Wednesday, October 29, 2014

October 29: Last Night, Edgar Allan Poe, "The Raven"

I have a treat for my disciples tonight.  A little Poe to put you in the Halloween mood.

I must apologize for not posting last night.  I found myself too tired by the time I got home.  I'd corrected midterm exams, spent over an hour on the phone with Blue Cross trying to get an insulin pump, and put together two lesson plans.  I could barely keep my eyes open when I sat down on my couch.

This afternoon and evening, I taught my two Intro to Film classes and created a discussion guide for my book club meeting tomorrow night.  I almost talked myself into not posting again tonight.

But then Saint Marty thought, "Nevermore."

The Raven

by:  Edgar Allan Poe

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door—
"‘Tis some visitor," I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
               Only this and nothing more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
               Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
"‘Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
               This it is and nothing more.”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir," said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—
               Darkness there and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—
               Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
“Surely," said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—
               ‘Tis the wind and nothing more!”

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—
                Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou," I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
               Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blest with seeing bird above his chamber door—
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
               With such name as “Nevermore.”

But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.”
               Then the bird said “Nevermore.”

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless," said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
               Of ‘Never—nevermore.'"

But the Raven still beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore
               Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
               She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
“Wretch," I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite—respite and nepenthe, from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
               Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”
               Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil—prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
                Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign in parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
               Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
               Shall be lifted—nevermore!
Quoth the Raven...

October 29: Financial Means, Health and Sewer Problems, Money

There were many other stresses on the Angells' marriage.  They spent well beyond their financial means, sending their children to expensive schools in New York, employing various servants, renting a country house year-round, throwing lavish parties, even ordering all their groceries by telephone...

Michael Sims, the author of The Story of Charlotte's Web, is writing about Katharine Angell, who was married when E. B. White fell in love with her.  Katharine's marriage suffered from a host of problems, not the least of which was financial extravagance.  Katharine eventually ended up divorcing her husband and marrying White.

Living beyond your financial means is easy to do when you have children.  I know that one of the reasons my wife and I struggle with money on a monthly basis is because of the tuition for my daughter's dance lessons.  It's a lot of money, but it's so difficult to say "no" when I see how much she loves dance.  She started in ballet when she was in kindergarten.  The dance studio is like a second home to her.  I can't bring myself to take that away from her.

Of course, my wife and I have adjusted our budget to include the dance lessons.  But there's no wiggle room.  If an unexpected expense crops up, we go into a monetary tail spin for a few weeks.  This morning was the beginning of one of those spins.

During the night, I experienced a health problem.  While recovering, I discovered that our toilet was plugged.  As I plunged and plunged and plunged, I started hearing the drain in the bathtub making ominous coughing and gurgling sounds.  Then the kitchen sink started backing up.  I knew the problem was a little more involved than a plugged toilet bowl.  Our sewer was plugged.

To make a long story short:  this evening, our sewer line is clear, and our bank account is $125 lighter. 

Money is always a constant stress in our household.  That and Tea Party Republicans.  We struggle, like every other middle class family in the United States.  The winter is coming, and the heating bills are going to start climbing to painfully high amounts.  Costume payments are coming due at the dance studio.  My daughter's birthday.  Christmas.  Braces.  Car repairs.

I dream of a job, a single job, that will pay all our bills and leave a little extra in the bank.  I'm not asking for much.  All I want is a cushion.  Enough so that, if our sewer backs up, I don't have to beg my family for help.

Saint Marty doesn't think that's too much to ask.  Saint Marty also thinks that universal health care is a good thing and being called "liberal" is a compliment.

NOTE:  I was going to use a picture of a backed-up sewer, but every image made me physically sick.

Monday, October 27, 2014

October 27: Crappy Mood, Carl Sandburg, "Theme in Yellow"

I am in a really crappy mood this evening.  I have been vacillating between "I want everybody dead" and "Life is a cesspool of disappointment."  Don't know why this feeling has descended upon me.  Perhaps it has to do with the shorter days and longer nights.  Or maybe it's stress at work.  Whatever the reason, I certainly have been struggling to maintain a positive attitude recently.  Especially tonight.

It is All Hallow's Week.  Therefore I will be featuring Halloween poems this week.

The first is from Carl Sandburg.  Sandburg is not my favorite poet, but he does manage to capture the spirit of this time of year.

Saint Marty will try to be in a better frame of mind tomorrow.

Theme in Yellow

by:  Carl Sandburg

I spot the hills
With yellow balls in autumn.
I light the prairie cornfields
Orange and tawny gold clusters
And I am called pumpkins.
On the last of October
When dusk is fallen
Children join hands
And circle round me
Singing ghost songs
And love to the harvest moon;
I am a jack-o’-lantern
With terrible teeth
And the children know
I am fooling.

The scariest jack-o-lantern around

October 27: Caring God, Worry, "Web" Dip

I'm sitting in church right now, listening to a deacon speak about the sacrament of baptism.  We've talked about water and grace.  The church's stained glass windows are dark now.  The sun has set, and shadows are sitting in the pews at the back of the sanctuary.  I can smell the wax of the votives melting under the flickering flames.

The deacon just used the term "caring God," as in "our God is a caring God."  A God who dispenses mercy and love.  There used to be a belief that, if a person wasn't baptized, that person would never know salvation.  That belief would exclude all non-Christians from heaven.  Jews.  Muslims.  Buddhists.  All going south for eternity.

That's not part of the Catholic faith any more.  The catechism teaches that people who lead good lives--Godly lives--will be saved.  The deacon just said, "We are bound by the sacraments.  God isn't."  So, if you're a good person and an atheist (or gay or Rastafarian or a member of the Tea Party), you are still a cherished child of God.

I find a lot of comfort in that tonight.  I worry so much.  I worry about my son.  About paying the mortgage.  The mid-term elections.  My daughter having a boyfriend.  My wife's bipolar disorder.  My car's transmission.  Basically, from morning 'til night, I worry.  I need a caring God.

My biggest worry tonight:

Will I get my midterm exams graded by Wednesday?

And the answer from the world wide Web:

"Hurray!" cried everybody.

"Thank you very much," said Charlotte...

Saint Marty will take that as a "you betcha."  That's Yooper for "yes."

God even cares about her

Sunday, October 26, 2014

October 26: My Son, Classic Saint Marty, New Cartoon

Some of you may be wondering how my son is doing on his new medication.  He started taking it on Friday morning, so it's been three days.

I don't know if it's my imagination or wishful thinking or incredible guilt, but I really think I notice an improvement in his behavior.  This weekend, he didn't have a single violent outburst.  In fact, he handled every little disappointment or trouble with a maturity I've never seen before in him.  Tonight, when I told him it was time to leave grandma's house and go home, he didn't even complain.  He got his shoes on and walked out to the car.  Usually, Sundays nights are a battle, from bath time to bed time.  I think my mouth literally dropped to my chest.

Again, I'm not sure if it's the medication.  It could just be that he had a really good weekend.  I think the real test is going to come in the next couple of weeks on the school playground.  That's the place where he's been running into difficulties.  And when I say "running into difficulties," I mean his fist has been running into people's faces.  If he remains detention-free until mid-November, I may start to believe we made the right decision regarding this medicine.

Until then, I will continue to second guess myself.  I may even throw in a trip to the confessional and a few bad dreams.  Why not make use of the Catholic guilt?

Today's episode of Classic Saint Marty first aired two years ago, when Honey Boo Boo was a rising star and Ebola was a plot device not a news story.

October 26, 2012:  To His Father's Side, Loved the Child, School Visit

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

Bob Cratchit loves Tiny Tim.  One of the most moving moments in A Christmas Carol is the deathbed scene of Tim.  We see Bob sitting by his son's bed, mourning.  When Dickens performed this scene at his public readings, the audience would weep.  There is something about Tiny Tim and Bob that touches a deep chord in the readers' minds and hearts.

I love my son.  I took the day off work to spend time with my son at his school.  I sat in chairs the size of mushrooms.  I ate cheese cubes and English muffin sandwiches.  I read books to a swarm of three- and four-year-olds.  My son took me by the hand and led me around the classroom, proudly showing me everything.  At the end of the morning, as my son was climbing on the bus, he looked at me and said, "You come to school tomorrow?"  "Tomorrow" for my son could mean in the afternoon, in a day, in a week, in a month, or in a year.  "Tomorrow" is the future, and my son wanted me to go to school with him tomorrow.

It made me feel great to know my son was excited to be with me, wanted to be with me.  He didn't want to let go of my hand.

And Saint Marty didn't want to let go of his son's hand.

My Tiny Tim

Confessions of Saint Marty

October 25: Squashes and Pumpkins, Carving, Robert Frost, "Gathering Leaves," New Cartoon

The autumn days grew shorter, Lurvy brought the squashes and pumpkins in from the garden and piled them on the barn floor, where they wouldn't get nipped on frosty nights...

Autumn days.  Frosty nights.  Squashes and pumpkins.  E. B. White moves easily from the dog days of summer to the golden afternoons of fall to the frozen nights of winter.  Of course, by the end of the book, Wilbur's life is secure, and he can experience the changing seasons without any fear of a visit to the smokehouse.  Wilbur's future is full of jack-o-lanterns and cornstalks, wreaths and holly.

Today was one of those squash and pumpkin October days.  Warm and windy.  The trees were thrashing, and the leaves were flying.  I've never really raked the leaves at my house.  They sit on my lawn until the snow comes, and then they spend the winter composting.  In the spring, the grass comes up, green and rich.  I've seen my neighbors bagging their leaves, scooping them into the back of pickup trucks.  Of course, their lawns look fantastic when they're done, but, in a few weeks, snow will be the great equalizer.  Their lawns and my lawn--everything--will be white.

My daughter and I went to a local pumpkin patch to do some shopping.  She picked out two, huge specimens, and I spent a good portion of the afternoon scooping pumpkin innards and carving faces.  My son chose a one-eyed monster for his jack-o-lantern.  My daughter, a skeletal design.  I managed to sculpt both pumpkins without injuring myself.  That's quite an accomplishment for a person who once ended up in the ER on Christmas day for stabbing himself in the wrist attempting to open a toy for his daughter.

Robert Frost has a great little poem about October days like this.  I have a feeling he would have been one of those neighbors who raked and bagged this time of year.  He probably would have grown pumpkins in his backyard, too.  Large and orange.  Enough to supply the whole street with jack-o-lanterns.

Saint Marty prefers to get his pumpkins the old-fashioned way:  from Walmart.

Gathering Leaves

by:  Robert Frost

Spades take up leaves
No better than spoons,
And bags full of leaves
Are light as balloons.

I make a great noise
Of rustling all day
Like rabbit and deer
Running away.

But the mountains I raise
Elude my embrace,
Flowing over my arms
And into my face.

I may load and unload
Again and again
Till I fill the whole shed,
And what have I then?

Next to nothing for weight,
And since they grew duller
From contact with earth,
Next to nothing for color.

Next to nothing for use.
But a crop is a crop,
And who's to say where
The harvest shall stop? 

 Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, October 24, 2014

October 24: High School, Robert Frost, "The Road Not Taken"

When I was a senior in high school, my class voted for this motto:  "Don't go where there is a path.  Rather, go where there is no path and leave a trail."

Not very original, I know.  I think that little saying makes the top ten list of every senior high school class.  That and "I'm outta here suckah."  However, it's a beautiful little sentiment about not being afraid of hard work.  Making a new path in the world is tough.

In my salutatorian address at graduation, I read the Robert Frost poem below.  I believed it, too.  I thought I was going to be the next Robert Frost or Ernest Hemingway.  The whole world seemed so bright and exciting.  I wasn't looking for any paved roads.  I was going to be a pioneer.

Now, almost 30 years later, I realize that those unpaved roads made my life quite difficult at times.  Still do.  If I had thought about the odds of becoming a full-time writer, I may have taken a few more busy thoroughfares.  Stuck with computer science as my major.  Learned a skilled trade.  Welding, maybe.  Because, I am here to tell you that the road not taken is not all it's cracked up to be.

Of course, that wouldn't have been much of a graduation speech.  "Dear classmates, life is going to suck for most of us.  Be prepared."

Saint Marty is still going down his road not taken.

The Road Not Taken

by:  Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Pretty much says it all...

October 24: Extra Work, Pulled in Different Directions, Tired Fairy Tale

Lurvy picked up a pitchfork and walked away to get some clean straw.  Having such an important pig was going to mean plenty of extra work, he could see that.

Lurvy, a hired hand, works his ass off on the Zuckerman farm.  He slops Wilbur, pitches hay, milks cows, builds crates, plants crops.  He does everything, probably for little more than a slice of homemade strawberry-rhubarb pie per day.   Basically, Lurvy is that thing that every employer wants:  a hard-working employee who works like an Oompa Loompa in a chocolate factory.

I'm very tired tonight.  I always am on Friday nights.  After five 12- and 14-hour workdays, I am running on empty.  Each one of the sentences I've typed tonight has taken me several minutes to compose.  My mind is firing on one piston.

Tonight, I received a phone call from a friend who leads the praise band at church.  She wants me to rehearse tomorrow morning at 10 a.m.  There's also a movie event at a local theater for my son at the same time.  And a clothing resale at a local school where my wife and I purchase birthday and Christmas presents every year.  Then I have to take my daughter to the dance store to purchase her pointe shoes.  And, of course, I have to stop at the local pumpkin patch to buy some Halloween pumpkins.  In the late afternoon, I have to play the pipe organ for the Saturday evening mass at the Catholic church.

I feel like I'm constantly being pulled in about a million different directions.  I start working before the sun rises, and I don't stop until well past sunset.  My medical office job gives me stress headaches.  My university teaching job is great, but only part-time with no benefits or perks or advancement to full time.  I have quizzes and midterm exams to grade.  The university bookstore wants my textbook orders for next semester.  My daughter has a boyfriend.  My son is taking a new medication that may or may not help with his tendency to cause bodily harm on the school playground.  I'm craving Chinese food, but all I have in the house that comes close is a bag of uncooked egg noodles.

I know I'm whining right now.  That's a byproduct of the exhaustion, along with a puzzling urge to watch It's a Wonderful Life and drink several bottles of Corona.  Where's Clarence when I need him?

Once upon a time, a farmhand named Linus worked so hard that he had a heart attack one afternoon and died in the cattle barn.

When Linus got to heaven's gates, Saint Peter looked at him and said, "Linus, you have been a good and faithful servant on Earth."

Linus smiled and said, "Thank you, sir."

Saint Peter handed him a broom and said, "My office needs cleaning.  Get to work."

"When do I get a break?" Linus asked.

Saint Peter shook his head.  "This is eternity, buddy.  You should have taken more breaks when you were alive."

Linus frowned, took the broom, and muttered, "No wonder Jesus liked John better."

Moral of the story:  I'm still hungry for Chinese food.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

When's the last time they had some time off?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

October 23: A Fine Spider, My Son, Medication

"That's a fine spider and I'm going to capture it," said Avery.  He took the cover off the candy box.  Then he picked up a stick.  "I'm going to knock that ol' spider into this box," he said.

Avery Arable is all boy.  He carries around frogs in his pockets, and he collects insects.  Armed with wooden daggers and air rifles.  Accident prone.  Always doing something he's not supposed to do.  Avery seems like a prime candidate for in-school detention and Ritalin.

This weekend, my son is going to start taking an ADHD medication that is supposed to help him control his impulsivity and focus better.  When I was putting him to bed tonight, we had so much fun together.  As I read him a book, he made faces and did character voices.  We talked about the tooth fairy (he lost his first tooth this morning) and the pajama party he's having in school tomorrow.  He's so excited.  I'm afraid that this drug is going to change all that.  Make that hilarious little boy disappear.

Of course, I know that my son needs a little help.  His violent outbursts are like instant tornadoes.  They come out of nowhere and leave a swathe of destruction.  One of his teachers told us, "When it happens, he doesn't even seem to be there."  There's something going on in his brain that goes beyond Avery Arable-hood.  He's destroyed a tree on the school playground.  He punches classmates, bites his sister's arm, and rips the glasses off my face when he loses control.

Now, I don't need to read a whole bunch of angry comments from people who don't "believe" in drug therapy or ADHD.  My wife has bipolar, and her medications keep her sane and allow her to live a normal life.  Drug therapy works.  One of my nephews has ADHD, and, without his medication, he can't focus.  He's like a fly that flits and buzzes from one thing to another.  ADHD is real.  It's not a matter of belief.

I just want what's best for my son.  I want him to be able to play during recess without bloodshed or school detention.  I want him to be a "normal" Avery.  Toads and spiders and poison ivy.  Hell, I'll even let him play football.  As long as he's happy and not a threat to society.

And as long as Saint Marty doesn't have to sit through wrestling meets or take him deer hunting.

So, this is normal?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

October 22: Essay Revision, Robert Frost, "Christmas Trees"

I have been working on a revision of a Christmas essay for a few weeks now.  For some reason, I'm having a really difficult time.  The editor who wants to publish the essay gave me a couple of suggestions, and I thought the rewrite was going to be easy.  I was wrong.

I sit, listening to Christmas music, every night, trying to get some inspiration.  I'm not sure if anything I've rewritten is good.  In fact, I'm pretty convinced I have lost my touch.  I'm slowly sinking into a little bit of a funk.

So, in another attempt to gain some inspiration, I've chosen a Robert Frost Christmas poem.

Saint Marty needs to get back to work now.

Christmas Trees

by:  Robert Frost

The city had withdrawn into itself
And left at last the country to the country;
When between whirls of snow not come to lie
And whirls of foliage not yet laid, there drove
A stranger to our yard, who looked the city,
Yet did in country fashion in that there
He sat and waited till he drew us out
A-buttoning coats to ask him who he was.
He proved to be the city come again
To look for something it had left behind
And could not do without and keep its Christmas.
He asked if I would sell my Christmas trees;
My woods—the young fir balsams like a place
Where houses all are churches and have spires.
I hadn’t thought of them as Christmas Trees.
I doubt if I was tempted for a moment
To sell them off their feet to go in cars
And leave the slope behind the house all bare,
Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon.
I’d hate to have them know it if I was.
Yet more I’d hate to hold my trees except
As others hold theirs or refuse for them,
Beyond the time of profitable growth,
The trial by market everything must come to.
I dallied so much with the thought of selling.
Then whether from mistaken courtesy
And fear of seeming short of speech, or whether
From hope of hearing good of what was mine,
I said, “There aren’t enough to be worth while.”
“I could soon tell how many they would cut,
You let me look them over.”

“You could look.
But don’t expect I’m going to let you have them.”
Pasture they spring in, some in clumps too close
That lop each other of boughs, but not a few
Quite solitary and having equal boughs
All round and round. The latter he nodded “Yes” to,
Or paused to say beneath some lovelier one,
With a buyer’s moderation, “That would do.”
I thought so too, but wasn’t there to say so.
We climbed the pasture on the south, crossed over,
And came down on the north.
He said, “A thousand.”

“A thousand Christmas trees!—at what apiece?”

He felt some need of softening that to me:
“A thousand trees would come to thirty dollars.”

Then I was certain I had never meant
To let him have them. Never show surprise!
But thirty dollars seemed so small beside
The extent of pasture I should strip, three cents
(For that was all they figured out apiece),
Three cents so small beside the dollar friends
I should be writing to within the hour
Would pay in cities for good trees like those,
Regular vestry-trees whole Sunday Schools
Could hang enough on to pick off enough.
A thousand Christmas trees I didn’t know I had!
Worth three cents more to give away than sell,
As may be shown by a simple calculation.
Too bad I couldn’t lay one in a letter.
I can’t help wishing I could send you one,
In wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas.

Ho, ho, help!

October 22: In Love, My Daughter, a Boyfriend

Despite his satirical gibes at romance and sexuality, even as he and Thurber wrote their book [E. B. White] was already in love again.  This time the focus of his affection was a highly respected professional woman, a writer and editor who was several years older and decades more mature than he.  He had fallen for his co-worker and editor, the woman who had brought him aboard The New Yorker--Katharine Angell.

E. B. White might have been an up-and-coming writer, the voice of the fledgling The New Yorker, and friend of many of the best writers of his generation, but he was also a young man in the 1920s.  As such, White's actions were guided by more than literary aspirations, if you get my gist.

Last night, on the way home from dance class, my daughter told me she has a boyfriend.  In fact, she has had this boyfriend for almost three weeks, but she's been afraid to tell me.  Driving in the dark car, I tried to keep myself composed as I listened to her.

"Oh," I said.  "Where did you meet this boyfriend?"

She met him at Bible camp two summers ago.

"And what is this boyfriend's name?" I said.


"Where does Joe live?" I said.

He lives in a town located about an hour-and-a-half away.

"And how old is this Joe?"

He's going to be fifteen soon, and he's going to be taking driver's ed.

"Oh," I said, "so he can't drive yet?"

No, but he'll have his permit in a while.

"And what does this Joe do with his time?" said I.

He's a football player.

Pause.  "That doesn't really sell him to me, sweetheart," I said.


"Does he read?"

Pause.  I don't know.

"What's his favorite subject in school?"

Ummmm.  Science, I think.  That's good, right?

Silence.  "How did he ask you to be his girlfriend?"

He used Snapchat.

"Snapchat?" I said.  "He used Snapchat to ask you out?"


The rest of our conversation was just as informative.  To sum up the information I was able to drag out of my daughter:
  • She hasn't seen the boyfriend in person for almost two years.
  • The last book he read was a novel called Unbreakable, which is about football.
  • He has read The Catcher in the Rye for school.
  • I make him nervous (a good thing).
  • He's going to try to come to my daughter's ballet recital in February.
  • He can't drive (another good thing).
  • He goes deer hunting.
Basically, my daughter is "dating" a Yooper high school football player who probably wears flannel all the time and kill things with guns and whose idea of great literature is a sports column.  He ain't E. B. White, that's for sure.

Saint Marty did not sleep well last night.

I need to buy some ammunition

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

October 21: Being Selfish, Robert Frost, "In a Disused Graveyard"

I'm a little disappointed tonight.  Next Friday, my six-year-old son has a Halloween parade at his school.  He asked me this morning if I was going to come to see him.  I said I would try.  When I asked my supervisor at the medical office, I got a less than enthusiastic response.  There are a lot of people who have kids who are taking off early, including my supervisor.  Long story short:  it looks like I'm going to miss the costume parade.

I'm tired of having to miss things in my kids' lives because I have to work long hours at two jobs.  I'm tired of having to make sacrifices.  I want to be a little selfish right now.  Call in sick next Friday and screw everybody else.  I know that's not a very Christian attitude, but I can't help it.  For some reason, guys missing things like their kids' Halloween parades is alright, and that really bothers me.  It's a social double standard.  And it sucks.

Well, the Poet of the Week is Robert Frost.  Tonight's poem, in honor of Halloween (since it's on my mind right now), is about mortality and gravestones.

Saint Marty is going to have a drink when he gets home tonight.

In a Disused Graveyard

by:  Robert Frost

The living come with grassy tread
To read the gravestones on the hill;
The graveyard draws the living still,
But never anymore the dead.
The verses in it say and say:
"The ones who living come today
To read the stones and go away
Tomorrow dead will come to stay."
So sure of death the marbles rhyme,
Yet can't help marking all the time
How no one dead will seem to come.
What is it men are shrinking from?
It would be easy to be clever
And tell the stones: Men hate to die
And have stopped dying now forever.
I think they would believe the lie. 

WWFD:  What would Frost do?

October 21: Hysterics, Panicked Morning, Prayer for the Lost

"That remains to be seen.  But I am going to save you, and I want you to quiet down immediately.  You're carrying on in a childish way.  Stop your crying!  I can't stand hysterics!"

Wilbur certainly knows how to get hysterical.  He does it several times in Charlotte's Web.  In the passage above, the sheep has just told him about Zuckerman's plan to turn him into pork chops and bacon come winter time.  I think Wilbur has every right to become a little unglued.  However, Charlotte, ever practical and calm, doesn't put up with his "childish" carrying on.  She calms him down like a mother would calm down an out-of-control toddler.  Firmly.  With authority.

This morning, I came a little unglued myself.  I gave myself a bolus of insulin from my insulin pump.  The pump ran out of insulin, and, when I went to replace the reservoir, I discovered that my bag containing my last bottle of insulin was M. I. A.  I couldn't find it anywhere.

So, I drove down to the university and ransacked my office.  Then I went to my classroom and ransacked that, as well.  When nothing turned up, I went to the medical office where I work and ransacked my little space there.  Nothing again.  So, I called Public Safety at the university to see if anybody had turned in my insulin pump supplies.  Nope.  It was around 7:30 a.m. by this time.

I had to wait until the pharmacy opened at 8:30 a.m. to get more insulin.  By the time I was on my way to the pharmacy, my blood sugar had climbed to around 250.  I was feeling crappy and tired.

So, I guess what I'm saying is that I can get a little hysterical myself.  I still haven't found my insulin pump bag.  Have no idea where it is.  But I have insulin now, and I'm not in danger of slipping into a coma.  Really, my freak out of this morning didn't really help me at all.  It didn't help me locate my lost belongings.  It didn't help keep my blood sugar in check.  It didn't do anything.

It's a matter of trusting God, and I didn't do that.  Instead, I went into Chicken Little mode.  The sky was falling.  Tonight, even though I still haven't found my insulin pump bag, I'm calmer.  I know I will find it.  I have made the transition to peace of mind.

So I'm asking you guys to say a little prayer for me.  Help me to find my lost diabetes supplies.  Tonight.  Before I drive myself crazy again.

Saint Marty is very good at crazy.

Where's that damn insulin bag?!!!!

Monday, October 20, 2014

October 20: My Little Delinquent, Tired, "Web" Dip

Yes, my six-year-old son committed another grade school felony on the playground today.  He punched one of his classmates, and then, when he was brought inside the school, he proceeded to throw homework bins and create general havoc.  He had to be brought to the time-out room, which I assume is the equivalent of kiddy solitary confinement.  Pretty soon, my little delinquent is going to be fashioning a shiv out of Elmer's Glue, Cheetos, and glitter.

Yes, I'm tired of doing crisis management at home.  My son isn't a bad kid.  He has bad moments.  I truly don't think he intends to hurt anybody.  He just doesn't have a whole lot of impulse control, and, when he loses control, he's a hurricane, destroying everything in his path.  I know he's a boy.  I know boys play rough.  I get that.  Well, actually, I don't get it.  But I understand it.  I wasn't like that as a little kid.  I preferred sitting somewhere, reading a book or drawing in my sketchbook.  In short, I was the kid who got punched.

Thus, my Web dip question:

Will my son ever learn to control himself?

And the answer from Charlotte:

"Certainly-ertainly-ertainly," said the gander.  "You may have the egg.  But I'll tell you one thing, Templeton, if I ever catch you poking-oking-oking your ugly nose around out goslings, I'll give you the worst pounding a rat ever took..."

Okay, so either my son will eventually get the crap pounded out of him, or my son will continue to pound the crap out of  his classmates.

Saint Marty needs to know who's the gander and who's the rat.

I guess I should save up for bail, not college

Sunday, October 19, 2014

October 19: Nasty Weather, Classic Saint Marty, New Cartoon

Welcome to another dreary Sunday in the Upper Peninsula.  The weather has turned quite nasty.  Dark.  Windy.  Rainy.  Yesterday's wind and snow took care of most of the leaves in my maple tree.  My front sidewalk now looks like this:

Yes, there are black spots all over the leaves.  It's some kind of tree fungus, and it sort of ruins the beauty of this picture.  The tree isn't dying.  It just looks like it has smallpox or something.

It has been a fairly lazy day for me.  I haven't accomplished anything.  I have a revision of an essay that I have to get to an editor.  Didn't do it.  I have to create a lesson plan for tomorrow.  Didn't do it.  I have midterm exams to correct.  Didn't do it.  Basically, I cleaned, and then I slept.  I'm feeling quite rested, but I have a crapload of work to get done now.

So, you'll excuse me if I cut this post a little short.

Today's episode of Classic Saint Marty first aired three years ago.  It didn't get a whole lot of attention the first time 'round.  So I thought I'd give it a second shot.

October 19, 2011:  Sicker and Sicker, Positive Attitude, Friends

If it's possible, I feel sicker with my cold today than I did yesterday.  Sicker and sicker.  It's gotten to the point where people can tell I have some kind of bug by simply talking with me on the phone.  I sound like Harvey Fierstein.  I'm beat, but not beaten.

As you can tell by that last statement, I'm trying to maintain my positivity.  As grandma used to say, "Don't let the bastards get you down."  Okay, grandma didn't used to say that.  I wish she had.  Usually what grandma said was, "Where the hell are my teeth?"

On a more serious note, I'd like to enlist my disciples in a little positive thinking for a couple I know.  They're really great people and are currently expecting their first child.  Last Friday, they went to Green Bay for an amniocentesis.  Everything went well with the procedure, but when they got home, she started spotting blood.  They've had a really rough couple of days, and last night, I think I convinced them to go to the ER.  I don't know what the result of that visit was.  I'm waiting to hear from them.  But they are both very scared.  The husband looked like a cast member of The Walking Dead when I saw him.  They need hope.  Please, if you have a few seconds today, say a prayer for them.

Sometimes God reminds Saint Marty that his life, for all the crap that's going on, isn't really that bad.

Put me in a dress and call me Harvey

Confessions of Saint Marty

October 18: Over and Gone, First Snow, Maxine Kumin, "How It Is," New Cartoon

"Summer is over and gone," repeated the crickets.  "How many nights till frost?" said the crickets.  "Good-bye, summer, good-bye, good-bye!"

Yes, in the fall, when the weather turns cold, the crickets seem to cry in the dark.  It's a sad sound, an elegy for hot summer nights.  The morning air is crisp, like a drink of cold water.  The afternoons are golden; the evenings, full of the promise of winter.  In two little sentences, E B. White captures the shift from hot to cold, from hot sand to orange leaves, from August sun to harvest moon.

This morning, the first snow fell in my little corner of the Upper Peninsula.  I looked outside, and the world was a chaos of white.  The snow didn't accumulate.  In fact, it almost looked like it was melting before it even hit the ground.  It was a warning, a reminder of the long months to come.

Winter used to be my favorite season of the year.  I loved the shortened days and the long, black nights.  I loved the chimney smoke funneling into the sky and the bleary Christmas lights in the sweaty windows.  And I loved being at home, drinking hot chocolate, reading huge novels while Christmas music played.  (Christmas still is my favorite holiday, but not because of the snow and cold.)

As an adult who has to battle his way to work in snowstorms, who has to shovel all that white crap, who has to pay astronomical heating bills, I can no longer call myself a fan of winter.  My idea of a perfect winter has drastically changed.  I would like an extended autumn.  One that lasts until Christmas Eve.  Then, on December 24, a light dusting of snow can fall.  Just enough to give everything that Martha Stewart touch.  Not enough to require a snow shovel.  The day after Christmas, the snow can melt.  For the rest of winter, I would accept temperatures in the forty- to fifty-degree range.  Enough to require a heavier jacket.  Then, around the middle of March, spring arrives.  Perfect.

Of course, that's not how the world works in the Upper Peninsula.  I am a realist, not an optimist.  I know what I'm in for in the coming months.  If last winter is any indication of what's to come, it's going to suck tremendously.  However, it's one of the trade offs of living in this beautiful, hard place.  We are hardy folk who choose to dwell in this little, shark-shaped piece of land surrounded by water.

My daughter complained today about the fact that she will probably have to wear a winter jacket when trick-or-treating this year.  She knows that's part of the bargain of a Yooper Halloween.  Maxine Kumin has a great poem about the acceptance of difficult experiences.  Of course, Kumin's not speaking of frozen days or killer blizzards.  Her poem is about absence.  Loss.  Loneliness so profound it sits in the room with you like a sleeping cat.

The year 2014 has not been fun for me or my family.  Professional upheaval.  Loss of income and jobs.  The death of my brother.  I will be honest.  Come December 31, I will be happy to have 2014 in my rear view mirror.  That doesn't mean that 2015 will be any easier.  It may be worse for all I know, but I'm still hoping for something better.

That's just how it is with Saint Marty right now.  The crickets are singing.  Change is coming.

How It Is

by:  Maxine Kumin

Shall I say how it is in your clothes?
A month after your death I wear your blue jacket.   
The dog at the center of my life recognizes   
you’ve come to visit, he’s ecstatic.
In the left pocket, a hole.
In the right, a parking ticket
delivered up last August on Bay State Road.   
In my heart, a scatter like milkweed,
a flinging from the pods of the soul.
My skin presses your old outline.
It is hot and dry inside.

I think of the last day of your life,
old friend, how I would unwind it, paste   
it together in a different collage,
back from the death car idling in the garage,   
back up the stairs, your praying hands unlaced,   
reassembling the bits of bread and tuna fish   
into a ceremony of sandwich,
running the home movie backward to a space   
we could be easy in, a kitchen place
with vodka and ice, our words like living meat.

Dear friend, you have excited crowds
with your example. They swell
like wine bags, straining at your seams.   
I will be years gathering up our words,   
fishing out letters, snapshots, stains,
leaning my ribs against this durable cloth
to put on the dumb blue blazer of your death.
Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, October 17, 2014

October 17: Garrison Keillor, Maxine Kumin, "Morning Swim"

Garrison Keillor chose this Maxine Kumin poem for The Writer's Almanac on June 6, 2003, on the occasion of Kumin's birthday.

Kumin was a neighbor of former U. S. Poet Laureate Donald Hall, and she was good friends with poet Anne Sexton.  Kumin's parents were Holocaust survivors, and, at the beginning of her career, she struggled to be taken seriously as a poet.  Women weren't supposed to be poets; they were supposed to be wives, mothers, homemakers.  They weren't supposed to be making poems; they were supposed to be making meatloaf and apple pie.

It amazes me that a poet as great as Maxine Kumin would struggle at all as a writer.  Yet, she and Sexton were both up against editors who, as a rule, only took one poem a month from women.  Yet, out of that crucible, came poems like the one below.  Poems of great solitude and beauty.

It almost makes Saint Marty want to go for a swim.  Almost.

Morning Swim

by:  Maxine Kumin

Into my empty head there come
a cotton beach, a dock wherefrom

I set out, oily and nude
through mist, in chilly solitude.

There was no line, no roof or floor
to tell the water from the air.

Night fog thick as terry cloth
closed me in its fuzzy growth.

I hung my bathrobe on two pegs.
I took the lake between my legs.
Invaded and invader, I
went overhand on that flat sky.

Fish twitched beneath me, quick and tame.
In their green zone they sang my name

and in the rhythm of the swim
I hummed a two-four-time slow hymn.

I hummed "Abide With Me." The beat
rose in the fine thrash of my feet,

rose in the bubbles I put out
slantwise, trailing through my mouth.

My bones drank water; water fell
through all my doors. I was the well

that fed the lake that met my sea
in which I sang "Abide With Me."

October 17: St Vitus's Dance, Pointe Shoes, Cobbler Fairy Tale

"What kind of an acrobat do you think I am?" said Charlotte in disgust.  "I would have to have St. Vitus's Dance to weave a word like that into my web."

Charlotte is referring to a medieval phenomenon in which large groups of people would, literally, dance for hours until they collapsed from exhaustion.  There are many explanations for St. Vitus's Dance, from mass hysteria and hypnosis to encephalitis and ergot poisoning.  Nothing really comes close to explaining the outbreaks.  Uncontrolled and unconscious movement.  The inability to stop.  Violent reaction to the color red.  Tens of thousands of people affected.

All associated with Vitus, patron saint of dancing.

Dancing is on my brain this evening because my daughter needs new pointe shoes for ballet.  Her teacher wants to take her to the dance store to fit her for a new pair, but I do not have a spare hundred dollars at the moment.  She has to get them by early November so she can practice for her ballet recital that takes place in February.  That gives me a couple of weeks to somehow come up with the funds.

It's at moments like these that I feel a little inadequate as a parent.  All the other girls in her pointe class have their shoes already.  If I had gone into the family business (plumbing), my daughter would already be leaping and balancing with the rest of them.  Plumbers make a lot more money than poets and part-time college instructors.

There's nothing I can do about it tonight, except lose sleep.  Maybe when I do finally drift into slumber, a group of elves will come in the dark and make a pair of beautiful pink silk pointe shoes for my daughter.  I'll wake up in the morning and find them in the middle of my living room floor.  It could happen.

Once upon a time, a poor cobbler named Banjo lived on the outskirts of a sleepy little hamlet named Hamlet.  Banjo used to make shoes for all the citizens of Hamlet until a new craze swept through the kingdom:  going barefoot.  After several barefoot months, everybody was walking around with callouses, toe fungus, and blisters.  And Banjo and his daughter were starving.

One night, before he went to sleep, Banjo got down on his hands and knees and prayed, "I need help.  If I don't sell some shoes soon, my daughter is going to die."  He stumbled off to his room and collapsed on his bed, exhausted from hunger and despair.

In the middle of the night, a group of elves came to his house and made hundreds of beautiful pink silk ballet shoes.  The elves lined them up on Banjo's workbench and danced around them joyfully until dawn came.  Then they glided away with the moon.

When Banjo came into his workshop the next morning and saw all of the ballet shoes, he couldn't believe his eyes.  He exclaimed, "What the hell am I supposed to do with all these ballet shoes?!!"  He took all of the shoes the elves had made, threw them in the fireplace, and burned them.

That night, Banjo set a plate of poisoned Keebler cookies on his workbench before he went to bed.  When the elves came back that night, they ate all of the cookies Banjo had left out.  One by one, the elves suffered massive hemorrhages and died.

Banjo found his workshop littered with elf corpses the next morning.  He laughed, threw all the elves in a pot, and made some elf noodle soup.

Moral of the story:  elves taste just like chicken.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

Yes, that's what I am...

Thursday, October 16, 2014

October 16: A Lamb, Bullying, Stephen King's "Carrie"

"You smell just the way you are," remarked a lamb who had just walked in.  "I can smell you from here.  You're the smelliest creature in the place."

Creatures of the sheep persuasion are not very nice in Charlotte's Web.  In fact, they tend to be bullies.  It's the sheep that tells Wilbur about the Christmas conspiracy of turning him into smoked bacon and ham.  The apple doesn't fall far from the tree with the lamb, either.  For some reason, because they provide Zuckerman with wool, all the sheep tend to be a little...elitist, for lack of a better word.  They think they're above all the other animals in the barn.

I've been thinking a lot about bullying recently.  Earlier this week, I saw a PBS documentary on the subject.  I just browsed the news on Google, and there was a story of a twelve-year-old girl who committed suicide because classmates posted comments like this online:  "Why don't you drink bleach and die."  And, of course, there's the whole issue of my six-year-old son punching kids on the school playground during recess.

It doesn't help that I'm also rereading Stephen King's Carrie at the moment.  It's the ultimate bully revenge tale.  Carrie White going on a telekinetic killing spree after being pushed over the edge by a group of "popular" girls.  There's something very satisfying about Carrie's actions.  I'm not saying I agree with the mass extermination of all school bullies, but, in the context of King's novel, I root for Carrie, even as she is transformed into a blood-covered nightmare.

I don't want my son to be a bully.  Every time he gets in trouble at school for punching or scratching a classmate on the playground, I tell him, "You know, one of these days, you're going to punch the wrong person, and that person is going to punch back.  Hard."  I'd like to add, "And you better hope that person can't lift and throw Volkswagens with his mind."  But I haven't played that card yet.

I've known a few Carries in my lifetime.  People who skulk around the fringe of life, hoping not to draw attention to themselves.  They're quiet.  Sometimes bookish.  Always, they look as though they're ready to flinch or duck.  That's the result of getting hit by too many dodgeballs in gym class.  Carries simply want to blend in.

Stephen King published Carrie in the early 1970s.  It is now 2014.  Forty-four years later, the book is still relevant because there are still Carries and bullies.  Our world is a broken place.  A place where terrible things happen sometimes.  School shootings.  Suicide bombings.  Cruelty is as common as brown eyes.

I've made mistakes in my life.  Participated in bullying through silence.  It's easy to do.  Just turn your back and pretend that Carrie isn't covered in pig's blood, and that love and compassion are stronger than dodgeballs. Basically, lie to yourself.  Dodgeballs hurt.  Always.

So tonight, Saint Marty hopes everybody who reads this post will speak up for all the Carries out there.  Be part of the solution, people.

Don't be part of the problem

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

October 15: Room for Hope, Maxine Kumin, "Women and Horses"

There's always room for hope.  I have to remind myself of that fact from time to time.  If hope didn't exist, I doubt the human race would still exist.  Think about all the terrible things that have happened over the centuries.  The Black Plague.  Two World Wars.  The Holocaust.  Earthquakes.  Famines.  Tsunamis.  If hope wasn't around to come in and sweep away the despair, we would all be living on the brink of extinction, waiting for the next catastrophe to come along.

Yet, most people don't do that.  We choose, instead, to believe in goodness and love.  I choose that, anyway.  Yes, I get bogged down sometimes.  I let that darkness overtake me for a little while.  But, eventually, I turn toward the light.  That's what I'm trying to do tonight.  I've been bogged down, and I need to find my way back to hope.

That's what Maxine Kumin's poem is about tonight:  turning away from the dark past, embracing all things young, beautiful, and alive.

That's what Saint Marty needs tonight.  A little dose of beauty.

Women and Horses

by:  Maxine Kumin
After Auschwitz, to write a poem is barbaric.
                                                                 —Theodor Adorno

After Auschwitz: after ten of my father's kin--

the ones who stayed--starved, then were gassed in the camps.
After Vietnam, after Korea, Kuwait, Somalia, Haiti, Afghanistan.
After the Towers. This late in the life of our haplessly orbiting world
let us celebrate whatever scraps the muse, that naked child,
can pluck from the still smoldering dumps.

If there's a lyre around, strike it! A body, stand back, give it air!
Let us have sparrows laying their eggs in bluebird boxes.
Let us have bluebirds insouciantly nesting elsewhere.
Lend us navel-bared teens, eyebrow- and nose-ringed prodigies
crumbling breakfast bagels over dog-eared and jelly-smeared texts.
Allow the able-bodied among us to have steamy sex.

Let there be fat old ladies in flowery tent dresses at bridge tables.
Howling babies in dirty diapers and babies serenely at rest.
War and detente will go on, detente and renewed tearings asunder,
we can never break free from the dark and degrading past.
Let us see life again, nevertheless, in the words of Isaac Babel
as a meadow over which women and horses wander.

Maxine and a horse

October 15: Doldrums, Climbing Out, "Web" Dip

I like the word "doldrums" because it is a perfect combination of sound and definition.  "Doldrums" is a "period of inactivity, stagnation, or depression."  The word itself has a sinking sound, two hard consonants separated by those rolling "ohs" and "ums."  It has the feeling of a windless ocean, with nothing on the horizon for miles but flat, lifeless water.

That pretty much describes my mood.  I've been thinking about my insulin pump dilemma all day.  It's kind of hard not to focus on it, because I've got that loaner pump tucked in my pocket at the moment, feeding me insulin.  I don't really want to give up the pump, but I may not have a choice.  I'm trying to climb out of the doldrums today, but, every time that pump beeps in my pocket, I slide back down into the pit of despair.

Don't worry.  I'll be alright.  I'm just going to wallow for a few days.  I may throw in a few panic attacks and some primal screams for good measure.  By the weekend, I should be back to my normal state of insanity, the doldrums far behind me.  This is one of the God moments where I simply have to hand it over to my Higher Power and trust.  Things will work out.  Things will work out.  Things will work out.  I have to keep repeating that or else I find myself hyperventilating into a paper bag.

Since I didn't do a Web dip on Monday, I will ask this question today:

Will I be able to get another insulin pump without taking out a second mortgage on my house?

And the answer from the Book of Charlotte:

Wilbur hung his head.  His eyes grew wet with tears.  Charlotte noticed his embarrassment and she spoke sharply to the lamb.

Well, that didn't help with my doldrums at all.

Maybe Saint Marty should try a more uplifting book, like The Plague by Albert Camus.

Anybody for a little light reading?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

October 14: Wedding Anniversary, Maxine Kumin, "The Excrement Poem"

It is my nineteenth wedding anniversary today.  My wife and I haven't had a lot of time to spend together today, what with work and school and dance classes and stuff.

However, I've been thinking a lot about everything that we've been through in the last two decades.  Lots and lots of good times.  Lots and lots of shit.  And we have survived in the face of a lot of storms.

Maxine Kumin is the poet of the week, and she has a poem I love.  It's about shit, and it's about survival.  I love this poem because it reminds me that there's beauty in everything, including the darkest of times.

Saint Marty and his wife go on.

The Excrement Poem

by:  Maxine Kumin

It is done by us all, as God disposes, from
the least cast of worm to what must have been
in the case of the brontosaur, say, spoor
of considerable heft, something awesome.
We eat, we evacuate, survivors that we are.
I think these things each morning with shovel
and rake, drawing the risen brown buns
toward me, fresh from the horse oven, as it were,
or culling the alfalfa-green ones, expelled
in a state of ooze, through the sawdust bed
to take a serviceable form, as putty does,
so as to lift out entire from the stall.
And wheeling to it, storming up the slope,
I think of the angle of repose the manure
pile assumes, how sparrows come to pick
the redelivered grain, how inky-cap
coprinous mushrooms spring up in a downpour.
I think of what drops from us and must then
be moved to make way for the next and next.
However much we stain the world, spatter
it with our leavings, make stenches, defile
the great formal oceans with what leaks down,
trundling off today’s last barrowful,
I honor shit for saying: We go on.

October 14: Sulphur and a Little Molasses, Insulin Pump, What to Pray For

Late that afternoon, Lurvy went to Mr. Zuckerman.  "I think there's something wrong with that pig of yours.  He hasn't touched his food."

"Give him two spoonfuls of sulphur and a little molasses," said Mr. Zuckerman.

That is the cure that Zuckerman comes up with when Wilbur isn't eating his slops.  Sulphur and molasses.  Of course, it doesn't really cure the pig.  Wilbur has fallen into a blue state of mind.  He's lonely.  Misses Fern.  Has no friends in the barn.  Then Lurvy shows up and shoves sulphur and molasses down his throat.

Health care on the Zuckerman homestead isn't really state of the art.  More like early Little House on the Prairie.  Of course, back then, home remedies were cutting edge.  Probably every farmer used sulphur and molasses to cure an ailing hog.  My mother used to give me a mixture of lemon, whiskey, and honey as cough medicine when I was a kid.  I used to pray to get sick just so that I could get it.

Health care in the United States nowadays is a broken thing.  I spent 45 minutes on the phone this afternoon with Blue Cross and a company called Medtronic.  Blue Cross is my health insurance company, and Medtronic is the supplier of my insulin pump and its paraphernalia.  Well, my insulin pump stopped working a couple of weeks ago, so I received a loaner pump from Medtronic while they worked out the details of getting me a replacement pump.

What I found out this afternoon:  it's going to cost me two thousand dollars to get a new pump.  I never had to pay out-of-pocket anything for my two previous insulin pumps.  So, after I received that news, I called Blue Cross to see if there was some kind of mistake.  The guy from Blue Cross was very helpful.  He told me that it's going to cost me two thousand dollars to get a new Medtronic pump.  Then he started talking about tiers and percentages and Blue Care referrals and deductibles.  By the time he was done, I could only say, "Thank you.  You have thoroughly ruined my day.  Possibly my entire week."

I don't relish the idea of going back to injecting myself with insulin four or five times a day, but that's definitely a possibility at the moment.  It would be a cheaper alternative.  And that's what's wrong with health care in the United States.  People have to choose between good health or good finances.  Senior citizens have to choose between buying medicine or food.  Cancer patients have to throw spaghetti dinners to raise enough funds for treatments.  People have to file for bankruptcy, sell their houses, and move in with their kids to get well.

For some reason, American citizens are afraid of universal health care.  I don't know why.  Health care should be a right, not a privilege.  And, unless we all want to be sucking down spoonfuls of sulphur and molasses, something's gotta change.

Me, I'm in a really shitty mood since my phone conversations this afternoon.  And that's not going to change any time soon.  I don't even know what to pray for.  Patience?  Hope?  Two thousand dollars?  The slow death of all health insurance executives?

Saint Marty just can't decide.

They're small, but expensive

Monday, October 13, 2014

October 12: Last Day, Back at It, Classic Saint Marty, New Cartoon

Welcome to day three of the Wisconsin Dells.  My daughter is exhausted.  My son almost got us kicked out of the hotel because of an extremely loud temper tantrum he threw at midnight in our suite.  (Yes, hotel security showed up at our door.)  I have no idea how the rest of this day is going to pan out.  My sister wants to go to a fancy restaurant.  My wife wants to take a nap.  And here I sit, in the middle, trying to stop our struggling band of vacationers from killing each other.

Don't get me wrong.  It has been a really good weekend, aside from the little visit from the Kalahari version of Mall Cop Paul Blart early this morning.  And I'm sure the rest of the evening will be enjoyable, as well.  Maybe some waterpark action.  Maybe some amusement park action.  Certainly we'll watch tonight's episode of Halloween Wars on the Food Network.

Of course, in a day, I'll be back at it.  My normal existence of work and teaching and bad news followed by crisis.  However, I'm not going to think about that right now.  I prefer to focus on the present.  I'll leave the future where it belongs:  in the realm of possibilities.

Today's episode of Classic Saint Marty comes from the first year of this blog, when it wasn't called Saint Marty.  It was called Feasts and Famines, which sounded too much like a cooking blog.

Saint Marty is going to try to relax now.  In a day, relaxation will be a thing of memory, along with daily freedom and happiness.

October 13, 2010:  Blessed Magdalen Panattieri
I'm currently buried under a stack of essays I need to grade.  I'm having a hard time with them, not because they're particularly bad, but because I just can't muster up the energy to complete the task.  I've managed to correct around ten out of 50.  I try to grade in small amounts, one or two papers at a time.  Then I don't get quite so overwhelmed.  However, this time 'round, even grading one essay seems to take forever.  It's not good.  I've got four more batches of papers to get through this semester.  That's approximately 200, five-page essays.  One thousand pages of grading.  It's enough to make me want to call in sick for the next three months.

The problem, obviously, is one of motivation.  I don't feel particularly inspired as a teacher this autumn, and this attitude is spilling over into my work ethic on grading.  I don't mind going into the classroom and talking about books and writing journal entries and making insightful comments.  Yes, I can be insightful at times--just not about my own, personal issues.  I prefer denial.

I'm in this place where I don't feel a whole lot of what I'm doing makes much of a difference.  I look at a stack of ungraded essays and think, "No matter how many times I explain what a comma splice is, these people are never going to be able to write an elegant sentence."  I'm not sure if that qualifies as losing faith in humanity, but, after I correct five or six essays, I'm ready to pull a Unabomber--move to an isolated, mountain cabin and write long, rambling letters on the hopelessness of the future (minus mailing bombs to people).  If a class of 25 students can't write a simple, declarative statement and punctuate it correctly, I get a little discouraged.  And cranky.  I'm the Una-cranker.

I know it's my job to try to help my students become better writers.  But, if I'm going to be completely honest, the students who hand in an "A" paper for their first assignment end up with "A's" for the class.  The same is true for students who turn in "B" papers.  And "C" papers.  You get the idea.  Seldom do I see students who actually learn to become better writers.  I'm not sure if this fact is a reflection of me as a teacher or my students as unmotivated, lazy writers.  As a person who indulges in a great deal of guilt, I usually choose the former.  As a realist/pessimist, I sometimes opt for the latter.  Depends on the day.

I just don't feel like I make much of an impact with my teaching sometimes.  I should probably take a page out of the life of today's saint, Magdalen Panattieri.  Born in 1443 in Trino, Italy, she lived her entire life in her childhood home.  For 60 years, she prayed, ministered to children and the poor, and gave "spiritual talks to women and children and later to priests and religious as well."  She didn't do anything earth-shattering in her life--no miracles, no levitations, no multiplying of spaghetti and loaves of garlic bread.  She just did her thing, day after day.  And she obviously made some kind of impact on the world.  I mean, she's one step away from being a saint.

I wonder if anyone ever became a saint for grading freshmen composition essays.  It's not meditation or prayer.  I'm not healing a one-footed, blind leper with a stutter.  I don't have stigmata.  However, I did have a student once tell me it looked like I bled all over his paper because of the red ink.  Maybe that counts.  I'll have to contact the Vatican.

So, I guess the message today is to just keep plugging along, one fragment and run-on sentence at a time. I might be making a difference without even knowing it.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Sunday, October 12, 2014

October 11: The Crowd, I Could Have Danced, Madeleine L'Engle, "Ephesus," New Cartoon

But the crowd loved it.  Avery heard nothing but the applause.  He liked being a clown in a ring, with everybody watching, in front of a grandstand...

Yes, Fern's brother is a ham.  (Pardon the porcine meat reference.)  He loves performing for a crowd.  Eats it up when they laugh at his antics.  Applause is an addicting sound, and Avery has learned this fact early in his life.

I am sitting, watching my daughter in a dance class.  She's been dancing since about 8 a.m.  It is now almost three o'clock in the afternoon.  She's getting a little tired and cranky.  We got lunch late, and now her ears are hurting from so much swimming in the water park last night.  Long story short:  she's all glares and stomps at the moment.

I don't take these moods personally.  It's all part of thirteen-year-old girlhood.  Nothing I did.  Just the world not being thirteen-year-old girl perfect.  I've learned that it's a powerful anger, fueled by hormones and exhaustion and hunger.  She doesn't really understand what's making her act like a feral cat.  What she knows is that she's not in control of herself.  The teenage years are a scary time.

I have a poem for you guys from Madeleine L'Engle.  It's a poem about Mary after the death of Christ, about the time she spent in Ephesus following his execution.  I find the joy in this poem tinged with melancholy.  Joy outlined in sadness, like the chalk outline of a body at a murder scene.

Like Saint Marty's daughter, out on the floor, her anger outlined by dance, waiting for the applause to begin.


by:  Madeleine L'Engle

They walked these self-same stones.
Mary was wilting, weary from the journey,
weary with the years and all that she
had understood and had not understood.
Obedient always, she deferred to John,
smiling a mother's smile at his great joy.
Chariots of gold raced through the godless streets:
Apollo and Diana had grown dim;
only the emperor was god.
They paused, perhaps, Mary and John,
at these same vacant gates
of the sad temple of forgotten gods,
and Mary smiled and turned and said,
"My son, the old gods have been lost."
And John replied, "Bring we now the new--"

And in his harrowing of a shadowed Hell
perhaps the old gods were redeemed as well,
and joyfully sing their praise to him
with cherubim and seraphim.

Confessions of Saint Marty