Saturday, November 30, 2019

November 30: Everyone Beamed at Him, Fred Rogers, Niceness

"Hi," he [Zaphod Beeblebrox] said again.

Everyone beamed at him, or at least, nearly everyone . . .

Here he is.  Zaphod Beeblebrox being Zaphod Beeblebrox.  Beloved President of the Galaxy.  Basking in the love and adulation of everyone around him, like some kind of intergalactic Fred Rogers, only with two heads.

Greetings on the last day of November, 2019.  As I have said in recent posts, I am pretty anxious to have 2019 in my rear view mirror.  It has not been the best of years.  For many reasons.  I am trying to make this Christmas season extra special to salvage these last days.  Doing some homemade presents.  Getting something extra special for my kids.  Practicing some self care.  Attempting to be kind to everyone.

Last night, I took my family to see the movie It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood with Tom Hanks playing Fred Rogers.  The original plan was to take in the 6:40 p.m. showing.  However, when we showed up at 6:30 p.m., we found out that there wasn't a 6:40 p.m. show.  So, I made some lemonade out of lemons, and we headed over to Big Boy for a family dinner.

We sat and ate and talked for almost two hours.  It was a really wonderful time, watching my son and daughter kid around, tease and poke at each other, talk about Christmas and snow storms.  My daughter's boyfriend was in that mix, too.  He's been dating my daughter going on three years now, so he's, basically, another son to us.  We care about him a lot.

After eggs and pastas and a cookies and cream milkshake, we headed back to the theater to see the movie.  Everyone was excited (well, my daughter's boyfriend was not complaining, so I count that as excited for him).  I was tired, but really content to be with the people whom I love most.

The movie was really beautiful, and Tom Hanks was ah-mazing.  Of course.  I grew up watching Fred Rogers, as most kids of my generation did in the United States.  I was afraid that the film was going to try to humanize Mr. Rogers, peel away the cardigan to reveal a tortured soul.  It wasn't that at all.  Instead, it was the story of a journalist, Lloyd,  who was out to dig up some dirt on Fred Rogers, and he ends up being transformed by his interactions with the man (and Daniel Tiger and King Friday the Thirteenth).  It filled me with a compassion and love for people.  All kinds of people.  Good people.  Bad people.  Whole people, broken people.  And it reinforced to me the power of being nice and kind in the face of everything life throws your way.

That's a really good lesson for me right now.  I think the whole world would be a much better place if we were all a little more like Fred Rogers.  I know that the man wasn't a saint.  He had his personal struggles.  He got angry, sad, depressed, frustrated.  He was human.  But he didn't let those emotions rule his life, and he treated everyone--regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation, religious beliefs--as if they really mattered.

Kindness can make a broken soul whole again.

So, if I see you today, at the grocery store or church or at McDonald's, don't be surprised if I tell you how important you are to me.  How glad I am that you are in my life.  How I wish goodness and love to you and everyone who's important to you.

It's a beautiful day in Saint Marty's neighborhood.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

November 28: Day of Thankfulness, Good Friend, "Bigfoot Gives Thanks"

I didn't want this day of thankfulness to pass without sharing some thoughts before I head off to bed.

Sometimes, life doesn't turn out the way you expect.  A snow storm hits, and suddenly you're stranded in an airport instead of eating turkey and mashed potatoes with your family.  You wake up in the morning, and your car won't start.  A second-rate reality television star becomes President of the United States.  

Life simply has a way of throwing curve balls at you all the time.

I have a good friend who's hurting this evening.  A person full of love and smiles, all the time.  My friend's life has been affected significantly by addiction.  The person she loves the most has become a stranger to her.  I understand the pain and grief  that she's going through.  It's like dragging fathoms and fathoms of chains around with you, to borrow an image from A Christmas Carol.  No matter where you are, what your'e doing, who you're with--you just can't escape it.

Today is Thanksgiving.  This morning, my friend texted me and said, "I'm just not feeling it."

I want to remind my friend that she is surrounded by angels.  She can be thankful for that.  I want to remind her that, even in the eye of the hurricane, she can find peace.  She can be thankful for that.  And I want to remind her, especially, that life isn't defined by curve balls.  It's defined by how much she is loved.  She can be thankful for that.

Be well, my friend.  I said a prayer for you this evening.  It was a prayer of thanks.  That you exist, and that you bring light into the world.

You are one of the blessings in Saint Marty's life this Thanksgiving.

Bigfoot Gives Thanks

by:  Martin Achatz

after Gerard Manley Hopkins

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

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

November 27: Thank God for That, Winter Storm, Thanksgiving Eve

"What's that?" he [Arthur] yelped.

"Don't worry," said Ford, "they haven't started yet."

"Thank God for that," said Arthur, and relaxed.

"It's probably just your house being knocked down," said Ford, downing his last pint.

There you have it.  A short moment of thanks at the beginning of Hitchhiker's, right before the planet Earth is blasted into oblivion by the Vogons.

Welcome to Thanksgiving Eve in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  And I have a lot to be thankful for.

The winter storm that was supposed to hit the U. P. today didn't disappoint.  Actually, it did disappoint because . . . well . . . it kinda sucked.  I was up and on the road to work at 5:30 this morning.  The snow had just started, and the winds were just beginning to roar.  It was a white-knuckle drive, but I made it safely to my desk in the medical office.  First thing to be thankful for.

I had a busy day of busy work.  Scanning papers.  Registering patients.  Saying "Happy Thanksgiving!" to as many people as I could.  (Trying to take a page out of Mr. Rogers' playbook--being nice to everyone.  Even the crabby bastards.)  Worked eight hours, and then my boss decided to close early due to the inclement weather.  She wanted everyone to be safe.  I feel very blessed to have such a caring boss.  Second thing to be thankful for.

Then the drive home.  If my drive to work in the morning was white-knuckle, my drive home was just this side of full-blown panic attack.  The highway wasn't plowed, so I was pushing through drifts of white cement for about 20 miles.  Every once in a while, I would feel my car being sucked toward a ditch, and I would have to slow down, readjust, and pray.  It took me almost twice as long to get home.  And I did get home, without accident or injury.  Third thing to be thankful for.

When I got home, I faced two-foot banks of snow as heavy as boulders.  All the cars and trucks in my driveway had been transformed into sculptures of white.  With the help of my wife, daughter, and her boyfriend, I dug out, and Bob the Plow Guy (that's his official title in my iPhone) took care of the rest.  He even hooked up chains to my daughter's boyfriend's pickup and helped get it unstuck.  In about two hours, I had a front yard and driveway again.  Fourth thing to be thankful for.

Then I went inside and drank some special hot chocolate, prepared for me by my daughter.  The special was butterscotch schnapps.  It warmed my cockles and was a perfect way to slip into Thanksgiving Eve.  Fifth thing to be thankful for.

Tonight, my wife and I made pies.  I made pecan.  My wife, double-layer pumpkin cream cheese.  (I do not consume pumpkin.  Not my favorite.  However, I am told that my wife's double-layer pumpkin cream cheese is the stuff of which dreams are made.)  Pie baking with my wife is one of my favorite Thanksgiving traditions.  Sixth thing to be thankful for.

The snow has tapered off now, although the wind is still very strong.  Just poked my head out my front door, and I could hear the trees bending and sighing and rattling.  However, there wasn't a falling snowflake to be seen.  Tomorrow, the big dig-out begins, but, for tonight, the worst seems to have passed.  Seventh thing to be thankful for.

So you see, despite about 24 inches of new snow and winds as strong as elephants in musk, I have a lot to be thankful for tonight.  I'm safe.  My family is safe.  Thanksgiving pies are cooling on the front porch.  And I have Ibuprofen.

Saint Marty is ready for a long Thanksgiving Eve nap now.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

November 26: Very Cold, First Winter Snowstorm, Wampa

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 Douglas Adams' description of the surface of the planet Magrathea near the end of Hitchhiker's.  If you add some snow to that, maybe the whine of snowmobiles in the distance, you would also have a perfect description of winter in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Sitting at my kitchen table right now, in between getting home and going to bed.  I am bracing for the first major storm of winter to hit my little neck of the U.P. tonight into tomorrow.  I've heard predictions of anywhere between eight to 24 inches of snow.  Regardless of how much falls, it's going to pretty much suck for getting to work tomorrow morning.

The first storm of winter always fills me with dread.  I dislike having to brave U. P. roads and highways at 5:30 in the morning.  I'm a good winter driver, but plowing through snowdrifts that early in my Subaru is a little nerve-wracking.  I've gotten stuck on more than one occasion.  A few winters ago, I was driving in a blizzard, hit a whiteout, and ended up on the opposite side of the highway, saved by some guardrails from driving into a lake. 

Of course, being a Yooper, I'm supposed to love winter.  Cross country skiing.  Downhill skiing.  Sledding.  Snowshoeing.  Snowmobiling.  If I had more testosterone in my system, I'd probably be into all of those things.  Instead, when I have free time, I sit down and write or read or sleep.  (As you know, I don't get much free time.)  My outdoor exercise is shoveling during the winter.  A lot.  I don't own skis or snowshoes, and I haven't been on a snowmobile in about 20 years. 

My eleven-year-old son is ecstatic over the possibility of having school called off because of snow.  I used to love winter storms for the very same reason, but that love sort of died when I became an adult and had to actually move all the snow that fell.  Now, the prospect of any kind of wintry precipitation makes my body ache preemptively.  I have to be at work whether it's 90 degrees or -25 degrees, raining or sleeting or snowing, tornado or blizzard.  I've pretty much driven through all of those conditions, I think.

I broke down a few years ago and found a guy to plow for me.  I just couldn't face getting up two hours early to shovel BEFORE I had to drive into work, and then coming home and having to shovel again AFTER I'd worked for ten or 11 hours.  Thus, winter storms have also become really expensive.  Another reason why my love of snow has diminished considerably.

So, this is my annual beginning-of-winter rant.  Expect a few more posts like this as the white stuff accumulates enough to cover my kitchen windows.  From about the beginning of January until around the middle of March this past year, I felt as though I was living on the ice planet Hoth.  (For non-Star Wars fans, look it up.)  I think, at one point last February, I actually saw a Wampa trudge through my backyard.  (Again, non-Star Wars fans, do your homework.)

Tomorrow night at this time, I will more than likely be living in the middle of a Christmas snow globe.  And I will try to be happy about it.  My other option is hating my life for the next six months.  Hmmm, snow globe or self-loathing. . .

Saint Marty will sleep on it.

Monday, November 25, 2019

November 25: End in Tears, Saying Goodbye, Hand Turkeys

"It'll all end in tears, I know it," shouted Eddie [the Heart of Gold's on board computer] after them, and closed the hatchway again.

Eddie is learning something pretty human at this moment.  That is, saying goodbye is never easy.  Whether to a supercomputer.  Or a friend getting on an airplane.  A daughter getting married.  A couple getting uncoupled.  A parent dying.  A door closing.  Goodbyes, in my experience, are heavy on the "bye," very light on the "good."

Today, I had a doctor's appointment.  Just a routine, six-month diabetic check.  This doctor has been taking care of my health for close to 34 years.  That's a long time.  He's watched me grow up, get married, have kids, and acquire gray hair.  This afternoon, we had to say goodbye.  He's retiring after a very long career.

Now, my doctor and I haven't been best friends or anything.  We rarely saw each other outside of my regular semi-annual exams.  Once, he attended a poetry reading I gave, and we went out for beer with a group of people.  He bought me a drink, and we talked about poetry.  (I had no idea he knew anything about poetry.  Go figure.)  After almost four decades of blood and urine tests, pokings and proddings, cold stethoscopes and one sigmoidoscopy (if you don't know what that is, count yourself lucky), I learned that he read Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry.

I liked this doctor, understood where he was coming from.  Granted, his bedside manner was not the most comforting.  He wasn't a teddy bear.  Yet, I never questioned that he cared about me and my well being.  So, my appointment with him today was bittersweet.  I will miss having him as a constant in my life.  We spent most of my appointment trying to think of the name of an Irish-American poet from the Seattle area.  (Neither of us could come up with his name.)  At the end, he handed me a route slip, shook my hand, said something like "It's been a pleasure taking care of you," and then he was gone.

That's what most goodbyes are like.  They happen quickly and are over before you've had a chance to really comprehend them.  The person walks out of the room and disappears forever from your life, with barely a glance backward.

I have had to contemplate a lot of goodbyes this year, and I'm still contemplating a few more.  This evening, all I can think about is parting ways with people I care about and trust and, to a greater or lesser extent, love.  These thoughts have been keeping me awake at night.  They are keeping me awake right now.

I did one thing this evening that provided a little relief from goodbye reflections.  I decorated a hand turkey.  For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, it's pretty simple.  You trace the outline of your hand on a sheet of paper.  Then, you decorate this tracing to make it look like a Thanksgiving turkey.  I remember doing hand turkeys in first and second grades.  This particular turkey is for a contest at the cardiology office where I work.  Whoever submits the best hand turkey wins a $10 Starbucks gift card.  (I will not be in the competition since I organized it.  I am submitting a turkey simply for the fun of it.)

Sometimes the only way to take your mind off your goodbyes is silliness.  Or art.

Saint Marty did a little of both this evening.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

November 24: Wildest Dreams, Powerless, Charles Dickens Biography

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

If only finding happiness were as easy as that.

I believe there is nothing more difficult than to admit that you are powerless.  Human beings like to believe that they are in charge of their destinies, from first breath to last.  Of course, this belief is false.  Most of the big things in life--birth, death, love, an ABBA reunion tour--are pretty much out of our control.  On top of that, we have no control over other people, either.  As much as we would like to live forever or have our children live forever, we have no say in that.  Just as we have no say in who we love, or who loves us.  Death happens.  Or it doesn't.  Love happens.  Or it doesn't.  ABBA happens.  Or it doesn't.

Now, those statements are not profound or groundbreaking in any way.  In fact, in the grand scheme of things, I would say that's pretty much Being Human:101.  However, I need to remind myself of these truths pretty much on a daily basis, because I'm stubborn.  And because I like to play God.  I think I know what's best for me and for everybody else.  Certainly, I think I know what will make me happy.

Today has been a day that has reminded me, frequently, of all of these annoying truths.  I won't go into detail, but I'm sitting here now, typing this post, wishing everyone would just . . . do what I think they should do.  It would make my life so much easier.  Of course, I only have control over my actions.  For example, writing this blog today is challenging for me.  My heart isn't in it, because I'm struggling with its subject matter.  In short, this writing is not making me very happy.  Yet, I choose to continue writing.

Of course, I could choose to do something else.  Something that would make me happier.  I could log out, turn off my computer, and take a nap.  Or order a pizza.  Or watch It's a Wonderful Life.  Or work on my Christmas essay.  Or read a good book.  I haven't read Peter Ackroyd's biography of Charles Dickens in a few years.  That would be about 1200 pages of pure pleasure for me.

Perhaps reading that Dickens biography sounds like torture to you.  Writing for pleasure is also pretty foreign to most people, as well.  Jimmy Stewart might irritate you.  (If he does, by the way, you and I can't be friends.)  Happiness, you see, is a matter of choice, as long as you aren't basing your happiness on someone else's actions.

So, I am powerless.  I admit that.  I am going to choose to do something tonight that makes me happy.  It may involve Charles Dickens or Jimmy Stewart or a fountain pen.  I have control over that.  And I will not let anyone else's actions interfere with my happiness.  Until tomorrow.

After all, as Saint Marty says, tomorrow is another day to be powerless.

A picture that makes Saint Marty happy . . .

Saturday, November 23, 2019

November 23: Seven and a Half Million Years, 365 Days, Silence

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

Fook glanced impatiently at his watch.

"How long?" he said.

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

Yes, Deep Thought, the greatest supercomputer ever made, has the power to answer the Ultimate Question, but he's going to do it in his own time, not anyone else's.  That time is seven and a half million years.  And then, Deep Thought goes silent for a very long time.

Humans have a hard time with supercomputers and Supreme Beings going silent.

This morning, as I sit in a crowded McDonald's typing this post, I am staring out the window at a spine of high land studded with leafless trees and scrappy evergreens.  Feeling a little melancholy at the moment, thinking of all the changes that have occurred in my life this year.  Most of those changes not of my own choosing.

Recently, I have said that I can't wait for this year to end.  These 365 days have been filled with upheaval.  Me, having to redefine myself and my life.  I'm not sure things will be much better in 2020.  In fact, I'm pretty sure there's a whole lot more change coming my way.  Jobs.  Family.  Loves.  That fills me with quite a bit of anxiety.

Of course, I know that there are no guarantees for the future.  Believe me, I know that.  What I am doing right now is thinking months and years ahead, using current trajectories to predict where my life is headed.  That's a pretty dangerous thing to do.  It doesn't allow for grace or God to step in and lend a hand.  For a while now, I haven't felt a whole lot of God's presence in my life.

Of course, I'm not alone in this.  Saint John of the Cross wrote, "Silence is God's first language."  Mother Teresa, for most of her life, lived in God's silence.  She said, "In my soul I feel just that terrible pain of loss--of God not wanting me--of God not being God--of God not really existing."  And Saint Therese of Lisieux commented, "God hides, is wrapped in darkness."  I guess I'm in pretty good company.  To hope for some kind of immunity from these periods of darkness would be unnatural, I suppose.  Would be me asking not to be human.

The trick is to avoid despair when God answers with silence.  That's the difference between saints and people like me (and maybe you).  Saints embrace that silence and remember that God is still right there, holding them up when they stumble and fall and get up and fall again.  I try to remind myself of this fact.  Daily.  Sometimes hourly.  It may seem kind of cliche, but, like all cliches, there's truth in it.  That's why cliches get repeated and used so much.  They cut to the heart of human experience.

So, here I sit, a living cliche.  Living through a dark night of the soul.  Struggling to find God in a hill laced with winter trees.  Feeling the sun on my face.  Maybe God is talking to me right now, and I'm just not listening in the right way.  That happens, too.  A lot.  I'm looking for one answer, and God is sending me another.  An answer I really don't like.  So, my head/heart/soul chooses to ignore it.

I'm not sure which is better.  Living in that ignorance or in God's silence.  Neither option is easy or comforting.  I'm fighting God with one.  God and I aren't speaking with the other.  I'm God's teenager, not getting my way, rolling my eyes, pouting, texting my friends about how unfair God is being.

If you want to find Saint Marty today, I'll be in my bedroom, lying on my bed, lights off, listening to Simon and Garfunkel songs.  Knock before entering.

November 21-22: This Relationship, Annual Observation, Mutual Friend

Finally Eddie said quietly, "I can see this relationship is something we're all going to have to work at," and the hatchway opened.

A little paragraph about Eddie, the on board computer of the Heart of Gold spaceship, who seems to be taking issue with some of its crew members.  Of course, Eddie is correct.  Relationships do require a LOT of work.

For those of you who are worried that I have withdrawn from public life, I have not.  I am still here, still willing to open up about what's happened these past two days.  I just haven't had the opportunity to sit down and reflect much.  I still don't have much time, because I'm pretty exhausted, and my mind is fading fast at the moment.

So, in brief, I survived the annual colleague observation of my teaching.  Per usual, it wasn't nearly as nerve-wracking as I thought it would be,  In fact, after about ten minutes, I almost forgot that my colleague was in the room, taking notes.  Every once in a while, I would glance over to see him writing in his notebook or watching what was going on intently.  After about an hour of listening to our discussion of the film Brokeback Mountain, he excused himself quietly.  When I got home after teaching, I e-mailed him, thanking him for taking the time to visit my class.  His response, which I received the next morning, was very kind and encouraging.  I don't think I have anything to worry about.

Yesterday evening, I did a whole lot of poetry stuff.  Went to a reading.  (Fantastic.)  Went to an open mic.  (Inspiring.)  I didn't get home until almost 10:45 p.m.  After being stressed out all week long, it was a welcome relief and fed my soul on a deep level, as poetry always does.  I returned to my house last night filled with the desire to write.  Haven't felt that pull for some time.  I think, this weekend, I will get some good work done in my journal.  Maybe a poem.  Maybe an essay.

At the end of a very long week, I sit here, at my kitchen table, thinking about all the people that I love deeply.  Wife.  Son.  Daughter.  Friends.  There are fallow and stormy seasons in relationships sometimes.  Times when the best you can do is say "I love you" and just leave it at that.  My semester of teaching is almost over.  A few more weeks, and it will simply be notations in a virtual grade book.  This week's observation will be a report submitted to the head of the English Department, words in a file.  And tonight will be this blog post, tapped out on a keyboard and then sent into the Internet ether.  Everything draws to a close.

I like to think that there is some kind of permanence in relationships with people you love.  That they will be more than a handful of poems or blog posts.  That their roots go deeper than that.  I hope.  I received a text message from a friend of mine an hour so ago.  It was about a mutual friend who I haven't seen in quite some time.  The message read, "He had no idea who I was.  I am so sad . . . this must be his new normal."

You know, all my stress over being observed in class this week seems pretty silly right now.  All I can think about is our friend--one of kindest, most loving individuals I've ever had the privilege to know.  Every once in a while, he'd call me on the phone with a joke or stop by my office with chocolate or a book he thought I'd like.  When we parted, he pretty much always said the same thing to me, "You take care, my friend, and tell those ladies I love them."  (The ladies were my coworkers from the Surgery Center where I used to be employed.)  This man's roots go deep in a lot of people.

Tonight, Saint Marty wants to say, "Take care, my friend.  Those ladies send you their love."

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

November 20: It Committed Suicide, "Brokeback Mountain," Class Observation

"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.

You will have to forgive me if this post sounds a little like Marvin the depressed robot blogging.  You see, I just finished watching Brokeback Mountain with my film class.  Whenever I reach my Brokeback week in this course, I have to brace myself. 

It's a great film.  One of my favorites.  Beautiful cinematography and music.  A stunning performance by Heath Ledger.  (His best, as far as I'm concerned.)  But . . . it's really depressing.  And, when I'm already in a somewhat down frame of mind, Brokeback Mountain pushes me over the edge.  This afternoon, I noticed a few people in class actually crying.

I apologize for my absence yesterday.  I spent most of last night preparing for my evening class tonight.  You see, I am being observed by another professor for my annual performance evaluation.  While I've been teaching at this university for close to 25 years, I still find peer observation very unsettling.  Perhaps it's the little Catholic boy in me, always expecting to be punished and told I'm not worthy.  Or it just may be my low self esteem.  Anyway, I'm kind of a nervous wreck this evening.

So, to sum things up--I am depressed and anxious tonight.  A little while ago, I was depressed and anxious and tired.  However, I drank a 5-hour energy drink, so I will be fully awake for whatever is going to happen in the next couple hours.  (No lectures on how bad those energy drinks are.  I know.  I work in a cardiology office.) 

The professor coming to visit me will only be staying for about the first hour of my class, long enough to witness me lead a class discussion about Brokeback Mountain and a chapter in our textbook.  Then, my students will take a quiz, and my colleague will go home and watch TV or read or book or type up his observation notes, excoriating me for my lack of effectiveness as an instructor.

If I sound paranoid, I am.  Although I think that I'm a good teacher, I always feel a little bit like a fraud when I'm standing in front of the classroom, like a student will stand up in the middle of my lecture on depictions of masculinity in Brokeback Mountain, point a finger at me, and shout, "You don't know what the fuck you're talking about!"  Then they will condemn me as a witch and burn me at the stake, or something like that.

I have about a half hour before this observation begins now.  I need to do some deep breathing, review my notes for class, and make sure there are no sharp objects on my person (in case things really don't go well).

Saint Marty is now depressed and anxious and a little panicked.  Maybe he should just jump on a horse and go hide on Brokeback Mountain for a couple days.

Monday, November 18, 2019

November 18: Sub-Etha News-Matics, #makeAmericasmartagain, Ignoring Problems

"That is really amazing," he [Zaphod] said.  "That really is truly amazing.  That is so amazingly amazing I think I'd like to steal it."

A marvelous presidential quote, absolutely true to form.  The crowd laugheds appreciatively, the newsmen gleefully punched buttons on their Sub-Etha News-Matics and the President grinned.

Even in outer space, people pay attention to politicians who say outrageous things and commit outrageous acts.

Today is one of those days where I wish I could have stayed in bed.  All day.  I just got done paying some bills, figuring out how much I'm going to need on Friday, when I have to pay some more bills.  Somehow, the amount in my savings and checking accounts don't really match up to the bills coming due.  That's no surprise.

I have to say, to those people in the middle class who still support Donald Trump and his tax plan, I am NOT financially better off today than when Mr. Trump took office.  In fact, things have gotten quite a bit worse for me.  I don't live extravagantly.  I don't have expendable income.  (Frankly, I don't even know what that term really means.)  For reasons I will not get into, my life and debt have taken a turn in the last six months, and that turn forced me to take on another job to try to pay my bills.  That is Trump America.

Don't worry, I'm not about to step up on my soapbox to rant about the person currently residing in the Oval Office.  I believe the less attention paid to Donald Trump, the better.  If everybody simply chose to ignore what Mr. Trump says or tweets, simply focused on facts, the man would probably be in prison (or at least removed from office) already.  In fact, I wish someone would start a movement to ignore Donald Trump.  Call it something like #makeAmericasmartagain, and, instead of reading Mr. Trump's latest 140 characters, everyone picks up a good book and reads that instead.

Of course, I know ignoring a problem will not make that problem disappear.  Sort of like bills.  If you ignore them, they don't go away.  Instead, your phone starts ringing  and threatening letters arrive in the mail.  By ignoring problems, they multiply instead of dissipate.  So ignorance is not the answer.

What is the answer?  I don't know.  I would love to ignore my woes into oblivion.  It doesn't work.  When I go to bed at night, I lay them down for a few hours.  When I wake up, they are waiting for me.  Sometimes they're standing right beside the bed, waving their arms, clamoring for my attention like goblin Trumps. 

Instead, I choose to deal with my problems as soon as they arise.  I don't like them hanging over me.  I certainly won't let them take up residence in the Oval Office of my head.  I'd rather impeach them now and get them removed as soon as possible.  They can't wreak as much havoc that way, and I sleep a whole lot better.

So, that's Saint Marty's advice for this evening--impeach those problems before they start building a wall around your bathroom or something

Sunday, November 17, 2019

November 17: Where Phases, Born in the Wrong Time, Jack Benny

. . . "The History of every major Galactic Civilization tends to pass through three distinct and recognizable phases, those of Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why and Where phases . . ."

I am in the Where phase for the moment, as in "Where did this weekend go?"  I haven't accomplished half the things on my to-do lists for the last two days.  I didn't get a chance to . . .

  1. Clean my house.
  2. Work on my Christmas essay.
  3. Work on my Christmas poem.
  4. Grade student work.
  5. Lesson plan.  
Per usual, I feel like a complete failure.

Here is what I did accomplish this weekend:

  1. I put up my Christmas tree and decorations.
  2. I played the pipe organ for Saturday evening Mass.
  3. I sang in the choir this morning.
  4. I went grocery shopping.
  5. I spent three hours on my It's a Wonderful Life lecture notes for my film classes.
  6. I posted my weekly announcements online for my film classes.
  7. I uploaded my It's a Wonderful Life lecture notes.
  8. I packed my lunch for work tomorrow.
  9. I picked out my outfit for work tomorrow.
And now, I'm typing my daily blog post, which I was supposed to do this afternoon.

Seeing those lopsided lists in black-and-white on my laptop screen, I guess I did accomplish quite a bit these last 48 hours.  I don't understand why I always feel as though I am never ahead of the game.  I am starting a new work week, and, in my mind, I'm already behind.

We live in a very goal-oriented world.  The more accomplishments you can notch on your belt, the better of a person you are.  At least, that's the prevailing attitude in most work environments.  Having spent a good portion of my day studying It's a Wonderful Life and its historical contexts, I've come to realize that I may have been born in the wrong time.

I love the music of the 1940s--Bing Crosby, the Andrews Sisters, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Dean Martin.  I love the simplicity of the time--no cell phones or computers, no cable TV or Netflix, no Facebook.  Now, I know that there were a lot of things wrong with this time period for a lot of people.  It wasn't all sitting on the living room sofa, listening to Jack Benny on the radio.  Some groups of people didn't have it all that good.  Women.  African Americans.  Members of the LGBTQIA+ community.  Basically, anyone with a skin pigment other than white.  That's not what I'm being nostalgic for.  

I'm nostalgic for the days when people who wanted to stay in touch with one another sent handwritten letters.  For Christmas trees that were fire hazards.  For when "being social" meant going out for a burger with friends instead of scrolling through Tinder.  For when love wasn't disposable, when saying "I love you" was a promise and pledge, something that lasted longer than a Snapchat.

Maybe I'm being naive.  Every era has its issues.  I know that.  However, I wouldn't mind going back to 1946 for a little while.  Not forever.  Just long enough to calm my unquiet life down a little bit.  To soak in the unbridled hope for a future without world wars and stock market crashes.  To dance to Doris Day with my gal, because that's what girlfriends were back then.  Gals.

Does anyone have a time machine they're willing to loan Saint Marty?

Saturday, November 16, 2019

November 16: Time is an Illusion, Breakfast with Friends, Small Things

The man next to Ford grinned and nodded happily.  Ford ignored him.  He said, "Time is an illusion.  Lunchtime doubly so."

Time is an illusion.  So is memory.  Memory has a way of reordering itself, making itself look better than it actually was.  That's what the brain does.  Keeps the good.  Jettisons the bad.

Had breakfast with some good friends this morning.  I worked with most of these people for 15 to 20 years.  One of my best friends (who recently moved to Wisconsin) was there, too.  After a few minutes of awkward catching-up questions, the talk became like the talks we used to have at the Surgery Center where I used to work--casual, serious, joking, earnest--all at the same time.  At one point, I counted four different conversations going on at the same time.

It was good to be with these women (yes, they were all women).  They sort of defined one part of my life for close to two decades.  And it was really good to see my best friend who now lives in the Green Bay Packer state.  She has seen me through some difficult times in my personal life.  For the last two years at the Surgery Center, she kept me sane.  When I walked out of that place on the last day, she was right by my side.  We went out for drinks and fries afterward.  Cried in our beers, as country music songs go.

I miss that time a lot now.  As things usually go in life, I never realized how good I had it until it was gone.  I wish I could go back about five or six years, to when my sister was still alive and running the Surgery Center, and I was surrounded by these friends.  Yes, we got under each other's skins.  Yes, we fought and argued.  It wasn't perfect, but, in my mind, it's a time gilded with gold now.

We all have moments in our lives that we wish we could return to.  Weddings.  Children's births.  Graduations.  Moments when, for a few fleeting hours or days or weeks, everything seemed happy and perfect.  Of course, they weren't perfect.  There was struggle and pain and heartache.  Yet, the human mind has a way of whitewashing those negative feelings so that all that floats to the surface is the cream.  (I'm mixing metaphors, I know.  Stick with me.)  I like cream.

I've been indulging in nostalgia a lot these 'ber months (September, October, November).  I'm sure that I'll be doing the same in December.  As my tiny part of the world goes fallow and takes its long winter's nap--and things change for worse or better--I will continue to think about past times with friends and family.  The holidays always do that for me.  I think of bygone Halloweens and Thanksgivings and Christmases.  Old costumes.  People who no longer are at the table, eating turkey.  Christmas presents I no longer have to buy.

I think that nostalgia can be dangerous.  You can get stuck in the past.  You take inventory of all of the blessings you've received over the years.  'Tis the season.  Fa-la-la-la-la.  I need to keep reminding myself that God always has something up His sleeve.  Prayers that will be answered.  Gift-wrapped graces under the tree.  I may look back on this time in a few years and think to myself, "Jesus, that was a good time."  That's the power of memory.

Think about that as you go through your day tomorrow.  Those pancakes you have for breakfast may be the best pancakes you've every had.  That song you sing in church may become your favorite song.  That Christmas tree you decorate may be the prettiest ever.  Don't take the small things for granted.

This morning, Saint Marty had the best breakfast with his friends.

November 15: Not Always What They Seem, Lessons, Greatest Poems

It is an important and popular fact that things are not always what they seem . . .

That statement is really true.  Tonight, you are probably expecting me to write again about my close friend who's making bad choices.  You're probably expecting to write something dark and a little bleak.

I promise that this post will not be depressing.  In fact, I'm not sure what this post is going to be.  Usually, when I sit down with my laptop to write these little thought bubbles to send out into the world, I have already planned out my subject for the day.  Not this time.

It has been one of those days where I have been busy from the moment I got up at 4:15 this morning until now, 10:47 p.m.  In between those two times, I worked.  After work, I worked for another two hours.  Then I attended a high school performance of The Addams Family Musical with a good friend of mine.  Now, I'm home, in my pajamas, feeling a little exhausted.

I sometimes worry that, in my busyness, I neglect being a good father for my kids.  Some days, I don't even see my daughter until right before bed, if at all.  On late teaching days, my son is in bed before I get home.  I have always worked really hard to support my family.  Two, three, four jobs at a time.  My tax returns bulge with all of my W-2s.  That is my normal.

We aren't rich.  Sometimes, we have to live on Ramen for a couple days and have our Internet and cable shut off because we aren't able to pay the bill every month.  Christmas and birthdays aren't extravagant affairs, and vacations are, for the most part, pretty simple.  And what have my kids learned from watching me work and work and work all these years?

I can't really say definitively that my kids have learned anything by watching me live my crazy life.  I can, however, tell you some of the lessons I hope they have learned/are learning from me:

  • Sacrifice is necessary.  You have to do things you don't like sometimes for the people you love.
  • Hard work is nothing to be ashamed of, whether it's teaching at a university, registering patients in a medical office, or scrubbing toilets.  
  • Passion is as necessary as water to survive.  Find something to be passionate about--writing poetry, playing music, running marathons, or reading the complete works of Dr. Seuss.  It doesn't matter.
  • Kindness is more powerful than hatred.  Be kind to everyone you meet.  
  • Hope isn't dreaming.  It's believing that people, and the world, are inherently good, to paraphrase Anne Frank.  
  • Laughter can cure almost anything.  Broken hearts.  Broken relationships.  Broken people.
  • Selflessness doesn't mean losing yourself.  It means finding yourself through loving another human being.
  • Failure doesn't define you.  How you deal with failure does.
  • Love wins.  Always.
If my daughter or son is reading this post right now, know that your dad always tries to do his best.  He loves you more than you will ever know.  Deeper than space.  Longer than time.  Brighter than beginnings.

You will always be Saint Marty's greatest poems.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

November 14: Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Perfectly Happy Lives, Christmas Every Day

"Okay, baby, hold tight," said Zaphod.  "We'll take in a quick bite at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe."

If you read my post from yesterday, you probably know that I was not having a good night.  I'm worried about my friend and where life is going to take her.  Sometimes, things work out, and sometimes you end up sitting alone at an empty table in the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, trying figure out how things went so wrong.  Having seen my friend go through the cycle of addiction and recovery several times, I kind of know how things are probably going to end, and it ain't "happily ever after."

I have a second friend whose voice is playing in my head right now.  This friend is telling me, "You can only control your actions.  You can't control what anyone else does."  That is certainly true.  I know that.  This self awareness doesn't make the situation any easier to deal with.  In fact, it sort of makes it a little worse because it takes away any sense of power I like to believe I possess.  I feel better laboring under the illusion/delusion that I have at least a little control over the outcome of my friend's choices.  I don't, but I like to pretend that I do.

I wish everyone could live perfectly happy lives, all the time, but that's sort of like wishing it was Christmas every day.  As my daughter learned long ago in Elmo Saves Christmas, Christmas every day is a terrible idea.  It would mean that Christmas would become ordinary as corn.  Nothing special.  Just another square to X off the calendar.  That's it.

My life has never been perfectly happy.  (I don't know a single person who can make this claim.)  Perfection is an illusion.  Happiness seems like an illusion, as well.  The best I can do on some days is be happy I didn't call anyone a "moron" or any of its variations--"fucking moron" or "brain-dead fucking moron" or (one of my favorites) "fuckcheese" (which implies the state of moronhood).

Happiness, in comparison, is a state of complete contentment.  Nothing to want.  Nothing to worry about.  Just inner calm and peace.  I don't know how to obtain this state at the moment.  (Right about here, my second friend, of the "You can't control what anyone else does," is rolling her eyes at me while she reads this post.  Why?  Because that friend believes happiness comes from complete surrender to God's will, or, as she would phrase it, "Giving it up to your Higher Power.") 

I had a session with my therapist this evening.  I spoke with her about happiness and control and my addict friend.  My therapist said a lot of things to me, about my need for control and the power of addiction.  At the end of our hour, she said to me, "Just take it one day or hour or minute at a time.  Control the things you can, and lift the other things up."  Translation:  you only control you, and the rest is up to God.

So, God's been knocking quite a bit on my front door today, sending me the same message, over and over and over:  surrender and submit.

Saint Marty is waving his white flag this evening.

November 13: Bad Choices, Light Years, "As It Is"

I have a friend who is making bad choices.  She is turning her back on her children and spouse.  She knows what she's doing is selfish and stupid and destructive, but she doesn't care.  Nobody can change her mind, and she is most likely going to end up alone, without anyone to depend on.  Her bridges are burning.  That's what addiction does.

Please lift up this friend in your thoughts.  If you're a praying person, say some prayers for her and her spouse and kids.  Hope seems like a distant star for them.  Light years away.

Sometimes, I'm not really sure about the goodness of God.

A poem that has been haunting Saint Marty all day . . .

As It Is

by:  Dorianne Laux

The man I love hates technology, hates
that he’s forced to use it: telephones
and microfilm, air conditioning,
car radios and the occasional fax.
He wishes he lived in the old world,
sitting on a stump carving a clothespin
or a spoon. He wants to go back, slip
like lint into his great-great-grandfather’s
pocket, reborn as a pilgrim, a peasant,
a dirt farmer hoeing his uneven rows.
He walks when he can, through the hills
behind his house, his dogs panting beside him
like small steam engines. He’s delighted
by the sun’s slow and simple
descent, the complicated machinery
of his own body. I would have loved him
in any era, in any dark age, I would take him
into the twilight and unwind him, slide
my fingers through his hair and pull him
to his knees. As it is, this afternoon, late
in the twentieth century, I sit on a chair
in the kitchen with my keys in my lap, pressing
the black button on the answering machine
over and over, listening to his message,
his voice strung along the wires outside my window
where the birds balance themselves
and stare off into the trees, thinking
even in the farthest future, in the most
distant universe, I would have recognized
this voice, refracted, as it would be, like light
from some small, uncharted star.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

November 12: Terribly Tired, Four Jobs, Live Today

Ford couldn't sleep.  He was to excited about being back on the road again.  Fifteen years of virtual imprisonment were over, just as he was beginning to give up hope.  Knocking about with Zaphod for a bit promised to be a lot of fun, though there seemed to be something faintly odd about his semicousin that he couldn't put his finger on.  The fact that he had become President of the Galaxy was frankly astonishing, as was the manner of his leaving the post.  Was there a reason behind it?  There would be no point in asking Zaphod, he never appeared to have a reason for anything he did at all:  he had turned unfathomability into an art form.  He attacked everything in life with a mixture of extraordinary genius and naive incompetence and it was often difficult to tell which was which.

Arthur slept:  he was terribly tired.

Yes, I chose a passage about sleep--the lack of it and the need for it.  In my life, I seem to pendulum between these two extremes.  At the moment, I am operating on about three straight days of around four hours of sleep per night.  I am reaching the exhaustion stage.  By tomorrow night, after I am done teaching, I will be ready to collapse.

However, I know that most of my disciples don't want to hear me whining about how tired I am.  I do that quite frequently.  My topic this evening is somewhat related.  You all know that I hold down about four jobs.  Hence the reason for my frequent exhaustion.  Out of those jobs, only one really excites me--teaching at the university.  The other positions are just necessities.  They pay the bills and provide the health insurance.  I am not passionate about them.

Teaching, however, is something that I love.  When I teach, I get to do really cool things, like watch and discuss It's a Wonderful Life; share and write about Sharon Olds poems;  and raise awareness of mental illness.  In short, teaching sort of synthesizes all the things that make me excited.  I honestly believe that I was born to teach.

Unfortunately, the majority of my waking hours is not focused on teaching.  It's spent on calling and registering patients, cleaning my church in the evenings, playing the pipe organ for church services, and trying to hold my family together.  Oh, and I'm Poet Laureate of the Upper Peninsula, too.  All of these things are full-time gigs in themselves.  I live a very fragmented existence, as you can imagine.

I am not complaining.  For the most part, I'm able to balance all of these parts of my life pretty well.  Sometimes, however, I fall behind in one or two things.  That's when I start to become overwhelmed.  At the moment, I'm in an overwhelmed stage.  Too many balls in the air.

Tomorrow night, I'll feel a little better.  I'll be done with teaching for the week, and I won't feel quite so . . . frantic.  I wish that I could teach full time, but that doesn't seem to be a possibility ever.  So, I will have to continue my little juggling act for as long as I can.

A friend sent me a text this morning that sort of provided me some sanity.  The end of the text went like this:
Accepting the here and now is what ensures our sanity and our serenity.  Reality is never more than we can manage, with the help of our Higher Power.  It is our anticipation of the future which is unreal and dangerous.  May I live today, and leave the future to You.
I am trying to live by those words this evening.  Taking things one minute at a time, and not gazing into the crystal ball too much.  Instead, I'll just keep my eyes on what's right in front of me.

So, ladies and gentlemen, in the center ring this evening, the ah-maaaazing Saint Marty.  Watch him juggle it all--teacher, poet, father, husband, musician, blogger, custodian, medical office worker--without dropping a single ball.  In face, let's light all those balls on fire, just for fun . . .

Monday, November 11, 2019

November 11: Get a Grip, Questions, Control Freak, Passive Aggressive Vexer

Calm down, get a grip now . . . oh! this is an interesting sensation, what is it?  It's a sort of . . . yawning, tingling sensation in my . . . my . . . well, I suppose I'd better start finding names for things if I want to make any headway in what for the sake of what I shall call an argument I shall call the world, so let's call it my stomach.

These are some of the last thoughts of a sperm whale plummeting through the atmosphere of the planet Magrathea to its death.  In the space of a page-and-a-half, the whale goes through an entire lifetime of existential and philosophical questioning, from "who am I?" to "I wonder if it will be friends with me?"  The whale doesn't really have the time to find any definitive answers.  Its life is all about questions.

I sort of get this whale.  A lot.  I seem to bounce through my days with all kinds of questions in my head, and I don't ever seem to find any answers.  For instance, there's a particular person who's vexing me at the moment.  This person is quite passive aggressive and has a penchant for attacking others behind their backs.  It seems I have become the target of his/her ill will.

Now, here is the question:  how do I respond to such a toxic person?  Do I go on the offense and attack back?  Do I take the high road, and ignore this person's high school antics?  Or do I let this person simply boil in his/her own poison until s/he dies alone and unloved?  (I can't lie--thinking about that last option gives me quite a lot of pleasure.  Am I a terrible person?)

So, you see, questions beget more questions.  When I go to bed most nights, I find myself taking inventory of these questions, leading to many sleepless hours.  I've always been an obsessive worrier.  Questioning is a part of that.  If I'm not worrying about myself, I'm worrying about other people.  Yes, that's right.  I take on other people's worries, too.  I'm a worry collector.

I truly want what's best for everyone.  I don't know what's best, but I want everyone to have it.  Everyone deserves to be happy.  Well, almost everyone.  Not Donald Trump.  Or my passive-aggressive vexer.  Other than those two, everyone deserves happiness.

So, to sum things up, I have established that I am 1) a questioner, 2) a worrier, and now 3) a judger.

Which brings me to my last point:  I am a control freak.  Being a control freak involves questioning, worrying, and judging.  For example, I have spent most of this evening questioning, worrying about, and judging the weather forecasts for tonight.  Some of my weather sources say that my home town is only going to get a dusting of snow.  Other sources say up to 14 inches.  After several hours of deliberation, I have decided that there is not going to be a snow storm this evening.

Yes, that's right, disciples.  You heard it here first.  I can now control the weather.

That's all me.  Marty.  Patron saint of questioners, worriers, judges, and meteorologists.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

November 10: Terrible Ghastly Noise, Front Porch Christmas Decorations, 2019

"I don't know," said the voice on the PA, "apathetic bloody planet, I've no sympathy at all."  It cut off.

There was a terrible ghastly silence.

There was a terrible ghastly noise.

There was a terrible ghastly silence.

The Vogon Constructor Fleet coasted away into the inky void.

That is the end of Earth at the beginning of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  Terrible ghastly silence.  Then a terrible ghastly noise.  Terrible ghastly silence again.  It's a pretty dark passage for a book that's described on its back-cover as "Extremely funny . . . inspired lunacy [and] . . . over much too soon."

This afternoon, with the help of my wife and daughter, I decorated the front porch of our house for Christmas.  I sort of pride myself on being one of the first houses in the neighborhood to have its outside Christmas decorations up.  It's a little competition that virtually nobody else on the street knows about except me.  Thus, I win every year.  It's sort of like being the only person ever nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry.

I am looking forward to the holidays, mostly for one simple fact:  the ending of  2019.  This year has been a struggle on many levels.  I know that there are no guarantees that, in 51 days, things will alter dramatically in my life.  I'll just be glad to have 2019 in my rear view mirror.  Gone in a terribly ghastly silence.

I am doing all that I can right now to end the year well.  Planning some Christmas surprises for my kids, working on my annual Christmas essay, stabbing my Trump voodoo doll with impeachment pins.  Yet, I also know that there's a good possibility that 2020 could be worse than 2019.  There are no guarantees for a happy future.  In fact, at the end of next year, I may look back and think, "2019 wasn't such a bad year, after all."

Here are some things about 2019 that I can recall with fondness and nostalgia:

  • A family trip to Walt Disney World at the beginning of January.
  • Being elected Poet Laureate of the Upper Peninsula for the second time in a row.
  • My daughter graduating from high school with honors.
  • My daughter starting college and majoring in premed.
  • My son joining chorus and band for sixth grade.
  • Winning the 2019 Nobel Prize in Literature.  (Okay, that didn't happen, but I can pretend.)
  • Having wonderful and supportive family and friends.
  • Surviving a haunted escape room at Halloween without soiling myself.
  • Good health, although I'm in a constant state of exhaustion.
So, you see, 2019 hasn't been a total loss.  There have been some wonderful moments.  And those are things I should concentrate on.  Hold close.  Yes, 2019 may end with a terrible ghastly noise, followed by a terrible ghastly silence. 

But Saint Marty also has light in his life.  Beautiful, glowing, Christmasy light.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

November 7, 8, 9: A Long Time, Forty-Two, Happiness

It was a long time before anyone spoke.

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

The supercomputer Deep Thought has just provided Phouchg with its answer to the Great Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.  Deep Thought's answer:  forty-two.  That's the reason for the prolonged silence in this passage.  Nobody knows how to respond.

It has been a long time since I've spoken on this blog.  I apologize.  My excuses:  (1) I led my monthly poetry workshop on Thursday night at the Joy Center in my home town, and (2) I attended the wake of an old school friend yesterday evening.  When I got home last night, I was exhausted.  I didn't do a whole lot but get in my pajamas and fall asleep.  I think I woke up once, to brush my teeth, then back to bed.

I have been pondering the Great Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything a lot this past week.  The loss of my old friend and other things have made me reflective.  Most of my thought energy has been spent on happiness--how to achieve it, what it means, whether it can be sustained for any period of time.

It occurs to me that happiness is just as puzzling as Deep Thought's answer.  Maybe happiness is forty-two.  If you are 42-years-old and you are incredibly content with life, then 42 is your answer to the Great Question.  Forty-two days cancer free.  Forty-two pages left to read in a great book.  A forty-two minute nap.  All of these 42s could be sources of joy and happiness.

Happiness is pretty ephemeral.  I woke up the day after Christmas two years ago, thinking that my life was pretty good, that I had things under control.  Forty-two minutes later, I found out that all the water pipes in my house were frozen solid.  Bye-bye happiness.  Another morning, I went to work feeling pretty content and stable in my job.  Three hours and forty-two minutes later, I was told that my place of work was being closed, and I had about forty-two days left to find a new position.  Poof!  Happiness gone.

This morning, I'm feeling alright.  Not joyful.  Not depressed.  Just alright.  And I'm okay with that.  Halloween is past.  Thanksgiving is coming up in a few weeks.  At parent teacher conferences a couple days ago, we found out that my son is doing really well in all of his classes.  His science teacher said that the only problem with my son is that there aren't four more like him in the class.  This evening, I have a date with my daughter.  We're going to a dance show at the university where I teach.  Tomorrow, I'm going to put up the Christmas decorations on my front porch.  All of these things are sources of happiness for me.

I think we all have to define our happiness.  For me, it's feeling calm, surrounded by people who love me unconditionally, no matter what.  If you have that, count yourself happy.  There's nothing better than knowing you have people who have your back, in good times and bad.  That's what's going to get you through those forty-two days of wandering around in the desert, searching for happiness.

Now, if anyone has forty-two million dollars to donate to Saint Marty, his life will be REALLY happy.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

November 5-6: It Isn't Easy, a Little Cranky, Kindness Begets

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

Arthur and the rest of the Heart of Gold crew are dealing with cops who are having cranky days, because they're cops and frustrated novelists with unhappy home lives.

I am a little cranky tonight.  Haven't been getting a whole lot of sleep recently, and Wednesday is my long day.  I leave home at 5:30 a.m., and I don't generally get back home until around 10 p.m., just in time for American Horror Story.  In between, I'm working and teaching, with an hour-long break for dinner. 

So, let me say it again:  I am a little cranky tonight.

Generally, I try not to let my personal life interfere with my professional responsibilities.  I'm good at compartmentalizing.  Wearing as many hats as I do during the week, this ability is kinda necessary.  However, I not always successful at separating home from work from school.  Sometimes, they end up spilling into each other.

This reality of my life has taught me a valuable lesson.  When I get berated by a patient in the medical office, or dissed on a final evaluation by an anonymous student, I don't get angry or take it personally.  You see, I've come to realize that most of the time, when a person behaves badly, it has nothing to do with me.  Usually, it's personal, based on some fear/trauma going on at home.  If I get upset, start arguing back, pointing fingers, I won't help that person feel any better, and I'll probably end up feeling awful to boot.

Of course, that doesn't excuse bad behavior.  Everyone deserves to be treated with kindness and compassion (except Donald Trump).  But, when I remind myself that the reason Mrs. Smith is yelling at me on the phone is because Mr. Smith is dying of congestive heart failure, I tend to be a little more understanding.  A little more patient.

So, if you run into me tonight and I'm a little terse with you, please forgive me.  I'm dealing with a lot of shit at the moment.  And if I see you and you don't return my smile or wave, I'll understand.  I'll say a prayer for you, ask God to send some healing angels your way.  Because that's the right thing to do.  Kindness begets kindness.

I'm not perfect.  I still get upset.  Honk my horn when somebody does something stupid on the road.  Criticize bad poems or bad writing.  Question acts that seem senseless or stupid.  We all do this.  A lot.

Tonight, however, because he is tired and busy and at the end of his proverbial rope, Saint Marty is embracing kindness, for himself and everyone else.  He's sending it out into the world.  Trying to make the universe a brighter place.

Except for Donald Trump.

Monday, November 4, 2019

November 4: Walk Through the Storm, a Little irresponsible, To-Dos

" 'When you walk through the storm . . .'" it [the computer] whined nasally, "'hold your head up high . . .'"

I am going to try not to whine in my post tonight, even though I'm a little discouraged and a lot tired.  My day has been long, and the rewards have been slight.  My obligations seem to be growing for this week, and I'm not quite sure I will be able to meet all of them.

I like to think of myself as dependable, above all else.  Yet, I have always wanted to be a little irresponsible.  Not crazy irresponsible, but just enough to keep people wondering about me.  I'm not saying that I want to neglect a child or get fired from one of my jobs.  I'm saying that I want to feel undependable enough to call in sick every once in a while, not because I'm actually ill, but because I don't want to adult.  Instead, I would take the day just to focus on myself.

Tomorrow is one of those days when I am sorely tempted to do this.  However, I won't.  Because I'm too responsible.  I will show up for work tomorrow,  After work, I will take my son to his doctor's appointment.  When I'm done at the pediatrician, I have to clean my church.  Finally, I have to pull together the lesson plans for my Wednesday afternoon and evening classes.  I get tired just thinking about my list of to-dos.

However, I will set my alarm and get up tomorrow morning at my usual time.

That is just who Saint Marty is.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

November 3: Wandered About Moodily, Poem, "All Souls' Day"

On the surface of Magrathea, Arthur wandered about moodily.

Sorry that yesterday's post was sort of like me wandering about moodily on the surface of a distant planet.  The loss of my high school friend sort of shook me a little bit.  I knew that he was seriously ill, but, like most people, I let life get in the way of something very important, namely visiting him.  Now, I have to live with that regret for the rest of my life.

Today, I wrote a poem for my friend.  I often find that, when I'm struggling with some difficult emotions, writing about it helps.  As I was working on the poem below, I found myself feeling much closer to him, remembering moments that had long been out of my head.  It helped me, and I hope it honored him.

Now, I have to prepare for meeting with my book club group to discuss Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House.  I've made some crescent weenies, or, as a friend calls them, swines in a swaddle.  The book club guide is printed and ready to go.  Soon, I will be surrounded by people whom I truly love.  

I am suck a lucky man.  I know this.

Saint Marty just needs to be reminded every once in a while.

All Souls’ Day

by:  Martin Achatz

for Tim, November 2, 2019

My old friend, gone today,
on the morning of All Souls’,
when we light candles,
toll bells, call out names,
like parents shout for kids
at dusk, remind them
about the boiled beef that waits.
Those kids drag themselves back,
sit at tables, before their plates,
prod with forks, strip away
residue of carrot, potato, cabbage,
until all that remains is meat,
sleeved in gravy, muscular,
shining, and brown, looking
as if it is just resting
for a few moments before
it rises, returns to green fields
of grass, alfalfa, troughs
overflowing with water
so cold it steams in evening
light. I will say your name
one last time, old friend, on this day
of saying names, Don’t look back
when you hear me call. I know
time is short, and the leaves
flame beneath your kicking feet.
Run. Be free. The neighborhood is full
of other kids, singing Kyrie eleison,
down the road that I must travel

in the last moments before dinner,
when the back doors will open,
and you will all be called home.