Wednesday, November 30, 2022

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

Santiago gets a little blissed out . . . 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

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

Santiago gives himself a pep talk . . . 

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

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

Nothing is easy.  

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

Nothing is easy.

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

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

Nothing is easy.

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

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

I love writing poetry, but nothing is easy

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

Zombie plagues, with songs.  Unending poetry prompts.  

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

Sunday, November 27, 2022

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

Santiago thinks about sunset and fish . . . 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saint Marty gives thanks for Christmas decorations today.

Friday, November 25, 2022

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

Santiago contemplates a different perspective . . . 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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