Friday, August 12, 2022

August 12: Strange Old Man, Normal People, Displays of Nudity

Santiago knows he's a strange old man . . .

Although it is unjust, he thought. But I will show him what a man can do and what a man endures.

"I told the boy I was a strange old man," he said. "Now is when I must prove it."

The thousand times that he had proved it meant nothing. Now he was proving it again. Each time was a new time and he never thought about the past when he was doing it.

I think a lot of people would characterize me as strange.  My son certainly would.  I write poems about Bigfoot.  Play organ/keyboard at two Catholic churches, two Lutheran churches, and a Methodist church (occasionally).  Watch depressing films compulsively (River Phoenix marathon at my house, anyone?).  Teach writing, film, literature, and mythology.  Get excited about things like Nobel Prize announcements.  I. Am. Strange.

I wear that badge proudly.  Normal people bore me.  If you see me at a social gathering (which doesn't happen very often--I detest small talk), please don't try to engage me in conversation about the weather, Green Bay Packers, or the price of gasoline.  I will quickly extricate myself by feigning a stroke and disappear.

However, if you approach me and say, "I once saw Adrienne Rich picking out tomatoes at the grocery store," you will have my complete and undivided attention.  I may, in fact, ask you what kind of tomatoes she was looking at and if there was any other produce in her shopping cart.  Spinach.  Kale.  Kumquats.  That's kind of shit is interesting.

I don't think strangeness is a bad quality, unless it involves public displays of nudity during a Christmas Eve church service, and, even then, I may ask if said nudity involved a well-placed Christmas bow or wreath.  I'd rather be remembered as "the Bigfoot poet" than "that guy whose lawn was always really green."

So, if you are an oddball, embrace it.  Climb onto your roof and shout it to the moon.  (Do this especially on a night when your neighbor--the one who has a "Trump 2024" sign in his yard--is waxing his car.)  Give people something to talk about.

Life is too short to be boring.

Saint Marty's blessing for tonight:  sunrise on the roof of the library.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

August 11: All His Greatness and His Glory, Poetry Workshop, Perseids

Santiago feels much better, but is still suffering . . .

With his prayers said, and feeling much better, but suffering exactly as much, and perhaps a little more, he leaned against the wood of the bow and began, mechanically, to work the fingers of his left hand.

The sun was hot now although the breeze was rising gently.

"I had better re-bait that little line out over the stern," he said. "If the fish decides to stay another night I will need to eat again and the water is low in the bottle. I don't think I can get anything but a dolphin here. But if I eat him fresh enough he won't be bad. I wish a flying fish would come on board tonight. But I have no light to attract them. A flying fish is excellent to eat raw and I would not have to cut him up. I must save all my strength now. Christ, I did not know he was so big."

"I'll kill him though," he said. "In all his greatness and his glory."

Santiago admires the fish in all its greatness and glory, but he is still determined to kill it.

I'm not sure if that is just normal human instinct--to see something wondrous and somehow need to subdue and conquer it.  That's what we've been doing since we crawled out of the primordial ocean ooze.  If there's a mountain, we want to climb it.  If there's a large body of water, we want to sail across it or drill for oil in it.  Forests are cut down for roads, and animals are killed for sport or money.

Humankind is a pretty destructive force on this little blue rock of a planet.  Just ask the next glacier you see.

Tonight, I led a poetry workshop that was all about wonder and mystery in the universe.  Currently, the Perseid meteor shower is lighting up the night sky.  There's nothing like lying on your back in the grass, staring up into the heavens, and seeing lights spark and zip in that black bowl.  That was the inspiration for tonight's writing.

Only a few people showed up.  That's fine.  It's mid-August, and residents of the Upper Peninsula know that our warm days and nights are numbered.  We have to take advantage of them.  I guess writing poetry is my way of subduing the mystery of the universe.  Maybe a better word would be "understanding."  But isn't the comprehension of mystery a way of controlling it?  

Very few people can live with negative capability--just accepting a situation without having to explain it fully.  It's not comfortable to live next door to mystery without going over and introducing yourself.  That's why things like lunar eclipses and meteor showers were historically seen as omens or portents.  I'm sure, in times past, the Perseids were seen as precursors to something wondrous or catastrophic.  That belief, however misguided, gave those zagging celestial sparks meaning and purpose.  Because everything that exists should have a purpose, right?  Beauty for beauty's sake or mystery for mystery's sake is an alien concept for most human beings.

Perhaps I'm being a little too deep tonight.  Wouldn't be the first time.  My point is fairly simple:  embrace mystery and wonder.

Saint Marty's blessings for tonight:  a beautiful sunrise and writing poetry with friends.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

August 10: Pray for the Death, Act of Hope, Punk Rockabilly Music

Santiago prays for death . . . 

He commenced to say his prayers mechanically. Sometimes he would be so tired that he could not remember the prayer and then he would say them fast so that they would come automatically. Hail Marys are easier to say than Our Fathers, he thought.

"Hail Mary full of Grace the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen." Then he added, "Blessed Virgin, pray for the death of this fish. Wonderful though he is."

All human beings hope.  It's built into our DNA.

Prayer is an act of hope.  Usually, people pray for things like an "A" on a final exam.  A job.  That pretty girl or guy to go out with you.  Your kid to get into a good school.  More metaphysically, you can pray for the world to be a better, kinder place.  If you're political (and have one functioning brain cell), you pray that Donald Trump will end up in prison orange.  Santiago prays for the death of the fish.

On the day my mother died, I prayed for her death.  Sitting next to her bed, watching her struggle to breathe, I simply wanted her to be able to relax.  Be comfortable.  When I was alone with her, I leaned in close to her ear, told her that I loved her and that it was okay to let go.  That we were all going to be okay.  "Dad's waiting for you," I told her, "and so is Sally and Kevin."

For a long while, I felt guilty about that prayer.  I realize now that it was a kind prayer.  A loving prayer.  A hopeful prayer.  My mother had suffered for a really long time.  I wanted her to be free of all that.

Tonight, I hosted another open-air concert.  An out-of-town punk rockabilly band.  Not the usual kind of music for library patrons.  The crowd didn't quite know how to respond.  Some of them really got into it, and some packed up early and left.  I loved it.  And that's okay.

Happiness is pretty subjective.  What makes me happy doesn't necessarily make other people happy.  Watching The Perks of Being a Wallflower over and over is not everyone's idea of a good time.  I could watch it on an infinite loop.  The same goes for hope.

If my siblings knew I was praying for my mother to die, they may have kicked me out of the room.  Told me to go home.  Questioned my love for her.  Or maybe they would have understood.  I'm not sure.  I knew she was going to die.  They knew she was going to die.  Perhaps the poet in me wanted to embrace the truth of the moment.  To give thanks for this woman who had shaped and loved me so much.  To hand her over to the universe and know that she was going to be okay.

I have a friend who is in a difficult situation right now.  I don't know how to pray for this friend.  What to pray for this friend.  So I just send out unspecified hope.  Hope that my friend can hold, mold, and shape into whatever is needed.  That's the best I can do for my friend at the moment.

Sometimes that's the best we can ever do, I suppose.  Hope and pray for . . . whatever.  Life.  Death.  Grace.  Beauty.  Blessings.

Saint Marty's blessing for tonight:  punk rockabilly music on a warm August night. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

August 9: Comfortable But Suffering, Boxes, Open-Air Jazz

Santiago promises to pray . . .

He was comfortable but suffering, although he did not admit the suffering at all.

"I am not religious," he said. "But I will say ten Our Fathers and ten Hail Marys that I should catch this fish, and I promise to make a pilgrimage to the Virgen de Cobre if I catch him. That is a promise."

Comfortable but suffering.  Doesn't that describe life a lot of the time?  There are always problems or pains or irritations going on in the background of a day.  We are all comfortable but suffering.

That may sound a little pessimistic.  Perhaps it is.  I've never been comfortable with labels like "pessimist" or "optimist" or "realist" or "pragmatist."  A lot of people who really know me wouldn't say that I'm a happy person.  The same people. however, wouldn't say that I'm a sad person, either.  Labels are boxes, and I have a problem with boxes.

Tonight, I hosted an open-air jazz concert on the steps of the library.  A quartet, the musicians mostly friends of mind.  It was exactly what I needed.  Beautiful and moving and complicated jazz for this beautiful and moving and complicated life.  This comfortable but suffering life.

If we're lucky, we all get these moments every once in a while.  Open air.  No walls.  Moments where you feel yourself blooming like a flower, and your spirit can take flight for a little bit.  Where the suffering takes a back seat, and comfort takes over for a few minutes.  An hour or two.  A lovely evening or few days.

Tonight was one of those moments for me.

Saint Marty's blessing tonight:  a jazz moment of grace.

Monday, August 8, 2022

August 8: Bad News, Concert Reschedule, Vitamin D

Santiago gets better . . . 

He settled comfortably against the wood and took his suffering as it came and the fish swam steadily and the boat moved slowly through the dark water. There was a small sea rising with the wind coming up from the east and at noon the old man's left hand was uncramped.

"Bad news for you, fish," he said and shifted the line over the sacks that covered his shoulders.

Bad news.  It comes in many forms.  These past weeks, as all my faithful disciples know, I've been struggling with some blue feelings.  That's bad news coming from the inside.  Then there's bad news at a job.  Today, I spent a good portion of my time rescheduling a concert that was supposed to happen at the library.  It was a series of miscommunications between myself and the musician.  So, bad news--concert doesn't happen tonight.

Wherever bad news comes from--inside, outside, on the job, at home, in a classroom--it's tough.  It can knock you on your ass.  In fact, that's the first thing that any bad news does.  It lays you out flat.  It's the seconds and minutes following bad news that makes the difference.  You can stay on your back, staring up at the ceiling in a daze, or you can get back on your feet, say to yourself "that sucked," and do something about it.

Now, some bad news if more difficult to deal with than others.  The concert reschedule today was easy bad news.  A poster, four or five emails, a social media post, and personal notifications later.--Voila!  Bad news changed into a minor inconvenience.  The bad news of my blue funks are a little more problematic.  It knocks me down and takes me time to get back up.

After I took care of rescheduling the concert this morning, I played catch-up from my vacation.  Answered my emails and messages.  Talked to a few performers to schedule new programs.  At lunchtime, I stepped outside, sat on the steps of the library, and enjoyed the blue sky and smell of the flower gardens.  Watched clouds drift past the spires of the Methodist church across the street.  Let the sun fill me with vitamin D.

For a few minutes, I felt free and happy.

Saint Marty's blessing of the day:  sun, blue sky, and a church.

Sunday, August 7, 2022

August 7: My Will and My Intelligence. T-I-R-E-D, Grading

Santiago gets ready for the fight . . .

I wonder why he jumped, the old man thought. He jumped almost as though to show me how big he was. I know now, anyway, he thought. I wish I could show him what sort of man I am. But then he would see the cramped hand. Let him think I am more man than I am and I will be so. I wish I was the fish, he thought, with everything he has against only my will and my intelligence.

Will and intelligence.  Some days, that's the only thing that makes me get out of bed.

Coming back from a vacation is never easy.  In my experience, I usually need a day to recover from it.  Perhaps this is a sign of age.  Or maybe it's an indication that, like most people, I turn my time off from work into a kind of job.  There's road trips to drive, tickets to buy, and meals to plan.

I'm not saying I didn't have a good time with my family at Great America.  But I am t-i-r-e-d.  And today I had to finish the grading for my online summer course.  I had about 15 or 16 final essay exams to grade.  I started early this afternoon and worked for five hours straight.  I did it only by will and intelligence., because everything in my body just wanted to take a nap.

As I sit on my couch typing this post, however, I feel a sense of accomplishment.  The end-of-semester grading today was not as torturous as it usually is for me.  I made a concerted effort these past six weeks to be diligent in my grading.  I responded to student work every day.  A lot of the time, the turnaround for grading an assignment was less than two hours.

Looking back, I have to say this class is the most successful online course I've taught, and I've taught quite a few.  It's really easy, if you don't look your students in the face every day, to procrastinate on grading and posting assignments and lectures.  This is especially true if you are a contingent professor who works another full-time job to pay bills and maintain medical insurance.  The last thing I want to think about after working a nine- or ten- or eleven-hour day is sifting through a pile of papers or exams or discussion forums.

It's only by will and intelligence that I kept my head above water this summer.  And it was only by will and intelligence that I got shit done today.  Now, I have more time to breathe before the fall semester starts.  

Maybe I'll have a few more days off to breathe even more deeply.  Or write poems.  Read a good book.  See a movie.  Think about a friend who's seriously struggling to hold on to life every day.  Remind myself what's important.

Saint Marty's blessing for today:  time to breathe deeply and send love into the universe.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

August 6: Slowed Again, Siblings, Text Conversations

Santiago and his cramped hands . . . 

It will uncramp though, he thought. Surely it will uncramp to help my right hand. There are three things that are brothers: the fish and my two hands. It must uncramp. It is unworthy of it to be cramped. The fish had slowed again and was going at his usual pace.

The old man's hands are working against him.  As he points out, it's almost as if the fish and his hands are siblings.  What do siblings do?  They look out for each other.  Well, most siblings do.  I don't always see eye-to-eye with my remaining sibs, but, if any of them were in real trouble, I would be there for them.  Blood is thicker than being assholes, I guess.

We drove back from Illinois today.  We took the return trip at a leisurely pace.  Stopped a few times.  Visited a mall (yes, they still exist) and had a really good dinner.  And I watched my son and daughter play games together at an arcade.  My daughter is a typical older sibling.  She has no idea how much her little brother loves her.  Having his sister for a few minutes to himself was the best part of my son's day.

While we were at the mall, I received a text about one of my best friends who is facing a real crisis.  This person has had my back and supported me through some very difficult times.  The news was not good, and it hit me hard.  I wandered around for a little while, having text conversations with a few other close friends who are like family to me.

I think we all take loved ones for granted.  Think they're always going to be there, through pandemic and post-apocalypse.  It's not true.  With one text, your world can shift, and you suddenly have to adjust to an alien landscape.  Today was one of those days for me.

I am home now.  My son is playing video games in his bedroom.  My wife is asleep.  My daughter is at her boyfriend's house.  Everything is the same, and yet it isn't.

Saint Marty's blessing today:  watching his kids play games together.

Friday, August 5, 2022

August 5: Claws of an Eagle, Great America, a Lot of Lemonade

Santiago and the biggest fish he's ever seen . . . 

The old man had seen many great fish. He had seen many that weighed more than a thousand pounds and he had caught two of that size in his life, but never alone. Now alone, and out of sight of land, he was fast to the biggest fish that he had ever seen and bigger than he had ever heard of, and his left hand was still as tight as the gripped claws of an eagle.

Santiago is alone, and he's facing the greatest challenge of his fishing life.  It always seems like that's the way it happens.  The universe seems to have a way of picking the exact wrong moment to throw curves balls at you.  Usually, it's when you're most vulnerable.

I spent the day at Great America with my wife, son, daughter, and daughter's boyfriend.  I rode exactly five rollercoasters.  Remarkably, the first one (Superman) did not give me vertigo.  It made me a little green.  It was Batman that nearly killed me.  My 13-year-old son wanted to go on it, and I volunteered to ride with him.  We stood in line for about 25 minutes and got all strapped and locked into our seats.  The attendant came by to check our restraints, and my son panicked.  He asked to be released.

You guessed it--I ended up riding Batman by myself.  It was nauseating.  As we pulled back into the loading area to be set free, I felt the world shift and start spinning.  It was as if I could actually sense the planet rotating at 1,000 miles per hour.  I took and deep breath and said a little prayer.  It went something like this:  "Please let me get off this ride without throwing up, soiling myself, or having to crawl down the exit ramp."

After a couple seconds, the world stopped spinning before my eyes, and I walked, a little shakily, off the ride.  Of course, my son was waiting for me, and he apologized about 172 times.  I sat on a bench, sucked in some oxygen, and waited for my stomach to get off the rollercoaster, too.

Like Santiago, I faced a great challenge alone, and I survived.  Of course, I wasn't in any real danger, and I could have requested to be released from the ride after my son bailed on me.  But I didn't do that.  I'm not sure if that was incredibly stupid or incredibly brave.  Maybe a little of both.

After Great America, we went to eat at Outback Steakhouse.  I had prime rib and two very stiff drinks.  By the time I got back to our hotel room, I was quite relaxed.  So, I took out my laptop and decided to do some grading for the summer course I'm teaching.  (Probably not the best plan after five rollercoasters and two mixed drinks.)

I know that life sometimes gives you lemons, but today, I drank a lot of lemonade.

Saint Marty's blessing for today:  getting wet with my family.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

August 4: More Noble and More Able, Putting Up With Me, Gurnee

Santiago admires the fish . . . 

"He is two feet longer than the skiff," the old man said. The line was going out fast but steadily and the fish was not panicked. The old man was trying with both hands to keep the line just inside of breaking strength. He knew that if he could not slow the fish with a steady pressure the fish could take out all the line and break it.

He is a great fish and I must convince him, he thought. I must never let him learn his strength nor what he could do if he made his run. If I were him I would put in everything now and go until something broke. But, thank God, they are not as intelligent as we who kill them; although they are more noble and more able.

I admire a lot of people and things.  I admire the moon on a clear night.  The sound of rain pelting my window.  Poems by Sharon Olds and Tracy K. Smith.  President Obama.  President Biden for being willing to take on the mess left by his predecessor.  My dog for showing me unconditional love every day.  And I admire my wife and kids for putting up with me and all my weird, neurotic, obsessive, depressive tendencies.

Today, I took a seven-hour drive with my family to Gurnee, Illinois, to make good on a promise I made to my son.  When he had his eighth grade class trip taken away from him by a school administration too worried about covering its own mistakes, I told my son that I would take him to Great America.  So, here I sit in a Gurnee hotel room with my son, daughter, daughter's significant other, and wife.

I didn't make this trip because I want my family to admire me.  Or because I love rollercoasters.  (I don't, by the way.)  Or because I had an extra $1000 lying around the house.  (I never do.)  I am in Illinois tonight because I love my wife and kids.  Period.  Love being with them.  Sharing pizza with them.  Going to movies with them.  Laughing with them.

All we have is today.  Right now.  I chose to live in this moment because there's no guarantee for tomorrow.  This point has been made very clear to me in the last day or so.  

Sure, I'm still climbing my way out of an unending blue funk.  At points during every day I cry, panic, cry some more, and feel overwhelmed.  But even in the middle of all of that, I know love.  Deep love.

Saint Marty's blessing today:  a new pair of Vans shoes.  (Hey, they are super cool.)

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

August 3: Slowly and Steadily, Surprises, Arbitrariness

Santiago finally sees the fish . . . 

Then, with his right hand he felt the difference in the pull of the line before he saw the slant change in the water. Then, as he leaned against the line and slapped his left hand hard and fast against his thigh he saw the line slanting slowly upward.

"He's coming up," he said. "Come on hand. Please come on."

The line rose slowly and steadily and then the surface of the ocean bulged ahead of the boat and the fish came out. He came out unendingly and water poured from his sides. He was bright in the sun and his head and back were dark purple and in the sun the stripes on his sides showed wide and a light lavender. His sword was as long as a baseball bat and tapered like a rapier and he rose his full length from the water and then re-entered it, smoothly, like a diver and the old man saw the great scythe-blade of his tail go under and the line commenced to race out.

It is a moment that Santiago's been waiting for and expecting.  The fish finally surfaces, and, even though the old man was expecting it to be large large, the sheer size of the fish stuns him.

Surprises can be good or bad.  They can make you feel as if you're holding the Golden Ticket to tour Willy Wonka's factory, or they can knock you on your ass like a fork of lightning.  There's no way to truly prepare for them, unless you're like me.

Let me explain.

I try to think of all the possibilities in every situation.  This usually works for things like packing a suitcase for planning a Christmas program.  I try to anticipate good weather, bad weather, hurricanes, blizzards, loss of singers, and size of audiences.  By doing this, I have contingency plans for everything--from an ingrown toenail to a North Korean missile strike.  And this gives me peace of mind and helps me sleep better at night.  (I've never been a great sleeper, so trying to eliminate worries stomps out insomnia fires before they can even start smoking.)

Today, however, I received news that took me completely by surprise, like the fish jumping for Santiago.  Even though I should have been prepared, I found myself reeling from the black-and-white reality of it.  Perhaps I'd been living in denial, not really wanting to accept the truth.

Now, most people reading this blog post right now are going to be very frustrated because I can't really give any details.  They are not my details to give, and I have to respect that.  But I have spent most of the day dwelling and contemplating and writing.  Met with a close poet friend by a little lake, and we scribbled poems about it.  That helped a little.

Tonight, I have to admit that I'm a little pissed at my Higher Power.  The universe at the moment doesn't seem fair or just.  In fact, it seems somewhat feckless.  I know that good things happen to bad people and vice versa.  That doesn't make me feel any better.  

I do believe that everything has a purpose.  If I didn't hold this belief, then I have to embrace the complete and total arbitrariness of . . . everything.  That's not very comforting.  According to NPR, Dr. Ali Binazar calculated that the probability of any person existing is one in ten to the power of 2,685,000.  Those odds are a pretty amazing argument against chance.

So, I sit here tonight more than a little heartbroken, but also convinced there is meaning in this messy experiment we call life.  Figuring out that meaning is the job of philosophers and theologians.  Maybe poets, too.

Saint Marty's blessing today:  a beautiful blue lake on a warm sunny afternoon.


August 2: Loosen Up, Still Breathing, Vacation

Santiago's hand cramps . . . 

His left hand was still cramped, but he was unknotting it slowly.

I hate a cramp, he thought. It is a treachery of one's own body. It is humiliating before others to have a diarrhea from ptomaine poisoning or to vomit from it. But a cramp, he thought of it as a calambre, humiliates oneself especially when one is alone.

If the boy were here he could rub it for me and loosen it down from the forearm, he thought. But it will loosen up.

Everyone's body eventually betrays them.  That's what aging and mortality is all about.  I can't do stuff that I could easily do ten years ago.  Like run long distances or ride roller coasters without throwing up.  As the years pass, time slowly chips away at us, carving small and large losses.  Those losses remind us that we are still breathing, alive.

I'm on vacation now.  I worked for about nine hours today, finishing up loose ends at the library.  By the time I left my office, I was really beat.  Still am.  When I was younger, I could easily stay up until 3 a.m., sleep for a couple hours, get up at 6 a.m., work all day, go home, write a poem, jog a few miles, and stay up to watch reruns of Kolchak:  The Night Stalker.  Not any more.

My life is pretty complicated.  I maintain a schedule that can be exhausting.  My friends often worry about me and my lack of rest and sleep.  I push myself to my limits frequently.  On a good night, I probably get, on average, about five solid hours of sleep.  On a normal night, between three and four hours.  When I am in a blue funk, as I am now, sleep evades me.  That doesn't mean I'm not tired.  It means, when I put head to pillow, my mind finds 27 topics that need my immediate attention.

But I'm hoping to find moments of rest these next few days.  I'm traveling to the Chicago area on Thursday to take my family to Great America.  That means many hours in a car followed by many hours trying to avoid a case of vertigo.  That upside is that I'm not driving.  That means I will have no choice but to relax for almost a full day.  Maybe even nap.

And that will be a blessing for Saint Marty's tired old body and mind.

Monday, August 1, 2022

August 1: Piles of Ice Cream, Cloud Watching, John Voelker

Santiago does some cloud watching . . . 

He looked at the sky and saw the white cumulus built like friendly piles of ice cream and high above were the thin feathers of the cirrus against the high September sky.

"Light brisa," he said. "Better weather for me than for you, fish."

I remember cloud watching when I was a kid.  Finding polar bears and Darth Vader and Linda Blair from The Exorcist.  (Yes, I was an odd child.)  Everyone sees what they want to see in clouds.  Santiago sees good weather for himself, bad weather for the fish.  My son would probably see some Pokemon thing.  Cloud watching is like a natural Rorschach test.  If you're happy, you see hummingbirds and angels.  If you're sad or anxious, you see Dracula and Donald Trump.

It was a long day of work.  I got to my office a little before 8 a.m. and got home around 9 p.m.  I'm going on vacation later this week, so I'm trying to get ahead with reports and programs and funding requests.  It's the tedious but necessary part of my job at the library.  I didn't have a whole lot of time for cloud watching, that's for sure.

The final thing I did this evening was host an event by an author.  I wasn't sure how many people were going to show up.  I told myself that, if I had an audience of ten, I would mark it down as a success.  Over 30 individuals showed up.  Basically, I sold out Madison Square Garden.  (Of course, the program was about John Voelker and his book Anatomy of a Murder, so it had a built-in audience.  Many people who attended were old family friends of Voelker and had stories of when Otto Preminger and Jimmy Stewart came to town to make the film adaptation.)

I didn't do any cloud watching on the way home tonight, either.  I was too tired to engage in dreaming like that.  In fact, I find myself devoid of any kind of creative energy.  I loved listening to tonight's author speak of John Voelker's writing habits, which were influenced greatly by fishing seasons.  If the fish were biting, Voelker was casting flies, not scribbling at his desk.  

I suppose that fishing was a form of cloud watching for Voelker, prodding his imagination.  As I write this post, I'm seeing John Voelker in the clouds of my mind.  And Jimmy Stewart.  George C. Scott.  Duke Ellington.  Lee Remick.  

That's Saint Marty's blessing tonight.

July 31: Some Men Feared, "The West Wing," Josiah Bartlet

Santiago thinks about hurricane weather . . . 

He thought of how some men feared being out of sight of land in a small boat and knew they were right in the months of sudden bad weather. But now they were in hurricane months and, when there are no hurricanes, the weather of hurricane months is the best of all the year.

If there is a hurricane you always see the signs of it in the sky for days ahead, if you are at sea. They do not see it ashore because they do not know what to look for, he thought. The land must make a difference too, in the shape of the clouds. But we have no hurricane coming now.

Some people live in fear.  

It's an easy place to take up residence.  Living in fear means you don't take any chances.  Instead, you simply stay at home, binging TV shows or Twilight films or poetry collections.  It's so much easier than stepping out the front door into a world of killer viruses and crazy politicians and melting polar icecaps.  What I'm about to say may sound crazy, but I sort of miss that time at the beginning of the pandemic when everyone was ordered to shelter in place.

I had a shelter-in-place kind of day.  Not because I am living in fear.  Nope.  I did play two church services this morning.  Went grocery shopping after church.  Then, I binged about seven or eight episodes of The West Wing.

I was addicted to the Martin Sheen presidency when I was first married.  When the series started, Bill Clinton had just been impeached.  It ended while George W. Bush was still lying to the American people.  In short, Josiah Bartlet was my favorite President before Obama started working in the Oval Office.

Watching The West Wing now, I still get inspired by the starry-eyed idealism of its main characters.  It's a series that revolves around hope for a better world.  That particular sentiment has been in short supply in recent years.  In fact, I would venture to say that hope has been under attack, at least in the United States.  So, living in a Bartlet country for seven or eight hours today has been comforting.  

Of course, the problem with binging The West Wing is that, eventually, I have to return to a country plagued by Trumpism.  I'm not quite ready for reentry just yet.  Once I'm done typing the blog post, I think I'm going to watch another episode.  Forty-two more minutes of hope before I go to bed.

Saint Marty's blessing today:  President Martin Sheen.