Friday, February 28, 2014

February 28: Gimme a Brake

Well, we still have to get the brakes on my wife's car checked out.  I'm sure it's going to be expensive, and I'm sure we're not going to be able to afford it.

Aside from that, I don't know what to say.  We have to get that car fixed.  To get my daughter to dance class.  To get my kids to school.  To get my wife to church so she can work in the nursery.  To do a lot of things.

I'm going to take it one step at a time.  On Monday, we will get an estimate for the repairs.  Then, we will start thinking about the money.

This weekend, I'm going to try to relax.  I'll go to McDonald's tomorrow morning for breakfast.  A dollar sausage biscuit and a dollar Diet Coke.  I'll go to mass on Saturday night.  I'll go to worship on Sunday morning.  I'll watch the Oscars Sunday night.  I will not worry.

Worry is useless.  Worry is soul-killing.

Saint Marty needs a brake.

I waste a lot of time worrying

February 28: Never Hurry, Never Worry, Dead Donkey Fairy Tale

"Well," replied Charlotte, "you must try to build yourself up.  I want you to get plenty of sleep, and stop worrying.  Never hurry and never worry!  Chew your food thoroughly and eat every bit of it, except you must leave just enough for Templeton.  Gain weight and stay well--that's the way you can help.  Keep fit, and don't lose your nerve.  Do you think you understand?"

It's the end of a very long week.  Started out with really bad news.  Ended with a dead car battery and the purchase of a new tire for my car.  When I went out to start my car this morning, the engine clicked, and the light flickered.  The 40-below zero night had cast a Sleeping Beauty spell over my vehicle.  The spell wasn't broken by true love's first kiss; it was broken by getting jumped, if you know what I mean.

Then, I took my car to a tire shop, hoping that my flat tire could be repaired.  After three minutes, the mechanic told me my tire was under a terminally evil spell.  I needed to purchase a new one.  In 15 minutes, I was on the road with a fancy new wheel on my pumpkin carriage.

As I said, not the best week of my life.  I'm waiting for some kind of happily ever after to come my way.  Or a fairy godmother.  When I got home last night, my wife handed me two pieces of mail.  One envelope held a paycheck for the poetry workshop I've been teaching.  The other envelope held a gift from a poet friend:  it was her new collection of poetry.  A wonderful surprise.

I have friends and family who really care about me, the way Charlotte cares for Wilbur.  Many of these friends and family have said reassuring things to me this week.  Things like, "God's watching out for you."  And, "A door's closing, but a window's opening."  And, "What the hell, man?  That sucks."  At the beginning of this week, I felt like my world was coming to an end.  At the end of this week, I feel like I've been run over by a truck, but I'm not giving in to despair.  I plan to follow Charlotte's good advice:  I will build myself up, get plenty of sleep, and try to stop worrying.

Once upon a time, a farmer named Oscar decided to take a load of turnips to the village farmer's market to sell.  He hitched up his donkey cart, loaded up his cart, and started on his way.

Twenty miles down the road, his donkey stopped at a drainage ditch to guzzle some water.  A mile later, the donkey fell to its knees.  Oscar tried to get the donkey moving again, but, after ten minutes, the donkey died.  Oscar tried to pull the cart to the village himself, but, ten miles later, he suffered a heart attack.

Oscar eventually walked back to his farm and spent the rest of the harvest season in bed.

The turnips never got to market.  Oscar lost his crop, his donkey, and, eventually, his farm.

Moral of the story:  never bet the farm on turnips; you'll lose your ass.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

It's hard to get your ass moving sometimes

Thursday, February 27, 2014

February 27: Failing Brakes

So, my wife's car needs new brakes.  We knew it was coming.  I think I've been living in denial for a while.  This afternoon, the brake light came on.  There's no getting around it any more.  Somehow, we have to figure out a way to get this problem taken care of.

Monday, my wife is going to take her car to a mechanic to get an estimate for the repair.  Then we're going to start begging.  The church.  The Salvation Army.  Any place that may provide some assistance.  We can't afford to pay attention, let alone a garage mechanic.

Just something else to keep Saint Marty awake at night.

Give me a brake!

February 27: Web Itself, Blogging Miracle, Thanks for Safety

"Oh, no," said Dr. Dorian.  "I don't understand it.  But for that matter I don't understand how a spider learned to spin a web in the first place.  When the words appeared, everyone said they were a miracle.  But nobody pointed out that the web itself is a miracle."

Yes, I'm writing about everyday miracles again.  The fact that I'm sitting here, writing this post, is a miracle this evening.

When I woke up at 4 a.m., the wind was vicious.  I could barely see the house across the street.  The cold was even worse.  It was the kind of cold that makes the air in your nose and mouth sting like paper cuts.

My route to work takes me along a highway beside a good-sized inland lake.  As I was coming down U. S. 41 by this lake this morning, I drove into a wall of snow and wind.  I was blind.  I couldn't see more than a foot in front or behind me.  I kept my car rolling forward because I knew there were vehicles behind me.  Then, I ran into something.  A snow bank.  A guardrail.  Something.  I couldn't go forward, and I didn't want to go backward.

I sat there for a moment, trying to figure out what to do.  Then I saw trucks go by me, and I realized I was on the opposite side of the highway, heading straight for the lake, in the direct path of oncoming traffic.

I panicked.  I backed up, shifted my car into drive, and plowed back across the highway, using the passing trucks' taillights as my guides.  When I made it past the lake, I pulled into a gas station and stopped, hyperventilating.  I considered turning around and going home, but I didn't want to go by the lake again.  So I drove the remaining twelve miles to work.

When I was parked in the lot of the medical center, I got out of my car and surveyed the damage from my journey.  I had a flat tire.  It wasn't completely flat, but it was well on its way.

Now, I know, on the surface, this story doesn't sound miraculous.  But, as I've reflected on it during the day, the more miraculous it seemed.  First, I was headed straight for the lake, and something stopped my car.  Two, I was directly in the path of oncoming traffic, and I wasn't creamed by a car or truck.  Three, my Ford Freestyle didn't get stuck on a snow-clogged highway; it kept moving.  Four, I was able to drive to work in blizzard with 40-below windchills with a flat tire.  And, five, I'm alive, with all of my appendages, bones, and brain matter in working order.

I'm a walking, talking, blogging miracle today.

Saint Marty gives thanks for that.

Beware of lake ahead!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

February 26: Another Polar Vortex

It is butt-ugly cold outside.  All the schools across the Upper Peninsula are closed tomorrow.  Except for the university.  The university for which I teach doesn't cancel classes until the early morning.  I think the powers-that-be wait to see if something tropical is going to blow our way, thereby counteracting the arctic freeze.

Sort of like nuclear winter and global warming happening simultaneously.

We'll see.  By 6 a.m., Marty might be a free saint until after Spring Break.

Time to bundle up.  Pack a flask.

February 26: White Wednesday, Scented Grief, Fear

Fact about the young E. B. White from Michael Sims' The Story of Charlotte Web:

...Practically from birth, he was prone to sudden wild shifts in mood--spiking and flat, ecstatic and melancholy--and many a mood swing was brought on by even a light change in weather.  A sudden cloud over the sun could mean despair.  A change of wind might turn him toward melancholy as if he had scented grief...

I understand White's quicksilver temperament.  I think most people of artistic bent have that proclivity toward wild shifts in mood.  As the passage says, grief is simply part of the territory for writers.    It served White well as an adult, judging by the passages about the death of Charlotte in Charlotte's Web.  They're beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time.

The last few days, I've been all over the place with my moods.  Monday, I was simply unhinged.  Tuesday wasn't much better, although the shock of the news about my job had begun to sink in.  Today, I'm at the anger stage of grief.  I'm pissed at everything and everybody.  I'm sure I'll reach acceptance at some point.  Not tonight.

I'm just plain tired of all this feeling.  Anger to sadness to exhaustion to anger again.  I want to have a normal day, where I don't spend all my time fretting about the future.  That's not easy to do.  I haven't found any job postings that sound promising.  The problem is that, if I don't find another position within 90 days, the hospital will offer me a job, and, if I turn down that job, I can't collect any kind of unemployment.  So, no matter what, I will be employed, even if it's doing something I absolutely hate.

That's just one of my fears.  I always believed I wasn't going to work in the medical office forever.  I never wanted to be a medical records clerk in perpetuity.  However, I also believed it would be my choice when to leave.  I hate not having a choice.

Right now, it feels like Saint Marty is stuck between runny scrambled eggs and lumpy oatmeal.

Not much of a choice

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

February 25: 200,000 Views

Today, Saint Marty passed 200,00 pageviews.  I've written a little over 1,800 posts, some of them really good, some of them almost embarrassing.  I want to thank all of my disciples for sticking with me.  I know I can be whiny.  I know I can be a little self-important.  Maybe even snobby.  Yet, you've remained loyal and supportive (except for the rodent lovers).

I promise to be a better person in the future.  I will try to pray more, complain less.  Maybe, in the next 100,000 views, I will really live up to the faith and trust of the saints.

It looks like Saint Marty won't have any problem with a vow of poverty.

Thanks for the memories!

February 25: Guard Them, Daniel, Prayer Intention

The children grabbed each other by the hand and danced off in the direction of the merry-go-round, toward the wonderful music and the wonderful adventure and the wonderful excitement, into the wonderful midway where there would be no parents to guard them and guide them, and where they could be happy and free and do as they pleased...

Wonderful excitement
 I know you're all expecting my prayer intention to be about my job situation.  Of course, I spent most of today fretting and worrying.  That is who I am.  I can't deny that.  However, I have a good friend with a grandson who needs a lot of prayer.

As a parent, I watch my daughter and son go out into the world every day, to school or dance class or the merry-go-round.  I can't stop my kids from dancing off toward wonderful music and wonderful adventures and wonderful excitement.  No matter how much I want to protect them from all the dangers that exist in the Fair Ground of the world, I know that's impossible.  All I can do is kiss them, tell them how much I love them, and pray they come home safe and whole.

I have a friend whose teenaged grandson was hit by a car last summer.  Daniel suffered a traumatic brain injury.  Over the last six or seven months, he's been going to physical therapy.  Daniel isn't getting better.  In fact, he's deteriorating.  Now, he's being sent to a treatment center in downstate Michigan in hopes of some kind of miracle.

Daniel is my prayer intention.  Please, pray for Daniel this week.  Pray that he finds the help he needs.  Pray for healing of his injured mind.  And pray for his parents.

Despite all the personal problems he's encountered this week, Saint Marty is still a very lucky man.

Monday, February 24, 2014

February 24: Notes from a D. P.

Flannery O'Connor wrote a short story called "The Displaced Person."  In her story, the D. P. (as she refers to him) is a refugee from Europe and the Holocaust.  It's not a pretty story.  Of course, O'Connor's stories are rarely pretty.  It doesn't end well for the D. P.  If my memory is accurate, the D. P. ends up crushed to death under a tractor.

I'm between my film class and my poetry workshop right now.  I have a headache behind my eyes.  It hurts to blink.  It's been a heck of a day, and I have a few more hours to go.  I'm done being a poet at 7:30 p.m., and my daughter gets done being a dancer at 8:35 p.m.

At the moment, I just want to crawl into bed and not come out for the next five or six years.  Maybe four years, if the winter isn't too bad.  The idea of facing the world again tomorrow is a little tiring.  I'm sure I'll be better in a few days.

Saint Marty simply has to adjust to the idea of being a refugee for a little while.

Flannery and a displaced peacock

February 24: Displacement, Exhaustion, "Web" Dip

Well, this morning I found out that I'm being "displaced" from my job in the medical office.  Some change in policies, and now I have three months to find another position within the organization.  Organization.  That's what the managers and vice presidents and CEOs and CFOs call the huge health care system for which I work.  I don't really want to work for this organization any more, but I need to make money and have insurance.

I'm still adjusting to the news.  I've moved from sheer panic to incredibly pissed.  I told my wife when I called her with the news that it feels like God's been kicking me in the ass for about 14 or 15 months now.  If I knew the meaning behind my divine ass-kicking, I'd probably be a little more accepting of this whole situation.  But I can't seem to get a break.  Ever.

There's not going to be a silver lining to this post.  Sorry, folks.  I'm not going to try to make a silk purse out of this sow's ear.  My goal today is to make it through my film class and my poetry workshop without going completely crazy.  Then I'm going to go home and go to bed.  I'm exhausted.

My question for this Web dip Monday is:

Are things ever going to get easy for me?

And E. B. White's answer is:

...The cool and kindly breath of evening entered through doors and windows.  Astride her web, Charlotte sat moodily eating and horsefly and thinking about the future...

Well, that's not really an answer.  More like a description of how Saint Marty's feeling at the moment, minus the horsefly.

I'm not sure if I'm the spider or the fly

Sunday, February 23, 2014

February 23: Sledding Party, Classic Saint Marty, Christmas Eve, New Cartoon

Just got back from a sledding party with my kids.  I'm wet, cold, tired, and did I mention cold?  But it was a good afternoon.  I haven't heard my son laugh so loud and long for a while, and my daughter left all her 13-year-old sulking at home.  It was really relaxing, in a bruising, bone-crunching way.

I have a holiday episode of Classic Saint Marty for you guys today.  It originally aired on Christmas Eve, 2011.  It's a post about second chances.  I think everyone deserves a second chance, except maybe Charles Manson and Mitt Romney.

Saint Marty thinks this post deserves a second chance, too

December 24, 2011:  An Awful Truth

"Each man's life touches so many other lives.  And when he isn't around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?"

George gets pissed at Clarence
Clarence says this to George near the end of It's A Wonderful Life.  George has just visited his mother who, without having George as a son, has turned into an angry, bitter, old woman.  Mrs. Bailey runs a boarding house, and she tells George that Uncle Billy has been committed to an insane asylum since he lost the Building and Loan.  George's brother, Harry, died at age eleven when he fell though the ice on a lake and drowned.  George wasn't there to save Harry.  Without George, everyone's lives have become empty and dark.  George's wish of never being born has brought disaster to each person he loves.

No person really knows about how big a difference his or her life has made.  I often wonder if what I do every day has any impact.  Getting up at 4 a.m., registering patients, teaching writing and literature, singing in the church choir, playing the pipe organ--I'm not sure any of this really affects anything.  Living my life is like writing my blog.  I send these posts out into the ether, not knowing if anybody's reading them, if my words are making any kind of impact at all.  That's a pretty good metaphor for life, I think.

George really is given a great gift.  He gets to see what life would be like without him, and he learns what an awful hole his absence would leave behind.  I just found out a husband and wife from church lost their twenty-something son to a drug overdose yesterday.  An awful hole.  My wife lost her mother to ovarian cancer when my wife was 19.  An awful hole.  My aunt just lost her husband of over 50 years this fall.  An awful hole.  George gets a second chance.  Not many people get second chances.

I've actually gotten a few second chances in my life, and I'm grateful for each and every one of them.  I have a son because of a second chance.  I have a wife because of a second chance.  I've lived a George Bailey life.

Saint Marty really has a wonderful life.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, February 22, 2014

February 22: Poem of the Week, Larissa Szporluk, "Jack and the Beanstalk"

I spent most of the day working.  I cleaned, and I played the pipe organ.  I made enough money to put gas in my car for the week.   I also found the time to draw two new cartoons.  However, I don't have my iPad this evening, so I'm not able to include a new Confessions of Saint Marty with this post.  I'll be doubling up tomorrow, I guess.

There's really nothing else on my mind this evening.  I'm a little tired.  Tomorrow, my wife is starting a new job at church.  She's going to be working as one of the nursery attendants on Sunday mornings.  It's not a lot of money, but it will certainly help.  That's a definite blessing.

On Sunday afternoon, we're taking our kids to a sledding party.  There's going to be horse and carriage rides, hot chocolate, and, of course, sleds.  It's going to be a cold, fun day for my daughter and son.  I'm hoping it's not going to be miserably frigid.  The sledding party's only for two hours, but frostbite can happen in about 20 minutes.  If you can't tell, I'm not terribly excited about this little family outing.

Tonight, I offer you guys my poem of the week.  It's a poem by Larissa Szporluk from her collection Isolato, which won the Iowa Poetry Prize around the year 2000.  I first read this book when I was studying for my MFA.  Loved it then.  Love it now.

Saint Marty is a sucker for a good fairy tale poem.

Jack and the Beanstalk

by:  Larissa Szporluk

A father lost in the clouds,
A mother and son
toughing it out together;
their quarrel, her tossing

out the window of beans,
his beautiful things
of not street value.
During the night they sprout.

By dawn he's over the sky,
crossing a moat to a giant's castle;
father inside with a harp,
something like love going on,

a niagara of grappling sounds.
The giant is calling the shots:
Pluck here, pluck there.
Jack drops to the floor,

transformed by joy into lather.
Mother below grows tired.
Where is the gold-laying hen?
When is the family reunion?

Beanstalk fuming with drab.
God rot.  She punches the base,
lops off the vein
to their faraway songs with an axe.

Sometimes, a giant beanstalk is just a giant beanstalk

Friday, February 21, 2014

February 21: Undecking the Halls

My wife and I took down our Christmas tree this afternoon.  Yeah, yeah, I know what you're thinking.  We should have left it up until Easter.  However, it was time, even though the snow's still flying and it's colder than the North Pole tonight. 

It's actually really early for us to take down our Christmas tree.  We usually don't undeck our halls until March or April.  It's not laziness.  It's a love of everything yuletide.  I listen to Christmas music all year long.  Bing Crosby singing "White Christmas" makes me feel...happy, warm, calm.  My five loyal readers know that very few things calm me down.

Christmas music.  Bailey's Irish Cream mixed with hot chocolate.  A Robert Frost poem.

A perfect night for Saint Marty:  "Do You Hear What I Hear?" on his radio.  A mug of spiked hot cocoa in his hands.  And miles to go before he sleeps.  Miles to go before he sleeps...

Fa la la la la

February 21: Coming of Wonders, Wet Cement, Fairy Tale Wonders

On Sunday, the church was full.  The minister explained the miracle.  He said that the words on the spider's web proved that human beings must always be on the watch for the coming of wonders.

Well, my daughter got her wish this morning.  School was canceled.  When I got up at 4 a.m. to make a trip to the bathroom, I looked outside.  There was a lot of snow, but I could hear the plows hard at work.  That usually means school will be open for business.

My daughter's school district was the only one in the central Upper Peninsula to close for the day.  The e-mail from the school said that the cancellation was due to hazardous conditions on side roads and streets.  My daughter got to sleep in.

You're probably wondering what the above passage from Charlotte's Web has to do with my daughter getting the day off from school.  Well, I think it's really a matter of perspective.  My daughter really wanted school to be called off.  School was called off.  Only in the school district she attends.  That's kind of remarkable to me.  A wonder even.  Of course, I'm sure there were a lot of other kids hoping for a snow day, too, but I'm focusing on my little part of the universe.  And in my universe, my daughter's long weekend is a wonder, helped along by six or eight inches of snow as heavy as wet cement.

I think that's one of the jobs of poets and writers:  to recognize the coming of life's wonders that are normally ignored or overlooked.  That includes words in spider webs and unexpected days of play.  Looking out the window right now, the snow is still falling, and the wind sounds like the world has come down with whooping cough.  But the sun is still out, and it's 6:32 p.m.  That's a wonder.  The days are getting longer.  Spring is on the way.

There are other wonders in my life at the moment.  I'm reading the new Amy Tan novel and liking it.  That's a wonder.  My daughter and son spent the entire day together without any major injury.  That's a wonder.  I just ate a bite of fudge that was so perfect and dark it reminded me of an H. P. Lovecraft story.  That's a wonder.  I'm a published poet.  That's a wonder.  I have a beautiful wife and two smart, wonderful kids.  That's a wonder.

Godiva chocolate.  Wonder.  Breakfast at McDonald's, forty-degree February days, snow thunder.  Wonder, wonder, wonder.

Once upon a time, a completely boring man named Ted lived in the Mundane Forest.  Every morning, Ted ate oatmeal for breakfast.  For lunch, it was grilled cheese.  Dinner, an unsalted chicken breast with broccoli.  Ted rose at 6 a.m. every day, and he went to bed at 7:30 p.m.

Ted made shoe leather for a living.  All day long, he pounded cowhide into soft strips.  It wasn't an exciting job, but Ted never wanted excitement or wonder in his life.  He wanted predictability, routine, and warm socks.

One winter, the Mundane Forest got caught in a polar vortex that lasted three months.  Ted ran out of oatmeal and cheese and broccoli.  Nobody was buying shoe leather.  Firewood was the big business.  Ted had a choice to make:  either change his daily routines and work, or freeze to death.

In April, a neighbor found Ted dead in a block of ice in his backyard.

Moral of the story:  global warming sucks.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

A picture of wonder

Thursday, February 20, 2014

February 20: No Snow Yet

I'm sitting in my office at the university, waiting for my daughter's dance class to be over.  I've been watching the weather reports all day long.  The snow was supposed to start at 4 p.m.  It is now 7:19 p.m., and there is nary a flake in the air.  Yet.  I'm grateful for that.

It's funny.  Being an almost life-long resident of the Upper Peninsula, I feel entitled to complain about the weather here on the shores of Lake Superior.  But I get annoyed with non-Yoopers who bitch about the U. P. winters.  My usual response is, "If you don't like snow, you've picked the wrong place to live."

That's not to say I'm not going to wake up tomorrow morning, look at the tundra of my front yard, and think to myself, "Why do I live here?'

Saint Marty is allowed to think that.  He's a Yooper.  He even had a pasty for lunch today.

This is good eatin'.  You betcha.

February 20: Snows Melted, Forty Degrees, Thankful Thaw

The snows melted and ran away.  The streams and ditches bubbled and chattered with rushing water.  A sparrow with a streaky breast arrived and sang.  The light strengthened, the mornings came sooner.  Almost every morning there was another new lamb in the sheepfold.  The goose was sitting on nine eggs.  The sky seemed wider and a warm wind blew.  The last remaining strands of Charlotte's old web floated away and vanished.

Today felt like this passage.  The temperatures in the Upper Peninsula hit forty degrees, and the sidewalks and streets were full of slush and water.  Stepping outside today made me believe that spring will eventually come.  After two months of freezing temperatures, this part of the world deserved a little thaw.

That's what I'm thankful for this Thursday evening.  I'm thankful for the smell of mud in the air and the bare pavement of the sidewalks.  For two whole days, I haven't had to wear gloves or a hat.  I actually saw somebody on campus today wearing shorts.  It's been a splendid 48 hours.

Of course, there's a winter storm bearing down on us as I type this post.  I just checked the radar a little while ago.  It's one big blob of pink and blue and white slowly crawling over the U.P.  There are  blizzard warnings and winter storm warnings.  Snow.  Sleet.  Freezing rain.  My daughter is praying for a day off from school tomorrow, and she's probably going to get it.

Putting all that aside, however, I am going to hold on to this brief reminder of April and May.  I even saw a patch of dead grass this afternoon.  A very small patch.

Tonight, Saint Marty is going to dream of lilacs blooming is his backyard.

I know they're coming!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

February 19: Sick Son and Winter Storm

My son came home from school today sick.  He threw up on the playground.  Of course, he wasn't acting too sick this evening when I gave him his bath and fed him mac and cheese for dinner.  He was acting like a five-year-old who's been cooped up in a house all day long, forced to relax and recuperate.  He's not going to school tomorrow.  He can't.  He has to be puke-free for 24 hours before he can return to his classroom.

Tomorrow, a winter storm is supposed to blow into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  I don't know how bad it's going to be.  I've heard six inches.  I've heard twelve inches.  I've heard freezing rain.  I've heard 35 mile per hour winds.  But I've also heard that the storm is tracking west and is going to totally miss us.

That's basically Saint Marty's day in a nutshell:  snow and vomit.

This makes me want to puke

February 19: William Hart, Art in His Blood, White Wednesday

Michael Sims, in his book The Story of Charlotte's Web, writes about E. B. White's grandfather:

[E. B. White's] maternal grandfather, Scottish-born William Hart, had been a successful landscape painter, a member--as was his brother James McDougal Hart--of the loose affiliation called the Hudson River School.  William Hart's legacy to the family was about nature as much as art...

E. B. White came from an artistic family.  During his lifetime, William Hart's landscape paintings sold for close to $5000.  Recently, one of his landscapes sold at auction for $134,500.  Hart is the real deal.  An artist of the highest caliber.  And the grandfather of one of the most beloved authors of the twentieth century.

E. B. White grew up with art in his blood, and he also inherited a love of nature from his famous grandpa.  It seems like it was in the stars for Elwyn Brooks White to take up some kind of artistic pursuit.

I don't have any idea about the source of my literary talents.  My maternal grandfather died at a very young age of stomach cancer.  My mother was still a little girl when he passed away.  My paternal grandfather was a farmer and, later, plumber.  I would love to say that Walt Whitman is my distant cousin or W. B. Yeats is my great, great, great uncle.  I can't, though.  My background is totally working class.

When I was a kid, I worked summers with my dad and brothers.  I helped them install water heaters, dug up broken sewer lines, unplugged toilets, cabled blocked drains.  It wasn't exciting.  In fact, sometimes, it was pretty disgusting.  I remember the day I decided I was not going to be a plumber.  I was wearing a brand new pair of Reeboks.  My father unscrewed the cap to a clean out and removed it.  Several gallons of raw sewage spilled out of the pipe onto my black high tops.

As I stood there, watching my new shoes get soaked in water and urine and shit, I said to myself, "I will not be doing this for the rest of my life."  And I became a writer.

That's the genesis of my poetic career.  It's not as exciting or sexy as E. B. White's connection to William Hart.  But I did get something pretty important from my grandfathers:  a strong work ethic.  Translation:  I work my ass off for everything I have.

That's what Saint Marty has in his blood.

William Hart landscape

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

February 18: Prayer Intention

Tonight, I'm supposed to write about a prayer intention.

My neighbor across the street is having trouble.  This morning, he went to turn on his faucet and discovered he had no water.  After a record-setting 74 days of below-freezing weather, water mains are freezing all over my hometown.  People are having to wait five or more days before the Public Works Department thaws their pipes.  Everyone's pipes are freezing solid.

My neighbor still has a frozen water main this evening, and I'm praying for him (and every other person) who is without water tonight.

Please, God, be with my neighbor.  Help him through this difficult time.

Your loving servant,

Saint Marty

Baby, it's cold out there

February 18: Former Students, Half Gone, Making a Difference

I've taught many students in my university career.  Doing the math, over my almost twenty years in the classroom, I've passed or failed well over a thousand people.  I've been a professor for so long that the principal of my son's elementary school is a former student of mine.

Normally, I have students for four short months, and then they're gone.   Usually, I never see them again.  I don't know if they end up addicted to crystal meth or elected to Congress.  I have no idea whether I've had any effect on their lives.

Charlotte knows she doesn't have very long to save Wilbur's life.  A few months at the most.  Once the weather turns cold, Zuckerman's thoughts will turn to smoked ham and bacon.  She has to work fast:

"That's a mercy," replied Wilbur, and he lay down in the shade of his fence and went fast asleep.  The spider, however, stayed wide awake, gazing affectionately at him and making plans for his future.  Summer was half gone.  She knew she didn't have much time.

Charlotte never really sees the results of her plan to save Wilbur.  She's not around to see her friend grow old in the Zuckerman barn.

This afternoon, I met a former student.  Actually, the former student recognized me and called out, "Is that Professor Martin?"  I turned toward him and said, "Yes, that's me."  The man stood up and shook my hand. 

"Man, I want to thank you," he said.  "I was in your technical writing class a long time ago."  He looked at the person who was sitting at the computer in front of him.  "He's the reason I have a job," he told her.  "That resume I wrote in your class was perfect, man.  My boss was so impressed by it."

"Well, it's good to hear I didn't screw up too badly," I joked.

My former student shook his head.  "I write reports and memos all the time.  My boss loves my work.  And it's because of what I learned from you."

It was a good moment.  I felt like Charlotte when she realizes Wilbur is going to live to see the snows of Christmas.

Saint Marty made a difference in a student's life.

No bacon for Zuckerman, thanks to Charlotte

Monday, February 17, 2014

February 17: Sadly Mistaken

If you think this post is going to be any more inspired than my last post, you are sadly mistaken.

I'm staring out of the window in my office at the university.  It's cold and grey and windy.  I did take a moment to see if Davis and White won the gold medal in ice dancing at the Sochi Winter Olympics.  SPOILER ALERT!!!  They won.  The Canadians came in second.

That's about all I have for you guys today.  Sorry.

Saint Marty promises to be more interesting tomorrow.

They won.

February 17: Monday Motivation, Blah, "Web" Dip

I'm severely lacking in motivation today.  I don't want to do anything.  Didn't want to work at the medical office this morning.  Don't want to stand in front of a lecture hall this afternoon.  I don't feel like typing this post.  I feel completely...blah.

Consequently, this post is probably going to be blah.  I don't know what's wrong with me today.  I got my usual amount of sleep last night.  I've eaten normally.  I haven't had any caffeine today, but that usually doesn't make that big of a difference for me.  I just feel like fifty shades of blah.

On the bright side, my film class is watching Pulp Fiction this afternoon, so that won't take much energy on my part.  At the most, I'll have to make a few observations at the end of the movie.  I can do that.  I hope I don't fall asleep during Pulp Fiction.  That's my biggest concern.

My Web dip this afternoon is not going to very profound.  I can't deal with any difficult or taxing question today.  So, I think I'll ask...

Am I going to stay awake in class today?

And the answer from the little spider is...

Bright and early, Lurvy put clean straw in Wilbur's crate and lifted it into the pigpen...

Well, Lurvy has energy.  I guess that means I'm going to make it through Pulp Fiction without drooling on myself.

Saint Marty may have to get a Diet Mountain Dew on the way home.

This pretty much says it all...

Sunday, February 16, 2014

February 16: Classic Saint Marty, Blessed Sebastian of Aparicio, New Cartoon

This is the first day of the new season of the Saint Marty channel.  Nothing's really changing today.  It's time for a Classic Saint Marty.  I've delved way back for this post, to the first year of the blog.  Actually, this post comes from the first incarnation of Saint Marty, when it was titled Feasts and Famines.  I changed the title when I realized people were visiting my blog looking for recipes.

This post has been viewed only once since it was first published.  That's like having a book on a library shelf that's only been checked out a single time in four years.  I'm hoping to rectify this situation.

Saint Marty wishes you all a restful Sabbath.  Take some time to read a good book, or at least a good blog post.

February 25, 2010:  Blessed Sebastian of Aparicio

Humility is a difficult quality to cultivate in yourself. If I claim I'm full of humility, I'm basically proving I'm full of shit. That would be like donating a kidney to a family member and then expecting that family member to thank me every time he takes a leak. Humility just doesn't work that way.

Sebastian of Aparicio had humility. A Spanish immigrant to Mexico in the 1500s, he made a ton of money building roads to facilitate trade and commerce. Even after he was richer than Thurston Howell, he still lived like a beggar, sleeping on the ground and eating "the poorest of foods," according to the book, which, in my mind, translates as sauerkraut and lutefisk. When he was 70, he joined the Franciscans, donating every last peso he had to the Poor Clares. (That would be like Bill Gates trading all of his stuff to the Salvation Army in exchange for a job as a Christmas bell ringer.) He became what is called a "begging brother" for his religious community. That basically means that, for the last quarter century of his life, he hooked his little red wagon to some oxen and traveled the countryside for hundreds of miles, begging for corn, picante sauce, salsa, whatever to feed his fellow friars. He died at the age of 98 with only a pair of fallen arches to his name, I imagine. Currently, he's one of the blesseds, a saint-in-waiting.

Now, I'm not a theologian or Doctor of the Church, but if this guy doesn't deserve a pass to the head table in the Saint Banquet Hall, I don't know who does. (He wouldn't eat much, that's for sure.) Sebastian didn't cultivate humility. He walked around and collected it in an ox cart.

God seems to be doing a number on me with humility. If you are one of my five Constant Readers, you are familiar with the earlier posting about my decision to pray during Lent for people who have injured or hurt me. While it has not been a trip to Disney World in any sense, I've been feeling pretty proud of myself. I mean, c'mon. I'm praying for people who have been assholes to me. I couldn't be doing a more Christian, forgiving, selfless act this side of rubbing my face with ashes, putting on sackcloth, and retreating to a desert cave for a dinner of locusts and honey. Then I had to go and fuck it up by erupting like Mount Vesuvius a few days ago. Now I'm the one who needs to be forgiven, and let me tell you, there's nothing more humbling in the world than having to look someone in the eye and say, "I'm sorry."

But that's what I did tonight. I apologized for my behavior to two people present at my Exorcist moment on Tuesday. It was humiliating. I could feel the blood in my face as I spoke, and my palms became sweatier than a virgin's palms at the Chicken Ranch. It was over in less than 30 seconds (apology offered, forgiveness received), but I would rather have had a colonoscopy. Afterward, however, I felt like one of the contestants on The Biggest Loser after losing 25 pounds in a week. It was a tremendous relief.

That doesn't mean I'm looking forward to the other mea culpas I will be offering this weekend. Root canal sounds more attractive right now. But, as I said earlier, God's teaching me a lesson. So, I'll hitch up my oxen and head out on the road. This is turning out to be one bitch of a Lent. My cart is loaded with corn-fed humility, and I think I'm developing a couple of humble bunions.

I just hope I don't have to eat lutefisk.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, February 15, 2014

February 15: Another Miracle, Everyday Miracles, New Cartoon

Next morning, Wilbur arose and stood beneath the web.  He breathed the morning air into his lungs.  Drops of dew, catching the sun, made the web stand out clearly.  When Lurvy arrived with breakfast, there was the handsome pig, and over him, woven neatly in block letters, was the TERRIFIC.  Another miracle.

Charlotte's Web is about miracles.  A goose hatching eggs.  A spider spinning a web.  Dew glistening in early morning sunlight.  The kind of miracles that happen every day.  The kind of miracles that are easy to overlook or ignore.

After the fresh snow of yesterday, my part of the world is so white that it hurts the eyes.  When I stepped outside this morning, I paused a moment on my front step.  I just stood there and looked around at how everything looked so clean and pure.  Almost scrubbed.

I don't pause like that often enough.  On my way to work every morning, I rarely look into the sky at the stars and moon.  As I walk across campus on my way to teach, I don't notice how the air tastes like a drink of cold water.  At night, as I lie in bed, waiting for sleep, I'm not listening to the drum of my heart, steady, constant as candles in a dark church.

Perhaps if I did take the time to be aware of these small, daily miracles, I would be a calmer, happier person.  Maybe the whole world would be a better place if everyone took miracle breaks every day.  Take time to pick up a seashell on a beach or listen to wind in pine trees.  Certainly, it would be more difficult to hate or hurt in a world full of miracles.

And who doesn't like a good miracle?

Saint Marty sure does.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, February 14, 2014

February 14: A Love Poem from Saint Teresa

I won't spend much time introducing tonight's poem.  I just want to wish you all a happy Valentine's Day.  May love and happiness grace your lives.

Saint Marty gives you a poem by Saint Teresa this evening.  From one saint to another...

If, Lord, Thy Love for Me Is Strong

If, Lord, Thy love for me is strong
As this which binds me unto Thee,
What holds me from Thee, Lord, so long,
What holds Thee, Lord, so long from me?
O soul, what then desirest thou?
--Lord, I would see, who thus choose Thee,
What fears can yet assail thee now?
--All that I fear is to lose Thee.
Love's whole possession I entreat,
Lord, make my soul Thine own abode,
And I will build a nest so sweet
It may not be too poor for God.
O soul in God hidden from sin,
What more desires for thee remain,
Save but to love, and love again,
And all on flame with love within,
Love on, and turn to love again?

Ecstasy of Saint Teresa

February 14: St. Valentine's Day, Give My Life, Valentine Fairy Tale

It's a snowy St. Valentine's Day in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  I started hearing the snowplows roar past my house at about 5 a.m.  When the plows are out that early, it means a lot of snow has fallen.

On this cold winter day, I want to take the few moments I have your attention to tell you about the love of my life.

My wife and I will be celebrating our nineteenth anniversary this year.  We were together five years before we got married.  If you do the math, that's 24 years of togetherness.  That's a long time.

I'm not going to candy coat this Valentine's Day post.  My wife and I have had our share of problems.  We have endured struggles with mental illness, sexual addictions, separation.  I was a single father for nearly a year of our marriage.  It hasn't always been easy.

Yet, our love is intact.  A little bruised, but intact.  Even when we were living apart, we still cared about each other through all the darkness.  I have stood by my love through these 24 years, even when everyone else was turning away, giving up.

At the end of Charlotte's Web, Wilbur reflects on his friendship with Charlotte:

"Well," said Wilbur.  "I'm no good at making speeches.  I haven't got your gift for words.  But you have saved me, Charlotte, and I would gladly give my life for you--I really would."

Charlotte has saved her friend's life, and Wilbur pledges his undying love for her.  Charlotte tells him, "...By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle..."

That's what I think my devotion to my wife has done for me.  It's lifted up my life a trifle.  I am a better person for being her husband.

Once upon a time, there lived a saint in a snowy kingdom.  This saint had the good fortune to be married to the love of his life.

And he lived happily ever after.

Moral of the story:  Saint Marty is the luckiest guy alive.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

February 13: New Line-up of Posts

I'm getting a little bored with the posts I've been writing recently, so I've decided that it's time for a new season of Saint Marty.  That's right.  I'm changing the line-up of posts.

Starting this Sunday, I will be introducing a few new features on this blog:
  • Sunday:  Classic Saint Marty--one of the most popular days
  • Monday:  Web Dip--another popular feature
  • Tuesday:  Prayer Intention of the Week--a special prayer focus for the week
  • Wednesday:  White Wednesday--interesting facts about E. B. White, the author of Charlotte's Web
  • Thursday:  Thursday Thanks--expressing some gratitude
  • Friday:  Fairy Tale Friday--still really popular
  • Saturday:  Poem of the Week--either from an established poet or a new poem from me
So there you have it folks.  That's what you have to look forward to, starting on February 16.

Saint Marty's shaking things up a little bit.

This is exactly what I'm doing

February 13: The Most Fun, Henry Fussy, My Daughter

In the last few chapters of Charlotte's Web, Fern seems to lose all interest in Wilbur's plight.  She's busy growing up.  When Wilbur is at the Fair Grounds, Fern's whole focus shifts.  She doesn't hang around the the pigpens.  She's found other things to do, as she tells Avery later:

"The most fun there is," retorted Fern, "is when the Ferris wheel stops and Henry and I are in the top car and Henry makes the car swing and we can see everything for miles and miles and miles."

It's a pretty evocative image of a little girl losing interest in little girl things.  She doesn't even seem to notice that Charlotte is gone at the end of the book.  I even wonder if she's become a little too old to hear the residents of Zuckerman's barn speak.

Of course, little girls grow up.  It's inevitable.  My little Fern is now a young lady of thirteen.  Every night, she gets texts from a boy she met at Bible camp last summer.  When I asked her once what his text said, she picked up her phone and read, "BRB taking a shower."  I said, "Why does he have to tell you he's taking a shower?"  My Fern just laughed and turned back to the video she was watching on the iPad.

I have to say that Henry Fussy has become my least favorite character in Charlotte's Web at the moment.  I mean, the little bastard is making moves on Fern on the Ferris wheel.  I'm sure if he had a cell phone, he'd be texting Fern, "In my long underwear.  What are you wearing?"  Henry takes Fern away from Wilbur.

And my daughter's little friend from Bible camp is doing the same thing with his nightly texts.  I can hear all of you out there thinking, "Oh, for God's sake, get over it!  She's thirteen!"  That doesn't make it any easier to accept the fact that she's turning into a secretive teenager.  It seems like just yesterday that all she wanted to do was visit her Uncle Homer's barn and sit by the manure pile.  Well, you know what I mean.

Thank God she doesn't have school tomorrow.  Just what I need is for her to be around a pack of horny, thirteen-year-old boys on Valentine's Day.

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

Whatever it is, keep it away from my daughter

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

February 12: Fudge and Bed

Cherry and peanut butter fudge
I am pretty tired tonight.  I'm sitting on my couch, watching the Olympics.  Skiing.  Skating.  Snowboarding.  I'm drifting in and out of consciousness.  My sister bought me some Mackinac Island Fudge today, so I'm also snacking on really good chocolate, too.

Pretty soon, I'm going to be stumbling off to bed.  After the Russian ice skaters.  I'm going to try to see the women's snowboard competition, too.  Don't know if I'll be able to stay awake.  I may just have to Google the results before I brush my teeth.

Not much going on tomorrow for me.  A slow day at the medical office.  Pulp Fiction in my film class.  A couple of hours in my office in the evening, waiting for my daughter to get done with her dance classes.  I'll have plenty of time to read and write.

Saint Marty's got a little Valentine's Day project to complete.

February 12: Went to Work, Cleaning, Thankful

I like Mrs. Zuckerman.  Before Wilbur goes to the Fair, Edith Zuckerman insists on giving him a buttermilk bath.  She can't stand the crust of dried food around his ears and smudge of manure on his side.  She's a neat freak.  She can't even stand a dirty pig:

...Mrs. Zuckerman wasted no time.  She climbed in with Wilbur and went to work.  Dipping her paddle in the buttermilk, she rubbed him all over...

Wilbur is literally shining in the sun when Edith is done with him.  He's the cleanest pig at the Fair Grounds.

I just spent two hours cleaning my house.  I cleaned the bathroom, vacuumed the carpeting, and swept and mopped the hardwood floors.  I am exhausted, but I can smell lemon in the air.  There's blue in the toilet bowl.  And the drying rack by the kitchen sink is empty of dishes.

That's what I'm thankful for this Wednesday night.  A clean house.  It won't stay clean for long.  I have two kids.  One is a sloppy teenage girl who drops her dirty clothes in the middle of the floor.  The other is a five-year-old baby dinosaur who leaves destruction in his wake.  By tomorrow night, my living room will be as dirty as Wilbur's manure pile.

But, tonight, Saint Marty will revel in the scent of citrus and Lysol.

Pine-Sol, anyone?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

February 11: Shaun White Loses

I just watched Shaun White lose the gold medal at the Sochi Winter Olympics.  Didn't expect that to happen.  Shaun's leaving Russia without a single medal around his neck.

It's a melancholy night for me.  I was hoping the Olympics were going to lift my spirits a little bit.

Saint Marty's crapping out all over.

Chin up, Shaun

February 11: A Skillful Weaver, Truth, Difficulties

In the book The Story of Charlotte's Web, Michael Sims writes,

I was in the barn that had inspired Charlotte's Web because, a few years earlier, I had been reading E. B. White's collected letters when I ran across his reply to a letter from schoolchildren:  "I didn't like spiders at first, but then I began watching one of them, and soon saw what a wonderful creature she was and what a skillful weaver.  I named her Charlotte."

White followed the maxim taught in most writing workshops:  write what you know.  There was a barn.  In the barn, there was a cellar where White kept pigs.  There was a rope used as a swing.  And there was a doorway where spiders lived and spun webs.  E. B. White wrote Charlotte's Web out of his personal experience.  That's why the book seems so truthful.

I always try to be truthful in what I write, whether it's an essay, poem, short story, or blog post.  Even if that truth is difficult.  I haven't avoided my struggles with my wife's mental illness or addictions.  I haven't avoided writing about my own addictions, either.  Truth isn't always pretty.  E. B. White knew that.  That's why Charlotte, that skillful weaver, dies.

The truth of my life, at the moment, is that my wife and I are struggling quite a bit with finances.  That car repair on Monday sort of killed us economically.  We have lots of bills to pay, and, literally, no money to pay them with.  This evening, my wife and I talked about the situation.  We're heading back to the Salvation Army food pantry tomorrow.  We're choosing what to pay and what to put off.  This evening, we received an automated phone call from a utility company.  My five-year-old son listened to the message on the answering machine and said, "Don't call them back.  They are just wanting to take our money."  That depressed me a little bit.

I'm trying not to feel sorry for myself tonight.  I'm not into self pity.  There are a lot of people in this world who are a lot worse off than me.  I'm just being truthful.  On this cold Tuesday, I have difficulties weighing on my mind.  Difficulties that I don't have much control over.  I need to let go and let...

Dear God,

It's me again.  I know, I know.  I need to have a little more faith.  I can hear Your voice in my ear:  "Trust Me.  Relax.  Things are going to be fine."  Of course I know that.  But I'm not feeling very confident about the future right now.  In fact, I'm a little depressed.

So, I'm simply asking for confidence this evening.  Give me some peace of mind, some hope.  Some cash wouldn't be bad, either.

Your loving servant,

Saint Marty

E. B. White's real barn

Monday, February 10, 2014

February 10: Waiting for Poetry

I just finished watching Il Postino:  The Postman in my film class about a half hour ago.  Now, I'm eating dinner, preparing to teach my poetry workshop tonight.  I'm in the mind of poetry.  I've actually been in that mind most of the day, even with that bad news about my car repair.

Tonight, we're going to talk about language poetry.  We're going to read some Rae Armantrout and Lyn Hejinian.  I am not a language poet.  Given the choice between Armantrout and William Stafford, I'll go with Stafford.  I like stories.  And I like poems that tell stories.  That is not a popular sentiment in modern poetry these days, but I have to be true to myself.

Be that as it may, I am going to try to get the members of my workshop to write language poetry tonight.  I'm not sure how successful I'm going to be.  Most people (myself included) are naturally inclined to string together words to communicate, not frustrate.  Somehow, I have to get my students to set that inclination aside for a couple hours.  It might be a little freeing.

Or it might be excruciating.

Saint Marty is willing to take that chance.

A great Valentine's Day movie

February 10: Mechanics, Car Troubles, "Web" Dip

Sometimes, I wish I'd become a garage mechanic.  I wish I'd taken shop classes in high school instead of chorus, piano, art, and writing.  When I was in middle school, I was forced to take a semester of industrial arts.  I drew blueprints, carved an ashtray out of a piece of pine, made a recipe card holder out of wood and a clothespin.

It was the most miserable couple months of my life.  My ashtray was lopsided.  I got a "C" on my blueprints.  My recipe holder lasted only a few months when I brought it home for my mother to use.  The only thing I learned of any value from my foray into power tools and belt sanders was that I was mechanically challenged.  One little slip, and I would be missing a digit.

My nostalgia for industrial arts today is fueled by some car troubles.  You may remember that my car's "Check Engine" light suddenly blazed into life last weekend.  My wife took my car to the dealership to have it checked out.  Well, I am $230 poorer, but my "Check Engine" light is dark once more.  Of course, we had to empty our savings account and then borrow some more money from a family member.  But my car is running fine.

This past year has taught me a lot.  When everything has seemed bleak and impossible, I've received unexpected blessings.  It has happened over and over.  Suddenly, the impossible becomes possible.  I don't think I'll ever be able to repay all the goodness that's been showered on me.  I have no valuable skill to offer in trade.  I'm not a mechanic or plumber or carpenter.  I kind of suck at painting.  I can work a plunger on a plugged toilet.  That's about it.

Despite my lack of practical talent, I am still loved and helped by friends and family.  That's a humbling gift.

My question this afternoon for Wilbur and Charlotte is this:

Would I have been happier as a car mechanic?

And their answer is:

...It is not easy to look radiant, but Wilbur threw himself into it with a will...

I don't think that passage means I would have been radiant as a car mechanic.  I think it's telling me that it wouldn't have been easy for me to repair automobiles.

Saint Marty will probably stick to poetry and the occasional lopsided ashtray.

That's about right

Sunday, February 9, 2014

February 9: Classic Saint Marty, Baby Shower, New Cartoon

Hi, guys.

I don't have much time this afternoon.  One of my best friends is throwing a baby shower for her son's girlfriend (was that confusing?), and I have to go.  I spent the morning at church, and then I went out to lunch with my family.  Nothing fancy.  Just Subway.

Today's Classic Saint Marty first aired almost two years ago.  It was my year with Charles Dickens and Ebenezer Scrooge.

February 10, 2012:  Good as Gold, Tiny Tim, Counting Blessings

Lame beggars, blind men...
"And how did little Time behave?" asked Mrs. Cratchit, when she had rallied Bob on his credulity, and Bob had hugged his daughter to his heart's content.

"As good as gold," said Bob, "and better.  Somehow he gets thoughtful, sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard.  He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk and blind men see."

This passage is Charles Dickens at his sentimental best.  He can always take a small child, preferably one with a terrible affliction, and wring out your heart and put it on the clothesline to dry.  That's my heart, flapping in the wind there.  Of course, Tiny Tim is meant to represent all the sick, unfortunate, poor children of the world.

I was thinking of this little exchange between Bob and Mrs. Cratchit last night.  (Yes, I have a very boring life.  I spend my time thinking about famous Victorian novels.)  The reason I was focusing on these two paragraphs is simple:  I tend to lose sight of the important things in my life.  When I'm in the middle of some kind of crisis (financial, medical, personal), I don't think about who made lame beggars walk and blind men see.  I think, "Holy shit!  What am I going to do?"

At Christmas time, it's a little easier to maintain a proper perspective.  I'm reminded on a daily basis during the holidays about people who are less fortunate than myself.  Bell ringers remind me.  Toys for Tots reminds me.  Food banks remind me.  And, of course, Tiny Tim, in his various incarnations, reminds me.  I am a blessed individual.

However, come February and March, Tiny Tim has been packed up with the Christmas tree and manger scene, stowed away in the attic until next November or December.  My life becomes all about me again, and I pick up my burdens and carry them around, all day.  I forget to give thanks for the great things I've been given:  jobs, home, wife, kids, family, church, toothpaste, drinking water, underwear, oxygen, breath.

That's why I was thinking about this passage last night.  I was stressed, working feverishly on the poetry lesson for the second graders.  I started getting upset with small things--a dried-out pen, a blob of spaghetti sauce on the throw rug.  I forgot Tiny Tim and his little crutch and everything he is supposed to embody.  Remembering Bob's little story about Tiny Tim in church brought me back to reality, made my count my blessings.

Saint Marty needs to keep counting today.  One, he woke up.  Two, he made it to work safely.  Three, he...

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, February 8, 2014

February 8: Empty Web, New Poem, "Confession," New Cartoon

...Every day Wilbur would stand and look at the torn, empty web, and a lump would come to his throat.  No one had ever had such a friend--so affectionate, so loyal, and so skillful.

Wilbur spends a good portion of the last chapter of Charlotte's Web mourning the loss of his friend.  The end of this book is melancholy.  There's no way getting around it.  Yet, it's also a celebration of friendship.  That's why I love this book so much.

I think the best writing has elements of joy and sorrow in it.  My favorite poems.  My favorite novels.  It's something I strive to put in everything I write.  I don't always succeed, but I try.

I've got a new poem for you guys tonight.  It's something I've been working on for almost four or five weeks.  I read it to my wife, and she said, "It's awfully short."  Well, it is.  I have to admit that.  I'm not sure if it's done, but it's done enough for me to share.

This is Saint Marty's first poem of 2014.


In the dark, I taste again my love's body that first time.  Unmarried.  Young.  Neither of us thought of the future.  No.  It was all lip and shoulder, the press of body against body under a Lake Superior moon.  All hunger, want.  We fell into each other, kept falling.  Surrendered to gravity, the way a blue whale breaches the Pacific, scrapes heaven, then crashes downward into foam, wave, salt, mist.  No guilt or regret.  No reason to bless me, father.  I'll hold this moment on my tongue until you ask for it.  But I won't beg forgiveness.  Won't accept it.  I'll simply open my mouth, speak.  Let you know how I came to be this unrepentant sinner.
Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, February 7, 2014

February 7: End of Day, Robert Friend, "My Cup"

As I sit on my couch, the Opening Ceremonies of the Sochi Winter Olympics on the TV, I am weary.  I spent two hours at the top of a hill above a frozen lake this evening, watching my daughter and son snow tube.  It was cold as the sun slowly sank out of the sky.  I could barely convince my kids to stop long enough to drink some hot chocolate.

I have a poem for you guys tonight from Robert Friend.  It's short, but beautiful.  And it feels like an end of day poem.

Saint Marty is ready for the Olympic torch to be lit.

My Cup

They tell me I am going to die.
Why don't I seem to care?
My cup is full.  Let it spill.

Something beautiful from Russia

February 7: Most Important Part, Small Things, Small Fairy Tale

"Good-bye!" she whispered.  Then she summoned all her strength and waved one of her front legs at him.

She never moved again.  Next day, as the Ferris wheel was being taken apart and the race horses were being loaded into vans and the entertainers were packing up their belongings and driving away in their trailers, Charlotte died.  The Fair Grounds were soon forlorn.  The infield was littered with bottles and trash.  Nobody, of the hundreds of people that had visited the Fair, knew that a grey spider had played the most important part of all.  No one was with her when she died.

I remember reading these two paragraphs when I was about seven and being absolutely devastated.  I think it was one of my first experiences with death.  I mourned Charlotte for a couple of days.  I thought it was a huge injustice that she wasn't able to return to the barn with Wilbur, share his victory with the rest of the animals.  Plus, she dies by herself.  I still think it's one of the saddest passages ever put in a novel, even if it is about a spider.

Of course, being older, I know that spiders have very short life spans.  Charlotte couldn't return to the barn and live to see the hatching of her children.  It goes against nature.  E. B. White does something quite remarkable in this book.  He makes the reader love a spider, and then he lets her quietly die.  Of course, the spider saves her best friend first, sacrifices her last moments for him.  A small act of salvation.

I think it really is the small things we do in life that are really important.  Shoveling for an elderly neighbor after a snowstorm.  Bringing a sick friend a casserole.  Helping a child zip up his jacket.  Tiny acts of kindness that accumulate, like sand on a beach.  They aren't miracles on the scale of multiplying loaves and fishes or curing a person of leprosy. But they are miracles that restore faith in the human state.

People are pretty self-centered most of the time.  We don't think of the McDonald's worker who makes minimum wage and has three kids to support.  We ignore the man with chronic asthma and no health insurance.  We see newspaper stories about house fires and simply thank God it wasn't our house or our family.  We don't go out of our way to help out our neighbors, like Charlotte helps Wilbur.  I think that's one of the reasons the world is in the shape it's in.  Not enough spiders to write words in their webs.

Once upon a time, there lived an old man at the edge of a village.  He was the meanest old man in the entire kingdom.  He shot arrows at children who ventured into his yard.  He poisoned neighbors' dogs for crapping on his property.  He never bought any cookies from the local troop of Girl Scouts.  This old man's name was Gregorich.

One morning, Gregorich woke up and saw a spiderweb in the corner of his bedroom.  Woven into the web were two words:  "Be Kind."

Gregorich got out of bed, stunned.  He picked up a broom and swept away the web.  He sprayed insecticide all through his house.

Gregorich lived until the age of 103, and he never bought a Girl Scout cookie his entire life.  He died alone.  Unwept.  Unloved.

When the villagers came into his house to empty it out, they saw a spiderweb in the corner of his bedroom.  In the web were two words:  "Suck It."

Moral of the story:  spiders hold grudges.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

It's mean, but it's funny