Saturday, December 31, 2022

December 31: Great Canyon of Clouds, Happy New Year, Namaste

Santiago eats as night comes on . . . 

Under the stars and with the night colder all the time he ate half of one of the dolphin fillets and one of the flying fish, gutted and with its head cut off.

"What an excellent fish dolphin is to eat cooked," he said. "And what a miserable fish raw. I will never go in a boat again without salt or limes."

If I had brains I would have splashed water on the bow all day and drying, it would have made salt, he thought. But then I did not hook the dolphin until almost sunset. Still it was a lack of preparation. But I have chewed it all well and I am not nauseated.

The sky was clouding over to the east and one after another the stars he knew were gone. It looked now as though he were moving into a great canyon of clouds and the wind had dropped.

This passage seems like an appropriate one to end the year of The Old Man and the Sea.  The fish is still alive and pulling the boat.  Santiago is eating, preparing for the coming battle.  And there are no sharks anywhere in sight.

It is New Year's Eve.  In a few short hours, I will countdown to midnight, blow some cheap party horns, and shout "Happy New Year!"  

We shout that phrase at the top of our lungs at midnight every December 31st/January 1st.  Maybe it's a prayer, ancient and hopeful--summoning goodness and luck and grace for the coming 365 days.  Sometimes it's an exclamation of relief.  Thank God the old year is over!  Good riddance.  Shalom.  Aloha.  Godspeed.

When you think about it, so many ways of saying "goodbye" are also ways of saying "hello."  Aloha--goodbye, hello.  See ya--see ya later, see ya soon.  Ciao--Italian, same thing.  Salut!--French.  Namaste--Hindi.  

That's what we're really doing on New Year's Eve--bidding farewell and welcome in the same breath.

I, for one, am happy that 2022 is going to be in my rearview mirror.  It hasn't been an easy twelve months.  In fact, they have been filled with sadness and loss, grief, a search for meaning.  Just because we are now going to be writing "2023" instead of "2022," it doesn't mean the doors of heaven have been blown wide open and the saints are going to come marching in.  The same monkeys that were on my back in the old year are riding on my shoulders in the new one.

Yet, I have hope.  In the midst of all of my struggles last year, there were blessings and grace.  My son is doing great in school.  My daughter made the Dean's List again this semester.  All of my close family and friends are healthy and happy.  I got two classes to teach next semester at the university.  So, although I've been fumbling around in the dark since last February, there is light.  Like the moon pushing through storm clouds on the winter solstice.

I'm blowing in the New Year at my parents' house with my sisters.  We will eat a lot of junk food, play board games, and pop some balloons.  It's the first time we have been able to celebrate together since 2019.  COVID sidelined the party in 2020 and 2021.  Our ranks have certainly shrunk.  In 2019, my mother and sister, Rose, were still with us.  Yet, despite the empty places at the dining room table, I think we will all feel joy at just being together.  Alive.  In the moment.

So, ciao, Santiago.  Aloha, great fish.  Namaste, Ernest Hemingway.  

Saint Marty wishes you all a Happy New Year!  See ya in 2023.

Friday, December 30, 2022

December 30: Drifted Slowly Astern, Parenting a Grown Child, "Sadness and Disappointment: A Parent's Lament"

Santiago eats . . . 

He slid the carcass overboard and looked to see if there was any swirl in the water. But there was only the light of its slow descent. He turned then and placed the two flying fish inside the two fillets of fish and putting his knife back in its sheath, he worked his way slowly back to the bow. His back was bent with the weight of the line across it and he carried the fish in his right hand.

Back in the bow he laid the two fillets of fish out on the wood with the flying fish beside them. After that he settled the line across his shoulders in a new place and held it again with his left hand resting on the gunwale. Then he leaned over the side and washed the flying fish in the water, noting the speed of the water against his hand. His hand was phosphorescent from skinning the fish and he watched the flow of the water against it. The flow was less strong and as he rubbed the side of his hand against the planking of the skiff, particles of phosphorus floated off and drifted slowly astern.

"He is tiring or he is resting," the old man said. "Now let me get through the eating of this dolphin and get some rest and a little sleep."

The old man knows the way of the sea and the fish in it.  He knows that, in a matter of seconds, his luck may change and a shiver of sharks show up to rob him of his catch.  Santiago is wise to the currents and whirlpools and waves of life.

Last night, I wrote about understanding the world through poetry.  And I wrote about necessary evils, those things we do every day that really don't provide purpose or meaning to our lives but are still vitally important to survive and remain healthy.  I wrote about joy and heartbreak.

Being a parent is all about joy and heartbreak.  For a short period of time, we are entrusted with the life of another little human being, to nurture and teach and love.  Then, just when you think you're getting the hang of this parenting thing, they are gone.  Moved out.  Working swing shifts.  Married with children of their own.  

As the father of an adult young woman now, I can say that I'm having to relearn how to be a father.  I can't step in and fix all my daughter's problems.  (I probably never could, but it's a lot easier to fake it when your child is younger.)  Instead, I have to step back and let her chart her own course, make her own mistakes, because that's how adults learn:  they fuck up and then try hard not to fuck up in the same way again.

At the end of last night's post, I said I was still processing and coming to terms with parenting and loving a grown child.  I'm not a big fan of change in any way, so I have struggled with this shift.  As 2022 draws to a close tomorrow, I can catalogue all the changes in my life:  the death of my sister,  the death of one of my best friends. my daughter moving out of our home,  my son starting high school.  So many more.  All of these changes have brought blessings and grace into my life.  And pain and disappointment.

That's life.  That's parenting.  To paraphrase one of my daughter's favorite authors as a child:  it's a series of fortunate and unfortunate events.  As I said last night, I understand these events by writing about them.  Poeticizing them.

So here's the poem Saint Marty promised last night:

Sadness and Disappointment:  A Parent's Lament

by:  Martin Achatz

I often wonder if Joan of Arc's 
father ever told her how much
he wished she had been more
of a homebody, chopping leeks
into broth, baking dark loaves
of bread, churning butter for birthday
cakes she never made him because
she was too busy leading armies
and being burned at the stake.
If Michelangelo's mother ever told
him to put down his brushes and chisel,
for once make his bed, wash
his dishes after he ate the pasta
she worked on all day to make
out of the eggs he never fetched 
from the coop for her.  How about 
Aretha's dad saying he'd have a lot
more respect for her if she would 
remember to take off her boots
before she tromped through 
the living room, tacking snow
all over the hardwood floors?
And Martin's mother saying 
she had a dream of him putting
his dirty socks and underwear
in the hamper instead of on
the floor of the bathroom after
he took his 45-minute long
shower, using up all the hot water
in the house.  And I'm sure Mary
said to Jesus on more than one
occasion that she would appreciate
a postcard every once in a while,
letting her know that he was
still alive and not lost in some
desert for 40 days, dying 
of thirst.
     Sadness and disappointment
are part of being a parent, those
million little everyday heartbreaks
kids inflict on their mothers and fathers.
What those kids don't get, probably
never will, is that every time we tell
them to put their pizza boxes in recycling
please and Christmas dinner is at 5 p.m.,
we're actually saying how much we
miss braiding their hair at night, reading
them Charlotte's Web before they go
to sleep, pressing our lips to their
foreheads, knowing that we are still
the ones who love them most,
who stay up late, worrying
that they are stuck in some ditch
at the end of a deserted road
in a town we don't know the name 
of, them wishing they had listened
to us, just this one time, when we told
them to stop, please stop
growing up so fast. 

Thursday, December 29, 2022

December 29: Two Flying Fish, Necessary Evils, Selfish World

Santiago makes himself a snack . . . 

Back in the stern he turned so that his left hand held the strain of the line across his shoulders and drew his knife from its sheath with his right hand. The stars were bright now and he saw the dolphin clearly and he pushed the blade of his knife into his head and drew him out from under the stern. He put one of his feet on the fish and slit him quickly from the vent up to the tip of his lower jaw. Then he put his knife down and gutted him with his right hand, scooping him clean and pulling the gills clear. He felt the maw heavy and slippery in his hands and he slit it open. There were two flying fish inside. They were fresh and hard and he laid them side by side and dropped the guts and the gills over the stern. They sank leaving a trail of phosphorescence in the water. The dolphin was cold and a leprous gray-white now in the starlight and the old man skinned one side of him while he held his right foot on the fish's head. Then he turned him over and skinned the other side and cut each side off from the head down to the tail.

I don't fish.  I'm not saying that I have never gone fishing, but fishing, as a pastime, is not something in which I indulge.  The description in the above passage pretty much explains why.  I don't like touching fish.  Can't stand baiting hooks.  Have never cleaned a fish.  Don't like seafood all that much.

But here is my takeaway from the above paragraph:  I would do all of those things I listed above if I needed to.  If you are a human being on this planet, you have to perform tasks each day that aren't necessarily glamorous, fun, or exciting.  In fact, most days are monotonous, dull, and uneventful.  Like cleaning fish.

We all have to do things like make dinner.  Shovel sidewalks.  Wash dishes.  Go to the office.  Work on a poem.  (Okay, that last one may only apply to me.)  Santiago is gutting and cleaning that dolphin because he has to eat in order to maintain his strength.  I have to shovel my front steps so that I don't fall on my ass going in and out of my house.

Of course, everyone's list of necessary "evils" is different.  Some people don't feel the need to make their beds every day.  I do.  Other people feel empty if they don't check their social medias.  I don't.  I feel kind of lost if I don't write something every day (a blog post, draft of a poem, journal entry, etc.).  Other people would rather have bamboo shoved under their toenails than do this.  

There are really only a few absolute necessities for most humans:  eating, drinking water, going to the bathroom.  That's about it.  I won't die if I don't pick up my pen and write in my journal today.  If I don't make the bed, the world will not collapse.  If I don't show up to work one day, the library will continue to function.  Eating,  Drinking.  Pissing,  Shitting.  That's all we really have to do.

For me, poetry and writing give my life meaning and purpose.  Maybe that's the one other thing all humans need:  purpose.  If all I do every day is get up, eat, go to the bathroom, eat some more, work, and then go to sleep, I don't know if I would want my life to continue.  

Poetry is the way that I understand the universe and everything in it.  When my sister died earlier this year, I turned to poetry.  When one of my best friends died in August, I turned to poetry.  If I'm struggling with my family.  If the world seems selfish and uncaring.  If a person I love breaks my heart.  Poetry.  Poetry.  Poetry.  

So you see, I would be lost without being able to express my thoughts and feelings and ideas through poetry.  For me, poetry is as essential as water or chocolate.  (Yes, chocolate is essential in my life.)  This evening, I received some news that really upset me.  Now, after close to three hours of processing it, I'm no closer to finding inner peace.

Perhaps, I'm too nice of a guy.  Maybe I need to be a little more selfish and uncaring.  Trying to make everyone happy is exhausting.  And impossible.  Maybe I need to start saying "no" a lot more.  Practice being an asshole, because only assholes seem really to get ahead.  I'm tired of a world filled only with sadness and disappointment.  

Perhaps that's the title of the poem I need to write tonight:  "Sadness and Disappointment:  A Parent's Lament."

Here's a sunrise that made Saint Marty smile today . . . 

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

December 28: Started to Work, Best Friends, "Charlotte's Web"

But remember to sleep, he thought. Make yourself do it and devise some simple and sure way about the lines. Now go back and prepare the dolphin. It is too dangerous to rig the oars as a drag if you must sleep.

I could go without sleeping, he told himself. But it would be too dangerous.

He started to work his way back to the stern on his hands and knees, being careful not to jerk against the fish. He may be half asleep himself, he thought. But I do not want him to rest. He must pull until he dies.

Santiago knows how to fish.  In fact, it's all he really knows.  That and baseball.  His whole life has been salt water and currents and waves and weather.  The sea is his best friend.

It was the last day of work at the library for one of my best friends.  She's accepted a new job and is really excited about it.  However, she's been at the library for 15 years.  You can't be at a job that long without it becoming a part of who you are, like the sea and Santiago.  So, she's excited and sad at the same time.

I'm happy for her, but I know that I'm going to be a little lost in the office without her.  In the last few weeks, we spoke about big life changes.  Letting go of things that are important to you and, somehow, being at peace with that letting go.  It's not easy.  

When she told me that she'd accepted a new job, she said that she felt guilty leaving me.  We've seen each other through a lot of difficult things in the past few years.  A global pandemic.  Family deaths and illnesses.  The normal day-to-day headaches of work and family and life.  What we have learned in the years we've shared an office is this:  we are very similar people.

One of the biggest things we bonded over is that we both had siblings with special needs.  She lost her brother a while ago.  I lost my sister this year.  In a lot of ways, my sister with Down syndrome was the center of my family.  The same was true of my coworker's life with her brother.  We both knew the joys and heartaches of a childhood with someone who faced immense challenges every day.

I've haven't met a lot of people who understand that side of my life so much.  When my sister passed in January, my coworker understood that feeling of being unmoored.  Adrift.  So, tomorrow, when I step into my office, it will feel pretty empty.

I've been thinking a lot about the last words E. B. White wrote in Charlotte's Web:  "Wilbur never forgot Charlotte.  Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart.  She was in a class by herself.  It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.  Charlotte was both."

Words are powerful things.  My friend and I talked every day about words in our office.  The job she did revolved around words.  So does mine.  We both know that words can help and hurt, build up and tear down.  I'm sure that I will get along with whoever is hired to replace my friend, but that person will never quite take her place in my heart.  She truly is in a class by herself.  

Saint Marty will never forget her.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

December 27: The Ocean Sleeps, Blizzard Winds and Snow, Mindless Distraction

Santiago meditates on rest and sleep . . . 

He rested for what he believed to be two hours. The moon did not rise now until late and he had no way of judging the time. Nor was he really resting except comparatively. He was still bearing the pull of the fish across his shoulders but he placed his left hand on the gunwale of the bow and confided more and more of the resistance to the fish to the skiff itself.

How simple it would be if I could make the line fast, he thought. But with one small lurch he could break it. I must cushion the pull of the line with my body and at all times be ready to give line with both hands.

"But you have not slept yet, old man," he said aloud. "It is half a day and a night and now another day and you have not slept. You must devise a way so that you sleep a little if he is quiet and steady. If you do not sleep you might become unclear in the head."

I'm clear enough in the head, he thought. Too clear. I am as clear as the stars that are my brothers. Still I must sleep. They sleep and the moon and the sun sleep and even the ocean sleeps sometimes on certain days when there is no current and a flat calm.

Rest and sleep are important, for the entire universe.  If land doesn't rest between crops, it can't be farmed.  If trees don't rest in winter, they won't blossom and bloom come spring.  Everything needs time to rest, from the fish of the sea to old men in boats.

I returned to work this morning after having four days off.  Granted. all of those days weren't full of rest and sleep.  Three days of blizzard winds and snow made that sort of impossible.  Yet, I felt invigorated when I walked into my office at 7:45 a.m. today.  Ready to take on the tasks I had already planned out in my head.  And I pretty much left work this afternoon with my to-do list all to-done.  

Yesterday evening, my wife and I watched a Christmas rom-com movie on HBO Max.  (A Hollywood Christmas--its description sounds like a Hallmark movie, but I found it smart and funny and moving.  Give it a shot.)  I didn't have the usual sense of dread that descends on me when going back to the office after some days of vacation.  My wife and I had a great time just being with each other, and I felt relaxed and in-control.

I have never been a great rester or sleeper.  The pattern of my days, since I was young, has always been late nights and early mornings.  Recently, I have fallen into the habit of zonking out on the couch for a few hours and then waking up at two or three in the morning.  Sometimes I'm able to crawl into bed and fall back asleep.  Other times, I lay in the dark, waiting for the alarm clock to go off.  Like I said, sleep and I have never really been friends.

Maybe the reason I felt so good this morning is that I allowed myself just to chill all day yesterday.  If I felt myself getting anxious, I picked up my journal and wrote nonsense, turned on another Christmas movie, or read a book.  So, even if I wasn't actually sleeping, I was doing something mindless and enjoyable.  No schoolwork.  No library work.  Just empty distraction.

Now, I'm not sure I'll be able to maintain this relaxed state, as it runs pretty much counter to my entire personality.  However, for the time being, I'm resting and sleeping, like the stars and moon during the daytime.  Like the flat calm ocean.  Like Santa Claus on December 25th.

Saint Marty may even watch another Hallmarky Christmas movie tonight.

Monday, December 26, 2022

December 26: Rest Now, Boxing Day, Strange Tonight

Santiago decides to rest . . . 

Now I will rest an hour more and feel that he is solid and steady before I move back to the stern to do the work and make the decision. In the meantime I can see how he acts and if he shows any changes. The oars are a good trick; but it has reached the time to play for safety. He is much fish still and I saw that the hook was in the corner of his mouth and he has kept his mouth tight shut. The punishment of the hook is nothing. The punishment of hunger, and that he is against something that he does not comprehend, is everything. Rest now, old man, and let him work until your next duty comes.

The old man knows he has to rest.  If he doesn't, the fish will most certainly win the battle that's coming.  It's a lesson he's probably learned from his years on the sea.  He's going to need all of his strength for his next duty.

Today was Boxing Day in Great Britain and the nations of the British Commonwealth.  From what I understand, Boxing Day (traditionally celebrated the day after Christmas) is a day for family gatherings, watching sports on TV, and playing games.  In recent years, it has also become a huge shopping day, as well.

I have never officially celebrated Boxing Day, being a citizen of the United States.  It's just not a thing here.  Because Christmas fell on a Sunday this year, I had today off from work.  My goal was simply to celebrate December 26th by doing . . . absolutely nothing.  I was determined to relax today.

The past couple months have been fairly stressful, with teaching and work.  The entire month of December has seemed like a marathon.  One long race to Christmas.  Of course, I always overcommit myself and never really schedule "down" days.  I'm not like Santiago.  I don't recognize the need to rest until I am literally so exhausted that my body pretty much shuts down.

So, my own little version of Boxing Day was something unusual for me.  I don't ever just relax because there's always things I could be doing.  For instance, today I could have edited a podcast.  Read a book for my book club.  Worked on one of the manuscripts I have in progress.  Cleaned the house.  

I didn't do any of those things.  Instead, I watched Christmas movies.  Ate leftovers.  Played games with my son.  And nothing else.  (Okay, I did shovel my driveway because the city snowplows came by at around 6 a.m.  And I washed and folded some laundry.  But that's it.)

Now, I feel strange tonight.  I'm not anxious or manically scribbling in my journal.  My mind isn't racing through what that I need to accomplish tomorrow.  I know there are tasks I could be performing right now, but I don't feel the usual urgency that descends on me at this time of night.  It's odd.

Maybe this is what relaxation is.  That may sound naive, but I'm serious.  I don't think I am ever completely relaxed.  I don't have time for it.  I pretty much push myself right up to the point where I collapse on my couch and fall asleep.  I've even been known to take a short nap, get up at 1 or 2 a.m. and work some more.

But I feel really great tonight.  Rested.  Ready to take on whatever tomorrow throws at me.  Maybe I need to schedule more days off for myself like this.  Just give myself a Boxing Day at least once every month.  A day of absolute rest to recharge my batteries.

Perhaps that will be my New Year's resolution.  The first Friday of every month will my Boxing Day.  Of course that means I will have to celebrate Christmas on the first Thursday of every month, too.  

Saint Marty's puppy knows how to celebrate Boxing Day, too.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

December 25: Her Lightness, Christmas Day, "Christmas Roses"

Santiago knows he has to stay strong . . . 

Now, he thought, I must think about the drag. It has its perils and its merits. I may lose so much line that I will lose him, if he makes his effort and the drag made by the oars is in place and the boat loses all her lightness. Her lightness prolongs both our suffering but it is my safety since he has great speed that he has never yet employed. No matter what passes I must gut the dolphin so he does not spoil and eat some of him to be strong.

No matter what, the old man realizes he has to eat in order to finish the battle with the fish.  He has to be stronger than his adversary.  That's what life's all about, I guess.       

 For the past two days, my adversary was a Christmas blizzard.  It started on December 23 and pretty much raged until early Christmas morning.  According to the National Weather Service, we received about 27 inches of snow.  The worst part, however:  the winds.  Sixty to 70 miles per hour at times.  There were hip-deep drifts in my driveway yesterday afternoon.  All the Christmas Eve church services but one were cancelled.  (Catholics never cancel.  They just wrap a rosary around their fingers, get in the car, and let Jesus take the wheel.)

Despite all this, Christmas came.  On Friday, as the storm was really ramping up, my wife's side of the family gathered for an Italian smorgasbord and gift exchange.  Christmas came.  Last night, I drove through the snow-clogged streets of my little hometown and played the pipe organ in the church I grew up in.  My wife and son sang "O Holy Night" together, and one of my best friends came up to the choir loft and celebrated with us.  Christmas came.  And today, it was presents and family and games and Christmas movies.  Christmas came.  

Christmas always comes.

I know that I have been mostly absent from this blog for a good portion of the year.  I have been struggling for many months with sadness and anxiety.  At a time when writing about my thoughts and emotions in blog posts would have been therapeutic, I just couldn't do it.  Most times when I got home at night, I found myself too exhausted from just . . . functioning.

Yet, this December has been full of blessings.  My daughter turned 22 years old at the beginning of the month, and we had a wonderful, late party for her on her birthday.  She has become such a beautiful, caring, poised young woman.  Blessings.  My son has been thriving at his new school, winning awards and maintaining all A's.  I haven't seen him this happy in years.  Blessings.  I have a wife who struggles with mental illness, but she never gives up.  She gets out of bed every morning, goes to work, and loves us all fiercely.  Blessings.  I have a job I love at a library, and friends who care about me deeply.  Blessings.

I did a fundraiser this December for the U. P. Poet Laureate Foundation.  For a donation of seven dollars, I wrote personalized poems for people to give their loved ones for Christmas.  When I conceived the idea, I thought I would receive, at most, ten or 15 requests for poems, mostly from friends and family.  After all, we're talking poetry, the subject that drives fear into the hearts of most school-age kids and causes PTSD (that's Poetry Traumatic Stress Disorder) in adults.  How many people want the gift of poetry for Christmas?

The answer:  44 people.  That's right.  In the space of about 17 or so days, I wrote an entire book of poems.  And it was a blessing.  People entrusted me with their stories of love and loss and grief.  It was both an honor and a huge responsibility.  I'm not sure if I rose to the occasion every time, but I tried the best I could.  And over the last 24 hours, people received my poems as Christmas presents.  Blessings, I hope.

Despite my ongoing struggles, I was able to write those poems.  I was able to write my annual Christmas essay, as well.  I struggled with that project for close to five months.  False starts.  Blazing inspiration that quickly fizzled.  Frustrations.  The essay slowly took shape.  I recorded it on December 13 for Public Radio.  I included it in my annual Christmas letter.  It seems to have had strong impact on many people this holiday season.  Blessings.

As the above passage from The Old Man in the Sea touches on, when facing a difficult adversary (a really big fish, a blizzard, a half-year depression), you just can't give up.  And there are blessings all around you.  

This Christmas night, I give thanks for all the blessings I received this December.  They have been multitude.  We are past the solstice.  The planet is slowly tipping back to light, and I will embrace each extra second of sun in the coming days.  Because darkness never wins.

I wish all of you a blessed Christmas.

Saint Marty's Christmas essay . . . 

Christmas Roses

 Dear Santa,

This letter will not be easy to write.  Or is not easy to write.  Or wasn’t.

I guess it all depends on when you’re reading it, what path of time you’ve traveled in order to receive these words.

Maybe this letter is just a thought, flashing from one synapse in my brain to another as I sit beside my sister Rose’s hospital bed, listening to her lungs take one-two-three-four more bites of air before shutting down quietly, the way autumn shuts down when that first snowfall pixilates the world into winter.

Or maybe I’ve already written this letter, left it on my dining room table next to a plate of thumbprint cookies and mug of eggnog on December 24th, the hard work of scratching words on a piece of paper done.  Because I can’t imagine a world where you and your sleigh aren’t called to flight by my sister’s belief.  How she would spend hours conjuring you with pen each Christmas Eve, starting with that initial incantation:  “Dear Santa.”

I am surrounded by Christmas Roses.  From eight-month-old Rose in my stubborn mother’s arms:  a baby with an extra chromosome facing a world that doesn’t believe in her.  To the Rose who can barely speak, her brain plaqued with Alzheimer’s, whose Christmas gift to me is a smile after a forkful of baked ham.

I’m shuttling back-and-forth this year, watching Christmas in time lapse, Rose growing old and young again, budding and blossoming, withering and dropping petals, then retreating to seed and promise in the universe of our mother’s belly.

No matter what theory of time travel you believe or don’t—Einstein at the speed of light stretching a second into a century, Rod Taylor saving Yvette Mimieux from the clutches of the Morlocks in The Time Machine, or Emily Webb haunting her childhood in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town—we’re all subject to the passage of minutes and hours and days and years.  Our lives all episodes in The March of Time newsreels, Westbrook Van Voorhis narrating each breath and war, each plague and Christmas ginger snap. 

I know in these Santa letters, authors usually proclaim how good they’ve been over the past 365 days and then provide catalogues of Christmas wishes, from the material to the ethereal.  New iPhones and Nintendo DS5s.  World peace.  Good health for an ailing mother.  That’s how it works.  Has worked.  Will work.  Wishes are just alternate universes for each wisher.  Ones where the wisher has traveled backward or forward to change some string of time.  Stop grandpa from smoking two packs a day.  Say “yes” to that boy in high school who asked you to the Holiday Formal.  Buy your son that God of War computer game.  Hold your dead sister’s hand one last time.

Santa, I know that, in one of these threads of time, you’re reading a note left for you by one of these Roses on Christmas Eve.  She’s been a good girl.  She always is.  Was.  Will be.  And she wants new ballpoint pens to write letters with.  Stationery.  Hubba Bubba bubblegum, as many packs as you can spare.  Another Santa reads that Rose misses our father and mother, hopes God is letting them win a few hands of gin rummy.  To a third Santa she writes that I wouldn’t let her drink another Diet Coke after dinner, and maybe he should take one present away from me.

In all of these Christmases, you exist/did exist/will continue to exist for me because all the Roses still exist—providing the plutonium for Marty McFly’s DeLorean, phone number for Bill and Ted’s next excellent adventure.  Through all the years of her life, Rose’s belief in you never failed.  Never fails.  Will never fail.  There was/is/will be cookies and milk left on the dining room table for you every Christmas Eve as sure as the moon turns Teal Lake silver on August nights and geese chase the sun across the country when frost pinches the air toward winter.

In the play Our Town, the main character, Emily Webb, dies in Act III, ending up in the town cemetery, surrounded by ghosts.  One of those ghosts is her mother-in-law, Mrs. Gibbs.  When Emily declares she’s going to travel back to a happy time in her life, Mrs. Gibbs tries to talk her out of the idea.  Emily remains determined, so Mrs. Gibbs cautions her:  “At least choose an unimportant day.  Choose the least important day in your life.  It will be important enough.”

I’ve reached that point in my letter where I’m supposed to tell you what I want for Christmas.  I want a time machine, like the one Rod Taylor rode, past to present to future to present again, with its upholstered Victorian chair, spinning sundial, flashing lights, and throttle stick capped in crystal.  So I can return like Emily to the least important day of my life.  Emily chooses her twelfth birthday.  Maybe I’ll choose my twelfth Christmas.

It had been snowing for several days, but the snow stopped that morning.  The sun came out, making the world so white it was hard to look at.  My dad, young and flinty as steel, sat in his chair, sipping his third cup of thick, black coffee.  My mother, her hair only slightly peppered with gray, was in the kitchen, pulling the ham from the oven, its back studded with cloves.  On the couch, Rose ogled the gigantic pile of presents spilling across the living room floor, trying to find ones with her name on it.  Slowly, my other siblings appeared, pulled by the smell of the ham or the voice of Willie Nelson on WJPD, twanging, “Pretty papers, pretty ribbons of blue . . .”

They all look so young and beautiful and happy.  Yet, they don’t know it.  It’s just another Christmas for them.  Another of my mother’s gingered hams.  Another December filled with snow.  Another December 25th when Rose asks over and over, “Can we open presents now?”  Just like Emily in Our Town, I can’t look at everything hard enough.

Part of me wants to hold each one of them for a long, long time.  Tell them how this life we know goes so fast, and we never really look at each other or notice all the little things of each and every day. 

But Rose.  Somehow, she saw and knew what we all didn’t or couldn’t know.  The smell of coffee.  Our mother’s homemade bread.  The clock chiming on the dining room wall.  Old Hank Williams songs on the radio. Dad spreading mustard on his ham sandwich.  Mom humming along to Judy Garland.  The furnace ticking one, two, three times before rumbling to life.  The poinsettia from Midnight Mass sitting in the middle of the dining room table, surrounded by plates of spritz cookies and snickerdoodles.  Going to sleep at night, and waking up to the gift of another day.  The tinsel and wrap of each and every moment.  Rose knew.  Believed in a world where reindeer can fly faster than starlight. 

Perhaps that’s my real Christmas wish this year.  I don’t need an H. G. Wells time machine.  A nuclear-powered DeLorean.  An omnipotent Stage Manager with a pocket watch.  I just need a Christmas Rose to remind me how truly wonderful the world was.  Is.  Will always be.

And a cookie.  The good kind—peanut butter with a Hershey’s kiss pressed into its center.  They were always her favorite.  I’ll sit down, put that cookie in my mouth, feel Rose’s arms reach across time to wrap around my shoulders.  I’ll hear her voice in my ear, asking if she can have one more Diet Coke.  Because it’s Christmas Eve.  And Santa is coming to take her to the North Pole, where our mother and father are waiting for her to open presents.

With love,


Friday, December 2, 2022

December 1-2: Great Dignity, Colonoscopy, Honorable and Dignified

Santiago respects the fish as a brother . . . 

Then he was sorry for the great fish that had nothing to eat and his determination to kill him never relaxed in his sorrow for him. How many people will he feed, he thought. But are they worthy to eat him? No, of course not. There is no one worthy of eating him from the manner of his behavior and his great dignity.

I do not understand these things, he thought. But it is good that we do not have to try to kill the sun or the moon or the stars. It is enough to live on the sea and kill our true brothers.

The old man is determined to kill the fish, despite believing that no person is really honorable enough to eat him.  It's like killing the sun or moon or stars for Santiago.  He's going to kill the fish, even though he admits that he doesn't quite understand the morality or ethics of killing such an honorable and dignified creature.

First, I have to apologize for not posting last night.  I was a little indisposed.  This morning, I had a colonoscopy, so yesterday evening and all through the night, I was doing the prep for the procedure.  Translation:  it was a shitty night.  Literally.

It's pretty difficult remaining dignified and honorable when you spend the entire night sitting on the toilet.  And it's a humbling experience.  I led a poetry workshop just as things were beginning to . . . move for me.  Perhaps that wasn't the best decision I ever made.  However, a lot of people showed up to write with me, and I was able to sit through the entire two hours with only three pitstops.  And everybody present was incredibly gracious and understanding.

My biggest challenge, aside from having to stay in Campground Commode all night, was keeping my blood sugar from dropping to dangerous levels.  Most of the poetry workshop, I was averaging in the mid- to low-fifties.  At that level, my thinking is not totally coherent.  Therefore, the poems I wrote during workshop were . . . not as good as usual.  In fact, I think they were pretty shitty.

Are you sensing a theme here?

Anyway, I had my colonoscopy at around 10 a.m. this morning.  I have to say that it was the best sleep I've had in a long time.  I understand why Michael Jackson was partial to propofol.  One minute, I was laying on my side in the procedure room waiting to be violated in my sleep, and the next minute, a nurse is calling my name and telling me it was all over.  I lost about 40 minutes of my life.

The good news is that my colon was given a clean bill of health.  The bad news is that there aren't any eggnog shakes at my local McDonald's.  That's where we stopped immediately following the colonoscopy, and I got the best batch of French fries I've ever eaten.

The rest of the day, I've been battling an anesthesia hangover.  Still am.  I feel a little wiped out from the last 48 hours, and tomorrow morning, I have to be the host of the Winter Wonderland Walk Celebration at the library where I work.  That means that, for about five hours, I have to do my best post-ghost Ebenezer Scrooge impression.  It's going to be a struggle.

But, I have a lot of blessings to be thankful for tonight:  good colon health, a great nap, an amazing order of French fries, and friends who call and text to find out how I'm doing.

Saint Marty was going to post the picture of his healthy colon, but thought better of it.  Instead, please enjoy this cute picture of his puppy instead . . . 

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

November 30: Born Lucky, Update on my Son, Alternative

Santiago gets a little blissed out . . . 

He did not truly feel good because the pain from the cord across his back had almost passed pain and gone into a dullness that he mistrusted. But I have had worse things than that, he thought. My hand is only cut a little and the cramp is gone from the other. My legs are all right. Also now I have gained on him in the question of sustenance.

It was dark now as it becomes dark quickly after the sun sets in September. He lay against the worn wood of the bow and rested all that he could. The first stars were out. He did not know the name of Rigel but he saw it and knew soon they would all be out and he would have all his distant friends.

"The fish is my friend too," he said aloud. "I have never seen or heard of such a fish. But I must kill him. I am glad we do not have to try to kill the stars."

Imagine if each day a man must try to kill the moon, he thought. The moon runs away. But imagine if a man each day should have to try to kill the sun? We were born lucky, he thought.

There's a lot of beauty in this passage.  Santiago and all his distant friends.  Hemingway isn't known primarily for lyricism in his writing.  Yet, I find his spare sentences contain moments of the sublime.  This is one of them.

I haven't provided an update on my son recently.  As most of my faithful disciples know, my son has always struggled in/with school.  Especially the last few years.  Each time the school called me, I knew it would be bad news.  My last contact with his former school was a message from the superintendent on the last day of eighth grade, informing me that my son was going to be starting his freshman year of high school with a ten-day, in-school suspension.

Well, my wife and I decided to change things.  Our son did not start ninth grade in detention.  Instead, he's now attending the alternative high school in a new district.  And he loves it.  Instead of battling to get him out of bed in the morning, he actually looks forward to going to school.  He has new friends who seem really to appreciate him and help him navigate social situations.  He is taking an advanced math class with mostly juniors and seniors because he tested so high at the beginning of the year, and he currently has the highest grade percentage in the entire class (in the 99th percentile).  This morning, he asked if he could purchase a poem from me as part of my Gift of Poetry fundraiser for the U. P. Poet Laureate Foundation.  He wants to give it to one of his best friends at school.

And, he received all A's on his report card.  He has never received all A's in his entire life.

My son has found his place.  He fits in.  Finally, after nine years in the educational system, my son loves school.

I feel like Santiago in his boat, gazing up at all my distant friends in the heavens, feeling happy for my son.  Secure in my decision.  

That's Saint Marty's blessing for this evening.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

November 28-29: Nothing Is Easy, Gift of Poetry, Zombie Apocalypse

Santiago gives himself a pep talk . . . 

I'm learning how to do it, he thought. This part of it anyway. Then too, remember he hasn't eaten since he took the bait and he is huge and needs much food. I have eaten the whole bonito. Tomorrow I will eat the dolphin. He called it dorado. Perhaps I should eat some of it when I clean it. It will be harder to eat than the bonito. But, then, nothing is easy.

"How do you feel, fish?" he asked aloud. "I feel good and my left hand is better and I have food for a night and a day. Pull the boat, fish."

Nothing is easy.  

My father used to say it another way:  "Nothing in life is free."  Translation:  you have to work hard for everything that's worth having.  My father worked close to 60 years of his life to provide for his family of nine kids.  When my sister, Rose, was born with Down syndrome, my mother fought every day for her.  My mother fought the doctor who said to put my sister in an institution and forget about her.  My mother fought the public schools that, at the time, weren't legally required to provide an education to children with any kind of challenge.

Nothing is easy.

I've done something a little crazy recently.  As a fundraiser for the U. P. Poet Laureate Foundation, I've volunteered to write personalized poems for anyone who donates seven dollars to the UPPLF.  Now, I imagined I would end up writing around 10 or 15 poems total over the course of a few weeks.

Last night, I wrote five poems.  The day before that, I wrote four poems.  If you're doing the math, that's nine poems in the space of less than 48 hours.  And the topics people have provided are not easy, either.  One person wanted a poem for someone mourning the loss of a baby.  That was t-o-u-g-h.  

Nothing is easy.

That thing is:  I'm enjoying the challenge of this Gift of Poetry fundraiser.  Even the really hard prompts.  I have nine new poems (or drafts of them) that didn't exist when I woke up on Sunday,  That's pretty amazing.

That doesn't mean that I'm not struggling with this.  Today, there were 12 new poetry prompts.  Doing the math again, that brings the tally to 21.  I only managed to take care of two of those new ones, and, I'm sure, there will be ten or 11 more tomorrow.

I love writing poetry, but nothing is easy

I just got home from work a little while ago.  I'm watching one of my favorite Christmas movies--Anna and the Apocalypse.  It's a musical zombie-apocalypse, Christmas movie.  Strangely, it puts me in the yuletide poetry spirit.

Zombie plagues, with songs.  Unending poetry prompts.  

These are a few of Saint Marty's favorite things.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

November 26-27: Difficult Time for All Fish, Christmas Decorations, Hope and Love

Santiago thinks about sunset and fish . . . 

"He hasn't changed at all," he said. But watching the movement of the water against his hand he noted that it was perceptibly slower.

"I'll lash the two oars together across the stern and that will slow him in the night," he said. "He's good for the night and so am I."

It would be better to gut the dolphin a little later to save the blood in the meat, he thought. I can do that a little later and lash the oars to make a drag at the same time. I had better keep the fish quiet now and not disturb him too much at sunset. The setting of the sun is a difficult time for all fish.

He let his hand dry in the air then grasped the line with it and eased himself as much as he could and allowed himself to be pulled forward against the wood so that the boat took the strain as much, or more, than he did.

Santiago knows he's in for the fight of his life against the fish, and he's preparing for it.  Trying to conserve as much of his strength as he can.  Yet, the old man still thinks of the fish with compassion, doesn't want to disturb it as night falls.  Because, through experience, he knows that dusk is a "difficult time for all fish."

Yesterday, I put up the Christmas decorations at my parents' house for my sisters.  It was difficult at the beginning.  I have a sister whose holiday spirit is a dull ember that needs kindling.  Every year, I go through the ritual of her refusing to put up decorations and me doing my best Spirit of Christmas Present act.

The Christmas tree and lights always go up.  In good years, it's taxing to stage this little production of A Christmas Carol with my sister.  This year, with my own brand of sadness, it was absolutely exhausting.  I try to maintain a level of compassion and understanding with my sister.  I know she has her own struggles, and her Ebenezer Scrooging has little to do with me or Christmas.  

As I sit typing this blog post, the Christmas tree is glowing in the corner of my living room.  I can see ornaments my son and daughter made in grade school.  A delicate pair of china ballet shoes that were a wedding present.  A felt ornament of a cardinal that a good friend made for me the year my mother died.  There's so much of the history of my family and life sitting in those branches.

Christmas is a difficult time for a lot of people.  I understand that.  My parents loved Christmas.  My dad would sit in his chair on the day I decorated the tree and thank me over and over.  When she was alive, my sister, Sally, was the embodiment of Christmas.  She loved everything about it--the decorations, Black Friday, gift wrapping, Christmas baking.  My sister, Rose, had Down syndrome.  She wrote a letter to Santa Claus every year and was thrilled when Santa ate the cookies and left a note for her.  

That's why I put up the tree at my parents' house despite my sister's bah humbugginess.  And despite my own struggles with darkness this year.  We all face difficult sunset times in our lives.  A little extra light in the corner of the room is a good reminder that hope and love are still alive.

Saint Marty gives thanks for Christmas decorations today.

Friday, November 25, 2022

November 25: Strange In an Airplane, Charlie in the Box, Give Thanks

Santiago contemplates a different perspective . . . 

It must be very strange in an airplane, he thought. I wonder what the sea looks like from that height? They should be able to see the fish well if they do not fly too high. I would like to fly very slowly at two hundred fathoms high and see the fish from above. In the turtle boats I was in the cross-trees of the mast-head and even at that height I saw much. The dolphin look greener from there and you can see their stripes and their purple spots and you can see all of the school as they swim. Why is it that all the fast-moving fish of the dark current have purple backs and usually purple stripes or spots? The dolphin looks green of course because he is really golden. But when he comes to feed, truly hungry, purple stripes show on his sides as on a marlin. Can it be anger, or the greater speed he makes that brings them out?

Just before it was dark, as they passed a great island of Sargasso weed that heaved and swung in the light sea as though the ocean were making love with something under a yellow blanket, his small line was taken by a dolphin. He saw it first when it jumped in the air, true gold in the last of the sun and bending and flapping wildly in the air. It jumped again and again in the acrobatics of its fear and he worked his way back to the stern and crouching and holding the big line with his right hand and arm, he pulled the dolphin in with his left hand, stepping on the gained line each time with his bare left foot. When the fish was at the stern, plunging and cutting from side to side in desperation, the old man leaned over the stern and lifted the burnished gold fish with its purple spots over the stern. Its jaws were working convulsively in quick bites against the hook and it pounded the bottom of the skiff with its long flat body, its tail and its head until he clubbed it across the shining golden head until it shivered and was still.

The old man unhooked the fish, rebaited the line with another sardine and tossed it over. Then he worked his way slowly back to the bow. He washed his left hand and wiped it on his trousers. Then he shifted the heavy line from his right hand to his left and washed his right hand in the sea while he watched the sun go into the ocean and the slant of the big cord.

Santiago has never been in an airplane.  Yet, he wonders what the sea looks like from the sky.  The old man imagines seeing schools of dolphin and other fish, their colors and shadows in the water.  Green with purple stripes.  He is used to the violent up-closeness of the universe.  Catching fish, reeling them in, and clubbing them over their heads.  Santiago will never have the luxury of distance or perspective.

It has been a lost year for me.  Or a year of loss.  However you want to label it.  In 2022, my sister died.  One of my best friends died.  In addition, time has been as slippery as a dolphin.  It has slipped through my fingers for long stretches.  And I have been struggling with depression for almost six months now.  Days have blurred and blended into each other.  

So, here I set, one month away from Christmas day.  Yesterday was Thanksgiving.  The first without my sister Rose.  The first without my daughter living under my roof.  The first without receiving a text message from my friend, Helen, wishing me blessings and grace. 

It has been almost two months since my last blog post.  I have no idea how that much time has passed.  The pandemic has altered the perception of time for a lot of people, I think.  Those months in lockdown seem as distant now as the moons of Jupiter.  But they also seem like yesterday.  A little more than two years ago, we celebrated Zoom Thanksgiving, followed by Zoom Christmas and Zoom New Year's Eve and Zoom Easter.  People predisposed to a hermit lifestyle pre-COVID have been transformed into full-blown Howard Hughes-hood today.

At points, these last six months have been a struggle for me--with lots of down days and sleepless nights.  My lowest moments have been Mariana Trench deep.  Yet, I'm still here, mostly because of my family and friends.

Stepping back and looking at my life from an airplane perspective, I know that I have people who fiercely love me.  I have a niece who lives in San Francisco who sends me text messages that make me laugh and, sometimes, cry because she cares about me so much.  In the past 24 hours, I had a really close friend reach out about spending time together during the holidays.  I am part of a network of Christmas podcasters who are my Island of Misfit Toys family--they welcome me because I'm a Charlie in the Box.

So on this Thanksgiving weekend, I think of all the people who love me and have stuck with me this last half-year.  If I disappointed or let you down in some way, I'm sorry.  It wasn't intentional, believe me.  Some days, just getting out of bed has been a victory for me.  

As we enter this season of light, I hold on to what Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel once wrote:  "Even in darkness it is possible to create light and encourage compassion.  That it is possible to feel free inside a prison.  That, even in exile, friendship exists and can become an anchor.  That one instant before dying, man is still immortal."

Saint Marty gives thanks for all the anchors in his life tonight.

Friday, September 30, 2022

September 30: Flying Fish, Abdominal Pain, Sanderson Sisters

Santiago is a small fish in a large sea . . . 

The sun will bake it out well now, he thought. It should not cramp on me again unless it gets too cold in the night. I wonder what this night will bring.

An airplane passed over head on its course to Miami and he watched its shadow scaring up the schools of flying fish.

"With so much flying fish there should be dolphin," he said, and leaned back on the line to see if it was possible to gain any on his fish. But he could not and it stayed at the hardness and water-drop shivering that preceded breaking. The boat moved ahead slowly and he watched the airplane until he could no longer see it.

The old man is not in charge of his destiny at the moment.  He's at the whim and pull of the fish and the ocean.  Until the wind shifts or the current changes or the fish rises, Santiago must wait and hope.

It's been a strange day.  My sister ended up in the ER this morning with severe abdominal pain.  My daughter drove her.  I was at a doctor's appointment myself when she called to ask to be picked up.  Like I said--strange.  My natural morose disposition had already come up with a scenario in which my sister was having a massive cardiac event. In my mind, she was on the table in an operating room, a surgeon massaging her heart, trying to coax it back to life.

Instead, the ER doc diagnosed her with GERD.  Too much pizza last night, maybe.  I'm skeptical.  My sister was pale.  Diaphoretic.  Her hands were freezing.  That, to me, seems like a heart problem, not a stomach problem.

Why am I writing all this?  Because I'm in a little boat.  We all are.  And the sea is limitless and deep.  If the last few years have taught me anything, it's this:  nothing is for certain.  I woke up this morning with my day all planned out.  Work.  Doctor's appointment.  Work.  Taco Bell for dinner.  Watching Hocus Pocus 2 with my family.  Because I'm that predictable.  I like predictable.

Well, most of those things actually happened.  I went to work.  And the check-up with my doctor.  Had Taco Bell.  Spent the night with Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, Sarah Jessica Parker, my wife, and kids.  My sister is okay.  She even worked tonight and stopped by afterward with a pizza.  And I watched Hocus Pocus 2 with her again.

All of those small things happened in my small boat today.  Some of them planned.  Some, unplanned.  Yet, small things can seem huge.  My sister at the hospital this morning for GERD--huge.  Eating quesadillas with my family and watching the resurrection of the Sanderson sisters--huge.  Doctor's appointment where I arrange to receive a CGM (Constant Glucose Monitoring) system--huge.

In the grand scheme, though, none of those things will solve world hunger or fight homophobia or end climate change or put Donald Trump in prison or lead to Armageddon.  They're tiny, like Santiago's hand cramp or the airplane that passes over his boat on its way to Florida.

But, for Saint Marty, they're Titanic-sized.  

Blessing for today:  Winifred and Taco Bell.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

September 29: The Champion, Glory Days, Nobel Prize in Literature

Santiago recalls when he was a champion . . . 

As the sun set he remembered, to give himself more confidence, the time in the tavern at Casablanca when he had played the hand game with the great negro from Cienfuegos who was the strongest man on the docks. They had gone one day and one night with their elbows on a chalk line on the table and their forearms straight up and their hands gripped tight. Each one was trying to force the other's hand down onto the table. There was much betting and people went in and out of the room under the kerosene lights and he had looked at the arm and hand of the negro and at the negro's face. They changed the referees every four hours after the first eight so that the referees could sleep. Blood came out from under the fingernails of both his and the negro's hands and they looked each other in the eye and at their hands and forearms and the bettors went in and out of the room and sat on high chairs against the wall and watched. The walls were painted bright blue and were of wood and the lamps threw their shadows against them. The negro's shadow was huge and it moved on the wall as the breeze moved the lamps.

The odds would change back and forth all night and they fed the negro rum and lighted cigarettes for him. Then the negro, after the rum, would try for a tremendous effort and once he had the old man, who was not an old man then but was Santiago El Campeon, nearly three inches off balance. But the old man had raised his hand up to dead even again. He was sure then that he had the negro, who was a fine man and a great athlete, beaten. And at daylight when the bettors were asking that it be called a draw and the referee was shaking his head, he had unleashed his effort and forced the hand of the negro down and down until it rested on the wood. The match had started on a Sunday morning and ended on a Monday morning. Many of the bettors had asked for a draw because they had to go to work on the docks loading sacks of sugar or at the Havana Coal Company. Otherwise everyone would have wanted it to go to a finish. But he had finished it anyway and before anyone had to go to work.

For a long time after that everyone had called him The Champion and there had been a return match in the spring. But not much money was bet and he had won it quite easily since he had broken the confidence of the negro from Cienfuegos in the first match. After that he had a few matches and then no more. He decided that he could beat anyone if he wanted to badly enough and he decided that it was bad for his right hand for fishing. He had tried a few practice matches with his left hand. But his left hand had always been a traitor and would not do what he called on it to do and he did not trust it.

It's really not healthy to dwell on past glory days.  It makes you nostalgic for a time when you threw the winning touchdown or won the eight-grade spelling bee or published a poem in The New Yorker.  (Okay, if I published a poem in The New Yorker, I'd have that puppy framed and wear it on a chain around my neck.  If a person showed me a picture of their grandchild, I'd show them my New Yorker poem, which would probably be a little embarrassing after 20 or so years, I suppose.)

I know people who live in the past.  To a certain extent, I'm guilty of it, myself.  When I'm meeting a person in a professional setting, I may give a list of my accomplishments, including the fact that I served two terms as Upper Peninsula Poet Laureate.  I don't think I rest on my laurels at all, however.  I always try to push myself to be better.  Try harder.

This approach to life has allowed me to do amazing things.  Earn advanced degrees in creative writing.  Teach for 30 years.  Attend a poetry workshop led by Sharon Olds.  Star in musicals.  Direct musicals.  Publish a book of poems.  Be chosen as Poet Laureate of the Upper Peninsula twice.  Bring two beautiful children into the world.  Love my wife deeply for 30 years.  Host poetry readings by two U. S. Poets Laureate--Natasha Trethewey and Joy Harjo.

I have been able to do these things by looking forward, not backward.  By forcing myself to attempt things that scared the hell out of me.  Glory days are wonderful.  They remind you of really good times in your life.  Golden times when life was all birthday parties and Christmas presents.

Here is what I believe:  there's always room in your life for more glory days.  I still have big dreams for myself.  Trips I want to take (England, Italy).  Things I want to accomplish (publish another book of poems, win the Nobel Prize in Literature).  People I want to meet (Barack Obama, Stephen King).  

Dreams are just glory days in waiting.  Next week, the Swedish Academy announces this year's winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature.  In seven days' time, someone will be living in their glory days.  And for a little while, I will be a part of that person's glory days, living them vicariously.

Saint Marty's blessing for today: new poems written in a writing workshop tonight.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

September 28: Darkness of the Sea, How You Respond, My Two Classes

Santiago thinks about challenges in life . . . 

This is the second day now that I do not know the result of the juegos, he thought. But I must have confidence and I must be worthy of the great DiMaggio who does all things perfectly even with the pain of the bone spur in his heel. What is a bone spur? he asked himself. Un espuela de hueso. We do not have them. Can it be as painful as the spur of a fighting cock in one's heel? I do not think I could endure that or the loss of the eye and of both eyes and continue to fight as the fighting cocks do. Man is not much beside the great birds and beasts. Still I would rather be that beast down there in the darkness of the sea.

"Unless sharks come," he said aloud. "If sharks come, God pity him and me."

Do you believe the great DiMaggio would stay with a fish as long as I will stay with this one? he thought. I am sure he would and more since he is young and strong. Also his father was a fisherman. But would the bone spur hurt him too much?

"I do not know," he said aloud. "I never had a bone spur."

Everyone faces challenges in their lives, every single day.  It can be as simple as being a little tired in the morning.  Or it can be more complicated--major depression, a car accident, a Trump rally in your town.  It's not really about the size of the challenge, however.  It's about how you respond to that challenge.

I've been recovering from my weekend in Calumet since Monday.  My physical and mental states can be characterized with one adjective:  "exhausted."  That has been my challenge this week.  As I've written in the last few posts, I've been experiencing major sadness for some months.  Adding lack of rest/sleep into that mix, and you have a Prozac cocktail.

Going to teach my two classes today, I was prepared.  I had very detailed lesson plans.  I need to do that because I don't trust my mind to be all that clear as I stand in front of my students when I feel like this.  Once at the podium, I quickly realized my plans were jammed with facts and definitions and lists, but they were also completely dull and uninspired.  I could sense the kids in the room simply tuning out.

So, despite my better judgement, I abandoned my lesson plans.  I winged it, talking about creativity and mental illness in one class, and the final-girl horror movie trope in the other.  I even made my students take a creativity test.  And those classes came alive.  Everyone was talking and laughing, and I walked out of those classrooms feeling like I'd actually taught those kids something.

I faced a challenge, and I responded positively to that challenge.  To put it in Santiago terms, I landed the big fish.  And it felt great.

Saint Marty's blessings for today:  creativity and slasher movies.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

September 27: The Big Leagues, Niece's Birthday, Mean Girls

Santiago thinks about something that makes him feel better--baseball . . . 

He felt very tired now and he knew the night would come soon and he tried to think of other things. He thought of the Big Leagues, to him they were the Gran Ligas, and he knew that the Yankees of New York were playing the Tigres of Detroit.

Let me tell you about someone who always makes me feel better about myself.

It's my niece's birthday.  She turns 26 today, and she is smart and beautiful and funny and compassionate.  At family gatherings, we often sit by each other because we share the same sense of humor.  A little dark.  A little sarcastic.  We can whisper and be mean girls together.

This past weekend, when I posted about my struggles over this last month, my niece sent me a text message, just saying that she loves me.  In the middle of a particularly dark moment, her words lifted me up.

I am loved.  I know that.  But it's good to be reminded every once in a while.  My niece always does that for me.  

Today, Saint Marty's blessing is his niece, who is embarking on her twenty-seventh trip around the sun today.

Monday, September 26, 2022

September 26: Very Strange, Son's Fourteenth Birthday, Teenage Boy

Santiago marvels at the fish . . . 

"If you're not tired, fish," he said aloud, "you must be very strange."

The fish seems almost preternatural in strength and stamina.  Like some prehistoric creature.  Strange and beautiful.  A little scary, perhaps.  And the old man respects that.

Today is my son's fourteenth birthday, and he is a marvel to me.  Full of humor and love.  He's still learning how to navigate the world.  He can hold his own in a roomful of experienced adult poets and bring me to my knees with his writing.  

Yet, he's still a young teenage boy who loves to play Dungeons & Dragons, listen to weird indie music, and eat Little Caesar's cheese pizza.  He gets crushes-at-first-sight.  Pushes boundaries like crazy.  Feels everything deeply.

And, for some reason, he's been entrusted to my keeping for the past 5,110 days.  This strange, preternatural child.  Of course, I know that I stand no chance of actually landing this prehistoric fish of a boy.  He will eventually slip away into the wide, deep ocean, as all children must.  And he will leave me in wonder and thankfulness that I was given the privilege of being a part of his evolution.

Happy birthday to my sweet, trouble-making boy.

Saint Marty's blessing today:  fourteen years of adventure with the mystery of my son.

A poem for my son:

Arrangement in Pink and Blue No. 1

by: Martin Achatz

He basks before his sister, does this thing
they planned together, she with her 19-year-old
college girl generosity of time, he with his
11-year-old boy hunger for her attention.
On the floor, they face each other,
heads almost touching, his neon
pink hair bathing her face like a sunrise.
They talk about small things. Rain. Cheetos.
Skunks under our front porch. She holds
his hand. He allows her to hold
his hand. She paints each of his fingernails
Pacific Ocean at night, a blue so dark
it could hold sea monsters. My daughter's touch,
meticulous, does not miss with her brush.
My son's cuticles, knuckles remain pristine. White.
He sits there, the way Whistler's mother probably
did as her son arranged dress, bonnet, asked her
to fold her hands just so, gave her a stool
for her feet, told her not to move, hold still.
said "You're perfect" and "I love you, mom,"
as he mixed his oils while she stared
at the wall in front of her, counted rosettes
in the wallpaper, and felt herself
becoming her son's masterpiece.