Tuesday, April 29, 2014

April 29: Whining

I'm not going to whine.  Much.  I just want to say that I don't want to start a new job.  And I want anybody who takes over my job to fail miserably.  I'm talking epic failure.  The kind that brings down small Eastern European countries and requires U. N. sanctions to rectify.

Yet, the new job looms while my old job withers away.  And I have to go to the office every day and watch people plan my wake.

Yes, Saint Marty is whining.  He's much too young to have buzzards pick at his carcass.

I understand how this zebra feels

April 29: Deeply Satisfying, Dance Competition, Intention for Daughter

A great feeling of happiness swept over the Zuckermans and the Arables.  This was the greatest moment in Mr. Zuckerman's life.  It is deeply satisfying to win a prize in front of a lot of people.

Wilbur wins a medal.  The medal saves Wilbur's life and insures him a long, happy life.

This weekend, I am venturing into the lower peninsula of Michigan for another dance competition.  My daughter is competing with three different routines.  Last year, she did really well.  We'll see how she does this year.

That's my prayer intention this week.  My daughter.  She's been practicing all year.  Pray that she has confidence and slaughters her opponents.

Sorry this post is so short.  I've been grading all night long.

Saint Marty's beat.

Pray for my daughter's feet

Monday, April 28, 2014

April 28: Procrastination Post

I need to get back to grading.  My brain knows this.  However, the rest of my being hasn't caught up to my grey matter yet.  As the saying goes, the spirit is willing, but the grading sucks.  Or something like that.

So every word I type is just my effort to avoid the next stack of final exams.  Yes, I am procrastinating.  I had a double major in college:  English and Procrastination.  I even did graduate work in Procrastination.  I never finished the degree, though.  I kept putting it off.

On a serious note, I'm hungry for a peanut butter and M&M sandwich.  I've been thinking about it all afternoon.  That may sound disgusting to some of you, but, after a long day of essay questions on Brokeback Mountain, I'd kill for a loaf of bread, some Jif, a pound of M&Ms, and a knife.

OK, I really am stalling.

By the way, I think America's Got Talent is starting up pretty soon.  And it looks like it's going to rain.  And my niece is graduating from college this weekend.  And almost all the snow has melted in my front yard.  And my son bit another kid on the playground on Friday.  And...and...and...

And Saint Marty has to get back to work.

This looks pretty good, too

April 28: Grading Exams, Mushy Brain, "Web" Dip

I have been grading Introduction to Film exams all afternoon.  I have completed one section, and I have another section to go.  My brain is a little mushy at the moment.  I needed to take a little break, so I decided to blog for a while.

My mood has improved from yesterday slightly.  Very slightly.  I have a grading headache, probably compounded somewhat by my new glasses.  I finally bit the bullet and purchased bifocals.  It's amazing how much clearer the laptop screen is.  Not to mention the fact that I haven't been playing glasses-on/glasses-off all day.  I can actually read without lifting the page to the end of my nose.

In a couple weeks, I begin my new job.  The hours are going to be like 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.  A normal schedule.  That may sound appealing to some of you, but it doesn't to me.  I like flexibility in my days, and there ain't gonna be much flexibility to go 'round from now on.

Which brings me to my Web dip question for today:

Am I going to like my new job?

And the answer from E. B. White is:

The crickets sang in the grasses.  They sang the song of summer's ending, a sad, monotonous song.  "Summer is over and gone," they sang.  "Over and gone, over and gone.  Summer is dying, dying."

Well, that answer did nothing to improve Saint Marty's state of mind.

Do you like my new glasses?

Sunday, April 27, 2014

April 27: Bad Mood, Classic Saint Marty, New Cartoon

For various reasons, I'm in a really bad mood this afternoon.  Little things that usually don't bother me are like fingernails on a chalkboard today.  I'm talking little things.  The way people chew food.  Commercials on TV.  The sound of my wife drinking water.

It doesn't help that I'm incredibly tired and have tons of grading to finish.  I'm cranky, so I'm trying to keep my mouth shut.  If I say anything, I will hurt somebody's feelings.  Silence is a better choice.  Silence and work.

Today's Classic Saint Marty comes from the year of A Christmas Carol.  It first aired in 2012.

April 24, 2012:  Poor Excuse, Carrying the World, Free Goose
"You'll want all day to-morrow, I suppose?" said Scrooge.

"If quite convenient, Sir."

"It's not convenient," said Scrooge, "and it's not fair.  If I was to stop half-a-crown for it, you'd think yourself ill-used, I'll be bound?"

The clerk smiled faintly.

"And yet," said Scrooge, "you don't think think me ill-used, when I pay a day's wages for no work."

The clerk observed that it was only once a year.

"A poor excuse for picking a man's pocket every twenty-fifth of December!" said Scrooge, buttoning his great-coat to the chin.  "But, I suppose you must have the whole day.  Be here all the earlier next morning!"

This passage is one of the most famous in A Christmas Carol.  It encapsulates Scrooge's incredible ego and greed.  Scrooge literally takes Christmas as a personal affront to himself and his bank account.  If you really want to boil Scrooge's issues down to their core, they all hinge on the fact that he is an incredibly self-centered man.  Christmas takes away money from Scrooge.  Therefore, Christmas is some kind of left-wing conspiracy to bleed him dry.

As a worship leader at church and as a college professor, I deal with a lot of people like Scrooge.  People who seem to think their problems and their lives are of utmost importance to everyone.  They carry the world on their shoulders.  Over the last day or so, I've been navigating a Scrooge situation.  Like Bob Cratchit, I have learned to keep my mouth shut and let the Scrooge in my life vent his particular brand of venom.  It's easier that way.  I have learned that you can't win an argument with a Scrooge.  Scrooges know best.  Always.

That doesn't mean that I agree with my Scrooge.  That means that I'm not going to battle my Scrooge.  I will do things the way I think they should done, no matter what.  I just choose to ignore my Scrooge's rant, the way Bob does in the above passage.  Bob gets to take Christmas day off, and Scrooge gets to browbeat his clerk.  Everybody's happy.

Don't get me wrong.  I can be a Scrooge, wrapping myself up in my own little counting house.  Most human beings have their Scrooge moments.  It's what you do after the Scrooge moment that counts.  I choose to look beyond the narrow limits of my money-changing hole.  I choose to walk along the crowded paths of life, embracing all human sympathy.

Be kind to the Scrooge in your life.  Listen to him.  Let him crab.  Let him bitch.  Let him browbeat you a little.  Be Bob Cratchit.  Show your Scrooge kindness and understanding.  In the end, you may end up with a free goose dinner.

That's what Saint Marty's hoping for.

It's free!

 Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, April 26, 2014

April 26: Understand Everything, Questions, Elaine Equi, "A Story Begins," New Cartoon

"None of us do," said Dr. Dorian, sighing.  "I'm a doctor.  Doctors are supposed to understand everything.  But I don't understand everything, and I don't intend to let it worry me."

Mrs. Arable goes to Dr. Dorian, worried about Fern.  Fern's been telling her mother about the characters in the barn, and her mother is worried.  She doesn't understand Fern's love of pigs and spiders and geese and sheep.  She also resists believing in the miracle of Charlotte's web.  Dr. Dorian tries to set Mrs. Arable straight about the need to have all the answers in life.

Over the past year, I have dealt with a lot of change in my life.  Changes I don't understand.  A church displaced me from my organist job after 15 years of service.  My hours were cut at the medical office where I work, and then I was cut from that job.  Things are changing at the university.  Colleagues are retiring.  The Department Head is leaving at the end of next academic year.  If I were to choose one adjective to describe the last year of my life, that word would be "tumultuous."  Tumult here.  Tumult there.  Tumult, tumult everywhere.

I have a sense that God is sending me some kind of message with all this change.  For the life of me, however, I have no idea what the hell the message is.  Maybe I should stop trying to figure out the message.  Maybe I should be like Dr. Dorian and stop trying to understand everything.  Eventually, answers will come my way.  I'm simply making myself miserable by worrying all the time, and all that worry is not helping me in any way.

So, I will accept my current state of being.  Accept the questions without worrying about the answers.

It is the last weekend of National Poetry Month in the United States, so, of course, I have to include a poem this evening.  This poem comes from The Best American Poetry 2012.  It's by Elaine Equi and was first published in New American Writing.  It's about stories we read and tell.  And it's about how life falls outside of plots and climaxes and denouements, in the bogs and swamps.  The messes.

You know, where Saint Marty has been for the last twelve months.

A Story Begins

by:  Elaine Equi

The same as other stories, but we follow along in case something different might happen.

Just one different thing.  It leads us to a ledge and pushes us over.

Every story has a climax in a way life doesn't.

It puts us back where it found us.  It opens our eyes which weren't closed, but felt that way because what we we saw was happening inside the story.

We are the excess of the story--that which it cannot contain.

Washed ashore.

What was the story about?

I can't remember.  A dwindling, dim-witted tribe.

Every month when the moon was full, they'd sacrifice another virgin, but could never figure out why the crops still wouldn't grow.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, April 25, 2014

April 25: Going Out Tonight

I'm going out on a date with my wife tonight.

We are meeting friends at a local bar.  We're going to have a few drinks, and then we're going to attend a reading by graduating students from the university's MFA program.  It's going to be a pretty relaxing night.  Gin.  Poetry.  Stories.  Essays.  It has all the ingredients of a good time.

The only thing's that missing is a mariachi band and dancing grizzly bear wearing a tutu.

Oh, well, Saint Marty can't have everything.

Now the night is perfect

April 25: Secrets, Spider's Web, Fairy Tale Secret

Secrets are hard to keep.  Long before Sunday came, the news spread all over the county.  Everybody knew that a sign had appeared in a spider's web on the Zuckerman place.  Everybody knew that the Zuckermans had a wondrous pig.  People came from miles around to look at Wilbur and to read the words on Charlotte's web...

There is no such thing as a secret.  The moment "secret" information is told to another person, the secret no longer exists.  Mr. and Mrs. Zuckerman can't keep a secret, and neither can Lurvy.  That's what Charlotte counts upon.  The inherent need for human beings to share secrets.  Because, really, a secret isn't any good unless you whisper it to somebody else.

I'm a fairly private person.  This blog is the closest I get to broadcasting news about my life, and I don't share everything.  Some information is simply meant to remain secret.  Private.  For instance, when my wife and I found out she was pregnant the first time, we immediately shared the news.  We were so happy, and we wanted to share that happiness.  The second time my wife got pregnant, much had changed.  We had gone through quite a few struggles in our marriage, including a year-long separation.  We weren't quite so anxious to share our good news.  We wanted to keep the happiness to ourselves for a while.  Enjoy the pleasure that accompanies having a "good" secret.

I'm not writing this because my wife is pregnant.  Lord, no.  And I don't have any particular secret at the moment.  There are a few things I'm working on that, eventually, will see the light of the sun.  But, at the moment, I prefer to keep them locked away in a cabinet.  Good news or bad, secrets don't stay secrets forever.  Unless you're J. Edgar Hoover, and, even then, someone's going to find the high heels and stockings in your closet eventually.

Once upon a time, a man lived in the middle of the woods.  He was the kingdom's Secret Keeper.  Whenever people had secrets, they would travel deep into the forest, to the Secret Keeper's cottage, knock on his window, and, when the Secret Keeper came to the window, they would whisper their secrets to him.  Then they would go home, unburdened.

The Secret Keeper heard all kinds of secrets.  He knew the blacksmith was having an affair with the baker's wife.  He knew the tax collector was skimming off the top of the castle treasury.  He knew the dog catcher was in an amorous relationship with his horse.  The Secret Keeper knew everything, and his job was to keep the secrets.  No matter what.

On his birthday one year, the Secret Keeper decided to open a bottle of wine to celebrate.  He sat by his window and drank and drank.  By evening, he was completely drunk.  That's when the King knocked on his window to whisper a secret to him.

The Secret Keeper quietly opened his window.

"I have a secret," the King whispered.

"Go on," the Secret Keeper hiccuped.

"I've been sleeping with the scullery maid who cleans my bed chamber," the King said.

"Oh," the Secret Keeper laughed, "is that the same scullery maid who washes the queen's hair?"

"Yes," the King said.

"Well," the Secret Keeper sighed, "I wouldn't worry about it.  The queen's sleeping with her, too."

"What?!" the King roared.

"Yup," the Secret Keeper said, taking another slug from his wine bottle.  "And the scullery maid just found out she caught a case of crabs from the Prince, who's been making the Royal Cook's dough rise, if you know what I mean."

"My son is sleeping with the scullery maid, too?" the King said.

"And the cook," the Secret Keeper said.  "From what I understand, he makes special cupcake deliveries to the Prince, the Princess, and the Queen Mother."

"He's sleeping with my mother?!" the King stammered.

"Ever since she found out that your father was actually her brother," the Secret Keeper said.

The King fainted in front of the window.

The Secret Keeper leaned out the window and looked down at the King.  "I don't know what his problem is," the Secret Keeper said.  "It's not like I told him that the Prince is using his goblet for a chamber pot."

Moral of the story:  Secret Keepers are really mean drunks.

And Saint Marty lived happily every after.

Amen to that!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

April 24: Shameless Post

This last week of posts haven't received a lot of views, so I've decided to write a shameless post, designed to bring in readers through labels like "blowjob" and "Miley Cyrus nude."  Yes, I'm not above cheap ploys.  So, here's a list of things you won't hear about in this post:  Kate Upton topless, The Walking Dead, anything to do with Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez, porn, nude selfies, or Obamacare.

There, that should get Saint Marty some unsuspecting readers.

None of this

April 24: Cow Manure, Tired, Book Club

Tired from his romp, Wilbur lay down in the clean straw.  He closed his eyes.  The straw seemed scratchy--not as comfortable as the cow manure, which was always delightfully soft to lie in.  So he pushed the straw to one side and stretched out in the manure...

I am tired tonight.  My book club left a little over two hours ago.  It was a good meeting.  Everybody showed up, and we had lots of food.  Chicken wings.  Ice cream cupcakes.  Taco salad.  Chicken divan.  Hummus.  Enchiladas.

Everyone loved the book.  It was David Rakoff's Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish.  And then we picked out books for the rest of the summer.  I must say that I'm not offended by any of the choices.  Of course, I was just one vote among a quorum of eight.  Therefore, in July, we are reading Fannie Flagg's new novel, The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion.  Personally, I don't understand Flagg's penchant for titling her books like sentences in bad freshman compositions.  However, in the spirit of democracy, I bow to the will of the people.

It's been a very long day.

Saint Marty is ready to hit the cow manure.

Even if they like Fannie Flagg

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

April 23: Book Club Tomorrow Night

This week is all about tomorrow night for me.  My book club is meeting at my house.  We're talking about David Rakoff's Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish.  It's National Poetry Month, and I forced everybody to read a novel in verse.  From preliminary reports, I think it's going to be one of the most popular poetry books I've had my book club members read.

Usually, nobody even buys the poetry book I choose for April.  This year, every person bought the book, and I think every person will have read it by tomorrow night.  That will be a first for April book club.

Of course, there's snow in the forecast.

Saint Marty's hoping for rain.  And lots of poetry.  Maybe some pizza.

Even snow won't stop poetry

April 23: In a Forest, Apology, Perfect Place

I forgot my biography of E. B. White in my office at the university, so we're going to have to skip White Wednesday this evening.  Sorry.  I've been out of sorts all day long.  Woke up this morning having a low blood sugar.  Forgot to shave before I left for work.  Worked all day looking like Lon Chaney Jr. during a full moon.  Gave my students a final exam.  Left the E. B. White biography at the college.

So, here we are.  I have a quote from Charlotte's Web to share:

"In a forest looking for beechnuts and truffles and delectable roots, pushing leaves aside with my wonderful strong nose, searching and sniffing along the ground, smelling, smelling, smelling . . ."

Wilbur is describing his perfect place.  It's pretty simple.  In the forest, rooting for things to eat.  I guess, for a pig, that's as close to paradise as you can get.  I want to be a pig in paradise, for just a few moments.  I want to be in my perfect place.

For me, that would be at home on a hot July day.  I would go for a long run and feel great afterward.  Then, I would lie on the floor, the ceiling fan tearing the air above me.  I'd drink a big cup of ice water and just sweat.  Let the endorphins do their work.  Make me feel wonderful.  Invincible.  Free.

Paradise is all about freedom.  Wilbur is free in that forest to do what he wants.  I am free on that summer day to run and sweat.  Everybody should have that freedom, where all worries and fears melt away, and there's just beechnuts or the open road underfoot.  Everybody deserves that.

Saint Marty wishes all readers of this post a little paradise in their lives.

Root around and find some truffles

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

April 22: My Cranky Daughter

I'm not going to spend a lot of time with this second post tonight.  I have a hormonal thirteen-year-old daughter who is waiting to use my laptop.  She has been shifting between giggling mirth and wailing despair for over an hour.

All I can do is laugh, because, no mater what I say, I will never win.  I could tell her to pick up a book and read.  I could tell her to go to bed.  I could tell her that the Internet has been revoked and Google is broken and YouTube is permanently frozen.  All I will receive in return is teenage wrath.

Saint Marty isn't up for the fight.

This guy has nothing on my daughter's wrath

April 22: Injustice, Big Heart, Little Girl

 "I see no difference," replied Fern, still hanging on to the ax.  "This is the most terrible case of injustice I ever heard of."

At the beginning of Charlotte's Web, Fern fights against her father's decision to kill Wilbur, the runt of a little of pigs.  She's fighting injustice, and she wins.  This doesn't always occur.  Sometimes, injustice wins.  Innocent people suffer.  Bad people prosper.  I know I should never question God's plan.  But God's plan doesn't always make sense to me.

Tonight, I am asking you to pray for a little girl with too big of a heart.  My daughter's friend has a little sister.  That little sister is three-years-old, and she has a serious health problem.  It seems her heart is too large for her tiny body.  Her parents have known this since her birth, but she was too young for surgery.

Now, that little girl is going to have that surgery.  The doctors are going shave her heart down.  That's the best way I can describe it.  If she doesn't have the surgery, she will certainly die.  If she does have the surgery, there's a good chance she will die.  The chances of her survival are slim.

I'm asking you to pray for this three-year-old redhead.  She's a beautiful child, and she needs a miracle.

Saint Marty has little more to say.  Pray.  Please.

Fold your hands for a wounded heart

Monday, April 21, 2014

April 21: Happy Birthday to My Sister

Tonight, I want to wish my sister a happy birthday.

She may not see this post tonight.  Or tomorrow.  Eventually, however, she will find it.  And I want her to know how much I appreciate her kindness and generosity and love every day.  My kids adore her.  My wife and she are good friends.  She's bailed me out of many a tough scrape over the last year or so.

So, happy birthday, sis!

Saint Marty sends you a big saintly blessing this evening.

P. S. Save me a piece of carrot cake!

Make a wish, cut the cake

April 21: Lots Accomplished, Beautiful Day, "Web" Dip

I have been working my ass off today.  I got to the medical office at 5 a.m., and I literally have not stopped since.  Aside from my normal work (assembling medical charts, typing surgical schedules, answering phones, dealing with e-mail requests, yadda yadda yadda), I have also put together my final quiz of the semester, my final exams, and a new vita and cover letter.  In short, I've gotten lots accomplished.

I finally got everything done around 5:30 p.m.  Now, I'm sitting at my desk in my office at the university, admiring the beautiful day outside my window.  The sun is still shining, and the hillside is actually green with grass.  I actually walked to class today without wearing a jacket.  It was that warm.  It was the kind of warm that makes me want to skip everything and do something crazy.  Walk through the mud barefoot and feel it squish between my toes.  Hunt for a budding crocus.  Vote for a Republican.  (OK, that last one is a little too crazy, but you get the idea.)

I'm content with myself.  I'm a day ahead of the game.  That doesn't happen for me very often.  Usually, I'm playing catch-up.  Tonight, I will actually go home and...relax.  That's pretty amazing.  I don't think I've relaxed without a nagging sense of guilt in ages.  The rest of the week is going to be a mad dash of grading final exams, but, for tonight, I have contentment.  Relaxation.  The sense that I've done everything.  Everything.

Soon, I'm going to be starting a new job.  Someone asked me this weekend, "Are you excited?"  I blinked at the questioner for a moment and then said, "No."  That's the truth.  Usually, this time of year, I'm ready for the semester to be over, to settle into my summer schedule.  My comfortable, summer schedule.  This year, I have no idea what my summer schedule is going to be.  I'm not sure I'm even going to have a summer.  Certainly, I won't have any vacation.  Just weekends.  Memorial Day.  Independence Day.  Labor Day.  And a yearning for what I used to have.

A question for Mr. E. B. White:

Am I going to have a good summer?

An answer from Mr. E. B. White:

All in all, the Zuckermans' pigpen was the center of attraction.  Fern was happy, for she felt Charlotte's trick was working and that Wilbur's life would be saved.  But she found that the barn was not nearly as pleasant--too many people.  She liked it better when she could be all alone with her friends the animals.

Well, there you go.  My summer is going to be not nearly as pleasant.

Saint Marty's going for a walk tonight, try to enjoy these last few days of normalcy before things change.

Thinking twice about that barefoot mud thing...

Sunday, April 20, 2014

April 20: Gratitude Forty-Seven, Classic Saint Marty, New Cartoon

At my wife's church, on Easter morning, people greet each other with the phrase, "Christ is risen!"  And you are supposed to respond, "He is risen indeed!"  It's an old tradition in Christian faiths from what I understand.  Growing up Catholic, I wasn't familiar with this exchange until I started Easter services with my wife.

I love this tradition for some reason.  It really fills me with joy.  It speaks to things like salvation, hope, light, and rebirth.  When I hear this call and answer on Easter morning, I feel like the world really is an OK place, that all my problems and strife and worries are passing annoyances.  Renewal is on the way.

That's what I'm grateful for today:  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!

Today's Classic Saint Marty comes from three Easter's ago.

April 24, 2011:  Happy Easter, Psalm 47, Amen

Easter Sunday.  The last psalm of my Lenten promise.  I never thought I would make it to this day.  I never thought I would have 47 poems of which I was proud.  I thought I'd get ten or eleven that were worth pursuing.  The rest, I thought, would be throw-aways.  But, somehow, I managed to write 47 new poems in 47 days that I consider decent, unembarrassing.

I started out this morning with the idea of finishing the series with a sestina.  If you're not familiar with the form, it's incredibly complicated, involving a very strict repetition of final words in lines in a very specific pattern.  I struggled with the poem for half a day.  I realized about an hour ago that I wasn't getting anywhere with it.  So, I sat down and took the basic premise of the sestina and wrote the following poem.  It fairly flowed out of me.  I'm happy with it.  I feel it is an appropriate conclusion to my book of psalms.

Saint Marty wishes you a happy Easter.  He presents his final Lenten psalm.  Amen.  Alleluia.

Psalm 47:  Easter Bread

My mother made it on Holy Saturday
In her bowl as green as Easter grass.
She'd mix water, salt, sugar, flour,
Shortening and yeast, fold it
With her hands, over and over,
Until dough took shape, white
As my winter skin.  Then she kneaded,
Pushed and pounded, picked it up,
Slammed it down on the kitchen table,
Made the room shake with violence,
Sounds like sledges and spikes,
Holy, Easter sounds.  After she was done,
My mother left the bowl on the counter,
Draped with a towel.  She waited
For the dough to leaven, the yeast
To work like prayer, make the dough
Rise higher and higher, swell, stretch
Like a pregnant womb.  My mother
Returned, kneaded, punched
It into submission, broke
Its will, began the process anew.
As night fell, the dough rose and rose.
Some time after I went to bed,
My mother sliced loaves, and baked. 
On Easter morning, I woke
To the aroma of fresh bread.
Resurrection, sweet and warm.

Warm bread

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, April 19, 2014

April 19: Gratitude Forty-Six, Quiet Morning, Billy Collins, "Today," New Cartoon

Then came a quiet morning when Mr. Zuckerman opened a door on the north side.  A warm draft of rising air blew softly through the barn cellar.  The air smelled of the damp earth, of the spruce woods, of the sweet springtime.

On this day of the Easter vigil, I've been thinking about spring.  A lot.  I'm ready for a warm draft of rising air and the smell of damp earth.  Two days after our last big snowstorm, the world is melting once more.  The banks in my front yard have dwindled.  The snowman my kids made on Thursday is nothing but a pile of slush and sticks.

Tonight, I will be going to church at nine o'clock for the Easter mass.  A beautiful service of candles and incense and music.  It will last a couple of hours.  By the time it's over, it will almost be midnight.  Easter.

I have a poem about spring for you guys today.  It's by former U. S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins.

And it pretty much sums up what Saint Marty feels grateful for today.  Enjoy.


by:  Billy Collins
If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze

that it made you want to throw
open all the windows in the house

and unlatch the door to the canary's cage,
indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,

a day when the cool brick paths
and the garden bursting with peonies

seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking

a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room end table,

releasing the inhabitants
from their snow-covered cottage

so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting

into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day.
Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, April 18, 2014

April 18: Gratitude Forty-Four and Forty-Five

Tonight, I am grateful for these two things:  beautiful music and sixty seconds.

I just returned from an Easter cantata at my sister-in-law's church.  The choral numbers were breathtaking, soaring at times.  Sitting next to my wife, I could feel her body shaking because she was crying so hard.  I love listening to music that has that kind of emotional power.

The Good Friday mass this afternoon was quite moving, as well.  I love the solemnity of the service.  The unveiling of the crucifix.  The chanting.  The reading of the passion narrative.  The moment near the end, when Christ utters His last breath and dies.  At that moment, everyone kneels and almost a minute of silence follows.  Those sixty seconds.  All of Good Friday is in those sixty seconds.

And Saint Marty is grateful for it.

On a hill far away...

April 18: Good Friday, We're Born, Fairy Tale Sacrifice

"You have been my friend," replied Charlotte.  "That in itself is a tremendous thing.  I wove my webs for you because I liked you.  After all, what's a life, anyway?  We're born, we live a little while, we die.  A spider's life can't help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies.  By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle.  Heaven knows anyone's life can stand a little of that."

I know I've used this passage before, but it's quite appropriate for Good Friday, a day that celebrates sacrificial love.  Charlotte's sacrifice for Wilbur certainly qualifies as a kind of Good Friday sacrifice.  She's dedicated her life to saving Wilbur's life.  I don't know if Charlotte is a Christ figure, but what she does is certainly Christ-like.

Holy Week sort of wears me out emotionally, with its readings of gospel passion narratives, last suppers, burials, rebirth. and resurrection.  It runs the whole gamut, from absolute grief to absolute joy.  I just came back from the Good Friday service at my church.  Lots of silence and hymns in minor keys.  I loved it.  Tonight, I'm planning on watching The Passion of the Christ, which is sort of my own little Good Friday tradition.

I should apologize for not posting at all yesterday.  It was quite the day of snow and shoveling and job applications.  I'm applying for another job at the university, and I needed to finish my vita and cover letter.  That was what absorbed most of my time yesterday.  Even though those documents are not imaginative in any way, they do take a certain amount of creativity.  This morning, I completed my application and submitted it.

This evening, I'm attending an Easter cantata at my sister-in-law's church.  My wife and I are making it a date.  We haven't gone out by ourselves for quite some time.  It's really true.  Children change everything in a marriage.  Gone are those Friday movie dates and weekend trips.  Now, any kind of family excursion requires the kind of planning usually reserved for scaling Mount Everest.  Being a parent is about sacrifice.  Every day.  Sometimes tiny sacrifices--the last piece of pizza, watching Curious George instead of the Godfather marathon on TBS.  Sometimes large sacrifices--putting off paying the heat bill to finance your daughter's participation in a dance competition.  It's all for love.

Once upon a time, a mediocre troubadour named Elton lived in a village where being a troubadour was against the law.  Elton had a wife and five children.  So Elton took a job as a blacksmith.

Elton was not a good blacksmith.  He burned himself all the time, and he suffered from hay fever.  He spent all day sneezing and wrapping bandages around his fingers.  But he didn't mind, because he loved his family and would do anything for them.

One day, the mayor announced that there was going to be an Easter dance in the town square, and he asked Elton is he could provide the entertainment.  Elton was ecstatic.  He went home, took out his guitar, and tried to play it.

Alas, after years of blacksmith work, Elton's fingers were thick with callouses and scars, and his knuckles were thick with arthritis.  Elton couldn't play.  He went to the mayor and told him his sad news.

The mayor said, "That's OK, Elton.  I heard you weren't very good to begin with.  We'll hire Myron the accordion player from the next village.  He plays a mean polka."

And so, on the night of  the Easter dance, Elton stayed home and cried all night long.  He cried so much that he became dehydrated, causing most of his major organs to shut down.  Before Elton's family came back from the dance, Elton died.

Moral of the story:  everybody loves polkas.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

Roll out the barrel...

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

April 16: Gratitude Forty-Three

I'm having a hard time with gratitude tonight.

There's a snowstorm bearing down on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan at the moment.  Another snowstorm.  If you're keeping count, that would be the second one this week.  Last week, I had convinced myself that spring had finally arrived.  This evening, I have convinced myself that the world is coming to an end.

So, on this wintry eve, I am grateful for a warm blanket and bed, which is where I'm headed in a few minutes.

Tomorrow, Saint Marty hopes to be grateful for a snowstorm that completely blows past us.  Yes, he's in denial.  It's a beautiful place with palms trees and a pink sunset on a Hawaiian beach.  Aloha!

Care to join me?

April 16: Secret Visitor, Publication, Rejection

In spring 1909, Elwyn drew upon his experiences with the secret visitor in his bedroom and wrote a poem, "To a Mouse."  The budding author, not yet ten years old, bravely sent the poem to Woman's Home Companion.  To his astonishment and delight, they accepted it for publication--and even awarded him a prize for it.

E. B. White published his first poem in a national magazine when he was nine-years-old.  Nine.  He won his first writing prize when he was nine-years-old.  Nine.  That's pretty impressive.  I could be snarky and say that the standards for acceptance must have been fairly low.  I could be even snarkier and say that it was only Woman's Home Companion, which sounds like the equivalent of Good Housekeeping.  But I'm not going to stoop to such levels.  The thing that sticks out in this whole discussion is that little Elwyn became a nationally published author when he was only four years out of kindergarten.

I didn't publish my first poem in a well-known journal until I was in graduate school.  That would put me about, oh, almost 17 or 18 years behind E. B. White.  Not that I'm competing.  I'm not.  Really.  I can't wait to find out when White published his first book.  He was probably all of twelve or thirteen.  A late bloomer.

I used to be really lucky.  For a while, every poem I sent out received an acceptance.  It was kind of crazy.  I submitted my first book of poems to one publisher.  One.  And it was accepted.  Like I said, crazy.  Of course, that streak ended quite a while ago.  In the past few years, I haven't been very successful in the acceptance department.  One or two poems, here and there.

That comes with the territory if you're a poet.  I had a student once ask me for the most important advice I'd give to any aspiring writer.  My answer:  "Get used to rejection.  A lot of it."  Poetry is an ego-bruising endeavor.

Thank God I've developed such a thick skin.

Now, if you'll excuse Saint Marty, he's going to curl into a fetal position and suck his thumb for a while.

Get used to feeling like this...

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

April 15: Gratitude Forty-Two

Tonight, I am grateful for the fact that it's not snowing out.

Well, it's sort of snowing.  It's more like a live snow globe outside.  Beautiful, soft flakes drifting slowly to the ground.  Tomorrow, it's not going to be snow globe weather.  It's going to be Rudolph's Christmas Eve blizzard weather.  I'm going to need a glowing red nose to see where I'm walking.

But, not tonight.

Tonight, Saint Marty has snow globe flakes and quiet, still streets.

Keep that kid away from the globe!

April 15: Don't Deserve It, Fire, Prayer for a Family

"Why did you do all this for me?" [Wilbur] asked.  "I don't deserve it.  I've never done anything for you."

Wilbur doesn't feel he deserves Charlotte's friendship and help.  In his mind, all he's done is take from her and not given anything back in return.  The little pig doesn't recognize the power of loyalty and camaraderie and friendship.

I understand that mentality.  I don't often feel I do much to deserve people's good will.  For some reason, a lot of people seem to think friendship needs to be earned by some act of kindness or generosity.  That's a load of crap, obviously.  Friendship is something purely and freely given.

At my daughter's school, there's a family who recently suffered a tremendous loss.  Their entire home was destroyed by a fire.  They lost everything.  The school has held many fundraisers.  Hat day, for instance, where students contribute a dollar to wear their hats all day long.  The family has kids in elementary, middle, and high school.

I'm asking you to pray for this family.  They really do deserve it.  Pray that they can rebuild their home and lives.

Saint Marty's kids already wore their hats to school last Friday, and they were surrounded by an ocean of caps, beanies, Stormy Kromers, and helmets.

I'd pay a buck to wear this...

Monday, April 14, 2014

April 14: Gratitude Thirty-Nine, Forty, and Forty-One

I just realized that I owe you guys three gratitude posts.  Somehow I fell off the wagon this weekend.  Spaced out.  I don't know how it happened.

Anyway, I have to come up with three things for which I am grateful.

Thirty-Nine:  I am grateful to be home tonight after a very long day of work.  I'm in my recliner, feeling very Marty Crane (from Frasier).  I'm relaxed for the first time today.

Forty:  I am grateful for my beautiful, funny daughter.  She just did a comedy routine for me.  It was hysterical.  Now, she's waiting very (im)patiently to use my laptop.

Forty-One:  I am grateful for Hostess Ding Dongs.  Last night, I stole my son's last one.  It was delicious.  Don't worry.  I got him some more tonight.

There, I'm all caught up.  Now, I have some grading to do.

No rest for the wicked.  Or Saint Marty.

One Marty to another

April 14: Easter Snow, in the Balance, "Web" Dip

I woke this morning to an Easter snowstorm.  Yes, the streets were clogged with white, and the winds were strong enough to shake cars.  Of course, my children got another day off from school, which made them ecstatic.  I, on the other hand, drove through the storm to get to work.  And I have been working ever since.

Very shortly, I will be heading out to teach my film class.  No, the university did not cancel classes.  There are no guarantees how many students will be present today, but I will teach whatever number that does show up.  I actually didn't expect the college to shut down.  The weather was simply not horrible enough.  Lots of thick, fat flakes and gale-force winds, but that's why we Yoopers own boots and snow blowers and Stormy Kromers.

Besides the snow, the other matter that has been occupying my day is teaching.  The English Department Head has offered me classes for the fall semester.  Really good classes.  However, I can't accept the offer until I speak with my new boss; she has to approve my hours.  My new boss hasn't answered the e-mail I sent this morning.  So, here I sit in my office at the university, my future hanging in the balance.  I hate being in this limbo.

My question for the good book of Wilbur this afternoon:

Will my new boss allow me to accept the classes that have been offered to me for the fall semester?

And my finger stops on:

Miles away, at the Arables' house, the men sat around the kitchen table eating a dish of canned peaches and talking over the events of the day.  Upstairs, Avery was already in bed and asleep.  Mr.s Arable was tucking Fern into bed.

"Did you have a good time at the Fair?" she asked as she kissed her daughter.

Fern nodded.  "I had the best time I have ever had anywhere or any time in all of my whole life."

Well, I would have been happy with a simple "yes" from E. B. White.

However, it looks like Saint Marty's going to have the best time he ever had anywhere or any time in all his whole life.

Ain't this the truth?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

April 13: Palm Sunday, Classic Saint Marty, "Frogs and Snails," New Cartoon

Hosanna to all my disciples this Palm Sunday.

I've had a very relaxing day.  I've read some.  Graded some.  Napped some.  Watched Frozen with my daughter some.  And I'll probably grade some more before I go to bed.  Of course, I haven't completed half the tasks I set out to do today, but I never do.  I tend to over-plan.  Some.  Actually, all the time.

This is the first Holy Week in close to 15 years that I haven't had all kinds of worship services to plan, arrange, direct, accompany, act, sing. play.  I must say that I'm a little lost.  I'm used to being really busy right now.  Palm Sunday.  Maunday Thursday.  Good Friday.  Holy Saturday.  Easter Sunday.  It's like the Olympics of the Christian year, and I've planned the opening and closing ceremonies for a very long time.

I'm trying to figure out what God is trying to teach me.  I've been trying to figure that out for a while, and maybe that's my problem.  Perhaps, I just need to sit back and watch the games, so to speak, but I'm not much for spectator sports.

Anyway, I have a Classic Saint Marty from May, 2011.  It contains a story I wrote for a friend's birthday.  This year, that same friend has asked me to write a sequel to the story.  So, I thought I'd post the original tonight and the second part when I get it done.  It's a tough story.  Be prepared.

May 3, 2011:  Story Curse, "Frogs and Snails," Hunger

I'm really hungry right now.  Not just eat a few jelly beans hungry.  I want to sit down and eat a three-course meal.  I don't know why I'm this hungry.  I know I don't have a tapeworm, and I haven't been starving myself this morning at all.  I just want to eat.  And eat.  And eat.  Just thought you'd like to know.

Well, I e-mailed my new short story to my sister, who is really good at formatting and making documents look pretty.  I asked her to read my story and add whatever graphic she thought was appropriate.  I didn't give it another thought until I got home.  My wife told me, "Your sister called.  She sounded really upset."  I listened to the message my sister left on our answering machine.

"I did what you asked me to do.  But I really didn't appreciate it."  She sounded like she was crying.  "You should have warned me."  She hung up.

When I tried to call her, she refused to talk to me.  When my wife read my story later, she handed it back to me, crying, and said, "I never want to read that story again."

The story seems to evoke really strong reactions in readers.  I'm not sure if that's good.  I try not to be emotionally manipulative with my writing, and I really tried to make this story ring true.  You, my readers, need to tell me if this story is a sentimental piece of crap or not.  As it is, I'm getting a little gun shy about giving it to my friend this afternoon.

Well, I will post the story, and if I start getting death threats, I know something is seriously wrong.  I don't really want to have to hire bodyguards.  But I'm beginning to think this story is cursed.

Saint Marty is going to post his story now, but then he's going into hiding until the dust settles.

Jeepers, peepers!

Frogs and Snails 

for Karen on her birthday

I found myself at my son’s tree house three months after I killed him.  The peepers sang under the full moon, and Nick, our cocker spaniel, raced through the tall grass, stirring up clouds of fireflies that winked and sparked.  In the distance, I could see the black water of Mud Lake, still as sleeping crows.  I could smell fish and something else.  Skunk?  I couldn’t be sure.  Wild and secret, the musk sat on my skin like sweat.

Cooper, my son, loved the smell of skunk.  A few weeks before I murdered him, we’d paced a skunk as it waddled down our road, nosed through garbages.  I had to hold Coop back, kept saying, “Too close, too close.”  Nothing would have made him happier than to be sprayed.  To be able to take that stink to bed with him like a favorite pillow.  Smell it all night.  Wake up with it.

Nick bounded to me, his red hair slick with night dew.  He jumped up on my legs, left muddy prints on my jeans.  Before I could scold, he leaped away again.

I hadn’t wanted to go for this walk, but Nick had been desperate, insistent with his whines and scratches at the door.  As if his life or my life depended on it.  I avoided going outside as much as possible these days.  I couldn’t stand the looks of my neighbors.  Most wanted to say something to me, but nobody knew what to say.  So I spared them the effort.  Spent most evenings on the couch, listening to Billy Joel.  My son’s favorite song.  “Goodnight, My Angel.”  I’d sing it to him before he went to sleep.

Good night, my angel

Time to close your eyes

Nick barked a few yards away from me.  He’d been my son’s dog, bought right around the same time Coop was born.  Nick slept next to my son every night, his black nose tucked under my son’s chin.  The day after Coop’s funeral, I almost took Nick to the county Humane Society.  Had him sitting in the Sable next to me.  But I couldn’t.

I looked down at the base of the oak that held my son’s tree house.  On a root, a frog perched, its throat expanding, contracting like a bubble of milk.  On the dirt beside the frog was the knuckle of snail shell.  I held my breath, listened to the frog call.  Pweee-pweee-pweee-pweee.

Good night, my angel

Now it’s time to dream

Nick was at my side again.  He stared down at the peeper at my feet.  I expected him to pounce, bat the frog around with his paws.  But Nick just stood, pink tongue hanging out, panting.  The frog didn’t seem to notice, just kept crying.  Pweee-pweee-pweee-pweee.

I reached down, rubbed Nick’s back.  His tail swayed back-and-forth.  Slow.  Content.  I could feel his quick breaths.

I closed my eyes, remembered the last time I’d had my hand on my son’s chest, felt the work of his lungs under my fingertips.

Coop had been hiding behind my Sable, waiting to jump, surprise me as I stepped out of the car.  It had been a long workday, and light was already faded from the sky.  My wife had asked me to pick up a gallon of milk on my way home.  I’d forgotten.  Sighing, I shifted my car into reverse and started backing down the driveway to go to the IGA.

And dream how wonderful your life will be

Cooper was heaving liquid breaths when I got to him.  I heard myself saying, “Oh, God, God, God, no, no, no, God, no.”  I put my hand on his eight-year-old chest, stared into his wide eyes.  “Sshhhh,” I said.  “I’m sorry.  I’m sorry.  Sshhh.”

Before my wife got to us, Coop smiled up at me,  “Surprise,” he said.  Then he was gone.

Then in your heart

There will always be a part of me

I knelt beside Nick, kept rubbing his wet back.  He looked up, licked my chin, the way I’d seen him lick Cooper hundreds of times.  I never cried for my son.  Not at the hospital or funeral or after the funeral.  I reached down, touched the thick finger of Nick’s tail, which moved and moved.

Over my son’s crib, my wife hung a plaque when he was born.  Precious Moments, which I hated.  A poem:

What are little boys made of?
What are little boys made of?
Frogs and snails and puppy-dogs’ tails,
That’s what little boys are made of.

At the base of the oak.  Underneath the tree house and stars and moon.  In air of fish and skunk.  The peeper sang.  The snail crawled.  Nick nosed my hand.  And I wept in the dark.

Someday we’ll all be gone

But lullabyes go on and on...
They never die
That's how you
And I
Will be
Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, April 12, 2014

April 12: This Lovely World, Mud, Ted Kooser, "Flying at Night," New Cartoon

“Winter will pass, the days will lengthen, the ice will melt in the pasture pond. The song sparrow will return and sing, the frogs will awake, the warm wind will blow again. All these sights and sounds and smells will be yours to enjoy, Wilbur—this lovely world, these precious days…”

Charlotte has saved Wilbur's life.  She knows he will live to enjoy many autumns, winters, springs, and summers.  The last chapters of Charlotte's Web describe Wilbur's first winter and the arrival of spring, with its sparrows and frogs and warm winds.  The lovely world and precious days.

Spring has arrived in the Upper Peninsula, I think.  Yesterday, the temperatures hit almost 50 degrees.  Today was another story.  In the morning, fat snowflakes fell.  In the afternoon, it was icy rain.  Tonight, fog.  Thick fog.  I just heard a bird calling outside.  A high chee-chee-chee-chee-cheeeee.  It's going to be cold tomorrow and the next few days, but there are streams in the street, grass in the front yard, and mud.  Lots of mud.  Winter is slowly leaving.

In the last few weeks, I have fallen into the habit of watching travel shows on PBS.  I've seen tours of Florence, Rome, and Oslo.  Watched someone climb the Matterhorn.  Sailed in the East Indies with another person.  It's strange.  I've never been that interested in traveling to foreign countries before.  But the museums, art, scenery--all of it--has really taken root in me for some reason.  Maybe it's because I know I will never get the chance to see these places in person.

That's probably why I've chosen the following poem by Ted Kooser to share with you this evening:

Flying at Night

Above us, stars.  Beneath us, constellations.
Five billion miles away, a galaxy dies
like a snowflake falling on water.  Below us,
some farmer, feeling the chill of that distant death,
snaps on his yard light, drawing his sheds and barn
back into the little system of his care.
All night, the cities, like shimmering novas,
tug with bright streets at lonely lights like his.

There's a full moon shining down on my house tonight, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan of the United States of America on the continent of North America in the Western Hemisphere of the planet Earth in the Solar System of the Milky Way Galaxy of the Mind of God.

Yes, Saint Marty just plagiarized Thornton Wilder's Our Town.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, April 11, 2014

April 11: Gratitude Thirty-Eight

Tonight, I am grateful for half-price pop.

Every Friday, the local Holiday gas station has a half-price Friday on all of their fountain pops.  For those of you not from Michigan, pop = soda.  There's nothing like a cherry Diet Mountain Dew.  Multiply that by 54 ounces, and you've got the makings of a very good evening (plus several trips to the bathroom in the middle of the night).

I don't know if I'm going to buy a pop for myself.  I just like the idea that I can get 54 ounces of liquid paradise for less than a dollar.  It's comforting.  Like the idea of guardian angels and Hillary Clinton running for President.

Maybe before I put my PJs on tonight, I may stop by the Holiday and pony up 75 cents.

It will make Saint Marty very happy.  And a little wired.

This cracks my shit up

April 11: Spring Pig, a Little Despair, Tenured Fairy Tale

"He claims he's a spring pig," reported Charlotte, "and perhaps he is.  One thing is certain, he has a most unattractive personality.  He is too familiar, too noisy, and he cracks weak jokes.  Also, he's not anywhere near as clean as you are, nor as pleasant.  I, too, took quite a dislike to him in our brief interview.  He's going to be a hard pig to beat, though, Wilbur, on account of his size and weight.  But with me helping you, it can be done."

Charlotte is fairly confident through the whole book that she will be able to save Wilbur's life.  She never doubts herself.  She simply doesn't accept the fact that her friend will end up as Christmas ham.  Flying in the face of all evidence, this little spider knows, deep down in her heart, that Wilbur will live into old age.  She has faith.

I went to a committee meeting at the university this morning.  It had to do with the upcoming contract negotiations with the administration and the fact that adjunct/contingent faculty are the Cinderellas of the school.  We're alright to do the dirty work.  Sweep out the fireplace.  Muck out the cow shit from the stables.  Make breakfast, lunch, and dinner for our tenured stepmothers and sisters.  When it comes to being invited to the palace for a ball, however, we might as well stay in the attic and correct our stacks of freshmen compositions.  No fairy godmothers for us.

I hope you're catching the bitterness in the previous paragraph.  I guess I don't have the same strong faith that Charlotte has.  After teaching at the same college for close to 18 years, I find myself feeling a little despair that my situation hasn't really changed all that much from the beginning.  Yes, I'm teaching different classes.  Yes, I'm part of the union now and received a small salary bump with the last contract.  But, when I walk down the hall of the English Department, I still get the impression that I'm begging for table scraps from all of my colleagues with PhDs (most of whom have been teaching there less than half as long as I have).  I'm tired of being the red-headed bastard child.

Once upon a time, a red-headed bastard child named Rick lived on a beautiful estate with his stepmother and sisters.  Rick's father had died of a massive coronary when Rick was a toddler, so Rick grew up being the house butler, handyman, and cook.

One day, Rick was shoveling snow off the front steps of the house.  He leaned on his shovel and said, "I wish I could marry the princess and live in the palace."

In a puff of pink smoke, a short, rotund woman with a wand and wings appeared.

"Who are you?" Rick said, startled.

"I'm your fairy godmother, Melba," the woman said, waving her arms.  "I heard your wish, and I've come to help you."

"Really?" Rick said.  "You're going to help me marry the princess and live in the palace?":

Melba frowned.  "Did you say marry the princess and live in the palace?"

Rick nodded.

"Do you have a terminal degree?" Melba asked.

Rick shook his head.

"Do you have any publications?"

Rick shook his head again.

"Research grants?  Awards?  Conference presentations?"

Rick kept shaking his head.

Melba slipped her wand back into the sleeve of her dress.  "I'm sorry, honey," Melba said.  "All I can do is offer you a contingent wish, and you'll have to renew your contract every six months."

Rick sighed.  "Will I ever get a tenure-track wish?"

Melba laughed.  "You're a red-headed bastard child.  I can't perform miracles."

Moral of the story: Publish or you're fucked.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

Bastards have to stick together