Wishing I Knew, then again, Perhaps Not

Hello on a somewhat mixed bag morning,

Much like the sky this morning, I am not sure what to expect from the day. Eleven years ago today, the small town (and it is the only location in Pennsylvania that uses the word town as its official designation) where I live had a flood, which would change our entire semester and move the town to build a flood wall, a project still in process. We would be out of school for 10 days and it was like starting the semester all over. As I read the stories about Jackson or other places where floods have reminded us of nature’s power and fury.

I had intended to write yesterday on what would be the 66th birthday of my closest childhood friend, a friend whose mother and my adopted mother were life-long friends, a friend whose grandparents bought their house from my grandparents. I think you get the picture. Perhaps we were pre-ordained to be friends. We were sort of brothers of different mothers. Peter Gayle Goede was a force of nature because he created a presence wherever he went. And in spite of two older brothers who were amazing in their own rites, he was not to be outdone just because he was the youngest. He had a laugh that would fill an enormous space in an instant, and while he perhaps had a disdain for athleticism, he was as much of a superstar as anyone when it came to his theatricality and his ability to command a stage. I remember being in Sioux City Children’s Theater with him and his still one of the most amazing Jacob Marleys I have ever seen. But it would be his voice that presented an opportunity that changed his life.

We grew up in the poorer section of a town of 100,000 people (and he technically lived across the river in another town, and actually in another state). Ironically that little corner of the city was a hotbed for garage bands, and really good ones. Pete was asked to sing the classic Beatles song “Let it Be,” which was the theme of our high school’s homecoming. He blew people away with his effortless and incredible rendition of the Lennon piece. Not long following, one of those bands asked him to be their lead singer, and what followed would change their lives, and I would argue continues to influence them, even beyond his premature death. I remember the last time I visited him before he passed. He was in a care facility because he could not really do anything for himself. It was quite astounding to see what ALS had done to him in a relatively short time. As we chatted, his voice little stronger than a whisper, he asked that I might take him out for a frosty at Wendy’s, which I was glad to do. I had to put his jacket on, I buttoned it for him, I helped him get in a car and fasten his seatbelt. In some ways it was like Peter was trapped inside a mannequin of himself. As we drove to Wendy’s, he reminded me I would need to feed him, and much for graphically he explained if he needed a restroom what my duties would be. I merely responded, “That’s fine; I understand. No problem.” He stated matter of fact my, “I don’t want to wipe your a**.” I smiled and responded, “ No worries; I don’t have one.” And we both started laughing. Even now I realize how comfortable we were with each other, and I am grateful to this day I could make him laugh as he faced his inevitable mortality. While there were a number of unexpected elements to our day, it was most shocking when he said, almost as an aside, “I never expected to get old.” I had no response, and merely pondered his statement.

Even today, I wonder if individuals, relatively healthy and with little reason to suspect adversity, can by some 6th sense or intuition, have a sort of premonition of their own end of life? If so, is such a sense comforting or disconcerting? How much is reasonable to know and when is it too much? Certainly, there is an element of individuality to this answer. Additionally, it probably depends on the seriousness of gravity of the revelation. As I have turned another year older, living the first full day towards a next birthday, I am positive that age has something to do with it. Am I ready for some soon, even though the sometime eventuality of my existence as a living, breathing, cogent person is there, to happen? Most certainly not! I have much I want to still accomplish. And as an aside, I am sitting at PennDOT in the queue to get a new license. I think I might get through the queue at Westminster to view her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II quicker. I did get my license purchased and paperwork completed, but it was going no to be almost two more hours to get a photo. I will go back another day and to a center more geographically convenient. All of the additional things seem to predict a ridiculously busy coming 7 days. I think that is the reality of life until the end of the semester.

I sometimes wish those who have departed this world could come back from or a week and observe. They might need a day to contextual the present world, but there are two people I would love to sit down and listen to after their week’s observation of where we are presently. The two individuals are my paternal grandmother and my adopted father. The reason for the two of them are they are the opinions I believe to be honest. There is a difficulty because they are contemporaries, two years different in age, and actually cousins. I am pondering how similar their political stances would be. I am imagining my grandmother would be the more conservative of the two. I think this is the first time I have actually considered that. And yet, I would want to know their views and their opinions. My grandmother was a recovering alcoholic, and serious adherent of Norman Vincent Peale’s theory or positive thinking. Additionally she was a small business owner. Those things lead me to believe she was a traditional Republican. And, in spite of the fact both families were helped by Roosevelt’s new deal. Though as a farming family perhaps they did not benefit from all the Alphabet Agency support. My adopted father, on the other hand, told stories of walking with his father to collect rent payments, and taking the money to make sure it got home, ensuring Grandpa did not spend it in some bar before he got home. This, of course, reveals an entirely separate issue that is part of my family’s fabric. My father was a blue-collar, union electrician, who, I am quite sure never voted Republican in his life. He understood social programs, but simultaneously noted there are no free lunches. While my grandmother is still my hero and someone I think I understood, what I realize now is I am not sure where she would stand on some things. I am quite sure as someone who always treated the other with the utmost respect and rejected words or actions that demonstrated such unkindness, she would be mortified by our current National atmosphere. In fact, she would be angry, but note it in her own way. Her phrase was “I am so angry, I could just spit.” That was about as vulgar as she might get. I think I heard her say “damnit” once or twice. In fact, I am sure I would get lectures about my potty mouth.

Ironically, since I last worked on this blog, a few days ago, I was lectured for my potty mouth. And rightly so, perhaps. I am more like Luther personality-wise than I might have realized. To say there is an earthy element to my affect is most certainly true. As I write this, it seems it is time to begin yet another journey of sorts. I have done them before and yet each time seems more laborious. I never know if it part of what is in process or something new, but it is not a stranger to me. I know this battle and I will manage it. Seems time to post.

This is my musical mood on this October afternoon.

The layers of this song are profound

Thanks for reading,

Michael (aka Dr. Martin)

Small Events with Large Implications

End of summer

Hello from my back patio on the mini-acre,

It is astounding to me that I am staring straight into the face of another semester, another academic year, and the reality of completing my career in academe, at least in a formal manner. As noted in another post, my more-than-wise father once noted how time will seem to pass so much more quickly as we age. Again he was correct. If I were keeping track, I think he has a perfect record.

As I write this, the world continues to seemingly spin out of control. In an unprecedented action, the FBI has raided the residence of a former President. I do hope this was, and is proven to be, warranted. I do believe it has the potential to create a revolution in this country. However, Attorney General Merrill Garland does not strike me as a shoot-from-the-hip person. Doubtless, the next 90 days until the election will prove interesting. I was a late adolescent person at the time of Watergate, but it is interesting that even former President Trump compared Monday to that event. Certainly, Monday’s FBI actions are no small event. The consequences are multi-faceted and it will be interesting if both our elected politicians and/or the public will allow process to occur. I doubt it as Minority Leader of the House McCarthy has already fired metaphorical shots across the bow of the sailing DOJ’s ship. I am quite sure the spin on either side will happen. I am reminded of a sign I saw in Cape Charles last week. It read: OMG -GOP-WTF. I do not believe the majority of the Republican Party follows lock-step with our former President, but I do believe that the majority of the GOP is about anyone-but-a-Democrat. I also must note that many Democrats believe the Republican Party is Trump before anyone on the left. What all of this means is simple: both parties are dysfunctional. The consequence is not good. Perhaps the most unfortunate thing is it keeps the former President in the news, which is what he needs. Enough on that, but that is where I am on the large events, or at least one of them.

Small events, at least on the national or global stage, have little consequence for the immediate as they are singular in their kairotic effect. I experienced such an event over this past 24 hours. Though comparison and face-to-face experience, I was able to see how different individuals can be. Furthermore, it was helpful to compare units and backgrounds. Certainly my choices had more consequence than I expected. Another learning lesson and facing the reality of how in a big picture we are all cogs in a larger process has been clearly illustrated. What I have learned is even though meetings occurred because of the same chances and decisions, those met are individuals, and we need to allow them to be so. The more important thing, which is something I have reminded some of, we are products of our surroundings, of those who raise us. It has taken me hard work to see the good in some of my own background, but I have been able to do so. The clear reality of those influences have hit me in the face this summer. It has been yet another important lesson. As is always the case, there is both positive and negative in the experience, but what we do with all of it is a personal choice. I think more importantly I am reminded of the importance of agency. We have power in every situation. The question is if we know the best way to manage it?

As I think about my life in the academy, there is a great deal of overlap. We too often allow external factors to control not only what we do, but also control our attitudes and emotions. Various constituencies believe they understand both the external needs and the internal processes, legislating changes or mandating actions that have little or no pedagogical practicality. And yet things move forward, and the train picks up speed with little in its way to slow it down. As I have noted in the past, the reality that education is a business endeavor, like most anything else in our free enterprise system, is not lost on me, but neither is the foundational purpose of the academy, which is to teach both the liberal arts (to be a global citizen) and vocational (in Luther’s sense of vocation) understanding, to foster critical thinking skills, to develop analytical capabilities, and to thoroughly prepare students to go into the world to actually make a difference. During the past week I have observed students who arrive early to their semester. What is readily apparent is how unprepared more and more students are to enter the academy. This does not mean they are bad people, but it begs the question of why high school graduates seem more and more incapable of managing basic introductory courses? While the reasons are complex, there are two simple reasons that come to mind: standardized testing and less rigor in high school academics. Behind these points are a myriad of issues, but the small changes turned into larger issues and the issues have created a systemic and profound problem, one with generational consequences. I have former students, ones who made me proud to say they graduated from Bloomsburg University. They have left the teaching profession in disillusionment. That is a devastating thing, not only for them, but for the multitude of students who will miss out on their passion and ability, but a passion extinguished. I know of other amazing teachers who have struggled mightily with what they face daily in their classrooms. I find myself asking again and again, what happened to the best and the brightest going into the classroom? Our current systemic issues have, too often, pushed the best and brightest away because what they will face cannot be justified either by what they will experience, how they will be supported, or what they are paid for their struggles.

The misperception about what it requires to be in a classroom, to offer strong, pedagogically-sound instruction takes more than knowledge. It demands the understanding of students’ abilities and how students are varied in both their ability and learning styles within the same classroom, even in the same row. How can one individual instruction and manage the overall needs of a class at the same time? Even when I have taught a class multiple times, there is more than a few hours a preparation. Likewise, teaching the same material year in and year out become monotonous. Point is I put a lot into a course before it ever begins. I have people ask why I am willing to go to such effort. It is what I believe I owe my students. It is my own expectations to do the best I can..

All of this returns to me to the focusing title. It is all the small things that have much larger consequences when they are accumulated. The lack of critical thinking and careful analysis of a situation leads too often to shallow-thinking-knee- jerk responses. Extreme response by anyone over-simplifies an issue or currently seems to lead to a self-aggrandized belief that one is more intelligent than anyone else. One is more well-intentioned, one is more in tune with the altruistic hopes or needs of the world. In reality, all fall short and the consequence is a country on the edge of catastrophic drought, shorelines that will be swallowed up by rising water, a world where demagoguery and a thirst for power, for a bygone world, creates global instability. Where suspicion overrides cooperation and millions of people die needlessly from the next germ that enters our fragile world-wide community. Where in our communities violence, rage, and hate snuff out another life or twenty because there is so little help for those who struggle with a host of maladies or addictions. If I sound a bit cynical, please know, I am not, but I am hurting as I read about a person who had died before our semester has even begun, or when someone is unstable enough to go around a block so he can run his car into a group of people, who are already grieving, and then after hitting his mother with a car, finishes murdering her with a hammer. These tragedies occurred not somewhere else, but in our little group of towns. It can happen here, or somewhere, or anywhere. The how and why are not really answerable. It is our reality. It is who we have become.

I do believe it is founded in our lack of care and love for the other; it is in our individual failings to consider the other before ourselves. It is a lack of willingness to see ourselves as community. There is so much more we are called to do. Can we see our lives vocationally? What does that mean? Simply stated: can we see our lives as most faithfully lived when we see all we do as service to the other? That is where it all begins. As I begin another year, I hope I can both convince and support my students to be the best versions of themselves, by doing the same in front of them. It is imperative that we begin with small, but potent choices, and practice a life of charity, of providing for, or giving to the other. It is those little things that can revise our current path.

It is continually astounding that I never seem to get everything done I hope to do, be it a year, a semester, a month, week or day. I planned to complete this before the semester began and we are a week in. Currently it is a Monday morning and before 7:30 a.m., and I am sitting in the parking lot of my dentist’s office. I thought my appointment was at 7:00, but better early than to miss it. It is cloudy and humid, and another 90 degree day is in store. As I started this post, former-President Trump’s residence was searched by the FBI. Since then, details, issues both large and small have come to light. More cannot be revealed. What seems apparent is the former-President will do what he does because he can. Little deters him from whatever action or behavior he feels at the moment. Consequence, at least for others, is not generally on his radar. I am not trying to take a political position in this description, but rather to lay out the idea of action taken and consequence experienced. While I am not a particularly powerful person, actions taken, which seem unimportant or only self-consequential seldom are. How I feel, my ability to think and manage after 160 students this semester. In other words, I do not live in an impenetrable bubble, affecting no one. What astounds me, even though I believe I have some political astuteness, is the far reaching power of the Office of the President, and the extended consequence even after someone is in office. It is disconcerting to me as a 60-something that I never considered the long-term repercussions, the profound significance as carefully as I do now. Perhaps that really is wisdom setting in.

As always, thank you for reading,

Dr. Martin

Wondering how and Imagining what Happens Next

Hello from the AC of a coffee shop,

It is going to be above 90 again today and in spite of semester-low humidity, it is still quite warm. This is not a complaint because other places are worse (Europe for instance)..I have been on the Harley more than in the big, which improves my mood, but I cannot do everything on the Harley, and fortunately, the bug handles more than I expected when I bought it. As has become a habitual meeting, I met at Burger King with some other gentlemen this morning. It is quite the group, a number Vietnam veterans (all about a decade older than I am). And I might be the only Democrat in the group. You might ask why would I listen to them every day, which is a fair question, but it is helpful to hear both the what and why they believe as they do. I appreciate each of them for a different reason. I do, however listen to our President being referred to in often one-syllable words, and I am quite sure they did not appreciate our former President being referred to in similar language, which I did not do. And over the weekend I had some people for dinner and the husband of the couple noted he voted for the former-President twice. He then asked if I thought I was better off than four years ago, in a Reagan-esque manner. As I did not want to put a damper on all conversation I responded in a somewhat benign fashion, but I did not really delve into the complexity of the question. But all of that leads me to the real question, which is implied in the title. However, I asked this group, many veterans as I am but most a decade or so older, if they believed they had achieved the American Dream? The answers were informative, but their struggle to define what they achieved (or hadn’t as we watch our 401Ks take a beating) was also instructional.

I wish I might have sat with my father and the group of guys he spent every morning with up at Harvey’s. It would have been interesting to see if they had similar discussions. My father was a Roosevelt New Dealer, a consummate Union person, and a straight-talker; he was a hard worker, a believer in earning-what-you-get, and a person who often said, “There are no free lunches.” And he meant it. What I know is my father had a work ethic that informed how he went about his vocation on a daily basis. As importantly, his vocation was his life. What does that mean? First, one must define and understand vocation. It is more than the job or occupation one performs. It is a combination of what they do, how they do it, and, most significantly, why they do it. It is the why that makes it a vocation. Additionally if the why carries across from their professional to personal life, I assert that life itself is a vocation. I believe my father epitomized this reality. Later this year, it will be a quarter of a century since he passed. So much life has occurred since that time. In fact, I have spent 1/3, plus a few years of my life without his physical presence, but he remains a profound influence.

Yet, I digress. While there are numerous things that cause me concern, there are two particular elements of our present world which cause me grave concern. The first seems to be the propensity of those who hold the majority of the wealth to feel so little remorse or demonstrate any sustained concern for where our world seems to be headed (e.g. world health, distribution of resources, or climate issues). And second, and I am not sure if this is a consequence or a pre-requisite cause, it the general lack of civility or belief that decorum matters. To return to the title: with either point one is compelled to question – how did we get here? When considering the first point, it is simple of matter of short-sightedness, or is it more sinister and some innate selfishness that reveals really who we are in our brokenness? The answer to that question is more likely a book, and no singular blog entry. However, the second element of the title is more ominous, more disconcerting.

Certainly, the world (and it is perhaps most evidenced here in this country) seems to be divided between those who are sounding the alarm calling for significant changes across the board, and I will agree, those individuals fall into a more progressive camp. Then there is the other side that believes it is all hype, a chicken-little-sky-is-falling, crock to cover their socialistic agenda. As importantly, there are numerous somewhere in-between, yes, the silent majority, as once coined. What is important is the consequence of the extremes and the in-betweens. The extremes point fingers, the in-betweens generally do not speak out, and nothing (or very little) changes. And I do believe we are running out of time. Yet, this returns us to our initial question: how did we get to the point that debate, discussion, and solution fell by the wayside? Returning to my father, his character, his values, and his willingness to speak his mind, while still listening (at least I believe he still listened) were a hallmark of his generation, the generation written about by Tom Brokaw. Growing up, I looked at Senators, Representatives, and the President as someone to admire. It pains me to say that is no longer the case. And note I made no mention of party. It is with a perplexing, but serious sense of disillusionment, I believe a great majority of our federally elected or appointed people are more worried about re-election versus representing and governing “for the people.” Obstructionism has replaced governing.

I think about my students, some graduated a decade, or maybe even two ago. I met with one this past week, who was one of my students my first year at Bloom. Now living in Idaho and a mother of three, she is a teacher. She grew up in Central Pennsylvania in a small town. Probably more conservative than I in her background, her statements seemed more left than I expected her to be. How did that happen? It was probably a combination of things. What I thought most telling was her willingness to question most everything, but I should not be surprised. She has always been a questioner. I think of students who have also come from a more left-leaning background, or even a more socially dependent situation l who have become more conservative in their own actions and views. How do those metamorphic progressions occur? I think the answer is quite easy. They are exposed to new things and they are encouraged to question and think.

Enlisting into the Marine Corps as a 17 year old certainly caused some life-long changes in me. They are still a significant element of who I am. As importantly, meeting a new pastor and his family directly after my discharge was life-altering. Spending significant time with a cousin before going to Dana had consequence. And yet, it was Dana, Humanities, and Parnassus where I learned how to think, analyze, and integrate that gave me the willingness to open my mind to leaning and listening. I am quite sure I had minimal, if any, comprehension the questions posed by all those Danish named (and a few non-Danes) professors would do to change my life. Those examples inform my own teaching to this day. When my students ask how I came up with such a question or they tell me they do not even want to begin to ponder where the question might take them I know something good is happening. I am a firm believer that my main task is to teach students how to think, not what to think. It is the ability to think, ponder, and analyze the situation and consequences (both short and long term) that seem integral to democracy surviving. What happens next if we fail to have civil debate? Believing that disagreement is wrong is a way to quash democracy itself. One of the most significant things I learned at Dana was the importance of understanding the synthesis of all the elements of our world and how they created the foundation of citizenship. As one of my current colleagues argues so passionately is the importance of the liberal arts, of the humanities. She is correct; the education we received at Dana, grounded in the three-semester humanity’s sequence, prepared me to be a citizen, one who believes that globalization is world citizenship.

Part of that citizenship began with my study abroad with Dr. John W. – it was 40 years ago that occurred and I made my first pilgrimage to Denmark. The picture above is my Danish exchange student and his family who have returned to visit. They have been delightful in more ways than I can count. Another irony is Anton’s mother was a high school exchange student in Iowa decades ago with a Dana classmate, who married a floor mate. What are the chances? It is important to me for more reasons than the irony. It is an amazing example of the connections we have as a human race. What I do in Bloomsburg has consequence for someone is from Humlebaek, Denmark, and they know of someone who lives in Georgia, but who grew up in Iowa. What can we do to show this matters? Make choices that have knowledge and appreciation of the larger responsibility we all have for our world. Hard to believe we are into August this week, the summer is fleeting. This video is a reminder of our globalism.

Thank you as always for reading

Michael

Lacking Friendly Skies – Grateful for Friendly People

At the Colonial Palace Air BnB

Hello well before 5:00 a.m.,

I am in the Charlotte/Douglas Airport after arriving and waiting until almost midnight before getting to a hotel. I was asleep not quite three hours and then up for a taxi back to the airport. Originally, I was supposed to already be in Costa Rica yesterday, but as noted across the news, managing any semblance of order for a flight schedule is unlikely in our current world situation. This is not just an American airspace issue. Globalization is a reality and as humans, we are all in the same situation. In spite of the revisions to my schedule I made it to San Jose, Costa Rica in one piece. I was mad at the airport by Jamileth; she has been an incredible host. She has served as my tour guide, my driver, my translator, my problem-fixer, and a wonderful conversationalist. We have both had to work on our other language, and that has been a good thing. Mr. Galán has often said to me you must speak your Spanish, you must practice. El es correcto.

Last six days in Costa Rica have been nothing short of overwhelming. Much like my visit to Russia three years ago, I have found that age has created more caution and perhaps more trepidation. It is the bit troublesome, disconcerting, and even frustrating , but nonetheless real. In spite of the difficulties, it seems that somehow I still manage. Perhaps it is because I am honest with people about my fears and genuine with my limitations. This is, however, his significant change from even a few years ago. The first two times I went to Poland, I was more on my own, but not fearful. I have no doubt if I would not have been so cared for this time, I would not have accomplished or experienced even a quarter of what has happened in the past six days. Perhaps one of the most amazing things is meeting three people who love and care for each other deeply. There is much more that could be said, but I will leave it at that. as I read this, I am on the 21st floor of a high-rise in the capital city, San Jose. It is a beautiful site as the sun goes down and the lights begin to twinkle across the city; it is also like any bustling capital city of sounds: horns honking, sirens wailing, and the general white noise high above the streets. More importantly, it is full of people trying to live their lives and make a difference for those they love. In the past two days, I have met such a wide variety of people, from partiers celebrating the bachelor’s final days as a single women celebrating their 50th birthdays. From young people working the tourist trade in Tamarindo to two octogenarians, both Europeans, who have spent the last 16 years developing their lives in Costa Rica. They might just be the most amazing couple I have ever met in my life. I will travel to Costa Rica again just to see them. I I’m quite sure that Jami is the best driver I have ever ridden with. It doesn’t matter what kind of road it is how much traffic there is or what the weather is she will manage it and she manages it with precision, incredible ability, and grace.

And with all of that, I haven’t even touched the reason for my coming to Costa Rica to begin with. As many know, I have pondered possibility of moving here upon retirement. The reasons for that are many, and I have spoken about that quite honestly. Now, I am looking at specifics or there is not a lot to consider and plan for. There’s a great deal more rolling around between my ears at this point, but I need to think, There are still many unanswered questions, and important ones. There are long-term plans I must ponder and try to figure out. On the other hand, I have to be up and out at4:15 in the morning.. that is early, and it will come soon. Therefore, additional writing here will have to wait.I think I need to get some rest.

The morning began early, but Jami was on time and managed to get rerouted with some morning issues and get me to the airport in plenty of time. I am in the Charlotte airport at this point, and I believe it is the first in the last four or five times I have been to Charlotte and it is not a massive cluster because of storms. At least at this point, the sun is shining and everything is on time. Yay! The flight to Miami was without incident and likewise to Charlotte. I am hoping that writing such a thing does not serve to jinx me. We will see. As I ponder the trip to Costa Rica, there is so much to consider. I think I have a path forward, but there are questions to ask and things to ponder. During my last full day, my incredible driver/tour guide/translator/somewhat-security-blanket took her son and me to the Irazu Volcano. What an incredible place. In my reading about it, there was a two year period (1963-65) that the volcano was continuously active and erupting, That is incredible, but you can see the consequence some 60 years later. It is the darkest, most fertile soil I think I have ever encountered. It does note that in the placards around the place. I think the Charlotte airport is the airport I have spent the most time in during the past decade. It is a really busy place, but a well-designed, welcoming, and enjoyable airport, if airports can be such a thing.

As we are past the 4th of July holiday, it is common that the rest of the summer will fly by. I have some other things to plan yet, and more visitors to come. Additionally, there is a significant amount of school work, on a number of fronts to manage. While I did not really consider the past week a vacation, I guess it was. I did some thing that have long-term implications, but on the other hand, I had some relaxing time. Again, thanks to Jamileth, the time traveling was much less stressful. I guess that made it a time of visiting and experiencing with no real requirements. So again, I guess it was. On the home front a couple of tasks I have been hoping to have completed happened. I am excited to see it and work on that little project. It seems my plants have done well due to the excellent care of another of the Deckers. It is not the first time I have worked with one of the family members when I have been out and about. So . . . what was most amazing about Costa Rica?

I am not sure I can answer that question quite yet. I had some incredible food, which I am always up for. I had some truly exceptional experiences in Air BnBs, and I am convinced that is the way to travel. As the continuous thread in this blog illustrates, having a tour guide/driver/translator who was beyond helpful, knowledgable, and capable was foundational to making my trip successful. Being honored to meet her children was beyond anything I expected and incredibly enjoyable. Both of them are really intelligent and personable. I think there are two things that stand out at this point: first, is the diversity of the country in terms of climate and geography. Second, perhaps it was the incredible rain everyday. I did have fun from the catamaran trip to meeting Michael and Elisabeth, the octogenarian Air BnB hosts in Puntarenas, one from Germany and one from France, I think those were the highlights of the trip. I was also honored to meet the extended family of my tour guide, who is, of course, related to someone I know in Bloomsburg. The reality of six degrees of separation continues alive and well. I can say, however, I did not meet one single person I knew. That is surprising to some, I am sure. While I had heard the term Pura Vida before, but I did not know it was a central term in reference to Costa Rica. It is perhaps the equivalent to c’est la vie. I have to say that people were nice, and indeed, the vibe was pretty open and accepting. Each time I travel somewhere new, I learn so much, not only about people, but about myself (a slight delay on my flight, but all in all, manageable).

Well . . . as seems to be the norm, I have new experiences, new opportunities, and new friends and acquaintances. I am continually blessed by the people I meet. When I learn the stories of others, I am in awe of their lives and what they know, what they manage, and how they live in the moment. I am reminded of Mr. Galán’s comment to me always, “gracias por el moment.” I think the past two years have caused us to forget the moments. We have been so worried about the world, about society, about interaction, there was little time to consider the moments we experienced. My time in Costa Rica acquainted me with an amazing land, with amazing people, and with wonderful possibilities. Tomorrow, I will be back to more regular moments, but they are moments just the same. Because I often add a video to complete my post, I am doing it again. This video, while not about Costa Rica specifically is about the amazing Latin culture. And it is two years ago almost to the day, Naya Rivera passed.

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Letting Go – Moving On

Welcome from Estonia

Hello on the last day of Spring,

Currently I am sitting outside Panera waiting for a former colleague, a treasured friend, and one of the most intelligent people I know to join me. I met them my first fall at Bloomsburg, and we have managed to stay in touch for all the time I have been at the university, in spite of their leaving the academy and now living almost entirely on the other side of the country. To maintain a meaningful friendship takes work, intentionality, and perhaps most importantly, an honest foundation from the outset. It will be nice to spend time with them.

Pondering what constitutes a friend is something that has caused me pause throughout my life, but even more so in the past year. Certainly those who have known me all my life have a different place, but how many of those who knew me since the single digits of my existence are still actively part of my daily world. As I go through the Rolodex of people, I think there is one. Seriously, one; and ironically, we did not grow close until perhaps 10 years after high school. There are the Facebook connections from childhood, and some for whom I am very grateful, but we are not friends.

If I consider my early 20s, there are two people, and one is still beyond special in my life. The two together remind me of the time I struggled mightily to figure how who I was. If it were not for their family, I am not sure where I might have gone. The group of people perhaps most important to me, though not really friends per se (and this is not the case across the board) are what most will refer to as their Dana family. The people at Dana I was closest to as a student are not really the closest to me now. The Dana people I closest to, in my estimation, were the people I acquainted with my senior year. That is more because of the changes I went through while I was at the University of Iowa. In fact, I am perhaps more connected to come faculty and others. As our lives transform, we alter preferences. We reimagine our own lives in a manner which at one time would have seemed unimaginable. Much of my life seems to be that as I reflect; and yet there are profound differences. I have had an oxymoronic week. The exchange student who began the year with me and was required to reassignment is leaving. The period of time since he left has been a rollercoaster of emotions and experiences. It has been a time of pain and growth for everyone. Over the last five days it has been a privilege to meet his mother and sister as well as his life-long best friend and the friend’s mother, which has been a friend to the exchange student’s mother for a quarter century. Trips to Jim Thorpe, Ricketts Glen, a swimming day, movies and meals have often some nice insight into his past 10 months. Conversations with the friend’s parent have been profound, insightful, stimulating, enjoyable, and even humorous. What a wonderful, albeit unexpected, joy. My hope was regardless the possible stress from the last 4 months I wanted to make sure the fetching contingent had a good time. It has taken some thought and patience, but I am thankful for the discipline I learned as a young person in the Marine Corps. It has served me well on a number of occasions and probably will into next week. It is amazing what observation can accomplish. A little critical thinking and analysis, as I tell my students, can do wonders.

I am grateful for another visit in July when Anton and his family will come to Bloomsburg. There are a couple of other trips on the horizon, but some planning yet to accomplish. Letting go of something is often related to a person and realizing what it is and the difference between the something and the someone can be difficult. It is tremendously or profoundly troublesome when emotions affect our thoughts. Age and experience should make it most possible, but that seldom translates into simplicity. I remember my father telling me after my divorce that those we love the most can hurt us the most profoundly or deeply. That is most certainly true. From time to time I have noted that my anger is most often felt when I hurt by someone I love. And yet, life without love would be devastatingly sad. Sometimes I wonder what it means to truly love someone. Is it that I am either merely mystified or that I am intrinsically incapable of this concept or feeling? During the visit, through conversation, observation, and perhaps even some transformation, I believe I have a much clearer understanding of many incidences, of responses (or lack there of) or even some genuine appreciation for what happened during the past year. The cultural differences were more significant, and those specific differences are so engrained in both cultures that even foundational elements of our daily practices did not seem logical. Perhaps I needed more understanding from the outset. On the other hand, some of the differences were worth chatting about. Some of the questions were never articulated on either side.

However, the reality that shone through this past two-week period is the differences that exist, in spite of familiarity. What is it that creates such a disparate process or reaction? Culture is certainly part of it. And the historical underpinning of that culture also shown through, and yet, in spite of profound similarities, the differences were as extreme as those resemblances. It is not about right or wrongs for me, it is about trying to comprehend. We are such amazing creatures in our humanity. One of the things I have had to spend considerable thought on is how to let go. It is possible to value people or experience too greatly? It is possible to feel some need that creates some irrepressible desire to keep us holding on to that which could do us disservice? More simply, is it misguided loyalty? And it that loyalty to person or event or to a concept?

Perhaps it is appropriate that I continue this post on Independence Day. The reality of my life is that I have few personal obligations, and that has been more true than not for over two decades. The concept of letting go, of moving on, has been something I have done pretty well. That is not necessarily something to be proud of, just so you know what I am thinking. There have been some exceptions, and I am grateful for both people and circumstances who or which have caused me pause. It is always good to be pulled out of one’s pattern. I can think of three or four people who still create an interruption of sorts in my daily practice or plan (if I can call it that). Perhaps yet another irony: none of them are American (well, one is, but I think I identify her as more from her ancestral homeland than from the States. I ponder how that has happened. What I know is there is so much more out there; so much that is more critical thinking, careful analysis, and yes, globally aware. Please do not think I am disavowing my patriotism or my citizenship, in spite of my current disillusionment with many significant things. I think the Founders of the country would be appalled by our current national persona, but I am still an American. Perhaps it is my age; perhaps it is my appreciation for yet another country and people. There is so much to learn; and learning is what rejuvenates me, what inspires me. This past two weeks I have been in spired to work and learn even more, even imagine other possibilities. While there is moving on, and to a degree letting go, the last 11 months have taught me a great deal. It has sometimes been joyful, sometimes painful, but investing in another person will create those situations. As with the first experience, a person came to me as a boy and leaves as a young man. My life is better for it. The meeting of cultures and others these past two weeks has been something I will forever remember. Each one of them has given me something important. I am blessed by all of it.

Thanks as always for reading

Michael

Half my Life; and In Four Weeks

Hello on a warm and humid afternoon.

Over the past few days, the humidity, the billowing, cotton ball clouds, and the sweltering temperatures remind me of my Midwestern roots or my summer working wheat harvest in Northern Texas, Oklahoma, or moving up through Kansas toward the eventual Canadian border. A 4:00 a.m. thunder explosion of about a half hour or last evening’s downpour are proof that summer is ready to commence. It is interesting how weather also has the ability to evoke memory. One of my most vivid weather memories growing up was around the age of 13-14 when we had tornados in my hometown. I was at a cast party following a community theatre performance when sirens, toppling trees, and torrential rain took out the electricity. While I remember the storm, what I remember more profoundly was the girl I was more than enamored with was stuck across town and did not make it to the party. I was beyond sad to put it mildly.

The past week has been a myriad of things. My former exchange student’s mother and younger sister are coming to visit, a visit that has been in the plans for almost a year. All the changes in the year and how that has affected the relationship with the student have been troublesome. Consequently, how everything will shake out is a bit unnerving, but it seems the parents, even a 12 year old sibling and I are on the same page generally. The change in a 17 year old will be something to experience in person. It will be an experience unlike anything I have done up to this point. It also precedes a second visit from a previous student and his family in July. I am excited for their visit as so much time has passed since COVID called Anton back to Denmark early. It will be a busy time. Then today I booked a flight to San Jose, Costa Rica. I will spend a week scouting things out and seeing what my first impressions of this southern county of Central America has. Everything I have heard is stunning, so again something new. The first of a number of steps to see what might happen in a year or so.

Last weekend I was blessed to attend the last service of an incredible person and organist. She is the person providing the first half of the blog title. She applied for the position of music director of the church I had just been installed in, and my senior pastor and I interviewed and together agreed she would be a wonderful fit for that congregation. That was half our lives ago as she and I are the same age (within two months of each other). Hard to believe it had been the same number of years since before she decided to retire. She had followed somewhat of an institution when she took the job and has more than become one herself. She was an amazing addition to the staff, and she has provided more of a steady hand to that parish than most will realize. I have been blessed to reacquaint with her after returning to Pennsylvania, and attending her retirement service was quite the walk down memory lane. I saw people whose wedding I officiated at. Relatives of people I baptized, and people who were on my call committee, members still in (or on – as they say there) the choir. Additionally I saw the majority of two families who made being the pastor their a joy. They have aged; things have changed, their children are already beyond high school and college, and yet one’s voice still gives me goosebumps and is as close to angelic as I have ever heard.

What I was reminded of is the faithfulness of people, something I have struggled with since leaving the clergy roster. I understand the need for order, for hierarchy, but it seems to often bureaucracy does more to damage one’s faith than assist or cultivate it. On the other hand, I still stand in awe of the profound effect clergy have on a parishioner’s faith journey. I realize how I failed in ways to manage that responsibility. I realize the truth of the words I said when I asked people to not put me in a pedestal. I noted that I could only fall off. And indeed I did. I still struggle to believe and certainly hope I was more of a faithful servant than I often times feel. I miss, at times, the preaching element, and I miss the sacramental role that does so much more to support one’s faith than often understood. I remember telling a bishop once that the best of the church was those individuals who faithfully attend worship, struggle to live faithful lives, and give of their time, talents, and yes, treasure (as it is referred to) supporting parish life and the congregation. Those earthly angels who do more to spread the gospel than those who have authority or take authority. Attending this service as well as attending services here are again part of my own faith journey, one which has been hiding, but is still nonetheless significant. I have, even as a pastor, not been one to wear-my-faith-on-my-sleeve. Faith has always been something profound and personal. I know my frailties and I know my failings. Yet, attending this retirement service reminded me of the profound faith that occurs through continual service to a congregation.

Additionally, this week was the final week of an intensive four week summer class, a class that is usually taught during a 15 week semester (including finals). Writing is not something someone can cram into one third the time and do it effectively. I believe it is a disservice to all involved, the student, the professor, and even the university, in spite of the tuition generated. Things that usually are covered over three weeks are shoveled into three days. There is no time to reflect or ponder; it is simply pushing things toward them and they are pushing it back. The grades are lower, and this is due to much more than a shortened time period. Students in general struggle to write proficiently for a myriad of reasons, from simple lack of skills when they enter college to the lack of writing across the disciplines or making writing more intentional through their curriculum. I know this statement will rile some, but studies and 30 years of experience demonstrate a pretty clear sense of what students know about writing, the importance of audience and purpose, and managing issues of syntax, grammar, citation, and the list can go on and on. Before you blame it on their phone, their texting, or other aspects, don’t. We simply do not teach writing consistently, continually, or perhaps most significant, saliently. The struggle to write well is at issue. Anyone can put words on a screen or on paper, but to so successfully, professionally, usably is more difficult. I feel a bit curmudgeonly, and, indeed, my provost told a student I was old school, but I care deeply about the writing process. Cramming 14 into 4 allows for little attention to process. Consequently the product is more often than not substandard. I also realize that students take an intensive writing course believing they can survive anything for 4 weeks. It is much less about improving skills and more about checking a box. This is, for me, where the disservice occurs. When classes are merely boxes to be checked off, the real purpose is educating, of mentoring, of supporting goes out the window. And yet, the course, while valuable and important is relegated to surviving something; it is like knowing you need a root canal. It is required, painful, but you will survive. The process goes against my teaching philosophy, but then there is the current reality that five different curriculums require this course and I am, at this moment, the only person teaching it. So . . . summer cram it is. Yea, I get paid, but I feel a bit guilty for that happens in this summer school practice.

Why might I reveal such a struggle? It is an ethical issue for me. I want students to succeed, but I believe what is taught in this class is not a course, it is a life-long skill. It is developing both insight and ability that provides students a foundation that will assist them throughout their lives. Short changing them because we can make a lot of money in the summer is wrong. So my struggle as I finish grading is that I have committed to presiding over a process that is untenable. It would not matter if I stayed awake for the entire month and tried to add more feedback, more information prior, or less work to make it easier for all. There are still objectives and assessment. There is still trying to provide even a modicum of help that will provide students something they will realize helpful down the road. I believe for maybe one or two, this might have been apparent, but even with dropping a major assignment, the work requirements were brutal on both sides. I am feeling a bit guilty that I could not do more. I am feeling disillusioned that we somehow believe 4 week classes are ethical. I care deeply about what I provide my students. I am feeling a bit like I failed them. I wish it was different. I do not want to become this.

Thanks for reading,

Dr. Martin

Music as a thread of Life

Hello on a cloud, humid, almost-summer morning,

I have been working in my office and it is almost noon, so I am going to be out an about doing other work for a bit. As I meander about my daily routine, seldom does it occur that there is not some music in the background. I mentioned that aspect of my existence in a recent blog, and perhaps what most amazes me about music is a combination of the lyrics and actual sounds, sound, sounds that succeed in creating an experience and emotional connection. Those connections can transport us back to the time of our life when the song was popular, and by extension open a cornucopia of memories, people, or places. I can see faces, hear the voices, and even re-create (to some degree) the feelings that I had at that time, or remember so clearly that it emotionally connects over the years. I am not sure if that is non-sense, but I hope so.

Some of those songs are periodic, corresponding to times in my life. As importantly, the moods of the song create some sense of parallelism to what occurred in my life. I remember a song by the Guess Who titles “Share the Land.” It might be my first remembrance of a sort of social justice, which a central component of who I am now. I am not sure how that resonated with me at that time. A second song (for which I had the 45) was Edwin Starr and was titled “War,” which might be ironic for a future 17 year old who would enlist in the Marine Corps. I remember sneaking out of house to Grandview Park to see the Five Man Electrical Band and listening to the song “Signs.” What do these songs have in common? They were against the status quo, and the only way this undersized, insecure little guy could find his voice. Indeed music become my voice, and, of course, the higher the volume, the more emphatic I became. The first two albums I purchased were Jethro Tull Aqualung (which was a biting assessment of the Roman Catholic Church) and Black Sabbath Paranoid, and of course Ozzy was fearless in pushing the envelope.

The other musicians influential as I went through high school were because of my older brother, an amazing trombonist, whose band made quite a name for themselves in the early 1970s. The first Chicago album (and particularly “Beginnings” and “Questions 67 and 68”) the album by Chase or BS&T and their music have me sitting on the basement steps of my parent’s house listening to the band practice, the drums and Dennis Brunssen’s bass rattling my mother’s cans out of the cupboard. Listening to my best friend singing “Let it Be” for homecoming or being exposed to the incredible music of Tommy Bolin, the profoundly talented hometown guitarist who would play with both the James Gang and Deep Purple, was central to my growing up. Music was central to my feeling positive in the years I grew up. It was one of the places I found both a sense of accomplishment and a place I could find words that made sense of my life. Growing up, my involvement in high school choir, an All-City Children’s Choir, an All-City Orchestra, church choirs, singing in both The Messiah or Brahms’s Ein Deutsches Requiem were times I felt music did more to sustain me than most anything in my life. Learning to play the guitar during the year I traveled on a Lutheran Youth Encounter Team and working with Campus Ministry Teams while a student at Dana were important because of the music as much as the development of the teams.

There are two specific times I felt transported back into even another century by the music I listened to. The first time was when I was in college and I sat in a cathedral in Lubeck Germany. I listened to an organist play the music of Dietrich Buxtehude, the Danish/German composer. I could have sat there for days. Some years later I was back in Germany, Leipzig to be exact. We were in the Thomas Kirche, where Bach is buried. My seminary group was treated to an incredible recital of sorts by the German organist Holm Vogel. He played excerpts from Bach’s Organ Concertos. It was stunning, not only because of the setting, the music, or the incredible instrument. Mr. Vogel was one of the most accomplished organists I have ever heard or witnessed, but that is only the beginning of the story. He was so accomplished he was commissioned by the East German Government to record these concertos. Yet, even that was not the most amazing thing about being able to hear Mr. Vogel, it was that he was blind from birth. They led him to the organ, helped him get situated, and away he went. It was perhaps the most incredible musical moment of my life. It seems that whenever I consider some part of my life, the music of that period is barely below the surface and sometimes it is front and center.

As noted, music often offered the words to the emotions, the struggles, the hopes, or the concerns that characterized my life at that point. Even now, yes, it is possible for me to hear a song and remember amazing things that seem incongruent or impossible to connect to that music, but songs like “Song for America” by Kansas, “Dreamweaver” by Gary Wright, or the album Night at the Opera by Queen remind me of a 1971 Chevelle and my times out of the service and two friendships that shaped much of my life at that time. They were brother and sister, and I am blessed by their presence in my life yet today. The early music of Heart will push me to remember the incredible love I felt for one, which I was so unprepared to feel or manage (if I can use that word). I love her to this day. Songs my KC and the Sunshine Band, Art Garfunkel’s solo album (and his song “I Believe”) were more consequential than I could have ever understood. In spite of my struggles to understand who I was as a 22 year old, what I know now is I grew more in that time than I also realized; in fact, I think I am still realizing the importance of that. As write this and reflect on that time in my life, I remember music being one of the things that gave me a sense of being grounded. That was so important because I was floundering in so many ways.

Sometimes it is through the writing and reflecting about the music that I am allowed to connect and rediscover what the music meant to me then, and even now. Often when I am working in my office, where I have three monitors on my desk, it is not uncommon for me to YouTube so many of those songs and listen again, feeling, and yes, reconnecting. Nostalgia is an interesting thing. I have studied the idea of nostalgia academically, but it is a much different thing when I consider it personally. One of the things I am guilty of, and it is not uncommon, is remembering things with a sort of rose-colored glasses, not to sound too cliché. It is easy to fool one’s self believing the ideas of it was a simpler time, a kinder time. Nostalgia is emotional and perhaps that is why it connects so seamlessly to music because music evokes emotion. And if music creates a thread, as I argue in a title, there is an intrinsic connection to what was. Ralph Harper, the person credited with developing existentialism noted that nostalgia has a rather dichotomous aspect, taking both the good and the bad, the positive experience when reconsidered allows for a sort of loveliness because of our enchantment with it (“Nostalgia: and Existential Exploration . . . “). Perhaps that is what music does for me. It returns to me to those times in my life when I wish something different might have happened. It allows me to ponder the possibility that never happened, but then again it provides a happier reminiscing. The fair question is it helpful or less than? I am not sure there is an easy answer. As I researched this idea of memory of nostalgia, it caught be off guard a bit that another term used consistently was melancholy. If you have read my blog for sometime, that is a word I have often used to describe more of my life and a sort of basic emotional element of who I am. It is something I wonder about from time to time.

What I realize more and more is there is a certain introspective propensity I possess. It is consistent with my wondering the why of things. It is, for me, the practical side of reality. It is also how I allow the identity that is constantly evolving to find the real person I was, I am, or perhaps the person I still aspire to be. Aspiration . . . what is it I aspire to be? Have I made it? How might I know? I think what I aspire to be is a difference maker in other people’s lives; not always in some profound earth-shattering, life-altering manner, but rather in a way that makes their life better. And to return to where the blog began, that is what music does for me that is perhaps so important. It connects me to the past, but it inspires me to move forward, holding on the important memories that are significant to my life, but also containing the thread that is still developing a new fabric, a new garment. The video below is another song that connects be to the time that where was profound change in our world, but one that connects us to what is currently occurring in Ukraine and because of the Russian invasion. It is a reminder that the world in which we live is dependent on each other. I hope music can create a new wind of change for all. The initial picture is also an important memory for me. It is three years ago I had the opportunity to visit Moscow and Ana, my Russian adopted daughter of sorts. It was an incredible experience and ironically connects to the video below. Again, the threads are apparent.

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Pondering the Reasons

Marine Corps Boot Camp

Hello from an afternoon of dog-sitting,

Perhaps I could just watch television, perhaps I could simply manage a rainy afternoon with a nap, but I promised to help my friends as they are at an appointment. Therefore I am dog-sitting a particular canine who adores me (for no particularly good reason) so the task at hand is pretty simple. Over the past year as I have contemplated retirement, relocation, and simplification of life in general, I have found myself pondering the various periods of my life. The reflection is perhaps normal as one realizes a particularly long, a particularly significant, and an identity-creating part of one’s life is about to end. As I have noted in other posts, if having a plan in life is necessary for success, I have been an abysmal failure. That is not to say I have not succeeded in life in a number of ways, but much of my life has been more responding to a situation versus planning that situation or circumstance in advance. Perhaps my good friend, colleague, and writing partner has more accuracy to her evaluation of me than I wanted to give credit. I can plan for the day or two in advance, but making a plan for where and why or how my life will go has never been a strong suit of how I have existed.

Certainly, learning to manage the immediate week, semester, or academic year, is a different thing, but that a was a necessity to survival. Managing even the month in my personal life has not always been something I have done well. That is a rather harsh sentence to write about myself, but transparency is generally a good thing. I am a rather amazing walking oxymoron because I am pretty organized and meticulous about things, so one would believe that would flow over into my having a long-term plan of what I hoped to do with my life, what I would do in terms of a profession, and also to some degree what I hoped my own life would do. Pondering or reflecting, it seems nothing could be farther from the truth. Growing up, I had no idea I would go do college (it was not expected as it is today), I had no idea, even as a first semester senior in high school, I would enlist in the Marine Corps. College seemed more reasonable after the service, but even then I failed miserably in my first attempt to be a scholar. My joining a LYE team was done on a lark and it happened. It was the traveling with John, Ruth, Gloria, and Susan that would be the impetus for finding Dana College, but it was the students at Dana that made it a place to return. The picture here is my picture from boot camp. What a young boy I was.

Dana would be a life changer for me. The classes, the fellow classmates, and the travel with both the choir and Dr. Nielsen the would finally help a much more timid than people realized, much more frightened than I could articulate, and much more confused than perhaps I even knew myself, person begin to understand something about himself and the world. A foray into the honors program at Iowa, and time to disappear and figure out more about myself would send me back to Dana, believing that I could be a parish pastor. The letter from a former pastor and father figure had more to do with that path then I might have had myself. Along the way I ended up dating, engaged, and eventually married, and even now as I look back, perhaps I am guilty of never realizing what I was doing. To this very day, I struggle to realize what happened in all of that. Eventually being a pastor and eventually a campus pastor and instructor at a Lutheran Junior College would do something I found amazing and unexpected. My life would take another turn as I found my way to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Running afoul with a synod bishop, and at least some of it my own doing, would push me to yet another opportunity and turn in my life.

Becoming a student yet again at Michigan Technological University took me on a path that more than one person has told me where I should be, but nothing I could have imagined for myself (Ironic that the song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” is on as it is about Gitche Gumee and is also something I currently use in my Technical Writing course). However, working through a second Masters and entering a PhD program was something that did more to create an identity for a person in his 30s still searching than I would realize. During my time in Michigan, I would leave the clergy roster, I would go through two marriages, I would experience the death of my father, I would finally fall in love with someone, but not manage it well, and eventually in spite of continued health issues that created more surgeries than I have fingers, I would graduate and find myself in Wisconsin. My decade of the 40s was turbulent, trying, tragic, troublesome, and necessary. Would I want to do it again? Most definitely not, but it did more to help me become a better person than perhaps any time in my life. I must admit the trauma of that decade followed me to Wisconsin, but fortunately, there were important people in that Western Wisconsin town, who did more to help me yet again. From a neighbor (on both sides of me) to a colleague and co-board member of a Co-op, from two particular colleagues, and one who is still a colleague, and perhaps a person who started at the same time I did at UW-Stout, but I did not meet until my last year in Menomonie. The continued relationships with these five people have done more to keep me connected to my growth as a professor as anyone. Then there is Lydia and Dan, both of whom have passed, but there are no words profound enough to explain the gift they were (and are) in my life.

It is in reflecting on various people that you can come to understand their significance, not only in your life, but that is how they are with so many. Reflecting on both the peaks and valleys it is quite astounding to realize that the most important growth came from the valleys. It is also interesting to realize that many of the valleys were the consequence of a similar issue. What issue, you ask? When I have been mistreated, seemed to be the object of someone’s abusive nature, or someone misutilized. These are my rhetorically kind ways of stating actions or attitudes that profoundly affect me. What is important it the connecting thread that seems to connect these various moments. Another important question is what is my role in these situations? What is it in my personality or actions that allow myself to be in such a situation? Likewise, what part of it is just life, and therefore it is my response more than what has happened? Simply put, might I find a different way to react? What happens when I feel discounted, mistreated, or unvalued? It reminds me of a childhood where I was told I did not deserve to be in a house, where I was told I would not amount to anything. It was not merely that I knew that was untrue or inaccurate, but it cut me to the very core of my existence and that hurt was profound. Profound to the degree that I have never totally managed to overcome it. That is what my pondering tells me. That is what my heart feels. What I need to learn is sometimes the disrespect, the seeming lack of care, the disregard is not what might be intended. Sometimes it is because the person who creates the injury is unaware of the way their actions affect me, and most times they are certainly not aware of the degree their actions affect others. I have had to come to terms with that over the last months and I have been reminded again how fragile I might be. That is not the others fault, that is my own weakness.

Weakness is a part of our human reality, but I detest it. I know that might not seem very logical or reasonable, especially for someone who prides themselves on their logical ability. Yet, not being able to meet any challenge, personally or professionally is hard for me to accept, and even harder to let go of. I do not like limits, and yet, I am not a person who really pushes boundaries, at least not boundaries that might have extreme consequence. Perhaps some of that is age, but I have never been one to run up to the ledge and ponder the idea of jumping. That began early as a shy, undersized, and somewhat clueless young person. . . . A few days (Memorial Day weekend) have passed and it is Tuesday, May 31st. I graduated from high school 49 years ago today. A young 17 and still growing into my oversized ears, against my father’s better judgment was was waiting to enter the Marine Corps. It would be less than a month before I would be standing on the infamous yellow footsteps wondering what I had done. This would be my first pushing the boundaries and it was a serious push. As I have admitted more than once, the first couple nights I put my head under my pillow and I cried. To this day I remember the shock of those processing days into the Marines and the eventual pride of graduating from boot camp. I came home about three months later 3 inches taller and 25 pounds heavier. However, the change inside was even more profound. To this day I am grateful for the discipline and the worldly-growth my enlistment in the Marine Corps instilled in me.

I still believe two years of some sort of growing time before college would do wonders for our country. It would not need to be a military service, but after completing a two-year requirement, you would receive two years of community college or technical college for free, but you would be required to maintain a 2.5 grade point to continue. Then if you wanted to continue, you would go to college for a 4 year Masters degree. Those who completed a technical degree are job ready and 22 or 23. There would be no school debt for them. Those who continue for a Master’s after an Associate’s would have their General Education completed and would focus on upper level classes and initial graduate classes and enter the work force at 27 a bit more seasoned, a bit more mature, and a bit more capable. Welcome to the things that take up space in my head from time to time. This particular one has been rolling around for a while. So as I move beyond and realize that 49 years of experiences and growth have occurred since I was a young high school graduate, it is hard to see where and how all of that has occurred, but most importantly, I am still here. That is not something I take for granted. It is something that causes me pause and requires me to ponder what it is I need to do yet. Perhaps, need is not the correct word, but what might I do yet. What sort of things might make a difference in the lives of others? What does the gift of another day offer and how best might I use the possibility? There are so many reasons to give thanks, but also to ponder the possibilities that are still offered. I remember my father once nothing that he would not merely sit when he retired, and he certainly didn’t. He was always busy and he was always trying to make a difference. I guess he taught me well. For those who remember lost service men and women, I wish you comfort in knowing their sacrifices have made a difference. For those who are reminded of veterans from any conflict, I wish you good memories of those. They made a difference in our world. I must admit I have helped Tom Cruise add to his sizeable haul for Top Gun: Maverick since it released. This video is the theme song written and performed by Lady Gaga. The movie is worth your time.

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Cancel, Replacement, and Lies ~ Oh My!!

Hello from my kitchen island,

Let me be as up front as possible. This is a politically-motivated post. It is where I stand on things in our cultural morass we call America. It is my opinion, and I know there are other valid opinions out there and those who will disagree with me (even some in my family, whom I love deeply). It has happened; these opinions have caused some to delete me as a friend, block me I imagine, and have caused me to block someone I considered important when they called me out of the blue and started swearing and screaming at me over the phone. With that as a pre-statement, one might ask why would I choose to write? and that is a fair question . . . debate, argument, and expression are hallmarks of democracy. I believe this. Passion is needed, but so is respect. Struggle for consensus is necessary for freedom to prevail. Standing up to tyranny and injustice can appear as disregard for the rule of law . . . our founders knew and experienced this. History and the rationale for action is written by the victors, and that has happened throughout history. Listening to the defeated, the mistreated, the disenfranchised, or the other is not only necessary to understand a story, it is justice personified. So . . . if you prefer to stop reading, I can accept that, but if you are able and willing to read on, I offer this caveat . . . I am not brilliant; I am not omnipotent; I am not without my own short-sightedness. Yet, I do work diligently to see beyond my narrowness, my ineptitude, and my own failings. So with that I commence.

Let me begin with an experience I had a few weeks ago. I was walking down a main artery or street barely off the “Main Street” in my little college town (pop. 12,000 or so without students). It was 10:30 in the morning and a typical Spring day. Someone was walking behind me, but I had no idea who it was. I reached into my jacket to get out my AirPods, and he jumped out into the middle of the street. He was maybe 10 feet behind me at the time, so his movement startled me . . . when he realized I was only reaching for AirPods, he apologized, and said my reaching into my pocket when he was so close frightened him. He was a young black man. I apologized as did he again, and we went about our days. The remainder of the day, I could not get our interaction out of my head. Life experience had taught him to recoil when someone reaches in their pocket, and perhaps even more so when it is a white man. Stunning!! I had no ability to anticipate his response, but even in a small rural town, not in his perhaps inner-city experience, he still walked around feeling a need to protect himself from someone else. Certainly some could, and will, argue that is his fault, not mine, but I will respectfully and strenuously disagree. If what life (the media, other peoples’ experiences, and our current national attitudes) has dealt him elicits such a response on a small town street in broad daylight, we have a problem. Again, before you dismiss him, allow me to offer some analogous situation. How many females are afraid to walk alone because of what has happened to a friend, an acquaintance, a family member, or even their own experiences? How many carry mace or pepper spray, even in broad daylight? How is it different? I do not believe it is.

The number of incidences we are aware of are probably only minuscule compared to the actual events that occur daily in our country where the other responds out of fear or concern to daily happenings that as a older white male I have no conceptual reality of. Perhaps two and a half years ago I was involved in a faculty reading group where the book choice was the incredibly difficult book, White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. It forced me to speak about things that made me uncomfortable; it compelled me to look at situations where my white privilege (and I know some do not like to encounter this term) provides me a different basic living experience than black, brown, or AAPI people must face on a daily basis. While I could point to some currently obvious examples, perhaps it is more appropriate to consider some that are not as apparent. One of the things I believe COVID has done is open-wide the curtain of much of the inequality of our current nation. From health care to education, from technology to economic opportunities, many from the inner city to rural America struggle to be able to manage in our technologically dependent world. I regularly hear people who want to shun the use of all things electronic (from smartphones to credit cards), but reality is such an existence is not very feasible. During the height of our COVID asynchronous remote/Zoomed process, I had to return to purchasing internet from the only provider in the area. The cost of their services are outrageous, and though I can afford them, which is itself a privilege, I had not choice but to re-enlist their services to manage teaching my courses. Almost 20% of the student body where I teach did not have access to sufficient internet. Simply stated, they could not participate in an adequate manner to engage their class work. Without going into all the statistics, I have done enough meaningful research to see these issue disproportionately affect those who have less economic opportunities or technological availability than others. The digital divide is real

Perhaps it is the division and the divisive nature that seems to permeate all aspects of our culture that so concerns me. I wish someone could explain to me how we got to the point that disagreement becomes only anger and anger becomes hate. In the actions of people, who seem consumed by hate (and fear) create the Sandy Hooks, the Buffalos, the Uvaldes and literally the hundreds of shootings that characterize our “UNITED” States. How incredibly foolish and sad we have become. And then I wonder why a young black man is frightened when I reach into my pocket? Of course, I should not be the least bit surprised. More importantly, I should be aware. I was not even that. The Honorable Senator Chris Murphy was recorded in a poignant and soul-searching Senate floor address last evening that I shared on my Facebook feed. What I wish I might have been able to see is how those, who believe any common sense restriction on guns assails the 2nd Amendment, reacted. What was the look on their faces or did they simply roll their collective 2nd Amendment protective eyes and ignore what seemed to be honesty and disbelief? Difference and debate are human qualities and reasonable elements of any society. As a book I’ve used in my first year writing classes is titled Everything’s an Argument. I do believe this is true, but again as I ask my students, what is the goal of an argument. If you immediately think it is to win, I will respectfully disagree with you. Argument is about fact, and fact is about creating consensus. Unfortunately, there is probably no area upon which we might find any modicum of agreement in our current national consciousness. Instead it is more likely that if someone is not fearful, they are angry, and generally they are angry because they are fearful. And often fear, contrary to the basis of argument is not based on fact. It is irrational. Please know that I realize this is not always the case.

At this point, the Tucker Carlsons or Sean Hannitys on one side or the Rachel Maddows and John Stewarts on the other seem content to lob IEDs toward the other. It would be interesting to put them together on a show and see if anything might get accomplished. Can anyone explain hate and anger to a degree that one will drive 200 miles to kill black men women, and children? Can anyone explain to me why such things as common sense when it comes to law, the second amendment, which I am not against, and possible restrictions on certain types of weapons and magazines is so abhorrent? Any questioning of our past or coming to terms with some of our less than stellar ways of creating the American fabric are argued to merely be the cancelation of something. It is not that simple. Our inequity has consequence. If there were not the case, a young black person, a student trying to go to college in a small rural white town would not need to jump into the street in broad daylight. I have experienced the grandeur of Monument Avenue in Richmond, and to be completely honest, I am not 100% comfortable with the removal of the statuary what was the Confederate Capitol. Do I believe there could be another way to be honest about the various artifacts that have been removed? I do, and part of that might be some kind of walking tour and commentary that explains the consequences of the actions of these generals, politicians, and others who believed leaving the Union over slavery was reasonable. When black, brown, or other minority students are told not to go out into our little town during Monster Truck weekend or to not walk beyond the fountain, we are compelled to understand what that sort of commentary or directive says about the others of us. Is it true that as a white majority we are afraid of being replaced? I must believe there is more truth to that than I would care to admit. Are we that afraid of the other? Too often, we are.

There are numerous stories I could share here to support this statement. Things my students tell me, from things that might seem benign to things that are flat out racist, generally cause me significant pause. When a shy black girl shares how when she was finally brave enough to go out of her room and even to a social event, and then a perhaps well-meaning white student tell her she is really attractive for a black person . . . what is she to say? What sort of idiotic thoughts or stereotyping happens for someone to make such a statement? When I have heard white folks say in a store in town “all black people look the same” (and yes I have heard this), what sort of stupidity allows for such an understanding? When the children of my Dominican family as I refer to them, or my Bengali students are spoken to or approached differently because of their brown skin, when they are discounted because of their accent, what are we doing? The pain that occurs when two incredibly talented and hard working colleagues are sitting on the street for dinner and someone comes across two lanes of traffic to holler at them because they are not white. These are the daily things I experience as a professor at a university that hopes to promote diversity. I am not saying the University has not done some important things, but too often it seems we white people do not want to be bothered with diversifying or again we are afraid of the consequence.

Much of what is occurring currently, the fighting, the vitriol, the killing, the fear and hate is based on a lie. What is that lie? I am not sure that is easily answered. Much of what is occurring in a world where 18 year olds legally buy semiautomatic weapons with the seeming intent to use them is because we are dishonest with ourselves and with each other. Can we see the other first and foremost as a human wishing to raise their family with hopes and dreams no different than our own? Can be believe there is room for all of us in this land we believe to be democratic where all are equal. We pledge that, but we so often fail to live it. I certainly do not have answers to all of these questions. I also know there are those I love who will disagree with some of this, and I appreciate their opinions, but could we at least talk about it and see where we might have places of agreement? Is it possible we can discuss with respect and the intent of coming to a better place? If we cannot do that, I too am afraid. Afraid that this amazing experiment called America might have failed. I have used versions this video before, but it seems appropriate again. This version is an older Neil Diamond with the London Symphony.

If you made it to this point, thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin

deoch don doras

My Cousin, Suzanne, and her Husband Randy (Photo from Facebook)

Hello from Starbucks in the Commons,

We are in the throes of the end of the semester, and I am doing a boatload in individual student conferences. The days have blended together so much that earlier today I was quite sure it was Thursday instead of Wednesday. Part of my cluelessness is the craziness of the overloaded semester and part of it is a combination of a lack of a vehicle, obstinacy in terms of asking for help, the closure and relocation of my medical clinic, which have all resulted in no B12 shots for four months. Then there is the vertigo, which has returned over the last couple days. Perhaps the good thing is it has compelled me to focus on my health a bit more thoughtfully than I have as of late. While I have flippantly noted growing old is not for sissies, it is a truism. And then there is doing what one should to maintain their health . . . it takes time and intentionality, and it requires a commitment. My reality has been that is is such a commitment that requires so much time that I find myself annoyed, and at times overwhelmed. Part of that means slowing down, and those who know me are aware that is not really in my nature.

For those who do not know, the most significant, or greatest, percentage of my ethnic heritage is Irish. The phrase that titles this post is Irish and it means “a drink for the door” or “the parting glass.” It might initially seem apropos because of the stereotypic Irish-person, but the lyrics of the song reveal something much more poignant, “and since it fell into my lot that I should rise and you should not . . . “ These words push us to realize the frailty of our lives. It seems that somewhere around this time each year, my body struggles to manage some homeostatic balance because of the long-term consequences of Crohn’s. My next week and a half or so is filled with numerous doctors’ appointments, seeing a variety of specialists. Nothing overwhelming, but the results of bloodwork and other tests offer some insight into a body my gastroenterologist describes as an upside-down jigsaw puzzle. At this point, initial bloodwork shows some treason for concern. The problem areas seem to indicate continued and perhaps elevated issues. I am pretty sure another appointment with a doctor is on the horizon. Additionally, perhaps more discipline and attention is also needed from me. The visit to the Balance Clinic was quite the experience. I detest nausea more than any possible thing, so 20 minutes of trying not to vomit was great fun.

This week I had a conversation with a graduating senior, a Marine Corps veteran, and an all round exceptional person. We were discussing at what age might a person be categorized as old. Even though I am probably four decades older than this student, we had a incredibly similar idea of who would be considered as officially old. For the student, it was 80 and for me, 90. I think what surprised me most, reflecting on this conversation, was the personal reality that old, regardless the age is getting more and more unavoidable. Of course, there are the arguments, it is a number, it is an attitude, and all of that is certainly valid, but each day the amount of time used or lived versus the time that remains moves indiscriminately toward the older side. I am reminded of my father noting that things will move forward and time will pass more quickly. As usual, he was more than correct! As I write this a couple of weeks have flown by, the semester is completed, grading is in process, and I am realizing the summer will be a whirlwind.

Last night I was shocked by a Facebook message about the health of someone for whom I have incredible care and appreciation. I have spoken of the pair many times, and I have been blessed to have them in my life for many years. They have never seemed to be their age, and certainly did not appear to be the age they are. In the period of 36 hours or so, all of that changed. There is progress, but that progress has taken weeks into months. And the health issue was profound. I am poignantly reminded of the frailty of our taken-for-granted daily lives. I am feeling confounded by the reality of mortality. It is not something I know nothing about; it is not something I do not even expect, but I am profoundly aware of how it always seems to take us by surprise. Certainly the loss of someone in a way or time that seem premature is always alarming, but even when someone has lived a full life (and I realize premature and full life are subjective), there is no less alarm . . . I often told parishioners and family members who struggled with even an expected loss, we are never ready. Why is that? Perhaps that is a moot point. Perhaps it is not the question. Perhaps it is merely we need to seize the fact that we are merely mortal and live with an appreciation of what the day offers. And yet, that seems so frickin’ (my half-hearted attempt to be rhetorically appropriate) cliché. It that all there is? Indeed, it seems my Irish heritage is more thoughtful about all of this than I might realize.

But since it fell into my lot
That I should rise and you should not
I'll gently rise and softly call
Good night and joy be to you all

Fill to me the parting glass
And drink a health whate'er befalls
Then gently rise and softly call
Good night and joy be to you all

What are we guaranteed? Nothing, actually . . . what do we deserve? Nothing actually . . . What are can we expect? Nothing, actually . . . and I could continue, and some would argue I am merely being cynical or morbid, but I am not. I see this realization as freedom. If we have no guarantees, we are provided an opportunity to make something happen. What makes a life successful? What makes a life one that one might believe well lived? Easy questions, right? Perhaps they are more answerable than we often believe. I was once told if you significantly influence the lives of 10 other people you are successful. Certainly, there are a number of questions that one can ponder about that statement, but I prefer to take it as general face-value for the moment. If somehow people are better off, and realize that change that moves them into a new successful place, and then connect it to something they received from you, you can count that person. In terms of life and success, it is difficult to not equate success in our free enterprise world as something related to possessions or value, but I believe success is something that is way beyond what is found through a routing number of an account; it is something that is far beyond the stuff we have. For me success is related to contentment, to a sense of tranquility, to a feeling of accomplishment, not in some grandiose, overly-recognized manner, but as an internal sense of enjoyment of a peaceful process that allows one to go about their life without a need to keep accomplishing. Perhaps it is a reminder of that phrase, well done, good and faithful servant. Perhaps it is as noted above – – – good night (or day) and joy be to you all.

I am reminded of the novel, The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak; he makes the narrator of the novel Death. Yes, you read that correctly. I have used this novel in my freshman writing class a few times, and it is always interesting to see how the students react to such a narrator. What I believe is so profound about the novel and its macabre voice is that you could easily find yourself feeling sympathetic to Death. That is not something most would imaging possible. I sometimes find myself wondering why death is so frightening? I understand the separation; I know what it is to feel the pain and sorrow of loss; I realize there is the complete finality of absence, at least in this existence, and if you have hope or faith in something beyond, we are told there is a reunion, but that does little in the midst of the loss felt when death comes to pay its visit. Perhaps death is only an event, the cessation of living. Perhaps it is something kinder than the Grim Reaper. As Zusak writes, Is death as amazed or haunted by us as we are of it? It is something to ponder . . . why you might ask? Perhaps if we can come to terms or some understanding of this event (this person?), our struggle with, our fear of, our fascination with and of could become somewhat non-consequential. Perhaps our often, non-successful attempt at a celebration of life would indeed be more appreciative life our deceased loved one or acquaintance actually had.

Perhaps the words “gently rise and softly call” offer the spirit needed. Again as my memory serves, there was a particularly poignant episode where the members of the 4077 believed Colonel Potter was I’ll because he had called them all together, but it was instead to toast the memory of his comrades of the Great War. He wanted to toast the memory of those who had passed with those who were living. In his gentle, wise, and caring way Sherman Potter reminded us that death cannot take away those memories, those experiences, this life-creating moments that are embedded into our being. Earlier this evening, as FB is so capable of doing, I was blessed to see images of my beautiful cousin, Suzanne. The images brought to life again the unparalleled beauty, the captivating goodness, and the wonderful empathy I remember of her as we grew up. She was angelic, almost other-worldly, and yet she was as strong and capable as she was gentle and ethereal. Those are the things I see even today in her eyes, her smile and her beauty. In early June, she would be 65. I know her sisters and Randy miss her deeply and profoundly, but she is part of them; they live their lives in a manner that provides more to enhance her memory than they might know. Suzanne, if you know from where you are what I write, may I offer this humbly: I too miss you and your kindness and beauty were more important to me as I struggles to find joy as a child. Your acceptance of your small, meek, and frightened cousin, and the love of you and your sisters did more to give me hope than I ever realized. I was in awe of all of you, but we (you and I) were closest in age. I remember your voice, your indefatigable smile, and your gentle goodness. I am still realizing how astounding you were. Thank you for those memories. Thank you for the goodness you imparted to your remaining sisters. They are incredible ambassadors of your goodness, and simultaneously amazing each in their own way. My life is profoundly better because they are back in my life. The choice of the video below, which is a from the group Celtic Woman, reminds me of listening to music that was not always mainstream with Kim, the now matriarch of the Pilgrim girls. What I have re-learned about them in the last year and a half is how incredibly talented and aware they are of their world. The intro to the sound is moving apropos. This is in that spirit.

In spite of all the health issues in my life, I continue to live. I have been blessed, for reasons unbeknownst to me, to continue on this side of the line between here and the other. Perhaps one of the reasons is to write about what crosses my mind about this life. As I finish this post, all I know is I believe we are all called to gently lift a parting glass. Suzanne, to you, your wonderful parents, Don and Virginia, and your beautiful sisters: good [day] and joy be to you all. I love you.

To everyone else, thanks for reading.

Michael