Wednesday, October 30, 2019

October 30: Smiled More Warmly, Wife's Birthday, Peace and Love

"Hi, honey," [Zaphod] said to her.

[Trillian] flashed him a quick tight smile and looked away.  Then she looked back for a moment and smiled more warmly--but by this time her was looking at something else.

This little exchange takes place just minutes before Zaphod and his girlfriend, Trillian, steal the Heart of Gold spaceship, with its Improbability Drive.  Having spent this year living with Hitchhiker's and these characters, I can pretty confidently say that their relationship is a little complex.  Not the standard Earth girl meets alien at a party in England, alien sweeps girl off her Earthling feet, girl escapes Earth with alien who turns out to be the President of the Imperial Galactic Government story.  Most true love isn't simple.

Today is my wife's birthday.  I could say many things about our love and life together, but I cannot say that it has been simple.  In the almost 30 years that we have been together, we have experienced tremendous joys and tremendous sorrows.  Tremendous ups an tremendous downs.  I have been pretty honest about our marriage in the eight or so years that I've been writing this blog.  Tonight will be no different.  I will be honest.

Through all the good times and hard times my wife and I have experienced, my love for her has never wavered.  We were separated for a year, and my love never wavered.  Through mental illness and addiction, my love has stayed the same.  When I see her at the end of a long day of work, my heart still skips a beat, the way it did when I first laid eyes on her close to 30 years ago.

I am still made about my wife, on this birthday night, the thirtieth one I have shared with her.  Beth, you are complicated, frustrating, beautiful, funny, stressful, sexy, heart-ful, hurtful, exciting, lost, and found.

Saint Marty wishes for his wife a soul filled with peace and love.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

October 29: It's Just Life, Grace, "The Peace of Wild Things"

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.

It's very easy--when life seems a little or a lot out of control--to simply walk through the day with blinders on.  I do it all the time, moving from one job to another, never taking a moment to breathe or relax or look around.  Even when I crawl into bed at night, my mind isn't focused on sleep.  It's focused on what I have to do the next day.

For the most part, there's not a whole lot of time for reflection in my daily life.  These blog posts are the closest I come.  Reflection is for people who have just one job that pays all the bills and leaves a little spending money behind.  Even with my four jobs, I don't seem to ever have spending money.  There's no such thing as "extra" cash in my household.

I'm not complaining.  I'm explaining why I always feel so driven every day.  It's how I survive my weird, hectic schedule.  Well, that and a whole lot of therapy.  In fact, I just had a session with my therapist this afternoon.  I'm not going to delve too deeply into what we discussed, but it was difficult stuff.  At the end of our time together, my therapist handed me a poem by Wendell Berry, because of a comment I made about never having a minute to rest.

This is the poem:

The Peace of Wild Things

by:  Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief.  I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light.  For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

After I was done reading this poem, I was in tears.  Again, my problems are complicated, and they are not the subject of this post.  The subject of this post is grace.  Every person deserves to rest "in the grace of the world" some time during the day.  For me, this poem is a reminder that grace is always available.  God sends us still water many times during a day.  Most of us--myself included--just don't take the time to notice it.

Tonight, however, I am going to try to hold off my despair for the world.  Instead, I will find some place where the wood drake rests and great heron feeds.  In my imagination.  In the stillness of my home.  In the wild places of my heart.

Saint Marty will be free for a few, fleeting minutes tonight.

Monday, October 28, 2019

October 28: Very Cold, Halloween Snow, Aubri

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

That is a description of the surface of the planet of Magrathea from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  It could also be a description of what I will wake up to tomorrow.  There is a winter weather advisory in effect for my little corner of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for this evening.  Two to four inches of the white stuff.  Now, having lived in the U. P. for most of my life, except for a brief stint in Kalamazoo, I shouldn't be surprised by this forecast.  In fact, I should expect it.

However, just as I was unwilling to let go of summer a little while ago, I'm finding it very difficult to relinquish my grip on autumn, especially right before Halloween.  In my youth, Halloweens were generally warm.  I recall very few All Hallow's Eves where I was bundled up in my winter coat to go trick-or-treating.  The last warm Halloween I can recall occurred about 11 years ago, when my son was newly born.  That year, I wore a full gorilla costume to go trick-or-treating with him, and I nearly died of heat stroke.  It was a very warm night.  Ever since then, Halloween has been the unofficial start of winter.

Of course, I have no control over the weather, just as I have no control over a lot of things in my life.  God has been very diligent in reminding of this fact.  Frequently.  I like to think that I run my own life, that I can decide whether I'm happy or sad, successful or a failure.  In short, I've been trying to play God for quite a long time.  I believed that I controlled the weather in my life, from Halloween to Christmas to Independence Day.

This morning, my niece, Aubri, got on an airplane and flew off to San Francisco to start a new job and a new life.  Aubri is one of my favorite people in the whole world.  She's funny and smart, and she shares my sense of humor.  At family gatherings, we frequently found ourselves seated beside each other, sharing inside jokes and mean girl comments.  Aubri can always make me laugh, even on the darkest of days.

Saying goodbye to Aubri this weekend was like accepting a forecast of snow for Halloween.  I knew it was coming.  I was expecting it.  Yet, when it finally happened, I found myself saying, "It's too soon.  Too soon."  This is one of those life things that I have no control over.  Snow is inevitable.  Young people growing up and leaving is inevitable.  Goodbyes are inevitable.

Join me in wishing my niece, Aubri Cheryl--beautiful girl, ray of sunlight, fellow mean girl--Godspeed.  When I wake up to snow on my car tomorrow morning, I will think of her and all the joy she has brought into my house.  And I will smile, knowing that God has bigger plans for her than I can even imagine.

This Saint Marty knows for sure.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

October 27: Bat-Shaped Seat, Pumpkins, Haunted Escape Room

[The Vogon] threw himself backward into a huge leathery bat-shaped seat and watched them.  He did the smile again.

I think I may have met this Vogon last night.

Greetings from Saint Marty and his son, Saint Gideon!

We are sitting here right now, listening to the radio program, The Red Jacket Jamboree, on our local Public Radio Station.  It's the Halloween episode that was recorded earlier this month at the Calumet Theatre.  I always have such a good time with my Red Jacket family.  Hope some of you guys out there had a chance to listen, as well.

My son and I have had a very Halloween-centered day.  First, we stopped at Walmart and bought some pumpkins and trick-or-treat candy.  Then we went costume shopping for my son, Saint Gideon.  He's chosen to be a mime this year.  So, we picked up a beret, striped shirt, white gloves, and some red suspenders.  Viola!  Mime.

Finally, after dinner, we carved some jack-o-lanterns.  I think that we are all ready for All Hallow's Eve. 

Speaking of All Hallow's Eve, let me tell you about the escape room I was forced to participate in last night, courtesy of my good friends at the cardiology office where I work (one of my four occupations).  You see, they know how much I hate haunted attractions.  Don't like jump scares.  Or zombies.  Or clowns.  Or rats.  Or dark places.  This escape room was promoted with the line "Exorcists Needed."  Not a big fan of that tag line, either.

Well, before I showed up with my daughter for this thing, I needed a little courage.  Found it in my cupboard--a bottle of pear schnapps.  After a couple glasses, I thought I was ready for anything.  I wasn't.  Standing outside the escape room, I could hear screams, yelling, moaning.  Then, we had to sign waivers that basically said, "If, by chance, I become possessed by a demon or am eaten by something undead, I won't hold anybody responsible."

The actual escape room is kind of a blur to me now.  I know that I grabbed one of my friends by her vest and held her in front of me for protection.  There were things screaming at us.  Blood running in a sink.  A possessed girl curled up in a bed.  A locked nursery full of demented toys.  And through this whole experience, I kept yelling things like "Ring the damn bell!"  and "Who has the cross?!" and "I think I soiled myself!" (I didn't say "soiled") and "I'm not touching that!!!"  I may have blacked out a couple of times.  That Vogon may have shown up.  I don't know.

All I can say is that I have had the whole Halloween experience this weekend, whether I wanted it or not.

Saint Marty may be sleeping with the lights on tonight.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

October 26: Resistance is Useless, Playing God, Haunted Escape Room

"Resistance is useless!" shouted the Vogon guard back at him.  It was the first phrase he'd learned when he joined the Vogon Guard Corps.

This is a good reminder.  Resistance against a lot of things that happen in life IS useless, because, usually, the worst--serious illnesses, car accidents, natural disasters, the Trump presidency--seem wildly out of our hands.  Of course, we can do things to avoid these circumstance.  Eat healthy and exercise.  Drive safely.  Live in Iceland (statistically, the safest country in the world).  Impeach.

However, there is always the chance of bad medical diagnoses, even if you eat kale for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  You can drive ten miles below the speed limit, but that doesn't stop somebody else from stumbling out of a bar, getting behind the wheel, and causing major damage/heartbreak.  Blizzards and hurricanes and tornadoes and earthquakes and volcanic eruptions happen, all over the world.  Middle-aged, white male Republicans storm into closed-door sessions in Congress, trying to disrupt the legal process of investigating possible unconstitutional actions by the President of the United States.  Shit just happens.  Resistance is useless.

Or is it?

I guess it depends on how you define "resistance."  Fighting events over which you have no power is like running head-first into a brick wall to get into another room.  You will cause lasting damage to yourself, and never break through to the other side.  Ultimately, it changes nothing for the good.  However, if your resistance entails being kind to others, taking care of yourself, participating in civic affairs, protecting the environment, and, basically, being a Jimmy Carter instead of a Donald Trump (a saying I wish I'd coined), then you are on the right track.  That's good resistance that can make a difference.

I feel as though I've been running head-first into brick walls recently.  Trying to force my square peg to fit into the round hole God has given me.  It hasn't worked.  All I've accomplished is giving myself both nightmares and insomnia.  So today, I'm going to try to let that go.  I can't force my day to go well, no matter how many lists I make or how many times I say to people, "Well, if you do what I tell you to do . . ."  I have been spending far too much time playing God, and I've learned something very valuable.  Are you ready for it?  It's a pretty earth-shattering revelation.  Here it comes:

I am not God.

I may think that I have all the answers.  That my way is the best way.  That the whole world would be better if I was calling the shots.  But I don't.  It isn't.  And it wouldn't be.

It's all about surrendering for me today.  I give up any control, which I never had in the first place.  And, in celebration of my powerlessness, I am going to a haunted escape room tonight with some friends and my daughter.  It will be, for me, an exercise in surrender.  I will be trapped somewhere that frightens me a great deal, and I will have to depend on other people to help me get out, because I will probably be curled up in a fetal position, crying beyond rational thought.

At the moment, I am panicking.  I don't deal well with not feeling the illusion of control.  I have told my friends that I may have a few drinks before I show up.  I don't endorse alcohol as a coping mechanism, but, sometimes, it can take the edge off complete and total hysterical submission.

If you happen to hear screaming and wild lamentation around 9 p.m. EST, don't worry.  It isn't the tormented spirit of a jilted bride who committed suicide. 

It's simply Saint Marty realizing that resistance is useless.

Friday, October 25, 2019

October 24-25: Vogonity, Fifth Grade Classes, My Purpose in Life

"Ah, yes, Vogonity--sorry--of the poet's compassionate soul"--Arthur felt he was on a homestretch now--"which contrives through the medium of the verse structure to sublimate this, transcend that, and come to terms with the fundamental dichotomies of the other"--he was reaching a triumpahnt crescendo--"and one is left with a profound and vivid insight into . . . into . . . er . . ." (which suddenly gave out on him).  Ford leaped in with the coup de grace:

"Into whatever it was the poem was about!" he yelled.  Out of the corner of his mouth:  "Well done, Arthur, that was very good."

Hitchhiker's picked the subject of my post tonight.

Arthur and Ford are being tortured with Vogon poetry--the third worst poetry in the Universe, the second being the poetry of the Azgoths of Kria, and the worst poetry belonging to Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings of Greenbridge, Essex, England.  Poetry as a weapon of mass destruction.

I did a poet thing this afternoon, something I haven't done in a great while.  I visited two fifth grade classes in a neighboring town and led them through a lesson on metaphor.  Then, we wrote Halloween poems.  I had a wonderful time, and I think the kids enjoyed themselves.  Their hands were flying up with questions, and, when I asked for volunteers to read, practically the entire group of 50-plus ten- and eleven-year-olds wanted to share their poems at the end of the class.  And their poems were good.  Inventive and funny and crazy.

I haven't had much opportunity these past five or six months to do U. P. Poet Laureate stuff.  I have been preoccupied with the fact that my life seems to be falling apart.  Now, Humpty ain't done putting himself back together yet, but today felt right.  Like I was doing what I was meant to do.  Talking about poetry, reading poetry aloud, teaching poetry, celebrating poetry.  It is one of the reasons I was put on this planet, I think.

Not a lot of people can say that they've figured out their purpose in life.  Me?  I know I was built for poetry and writing and teaching.  That's a pretty great gift, having that knowledge/insight about myself.  I know what makes me happy, and I need to do it more often.  (I have already been asked if I'd be willing to teach a couple other fifth grade classes in the same school.  God seems to be sending me a message.)

I am a poet, and I love talking about and writing poetry.  That little nudge was a blessing I received today.  When everything else seems to be going wrong, I will hold on to that.

My name is Saint Marty, and poetry is my thing.

This message has been brought to you by Mr. Hongisto's and Mr. Saari's fifth grade classes.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

October 23: Sensationally Beautiful, van Gogh Tie, "The Starry Night"

And the next thing that happened after that was that the Heart of Gold continued on its way perfectly normally with a rather fetchingly redesigned interior.  It was somewhat larger, and done out in delicate pastel shades of green and blue.  In the center a spiral staircase, leading nowhere in particular, stood in a spray of ferns and yellow flowers and next to it a stone sundial pedestal housed the main computer terminal.  Cunningly deployed lighting and mirrors created the illusion of standing in a conservatory overlooking a wide stretch of exquisitely manicured garden.  Around the periphery of the conservatory area stood marble-topped tables on intricately beautiful wrought-iron legs.  As you gazed into the polished surface of the marble the vague forms of the instruments materialized instantly under your hands.  Looked at from the correct angles the mirrors appeared to reflect all the required data read-outs, though it was far from clear where they were reflected from.  It was in fact sensationally beautiful.

Beauty is such a subjective quality.  I could look at a dead starling on the floor of a forest, its eyes sockets empty, feathers teeming with ants and lice, and think that it's beautiful in its colors or shapes or jutting bones.  Or driving home after a long day at work and be stunned into pulling over and parking my car for a setting sun that's taking over the heavens with orange and pink and gold.  Both can be beautiful. 

I would venture to say that every day--no matter how terrible or wonderful--is full of moments of beauty.  The trick is paying attention.  On shitty days, it's harder to spot beauty because I'm not looking for it.  I'm too wrapped up in my shittiness to notice.  For example, these last couple days have sort of taken the cake when it comes to awful.  Without going into detail, I will say simply that I haven't done a whole lot of sunrise or sunset admiring in the past 48 hours.  My focus has been inward, not outward, and what was inside wasn't very pretty at all.

I probably walked by a maple leaf floating into a puddle, reflecting the stormy sky--orange against gray, fire against water.  Didn't see it.  I was probably listening to my own inner dialogue of griefs and missed how the wind and leaves and trees sounded like a stadium of people roaring after a touchdown.  Didn't hear it.  I probably gulped down a glass of water without noticing how it hit my dry tongue like snow melt.  Didn't taste it.

You get the idea.  I simply haven't been an open vessel for poetry or beauty these last couple days.  Therefore, tonight, I will end this post with something beautiful that I noticed today.

I had just finished teaching my afternoon film class.  As I was waiting for the elevator to arrive, I was distracted, once again, by my own thorny thoughts.  A girl walked by me, looked me in the eye, and said, "I like your tie."  Then, she just kept on walking, not waiting for a reply from me.

I looked down at my chest, because I really didn't remember what tie I put around my nick this morning.  It was my van Gogh tie, with a print of his painting "Starry Night."  When the elevator finally arrived, I was still staring down at my tie, thinking, "Yes, it is a beautiful tie."  I love Vincent van Gogh, and I love the fiery balls of stars in "Starry Night."  They fill me with something like joy or excitement or contentment.  One word can't describe the emotion.  Yet, there they were, riding around on my belly all day, and I didn't notice them.  It took a complete stranger to point them out to me.

This tie also reminds me of a poem I love by Anne Sexton that I first read as an undergrad:

The Starry Night

by:  Anne Sexton

"That does not keep me from having a terrible need of--shall I say the word--religion.  Then I go out at night to paint the stars."
                              --Vincent van Gogh in a letter to his brother

The town does not exist
except where one black-haired tree slips
up like a drowned woman into the hot sky.
The town is silent.  The night boils with eleven stars.
Oh starry starry night!  This is how
I want to die.

It moves.  They are all alive.
Even the moon bulges in its orange irons
to push children, like a god, from its eye.
The old unseen serpent swallows up the stars.
Oh starry starry night!  This is how
I want to die:

into that rushing beast of night,
sucked up by that great dragon, to split
from my life with no flag,
no belly,
no cry.

This isn't a particularly joyful poem.  Yet, for me, tonight, in my university office, wearing my van Gogh tie, I find beauty in it, even in the refrain "This is how / I want to die."  On a day where I spent most of my time gazing down at my toes, this made me think about beauty, in all its shapes and colors.

Saint Marty looked up for a little while today, thanks to the words of a stranger in a hallway.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

October 21-22: Bone Tired, Rip Van Winkle, Dance

Bone Tired

I write tonight after two days of constant movement, when my body and mind have not had time to sit on the couch, rest in the dusky light of completed grocery lists.  My mother used to call this "bone tired," when she would sit down after supper dishes were washed, lay her head back in her chair, close her eyes, and eat the stillness of her limbs like a black bear gulping ripe summer blueberries.  Bone tired, as if skeletal calcium has been replaced by an arthritis of exhaustion.  I could Rip Van Winkle here, in this kitchen chair.  Fall asleep and bowl games of nine pin with strange little men for 70 years, until my leaky roof, brake problems, mental illness, addictions, mortgages and water bills, have disintegrated into cremains, returned to the earth to nourish or poison.  If you see me napping in my chair, don't wake me.  Throw a blanket over my shoulders.  And don't set an alarm.  Let me sleep long.  Five hours.  Five days.  Five months.  Five years.  Five times fifty years.  Let me sleep until Donald Trump is no longer in the Oval Office.  Until climate change becomes extinct, and the world is green, clean again.  Let me sleep until a broken heart can be mended by taking a fat, red pill at night with enough water to turn baked clay into chocolate loam, something dark and full of promise.  Let me sleep until my bones rouse me, jump beneath my skin like hot oil.  Then I will get up and dance.

Here's a picture that made Saint Marty's heart dance tonight . . .

Sunday, October 20, 2019

October 20: What My Mother Told Me, Chicken Noodle Soup, Tapioca Pudding

"You know," said Arthur, "it's at times like this, when I'm trapped in a Vogon airlock with a man from Betelgeuse, and about to die of asphyxiation in deep space, that I really wish I'd listened to what my mother told me when I was young."

"Why, what did she tell you?"

"I don't know, I didn't listen."

It's supposed to be a funny exchange, a one-liner about Arthur and his mom.  It's one of those sitcom jokes, with canned laughter behind it.  However, this passage is the only place in the novel where Arthur expresses any kind of remorse about losing his family when Earth is obliterated by the Vogons.  The only time we hear about Arthur's family at all.

This evening, I was having dinner with my family at my mother's house.  My mother has Alzheimer's.  Today was not a good day for her.  In fact, her good days are becoming fewer and farther between.  My wife said on Friday, after watching my mother for most of the day, "She's losing touch with reality." 

My sister cooked homemade chicken noodle soup this evening.  We all sat down and ate a bowl of it.  It was steaming hot and delicious.  After the soup, we had some freshly made tapioca pudding for dessert.  It was also steaming hot and delicious.

My mother, sitting at the table with us, kept forgetting she was supposed to be eating, even though her bowl of soup was right in front of her.  One of my sisters kept reminding her, "Eat, mom!  Pick up your spoon and eat!"  My mother would take a spoonful, chew and swallow, and then forget what she was doing again.  This went on for almost an hour.

I started doing the dishes in the kitchen, and my mother had barely touched her soup.  My sister said to her again, "Mom, eat your soup!"  So, I sat down beside my mother and picked up her spoon.  "Here, mother," I said, "let's have some soup."  And I fed her a spoonful.  She ate it and smiled at me, "Mmmmm, that's good," she said, "all full of good stuff."  I nodded, waited until she had swallowed, and then brought another spoonful to her mouth.  "How about another bite?" I said.  She nodded at me and smiled.

I fed her the entire bowl of chicken noodle soup, and then I fed her a bowl of tapioca pudding.  We had a conversation while she ate.  I said things like, "Aren't those carrots good?" and "This tapioca's just like you used to make" and "If you had a choice between tapioca and pecan pie, which would you choose?"  She kept eating and nodding and answering my questions.  For the record, she would pick pecan pie over tapioca.  "But they're both good," she said.

I wish I had asked my mother more questions like this when she and I were younger.  I wish I had asked her about when she worked for the telephone company or how her father used to sell Christmas trees every year or what she dreamed of doing when she was a little girl.  I wish I knew my mother better, that I had listened to her more.  Taken less from her, given more back.  Been a better son.

Now, I have to be satisfied with sharing chicken noodle soup and tapioca pudding with her.  Each spoonful steaming hot.  I will blow on it, cool it down so it doesn't burn her tongue.

And Saint Marty will watch her smile as she chews each mouthful, as if she's just taken Communion on Sunday morning.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

October 19: Electric Death, Anger, Mr. Rogers

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.

Anger is never the answer in any situation.  The G'Gugvuntt and Vl'hurgs don't learn this lesson.  Their little misunderstanding kicks off a thousand-year intergalactic war.  In the end, nobody really understands why they've been fighting in the first place.  That's the way anger goes.

Last night, I wrote my blog post in anger, which is never a great idea.  When I woke up this morning, I was still angry, and I stormed around my house, silently stewing in my own juices of discontent.  I was setting myself up for an entire weekend of miserable fury, which would then spill over into next week.  Basically, I was the G'Gugvuntt leader, holding on to my feelings of insult and betrayal, ready to kick off a thousand-year grudge.

As I sat down to write this morning's post, I paged through my copy of Hitchhiker's and let my finger find my topic of the day randomly.  It landed on the above paragraph.  I read it.  Then, I reread it and laughed.  In his exaggeration, Douglas Adams is holding up a mirror to the ridiculousness of the human condition--we can turn a molehill of hurt into a mountain of acrimony.  (In Donald Trump's case, he's turned his molehill of egotistical slight against President Obama into a mountain of political stupidity that will cause the deaths of thousands of Kurds in Turkey.  That's the subject for another post.)  But you see where I coming from, don't you?  Acting out of anger never results in good things.  Ever.

So, today I have to regroup and figure out how to solve some problems.  I need to release my anger.  If I'm holding this anger in fisted hands, not letting go,  refusing to relax my fingers, then, when God comes along and offers me help, I'm not going to be able to reach out and take it from Him.  Because my hands are full of hurt and resentment. 

This is not an earth-shattering revelation.  In fact, it's something I was taught by Mr. Rogers when I was very young.  Yet, I need to keep relearning it.  I think this is about the 1,234,569th time for me.  Do I have a reason to feel angry?  I think so.  However, will that anger help anything?  No.  Absolutely not.  Mr. Rogers taught me that I have a right to feel all my emotions--happiness, anger, sadness, jealousy.  Emotions are real things, and ignoring them can be harmful. 

Therefore, today, I acknowledge my anger.  I allow myself to feel it.  Then, I let it go and move on.

As always, Saint Marty is a work in progress.

Friday, October 18, 2019

October 18: Noise and Light, Hells Angels, Geode

The next thing that happened was a mind-boggling explosion of noise and light.

The Heart of Gold spaceship and its crew are under attack from the planet surface of Magrathea.  They are being pursued by missiles, and impact is imminent.  Everything and everyone are about to be blown into non-existence in a mind-boggling explosion of noise and light.  Arthur and company were not expecting to be annihilated by the citizens of the fabled planet.  Nothing in the ancient stories of Magrathea indicated that its inhabitants were aggressive in any way.  The Heart of Gold passengers, or at least Zaphod, trusted that the myth of the Magratheans--a race of aliens dedicated only to building custom-made planets for the ultra-wealthy--was completely true.

They should have known better.

This evening, I went to a presentation about fighting addictions at a local church.  The speaker, a pastor sporting a Mohawk, sleeves of tattoos on his arms, and a motorcycle vest covered in Christian versions of Hells Angels patches, paced and told stories about his meth addiction participation in satanic rituals and drug dealing.  And he talked about how God never gave up on him.  How God pursued him for over 30 years the way a shepherd pursues a lost sheep.  At the end of his talk, the pastor held up a rock and said, "We are all fearfully"--he turned the rock around to reveal its geode interior--"and wonderfully made."

It was an inspiring presentation, stirred my spirit in a way that it hasn't been stirred in a long time.  I left feeling good about my life, ready to rededicate myself to prayer and hope.  I had dinner with my wife and daughter, and it was good, too.  No cell phones at the table.  No prolonged, texting silences.  It was a normal, family dinner.

The end of the night has not been so great.  I discovered that something I trusted was happening wasn't happening.  Now, I'm just angry, feeling betrayed.  I thought that I could pay a bunch of bills this week, and I can't because of this broken trust.  Somehow, I'm going to have to get past these raw emotions and try to figure out how to pay these bills coming due, including several past-due notices.

I do believe that passage from Psalm 139.  I believe we are all fearfully and wonderfully made.  Every person can be a geode, full of inner, sparkling light.  Tonight, however, all I can see is the rocky skin.  The fearfully part.  It's not pretty.  It's hard.  Unforgiving.  Angry.  Selfish.  It's something that can be used as a weapon. 

I'm praying that I can find a beautiful geode to focus on this evening, or it's going to be a pretty sleepless night for me.  I am searching for that incandescent glow in myself and the people I love, and I'm not being all that successful.  As Charlie Brown says when he goes trick-or-treating, "I got a rock."

Saint Marty is getting a little tired of having his world rocked all the time.  He wants to be geode-ed every once in a while.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

October 17: Unregarded Yellow Sun, Daughter's Gift, Significant Night

Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.

Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.

I didn't want the night to pass on this utterly insignificant little blue-green planet without acknowledging the wonderful evening I've had.  

After work, I returned home, and my daughter had a package waiting for her on the front porch.  When I told her about it, she asked me to bring it to her in her bedroom.  When I climbed the stairs, she told me to open the package in front of her.  

It turned out to be this:  

That would be Sharon Olds' just-published collection of poems, Arias.  My daughter's birthday present to me.  A wonderful surprise from my little girl who is so proud of her ability to buy gifts with her own money that she earns working at her job.

And then, I drove out into a beautiful sunset:

And attended the Open Mic at the Joy Center in my home town, where I listened to some great writing by some of my most favorite ape-descended life forms.  And I shared some newer and older pieces of my own:

This blue-green planet may be insignificant, but Saint Marty had a significantly fulfilling evening on it.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

October 16: Don't Talk to Me About Life, Pessimist, My Son/My Hero

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

Marvin is one of my favorite characters in Hitchhiker's.  A robot programmed to be clinically depressed.  He is everyone on their worst days, when life comes along and keeps kicking dirt in your face over and over and over.  Of course, we can laugh at Marvin for the hyperbole of his state of mind.  Yet, behind that laughter, there's also a little bit of self-recognition.  We all have a part of Marvin in us, all the time.

For the last half year or so, I have been swinging in between peace of mind and piece of Marvin.  I reach moments when I resolve some inner conflict, and then I'm good for a day or two.  Yet, my Marvin always pushes himself forward, claiming control of my head.  Then, I will experience days, sometimes weeks, of self-pity and self-loathing.  To quote Marvin, "Life!  Don't talk to me about life."

My problems are mostly first-world.  I'm not living through a drought or famine.  Bombs aren't exploding around me on a daily basis.  I don't fear for my life every second.  I pay a mortgage on a house.  I have a car.  My kids are healthy.  Blah, blah, blah.  I'm doing better than about 97% of the rest of the people inhabiting this little rock of a planet.  Yet, I sometimes find myself uncontrollably unhappy.

Now, before you scroll away from this post because you don't want to be dragged down into Marvin Land, I am going to ask you to stick with me.  My goal is to end on a happy, uplifting note this evening.  That is because I'm going to talk about my eleven-year-old son, and his struggles with negativity and pessimism.

Since a very young age, my son has been seeing a psychiatrist, off and on, to deal with his anger impulse issues.  These issues are tied pretty closely with his ADHD, and medication has helped him quite a bit.  Yet, my son also deals with moments of what I can only call extreme disappointment.  Life doesn't go the way he expects, and my son struggles with that.  One day, after an appointment with his psychiatrist, he came to visit me at work, and the first words out of his mouth were, "Daddy, I'm a pessimist, just like you!"  He said this with a huge smile, throwing his arms around my waist.

For some reason, he appreciated this explanation of his state of mind.  It was something he could understand, as if pessimism is something passed down genetically (and it sort of is--if you term it depression or mental illness).  And he was proud of the fact that he was taking after me.  Me?  That moment was not one of my better parenting days.  It was like my son holding a mirror up to my face, forcing me to look at some really horrible defect in my features.

Now, my wife suffers from bipolar disorder and addiction.  I, to use my son's words, am a pessimist.  That means my son and daughter have a few strikes against them in the mental health department.  I am constantly on the lookout for signs of trouble in my kids, hoping to catch bumps in the mental illness road before they turn into Grand Canyons of depression or mania.  So far, so good.

I am much more mindful of how I act around my son these days.  I try not to be Marvin around him.  It's difficult for me at times.  Yet, I can see that my son has matured.  He hasn't had any trips to the principal's office so far this year.  He stops his temper before it turns into a tantrum.  And he's much more aware of people's feelings around him.  He does small things, like sharing his French fries or giving his sister unexpected hugs, that surprise me.

My little pessimist has become my hero and teacher.  He is trying to change his outlook on the world, and he's succeeding.  That amazes me and instructs me.  For such a young person, my son is emotionally smarter than me on many levels, and he will call me out on my Marvin days:  "Daddy, you need to play a game of Notable Novelists with me to be happier."  He's right.

When Saint Marty grows up, he wants to be more like his son.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

October 15: Bad Shoe Sessions, Addict Mind, Stubbornness or Stupidity or Weakness


They plunged through heavy walls of sound, mountains of archaic thought, valleys of mood music, bad shoe sessions and footling bats and suddenly heard a girl's voice . . .

Of course, this whole paragraph is about improbability.  Things that don't make sense.  That's what fuels the Heart of Gold spaceship--coincidences that are so outlandish that they create energy.  That energy propels the Heart of Gold to the far reaches of the universe, proving that the Big Bang started out as two tiny pieces of insanity colliding into each other at the start of time.

There are a lot of things I don't understand, like deep-fried pickles and the appeal of Donald Trump.  One of the things that truly puzzles me is the addict mind.  As I've written before, I have a few addicts in my life.  These people constantly make bad decisions.  One of these people spends half her life stoned on pills, and the other half trying to figure out how to get more pills to get stoned again.  Another of these people consistently chooses his addiction over everything else, including his children.  His kids know that they can't depend on him right now, and they have stopped turning to him for help or advice or love.

The other day, I asked one of these addicts to go to a talk being given by a recovering drug addict at a local church.  The talk is not just about drugs, however.  It's about all addictions.  Alcohol.  Pornography.  Sex.  Food.  Gambling.  Anything to which you can form an unhealthy attachment.  It's not going to be a tent revival meeting.  It's simply one guy talking about his journey to recovery.  My addict's response to this invitation:  "I'll go, but it won't make a difference.  I'm too stubborn."

I'm not sure if it's stubbornness or stupidity or weakness.  Maybe all three.  I am sure about one thing, though--you can't force an addict into recovery.  That's a decision that falls squarely on the shoulders of the addict.  What boggles my mind is that my addict doesn't even recognize the damage that's already happened in his life.  Thousands of dollars of debt.  Alienation of his spouse and children.  He's lost things that he will have a hard time regaining--memories with his family, the trust of people he loves.  And he just doesn't seem to care.

And I don't understand this.  My addict knows his choices are bad.  Knows that he's throwing away his marriage and his kids.  Yet, it just doesn't seem to matter to him.  He is hell-bent on self-destruction, and, as a friend, I have to sit back and watch him do it.

I know that the only thing in life that I have control over is my own actions.  One of my best friends
constantly reminds me of this.  However, it's really difficult coming to terms with the fact that I have to watch someone for whom I care about deeply simply disappear into his addiction.  Possibly forever.  His choice.  Not mine.

If my addict reads this post, I hope he knows that his kids are hurting.  That his young daughter thinks she's less important than his addiction.  (She told her mother this one night.)  I hope, somehow, these words rock him a little bit.  He's a good person, making terrible choices, over and over and over.  But it's never too late to make things right.  He just has to have the courage to admit that he's out of control and needs help.  That's the first step.

At the moment, however, this seems not impossible.  Just improbable.

Saint Marty prays for this improbability tonight.  His Heart of Gold is running out of fuel.

Monday, October 14, 2019

October 14: Went About With Him, 24th Wedding Anniversary, My Favorite Things

Everyone beamed at him [Zaphod], or at least, nearly everyone.  He singled out Trillian from the crowd.  Trillian was a girl that Zaphod had picked up recently while visiting a planet, just for fum, incognito.  She was slim, darkish, humanoid, with long waves of black hair, a full mouth, an odd little knob of a nose and ridiculously brown eyes.  With her red head scarf knotted in that particular way and her long flowing silky brown dress, she looked vaguely Arabic.  Not that anyone there had ever heard of an Arab of course.  The Arabs had very recently ceased to exist, and even when they had existed they were five hundred thousand light-years from Damogran.  Trillian wasn't anybody in particular, or so Zaphod claimed.  She just went about with him rather a lot and told him what she thought of him.

There is no real love story in Hitchhiker's, unless you count Zaphod Beeblebrox being in love with himself.  The closest to a "normal" love relationship is the one between Zaphod and his girlfriend, the Earth woman, Trillian.  According to the passage above, Trillian "just went about with him rather a lot."  That's it.  No real commitment to each other.  They are conveniently involved, each giving the other something the other needs.  Zaphod needs a glamorous girl on his arm at governmental occasions, and Trillian needs someone to get her off her home planet.

Today is my 24th wedding anniversary.  That number surprises a lot of people.  It certainly surprises me.  It hardly seems possible that my wife and I have been married for close to a quarter century.  We have been through some pretty rocky times.  Yet, here we are--still together, still in love, still struggling with life's slings and arrows.

I have written essays and blog posts and poems about our life together, chronicling both the good and not so good.  Tonight, however, I want to simply tell you some of my favorite things about my wife:

  • She can make me laugh, even at my very worst times.
  • When I'm feeling particularly beaten down, she doesn't try to fill me up with false praise or empty hope.  She just loves me in my misery.
  • She loves my poetry.
  • She will tell me when a poem I write is crap.
  • She tells me when I've fixed that crappy poem.
  • She gave me two beautiful kids who have filled my existence on this planet with meaning.
  • She forces me to be a better person than I am.
  • She gave me another family to love--her sisters and cousins and nieces and nephews.  She multiplied my love.
  • She has taught me that love is full of peaks and valleys.  Highs and lows.
  • To this day, she is still the most beautiful woman I've ever known.
  • She isn't perfect, and she doesn't expect me to be perfect.
  • When I climb into bed tonight, I will feel her body next to mine.  She will keep me warm in the darkness.
Saint Marty thanks his endless love for 24 of the best years of his life.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

October 13: Future Time, Cold Sweats, Full Life

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

The future is something that I worry about.  A lot.  You may even say that I have been preoccupied with the future since I was a small child.  One of my recurring nightmares as a young person involved being in a van without a driver,  travelling down a long, unending road by myself.  No idea where I'm heading.  Just toward some distant, unknown destination.  I would wake up in cold sweats from this dream.

As an adult, this anxiety over the future hasn't subsided.  I still spend a great deal of time stressing over what tomorrow may bring.  You're probably thinking about now, "What's the point in worrying about the future?"  I agree with you.  Losing sleep over what MAY happen is a losing venture.  It doesn't make the future better or worse.  It simply makes me really tired.

I think it's a matter of control for me.  I like my days ordered and calm.  In the morning, when I wake up, I already have my itinerary planned out.  I make my "to do" list for the next day right before I go to bed.  I know what I will be doing, hour by hour.  That comforts me.  Leaves little room for disaster or surprise or accident.  Of course, it also leaves little room for unexpected joys, those happy moments when life takes a turn for the better instead of the worse.

I know that the future is beyond my control.  I know that the present is what I should be focusing on.  You don't have to remind me of this fact.  I have control over my actions and reactions today.  That's it.  I can prepare for a good tomorrow, but that doesn't guarantee that it will happen.  It doesn't even guarantee that I will have a good afternoon or evening. 

Here is what I know about today:  we are celebrating my birthday at my mother's house.  My sister is making prime rib, mashed potatoes, and tapioca pudding, three traditional Saint Marty's Day dishes.  In addition, people will sing "Happy Birthday" to me.  I may receive a gift or two.  Maybe not.  And tonight, if everything goes according to plan, my son will practice his trombone, and my daughter will focus on her homework.  Me?  I'll spend my last few hours before bedtime getting ready for tomorrow and the coming week.  Because I like the illusion of preparedness.

And tomorrow, I will celebrate my twenty-fourth wedding anniversary with my wife.  We will go out to our favorite little Italian restaurant for dinner.  Have some drinks.  Eat some good food.  Think about how our life together began.  Talk about the hopes and dreams we had.  Imagine what we would now tell those two young people who said "I do" almost a quarter century ago, when everything seemed possible.

The future still frightens me, because everything, at the moment, seems unsettled.  In the past 24 years, my life has been full of surprises, good and bad.  I've struggled, and I've rejoiced.  I've cried a lot, and I've laughed a lot.  And I've had a beautiful partner who's accompanied me on this long, winding road into the future. 

Saint Marty thinks that's pretty good definition of a full life.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

October 12: Bottom Fell Out, Big Bang, Sunlight then Snowlight

He [Ford] tossed over The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and then curled himself up into a fetal ball to prepare himself for the jump.

At that moment the bottom fell out of Arthur's mind.

Arthur experiences the jump to hyperspace for the first time in his life, and it is not a pleasant.  Everything sort of collapses and expands at the same time.  I understand this feeling--that unstable moment when the reality that you know gets pulled out from underneath your feet like a loose rug, and you end up on your back, on the floor, staring up at a ceiling that you've never really taken the opportunity to study.  You notice cracks and cobwebs and shadows that have probably been there for quite some time.  A new perspective on an old place.

I've had this happen to me quite a lot.  In fact, my life has been a series of jumps to hyperspace, my universe shifting in a big bang fraction of a second.  And after this happens, it takes some time for the planets and stars to realign themselves into new orbits and trajectories.  Currently, I am in a settling phase, trying to adjust to my new reality, version 25.1.

For a person who has a pathological dislike of change in any form, I have become very used to these cosmological adjustments.  In fact, I would venture to say that they have become almost normal for me.  However, I really crave a life where the status quo has a foundation that isn't quicksand.  I want ten years or so where my biggest worry is what book to read next, with the occasional automobile repair thrown in.

I'm at McDonald's currently, listening to a group of old codgers who meet up here every morning.  They sit around the same table every day, talking about politics and news and sports.  Most of them are Trump supporters who are quite vocal in their dislike of anything that even smacks of social equity and justice.  They're Korean War vets and Vietnam vets.  They've worked hard all their lives, most of them married to the same people for 40 or 50 or 60 years.  All of them are retired.  They've had stability for quite some time.  Or so I imagine.

I don't envy everything about these guys.  Certainly not their social and political alignments.  But there's something about the routine of their days that really appeals to me.  The comfort they possess of money and relationship and world view.  Now, I'm sure that they all have problems in their lives.  Health issues.  Family issues.  Maybe even some money issues.  But, they seem to enjoy a stability in their lives that I haven't known since I started college.

Maybe, however, there are people out there who look at me and see someone who's stable and happy.  Who enjoys a life of calm routine.  In fact, there may be a person sitting here in McDonald's right now who is staring at me, thinking, "If only I had a life like his, I would be so happy."  I've quoted Thoreau recently in another post:  "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."  I think that is probably true of everybody here this morning, eating pancakes and Egg McMuffins, drinking coffee and Diet Coke.

The first snow of the season fell in my home town this morning.  Infrequent, spitting cold flakes.  The world is all autumn yellow and orange and red.  It is a shifting kind of day, in between the fire of harvest and the cold sleep of December.  Even this little rock of a planet we live on must endure these hyperspace jumps of change, every year.  A week ago, the air was warm, almost summery.  Today, I can taste winter.

It's the way things are.  Big bang then quiet eons.  Summer then autumn then winter.  Sunlight then snowlight.  Love and then sorrow.

Saint Marty will just go on, leading his life of quiet desperation.

October 10-11: No Significance, Sleepless Nights, Nobel Prize for Literature

In order that some sense of mystery should still be preserved, no revelation will yet be made concerning whose upper arm sustains the bruise.  This fact may safely be made the subject of suspense since it is of no significance whatsoever.

There will be no suspense in this blog post.  And most of what I write will have little to no literary significance whatsoever.  I have had a week of mostly sleepless nights, due to projects and work I needed to complete.  I am beat.

I apologize for my absence last night.  My excuse is simple:  poetry.  I was leading my monthly workshop at the Joy Center in my home town.  The theme was fears and phobias, and I had a great evening of poeting with a group of talented writers and friends.  These workshops have become one of my favorite monthly events.  Yesterday, I got home from the workshop at around 11 p.m., with every intention of typing a quick post before I went to bed.  Didn't happen, obviously.

And I have a feeling that, when I get home tonight, I will probably not have a whole lot of energy.  I'm feeling a little exhausted already.  As soon I eat dinner, I have a date with my pillow and blankie.  (Yes, I said "blankie."  Don't judge me.)  My body makes me do this every once in a while.  I think of it as a reboot, where I have to reset in order to continue to function properly.

Before I call it a night, however, I must make mention of the fact that, once again, the Swedish Academy has overlooked me for the Nobel Prize in Literature.  In fact (since no literature Nobel was awarded last year because of a sex scandal within the Swedish Academy), I had double the chances of winning this year--winners were announced for the years 2018 and 2019. 

Again, there is no suspense here.  I waited for the call this morning from the Swedish Academy's new Permanent Secretary, Mats Malm.  I had my cell phone at the ready at 6 a.m.  I waited . . . and waited . . . and waited.  Eventually, Mats walked through the white doors into the main hall of the Swedish Academy and announced that the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature for 2018 was the Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk and the winner of the Nobel for 2019 was Austrian writer Peter Handke.  Once again, my literary accomplishments went unrewarded.

Almost immediately after the announcement, I received my annual text from one of my best friends.  It simply read:  "Dammit!  The Nobel Academy is blind.  I am so tired of you getting robbed!"

Never fear.  One of these years, the doors to the great hall will swing open, and the Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy will enter.  The reporters' cameras will go machine gun crazy taking pictures.  The Secretary will clear his throat and announce:  "The Nobel Prize in Literature for the year [fill in the blank] is awarded to the American author Saint Marty for a body of work that crosses the boundaries of intellect and emotion, mapping the continents of experience with a depth of dark wit and wisdom, giving voice to the voiceless immigrants of the human condition."  Or something like that.

Until that time, Saint Marty will sleep peacefully tonight, knowing that, some December in the future, his trip to Sweden is coming . . .

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

October 9: Hell of a Quote, Hi, Earth-Shattering, Poetry

The way I've been composing my Hitchhiker's posts since we finished the book last week is fairly simple.  I take the book in one hand and begin flipping through the pages, without looking.  Then, at some point, when the impulse hits me, I stab my finger at a particular page and paragraph, again without looking.  Surprisingly, my finger usually lands on a passage that speaks to me in some way.  This is what my finger found this evening:

"Hi," he said to a small knot of creatures from the press who were standing nearby wishing that he would stop saying Hi and get on with the quotes.  He grinned at them particularly because he knew that in a few moments he would be giving them one hell of a quote.

Of course, this is about Zaphod Beeblebrox, President of the Imperial Galactic Government, just before he is about to steal the Heart of Gold spaceship with his girlfriend, Trillian.  Nobody else knows what is about to happen.  The press is there to report on the unveiling of the Heart of Gold, nothing more.  The entire universe is about to be surprised.

I think most of my days are like this.  I show up to work or teaching, planner in hand, book/laptop bag on my shoulder, thinking that it's going to be like any other day.  I say "hi" to people, make jokes, go about the business of my life.  I don't expect anything earth-shattering to happen.  I save the earth-shattering stuff for when I sit down to write.  At least, I try to.

You see, I'm of the opinion that anything can be earth-shattering.  For instance, I'm pretty hungry right now.  I'm eating a piece of leftover pizza for dinner.  On another day, in different circumstances, I wouldn't really be paying too much attention to this slice.  However, because of my empty stomach, and because I just worked eight hours and then taught for another two and am getting ready to teach for another three-and-a-half hours, eating this triangle of pizza is turning into a pretty earth-shattering experience for me.

For me, that's what poetry is all about.  Finding the earth-shattering in the everyday things in life.  Like pizza.  Or a drink of water.  Or a stick of pepperoni.  Or a discarded Band-aid.  Whatever.  The best poems--the ones I love the most--are about these kinds of mundane experiences, when the poet is suddenly contemplating string theory while tying her shoes.  That is the kind of poetry that unhinges my head from my shoulders.

Two days ago, I wrote what I think is the finished draft of a poem.  It had been sitting on a page in my journal, collecting dust, since August.  I didn't think it was very good, so I sort of abandoned it.  For some reason, I felt myself drawn back to it on Monday.  I reread it and saw something breathing on the page.  So I decided to shape it, give it life.

It's a poem about my son.  And it's about authenticity.  And joy.  And time.  And seeing something earth-shattering.  At least, that's what I think it's about.  Sometimes, writers are the worst people for understanding what they've written.  Because most of what writers do is instinctual.  I let my mind go where it needs to go, create whatever beautiful mess it needs to create.  If it ends up being a poem, all the better.

I've decided to include it below, let you be the judge.  Is it a poem or just a beautiful mess?  A piece of pizza or the meaning of life?  Both?  Neither?

Take a bite of this poem, and tell Saint Marty if it changes you in any way.

Harvest Time

by:  Martin Achatz

He begged me for just ten more minutes
before he had to shower, wash off
the math and lunchroom and homework
of the day.  He stands in the backyard
by the woodpile, holds a stick
the size of his arm, swinging
it through the dusk.  Wild chops
that guillotine the swarm of mosquitoes
in front of his face.  Then he turns, swings
in the other direction, towards the neighbor’s
house.  The arc bisects the navel orange
sun.  Back and forth he threshes the air,
the way I saw a Russian peasant boy
in an old newsreel slash down wheat
with a scythe.  All the time my son
does this, his mouth moves.  He’s talking
or shouting or singing.  I can’t hear
him through the kitchen window.
But he’s smiling a smile that is all him.
A smile he saves just for himself.
I’ve never seen it before.  It’s not meant
for my eyes or anyone’s eyes.  I turn
away from the glass.  Let him be
his own, harvesting these last
golden bushels of daylight.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

October 8: Wonderful Horror, Beautiful Ugly, 24th Wedding Anniversary

Arthur stared about him in a kind of wonderful horror.  Ranged away before them, at distances he could neither judge nor even guess at, were a series of curious suspensions, delicate traceries of metal and light hung about shadowy spherical shapes that hung in the space.

I love the phrase "wonderful horror."  It's sort of like the term "beautiful ugly" or "awful joy."  A combination of opposites used to describe something that is full of ambiguity.  It tries to embrace the entirety of what is being described, whether it's a person, place, or experience.

When you think about it, nothing can truly exist without its opposite.  How can we know what light is without experiencing darkness?  Can one tree be beautiful without another tree being ugly?  If watching the Perseid meteor showers is full of wonder, then watching an equivalent event in nature must be full of horror, like Hurricane Katrina.  You see what I mean?  Each thing is defined by its antithesis.

I am approaching my 24th wedding anniversary this coming Monday.  My wife and I have been married for almost a quarter century, but we've been together for closer to 30 years.  Those years have been full of joys and sorrows.  They've been beautiful, and they've been ugly.  We've experienced peace, and we've experienced struggle.
This pretty much describes any marriage.  It's impossible to be with the same person for a long period of time without problems arising.  It kind of goes with the territory.  Yet, it's that foundation of love that helps couples weather the storms.  Marriages fail when one partner or the other loses sight of that love, turns away, toward something that seems exciting or dangerous or both.

One of the biggest misconceptions of marriage is that it's always midnight swims, bodies naked under a coral moon.  Sure, those things still happen.  But most of the time, marriage is cooking spam omelettes because that's all that's in the refrigerator to eat and you can't afford to order a pizza.  Marriage is built on both the extraordinary and the extraordinarily mundane.

This past summer, there has been a lot of ugly to go along with the beautiful of our marriage.  We have been struggling, but we have also had moments of joy, including our little vacation in Mackinaw City.  We walked hand-in-hand along the shores of Lake Michigan, enjoying this simple moment of physical intimacy.  It was beautiful ugly.  Or lovely sad.  Or wonderful normal.

I wouldn't wish away any of these infinitely small moments of love I've shared with my spouse over the years.

They have made Saint Marty's marriage fragile strong.

October 7: Atoms and Molecules, Scarecrow, Algebra of the Heart

The Heart of Gold fled on silently through the night of space, now on conventional photon drive.  Its crew of four were ill at ease knowing that they had been brought together not of their own volition or by simple coincidence, but by some curious perversion of physics--as if relationships between people were susceptible to the same laws that governed relationships between atoms and molecules.

In some ways, I think that life would be so much easier if relationships between people were governed by the laws of physics.  It would save me (and millions of others) from a lot of sleepless nights.  If love were simply a matter of valences and formulas, the problems of my life could be solved almost algebraically.  It would be as simple as understanding a² + b² = c².  (For those of you uncomfortable with scientific or mathematical equations, I am saying that if life/love were as predictable as the Pythagorean theorem, it would be really easy to avoid heartbreak.)

Of course, it isn't quite that simple.  The Scarecrow learned that in The Wizard of Oz.  Even though he got his brain, he still couldn't figure out how not to be heartbroken when Dorothy left.  What I'm saying here is not very earth-shattering, but I think people tend to forget it, especially if they've been in long-term relationships for quite some time.  After 25 or 30 or 40 years, love can be taken for granted, until love climbs into the basket of an air balloon and disappears into the sky forever.

The love my wife and I share has been complicated by a lot of things--mental illness, addiction, and all the messy things that accompany mental illness and addiction.  If I were talking mathematically, I would say that a lot of unknown variables have entered the equation of our lives.  And, as of this night, I am still trying to figure out the value of those variables.  Solve the equation of our marriage, so to speak.

It's too late right now for me to fiddle around with the x and y and a and b and z (and probably quite a few other letters) of my relationship with my wife.  I'm tired, and the math simply makes me more tired.  What I want you to take away from this post is that the heart has its own algebra, and no mathematician has been able to figure out its rules.  Because they're transitive and associative and communicative all at once.

So, go with what the Beatles said, if you want:  "All you need is love."

Or Bette Midler:  "Some say love, it is a razor that leaves your soul to bleed."

Or Robert Palmer:  "Might as well face it, you're addicted to love."

Or go with what Saint Marty says:  Love can ruin and save your life at the same time.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

October 6: Next Year's Journey, Few Things I've Learned, Addiction Sucks

As I embark upon my next year's journey in life, I thought I'd list a few things I've learned over the past 365 days:

  • Don't take anything for granted.  Life can change in a hummingbird's heartbeat.  One moment, you are on stable, easy ground.  The next, you're treading quicksand.  So, make sure to appreciate even the smallest, most mundane moments every day.  
  • You can't choose who you love.  Love chooses for you.
  • The person you love the most is the person who can hurt you the most.
  • Mental illness sucks.
  • Addiction sucks.
  • You cannot force an addict to become sober, no matter how hard you try.
  • Addiction is a selfish disease.  An addict will turn his back on his significant other, children, family, job,  and life in pursuit of his addiction.
  • You can't love a person into sobriety.
  • Did I mention that addiction sucks?
  • I am stronger than I realized.
  • God is looking out for me, all the time.  When I was at rock bottom this past year, staring up at the sky from the pit of a forgotten well, God stepped in, rolled up His sleeves, and went to work.
  • There are tons of people in my life who care about me very deeply.
  • My daughter is an amazing person.  She's smarter and stronger than I will ever be.
  • Poetry can save your life.
  • Friends come and go, like busboys in a restaurant, as Stephen King wrote.
  • There is nothing wrong with sameness.  Boring is not bad.  It's stable and comforting.
  • Sometimes, simply getting out of bed in the morning is the biggest victory of your day.
  • Never, EVER say to yourself, "Well, it couldn't get any worse!"  It WILL get worse.
  • I could live at Walt Disney World.
  • I am not a big fan of blizzards or snow storms.  
  • I still have dreams.
  • Hope is a sustaining life force, not an unrealistic fantasy.
  • Fear really is the opposite of faith.  
  • Don't chew loudly around me.  I will kill you.
  • I hate Donald Trump.
  • My son is sweet, generous, and loving.
  • My son is frustrating and short-tempered.
  • I love my son.
  • I love my daughter.
  • I love my wife.
  • Love always wins.
There you have it!  Saint Marty's life lessons for 2018/2019.  Print them on a tee-shirt.  Make a meme.  Turn them into an app.  Just remember, Saint Marty gets a 40% cut of the profits.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

October 5: Happy Saint Marty's Day, Nature of the Universe, the Future

Happy Saint Marty's Day!

Yes, the day has finally arrived!  All that preparation, cookie-baking, decorating, and gift-wrapping have finally paid off!  Now, we can all just relax and enjoy the joy and goodwill of this blessed day!

I will say that this past year has had a lot of ups and downs for me.  And, although things are still not on level ground for me, I am still able to wake up in the morning, go through my day, finding things to laugh about, feeling loved and blessed.  Sure, I have my down days, but I try not to wallow in them.  Instead, I look for the beautiful things in the swamp.  The water lilies and orchids.  The singing bull frogs.  There's beauty everywhere.  You just have to open your eyes and look around.

Douglas Adams writes this about a bowl of petunias falling through the atmosphere to the surface of the planet Magrathea:

Curiously enough, the only thing that went through the mind of the bowl of petunias as it fell was Oh no, not again.  Many people have speculated that if we knew exactly why the bowl of petunias had thought that we would know a lot more about the nature of the Universe than we do now.

Yes, even petunias can have a bad day.  Or a series of bad days.  There's always mystery in life.  (Why did those petunias say, "Oh no, not again.")  Nobody knows why bad things happen to good flowers (or people).  There may be no answer to that conundrum.  A cynic/pessimist may say that the the petunias are victims of a universe that is cruel and cold.  An optimist may say that the universe is preparing the petunias for something better.  A realist would simply tell the petunias that their fate is simply a fact of nature and to accept it.

On this Saint Marty's Day, I would tell the petunias to enjoy the sun and wind in its petals!  Don't worry about what's coming.  Worrying about the future is a fruitless endeavor.  If there is one thing this past year has taught me it's that you can't spend your whole day pondering the "what ifs" of life.  Because they may never happen, and then you've just wasted minutes/hours/days of your life.  Instead, I choose to focus on making the best of my now.

Today, I will enjoy driving my son to his weekly game of D&D.  We will listen to podcasts that we love.  Or Christmas music.  (I've trained him well.)  Later, I will enjoy playing the pipe organ for Mass this afternoon.  I'm sure my daughter and wife will have some Saint Marty's Day goodness to share with me.  And then, hopefully, a fire tonight in the backyard.  Or a game night.  That's about as far into the future as I'm going.

That is what Saint Marty's Day is really all about.  Enjoying the little and big blessings in your life.  Not taking anything for granted.  Because, as the Spinners song warns, tomorrow may never come. 

Saint Marty wishes you all a blessed and joyous Saint Marty's Day!