Tuesday, January 31, 2012

January 31: Good Weather, Good Mood, Good Friend

The weather this evening was perfect. For the last day of January, the temperature was almost 35 degrees. The sun was out, and I could actually feel it warming my skin. The light reminded me more of an early-spring dusk than a middle-of-winter night. It was nearly 6 p.m., and it wasn't pitch dark. I could almost believe that spring is on the way. Almost. This is the Upper Peninsula of Michigan I'm talking about.

I don't know why, but the sun and the warmth and the hint of thaw really put me in a good mood. I don't think I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. In fact, I sort of enjoy darkness and rain and snow (as long as I don't have to shovel it). I don't ever open the curtains in my house. I prefer to keep the blinds drawn in my office at school. My daughter thinks I'm a vampire. However, this evening, I felt like a tulip bulb in that sunlight. It was like I was going to break into bloom.

Now, just a few minutes ago, one of my best friends called to invite my wife and me to a concert this Friday. I haven't spoken to this friend for a long time (since before Christmas). Just hearing his voice on the phone made me happy. Our conversation just capped off a really pleasant night.

I know I'm sort of sounding like a devotion from Guideposts. I usually make fun of writers who compare themselves to flowers in sunlight. It's just not me. A little too precious. A little too Hallmarky. You'll have to forgive me.

Saint Marty promises he will be back to his cynical, sarcastic self tomorrow.

It's dangerous to be happy

January 31: Paying Bills Without Money, Dickens' Birthday, Being Fred

"Don't be cross, uncle," said the nephew.

"What else can I be," returned the uncle, "when I live in such a world of fools as this?  Merry Christmas!  Out upon merry Christmas!  What's Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books and having every item in 'em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you?  If I could work my will," said Scrooge, indignantly, "every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas,' on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.  He should!"

In some ways, I sympathize with Scrooge's little rant against his nephew here.  Don't misunderstand my statement.  I'm not saying I endorse his hatred of all things Yuletide or his terminal stinginess.  No, I'm saying I understand his aversion to sustained debt.  Scrooge has lived his life, for the most part, accumulating money instead of debt.  As his one-time fiancee, Belle, said to him, Scrooge does this because he "fear[s] the world too much."

Scrooge's nephew, Fred, seems to subscribe to the opposite philosophy.  While he appears to live a comfortable life (he's no Bob Cratchit), Fred doesn't withhold charity and generosity.  He does carry Christmas spirit around with him all year.  He trusts in love, the ability for love to transform a life.  Fred has a wife he adores, and he resolves to keep extending his love to Scrooge until it makes a difference, until his uncle embraces the healing power of human compassion.

For Fred, it appears, money is secondary.  If Fred were poor, living on fifteen shillings a week, like Bob Cratchit, Fred would still be happy.  Fred has love.

Happy birthday, Chuck!
February 7, 2012, will be the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens.  There's huge festivities planned in London to celebrate  this occasion.  Dickens is a beloved figure in his native land, and for good reason.  However, Charles Dickens had a little more Ebenezer Scrooge in his make-up than he would probably have cared to admit.  Dickens was constantly worried about his finances.  (This may partly be due to his poor childhood with a feckless father.)  Despite huge success during his lifetime, Dickens was in a constant state of debt and worry.  When he came to the United States on his first reading tour, Dickens lectured Americans about copyright.  He wanted, rightfulyl, to be paid for the American editions of his books.  The spectre of bankruptcy and failure followed Dickens his whole life.  He constantly feared the world too much.  He wasn't Fred.

I, too, tend to fear the world too much, as I confessed a few posts ago.  I find myself constantly worried about finances and money.  I am Ebenezer Scrooge.  I should be Fred.  In my life, I actually have more than Fred when it comes to love.  I have a wife I adore, just like Scrooge's nephew.  However, I also have two children who make my life a joy (when they're not driving me crazy).  Fred, as far as I can tell, has no children.  What Fred has that I don't have is the certainty that, no matter what happens, he will survive.  He will thrive.  Because of love.

Like Charles Dickens, Saint Marty needs a little more Fred in his life.

Monday, January 30, 2012

January 30: Feeling Old, Feeling Tired, Feeling Sad

Don't laugh.  This is what I look like in the morning.
Tonight, I'm feeling old.  When I got home, my wife greeted me at the door, saying, "His books are all over the floor, the bed isn't made, and there's dishes in the sink."  And, indeed, my son had scattered his books across the living room floor, our bed wasn't made, and there was a pile of dirty dishes waiting to be washed.  I didn't have the energy to deal with it.

Because, along with feeling old, I'm feeling pretty tired, as well.  My energy reserves are dangerously low.  If I were a laptop computer, my battery light would be blinking, and I'd be backing up my files.  I had to work up the gumption to get my three-year-old into the bathtub.  It didn't help matters that he didn't want to take a bath.  Therefore, he spent the entire bath kicking his feet and dousing my shirt.  I was quite moist by the time the experience was complete.

Now, I'm just sitting in my office, waiting for my daughter to get done with her dance class.  I think, because of my aforementioned feelings of age and exhaustion, my mood is decidedly in the crapper.  I paid some big bills this afternoon (mortgage and whatnot), and I came up a few dollars short.  If anything can kill the joy of my day, it's paying bills with money I don't have.

This evening, I'm going to try to talk and do as little as possible.  I already had a battle with my toddler son.  I really don't want to quarrel with my wife or daughter.  Silence seems like the best option for the rest of the night. 

Don't worry.  Saint Marty hasn't lost his Christmas spirit.  He's just misplaced it for a little while.

Janaury 30: Poor Bob, Health Care, Criminal

A criminal situation
He left the room, and went up stairs into the room above, which was lighted cheerfully, and hung with Christmas.  There was a chair set close beside the child, and there were signs of some one having been there, lately.  Poor Bob sat down in it, and when he had thought a little and composed himself, he kissed the little face.  He was reconciled to what had happened, and went down again quite happy.

One of the saddest scenes in A Christmas Carol.  The future Bob Cratchit sits with the body of Tiny Tim, who has succumbed to his life-long illness.  I've seen descriptions of Charles Dickens publicly reading this scene to audiences and causing people to faint with grief.  It's tragic and full of the kind of pathos that Dickens did best.  Never mind that Tiny Tim actually lives at the end.  This moment, between a grieving father and dead child, just tears your heart out.

Of course, nowadays, this scene wouldn't happen in Great Britain, at least not because the patient couldn't afford health care.  Britain's National Health Service guarantees that children like Tiny Tim receive the medical attention they need.  That's a good thing.  Regardless of the burden it puts on Britain's government, the National Health Service is a sacred institution for most citizens of the country.  After World War II, Brits decided that decent health care wasn't a privilege to be sold to the highest bidder; they decided it was a fundamental right that everyone deserved.

Of course, working for a fairly large health care organization in the United States, I see the results of having a privatized health care system.  I see people losing their homes because they can't afford to pay the mortgage and their hospital bills.  I see people who put off having hernia surgery because it's expensive and they have no insurance.  I see people suffering with cancer who literally have to throw spaghetti dinners to cover the costs of treatment.  That's really messed up.

I'm lucky.  I have good health insurance.  Of course, the cost of that health insurance sometimes makes it really difficult to pay for other things, like mortgages, car payments, food.  My wife has bipolar.  Her medications cost over $200 every month, and that's with a shitty pharmacy plan.  I have diabetes, have had it since I was 13.  My pharmacy deductions from my paychecks for the first month of 2012 totalled over $250.  I pay close to $150 for health insurance every pay period.  If you total that up, that's around $550 a month for medication and health coverage.  It's enough to make me want to pack my bags and learn all the words to "God Save the Queen."

The United States is one of the few countries in the Western World without a national health care system.  People are suffering.  People are going bankrupt.  People are dying.  There are a lot of Bob Cratchits in this country, sitting by their Tiny Tims, wondering where their American Dreams went wrong.  In one of the wealthiest countries in the world, that's a criminal situation.

Saint Marty (with a lot of other Americans) is just one major health crisis away from being Bob Cratchit.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

January 29: Good People All, Turkey Dinner, New Cartoon

But soon the steeples called good people all, to church and chapel, and away they came, flocking through the streets in their best clothes, and with their gayest faces.  And at the same time there emerged from scores of bye-streets, lanes, and nameless turnings, innumerable people, carrying their dinners to the baker's shops.  The sight of these poor revellers appeared to interest the Spirit very much, for he stood with Scrooge beside him in the baker's doorway, and taking off the covers as their bearers passed, sprinkled incense on their dinners from his torch.  And it was a very uncommon kind of torch, for once or twice when there were angry words between some dinner-carriers who had jostled with each other, he shed a few drops of water on them from it, and their good humour was restored directly.  For they said, it was a shame to quarrel upon Christmas Day.  And so it was!  God love it, so it was!

I love this description of the Ghost of Christmas Present in the streets of London.  On Christmas Day, all grudges and angers are usually put aside by family members and friends.  People have more patience, treat each other better.  For the most part, good will really is the rule of the day.

I love breaking bread on Christmas Day with family members.  Whether it's a big turkey/ham dinner with all the fixings or cold cuts and buttered rolls, there's really a sense of communion in Christmas food.  Cookies.  Home-made chocolates.  Egg nog.  Mashed potatoes.  Cranberries.  Pecan pie.  Turkey.  Baked ham.  Dickens spends several pages of A Christmas Carol describing typical Victorian holiday morsels, and, even though I'm not a big fan of goose (too greasy and gamy), my mouth always waters when I read these scenes.

I'm having a turkey dinner with my family tonight.  The bird is in the rotisserie, and the potatoes are peeled.  I can hardly wait.  I know most of my disciples don't really give a shit about what I'm having for dinner tonight.  Saint Marty is not a food blog.  However, when I sit down with such a bounty of food, I can't help but feel blessed.  I think that's why Christmas dinners seem so special.  It's all about blessing.  That's what the Spirit is doing in the passage I quoted above.  Blessing people.

That's what Saint Marty is going to feel tonight.  Blessed.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, January 28, 2012

January 28: Men's Courses, Free Will, New Member, New Cartoon

"Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead," said Scrooge.  "But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.  Say it is thus with what you show me!"

Scrooge is in a panic at this point in the book.  The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come has just brought Scrooge to his neglected grave, shown him his headstone.  After his travels in the spirit world, Scrooge knows he's screwed if he continues to live his life in the same manner.  He wants assurance from the Ghost that he can change the future, that he isn't doomed for eternity.

This passage touches upon the subject of free will.  It's about choices.  If Scrooge chooses to remain a "covetous, old sinner," he's going to die a lonely, hated old miser.  If he chooses to embrace mankind, share his material and spiritual abundance with the world, his heart and life will open.  He will save himself and, at the same time, Tiny Tim and the Cratchits and countless others.  The choice is his.

It's one of the oldest stories in the world.  Adam and Eve have free will in the book of Genesis, and they choose to eat the apple.  Romeo and Juliet have free will, and they choose to love each other.  SpongeBob has free will, and he chooses to work for Mr. Krabs.  If Adam and Eve had chosen a fig instead of the apple, we may all still be living in the Garden of Eden.  If Juliet had had the hots for Joe Blowtini down the lane, she and Romeo would have lived long, unhappy lives.  If SpongeBob worked for Plankton at the Chum Bucket instead...Who am I kidding?  SpongeBob would never work for Plankton.

My point is that we all have choices.  Our lives are a result of our choices.  That's one of the big lessons of A Christmas Carol.  I chose to move back to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with my wife over ten years ago.  I chose to pursue degrees in writing and poetry.  I chose to start this blog.  Who I am, what I am, where I am, that's all a result of my choices.

Free will can be a gift or a curse.  It saves Scrooge.  It made Adolf Hitler one of the greatest monsters of the 20th century instead of a struggling artist.  It gave me a job as an adjunct English professor and made me a husband and father.  It may make me a winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature or the Pulitzer Prize, depending on my choices and a lot of luck.

Speaking of choices, a new person has chosen to be a disciple of Saint Marty.  I extend a warm welcome to Felipe.

Saint Marty is now going to exercise his free will.  He's going to end this post.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, January 27, 2012

January 27: Shopping, Waiting, Wanting

Apply within
Well, I just finished my weekly grocery shopping at Wal-Mart.  I used to enjoy my trips to that emporium of capitalistic slave labor, but I'm not as fond of them anymore.  As the budget tightens, trips to Wal-Mart, or any place that involves the expenditure of money, become less appealing.  Also, being aware of how crappy Wal-Mart employees are treated on a first-hand basis, I've started to view the store as Dante's tenth circle of hell.

I'm currently waiting for my daughter to finish up her dance classes tonight.  I was a horrible father.  I forgot to grab her dance bag when we left the house.  Therefore, she had to go to her tap class without any tap shoes.  She was not happy with me, especially when I told her that she needed to be more responsible for her stuff.  That comment earned me a grunt and a car door slam.  She'll be over it by the time I pick her up.

Tonight, I'm wanting something special to happen.  I don't know what that something special is.  It would be nice if the people from Publisher's Clearing House showed up on my doorstep with a check.  Considering I didn't even enter the Publisher's Clearing House Sweepstakes, the chances of that happening are pretty slim.  Therefore, I need to aim a little lower. I'm thinking a nap and maybe some ice cream are more within the realm of possibility.  However, I would accept a call from the Swedish Academy telling me I've won the first ever Nobel Prize for Blogging, as well.  Either way, it's a win-win in the "something special" category.

Saint Marty needs to go pick up his grumpy daughter now.

January 27: Fearing the World, Belle, Trust

"You fear the world too much," she answered, gently.  "All your other hopes have merged into the hope of being beyond the chance of its sordid reproach.  I have seen your nobler aspirations fall one by one, until the master-passion, Gain, engrosses you.  Have I not?"

This is Belle, Scrooge's one-time fiancee, explaining to a young Scrooge why she has decided to break off their engagement.  Scrooge has become the pupa of his future self.  He's not entirely the squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching,covetous , old sinner yet.  Belle, however, sees the direction Scrooge is headed, and she doesn't want to have anything to do with it.

I fear the world.  A lot.  I fear bills.  I fear job uncertainty.  I fear possible car repairs.  I fear possible flat tires.  I fear my laptop crashing.  I fear dropping George (my iPad) and breaking his screen.  I fear more mice getting into my house.  I fear my son being deaf (he failed a hearing test at school).  I fear a fire starting in my house because somebody didn't unplug the toaster.  I fear having a heart attack at a young age (my brother had a major heart attack before he was 50).  I fear diabetic retinopathy, going blind.

Basically, I'm just one big, neurotic bundle of fears.

What Scrooge missed out on
 Belle's little reprimand hits pretty close to home with me.  Living in fear, always preparing for the next disaster, is really not a great way to live.  In fact, it's not living at all.  That's what she's saying to the young Scrooge.  The way Scrooge combats his fears is by becoming rich and stingy.  I guess Scrooge thinks that a great deal of money equals security and safety.  Of course, because he subscribes to this belief, Scrooge misses out on a lot of things, not the least of which is a life with Belle and children of his own.

I could easily let fear run my life.  Sometimes, I do let fear run my life.  Ask my wife.  I need to think about Belle's little speech in instances when I feel fear taking the reins in my head.  I need to think of all the things I would have missed if I had let fear make my decisions.  I wouldn't be married.  I wouldn't have a beautiful daughter.  I wouldn't have a joyful son.  I wouldn't have published a book of poems.  Basically, I would just be a candidate for the show Hoarders.

I'm trying not to let Gain be my master-passion.  I'm trying not to let Fear be my life coach.  It ain't easy.  That's why I have a wife.  Children.  Friends.  Family.  To remind me about what's really important.

Saint Marty just needs to remember this:  the person who dies with the most stuff, still dies.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

January 26: Something to Laugh At, Cheap Flights, A Friend

The members of my book club left just a little while ago.  The house is clean.  The dishes are washed.  I'm ready to call it a night. 

This afternoon, a friend sent me an e-mail with a video attached.  My friend wanted to make me laugh.  I'm blessed by friends who share their laughter with me.

Tonight, after a long day of work and an evening spent with more good friends, I want to share my laughter.  Below is the video, called "Cheap Flights," that my friend sent me this afternoon.  Just a small warning:  the video contains some PG-13 language.  Be careful where you watch it and with whom you watch it.

Saint Marty thinks it's feckin' hysterical.

January 26: Ghosts, Big Picture Science, Skeptics

...It was with great astonishment, and with a strange, inexplicable dread, that as he looked, he saw this bell begin to swing.  It swung so softly in the outset that it scarcely made a sound; but soon it rang out loudly, and so did every bell in the house.

This might have lasted half a minute, or a minute, but it seemed an hour.  The bells ceased as they had begun, together.  They were succeeded by a clanking noise, deep down below; as if some person were dragging a heavy chain over the casks in the wine-merchant's cellar.  Scrooge then remembered to have heard that ghosts in haunted houses were described as dragging chains.

In the mornings, as I'm taking my shower around 4 a.m., I listen to my local Public Radio station.  At that hour, the station replays programs from the previous week.  I usually catch up on news, hear some interesting facts about language or cooking, and get a few laughs.  This morning, I listened to a show called Big Picture Science, which discusses, you guessed it, science.  It's not my favorite program in the world.  I actually prefer The Splendid Table (a great cooking show) on Fridays.

Well, this morning, Big Picture Science focused, among other things, on paranormal activity and ghosts.  I believe it was part of a segment called the "Skeptic Watch," or something like that.  Of course, since the hosts were interviewing scientists and physicists and other -ists, there were a whole lot of explanations being offered that had to do with magnetic fields and paint fumes and hysteria.  Not a single interviewee even entertained the possibility that ghosts and spirits and cold spots existed.

I do believe in spooks, I do believe in spooks...
I am very open to the possibility of hauntings.  Scientists, especially the ones on Big Picture Science, are just a little too smug about this topic.  Perhaps, being a poet and lover of literature and art, I'm more apt to accept things like poltergeists and phantoms.  There's a little too much in the world that science can't explain.  As a Christian, if I can't embrace the idea of spiritual/other-worldly explanations for certain phenomena, I might as well turn in my WWJD card.

The passage I quoted at the beginning of this post is Ebenezer Scrooge's first contact with the  spirit world.  Obviously, Scrooge has more in common with the skeptical scientists of Big Picture Science at the beginning of A Christmas Carol.  At the end of the book, however, when he's been redeemed, Scrooge runs around praising the spirit world and singing the glories of Christmas time.  He has let go of his skepticism and wholly accepted divine intervention.  Ghosts and spirits of Christmas--they are Scrooge's new reality.

They are Saint Marty's reality, as well, even if ghosts scare the crap out of him.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

January 25: Lost Remote, Lost Time, Lost My Mind

Our TV remote is lost, and it pisses me off.  I always put the remotes back in the same place just so that they don't get misplaced.  I may sound like some kind of anal-retentive, neat freak.  I can own that.  However, that doesn't help me at the moment.  The remote is still M.I.A.  And I don't know where to start looking.

If I don't find it soon, I'm going to drive myself crazy.  I have other things I need to accomplish tonight.  All the time I will lose searching for this stupid remote is time I could have spent preparing for class or reading a book or saying my prayers and devotions.  Instead, I will be driving myself insane looking for a rectangular piece of plastic with buttons, because that's just the kind of person I am.

Okay, my wife just found the remote.  Life is much better.  I know what you must be thinking right now:  What kind of weirdo loses his mind over a television remote?  Well, it's a matter of control.  There are very few things in my life of which I feel in control.  Keeping things neat and in their places is just my way of...

Who am I kidding?  I am a freak.  I admit it.  I own it.

But Saint Marty is a freak with a TV remote.

January 25: The Name Game, Ebenezer, Scrooge

I wanted to talk about the name "Ebenezer Scrooge" a little bit this morning.  I'd always wondered where Charles Dickens came up with that moniker that has become synonymous with stinginess and ill will.  A while ago, I found this little tidbit of information on Wikipedia:

Where the "meal man" is buried
In his diaries, Dickens states that Scrooge stems from a grave marker which he saw in 1841, while taking an evening walk in the Canongate Kirkyard in Edinburgh.  The headstone was for the vintner Ebenezer Lennox Scroggie, a relative of Adam Smith, who had won the catering contract for the visit of George IV to Edinburgh and the first contract to supply whiskey to the Royal Navy.  The marker identified Scroggie as a "meal man" (corn merchant), but Dickens misread this as "mean man," due to the fading light and his mild dyslexia.  Dickens wrote that it must have "shrivelled" Scroggie's soul to carry "such a terrible thing to eternity."  The grave marker was lost during construction work at part of the kirkyard in 1932.

That information supplies part of the information.  Digging a little deeper, however, I discovered this definition of the word "ebenezer":

1.  usu cap:  a commemoration of divine assistance (here I raise mine Ebenezer; hither by Thy help I'm come--Robert Robinson)

2.  dial:  ANGER, TEMPER (he must have had a tempestical time of it for she had got her ebenezer up--T. C. Haliburton)

And from the Bible (where the word seems to have originated):

Heb.  stone of help; fr. the application of this name by Samuel to the stone which he set up in commemoration of God's help to the Israelites in their victory over the Philistines at Mizpah (1 Sam 7:12)

All of this information probably played a part in Dickens creating one of the most well-known names in English literature.  I'm sure Mr. Scroggie's headstone, and Dickens' misreading of its epitaph, hugely influenced the character of Ebenezer Scrooge.  However, the definitions and origin of the word "ebenezer" probably did not escape Dickens' attention, either.

Think about it.  Scrooge is a man who is, literally, a commemoration of divine assistance.  By the end of the book, he is a walking, talking monument of supernatural help.  Of course, the second definition  of the word ("anger, temper") certainly fits his former self, as well.  Scrooge's volatile mood is readily apparent from the outset of the tale.  Fred gets blasted by his cranky uncle.  The two gentlemen looking for a charitable donation get blasted.  Bob gets blasted. 

There is so much power in a name.  Charles Dickens knew that.  I wonder how famous A Christmas Carol would be today if Ebenezer Scrooge's name had been Joe Asswipe (or something similar).  We might be running around at Christmas time telling angry/cheap relatives to stop being such an Asswipe.  Or, perhaps, the story of Jacob Marley and Tiny Tim and Joe Asswipe would never have even entered the lexicon of popular culture.

I guess the point of my post is that we should all be ebenezers.  That's what being a Christian is all about.  Being a commemoration or monument of God's love, whether you're a "meal man" or a "mean man,"  a sinner or a saint.

Saint Marty will try to be an ebenezer today.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

January 24: At the End of a Long Day

I'm trying to find something inspiring to say.  I'm at that point in the day where my brain is ready to go on vacation.  My son is in bed, and I'm trying to get ready for teaching tomorrow.  It doesn't help matters that my blood sugar is a little low, and I haven't had my daily dose of caffeine.

And the nominee is...handsome, rich, talented, and generous
The Oscar nominations were announced this morning.  I watched it live on the Today show.  Looks like George Clooney is going to have a good year.  (Does George Clooney ever have a bad year, really?)  He's nominated for best actor and best adapted screenplay.  I love this guy.  He's good looking.  Smart.  Talented.  And a Democrat.  I couldn't ask for anything more in a celebrity.

Meryl Streep was also nominated, and she may actually have a chance this year.  I mean, she's already won the Golden Globe.  Perhaps her luck will hold out.

My fortune is changing, as well.  My coworker, the one who transferred to a full-time position in another department, has decided to transfer back to her old job in our office.  That means I can actually take days off, go on vacation, and maybe accept morning teaching assignments from the university.  My life will be drastically improved.  My coworker discovered that working full-time sort of interferes a great deal with raising small children.  Plus, she's pregnant, due in September.  Frankly, I think that's the detail that tipped the scales.

So perhaps 2012 is going to be Saint Marty's year.  And George Clooney's.  And maybe Meryl Streep's.

January 24: Happiness, Finding Happiness, Small Stuff

He went to church, and walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and fro, and patted children on the head, and questioned beggars, and looked down into the kitchens of houses, and up to the windows; and found that everything could yield him pleasure.  He had never dreamed that any walk--that anything--could give him so much happiness.

Of course, this passage describes the Ebenezer Scrooge from the end of the novel, not the beginning.  In the beginning, Scrooge never looks up.  He keeps his nose to the ground and avoids human contact like a testy skunk, always ready to unleash his particular cloud of venom upon the world.  The Scrooge in this passage seeks out human interaction, goes searching the streets and alleys and street corners for opportunities to spread and receive joy.  He is a changed man, finding pleasure in beggars and bishops.

I would love to live my life the way the redeemed Scrooge lives his life.  I would love to find pleasure in everything, no matter what.  Of course, Scrooge has to be literally scared witless before he reaches this condition of perpetual happiness.  I'm not sure I want to go to those lengths (you know, visiting my own neglected grave) in order to attain the Scrooge state, though.  I'm wondering if I can reach enlightenment without so much...I don't know...drama, I guess.  I mean, I'm not quite as bad as Scrooge.  I don't kick small children and eat gruel every night for dinner.

Of course, I can make the choice to be happy.  Scrooge's problems haven't disappeared.  He still has business to conduct, debts to pay.  The difference is that he isn't letting those details ruin his life.  He's choosing to spread joy instead of grief.  He's not sweating the small stuff.

I have problems.  Sometimes those problems seem overpowering.  I need to stop letting my problems run my life.  I need to see the good in people and circumstances, not the bad.  That should be my goal for the day.  Not letting the small annoyances of my world bother me.

Saint Marty is doing his part to make the world a better place.  Really, he is.  He is, dammit.
Spreading Christmas spirit all year...

Monday, January 23, 2012

January 23: Long, Snowy Day

It has been one long, snowy day.

Basically, every event that could have been cancelled today was cancelled.  All the schools in the Upper Peninsula were shut down.  The university cancelled its evening classes, as well.  I left work early because I didn't want to fight the traffic and the snow and the ice at 5 p.m.  Turns out, the weather wasn't that bad when I decided to leave.  The highway was pretty much cleared.  The side streets, however, were completely plugged with snow.

I spent the rest of the day shovelling, playing with my son, and cooking dinner.  I'm beat.  I barely remembered to type this post.  I knew as soon as I opened my laptop that I wasn't going to be able to come up with anything witty or entertaining.  Pretty much, you're going to have to settle for this fairly lame diary entry.  I usually try to avoid writing posts like this.  I find them tedious to read, and not much better to write.

So I won't torture you anymore.  I'm done.  My mind is spent, and my mind is spent.  Yes, I did say that twice.  I'm just too tired to go back and edit.

That's all Saint Marty has.  Take it or leave it.

Too tired to care

January 23: Carol Dipping Again, Ice Storm, Teaching

Well, this morning, as soon as I got moving, I decided to try Carol dipping one more time.  I thought it was an interesting exercise yesterday afternoon, and it yielded some thoughtful reflection on my part (plus a good comment).

So, this morning, my question was:  Will my teaching go well today?

The answer from A Christmas Carol was:

"Well!  Never mind so long as you are come," said Mrs. Cratchit.  "Sit ye down before the fire, my dear, and have a warm, Lord bless ye!"

Mrs. Cratchit makes this statement to her oldest daughter, Martha, on Christmas Day.  Martha, it appears, lives and works outside the Cratchit home.  Martha explains to her mother about the work that caused her to be late for Christmas dinner, and Mrs. Cratchit gives the above response.

Now, the dilemma is how to interpret this answer to my question.  Of course, the obvious interpretation is that, as long as I show up, my teaching will go well, and I should just sit down and relax a little.  I do like that attitude.  I tend to become a little too tense about teaching, worrying about lesson plans and readings, preparing and preparing again.  The best classes I've ever taught were the ones where I just stepped into the room with a vague plan about what I wanted to accomplish.  I'm on my toes, and the students are engaged.

Care to have a warm with me?
The other, more appropriate, interpretation (at the moment) is that I shouldn't worry about teaching.  Classes were cancelled at the university a few minutes ago due to an ice storm.  Therefore, I should just sit down before the fire and have a warm, as Mrs. Cratchit says.  I like that answer a little better.

My day has suddenly opened up.  No teaching.  No university office hours.  No school for my kids.  No religion or dance classes for my daughter.  I am considerably free of obligations today.  Not free of work, but of obligations.

Saint Marty is going to have a good day.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

January 22: Carol Dipping, Augusten Burroughs, New Cartoon

In his memoir Running With Scissors. Augusten Burroughs writes about Bible dipping.  Basically, the crazy family he lived with would ask the Bible a question, flip through the pages, and stop on a random passage.  That passage would be the answer to the question.  Basically, it's using the Bible like a Magic 8 Ball.

There's a long history of people using books like this.  In Italy around Dante's time, citizens used Virgil's Aeneid like a sacred text, as well.  Now, I sort of can understand Bible dipping.  (I've done it myself, just for fun.  Really.)  But
Aeneid dipping is just plain nuts.  At least the Bible has divinely inspired text.  It's not a slot machine.  You can't drop in a question, pull a lever, and have it spit out the correct answer.  However, my experience with Bible dipping allowed me to view my problem in a different light.  There's some benefit to that.

Therefore, I've decided to Carol dip.  Yes, I'm going to ask a question about my life, flip through my copy of A Christmas Carol, and put my finger on a page.  Whatever passage my finger lands on will provide my answer.

Here goes.

My question is:  Will I get a full-time teaching job at the university this year?

And my answer is...

"Why do you doubt your senses?"

"Because," said Scrooge, "a little thing affects them.  A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats.  You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato.  There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!"

Now, I just have to decipher the answer from that passage.

The passage concerns Jacob Marley's visit to Scrooge, and how Scrooge doubts the reality of Jacob's presence.  Scrooge is doubting himself.  He's using every excuse in the book to dismiss the truth of the ghost's appearance.  And, of course, Jacob Marley's ghost is standing before him, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with Scrooge's senses.

So, basically, the book is telling me to not doubt myself.  To trust that that full-time teaching job at the university is coming my way.  Believe in myself, and all will work out.

Saint Marty will take that answer.  God bless us , everyone!

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Hopes, Joys, Cares Long Forgotten, New Cartoon

I'm feeling in a reflective mood this morning.  I'm thinking about how, some ten years ago, I was completing the requirements for my MFA in poetry.  My daughter was just over two-years-old, and my wife's bipolar seemed to be under control.  I had dreams of publication, a full-time teaching gig at the university, a bigger house.  Anything seemed possible.

A lot has changed in those ten years.  My daughter is a gorgeous young woman.  I have a smart, funny son.  I'm still living in the same house.  My wife has battled mental illness on several fronts--mania and sexual addiction and depression.  Our marriage has come back from the brink of divorce.  I've published a book of poems.  I'm still a part-time adjunct.  I still work 12 to 14 hour days between the school and the hospital.  And I still have dreams.

The Spirit gazed upon him mildly.  Its gentle touch, though it had been light and instantaneous, appeared still present to the old man's sense of feeling.  He was conscious of a thousand odours floating in the air, each one connected with a thousand thoughts, and hopes, and joys, and cares long, long forgotten.

Scrooge, during the course of A Christmas Carol, is reminded of his youthful dreams.  He sees himself as a boy again, filled with the kind of happiness that goes along with having your whole life ahead of you.  Of course, the difference is that Scrooge knows what the future holds for his teenage self.  And it ain't pretty.  In the company of the Ghost of Christmas Past, however, he allows himself, for a few moments, to be swept up in his old thoughts, hopes, joys, and cares.

I don't think you're ever too old to dream.  Despite everything that's happened in the past ten years, I still have dreams.  I haven't completely let go of my old ones, either.  I still believe I will one day have a full-time professorship at the university.  I still believe I will publish a book that will win the Pulitzer Prize.  I still believe I will live in a bigger house.  (I have lowered my standards on this dream.  I no longer need a mansion with a swimming pool.  I just want to be able to buy this beautiful, old house up the street.)  I still believe.

Scrooge has to be reminded by Jacob Marley and the Christmas Spirits about the importance of dreams.  Granted, now that Scrooge is old and rich, he has the means to make more of his dreams come true.  He starts dreaming again.  He dreams that Tiny Tim will walk and be healthy.  He dreams he will find the love of human beings in his life.

If I didn't have dreams, I wouldn't get out of bed in the morning.  There would be no point.  By the end of the book, Scrooge starts living his dreams again.  That's what Christmas is all about.  That's what life is all about.  Hopes.  Joys.  Cares.  Dreams.

Saint Marty, keeping his hopes and dreams alive.  (By the way, he wouldn't turn down a house with a swimming pool.)

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, January 20, 2012

January 20: Being Political, George, Blogger Trouble

In the last couple of days I've had a couple pretty heavy posts.  I think this whole Republican primary thing is getting under my skin.  I know Newt Gingrich sure is.  That guy has more political lives than a friggin' cat.  I can't figure out what his Kryptonite is, but somebody needs to find it.  Anyway, I will try to lighten things up a little bit over the weekend.

I've spent a couple hours today experimenting with using George, my iPad, to type tonight's post to Saint Marty.  I wasn't successful.  There has to be some trick to it.  I can type up a post and save it as a draft.  When I come back to it just a few minutes later, however, the body of the post has disappeared.  All that's left is the title and an empty text box.  I also can't get pictures to upload from George's photo library.  If any of my disciples out there have any hints or clues or explanations about using an iPad with Blogger, drop me a line.  Tell me what I'm doing wrong.  Please. (But don't use any of that tech geek language.  I don't understand it.)   I went searching for a Blogger app for the iPad.  It doesn't exist.  There's one for the iPhone.  Not sure how that would work with George.

A friend of mine suggested I switch to Wordpress for my blog.  I told her I was unwilling to start from blog scratch again.  Nasty things happen.  Readers stop reading.  You lose your entire list of followers.  We're talking a completely clean slate.  No thanks.  No matter how much trouble Blogger gives me, I will continue to use it.

Remember, change gives Saint Marty hives.

January 20: Making Idle People Merry, Working Poor, Poorly Working

"I don't make merry myself at Christmas, and I can't afford to make idle people merry."

Scrooge makes this comment to the two gentlemen who visit his office on Christmas Eve, looking for a charitable donation.  It touches upon one of the biggest myths about the poor:  that they are lazy people who don't want to work.  A lot of people (Republicans) think that because someone is out of work or can't pay bills, s/he is taking advantage of "the system."  (I know a few surgeons who prescribe to this notion.)  Just by using the term "idle," Scrooge seems to imply that the poor are simply standing on street corners, waiting for hand-outs.

While this stereotype may be true of some poor people, I know that most people who struggle with their finances have jobs.  As a matter of fact, most work their asses off just to put food on the table.  Foreclosure is not the result of somebody who won't pay his mortgage payment; it's the result of somebody who can't pay his mortgage payment.  What I'm talking about is the working poor:  inviduals who have paying jobs and still can't rise above the poverty line.  A lot of people (Republicans) think that if someone has a minimum-wage job at McDonald's, s/he should be able to have a home, a car, a family, food, heat, clothing.  These people are wrong.

My point is that most poor people want to work, and most working people want to pay their bills.  It's not that the working poor are poor workers.  The working poor are poor because they are not paid a decent wage.  I live in a country where 20% of the people own 85% of the wealth.  We live in a world where the richest 2% of adults own more than half of total global household wealth.  If you do the math, that means that 80% of the people in the United States are living on 15% of the country's wealth.  And 98% of the people on this planet live on less than 50% of the world's wealth.  That's a little obscene.

I have to be honest:  Scrooge pisses me off when he makes his "idle people" speech.  He's supposed to piss you off.  Dickens wants you to recognize the falseness of his statement.  Bob Cratchit is not idle, but he's poor.  Bob Cratchit is not the exception.  Bob Cratchit is the rule.  The truth is that most poor people work.  Most poor people work really hard.

Saint Marty just wants to bitch slap the Scrooges of the world.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

January 19: Great Teaching Day, Werewolves, Great Floods

I had a great teaching day.  The students were engaged.  I was having fun.  We talked about the creation of the world, werewolves, Great Flood myths.  The class time just flew by.  Before I knew it, it was 3:30 p.m., and the students were looking like they had planes to catch or roasts burning in their ovens.  I just thank God this mythology class has gotten off to such a good start this semester. Today reminded me of why I love teaching.

American Idol is on again tonight, and my daughter and I have a date.  We're going to have a great time.  It will be a great way to end the day.  I wish my days consisted of just teaching classes at the university and coming home.  It would be heaven.  Instead, I'll be dragging myself out of bed tomorrow morning at 4 a.m.  I'll spend the morning cleaning, putting together medical charts, and answering phones.  My heart isn't in this part of my life.  It hasn't been in this part of my life for a while.  But this part of my life pays the bills and helps keep my family healthy.

Saint Marty is tired, and he wants to live the dream.

Says it all

January 19: Hungry, Hunger, The Hungry

Anybody for sucking pig?
It was his own room.  There was no doubt about that.  But it had undergone a surprising transformation.  The walls and ceiling were so hung with living green, that it looked a perfect grove, from every part of which, bright gleaming berries glistened.  The crisp leaves of holly, mistletoe, and ivy reflected back the light, as if so many little mirrors had been scattered there; and such a mighty blaze went roaring up the chimney, as that dull petrification of a hearth had never known in Scrooge's time, or Marley's, or for many and many a winter season gone.  Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam.  In easy state upon this couch, there sat a jolly Giant, glorious to see; who bore a glowing torch, in shape not unlike Plenty's horn, and held it up, high up, to shed its light on Scrooge, as he came peeping round the door.

This passage is one of my favorite in A Christmas Carol.  Of course, it describes the initial appearance of the Ghost of Christmas Present.  The catalogue of food and drink in this paragraph never fails to make me hungry, and I don't even like the taste of goose or minced meat pie.  It's just a gorgeous evocation of Victorian England's dinner table.  Of course, it also evokes a kind of plenty that simply did not exist for many people at the time (or any time, for that matter).  It's no coincidence that this scene in the book is quickly followed by the meager Christmas celebration at Bob Cratchit's home.  I think it was Dickens' not-so-subtle way to point out the disparity that existed (and still exists) between the social classes.

The reason I chose this passage is simple.  I'm hungry.  It's that time of year in the Upper Peninsula where I feel the need to add insulation to my body in order to combat the winter cold.  Translation:  I eat a lot of comfort/junk food and gain weight.  Even the most disgusting foods described by Dickens in this paragraph (joints of meat?  wreaths of sausage?  sucking pigs?) sound appetizing to me at the moment.  If I had been Scrooge in this scene, the Ghost would not have been the focus of my attention.  I would have been like Augustus Gloop in Wonka's chocolate room, lapping up the seething bowls of punch like a golden Labrador.

There is a certain amount of guilt at work here, as well.  One of Dickens' motivations for writing A Christmas Carol, aside from trying to make a good deal of money, was to shed some light on the plight of the poor and hungry.  In the face of all the bounty described in that paragraph comes the desperation of the Cratchit family dinner, where a tiny goose is a feast for an entire family.  Dickens knew what he was doing.

I know I'm really lucky.  I never go hungry.  I currently have Swiss Rolls to eat for a snack at night.  If I'm really ambitious, I could scramble up some eggs and cheese.  My family is lucky, as well.  We have a refrigerator that is generally well-stocked.  Comparatively speaking, I'm as rich as Scrooge compared to the Cratchits of the world.  And Bob Cratchit is probably better off than entire countries of other people.

I'm going to have an omelet for breakfast today.  I have white chocolate squirreled away at work, just in case I get a craving for something sweet.  I don't know what I'm going to do for lunch, but I know I will have a lunch.  Charles Dickens' little Christmas ghost story makes me realize even more that I really have nothing to complain about.

Now if Saint Marty could just lay his hands on some of that plum pudding, preferably with a chaser of seething punch.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

January 18: "American Idol," Daddy/Daughter Night

I miss Simon...
It has been a pretty long day.  Long day of work.  Long day of teaching.  Long day of staying awake.  I'm a little tired tonight.  Actually, I'm more than a little tired tonight.  I'm sitting in my living room, watching the first episode of this season's American Idol.  It's a daddy/daughter thing.  We both love the show.  We love the good singers, but we also love the really, really bad ones, as well.

My son is feeling much better tonight.  He hasn't thrown up since last night, and he had ravioli for breakfast.  I won't have to clean any vomit out of my son's hair this evening.  At least, that's my hope.

I'm almost through my first week of teaching.  Tomorrow afternoon, at about 4 p.m., I will have survived.  I know I've said this before, but I've always felt a little bit like a fraud in the classroom.  It's not that I don't have the qualifications to do what I do.  It's that I never feel like I'm good enough to do what I do.  I'm really looking forward to tomorrow's class, however, because one of my favorite students I've ever taught is in the class.  She took writing and literature from me a couple of years ago, and we've kept in touch.  She's been watching, waiting for me to teach mythology.  I just hope I don't disappoint her.

Well, the auditions are continuing, and Saint Marty wants to kick back.  As Ryan says, "This is American Idol!"

January 18: All Business, My Business, Being Occupied

Scrooge, taking care of business
"It's not my business," Scrooge returned.  "It's enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people's.  Mine occupies me constantly.  Good afternoon, gentlemen!"

This is Scrooge dismissing the two men who come to his office on Christmas Eve seeking a charitable donation for the poor.  Scrooge's little diatribe echoes back a little later in the stave when the ghost of  Jacob Marley laments over what the real business of his life should have been.

Obviously, Dickens doesn't subscribe to Scrooge's way of thinking.  The entire book is practically a call to social action .  I can almost see Dickens standing at the corner on a soapbox, yelling at well-dressed passers-by:  "Your business is to help your fellow man!"  (Yes, he would have used the word "man."  This is Victorian England we're talking about here.)  "Dig deep to help the poor and needy," he'd yell, "or the human race is doomed."  Later on in the book, in the stave with the Ghost of Christmas Present, Dickens actually uses the word "doom" to describe humanity's chances if it turns a blind eye towards the misery of others.

I understand Scrooge's response to the two gentlemen at the beginning of the book.  Most of the time, I am completely occupied and preoccupied by the business of my life.  My business.  My worries.  My needs.  My wants.  It's an easy mindset to fall into.  Dropping spare change into a Salvation Army bucket, writing out a check to church each weekend, putting a couple of dollars in an envelope for  a local homeless shelter, these things all take money away from me.  Money that could be used to pay bills or go to a movie or put gas in my vehicle.  You know, taking care of my business.

Of course, Scrooge learns his lesson by the end of A Christmas Carol.  He's completely reformed and spends the rest of his life, so it seems, squandering the fortune he's amassed in the bank.  He saves Tiny Tim, gives Bob a raise, parties with his nephew, donates to the poor.  He does these things without a thought about how he's going to pay for them.  He is obviously filthy, stinkin' rich.

I haven't reached that point of enlightenment in my life.  I still worry about money.  Finances are one of my greatest stresses.  I'm still focused on my business.  Perhaps I would have a different attitude if I were as wealthy as Ebenezer.  Perhaps I would go around, paying off people's mortgages or buying medical care for the Tiny Tims of the world.  Perhaps.  I don't know.

Give Saint Marty a couple million dollars and see what he does with it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

January 17: More Snow, Word of Welcome, Sick Son

It has been snowing and blowing all day, which is alright if you can stay home and drink hot chocolate spiked with peppermint schnapps.  However, it sucks if you have to go to work, teach, and attend a meeting in the evening.  The drive home was hideous. 

Then I had to deal with my sick son.  He's been throwing up since this morning.  He just threw up again in his crib.  I had to give him a bath.  The first thing he did when I put him in the tub was wash his hands, which were covered in vomit.  I feel so sorry for him.  He's absolutely miserable and doesn't understand why he's miserable.  I really hope he feels better tomorrow morning, especially for my wife's sake.  She was cleaning up vomit all day long.

Thanks for stopping by!
On a completely different subject, I'd like to welcome the newest disciple of Saint Marty, Sonia.  I don't know what drew you to this blog--the witty observations, the brilliant poetry, or the  undeniable wisdom underlying everything I say.  Maybe it was my humility.

Whatever it was, Saint Marty hopes you continue to visit.

January 17: Cold, Snow, Darkness

Meanwhile the fog and darkness thickened so, that the people ran about with flaring links, proffering their services to go before horses in carriages, and conduct them on their way.  The ancient tower of a church, whose gruff old bell was always peeping slily down at Scrooge out of a gothic window in the wall, became invisible, and struck the hours and quarters in the clouds, with tremulous vibrations afterwards as if its teeth were chattering in its frozen head up there.

Yes, this passage from the beginning of A Christmas Carol pretty much describes the morning.  The wind is blowing; snow is swooping in from Lake Superior; and the darkness is thick as cement.  I'm supposed to go for a walk with a coworker before work, and I'm not too sure about slogging through this weather.  I need the exercise, but it's going to be like Admiral Byrd reaching the South Pole.  Cold.  Snow. Darkness.

Chuck dreaming of a white Christmas
We've had a fairly mild winter in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  The stretch of bad weather this past week or so is the first we've had in a very long time.  According to everything I've read about weather in Charles Dickens' time, Dickens pretty much invented the white London Christmas.  In fact, Dickens single-handedly created much of the modern image of the holiday:  Christmas trees, goose and turkey, snow, ghost stories by a roaring fireplace, and snow everywhere.

January is a long, cold month for residents of the U.P.  It almost feels like one extended winter solstice.  I come to work in the dark.  I drive home in the dark.  However, I have noticed, in the last week or so, that the sky is not completely devoid of light on my 5 p.m. drive.  That warms my heart.

I'm not complaining about the weather this morning.  I live in the middle of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, surrounded by lakes.  I expect lake effect snow and wind and darkness this time of year.

Saint Marty just wishes he had a glass of hot chocolate, a roaring fire, and some chestnuts to roast (not to eat, just to roast).

Monday, January 16, 2012

January 16: A Good Day, A Good Class, "Antiques Roadshow"

It has been a very good day.  My first mythology class of the week went really well.  The students were talking, laughing, listening.  It was almost as if they cared about what I had to say.  I know it's only the first day, and things may change drastically.  But, for the first class of the semester, I left the room feeling like a teacher instead of a study hall monitor.

This evening I went to an open house at my daughter's dance studio.  I've watched my daughter grow from an awkward, five-year-old in pink tights into a confident, graceful dancer.  She was the best in the class, and I'm not saying that just because I'm her father.  She had the moves down cold and obviously loved what she was doing.

Anybody want to give me a bid?
Now, I'm sitting, watching Antiques Roadshow.  I believe this particular episode is set in Minnesota.  Haven't seen anything really impressive yet.  A $25,000 carpet.  And $15,000 Russian landscape.  So, those two items, combined, are worth about as much as my house.  I wonder how much I could get for my vintage action doll from the movie Alien.

Saint Marty is having a great night.

January 16: Martin Luther King Day, School, Some Upon This Earth

"There are some upon this earth of yours," returned the Spirit, "who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived.  Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us."

This speech, given by th Christmas Present, is not very well known.  Scrooge accuses the Spirit of depriving the poor of nourishment every seventh day (the Sabbath).  Scrooge says, by having grocers and bakers and butchers and other businesses close on Sundays (and, by extension, Christmas), the Spirit deprives the needy of possible sources of food and charity.  The Ghost's angry reply to Scrooge places the blame for hunger and poverty and injustice directly at the feet of all the Scrooges, the "some upon this earth"--those people whose passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness have created most of the social ills of the world.

I choose this passage from A Christmas Carol on Martin Luther King Day.  A day meant to honor a man who dedicated his life to eradicating all of the human failings the Ghost of Christmas Present lists in the passage above.  Scrooge, at his mean-spirited and greedy worst, embodies everything King fought against.  Really, Martin Luther King's dream was a world without pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness.  It was a dream where, in some ways, the Spirit of Christmas--of charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolance, to paraphrase Jacob Marley--guides all of us, every day.

Today is the first day of a new semester.  I enter the classroom with a sense of renewal and hope.  I hope to teach my mythology students something about the human condition and spirit.  I hope, by the end of the winter semester, my students are somehow changed, have somehow become better people.  I don't want to crank out a classroom full of human beings who are part of the Spirit's "some upon this earth."  I want to teach people the qualities of acceptance, love, generosity, and charity.  That was Martin Luther King's dream.  That's my dream, too.

Scrooges need not enroll in Saint Marty's mythology classes.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

January 15: Yo Ho, Fezziwig, Golden Globes

"Yo ho, my boys!" said Fezziwig.  "No more work tonight.  Christmas Eve, Dick.  Christmas, Ebenezer!  Let's have the shutters up," cried old Fezziwig, with a sharp clap of his hands, "before a man can say Jack Robinson!"

Obviously, this passage is about Scrooge's childhood boss, Fezziwig.  I really love Fezziwig.  He's a man who appreciates hard work.  But he's also a man who appreciates hard play, as well.  He's generous and knows the importance of a kind word.  He also knows the importance of relaxation.

It has been a fairly stressful weekend, this weekend before the semester commences.  I was hoping to take it easy, but I had a lot of church obligations that ate up my time.  I played the organ for mass yesterday.  Last night, I helped my wife make cookie pops for the chili lunch at church today, as well.  This morning, I taught Sunday School, played with the praise band at church, sang with the choir, and rehearsed with the praise band after worship.  Then I came home and made a dessert for dinner at my parents' house.

 I'm ready to relax.  The way I'm going to relax is by watching the Golden Globe Awards on TV with my wife and daughter this evening.  I may even spring for a bag of Scoop Fritos.  No reading.  No writing.  No thinking about work.  No thinking about blogs.  No thinking about poetry.  No thinking.  Period.  I'm ready to follow Fezziwig's instructions:  "No more work tonight."

I do have a new cartoon for y'all.  I drew it yesterday.

Saint Marty is ready to put the shutters up, quicker than you can say Jack Robinson!

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, January 14, 2012

January 14: Walking Forth, End of Snow, Beginning of School

"You have never seen the like of me before!" exlaimed the Spirit.

"Never," Scrooge made answer to it.

"Have never walked forth with the younger members of my family; meaning (for I am very young) my elder brothers born in these later years?" pursued the Phantom.

Mickey Cratchits

The Spirit in question is the Ghost of Christmas Present, and he's chiding Scrooge for never having made the acquaintance of any other Ghosts of Christmas Present.  Basically, he's saying Scrooge hasn't ever treated his fellow human beings with kindness and respect, with Christmas spirit.

It's a good lesson to learn.  Even Scrooge, who is mean, cruel, greedy, cheap, and compassionless, is shown mercy and kindness by several people--Bob, Fred, the ghost of Jacob Marley.  And it is through mercy and kindness that Scrooge's reclamation comes about.  Scrooge also witnesses mercy and kindness--at Fezziwig's, at the Cratchit household, at his nephew's Christmas party--and he becomes a better person.

I guess my point is that we should all walk forth among each other, spreading Christmas kindness all year long.  That's what good people do, even with the Scrooges in our lives.

The snow has pretty much ended.  It's moved to the East Coast.  The East Coast is welcome to it.  The sky is sort of dusting snow right now, but it's nothing like the last couple of days.  Everybody in the Upper Peninsula is walking around, saying things like, "We sure needed this snow."  Ecologically speaking, they are right.  The water table in our little ecosystem depends upon a certain amount of snow to combat the hot, dry months of summer.  However, I would prefer several days of light dustings as opposed to two days of severe storming.  It's easier to shovel light dust.

I spent a good deal of yesterday putting together my syllabus for this semester.  School begins on Monday, Martin Luther King Day.  I have made my workload much lighter this time for mythology, and I have two texts that I'm excited to teach.  It's going to be a good few months, friends.

I have a new cartoon for you.  If you hadn't realized it, it's a Lawrence Welk night.

Saint Marty is ready to walk forth, treating everyone with kindness and respect.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, January 13, 2012

January 13: An Apology, Irrational, Animal Cruelty

I guess this morning's post upset some people.  Well, it upset at least one person.  A gentleman named Chuck left a comment for me, expressing his disapproval of my tactics in the dispensing of my rodent problem.  He called my use of the glue traps cruel.  Either that, or he called my suggestion of taking the live mouse outside and smashing it with a snow shovel cruel.

Let me express my apologies to Chuck and any other lover of filthy, disease-carrying rodents I may have upset.  It was not my intent to encourage rodent cruelty, rodent discrimination, or any other kind of rodent violence.  While I. myself, cannot embrace the rodent as a creature of God because of my irrational phobia, I certainly would never do anything to throw rodent culture into chaos.

Therefore, please don't take my previous post as anything more than me trying to come up with something funny to say.  If you are currently in a serious inter-species relationship with a rodent, I will not judge you.  If you believe in rodent free love, God speed to you.  However, I will not be throwing any rodent dinner parties any time soon, unless the main course is d-Con.

Saint Marty just ain't a lover of mice, rats, chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits, bats (which are just rats with wings), gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, or anything of that ilk.

If you're into this, I wish you well

January 13: Friday the 13th, Rodents, Phobia

He lay, in the dark empty house, with not a man, a woman, or a child, to say that he was kind to me in this or that, and for the memory of one kind word I will be kind to him.  A cat was tearing at the door, and there was a sound of gnawing rats beneath the hearth-stone.  What they wanted in the room of death, and why they were so restless and disturbed, Scrooge did not dare to think.

Imagine this rat moon walking
Of course, this passage from A Christmas Carol describes Scrooge's death.  It's a terrible scene, terrifying and grotesque.  The detail that bothers me the most is the gnawing of the rats.  One of my phobias, in fact my greatest phobia, is rodents.  They instill in me cold fear.  I believe this phobia stems from a childhood viewing of the movie Ben.  (If you've never seen the film, don't.  It's traumatizing, although Michael Jackson did compose a great theme song for it.)

Today is Friday the 13th, and it has lived up to its reputation.  I spent last night cleaning and disinfecting my kitchen counter because my wife saw a mouse on it.  After we were done cleaning, I set up glue traps along the path of rodent migration.  I was determined to catch the little bastard.

When my son called for a bottle of milk at 2 a.m., I went into the kitchen and saw the invader splayed on one of the glue traps.  "Serves you right, you little fucker," I thought to myself.  (Yes, I just used the word "fucker."  That's how much I hate rodents.)  Then, the mouse started scratching and scrabbling frantically.  I nearly soiled myself.

I couldn't deal with it.  The glue pad is supposed to have poison in it.  I left the mouse to succumb to the devices of the trap.

However, it didn't die.  My wife told me it was still alive when my kids found it.  My daughter and son made friends with it.  My daughter fed it, for God's sake.  I told my wife to scoop it into a garbage bag, take it outside, and smash it with the snow shovel.

I'm happy to report that the mouse is no longer with us.  My daughter is moping in her closet.  My son is crying; he wants to go outside and say "bye-bye" to the mouse.  I'm planning on buying eight more glue traps to set up tonight.  I want to make sure Ben's family members haven't taken up residence in my kitchen, as well.  If they have, I'm ready to perpetrate a rodent apocalypse.

Saint Marty is not Saint Francis of Assisi.  He doesn't love all of God's creatures.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

January 12: More Snow, More Wilder, More Mythology

Not quite this bad
It's been storming all day long.  Each team I've walked by a window, it was like a scene from the movie Alive, less the plane crash, soccer team, and cannibalism.  However, I just spoke with my wife on the phone, and it isn't snowing in the town where I live, about 20 miles away.  All I can say is, "Hallelujah!"

Today at work has just been more of the same:  catch up from vacation.  I'm happy to say that I have now almost caught up in one area of my job.  Now I just have to tackle the other areas where I'm still two weeks behind.

I know you're probably wondering, "What happened to The Wilder Life?  Why hasn't he posted about it recently?"  Well, the fact is, when I got back to work, I sort of stalled in my reading.  I have every intention of finishing it up in the next day or so.  I will give you my opinion about the entire book when I have completed it.

Tonight, I have to work on my syllabus for my mythology classes since the winter semester starts on Monday.  I'm streamlining the entire course.  Cutting out response papers and reading journals.  Increasing the pointage for the mid-term and final.  Putting more emphasis on classroom discussion and quizzes.  It's a whole different class, baby.

Saint Marty is kickin' mythological butt and takin' names.

January 12: Snow, Another Car Appointment, Drop of Water

Snow.  We have snow this morning.  When I went to bed last night, I was expecting to wake up to a full-blown blizzard.  The weather reports were predicting over a foot of thick rain.  I woke to a couple of inches on the ground, and the wind was non-existent.  I was shocked.  Instead of a white-knuckle drive to work, I had a mildly slower drive than usual down the highway.  Not too bad.

I drove my wife's Subaru to work this morning.  I dropped it off at the garage for an oil change.  We'll see what catastrophic repair the mechanic says we need this time.  Each time I've dropped off one of our cars for an oil change in the last year, the mechanic has called to tell me of some major problem with the vehicle.  I'm not buying what the garage is selling any more.  I'm a big believer in second opinions now.

This early a.m., I opened my copy of A Christmas Carol randomly to this famous speech from Jacob Marley:

Preach, Jacob
 "Business!" cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again.  "Mankind was my business.  The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolance, were, all, my business.  The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!"

The reason this passage spoke to me was because I was listening to my local public radio station.  It was a news report about the contenders for the Republican nomination for President of the United States.  If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you already know I like Republicans about as much as I like ingrown hairs on my ass.  However, this news report irritated me more than usual.

Coming off the New Hampshire Republican primary, with Mitt Romney pretty much stomping his competition, blood is in the political air.  All the Republicans are going into a feeding frenzy on each other.  Usually, I wouldn't have a problem with Republicans tearing each other apart.  I actually enjoy it.  But these guys, instead of focusing on unemployment, hunger, poverty, foreclosure, bankruptcy--you know, all the things that normal people are worried about--are talking about each other's shady business dealings.  They're talking about what a shitty job President Obama has done.  They're talking about the "drop of water" instead of the real business of humankind.

What a different country we would live in if the people in charge made "mankind" their business.  What a different world we would live in if everybody made charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence our business.  Jacob Marley had it right.  Charles Dickens had it right.

Saint Marty wishes all human beings (and Republicans, which is a stretch) would get it right, too.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

January 11: Truman Capote, Paperwork, In My Element

Come on!  I can do better than Truman!
I had a coworker today tell me that I look like Truman Capote in my new glasses.  I was a little offended.  I replied, "I was going for George Clooney."  I'm wearing Ralph Lauren frames, for God's sake.  At the very least, I should be able to summon up a senior-citizen-age Cary Grant.

I spent most of the day, again, catching up on paperwork.  I'm almost done with one project, and then I have about 300 other projects to take its place.  With my job in the medical office, there is always some sort of project to complete, especially now, when I'm a business staff of one.

Later in the afternoon, another one of my coworkers commented on my computer bag for my laptop and George (my iPad).  "Oooh, look at the big-time professor," my coworker said. 

My bag is from the university and has the words "ADJUNCT FACULTY" embossed on it.  I told my coworker, "You know, when I'm on campus, I really feel like I'm in my element, like I'm in the right body for a change."

"I can tell," she said.  "You have a huge smile on your face."

And I was grinning like an idiot.  Unconsciously.  My whole body was relaxed for probably the first time in the day.  It was a really good feeling.

Of course, I quickly dived right back into my paperwork, and my shoulders became tighter than Ryan Gosling's abs.  However, for a few brief, shining moments, I had a vision:

Saint Marty, in his Ralph Lauren glasses, walking across campus, carrying a computer embossed with the words, "PROFESSOR SAINT MARTY."