Saturday, December 31, 2022

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

Santiago eats as night comes on . . . 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 30, 2022

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

Santiago eats . . . 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sadness and Disappointment:  A Parent's Lament

by:  Martin Achatz

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

Thursday, December 29, 2022

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

Santiago makes himself a snack . . . 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saint Marty will never forget her.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

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

Santiago meditates on rest and sleep . . . 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saint Marty may even watch another Hallmarky Christmas movie tonight.

Monday, December 26, 2022

December 26: Rest Now, Boxing Day, Strange Tonight

Santiago decides to rest . . . 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 25, 2022

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

Santiago knows he has to stay strong . . . 

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

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

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

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

Christmas always comes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wish all of you a blessed Christmas.

Saint Marty's Christmas essay . . . 

Christmas Roses

 Dear Santa,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With love,


Friday, December 2, 2022

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

Santiago respects the fish as a brother . . . 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you sensing a theme here?

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

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

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

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

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