Thursday, May 31, 2012

May 31: John Keats, "This Living Hand," New Poem

Any person familiar with the poetry of John Keats is probably familiar with the story of his tragic death from tuberculosis at the age of 26.  Keats was a contemporary of the romantic poets Byron and Shelley.  He started publishing his work only four years before he died in Rome.

If you read Keats' poetry, there is, for me, a kind of drive to embrace the beauty of the world.  Keats seemed to know his time was limited, and many of his poems reflect this knowledge, I think.  The poem below, probably written around 1819 (two years before his death), contains this consciousness of mortality.  Keats is literally reaching through the "dead" lines of the poem and grasping the reader's hand.  The act of reading allows Keats to live and breathe again.  The poem is even more poignant considering how close to the end of life Keats was.

This Living Hand

By: John Keats

This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou wouldst wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calmed—see here it is—
I hold it towards you.

Keats literally seems to be standing beside you when you read this poem, looking over your shoulder, haunting your day, as he says.  In his short life, Keats had a profound impact on English romantic poetry.  His prolonged suffering near the end of his life  isn't reflected at all in his death mask, seen in the picture below.  Keats seems simply to be asleep, resting after a long day of writing.
The death mask of John Keats
The poem I wrote today is in response to Keats' "This Living Hand."  I'm writing about my wife's grandmother, a woman now in her ninetieth decade of life.  She has outlived her husband and both her children.  She seems to be a shell of the person she once was.  That's what my poem is about.  It's about living.  It's about dying.  It's about surviving.

Saint Marty is two for two.  Two new poems in two days.

This Dying Hand

This dying hand, brittle as wax paper,
Flutters against my fingers, pupa or cocoon
For its ninety-three years of teaspoons,
Laundry, Christmas turkeys stuffed
With rutabaga, onion, black pepper,
Tastes that sit in throat and eye
Like loss, make her skin split, open—see it!—
Silk chrysalis of soul.

May 31: Dragging Chains, Ghosts, Nightmares

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.

The cellar-door flew open with a booming sound, and then he heard the noise much louder, on the floors below; then coming up the stairs; then coming straight towards his door.

A terrifying little moment preceding the appearance of Jacob Marley's ghost at the beginning of A Christmas Carol.  Charles Dickens knew how to play upon the fears of his readers.  For me, there's nothing more frightening than this scenario:  knowing some unseen threat/creature/force is coming to get you.  Scrooge has to sit in his dusty room, listening to the approach of Marley with growing dread.  For me, it's the literary equivalent of hearing the theme from Jaws, knowing that the shark is somewhere in your vicinity.  DA-DUM.  DA-DUM.  DA-DUUUUMMMMM.

Fear comes in many shapes and sizes.  There's the faceless fear demonstrated in the above passage.  I would call that fear of the unknown, one of my particular specialties.  Then there's more tangible (still irrational) phobic fears:  rats, spiders, lightning, Nicholas Sparks novels, Justin Bieber songs.  Another kind of fear is generated by watching scary movies or reading scary books.

My daughter has been suffering from the latter these last few nights.  It seems my older sister thought it was a great idea to watch a film about demon possession with my daughter last Friday.  Since Sunday, my daughter has appeared at the foot of my bed, begging me to come sleep with her because of nightmares.  Last night was the first night of uninterrupted sleep I've had in four days.  I'm tired.

Yup, I grew up watching stuff like this
I'm not against horror movies or books.  Quite the contrary.  I grew up watching the British Hammer horror films in all their blood-drenched glory.  I was weaned on Stephen King novels, from Carrie onward.  I even read the loathsome Firestarter.  I am a fan of this brand of fear.  It's harmless and fun.  If you're a teenager or adult.  Not an eleven-year-old girl who's into ballet.

There's really no point to this little diatribe.  Fear happens.  Whether ghosts in the wine-merchant's cellar or bill collectors pounding on your front door, we all are afraid of something.  I have an entire wing of fears in my psyche, the largest room reserved for the Ghost of Change Yet to Come.  Fear can be healthy and useful (gun-wielding muggers  and rabid dogs and clowns), or fear can be limiting and detrimental (new jobs or new people or new chocolate bars).   Fear eventually drives Scrooge to become a new person:  kind and generous and good-humored.

Today, fear is driving Saint Marty to a two-liter of Diet Mountain Dew.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

May 30: Theodore Roethke, "Root Cellar," New Poem

I have a new poem to share with my disciples this afternoon.  This poem is inspired by the Theodore Roethke poem "Root Cellar."

Several years ago, when my collection of poetry was released by Mayapple Press, I traveled to a writer's conference in Saginaw for a book release event.  Part of the trip involved going to the house where Roethke grew up.  The house has become a historic landmark, but it has retained much of the atmosphere Roethke knew as a child/young man.  It was the root cellar of this house that inspired Roethke to write the following poem:

Root Cellar

Nothing would sleep in that cellar, dank as a ditch,
Bulbs broke out of boxes hunting for chinks in the dark,
Shoots dangled and drooped,
Lolling obscenely from mildewed crates,
Hung down long yellow evil necks, like tropical snakes.
And what a congress of stinks!
Roots ripe as old bait,
Pulpy stems, rank, silo-rich,
Leaf-mold, manure, lime, piled against slippery planks.
Nothing would give up life:
Even the dirt kept breathing a small breath.

It's a great, evocative poem of place.  Full of darkness and life.  Like the root cellar's dirt, it practically breathes on the page.

My poem, inspired by Roethke, is based on a place in my home.  I'm not sure if my poem does Roethke justice, but it's all I have.

Saint Marty hopes you have a great night.

Attic Stairs

Nothing could climb those stairs, crowded as corn
Fields at harvest, clothes piled like old photos--
Son at three months, daughter in kindergarten--
Leaning, spilling from diaper boxes,
Sleeves and legs akimbo, like monkey bars and slides.
And what a crib of smells!
Dresses fresh as dandelion soup,
Pajamas, lotion-seeped, urine-rich,
Shoes, bottles, burp cloths, leather, rubber, and spit.
All held on to child:
Even the wood steps cried a small milk cry.

Roethke on his front porch

May 30: Light of Heart, Publication, Breath

Uncle Scrooge had imperceptibly become so gay and light of heart, that he would have pledged the unconscious company in return, and thanked them in an inaudible speech, if the Ghost had given him time.  But the whole scene passed off in the breath of the last word spoken by his nephew; and he and the Spirit were again upon their travels.

One of my favorite scenes in A Christmas Carol is where the Ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge to Fred's Christmas party.  Scrooge becomes so caught up in the festivities that he becomes "gay and light of heart."  I'm sure Scrooge hasn't had a reason to thank anybody for anything for a good portion of his adult life.  That's important.  The other important part of this passage is that the happiness Scrooge is experiencing is ephemeral, gone with "the breath of the last word spoken by his nephew."

I am gay and light of heart this morning.  I received an e-mail from the editor of an anthology of poems and stories being published by Wayne State University Press.  The editor told me that two of my poems were accepted by the editorial board for inclusion in the book.  In fact, one of the board's readers told him that my poems are among "some of his favorite in the collection."  So I'm feeling pretty good about myself today.

I know this elation won't last.  I have to pick up my wife's Subaru from the garage after work today.  That means I will be $1600 poorer at about 5:15 tonight.  Talk about being gone in a breath.

Right now, Saint Marty is going to bask in happiness, however fleeting that happiness may be.
Talk about taking the breath of happiness away!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

May 29: Isaac Asimov, Expectations, Setting Myself Up

I have a lot of plans for this summer when it comes to my writing.  First, I want to get a good start on my next book of poems.  (I've already written the first poem, so at least I've begun.)  Next, I want to get a good portion of my memoir done.  You remember that memoir.  I was supposed to write it during Lent.  Finally, I want to have my Christmas essay for the radio done by September.  (I've already got an idea for this project, so that's half the battle.)

Big plans.  I do this all the time.  Mark my words, by the end of the summer, I'll be lucky if I have three more poems written.  My memoir will still be in a state of limbo.  And my Christmas essay will still be just a good idea.  Yes, I'm setting myself up for failure.

The only time I've actually followed through on a planned writing project was during Lent, two years ago, when I wrote a poem a day.  As a result of that little exercise, I have a brand new collection of poetry that I can't get anybody to look at.  Depressing.

I wish I could remain positive.  I wish I actually scheduled my life in a more productive manner.  The only things I write with any consistency are blog posts, and even those wax and wane over the weeks and months.  This morning's post was the longest I'd written in quite a while.  Perhaps I put too much emphasis on blogging.  Perhaps I put too much pressure on myself to accomplish so many writing projects at one time. 

I heard this anecdote once about the science fiction writer Isaac Asimov.  I'm not sure it's true, but I want it to be.  Asimov told someone that he had three typewriters set up in his office on three desks.  On each typewriter, he was writing a different book.  So his writing days were a relay race, in some ways.  He'd work on one manuscript until he got stuck, and then he'd swivel his chair and begin working on the next book.  Until he got stuck again.  Then, he'd turn to the third typewriter and start typing.  I've always loved that image of Asimov, bouncing like a pinball between his writing projects.  (Of course, Asimov was a full-time writer.  That's how he made his living.)

Maybe I should approach my writing projects like Isaac Asimov.  Just have three different documents saved on my laptop--Christmas essay, poems, memoir.  Then I'll just asimov my way through the summer.  (Yes, I just turned Isaac Asimov into a verb.)  My friend and teacher, the novelist John Smolens, does the same thing.  He always has two or three different books he's working on.

Saint Marty now has a plan of action.  He just has to follow through.

Asimov at one of his typewriters

May 29: "Carol" Dip Tuesday, Candy Seasons, Money, Job

It officially feels like summer now.  Memorial Day is behind us.  June is looming.  We are into the Tootsie Roll season.  Frequent readers of Saint Marty know that I break the year into two parts.  The first part begins in late August/early September when the Halloween candy begins to appear on the shelves at Wal-Mart.  It is the part one of the candy year.  Halloween candy lasts through the first week of November (when you can buy large quantities of it for obscene discounts).  Christmas chocolate starts appearing by late October.  Christmas lasts through the first week of January.  The rest of the candy holidays follow:  Valentine's Day and Easter.  After the Easter Bunny has hopped on down the bunny trail by late April, the second part of the candy years begins:  the dreaded Tootsie Roll season.

I have nothing against Tootsie Rolls.  In fact, there's nothing better than a warm Tootsie Roll midgee of the red-white-and-blue wrap variety.  They're fat and comforting.  However, during May/June/July/August, when parades are aplenty, the candy thrown from the parade floats generally consists of different varieties and flavors of Tootsie Rolls and sticky, semi-frozen Popsicle sticks that taste like shit and melt all over the Tootsie Rolls, creating a slimy mess.  Obviously, I'm a much bigger fan of part one of the candy year than part two.

Well, I go back to work today after the long weekend.  And so, since I missed Carol dip Monday, I will celebrate Carol dip Tuesday.  I have a serious question to ask, and I'm hoping for a positive response.  (I know, I know.  I'm being superstitious.  Stupid.  Adolescent.  Maybe even annoying.  However, I have a post to fill.)  My questions is this:

Will my wife get that job for which she interviewed on Friday, and will our financial situation improve?

And the answer from the great book of Dickens is:

"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..."

Well, this quote sort of touches on everything.  Yes, I'm terrified of my summer financial situation (the Ghost of the Future).  However, as Scrooge says, the future's purpose is "to do me good," so I'm going to head into June with "with a thankful heart."

Wow, that wasn't too bad.  I'll take that answer this morning.

Now, if Saint Marty could just locate a July Fourth parade where they throw full-size Milky Way bars from the floats, life will be perfect.

Tootsie Roll season has arrived

Monday, May 28, 2012

May 28: Quick Run, Quick Post, Quick Pic

I went for a quick run this afternoon.  When I say quick, I don't mean I was running quickly.  I mean I was running at my normal, plodding pace, but I only ran for about a mile and a half.  It took me about twenty minutes or so.  It was hot and humid.  I was sweating like an icicle in Fiji by the time I was done.

The food is almost done cooking for the barbecue, but I wanted to send out one more quick post today.  I've been lazy in almost every other aspect of my life, so I figured I better do something of merit.  I'm not sure if this post counts.  Any how, the bratwursts are grilling, and the watermelon is cut.

My daughter took the picture below with my iPad while we were at the cemetery for the Memorial Day service this morning.  This sign is hanging at the grave of my wife's mother, who was taken away from us too soon.  She died before my wife graduated from college and long before our wedding.  Her mother, obviously, never met our daughter.  My wife still misses her mother terribly.

Saint Marty going to spend some time with the people he loves now.

In honor of a wonderful lady

May 28: Parade, Cemetery, New Cartoon

We just got done attending a Memorial Day parade and then a Memorial Day service at a local cemetery.  It was a nice morning.  Warm, and getting warmer.  We are currently having lunch at McDonald's.  I know that doesn't sound very exciting to most people, but I'm not a big fan of excitement, unless it involves great sums of free money, literary awards/publications, or a surprise buyer for my house.  I'll take that excitement.

Not too much else on the agenda for today.  A barbecue.  Watermelon and bratwurst.  We may watch America's Got Talent tonight.  I'm kinda liking Howard Stern as a judge.  I thought I was going to absolutely hate him, but he's funny and, more importantly, inoffensive.  And he likes weird talents.  (He sent a contestant to Vegas whose claim to fame was getting kicked, punched, and hit in the balls over and over and over and over.  It hurt me to watch.)

I want again to wish all veterans and their families a happy Memorial Day.  I salute all men and women who have put their lives on the line to protect world justice, freedom, and peace.

Saint Marty doffs his halo to you.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Sunday, May 27, 2012

May 27: War Movies, Barbecue, Remembering, New Cartoon

In the United States, the fourth Monday in May is set aside as a day of remembrance.  We call it "Memorial Day."  We spend time on this day remembering soldiers who have died in wars.  Some of the wars the U.S. has fought haven't been popular (if war can be popular).  Korea.  Vietnam.  The Gulf War.  Iraq.  Afghanistan.  However, men and women who surrendered their lives defending a cause deserve to be honored.

I'm not a big believer in war.  I don't even like my son to play with toy guns.  There's too much violence in this world.  What I believe we do on Memorial Day is give thanks for the peace we, as citizens of the U.S., have.  And we give thanks for the people who gave their lives so we could enjoy that peace.  There are, literally, millions of people who died so that I could do things like type this blog post on a Sunday afternoon.  So that my father could sit in his living room and watch old war movies all day long (much to my mother's chagrin and annoyance).  So that I could get together with my family this evening and have a barbecue, eat hot dogs and bratwurst, and argue politics or whether Goofy is a dog or a man.  That's what all those people fought for, died for.  For the idea of happiness.

Tomorrow morning, I will take my daughter and son to a Memorial Day parade.  Then, we will go to the cemetery to take part in a Veterans of Foreign Wars Memorial Day service.  I want my kids to know that tomorrow isn't just about having a day off school.  It's isn't just about getting to sleep in late.  It's about honor.  It's about remembering.

Today, Saint Marty salutes all the fallen war veterans of the world.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, May 26, 2012

May 26: Comfort, Other Ministers, Powerless, New Cartoon

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

"I have none to give," The Ghost replied.  "It comes from other regions, Ebenezer Scrooge, and is conveyed  by other ministers, to other kinds of men.  Nor can I tell you what I would.  A very little more, is all permitted to me.  I cannot rest.  I cannot stay.  I cannot linger anywhere.  My spirit never walked beyond our counting-house--mark me!--in life my spirit never roved beyond the narrow limits of our money-changing hole; and weary journeys lie before me!"

Not a very comforting passage this morning from Charles Dickens.  It appears near the beginning of the novel and doesn't paint a very flattering picture of the afterlife.  Or at least Jacob Marley's afterlife.  And it also doesn't provide much solace to Scrooge, who seems to be one step shy of being condemned to the ninth circle of the Inferno.

I have to say, the last couple of days have been a little difficult for me, ever since I received the news about the repair needed on my wife's Subaru.  Out of all the things in life that can cause me worry, finances top the list.  I hate having, as the old saying goes, to rob Peter to pay Paul.  I think there's a reason why finances are the number one cause of divorce in the United States.  The worry is insidious.  I haven't slept well since Wednesday.  Scrooge (and Marley, when he was alive) is in the business of creating financial stress.  He makes people lose sleep.  He provides no comfort, even though he has the financial means.

This morning, as I was taking my shower, I was really thinking a lot about money and worry.  I came to two realizations.  First, I can't do anything about having too little money.  I already have two, basically, full-time jobs, plus a couple part-timers.  My wife has been applying for jobs all over the place.  She just had another job interview yesterday.  Unless Scrooge's nephew, Fred, offers one of us a better position, we are in an economic holding pattern.  Second, worry is a waste of time.  It helps nothing and just consumes huge chunks of energy.  I need to take a cue from Bob Cratchit on this issue.  Bob seems to worry very little and has faith that everything is going to work out for the best.

Therefore, today I'm going to try to practice a little less worry and a little more faith.  A little less Scrooge, a little more Bob.  There are "other ministers" to provide comfort, as Marley says, and I'm going to have to trust in those ministers.

Embrace your limitations, Saint Marty.  You are powerless.  Until you win the Pulitzer and/or Nobel Prize.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, May 25, 2012

May 25: Climbing Sugarloaf, Pictorial Post

This afternoon, my wife, son, and I climbed Sugarloaf Mountain.  It was the first time ever for my son, and it was the first time in quite a few years for my wife and myself.  It was a lovely day, moderate and sunny.  What follows is the pictorial narrative of our ascent and descent...

At base camp

Stopping for refreshment

An excited little sherpa

Some exotic local fauna
Yes, we took the difficult trail
The little sherpa near the summit
Stopping one last time before conquering the summit
Celebrating on the summit of Sugarloaf
An ancient Boy Scout monument against the Yeti
A view from the summit
And another view
The little sherpa doesn't want to descend
On the way down
The little sherpa leads the way
Almost near the bottom
Doing the traditional victory dance at base camp
The wise little sherpa wants to climb back to the summit again
Saint Marty now knows what Sir Edmund Hillary felt like.

May 25: A Good Soul, Better Situation, Job Interview

"I'm sure he's a good soul!" said Mrs. Cratchit.

"You would be surer of it, my dear," returned Bob, "if you saw and spoke to him.  I shouldn't be at all surprised, mark what I say, if he got Peter a better situation."

Mrs. Cratchit and Bob are speaking of Scrooge's nephew, Fred.  Fred has stopped Bob on the street to console him on the death of Tiny Tim (this scene comes to you courtesy of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come).  Bob and his wife reflect on the kindness of Fred for a few moments, Bob even hinting that Fred may help Bob's son, Peter, obtain a better job.

My wife is at a job interview as I type this post.  She got home yesterday morning after receiving the news that we have a $1600 repair on her Subaru to somehow finance next week.  About a half hour later, the phone rang.  It was a local bank calling to set up an interview with my wife.  Frankly, it had been a couple of weeks since she dropped off her resume and cover letter, so she had pretty much written this job off.  I'm not sure if this is some kind of divine joke, but my wife getting even a part-time position (a "better situation," as Bob says) would be a huge help.

I was feeling quite low yesterday.  I wasn't sure how we were going to get the car fixed and make it through the summer, financially.  And then this little rainbow of hope.  I hear stories like this in church all the time.  Surprise checks in the mail.  Bills paid by anonymous benefactors.  However, I'm usually a glass-half-empty person, especially if some rat bastard comes along and swills down my Diet Mountain Dew.  I need to remember those moments of grace.  Windfalls of money at just the right time.  Unexpected words of kindness when you're feeling sad or stressed.  Glass-half-full stuff.

If someone right now were to offer me the choice of having a good soul, like Fred, or $1600 dollars...I'd take the $1600.

Saint Marty ain't no fool.

Empty or full, just show me the money

Thursday, May 24, 2012

May 24: "Life of Pi," Head Gaskets, Being Pi

Book club tonight.  This month's read was Life of Pi by Yann Martel.  I've read it before.  It's one of my favorites.  I was hoping to reread it completely before our meeting tonight, but, of course, I didn't.

My wife came by the medical office where I work.  She took her car into a mechanic to see if the head gaskets needed to be replaced.  I was truly hoping this guy was going to tell us we could wait a little while.

Let me tell you the news in the way that Yann Martel's Pi would.

My wife went to the elephant house at the zoo to visit her elephant friend, Lotta Dough.  Lotta was sunning herself on the mock African savanna when my wife found her.

"Lotta," my wife called her.  "Do you think I need to buy this really expensive Angus beef to feed my family?  It costs almost $250 per pound."

Lotta lifted some grass to her mouth and chewed slowly.  "Well," she said, "you have to feed your family."

"Yes," my wife said, "but I could make do with this hamburger I found at Wal-Mart for $3.99 per pound."

"Well," said Lotta, swatting at a fly with her trunk, "you could buy the cheaper meat.  However, that meat has been known to cause sickness in children.  You'll probably end up at the hospital, giving money to doctors."

My wife still didn't want to buy the Angus beef.  "But it will cost me $1600 to feed everyone with the Angus."

Lotta rolled on her back.  She was getting hot.  "Look, I know it will be expensive, but if you buy the cheap meat, you eventually will get sick.  Buy the good meat and enjoy it.  That's what the lion would do."

My wife watched as Lotta created a load of dung under a tree.  As she listened to the garden hose of Lotta's urine driving into the dirt, my wife realized Lotta's elephantine wisdom was indisputable.  She would have to buy the Angus.

After Lotta was done with her toiletries, she looked at my wife.  "My dear, as the hyena once told me, 'even if you have fleas, you gotta laugh.'"

"What does that mean?"  My wife called after Lotta, who was heading off in search of shade.

"Don't ask me," Lotta said.  "Hyenas are stupid."

So, that's the animal story.  The human story is less entertaining and a little more depressing.

The mechanic told us we needed to get the head gaskets and timing belt fixed on my wife's Subaru.  It's going to cost $1600, and we can't really put it off without doing serious damage to the vehicle.  All I can do is laugh.  Just when I think we're in pretty good shape, financially, some stupid, necessary expense crops up.

Pi would ask you which of the two versions of the story is more interesting.

Frankly, Saint Marty thinks both versions pretty much suck.

You can't aruge with Lotta

May 24: Unseen Eyes, Shudder, Mornings

Quiet and dark, beside him stood the Phantom, with its outstretched hand.  When he roused himself from his thoughtful quest, he fancied from the turn of the hand, and its situation in reference to himself, that the Unseen Eyes were looking at him keenly.  It made him shudder, and feel very cold.

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come freaks Scrooge out.  For good reason.  The Ghost, as the passage above hints, is the embodiment of the Grim Reaper.  He is death incarnate, shrouded in black, hooded, mysterious.  He isn't your normal yuletide figure.  Picture a character in a Wes Craven film.

I leave my home at around 4:30 a.m. to go to work.  It's always dark.  My front porch is usually in shadows because the streetlight is blocked by a tall hedge of lilac bushes.  On windy days, the shadows of the branches sway and crawl like living things.  It kind of spooks me.

Ever since I started watching the series The Walking Dead last summer, I've had this recurring image/thought/idea about coming out of my house in the morning, walking to my car, and seeing a horde of zombies swaying down the street toward me.  It's totally irrational, but I think about it each and every morning.  It causes me to walk a little faster to my car, my heart pumping with adrenaline.  I always make sure the key to my Freestyle is in my fist before I step outside.  This morning, I got a start from a raccoon ambling the sidewalk.  Actually, it was more than a start.  It was a yell and then a sprint for my vehicle.

Yes, I am a weirdo.  Even though my rational mind knows these fears are completely unfounded, I give into them each and every day.  (This morning, driving down the highway, I came across the scene of a fresh roadkill.  I passed by quickly, but the blood was everywhere.  I couldn't identify what type of creature was the victim.  But, again, my mind went to The Walking Dead.)  I'm not a coward.  I don't live my life in fear.  I just have a few eccentricities.  I also have problems with rodents, clowns, and Precious Moments figurines.  (They're creepy.  Big balloon heads.  Huge eyes.)

Don't judge Saint Marty for this confession.  And don't ever come to his house dressed as Emmett Kelly.

Sure, it looks cute, but so did Charles Manson as a baby

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

May 23: A Cousin Rant, Jealousy, Ugly Side

Yesterday at work, someone attached the newspaper clipping below to the refrigerator door:

Yes, the gentleman in the center of the picture is my famous cousin, Grant, who has won some kind of James Beard Award.  Again.  One of my friends at work said to me, "The James Beard Award.  Isn't that like the Nobel Prize for chefs?"

I will not, in this post, drag my famous cousin through the mud.  He is famous for a reason.  He's a genius chef.  He's a millionaire.  He was named one of People magazine's sexiest men alive.  He got mouth cancer.  He almost lost his tongue.  He didn't lose his tongue.  He survived mouth cancer.  He wrote a memoir about surviving mouth cancer.  He just opened up another restaurant, and it's even more successful than his first restaurant.  And now he's just received another accolade from the James Beard Foundation.  I salute my famous cousin.

Yes, I do have an ugly side to my personality.  I'm a little prone to jealousy.  I tend to make fun of people whom I really envy.  I make disparaging remarks about their successes or looks or personalities.  I do everything I can to shift the spotlight to myself, including being mean, cruel, vindictive, and, above all, funny.  I mean, yeah, Grant has a great story.  The whole mouth cancer thing is worthy of an Oscar-winning film starring Meryl Streep as my cousin.  (Hey, she's already played Julia Child, for God's sake.)  But, c'mon.  Another James Beard Award?!

I'm done.  I promise.  I will not say another word about Grant Achatz.  In this blog.  Today.  I'm not jealous.  I think he deserves all the success he has achieved.  I admire his good looks.  They run in the family.  I, myself, will one day receive the "Sexiest Blogger Alive" award from the crew at Blogger.

Grant Achatz has nothing on Saint Marty.  Except millions of dollars.  And international fame.  And bestselling cookbooks.  And five-star restaurants.  Aside from that, they're pretty much the same.

May 23: Rhinoceros, Belated Birthday, Cookies

I've been amazed at how easy my Dickens challenge has been so far.  My loyal disciples may recall how it all began.  A few days after Christmas last year, I read the passage in A Christmas Carol in which Scrooge declares, "I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year."  This statement gave me the idea of focusing on Scrooge and company all year.  For the past five months, Dickens has been a pretty constant companion to me.  And I've been able to delve into some of the more obscure moments in the novel.

One of those obscure paragraphs comes at the beginning of Stave Three:

Gentlemen of the free-and-easy sort, who plume themselves on being acquainted with a move or two, and being usually equal to the time-of-day, express the wide range of their capacity for adventure by observing that they are good for anything from pitch-and-toss to manslaughter; between which opposite extremes, no doubt, there lies a tolerably wide and comprehensive range of subjects.  Without venturing for Scrooge quite as hardily as this, I don't mind calling on you to believe that he was ready for a good broad field of strange appearances, and that nothing between a baby and rhinoceros would have astonished him very much.

Scrooge is waiting for the Ghost of Christmas Present to appear.  He has been in the company of the ghosts of Jacob Marley and Christmas Past.  He's seen all sorts of ghouls and tortured souls by this point in the narrative, and he is prepared for the next spirit to take any form, from a baby to a rhinoceros, as Dickens says.

I wish I could say I'm prepared for anything that comes my way during the day.  I am not one of those gentlemen of the "free-and-easy sort" that Dickens describes.  As any devoted follower of this blog knows, I am a list-maker and a schedule-follower.  I don't believe in surprises.  Well, I believe in surprises; I just don't like surprises.  I initiate plans to avoid surprises.

For instance, I know exactly what I'm going to be doing almost every hour today.  I'm working.  I'm visiting a friend around lunch time to deliver a belated birthday present (a framed poem and some peanut butter M&M cookies).  I'm going home for dinner.  I'll give my son his bath.  I'll go to choir practice.  Then, when I get home, I'll put my son to bed and settle down to watch the final episode of American Idol.  (By the way, I missed last night's episode.  I had no idea it was on.  I'm a little pissed.  I spent last night switching between the finale of Dancing With the Stars and America's Got Talent.  If I'd known Idol was on, I would have watched it.  See what I mean about surprises?)  That's my whole day.

The thing I'm most excited about is the belated birthday present.  I can hardly wait to see my friend's reaction.  She's going to love it.  I know she is.  It involves poetry, art, cocker spaniels, and cookies.  All things she loves.  Plus, I'm delivering the gift personally, and we haven't had a chance to visit for a long time.  It will be wonderful.  At least, that's what I have planned.

No rhinoceros in Saint Marty's future today.  Unless he finds himself on the horn-end of a surprise safari.

Beware all rhinos!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

May 22: Interviewing, U. P. the Podcast, Dan

Well, I did the interview.  I thought I didn't have enough material to fill ten minutes.  It seems I have a lot more to say than I thought I did.  I think I talked with Dan (the guy who runs the podcast) for about 35 minutes.  We covered a wide range of topics--poetry, the U. P., writing in the U. P., the 2012 U. P. Book Tour, Donald Hall, lake sturgeon, dinosaurs.  I had a blast.  (I'm hoping I didn't bore Dan to death.  He's too nice of a guy to say so.)

The podcast of the interview will go up on the website in a couple of days.  Dan's going to edit it a little bit.  I'm hoping, after the edit, the interview doesn't consist of just "Hi, this is Dan talking with Marty" and "Thanks for listening."  I'm pretty sure I sounded intelligent and coherent.  You be the judge.  Google "U. P. the Podcast" in a couple of days.  Let me know what your think of the interview.  Dan has talked with some interesting people in the past, including the actor Jeff Daniels, who has strong ties to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

I'm feeling pretty good.  I didn't make a fool of myself, and I got to talk about my poetry.  It was like an oral blog post.

Saint Marty got to be a real poet today.

I'm in good company

May 22: Cracking Jokes, Terror, Interview

Scrooge was not much in the habit of cracking jokes, nor did he feel, in his heart, by any means waggish then.  The truth is, that he tried to be smart, as a means of distracting his own attention, and keeping his terror; for the spectre's voice disturbed the very marrow in his bones.

Scrooge, confronted by the ghost of his dead business partner, is terrified.  Instead of pissing his nightshirt and fainting, which would have been my reaction in the given situation, Scrooge uses another defense mechanism:  sarcasm and humor.  He makes fun of Jacob Marley's ghost, even taunts him.  Of course, Jacob doesn't take very kindly to Scrooge's barbs, and he soon has Scrooge cowering in his chair.

I'm very much like Scrooge when I find myself in uncomfortable places.  I use humor to deflect my anxiety.  The more nervous I am, the funnier I try to be.  Thank goodness, I am blessed with the ability to think pretty quickly on my feet.  I use this talent in the classroom, in social situations, in more formal events (like poetry readings or panel discussions), and in interviews.  If I start making fun of myself, I'm nervous.

I have to do a podcast interview this afternoon.  The interview is to promote the 2012 U. P. Book Tour, of which I'm a part.  I'm supposed to talk about the Book Tour and myself, and, I guess, attract/entice people to come to the events I'm appearing at.  In the process, I'm also supposed to be witty and charming.  It's kind of a tall order.  Needless to say, I'm a little nervous about the whole prospect.

The only bright side is that the person doing the interview is someone I know (the brother of a old friend of mine).  That makes the process a little less nerve-wracking.  That's not to say I won't be a stuttering mess, but at least I'll be stuttering mess with someone I know.

I'm currently dosing myself with caramel-infused brownie, which does absolutely nothing for my jitters except provide a pleasant, sugar-coated caffeine buzz.  I contemplating eating two or three more of them.  If I do that, I'll either sound like a coke-addict during the interview, or I'll slip into a diabetic coma and miss the entire thing.

Saint Marty needs to find his inner-Johnny Carson today.

Heeeeeere's Saint Marty!

Monday, May 21, 2012

May 21: Accomplishing A Whole Lot of Nothing, Guilt

I had every intention of accomplishing a lot of things today.  My to-do list was huge.

Well, I got to around number three on my list, and then I stalled.  I've been stalled for most of the day now.  Instead, I ate up my time doing things that weren't productive or helpful or even fun.  My to-do list transformed into a to-don't list.  And I'm experiencing tremendous guilt.

However, I am going to try to get back on track now.  I have a few more productive hours left, then committee meetings at church tonight.  Committee meetings, by definition, are not productive.  They're just a lot of people, sitting around a table, discussing making decisions about something that needs to be accomplished, and then tabling the discussion until the next meeting.  As you can tell, I'm not a big fan of committees or meetings.

Such is my lot in life today.  I've pissed away the hours, and now I have to do the penance.

If anyone needs some guilt, Saint Marty has an extra helping to share.  It tastes just like chicken.

Ignore the hammer and sickle.  Guilt for everyone!

May 21: "Carol" Dip Monday, Publishing My Book, Contests

Welcome to Carol dip Monday.  Yes, this is the day where I ask a completely self-absorbed question about my life, flip randomly through my copy of A Christmas Carol, and land on a quote that answers my question.  Think of it as the Magic 8 Ball of literary analysis.  It has nothing to do with the artistic merits of Charles Dickens or the book, and everything to do with my ego.  If you are looking for profound insight in this post, you have come to the wrong blog.

With that little disclaimer out of the way, I shall proceed.  My question for today is about my latest collection of poems that I've been sending out to contests for the last year.  (I'm currently waiting to hear back from yet another competition.)  My question is very simple:

Will I get that book published soon?

And the answer from the book of Dickens is:

The joy, and gratitude, and ecstasy!  They are all indescribable alike

I kid you not.  That is exactly where my finger stopped, randomly, in the pages of A Christmas Carol.  It's a description of Belle, Scrooge's former fiance, and Belle's children.  It's a bright little passage, and it provides me with a very positive answer to my question this morning.  Joy.  Gratitude.  Ecstasy.  Either I'm going to win that poetry contest, or the university is going to offer me a full-time, tenure-track professor position with benefits.  Soon.  Or maybe a distant relative is going to die and bequeath me a small (or large) fortune.  Soon.  Whatever.  It's a win-win all 'round.

That puts me in a good mood.  It may be silly to base my happiness on a superstitious ritual that has absolutely no connection to reality, but I'm going to run with it this morning.

Saint Marty is in for a whole lot of happy, happy, joy, joy, to quote Ren and Stimpy.

Sing along, if you want!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

May 20: A Run, Sprinklers, New Cartoon

It has been in the 80-degree range all weekend long.  A couple of months ago, I got really sick, couldn't run without hacking up a lung.  So I didn't run.  For a long time.  Well, I ran about a mile and a half yesterday afternoon, and I nearly died.  This afternoon, I ran the same distance, and it wasn't any better.  My calves feel like they've been stomped on by a buffalo.  However, I feel good about myself.  I just can't get off the sofa.  (I also realized that I need a new pair of running shoes.)

My kids played under the sprinklers at my parents' house this afternoon.  It reminded me of when I was a kid.  On a hot day, playing under the sprinklers was like going to Disney World.  I was dumping buckets of water on them, and they were getting completely muddy.  It was a total blast.  I felt like the father of the year, and all I was doing was drowning my daughter and son with freezing cold water.  They loved it.

Saint Marty is loving the start of summer.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, May 19, 2012

May 19: The Grocers', Freak, New Cartoon

The Grocers'!  oh the Grocers'!  nearly closed, with perhaps two shutters down, or one; but through those gaps such glimpses!  It was not alone that the scales descending on the counter made a merry sound, or that the twine and roller parted company so briskly, or that the canisters were rattled up and down like juggling tricks, or even that the blended scents of tea and coffee were so grateful to the nose, or even that the raisins were so plentiful and rare, the almonds so extremely  white, the sticks of cinnamon so long and straight, the other spices so delicious, the candied fruits so caked and spotted with molten sugar as to make the coldest lookers-on feel faint and subsequently bilious.  Nor was it that the figs were moist and pulpy, or that the French plums blushed in modest tartness from their highly-decorated boxes, or that everything was good to eat and in its Christmas dress:  but the customers were all so hurried and so eager in the hopeful promise of the day, that they tumbled up against each other at the door, clashing their wicker baskets wildly, and left their purchases upon the counter, and came running back to fetch them, and committed hundreds of the like mistakes in the best humour possible; while the Grocer and his people were so frank and fresh that the polished hearts with which they fastened their aprons behind might have been their own, worn outside for general inspection, and for Christmas daws to peck at if they chose.

I know what you're thinking:  why in the hell did Saint Marty start with this catalogue of Christmas groceries?  It comes in the stave with the Ghost of Christmas Present, a stave that is full of these kinds of descriptions.  Dickens seems obsessed with the culinary details of Christmas.  You might call him a freak for these foods.

I just finished listening to an audio version of Steve Almond's book Candy Freak, which, to this day, still remains one of my favorite books of all time.  In the book, Almond displays his candy obsessions and fetishes in all their weird glory.  For a fellow candy freak like myself, I find in Almond a kindred spirit.  I find the same kind of kindred spirit in Dickens.  In Dickens' paragraphs about sucking pigs and joints of meat and candied fruits and French plums, I find a fellow freak.

I think most writers are freaks about something or other.  Writers are just walking balls of obsessive energy.  It comes with the territory.  If you can commit yourself to writing about candy bars or mental illness or any other subject for a year or so of your life, you are, by definition, a freak.  That's why I love being around writers.  Their preoccupations are consuming, fascinating, and powerful.  Writers can make any subject vivid and living.  Almond does this with chocolate.  Dickens does this with Victorian Christmas menus.

Saint Marty does this with Charles Dickens and Steve Almond and Cheetos.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, May 18, 2012

May 18: A Walk, New Poem, "Between Cross and Snow"

Just got done with a walk along the shores of Lake Superior.  No, I'm not going to start quoting "The Song of Hiawatha."  It was a lovely afternoon, with temperatures near 80 degrees.  My wife and I had time to kill while our daughter was at her dance class, so we went for a stroll.  It really feels like summer has arrived.  Thank God.


I promised a new poem tonight, and I am going to make good on that promise.  The sonnet I wrote is in response to the Longfellow poem I discussed yesterday.  In my poem, I'm trying to somehow find entry into Longfellow's poem.  I think I found both Longfellow and myself.  I think.  I'd be interested to hear my disciples' opinions.  It's still too fresh for me to have any objectivity.

Saint Marty needs to get his butt moving.  His daughter is done with dance.

Between Cross and Snow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “The Cross of Snow”

How does Longfellow contain years
Of grief in fourteen lines, words
Black, unsubstantial as the upward
Lift of ash or reflections in mirrors

Of black swans at midnight? No tears
Fall with his rhymes. With alphabetic shards,
He combs the smoke and sear from a beard
White as whale foam. He still hears,

After all this changeless time, her voice
Echo through sun-defying ravines
In the West, through the shadows

Between cross and snow. In this holy space,
I find my daughter, running in evergreens,
Climbing. Away. Up. Up. To where woman grows.

May 18: Not Himself, Inexorable Finger, Apology

"This court," said Scrooge, "through which we hurry now, is where my place of occupation is, and has been for a length of time.  I see the house.  Let me behold what I shall be, in days to come!"

The Spirit stopped; the hand was pointed elsewhere.

"The house is yonder," Scrooge exclaimed.  "Why do you point away?"

The inexorable finger underwent no change.

Scrooge hastened to the window of his office, and looked in.  It was an office still, but not his.  The furniture was not the same, and the figure in the chair was not himself.  The Phantom pointed as before.

Scrooge is peering through a window into his future in this little passage.  He's searching for some hint about what he will become of him.  The Ghost of the Future is pointing with his inexorable finger toward a different destination, but Scrooge can't resist taking control, going to his place of business and finding not himself, but a stranger.

I'm not sure I would want to peer into the future as Scrooge does.  I'd be a little to nervous about witnessing the seeds of the past and present taking root and growing.  Don't get me wrong.  I'm not a serial killer or a bank robber.  I don't kick puppies or kittens.  However, like everyone else, I've said and done some things in the past of which I'm not too proud.

I've been thinking about one particular incident.  It happened many years ago.  My wife and I were going to a birthday party for my wife's sister.  I believe my sister-in-law was turning 30.  Anyway, it was supposed to be a Mexican-themed party, with everybody bringing a Mexican dish to pass.  My wife decided to make quesadillas.  Well, the day of the party, we found out that my wife's other sister was bringing quesadillas, as well.  So my wife decided to make peanut butter and banana quesadillas for the kids.  Well, the peanut butter ran.  The bananas slipped out of the tortilla shells.  The whole concoction was a mess.

The people at the party made jokes and teased my wife.  Instead of defending her, I made a joke, as well.  My wife has battled low self-esteem all her life.  When I made my joke, she started to cry.  I apologized to her immediately, but, after all these years, I still feel incredible guilt.  My wife and I have had our share of struggles over the years.  Perhaps, if I'd been a little more supportive and kind, I could have helped my wife overcome her self-confidence issues.  Perhaps her life would be easier right now if I'd just been a better person myself.

I'm not sure in which direction that inexorable finger of the future is pointing for me right now, but, this morning, I'm reminding myself to be compassionate, more understanding.  And I'm apologizing to my wife, telling her how lucky I am to have her as my partner.

Plus, Saint Marty loves peanut butter and banana quesadillas now.

Don't knock 'em 'til you try 'em

Thursday, May 17, 2012

May 17: Longfellow, "The Cross of Snow," New Book

So, I've began working on a new book of poems.  I will give you a first sample from it tomorrow afternoon.  Today, I want to talk about a poem I love.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the sonnet "The Cross of Snow" eighteen years after the death of his second wife.  His second wife died as the result of severe burns.  In some accounts, she was sealing some envelopes with wax.  The envelopes contained clippings of hair from the Longfellow children.  A spark landed on her dress, and, when Longfellow came to her rescue, she was completely engulfed in flames.  Longfellow threw a rug over her to put out the fire, in the process severely injuring his hands and face.  (That's why Longfellow always had a long, white beard and moustache--to hide his scars.)  Longfellow's wife died within a day or so after the fire.

Eighteen years later, Longfellow wrote the poem below.  It's beautiful and heartbreaking.

Saint Marty hopes you love it as much as he loves it.

The Cross of Snow

In the long, sleepless watches of the night,
A gentle face--the face of one long dead--
Looks at me from the wall, where 'round its head
The night-lamp casts a halo of pale light.

Here in this room she died, and soul more white
Never through martyrdom of fire was led
To its repose; nor can in books be read
The legend of a life more benedight.

There is a mountain in the distant West
That, sun-defying, in its deep ravines
Displays a cross of snow upon its side.

Such is the cross I wear upon my breast
These eighteen years, through all the changing scenes
And seasons, changeless since the day she died.

H. W. Longfellow

May 17: Snore, Shaking It Off, Welcome

Awaking in the middle of a prodigiously tough snore, and sitting up in bed to get his thoughts together, Scrooge had no occasion to be told that the bell was again upon the stroke of One...

This will not be a post of great insight.  This will not be a post of great humor.  This will not be a post of great anything.  Like Scrooge in the above sentence, I find myself awake and trying to gather my thoughts together.  It's one of those mornings where sleep hangs on like a cheap wine.  At the moment, I could easily put my head down and go back to sleep, even though I've showered, dressed, and already completed several tasks.  I can feel the sleep sitting behind my eyes, pushing on them.  I'm having a hard time shaking this sleep hangover off.

I wasn't up any later than I usually am.  I didn't do anything especially taxing last night.  Yet, I'm having this out-of-body experience at the keyboard.  I sit staring at the screen for a full minute, caught mid-sentence, unsure what I was going to say.  I'm into my third paragraph, and all I'm focusing on...See, it just happened again.  I'm not sure how I was going to complete that thought.  I'm about read to throw in the towel, to use a bad sports metaphor.

Before I do throw the towel into the proverbial ring, I need to welcome the newest official follower of Saint Marty.  Welcome, Mrs. Katie.  I hope you find your time in the...OK, just had another brain hiccup.  I think what I was going to say is that I hope you find your time in the middle of my neuroses entertaining/amusing/not too annoying.

That's all I got this morning, folks.  Like Scrooge, I just woke up in the middle of a prodigiously tough snore.

Saint Marty just...lost his train of thought again...He will...Oh, screw it...
I know how he feels

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

May 16: Family Night, Fire Trucks, Battle

This evening, we are taking our children to the annual Family Night at my daughter's school.  There will be face painting and hot dogs and a book fair.  There will be crafts for kids and a clown (whom I will avoid because clowns are, by definition, evil).  And, best of all, there will be fire trucks to climb on.

At least, in my three-year-old son's mind, the fire trucks are "best of all."  Last year, when we took him to Family Night, he spent the entire time crawling through, sitting in, and climbing over the fire trucks.  If I tried to get him to move on, he'd start screaming.  Eventually, I had to literally pry his fingers from the fire truck's bumper in order to leave.

That's the battle I have in my future.  Of course, my wife and I have agreed that it will not be a battle.  We will tell him before we arrive at Family Night that he's going to have to wait until his sister is done inside the school before he can go to the fire trucks.  We will remind him when we get to the school.  We will keep reminding him throughout the evening.  I, personally, do not believe this tactic will make a difference.

There will be a scene.  There will be screaming.  There will be crying.  And that's just me.  My son will have an all-out nuclear apocalypse of a tantrum.

Pray for Saint Marty tonight.  He's going to need it.

Prepare for my son's mushroom cloud

May 16: The Hearth, Family, Misplaced Anger

At last dinner was all done, the cloth was cleared, the hearth swept, and the fire made up.  The compound in the jug being tasted, and considered perfect, apples and oranges were put upon the table, and a shovel-full of chestnuts on the fire.  Then all the Cratchit family drew round the hearth, in what Bob Cratchit called a circle, meaning half a one; and at Bob Cratchit's elbow stood the family display of glass.  Two tumblers, and a custard-cup without a handle.

Yes, the Cratchit family is the closest you come to the Brady Bunch in A Christmas Carol.  Granted, Tiny Tim is severely ill.  Granted, Bob barely makes enough money to feed and clothe his wife and children.  Granted, their possessions are meager, as demonstrated by the family display of glass.  And granted, poverty is a constant presence in the Cratchit scenes.  But, as Dickens points out a few paragraphs later, the Cratchits are "happy, grateful, pleased with one another, and contented with the time..."

I just got off the phone with my eleven-year-old daughter.  I call her every morning before she heads out to catch her school bus.  I just want to hear her voice, wish her a good day, tell her I love her.  In the last couple of weeks, I have been getting boat-loads of drama when I call.  She can't find a pair of pants.  She can't find the ring her friend gave her.  She can't find her homework.  This morning, she was crying on the phone because "I tried and tried and tried, like for five minutes, to get my hair in a ponytail for school, and there's still a strand of hair hanging down in the back, and now I have to go to school with a strand hanging down in the back, and you're not saying anything, and I'm talking to an empty phone, and my hair is never going to get perfect."

Obviously, when I'm greeted like this, I'm kind of speechless.  If I were at home, I could fix her hair.  If I were there, I could help her navigate this crisis.  However, I can't be there.  I have to work, and I have to listen to my daughter have a meltdown over a strand of errant hair.  My wife is at home, but, because of her medications, she has very little energy in the mornings.  Yet, I still find myself getting angry with my wife.  I want to tell her to get off the couch and comfort our daughter, help her out.

My anger is misplaced.  I'm angry about the fact that I can't help my daughter in the morning.  I'm angry at having to work twelve-hour days to pay the bills.  I'm angry because I feel like I'm missing so much of my children's childhoods.  And I'm angry for having to listen to my daughter have a breakdown over a piece of hair. 

My wife has a much different parenting style than I have.  She's much more relaxed, a type-B parent.  Things don't have to be perfect for her.  I'm a type-A parent.  I want lunches made and clothes laid out the night before.  I want my daughter to get all A's in school.  And I want her hair to look beautiful and perfect.  Every day.

This parenting approach, however, simply leads to frustration and anger, as evidenced by this morning.   Bob Cratchit is not a type-A parent.  He knows his life isn't perfect, his children aren't perfect.  He knows his house is too small for his family.  He knows the Christmas goose isn't big enough to feed his entire brood.  Yet, he's happy.  Satisfied.  Content with his life.  He's simply grateful that all his children are alive and together around his hearth.  I need to take some parenting lessons from Bob.

And Saint Marty needs to give his wife a lesson in how to create a decent ponytail.
Me......................................My Wife

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

May 15: Speaking of Ideas, Poetry, A Writer Friend

I do have a new idea for my next collection of poetry.  I've even started working on the first poem.  However, I haven't really shared my idea with anybody but my wife so far.  For me, it's a matter of superstition.

You see, the moment I start talking to people about a book I'm working on, the book fizzles.  I start losing interest.  I get writer's block.  All sorts of bad writing afflictions happen.  The worst sort of distraction for a writing project is ideas for other writing projects.  You see, the grass is always greener over the septic tank, to quote Erma Bombeck.  The new writing project always seems more exciting and challenging and fun than the old writing project.

Writing is a very isolating sort of endeavor.  I may have a great writing day, but I don't have anyone to share the experience with.  Yes, I have writer friends.  Yes, I can read my work to my wife (who,  by the way, is my toughest critic).  But, when I write something about which I'm excited, I want instant gratification.  I want someone to tell me how great I am.  I want someone to tell me I'm the greatest writer since William Faulkner.  Instead, I just sit wherever I happen to be writing, and I allow myself to sort of buzz or hum.  Feel good about myself.  (Until I show whatever I've produced to my wife, who'll say something like, "The ending doesn't quite..."  Then I get defensive and pout a lot.)

Therefore, I will not speak of my ideas.  I may share a poem or two.  I may post a chapter of a novel or memoir.  However, I will not divulge all the details until I'm near the end of the writing process.

I'm meeting a good writing friend, Matt, after work today.  He says we're meeting for a beer.  I'm going to order a Diet Coke.  Maybe a gin and tonic if I'm feeling adventurous.  At the moment, I'm not feeling very Indiana Jonesish.  I may speak to Matt about my new writing project.  Or not.  It may surprise you to know that, when writers get together, we don't always talk about writing. Sometimes we talk about things like the general stupidity of the Republican Party.   Or porn.  Or famine and AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa.  You know, normal things. 

Saint Marty has a poem to finish now.  A writer's work is never done.

What writer friends are for...

May 15: Reeked With Crime, Crystal Meth, Trailer Park

They left the busy scene, and went into an obscure part of the town, where Scrooge had never penetrated before, although he recognised its situation, and its bad repute.  The ways were foul and narrow; the shops and houses wretched; the people half-naked, drunken, slipshod, ugly.  Alleys and archways, like so many cesspools, disgorged their offences of smell, and dirt, and life, upon the straggling streets; and the whole quarter reeked with crime, with filth, and misery.

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come brings Scrooge to this quaint little neighborhood.  Scrooge will soon witness a trio of unsavory characters selling items they have stolen from his death chamber.  Most of this stave reeks with crime and filth and misery.  Despair is rampant.  Tiny Tim is dead.  The Cratchits are in mourning.  To top it all off, the Ghost brings Scrooge to this London ghetto.

I live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  I'm surrounded by forest, and the shores of Lake Superior are only about 20 miles from my doorstep.  The town in which I live is tiny, and the university where I teach is filled, mainly, with students who grew up in the U.P.  Sounds idyllic, doesn't it?

However, the area is economically depressed, like the rest of the country.  Businesses are closing.  Alcoholism is a huge problem, always has been.  Most of the available jobs are for minimum wage (read that as"not enough to pay the rent and buy oatmeal for dinner").  And crystal meth is a huge problem.

Over the last few days, I've been watching local news coverage about the newest crystal meth lab bust.  It was in a local trailer home park.  The news keeps showing footage of the drug dealer, a man around my age who looks like he's been rode hard and put away wet.  I'm not joking when I say he looks like he's approaching 70 years old.  He's a tattooed piece of shoe leather.

Most people who live in the U.P. live here because we are, supposedly, so far removed from the urban problems of poverty, drug abuse, murder, and the like.  Late last year, there was a homicide in another crystal meth house.  We also had our first drive-by shooting in town that didn't involve a rogue whitetail deer.  (Again, I think it involved drugs.)  Like Dickens' Victorian London, the U.P. is not immune to the darker elements of human existence,

Some of my friends and family tend to blame "outsiders" for these problems, people who come to upper Michigan to take advantage of our welfare system.  That is a fallacy.  Most of the problems I just described are as home-grown as blueberries and iron ore.  When you have people living in an isolated environment with an unstable economy, you're going to have problems.  People will turn to drugs and alcohol out of sheer desperation.

Things haven't changed that much since Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol.  Until human beings learn to look out for every segment of society, there will always be things like crystal meth labs.  Drive-by shootings.  Crime.  Filth.  Misery.

Saint Marty isn't a desperate segment of society.  Not any more.  He's had breakfast.

This is your face...               This is your face on meth...

Monday, May 14, 2012

May 14: No Blessing, New Poem, "Garden of Eve"

Well, my Carol dip lied to me this morning.  I received no blessing.  I was looking for a free repair of my daughter's broken iPod.  Didn't happen.  After about half an hour on the phone with Apple, I realized it was going to cost me close to $200 yet again.  I'm not a happy blogger at the moment.  My wife just dropped the iPod off at the UPS store to be shipped to California.  I'm sure in a couple of days, my daughter will be the owner, yet again, of a new 4G iPod Touch.

It's going to be a long night of chauffeuring my kids around.  Religion class.  Dance class.  Many miles on my car.  My wife is going out with friends, so I am a solo act this evening.  Mother and father.  Snack-maker and SpongeBob-chooser.  Bath-giver and lullaby-singer.

Well, I promised a poem this afternoon, and I always deliver on my promises.  Well, I deliver on my promises most of the time...OK, I try to deliver on my promises 50% of the time...OK, I deliver on my promises when I already have the poem written and all I have to do is cut and paste.  This is the poem I wrote for the mother/daughter dinner at the Lutheran church last week.

Remember, Saint Marty isn't about perfection.  He's about progress...OK, he's about trying to moving forward a little...OK, he'd like everything to stay exactly the same, all the time.

The Garden of Eve

I have found stones, blood
In this soil. I have dug deep,
Until my fingers struck dirt
As black as Eden’s mud.
I pressed seeds into this mud,
Covered them with more mud.
Waited. Dreamed of the nights
In Eden, when the Lord walked
Through the trees, his footsteps
Filled with mango and banana,
The sigh of plum and peach. I didn’t
Have words for pear or persimmon
Then, knew them only by tongue,
Their sweet meat and water.
Name was not important.
I was curve of rib, sickle
Of bone. I was deep sleep.
Companion. Eater of wisdom.
I try to grow Eden’s gifts now.
I listen at night for the Lord
To pass over, listen for pineapple spine,
The hairy cheek of kiwi.
My womb has blossomed many times.
Like a seed, I have split open,
Born bitter blood orange,
Rubies of pomegranate.
I nursed them to green summer,
To bud and flower.
Now, I watch you, as you stretch,
Reach toward rain, sun. You.
Rib from rib. Bone from bone.
I accept my garden labor.
Drought. Flood. Grub. Sand.
I work with my hands
Until they turn hard as adobe.
All for you. First daughter.
Garden and gardener. Eve’s song.