now, my son is fast asleep, dreaming sweet birthday dreams.  I'm tempted to go into the dark bedroom and watch him for a while, like I used to do when he was sleeping in his crib as a newborn.  I would stand next to him and just watch him breathe.  It filled me with peace.  Calmed my restless mind.

Saint Marty gives thanks for his son this evening.  His deep, sleeping breaths.  His goofy smile.  His wide, generous heart.

Happy birthday, my sweet boy.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

September 24-25: R17, Wednesdays, "American Horror Story"

A fast speed escape for Arthur and friends . . .

The aircar rocketed them at speeds in excess of R17 through the steel tunnels that led out on to the appalling surface of the planet which was now in the grip of yet another drear morning twilight.  Ghastly gray light congealed on the land.

R is a velocity measure, defined as a reasonable speed of travel that is consistent with health, mental well-being and not being more than, say, five minutes late.  It is therefore clearly an almost infinitely variable figure according to circumstances, since the first two factors vary not only with speed taken as an absolute, but also with awareness of the third factor.  Unless handled with tranquility this equation can result in considerable stress, ulcers and even death.

R17 is not a fixed velocity, but it is clearly far too fast.

You know, my Wednesdays seem to move at about R17 from the time I get up until the time I put my head back on the pillow 18 or 19 hours later.  I run from work to teaching to office hours to teaching again to home.  At the moment, I'm experiencing my only period of downtime.  My office hour, during which I usually try to crank out a blog post.

As I've said before, these blog posts ground me.  They allow me to reflect and maybe order my day's experiences a little.  Tonight is the eve before my son's eleventh birthday.  That amazes me.  I won't be seeing him until late, if he isn't already in bed by the time I get home from teaching.  Wednesdays make me miss my son.

I'm getting used to seeing my daughter for only brief moments during the day.  Tuesdays and Thursdays, she comes to the hospital where I work, and I buy her lunch in the cafeteria.  I think of it as her college meal dining plan.  It's difficult not seeing her more during the week, but I know that I have to step back and let her figure things out.  If she needs something, she will talk to me.  But I miss my daughter on Wednesdays, too.

I'm not about to turn all maudlin here.  This isn't going to be one of those posts where I bemoan my kids growing up and spreading their proverbial wings.  No.  It's just about Wednesdays.

I have never liked Wednesdays all that much.  All the work of the first part of the week seems to pile up on this day, and time slows down dramatically, as if I'm in some artsy foreign film shot in black-and-white.  At the moment, I am about to face another three hours in the classroom.  That time, depending on my students, will either fly by, or I will find myself in the equivalent of a Ken Burns 16-hour documentary on the state of the American higher education system.  The good thing is that my evening students this semester are highly engaged, so I'm pretty sure I'll enjoy myself.

Tonight, if everything goes according to plan, my daughter and I will watch American Horror Story:  1984 when I get home.  If everything goes according to plan.  It's sort of an autumn tradition my daughter and I have been sharing for many years.  Last week, however, she forgot that it was on and spent the night at her boyfriend's house.  We had to reschedule our AHS bonding time to Saturday night.

I don't mind being this busy.  I'm used to it.  With all the other stuff that's going on in my life, however, I often find myself pretty exhausted by 5 p.m. most days.  It takes me a while to recharge for any evening events/activities.  And, when I say "pretty exhausted," I mean falling over sleepy.  I'm chalking up these bouts of extreme tiredness to getting older.  Perhaps only getting four or five hours of sleep a night, as well.  Sometimes, your body lets you know when it's had enough.

I need to head down to teach my class now.  Then, home for some American Horror Story before I collapse into bed.  It will be a good ending to a long day.

And Saint Marty still isn't a fan of Wednesdays.

Monday, September 23, 2019

September 23: No Resistance, Grace, Lutheran Prayer Beads

The crew of the Heart of Gold has just been rescued.  By what or whom, they have no idea . . .

Twenty yards away he could dimly see through the smoke the space-suited figure of one of the cops.  He was lying in a crumpled heap on the ground.  Twenty yards in the other direction lay the second man.  No one else was anywhere to be seen.

This struck Ford as being extremely odd.

Slowly, nervously, he walked toward the first one.  The body lay reassuringly still as he approached it, and continued to lie reassuringly still as he reached it and put his foot down on the Kill-O-Zap gun that still dangled from its limp fingers.

He reached down and picked it up, meeting no resistance.

The cop was quite clearly dead.

A quick examination revealed him to be from Blagulon Kappa--he was a methane-breathing life form, dependent on his space suit for survival in the thin oxygen atmosphere of Magrathea.

The tiny life-support system computer on his backpack appeared unexpectedly to have blown up.

Ford poked around in it in considerable astonishment.  These miniature suit computers usually had the full back-up of the main computer back on the ship, with which they were directly linked through the sub-etha.  Such a system was fail-safe in all circumstances other than total feedback malfunction, which was unheard of.

He hurried over to the other prone figure, and discovered that exactly the same impossible thing had happened to him, presumably simultaneously.  

He called the others over to look.  They came, shared his astonishment, but not his curiosity.  

"Let's get shot of this hole," said Zaphod.  "If whatever I'm supposed to be looking for is here, I don't want it."  He grabbed the second Kill-O-Zap gun, blasted a perfectly harmless accounting computer and rushed out into the corridor, followed by the others.  He very nearly blasted hell out of an aircar that stood waiting for them a few yards away.  The aircar was empty, but Arthur recognized it as belonging to Slartibartfast.

It had a note from him pinned to part of its sparse instrument panel.  The note had an arrow drawn on it, pointing at one of the controls.

It said, This is probably the best button to press.

It often happens like this in life--help coming from unexpected or unknown sources.  If you're Christian, like me, you would call it grace.  I suppose, if you aren't Christian, you might call it luck.  Whatever term you choose to apply, when you are the recipient of it, it fills you with a kind of deep gratitude and relief.

This evening, someone very close to me is dealing with some bad news, with the possibility of even more bad news tomorrow.  (Don't try to psychoanalyze what I'm going to be saying.  This is not about me.  It is a person I care about deeply.  Let's leave it at that.)  It has to do with his health.  Let's call this person "Drake."

Now, Drake has sort of created his situation because of the choices he's been making in his life.  He knows this.  He understands this.  The thing that confounds me is that he seems hell bent on continuing down the destructive path he's been on, even though God seems to be sending him a pretty clear warning.  Drake is doing what a lot of people do--ignoring God's signs, simply saying, "I'm going to live my life that way I want.  It's my life.  You--or God-- can't tell me what to do."

I'm really sad for Drake.  He's a good, loving person.  If I were to get Biblical, I'd call him a lost sheep.  He's stuck in a pattern of destructive behaviors that, eventually, are going to end his life prematurely.  No "if" in that statement.  It's just plain "when."  And I can't to anything to stop him.  I've tried and pretty much been shut down every time.

So, this evening, I started using something I was given at my spiritual writing workshop this weekend.  One of the ladies in one of my sessions offered my Lutheran prayer beads.  Now, I grew up Catholic, so I'm very comfortable saying the rosary.  I find that kind of deep meditation very helpful and healing.  The Lutheran prayer beads are a little different from reciting the rosary.

On each set of "week beads," you focus on different things.  There are four sets of week beads.  Each set has, you guessed it, seven beads.  On Week One, you focus on things for which you want to praise God.  Week Two, you confess your failings and weaknesses (sins).  Week Three, you lift up your needs--the joys and concerns you have.  Week Four, you offer thanks to God for the blessings in your life.

This isn't the first time I've encountered Lutheran prayer beads, but this is the first time that I've used them fully.  The feel of the beads rolling between my fingers was very familiar and comforting.  And I spent a good portion of my meditation focusing on Drake and his situation.  When I was done, I felt calmer.  Peaceful.  Like God had really heard what was in my heart.

If you have a moment tonight or tomorrow, please say some prayers for Drake.  He needs them.  Pray for his health.  Pray that he sees his way out of the hole that he's digging for himself.  Pray for grace.  And pray for Drake's family, as well.  They're really hurting and in need of a little of that grace, as well.

Saint Marty is grateful this evening for the unexpected gift of prayer beads.  They have brought some balance into his life tonight.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

September 22: Book Club, Colson Whitehead, Foodies and Freaks

This post will be quick.  In about 45 minutes, the members of my book club will descend on my house, and the rest of my evening will be spent eating potluck and talking about Colson Whitehead's new book, The Nickel Boys.  (If you haven't read this book, you need to.  It's should be read by everyone living in Trump America.)

My book club is kind of an anomaly as book clubs go.  We have been holding our monthly get-togethers for over 13 or 14 years now.  Yes, members have come and gone--moved away, drifted off, lost interest.  However, our core group has remained.  I've been with the group since the beginning.  I was one of its founding members.  In my experience, most book clubs have a shelf life of about five years.  My book club has the shelf life of Twinkies. 

It started as a church activity.  I christened the group "The Good Book Club" and recruited members from my wife's Methodist church.  Of course, it helped that one of the other founding members was one of my best friends and, at the time, the pastor of the church.  Over the years, this tenuous tie to church has evaporated, and now we are just a group of book lovers, mostly liberal-minded and thoroughly bound to each other.

So, tonight, we bond over Colson Whitehead.  Two years ago, we read The Underground Railroad.  That book immediately became one of my favorite books of all time, and I found myself forcing it on other people like some kind of literary drug pusher.  "Here," I'd tell almost complete strangers, "you NEED to read this book."  While The Nickel Boys doesn't hold that same power over me, I still love it.  Whitehead is simply an amazing writer. 

It is almost 4:25 p.m.  Usually, a few people will show up early, so I have to close this post now.  My wife, who worked until 4 p.m., is stopping on her way home to pick up a meat-cheese-tray and a bag of ice.  (Did I neglect to tell you, my faithful disciples, that we eat really well at our gatherings?  We have been blessed with members who are wonderful readers AND cooks.)

I hope everyone reading this post has a group of friends like I do.  People who share my taste in books and my penchant for anti-Republican digressions.  We all go together like pea soup and ham.  Or weenies and crescents.  Or fettuccine and Alfredo.  Can you tell that I'm a little hungry?

I frequently have people ask if they can join this book club.  We used to have a pretty open door membership policy.  However, after many one-timers and two-timers (people who show up and never return), we are pretty cautious about whom we invite to join.  It has to be talked over by all the members of the book club.  While we're a fairly democratic and welcoming crew, we like people who won't annoy the crap out of us or not engage in the books fully.  In short, we like foodies, geeks, and freaks.

Saint Marty will be blessed this evening by great friends, great food, and a great book.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

September 19-21: Nothing Happened, Out Loud, Bigfoot and Spiritual Writing

Something has happened, but the crew of the Heart of Gold isn't sure what . . .

"Hello?" called out Ford.

No answer.

"That's odd."

"Perhaps it's a trap."

"They haven't the wit."

"What were those thuds?"


They waited for a few more seconds..

"Right," said Ford, "I'm going to have a look."

He glanced round at the others.

"Is no one going to say, No, you can't possibly, let me go instead?"

That all shook their heads.

"Oh well," he said, and stood up.

For a moment, nothing happened.

Then, after a second or so, nothing continued to happen.  Ford peered through the thick smoke that was billowing out of the burning computer.

Cautiously he stepped out into the open.

Still nothing happened.

September 19

This passage is all about . . . nothing.  Nothing happens during this exchange.  But everyone is waiting for something to happen.  Anything.  

In my life, I always try to think one or two steps ahead.  That way, I'm prepared for anything that comes my way.  Sometimes it's a very tiring way to live.  This evening, I took a pause from this hectic existence.  I attended an event called Out Loud at the Joy Center is Ishpeming.  Out Loud is basically an open mic.  You can read poetry.  Or essays.  Tell stories.  Pretty much, anything goes.

I always find this event very satisfying.  Whether I'm reading a new poem or essay, or listening to another person's sharing, it fills my empty cup up.  It doesn't matter how many people show up.  Sometimes there's seven or eight attendees.  Other times, there's only two.  Rain or snow or tornado, Out Loud goes on.

This evening's Out Loud was attended by myself and my good friend, Gala.  She and I have bonded over the children we lost this fall to college life.  Her son is at the University of Michigan, while my daughter attends the university where I teach.  It's a painful thing letting go of these creatures that have been a part of our lives for nearly 20 years.  For Gala, it's a physical and emotional separation.  For me, it's simply emotional.  It's the inability to make choices for her now, to protect her from a world that can break your heart.  And, even though my daughter still lives at home, I rarely see her.  Our ships pass in the night sometimes, but I can go for several days without laying eyes on her.

It was raining when Out Loud was over.  Gala drove me home, and we took a selfie,  My friend, Helen, who owns the Joy Center, always says about Out Loud, "The people who are supposed to be there will be there."  Tonight, Gala and I were meant to be in each other's presence.  God put us together for a reason.  She was a blessing to me.  I hope I was to her, as well . . .

September 21

It has been a long couple of days.  Yesterday, after working in the medical office and then cleaning my church, I was exhausted.  I didn't have the energy to string together any syllables.  I tried, but what I wrote seemed . . . mundane.  I bored myself.  So, I gave myself another day's hiatus.  This evening, after leading three writing workshops and spending most of this Saturday behind the wheel of a car, I am again exhausted, but in a different way.

I worked with children at 11 a.m.  I was asked to be a part of the homecoming festivities at the university where I teach.  The theme of the workshop was Bigfoot.  That's right.  I got to talk about Bigfoot to a bunch of little boys, who were totally geeked about the subject.

Then, after Bigfoot, I hopped in my car with one of my best friends, and I drove 80-some miles to teach spiritual writing at a Lutheran women's retreat.  Another good friend, Rose, helped organize the event, and she thought of me immediately.  There was no talk of Bigfoot, but, through some contemplative meditation exercises, we wrote and talked about God and listening for His voice.  We wrote about what was troubling us.  Some participants wrote about their mothers.  Some wrote about being unsure of their calling.  Everyone, I think, encountered Jesus and God.

So, here I sit at my kitchen table now, after spending a couple hours cleaning my house this evening, in a state of exhaustion again.  It's good exhaustion.  I feel as if I made a difference in the world today.  Now, I am ready for bed.  For a good night's sleep, which hasn't been easy to accomplish recently.

This blog post is the last thing to scratch off from my "To Do" list.

Saint Marty give thanks for finished lists..

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

September 17-18: What Happened, Fresh Starts, Words

Our heroes are about to be Kill-O-Zapped to death . . .

But the end never came, at least not then.

Quite suddenly the barrage stopped, and the sudden silence afterward was punctuated by a couple of strangled gurgles and thuds.

The four stared at each other.

"What happened?" said Arthur.

"They stopped," said Zaphod with a shrug.


"Dunno, do you want to go and ask them?"


They waited.

After reading Tuesday night's post, many of you might be thinking, "What happened?"  Usually, I avoid engaging in political discussions.  My only answer is that it was late, and I was tired and cranky.  For those of my disciples who were turned off, I am tempted to apologize.  But I stand by what I said.  The United States has become a society that has legitimized bullying.

That being said, I promise not to talk in this post about Donald Trump and the criminal acts he's committed since taking over the Oval Office.  If there's one thing that I've learned about bullies in my life, it's this:  bullies love being the center of attention.  Therefore, I will not waste any more energy on Donald Trump.

In fact, I am so tired at this moment that I'm going to have to turn this into a two-part post.  Everyone has gone to bed in my house, my ten-year-old son a little reluctantly.  I am surrounded by night sounds--a clock ticking, the wind rattling my windows a little, and deep sleeping breaths.  Every day is a new beginning, a chance for fresh starts . . .

And this is a new day.  Thanks for hanging in there with me.  This week is turning into one of those weeks where many little and bigger things are encroaching on my time.  Projects and bills and work.  By the time I sit down in the evening, I'm one of two things--exhausted or busy.  Neither is conducive to writing blog posts.

It's strange, but, when I don't write at least one blog post a day, I feel a little off center.  The balance of my day is thrown awry.  Writing is the thing that keeps me in touch with my inner artist, which doesn't always get a chance to come out and play during the work week.  These blog posts are sometimes my only creative outlet.  They force me to pay attention to what's going on inside my head and heart.  Thus, if I don't blog, I neglect an important part of myself.

Tonight, I'm feeling anxious for various reasons.  Being away from my wife and kids does that to me.  When I'm present at home, I can sort of maintain the illusion of control.  I know it's an illusion, but it keeps my mind at ease.  I sort of thrive on that illusion.  It allows me to sleep on sleepless night.

So, I give thanks for these few minutes of writing on my laptop, sending my thoughts out into the world.  Even with these small paragraphs, I am more grounded, until I can get behind the wheel of my car, drive home, and walk through my front door.  See my wife.  Son.  Daughter.  They remind me why words were invented.  To say, "I love you."

Words have saved Saint Marty, over and over and over.

Monday, September 16, 2019

September 16: But That's Crazy, Bullies, Donald Trump

WARNING:  Do not read this post if you are a Donald Trump supporter.  It may offend you and make you feel really bad about yourself.  Or it may incense you and make you hate me.  Proceed with caution!

Bullies will be bullies, even if they're interstellar cops . . .

"Now, listen to this, Beeblebrox, and you better listen good!"

"Why?" shouted back Zaphod.

"Because," shouted the cop, "it's going to be very intelligent, and quite interesting and humane!  Now--either you all give yourselves up now and let us beat you up a bit, though not very much of course because we are firmly opposed to needless violence, or we blow up this entire planet and possibly one or two others we noticed on our way out here!"

"But that's crazy!" cried Trillian.  "You wouldn't do that!"

"Oh yes, we would," shouted the cop, "wouldn't we?" he asked the other one.

"Oh yes, we'd have to, no question," the other one called back.

"But why?" demanded Trillian.

"Because there are some things you have to do even if you are an enlightened liberal cop who knows all about sensitivity and everything!"

"I just don't believe these guys," muttered Ford, shaking his head.

One cop shouted to the other, "Shall we shoot them again for a bit?"

"Yeah, why not?"

They let fly another electric barrage.

The heat and noise was quite fantastic.  Slowly, the computer bank was beginning to disintegrate.  The front had almost all melted away, and thick rivulets of molten metal were winding their way back toward where they were squatting.  They huddled farther back and waited for the end.

Bullies come in all shapes and sizes.  Sometimes, they're Kill-O-Zap toting space cops.  Other times, they're classmates.  Occasionally, they can be brothers or sisters.  And, of course, they can be the people we love the most.  Spouses.  Significant others.  Boyfriends.  Girlfriends.

Currently, I live in a country where bullying has become acceptable.  The man currently residing in the Oval Office is responsible for that.  While his wife has supposedly made the fight against cyberbullying her main issue, Donald Trump has made bullying and cyberbullying his primary means of getting what he wants. 

Now, I'm not saying this because I'm looking for an argument.  I am simply stating a fact.  Donald Trump has been a privileged bully his entire life, and he has raised his children to be the same.  If you don't believe this, read his daily Twitter feed.  Watch him interact with members of Congress.  Listen to his campaign rally speeches.  He attacks.  He whines.  He blames other people for his failures.  He takes credit for successes that weren't his.  In short, he is a narcissistic bully.

What I have just said in the above paragraph is nothing new.  It is a rehash of everything that has been printed about Donald Trump since he became the Republican candidate for President of the United States over three years ago.  During his campaign, I remember travelling through downstate Michigan and seeing an advertisement at a huge shopping complex stating that Donald Trump would be holding a rally there in a few weeks.  At the time, the idea of Trump being President of the United States was a joke.  (It still is, actually.)  And I said to my wife as we drove by the sign, "Want to come back to see him?"  She shook her head, and we laughed.

Here we are, over three years later, with Donald Trump thinking of going to war with Iran and having the power to do so.  We have put the safety of this country into the hands of a man who has no foreign policy experience and whose election was solidified by agents of the Russian government.  (If you don't believe me, read the Mueller report.  Actually read the whole thing.  Don't read the Trump Cliff Notes version written by Attorney General William Barr.  It's pretty clear that the only reason Mueller did not pursue legal action against Donald Trump is because he lacked the official power to do so.  That power resides with Congress.  By the way, Mueller is a Republican.)

I am tired of listening to the news every day and hearing about bullies.  Gun-toting bullies.  Elected bullies.  Swastika-ed bullies.  Homophobic bullies.  Xenophobic bullies.  These people, who have crawled out of the shadows since Donald Trump became President of the United States, need to return to those shadows. 

We fought a World War to defeat bullies.  To insure that this kind of hatred would never cause the deaths of millions of people again.  Yet, here we sit in 2019, watching history repeat itself, and it's terrifying.  Donald Trump idolizes bloodthirsty dictators.  He took the word of Vladimir Putin about Russian tampering in the 2016 Presidential election OVER THE UNITED STATES INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY.  He met with Kim Jong-un to talk about disarming North Korea and didn't disarm anything.  He just legitimized Kim Jong-un's bloodthirsty regime.

If any of these actions seem legitimate to you, then you are probably a bully, too, and I don't really worry if I've offended you.  Go out and book your trip to the nearest Trump 2020 MAGA rally, because I am done with teaching my son that bullying is wrong while the leader of the United States sits on his toilet in the middle of the night, tweeting out hate.

Saint Marty thinks Donald Trump should serve a long in-school detention, where he should write on the chalkboard, over and over, "I will not be an asshole."

Sunday, September 15, 2019

September 15: Sabbath, Rest, Writing

Welcome to the end of my Sunday.

Usually, one of the first things I do on this day, after I go to church, is sit down and pound out a sabbath post, because I usually have so much to do on Sunday to get ready for the coming week.  Instead, I did my day in reverse.  I got all of my class prep/work prep done first.  Now, at 8:20 in the evening, I'm sitting down to pound out my sabbath post.  Don't hold any high expectations for what you are about to read.

Generally, I don't get a whole lot of rest on the sabbath.  I move from one task to another, without too much of a break.  In fact, most of my days are like that.  Mondays, I work and teach and write and plan.  Tuesdays, I work and plan and clean my church (that's my fourth job, if you're counting).  Wednesdays are the longest for me.  I work and teach and office hour and teach.  It's usually about a 15 to 16 hour day.  Thursdays are my lightest days, usually.  I work and then go home, unless I have some poetry thing in the evening (which has been happening for the last couple months).  Fridays, I work and then clean.  My weekend doesn't usually begin until about 7:30 at night.  Saturdays, I do my house cleaning.  Plus, I pick out church music and play the 4 p.m. Mass.  Sundays, as I said, are reserved for getting ready for the upcoming week.  Church in the morning.  Classwork and work/work in the afternoon.  In the evening, I'm brain dead.  Which brings us back to Monday.

Put the above paragraph on repeat, and you have a little idea of what my life is like.  If you saw any actual sabbath rest time in there, let me know.  I haven't been able to squeeze that in yet.  I have to think that the ancient Israelites didn't really follow the whole resting of the sabbath, either.  I mean, they had crops to tend, sheep to shepherd, cheese to make.  If they took a day off, people didn't eat, livestock died, and feta spoiled. 

I guess "rest" is a relative thing.  For example, typing this blog post is not a chore for me.  That's why I decided to do it last.  It's my reward for doing about five hours of lesson planning and grading and e-mailing.  Some people would think of writing as a chore.  I don't.  For me, writing fills me with joy, unless I'm so tired that I can barely focus, which is the state I'm approaching right now.

In the best of worlds, I would write these blog posts in the morning, when my mind is fresh and unclogged from the day's worries and trials.  That would be ideal.  I find I write better in the morning.  However, I do not live an ideal life.  I work.  A lot.

So, right now is my sabbath.  About two hours of relaxing writing before bed.  It may be one hour tonight.

Saint Marty is fading fast. 

Saturday, September 14, 2019

September 14: Fusillade, Icebergs, Finding Joy

The Heart of Gold crew are still under attack from some overly sensitive space cops . . .

Ford's eyes popped halfway out of their sockets.  "Who are these guys?" he said.

"Dunno," said Zaphod, "I think I preferred it when they were shooting."

"So are you going to come quietly," shouted one of the cops again, "or are you going to let us blast you out?"

"Which would you prefer?" shouted Ford.

A millisecond later the air about them started to fry again, as bolt after bolt of Kill-O-Zap hurled itself into the computer bank in front of them.

The fusillade continued for several seconds at unbearable intensity.

When it stopped, there were a few seconds of near-quietness as the echoes died away.

"You still there?" called one of the cops.

"Yes," they called back.

"We didn't enjoy doing that at all," shouted the other cop.

"We could tell," shouted Ford.

Life seems to throw things at you like a fusillade of Kill-O-Zap bolts sometimes.  In my experience, I've have long periods of wonderful status quo followed by bolt after bolt of change and chaos and heartbreak.  (Don't worry, I'm not launching into one of my posts that require large dosages of anti-depressants at the end.  Keep reading.)  I'm sure I'm not alone in this cycle of happiness/calm followed by upheaval/struggle followed by happiness/calm.  That's sort of the way the universe works.  For example, we had eight good years of steady, strong leadership in the United States, followed by three years of Trump.  Yes, I went there.

If I met you today, and you told me that your life has been perfect forever, that you've never experienced a day of struggle and pain, I would call you a liar.  We're all in the same boat here.  At times, that boat is taking on water and you have to put on your life vest.  Other times, that boat is anchored in a coral bay of white sand, and there's an open buffet on the lido deck.  That's the way life works.

How you deal with the crises that come your way is what differentiates one person from the other.  When the iceberg shows up, are you going to get in the lifeboat line, run around screaming, or sit and listen to the musicians play "Nearer My God to Thee" as the ship goes down?  When the ocean is calm, temperatures warm, sky cloudless, are you going to count your blessings, look for a better ship with better parties, or stand lookout for icebergs on the horizon?  It's all a matter of choice.

I can honestly say that, at times, I've done all of those things.  I've sat in lifeboats, and I've stuffed myself at the buffet.  I've run around screaming like Chicken Little, and I've counted my blessings.  I've abandoned ship in the morning, and sat down and played "Nearer My God to Thee" in the evening.  It all depends on the day, my state of mind, and the circumstances.

I don't think that it's healthy simply to go through life preparing for the next iceberg.  Doing that ensures that you will never be happy.  Your life will just be a series of Titanics.  On the other hand, simply stuffing free crab cakes into your mouth and dancing to the Abba tribute band every day is not a good choice, either.  Life isn't always a series of parties.

I am the result of hundreds of hours of therapy.  I say that flippantly, but it is true.  In my life, I have done my fair share of time on couches, talking to counselors and psychologists.  It's what has kept me afloat in my life storms.  One of the biggest lessons I've learned is this:  one day at a time.  It doesn't help to constantly rehash old pains and hurts, unless it's to understand present pains and hurts.  And it doesn't help to worry about future pains and hurts, because they will overshadow your present life.

So, I take things one day at a time.  I try to not worry about what's going to happen tomorrow, and I try to let go of yesterday.  Now, I'm not saying that you should go out and spend all the money in your retirement account on that Corvette you've always dreamed of owning.  No.  That would be foolish.  However, making yourself (and everybody else around you) miserable because, in five years, you may be diagnosed with some kind of expensively catastrophic illness is foolish, as well.  You will never experience joy.  Ever.

It's Saturday.  I didn't have to rush off to work at 5 a.m.  I haven't received any death threats from bill collectors.  Nobody has kidnapped my kids.  My wife is unwell, but she has medication that will, hopefully, help her to feel better.  I'm on a diet that is making me feel better about myself.  That is my list of today's joys.

Saint Marty hopes everyone has joy today in their lives.

Friday, September 13, 2019

September 12: Some Truth, Jim Henson, "Silent Night"

Because I don't want the day to end without posting something . . .

I led a poetry workshop at the Joy Center this evening.  The theme of the workshop was "The Spirit of Jim Henson," in honor of what would have been his 83rd birthday on September 24.  For me, it was something that cracked me open and let some light spill in.

I'm not sure if this is a poem.  It's raw, pretty much unedited.  But it contains some truth.

Saint Marty wants to thank everyone who showed up tonight.  You are all amazing.

Silent Night

by:  Martin Achatz

A middle-of-the-night moment.  My wife, in the midst of postpartum depression that later morphed into bipolar, asleep beside me.  Our daughter, wailing in the darkness.  I got out of bed, stumbled to the bassinet, swaddled in new-father-I-don't-know-what-the-hell-I'm-doing fear.  There was this alien thing in the room, ember-faced, quivering like a bubble ready to pop.  I hesitated, then reached down, placed my hand on her chest, began to sing the only song I could think of.  Silent Night.  Holy night.  My voice was thick with sleep.  All is calm.  All is bright.  Slowly my daughter calmed, calmed, stopped screaming, stopped quaking.  Sleep in heavenly pe-eace.  She grabbed my thumb, pulled it to her mouth, started sucking on it.  Sle-ep in heavenly peace.  She fell asleep, the nail of my thumb pressed against her sparrow tongue.  I stood there for over an hour, until my hand and arm numbed, prickled, not wanting to end the moment:  my daughter, reaching out, taking hold of me, turning me into something she needed.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

September 11: 9-11, Patriotism, Better Than We Are, "The Names"

You will excuse me if I step away from Hitchhiker's on this day.

Today is the anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11.  Eighteen years ago, the world was changed irrevocably.  I'm not going to rehash my memories of that day.  The news playing 24/7.  The images of innocent people jumping to their deaths from those burning towers.  The towers collapsing.  Those ghostly faces of survivors stumbling out of that cloud of dust and dirt and smoke that covered and hovered over everything.

I don't believe in calling September 11th "Patriot Day."  For me, this day shouldn't be about patriotism, creating this feeling of the United State of America versus the world.  I am proud, most of the time, to call myself a citizen of this country.  (These Trump years have tested that pride a great deal.)  The kind of nationalism that exists in this country at the moment, that sometimes gets branded "patriotism," makes me a little ashamed of being an American.

For me, what I remember most about the days following September 11, 2001, is how it brought strangers together.  It seemed to provoke both the best (and worst) elements in human beings.  In some places, people (white, African American, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, man, woman, gay, straight, transgender, immigrant, citizen) felt a united grief and a united hope.  We simply weren't going to live in fear and hatred.  In other places, hatred did emerge, in the form of attacks against Muslim Americans and their businesses and homes.  That was the shameful side of the aftermath of 9-11.

Me?  I hold onto that grief and hope.  The idea that we can all be better than we are.  We can love each other more.  Respect each other more.  Support each other more.  Make the world a better, safer place through kindness and compassion.  That is something I can remember and cherish about this day when so many lost their lives.

So, if this day, for you, is about flag waving and chanting "U.S.A.!"--then this post is not for you.  However, if this day is about remembering the victims, joining together in love and support with all of your neighbors (no matter what color or gender or religion or nationality or sexual orientation), then you are a true patriot.

Saint Marty remembers this day with a poem from Billy Collins . . .

The Names

by:  Billy Collins

Yesterday, I lay awake in the palm of the night.

A fine rain stole in, unhelped by any breeze,

And when I saw the silver glaze on the windows,

I started with A, with Ackerman, as it happened,

Then Baxter and Calabro,

Davis and Eberling, names falling into place

As droplets fell through the dark.

Names printed on the ceiling of the night.

Names slipping around a watery bend.

Twenty-six willows on the banks of a stream.

In the morning, I walked out barefoot

Among thousands of flowers

Heavy with dew like the eyes of tears,

And each had a name --

Fiori inscribed on a yellow petal

Then Gonzalez and Han, Ishikawa and Jenkins.

Names written in the air

And stitched into the cloth of the day.

A name under a photograph taped to a mailbox.

Monogram on a torn shirt,

I see you spelled out on storefront windows

And on the bright unfurled awnings of this city.

I say the syllables as I turn a corner --

Kelly and Lee,

Medina, Nardella, and O'Connor.

When I peer into the woods,

I see a thick tangle where letters are hidden

As in a puzzle concocted for children.

Parker and Quigley in the twigs of an ash,

Rizzo, Schubert, Torres, and Upton,

Secrets in the boughs of an ancient maple.

Names written in the pale sky.

Names rising in the updraft amid buildings.

Names silent in stone

Or cried out behind a door.

Names blown over the earth and out to sea.

In the evening -- weakening light, the last swallows.

A boy on a lake lifts his oars.

A woman by a window puts a match to a candle,

And the names are outlined on the rose clouds --

Vanacore and Wallace,

(let X stand, if it can, for the ones unfound)

Then Young and Ziminsky, the final jolt of Z.

Names etched on the head of a pin.

One name spanning a bridge, another undergoing a tunnel.

A blue name needled into the skin.

Names of citizens, workers, mothers and fathers,

The bright-eyed daughter, the quick son.

Alphabet of names in green rows in a field.

Names in the small tracks of birds.

Names lifted from a hat

Or balanced on the tip of the tongue.

Names wheeled into the dim warehouse of memory.

So many names, there is barely room on the walls of the heart.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

September 10: I Write Novels, Mr. MAGA, Selfless Love

Ford and company are still dealing with the cops who are having existential crises . . .

Ford shouted out, "Hey, listen!  I think we've got enough problems of our own having you shooting at us, so if you could avoid laying your problems on us as well, I think we'd all find it easier to cope!"

Another pause, and then the bullhorn again.

"Now see here, guy," said the voice, "you're not dealing with any dumb two-bit trigger-pumping morons with low hairlines, little piggy eyes and no conversation, we're a couple of intelligent caring guys that you'd probably quite like if you met us socially!  I don't go around gratuitously shooting people and then bragging about it afterward in seedy space-ranger bars, like some cops I could mention!  I go around shooting people gratuitously and then I agonize about it afterward for hours to my girlfriend!"

"And I write novels!" chimed in the other cop.  "Though I haven't had any of them published yet, so I better warn you, I'm in a meeeean mood!"

In a very funny way, this section illustrates a pretty important lesson.  These cops, who are trying to kill our heroes with Kill-O-Zap guns, have lives and problems and hopes and ambitions.  One has a girlfriend.  The other is a would-be novelist/writer.  Their two-dimensional character types (stupid, bloodthirsty bad guys) are battling their three-dimensional character developments.

Of course, we all go through our days judging people, putting them into categories that make sense to us.  If I see someone wearing a "Trump 2020" tee-shirt, I will make certain assumptions about that person--that he is a sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot.  That is before I've spoken with that person, found out that he has a mother in a nursing home and has just been diagnosed with lymphoma.  Based on my shallow first impression, I immediately dismiss Mr. MAGA, make him less than human, which is exactly the tactic Donald Trump has been using during his whole time in office.

It's a question of control.  Using labels, we are able to approach a person/group of people not as fellow human beings.  By doing this, we cast ourselves as somehow superior.  It's a tactic that's been used throughout history.  It's how slavery was justified in the United States.  It's how Jews were sent to concentration camps in Nazi Germany.

If you call yourself a Christian, then you know that isn't really the way Jesus Christ operated.  For me, that is one of the great lessons of the Gospels.  Christ always hangs out with people from the lowest classes.  Fishermen.  Tax collectors.  Lepers.  Samaritans.  Gentiles.  Christ--because of his God-self--didn't judge these individuals.  He met them, ate with them, visited their homes, touched their wounds, loved them, and made them whole.

And that was one of Christ's greatest gifts--the ability to see all people as children of God, worthy of love and hope.  That Christ gift is something we should all try and emulate in our day-to-day interactions.  It's the way I try to be every day of my life, some days more successfully than others.  Anger and frustration have been my companions all too frequently in the last few months.  They have become comfortable emotions for me, especially when dealing with the irrationalities of mental illness and addiction.

Tonight, I have to remind myself to be more Christ-like.  To accept and love people in my life, despite their brokenness.  Or maybe because of their brokenness.  That's a tall order, especially if that brokenness causes you pain and heartache.  And that is another of the great lessons of the Jesus narrative.  Christ gave up His life for the human race, even though those humans didn't really deserve it.  In fact, those humans were kinda assholes to Him.  But that's what selfless love is all about.  And I ain't there tonight. 

It's time for bed.  Maybe Saint Marty will do better tomorrow.  There's always hope.

A reminder from a friend:

Sunday, September 8, 2019

September 8: That's His Problem, List Making. Johnny Cash

A little exchange between Ford and Zaphod . . .

"What did he say?" whispered Ford in astonishment.

"He said it isn't easy being a cop."

"Well, surely that's his problem, isn't it?"

"I'd have thought so."

Welcome to my Sunday, which has not gone exactly as I had planned.  Now it is your turn to say, "Well, surely that's your problem, isn't it?"  Yes.  Yes, it is.

I am a list-maker.  Every morning, I sit down to write out my to-dos.  This morning's list was not very extensive, but, unlike yesterday (when I finished everything on my list), I have accomplished next to nothing today.  In fact, this blog post is the last thing that I will be able to check off.

You may think that sounds more than a little bit anal retentive.  I like to think of myself as simply organized.  It's the way I keep myself from going insane every day.  My daughter has inherited my penchant for lists.  Friday night, as we were eating supper together, she and I actually shared our list-making strategies and the satisfaction we feel when we can actually cross off every item on our daily lists.  My wife listened to us, shook her head, and said, "My God, she is her father's daughter."

So, today, I had six things to accomplish.  I was only able to get to four of them.  The rest will be moved forward to tomorrow's list.  I hate going to bed, knowing that there are already items that need my attention the next day.  However, I cannot avoid it this evening.

If you, like my daughter and I, suffer from this list affliction, take heart.  You are not alone.  In fact, you're in pretty good company.  Writer Umberto Eco once said, "The list is the origin of culture.  Wherever you look in cultural history, you will find lists."  Benjamin Franklin was the father of to-do lists, including a 13-week plan to "practice virtues such as cleanliness" and temperance.  Johnny Cash's daily to-do list was pretty basic:

  1. Not smoke.
  2. Kiss June.
  3. Not kiss anyone else.
  4. Cough.
  5. Pee.
  6. Eat.
  7. Not eat too much.
  8. Worry.
  9. Go see Mama.
  10. Practice piano.
Johnny Cash did pretty well for himself.  (By the way, Cash ended that list with a note to himself to "not write notes.")

I don't know if I've made my case for the importance of list-making.

Saint Marty will have to make a list to try and figure that out.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

September 7: Being a Cop, Passions, Secret to a Happy Life,

Zaphod and crew have a run-in with some interstellar cops in the middle of an identity crises . . .

Near them on the floor lay several rather ugly men who had been hit about the head with some heavy design awards.

Half a mile away, four figures pounded up a corridor looking for a way out.  They emerged into a wide open-plan computer bay.  They glanced about wildly.

"Which way you reckon, Zaphod?" said Ford.

"At a wild guess, I'd say down here," said Zaphod, running off down to the right between a computer bank and the wall.  As the others started after him he was brought up short by a Kill-O-Zap energy bolt that cracked through the air inches in front of him and fried a small section of adjacent wall.

A voice on a bullhorn said, "Okay, Beeblebrox, hold it right there.  We've got you covered."

"Cops!" hissed Zaphod, and spun around in a crouch.  "You want to try a guess at all, Ford?"

"Okay, this way," said Ford, and the four of them ran down a gangway between two computer banks.

At the end of the gangway appeared a heavily armored and space-suited figure waving a vicious Kill-O-Zap gun.

"We don't want to shoot you, Beeblebrox!" shouted the figure.

"Suits me fine!" shouted Zaphod back, and dived down a wide gap between two data process units.

The others swerved in behind him.

"There are two of them," said Trillian.  "We're cornered."

They squeezed themselves down in an angle between a large computer data bank and the wall.

They held their breath and waited.

Suddenly the air exploded with energy bolts as both the cops opened fire on them simultaneously.

"Hey, they're shooting at us," said Arthur, crouching in a tight ball.  "I though they said they didn't want to do that."

"Yeah, I thought they said that," agreed Ford.

Zaphod stuck a head up for a dangerous moment.

"Hey," he said, "I thought you said you didn't want to shoot us!" and ducked again.

They waited.

After a moment a voice replied, "It isn't easy being a cop!"

It isn't easy being anything.  I'm sure a nurse would say that it isn't easy being a nurse.  A college student would say it isn't easy being a college student.  Ditto a heart surgeon.  Ditto the school custodian.  In my working life, I've learned that most people think their jobs are the most important and most difficult.  Doesn't matter the job.

For example, I could say that it isn't easy being a contingent college professor.  No health benefits.  Working semester-to-semester with no guarantees of re-employment every four months, and the full-time faculty get paid twice (sometimes three) times as much as you for teaching the same class.

Or I could say that it isn't easy being a church organist.  The compensation for all the hours spent planning, practicing, and playing is minuscule.  And, come Christmas or Easter--the high holidays--the stress and demands triples or quadruples.  Plus, you have to work EVERY weekend, sometimes playing two or three services. 

Every person in every occupation has similar tales.  The truth of the matter is that a job is a job.  It can be stressful or stress-free, tiring or energizing, sad-ful or joyful.  A job is what you make of it.  A person who works at McDonald's can take just as much pride in his labors as a brain surgeon.  That's the simple truth.

I'm lucky, in a way.  I get to do what I love--teach writing and literature and film.  I don't do it full-time (which would be my dream job), but I still get to do it.  I love being in a classroom full of young minds.  Love feeling the weird, funky energy they impart.  I can honestly say that teaching is what I was meant to do with my life.

I would say that most people stumble through their lives, never really knowing what their purposes are.  They never find that one thing that fulfills them.  It's not about money or fame.  It's about passion.  Most people I encounter have no idea what their passions are. 

Me?  I'm passionate about poetry and writing and movies and books.  My mother was passionate about quilting.  She loved it.  My father was literally passionate about plumbing.  He truly loved what he did.  He kept the tools of his trade in his trucks up until the time he couldn't drive anymore.  I think the people who are most unhappy and dissatisfied with their lives are the ones who have no idea what they're passionate about.

When you don't know what puts a fire in your belly, then you turn to other, unhealthy preoccupations.  Addictions even.  Because the addiction fills that void.  Temporarily.  But pretty soon the drug wears off, alcohol transitions to hangover, sexual partner of the day goes away.  What's left?  The same emptiness that you were looking to fill.  So it's more drugs or more alcohol or another sexual partner.  It's a pretty vicious circle.

I count myself lucky.  I know my passions.  And, because I know them, I'm a better person.  That is the real secret to a happy life.

This message has been brought to you by Saint Marty.  Husband.  Father.  Brother.  Poet.  Teacher.  Organist.  Blogger.  Thinker.  Friend.

Friday, September 6, 2019

September 6: How Many Roads, Long Week, Faking It

Frankie and Benjy mouse are trying to come up with the Ultimate Question about life, the universe, and everything (they already have the answer--42) . . .

"Difficult," said Frankie.  He thought.  "How about What's yellow and dangerous?"

Benjy considered this for a moment.

"No, no good," he said.  "Doesn't fit the answer."

They sank into silence for a few seconds.

"All right," said Benjy.  "What do you get if you multiply six by seven?"

"No, no, too literal, too factual," said Frankie, "wouldn't sustain the punters' interest."

Again they thought.

Then Frankie said, "Here's a thought.  How many roads must a man walk down?"

"Ah, said Benjy.  "Aha, now that does sound promising!"  He rolled the phrase around a little.  "Yes," he said, "that's excellent!  Sounds very significant without actually tying you down to meaning anything at all.  How many roads must a man walk down?  Forty-two   Excellent, excellent, that'll fox 'em.  Frankie, baby, we are made!"

They performed a scampering dance in their excitement.

Searching for answers in life is difficult.  Questions are a little easier.  I'm sure that, if I put my mind to work, I would be able to come up with a list of questions that plague most people, starting with Why do good people have to suffer? to How do I live a meaningful life? to What happens to all the matching socks that I put in the dryer?  Frankie and Benjy don't really care about the Ultimate Question or its answer.  They care about themselves.  That's it.  Their happiness is about becoming rich and famous.

It has been a very long week.  I'm plain exhausted right now.  Today, I worked about ten hours, came home, and then cleaned at church for a few hours (another job I have now).   My feet are sore.  My eyes are burning.  And my mind is Jell-O.  I'm too tired to get much deeper than that. 

Despite working 16 or 17 hours, however, I've had a good day.  It wasn't complicated or stressful.  Sure, I'm tired, but that's a cumulative tiredness that comes from the week's activities.  Right now, I'm sitting in my living room, typing this blog post (something I love to do), and I don't have a deadline.  Don't have any lessons to plan or quizzes to worry about.  I even get to sleep late tomorrow.

So, my answer tonight to What makes you happy? is pretty simple:  Friday night.  I am more relaxed than I've been in days.  Of course, there are worries still hovering around my head like hummingbirds, but I'm not letting them take over.  Not tonight.  Instead, I'm going to pretend that I'm completely content and happy.  My therapist friend has a saying for this:  "Fake it 'til you make it."  It's pretty simple advice.  Sometimes, when your life is falling apart, you just have to act as though everything is okay.  You keep doing that, over and over.  It's called survival.

So, for the next ten or eleven hours, my life is going to be perfect.  I'm going to eat well.  Write well.  Love well.  Sleep well.

Who knows?  Maybe Saint Marty's life will be perfect when he wakes up tomorrow morning.

Some perfect reading to end the night with . . .