Monday, May 21, 2018

May 21: Holding Up Hope, ADHD Outbursts, F-bombs

Meanwhile, all the boats tore on. The repeated specific allusions of Flask to "that whale," as he called the fictitious monster which he declared to be incessantly tantalizing his boat's bow with its tail- these allusions of his were at times so vivid and life-like, that they would cause some one or two of his men to snatch a fearful look over his shoulder. But this was against all rule; for the oarsmen must put out their eyes, and ram a skewer through their necks; usages announcing that they must have no organs but ears; and no limbs but arms, in these critical moments.

It was a sight full of quick wonder and awe! The vast swells of the omnipotent sea; the surging, hollow roar they made, as they rolled along the eight gunwales, like gigantic bowls in a boundless bowling-green; the brief suspended agony of the boat, as it would tip for an instant on the knife-like edge of the sharper waves, that almost seemed threatening to cut it in two; the sudden profound dip into the watery glens and hollows; the keen spurrings and goadings to gain the top of the opposite hill; the headlong, sled-like slide down its other side;- all these, with the cries of the headsmen and harpooneers, and the shuddering gasps of the oarsmen, with the wondrous sight of the ivory Pequod bearing down upon her boats with outstretched sails, like a wild hen after her screaming brood;- all this was thrilling. Not the raw recruit, marching from the bosom of his wife into the fever heat of his first battle; not the dead man's host encountering the first unknown phantom in the other world;- neither of these can feel stranger and stronger emotions than that man does, who for the first time finds himself pulling into the charmed, churned circle of the hunted sperm whale.

The dancing white water made by the chase was now becoming more and more visible, owing to the increasing darkness of the dun cloud-shadows flung upon the sea. The jets of vapor no longer blended, but tilted everywhere to right and left; the whales seemed separating their wakes. The boats were pulled more apart; Starbuck giving chase to three whales running dead to leeward. Our sail was now set, and, with the still rising wind, we rushed along; the boat going with such madness through the water, that the lee oars could scarcely be worked rapidly enough to escape being torn from the row-locks.

Soon we were running through a suffusing wide veil of mist; neither ship nor boat to be seen.

"Give way, men," whispered Starbuck, drawing still further aft the sheet of his sail; "there is time to kill a fish yet before the squall comes. There's white water again!- close to! Spring!"

Soon after, two cries in quick succession on each side of us denoted that the other boats had got fast; but hardly were they overheard, when with a lightning-like hurtling whisper Starbuck said: "Stand up!" and Queequeg, harpoon in hand, sprang to his feet.

Though not one of the oarsmen was then facing the life and death peril so close to them ahead, yet with their eyes on the intense countenance of the mate in the stern of the boat, they knew that the imminent instant had come; they heard, too, an enormous wallowing sound as of fifty elephants stirring in their litter. Meanwhile the boat was still booming through the mist, the waves curling and hissing around us like the erected crests of enraged serpents.

"That's his hump. There, there, give it to him!" whispered Starbuck.

A short rushing sound leaped out of the boat; it was the darted iron of Queequeg. Then all in one welded commotion came an invisible push from astern, while forward the boat seemed striking on a ledge; the sail collapsed and exploded; a gush of scalding vapor shot up near by; something rolled and tumbled like an earthquake beneath us. The whole crew were half suffocated as they were tossed helter-skelter into the white curdling cream of the squall. Squall, whale, and harpoon had all blended together; and the whale, merely grazed by the iron, escaped.

Though completely swamped, the boat was nearly unharmed. Swimming round it we picked up the floating oars, and lashing them across the gunwale, tumbled back to our places. There we sat up to our knees in the sea, the water covering every rib and plank, so that to our downward gazing eyes the suspended craft seemed a coral boat grown up to us from the bottom of the ocean.

The wind increased to a howl; the waves dashed their bucklers together; the whole squall roared, forked, and crackled around us like a white fire upon the prairie, in which unconsumed, we were burning; immortal in these jaws of death! In vain we hailed the other boats; as well roar to the live coals down the chimney of a flaming furnace as hail those boats in that storm. Meanwhile the driving scud, rack, and mist, grew darker with the shadows of night; no sign of the ship could be seen. The rising sea forbade all attempts to bale out the boat. The oars were useless as propellers, performing now the office of life-preservers. So, cutting the lashing of the waterproof match keg, after many failures Starbuck contrived to ignite the lamp in the lantern; then stretching it on a waif pole, handed it to Queequeg as the standard-bearer of this forlorn hope. There, then, he sat, holding up that imbecile candle in the heart of that almighty forlornness. There, then, he sat, the sign and symbol of a man without faith, hopelessly holding up hope in the midst of despair.

Wet, drenched through, and shivering cold, despairing of ship or boat, we lifted up our eyes as the dawn came on. The mist still spread over the sea, the empty lantern lay crushed in the bottom of the boat. Suddenly Queequeg started to his feet, hollowing his hand to his ear. We all heard a faint creaking, as of ropes and yards hitherto muffled by the storm. The sound came nearer and nearer; the thick mists were dimly parted by a huge, vague form. Affrighted, we all sprang into the sea as the ship at last loomed into view, bearing right down upon us within a distance of not much more than its length.

Floating on the waves we saw the abandoned boat, as for one instant it tossed and gaped beneath the ship's bows like a chip at the base of a cataract; and then the vast hull rolled over it, and it was seen no more till it came up weltering astern. Again we swam for it, were dashed against it by the seas, and were at last taken up and safely landed on board. Ere the squall came close to, the other boats had cut loose from their fish and returned to the ship in good time. The ship had given us up, but was still cruising, if haply it might light upon some token of our perishing,- an oar or a lance pole.

Starbuck's boat and crew are swamped by tail and back and storm.  It's a violent confrontation between nature and harpoon and oar.  They cling to their vessel, hoping that, somehow, they will be saved.  Queequeg is the light-bearer, holding up the lantern on top of a pole.  There they sit, surrounded by mist and wave and wind and whale, hoping for a miracle.

I am at home with my son in the middle of the day.  I got a phone call at work about an hour-and-a-half ago from the school nurse, saying that he wasn't feeling well.  Stomach ache and headache.  I couldn't explain to the nurse in great detail the fight my son put up this morning.  He didn't want to go to school.  Refused to get dressed or take his ADHD medications.  He knocked over a chair, broke an alarm clock.  Then, for good measure, he started swearing and threw a shoe at my wife.

These outbursts have been happening with less frequency, but it's really difficult to control him when he's in the middle of one of them.  Nothing calms him down.  It's like his brain--the one that he uses to get A's on spelling and math and science tests--hops on an airplane and leaves.  What's left behind is all instinct and anger.  There's no reasoning with him at all.

So, that happened this morning.  My son eventually got to school.  Around 11:30 a.m., the school nurse called to say that my son was not feeling well.  I gave my permission for her to administer some Tylenol, hoping that would handle his headache.  It didn't.  Ten minutes later, my son phoned me, and he asked if he could go home.

That's why I'm in my living room in the middle of the day. typing this blog post.  My son is in his bedroom because I told him he couldn't play on his laptop today as punishment for his behavior this morning.  I also told him that he might have to pay for the alarm clock he broke and needed to apologize to his mother for directing a few F-bombs at her.

I sometimes get so tired of these episodes.  Mind you, I understand that there's brain chemistry that accounts for much of my son's behavior.  I'm not discounting that.  However, my wife and I have been dealing with this since my son was in kindergarten.  That's five years of meetings with the principal and teachers and guidance counselor.  In-school detentions and playground battles.

I was speaking with a coworker this morning.  Her son has had ADHD since he was a child.  He's now 17-years-old.  My coworker says he's been on all kinds of medications, and, when I gave her a quick synopsis of my son's history, she nodded and said, "I hear ya."  This past Christmas, my coworker had to call the police because her son got so out-of-control.  I think she was trying to make me feel better.  It didn't work.

At the moment, it's quiet in my son's room.  He's not crying anymore.  Perhaps he's fallen asleep.  I'm not going to check on him.  He could probably use a nap.  I know that I could.  My wife will be coming home soon.  She's as much at her wit's end as I am.  This Wednesday, my son is going to see his psychiatrist.  I'm sure today's outburst is going to be the topic of conversation.

I love my son.  Would do anything for him.  However, I'm tired.  I feel like Starbuck, stranded in the middle of the ocean, holding up a lantern.  Hoping to be rescued.

Saint Marty is thankful today for patience and compassion.

May 21: Rachel Wise, "Please Don't Take Away My Recess," ADHD

Please Don't Take Away My Recess

by:  Rachel Wise

I got in trouble in school today. They took away my recess. They said it was because I couldn’t sit still, but I was feeling so restless.

I couldn’t control my body. I wish they’d give me breaks to move. It’s so much easier to concentrate when I’m not forced to sit for an hour or two.

Sometimes directions come on so fast, I can’t keep them all straight. Giving them one step at a time or writing them down would be great.

It’s hard for my mind to focus on 30 questions in a row. Break my work into smaller parts and watch the answers flow.

Check on how I’m doing after I complete the first ten. While you’re looking at my work can I get up, stretch, or play with my pen?

My mom told me you’re disappointed with my messy space. All my belongings overwhelm me. Teach me how to keep them in their proper place.

You yelled at me for calling out and I felt embarrassed in front of my friends.

Sometimes my mouth goes faster than my mind. Kindly remind me to raise my hand.

Please know that these things don’t define me. Let me know when I make you proud.

If you just take the time to notice, you’ll see a bright star, instead of a cloud.

So the next time that I have trouble following your rules and routines, please don’t take away my recess. Burning energy improves my focus and self-esteem.

Sometimes, I get really frustrated with my son's behavior problems.  All the times we get phone calls after school because he slugged someone on the playground or bit somebody in music class or broke a branch off a school tree.  My wife and I can only laugh sometimes, because our other option is to throw up our hands and surrender.

For people who've never had to deal with a young child with ADHD, it's probably difficult to understand.  I'm sure my son simply looks like a kid who needs more discipline or hasn't been punished enough.  I get it.  I really do.

I wish there was a way I could make the world easier for my son.  I worry that he's going to end up without friends in school.  That he'll be bullied and picked on.  That's already happening a little bit.  A part of me wants to say, "I wish my son was normal."  But then, he really wouldn't be my son.  I think it would take away that stuff that makes him funny and creative. 

Instead, I work every day at accepting him for who he is.  I try to help him deal with his frustrations and anger.  Encourage his wild imagination and energy.  Let him know that he is unique for a reason.

Saint Marty is having a tough parenting day.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

May 20: Royal Wedding, Classic Saint Marty, "Place in the Forest"

I am really tired today for some reason.  I was up late last night, early this morning.  Church. Then, I got a new used oven this afternoon.  It's beautiful, and all the burners work--a departure from what I'm used to.  This evening, we are celebrating my sister Rose's birthday.  So, I just finished wrapping presents for her.

Now, while I'm waiting for my wife and son to return from a Boy Scout end-of-year banquet, I'm writing this blog post and watching stuff on TV about Harry and Meghan's royal wedding, which took place yesterday.  I didn't really get caught up in all the hype this weekend.  However, curiosity has gotten the better of me.

Perhaps, this evening, after the party, I'll be able to write a little.  Read a little.  Drink a little.  It's strange that my weekends often leave me just as tired as the rest of the week.  Of course, it's back to the grind tomorrow.

A few years ago, I was thinking a lot about part-time work and full-time dreams (and vice versa) . . .

May 20, 2015:  New Expenses, Part-Time Dreams, Dodo

Once settled in, Ives decided, having so many new expenses, to find a full-time job, and eventually began his long tenure with the Mannis Advertising Agency...

Working in advertising was not Ives' dream.  He wanted to be a serious artist, with paintings hanging in MoMA and the Met.  He wanted to draw for Disney, with his creations on kids' shirts and cereal bowls.  Yet, Ives has a wife and kids that he has to support, so he settles.  He takes a job that pays the bills and provides health insurance and paid vacations.  He never becomes Picasso.

My medical office job is a lot like Ives' job at the Mannis Advertising Agency.  It started out as a part-time gig while I was in graduate school, getting my MFA.  I was filling in for a woman out on maternity leave.  The woman never came back.  Part-time turned into full-time turned into 17 years.  It wasn't my dream to have a career in the medical field.  It still isn't my dream.  I've settled.  For my wife and kids.  For stability.  For a home.

I still have dreams of becoming a famous writer.  That's why I write this blog every day.  It keeps my dream alive somehow.  I know people are reading my words.  Maybe people are even being moved by what I post.  I write poems and essays.  I conduct writing workshops for community school programs.  I volunteer to teach poetry to elementary school students.

I do all these things because to not do them would mean that I have given up.  That my dreams have gone the way of the passenger pigeon and dodo.  I'm not quite ready for that.  I don't want my epitaph to be "Professional Clinic Office Clerk."  I would much prefer "Poet" or "Teacher" or "Thinker" or "Dreamer."  I could live with any of those titles.

Saint Marty doesn't want to be a dodo.

I wonder if he dreamed of being an ostrich

And I do have a poem today--an old one that I haven't thought about in a long time.  It used to be the poem people requested the most at readings.  It seems like it was written by a stranger . . .

Place in the Forest

by:  Martin Achatz

With one B-B, Paul took the squirrel down.
When it hit the ground, it screamed
A squirrel scream, high and long
Like a train whistle raised five octaves.
It scratched the earth
Like it was trying to dig its own grave,
A bead of blood flowering on its back.
Paul and I watched it spasm and slow,
A wind-up toy uncoiling its tense spring.
It raced breath in-out-in-out-in-out-in-out.

In school, we read about Vlad the Impaler
Who feasted on roasted pig in a field of people
On spikes.  The wood-cut illustration showed
Vlad sipping wine from a chalice
As a pregnant woman slithered down
A pointed pole, her mouth a black leech of pain.
Paul found a stick, skewered the squirrel,
Which writhed, scratched at the bark.
He lifted the stick, raised the squirrel
To the sky.  Its tail snaked and batted
The clouds.  Paul flung the squirrel
Into the woods, its scream cleaving the air.

Ten years later, he died of AIDS.
I thought of that squirrel when I heard
Stories of the red sarcoma blossoms
On his face.  I imagined him
In his hospital bed, his chest heaving,
His eyes seeing that place in the forest
Where squirrels wail and claw.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

May 19: Ahab Leaped, Difficult Cheapskates, Break Your Heart

"I can't see three seas off; tip us up an oar there, and let me onto that."

Upon this, Daggoo, with either hand upon the gunwale to steady his way, swiftly slid aft, and then erecting himself volunteered his lofty shoulders for a pedestal.

"Good a mast-head as any, sir. Will you mount?"

"That I will, and thank ye very much, my fine fellow; only I wish you fifty feet taller."

Whereupon planting his feet firmly against two opposite planks of the boat, the gigantic negro, stooping a little, presented his flat palm to Flask's foot, and then putting Flask's hand on his hearse-plumed head and bidding him spring as he himself should toss, with one dexterous fling landed the little man high and dry on his shoulders. And here was Flask now standing, Daggoo with one lifted arm furnishing him with a breastband to lean against and steady himself by.

At any time it is a strange sight to the tyro to see with what wondrous habitude of unconscious skill the whaleman will maintain an erect posture in his boat, even when pitched about by the most riotously perverse and cross-running seas. Still more strange to see him giddily perched upon the logger head itself, under such circumstances. But the sight of little Flask mounted upon gigantic Daggoo was yet more curious; for sustaining himself with a cool, indifferent, easy, unthought of, barbaric majesty, the noble negro to every roll of the sea harmoniously rolled his fine form. On his broad back, flaxen-haired Flask seemed a snow-flake. The bearer looked nobler than the rider. Though truly vivacious, tumultuous, ostentatious little Flask would now and then stamp with impatience; but not one added heave did he thereby give to the negro's lordly chest. So have I seen Passion and Vanity stamping the living magnanimous earth, but the earth did not alter her tides and her seasons for that.

Meanwhile Stubb, the third mate, betrayed no such far-gazing solicitudes. The whales might have made one of their regular soundings, not a temporary dive from mere fright; and if that were the case, Stubb, as his wont in such cases, it seems, was resolved to solace the languishing interval with his pipe. He withdrew it from his hatband, where he always wore it aslant like a feather. He loaded it, and rammed home the loading with his thumb-end; but hardly had he ignited his match across the rough sandpaper of his hand, when Tashtego, his harpooneer, whose eyes had been setting to windward like two fixed stars, suddenly dropped like light from his erect attitude to his seat, crying out in a quick phrensy of hurry, "Down, down all, and give way!- there they are!"

To a landsman, no whale, nor any sign of a herring, would have been visible at that moment; nothing but a troubled bit of greenish white water, and thin scattered puffs of vapor hovering over it, and suffusingly blowing off to leeward, like the confused scud from white rolling billows. The air around suddenly vibrated and tingled, as it were, like the air over intensely heated plates of iron. Beneath this atmospheric waving and curling, and partially beneath a thin layer of water, also, the whales were swimming. Seen in advance of all the other indications, the puffs of vapor they spouted, seemed their forerunning couriers and detached flying outriders.

All four boats were now in keen pursuit of that one spot of troubled water and air. But it bade far outstrip them; it flew on and on, a mass of interblending bubbles borne down a rapid stream from the hills.

"Pull, pull, my good boys," said Starbuck, in the lowest possible but intensest concentrated whisper to his men; while the sharp fixed glance from his eyes darted straight ahead of the bow, almost seemed as two visible needles in two unerring binnacle compasses. He did not say much to his crew, though, nor did his crew say anything to him. Only the silence of the boat was at intervals startlingly pierced by one of his peculiar whispers, now harsh with command, now soft with entreaty.

How different the loud little King-Post. "Sing out and say something, my hearties. Roar and pull, my thunderbolts! Beach me, beach me on their black backs, boys; only do that for me, and I'll sign over to you my Martha's Vineyard plantation, boys; including wife and children, boys. Lay me on- lay me on! O Lord, Lord! but I shall go stark, staring mad! See! see that white water!" And so shouting, he pulled his hat from his head, and stamped up and down on it; then picking it up, flirted it far off upon the sea; and finally fell to rearing and plunging in the boat's stern like a crazed colt from the prairie.

"Look at that chap now," philosophically drawled Stubb, who, with his unlighted short pipe, mechanically retained between his teeth, at a short distance, followed after- "He's got fits, that Flask has. Fits? yes, give him fits- that's the very word- pitch fits into 'em. Merrily, merrily, hearts-alive. Pudding for supper, you know;- merry's the word. Pull, babes- pull, sucklings- pull, all. But what the devil are you hurrying about? Softly, softly, and steadily, my men. Only pull, and keep pulling; nothing more. Crack all your backbones, and bite your knives in two- that's all. Take it easy- why don't ye take it easy, I say, and burst all your livers and lungs!"

But what it was that inscrutable Ahab said to that tiger-yellow crew of his- these were words best omitted here; for you live under the blessed light of the evangelical land. Only the infidel sharks in the audacious seas may give ear to such words, when, with tornado brow, and eyes of red murder, and foam-glued lips, Ahab leaped after his prey.

The crew of the Pequod is a motley family of people, with personalities to match.  There are men who are excitable and passionate.  Men who are more reserved, rational.  Impulsive men and careful men.  Green sailors and seasoned.  Nantucket men, Native and African American, Asian and Pacific Islander.  And, at the head of all of them, is Ahab, inscrutable and dark.

Pretty much that describes any group of people that calls itself a family.  Families are made up of both sweet, giving people and difficult cheapskates.  Families argue and fight.  They pull together in times of loss and grief, drift apart when life is serene and blue.  Individuals drive you crazy and break your heart.

I have a large family of friends and relatives.  People I care about deeply.  That doesn't mean that, at one point or another, I don't want to disown people, drive them out of my life like a feral cat or dog.  It happens all the time.  Thank goodness I have the presence of mind to keep my mouth shut, not act when those feelings overtake me.  I know that time has a way of making me see reason, especially when family members do things that make NO sense to me at all.

I know that I'm being very cryptic here, talking in abstract.  If this blog post was an essay written by one of my students, I would scribble this in my comments:  "You need to be specific.  Provide concrete examples to back up what you are seeing.  Show, don't tell."  I would probably give this post about a C to a C+.  I'm a pretty tough grader.

However, I can't really talk specifically about what prompted this little rant.  I don't want to upset the people in my family.  It's one of those moments when it is better to sit back, offer advice if I'm asked for it, and take the C+.

I will say one thing, though.  At the end of life, it won't matter that you have a million dollars in the bank.  Three cars in the garage.  Two houses and a camp.  It won't matter that you have enough wealth and possessions to live for another 25 or 30 years.  You're still going to die.  The choice is what you do with all that stuff.  Do you hoard it like Gollum with his ring?  Turn into a shriveled version of yourself, alone and blind?  Or do you enjoy what you have?  Be Scrooge after the ghosts, choosing love and generosity, helping Tiny Tim get healthy and strong?

Saint Marty is thankful today for his family--the Gollums and the Scrooges.