Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Star to Steer Her By...

When I was 10 years old my Dad took me deep-sea fishing out of New Bedford with some friends from Freetown. We were awake at 4AM and on the road by 4:30. It was a grey, overcast day with a light drizzle that did nothing to dampen my spirits. We climbed aboard the small seagoing vessel and set course for the fishing grounds. The seas were choppy and the boat rose and fell with the waves. After we settled in I chatted with the captain (who was amused that I was wearing a life preserver) and he explained to me the various ins-and-outs of what he was doing. It was a planned 45 minute ride. I was hungry. I ate a Hostess blueberry pie and fell asleep on top of a bench. I was woke up only as we made our first stop. Our lines went in the water and I waited...waited...waited for anything to happen. The distant storm was still causing rough seas and the boat was gently tossed with each wave.
Finally, after long minutes of waiting, something happened.
I threw up, spreading blue vomit across the sea over the side where I was fishing.
Damn Hostess blueberry pie.
Thus was my first (and not my last) bout with sea-sickness. One memorable hydrofoil trip to Nantucket caused the worst bout of sea-sickness I have ever known. It was a stormy day. The sea churned and waves crashed against the second-storey window of the boat where we were sitting. It was the longest hour of my life. I made three trips to the bathroom during this time and when I was seated on deck I sat staring at the pattern in the rug because it was the only thing I could look at that wasn't moving. Katie says that she had never seen anyone so pale, green and sick in her life.
Yet I love the sea.
Ever since I was a young boy I have loved the idea of sailing the ocean aboard a frigate or a ship of the line. I'm sure this idea has been given life from repeated viewings of The Sea-Hawk and Captain Blood as a kid but I think its more than that. Life aboard a sailing vessel is, to me, the height of romantic adventure as well as personal fortitude. There is an honesty to it, too; challenging and respecting the sea and all her myriad ebbs and flows. I have often wondered if I could rise to this challenge?
As an adult I have visited a few sailing vessels.
I vaguely recall my Aunt Barbara taking us to the USS Constitution when we were kids on some unspecific school vacation week but all I clearly remember about it is going to McDonald's for lunch. How sad. Last year I finally got to board the USS Constitution as an adult.
What an amazing experience.
The Constitution is a magnificent vessel, lovingly and painstakingly maintained. The guided tours are informative and gently educational. The sense of history aboard her is palpable.
Early one summer morning 10 years ago I climbed aboard a Tall Ship that had docked in Duxbury. I spent nearly two hours on board. I was like a kid in a candy shoppe, touching anything that was "touchable", laying on the deck to get views of the masts and I was even gently rebuked for climbing on some of the rigging. Still, I wouldn't have missed this time aboard the ship for nearly anything.
Nowadays I spend my time reading of naval heroes and their adventures. I have no illusions about how awful life on-board these vessels was for those who served on them. Instead, the books that I have read on the subject all agree that a crewman's life aboard an English sailing vessel was horrible. Yet, I must admit that Captain Jack Aubrey and Captain Horatio Hornblower fill my reading days with adventure on the high seas. In my dreams, I imagine myself alongside them; standing on the deck of a tall ship, with the wind at my back and a star to steer her by.
And I'm not puking Hostess blueberry pie over the side, either.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Father's Day

Sunday is Father's Day. I plan on visiting with my own Dad this weekend even as my daughter spends time with me. I like the multi-generational aspect of this. Daughter, Dad and Grampa all celebrating Father's Day together.
I can only assume that my own Dad and Mom really wanted to be parents, although Dad has never actually discussed this with me. It is just an assumption on my part but since the adoption process is long, exhausting and expensive there had to be great intent there.
Obviously, as long as I've known him, he's always been a Dad. I don't know how he viewed his life before we kids came along; perhaps I never will. This really isn't the type of thing that Dad likes to discuss. He's not that type of guy. He's just a product of his generation. Case in point: two years ago my brother and I - independent of each other - made the mistake of giving Dad a peck on the cheek for Christmas. After I did so, he got all flustered and commented gruffly, "Mark did that when I saw him this year, too. We don't do that..."
It sounds worse than it was. Dad just appreciates a firm handshake, a clasp on his shoulder, and warm greetings instead. It stands to reason that Dad rarely discusses "feelings", either. He will - if he brings it up. Otherwise, it is a slippery slope of conversation that I usually avoid so as not to make him uncomfortable.
So, while I know that the Old Man likes being "Dad" I often wonder what his life was like before I came along. What was he doing with himself? Who was he?
And then I realize, these questions are pointless.
If anyone asked me the same questions I couldn't answer them, either. Because, for me, anything that I ever did up until August 26th 1992 was kind of an illusion. I was existing without living. The birth of my daughter gave me life. Jenna's life jump-started my own.
I love Father's Day. Not because it is a day for Jenna to remember me. Rather, it is a day for me to reflect upon and remember all that I am because of her place in my life and in my heart.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


It is early in the morning as I log into the Harvard Extension school online.
I had to go back into my e-mail to find my login ID. Its really bizarre; with an "@" symbol as the first character and no discernible formula to its design. Which is probably exactly why Harvard chooses to do it this way - I.D. protection and all that.
I put in my password and the menu screen appears. I choose "View Grades", which brings me to this option:

Please click the button below to view your grades.

And I wait. The moment of truth has arrived and I am nervous.

Please click the button below to view your grades.

I came to the Harvard Extension school because I was wholly dissatisfied with Northeastern University and their slipshod way of running (read: butchering) the integrity of their English program by offering their program (mostly) on-line. I knew for certain that I wasn't being challenged at NEU and, as I have said before, for this Bachelors degree to mean anything to me it has to demonstrate both the work put into it as well as my hard-won knowledge.
Please click the button below to view your grades.

Over fifteen weeks of study my classmates and I accomplished the following:
  • We translated over 800 lines of Old English text into Modern English.
  • We read Beowulf in its entirety.
  • We read scholarly works regarding different aspects of Beowulf as well as all of Seamus Heaney's collected work "Electric Light" and selected works from "Opened Ground".
  • I participated in weekly discussions with both my professor and my peers and, finally,
  • we all wrote a mid-term and a final paper.

Please click the button below to view your grades.

Now, it is three weeks to the day after my class ended. I have continued to read the class texts assigned for the course because for as much as we covered in class there was so much more left uncovered. Thankfully, our textbooks seemingly cover the length and breadth of a solid overview of Beowulf. I would expect nothing less from the texts chosen by Professor Donoghue for this class.

Professor Donoghue is a master of his craft. He knows Old English and Beowulf intimately and yet he never made me feel inferior. He is a soft-spoken man whose insights were gently stated. He enjoyed probing a student for more information or to better elucidate their ideas when he felt they were onto something. I asked questions, Professor Donoghue asked questions of me, and we collectively discussed the work. One of my proudest moments of this class was when I made an observation regarding the growth of Beowulf within the poem and Professor Donoghue replied, "I have never thought of that; but it is worth consideration. Thank you for that."

He is a teacher who actually knows how to teach. He taught while he listened. I have learned so much in his class. Mostly, I learned how much more there is for me to learn.

Please click the button below to view your grades.
I miss my classmates, too; those people who tackled "Beowulf & Seamus Heaney" alongside of me. After the first week of class I was in awe of the students who sat in class with me. They are all so damn smart. We came from different walks of life but we all shared that quirky, unexplained gene that allows us to fully appreciate (as best we can) the mighty work "Beowulf". Most had taken the Old English class that was offered in the Fall semester so they knew much more about the language then I did. Yet, with all my questions for clarification they never once made me feel out of place or that I didn't belong among them. Slowly, week after week, I grew into my place at their table. They are an exceptional group of people who listened when it was appropriate to do so and who offered intelligent discourse in response. They offered encouragement when it was needed and each and every one of them brought a unique viewpoint of the text to the table. So, to Danielle, Candace, Joanna, Cat, Pam, Michael, Maura, Justin, Joanne and Sumeda I extend my sincerest thanks and declare my utmost admiration for all of you. I learned so much in your company and I am the better for it.
Please click the button below to view your grades.
No more stalling. The time has come.
I click on the button.

Monday, June 01, 2009


  • For the past few months my Sunday breakfast has consisted of bacon, scrambled eggs (with ketchup) and either toast or homefries; all cooked in a cast-iron skillet. I chase this down with a glass of mixed OJ/cranberry juice and a mug of hot tea all while reading the Sunday Globe.
  • I love the smell of cooking bacon. It reminds me of weekends at home in Bryantville.
  • It really annoys me when my sister can only remember my phone number when she wants something from me.
  • There are times when I can't remember my mother's face. Yet, I can always vividly recall the sight of the drops of her dark red blood (from the IV insertion) against the yellowish-green floor of the ER.
  • Katie and I watched "The Devil and Daniel Webster" last night. It was a great film, like a folktale being told around a campfire. It's very "New England". Afterwards, I went upstairs to the library and read the short story that is collected in a work of American Folklore. I love that I could do that.
  • My good friends and neighbors John and Kristin are selling their house and will be moving (not too far) away. I completely understand their reasons for doing so and I will miss them terribly when they leave.
  • I think the "new car smell" of Facebook has worn off for me.
  • I always seem to be in the "quiet room" at parties and I enjoy "quiet" a lot more than I enjoy crowds and noise. I'm trying to figure out if this is a new thing or if I am finally just acknowledging something that has always been the case?
  • There are times that I think that I've done a great job with Jenna and there are times when I feel that I've completely dropped the ball. She'll be a senior next Fall and she has many decisions to make. I guess I'll find out soon enough.
  • I received a "B+" on my final exam in "Beowulf & Seamus Heaney". Now I am anxiously awaiting my final grade. I'll find out on Wednesday, which can't come soon enough for me.