Thursday, June 30, 2022

June 30: Felt Nothing, Editing an Episode, Half Ass

Santiago talks to the fish . . . 

"Come on," the old man said aloud. "Make another turn. Just smell them. Aren't they lovely? Eat them good now and then there is the tuna. Hard and cold and lovely. Don't be shy, fish. Eat them."

He waited with the line between his thumb and his finger, watching it and the other lines at the same time for the fish might have swum up or down. Then came the same delicate pulling touch again.

"He'll take it," the old man said aloud. "God help him to take it."

He did not take it though. He was gone and the old man felt nothing.

It takes patience to practice any kind of skill, whether it's fishing or skiing or writing.  Santiago knows this.  That's why he doesn't despair when the fish seems to have disappeared.

I spent most of the day editing the audio of the podcast I host for work.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not complaining about that.  I enjoy piecing together each episode.  In fact, it's one of the things I look forward to most in my job each week.  But, like anything, it takes time.  A lot of time, if the recording is lengthy.  

Of course, I got other things accomplished during those eight hours, but the bulk of my day involved headphones and listening.  While I was doing that, my officemate was working on a new design for the library's social media sites.  And she spent the bulk of her time performing that task.

We were basically doing the same thing, really.  Trying bring into the world a new creation.  If either of us were less particular, it wouldn't have taken as long.  However, both she and I really don't believe in doing anything half ass.  And we're both pretty stubborn when we have a particular vision.  That's why we get along so well.

By the time we both left the office this afternoon, our projects were complete and scheduled for release on social media.  And we were both really happy.

Now, come Monday, when someone listens to that podcast episode or views that weekly calendar, they won't realize the hours and hours it took to create them.  That doesn't matter.  I think the best art, whether a podcast or poem or Facebook post, should seem simple and beautiful at the same time.

That's what it's all about.  Some of the last lines of my poems take weeks or months to write.  Because it has to fit just so, like a new shoe.  That last line should seem completely organic.  None of the struggle it took to arrive at that line should be visible.  People aren't interest in the scaffolding of the Sistine Chapel.  They're interested in the ceiling.

Now here comes the last line of this post:  good fences make good neighbors.  

(Okay, it's Robert Frost's last line, but Saint Marty is tired.)

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

June 29: Turn in the Dark, "Get Out," Art and Truth

Santiago waits for the fish to take his bait . . . 

This far out, he must be huge in this month, he thought. Eat them, fish. Eat them. Please eat them. How fresh they are and you down there six hundred feet in that cold water in the dark. Make another turn in the dark and come back and eat them.

He felt the light delicate pulling and then a harder pull when a sardine's head must have been more difficult to break from the hook. Then there was nothing.

Art has ways of speaking to you deeply.  For me, the story of Santiago and his fish is about poetry.  Every time I sit down to write, I'm Santiago in the boat, paddling far out onto the sea to try to land the big one and bring it home in one piece.  Santiago ultimately fails.  Generally, I do, too.  

This evening, my son and I watched Jordan Peele's movie Get Out.  I had seen the film once a couple years ago.  It was the first time for my son.  Of course, it's a movie designed to make white people cringe and feel the kind of guilt that white privilege allows us usually to ignore.  

After the movie ended, my son said, "That movie made me feel bad about being white."

I nodded, the said, "I don't think it's meant to make you feel bad about the color of your skin.  I think it's supposed to make be aware of the kind of things that African Americans encounter every day in their lives."

He nodded and then sat there thinking for a while.  Finally, he said, "It sort of messes with your head."

"Well," I said, "the fact that you feel those things means that the movie did its job."

That is what good art is all about.  It messes with your head.  Makes you feel uncomfortable emotions.  Uncovers truths that are usually deeply buried.

Here endeth Saint Marty's lesson for the night.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

June 28: Feeling Any Tension, Effortless, Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Santiago does what he does best . . . 

"Yes," he said. "Yes," and shipped his oars without bumping the boat. He reached out for the line and held it softly between the thumb and forefinger of his right hand. He felt no strain nor weight and he held the line lightly. Then it came again. This time it was a tentative pull, not solid nor heavy, and he knew exactly what it was. One hundred fathoms down a marlin was eating the sardines that covered the point and the shank of the hook where the hand-forged hook projected from the head of the small tuna.

The old man held the line delicately, and softly, with his left hand, unleashed it from the stick. Now he could let it run through his fingers without the fish feeling any tension.

When you're doing something you're good at, there is no tension in any of your actions.  It becomes ballet almost, like Santiago holding the fishline between his fingers, knowing exactly what is happening 100 fathoms below him.  If you've watched a master watercolorist paint or a expert knitter knit, you know what I mean.  Everything seems effortless.

Only one thing works like that for me--writing poetry.  It is true pleasure, each time I sit down with my pen and journal to write or revise a poem.  It's like finding a beautiful stone on the beach and polishing and polishing it in your hands until it flashes hot in the sun.

I know people like this.  Electricians.  Photographers.  Writers.  Plumbers.  Actors.  Gardeners.  Painters.  Musicians.  They simply enjoy every part of the process, whether it's installing a toilet or planting a tulip bulb.  They're artists in their specific medium.

Tonight at the library, it was musicians.  Blues this time.  This band pulled up with a trailer filled with speakers ad cables and sound equipment.  They spent over an hour or so setting up, and then, for the next hour-and-a-half, they jammed.  And it seemed so easy and so true.

That's what we should all hope for--to discover that thing that feeds our souls.  Something that makes our lives technicolor instead of black and white.  Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said this once, “I tell law students, if you’re going to be a lawyer and just practice your profession, you have a skill—very much like a plumber. But if you want to be a true professional, you will do something outside yourself, something that makes life…better for people less fortunate…”

That's the difference between a poet and someone who simply writes a poem.  A photographer and someone who takes a picture.  A plumber and someone who fixes a leaky faucet.  Yes, all of those avocations involve putting pen to paper or pointing a camera at a subject.  But, the true professional wants to make the world a tiny bit better with their words or images or court opinions.  And we would all be in a much better place if everyone followed this Ginsburg credo.

On good days, when I sit down to write, that's what happens, I think.  I may not ever know how my words affect the people who read them, but I rest easy in the belief that I have spoken a truth that needs to be expressed.  Truth, in poetry or blues or law or plumbing or whatever, can change the universe for the better.

That's why Saint Marty keeps writing.

Monday, June 27, 2022

June 27: Just Drift, Music and a Puppy, Peach Ice Cream

Santiago thinks about taking a nap . . . 

The tuna, the fishermen called all the fish of that species tuna and only distinguished among them by their proper names when they came to sell them or to trade them for baits, were down again. The sun was hot now and the old man felt it on the back of his neck and felt the sweat trickle down his back as he rowed.

I could just drift, he thought, and sleep and put a bight of line around my toe to wake me. But today is eighty-five days and I should fish the day well.

Just then, watching his lines, he saw one of the projecting green sticks dip sharply.

It's the end of a long day, and I have to admit that mostly what I'm thinking about, like Santiago, is sleep.  

I don't sleep as much as I should.  I know this.  However, getting COVID in January of this year has affected my nightly habit of staying awake until 1 or 2 a.m.  I find that, by about 9 p.m., I'm completely spent.  I have to sit or lie down.  Often, I sleep for a few hours and then wake up for a couple more hours before going to bed.  Again, not a healthy sleep schedule.  I know this.

This evening, I hosted an outdoor concert by a musician named Chris Bathgate at the library.  A lovely and talented person.  Really committed to his artistic life.  And a fan of Wallace Stevens and poetry in general.  His music was quiet.  His songs like meditations almost.  After the concert was done, my son said, "Unironically, this is one of my favorite bands I've heard here."  During the concert, he spent almost half an hour petting the dog of one of my close friends.  That may have influenced his opinion of the concert a bit.  Two of his favorite things together--music and a puppy.  

When I got home, I texted a couple friends about the concert.  One friend had gone out for some peach ice cream.  My father used to love peach ice cream.  It was his favorite.  He used to tell me how they would have it on the farm where he grew up.  I think he said that they made it themselves and would put catsup on it, which sounds absolutely disgusting.

Despite my tiredness, it was a miracle of an evening.  Over one hundred people showed up for the concert.  People brought food and chairs, sat on the grass, and just enjoyed a cool peach ice cream summer night.  Without catsup.

Saint Marty knows what grace feels like tonight.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

June 26: A Mile Deep, a Message, a Friend

Santiago is surrounded by beauty . . . 

He could not see the green of the shore now but only the tops of the blue hills that showed white as though they were snow-capped and the clouds that looked like high snow mountains above them. The sea was very dark and the light made prisms in the water. The myriad flecks of the plankton were annulled now by the high sun and it was only the great deep prisms in the blue water that the old man saw now with his lines going straight down into the water that was a mile deep.

Tonight, I received a message from a friend who is facing great struggles.  This person has been paddling a boat in stormy seas for quite some time, and, now, those seas have become even stormier and less predictable.  My friend is trying to navigate this uncertainty with grace and hope for whatever may happen.

This person has always been that bright shaft of sunlight piercing the darkest days.  When Donald Trump was elected, my friend, after wallowing in anger and shock and sadness for a little while, realized the damage following that path for four long years could do.  So, instead, my friend embraced an attitude of harmony and healing, dragging me, kicking and screaming, from that mile-deep 2016 abyss.

That's what this friend has done for me, over and over, during some of the most difficult times of my life.  When I've despaired and given up, my friend has taught me to sing and dance again.  Being brutally stubborn and pessimistic, I need that lesson frequently.

Now, it's my turn.  To point out wild June winds.  Send my friend Bigfoot embraces and energy.  Find those miracle moments that are abundant as dandelions in this world of summer green.  I need to dance and sing for my friend, as my friend has danced and sung for so long and for so many people.

Here is what I'm asking of you, faithful disciples, tonight:  think of something that brings you great joy. Feel the energy of that something,  Hold it in your hands.  Count its heartbeats.  Let it fill you up.  Then, release it like a beautiful red bird.  Send that joy into the universe.  For yourself.  For everyone you know.  

For Saint Marty's friend.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

June 25: I Was Born For, Strawberry Picking, My Son

Santiago thinks of the thing he was born for . . .

Now is no time to think of baseball, he thought. Now is the time to think of only one thing. That which I was born for. There might be a big one around that school, he thought. I picked up only a straggler from the albacore that were feeding. But they are working far out and fast. Everything that shows on the surface today travels very fast and to the north-east. Can that be the time of day? Or is it some sign of weather that I do not know?

There's really only two things I was born for, I think:  teaching and poetry.  I'm not bad with music, although I have to work hard at it.  I'm decent at acting and directing, but I'm no Orson Welles.  I'm not even Kevin Costner.  I can draw pretty well, but, again, I'm not going to give Picasso or Norman Rockwell any competition.  But, put me in front or a group of students or hand me a fountain pen and my journal, and I am in my element.

This morning, when I woke up, my wife said that she wanted to go strawberry picking.  Now, I used to go strawberry picking a lot with my sister, Sally.  Strawberries were her favorite, and she insisted we go picking every summer.  However, I was not born for strawberry picking.  Neither was my son.  But, because my wife was so excited about the idea, we drove an hour-and-a-half to a farm, and we spent 45 minutes harvesting four gallons of fresh strawberries.

It was a fun time.  We bought breakfast at McDonald's, listened to podcasts on the way there and back, and told our son stories of strawberry picking with my wife's grandmother and my sister.  Like I said, I wasn't born to pick berries, but (like acting or directing or sketching) I can make due.

Saint Marty wrote a poem about picking strawberries quite a while ago . . . 

Strawberry Picking

for Sally

You took me strawberry picking
once, drove out to a farm
where we paid to squat in green
beds laced with tongues of red.
I could feel my ears and neck
tighten under the punishing
sun as we filled Morning Glory
ice cream buckets with our
harvest, each berry looking to me
like some vital body part,
an organ or muscle necessary
for life. You sat on your haunches,
fingers staining red, as if you
were some battlefield surgeon
patching up the fallen with only
your hands. Every now and then,
you would lift a berry to your lips,
eat it in a hummingbird moment,
smiling the smile of the freshly
healed at Lourdes, where miracles
are common as empty wheelchairs
or dandelions in a July field.

The days since you’ve been gone,
I see strawberries everywhere,
in a welt of blood on my lip
after shaving, a stop sign,
a friend’s dyed hair,
my son’s sunburned shoulders,
oxygen in the gills of a perch.
Last night, I stood outside, under
ribbons of borealis, watched
them glide between the stars
like garter snakes in a midnight
Eden. The Bible says that, in the cool
of the day, Adam and Eve heard
God taking a stroll through
the garden. There were probably
peacocks nesting in the pines,
a stream talking with moss and stone,
the scurry of mole and spider
in the ferns.

That’s what I believe you heard
in your last moments of breath.
You heard peafowl screams,
brook trout leaps. Grasshopper wing
and corn silk. And you heard
his divine toes in the grass, walking
along. When he came to you,
he couldn’t resist. He reached down,
plucked you from the stem. You were
ripe. Sweet. Ready. He put you
in his Morning Glory bucket, continued
on into the dew and sunlight.

Friday, June 24, 2022

June 24: I Am Crazy, Supreme Court Decision, Can't Legislate Morality

Santiago is not crazy . . . 

"If the others heard me talking out loud they would think that I am crazy," he said aloud. "But since I am not crazy, I do not care. And the rich have radios to talk to them in their boats and to bring them the baseball."

I have been reading and listening to insanity all day long.

This morning, at about 10 a.m., the Supreme Court handed down a ruling that overturned 50 years of precedent.  In a 6-3 decision, Roe v. Wade became history, and the constitutional rights of all women were returned to Leave It to Beaver land.  Now, the decision is left up to individual states, half of which have or will ban all abortions.  In my home state of Michigan, the law that will go into effect was passed in 1931.  If you do the math, that's only eleven years after the 19th Amendment passed, giving women the right to vote.

I woke up in 2022 this morning.  When I go to bed tonight, my head will hit the pillow in the Dust Bowl, two years before Adolf Hitler rose to power.  

I'm experiencing the same emotions I felt the day after Donald Trump was elected President of the United States.  Helplessness.  Disbelief.  Sadness.  For all the women in my life.  For all my LGTBQ+ relatives and friends.  For my daughter and son.  As part of his opinion on today's ruling, Justice Clarence Thomas all but said that the Supreme Court should overturn decisions that established the rights to contraception; to engage in private sexual acts; and to same-sex marriage.

Because I'm a Christian, most people assume that I should be dancing in the streets tonight.  I've said it before, and I will say it again:  nobody has the right to force their personal morality on others.  That's between them and their Higher Power, whatever that may be.  You can't legislate morality.

If you don't believe in abortion, don't have an abortion.  If you're against contraception, don't use contraceptives.  If you think homosexuality is wrong, don't be a homosexual.  If you oppose gay marriage, don't marry someone who's the same sex as you are.  It's that simple.  

Your beliefs should guide the way you live your life.  However, your beliefs should not guide the way I live my life.  Same goes for your neighbor.  Or the teenage girl who's been raped by her father.  Or my gay friend who's been with his partner longer than I've known my wife.  Or the single mother with five kids who's working a minimum-wage job.  

If you're worried about the sanctity of life, then push for sensible gun laws that will decrease or end school and church and shopping mall shootings.  Support universal healthcare.  Buy groceries for kids who are going hungry every day.  Volunteer at a homeless shelter.  Start recycling.  Plant some trees.

If you call yourself pro-life but don't support any of the things I've just listed in the previous paragraph, you're belong in a United States where women can't vote and African Americans are hanging from trees.

Make no mistake:  abortions will continue to happen in the United States.  The difference will be that women will die because of a politically-motivated Supreme Court decision that puts their lives in the hands of neighbors who think that global warming is a fairy tale and gay people can be prayed straight.

I am searching for light tonight, and I'm having a hard time finding it.  

Mr. Rogers once said, "When I was a boy and I would see scary things on the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.'"

Saint Marty thinks we need a lot of helpers tonight.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

June 23: Talk Aloud, One-Person Concert, Resurrection

Santiago talks to himself . . . 

He did not remember when he had first started to talk aloud when he was by himself. He had sung when he was by himself in the old days and he had sung at night sometimes when he was alone steering on his watch in the smacks or in the turtle boats. He had probably started to talk aloud, when alone, when the boy had left. But he did not remember. When he and the boy fished together they usually spoke only when it was necessary. They talked at night or when they were storm-bound by bad weather. It was considered a virtue not to talk unnecessarily at sea and the old man had always considered it so and respected it. But now he said his thoughts aloud many times since there was no one that they could annoy.

I've always talked to myself.  When I'm working in my office at the library, I mutter expletives, give myself pep talks.  Streaming a movie or TV show, I frequently have conversations with the actors on screen, especially if it's a horror flick ("No, no!  Don't go in there, you idiot!!")  If I'm writing a new poem, I am a virtual one-person concert, reading and rereading, humming, whispering, sometimes singing.  Because poetry is all about sound and music.  

Tonight, I spent most of the evening working on a new poem.  I often wonder if Mozart or Bach did the same thing when they were composing something.  Singing phrases over and over, trying out different words for their librettos.  I bet they were virtual symphonies, creating each instrument and movement.  Mozart whistling the piccolo part.  Bach humming the violin solo.  

I don't have a new poem to share this evening.  It is still under construction, so it's in no shape to put in this post.  My whole point is that talking to yourself is sometimes the only way to solve problems, whether it be a poem problem or math problem.  Putting breath to it makes it more concrete.  Tangible.  

I think that's why people sometimes don't want to talk about traumatic events that have happened to them.  To put words to such things brings them back to life.  Perhaps it's the breath in the lungs or the syllables on the tongue.  Suddenly, resurrection occurs, and the past is dragged into the present.  

Of course, poetry is all about truth.  Truth is sometimes joyous.  Sometimes, it's painful.  A poem can be both.  In fact, I think the act of writing a poem is an attempt to take dross and spin it into gold.  To create the beautiful ugly.  Putting words to something difficult is a way of gaining a little control over it.  Of making it less scary, more manageable.  

That's why I talk to myself.  I'm doing it right now, speaking the words that I'm typing.  It's my attempt to understand a universe that, at the moment, seems arbitrarily cruel and stupid.  Or maybe it's just the humans inhabiting it.  Language is my way of trying to figure out the truth.  My truth.  About suffering.  Love.  Joy.  Despair.

Saint Marty will probably be talking to himself for the rest of his life.

Photo by Christine Saari

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

June 22: Thumped His Life Out, Douse the Poet, Under the Gun

Santiago catches a fish (not THE fish) . . . 

"The bird is a great help," the old man said. Just then the stern line came taut under his foot, where he had kept a loop of the line, and he dropped his oars and felt the weight of the small tuna's shivering pull as he held the line firm and commenced to haul it in. The shivering increased as he pulled in and he could see the blue back of the fish in the water and the gold of his sides before he swung him over the side and into the boat. He lay in the stern in the sun, compact and bullet shaped, his big, unintelligent eyes staring as he thumped his life out against the planking of the boat with the quick shivering strokes of his neat, fast-moving tail. The old man hit him on the head for kindness and kicked him, his body still shuddering, under the shade of the stern.

"Albacore," he said aloud. "He'll make a beautiful bait. He'll weigh ten pounds."

Hemingway knows how to say a lot in a few words.  His description of Santiago landing this tuna is simple and brutal, but it has lyric touches, especially with the line "his big, unintelligent eyes staring as he thumped his life out against the planking of the boat . . ."  Every writer should wish to put together sentences like this.

Today, I spent the afternoon writing poems with one of my best poet friends.  It was part of Art Week in Marquette, Michigan.  My friend and I sat at a table and challenged passersby to stop and give us topics.  If we didn't deliver a poem within ten minutes, the passersby got to throw a water balloon at us.  It was called "Douse the Poet."

Spoiler alert:  we stayed dry all afternoon.

It was a warm day, and, in the space of two hours, my friend and I wrote a combined total of 20 poems.  Not too shabby.  I've always loved the exercise of freewriting, and to spend an entire afternoon getting paid to freewrite, well, it doesn't get much better.

Saint Marty may not be Hemingway, but, by God, he can crank out poetry when under the gun.

A poem from this afternoon:

Phil in the Park

by:  Martin Achatz

He sits here, rain or sun, tornado or blizzard,
his tie always straight, his sweater buttoned as neatly
as a well-tended garden, carrots and peas, marigolds and zinnias
in beautiful straight rows.  And he smiles, always smiles,
another constant in a world of honking horns, rushing cars.
Why can't the world have more Phils, going from building to building,
bucket and squeegee in hand, wishing only to clean
what is dirty, wash away the scales from our eyes
so that we can see everything that is beautiful?

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

June 21: Broke the Surface, My Bigfoot, Walt Whitman or Emily Dickinson

Santiago watches flying fish . . . 

Now the old man looked up and saw that the bird was circling again.

"He's found fish," he said aloud. No flying fish broke the surface and there was no scattering of bait fish. But as the old man watched, a small tuna rose in the air, turned and dropped head first into the water. The tuna shone silver in the sun and after he had dropped back into the water another and another rose and they were jumping in all directions, churning the water and leaping in long jumps after the bait. They were circling it and driving it.

If they don't travel too fast I will get into them, the old man thought, and he watched the school working the water white and the bird now dropping and dipping into the bait fish that were forced to the surface in their panic.

I did a poetry reading on the shores of Lake Superior this evening.  Summer solstice.  The beach was crowded with people sunning, playing frisbee, swimming and splashing.  There weren't any flying fish or schools of tuna, but there was a boat anchored a ways out, listening to the music and poems.

Bigfoot came to the sand.  Ran and howled.  And people stopped what they were doing to hear him.  I won't say that I brought the crowd to a standstill, but it was pretty magical to manifest the big man on the first day of summer by a freshwater ocean.

I think it's time to release my Bigfoot into the world.  I've been selfishly keeping him close for over six years.  Sharing him occasionally with friends.  He's seen me through some pretty tough times.  The deaths of my dad, mom, and three siblings.  Marriage problems.  High school graduations.  My son's struggles with suicidal depression.  If it's possible, I've become protective of my Bigfoot.

I've always had a problem with letting go of my poems, sending them out into the world.  I guess I prefer the Bigfoot approach.  Letting my poems stay deep in the forest, seeing the sun only occasionally, just long enough for someone to glimpse them as they slip back into the trees.  But it's hard to control Bigfoot.  Especially if he wants to be seen.

So, my goal is to release my Bigfoot into the world by the time the leaves start turning.  Perhaps nobody will notice him, and he'll disappear back into the woods.  That's the danger of being Bigfoot.  And a poet.  You're never sure whether to show yourself or stay hidden.  Be Walt Whitman or Emily Dickinson.

Or Saint Marty may just find a dark cave to live in.

Monday, June 20, 2022

June 20: Turtle's Heart, Hemingway, Biggest Fish

Santiago eats eggs and drinks shark liver oil . . . 

He had no mysticism about turtles although he had gone in turtle boats for many years. He was sorry for them all, even the great trunk backs that were as long as the skiff and weighed a ton. Most people are heartless about turtles because a turtle's heart will beat for hours after he has been cut up and butchered. But the old man thought, I have such a heart too and my feet and hands are like theirs. He ate the white eggs to give himself strength. He ate them all through May to be strong in September and October for the truly big fish.

He also drank a cup of shark liver oil each day from the big drum in the shack where many of the fishermen kept their gear. It was there for all fishermen who wanted it. Most fishermen hated the taste. But it was no worse than getting up at the hours that they rose and it was very good against all colds and grippes and it was good for the eyes.

The image of that beating turtle heart sticks with me.  Even after the turtle is butchered, the heart keeps beating, as if it doesn't know to stop living and loving.  It's an amazing metaphor for endurance in the face of great adversity.

I was speaking with a good friend this past weekend about Ernest Hemingway and The Old Man and the Sea.  My friend is a world-class jazz pianist.  Has toured throughout the United States and abroad.  Played with some of the great jazz musicians of the twentieth century.

Our conversation was about the way some people dismiss Hemingway because of his penchant for treating his wives abominably.  For going on safari in Africa and killing big game--lions, rhinos, and elephants, among others.  I believe the current term being flung around is "toxic masculinity."

Of course, it's easy to take people out of their cultural contexts and pass judgement on them.  Thomas Jefferson was a slaveholder.  Abraham Lincoln approved the mass execution of 38 Dakota Sioux warriors.  Jefferson also wrote the Declaration of Independence.  Lincoln freed also slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation.

Human beings are flawed individuals, capable of amazing acts of selflessness and terrible acts of brutality.  Jefferson and Lincoln made mistakes.  Did things that, today, seem unconscionable.  Hemingway was flawed.  A terrible husband.  Not much better of a father.  Yet, nobody can deny that he wrote some of the greatest books of the past 120-some years.  

The Old Man and the Sea is Hemingway at the height of his powers.  And the book is a metaphor for the artistic life.  My friend pointed this out to me.  Here's Santiago, the greatest fisherman of his village.  Even after almost three months without catching anything, he still heads out in his boat day after day.  

And then he catches the biggest fish of his life.  He doesn't stand a chance of bringing the fish home.  After his years on the sea, Santiago knows sharks will tear the fish apart.  Leave only bones and a few scraps of flesh on his greatest prize.  Yet, he still fights the sharks, even though he will lose.  He fights because that's who he is. 

And that's what any artist is.  A turtle heart beating until it can't anymore.  A musician chasing the perfect song.  A statesman creating a declaration of freedom and human rights.  A fisherman landing the catch of his life.  A novelist penning his greatest book.  Regardless of the hungry sharks.

Saint Marty is a poet hunting for his greatest poem.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

June 19: Iridescent Bubbles, Father's Day, Be Present

Santiago admires turtles . . .

"Agua mala," the man said. "You whore."

From where he swung lightly against his oars he looked down into the water and saw the tiny fish that were coloured like the trailing filaments and swam between them and under the small shade the bubble made as it drifted. They were immune to its poison. But men were not and when some of the filaments would catch on a line and rest there slimy and purple while the old man was working a fish, he would have welts and sores on his arms and hands of the sort that poison ivy or poison oak can give. But these poisonings from the agua mala came quickly and struck like a whiplash.

The iridescent bubbles were beautiful. But they were the falsest thing in the sea and the old man loved to see the big sea turtles eating them. The turtles saw them, approached them from the front, then shut their eyes so they were completely carapaced and ate them filaments and all. The old man loved to see the turtles eat them and he loved to walk on them on the beach after a storm and hear them pop when he stepped on them with the horny soles of his feet.

He loved green turtles and hawks-bills with their elegance and speed and their great value and he had a friendly contempt for the huge, stupid loggerheads, yellow in their armour-plating, strange in their love-making, and happily eating the Portuguese men-of-war with their eyes shut.

Santiago reminds me of my dad in a lot of ways.  My father didn't go fishing a whole lot.  However, he used to take me on plumbing service calls with him when I was in high school.  I think it was his way of trying to insure that I had some way to support myself.  (I became a poet, so that plan didn't work out all that well.)  When Santiago says, "Agua mala . . . You whore" in the above passage, it reminds me of listening to my dad when he was trying to solder a leaking pipe or cable a plugged toilet.  More than once, I would hear him mutter under his breath, "come on, cocksucker"," or something equally as colorful.

Today was Father's Day in the United States.  I spent all day writing scripts, rehearsing, and performing in a radio variety show.  Didn't get to see my wife or kids all that much.  My daughter and her significant other did drive up to Calumet, Michigan, to see the show.  And my son wrote me a poem.  

I am far from a perfect father.  But I think that's what fatherhood is all about.  Trying to do your best.  Sometimes you succeed.  (I went for a stroll with my 13-year-old son this morning, and he walked next to me, holding my hand.)  Sometimes you fail.  (Most of my married life, I have lived paycheck-to-paycheck.  My kids have heard me say "we can't afford to do that" on more than one occasion.)  Lhave been known to lose my temper.  Sometimes, I mutter fatherly things under my breath, like, "You have got to be fucking kidding me."  But, every once in a while, God gives me the exact right words at the exact right moment that my kids need to hear them, usually some permutation of "I love you."

At the end of this Father's Day, I salute all the fathers reading this post, and I want to remind you that you don't have to be perfect.  You just need to be present.  That's what is most important.

Here's a poem that Saint Marty wrote a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away . . . 

Rules of Fatherhood

by:  Martin Achatz

When I first heard my daughter's heart
Ten years ago in the doctor's office,
I had no clue how to care for a girl,
Those unwritten rules new fathers
Must learn over time. Make your girl
Sit frog-legged in the bathtub
To allow warm water to flow
Into areas of her body where skin
Turns raw, pink or red as grapefruit,
In the privacy of diaper or panty.
When she turns three or four,
Teach her to wipe front-to-back,
Not back-to-front, to avoid kidney,
Bladder infections. Comb her hair
As soon as she's done bathing.
Slide the teeth through and through,
To remove all tangles, then braid.
Start simple, one ponytail at the back
Of her head. Work to French braids,
Beautiful as sweet, curled loaves
In bakeries at Christmas. Never
Utter the name of the boy she likes
When she's five or seven or ten.
Just watch them play together.
Notice how he always insists
She climb the steps of the slide
Before him, his neck craned upward,
Cheeks flushed, as she goes higher and higher.
Invite said boy to her tenth birthday
Party, watch him squirm when you sit
Beside him and say, "What are your
Plans for the future, son?"
Even though you don't believe
In guns, buy one to hold
In your lap when she goes
On her first date. When he arrives,
Stare at him, the way a lion stares
At a wounded water buffalo.

All these rules I've learned
Since that day the doctor waved
Her wand over my wife, pulled
From the top hat of my wife's belly
That sound: crickets singing
On a summer night, Love me, love me, love me.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

June 18: Shape of the Clouds, Used Bike Sale, Just So Happy

Santiago admires the sea . . . 

He watched the flying fish burst out again and again and the ineffectual movements of the bird. That school has gotten away from me, he thought. They are moving out too fast and too far. But perhaps I will pick up a stray and perhaps my big fish is around them. My big fish must be somewhere.

The clouds over the land now rose like mountains and the coast was only a long green line with the gray blue hills behind it. The water was a dark blue now, so dark that it was almost purple. As he looked down into it he saw the red sifting of the plankton in the dark water and the strange light the sun made now. He watched his lines to see them go straight down out of sight into the water and he was happy to see so much plankton because it meant fish. The strange light the sun made in the water, now that the sun was higher, meant good weather and so did the shape of the clouds over the land. But the bird was almost out of sight now and nothing showed on the surface of the water but some patches of yellow, sun-bleached Sargasso weed and the purple, formalized, iridescent, gelatinous bladder of a Portuguese man-of-war floating close beside the boat. It turned on its side and then righted itself. It floated cheerfully as a bubble with its long deadly purple filaments trailing a yard behind it in the water.

Sometimes, things that seem like not-so-good ideas turn out to be miracles.  Santiago rows far out to sea and ends up catching (and eventually losing) the biggest fish of his life.  This morning, I took my son to a used bike sale at my church and bought him a bike, which I thought was a terrible idea.

When my wife mentioned the sale last night, I inwardly rolled my eyes.  My son has never expressed interest in learning to ride a bike, even though I've offered to teach him many times.  I even bought him a bike several years ago at a neighbor's garage sale.  He never touched it.  It's still sitting in our garage.  So, buying another bike to store in the garage did not seem like a great notion to me.

When we got the bike home, I asked my son if he wanted to practice riding it.  He agreed, and we took the bike into the alley.  For about 15 minutes, he launched himself over and over down the alley, with me running beside him, helping him balance.  He did okay.  By the time we were done, he was almost pedaling by himself, with my hand only touching the seat lightly, my fingers more of a security blanket than anything else.

I went back into the house for about an hour or so to prepare for our trip to Calumet, Michigan, this afternoon.  Then, my son came out of his room and asked if we could practice again.  We went back to the alley.  After about three or four attempts, he was pedaling by himself and not crashing into bushes and trees.  We moved to the street in front of our house, and he easily balanced and pedaled away from me and returned.  He was still a little wobbly and needed to practice steering and turning, but he was doing it.  By himself.  

We went for a walk around the block with our puppy, and he biked like a pro.  At one point, he stopped, straddling the bike, and put his face in his hands.  I walked up and asked what was wrong.  "Nothing," he said, not looking up at me.  "I'm just so happy," he said.  

"You should be proud of yourself," I told him.

My son continued to ride his new bike while my wife and I went shopping.  Right before we left for Calumet this afternoon, he jumped on his bike again and rode it around the block one last time.  He made me take the bike inside the house and leave it in the living room.  He was afraid someone might steal it from our front porch.

My son is in love with his bike.  As I sit in a hotel room typing this post in Calumet, my son is asleep on his bed.  Before he turned in for the night, he said, "I miss riding my bike."

There aren't too many days as a parent that you can say you hit it out of the park.

For Saint Marty, today is one of those days.

Friday, June 17, 2022

June 17: They Go Too Fast, Long Day of Work, "Twilight"

Santiago follows a school of dolphins . . . 

As he watched the bird dipped again slanting his wings for the dive and then swinging them wildly and ineffectually as he followed the flying fish. The old man could see the slight bulge in the water that the big dolphin raised as they followed the escaping fish. The dolphin were cutting through the water below the flight of the fish and would be in the water, driving at speed, when the fish dropped. It is a big school of dolphin, he thought. They are wide spread and the flying fish have little chance. The bird has no chance. The flying fish are too big for him and they go too fast.

There's a lot of beauty in this passage.  The man of war bird.  Flying fish.  School of dolphins.  Hemingway knows how to write about nature.  

It was a long, long day of work.  Scheduling concerts.  Writing scripts.  Answering emails.  Then, when I got home, I ate dinner and went to clean at church for a few more hours.  Cleaning bathrooms.  Mopping marble floors.  Vacuuming carpets.  Emptying trash cans.  Collecting recyclables.  I finally got done with everything close to 9 p.m.

There wasn't a whole lot of time to stop and take deep breaths.  No flying fish or birds or rabbits.  I didn't even stop to look at the moon tonight, which is unusual.  Now, I'm sitting on my couch, watching a Twilight movie.  For noise.  Company.  Everyone else is asleep.  They're not great films, but they're not terrible, either.  Like an old blanket that hasn't been washed and still smells like your dead father.

I can hear a dog barking in the night.  Aside from the TV, my house is silent.  Every once in a while, I can hear my son move in his bed, and the bedframe squeaks.  My wife snores off and on.  And Bella and Edward and Jacob go through their supernatural teenage crises.

Saint Marty is getting in touch with his inner vampire/werewolf child tonight.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

June 16: Black Bird, Open Mic, Safe Harbor

Santiago spies a dolphin . . . 

"Dolphin," the old man said aloud. "Big dolphin."

He shipped his oars and brought a small line from under the bow. It had a wire leader and a medium-sized hook and he baited it with one of the sardines. He let it go over the side and then made it fast to a ring bolt in the stern. Then he baited another line and left it coiled in the shade of the bow. He went back to rowing and to watching the long-winged black bird who was working, now, low over the water.

Tonight, I guest-hosted an open mic for a friend who's facing some big struggles right now.  I won't share the details of those struggles.  That's not my place.  Let's just say that she's rowing her boat through some very rough seas at the moment.

I read some of my new poems and a couple blog posts for the open mic.  My son read an essay that he wrote for fun  about his grandparents and aunts.  For fun.  I don't know any 13-year-old boys who write for pleasure.  I did when I was his age, but I'm certainly the exception.  And his essay was better than anything I've ever graded in the college composition classes I've taught.

And a great poet friend of mine was there, as well.  She read two poems she'd written--one for the memorial service of her sister and one for the memorial service of her significant other.  They were both heartbreaking and beautiful.  Both of us have lost two people we loved in the last six months.

It seemed that was the theme of the evening.  Dealing with struggles and loss.  Also, reclaiming life and those moments when beauty breaks through the darkness.  My poet friend, as she was leaving at the end of the night, said, "This was really healing."

That's it.  We're all rowing our little boats on very big, unpredictable waters.  Every once in a while, we find a safe harbor.  A place where poetry and light lives and green trees walk in the wind.

Saint Marty found safe harbor tonight.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

June 15: Over the Surface, New Poem, Peewee

Santiago sees some flying fish . . . 

He rowed slowly and steadily toward where the bird was circling. He did not hurry and he kept his lines straight up and down. But he crowded the current a little so that he was still fishing correctly though faster than he would have fished if he was not trying to use the bird.

The bird went higher in the air and circled again, his wings motionless. Then he dove suddenly and the old man saw flying fish spurt out of the water and sail desperately over the surface.

Getting an idea for a poem is sort of like chasing a flying fish over the surface of the ocean.  It's always just ahead, out of reach, disappearing into the sun.

I worked on a new poem today.  It took me a few hours, but I got a good draft.  Somehow, when I coax words onto a page in the shape of something that resembles a poem, I feel better about myself.  Like I've made the world just a little bit better.  Perhaps more beautiful.

Of course, that sounds more than a little . . .  hubristic.  There's a possibility that what I wrote today is absolute crap.  But, I'm going to nurse it and see.  I once took care of a gerbil that was born without eyes.  His tail was bent at a 90-degree angle, as well.  I fed him with an eyedropper until he got old enough to smell his food bowl and crawl to it.  I called him Peewee.

I took care of him for almost six or seven months.  Even with all his challenges, he somehow survived.  Thrived a little.  Then, one morning, when I went to check on him, I found him cold and still.  

That's what it's like, bringing a new poem into the world.  It starts out broken and fragile.  Either it gets stronger and thrives, or it struggles for a little while and then withers, dies.  I'm not quite sure which I have right now.

Saint Marty will just have to feed it for a while and see.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

June 14: Man-of-War Bird, Outdoor Concert, Rabbit in the Garden

Santiago admires a man-of-war . . . 

Just then he saw a man-of-war bird with his long black wings circling in the sky ahead of him. He made a quick drop, slanting down on his back-swept wings, and then circled again.

"He's got something," the old man said aloud. "He's not just looking."

I have friends who can identify birds.  By their coloring.  Song.  Of course, Santiago knows the man-of-war because he's spent most of his life on the sea, chasing fish and birds.  I admire feathered beauty.  I enjoy hearing birdsong in the morning and at night.

This evening at the library, I hosted an outdoor concert by a dear friend named Kerry.  She sings and writes folk songs, and she is a source of light in the universe.  For an hour, with the wind rattling the flagpole and a rabbit listening from the flower garden, Kerry played her guitar, took requests, and filled the air with music.

And the rain held off.  The wind eventually died down.  I even saw a bird or two.  Seagulls.  Screeching.  Fighting over some piece of food.  And even that was beautiful  Because, really, beauty is everywhere, and you can choose to see it or ignore it.  

Tonight, like that rabbit in the garden, Saint Marty chose beauty.

Monday, June 13, 2022

June 13: Getting the Blackness, Kind and Humble, Three Million Dollars

The morning sun hurts Santiago's eyes . . . 

The sun was two hours higher now and it did not hurt his eyes so much to look into the east. There were only three boats in sight now and they showed very low and far inshore.

All my life the early sun has hurt my eyes, he thought. Yet they are still good. In the evening I can look straight into it without getting the blackness. It has more force in the evening too. But in the morning it is painful.

It seems as though my days have settled down since the end of the school year.  I'm not worrying about phone calls from principals or superintendents all the time.  Not running from one crisis to another.  I may burn my eyes in the morning sun every once in a while, but I'm not in a constant state of soggy vision.  So, I guess I'm in a state of "not" at the moment.

This evening, I attended a workshop with a world-renowned violinist named Scott Flavin.  The workshop was about overcoming performance anxiety, and it was pretty intimate, with only a few other attendees.  We weren't afraid to open our mouths to express our anxieties and fears.  

At the end, one attendee spoke about her issues with bowing when she played.  Flavin had her stand up, and then he handed her his instrument and bow.  She didn't want to take the violin from him, but, eventually, with some coaxing, she did.  Then, he walked her through some bowing exercises.  It was amazing to watch.  Flavin was so kind and humble.

After the workshop was over, I asked Scott about his violin.  He told me it was made by a luthier who made each of his violins for God.  The violin was worth three million dollars.  The bow he was using was worth $300,000.  I wish I could remember the name of the luthier.  I think it was possibly del Gesu Guarneri.  At least, when I did some research when I got home, that's the name I came up with. 

Tonight, I was not going to participate in the workshop.  Another "not."  I had actually brought a book of poems to read.  My plan was simply to make sure Scott had everything he needed.  Troubleshoot, if problems arose.  I did not do that.  I did not read my book.  I did not troubleshoot.  

I took deep breaths.  Spent time with some wonderful people.  And listened to a famous musician play a violin made for God.

Not a bad night for Saint Marty.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

June 12: Rather Be Exact, Schedules, Matching Socks

Santiago wants to be exact versus lucky . . . 

But, he thought, I keep them with precision. Only I have no luck any more. But who knows? Maybe today. Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.

I live by exact schedules.  My jobs sort of necessitate it.  For the library, I schedule programming.  I maintain two calendars for that.  For teaching, I follow the semester schedule I create for my syllabi.  For playing the keyboard and organ, I have to keep track of six different churches (two Catholic, three Lutheran, and one Methodist) I play for regularly and irregularly.  And then there's the stuff I do for fun--running poetry workshops and giving readings.

I'm lucky if I wear matching socks some days.

Today, I played at two different Lutheran churches, mowed my lawn, and led a poetry workshop.  At the end of the day, I introduced my son to Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  He loved it and said to me, "I have to say that you have good taste in movies."  High praise from a 13-year-old boy.

Sometimes, in the middle of my exact and hectic schedules, Saint Marty gets moments of grace like that.

And something I wrote in tonight's workshop . . . 

Norman and Me

after "The Runaway" by Norman Rockwell

by:  Martin Achatz

Oh, Norman, you and I would have been best friends
had we both been born a little earlier and a little later.
We would have met at a greasy spoon, eaten rhubarb
pie and sipped Diet Cokes.  You would have brought
your sketch pad, a couple Ticonderogas, me, my journal
of the moment and a good fountain pen. We would have
sat in a booth, waited, watched, until the police officer
showed up with the kid toting a bindle on his shoulder.
They would have sat at the lunch counter, ordered
fries or a burger or maybe a hot fudge sundae.  
You and I, Norman, would have gone to work,
each of us on our own narrative.  Yours, full 
of gee whiz and holy cow and Lassie Come Home.
Mine about all the little, darker-skinned runaways
that cop ignored on his way to this diner.  Yet,
Norman, we'd both be doing the same thing.  Imagining
a world that could be better, full of French fries, cherry
cobbler.  Where everyone deserves to be found,
brought home safe.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

June 11: Sun Rose Thinly, Pride Fest, First Idiot of the Day

Santiago watches his lines . . . 

The sun rose thinly from the sea and the old man could see the other boats, low on the water and well in toward the shore, spread out across the current. Then the sun was brighter and the glare came on the water and then, as it rose clear, the flat sea sent it back at his eyes so that it hurt sharply and he rowed without looking into it. He looked down into the water and watched the lines that went straight down into the dark of the water. He kept them straighter than anyone did, so that at each level in the darkness of the stream there would be a bait waiting exactly where he wished it to be for any fish that swam there. Others let them drift with the current and sometimes they were at sixty fathoms when the fishermen thought they were at a hundred.

The old man knows who he is.  Knows how to fish better than anyone.  He's been at it since he was a boy.  It's in his blood.  Genetic, even.  He is a fisherman.

My son and I attended Pride Fest today.  He's been looking forward to it for weeks.  He wore his "Proud to Be Me" shirt and a Pride flag as a cape.  His long hair was wild.  It rained the entire time we were there, but he didn't care.  He bopped from booth to booth.  Talked to friends and strangers.  Played pinball.  Ate a nacho cheese soft pretzel.  He was completely happy.

Before we went to Pride Fest, we hung around for a while at the library where I work, just killing time.  We went to the petting zoo that was set up for the kids.  Dogs.  Goats.  Horse.  Chickens.  I read in my office for a while.  My son played on his phone.  

We went to the bathroom before heading to the festival, my son all caped up and ready.  I was in a stall.  My son was at the urinal.  I heard the door to the bathroom open.  I heard a male voice say something, and then my son said, "Yes, this is the boy's restroom."  The male voice said clearly, "Disgusting."  

"Excuse me!" I shouted from the stall.  "I'm his father!"

I came out of the stall.  There was older man standing by the door, eyes downcast.  He shuffled to the urinal to do his business.  I went to the sink and began washing my hands.  "You know," I said over my shoulder, "everyone is welcome at the library.  If you can't handle that, maybe you shouldn't be here."

The man finished at the urinal.  He turned and came to the sink and started washing his hands.  He never looked at me.

I looked at him and said again, "Everyone is welcome."

Without looking at me, he went to the door and left the bathroom.  I followed him,  He didn't pause.  He headed straight to the stairs that lead to the first floor.  He didn't look back.  I watched him from the top of the stairs.  He just kept walking and left the building.

My son had returned to my office.  "Well," he said when he saw me, "that was the first idiot of the day,"

That's all my son said.  He brushed it off.  Refused to let the encounter ruin his day.

Saint Marty couldn't have been prouder of him.

Friday, June 10, 2022

June 10: Three Hundred Fathoms of Line, Gen Ed, Practicality Over Creativity

Santiago starts fishing . . . 

The boy had given him two fresh small tunas, or albacores, which hung on the two deepest lines like plummets and, on the others, he had a big blue runner and a yellow jack that had been used before; but they were in good condition still and had the excellent sardines to give them scent and attractiveness. Each line, as thick around as a big pencil, was looped onto a green-sapped stick so that any pull or touch on the bait would make the stick dip and each line had two forty-fathom coils which could be made fast to the other spare coils so that, if it were necessary, a fish could take out over three hundred fathoms of line.

Now the man watched the dip of the three sticks over the side of the skiff and rowed gently to keep the lines straight up and down and at their proper depths. It was quite light and any moment now the sun would rise.

It has been a long day.  Days are starting earlier and earlier, and the sun sets later and later.  I suppose Santiago would love all this daylight.  More time to be out on the sea.

Yes, I am talking about weather.  I am settling into summer right now.  This happens every four or so months.  Each semester, I rearrange my life, change my hours and schedule.  Different classes at different times, fall and winter.  Sometimes summer.  In a couple weeks, the second summer session at the university starts, and I'll start teaching a section of Intro to Film.

I spent quite a few hours today revising my syllabus to meet quality standards.  Something to do with the switch to a Gen Ed curriculum a few years ago.  If you don't know what that means, I'm not the person to explain it.  Long story short, Liberal Arts education is going the way of the woolly mammoth.  And that's not a good thing.

I don't have anything against STEM classes.  But, nowadays, there seems to be a devaluation of art and writing and music and poetry.  And math and physics and biology and other "hard" sciences are, for some reason, prioritized.  Poetry?  Forget about it.  Better to know how to program a computer or name all the bones in the human hand.  Practicality over creativity.

At the end of the day, however, most people don't sit down on the couch and consider commutative and binary operations in abstract algebra.  Nope.  They watch movies.  Read books.  Listen to music.  Go to plays.  Science may keep us alive, but art is what we live for.  What gives our lives meaning.

That's my wisdom tonight, as we approach the summer equinox.  After I'm done typing this post, I'm going to read some poetry before I go to bed.

Because Saint Marty needs to dream.

Thursday, June 9, 2022

June 9: Sweet Smelling and Good Tasting, Traumatic Brain Injury, "The Wonder Boys"

Santiago baits his hook . . . 

Before it was really light he had his baits out and was drifting with the current. One bait was down forty fathoms. The second was at seventy-five and the third and fourth were down in the blue water at one hundred and one hundred and twenty-five fathoms. Each bait hung head down with the shank of the hook inside the bait fish, tied and sewed solid and all the projecting part of the hook, the curve and the point, was covered with fresh sardines. Each sardine was hooked through both eyes so that they made a half-garland on the projecting steel. There was no part of the hook that a great fish could feel which was not sweet smelling and good tasting.

What do you hope to catch when you drop a baited hook in the water?  Something big.  A fish.  A friend.  A lover.  A poem.
Today, I worked on lots of things.  The library events calendar.  A podcast episode.  A program about traumatic brain injury.  I didn't have a whole lot of time to go fishing for anything, no matter how much I wanted to.  Then, after all of that, I introduced my son to the movie Juno.  He loved it.  Cried at the end.  Now, I'm watching The Wonder Boys with Michael Douglas.  One of my favorite films about writers.

And I'm a little spent and thinking of a couple friends of mine who are dealing with some major issues in their lives.  Things that make people fall on their knees.  Or lose their faith.  Or write poetry.

Saint Marty chooses poetry tonight.  

Rain, Rain, and More Rain

by:  Martin Achatz

I read an almost sonnet about rain, rain, and more rain, hear
metallic fingers of rain on the air conditioner, a sound
that has been present since this afternoon when thunder
volleyed its approach, followed by wet bullets battering
the windows.  Now, it's softer, more purposed, like someone
composing a poem on an old Underwood, the way Frost
or Roethke did, their fingers keeping time with their thoughts,
and I think of a text I received from a friend a while ago:
I am struggling, in need of glimmer--and I texted her back
about the rain, how it wondered the ground, the maples,
how I knew/she knew that eventually rain ended, clouds
shredded, and blue would appear, blue and more blue, 
because, I told my friend, blue is as endless as the finger 
of God on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

June 8: Rowing Steadily, Karen Dionne, Daisy Rey

Santiago row, row, rows his boat . . . 

He was rowing steadily and it was no effort for him since he kept well within his speed and the surface of the ocean was flat except for the occasional swirls of the current. He was letting the current do a third of the work and as it started to be light he saw he was already further out than he had hoped to be at this hour.

I worked the deep wells for a week and did nothing, he thought. Today I'll work out where the schools of bonita and albacore are and maybe there will be a big one with them.

Some days are fantastic.  High school graduations.  Weddings.  Births of children.  Family gettogethers (sometimes).  Days at Disney World or at the beach.  

Other days are just a matter of rowing, rowing, rowing until the boat gets to some safe shore.  

Today wasn't fantastic.  It wasn't all rowing, either.  I worked all day.  Reports and emails and compiling statistics.  Then, a really long meeting.  That was the rowing part.  

In the evening, I hosted a reading by a bestselling author, Karen Dionne.  She wrote The Marsh King's Daughter and The Wicked Sister.  That was the fantastic part.  She talked about her life and her writing life.  The movie adaptation of The Marsh King's Daughter is going to be released soon.  Daisy Ridley, the actress who played Rey in the recent Star Wars sequels, plays the title character in it.  Doing the math, that means I am now one degree of separation away from Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher.  That was the fantastic part.

After the reading, I met up with a good friend for beer and pizza.  It was a lovely way to end the day.  We sat outside, got rained on a little, and solved life's problems.  Too bad nobody was around taking notes.  Got home around 10:30 p.m.  I was beat, but my son and I found a terrible Bigfoot movie to watch for a little while. 

Not all days can be Space Mountain.  And not all days are the Bataan Death March, either.

Saint Marty had an On Golden Pond kind of day--some rowing and some loon calling.  Not too bad.

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

June 7: Wild or Wicked Things, Perpetuate the Stereotype, "Practical Magic"

Santiago's thoughts about the sea . . . 

He always thought of the sea as la mar which is what people call her in Spanish when they love her. Sometimes those who love her say bad things of her but they are always said as though she were a woman. Some of the younger fishermen, those who used buoys as floats for their lines and had motorboats, bought when the shark livers had brought much money, spoke of her as el mar which is masculine. They spoke of her as a contestant or a place or even an enemy. But the old man always thought of her as feminine and as something that gave or withheld great favours, and if she did wild or wicked things it was because she could not help them. The moon affects her as it does a woman, he thought.

I enjoy Hemingway's little discussion of the feminine versus masculine here.  Of course, it's rife with subtle misogyny.  The sea as a woman, doing wild and wicked things.  Hemingway didn't create that particular stereotype.  He's just perpetuating it.

I am going to perpetuate a stereotype with this post.  Tired father falling asleep on the couch while watching a movie.  My wife, daughter, son, and I went to my sister's house for dinner this evening.  She made ravioli and pasta, spaghetti sauce, and garlic bread.  For dessert, cheesecake.  It was delicious.  After the dishes were done, we played a game.  And it felt so good to have all of us together, eating and laughing and telling stories.

When I got home, I was so tired.  I got into my pajamas, started streaming Practical Magic, and immediately fell asleep.  Last week and weekend were long, and I don't think I've fully recovered from them.  So, I did what my father used to do.  Fall asleep in front of the TV.  My dad did it with a whiskey and 7-Up in his hand.  I did it with a bowl of kumquats next to me.

I learned my work ethic from my parents.  My father had a family of nine kids, a wife, and his mother.  Ours was a huge, busy house with lots of mouths to feed and lots of bodies to clothe.  I was fortunate.  Because I had five sisters between me and my brothers, I never had to suffer the indignity of hand-me-downs.  I don't ever recall feeling hungry or deprived as a child or adolescent.  We always had food on the table, and I always got eyeglasses and shoes and winter coats and school supplies when I needed them.  My father worked from dawn to dusk, sometimes later.  He loved plumbing.  Even after he retired, he still helped people out.  

My mother was his business partner, helping him with everything from scheduling service calls, sending out invoices, ordering supplies, and doing the monthly statements.  Plus, she managed a household that included a daughter with Down Syndrome.  She served as President of the Parents Advisory Council, helped parents with IEPs for their special needs children, and served on church committees.  She did all of that and still had full meals on the table every evening.

So, I learned that hard work is just part of life.  You might get knocked down every once in a while.  Face obstacles.  Struggle.  Yet, you still get up every morning and do your job, whether its plumbing, studenting, cooking, blogging, or teaching.

And, at the end of the day, you sit on the couch and maybe fall asleep while a Sandra Bullock movie plays on the television.  You become the stereotype because you love the people in your life.  And kumquats.

Saint Marty might sleep through Miss Congeniality tomorrow night.  

Monday, June 6, 2022

June 6: Small Sad Voices, Beauty Breaks, Shadow Shark

Santiago in the early morning on the sea . . . 

Sometimes someone would speak in a boat. But most of the boats were silent except for the dip of the oars. They spread apart after they were out of the mouth of the harbour and each one headed for the part of the ocean where he hoped to find fish. The old man knew he was going far out and he left the smell of the land behind and rowed out into the clean early morning smell of the ocean. He saw the phosphorescence of the Gulf weed in the water as he rowed over the part of the ocean that the fishermen called the great well because there was a sudden deep of seven hundred fathoms where all sorts of fish congregated because of the swirl the current made against the steep walls of the floor of the ocean. Here there were concentrations of shrimp and bait fish and sometimes schools of squid in the deepest holes and these rose close to the surface at night where all the wandering fish fed on them.

In the dark the old man could feel the morning coming and as he rowed he heard the trembling sound as flying fish left the water and the hissing that their stiff set wings made as they soared away in the darkness. He was very fond of flying fish as they were his principal friends on the ocean. He was sorry for the birds, especially the small delicate dark terns that were always flying and looking and almost never finding, and he thought, "The birds have a harder life than we do except for the robber birds and the heavy strong ones. Why did they make birds so delicate and fine as those sea swallows when the ocean can be so cruel? She is kind and very beautiful. But she can be so cruel and it comes so suddenly and such birds that fly, dipping and hunting, with their small sad voices are made too delicately for the sea."

Reading this passage, you can tell that Santiago has made this journey many, many times.  He knows when the sea deepens.  Knows the shrimp and bait fish that swarm below him.  And the tentacled schools of squid.  Flying fish and sea sparrows.  Santiago is used to the delicate balance of beauty and danger that surrounds him.  He respects it.

I think most of the world is like this.  We just don't pay that much attention to day-to-day beauty and instead spend most of our time trying to avoid danger.  My life would be so much better if I scheduled beauty breaks every day.  Literally block off 20 minutes or an hour where all I do is find something beautiful in the world and admire it.  Think about that.

I spent a good portion of this weekend worrying over a particular problem.  Lost sleep over it.  Woke up thinking about it.  This issue was a constant, menacing presence in the deep waters below me.  A shadow shark.  At about ten o'clock this morning, that shark swam away without striking.  As I watched that dorsal fin disappear into the horizon, I realized how much time I wasted Friday, Saturday, and Sunday just focusing on my fear.  So much stress.

What if, instead of obsessing about that shark, I had taken beauty breaks instead?  Gone out into my backyard and smelled the blooming lilacs.  Taken my puppy for a walk in the forest.  Driven to Lake Superior and listened to waves.  Or picked up a book of poems and just read for an hour.  If I had done any of those things, my weekend would have been so much better.

That is my goal for tomorrow:  to take a couple beauty breaks during the day.  I will stop and do something that reminds me of all the small miracles that surround me.  I work in a library, for God's sake.  There are shelves and shelves of miracles just outside my office door.

Saint Marty just needs to open that door and look around..