Saturday, July 30, 2022

July 30: Alone on the Sea, Emotional and Spiritual Closeness, "Nunsense"

Santiago meditates on being alone . . . 

"Now," he said. "You can let the cord go, hand, and I will handle him with the right arm alone until you stop that nonsense." He put his left foot on the heavy line that the left hand had held and lay back against the pull against his back.

"God help me to have the cramp go," he said. "Because I do not know what the fish is going to do."

But he seems calm, he thought, and following his plan. But what is his plan, he thought. And what is mine? Mine I must improvise to his because of his great size. If he will jump I can kill him. But he stays down forever. Then I will stay down with him forever.

He rubbed the cramped hand against his trousers and tried to gentle the fingers. But it would not open. Maybe it will open with the sun, he thought. Maybe it will open when the strong raw tuna is digested. If I have to have it, I will open it, cost whatever it costs. But I do not want to open it now by force. Let it open by itself and come back of its own accord. After all I abused it much in the night when it was necessary to free and unite the various lines.

He looked across the sea and knew how alone he was now. But he could see the prisms in the deep dark water and the line stretching ahead and the strange undulation of the calm. The clouds were building up now for the trade wind and he looked ahead and saw a flight of wild ducks etching themselves against the sky over the water, then blurring, then etching again and he knew no man was ever alone on the sea.

"No man is ever alone on the sea."  That's a pretty profound statement from Santiago.  It touches upon a feeling that everyone experiences at some point in their lives.  Isolation.  Alienation.  It can happen when you're completely alone (in a boat on the sea), or when you are surrounded by a crowd (at a beach, concert, or parade).  Because this feeling is not about physical closeness.  It's about emotional and spiritual closeness.  Or distance.

I'm sitting on my couch right now.  It's late at night, pushing 1 a.m.   Everyone else in my home is asleep.   I just turned off the TV, and a ringing silence has settled in my ears.  I can honestly say that it feels as though I am the last human being on the planet.  The Omega Man.  I'm waiting for Godot, but, of course, Godot is never going to show up.

These emotions are false.  My whole life has been filled with wonderful individuals who I love and who love me.  Family.  Friends.  Colleagues.  Yet, at times (like tonight), loneliness can seem very tangible.  Almost a physical presence.  It's up to me to figure out a way to shake off this presence.  

Earlier tonight, I attended a performance with my family of the musical Nunsense.  It's a show I know very well.  I've directed productions of it.  Twice.  I directed Nunsense II, as well.  And I worked with almost all the same actresses each time.  These wonderful women are family to me, and their characters are my crazy nun aunts.  Going to the theatre tonight was like coming home.  (Two of the lead nuns tonight starred in my productions, as well.  So, it was a Back to the Future kind of feeling.)

I sat there, listening to the jokes, knowing the punchlines.  I remembered the lyrics to every single song, and I could have done all of the choreography, as well.  And my son, who had never seen the show before, loved every second of it.  Seeing it new through his eyes was sort of amazing.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that, sitting in the theatre tonight, surrounded by my family, watching my Nunsense gals, I didn't feel alone.  My mom and dad loved Nunsense.  I remember them sitting in the audience, my dad laughing so hard that he took the handkerchief out of his pocket to wipe away his tears.  My sister, Sally, attended every night of all of my Nunsense shows.  She sold concessions, but, when the shows started, she stood in the back of the auditorium and watched the entire performance.  My sister, Rose, loved the nuns, too.  She cackled at every one-liner.  

Tonight brought back a wonderful time in my life.  A time filled with laughter and love.

Saint Marty is so grateful for the Nunsense blessings he received.

Friday, July 29, 2022

July 29: My Brother, Poet Sister, Birdlight

Santiago and his brother fish . . . 

I wish I could feed the fish, he thought. He is my brother. But I must kill him and keep strong to do it. Slowly and conscientiously he ate all of the wedge-shaped strips of fish.

He straightened up, wiping his hand on his trousers.

It's not surprising that Santiago feels a certain kinship to the fish.  They are both, in a way, old men of the sea--Santiago above, the fish below.  They are siblings of water and salt.

Today was the birthday of one of my best friends.  A sister in poetry.  In a lot of ways, she's the yin to my yang.  I tend to darkness in my moods and thoughts.  My friend runs to the sun, physically and spiritually and emotionally and artistically.  We text each other new poems frequently.  Her poems are full of sunlight and flowerlight and birdlight.  Mine are . . . not.  Yet, we hold each other up through difficult times.  And we sing each other in joyful times.

Today, I went to an artist/poet reception for a poetry broadside exhibition.  I saw many close poet friends and listened to them read their beautiful words.  My sister in poetry was there.  So, we ate chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies, drank some flavored waters, and soaked in the poetry around us.  It was a perfect way to mark the occasion of the day of her birth.

And I felt uplifted, as I always do when I'm with her.  We know each other so well.  She has seen me through some pretty rough times, and I hope that I've been able to do the same for her.  She is facing some struggles right now, being the child of aging parents with health problems.  Because she works in healthcare (as I did for almost 25 years), she and I have similar reactions to these kinds of situations.  We hold onto hope, but we also deal with the reality.  In our friendship, we allow each other to celebrate and grieve.  Without judgement.

Being with my friend for an hour or so this afternoon was like taking a deep breath.

And that was Saint Marty's blessing today.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

July 28: Calm and Steady, Parable, Old Donkey

Santiago eats, even though he's not hungry

"It is a strong full-blooded fish," he thought. "I was lucky to get him instead of dolphin. Dolphin is too sweet. This is hardly sweet at all and all the strength is still in it."

There is no sense in being anything but practical though, he thought. I wish I had some salt. And I do not know whether the sun will rot or dry what is left, so I had better eat it all although I am not hungry. The fish is calm and steady. I will eat it all and then I will be ready.

"Be patient, hand," he said. "I do this for you."

Doing something that you don't feel like doing.  Because it's the right thing to do.  

I think everybody has moments like that.  Eating a food you don't like because it's polite.  Watching a movie you hate because another person loves it.  Working a job that brings you no happiness because you need the money.  I could go on, but you get the idea.

This is going to be one of those posts where I can't really give specifics.  I need to protect both the innocent and guilty.  I absolutely could name names and point fingers.  However, that will do no good.  It won't change the situation, and it would only make me feel better temporarily.  So, I will speak as generically as possible, perhaps in parable.

There once was an old donkey that spent its days plowing fields for its master.  From sunup to sundown, it toiled in hot weather and cold.  Rain and snow.  It did the best it could, because it needed the oats its master provided in order to live.

One day, the donkey's master came to the stable and said to the donkey, "I had a meeting with the owner of the farm.  The owner isn't happy.  He needs a donkey that can work more fields and longer days.  So, I have to go to the village square this morning and buy a new donkey.  Today is the last day I can give you oats."

With that, its master gave the donkey one last trough of oats to eat, patted the donkey on the head, and said, "Good luck, old donkey."  Then, the master opened the gate to the donkey's stall so that the donkey could leave after it was done eating.

The donkey ate and then left, not sure where it was going or what it was going to do.  

The master bought another donkey that went to work in the owner's fields.  The new donkey worked hard, and the harvest was greater than the previous year.  The owner got even richer than before.

The old donkey, tired and broken, wandered into the wilderness and was never heard from again.

Moral of the story:  sometimes, no matter how hard you work, somebody is always looking for a better piece of ass.

Saint Marty's blessings:  drinks with some friends at the end of a long day, and a beautiful sky on the way home.


Wednesday, July 27, 2022

July 27: Another Full Piece, Film Series, Pizza

Santiago eats some fish . . . 

Chew it well, he thought, and get all the juices. It would not be bad to eat with a little lime or with lemon or with salt.

"How do you feel, hand?" he asked the cramped hand that was almost as stiff as rigor mortis. "I'll eat some more for you."

He ate the other part of the piece that he had cut in two. He chewed it carefully and then spat out the skin.

"How does it go, hand? Or is it too early to know?"

He took another full piece and chewed it.

I'm not sure Santiago is really enjoying the bonito he's eating, but he knows that, if he wants to survive, he must eat.  To keep up his strength.  Stay hydrated.  Remain alert.

That's what I did today, too.

It was another busy day at the office.  I spent most of it working on film series for the library.  An international film series and a documentary film series.  That may sound like an easy task.  It wasn't.  First, I had to make sure we had all of our film licenses up-to-date.  Then I had to investigate film distributors.  Once I had the names of the movie companies that distributed the chosen films, I had to scan through a 54-page list of distributors covered under the library's umbrella licenses.  

All of that took me most of the morning.  

Then, I had to design a poster, which took me another hour or so.

When I was done with the international film series, I started all over with the documentary film series.  That one went a little quicker, but the poster took me another hour to put together.  

This work is creative and fun in a lot of ways.  So different from teaching or working in the healthcare industry.  And I like to think that I'm pretty good at it.  It's so in line with my passions and interests.

I also recorded a podcast episode with a friend/coworker from the library.  Actually, she is now a former coworker.  She's moving away to attend graduate school in Indiana.  Pretty much since I started my job at the library, she's been a really good friend.  We see eye-to-eye on almost everything, from witches to women's reproductive rights.  It was good to sit down with her one last time and talk books.  

This evening, I had pizza with another good friend who plans programming at the Upper Peninsula Children's Museum.  I love being around this man.  So does my wife and son.  My friend and his wife have become part of our family.  They even attended my son's eighth grade graduation.  

And I ate a few slices of pizza.  To keep up my strength and blood sugar.  I drank some pale ale to stay hydrated.  (No comments, please.  I know that alcohol does not really hydrate.)  I tried to stay alert.

That's Saint Marty's laundry list of blessings today.  Friends and movies and pizza.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

July 26: Not Unpleasant, Roof of the Building, One of My Best Friends

Santiago eats some bonito . . . 

Come on, he thought and looked down into the dark water at the slant of the line. Eat it now and it will strengthen the hand. It is not the hand's fault and you have been many hours with the fish. But you can stay with him forever. Eat the bonito now.

He picked up a piece and put it in his mouth and chewed it slowly. It was not unpleasant.

According to my Google search, a bonito is a tuna-like schooling fish.  According to Santiago, its taste is not unpleasant.

I had a not unpleasant day.  As I was driving to work early in the morning, I watched a really golden sun climbing into the sky.  I missed the sunrise, but only by a few minutes.  When I got to the library a little after 7 a.m., I immediately went to the roof of the building.  Don't ask me why.

It was a beautiful, clear morning.  The view I got was of a city just waking up.  There were very few cars on the streets, and Lake Superior was a flat sheet of blue to the horizon.  Standing on the roof, I talked to myself.  Said things like "you're a lucky man" and "you're surrounded by grace" and "don't get too near the edge of the roof, you idiot."  That was blessing number one.

After that, I went back down to my office and realized that I had forgotten the breakfast and lunch I'd packed at home.  So, I got back in my car, made a quick trip to McDonald's, drove back to the library,  and got to work.  I wrote a podcast script.  Answered some emails.  Made a few phone calls.  Planned out some events.  

In the afternoon, I got caught up on grading for my online summer course.  That took me a little over an hour, and it was blessing number two.

I had an appointment this afternoon.  As I was walking to that appointment, I ran into one of my best friends who moved away a couple years ago.  I worked with her at an outpatient surgery center for almost fifteen years.  We only had a chance to speak for a few minutes, but it felt so good to hug her.  That was blessing number three.

And, finally, this evening, I hosted another outdoor concert at the library.  Over a hundred people showed up.  The band was great.  There were people dancing up and down the steps.  Everyone was just having fun, and, at the end, nobody wanted to leave.  That was blessing number four.

Therefore, as Saint Marty said at the beginning this post, the day was not unpleasant. 

Monday, July 25, 2022

July 25: Do You No Good, Breakfast, Old Classmate's Concert

Santiago eats some breakfast . . . 

He knelt down and found the tuna under the stern with the gaff and drew it toward him keeping it clear of the coiled lines. Holding the line with his left shoulder again, and bracing on his left hand and arm, he took the tuna off the gaff hook and put the gaff back in place. He put one knee on the fish and cut strips of dark red meat longitudinally from the back of the head to the tail. They were wedge-shaped strips and he cut them from next to the back bone down to the edge of the belly. When he had cut six strips he spread them out on the wood of the bow, wiped his knife on his trousers, and lifted the carcass of the bonito by the tail and dropped it overboard.

"I don't think I can eat an entire one," he said and drew his knife across one of the strips. He could feel the steady hard pull of the line and his left hand was cramped. It drew up tight on the heavy cord and he looked at it in disgust.

"What kind of a hand is that," he said. "Cramp then if you want. Make yourself into a claw. It will do you no good."

This morning, I had breakfast with two lovely people.  One of them was the musical guest on the radio show I performed on last night.  The other was her mother, who also happens to be her manager.  As we ate, we talked about all kinds of things, including teaching, the childcare crisis in the country, horror movies, vegan pasties, Walt Disney World, and corporate America.  It was a wonderful time, and I was sad when it ended.  It was also a really good way to kick off a somewhat busy day.

When I got back home from Calumet, Michigan, I unpacked and took about a two-hour nap.  I needed that to recover from a long weekend of writing, rehearsing, and performing.  Then, I drove to the library where I work and hosted an outdoor concert by a popular local musician who also happens to a guy with whom I graduated high school.

My old classmate gave a really good concert.  Lots of covers of popular songs, from Buddy Holly to Joni Mitchell.  The sky was clear and so blue it hurt my eyes, and there was a nice breeze.  People were clapping and laughing and singing along.  As I stood there listening, I couldn't help but say a little prayer of thanks.  For the music and the people and my life.  

Despite my current struggles with blueness, I know how lucky I am to be able to have breakfast with wonderful, interesting people.  To take a nap in the afternoon.  And to listen to an old friend's concert on the steps of a library in the evening.

So many blessings for Saint Marty today.  Amen.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

July 24: In Comfort, Big Hurts and Little Hurts, Nobel Prize

Santiago tends to his wound . . . 

The old man would have liked to keep his hand in the salt water longer but he was afraid of another sudden lurch by the fish and he stood up and braced himself and held his hand up against the sun. It was only a line burn that had cut his flesh. But it was in the working part of his hand. He knew he would need his hands before this was over and he did not like to be cut before it started.

"Now," he said, when his hand had dried, "I must eat the small tuna. I can reach him with the gaff and eat him here in comfort."

There are big hurts and little hurts.  Hurts that stay with you forever, and hurts that disappear in a fly's heartbeat.  (Okay, I don't know if flies have hearts, but, if they do, I'm sure those hearts beat pretty damn fast.)  My point is that everyone experiences pain in their lives.  It's inevitable.

I spent the day in Calumet.  I went for a long walk with my wife this morning.  Then I went back to my hotel room and worked on scripts and sketches for the radio variety show I performed in tonight.  While I was working on those scripts, a musician friend messaged me, asking if she could read one of my poems during her set at Hiawatha Music Festival in Marquette, Michigan.  (Of course, I said "yes."  It was an honor to be asked.)  I spent the afternoon in rehearsals (and got a whole bunch of texts from friends attending Hiawatha who heard my poem), and then we had two shows this evening.

When I got back to my hotel room after the performances, I finished binging The Big Bang Theory.  Saw Sheldon and Amy win the Nobel Prize.  Listened to Sheldon honor his friends in his acceptance speech.  Cried like a baby.  Now, I'm sitting in the dark, typing this blog post and feeling slightly . . . bereft.  Because there are no more episodes to watch, and I'm going to miss this group of sitcom friends.  This is one of those little hurts that I was talking about in the first paragraph.

I know that I'm not the easiest person to be around sometimes.  I'm certainly not the easiest blogger to read, either.  For the past couple weeks, all I've been writing about is my current blue funk.  My therapist called it a situational depression.  When I'm like this, I know that I obsess and don't sleep well and bring people down.  I apologize for that.  This is one of those big hurts that I was talking about.  It has been hanging on for quite some time, and it's not showing any signs of moving on.

But I'm am blessed with a huge tribe of friends and loved ones who put up with all of my big and little hurts.  I do this radio variety show with a group of people who have become family to me.  They have seen me through the deaths of my mother, father, and sister.  In fact, I performed in a show two days after my dad died.  I planned my dad's funeral in the morning and headed to Calumet in the afternoon for rehearsals.  When I walked into the theater that day, I was greeted with hugs and support.  They dedicated the two shows that weekend to my father.

Being around these radio show friends this weekend was kind of tonic for me.  It made me forget to be sad for a little while.  Reminded me that I am loved.  

That is Saint Marty's blessing for tonight.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

July 23: Slowed Much, Value the Arts, Bad Cardiologist

Santiago is injured, and the fish is slowing down . . . 

Shifting the weight of the line to his left shoulder and kneeling carefully he washed his hand in the ocean and held it there, submerged, for more than a minute watching the blood trail away and the steady movement of the water against his hand as the boat moved.

"He has slowed much," he said.

The fish is tired, and so am I.  But it's a good tired.

Currently, I'm sitting in a hotel in Calumet with my wife and son.  They are in bed, sleeping.  I got back to our room a little over an hour ago.  I was rehearsing and planning for a radio variety show I'm doing tomorrow evening at a local theatrical venue.  

On these weekends, my wife and son swim and go to restaurants.  I spend my time in Calumet working on scripts; practicing with actors and musicians; and performing.  Yes, that's right.  I am getting paid to write, sing, and act.

I live in a society that really doesn't value that arts at all.  Doctors and lawyers and engineers earn tons of money because their work is tangibly quantifiable.  The worth of poetry or painting or music or acting can't be measured in any concretely meaningful way.  That doesn't mean that these disciplines are less necessary than medicine or paved roads.  Yes, a physician can treat physical illness and sustain a person's life.  If that life is devoid of meaning and beauty, however, what is the point of living?  That's where art comes in.

Yet, poets are paid with brownies and wine.  Musicians work three or four hours per gig, earning paltry sums of money and maybe a couple free drinks, if they're lucky.  Often visual artists pay to have their paintings hung in galleries, let people enjoy their work for free.  Therein lies the problem.

I have been studying and teaching and practicing writing for almost 35 years now.  I've published a poetry collection.  Done hundreds of readings.  If I was a cardiologist who had been practicing for 35 years, I'd probably have a couple homes, one or two nice cars, and enough money to retire.  Even if I was a bad cardiologist.

I'm not a bad poet.  In fact, I think I'm pretty good.  Yet, I'm not sure how I'm going to pay for the new furnace I need in my home before the snow starts flying.  Usually, I'm just one check away from defaulting on my mortgage.  I've lived like this my whole life.

So, being in Calumet and getting paid for doing what I love to do is pretty freaking awesome.

And that is Saint Marty's blessing tonight.  Well, that and a son who makes him laugh hard.

Friday, July 22, 2022

July 22: Did Not Stay Long, Unavoidable, Stupid Luck

Santiago misses the bird and the boy . . . 

You did not stay long, the man thought. But it is rougher where you are going until you make the shore. How did I let the fish cut me with that one quick pull he made? I must be getting very stupid. Or perhaps I was looking at the small bird and thinking of him. Now I will pay attention to my work and then I must eat the tuna so that I will not have a failure of strength.

"I wish the boy were here and that I had some salt," he said aloud.

Today was that last day at work for one of my favorite coworkers/friends at the library.  Again, as I said in last night's post, friends and family go in and out of the revolving door of your life all the time.  It's normal.  Sad.  Unavoidable.

Sometimes those people come back into your life.  Other times, they become just pictures on your phone or stories in a blog.  Or hearts on a Facebook post.  Birthday wishes you send once every year when a notification comes up on your social media feed.  

My friend is leaving for graduate school.  I'm excited for her.  She's young and full of all kinds of excitement for the future.  Pretty great.  I remember that feeling.  It was a long time ago, and the world seemed so much bigger back then.  

Friends will always be your friends, even if you don't hear from them for ten or 20 or 30 years.  Or never again.  Friendship has a pretty long half-life.  I'm sitting on my couch right now, thinking of all the friends I have in my life.  And all the friends who've become posts on my Facebook feed or late-night Snapchat conversations.  I have been so stupidly lucky with friends.

And that's Saint Marty's blessing tonight.  That stupid, wonderful luck.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

July 21: Bird Was Gone, Okay to Be Sad, Lamaze Class

Santiago loses his bird friend . . . 

Just then the fish gave a sudden lurch that pulled the old man down onto the bow and would have pulled him overboard if he had not braced himself and given some line.

The bird had flown up when the line jerked and the old man had not even seen him go. He felt the line carefully with his right hand and noticed his hand was bleeding.

"Something hurt him then," he said aloud and pulled back on the line to see if he could turn the fish. But when he was touching the breaking point he held steady and settled back against the strain of the line.

"You're feeling it now, fish," he said. "And so, God knows, am I."

He looked around for the bird now because he would have liked him for company. The bird was gone.

I could say something cliché right now about the way that people come in and out of your life like birds on the ocean.  And that would be true.  If you live long enough, you will lose friends and family.

Here is what I learned today--it's okay to sad.  It's normal.  So, me sitting on the couch at night, watching the same sad movie, over and over, or reading the same sad book, over and over, is alright.  Because, when life feels out-of-control, overwhelmed with loss after loss, a narrative that is predictable/controllable is . . . comforting.  I know what happens at the end--who lives or dies or ends up on suicide watch in a hospital bed.  

I'm sad.  No getting around it.  Today, as I worked in my office at the library, sadness would swoop down out of nowhere, and I would sit at my desk, breathing through it.  Sometimes crying.  It probably sounded as if I was giving birth for eight-hours.

But here I sit on my couch.  It's almost midnight, and I'm exhausted but not tired.  The idea of going through lamaze classes again at work tomorrow kind of makes me want to call in sick.  I won't do that.  Because the alternative is to sleep on the couch all day long, and that would be a complete and total surrender.

When my alarm goes off, I will crawl out of bed, brush my teeth, shave, and get dressed.  At work, I will try to figure out how to stave off darkness.  I will buy my family Taco Bell for dinner.  Clean at church.  Get ready to travel to Calumet to record a couple radio shows on Sunday.  In short, I'll stay busy until I can't. 

And then I'll breathe, feel, and wait for the sun to rise again.

Saint Marty's blessing today:  blue sky, sunshine, and mini-corndogs with poet friends.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

July 20: With a Friend, Bluegrass Concert, a Little Joy

Santiago talks to some friends . . . 

"Stay at my house if you like, bird," he said. "I am sorry I cannot hoist the sail and take you in with the small breeze that is rising. But I am with a friend."

There's a lot of tenderness is this tiny paragraph.  I can sense how much Santiago cares about the world and the creatures in it.  Santiago knows his place.

It has been a strange kind of day for me.  I worked all morning, into the afternoon.  I went home for a little while, worked some more, and took a nap.  In the evening, I hosted an outdoor bluegrass concert at the library.  It rained in the morning pretty heavily, but it cleared up in the afternoon.  Then, right before the concert was set to start, the sky turned sheet metal gray and started spitting.

For the hour that the musicians picked and fiddled and strummed, I kept me eye on the clouds.  But God must like bluegrass music, because the rain held off, and about 170-plus people clapped and whooped and danced for 60 minutes.

I stood there, thinking that I had helped bring a little joy into the world tonight.  I felt connected.  Like Santiago, I knew my place.

And that was Saint Marty's blessing today. 

July 19: A Good Rest, Really Drunk, Stops Spinning

Santiago talks to a little bird . . . 

The bird looked at him when he spoke. He was too tired even to examine the line and he teetered on it as his delicate feet gripped it fast.

"It's steady," the old man told him. "It's too steady. You shouldn't be that tired after a windless night. What are birds coming to?"

The hawks, he thought, that come out to sea to meet them. But he said nothing of this to the bird who could not understand him anyway and who would learn about the hawks soon enough.

"Take a good rest, small bird," he said. "Then go in and take your chance like any man or bird or fish."

It encouraged him to talk because his back had stiffened in the night and it hurt truly now.

Tonight, I got really drunk.  You see, I do a podcast, and the main gimmick is that the hosts drink heavily and talk about Christmas books and poetry and stories.  Tonight, the spirit of choice was sherry.  The particular brand of sherry I chose contained 20% alcohol.  After three-plus glasses, I kept calling my cohost by the wrong name and repeating the phrase "I am so drunk."  

I only do this once a month, and, usually, I get just a little bit inebriated.  Tonight, I got so hammered that I ended up with my head in the toilet bowl.  Twice.  I just finished recording, and I'm surprised I can even string three coherent words together for this post.  All I really want to do is lie on the couch until the room stops spinning.

I sort of feel like that little bird, trying to catch its breath on Santiago's boat.  Too tired and/or drunk to even stumble to my bedroom.  So, I'll stay put, like the bird.

Saint Marty's blessing today:  a friend who drinks and talks somewhat incoherently about literature with him. 

Addendum:  I held off for a day before publishing this post.  I wanted to make sure I had a chance to proofread it when I was sober.

Monday, July 18, 2022

July 18: How Old, Long-Term Effects of COVID, Jim Carrey

Santiago contemplates being old . . . 

A small bird came toward the skiff from the north. He was a warbler and flying very low over the water. The old man could see that he was very tired.

The bird made the stern of the boat and rested there. Then he flew around the old man's head and rested on the line where he was more comfortable.

"How old are you?" the old man asked the bird. "Is this your first trip?"

Now, I suppose, considering my frame of mind recently, that most disciples reading this post will expect me to go on a long reflection about mortality based on this passage from The Old Man and the Sea.  Tempting as that is (and it is tempting, I have to admit), I will not inflict that upon you this evening.  I'll save it for about 1:30 a.m. when I can't fall asleep and start obsessing about things like the long-term effects of COVID and Donald Trump running for President again and global climate change and the mouse my wife saw in our house this afternoon.

I am tired.  It's 81 degrees in my living room.  I don't have the energy for any kind of deep thought.  Perhaps that's a sign of age.  Or of the long-term effects of COVID.  Ever since I caught the virus at the beginning of January, I haven't been able really to be productive at night.  I can't grade assignments.  Can't work on new poems.  Sometimes, I can't even stay awake for an entire episode of The Big Bang Theory.  

The purpose of this post, then, is simply to say I have survived another 24 hours.  I spent most of my day in my office, working on various projects.  This evening at the library, I hosted a felting workshop led by one of my best friends.

Now, I will turn off the lights in the living room, lie down on the couch, and sink slowly into madness.  (That's an allusion to Jim Carrey's How the Grinch Stole Christmas, in case you didn't know.)

Saint Marty's blessing for today:  spending time with one of his best friends.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

July 17: Let Us Hope, Too Busy, Hopeful Suppression

Santiago speaks his hopes , , ,

Maybe if I can increase the tension just a little it will hurt him and he will jump, he thought. Now that it is daylight let him jump so that he'll fill the sacks along his backbone with air and then he cannot go deep to die.

He tried to increase the tension, but the line had been taut up to the very edge of the breaking point since he had hooked the fish and he felt the harshness as he leaned back to pull and knew he could put no more strain on it. I must not jerk it ever, he thought. Each jerk widens the cut the hook makes and then when he does jump he might throw it. Anyway I feel better with the sun and for once I do not have to look into it.

There was yellow weed on the line but the old man knew that only made an added drag and he was pleased. It was the yellow Gulf weed that had made so much phosphorescence in the night.

"Fish," he said, "I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you dead before this day ends."

Let us hope so, he thought.

Santiago does a lot of hoping in this passage:  he hopes to increase the tension on the line; make the fish jump; and kill the fish before the day ends.  The old man knows what he's doing.  All of his hopes come from his decades of fishing on the ocean.  

As I said in my post last night, it is my sister's birthday today.  However, I didn't spend the day dwelling on that fact--not on her presence in so much of my life, and not in her absence these past seven years, either.  I was too busy.

I went to two church services this morning.  I played at one, sang at the other.  Then, when I got home, I mowed my lawn in 85-degree heat.  After that, I finished my preparations for a poetry workshop, took a shower, and drove to a friend's house for a meeting of my book club.  (In case you are wondering, we discussed Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake.)  On the way to book club, I stopped at the cemetery to visit my sister's grave.  And after book club, I sped home and led the poetry workshop.  

So, you see, I couldn't be too sad today, except for those few moments at the cemetery.  Is busyness a sign of hope?  I'm not sure.  It could be my way of avoiding difficult feelings, too.  Take your pick.  I could be hopeful, or I could be suppressing.  Or a little of both.  Hopeful suppression, or suppressive hope.  

Sitting on my couch, typing this post, I realize that I'm often in this state, whatever it is.  If a busy life is a sign of hope, I am the most hopeful person alive.  It may also be a coping mechanism.  Either way, at the end of the day, I am usually too tired to be feel anything.

Tonight, therefore, I am a mixed bag.  Exhausted.  Hopeful.  Sad.  Grateful for friends and poetry.

Saint Marty's blessing tonight:  really great friends who love books.

Saturday, July 16, 2022

July 16: God Let Him Jump, Christmas Waiting, Sister's Birthday

Santiago waits for the fish to jump . . . 

He'll stay with me too, I suppose, the old man thought and he waited for it to be light. It was cold now in the time before daylight and he pushed against the wood to be warm. I can do it as long as he can, he thought. And in the first light the line extended out and down into the water. The boat moved steadily and when the first edge of the sun rose it was on the old man's right shoulder.

"He's headed north," the old man said. The current will have set us far to the eastward, he thought. I wish he would turn with the current. That would show that he was tiring.

When the sun had risen further the old man realized that the fish was not tiring. There was only one favorable sign. The slant of the line showed he was swimming at a lesser depth. That did not necessarily mean that he would jump. But he might.

"God let him jump," the old man said. "I have enough line to handle him."

We all wait for things to happen.  Santiago waits for the fish to jump.  On overcast days, I wait for rain.  In December, I wait for Christmas.  For a while now, I wait for everyone to go to bed so that I can watch a sad movie or read a sad book.  Today, I waited for tomorrow, which would have been my sister's birthday. She would have been 61 this year.

Every year, when that day approaches, I sort of hit a emotional speed bump that forces me to slow down.  Not in a take-time-to-smell-the-roses kind of way.  More like a count-all-your-losses-and-get-overwhelmed kind of way.

I guess what I'm saying is that there's Christmas waiting, and then there's thunderstorm waiting.  

Today, the sky turned dark about mid-afternoon, and since that time, I've been waiting for God to unleash some rain.  It hasn't happened yet, and it's well past 11 p.m.  I'm about ready to give up on cloudy with a chance of meatballs.  

You see, waiting for something to happen doesn't always mean that it will happen.  In my experience, as a matter of fact, when I'm expecting something to happen, it rarely does.  About seven years ago, when my sister was about to turn 54, I was waiting for a miracle to happen--for the lymphoma in her brain to somehow vanish.  I prayed for it.  It never happened.

Perhaps, my sister's birthday, and the upcoming anniversary of her death in August, are contributing to my current struggles.  Even after seven years, there are some days where I just . . . want to talk to her.  Tell her that I'm sorry that she didn't have more time on this planet.

You see, near the end of the time that she was in the hospital in Ann Arbor, I advocated for hospice care.  Even though I know to this day that it was the right thing to do, I still feel guilty that she didn't get to see my kids grow up.  That she never got to enjoy the retirement that she saved for her whole life.  That she didn't get more Christmases.  She loved Christmas.

I'm waiting for midnight, and I miss singing "Happy Birthday" to my sister.  Eating strawberry shortcake with her.

Saint Marty's blessing of the day:  flowers blooming outside of church tonight.

Friday, July 15, 2022

July 15: Until I Am Dead, Metaphysical, Human Connection

Santiago is alone . . . 

But you haven't got the boy, he thought. You have only yourself and you had better work back to the last line now, in the dark or not in the dark, and cut it away and hook up the two reserve coils.

So he did it. It was difficult in the dark and once the fish made a surge that pulled him down on his face and made a cut below his eye. The blood ran down his cheek a little way. But it coagulated and dried before it reached his chin and he worked his way back to the bow and rested against the wood. He adjusted the sack and carefully worked the line so that it came across a new part of his shoulders and, holding it anchored with his shoulders, he carefully felt the pull of the fish and then felt with his hand the progress of the skiff through the water.

I wonder what he made that lurch for, he thought. The wire must have slipped on the great hill of his back. Certainly his back cannot feel as badly as mine does. But he cannot pull this skiff forever, no matter how great he is. Now everything is cleared away that might make trouble and I have a big reserve of line; all that a man can ask.

"Fish," he said softly, aloud, "I'll stay with you until I am dead."

There are times when a person really feels isolated.  For Santiago, it happens in these four paragraphs.  For a while, he's been aware of his physical isolation:  floating by himself in a boat in the middle of the sea with no land in sight.  Yet, feeling alone is more than just the lack of proximity to other people.  Santiago's isolation is metaphysical.

You can be in a crowded party with throngs of drunken friends and be alone.  Or in bed with your sleeping partner.  You can be alone in a family of nine siblings.  I've stood at a podium in a classroom, lectured for three hours with 35 pairs of eyes watching somewhat attentively, and felt completely alone.  

Real human connection is a shared feeling of hope or despair or joy or anger.  It's knowing that another soul somewhere out there understands exactly what you are going through.  That may sound corny.  Perhaps it is.  But, if you've experienced true aloneness, you understand what I'm talking about.  

This week, I was listening to music at a concert and found myself blinking away tears.  I had to pull my car over to the side of the road on my way home from work one night because the sky reminded me of the day my sister died.  This morning, I was reading a book at 2 a.m. because the author is an old friend from college, and I could hear his voice in the words on the page.

That's where I am right now.  Have been since last Sunday.  Drifting in my little boat.  No land in sight.  Trying to feel connected.

Saint Marty's blessing for today:  a short visit with his daughter, who kissed his cheek before she left, whispered in his ear, "I love you, Daddy."

Thursday, July 14, 2022

July 14: Broadbill or a Shark, Forgiveness, Hundreds of Hours of Therapy

Santiago relies on his skill as a fisherman . . . 

Perhaps I should not have been a fisherman, he thought. But that was the thing that I was born for. I must surely remember to eat the tuna after it gets light.

Some time before daylight something took one of the baits that were behind him. He heard the stick break and the line begin to rush out over the gunwale of the skiff. In the darkness he loosened his sheath knife and taking all the strain of the fish on his left shoulder he leaned back and cut the line against the wood of the gunwale. Then he cut the other line closest to him and in the dark made the loose ends of the reserve coils fast. He worked skillfully with the one hand and put his foot on the coils to hold them as he drew his knots tight. Now he had six reserve coils of line. There were two from each bait he had severed and the two from the bait the fish had taken and they were all connected.

After it is light, he thought, I will work back to the forty-fathom bait and cut it away too and link up the reserve coils. I will have lost two hundred fathoms of good Catalan cordel and the hooks and leaders. That can be replaced. But who replaces this fish if I hook some fish and it cuts him off? I don't know what that fish was that took the bait just now. It could have been a marlin or a broadbill or a shark. I never felt him. I had to get rid of him too fast.

Aloud he said, "I wish I had the boy."

In certain instances, you have to rely on experience to know the right thing to do.  That's what Santiago does in this passage.  He knows that he has to cut those fishing lines in order to have a chance of landing the big fish, and he doesn't hesitate to use his sheath knife.

I believe in kindness.  Forgiveness.  As a lifelong Christian, it's what I grew up hearing in church, Sunday after Sunday.  That doesn't mean that forgiveness is easy.  It isn't.  In fact, I would say that forgiving a person who has hurt you deeply seems impossible.  It's so much easier to hold on to that hurt, nurse it, and let it grow until it literally controls your life.

Forgiveness takes practice.  Like fishing, it can be learned.  The first time is the hardest, obviously.  But do it, over and over, and it doesn't matter what size fish it is.  Marlin.  Shark.  Tuna.  You will always be able to get it into the boat.  

Of course, doing the exact opposite can also become habit.  I've done that, as well.  Held onto to angers and slights for years and years.  I'm still holding on to some that have been with me so long that they've become a part of me.  Another arm or leg.  I'm not perfect.  

Of course, I know that retaining such negative emotions doesn't really help anything.  All it does is impact my psychological, emotional, and physical health.  It makes me sick, in body, mind, and spirit.  I try to maintain a good balance in my life.  Most people who know me would probably describe me as a kind person.  A loving person.  What those people see is the product of hundreds of hours of therapy.  I have learned that without forgiveness, I may lose people I love and end up in a blue funk that will last a lifetime.

Why am I saying all of this?  It's all a part of the process of forgiveness.  Because forgiveness is a process.  A never-ending one.  There are people in my life that I have to try to forgive on a daily basis.  Some days I succeed, and some days I don't.  Then, I wake up and start all over again.

If you are reading this post, and I have hurt you in any way ever, I'm sorry.  Forgive me.  If you are reading this post, and you have hurt me in some way, I forgive you.  Repeat.  And repeat.  And repeat.

It's that simple.  

Saint Marty's blessing for today:  time spent this morning on the roof of the library, looking out on Lake Superior.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

July 13: No One to Help, Childhood Home, Oliver Twist

Santiago has no one to help him . . . 

That was the saddest thing I ever saw with them, the old man thought. The boy was sad too and we begged her pardon and butchered her promptly.

"I wish the boy was here," he said aloud and settled himself against the rounded planks of the bow and felt the strength of the great fish through the line he held across his shoulders moving steadily toward whatever he had chosen.

When once, through my treachery, it had been necessary to him to make a choice, the old man thought.

His choice had been to stay in the deep dark water far out beyond all snares and traps and treacheries. My choice was to go there to find him beyond all people. Beyond all people in the world. Now we are joined together and have been since noon. And no one to help either one of us.

Yes, Santiago realizes that he's on his own.  Him and the fish.  Two old creatures of salt and water.  

Last night, I found out that my sister is planning to sell the house I grew up in.  Both of my parents are gone.  My sister with Downs syndrome died almost six months ago.  Now, it's just my two oldest sisters living in a huge dwelling that once contained a horde of about twelve people.  I get it.

As much as I would love to see my childhood home stay in the family, I understand that is not what my sister wants.  After the house sells, there's a chance that both of my sisters will be moving across the country to live in Washington.  At the very least, one of them will most definitely be leaving.

And then, in this little Upper Peninsula town where I grew up, I will be the only member of my family remaining (if my second sister decides to leave, as well).  That makes me feel fairly . . . "alone" is the best word I can come up with.  Like Santiago by himself in the middle of the ocean.

I've been at sea (pun intended) about this news all day long.  My family used to be pretty tight.  We saw or spoke to each other on a daily basis.  Had dinners together.  Looked out for one another.  That's the way our parents raised us.  I suppose a therapist might label all of us  "codependent," and that would be a fair observation.  

But things change.  Through marriage.  Kids.  Divorce.  Death.  Mental illness.  Addictions.  Hard feelings.  Bad blood.  It's inevitable.  I don't get along with all of my siblings that well, for reasons complex and personal.  We just don't see the world the same way.  Harmony is simply not in the cards for us.  I accept that.

Last night, sitting on my couch in the dark, I thought of how scattered we all are, mentally and emotionally and geographically.  I had a close friend once who thought my family was a real-life Brady Bunch.  Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.  The seeds of what's happening now were planted a long, long time ago.

I never realized how it's possible to feel like Oliver Twist when I grew up in Cheaper by the Dozen.  

Saint Marty's blessing of the day:  a couple of hours sitting with a friend in her garden, writing poetry.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

July 12: High Into the Air, Small or Big, State of Blueness

Santiago thinks of loss . . . 

He remembered the time he had hooked one of a pair of marlin. The male fish always let the female fish feed first and the hooked fish, the female, made a wild, panic-stricken, despairing fight that soon exhausted her, and all the time the male had stayed with her, crossing the line and circling with her on the surface. He had stayed so close that the old man was afraid he would cut the line with his tail which was sharp as a scythe and almost of that size and shape. When the old man had gaffed her and clubbed her, holding the rapier bill with its sandpaper edge and clubbing her across the top of her head until her colour turned to a colour almost like the backing of mirrors, and then, with the boy's aid, hoisted her aboard, the male fish had stayed by the side of the boat. Then, while the old man was clearing the lines and preparing the harpoon, the male fish jumped high into the air beside the boat to see where the female was and then went down deep, his lavender wings, that were his pectoral fins, spread wide and all his wide lavender stripes showing. He was beautiful, the old man remembered, and he had stayed.

It's amazing how, when you read the same book over, you sometimes have a completely different experience.  For example, I don't remember being struck by the sadness of this passage the last time I encountered it.  Yet, just now, I reread it, and I think it's one of the saddest paragraphs ever written.

Loss can be small or big.  You can grieve over the fact that your aunt didn't send you a birthday card, and that your sister died almost seven months ago in the hospital.  Small and big.  A bunch of little losses, over an extended period of time, can build up like the Colorado River behind the Hoover Dam.  Unless there are spillways to relieve the immense water pressure, it will crack or collapse the dam.  Lake Mead will overflow.  (I think I got the mechanical and geographic details of that description correct.  If not, I will certainly here from one of my faithful disciples.)

I am still struggling with my blue funk.  Writer Maggie Nelson says this about the color blue:

It calms me to think of blue as the color of death. I have long imagined death's approach as the swell of a wave - a towering wall of blue. You will drown, the world tells me, has always told me. You will descend into a blue underworld, blue with hungry ghosts, Krishna blue, the blue faces of the ones you loved. They all drowned, too. To take a breath of water: does the thought panic or excite you? If you are in love with red then you slit or shoot. If you are in love with blue you fill your pouch with stones good for sucking and head down to the river. Any river will do.

I had a therapy appointment today, and I talked about my current state of blueness.  Don't worry.  I'm not about to fill my pockets with rocks and pull a Virginia Woolf.  Yet, every time I feel like this, I am fascinated by how I reach this emotional/psychological state.  Whether it's an asteroid splashing down in the Pacific, causing a catastrophic tsunami in my life, or just another drop from an eternally leaking faucet causing my bathtub to overflow.  I guess that's the writer's curiosity in me.  Or maybe it's just human curiosity.

Regardless, my therapist gave me some helpful suggestions about getting more sleep and eating healthy foods.  Read more.  Watch less TV.  It seems that it's a bad thing to obsessively watch the same movie or read the same book, over and over, when you're in a blue state.  Who knew?  And I'm going to continue my practice of finding a single blessing to focus on each day.

Today's blessing:  an outdoor concert at the library by a poet friend of mine.  Music that lifted my spirits a great deal.  Being around "shiny, happy people laughing," as the old R. E. M. song goes.  (Fun fact: Michael Stipe, the lead singer from R. E. M. was best friends with River Phoenix.)

Saint Marty is now going to try not to watch a depressing movie before he goes to bed.

Monday, July 11, 2022

July 11: As Desperate as I Am, 1985, Cindy Hunter Morgan

Santiago is desperate . . . 

During the night two porpoise came around the boat and he could hear them rolling and blowing. He could tell the difference between the blowing noise the male made and the sighing blow of the female.

"They are good," he said. "They play and make jokes and love one another. They are our brothers like the flying fish."

Then he began to pity the great fish that he had hooked. He is wonderful and strange and who knows how old he is, he thought. Never have I had such a strong fish nor one who acted so strangely. Perhaps he is too wise to jump. He could ruin me by jumping or by a wild rush. But perhaps he has been hooked many times before and he knows that this is how he should make his fight. He cannot know that it is only one man against him, nor that it is an old man. But what a great fish he is and what he will bring in the market if the flesh is good. He took the bait like a male and he pulls like a male and his fight has no panic in it. I wonder if he has any plans or if he is just as desperate as I am?

I wrote last night about being in a blue funk.  These moods sort of come out of nowhere, and they hang on for quite some time.  They've been a constant in my life since I was a teenager.  The first one was in 1985, after my high school graduation.  I lost someone I dearly loved, and I spent that June, July, and August in my bedroom, shades pulled, lights off, face pressed into my pillow.  I barely held on that summer.  I was just as desperate as Santiago facing that unseen fish after months of failure.

The most difficult part of these funks is making it through a day.  It takes so much more effort to appear normal and happy.  To do everyday tasks.  By nighttime, after teaching and emailing and event hosting, I'm pretty exhausted.

Now, I know that I'm a very lucky person.  My struggles are tiny compared to the current struggles of some people in my life.  Really tiny.  Please know that I am aware of all of the blessings I possess, but I'm seeing those blessings through a fog right now.  A thick fog.

Here is what I'm going to do until I reach the other side this canyon:  I'm going to talk about one blessing from each day.

Tonight's blessing was poet Cindy Hunter Morgan.  I hosted a reading by her at the library this evening.  Her poems were haunting.  Beautiful.  Heartbreaking.  They filled me with . . . love for a broken world.  I forgot to be sad for a while, and that was worth the price of admission.

Saint Marty is going to read a poem now and go to bed.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

July 10: Be Alone, Blue Periods, Treading Water

Santiago reflects on being alone . . . 

No one should be alone in their old age, he thought. But it is unavoidable. I must remember to eat the tuna before he spoils in order to keep strong. Remember, no matter how little you want to, that you must eat him in the morning. Remember, he said to himself.

There are days when you just feel sad.  Alone.  Like Santiago in his boat.

Today is one of those days for me.  When I was younger, I would fall into what I would call "blue periods"--before I really understood depression.  I'm hoping that this time will simply be a one-day thing.  It's bee a while since I've felt like this.

It could be that the last couple weeks have been full of parades and fireworks and family.  Now, after last night's fireworks, there's nothing.  Quiet.  No plan or party.  After all of the excitement of the last nine days, it's like stepping off a cliff into a cold lake.  I'm treading water.

There's also a rainstorm coming.  Change in weather.  Not a lot of sun today.  Of course, it doesn't help that I've been doing online grading all afternoon in a dark room, and now I'm watching The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which is not the most uplifting of movies.  

Being blue is a tricky thing.  You can convince yourself of a lot of false things--like nobody loves you or your life has lost its meaning.  Your rational mind can tell you that you are loved and your life does have meaning, but being blue has nothing to do with rationality.

Bad things happen.  All the time.  They continue to happen, on personal, local, and global scales.  Loved ones get sick.  Family members get angry, upset.  Shootings occur at schools and churches and parades.  Women are stripped of their rights.  Dictators kill innocent people.  Polar ice caps melt.

When the blues hit me, I become a little overwhelmed by all of these things.  It's like I'm a cup, and the universe is a leaky faucet.  Drip by drip, I've been filling up, and now I've reached the spilling-over point.  I'm drowning a little.

That's what I have today.  Wish I had something better to share.  I don't.

Saint Marty is going to go rummage in the fridge for something to eat.  Find some sun, faithful disciple.

Saturday, July 9, 2022

July 9: Do Nothing Stupid, Straight White Men, Laughter

Santiago does some wishing . . . 

I can do nothing with him and he can do nothing with me, he thought. Not as long as he keeps this up.

Once he stood up and urinated over the side of the skiff and looked at the stars and checked his course. The line showed like a phosphorescent streak in the water straight out from his shoulders. They were moving more slowly now and the glow of Havana was not so strong, so that he knew the current must be carrying them to the eastward. If I lose the glare of Havana we must be going more to the eastward, he thought. For if the fish's course held true I must see it for many more hours. I wonder how the baseball came out in the grand leagues today, he thought. It would be wonderful to do this with a radio. Then he thought, think of it always. Think of what you are doing. You must do nothing stupid.

Then he said aloud, "I wish I had the boy. To help me and to see this."

People frequently do stupid things.  Say stupid things.  Endorse stupid things.  If the last five or six years have taught us anything, it's that people will support stupid, even if it flies in the face of incontrovertible fact.  

I went with my family to a parade today.  Tonight, I'm attending a fireworks display.  In the parade, there was the usual array of political candidates marching and shaking hands and handing out brochures.  I have no problem with this.  They can wear their red-white-and-blue ties and tee-shirts and walk behind a car that's blasting Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the U. S. A."  That's how they drum up support.

On the way home from the parade, my son started making up new lyrics to Greenwood's song:  "I'm proud to be an American, where straight white men are free!  And don't forget those who lied to steal women's liberty!"  I grew up with a profound respect for those who serve in any branch of the Armed Forces of the United States.  My dad served in the Army during the Korean War.  But, we laughed pretty hard this afternoon when my son started singing his version of that song.

Here's the thing:  my son gets it.  He believes in freedom, and he is very aware of the sacrifices people have made for him to live his life openly and without fear.  He is also aware that, currently, there are some pretty stupid decisions being made in the highest levels of government--decisions that will affect him and his loved ones for years, if not decades.  

We laughed this afternoon because the only other options are disillusionment and despair.  Given those choices, I will always choose laughter.  If we laugh at stupidity, we can chip away at its power over us.  Because laughter is contagious.  One person starts laughing, and then another person joins in.  And another.  And another.  Pretty soon, everyone is laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of the situation.  

Laughter is a powerful tool against the stupidity of the world.  Comedian George Carlin once said, "Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups."  If we can laugh at those large groups of stupid people, perhaps sanity will eventually prevail.

So sing it will Saint Marty:  "I'm proud to be an American where straight white men are free!"

Friday, July 8, 2022

July 8: Almost Comfortable, Fatherhood, My Nephew

Santiago tries to get comfortable . . . 

The fish never changed his course nor his direction all that night as far as the man could tell from watching the stars. It was cold after the sun went down and the old man's sweat dried cold on his back and his arms and his old legs. During the day he had taken the sack that covered the bait box and spread it in the sun to dry. After the sun went down he tied it around his neck so that it hung down over his back and he cautiously worked it down under the line that was across his shoulders now. The sack cushioned the line and he had found a way of leaning forward against the bow so that he was almost comfortable. The position actually was only somewhat less intolerable; but he thought of it as almost comfortable.

There are times when something lifechanging happens to you, and it takes you time to become comfortable with it.  When my daughter was born, I fell in love with her immediately, but it took me some time be comfortable with fatherhood.  Babies don't come with owner's manuals.

My nephew became a new father today.  Pretty proud of him.  From what I've heard, he only threw up once during the delivery.  He has a son.  Melvin Thomas.  My nephew's life is never going to be the same again.  It will be so much better.

I don't have any father advice.  Haven't written that manual.  What I have learned in the 21 years I've been practicing being a father is this:  all you have to do is love your kid, no matter what.  Start with that, and everything else will be cool.

My nephew will probably never read this post.  That's okay.  He's going to have his hands full for the next, oh, 20 years or so.

But Saint Marty wants to say that he knows his nephew is going to be a great dad.

A poem for my nephew tonight . . .

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.

Thursday, July 7, 2022

July 7: No Land Was Visible, Family Gathering, Poetry Workshop

Santiago can't see land . . . 

"It was noon when I hooked him," he said. "And I have never seen him."

He had pushed his straw hat hard down on his head before he hooked the fish and it was cutting his forehead. He was thirsty too and he got down on his knees and, being careful not to jerk on the line, moved as far into the bow as he could get and reached the water bottle with one hand. He opened it and drank a little. Then he rested against the bow. He rested sitting on the un-stepped mast and sail and tried not to think but only to endure.

Then he looked behind him and saw that no land was visible. That makes no difference, he thought. I can always come in on the glow from Havana. There are two more hours before the sun sets and maybe he will come up before that. If he doesn't maybe he will come up with the moon. If he does not do that maybe he will come up with the sunrise. I have no cramps and I feel strong. It is he that has the hook in his mouth. But what a fish to pull like that. He must have his mouth shut tight on the wire. I wish I could see him. I wish I could see him only once to know what I have against me.

Everyone feels like this every once in a while.  Out of sight of land.  Isolated.  Like Santiago.

Even when you're surrounded by people you love, you can feel like that.  The hardest part of being that far out to sea is finding your way home safely.  It takes a lot of rowing.

Tonight, I went to a family gathering.  So many people who I love and who love me.  I couldn't stay for long because I had a poetry workshop to lead.  Therefore, I ate, drank a little, posed for a group picture, and then left.

Then, I led a poetry workshop.  The theme of the night was American Artists.  Three of my best friends were there in person, and two of my best friends joined via Zoom.  And we did poetry prompts based on paintings by Edward Hopper and Mary Cassat and Georgia O'Keefe and Grant Wood.  It was a wonderful evening of writing and sharing.

It was an evening of connection.  For most of the week, I've felt a little . . . at sea.  Tonight, being with family and friends, I saw land, found my way home.

Saint Marty is grateful for people who love him and vanilla ice cream tonight.

A poem from tonight . . . 

Knothole, 2022

after Norman Rockwell's "Knothole Baseball, 1958"

for H.

by:  Martin Achatz

In this splintered view, I see
rocky beach littered with seaweed,
rank with salt and fish smell. Waves.
So many waves, from white foam
on the shore to that distant line
where the ocean falls over
the horizon, and so far out
that it looks like the back
of a flea, a whale breaching,
sending a filament of water
into blue sky. I press my face
hard to the wood, hungry
for crabs scuttling, pearled
insides of clams cracked open
by hungry gulls. Crumpled
near the water's edge, a pile
of clothes, blue terrycloth towel,
like parings from an apple just eaten.
And arms stroking the water, legs
kicking, a body, your body,
gliding toward the sun. All
sea and salt and breath. Chasing
that ball of fire as if your life
depended on it.

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

July 6: Across His Back, Two Old Friends, Stupidity

Santiago never gives up . . .

He held the line against his back and watched its slant in the water and the skiff moving steadily to the North-West.

This will kill him, the old man thought. He can't do this forever. But four hours later the fish was still swimming steadily out to sea, towing the skiff, and the old man was still braced solidly with the line across his back.

Neither does the fish, until it has to.

This evening, I hosted an author reading at the library.  Two old friends of mine from grad school.  We have known each other, literally, for over 30 years.  All three of us have had struggles.  Losses.  And we've done what writers do with difficult experiences--written about them, learned from them, transformed them.

Because writing is a way of overcoming.  Of holding the line against the back, waiting for the fish to tire and go belly-up.  I think all three of us have saved ourselves with words in one way or another.  Through things we've written and read and heard.  Song.  Poetry.  Chant.  Prayer.

For a little while tonight, the cogs of the universe slipped a little for me, and 30 years sort of slipped away like a fish diving for deep water.  There are things I've experienced that I would never want to relive.  Yet, it was wonderful to be with these two friends and remember, for a few fleeting moments, what it was like to be stupid with hopes and dreams.

Saint Marty hasn't felt that stupidity for a while. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

July 5: Plenty of Things, Little Overwhelmed, Willows and Horsetails

Santiago wishes for help . . . 

"I wish I had the boy," the old man said aloud. "I'm being towed by a fish and I'm the towing bitt. I could make the line fast. But then he could break it. I must hold him all I can and give him line when he must have it. Thank God he is travelling and not going down."

What I will do if he decides to go down, I don't know. What I'll do if he sounds and dies I don't know. But I'll do something. There are plenty of things I can do.

Santiago never gives up.  Sure, he may wish every once in a while that his circumstances were different, but he never allows himself to despair completely.  As he thinks, "There are plenty of things I can do."

Returned to work today after a three-day holiday weekend.  It was rough getting up this morning and working up enthusiasm to return to the office.  Because I knew the length of my list of things I needed to do.  Plus, I am teaching this second summer session at the university, so there are Discussion Forums to grade and panicked students to calm.

I must admit that I allowed myself to get a little overwhelmed.  However, I took my cue from Santiago, and I just concentrated on the task in front of me.  Task by task, I chipped away at my piles.  Plus, I had three meetings, as well.  I finished what needed to get done.  Then, I screened a documentary at the library about the Trail of Tears, a film I picked out for its close proximity to the celebration of Independence Day.  Just to provide a little counterpoint and balance to the strain of rampant patriotism that takes over the country this time of year.

I didn't get everything accomplished.  However, tomorrow's pile of tasks in substantially smaller than today's.  I count that a win.  Last night's fireworks were rained out in Marquette, Michigan, so the plan was to set them off this evening.  At 6 p.m., there was a fine mist settled in the city, with thick fog hovering over Lake Superior.  As I headed down to start screening the documentary, I had my doubts about fireworks going off at dusk.

But there were fireworks tonight.  I make the supposition from the absence of an announcement stating that they had been postponed again.  I'm sure that, tomorrow, Facebook will be flooded with photos and videos of Willows and Horsetails and Kamuros in the night sky.

There are plenty of things I can do now.  I could watch an episode of The Big Bang Theory.  Read a little Louise Erdrich.  Grade some more.  Lie on the couch in the dark, staring up at the ceiling.  Write a new poem.

Or Saint Marty could just give up and go to sleep.