Wednesday, February 29, 2012

February 29: Quiet Night, NB and the Oscar

It's going to be a very quiet evening.  When I get home, I don't have to rush through dinner and rush my son through his bath and rush off to choir practice.  I don't have to worry about preparing for teaching tomorrow.  (My students are taking a mid-term exam, and  all I have to do is show up, hand it out, sit at my desk, and read.)  We're having leftovers for dinner, so I don't have to worry about cooking anything.  Like I said, it's going to be a very quiet evening.

For those of you who want an update on the NB/Oscar situation, I will elaborate on what has happened in the last 24 hours:


Let me elaborate on what my course of action will be once I get home:


I've decided it just isn't worth the effort or heartache of fighting with NB over the Oscar.  I'm not going to beg her for it.  I'm not going to threaten her for it.  I'm not going to call her bad names.  At least not in public.  I'm not going to be dragged into a battle.  I'm just too tired for that game.

I'm disappointed that I'm not going to have the Oscar.  It was something that would have given me a little happiness for a while.  However, I decided last night that I'll have to be satisfied with the knowledge that I won the Oscar competition this year.  By myself.  Fair and square.  I'm going to have to be the bigger person.

And NB is just a rotten bitch.

Saint Marty still hasn't exorcised all his demons.

Yup, not working for me, either.

February 29: Capacious Breast, Leap Day, Snow Storm

"I am the Ghost of Christmas Present," said the Spirit.  "Look upon me!"

Scrooge reverently did so.  It was clothed in one simple deep green robe, or mantle, bordered with white fur.  This garment hung so loosely on the figure, that its capacious breast was bare, as if disdaining to be warded or concealed by any artifice.  Its feet, observable beneath the ample folds of the garment, were also bare; and on its head it wore no other covering than a holly wreath set here and there with shining icicles.  Its dark brown curls were long and free; free as its genial face, its sparkling eye, its open hand, its cheery voice, its unconstrained demeanour, and its joyful air.  Girded round its middle was an antique scabbard; but no sword was in it, and the ancient sheath was eaten up with rust.

Of all the ghosts of Christmas, I love this one best.  I know I'm not alone in this sentiment.  There's the sense of immediacy with this spirit, of joy and warmth, that's completely missing with the other two Yuletide specters.  Plus, the Spirit looks like a young, strapping, Victorian version of Santa Claus.  Of all the ghosts, Christmas Present would be the one voted "Class Party Animal" in the Haunted High yearbook.

Making a leap, but not too far
It's leap day.  February 29.  This whole twenty-four-hour period is a gimme.  Extra time to accomplish something extra.  I've always thought that you should do something unusual on leap day.  Something you wouldn't normally do, even if it's eating Lucky Charms instead of Cheerios.  You should step outside your box.  If you're normally crabby, be happy.  If you're normally loud, be quiet.  If you're normally shy, be outgoing.  That kind of thing.

Now, I'm not one that normally believes in being out of my comfort zone, but leap day only happens once every four years.  I'm not sure what I'm going to do to celebrate this twenty-ninth day of February.  Perhaps I'll eat something unusual.  Perhaps I'll volunteer at a soup kitchen.  Perhaps I'll try to avoid sarcasm all day long.

I'm just kidding myself with this line of thinking.  I'm not going to do anything out of the ordinary today.  I don't have unusual food in my refrigerator.  The soup kitchen thing isn't really appealing; I worked the clam chowder booth at a local Seafood Fest once and nearly vomited in the crockpot.  And sarcasm is simply part of who I am.  I don't even realize when I'm being sarcastic until someone points it out to me. 

At the moment, there's a huge snow storm blowing into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and it's caused virtually everything to be shut down:  local schools, the university, church events.  When I leave work today, I have no other obligations to fulfill.  I can go home, change into my pajamas, and watch American Idol.  The most unusual thing I will do tonight is try to stay awake until after Idol is over.

I think the Ghost of Christmas Present would love the concept of leap day.  I can imagine him walking around in his green robe, sprinkling everyone with kindness and good cheer.  Leap day should be like Christmas, I think.  I've never thrown a leap day party, but it's not a bad idea.  I could have everyone show up in somebody else's clothes.  I could ask them to bring a dish they've never cooked before.  Make them sit around and compliment each other all night.  At the end of the party, I could make everyone hug each other and promise to be kind.

That's does sound like something the Ghost of Christmas Present would enjoy.  However, it will not be happening this leap year for me.  Maybe in four years.  I'll have to start planning.  Today, however, I will put on a clean pair of pajamas when I get home.  I'll eat a pear instead of a bowl of Rice Krispies.  And I'll tell everyone in my house how much I love them.

Saint Marty is giving out free hugs for leap day.  Get in line.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

February 28: Return of the NB

Those of my disciples who have been with me since the beginning of Saint Marty may remember a recurring character I called Nasty Bitch (NB for short).  NB was a family member who was...Well, I think the name says it all.  For a long while, she was unaccountably cruel to my wife and me.  She made Lent a couple years ago a true test of forgiveness.

Well, NB is at it again.  A couple days ago, I promised to post a picture of myself with the Oscar trophy I won at the Oscar party Sunday night.  Well, I haven't been able to post that picture.  The reason I haven't been able to post that picture is that NB, who was one of the co-winners of the statuette last year, refuses to relinquish it to me.  Yes, NB is turning a usually friendly competition into a mean-spirited fight.  Earlier this evening, I was hugely pissed.  Now that I've had some time to cool down and think about it, I'm still hugely pissed.

NB exists to make people miserable.  She's still a very unhappy person.  She has tons of money, but lives like a pauper, making people miserable.  She could travel, but prefers to sit in the living room in her pajamas watching Lifetime movies, making people miserable.  She could afford a new car, but drives a minivan that is held together by wire, paperclips, and spit, making people miserable.

I think you get the idea.  Now, her newest form of miserable is this horseshit with the Oscar statue.  I wouldn't let it boether me so much, but winning on Sunday night really made me feel happy.  I haven't had a whole lot to be completely happy about recently.  Now, NB has fucked that up for me.

It's late, and I'm tired of being pissed.  I'm not going to let this problem go.  I'm just going to let it go to sleep for a few hours.

When Saint Marty wakes up in the morning, he will start planning his revenge on NB.
Vengeance is mine!!  It's mine, I tell you.

February 28: Selfishness in Our Name, Primary, Voting

"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."

The Spirit speaking here is the Ghost of Christmas Present. He is dressing down Scrooge for his comment about the Ghost depriving poor people of a meal every seventh day. I'm assuming Scrooge is referring to the Sunday closure of businesses or charities or almshouses that provide food and warmth to the less fortunate in Victorian London. I'm sure there's some historical reference I'm missing here, but the intent of Scrooge's observation is clear. The Ghost's response is one of the two times when he gets pissed in the novel. (The other time comes at the end when he reveals the specters of Ignorance and Want from under his robe.)

Today is primary day in the state of Michigan. Republicans and Democrats and Tea Party members and Green Party members all head to the polls to decide who should be running for President of the United States.  Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have been all over the state, from Detroit to Marquette.  In addition, their political ads have been eating up the airwaves, as well.  I, for one, am going to be glad when this day is over and the candidates move on to the next battleground.

I have never made a secret of the fact that I'm generally not fond of Republican politicians.  One of my biggest beefs with Republicans is the fact that they seem to view themselves as the only political party for good, Christian people.  Republicans call themselves Christians, but they spend most of their political energies taking away programs that benefit the poor and under-privileged:  universal health care, welfare, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment, Head Start programs.  If it doesn't help out people in the higher tax-brackets, Republicans aren't interested in it.

What the Spirit says in the above passage really resonated with me this morning.  Most Republicans, I think, give Christians a bad name.  They lay their decisions at the feet of Jesus, and, as a result, more poor people go without health care.  More poor kids get sub-standard educations.  In the meantime, Republicans go back to their six-bedroom homes and six-figure incomes, feeling like they've done their Christian duty by protecting the wealthy.

Ebenezer Romney and Ebenezer  Santorum
The Ghost of Christmas Present instructs Scrooge to put the blame for society's ills where it belongs.  I believe in that.  Mitt Romney is against the auto industry bail-out, until he meets an auto worker from Detroit on the campaign trail.  Rick Santorum is against President Obama's health care program, until he meets a single mother of five with no health insurance on the campaign trail.  All politicians (Republicans and Democrats, alike) need to take responsibility for their choices and deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness. 

Jesus and the Spirit of Christmas have no part in hungry or sick children, in men or women living on the cold streets.  That's all the Scrooges of the world.

Saint Marty won't be voting for any Scrooge, especially a Republican one.

Monday, February 27, 2012

February 27: Tired, Picking Up Oscar, Keeping Busy

A couple of the other winners last night
I was up until past midnight.  I got up at 4 a.m.  I've been working/teaching since 5 a.m.  I'm beginning to feel the effects of my Oscar party.  My eyes are burning a little, and I'm feeling kind of punchy.

When I get like this, my internal filter shuts down, and I say things out loud that I normally wouldn't say.  I taught this afternoon, and I think the only thing I said that was questionable was, "This is your review session for the mid-term.  If you don't want to ask questions, I don't give a shit."  Yeah, that comment won't win me any good evaluations at the end of the semester.  In my defense, I did win the contest at my family's Oscar party last night.  That should get me a few princess points.

I'm going to pick up my Oscar statuette tonight when I drive my daughter to religion class.  I'll post a picture of me with it tomorrow morning.  It's really a thing of beauty.  I will probably sleep with it tonight.  It's one of the few awards I actually win every once in a while.

I need to keep myself busy right now.  If I don't, I'll probably fall asleep.  I have been fairly diligent all day long.  I won't say I'm ahead of the game, but I am already typing up my second post for the day.  After I'm done, I'll probably move on to some reading for school.

An Oscar winner's work is never done, even if he is a saint.

February 27: Trivial Conversation, Oscars, One Week

"How are you?" said one.

"How are you?" returned the other.

"Well!" said the first.  "Old Scratch has got his own at last, hey?"

"So I am told," returned the second.  "Cold, isn't it?"

"Seasonable for Christmas time.  You're not a skater, I suppose?"

"No.  No.  Something else to think of.  Good morning!"

Not another word.  That was their meeting, their conversation, and their parting.

Scrooge was the first inclined to be surprised that the Spirit should attach importance to conversations apparently so trivial; but feeling assured that they must have some hidden purpose, he set himself to consider what it was likely to be...

Of course, the two gentlemen Scrooge observes are, in fact, referring to Scrooge's death in the middle of a quick exchange on the street.  Scrooge doesn't know he is the "Old Scratch" to which they are referring.  He will eventually learn the meaning of their conversation, but not for a few pages.

I think we all go through life sort of like this.  We meet people at Wal-Mart or McDonald's or in a parking lot, and we have these kinds of mundane exchanges all the time.  There's not a lot of depth to them.  It's a momentary connection with someone, and then it's over.  As Dickens demonstrates in this little excerpt from A Christmas Carol, however, even the most trivial of conversations can carry significance.

My point this morning is that there really is no such thing as "trivial" human interaction.  Even the most superficial of meetings between people can have serious import.  I always try to remember this fact, whether I'm talking with the cashier at the Dollar Tree or the head of the English Department at the university.  Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and kindness.  I'm not saying I'm always successful at doing this, but I try.  Words have a lot of power.  They can hurt or heal.  Knock a person down or lift a person up.

Meryl and me, the big winners!  Suck it!
Last night, I hosted an Oscar party for family and friends.  We had a great time.  There was a lot of "trivial" talk and fun.  It was good to be with people I don't see on a frequent basis.  By the way, I won the competition by a nose.  I'd like to say I stomped the competition, but that would be unkind and childish.  Like I said, words can hurt, even when said in jest.  Therefore, this morning, I'll say it was a close contest, and I really respect the other people who were competing.

I will not say, "In your face!"  I will not do a victory dance every time I see somebody I beat.  I will not send gloating e-mails to my entire contact list.  (OK, I sent an e-mail to one person this morning.  That's all.)  I will not act superior to my friends and family.  I'll try not to.  I really will.  And I will not treat anyone I meet as less intelligent or charming or deserving of praise than myself.  I won't.  I promise.

This week is the last before spring break at the university.  All I have to say about that is, "Hallelujah!"

Saint Marty needs to go and act humble now.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

February 26: Speak Comfort, Lost Work, Oscars, New Cartoon

"Jacob," he said imploringly.  "Old Jacob Marley, tell me more.  Speak comfort to me, Jacob."

I need some words of comfort right now.  Scrooge is begging Marley's ghost to give him some kind words, some hope.  I have no ghost to beg for help. 

I just tried to open the file that contained the pages of memoir I'd finished for today's post.  The file is empty, and I have no hard copy of the "Preface" on which I'd been working.  Eight or nine hours of writing is down the drain.  I can't find the work anywhere.  I have to start all over again.

Usually, I don't work on a computer first.  I write drafts of everything in my journal, and then I do the keyboarding.  I even followed this practice when I started blogging.  For the first year of my blogging life, I wrote each post in my journal, edited it, and then typed and posted it.  I don't do this anymore.  I just sit down a see what comes out of my fingers.

That's why I decided to work on my laptop for Project Memoir.  I wanted to see if I could actually write something completely on my computer.  Look where it got me.  I have no first chapter of my memoir to post, and I have to reconstruct all of my work from memory.  I'm pissed.

So, this first week of Lent, I'm a big Lenten loser.  I have a shit-load of catch-up to do because I trusted technology.  That won't be happening ever again.   From now on, I will be working primarily in my journal.

The Oscars are on tonight.  People are coming to my house to watch the show.  I have Scoop Fritos and cheese dip, Red Vines, and Diet Mountain Dew.  My sister-in law is bringing her artichoke dip.  My poet friend is bringing fruit salad.  I guess we have to have something to eat that's a little bit healthy.  We'll see by the end of the evening if I win my family's traveling Oscar trophy.  (Yes, folks, we take this crap seriously.)

I don't have much else to talk about this evening.  I'm pissed.  I'm a Lenten loser.  I will be stuffing my face with lots of unhealthy snacks and cheering for Billy Crystal tonight.

Saint Marty needs get to work in his journal now.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, February 25, 2012

February 25: Handsome Family, Daughter's Poem, Ashes

They was nothing of high mark in this.  They were not a handsome family; they were not well dressed; their shoes were far from being water-proof; their clothes were scanty; and Peter might have known, and very likely did, the inside of pawnbroker's.  But, they were happy, grateful, pleased with one another, and contented with the time; and when they faded, and looked happier yet in the bright sprinklings of the Spirit's torch at parting.  Scrooge had his eye upon them, and especially on Tiny Tim, until the last.

The Cratchits are not the Brady kids.  Bob is not an architect, and Mrs. Cratchit does not sing like Florence Henderson.  Nope.  As the passage above says, the Cratchits are not a handsome family.  The quality that distinguishes them is their happiness.  Despite the fact that they are living in poverty, the Cratchits exude their love for each other and their satisfaction with the world.  I'm sure they would be more comfortable if they lived in a bigger house and had a huge Christmas feast, but they wouldn't be happier.  Their happiness is not dependent upon material things.

I think the world would be a much better place if everyone could be more like the Cratchits.  Unfortunately, I'm just as guilty as everyone else when it comes to pinning my happiness on a better job, more money, a bigger house, the Pulitzer Prize, the Nobel Prize.  (OK, maybe I'm a little different than other people, but not by much.)  But then I'm reminded every once in a while of what happiness is all about.

On Ash Wednesday, I was running around the church, practicing with the choir, practicing with another musician, making sure everything was prepared for the worship service.  When I got back to my seat in the pew, there was a little , heart-shaped piece of paper sitting on my coat.  On it, my daughter had written this poem:

I will love U
forever and why
I love you as big as the sky
I will stop never, I'll love you forever
And will never stop
when I die

Well, that was it.  I lost it.  I was sitting in the front pew, crying my eyes out.  The whole Ash Wednesday service became even more meaningful to me because of my daughter's simple message of love.

And really, it is that simple.  I don't need a better job or more money or a mansion or a bestselling book.  Don't get me wrong.  All of those things would be nice to have.  But I already have what I need to be happy.  My daughter.  My wife.  My son.  We might not be a "handsome family" (although my kids are pretty good looking, if I do say so myself).  But, when we're together, we're happy, grateful, content in each other.  That's the true gift of happiness.

Saint Marty learned a mighty lesson of love and happiness this Ash Wednesday.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, February 24, 2012

February 24: Cleaning the House, Ready for Bed, Feeling Like a Failure

It's official.  I'm old.
It is quite late.  I've been pretty much moving and shaking all day long.  Between grocery shopping and chauffeuring my daughter to dance class and cleaning my house, I just sat down to relax.  It is almost 10:30 p.m.  I'm beat and ready for bed.

Tomorrow's going to be another busy day.  Lots going on.  My daughter has yet another dance class.  I'm going to breakfast with my family.  I have to play the pipe organ for mass in the afternoon.  In between all this stuff, I have to read for teaching.  I have to put together the mid-term exam for my mythology classes.  And I have to finish reading the book for my book club meeting next Thursday.  Aside from that, I can relax.

I'm not sure how I got into this habit of always having work to do.  Literally, I make a list of tasks every morning.  I hardly ever finish every task on my lists, and I usually feel like a failure at the end of a day.  It's a little bit sick.  Today, I have about three or four tasks I haven't completed.  I'll move them onto tomorrow morning's list and hope for the best.

Saint Marty is just about falling asleep at the keyboard.  He's  just going to sit here and drool for a while.

February 24: Ali Baba, Lost in Books, Imagination

"Why, it's Ali Baba!" Scrooge exclaimed in ecstasy.  "It's dear old honest Ali Baba!  Yes, yes, I know!  One Christmas time, when yonder solitary child was left here all alone, he did come, for the first time, just like that.  Poor boy!  And Valentine," said Scrooge, "and his wild brother, Orson; there they go!  And what's his name, who was put down in his drawers, asleep, at the Gate of Damascus; don't you see him!  And the Sultan's Groom turned upside down by the Genii; there he is upon his head!  Serve him right.  I'm glad of it.  What business had he to be married to the Princess!"

Here is Scrooge gushing like a young schoolboy.  He's observing a younger version of himself, abandoned in an empty boarding school at Christmas time, and the younger Scrooge is obviously reading Arabian Nights, which, if memory serves, was one of Charles Dickens' favorite books.  Really, this passage is about the power of the imagination to transport a person out of a miserable life situation.  Scrooge speaks about these characters as if they are real people, good friends, who stop by for a visit.

I think that's one of the reasons why I became an English professor.  I love talking about books, teaching about writing.  I love gushing, sort of, like Scrooge does in this scene.  I'm sure I come across like some geek fanboy in the classroom sometimes.  Just give me a couple of hours to talk about a favorite book like A Christmas Carol or Slaughterhouse Five, and I'll have Ebenezer Scrooge or Billy Pilgrim sitting in the room with us, having a hot dog and talking politics.  That's the exciting part of the job.

For almost two months now, I've been writing about Scrooge at least once a day.  I feel as if I'm really getting under his skin.  I understand him when he's joyful and foolish, as in the above passage, and I'm beginning to understand him when he's cruel and vindictive, complaining about the surplus population.  Reading this book this closely is like reading Scrooge's blog.  He's becoming a flesh-and-blood person for me, as, I'm sure, long-time disciples of Saint Marty see me as a flesh-and-blood person, as well, even though we've never met (and probably never will).  That's the power of language and literature.

My best friend Sharon
I once had a workshop with the poet Sharon Olds.  For a week, I sat in the same room with her, listened to her talk about my poems, poetry in general, and life in general.  I went into the experience as the ultimate Sharon Olds geekboy.  I'd been a fan for years, had read all her books.  I felt like I was meeting a long lost relative.  It's an easy thing to do with Olds.  Her poetry is about such painfully personal experiences that being in the same room with her was like Scrooge being in the same room with Ali Baba.  It was all I could do not to invite her to my next birthday party.  That's the power of literature and writing and imagination.  Even though I'd never met her, she was one of my best friends.

So, if you think of me as one of your best friends, I'll take that as a compliment.  That means I'm connecting with you through my writing.  You and I have a shared experience.  That shared experience is language.  Through words, I'm standing in front of you right now, completely unclothed, baring everything.  There's an image for you.

Invite Saint Marty in for tea today.  Bake him some cookies.  He promises not to sit his naked ass on your sofa.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

February 23: Another Unaccountably Good Mood, Fooling Students, Project Memoir

I'm in another unaccountably good mood.  That makes two in one week.  I don't know what's going on.  Usually, I'm not this positive of a person.  Ask anyone who knows me.  If you walked up to one of my best friends and said, "Give me one adjective to describe Saint Marty," my friend may come up with several possibilities.  LoyalFunnyDarkTwistedCreativeLoving.  I could go on, but I can guarantee you that positive would not be one of my friend's adjectives.  But, here I sit, good mood and all.

I'm just faking it...
It's the end of another week of teaching.  I've fooled my students again.  They still think I know what the hell I'm talking about.  It's a terrible thing, sometimes, to always feel like a fraud.  The longer I've taught college-level writing and literature (and I've been at it for more than half of my adult life), the more I've realized that I don't know anything.  It's not an uncommon to feel this way, I think.  If you surveyed a lot of college professors (the real ones--the adjuncts--who teach all the crap courses), I'd bet a majority of them would make a confession similar to the one I just made.  This streak of low self-esteem keeps me on my toes as an instructor.  I always have more I can learn.

If you're wondering about Project Memoir, I can tell you that I plan to start writing my first chapter tonight.  I just have to cull through the material I have already written in my journals.  There should be a lot of writing from which to draw.  If I'm going to get a chapter finished by Sunday, however, I really need to get my ass in gear.  That's one of my projects for tonight.

Lent is breathing down Saint Marty's neck.

February 23: Tiny Tim, Sick Child, Teenage Suicide

A father's love
He sat very close to his father's side upon his little stool.  Bob held his withered little hand in his, as if he loved the child, and wished to keep him by his side, and dreaded that he might be taken from him.

This passage is about Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit, obviously.  It touches upon the fear of any parent:  a sick child.  It's even worse for a parent if s/he can't do anything to make the child well.  All the parent can do is be Bob Cratchit and sit by the child, holding a "withered little hand."

Charles Dickens was very familiar with this situation.  He had a daughter, Dora Annie, who died around the age of one.  Although A Christmas Carol was written before the child's death, Dickens had experienced the death of several other close loved ones already.  He knew first-hand of the desperation and helplessness expressed in the paragraph above.

There really isn't anything worse to contemplate than the illness of one of your children.  One of the scariest sounds in the world for me is my son coughing in his crib in the middle of the night.  He is just getting over a really nasty cold, and I've spent the last week listening to him struggle for breath while he slept.  When my daughter was three, she got such a bad bladder infection that she had to be hospitalized.  I'll never forget sitting in the emergency room, holding her, her body blazing hot and her face white as rice paper.  I've never felt so completely powerless in my life.

In the last month or so, there's been several teenage suicides in the area where I live.  I haven't known any of the kids or their families, but I'm aware of some of the circumstances.  Regardless of the reasons these young people have taken their lives, however, it's tragic.  Suicide is a very permanent solution to a very temporary problem.  Usually.

At work this morning, my coworkers were discussing suicide.  Some of my coworkers were of the opinion that suicide is a completely selfish act.  Others were of the opinion that suicide is an act of desperation by a person who is in incredible physical or psychological pain.  I kind of think it's both of those things.  An act of selfishness and an act of deliverance.

In the end, it really doesn't matter, as I said before.  In the end, there are simply a lot of Bob Cratchits in the world who are sitting next to empty stools, wondering how they could have saved their Tiny Tims.  That's the real tragedy.

Saint Marty's saying a few prayers for the Bob Cratchits of the world this morning.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

February 22: Another Quicky

Get your mind out of the gutter!
One of my most popular blog posts was simply titled "A Quicky."  I think the reason it's so popular is that people click on it, expecting something a little, well, pornographic.  Honestly, when I chose that title, I didn't think of any of the sexual implications.  Since that post, I have become very aware of the various readings of the word "quicky."  I also know that the term has brought Saint Marty a lot of traffic, even if it was lonely guys looking for free porn.

Thus, this evening's post is simply titled "Another Quicky" because I don't have time to type a whole lot, and I want to get all those horny porn seekers to check out my blog again.  So, with your free hand, guys, click on  a few more of the posts here.  You may find something a little more fulfilling than strangers having sex.

Saint Marty's gotta get to church now.  It's Ash Wednesday.

February 22: Ash Wednesday, Life Immortal, Paczki Again

Oh cold, cold, rigid Death, set up thine altar here, and dress it with such terrors as thou hast at thy command:  for this is thy dominion!  But of the loved, revered, and honoured head, thou canst not turn one hair to thy dread purposes, or make one feature odious.  It is not that the hand is heavy and will fall down when released; it is not that the heart and pulse are still; but that the hand WAS open, generous, and true; the heart brave, warm, and tender; and the pulse a man's.  Strike, Shadow, strike!  And see his good deeds springing from the wound, to sow the world with life immortal!

Not a passage from A Christmas Carol with which many readers are familiar.  With its King James Bible language and its embodiment of Death, I thought this little excerpt would be quite an appropriate way to begin a post on Ash Wednesday.  The Ghost of the Future has brought Scrooge to his death chamber to gaze upon his neglected body.  The mini-sermon above touches upon the afterlife.  Dickens' words pretty much lay it all out:  to have life immortal, to be remembered after Death comes knocking, Scrooge must perform good deeds in his lifetime.  Otherwise, there will be no honor in his death.  There will be no person mourning his passing.

It's a terrifying little moment in the book, one of those Dickens' moments where he puts it all out there in very clear, unsubtle terms.  I can almost hear Chuck crying out like John the Baptist, "Repent, ye sinners!  For the Kingdom of God is at hand!"

Tonight, I will go to church.  I will sing hymns.  I will listen to the pastor talk about sins and death and penitence and resurrection.  I will get in line and have ashes smudged on my forehead in the shape of a cross.  And I will feel moved to change my ways, to embrace a life of "good deeds."  Ash Wednesday always does this for me.  It inspires me to try to be better than I am.  For my non-Christian disciples, think  of Ash Wednesday as a first date with a person you love.  That person puts you on your best behavior, makes you kinder, more generous.  That person makes you want to be the best you can be.  That's Ash Wednesday.  It's a first date with Jesus, in a way.  At least for me.

That's what Charles Dickens in talking about in this passage.  Being the best human being you can be, whether man or woman, Christian or Muslim, gay or straight, dog lover or cat lover, Democrat or Republican (although the Republican thing may be pushing it).

Leftover paczkis don't make you a better person, but I have my eye on one right now.  I know that Ash Wednesday is about self denial and sacrifice, but I'm talking Bavarian cream here.

Saint Marty needs some self-restraint and a big glass of cold milk.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

February 21: Unaccountably Good Mood, Leftover Paczkis

Right now, I'm in an unaccountably good mood.  I've wracked and wracked my brain, trying to figure out why I should feel so...well, good.  I haven't come up with any reasons.  I had an easy day of teaching.  I just showed the Harry Hamlin version of Clash of the Titans, which beats the new Clash hands-down.  I've only eaten two-and-a-half paczkis (lemon, blueberry, and half a raspberry).  If that seems like a lot, I'll have you know that I can polish off a good half dozen of those bastards on Fat Tuesday.  Work wasn't too bad, either.

I don't know.  It's a mystery.

Tonight, my wife and I are going to a therapy appointment together.  We've been seeing this therapist since the last time my wife relapsed with her sexual addiction.  I really like this doctor, but I'm never sure what direction each session will take.  If I haven't mentioned it before, I'm not a big fan of surprise.  These sessions frequently surprise me.  In good ways, usually.

That's all I got.  I don't think I can chalk up my good mood to a marriage counseling session.  Therefore, as I said, it's a mystery.

I'm not going to complain about being happy.  I'm just going to accept it and give thanks.  And eat some leftover paczkis.

Saint Marty has gone to his happy place, even if he doesn't know how he got there.

Don't ask me for directions

February 21: Fat Tuesday, Paczkis, Wonderful Party

Let him in!  It is a mercy he didn't shake his arm off.  He was at home in five minutes.  Nothing could be heartier.  His niece looked just the same.  So did Topper when he came.  So did the plump sister, when she came.  So did every one when they came.  Wonderful party, wonderful games, wonderful unanimity, won-der-ful happiness!

Fat Tuesday.  Paczkis.  King Cake.  Beads.  As the saying goes:  today we feast, for tomorrow we famine.  Or something like that.  Of course, I'm working and teaching all day, so I won't have much chance to join in the bacchanalia.  The closest I'll probably come is eating a lemon and a chocolate paczki.  (Yes, I know how many calories that is.  I know how bad that particular pastry is for you.  I.  Just.  Don't.  Care.)  There aren't too many Mardi Gras opportunities in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan at the end of February.  Too cold for a parade.  Too cold for naked or half-naked people on the streets.

The quote with which I chose to start this post comes from the end of A Christmas Carol.  It's when Scrooge works up the courage to go to his nephew Fred's house for Christmas dinner.  I love the expansiveness of the end of the paragraph, the repetition of the word "wonderful" four times, stretching it out, syllable-by-syllable.  It's almost as if Dickens doesn't want the fun to end, either.

For Scrooge, the fun doesn't end.  According to the book, he does keep Christmas in his heart all year long.  I imagine him, for the rest of his life, being just one, giant party wherever he goes.  If he was in New Orleans right now, I'm sure he'd be down to his underwear, dancing to some jazz version of  "YMCA."

My wisdom for today is to have a won-der-ful Fat Tuesday.  Celebrate.  Do something special for yourself, even if it's just taking an extra helping of peas at dinner tonight.  If that's your idea of celebration, indulge yourself.  That's what I'm going to do.  (Not the peas thing.  The indulge myself thing.)  Because tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, and Project Memoir kicks off.

Saint Marty is craving a paczki now.  Lemon.  Or Chocolate.  Or raspberry.  Or blueberry.  Or all of the above.

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner

Monday, February 20, 2012

February 20: What Have I Done, Productive Day, Meetings

Excuse me while I get into a fetal position
OK, now that I posted this morning what I'm thinking of doing for Lent, I'm sitting here in a panic.  My first reaction, when I reread this morning's blog, was, "What in the hell have I done?!"  I'm never going to be able to write a chapter of memoir a week!  That's a lot of work.  Of course, last year, I never thought I'd be able to write a poem a day during Lent, and I did it.  On Ash Wednesday, it seemed Herculean in scope.  By Palm Sunday, I knew I could do it.  On Easter Sunday, I felt like I'd given birth (in a purely metaphoric manner, of course).

I'm in the same position right now.  Ash Wednesday is in two days.  I have to start writing and compiling my material.  Now.  By the end of Lent, I should have seven chapters of the memoir written.  Holy crap!  If I average ten to fifteen pages a chapter, that could be close to one hundred pages of prose.  Yeesh.  I say again, "What in the hell have I done?"

On the bright side, I've had a really productive day.  I set myself some pretty high goals to accomplish this morning, and I can proudly say that I'm ahead of the game right now.  By the time I hit the meetings I have to go to tonight, I should pretty much be done with all of my tasks.  That has rarely been happening for me recently.  In fact, that rarely happens for me at all.  (Yes, I'm patting myself on the back right now.  Nobody else is going to do it.)

I am spending my night in church, one meeting followed by another meeting.  It's my once-a-month meeting marathon.  It sort of makes me feel important.  On the other hand, I could get so much more done tonight if I didn't have to go to these gatherings.  But go I must.  (Yes, I writing like Yoda now.)  At the very least, there should be refreshments.  Maybe some cookies or cake.

Saint Marty needs to get busy and be even more productive.  And he'd like to say one more time, "What have I done?!"

February 20: Old Dog, Project Memoir, Learnt a Lesson

When he agrees to go with the Ghost of Christmas Present, Scrooge makes this little speech:

"Spirit," said Scrooge submissively, "conduct me where you will.  I went forth last night on compulsion, and I learnt a lesson which is working now.  To-night, if you have aught to teach me, let me profit by it."

Scrooge is the ultimate example of being able to teach an old dog new tricks.  Of course, he has to be scared shitless in order for the lesson to sink in, but he does learn.  That's all that matters.

I'm almost as bad as Scrooge when it comes to accepting change/new things.  It has been one of my most frequent subjects since I started this blog:  change sucks, change is bad, change is a gift from Satan, change is about as comfortable as a rectal exam.  Take your pick. 

I like sameness.  I cherish sameness.  Sameness is a warm shower.  Sameness is Godiva chocolate.  Sameness is God's way of giving you a hug.  If you can't tell, I'm a big fan of sameness.

That being said, I know that many people, including several therapists I've seen, view this attachment to habit as possibly unhealthy.  I've heard the term pathological a couple of times.  Long time disciples of Saint Marty know, however, that every Lent I try to do something that breaks down the walls of my little kingdom of comfort.  A couple years ago, I decided to pray for people who had/have hurt me in some way.  It was an exercise in forgiveness, and it was a bitch.  I grew as a person, let go of some long-held pain.  I changed.  Last Lent, I decided to write a "happy" poem every day, from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday.  That also stretched me as a poet and person.  I tend to be a little on the morose/dark side in my disposition and writing.  Last Lent, I learned that happiness really is a choice.  Even the darkest of times have rays of light.  Last year, I wrote a book of "happy" poems, and I changed.

Just like Scrooge, I have "learnt a lesson" from the Ghosts of Lent Past.  So, where is the Ghost of Lent Present going to lead me this year?  I've been kicking around a few ideas.  Last year, I've invited my disciples to volunteer suggestions, and someone suggested that I give up sarcasm for Lent.  This person pointed out that the word "sarcasm" means "to cut, to rend (flesh)."  While I agree that sarcasm can be harmful when directed toward other people, most of the sarcasm I employ is directed toward myself or Republicans.  Therefore, I will not be giving up sarcasm any time soon (especially during an election year). 

But I have come up with an idea.

Saint Sebastian doesn't look too unhappy
I first started this blog a couple of years ago to focus on the feast days of Catholic saints.  As a child, I was always drawn to these holy women and men who seemed so happy in the most painful of circumstances (torture and terminal illness, that sort of thing).  I wanted that kind of peace in my life.  Looking at hagiography through the ages, in literature and art, I thought I could do something interesting with the saints and the sinners of the ages.  And, by communing with the saints, I could also learn something about the big struggles of my life.  Mental illness.  Sexual addiction.  Family dysfunction.  Suicide.  Spiritual abandonment.  Out of all this mess, my blog, Saint Marty, was born.

This Ash Wednesday, I think the Ghost of Lent Present is leading me back to the roots of this little blog endeavor.  I'm thinking about finally putting all the raw ingredients of my original reflections of the saints into book form.  It will be a memoir about my personal struggles with all of the crap I just mentioned.  I'll tackle bipolar disease, sexual obsession, marital anguish, and spiritual loss.  I'll look through the lens of the saints' lives.  For Lent, I will work on chapters of this memoir, which I'll call, for lack of a better title, Saint Marty.  Each Sunday, I'll post a new chapter, and, hopefully, I'll learn something about myself and my life and God.

That's my idea for this Lent.  I could call it something catchier, like Project Memoir.  Either title would work for me.  Drop me a comment and let me know what you think of this year's Lenten challenge.

If Scrooge can learn a lesson from the ghosts of his life, so can Saint Marty.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

February 19: Ghost of the Future, Fear, New Cartoon

"Ghost of the Future!" he exclaimed, "I fear you more than any Spectre I have seen.  But, as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart.  Will you not speak with me?"

I guess I'm sort of picking up where I left off with yesterday's post.  Yesterday, I wrote about death.  Scrooge changes as a result of his walks with the Ghosts of Christmas.  Of all the ghosts, the Ghost of the Future is the most terrifying to him.  Rightfully so.  A sort of black shrouded specter of death, the Ghost conducts him to some pretty unsettling scenes and places, including Scrooge's grave.  I know I wouldn't want to party with this particular phantom.

Of course, Scrooge's fear touches upon a primal fear in all of us:  fear of the future.  None of us knows when we're going to die.  In fact, none of us knows what's going to happen tomorrow or tonight or in the next five minutes.  The future doesn't speak.  That's the fear Charles Dickens is playing with in this portion of the book.

I can tell you that the future is something that usually fills me with dread.  I spend a lot of my waking hours worrying about the future.  I worry about having enough money to pay my mortgage.  I worry about having enough money to pay for the utilities.  I worry about outgrowing our small house in a few years, when my son gets too old to share a room with my daughter.  I worry about strange noises in my car that may indicate mechanical issues.  I worry about what I'm going to have for dinner tomorrow night.  I worry about losing my jobs.  I worry about Hostess going bankrupt, and Twinkies going the way of the woolly mammoth.

That's a lot of worries, some of them legitimate (the mortgage payment) and some of them ridiculous (Twinkies have the half-life of uranium).  It's a terrible thing to have the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come always looming over my shoulder.  If I had a little more faith, I wouldn't spend as much time worrying about possible catastrophes.  Faith would give me confidence.  Faith should let me feel safe, sure of the future.

That's what Scrooge gains by the end of A Christmas Carol.  Faith.  He wants to change his future for the better.  He knows what he has to do.  The future is not something he fears anymore.  It's something he embraces because he sees it filled with the possibility for good.  He has faith in that.

I, on the other hand, envision a future filled with the possibility of sadness and strife.  I spend my time planning to avoid this future.  Of course, these plans are my way of trying to control things, which is absolutely idiotic.  I can't control the future.  Nobody can.  Not Scrooge.  Not Charles Dickens.  Not me, no matter how hard I try.  I know this fact. 

However, Saint Marty likes the illusion of control.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, February 18, 2012

February 18: Neglected Grave, Death on the Mind, New Cartoon

Scrooge crept towards it, trembling as he went; and following the finger, read upon the stone of the neglected grave his own name, EBENEZER SCROOGE.

On this day, when a good portion of the world is focusing on New Jersey and Whitney Houston's funeral, I found myself drawn to this passage of A Christmas Carol.  It's at the end of the book, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come has brought Scrooge to his own "neglected grave."  By this time, Scrooge has pretty much realized how much of his life he has wasted.  This visit to the cemetery is the last push Scrooge needs to truly repent.
I wonder how many of us would change the way we live our lives if we were privy to scenes of our own deaths.  Certainly, if Whitney Houston could have had a Scrooge moment a few years ago, seen her distraught daughter and her own not-so-glorious end, she may still be with us today.  Instead, she is gone.  I know if I saw my death or my grave, I would probably have to reevaluate my life a little bit.

Maybe I would not be typing this post this morning at McDonald's.  Maybe I would be in a huge house, in my study, typing my next bestselling novel.  Maybe I'd be at some research library, gathering information for my newest, award-winning work of non-fiction.  Maybe I'd be at a university as a visiting poet, reading from my Pulitzer-Prize-winning collection of poems.  On the other hand, maybe I'd be working at a homeless shelter, handing out blankets or bowls of soup.  Maybe I'd be a missionary in the Congo, helping orphans.  I suppose it would all depend on the circumstances of my death, on what the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come showed me.

I'd like to think I'd be doing exactly what I'm doing right now.  Sitting with my family at McDonald's on a Saturday morning, watching my kids play, typing this post.  I'd like to think I wouldn't change a single thing about my life.  It's all about being satisfied with what you have.  I don't know of too many individuals who are that satisfied with ther lives.  Maybe Donald Trump.  Oprah Winfrey.  Kim Kardashian (I'm not sure it's possible for her to be that self-aware).  Even people who seem to have everything--money, fame, looks--can be absolutely miserable.  Whitney Houston, for instance.

Today, Saint Marty is satisfied with his life.  No grave-side visits necessary.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, February 17, 2012

February 17: NAACP Image Awards, Battle of the Bottle, Prayer for a Quiet Night

Best Actor?  Really?
 I'm sitting here, watching the NAACP Image Awards right now.  Yes, I'm that much of an awards show junkie that I even watch this show.  It's not that I don't support the NAACP and people of color.  I do.  However, as entertainment awards shows go, it doesn't really ring my bell.  When one of the nominees for Best Actor in a Motion Picture is Eddie Murphy for Tower Heist, I know I'm not watching the Oscars.

Tonight, I'm fighting the battle of the bottle with my three-year-old son.  His teachers have been encouraging my wife and me to break him of his bottle addiction.  Something about dental problems and bottle mouth.  It sounds hideous.  So we bought him some Dora and Cars sippy cups.  It didn't work.  He still cried for close to an hour, making me feel like a prison warden.  If he cries like that tomorrow night, I'm sending him to Betty Ford.

My prayer tonight is for a quiet night, for my son to sleep through the night.  That is my prayer.  However, I'm pretty much a realist, and I know that about 2 a.m. he's going to wake up and call out, "Bottle of milk, please."  It will sound more like, "Bo-ul milll, peeez."  And then the real battle will begin, and it will feel more like World War III.

Saint Marty's not gettin' much sleep tonight.

Sexton's Spade, Music, Cultivating Kindness

This morning, I'd like to visit the Christmas party thrown by Scrooge's nephew, Fred:

After tea, they had some music.  For they were a musical family, and knew what they were about, when they sang a Glee or Catch, I can assure you:  especially Topper, who could growl away in the bass like a good one, and never swell the large veins in his forehead, or get red in the face over it.  Scrooge's niece played well upon the harp; and played among other tunes a simple little air (a mere nothing:  you might learn to whistle it in two minutes), which had been familiar to the child who fetched Scrooge from the boarding-school, as he had been reminded by the Ghost of Christmas Past.  When this strain of music sounded, all the things the Ghost had shown him, came upon his mind; he softened more and more; and thought that if he could have listened to it often, years ago, he might have cultivated the kindness of life for his own happiness with his own hands, without resorting to the sexton's spade that buried Jacob Marley.

Scrooge has already started to change by the time we attend Fred's party in the book.  He's already been shown the things he missed in the past.  Now, the Ghost is showing him the things he's missing in the present.  Fred's wife, playing the harp, reminds Scrooge of his beloved sister, Fan, and the happier times of his boyhood.  His niece's music softens Scrooge "more and more," until he reaches the moment at the end of this paragraph where he thinks that music might have saved him from his present state of terminal unhappiness.  All through the power of music.

Music has so much power.  This past week, listening to the music of Whitney Houston on the radio and TV, I've been thinking about my younger days, when Whitney was at the height of her singing career.  I don't think I can ever hear the song "I Will Always Love You," without thinking back to my grad school days.  It also reminds me of the musical Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, which I directed back in the '90s.  My wife and I were dating, passionately.  All of our troubles with mental illness and sexual addiction were over a decade in the future.  The future looked bright, full of promise.

That's what I've been thinking about this week.  All because of a song.  I'm sure if someone had told me back then that Whitney Houston would be dead in 20 years of a possible prescription drug overdose, I would have told that person that s/he was full of shit.  Whitney Houston was flawless.  Entertainment royalty.  The daughter of Cissy Houston, a famous gospel singer.  The cousin of Dionne Warwick.  The sort-of adopted niece of Aretha Franklin.  She had it all.

Of course, music can't change the past.  It can't save my wife from being diagnosed with bipolar.  It can't save Whitney Houston from developing addictions.  It can't save my wife from her sexual addictions.  And it can't save Scrooge from the life he has lived.

But music can remind us all of those shining moments in our lives when everything seemed to be going right.  When things like mental illness, drug addictions, alcoholism, marital strife seemed impossible, out of the question.  Music can bring those moments back.  Music can give us hope.  Music helps me cultivate the kindness of life, for myself and the people I love.

It's never too late to cultivate kindness, to think about the good times in life and remember the soundtrack.  "I Will Always Love You" or the theme from Star Wars.  "Jesus Loves You" or "Stairway to Heaven."

Saint Marty doesn't need a ghost or a sexton's spade.  He just needs "Sister Christian" from Night Ranger.

Senior year of high school, baby!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

February 16: Late, Tired, American Idol

Again, like this morning, I am posting late.  Things haven't been going smoothly for me today.  I'm still playing catch-up.  This blog is the last task I need to complete before I head off to bed.  I'm not feeling really tired, but 4 a.m. comes, well, really friggin' early.  I'm hoping I'll be able to fall asleep.  I hate being in bed and counting breaths or hot dogs or Fig Newtons to make myself tired.  (I'm not a big fan of sheep.  Kind of creepy animals.)  I haven't had insomnia recently, but, with our money problems, I've had some weird, restless nights.

Just finished up watching American Idol.  There are a lot of people in the world who think they are much better singers than they actually are.  That's all I have to say about that.

Well, I'm fresh out of subjects.  I'm going to brush my teeth and try to get to sleep.  I'll probably end up grinding my teeth all night and giving myself a headache.

Saint Marty is ready for a night of fitful rest.

Try counting Oreos

February 16: Late Post, Adamant, Surplus Population

I meant to post early this morning.  I swear I did.  But work and other obligations interfered with my ability to sit down and perform the task of posting.  I know it's only a couple of keystrokes, but I've been going solid all day.  I also know that my disciples have gotten used to my morning reflections.  Sorry.  It just didn't happen today.

That being said, I would like to talk about one of my favorite passages in A Christmas Carol.  It's the Ghost of Christmas Present chastising Scrooge for making his flippant comment about decreasing the "surplus population."  It's Ebenezer Scrooge at his Tea Party best.  The Ghost takes him to task:

"Man," said the Ghost, "if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is.  Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die?  It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man's child.  Oh God! to hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust!"

This little speech proves to me that Charles Dickens would have been a big supporter of universal health care.  I work for a fairly large health care system in the United States.  I see the kind of health care that poor people receive compared to the kind of health care that wealthier people receive.  And I also am witness to people so far under water with medical debt that they lose their houses.  If that doesn't make you angry, then you, like Scrooge, may have a heart of adamant.

I can't do anything to change this system.  Health insurance companies and hospitals have too much political power.  That's why the United States doesn't have medical care like Great Britain or Canada or France.  There's way too many interest groups with very deep pockets for any sweeping change to occur.

In the mean time, poor people with sick kids struggle to survive,  just like Bob Cratchit.  And the Scrooges of the world continue to make tons of money off of the surplus population.  There's something wrong with this picture.  Health care shouldn't be a commodity.  Health care should be a commitment.

If any presidential candidate wants to get my attention, let him or her talk about a commitment to free health care for all the Tiny Tims of the world.

Whoever does that has Saint Marty's vote.

Anybody got a cure?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

February 15: No Soapbox, No Opinions, No Kidding

I'm not going to climb up on a soapbox like I did this morning.  I have stowed my soapbox away for the time being.  I'm also not going to share any of my opinions about anything this afternoon (unless you want my opinion of Dr. Phil--he's gotten a little too Maury Povich for my taste).  I'm literally choosing not to think right now.  My mind is tired, and, therefore, I have nothing interesting to say.

You might as well stop reading right now.  I will be sharing no amusing anecdotes about my life.  I will not complain any more today about the circus train that is the Republican race for the presidency, despite the temptation.  I will not tell you how long my night is going to be.  (For the record, it's going to suck in a big way.)  I'm not going to share any of my psychological eccentricities.  And neither is the voice in my head that sounds like Sean Connery.  I have nothing of worth to contribute to my blog tonight.

No kidding.  Go do something worthwhile right now.  Come back tomorrow morning, when my batteries are recharged.

Saint Marty is fresh out of funny.

Don't you have anything better to do?

February 15: Apology, Liberality, Scrooge-ality

Before I get into the meat of my thoughts this morning, I would like to issue an apology for the typos in the blog I posted last night.  I was tired.  I was in a hurry.  Bed was calling to me.  Generally, I read, reread, and reread again anything I'm thinking of posting.  Last night, I didn't do that.  Therefore, several glaring mistakes made it online.  I have corrected those typos.  I go apeshit on my students for typos.  Typos are sloppy and stupid.  I have corrected those errors this morning.

Now that I have that off my chest, I can move on with A Christmas Carol:

"We have no doubt his liberality is well represented by his surviving partner," said the gentleman, presenting his credentials.

It certainly was; for they had been two kindred spirits.  At the ominous word "liberality," Scrooge frowned, and shook his head, and handed the credentials back.

OK, I know I've talked about "liberality" and the bad rap the word "liberal" has received, but coming across this passage today actually made me laugh out loud.  Charles Dickens isn't using the word "liberality" in a negative manner here.  He's using the word to show what a son of a bitch Scrooge really is.  These two guys show up in Scrooge's office to collect money for the poor, and Scrooge wants nothing to do with their "liberal" cause.  In Dickens' book, Scrooge is the one who has his head up his ass.  Scrooge is the one who's going to end up with a one way ticket to Marley damnation.

I find this passage funny because, in a presidential election year in the United States, the word "liberal" always gets thrown at candidates as some kind of insult.  I don't understand it.  "Liberal," in my lexicon, is a synonym for "generous" and "charitable" and "kind."  If you go to a party, and the host is liberal with the food and drinks, you come away full and happy (and maybe a little drunk).  You want a liberal host.  It's a good thing.  Why wouldn't you want the same character trait in the leader of the United States?

On the flip side, the word "conservative" somehow has become a badge of honor in most election years.  Being conservative has come to mean moral, ethical, and Christian.  I don't know how that happened.  If my memory is correct, Jesus didn't have a beatitude that said, "Blessed are the conservative in spirit, for they shall keep all their money and be upstanding citizens."  In the Dickens universe, Scrooge, who is, by all accounts, an ultra-conservative, isn't the one with whom we should sympathize.  Old Chuck would roll over in his grave in Westminster Abbey if he thought we agreed with Scrooge.  Conservative means frugal, stingy, cheap, maybe even a little greedy.  That's Scrooge.  I don't want to go to a party thrown by a conservative host.  I'd probably have to bring a dish to pass. 

Want this guy in charge of things?
When I hear Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum or Sarah Palin refer to "good, conservative values," I cringe.  I don't want my president to have good, conservative values.  This past weekend, Mitt Romney gave a speech where he used the phrase "we conservatives" about a thousand times.  Every time Romney said "we conservatives," I heard "we Scrooges."  Basically, all of these Republicans are a bunch of Scrooges, wanting to keep health care as a privilege and not a right.  Wanting to keep the poor poor and hungry.  If someone asked Newt about the plight of the impoverished, I could actually hear him saying, "Are there no prisons?"

Therefore, I will not be voting for any presidential candidate who calls him/herself "conservative."  I want liberality, not Scrooge-ality.

Saint Marty, liberal and proud.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

February 14: Teaching, Loving, Losing

I had a great teaching day.  My lesson plan wasn't really that complicated.  I broke the class into groups and assigned each group three or four myths.  They had to identify things that confused them in their myths, and then they had to find the answers to their questions.  Simple.  And my students really got into it.  It was one of those teaching days that remind me why I love being in the classroom.

When I got home tonight, I had a great time with my family.  We had some spaghetti for dinner.  I gave my wife her Valentine's Day card.  She gave me hers.  I gave my son a bath and talked with one of my best friends on the phone.  Now, I'm sitting with my daughter on the couch, trying to finish my second blog.  To tell you the truth, I almost forgot to post.  When I get home, all I want to do is relax, be with my wife and kids, and shut the world out.  I think I could easily become agoraphobic.  I feel most myself, most comfortable within the walls of my house.  I'm surrounded by people who I love, and who love me.  Unconditionally.  They see me at my best, and they see me at my worst.

Bringing up the rear of the pack 
Sometimes, I feel like I'm losing the game of life.  You know, the one that tells you that you have to be a lawyer or doctor, own the biggest house, have a wife and 2.5 kids in order to be a success.  The whole struggle to pay the bills is wearing me down right now.  I usually go to bed feeling inadequate, like I haven't done enough with the hours I've been awake.  Today isn't any different.  I should have blogged three hours ago.  I should have read and prepared for teaching.  I should have completed a hundred other tasks.  This post pretty much represents the sum total of my ambition tonight.

Saint Marty is ready for bed.  So that he can get up at 4 a.m.  So that he can take a shower.  So that he can drive to work.  So that he can work.  So that he can teach.  So that he can go back to work.  So that he can drive home.  So that he can get his kids ready for bed.  So that he can put his kids to bed.  So that he can fall asleep in front of the TV.  So that he can go to bed.  So that he can get up and start the whole freakin' thing over again.

February 14: Love, Valentine's Day, Christmas

"Why did you get married?" said Scrooge.

"Because I fell in love."

"Because you fell in love!" growled Scrooge, as if that were the only thing in the world more ridiculous than a merry Christmas.  "Good afternoon!"

I think the reason I chose this little exchange between Scrooge and his nephew, Fred, is pretty obvious.  On Valentine's Day, I think examining Scrooge's ideas about love seems an appropriate thing to do.

Obviously, Scrooge puts love in the same category as Christmas, and I wouldn't argue with that grouping.  Love and Christmas really do go hand-in-hand.  Scrooge eventually learns this lesson by the end of the novel.  Along the way, however, he sees love in several incarnations.  There's Fan, showering Scrooge's younger self with sisterly love.  There's Belle, Scrooge's former fiancee, releasing him from his vow of love.  There's Bob Cratchit, clinging to fatherly hope and love.  There's Fred, blessing his wife and friends with affection and love.  Indeed, in A Christmas Carol, love and Christmas are two sides of the same coin.  One cannot exist without the other.

Therefore, Valentine's Day is another occasion to extend Christmas love throughout the year.  That Scrooge thinks love is ridiculous isn't surprising.  I imagine the words "I love you" are about as foreign to his tongue as "Merry Christmas."  In fact, by the end of the book, Scrooge is wishing everybody"Merry Christmas," but I can't find a single instance in its pages where he utters "I love you."

But real love isn't about chocolates or roses or greeting cards, no matter what Hallmark says.  It isn't about saying "I love you."  Real love is deeper than that.  It's about sacrifice and devotion and humility.  Scrooge learns that.  He sends Bob Cratchit's family a turkey for dinner,  but he does so anonymously.  He takes care of Tiny Tim's health issues and saves the child's life.  He donates a large sum of money to the poor and, by inference, continues to do so for the rest of his days.  And he reaches out to his nephew, Fred, and Fred's wife, begging for their forgiveness and love.  Through his actions, Scrooge embraces the work of love in his life.

Hit me with your best shot!
We all need to embrace love like Scrooge.  We need to show our significant others, children, family and friends that love isn't just a noun, thrown around on special occasions like Christmas and weddings and anniversaries.  Love is a verb.  Active.  Powerful.  Transforming.  Love can cure the sick.  Love can heal the pain.  Love can feed the hungry.  Love can save the world. 

That's real love.  True love.  Christmas love.  Valentine's Day love.

Saint Marty wishes all his disciples a happy Valentine's Day.

Monday, February 13, 2012

February 13: Bad to Worse, Sick Kid Again, Long Night

Well, my day/afternoon/evening just went from bad to worse.

My daughter has a sore throat and ear ache.  Another sick kid.  The earliest appointment with the pediatrician we could secure was at 6 p.m.  My wife is going to a meeting of her women's group from church.  Therefore, I'm going to be dragging my three-year-old son along to the doctor's appointment with my daughter.  Then I will be dragging them both to the pharmacy to pick up whatever antibiotic she gets.  Then I will be dragging them home and putting them to bed.  I don't see this night ending 'til right around 8:30 p.m. or so.

The above schedule doesn't even take into account the reading and prep I have to do for teaching tomorrow, either.  That pushes my night back 'til 10:30 p.m. or so.  The meager supply of patience I had this morning has pretty much been used up.  At the moment, I want to hurt someone.  I'm going to need that 20-minute drive home just to prepare myself for the rest of the night.

Sometimes life doesn't just give you lemons.  Sometimes life gives you a big old pile of horse manure.  You can't do much with that pile except spread it around and hope something good starts growing.

Saint Marty needs to start fertilizing.

Anyone got a shovel?

February 13: Facetious Temper, Irritations, Stupid People

Seeing clearly that it would be useless to pursue their point, the gentlemen withdrew.  Scrooge resumed his labours with an improved opinion of himself, and in more facetious temper than was usual to him.

I love the word "facetious" in the above passage.  Using it to describe Scrooge's temper, Dickens gives the reader a picture of a man who kind of revels in his bad mood.  Scrooge has just dissed the two guys who came to his office seeking a charitable donation.  He's feeling pretty good about himself.  Of course, he has yet to encounter the specter of Jacob Marley and all the Christmas ghosts, so he doesn't know what his "facetious temper" has earned him in the afterlife.  In short, Scrooge can abuse the two gentlemen, make fun of the poor and hungry, bully his clerk, chase a Christmas caroller with a ruler, and he can feel good about doing it.  (He sort of sounds like a Republican presidential candidate.)

I'm in a terrible mood this morning.  It may have to do with the fact that I stayed up late watching the Grammy Awards.  It may have to do with the fact that I had to stop at Wal-Mart (also known as the tenth circle of Hell) before I came to work.  It may have to do with the fact that I have so many bills to pay today, and so little money to do it with.  It may have to do with the fact that Whitney Houston died this weekend.  It may have to do with the fact that I have so much work to accomplish this morning, and so little time to do it in.  It could be the accumulation of all of these irritations.

Or it could be the fact that I enjoy being ill-tempered, just like Scrooge.  I don't think that's the case, but my friends and family may argue otherwise. 

Pretty much says it all
I deal with a lot of different individuals, all day long.  Patients.  Students.  Doctors.  Doctors' office staffs.  On days like today, when I start out with a low supply of good nature, I tend to run into a lot of stupid people.  People whom God seems to put in my path just to piss me off.  (These people aren't really stupid.  Well, most of them aren't.  It's all about my skunk-ass mood.)  Unfortunately, I can not be like Scrooge and simply insult these people.  I have to be nice, kind, gracious, helpful.  That's the nature of my occupations, even if I'd rather be mean, spiteful, rude, and dismissive.

Saint Marty better watch his step today.  He may end up on the wrong side of crabby spirit.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

February 12: Abundance Rejoices, Extra Money, New Cartoon

"Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude," returned the gentleman, "a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy some meat and drink, and means of warmth.  We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices.  What shall I put you down for?"

Of course, this speech comes from one of the two gentlemen who visits Scrooge's office on Christmas Eve, soliciting money for the poor.  Of course, Scrooge isn't buying what he's selling.  Scrooge doesn't buy much of anything, unless it somehow puts more money in his own pocket.

As I've said a few times before, there's a little of Ebenezer Scrooge in me.  Not out of greed or gluttony.  Out of necessity.  This morning, as I was sitting in church, writing out the check for my weekly contribution, I actually considered not giving anything, or reducing the amount.  For a few fleeting moments, I almost gave into the Scrooge side of myself.  I didn't, but I was sorely tempted.

I still don't know how I'm going to pay those taxes that are due on Tuesday.  I'm waiting for some kind of miracle to happen.  I hoping that I'm going to come home and find an envelope with four, crisp, new one-hundred-dollar bills taped to my front door.  I'll settle for eight, crisp, new fifty-dollar bills.  Or twenty, crisp, new twenty-dollar bills.  I'm not that picky.

I don't think of myself as stingy, but every time I buy something right now, or contribute financially to some cause, I cringe a little bit, think about the piles of unpaid bills on my dining room table.  I've become obsessed over the last week or so with figuring out ways to make some extra money.  I've haven't come up with any feasible ideas that are legal and ethical.  Instead, I crank the thermostat down a few more degrees at home, and I contemplate which of my organs would garner the highest bid.

Saint Marty isn't a miser, but he's feeling Want keenly. 

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, February 11, 2012

February 11: Poor Boy, Regrets, New Cartoon

Then, with a rapidity of transition very foreign to his usual character, he said, in pity for his former self, "Poor boy!" and cried again.

"I wish," Scrooge muttered, putting his hand in his pocket, and looking about him, after drying his eyes with his cuff:  "but it's too late now."

"What is the matter?" asked the Spirit.

"Nothing," said Scrooge.  "Nothing.  There was a boy singing a Christmas Carol at my door last night.  I should like to have given him something:  that's all."

Scrooge has a lot of regrets in his life.  The one to which he refers in this passage is pretty small potatoes, as regrets go.  It's a missed chance for a small kindness.  Scrooge's list of missed chances is huge:  he's missed the chance to be married; he's missed the chance to have children; he's missed the chance to take care of his only kin, his nephew, Fred; he's missed the chance to enjoy his financial success for most of his life; he's missed the chance to alleviate the suffering of the London poor for most of his life.  I could go on.

Most human beings live with regrets.  Missed opportunities.  During the past two years on this blog, I've pretty much talked about most of my regrets.  It's not a very healthy exercise, this kind of naval gazing, wondering about the might-have-beens in my life.  It can lead to some pretty dark places.  For instance, if I had finished my Ph.D. (I was about a year from being done), I may right now have a full-time, tenured professorship at the university, instead of a part-time, contracted adjunct position.  That's a big one.

Regrets are kind of useless things to carry around.  They ruin the present and cast a pretty dark shadow over the future.  Thinking about my Ph.D. now, I struggle to be happy with my current jobs and life.  Instead of enjoying what I have, I regret what I don't have.  Looking into the future, I can become a little bitter as I see jobs at the English Department going to people who are younger, less-experienced, and less-talented.  The difference between me and them:  three letters--"P" and "h" and "D."  It's been happening for years.

I frequently interact with people who have no connection to the university.  Well-meaning people who are clueless about how academia works.  Inevitably, these people will ask me, "When are you going to get a full-time job at the school?"  Each time someone asks me this, I die a little inside.  My usual response is a joke:  "I'm planning to kill off all the poets in the department.  Do you know any hit men?"  They think I'm kidding.  And I am.  Sort of.

I could drive myself crazy with thoughts like this, spend my days bitter and angry, trying to make other people bitter and angry.  In short, I could be Ebenezer Scrooge.  I refuse to allow myself to fall into that trap.  If I do get caught in it, I gnaw my foot off pretty quickly and escape.  As I said earlier, I don't want to spend my entire life mourning the things I missed doing.

And now that I've said all that, I'm going to leave my regrets right here in this post.  Today, I'm going to enjoy the things I have.

Saint Marty needs to gnaw off an appendage now.

Confessions of Saint Marty