Saturday, August 31, 2013

August 31: Thinking and Answering, Post for the Sake of Posting, Poetry Difficulties

I didn't feel much like thinking and answering and all.  I had a headache and felt lousy.  I even had sort of a stomachache, if you want to know the truth.

Holden doesn't feel like talking to Mr. Antolini about his life.  In fact, Holden is a little over twelve hours away from being hospitalized.  He's sick.  Very sick.  And he doesn't want to discuss the current direction of his education.  He wants to go to sleep.

I'm not that sick any more.  I'm on the mend.  My stomach still hurts a little bit, but I can pretty much perform most of my normal daily activities.  However, I don't really feel like writing a post tonight.  I'm simply posting for the sake of posting.  It's the end of the month, and I don't want to wimp out on the last day of August.

Since last weekend's little medical emergency, I haven't thought much about poetry.  I haven't thought much about anything but teaching and sleeping.  That's been my focus.  I know, I know.  I'm being lazy.  It almost feels like I'm using my appendicitis as a reason to not write a new poem.  There may be some truth in that statement.

I haven't been very inspired this week.  However, if I waited for inspiration to strike all the time, I'd never write another poem ever.  Inspiration strikes about as often as lightning.  It's simply a matter for me of knuckling down and getting to work.

Not tonight.  Tomorrow.

Saint Marty promises.  He doesn't have his fingers crossed.  Really, he doesn't.

I'm not fibbing

Friday, August 30, 2013

August 30: William Stafford, "At the Un-National Monument Along the Canadian Border," Labor Day

Tonight, I want to share a poem by one of my favorite poets, William Stafford.

Stafford doesn't get a whole lot of attention these days, but his work leaves me slack-jawed and breathless most of the time.  He's a quiet poet.  His lines sneak up on you like the first snow of autumn.  With silence and bracing beauty.

Saint Marty can't think of a better way to kick off Labor Day weekend than with this poem.

At the Un-National Monument Along the Canadian Border

This is the field where the battle did not happen,
where the unknown soldier did not die.
This is the field where grass joined hands,
where no monument stands,
and the only heroic thing is the sky.

Birds fly here without any sound,
unfolding their wings across the open.
No people killed--or were killed--on this ground
hallowed by neglect and an air so tame
that people celebrate it by forgetting its name.

Bill Stafford

August 30: Smell Your Socks, Cleaning My House, Fairy Tale Friday

"This room stinks," I said.  "I can smell your socks from way over here.  Don'tcha ever send them to the laundry?"

Holden is not too kind to his suite mate, Ackley, at the beginning of Catcher.  Of course, Ackle y gives him plenty of ammunition for his attacks.  Ackley's personal hygiene leaves a great deal to be desired, and Ackley's dorm room reflects this fact.  As Holden says, the room "stinks."

Fridays are my cleaning days.  I vacuum.  I sweep.  I mop.  I clean the bathroom.  I empty the garbage.  I dust everything.  By the time I'm done, the whole house smells, for a few hours, at least, like lemon and Lysol.  I love sitting on my couch after I'm done, seeing everything in its place.  Having a twelve-year-old daughter and four-year-old son, I know this moment of order will be brief.  However, I revel in it while it lasts.

My wife thinks I'm a little bit of a fanatic about my Friday routine.  She may be right.  I cannot really relax on a Friday night unless the cleaning is done.  After a week of chaos and running, I need a few quiet minutes when I can believe that the universe is running properly, all the planets aligned and singing.  Only a few minutes.  That's all I ask.

Well, that and a fairy tale.

Once upon a time, a man named Hearst lived in a castle by the ocean.  Hearst insisted his castle be cleaned, top to bottom, every day by his servants.  He drove everyone crazy, screaming at the top of his lungs if he found one single water spot on his crystal wine glasses.  His bed linens were washed every morning.  His socks and underwear were hand laundered in the ocean tides every night.

Hearst believed he could control the universe by keeping it dusted, mopped, and washed.  "If I don't do this," he often said to his butler, Yancy, "fall won't follow summer, and winter won't come after fall."

Yancy merely nodded his head.

One morning, Hearst found a mouse in his bathroom.  He jumped onto the toilet and began screaming.  He screamed and screamed.  None of his servants came to check on him.  They were too busy cleaning.  Yancy was in the village, replenishing the castle's supply of lemon Pledge.

Hearst had a heart attack in the bathroom.  Yancy found his body later that morning.  Yancy couldn't believe his eyes.  Hearst had soiled himself before he died.

Moral of the tale:  shit happens.

And Saint Marty lived happily every after.

I Pledge allegiance...

Thursday, August 29, 2013

August 29: Taking It Easy

Going to be very brief with this post.  Tired,  Hungry.  Ready to take it easy.

Week over.  Done with teaching.  Still sore from operation last weekend.

Daughter waiting to use my laptop.  Going to brush my teeth.

Saint Marty's done.  Good night.  (Cormac McCarthy eat your heart out!)

August 29: Give Mother a Kiss, Julie Brooks Barbour, "Come to Me and Drink"

"Well.  Go to sleep.  Give Mother a kiss.  Did you say your prayers?"

Holden Caulfield's mother is a small presence in Catcher.  She only appears briefly in person at the end of the book, when Holden sneaks home to visit his sister, Phoebe.  There's something tragic about Mrs. Caulfield.  She's struggling to hold her family together after the death of her son, Allie, from leukemia.  Holden is flunking out of another school.  D. B., her oldest son, has left for Hollywood to work as a script writer.  Her husband is a workaholic lawyer, and she, herself,  suffers from migraines.   In the above passage, all Mrs. Caulfield has to offer her daughter are the standard bedtime tokens of motherhood:  a kiss, prayers.

Holden's mother is suffering.  Yet, she tries to stitch together something close to normalcy for her children.  That is what mothers do.  They feed their children, protect them, correct them, and, eventually, let them fly away.

I recently read a chapbook of poetry by Julie Brooks Barbour titled Come to Me and Drink.  The poems in this book are tender and hard, compassionate and unforgiving.  Barbour writes of motherhood in all its complexity.  She doesn't flinch away from blood and bone.  No, she shines an intense, clear light on the beautiful pain of being a mother, and, in doing so, creates a collection of poems that breaks and binds the heart.

The title poem of the book taps the very root of motherhood.  The imagery is both natural and mythical, calling to mind the intimate ecstasy between mother and infant:

Come to Me and Drink

I know what she tastes:  the ambrosia
that one morning fell in drops
from my breast to my arm.  Tasting it,
my tongue recalled the white and yellow
blossoms of honeysuckle sprouting wild
along a field's edge.  Collecting vine upon vine,
I'd pluck each sweet blossom, pull out
each green stamen, careful not to lose
the drop of nectar at its tip, delighting
my tongue with the watery sugar.

Now the gods put me on the vine.
The buds of my nipples are pink
and dripping.  An infant plucks me dry,
a sweet smell on her breath.  This liquid:
a heal-all for a stomachache, a sedative
for the sleepless child making her bed
in the field's tall grass.  Her lips suckle in sleep.
Her tongue clicks in her mouth, an exercise.
The passing breeze my voice,
whispering around her ear.  My arms vines
coaxing her to come to me and drink.

The poem reaches beyond the stereotypical icon of Madonna/Christ child.  Barbour's mother is nectar, honeysuckle.  Barbour's child is honeybee, hummingbird.

Come to Me and Drink offers bitter milk, as well.  A later poem reaches beyond infancy, shows a mother on the cusp of release.  Present in these lines are the distant push of birth and present ache for freedom:


The infant on my lap is theirs
and he is warm and soft.  He smells sweet,
like cake, a morsel of something I could eat.

I had my own baby once, but she is grown--
all knees and elbows now, gangly and gorgeous.
When I look inside my own heart,

no desire glows there.  His scent wafts away.
There are oceans of want ahead, sickly sweet.
I open my sail.  I have all day.

That is what is truly remarkable about the poems in this collection.  They are full of love, but this love is tempered with the knowledge that motherhood is a journey.  A voyage.  Baby to girl to woman to mother to baby.  Over and over.

Julie Brooks Barbour's poems are all about that voyage, filled with oceans of sweet want.  They are gorgeous.  They are tender.  Come to Me and Drink sails into the soul.

And that's a piece of Saint Marty's mind.

Read it and love it

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

August 28: Charlie Chaplin and "City Lights"

This afternoon, I spent about an hour watching Charlie Chaplin's masterpiece City Lights.  None of my students had ever seen the film before.  I was a little tired and cranky.  It was a really good way to end my day.

As I turned off the lights in my classroom and headed back to my office, I had a smile on my face.  The Little Tramp did that for me (and I'm not talking about a coed with a tattoo).

Saint Marty is a happy convalescent tonight.

Get your mind out of the gutter--this is the Little Tramp!

August 28: Joining a Monastery, Denominations, Differences

"Listen.  What's the routine on joining a monastery?" I asked him.  I was sort of toying with the idea of joining one.  "Do you have to be a Catholic and all?"

Holden thinks about religion and God a lot.  He's drawn to the idea of salvation and heaven.  He's looking for a place to fit in, to be a part of.  He doesn't really like the people he goes to school with.  He doesn't have many adults he looks up to.  His idea of paradise:  saving kids who are about to fall off the cliff into adulthood.  Holden wants to be the catcher in the rye.

I think everybody wants to fit in.  Everybody wants to be liked.  In the film Dead Poets Society, Robin Williams' character asks what is the purpose of poetry.  Several answers are offered, chief among them being to communicate.  "No," Williams' character says.  The purpose of poetry is to "woo women."  Everyone is the scene laughs.  But I think there's a lot of truth in what Williams says in that movie.  Poetry is about connecting, reaching out, being a part of something important.

So much of life is about disconnection and disharmony.  I've been a lifelong practicing Catholic.  For the last 20 years, ever since I met my wife, I've also been heavily involved in my wife's church.  She's a Methodist.  For the most part, I've always felt welcomed, accepted.  Sure, I've been the recipient of some good-natured kidding at my wife's church, but I would never characterize any of that kidding as intentionally cruel.

If religion is about exclusion, any religion, I have a problem with it.  Methodists think Catholics have too many statues.  Catholics think Methodists sing too loud.  I'm joking, sort of.  I think Christian denominations spend way too much time focusing on differences instead of similarities.  In my experience, Catholicism and Methodism have a lot more in common than either denomination cares to admit.

Lutheran.  Baptist.  Methodist.  Catholic.  Assembly of God.  It's all about salvation.  It's all about Jesus Christ catching us all at the edge of the rye field.  My worry is that too many people fall off the cliff because they're looking for a Methodist catcher or a Catholic catcher.

Saint Marty doesn't care.  As long as the Catcher is there for him when he gets to the edge of the field.

Catch me, Robin

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

August 27: Anexsia and "America's Got Talent"

I have made it through another day.  My students couldn't even tell that it felt like my spleen was going to burst through my belly button Alien-style.  I did get a message on my answering machine from my father-in-law this afternoon, something along the lines of, "You're having appendicitis and decide to got for a three mile run.  You are such a dipshit!"  Of course, he said it in a very loving way.

Now, I'm a happy camper.  I'm on the couch.  I have anexsia.  I have America's Got Talent.

The only thing that could make Saint Marty happier is the Swedish Academy calling me right now and giving me the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature.  And another anexsia.

My troubles are melting like lemon drops...

August 27: Backasswards Again, Turning Out, Prayer

"God damn it."  He was sore as hell.  He was really furious.  "You always do everything backasswards."  He looked at me.  "No wonder you're flunking the hell out of here," he said.  "You don't do one damn thing the way you're supposed to.  I mean it.  Not one damn thing."

Stradlater pretty much has Holden pegged here.  Holden doesn't like following rules.  In fact, he goes out of his way to avoid fulfilling people's expectations.  Pencey, the school Holden is currently attending, is simply the latest in a string of schools he's flunked out of.  Holden seems determined to fail at everything.

Recently, things haven't been turning out the way I want or expect them to.  Job, health, writing.  If you've been reading Saint Marty for a while, you know I've been struggling to remain positive.  I have to admit that I naturally gravitate to sarcasm and pessimism.  If I expect the worst all the time, I'm never disappointed.  In fact, when the worst doesn't occur, I'm pleasantly surprised.  For example, I went to the hospital on Friday, thinking I was going to be diagnosed with stomach cancer.  I ended up with appendicitis.  That's a win in my book.

Prayer sort of works that way for me, too.  I always have a long list of things that I pray for.  Some of my prayer intentions have been on my list for a long time (for example, a full-time teaching position at the university).  Other intentions come and go pretty quickly (for example, a good first day of teaching).  Prayer, however, is not always mathematical.  What I mean by this is that answered prayer isn't always what you expect.  Two plus two doesn't always equal four.  Sometimes, two plus two equals appendicitis.

I'm sure you've heard the saying that God doesn't give you what you want; He gives you what you need at the moment.  If God gave everybody what they wanted, the world would be full of Brad Pitts and Mark Zuckerbergs.  Everyone would be movie stars and billionaires.  I know I would be J. K. Rowling.  But that's not the way things work.

As a Christian, I simply have to ask God for help with some problem or situation, and then I have to let God take over.  I have to trust.  Have faith.  That's the hard part.  It almost feels like doing things backasswards, as Stradlater says.  I ask for a full-time job at the school, and I may get a part-time job at Taco Bell.  Backasswards.  In the end, however, it's what God knows I need.

So, when I pray, I've learned to expect a backasswards answer sometimes.  And, usually, that backasswards answer is exactly what I need.

Dear God,

I'm struggling this week.  I'm sore, tired, and more than a little worried about bills, especially medical bills right now.  All I'm asking for this week is peace of mind.  Please give me strength to make it through today.  I know things are going to work out.  I trust in You.  I don't know how things are going to work out, but they will.

Life has been giving me lemons recently.  Please help me make some lemonade.

Your backasswards loving child,

Saint Marty

I love lemonade, as long as it has enough sugar

Monday, August 26, 2013

August 26: First Day, Kicked by a Donkey

Well. I didn't work at the medial office today.  However, I did teach this afternoon.  After those few hours on campus, when I got home, I felt like I'd been kicked by a donkey in a very sensitive place.  I thought I'd been doing really well.  Obviously, I'm not quite as strong as I thought.

I talked to a friend who's a surgical nurse this evening, and she said, "It's the anesthesia.  It kicks you in the ass."  Well, there ya go.  I'm being kicked in the ass.

I'm probably not going back to work in the medical office until after Labor Day.  That doesn't break my heart, but it also worries me.  There's going to be a huge pile of crap to deal with when I get back.  Did I say "huge"?  I meant monstrous.  I'm going to be drowning in paperwork.

OK, I'm going to stop talking about it now, or else I'll never get to sleep tonight.

Saint Marty needs to put his feet up and breathe deeply.

My parts are hurting

August 26: Feeling Better, First Day of Teaching, Magic 8-Ball Monday

I woke up this morning feeling a lot better than I have for a long time.  I'm still sore, but I'm not moving like a 95-year-old man on morphine.  I made some phone calls--scheduling doctor's appointments, canceling office hours at the university, arranging time off from my medical office job.  Then I did my lesson plan for teaching this afternoon.

I'm a little tired at the moment.  Perhaps I did a little too much, but I got so much accomplished.  I have a feeling I'm going to have to lie down before I teach.  I was planning on going for a walk after I was done typing this post, but I'm not too sure that's going to happen now.  First, a nap.  Then, maybe, a walk.

I'm not used to taking it easy.  I'm usually busy from the moment the alarm goes off until my head hits the pillow fifteen or sixteen hours later.  I like keeping busy.  Obviously.  I may take advantage of this down time and work on some new poems or my memoir or my 900-page study of the short stories of Flannery O'Connor.  Some slight diversion.

Well, it is Magic 8-Ball Monday.  I need to ask a question on this warm, humid morning.  Here goes:

Will I get to take the whole week off work?

And the answer from the Good Book of Salinger is:

While I was changing my shirt, I damn near gave my kid sister Phoebe a buzz, though.  I certainly felt like talking to her on the phone,  Somebody with sense and all...

Perhaps I need to listen to somebody with common sense.  My sister, who's a nurse, told me last night, "You just had major abdominal surgery.  Maybe you should take it easy for a while."

Saint Marty may have to follow that advice, even if he goes out of his head with boredom.

Do I stink?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

August 25: Sleeping In, Recuperation, Classic Saint Marty

I slept in this morning until around 10:30 a.m.  I haven't slept that late in years.  My life doesn't allow me that luxury.  However, with the pain medication, I just couldn't rouse myself any earlier.  When I finally climbed out of bed, I felt like I was moving through oatmeal.  I have an inkling I'm not going to be up and at 'em quite I quickly as I was planning.

Today, I have a Classic Saint Marty from September 9, 2011.  It's about kids going back to school and mythology and religion.  You know, the usual.  Hope you enjoy it.

Saint Marty's going to find a recliner and take a nap now.

September 9:  Prize-Winning Poem

Below you will find the poem I wrote based on Wonder Twin's winning suggestion for the "Name the Poem" contest.  Wonder Twin's winning entry was "jealousy/envy," something she thinks I know a little bit about.  Aside from this poem, of which she will receive a special, autographed copy, Wonder Twin will also receive the saint holy card scanned in below.  Saint Gianna Beretta Molla is known as the Martyr of Maternal Love.

Congratulations, again, Wonder Twin
If you are jealous of these prizes, you should have entered the contest.  It's your own fault.  However, despair not.  Just stay tuned to this blog for my next contest.  I'll try to up the stakes even more.  I'm a big believer in friendly and/or cutthroat competition.

Saint Marty presents Wonder Twin's poem...

The Miracle of the Bus

My son stands curbside, coiled tight.  Waits for the bus to appear in the morning light like some mythic mammal with beaver fur, kangaroo tail, pelican mouth.  He cocks his head, listens for the stampede of diesel in the air.  Distant at first.  The way, I'm sure, buffalo herds sounded in the Old West.  Tremor.  Tremble.  Rumble.  Roar.  Avalanche of back and horn and hoof.  When it appears at the end of the street, my son knows a miracle is about to happen.  He jumps, claps.  If he had palm fronds, he'd be waving them, singing hosannas with the rocks and trees.  The bus groans to a stop.  Its door exhales, opens.  My son ascends the steps.  Slow.  Heracles climbing to Olympus, joining the other gods in this yellow chariot.  The door sighs.  Closes.  The bus coughs, moves off into the blue air, leaving me, mere mortal, jealous, hungry for the ambrosia of chalk and crayon and recess.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

August 24: Pneumonia and Die, an Apology, an Appendix

Finally I sat down on this bench, where it wasn't so goddam dark.  Boy, I was still shivering like a bastard, and the back of my hair, even though I had my hunting hat on, was sort of full of little hunks of ice.  That worried me.  I thought probably I'd get pneumonia and die...

Yes, Holden comes close to dying in Catcher.  By the end of the book, he's really sick, mentally and physically.  But he's a survivor.  You never doubt that.  He's going to pick up the pieces of his life and live it on his own terms, no matter what.  I think that's why Holden is such an iconic figure in American literature.  He speaks the truth, and he calls out people who are false in any way.

Well, I owe all of my disciples an apology for pulling a disappearing act these last couple of days.  I swear I haven't been in hiding or on some desert pilgrimage.  I have done a lot of praying, though.  A lot.  But it wasn't deep and theological.  It was more like, "Please, help me, God.  Help me.  Help.  Help."

I ended up in the ER last night after experiencing stomach pain all day.  I got there at 7 p.m., and I was in the operating room by a little after midnight.  I thought it was some kind of gallbladder attack, that I was going to get some pain medication and be sent home.  Instead, the ER doc came in after my CT scan and said, "Well, you have appendicitis."  Pretty soon, a surgeon was standing next to my bed, and within the hour, I was talking to an anesthesiologist.

Yes, I gave birth to a bouncing, pink, inflamed appendix.  I think I'm going to name her Pia, because she's given me quite a pain in the ass.  Hospitals don't keep patients very long anymore.  I was discharged around 11 a.m. today.

I'm sore.  Tired.  Hungry.  And in need of another pain pill pretty soon.  I'm going to try to get back in the saddle pretty soon, but, tonight, this little apology/explanation is all I can manage.  I'll try to be a little more creative tomorrow.

Right now, Saint Marty needs to get his little Pia to bed.

I think she has my eyes

Thursday, August 22, 2013

August 22: Like Water for Chocolate Lasagna

My book club broke up about an hour ago.  We had a great night watching the film adaptation of Like Water for Chocolate and eating a lot.  I made a jalapeno bacon quiche.  Somebody else brought pizza.  There was a Mexican lasagna dish (made straight from a recipe in the novel).  And for dessert:  chocolate lasagna.  That's right, I said chocolate lasagna.

You may begin envying Saint Marty now.

It didn't look like this, but holy crap was it good!

August 22: Hollywood, the Secret Goldfish, Piece of Mind About Disspointment

...He's got a lot of dough, now. He didn't use to.  He used to be just a regular writer, when he was home.  He wrote this terrific book of short  stories, The Secret Goldfish, in case you never heard of him.  The best one in it was "The Secret Goldfish."  It was about this little kid that wouldn't let anybody look at his goldfish because he'd bought it with his own money.  It killed me.  Now he's out in Hollywood, D. B., being a prostitute.  If there's one thing I hate, it's the movies.  Don't even mention them to me.

For Holden, Hollywood represents everything that's fake in the world, and his brother, D. B., who used to be a great writer, is a part of the whole phony factory that is the movie industry.  Holden is disappointed with D. B. because D. B. has sold out.  In fact, The Catcher in the Rye is simply a novel about Holden's disappointments, from big ones (his brother Allie's death) to little ones (his date with Sally).

I'm sorry to disappoint you, my disciples, today.  I had every intention of writing a review of a really wonderful chapbook of poems I recently acquired.  I am not writing a book review this evening.  I don't have the energy for it.  Instead, I want to talk a little about disappointment.

Life is full of disappointments.  You don't always get the biggest piece of pizza, and gas prices at the pump rarely go down.  The biggest disappointments in life, however, always come from the people you love and trust the most.  D. B. really disappoints Holden with his career choice.  The people you care about are not supposed to let you down.  They're supposed to support you, help you, uphold you, and not do anything to jeopardize their spot on the pedestal they're on.

Today, a person I care about a great deal really disappointed me.  I was so angry that I had to go for a run when I got home.  A long, hot run.  It didn't help.  Even as I was taking my shower afterward, I was still fuming.

I'm not going to go into detail, but let's just say it involves work, a vacation, and this person making the statement, "Well, Marty's just going to have to miss his son's first day of kindergarten."  If I were a woman and my child was entering kindergarten, I know I wouldn't be in this situation.  For some reason, it's important that mothers are at home for first days of school, but it's OK for fathers to miss them.  Fathers have to work.  Fathers don't nurture.  Fathers provide.

Well, this father has always been at home to get his kids on the bus on the first day of school.  I haven't missed a school program or concert, ever.  And now a person I care about a great deal is telling me, "Sorry, buddy, you gotta work."

I'm really disappointed tonight with this person.  She's never been this thoughtless and self-centered before.  And I'm disappointed with the stereotype that mothers are more important than fathers when it comes to important events in kids' lives.  Fathers can be just as sensitive, caring, and supportive as mothers.

I will be at home on my son's first day of kindergarten.  I won't miss it.

And the person responsible for all this turmoil can simply suck my big toe.  (I was going to say "bite my ass," but I'm classier than that.)

And that's a piece of Saint Marty's mind.

Dads rock

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

August 21: Book Club and a Movie

Tomorrow night, my book club is meeting at my house.  This month's book is the novel Like Water for Chocolate.  I love this book, and I love the movie adaptation, as well.  In fact, I remember going to see the film when I was in graduate school with a group of friends.  We went out for dinner at a Mexican restaurant, and then we went to see Like Water for Chocolate.

One of the members of the book club is making one of the recipes from the book.  A champanada or enchiladana or something like that.  I made a smoked cheese and bacon quiche.  Great food.  Great book.  Great movie.  Great friends.

Again, Saint Marty is very blessed.

A couple of great kids, too

August 21: More Than Generous, Food Bank, Blessings

"You've been more than generous," she said.  "You're a very sweet boy."  She certainly was nice.  She reminded me a little bit of old Ernest Morrow's mother, the one I met on the train.  When she smiled, mostly.  "We've enjoyed talking to you so much," she said.

Holden meets two nuns at a lunch counter, and he has breakfast with them.  When they leave, Holden pays for their food and gives them a ten dollar donation.  That's why one of the nuns thanks him for his generosity.  And after the pair leave, Holden feels bad that he didn't give them more money for their charity.

It really is a humbling experience to be the recipient of unexpected generosity.  My wife and I have been financially struggling these past two weeks.  We hardly had any food in our cupboards this morning.  So my wife decided to go to the local food bank to ask for a few staples to tide us over until Friday's paycheck.

Well, my wife came away with more than peanut butter, jelly, and bread.  She came home with two boxes full of groceries.   Milk and juice and pasta and bread.  My son got to eat a Rice Krispie treat tonight.  I have breakfast food to take to work tomorrow morning.  We have the makings for spinach lasagna.  So many blessings.

I'm not going to talk about any worries this Wednesday.  My kitchen is full of too many things for which to be thankful.  I am so grateful for the generosity my family received this evening.  And to start complaining about something right now would be so wrong, like biting the hand that fed us.  Literally.

I will not forget tonight.  I will not forget the relief I feel tonight.

Saint Marty is a pretty lucky guy.  Plus, he's got pretzels.

Counting my blessings tonight

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

August 20: I Got Nothin'

The title says it all.  I got nothin' for this second post.  I got no ideas.  No jokes.  No stories.  No poems.  No satisfaction.  (Yes, that is a veiled Stones reference.)  I got no chocolate, unless you count the chocolate chips with the baking supplies.  I got no Diet Coke, no Diet Mountain Dew.  I got no pizza, no Cheetos.

I got no patience, no motivation.  I got no get-up-and-go.  My wife just asked me to turn off the TV.  So I ain't got no TV now, either.  No music.  It's still around 80 degrees outside, so I ain't got much clothes on.

What Saint Marty does got...a Twinkie in his book bag.  That'll go well with his nothin'.

Preach, George...

August 20: Yawned, Rude Bastard, Prayer of the...ZZZZ

Then, all of a sudden, I yawned.  What a rude bastard, but I couldn't help it!

Holden's exhausted when he gets to the Antolini apartment.  While Mr. Antolini is trying to offer him advice, Holden just wants to go to bed.  He can barely keep his eyes open.

I know how Holden feels.  I am beat tonight.  I got to work at 5 a.m., and I pretty much worked until 5 p.m.  There was no end to it.  Every time I thought I could take a break, some other dragon of a task reared its ugly head.  I met about ten or eleven dragons today.  Viennese hornbacks.  Chinese fireballs.  French firebreathers.  It was a virtual parade of monsters.

I still have a lot of work to get done tonight.  Aside from this post, I have to write something for the Worship Committee at church.  A letter that has to be tactful, tough, and thoughtful.  I'm not looking forward to that task.  Then, I have to write another post.  In between these jobs, I need to work on my syllabus for next week.

It's going to be a rough night.  I think I need a little help.

Dear God,

Hi.  It's me.  I'm not going to complain or whine or yawn.  I'm not going to be a rude bastard. I just want to thank You for giving me the strength to get through this day of work.  Thanks for the food that I ate.  Thanks for the work that kept me busy and kept my mind from going to the dark side (money problems, bills, etc.).

I guess I want to thank You for the tiredness I'm feeling right now, because that means that I've worked hard, accomplished things.  I want to ask for a little stamina to complete a few more tasks tonight.  I don't want to be Hercules.  No, I only want enough energy to finish two blog posts and write that letter for the church.  An hour or two at the most.  That's all.

Your loving child,


I think this was task number five this morning

Monday, August 19, 2013

August 19: Speaking My Mind

I went to church meetings tonight.  I was tired.  I was hungry.  I was hot.

At the first meeting (Worship Committee), which I chair, I spent almost the entire hour discussing a problem that has been ongoing for almost four years.  It's a discussion we've had every month for the last two years.  Frankly, the discussions are never fruitful.  Tonight was no different.  Nothing was really solved.

And then I went to the second meeting, and when the pastor asked me to speak about the problem, I did.  Honestly.  Bluntly.  Not very tactfully.  I think I made some people very uncomfortable, and I didn't really care.  I was tired of circling the issue, so I met it head-on.  And everyone pretty much just sat and listened.  My favorite part of my little presentation was when I said, "I don't really care if people out in the pews like the music or the video.  I could care less.  It's not about them.  It's not about me or the pastor or the choir director or the organist.  It's not about anyone at this table.  Sorry, folks."  I looked around at every face.  "If you're coming to church to be entertained, do yourself a favor:  go buy a ticket to a movie instead.  It's about God.  G-O-D."

Yup, I might have pissed a few people off, although, after the meeting was over, a couple attendees said, "Nice job."  I think they were being polite.

Saint Marty might be looking for a new committee to chair pretty soon.

I sort of sounded like this...

August 19: Changing Seasons, Accepting Change, Magic 8-Ball Monday

At work today (my first day without my friend/coworker), I changed some things.  Last week, while I was walking around all depressed about my coworker's impending exit, people kept telling me things like, "Change can be good.  You don't know what's going to happen.  You need to accept change."

Well, I took down all the summer decorations in the medical office.  All the American flags, all the red-white-and-blue lamps and baskets, are gone.  And then I put up pumpkins, scarecrows, baskets of corn, cornucopias.  I plastered the place with silk yellow, orange, and red maple leaves.  When I was done, I stood back and felt really good.

I'm sure, tomorrow morning, when the other employees of the surgery center show up (the nurses and surgical techs and nurse anesthetists), there's going to be a whole lot of whining:  "Summer's not over yet.  You shouldn't have changed things until after Labor Day.  It's too early."

I'm going to smile at every person who says something like that to me, and I'm going to reply, "Change is good.  You don't know what's going to happen.  You need to accept change."

Yes, that may be a little passive aggressive, but I'm OK with that.

My question for Holden Caulfield and company today deals with change:

Will my medical office job suck because of this current change/reduction of staff?

And the answer from Catcher is:

If you want to know the truth, I don't even know why I started all that stuff with her.  I mean about going away somewhere, to Massachusetts and Vermont and all...

Yes, I want to know the truth, but that quote is the equivalent of the Magic 8-Ball answer, "Difficult to see."  It's a non-answer.  Oh, well.

Maybe Saint Marty will ask again next Monday.

Maybe I'll put up some snowmen next week

Sunday, August 18, 2013

August 18 Make-Up: Classic Saint Marty, New Cartoon, Sweet Dreams

This Classic Saint Marty comes from March 19, 2010.  It's one of my favorite posts I've ever written.  Don't read it just before you go to sleep.  It might give you  nightmares.

Saint Marty needs to take a shower now and go to bed.  Sweet dreams.

March 19:  Saint Alexander

Saint John Vianney, d. 1859

Last night was Manly Man Poetry Night with my pastor friend. We went to Big Boy again and had onion rings and Diet Pepsi. Just to shake things up, we also ordered deep-fried mozzarella cheese sticks. I am a fairly anal retentive person, so I'd been working on a poem for most of the day. It came from a poetry exercise out of the same book as last week, The Practice of Poetry, and was, oddly enough, suggested by the same poet, Lee Upton. This exercise was titled "Tabloid Tone Exercise," and the challenge was to take a headline from a supermarket tabloid and write a serious poem based on the headline.

Saint Catherine Laboure, d. 1876

I decided to kill two birds with one stone and combine my poem somehow with the day's saint, Alexander, a third century bishop and martyr. Alexander spent a lot of time in prison and exile. He was condemned to execution eventually for being a Christian, but the wild animals that were supposed to tear him to pieces wouldn't cooperate. The book says, "they refused to attack him." Instead, he was thrown back into prison, where he died around 250 A.D.

Saint Maria Mazzarello, d. 1881

The headline I chose from the Weekly World News ( I used to have a subscription) was "Ancient Bones Tell Frightening Story: Skull Speaks." If you didn't guess by the picture of Catherine of Bologna a few days ago, I'm of a morbid inclination, and this headline appealed to me on a few levels.

Saint Bernadette Soubirous, d. 1879

One of my fascinations with saints is the age-old tradition of relics. When holy men or women died in the past, their remains, in part or whole, were much sought after. Often, a saint's head ended up in one place while a saint's body ended up somewhere else. (It sounds gross, but stay with me.) Eventually, a classification for these relics developed. A first class relic is "a part of the saint (bone, hair, etc.) and the instruments of Christ's passion." A second class relic is "something owned by the saint or instruments of torture used against a martyr." A third class relic is "something that has been touched to a 1st or 2nd class relic. You can make your own 3rd class relic by touching an object to a 1st or 2nd class relic, including the tomb of a saint." (You're probably seeing where I'm headed with the poem by now.)

Blessed Imelda Lambertini, d. 1333

A church in Pittsburgh houses the largest collection of relics outside of the Vatican (some 4,000 to 5,000 items, including a full skeleton , a few skulls, and some teeth.) The relics were gathered by a priest, Suibertus Mollinger, who himself is on the road to sainthood, I believe. He was the pastor of Most Holy Name of Jesus Parish. Father Mollinger paid for the building of the original Saint Anthony's Chapel to display the collection himself. Eventually, additions were made to the building, which was officially dedicated on June 13, 1892.

Saint Vincent de Paul, d. 1660

That's the source material for the poem in today's post. Except for the details about the life of Saint Alexander, the rest of the poem is fictionalized-Father Cassius, Sacred Heart Parish, the eyes of Vincent de Paul, talking skull, and all. If the poem offends you, I'm sorry. That's not my intent. Please read on in the spirit in which I wrote the following lines, with sick curiosity, a little reverence, and a lot of good humor. I present to you my contribution to this week's Manly Man Poetry Night:

Ancient Bones Tell Frightening Story: Skull Speaks

Father Cassius owned 1,012 relics,
Had a museum built at Sacred Heart Parish,
A marble hall to contain his ossuaries,
Tabernacles, monstrances, chalices,
Shoe boxes, cigar boxes, hat boxes.
Each held a relic from some holy body,
A fragment of sacred muscle, a chip
Of benevolent bone. He had the braid
Belonging to Mary-Magdalene Martinengo,
Long and dark as a Lenten novena;
Fidelis of Sigmaringen's pink tongue,
Gleaming with miraculous spit;
Ethelwald's ring of shriveled foreskin,
Reputed to cure urinary tract infections;
The big toe of Teresa of Avila, used
To dispel both headaches and athlete's foot;
Roch, AKA Rocco, represented by semen
On a robe which opened closed wombs,
Warded off impure thoughts and dreams;
Sharbel Makhluf's left lung, floating,
Delicate as an angel fish, in a glass bowl;
Vincent de Paul's donated eyes,
Prunes on a silver plate, serving the cause
Of glaucoma and cataracts in the poor;
The left breast of Veronica of Guiliani,
Supple and full as a cow's udder,
Invoked in time of drought, famine;
The pubic curls of Monegundis, folded
In tissue, saved for the balding world;
High up, in a box labeled "Alex,"
A skull, dark as polished onyx,
Slept on a bed of cotton and straw.
Some nights, as votive candles licked
The walls at vespers "amen,"
Father Cassius heard the skull
Open its tongueless jaws, sing
A psalm of prison and death,
Exile and chains, of Jerusalem,
Wild boars, panthers tamed,
The banishment of soul from skin.
The skull would wail, grind
Fractured teeth, weep
For its missing neck, vertebrae,
Scapula, ribs, ulna, femur,
Coccyx. The skull would mourn
Until lauds pink light in the sky,
Wanting to be complete, whole, one,
Like the body of Christ
Three days after the cross.

Confessions of Saint Marty

August 18: Splitting Headache, Poetry Problems, New Cartoon

"Good night.  Go right to sleep now.  I have a splitting headache," my mother said.  She gets headaches quite frequently.  She really does.

I've been working on a new poem all weekend.  Like Holden's mother, I have a splitting headache right now.  I was trying to get the poem done for this evening, but I wasn't able to finish it.  I know where I'm going with it now, but I need another day or so.

All I have to offer this evening is a new cartoon and the knowledge that Chris is the killer on the TV show Whodunnit.  Sorry to disappoint you guys.  I'll make it up to you this week.

You have Saint Marty's word.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, August 16, 2013

August 16: A Poem, Julie Brooks Barbour, "Blood"

I have a poem for you tonight from a beautiful poet named Julie Brooks Barbour.  I met Julie at a reading I did this summer in Paradise, Michigan.  She's a dynamite poet, and you will be hearing more about her in an upcoming post about her chapbook Come to Me and Drink.

This poem appears in that chapbook.

It's one of Saint Marty's favorites.


What looks like blood from my mouth,
perhaps a tiny spattering from an irritated gum,
is only the apple's inner fruit turning brown
when exposed to air.  Both dark, letting into the earth.
As essential as air and water yet not an element,
not fire, but life, juice of the grapes raised
in its place as a sacrament.  It is not a peacemaker
or mercenary.  It makes its home at opposite poles:
the beginning of violence and the beginning of hope,
one man dead and the other saved.
At either end, someone sends out prayers.

More to come on this book...

August 16: The Dough, Gesture of Love, Mini Fairy Tale

"Here," old Phoebe said.  She was trying to give me the dough, but she couldn't find my hand.

Phoebe's trying to give Holden her Christmas money.  Even in her elementary school mind, she knows her brother is in trouble, and she's trying to help him out.  It's a gesture of love.

I've spent the last two evenings helping a poet friend edit the manuscript for her new book.  It's work I love to do.  For a little while, it makes me feel like a real writer, a real artist.  At the end of the night, my poet friend tried to hand me some money.

I shook my head.  "I wasn't expecting to be paid," I said.  "It was a favor."

She smiled.  "Take your wife out to dinner," she said.

I was humbled and flabbergasted by her gesture.   A gesture of love from a dear friend.

How 'bout a mini fairy tale tonight?

Once upon a time, there lived a humble court jester named Orson.  Orson wasn't a very good jester, so he was always broke.

One day, he found a skunk with a broken leg on the doorstep of his cottage.  The skunk looked so pitiful, Orson decided to care for it.  He bent over and picked the creature up.

As Orson carried it into his home, the skunk lifted its tail and blasted Orson with skunk stink.  Orson dropped the animal and staggered backward.

"Why the hell did you do that?" Orson yelled.

The skunk shrugged.  "I don't have any money," it said.

"So," Orson said, "I wasn't asking for anything!"

"That's good," the skunk said, "because I only have one scent to my name."

Moral of the story:  Don't trust anyone who wears black and white.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

Thar she blows...

Thursday, August 15, 2013

August 15: End of a Long Day

I just got home from a poet friend's house.  I was proofreading the manuscript of her new book of short stories.  I am absolutely brain dead.  Tired doesn't even begin to describe how I feel.  After saying goodbye to my coworker/friend this afternoon, I wasn't really in the best of moods when I got home.  I went for a short run to try to shake off (or leave in the dust) my sadness.  It sort of worked.  My little editing session kept my mind busy for the rest of the evening.

And now, at the end of this very long day, I'm looking forward to a good night's sleep.  Or a mediocre night's sleep.  Heck, I'll even be satisfied with a fitful night's sleep, as long as I get to stay in bed past 4 a.m. tomorrow.

I don't want to think about going back to the medical office next week.  I don't want to think about all the work that's going to be stacked up.  I'm already a little overwhelmed as it is.  I don't need to get myself all wound up right before I head off to dreamland.  I've been having enough trouble getting to sleep these last few nights.

Saint Marty doesn't want to think about anything right now.  Except maybe Cheetos.  And pizza.

These could keep me awake

August 15: Don't Ever Tell, Missing Everybody, October Nights

...It's funny.  Don't ever tell anybody anything.  If you do, you start missing everybody.

Those are Holden's last words in The Catcher in the Rye, and they really speak to my state of mind today.

I've been very lucky in my medical office job.  I work with a person who is not just a dependable colleague, but also a close and caring friend.  Today was this friend's last day on the job.  She's quitting to stay at home with her three young daughters.  It's a great decision for her, but it leaves me friendless and coworker-less in the office.

I'm trying to avoid feeling sorry for myself, but I'm not succeeding very well.  I'm sure my attitude will improve in a few weeks.  At the moment, however, I see long days of work without breaks or help or laughter.  I have other friends in the surgical center, but nobody who understands the frustrations and stress of the business office.  And nobody who will immediately know if I need help/support/a sympathetic ear/a shoulder to cry on.

I have gotten all of these things from my friend in the past.  She's seen me through some of the darkest points of my life, when I could barely utter a coherent sentence let alone deal with patients.  She's had my back for the past five years.

So seeing her walk out the door of the office for the last time this afternoon was a little like Holden watching his sister, Phoebe, riding the carrousel at the end of Catcher.  Phoebe keeps going around and around, and Holden just sits on a bench, happy to watch her, knowing the moment is fleeting, as temporary as the heat of July.  The chill of October nights is right around the corner.

I'm feeling that chill right now.  I'm already missing my friend, and she's only been gone about four hours.  I know change is inevitable.  That doesn't mean I have to be happy about it.  I just have to sit on the bench and watch it happen.  Holden's right.  Change makes you miss people, especially people you care a great deal about.

And that's a piece of Saint Marty's mind.

What a load of crap!

August 14 Make-Up 2: Technical Difficulties

I am currently experiencing technical difficulties with my laptop.  I picked up a new computer from the university this afternoon, and I've been trying to configure the networks all night.

I finally read the fine print on the instructions a little while ago.  It seems I need to be on campus in order to get my new Lenovo Ultrabook Twist operational, so I will be taking another trip to the university tomorrow morning.  Hopefully, I'll be up and running soon.

Stay tuned.  We will be joining Saint Marty already in progress.

Standing by...

Agust 14 Make-Up: Same Meal, Steak, Blessing Versus Worry

We always had the same meal on Saturday nights at Pencey.  It was supposed to be a big deal, because they gave you steak.  I'll bet a thousand bucks the reason they did that was because a lot of guys' parents came up to school on Sunday, and old Thurman probably figured everybody's mother would ask their darling boy what he had for dinner last night, and he's say, "Steak."

For most of Catcher, Holden is complaining.  He complains about Ackley and Stradlater, his suite mates at school.  He complains about Ernie's piano playing at the nightclub.  He complains about movies and the Radio City Christmas show.  And he complains about food.

Usually, Wednesdays are my days to complain and worry on my blog.  I'm not going to do that today.  I sort of took care of that task yesterday.  Today, I'm going to write about blessings.  To be more specific, I'm going to write about food blessings, because I'm really hungry.

I'm a lucky guy when it comes to food.  I can afford to buy it.  Not only can I afford to buy groceries, but also I can afford to buy groceries I like.  Last night, I ate a Hostess cupcake.  This morning, I'm going to have a cheese omelet for breakfast.  There are so many people in this world who don't know where their next meal is coming from.  I am not one of those people.  I live in abundance, and that's what I want to celebrate today.

It's so easy to take things for granted.  Clean water.  Warm clothes.  Four walls and a roof.  A job.  Even a crappy job.  And food.  Bread.  Eggs.  Milk.  Apples.  Parmesan artichoke dip.  Fried rice.  Blueberry muffins.  (Like I said, I'm hungry.)

I'm not going to take food for granted today.  I know I'm blessed, and that's my point.

Saint Marty can have steak this Saturday night if he wants to.  Or tonight.  Not prime rib or fillet Mignon. but he can have steak.

Rare or well done?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

August 13: 1500 and Counting

My last post was number one thousand five hundred for me.  That's 1500.  I didn't realize I was going to hit this benchmark tonight.  I feel like I should do something to celebrate.

I can't afford to order a pizza.

I don't have any liquor in the house.

I don't have any chocolate.

I can't do a head stand.

My dancing embarrasses my daughter, which really won't stop me.

I used up all my fireworks on July 4.  I don't even have a sparkler.

I guess I'll just heat up a hot dog in the microwave, pour myself a glass of water, and watch America's Got Talent.

Saint Marty knows how to live on the wild side.

Can I get a "yippee"?

August 13: My Dough, Counting It, Prayer for Peace

After a while, just to get my mind off getting pneumonia and all, I took out my dough and tried to count it in the lousy light from the street lamp.  All I had was three singles and five quarters and a nickel left--boy, I spent a fortune since I left Pencey.  Then what I did, I went down near the lagoon and I sort of skipped the quarters and the nickel across it, where it wasn't frozen.  I don't know why I did it, but I did it.  I guess I thought it'd take my mind off getting pneumonia and dying.  It didn't, though.

By the time Holden's throwing his cash into the lagoon, he's pretty much sliding to rock bottom.  The fact that he has only $4.30 left on his person is a good indicator that life ain't all rainbows and lemon drops for him.  In less than 60 pages, Holden will be in a hospital in California, talking about how much he misses everybody, from his sister Phoebe to "old Stradlater and Ackley, for instance."  I haven't been throwing my money in the lagoon, but things are pretty lean around the Saint Marty household at the moment.  I got my paycheck on Friday, and by Saturday morning, my wife and I were trying to figure out how we were going to make it to my next payday.

But that's not what I want to write about.  I've been in tight situations before.  And I've made it through.  What I hate is how I always feel robbed of peace of mind when I'm down to my last three singles, five quarters, and nickel.  That's what my prayer of the week is for.  Peace.

Dear God,

You already know how crazy I am right now.  You know I didn't sleep last night, and You know I've been thinking all day about money and how to make more of it.

I know it's all about trust.  I can almost hear Your voice in my ears, "Have a little faith, buddy.  I've got your back."  Well, when my back is against the wall, I tend to panic, and that panic overwhelms any sense of peace I may possess.

So, I'm not asking for money tonight.  I'm not asking for a full-time job at the university.  I'm not asking for publications.  I'm asking for peace of mind.  That's all.

I just want peace.  Please.

Your loving child,

Saint Marty

This is where it all seems to go, people

Monday, August 12, 2013

August 12: Avoiding the Inevitable

It's time for me to go to bed.  I don't want to.  You see, the sooner I go to bed, the sooner I have to get up and go to work.  I want to stretch this night out, make it last as long as I can.  Of course, if I stay up much longer, that 4 a.m. alarm is going to suck.  Majorly suck.  It will be the suckiest suck of the sucking suck.

I'm avoiding sleep.  I want to read a book.  I want to watch Jay Leno.  I want to work on a new poem.  I want to win a chapbook contest.  I want to find a publisher for my new book of poems.  I want to get a full-time teaching job at the university.  I want to buy a new car, a new house.  I want to lose about 30 pounds.  I want to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.  I want to be named the Sexiest Man Alive by People.

Saint Marty's not asking for much.  He'd settle for a chicken pizza.

This pretty much says it all

August 12: Last Day of Vacation, Last Day of Freedom, Magic 8-Ball Query

Yes, I have enjoyed my last day of vacation.  My very last day of freedom from now until after Christmas.

I made good use of my time today.  I took down my son's crib and assembled his toddler bed.  This may sound like a simple task.  It wasn't.  I am not a handy guy.  I own a hammer and crescent wrench and screwdriver.  I even have a staple gun.  That doesn't mean I use these implements well or often.  My father is a licensed master plumber.  So are all my brothers and my oldest sister.  They are handy people.  Being handy is not genetic unfortunately.  I can diagram a sentence.  I cannot follow a map, and I sure don't do written instructions.  (Christmas is the most terrifying day of the year for me.  I hold my breath every time my kids open a present, praying it isn't labeled "some assembly required.")

Well, it took me about 45 minutes to take apart the crib.  The toddler bed was missing bolts and nuts.  I had to call in the troops for that one.  Yes, I asked my daddy for help.  My father has so many nuts and bolts in jars that I knew he would be able to help me out.  I was not disappointed.  An hour later, my son's toddler bed was done, and I was feeling slightly handy.

This evening, I helped my dad install an air conditioner in his home.  That's right.  I said an air conditioner.  My dad is in his eighties, so he doesn't have the strength to lift heavy things like he used to.  I provided the strength.  For once, I was the brawn, not the brains.

In fact, writing this post is probably the first time I've taxed my intellect/creativity all day.  I've enjoyed being "the man" of the house.  I wouldn't want to do it every day, but it's nice to feel useful.

I am not looking forward to going back to work tomorrow morning.  It's going to be a very rough morning.  I've got a two liter of Diet Mountain Dew in the fridge.  That will get me through the first few hours at the office.  After that, all bets are off.  It would be different if I actually enjoyed my work.  I don't, but it pays some of the bills and provides medical insurance.

My question this Monday evening for J. D. Salinger is pretty simple:

Am I going to enjoy my first day back at work?

And the answer from Catcher is:

...He started talking in this very monotonous voice and picking at all his pimples.  I dropped about a thousand hints, but I couldn't get rid of him...

OK, that's disgusting, and it doesn't bode well for work tomorrow.  I have a feeling it's going to be a tough, long day.

But Saint Marty will try to make the best of a bad situation.  Maybe he'll call in sick.

I will never wear one of these

Sunday, August 11, 2013

August 11: Classic Saint Marty, Bon Appetit, New Cartoon

I'm totally taking it easy this afternoon.  Going back into the vaults for today's post.  This Classic Saint Marty originally aired on April 28, 2011, at the end of a long semester of teaching.  I also have a new cartoon for you guys.

Saint Marty's going to eat dinner now.  As Julia Child said, "Bon appetit!"

April 28:  Final Exam, Saint Peter Chanel, New Poem

I gave my last final exam of the semester this morning.  It really wasn't a final exam.  I gave that to my class last week.  Today, I simply handed back all of their graded papers and quizzes and tests.  One student, however, did take the exam today.  He wasn't able to take it last week because he had to travel downstate for a funeral.  Therefore, he showed up and took it today.

In general, I think exams are a waste of time.  They don't really test knowledge.  They simply test a student's ability to memorize and regurgitate facts on a piece of paper.  I'm really good at that sort of thing.  I'm the king of useless knowledge.  If you're playing Trivial Pursuit, you want me on your team.  In most of the courses I teach (which are writing courses), however, final exams are pointless.  That being said, I did give a final exam in my Good Books class this semester.

All of the books I selected for this class had something to do with hope.  I was trying to develop my students' thinking about maintaining hope in a world without hope.  We read The Lovely Bones, The Color Purple, Mr. Ives' Christmas, Hiroshima, and The Road.  Each of these works deals, in some way, with the idea of hope.  At the end of our last class last week, I told my students they were all full of hope.  One of the more jaded of the group said, "I think hope is unrealistic.  Hope doesn't really accomplish anything."  I stood there for a second, dumbfounded.  I couldn't believe I was hearing this from the mouth of an eighteen-year-old.

Today's saint, Peter Chanel, was born in Belley, France, in 1803.  After becoming a priest, he was sent as a missionary to the New Hebrides in the South Pacific.  When he arrived there, landing on the island of Futuna, Peter was very successful in converting the locals, including the son of the king.  The king, in retaliation, sent warriors to capture Peter.  The king's warriors caught Peter Chanel and clubbed him to death.  However, "within five months [of his death] the entire island was converted to the Faith."  In the face of tremendous opposition, Peter's message of hope continued to spread and bring people to God.

After my student made his statement, I stood silent for a moment.  Then I said, "Well, if you don't believe in hope, you might as well go home right now."  The student looked at me, confused.  I smiled at him.  "Why do you come to class?  In the hope of getting a degree.  Why do you want a degree?  In the hope of getting a job.  Why do you want a job?  In the hope of earning money.  Why do you want to earn money?  In the hope of buying a house or car, starting a family, having a good life."  I paused.  "If you think hope is unrealistic, you should quit college, go home, buy a lifetime supply of Cheetos, sit on the couch, and spend the rest of your life watching Dancing With the Stars and American Idol.  You might as well become an alcoholic and drug addict, as well.  Have some fun before you die."  My student stared at me, red-faced.  "Look," I said, quietly, "we all have hopes and dreams.  They're what keep us moving and living."  My hope-less student nodded.

Peter Chanel believed in hope.  So do I.

Saint Marty promised you a poem.  Here it is.  He prays you find hope in your heart tonight.


I watch this student take
His final exam, hunched over
His desk, Ticonderoga No. 2 moving
Like a Geiger counter needle
Across the page as he answers
My essay question.  I want
To tell him it doesn't matter,
This hour-long effort to earn
An "A" in my course called
Good Books.  Whether he makes
The Dean's List or not, he won't
Win back the friendship
Of the boy he loved in high school
Who broke my student's nose
When my student confessed
His feelings.  He won't bring
His mother back from Florida,
Where she ran after her psych meds
Failed and she saw Hitler
Buying cabbage at Walmart.
I'm lonely, my student wrote
In his journal.  I have no
Friends.  My family's shit.
My test will not change
Any of these things.  Yet,
My student writes and writes,
In search of acceptance,
Praise, the perfect 4.0 life.
The final question I ask him
Is simple:  What have you learned
About hope in this class?

Confessions of Saint Marty