What Happened to Critical Thunking?

Hello on a Spring Break,

I find myself more and more dismayed by the lack of critical thinking skills that seem to characterize the world in which we live, and before you think I am referring to only 18-25 year olds, please think again. In addition, before you think I do not fail in this area from time to time, once more, think again. From those who we have elected to those who teach, from those who teach, at any level, to students, there seems to be a serious collective drain on taking to the to step back and ponder and question thoughtfully before launching into some undoubtedly, and profoundly, shallow (how is that for a mixed metaphor) diatribe as they vociferously try to defend a point they obviously know nothing about (and by the way, hence my “misspelling” in the title).

One of the things that most frightens me is how this sort of braggadocio has come to characterize so many more of our elected officials than only one should be comfortable with, much less tolerate. While there are certainly those on both sides of the political spectrum that astound me the person I find the most outrageous is the spokesperson for the President, Sarah Sanders. I vacillate between wondering if she is caught between a rock and hard spot and it is that she is so loyal that she will say anything to protect the President. There are moments that I find myself infuriated by her attitude of seeming righteous indignation and then so stunned by her attempt to make us believe the garbage she spews that I can do nothing other than throw my hands up in utter amazement. I am sure standing in front of the White House Press Corps is stressful and even more so when you are tasked with making sense out of that which makes no sense whatsoever. Yet, this White House from the days of Spicy’s claim about the inauguration has left the infamous barn door so wide open there is no gate left to close. From the argument of alternative facts to the continual attack on the veracity of the press, the consequence for our democracy had been, in my opinion, harmed beyond what we even know at this point.

As I listen to the news, it seems the degree to which we seem to slip toward the absurd and beyond is both frightening and fascinating at the same time. The frightening part is because of the consequences of the mounting mistrust of anyone and anything. The fascinating part is to do the very thing I question from the outset: to critically think about our current national consciousness and then thoughtfully analyze how we managed to get here. There are already tell-all books on some of this, and there is enough rhetorical fodder from the daily shit-storm of finger pointing to keep academics busy for an entire generation and beyond. Yet,therein lies some of the problem. If only academics (and there are conservative academics also) are studying the issue that would mean that about 97% are merely existing (I know some will argue this and I am merely trying to make a basic point). I would also note the 1-percenters do not want us to critically think or thoughtfully analyze because it would jeopardize their privileged position. I am continually flummoxed by how easily we succumb to herd mentality and are willing to accept most anything if we are told it will benefit us (the tax cut, our indiscriminate use of technology, the latest diet fad, some get-rich-quick scheme). How much money is spent on state and national lottery tickets, for instance? In 2017, we spent over 73 billion dollars on lotteries (that is with a B), and the great majority do not play, but imagine what we could collectively do with that sort of money. First, if you saved 100,000.00 a year, which is more than I make, it would take 730,000 years to save that amount of money. That gives a bit of perspective on how much money that is. You could give every person in Canada over $2,000.00 and we spent that on lottery tickets in a year. Does that make sense? Simply: hell no!

My issue is we are not willing to ask the difficult questions. During the Super Bowl, of which I watched nothing, I am aware that the Washington Post ran the following ad: The voice of Tom Hanks, an incredible actor who can make us appreciate a soccer ball, struggle to come to terms with our discrimination towards LGBTQA individuals and rights, and cause us to rethink our own understanding of the 1960s and Vietnam, provides the following verbiage, which should cause us to step back in fear at what is happening as we hear the defender of the free world claim that a free press is the “enemy of the people,” “Knowing empowers us, knowing helps us decide, knowing keeps us free.” Most assuredly, the advent of the world wide web (which is 30 years old) and 24/7 news forever changed the way we receive and digest the news, but the importance of a free press has never been more critical than it is now. As Preet Bharara, writer for the New York Times, states both succinctly and aptly, the use of the term “fake news” is juvenile, but powerful because it is “thoughtless and memorable” (11Mar2019). This is the basic rhetorical strategy of our President, or so it seems, and it is sucked up like the last drops of moisture by thirsting puppies, who are trusting and naïve. If you can appeal to the mindless sound byte generation whose reading seldom goes beyond Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, or whatever platform-du-jour tickles their fancy. Again, lest you think I am only referring to 25 somethings, please think again. The next (or more accurately, previous) generation who has just enough technological prowess to get in trouble is probably even more guilty of limiting their research to what they find on the web. If it out there and posted, it has to be true!!

What I am arguing if you will is this: if we have no free press or if we have a shackled press, we have no critical voice to speak out on our behalf. Now before you think I am arguing for or against any particular press, I am not. All press coverage is biased to some extent. They are beholden to someone or something, but I would like to believe that all of them have a basic responsibility to our democracy. I know some of you will shout that I am being naïve, but we are the country we are, in part, because of the ability of the press to question and challenge. Note this also: I am not a journalism, Mass Communication or Communication Studies professor. I am first and foremost an American citizen. I am also a veteran of the United States Marine Corps. I am a blue-collar kid from a basic family from NW Iowa, something I have found to be more embarrassing that I ever thought possible at times as of late, but I am a pondering person, a questioning person, and a person who asks why? And the why about the why? Again, before you brand me as a left-leaning liberal who has nary a conservative bone in his body, stop. I am more conservative than my father was, and he would be 104 this year were he alive. I read Fox News regularly . . .  because I want to? No, but because I need to. I need to understand the opinions I struggle to understand. I need to realize and accept there are people who will disagree with me. They do not need to be my enemy because we have a difference of opinion. In fact, I would much rather sit down with them and have a glass of wine and listen to what they have to say. I would only ask they do the same. I am reminded of a meeting I had with the editor of the local paper about three years ago. His perception of and appreciation for (my language)  the university that employs me and my perception and appreciation of the same do not quite line up. He has a soapbox, if you will, from which to state that perception and appreciation (or misperception and lack of), but I questioned that and asked to meet. TO his credit, he accepted my invitation to coffee and was even a bit cheeky in his initial introduction, which was quite humorous. While a number of people told me I was a bit wacky for agreeing to speak with him, I still believe it is one of the better moves on my part since coming to Bloomsburg. I would say there were areas where we would be obliged to agree to disagree, but I walked away with a much better understanding of who is was (and is) as a person and a much greater appreciation for that person. It took a willingness to step outside my comfort zone as I reached out to him. He is a mover and shaker in the town of sorts, I am merely one professor of many at the local university. However, the result of that meeting was an openness and appreciation for the person behind the name on the Masthead of the paper.

Too often my students, and many of us in general, want to ask the question in this way. What do you want me to do? What that is asking for is a recipe. Merely tell me what to do and I will follow directions, but even then we too often cannot even do that. If life is merely following directions, there is no thought. If life is merely jumping through hoops, there is no long term consequence. You pass or you fail. There is physical effort to a point, much like getting over hurdles in that 100 meter race, but then it is done. Just tell me what you want is used from our simple tasks to our relationships, but what happens to us as individuals. What happens to our basic humanity in such a process? I believe it disappears as we abdicate any power or possibilities we might have. My struggle with our current national conversation is we have retreated into our corners and like rock-’em, sock-’em robots, we come out to fight hoping we can get the first punch in and intimidate the other. We do not even come out to shake hands first. It is merely we have come to fight. There is little thought in the pugilistic encounter that we are presently engaged in. You can beat the other into submission, but that does not create respect. Thinking is not about fighting, but rather understanding. Thinking critically is attempting to create solutions for the problems and the complexities that vex us. In the last couple days, someone dear to me found it difficult that I could not be mean or uncaring about someone who had caused them profound hurt. I certainly understand this sort of call to loyalty, but one can still be caring to the one who matters and not wish the other ill. This is what I told them. That is what we have seemingly been reduced to in our national and global conversation. If we disagree, there is no opportunity for conversation. If we have been hurt, we want to hurt back. That is what two year olds do. It is time to reconsider who and what we have become. It is time to think. It is time to put both our best thoughts and our best and most caring hearts forward. It is time to leave the world better than the way we found it. Our humanity depends on it.

As I thought about the rock-’em, sock-’em, the following video came to mind from Imagine Dragons. It is such an unforgettable video with astounding symbolism. Enjoy!

As always, thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin

When 2+2 = Something other than 4

Hello on a Sunday evening/Monday morning,

It is late and I need to grade; I also need to sleep, but my mind seems to foggy to do the former and is yet too awake to accomplish the latter. So I will begin by reflecting on the last few days. Moving into 5th week, the first real batch of hard core grading is upon me. The busy pace of the semester has caught up and the reality of what happens to most students when pushed outside their comfort zone became evident to me in some shape or form in each of my classes today. This was the beginning of the blog, but it got sidetracked.

. . . I cannot believe almost a month has gone by and I have not had a moment to get back to this blog, but then again, if I consider the time it is now (about 1:45 a.m.) and this is when I am writing, I guess that pretty well explains the semester. While I do not have as many students as I might generally have, I have more work than ever, or so it seems. I think I laid awake for a while, finally deciding to make some use of the time because my brain is trying to make sense of all the things happening at the moment (and for the last month). It was about four weeks ago I had to make sense of why a inanimate object could cause me such emotional struggle. I sold my 2014 Malibu this past fall, and perhaps it is because I sold it to someone I know (and thus still saw it regularly) that it is such a struggle, but it was totaled in an accident. Fortunately, no one was injured. Even more importantly, the circumstances surrounding the accident, which are a bit crazy to say the least, ended up with some tickets and a check for the value of the car (which was thousands more than he paid). The consequence of all of it could have been much worse.

What is difficult for me is how the loss of something that was no longer mine was so much more emotional than I expected. Yet that sort of non-logical response caught me by surprise. Sometimes I seem pretty cognizant and not a lot catches me off guard, then there are those moments where things come flying out of the proverbial left field. I think the reason I am seldom caught off guard is because students have a way of hitting you with the unexpected. In fact, it is such a common thing that the unexpected is the norm. That has been the case much more often than I would wish as of late. Four of my present or past students have lost someone important to them in the last three weeks. In some cases a bit more expected and in a couple cases completely the opposite. Death is such an incredible equalizer. I have noted in the past that at one point earlier in life I found the concept of my demise to be frightening. Now, that is not really the case. Certainly some of that is because of my life-long battle with Crohn’s and my frequent encounters with some serious challenges related to it. Perhaps some of it is because I was a parish pastor. I am not sure. Today was another one of the unexpected days. From my morning cluelessness to an evening conversation, I was required to see things from another perspective. What I realize is how much I have conditioned myself, albeit unwittingly, to merely take things as they happen. I have noted at times if I have no control of a situation, or believe I have no control, I respond by not spending time fretting about it. This was something a self inventory at a picnic table in Paducah, KY was well as a 1,000 mile-move, forced me to encounter. I still remember the day I left on my motorcycle as Erica and Lydia stood at the top of the driveway in tears. That was a difficult day for me. It is also a rather logical, and perhaps easy way out of facing things that are neither easy nor logical. As I often have counseled others, emotions are not rational; neither are they convenient, but they are real.

What I am obliged to consider yet again is how I might have to face them on more than one front. It is interesting to me how we can work so intentionally to manage things and yet whatever plan we have (and I was reminded today that I am not a planner) can be swept aside in the second proverbial reference and cliché, that blink-of-an-eye. The range of emotions a single event can illicit from various individuals is quite astounding. I reacted with some profound joy for two people today, knowing that the same news would be astonishingly difficult for another person, who is a surrogate child for me. As two of my former students are growing accustomed to being new mothers, another has said goodbye to her grandfather. Yet, the logical side of me believes it is simply the days doing what they do. It is our living of life and trying to make sense of the equation.

I think it is that sort of face-whatever-comes-my-way that has made me not a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants, but more spontaneous and willing to see what is around the next corner than most (way too many hyphens in that sentence). Perhaps it is because since I was in my 20s and my battle with Crohn’s and at times praying to die that I learned to take nothing for granted. Perhaps it was being told I would never amount to much that caused me to not believe in the future much past what I could actually see. The result, it seems has been to take the day for the day. In a scriptural manner, it has been living that passage out of sixth chapter of Matthew at notes “we should let the day’s troubles be sufficient for the day (6:34). I would reverse it a bit and say let the blessings of being alive for the day be enough for the day. I remember how exasperated Lydia would be when my response to her inquiry about my state would be “I have no complaints.” And yet it was true . . . I was simply content to be alive and healthy to whatever degree my unique body would allow.

That is the latest of the reality checks this 60-something has to manage. After more than one experience of trying to figure out what was happening, in spite of inquiries of my PCP, today I got a call on a Sunday afternoon from the same often MIA doctor. After blood tests and an ultrasound late last week, my doctor believed it necessary to call me on a Sunday to tell me I need more tests on my liver. This is not the first time my liver has been a point of concern (and she mentioned my kidneys, which have also been an issue in the past). It seems there will be more tests in the near future on the liver. The kidneys will require a bit of a medications change. Certainly, livers are of importance and both the blood work and the ultrasound seemed to indicate some significant issue. I have been referred to a gastroenterologist or hepatologost. Seems we are on a new adventure.

Certainly gastroenterologists are nothing new. In fact, I have been in touch with them for a variety of reasons over the years, and recently met with two incredibly talented doctors, who are at the front of treating IBDs. Through an unexpected contact from a wonderfully caring person from the Geisinger Foundation, I had a meeting with the head of gastroenterology of the entire system as well as the head of gastroenterology Danville, which is their flagship location. To make the long-story shorter, a wonderful exchange has led to a new opportunity for me to able use my experience of suffering with Crohn’s in a way that might hopefully make a difference for others. Geisinger’s School of Medicine has offered me an appointment as an Adjunct Professor of Medicine in Gastroenterology. This is both stunning and humbling to me. It is one of those unplanned, but unparalleled, opportunities to make some small difference. It is yet another path opened for the unassuming Iowa boy, who has never really anticipated anything much beyond what he could see. In fact, if I can think out loud for a moment. It seems the times I have tried to plan things more intentionally, they seldom happen.

I planned on going to law school and ended up in seminary instead. I planned on being a parish pastor and ended up in the academy instead. I planned on staying in Wisconsin, but ended up back in Pennsylvania, which I had left once never believing I would return. I planned on having a family (the traditional being married and having children and such), but I only have surrogate kids. I planned on a sabbatical at one point and it was not selected. I applied for a Fulbright and was not selected. Now there are new plans regarding both, but no guarantees as well as a different attitude by me regarding them. I think that is what I have been strong-armed to face again and again. Regardless, at least for me, planning with too great an expectation of it coming to fruition is a bad plan. It leads to disappointment and a sense of failure, something that frightens me beyond words. I have lived a much more successful and fulfilling life than I was ever allowed to believe possible. In spite of all the logic I can muster, I have been blessed beyond any measure I could have imagined. Sometimes just when it seems I have it figured out or planned something comes along to remind me that I have less control over the bigger picture than I want to admit. So the plans for now are to prepare for the week, the month, and even the next year or two in a manner that matters and hopefully makes my life even more blessed than it has been. That means travel to Europe yet again and some new adventures and new countries. I have never been owed anything and that is still the case. I am merely one simple and unassuming person. One who has been able to make 2 + 2 add up to something other than 4. It has never been boring, why should that change? Dreams and a sort of persistence of time (Dali) are things that have been part of my life. This video imagines both.

Thanks for reading as always.

Dr. Martin

Remembering Two Brilliant Siblings and Fifty Years

Good morning from the Acre,

It has been a productive and eventful week, though not always in the way I had planned or expected. We have finished the third week of classes and things are not (nor expected to) slow(ing) down. Students are beginning to settle down and focus a bit better than their initial week’s attentiveness also. This is all par for the course. On the personal front, there is some more work being done on the house and that has been planned for a while, but both managing the pieces and deciding how to proceed always take more time than I ever expect. That is a good lesson for me, however; a reminder that we seldom have control over external factors, and it is best to roll with the proverbial punches. That is the second part of the personal story for the week. This past Tuesday I went to the upper yard to take care of an issue that was a consequence of winter (at the moment, we have no snow). Coming down through the yard to the far end of the wrap-around porch, I found out a bit too late that things were both more slippery and much muddier than I suspected. By the time I realized what was there my feet were above my head and I body slammed myself into the soggy, muddy, cold, but nonetheless, still hard ground. After the obligatory lying in the mud that covered half of me, while I did a mental inventory of what hurt, I determined that except for some embarrassment and what would become aches and pains, I got up and trudged into the house. Fortunately a couple of people were here and I walked straight to the washing machine and threw everything in. A shower and nightshirt later, I was back at it. A bit sore, but doing okay. The remainder of the day was uneventful, but about 5 hours later I realized I was dealing with the bathroom much more frequently than usual (sorry if that creates images you would prefer not to have.). My modified digestive system, which, of course, allows more space in my abdomen than I often remember, seems to have shifted from the fall. Much like a kinked garden hose, it seems my intestine twisted created a blockage. I can assure you, such things are unpleasant. Suffice it to say, it was an intensely painful and excruciatingly uncomfortable next 8 or so hours. I was wiped out enough that I actually took a sick day and stayed in bed all day Wednesday. I slept, got up and drank more fluids, continued by restroom trips and slept more. I did get some soft poached eggs in Wednesday night and Thursday was pretty soft food also. It is now about five days later, and I am still gimping around with a pretty sensitive stomach. All in all, however, we avoided a worse fate, and I am back at the normal daily routine.

Today I awoke thinking about the two siblings with whom I grew up. I note them this way because there are more half-siblings out there, but that is an entirely different storyline, complicated, painful, and rather overwhelming if I really think about it. So most of the time, I choose not to. My older brother, who was about 5 years older than I was an unbelievably talented person. When I was small, I wanted to be just like him. He was mechanical, precise, methodical, patient when you would least expect it, and driven to succeed in ways I could only dream of. He was good at math and science, a phenomenal musician, and would excel at anything he put his mind to doing. I remember as the younger brother admiring most everything he was capable of doing. He was the most amazing model car builder I have ever met. He would analyze every piece, considering how to paint them in advance, how to sand the pieces of any excess plastic so they fit perfectly, and how we had the patience to wait after getting one task done and letting it set before beginning another. He would often build two or three at a time so he could be working on another model as the other was in process and needed to set up. I remember when he worked on waxing our toboggan before we would take it out for the winter. He used Johnson’s Paste Wax and a cloth before he would use the electric drill with a buffer pad on the disc. That toboggan glistened and it was faster than anything on the hill. No matter what he did, he would do it above and beyond what anyone could imagine. The more amazing thing was the rather matter-of-fact demeanor he had as he went about all of these things. He did not seem to believe anything was that extraordinary. As a small boy, I watched with captive interest when he spend time in our basement playing with his Lionel and American Flyer trains. He had a gargantuan train board that was a village with trestles, roads, building, mountains and most anything you could imagine and he would have the trains running in both directions. I could sit and watch him for hours, always hoping he would let me run the controls for even a few minutes. Sometimes, he allowed his pesty little brother to play and I would be the perpetual over the moon for that evening.

The one thing we did do together from time to time was our music. He was a much more famous trombone player than I would ever be as a trumpet/cornet player, eventually inducted with the other members of his band into the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Yet, by the time I was in sixth grade, I was the first trumpet, first chair in a city-wide orchestra in a town of 100,000. I was inspired by my high school brother to try to be as amazing as he was and he both encouraged and supported my hard work. As we spent time in high school band together, it was the one time I began to feel I could make him proud of that little brother. In the time after he left for college, got married, became a father, and eventually an electrician, there were many twists and turns, but he was a profoundly passionate person about anything he did. He would eventually follow our father’s footsteps and work toward becoming an electrician. Then one January afternoon, shortly after lunch, he fell off a ladder at work and would suffer a traumatic brain injury from a fall that did not seem so incredibly terrible. Unfortunately, he hit his head on a sharp corner of something. He would live for an additional five weeks and never come out of the coma. He passed only a few months after his 26th birthday. It was 42 years ago on the day I began this blog. As I consider him how, he graduated from high school 50 years ago this coming June. He was a brilliant student in math and sciences and an astonishing musician, something that gave him great joy. Yet, he was also a father of three young children and the husband to a woman who was as talented as he was. I am blessed to still have his children and his wife in my life as I write this. So much has happened in all of our lives since then, but something remain . . . for me that constant is the admiration I have for the incredibly talented and passionate older brother.

I have noted my sister at other times (and she was, contrary to him, a biological sister). She was fourteen months younger than I, but probably closer to my brother than to me (and I believe the same could be said for him.). I think she too, as noted in an earlier blog, was intelligent beyond words or measure, but she struggled mightily with how to manage that ability. She too was musical. She had a very lovely voice, an alto, and she was a talented piano player. She could sit down and with a bit of practice play most anything her teacher gave her to play. As I think back, I am not sure what she really enjoyed about school in terms of academic interest. She could do most anything, but she needed to be convinced by herself that it was worth her effort, and that was regardless the subject. When we were in elementary school she was in hot water at least one or twice a year when grades would arrive because there was something she had not done. This was both to her consternation and to the exponentially higher level of my parents. In fact, twice rather than to deal with our mother’s wrath for poor grades, she ran away. That raised a different issue about the two of us, who were siblings. She always had an deep-seated need to find our biological parents, something I really never experienced. That issue would affect her for the remainder of her life in various ways. The other thing that I believe vexed my sister was her sexuality. She came out to her immediate family by the end of the 1970s, which was long before this was considered a typical process in anywhere. As a person who had twice been awarded the Outstanding Soldier of her base, being a lesbian in the service was not something acceptable. Her way of managing that dilemma was to leave active service. The consequence of that decision had more far-reaching effect that I believe she had ever anticipated. It was not something we understood either.

What I know now was my sister was bipolar (I also understood this while she was alive) and this would eventually cause her to be placed on SSD. I helped her at that point. However, I believe both the issue of sexuality and mental health were something she had faced even in her middle school and high school years, but at that point our society was neither prepared or willing to be able to help anyone facing such dilemmas. Those issues kept her from reaching her potential because she was consumed fighting battles to merely exist and try to be herself. She was a phenomenal artist as well as a creative spirit that went beyond what most could comprehend. In spite of her struggles at 39 she made the decision to become a mother. While I did not know this was part of her thinking or conversations, I remember the phone call and conversation when she called me that April morning in 1995, telling me I was to become an uncle. Kris had an incredibly loving heart that merely wanted to love and be loved. Most of her life she battled this need because of her choice in whom she was attracted to, but I think more profoundly, if affected her ability to feel loved, particularly by her own family. This is not a unique things for those who identify as LGBTQA, but identifying as outside the heterosexual norm as early as the 1970s was even more significant. What I know as she continued her life, her becoming a mother was the thing she was most proud of. I think she wanted for her daughter the possibilities she never was given the change to experience: things as simple as love, acceptance, the ability to become whomever you felt compelled to be, and a child who knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that her mother loved her. All things she had lacked growing up.

The thing that also made Kris’s life more difficult was she seldom took the easy path to accomplish anything. I have noted from time to time that she did not do the different drummer path, but created her own band path. I think she would actually be proud of that characterization. Her rebellion against any force that tried to corral her would characterize the rest of her life. Unfortunately, one of those habits, the addiction to nicotine, would become her undoing. When she passed away at the age of 51, she had smoked two-packs plus of cigarettes for years. An autopsy revealed she had already suffered a previous heart attack. In addition, she had chronic COPD and severe artherial sclerosis. All of those factors would lead to her being found dead on an early April morning. She was a beautiful woman who had a perceptive ability to empathize beyond any level most could understand. She was intelligent, reflective and capable also beyond measure. She was artistic and a strong writer. I wish she could have realized all her gifts and how she had so many more gifts that most ever knew.

In the case of both the siblings I was fortunate enough to call my brother and sister, they were lost before their time. There are times I try to understand why I am the one still here. There are times I feel guilty for the way I have been blessed to be able to live my life and have opportunities beyond anything I have ever earned. I have often said, and believe with most every fiber of my being, they were the more talented of the three of us. I was merely fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. Before you think I am fishing for something, I am not. I do not believe I am incapable. I do not believe that I have not worked hard. What I do believe is I wish they had an opportunity to live longer than they did. I wonder what they would think. I wonder what it would be like for us to be in our 60s and reminisce about a life that had made it through six decades? I wonder what we would like about our lives and how we would relate to each other at this point. Would I be the sort of outsider of the three? I think I was always the sort of anomaly, but how would that all work out? What I know on this week of a passing anniversary is that I miss them both. It is a bit lonely at times. I know that the relationships I still have with the children of my siblings (some closer than others) is an important part of my life even though I am still away and alone. It remembers me that there is something more to my life and that I did have two wonderfully talented and brilliant siblings.

After all I wonder how it all works from time to time and I realize I have no answers. As I worked on this blog posting I listened to the music of the phenomenal and troubled artist, Whitney Houston. She was such a talented vocalist. She reminded me of both Bob and Kris, and I leave this video of hers for you to ponder. It is not the most known of her incredible repertoire, but it seems appropriate as a sort of inclusio.

Thank you always for reading.

Dr. Martin (the other sibling)

A Wonderful Job and Some Amazing Students

Hello from my little office on the acre.

Many times it seems we have a tendency to only verbalize the negativity we see and feel. I am not sure if it some makes us feel better or if we believe people will somehow feel sorry for us, but I think we are profoundly mistaken on both accounts. I am guilty of this at times also, but I think I generally try to find the positive in most everything I do and in most things I experience. I have a smart ass saying (those of you who know me have undoubtedly heard me say this at times). I believe all learning is positive; when it goes well it is positive; when is sucks, I am positive I do not want to do it again. So there you have it. When I was a seminary student, we were required to do a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) and, of course, we were required to take a number of pastoral care and counseling classes. When someone had just finished their upper level pastoral care and counseling course or had finished a unit of CPE, you would hear some specific phrases (known as active listening responses) come out of their mouths (e.g. It seems I heard you say . . .  or did I understand you to say . . .  or when you said this, _________) and we would respond in our best pastoral voices, “Shut the F up!” There you have it: pastoral care at its finest. While that is all true, what it helped us all realize is that we are not really good listeners. Another acronym we came up with, particularly after a really difficult day in clinical or perhaps after failing a Greek or Hebrew exam was that was another AFGE . . . . which stood for Another F-ing Growing Experience, and certainly life is full of those. I smile as I think back on those times because I was fortunate to have some of the most outstanding seminary classmates: Tim Christensen, Karsten Nelson, Steven Blenkush, Kathy Vitalis Hoffman, Tim Quarberg and Sandy Van Zyl, Sue Volden Gunderson, Wilbur and Deborah Holz, and the list could go on. To this day, 30 years later, I am blessed by their presence in my life. Some certainly more than others, but I am still in touch with them. I am amazed that it was 30 years ago (plus a few months) that I found my way to Pennsylvania the first time. It was a bit of a shock for this Midwestern boy, and a much greater shock to my former wife. Being a pastor’s wife was not quite what was expected and I certainly did not always do the best job of being a husband when I was trying to balance being a clergy person to the 3rd largest Lutheran church in the NEPS and being a husband. I had a lot to learn.

It is hard to fathom that I have been back here, but this time in Northcentral Pennsylvania for almost 9 1/2 years. It is the longest I have lived in one place since I graduated from high school. When I left Pennsylvania in 1992, I was pretty sure I would never come back to the Keystone State, not I am not quite sure I will ever leave. Not that this is a bad thing, but it is certainly not where I expected my life to go. However, I am here at Bloomsburg for that long, and I must say it has been the most amazing and wonderful experience of my life – and I think I can say that both personally and professionally. That has been a pleasant surprise. It has also taken some hard work, but anything worth holding on to is worth working for. Sounds too cliché, but it is certainly true in this case. When I came to Bloomsburg the summer of 2009, I was excited and petrified. I was also feeling tremendously guilty for leaving the little tornado in Menomonie. The move was precipitated by both my inexperience as a tenure track professor and a dean who had decided I was the bane of his existence. Nonetheless, because of a wonderful previous Stout colleague, who would become a present colleague, and even more astounding friend, I was given a new lease on my academic career. While there have been moments of doubt and frustration, the overwhelming feeling I have had since coming to Bloomsburg is simply to be blessed. The department is full of incredibly talented and thoughtful people. They are both strong in the classroom, but there are some prodigious scholars in their particular fields, from Renaissance Literature to a Writing Center and from American Literature to Creative Writing. I still feel like a duck out of water sometimes with my Professional Writing and Rhetorical background, but there has been progress. On the larger scale, I have been involved in committees from the department to the college to the university level. I have learned so much and been fortunate to be exposed to so many remarkable scholars across the university. In my work with the union, I have been put in situations where I am asked to look at issues of labor and fairness and learned the complexity of people’s lives. Every day there is something new to consider and ponder . . .  and yet that is not even what I do most of the time.

As with any faculty person at a comprehensive university, the great majority of my time is spent in the classroom, preparing for the classroom, or grading what comes out of the classroom. Yet still there is more . . .  there is advisement, there is more counseling that one might think as a student struggles to figure out more often than not why they are in college in the first place. I am not sure we have done this generation of students much good by insisting that college is the only way to become a happy, successful person. There are some people who either are not ready for college at 18 or others who should consider other options. Many of the students, however, are merely trying to understand and do the best they know how. Most of my students are good people. Most of them feel an almost staggering level of pressure to perform well . . . and understandably so when someone somewhere is ponying up 100K for their undergraduate degree. That is a breathtaking amount of money for a possible piece of paper that might find them a job. Yes, you read that correctly. There is no guarantee. Yet, they come, much like the mantra in the movie, Field of Dreams.

This semester I have five preps and five sections. That is an overload in more ways than one, but the classes are not full, so overall, it is pretty manageable, and two of the classes are distance, which is an entirely different experience. Much more could be said about that, but there is a time and place for those classes and my Technical Writing class this semester is such a time and place as I have primarily nursing students who are in clinical two days a week for most of the day and beyond and then have a full class schedule besides. This semester, even though we are only into the third week, I have been really pleased with the level of engagement and commitment of the students across the board. It has been one of the best semesters I have experienced in that way. Many of the students are “claiming their education,” which is a foundational article I have them all read. I thought about discarding it because I have been using it for a while, but I hear again and again how it makes students rethink their educational process, which is the intent. So for now, it stays as a required reading. The nicer thing of having a few less students this semester is that I have been able to write more thoughtful and insightful response to their blogs and I hope to do the same with the work they will be turning in.

During the Winter Term, I wrote pretty copious comments on their work for my distance technical writing course and people were please with what they heard and what happened in the class. I have found it you will take the time to let students know you are really paying attention to their work, even when you raise the bar, they will generally rise to the occasion. I was able to do that well, while at the same time traveling around Poland, Italy, and Spain. It was really rather enjoyable. I would get up in the morning and have things commented on before they were up. Then when they looked at things there was usually something there on a daily basis. It worked well. Students are complex people, no different than their professors. We have lives outside the classroom also. The difference is that we are supposedly better as we grow older of balancing things. That is not always true. Furthermore, if we think about it logically, when they do not do something, they affect themselves, perhaps a group from time to time, and then there is some disappointment I imagine from the people who have sent them to college, hoping against hope, they will succeed. When we fall on our noses, which does happen at times, we affect 50, 70, 150, 250 people. Failure to answer an email or grade something in a timely manner is much more overwhelming and disconcerting for our students than we sometimes realize.

What I know from just three weeks into the semester, I have been blessed with some extraordinary students this semester, but that is not a one time thing. I have some magnificent students every semester. I have had wonderful students, whose ethnic background is Columbia and speak English as a second language. I have had a student who is has now earned a doctorate in pharmacy, and is Egyptian and Sudanese. I have been blessed with students from rural Pennsylvania with graduating classes of 50, and they come and work hard and conscientiously hoping to make a difference. I have been blessed to travel to Poland, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia, who are studying political science, nursing, biology, business or Russian and they grow up so much in the three weeks they travel. I am blessed to have had students from Spain, Greece, Sudan, Russia, and other countries and I feel sometimes they teach me more than I could ever teach them. I had no idea when I was growing up that I would become a college professor. In fact, I do not think such a thought even crossed my mind until I was in my early thirties. Then when I realized that was where I might actually go, I was probably as petrified as I noted at the beginning of this post. I was not smart enough to be a college professor. At least that is how I saw it. Now I lay awake at night and wonder about why rest is a verb most often even though we call it a noun. I wonder why we cannot do some things that would make life so much easier. I wonder what I can do to merely be better tomorrow than I was today. Why? Because my students deserve that sort of pondering. I am so extraordinarily blessed to be at Bloomsburg in a department of phenomenal colleagues and in classrooms with curious and fundamentally good students. Here is my idea about all of that. I am always trying to imagine things, so in an appropriate way, in spite of the fact I have used it before, I offer this (it is however a re-mastered video from their collection).

I hope you enjoyed pondering and thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin

When Times Were Simpler . . .

Hello on a bitterly cold night,

As I lie here in my warm bed and my house is heated to a comfortable temperature, it is impossible for me to get the news headlines and stories out of my consciousness of people throughout the country who stand a real chance of freezing to death because they have no where to go to stay out of the cold. Then there are those who are indoors, but perhaps have little insulation and even less money for heat. The university has closed tomorrow because of the cold, requiring only essential workers to show up, keeping heat and other essential services available as students are still on campus and buildings and such need to be heated. As I crawled into bed I could hear the wind and I could actually feel the cold in the walls of my house (welcome to an old farm house). I have certainly done things to the house to manage some of that 1905 plaster and draftiness, but there are still issues. I have felt like it I was transported back to Wisconsin, Minnesota, or some of the previous climes in which you needed appropriate clothing and a hearty breakfast before heading out. Yes, it seemed that even though I survived that sort of cold, it was not nearly as dangerous, and I did not read headlines like I did this morning that a University of Iowa student died in that cold. Those things hit close to home for me. I was a student there and I have a great niece who attends there now. It is not some far away place (well it is in terms of distance at the moment), but it is a place I have walked around, a place I know all so well. News stories note the air temperature in Iowa City was about -21 at the time the student was found and the wind chill was -55. What a tragic ending for a student, a family and a community. I remember frost on the insides of windows when I was in the Upper Peninsula. I remember playing in the snow when it was very cold, or at least it seemed cold. Was it that I did not understand the complexity of that cold as a small boy? I remember driving across South Dakota and Minnesota in whiteout conditions and being a passenger in car on Eastbound I90 when the driver of the car slammed into the back of another car that just plain stopped in the lane of traffic because of visibility. Maybe it was I felt more invincible then. Maybe I have gotten a wee bit wiser in my older age.

Yesterday as I sat in my office, at one moment I looked out the window and it was cold and windy, but bright and beautiful. In less than five minutes it was snowing so hard and the wind was blowing just as hard and I could barely see outside the window. It was a crazy day and as I had to walk across campus, depending on the direction, there were certainly some marked changes in how difficult and painful that walk was. I remember cold and wind again as a child, growing up in the upper Midwest, we know about negative temperatures and wind chills. Some of the places I have lived since have somewhat typical wind chills of -35, which on a January morning is not uncommon. Where I went to graduate school, the average winter snowfall is 270 inches or so, or about 9 meters. That is serious snow blowing and shoveling, and to prove, perhaps for once and all that I am abnormal, I rather enjoyed all that snow. In fact, I just Facebook messaged someone about how I missed it as I looked at their pictures. Even as a 40 something, being out with the snow blower on winter mornings in Laurium, Michigan with Don, the retired school superintendent, and Mack, my media mogul neighbor, was like three little boys cavorting, while building snow forts. As soon as the sun was up, we were at it. It was simple and clean (though a bit noisy, and perhaps not as clean as I would like with our gas powered engines.). . .  the end of the week got to me with business and an office that had a ceiling leak and now no heat, so things were not simpler on the first floor of Bakeless. So, it is early on Monday morning and we are into February already. I want to try to finish this before I leave for an almost insufferably long day. It is my normal Monday (and that is for most semesters). A three hour Monday night course makes for a long day, particularly when I am usually awake before 6:00 a.m..

We are already into the beginning of the third week of the semester, and it does not get simpler for either professors or students about this time. We are trying to get students to perk up and engage and many of them are still in holiday break mode, sometimes sort of sleepwalking through their first few classes, hoping against all hope that they will not miss anything. There are a couple of things that contribute to that in terms of schedule also. Since we do not begin classes until Tuesday, the MWF classes miss a class in the first week and the shortened week makes it easier for students, and sometime professors, to buy into the so-called “syllabus week.” My students are not so fortunate, but I have found that while I enjoy teaching the winter term, the finishing of that class, while simultaneously beginning the spring semester is a bit brutal. I think that is where the simple got lost in childhood. As small children, and even as what they now call middle school, we have a rather Pollyanna-ish understanding of time. We have so much time on our hands, there is little that demands attention, and there is always tomorrow. Procrastination is instilled because there is little consequence for waiting or taking things a day at a time. In fact, we are generally encouraged to not be in a rush. Don’t grow up too soon. Allow yourself to relax, you have the rest of your life to work. Now before you get to upset, believing I am all about child labor, that is not what I am espousing. Where is the happy medium for teaching the value of time and still allowing someone to be their age? I think it probably varies from person to person (of course, says the man who has never had children).  I have noted at other times in my blog that my favorite and happiest times when I was a child were at my grandmother’s home. Perhaps it was because she made things simple . . .  not unrealistic, however. She was up early every morning to get ready to go to the bakery. Even when we stayed with her, she made us breakfast, which is today still my comfort food (two soft poached eggs, a piece of toast, and a half of grapefruit), and we were out of the little house on Harrison Street before the sun was up. She would stop at two grocery stores on the way to the bakery in the morning, both to front things (straighten her sections where the bakery items were sold), and to take inventory for that day’s anticipated orders. In addition, we would be at the bakery until almost 6:00 p.m. at night as she would sit at her office desk and work on the business aspect of being a bakery owner. We seldom got home before dark and the reverse of the morning would happen on the way home. We would, again, stop at the same two grocery stores to manage her inventory. As I grew, got my drivers license, and did delivery for her, I would do much of this on my own. So really, there was nothing simple about owning your own business, but her cheerful attitude and the inexhaustible storehouse of love she had and exhibited for my sister and me sure made it seem simple.

What amazes me as I write this is the profound change I have witnessed in my life. That is not unique to my generation and what has happened to the generations before me. Certainly the industrial revolution had 20th century consequences that were beyond the imagination, but as we continue with the technological revolution, which I believe we are still merely beginning to understand (e.g. AI or VR), I cannot even fathom what my students will experience in their lifetimes. About two weeks ago, the mother of my sandbox buddy, as we have often called other, lost her mother. She was 103 years old. That is an amazing age. She was born in the middle of WWI. She graduated from high school in the middle of the Great Depression. She has daughters who are now retired themselves. In the century of her life, she witnessed incredible change. However, did all we have done and created to make our lives more convenient make them simpler? I am not so sure it has. We certainly have gadgets to make our lives more convenient. I can tell my phone to turn lights off and on and even set them to a certain percentage of brightness. I have someone ring my door bell and tell who they are because I can see their picture. I can connect my computer to my other computer and my phone or my television. I can turn on speakers in my house to manage sound and music that comes from my phone or computer . . . and the list goes on. No, I have not gotten an automatic vacuum cleaner or a robotic maid (yet), but one never knows. The fact that I have only recently finally updated my phone was surprising to some and even though I call my residence the technologically savvy farmhouse, I still enjoy being away from it all at times. Those who know me are painfully aware that sometimes I leave my technology at home or in the office or in the car. Those who know me are sometime excruciatingly exasperated when I fail to get back to them in a timely manner because we are to be connected 24/7. Then there are other times when I am grading and commenting at 3:00 a.m. So is it all simpler. I think the jury is still out, but it is not looking good. We certainly have more access than ever. We can find out most anything by our handheld futuristic Alexander Bell devices. We are more connected to the world in which we live than my friend’s mother could have ever anticipated as a girl. Simultaneously, we are more isolated. Instead of speaking with someone in an interpersonal manner, we will text them. Instead of calling someone to come over, we will snap them or FB them, or Instagram them.

This past week I had a student come to me noting that they were surprised to be on academic probation. They had a difficult first semester to put it rather mildly. When I asked about their situation at some point I asked, do you have friends here? They answered, “No, I have no friends: I am alone.” I do not think they were being hyperbolic and that answer cut me to the core. No wonder they are struggling to do well if they are completely alone in the middle of 10,000 other people. No wonder they cannot succeed academically if they go back to their room and shut the door and stay in their room overwhelmed and all alone. There is much more I could say, but I need to be careful to not reveal too much, but this student is not unique. What have we created societally in causing students to believe the only way to succeed is to excel in college, and only if you are willing to spend 100K on something that guarantees nothing can you find happiness and success. That is ridiculous, but we have surely drank that Kool-Aid. And I say this as the college professor. That does not make life simpler. So, what are the answers to a simpler life? I think it is not simple, but I know that the time in my life that was most simple was when I knew I was loved and that someone had my back no matter what. Now, six decades later, I do not think the answer is much different. Perhaps I wish I realized that so much earlier. With that, I leave you this song. Those of you who know me well, know I have a sort of melancholy side to me, in spite of my general optimism. I leave you with this, one of my favorite songs.

As always, thank you for reading,

Dr. Martin

Tomorrow, Tomorrow (Hopefully Less is More)

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Good early morning from the acre,

As has been the case since returning a bit over a week ago Thursday morning, my body is working to acclimate back to being on Eastern Standard Time. At this point, the latest I have been up is 9:00 p.m. as after that it seems neither my brain nor my eyes want to function with any degree of efficiency . . . . In fact, that lack of efficiency, and the onset of the semester, has had me busier than I can even find a metaphor to adequately describe. At least one that is not more than a cliché. So, as per usual, I will clear my head of competing thoughts so I can get to work on the pressing matters at hand. The weekend needs to be one of incredible productivity.

There are three things that rise to the front of my thought processes in our ridiculously divided world at the moment. While they might seem random, unrelated, and disparate, they are not. The first is the number 29. This morning as I woke early -yes – around 5:00 a.m., I read with sadness that Fatima Ali had lost her battle with Ewing Sarcoma. If you are unaware of her story, look it up. She was a world quality chef who competed on the series Top Chef, and after learning her diagnosis, remission, and reoccurrence of this devastating terminal form of cancer used her voice and social media to document her final battle. In many ways she was at the top of her game when she was diagnosed with this virulent form of cancer. Making it the point of even competing on Top Chef is a testament to the long hours, unparalleled dedication, and passion with which a person tends to an art that many of us could only dream of attempting. While she did not win (I think was 7th out of 15). She was awarded the fan favorite of the year’s competition. Her indefatigable spirit and the joy she exhibited won her an innumerable number of admirers, both professionally and on a more personal level. There are always the questions of fairness regarding such struggle and ultimately the loss of the battle to remain alive. Cancer at any age is unfair, if there is even such an option in life, but when it happens to one of my former students who is in her 20s, it seems so impossibly brutal. My father was diagnosed at 82, and from diagnosis to passing it was a total of 32 days. There was barely enough time to prepare, but I have often thought perhaps that was better. I remember going home to see him after he received this news. It was both sad and a bit comical. He was in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s, though I have learned since, there is so much more, but regardless. When I got home to see him, he asked why I was there. When I told him he was sick, his response was, but I will be okay. I told him that this time that was probably not the case. A day or so later when speaking with his primary care physician, he noted that he was told he had cancer, and he could remember that it was in his liver and in his kidneys, but he could not remember the third place (it was his pancreas). He sort of stared at the ceiling, however, and then looked squarely at his doctor, telling her that was the one that was going to send him down the road. He was so matter of fact about it that it made us all speechless. Somewhere in that deteriorating brain of his, he had figured it all out. Cancer, while much more manageable than it once was, is simply a brutal sentence.

The second 29 that seems to matter at the present moment, at least for me, is the Freshman United States Representative from the Bronx, who already has her own moniker AOC. Representative Ocasio-Cortez has certainly created a stir, from her unlikely win in a primary election against a well-established and high ranking Democrat to all she has had to manage since being elected to the House in November. She has been scrutinized perhaps as much as the President himself. As I noted in my rhetoric class notes for the week, there is more similar about them than perhaps meets the eye at first glance. They are both outsiders who won unexpectedly; they are both from NYC. They are both willing to use social media to promote their message. They both are strongly opinionated about the direction they believe the country should go, and those opinions are based on their differences: gender, social-economic background, ethnicity, and I believe they have very different ethical or moral compasses. One of the things I believe AOC has demonstrated is quite a bit of grace and moxie under scrutiny. Certainly, there have been some gaffs, but I think she has purported herself extremely well considering. It is a bit of a stretch from bartending to make ends meet to ending up in Washington, DC as the youngest person elected to the House. And regardless of whether I agree with everything she says or the stance she takes, I do believe she is thoughtful and considered in what she says and why. More so, I believe she is a strong example of what it means to actually represent your district. That is what, at least presently, I admire about this young woman.

The second issue is the shutdown and what has happened in terms of the consequence for 800,00 people,  but that is only the tip of the iceberg. I noted in one of my last blogs that a former student, friend, and fellow-caregiver for Lydia had been working with no pay as a member of the United States Coast Guard. I am sure his view of the shutdown, the reason behind it, and the reality of what it did is quite different than mine, as he is significantly more right-wing than I am liberal, but nonetheless I respect what he believes and why he believes it. For me, the fact that we have gone 35 days with the partial government shutdown and we are basically where I noted we should be in a previous blog somewhat stuns me. I am not a politician. I am not a wealthy one-percenter. While I am certainly blessed, I also work hard and put in many more than 40 hours a week. I am fortunate enough to go to a job I love every day and I am paid quite reasonably for what I do. What astounded me most this past week was the unparalleled cluelessness of the administrations Secretary of Commerce, who had the audacity to assert that furloughed workers should just take out loans, but the Federal Credit Union, which falls under his purview is charging 9% interest on those loans. He addition, he claimed he could not understand why federal workers, who had been out of work for 32 days that the time of his comment, would need to use food banks. This is a person worth 700 million dollars. Well NO SHIT! that he would not understand. What an arrogant ass!! It should be noted that inflation is at 1.9 % so a 9.0% loan rate is pretty outrageous. Then Eric Trump’s wife, Lara, intelligently responded to the shutdown with the following auspicious remark, “It is a little bit of pain but its going to be for the future of the country. And their children and their grandchildren and generations after them will thank them for their sacrifice right now” (Huffington Post 1/23/19). This is beyond stunning. Again, it explains more about the President and his family and how out of touch they are with the average American. Many of the very people who voted for him were those most likely to be hurt by this extended train wreck. What concerns me about this is the conservative base of the Republican Party took the President to task over this and too often he seems to worry about that base support than any rational action that might be the best way forward. Before you think I am against border security and working to make sure that we admit legal people, I am not against such a proposition, but again, the idea of a wall or barrier, or steel girders or whatever you choose to call it is not the be-all, end-all. Certainly reinforcing or repairing what is there seems logical. Building where there is nothing merely for the sake of saying you built something is beyond ludicrous. It seems much more logical to employ people and technology. Again, the figures seem to indicate that there are fewer people trying to get across, and if I think logically, the increased scrutiny on the border for a whole variety of reasons would seem to support why the numbers trying to enter are down substantially from their high point, during the GWB years. Just look at the figures. Second, allowing people in who want to work and contribute does not seem like a losing proposition to me, it seems like it would be precisely the opposite. Where all of this ends up is anybody’s guess, but hopefully both parties in Congress will get serious and actually try to hash something out that creates a reasonable way to manage the border, that creates a way to support immigration that is legal and helpful, and that works to manage the 100s of 1000s DACA individuals in moving toward citizenship. It is not amnesty. It is allowing those who know no other country a change to become contributing citizens of the place they have already been contributing to since birth. Taxes is not the only way to contribute. Money is not the only way to contribute. Using one’s God-given talents to help the other is not a waste of time or effort. It is time to embrace and create a system that rewards those who have spend their life here under any circumstance and allow them an opportunity that they have probably worked harder for than most of us realize.

The third issue is the reality of how what happens in Washington, DC affects our average daily life in so many more ways than we often consider. As I noted earlier, we are represented by the people we elect. This is why we call our democracy a representative democracy. We elect people to actually watch out for us and listen to our concerns and our hopes and dreams. We believe that somehow our vote matters and what we believe and support is what citizenship is all about. This past week, ironically on the day we remember a non-violent, but profoundly significant figure in our nation’s history, we saw an event take place that epitomizes the divisions that seem to more aptly illustrate our American fabric than many of us wish to admit. Before I note the event, let me offer than I think there is more to this complex day that either side seems willing to admit. Nevertheless, the viral video of a high school student wearing the dreaded MAGA hat and the Native American, who was chanting, demonstrated all too clearly that the media on both sides was ready to put out their own spin on something that had much more to it than the lack of spatiality between two distinct and seemingly unconnected individuals. I am quite sure that an 16 year old (I think that is what he is) has had his life turned upside down in ways he does not even understand at this point. I believe the elder Native American, who understandably has a boatload of reasons, finds himself in a situation he did not intend either. During the week, I have watched, read, and did my own research into the background of Covington Catholic High School. For the students who go there and were not at the event in Washington, I am sure they are mortified by all the attention this event has created. I am sure graduates are not as apt to want to say they graduated from this place. I should note with some of the things I have read, I would not want to be associated with this place either. If you do a bit of your own research, you can come to your own conclusions. The irony of some of what I saw and have read and the fact they were marching in Washington, DC on MLK Day has not gone unnoticed by me. The fact that the students were wearing MAGA hats are an entirely separate and problematic issue for me. Additionally, the President’s statement, which seems rather Charlottesville-esque, was also, unfortunately characteristic.

So what does all of this have in common? It is indicative of the incredibly pain that seems to be in all directions of this country, but simultaneously, the sun rises, the moon sets, sometime in an incredible manner like the eclipse this week. In spite of the things we hear regularly about how screwed up it all seems to be, we need to take heart that there are still people who care. There are still people who want to make a difference. Why do I know and believe this? Because I see them every day. I work with them. From the secretaries to the maintenance people, from administrators to faculty, I see people who care in their daily lives and work to the best of their ability. That is the amazing reality of where I spend my days. From people who support every aspect of the place we call Bloomsburg University. I have spent most of my weekend working on my classes, but it has been a good weekend, a productive weekend. I am blessed to be able to get up in the morning and go back to work where I believe I somehow make a difference also. So, I will close with a thank you for all who remind me that not all is lost. There is so much more to what is good and positive if we take the time to notice. Here is my thought and video for this post. Heart is certainly one of my favorite bands, and I dream and believe that we can find a way to come together more thoughtfully and more completely. So I offer their song Dreams. I love the sort of Salvador Dali sort of vibe to it.

Thanks as always for reading,

Dr. Martin

 

Being Grateful is both Singular and Plural

Good morning as I move toward the end of another journey.

The past few days have been packed with activity, and I have been blessed to spend time with a friend Who hearkens back to when I had barely begun my time at Michigan Tech. I am sitting in the airport in Alicante, continuing my culinary love affair with local cuisine. It seems I find something gastronomically inspirational from each place I visit. Breakfast of eggs, potatoes, and Iberian Ham, with one more cappuccino fit the bill as I begin the two day journal that will return me to the Acre. It was a bit more expensive than Rome’s airport meal, but so much cheaper, and with so much more quality than my American airport experiences. As I have posted over the part three weeks, I have been so fortunate to be treated so kindly in every single place I have visited. However, being treated with kindness is not a surprising thing, in spite of the current tenor that seems present in many more places than the United States or Washington D.C. Trying to learn enough to greet someone in their native tongue, to say a simple please and thank you in their language is neither difficult or overwhelming. In fact, I will assert it is simple common courtesy, or should be. It is what we were taught (hopefully) soon after we learned to speak at all. While gaining access to the other’s language at one point took some effort, it is so easy today with apps and your phone, to not do so is incredibly lazy, and, at least in my opinion, insufferably rude. Each place I visit, I take the time to read about their history and their customs before arriving. Again access to such information is only a swipe or so away. It’s not rocket science, and it demonstrates some sense of appreciation for the welcome and the kindness you are bound to receive. Seriously, I have been treated with incredible kindness and with a willingness to assist me if needed. I think there are times I surprise people because I greet them upon arrival in their language and I try hard to listen to understand as much as possible. I have been asked twice in the last 24 hours if I was Spanish, Polish, or American. When I hand them my American passport and say, dzień dobry; jak (pan/pani) się masz? (hello sir or ma’am, how are you?) the double-take is always amusing to me, My phenomenally kind host in Ascoli Piceno FB messaged me and noted that I was polite and kind. It is what my grandmother taught me as a small boy. One was to use their manners always, no exceptions. In fact, the one thing that might have caused me to see her angry was if I had been dishonest or had been rude to someone. As a small boy, the one thing I was forbidden to say was to tell another person to “shut up.” While I was not aware of the infamous F-word yet, telling someone to shut up was probably as egregious to my grandmother.

This really does get me to the crux of this posting. Gratitude is to me a sense of profound thankfulness. It is understanding that the kindness you receive is not owed, but rather freely given. Gratitude is something I believe each of us possesses and it is a gift, a gift which we are tasked, if you will, to provide to/for another. It is not by accident that I start with the idea of giving someone this gift rather than being the recipient of someone’s gift of gratitude. When we choose to be grateful and display that feeling of gratitude to another, what we say indirectly is that we have been blessed by that person. It creates an interaction that can serve to uplift each person. There is also another important thing here. If it is something given, for gratitude to work as a gift, there is always the other. Like any gift unless given and received, the giftedness does not happen. What astounds me is how difficult it appears expressing gratitude has become. I hear the word entitlement thrown around like the blinking line in that initial game of pong, but most often it is aimed at those who fall into my students’ demographic. Yet one must ask from where did they learn this? Furthermore, I have some incredibly hardworking students who demonstrate graciousness on a regular basis. From where one learns this sense of always being the customer or that they are always right comes from example. We are not born with a sense of greed or entitlement; we are not born with a sense of privilege; in fact, our habits and our attitudes, each and everyone of them are learned. I could go into the social-psychology of all of it, but suffice it to say, we have created our own problems when it comes to how we treat, act toward, or encounter the other. Our seeming lack of decorum, civility, and complete inability to act in a gracious way has been learned by those around us.

Our sense of privilege or the argument that has been posited, and rather summarily rejected this past few days, that Western Civilization (as well as some other terms) is the only valuable, or most valuable, in history or the correct one is certainly one of the more egregious examples of this sort of behavior. For some time I have found the actions of the United States Representative from Iowa’s fourth Congressional District appalling. My justification for my attitude was not only the incredible insensitivity and intransigence of his speech, but the fact that he was from the state in which I was raised, and I was not raised in any way that could find his statements palatable. I remember raising my concern in the past. While I have not been particularly ardent in my support of most anything Republican, I am impressed that the Minority leader in the House and the Republicans stripped him of his committee assignments and there is move afoot to censure if not move toward his expulsion from the Congress. That is a significant move, and while it still causes me some personal embarrassment for my home state, I will be more impressed if he is sent packing. Again, gratitude and goodness is not only a Western thing; gratitude and goodness is not only a Christian thing; gratitude and goodness is not a male or female thing; and it is certainly not an American thing. It is a human thing. More importantly, it is the correct thing.

Today as I was sitting in the Schippol airport in Amsterdam on two separate occasions, a stranger reminded me of something or realized something I had not. In the first case, I would have left my credit card. He caught me before I have even moved and I thanked him profusely. In the second case 20 € had fallen out of my pocket and a person behind me realized my loss and let me know. In both cases, neither person was American, they were simply doing the gracious thing and in both cases I told them thank you more than once. They smiled and told me they were glad to help me. I could tell from accents that one was probably Dutch and the other perhaps Spanish. As I noted in both a FB posting and in a previous blog, each place I spent any significant time during this journey, I was provided the most wonderful support by persons I had met earlier in my life, some as long as two decades ago, some within the last four years. Yet, again in each place I was introduced to still more people who blessed me with their kindnesses day in and day out. This trip I was both on my own, but never really alone long. In fact, today was the day I have been most on my own. As I write this, we about to land in Kraków. It is after 10:00 at night and I have one last ride to my hotel. We have just been informed it is 0 C and snowing, so it is the January Kraków I know and love. Indeed, it looks much more like winter than when I left only about two weeks ago. My Uber chauffeur said it had snowed quite a bit the last two days and it was supposed to snow for a couple more. However, by the time I got to Warsaw, the snow was gone. Perhaps one of the things I have found l perhaps less appealing about travel is the actual flying. I remember when, once upon a time (and it certainly feels fairytale like) that getting on a plane was exciting and rather sophisticated. Those days are gone for sure. I think the change post-911 has a great deal to do with that. In addition, navigating lines, smaller seating with more people and quicker turn around times all seem to raise the stress of this formerly exciting adventure. Today I am on a truly international flight as the plane is AirItaly, but the flight is managed by Polish Lot. We are on an Airbus 330 and it is an incredibly full flight. As I write now we are about 6 hours into a 9 hour flight. Perhaps 45 minutes off the coast of Newfoundland. I think I have been aboard a flight of the most restless individuals ever. The man behind me, who is a towering presence, and whose son must me next to me has spent more time standing in the aisle with his hand on the back of my seat than sitting. When I got up to go to the bathroom, it was impossible to get by him and he stood there and is so mammoth, he really could not move out of the way. He could have sat back down, but that did not seem to occur to him. On the way back to the bathroom, I encountered the same issue twice and when I returned to my seat, I waited in the central emergency door area waiting for the same man to move away from my seat. Twenty minutes later I finally returned and had to softly say, Proszę, paproszzm. Seems what I wrote a few hours ago has come back in spades to quote the saying. I think it must be exponentially more difficult to serve as a flight attendant when there is so much expected. To be continually gracious when the majority of those encountered are not takes some terrific discipline. Again they provide a gift of grace and gratitude as they often attend some who are less than graceful and absolutely less than gracious.

It is still about 6 hours or so before I will make it home. It is usually the case that I am up about 24 hours on these westbound trans-Atlantic hops. I remember two years ago being pulled over by Pennsylvania State Patrol because I wandered across a lane marker at 1:00 a.m on an early Saturday morning. Both Dr. P and a student were with me. I was 2 1/2 miles from my I-80 exit. Fortunately, I think this is where age assisted me. I told the trooper that I have begun the day in Poland and was a bit tired. I noted I had crossed the line. He took my information and when he returned he noted my insurance card had expired the week before. He was certainly gracious and issued no tickets. I was polite and thanked him for his kindness. Tickets, troopers, and traffic stops are definitely a time to use your best manners. I can say with the no milking of doubt that I have never gotten rude when being pulled over. It does not happen often and even less often as I have aged, but being gracious has saved me dollars and points in my license. In fact, twice in the State of Kansas, it probably kept me out of jail. Seriously!! Amazing how fast 280ZX could travel on flat open highway at 3:30 a.m.. I have made it home and it is about 1:00a.m. and contrary to the immediately prior sentence, there was no reason to pull me over. I am a bit more judicious about my driving at this point in time. In the spirit of transparency, there was a time I did end up in jail because of a traffic issue and even then I was told as I was released that I might have been the most polite temporary inmate they ever had. Even later when I dealt with the fallout of that transgression, I was honest about the circumstance, and polite, and the city attorney responded that he was sorry he even had to charge me. He was incredibly understanding and allowed me to postpone the reduced fine and sentence for 6 months in order to manage other issues I needed to manage.

The point of this post is simple, but, in light of our present national atmosphere, also of utmost urgency. What will it take to become a country, where currently anger, vitriol, and figure pointing are the order of the day, to return to a place where manners are commonplace, that even spirited discussion can create a common goal, or we choose to look for goodness rather than discord is the norm rather than the exception. It is something we are taught early on to be polite, to listen first, to question, but do so respectfully. What happened? I think the answer is complex and multi-faceted, but I also believe it begins at home. Teaching tolerance and acceptance, modeling love and gratitude, demonstrating charity and generosity are a beginning; then expecting that it be practiced (and that means required) regularly would go miles in reorienting our present national direction. I believe in freedom of speech and the right to assemble, but when what comes from such speech or assembly is ranting and unrest, it only exacerbates the problem. Too often mob mentality becomes the rule, but it goes back to this idea that gratefulness is a gift to be given. Anything we have has been given; yes, you have worked for much, but someone offered you the opportunity to work, regardless your station. You have perhaps saved and gone without, but someone helped you along the way. None of us gets where they are (if you have moved forward) alone. Somewhere someone helped you. Someone was gracious and gifted you. If we might all begin to gift back, what could we accomplish? Who might we collectively become? Not the usual sort of musical offering, but there is much more to Marley than some think.

Thanks for reading as always,

Dr. Martin