Who am I? Imagining Identity

Hello from my office at school,

It is strange to be in my office at the university for hours on end and see almost no one, and yet, that is our lives in this fall of 2020. If we had our pre-Covid world yet, I would be arriving in Poland this week to begin a fall semester teaching technical writing at Jagiellonian University. However, that is on hold for the year (I certainly hope we have some sense of global travel by next fall); as with most, I have no idea where we will be in a year. Even if there is a vaccine, and I am sure to be one who might be listed as needing it as an early receiver, I have concerns, particularly if the administration is trying to rush something through. Being a guinea pig for something that has not been properly vetted is more than disconcerting. However, that is not the point of this blog post, so before I digress too far . . .

Because I was not supposed to be teaching here this fall, I had no classes scheduled, and as noted in a recent blog, that was the case until about two weeks before the semester began. However, I did have some sense of where they would go with my assignments, so I began to reconsider, reimagine, and revise my Foundations of College Writing course (this is what many called Freshman Composition when we were in college, though it is significantly different than it was when I was at Dana). The complexity of composing in multiple modes and managing the citation of those options is a different animal then it was for us. An example of that complexity is evidenced by the 7th Edition of the APA Style Manual. It is over 400 pages in length. Citation in different styles is, in part, what is covered in in our Foundations course. That is not to say they have to know the various citation styles from memory, but they do need to know when, why, and how to cite. In addition, they need to be able to compose considering audience whether it is in a blog, a video, using images, a typical essay, or whatever you might imagine requires design and language. That is the foundational part of the course. Then there is something that must hold the course together in terms of theme. This is where I did some significant rethinking. In light of this crazy world, I decided to focus on the idea of identity. Certainly for most freshmen, their senior year and graduation was not what they expected. Their freshman year of college is not what they expected; and there is little in our present world situation that we can called expected (though I could argue that one on a number of levels).

While I won’t give you a rundown of the syllabus, what I have done is ask them to imagine if their parents would have given them a letter that was written when their parents were 18, generally their age now. What would they hope to find in that letter? What sort of questions that they have wondered about most of their lives might be answered there? Then I have asked to them write a sort of memoir explaining to their future 18 year olds who they understand themselves to be at this point as well as to try to describe their world, their dreams, and the way they see themselves at this point in time. And yet, I threw a twist into their writing. They have to do this “letter,” this memoir by creating their own Google Map. Through 15-18 pins and images on a map, using people, places, and events, they are trying to explain who they are, why they are that person, and what their hopes or dreams are in the world as they see it today. They have to cite their images as well as cite any interviews, phone conversations, or emails they might have received while trying to figure this out. Their final drafts and packets of peer reviews and citations are due later today. I have taken a number of phone calls and I did have them write a working introduction, which I have commented on for each of the 68 students I have. It will be interesting to see what they do as a final draft of their maps and what they feel from the assignment. To help them, I have created my own map, which I have titled “Auguries of Loneliness.” This is a title that I borrowed from Dr. John W. Nielsen. It was the title of our Winter Interim Class to Europe in 1980-81. We had read books by Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Mann, and I have commented on the importance of that interim more than once in past blog posts. One of the things I did not realize then was how accurate that title would be as a descriptor of my life the the age of 65. My map is a bit longer than 15-18 pins, and it is still a work in progress, but this is it for the moment (https://www.google.com/maps/@33.3433578,137.9074579,3z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m2!6m1!1s1fN2b6HFH94KfALyW-3fzXN-ic-I?hl=en). I have not completed the last three pins listed and I have a few more I am considering adding. Certainly at the moment, it does not have a conclusion, but it will happen. What I have realized in the creating of my own map is how it has required me to understand not only who I am, but how it happened. There is certainly more I could include, but it is a visual sort of interactive autobiography at the moment, one that contains what I believe are important highlights of those three categories that help me come to terms with what three score plus 5 years has accomplished. The most important thing I believe my map offers, both for my nephews, nieces, great-nephews, great nieces, is a sense of insight into a person they have not been around much in their or my adult years. As importantly, it has helped me reminisce about how various things (be they people, places or events) that have been instrumental in helping me become the person I finally believe I can be proud of. That is not to be arrogant; in fact, it is exactly the opposite. In spite of perhaps appearing that I had things together pretty well, most of my life I have struggled coming to terms with, or accepting my shortcomings. Again, I know why that is generally, but it has been hard work to get to a place where I became comfortable with my weaknesses, if I can refer to them as such. When I was leaving my position at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, my colleague and mentor, Dr. Daniel Riordan, who shepherded me through an incredibly painful and tenuous last year in Menomonie, asked me to tell him the most important thing I had learned in my six years there. And I told him, as I have recounted in other blogs, to be comfortable with my weaknesses. What I finally realized as I was leaving there was I did not have to be perfect at everything. I know it is not logical to believe you could be such, but emotionally that was what I had tried to do. It was how I had tried to make myself worthy of being in a home I was told I did not belong in. It was how I tried to prove wrong the comment that I would never amount to anything; it was how I tried to prove to myself that I was more than worthless. Stunning how those comments stay with us regardless what we logically know to be bullshit. Simply that is what all those comments were. They were wrong, illogical, and ludicrous, but they controlled my life for almost a half a century.

Today, I know the things that still vex me, but I also know that I have been blessed and supported by so many on my journey to where I am currently. I wish yet, there were things I might have been more successful in accomplishing. I am not sure I will ever believe I did my best work, but I have learned to say (and believe) that I did my best work in the circumstances that were within that moment. I often tell students a test is a measurement of what you were capable of on a specific day at a particular time. Learn from it and go on. If they know they did not spend enough time preparing, then that is on them do be more prepared the next time. If they got caught by surprise, while it is easy to blame the teacher or professor, that is probably not the best plan. If they are in over their head, then they need to figure out what they need to do differently to get their head above the surface. It is no different in life after college. There is no recipe card to fix anything. It takes a lot more than a recipe. It takes thinking, analyzing, and ultimately it takes being brutally honest with yourself when you look in the mirror. That is accountability. Another thing it requires is understanding who you are. That is a frightening thing to come to terms with, at least initially. At various points in my life, there were some concerted efforts to do that, but I was not consistent over the long haul. I think of my summer in Clinical Pastoral Education while working as a chaplain at a hospital. That Family of Origin stuff kicked me in the butt, but it was the first step in helping me to get here today. There was counseling when I was a parish pastor after my mother passed away. Then there was counseling when I was in graduate school, and I did that for almost 6 years. Each one of those steps was helpful and simultaneously painful, but it was necessary help and pain. Not always pleasant, that is for damn sure. As I am looking at my students’ maps, some of them have taken some incredible risk in laying out some of what they have, and I commend them for doing so. Reflection, introspection, honest assessment is always risky. It makes one vulnerable, but it is also necessary if you are going to come to terms with your strengths and weaknesses. What I know now is my greatest strengths become my most glaring weaknesses when I take them too far. I think it is the same for most of us. As I look back, there are those people in my life who have been there in my most vulnerable times, but they supported or cared for me. That care was instrumental in getting me were I am today. I think when I was growing up it was my grandmother and her elder sister. I have mentioned them many times. When I was in or through high school and beyond or after my time in the Marine Corps, it was the Sopoci family, the Reese family, the Peters family, my sister-in-law, or my actual cousins, the Wiggs family. When I made it back to college, in seminary, and even into graduate school, most generally it was my professors. I could create a longer list, but the point is not the names, or the lists, but rather the reality that I have had so much support along the way.

To become the person you are is not once and done. It is a dynamic and ever evolving thing. There are highs and lows; there are times of confusion and clarity. Who am I? At this point at person blessed to experience incredible people and places; a person who has a job he loves and works hard to do as well as he can. A person who still wonders what is left and is not satisfied to merely be standing waiting for the next wave to wash over him, but rather one who will dog paddle his way through it. I am not a great swimmer (and that is true), but I am a person who can keep his head above the surface. I hope as you read my map you will be able to see some of the things that have made me who I am. More importantly, I hope you might find it worth trying to do something similar. It is worth the time and effort. I think about a song that I find particularly telling for me. As my students are still working on their identities through this class, again I turn to Glee and a song that means a great deal to me on a number of levels. Peter, this is for you. I still miss you so much. I miss being able to call and share thoughts with you. Much as the Glee cast has also felt that loss too many times. There are times we can only keep on believing’, there are times we need to let it be.

Thank you as always for reading.

Michael (aka: Dr. Martin)

Nationalism is not Patriotism

Hello on an extremely warm first Monday of summer.

As you can see from the intro, I began this blog almost three months ago and it was extremely warm and dry summer. The need for rain here in north central Pennsylvania is still real. The summer was abnormal because we are still trying to figure out how we will manage COVID, whether that be as a nation, a global community, or in the other direction, as a state, a local community, or even as an individual. The summer kept me busy as I worked to rethink my first year writing class, and then refocus my views on both my own publication work as well as my teaching here rather than in Poland. However, there have been moments where I needed to step back, attempting to digest what seems to be a daily SNAFU in our national persona and what we are doing as well as who we are. . . . It is now the last day of summer. Recently, I had a birthday that pushed me into senior citizen status, and last night it got down to 32 degrees. I have sat on this blog posting for some time, trying to understand what this means to me. As is typical, I did some thinking, some researching, and some soul searching. What is nationalism? What is patriotism? First, too often we use the terms interchangeably. While I understand how that might happen, it is a mistake because they are not synonymous. Related? Yes, Second, when we conflate them, I believe it goes beyond being a mistake; it is dangerous. The well-known author, George Orwell, who knows a bit about dystopia, wrote, “Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism” (Notes on Nationalism, 1945). It is significant to see the year Orwell wrote this essay. It was written at the end of WWII, the nationalism of Germany had accomplished two things. It had plunged the world in a war that destroyed much of Europe and would lead to a Cold War. Second, it tried to justify the extermination of an entire group of people and made a substantial effort in making it happen, succeeding in the murder of six million people. The abhorrence of the shoah is beyond words. The fact that a recent article noted that 2/3 of the young people in this country are unaware of that fact is frightening. Frightening to the degree that the very writing of the sentence sends chills across my entire body.

However, before you think I see nationalism as a completely pejorative term, I do not. In the days following the attacks on September 11th, the nationalism, which I believe was blended with patriotism, was perhaps appropriate. That nationalism united us a people because of the attack from another entity. It focused us as a country, and it, in this case, united us against that other entity. There are times nationalism has a positive consequence. The struggle is to know when and how to implement it. That is complex and depending on from both where and whom that implementation comes, the complexity grows exponentially. While many Americans saw the Arab Spring as a positive event, it was (and is) also an example of nationalism; certainly a number of national entities rose up, but not as a contrast to patriotism, but rather as a reaction against a religious or phylogenetic identity. This struggle of (and against) religious law was because the implementation of that law affected the economics, the gender treatment, and everything about those countries, even down to the technological infrastructure of many of the countries involved in that event. So there can be positive consequences of a nationalistic fervor. However, it should not be confused with patriotism.

Nationalism focuses on the state while Patriotism focuses on the people (Shetty, 03Jul2016). John Dwyer, a historian at Duquesne University, wrote, “The patriot says, ‘I love my country,’ works for its good, and defends it if necessary–against enemies within and without. He strives and prays not primarily that God will bless his country, but that his country will bless God. The nationalist, meanwhile, says, ‘My country is better than yours.’ ‘My country is the greatest there has ever been.’ ‘The greatest nation on God’s green earth.’ ‘They hate my country because it is so good'” (qtd. Walsh, 01 Dec 2016). There is an incredible body of scholarship available from people across the philosophic spectrum, but there seems to be much more agreement than disagreement about the nature of these two important terms. As one of my college classmates will undoubtedly note, you can find the opinions on the other side. Indeed, there are some, but by far, it seems that most will argue that making them synonymous is misguided at best, and flat out destructive at worst.

One reality of the nationalistic fervor that has swept the world now is its very cause: that cause is the global transformation that has enveloped our work. Nationalism is a response to that globalism, which is now a fundamental basis in our present world. Through economic interdependence and our interconnectivity through technology, we are both aware and responsible for each other. While some will argue against that, it is an argument of futility. If we are affected by the other, we have some responsibility for the other. It is that responsibility that requires patriotism, but simultaneously our fragility that pushes many toward nationalism. It is not unique to the United States; it is happening in Brazil, Hungary, or Poland, but is also apparent in countries that might seem more immune because of their social democracy, countries like Sweden or Denmark. In almost every case, it is an inward-focus, it posits an argument that sees the other as the enemy to a greater or lesser degree. It is the pulling out of global alliances, believing we can somehow go it on our own. Much like the current changes in the area of higher education and remote teaching, once that practice is out of the box, it is not going back in. On the other side of this current pandemic that has turned daily pedagogy and delivery upside down, teaching in the academy as we knew it, is gone. What does that mean? The jury is still out, but many who said their teaching, that. course, cannot be done remotely have lost that argument. Certainly, there are more obstacles to manage, more intricacies not anticipated, but the change is real. Technology is the difference; it is also the common thread in both of these situations. Technology controls our communication, either individually or corporately; it is integral to our banking and commerce; and as we have been made aware, both profoundly and painfully, it can be used to support or divide us.

In just this past week, I have used technology to communicate with former students or friends in Spain, Russia, Poland, Ukraine, or Ireland. Some of that was with simple text, some with video allowing me the chance to see them where they are. I am old enough to remember long-distance phone calls and the cost of that. I am old enough to remember party lines in rural areas when using the telephone. The ability to communicate, interact, and be connected globally was unimaginable to me growing up. I remember the second time I traveled to Europe (1985) and was in East Germany. I met a seminary student named Thomas. He was about my age and had a family. He was delightful. I remember asking if we could stay in contact and how his answer shocked me. He said, “Michael, you can write to me, but I will not be able to write to you.” I remember when the Wall fell in 1989 and I received a letter from him. I was overjoyed, but there was one line in his correspondence that stunned me. He said, “We will have to learn what freedom means.” I think back to our journey as seminarians through the land of Luther. The title of that course was titled “The Church East and West.” During our three week course, the great majority of our time was spend behind that Iron Curtain. We were allowed to travel, but with a strict itinerary and on the roads we were directed to follow. We were allowed to eat, but in the restaurants we were told to go to. We listened to lectures, but those lectures contained information that was dictated by the state. I remember the most interesting lecture about Luther as the first socialist. I remember being told what money I could spend (as in type of currency) and where I could spend it. What was most astounding to me was how quickly I adapted to, accepted, the restrictions. What was more incredible to me was I did not realize that change until after we were back in the West. I had lived to some degree the stark consequence of nationalism, a requirement to look inward without realizing it was happening. The lack of freedom to communicate, read, or even be allowed to see what might be on the other side was simply accepted, and I was thirty-one. I was a veteran.

I have considered having a bumper sticker or a yard sign created that uses these three terms: Liberal, Christian, Patriotic and see what might happen. I think it would melt some hard drives or motherboards in a few people’s brains (if I want to push that technology metaphor a bit further). Patriotism is not afraid of that which we cannot understand, but I believe works to understand it. Patriotism is a beacon that offers light to those yearning to see. It is the thing that can provide hope to the other. It is the thing that embraces the other culture and allows it to still exist along side. Too often in our past, as we have opened our lands to the other, it seems we ask them to denounce their heritage, their ethnicity. I believe we need to allow their heritage to co-exist. That is not to say we are asking them to be less of an American citizen, but rather to help them see that their diversity adds to our strength as a country. It pains me as an American, and a veteran to see the divisive nature of our conversations in this time. I believe it is contrary to the very principles upon which the country was created. I also realize the idealism in that statement. I believe much of the civil unrest that is currently part of our daily experience is because the ideal and the reality too often are not the experience of many who were also born here. It is our responsibility to change that. It is our duty to practice the principles of our constitution to their fullest extent, not merely holding them up as some photo op.

The consequence, which is too often deemed pejorative, the positive result of patriotism is the strengthening of our country and can make us a country that restores the hope and promise of freedom, and can move us away from some misguided righteous indignation, a divisive politic which pushes us toward a fear that characterized the 1930s in Europe. Marginalization of the other and moving toward an isolationist policy that argues greatness will do little to reestablish our place in the world. Instead it pits us against each other, using fear as a cudgel and arguing we are victims of an unfair world. This is exactly what happened in Germany post 1933. Both President Trump and former Vice President Biden note we are at a crossroads. It is the one place I believe they are both correct. It is the argument about whether we are a nationalistic country or a patriotic country. I have used this video before, but I find it to be an inspiring and thoughtful piece that helps remind me of how others might see and support us. I was supposed to go to Ireland in August to see this group. This particular video is from a decade ago, but it seems apropos for us now.

Thank you as always for reading,

Dr. Martin

Just What Did I Learn?

Hello from my study on the acre.

Over the past week there have been ongoing conversations (messages, timeline postings, PM, texts) between some of my classmates, and particularly classmates from when I was a student at Dana College, a small Lutheran liberal arts college. It was a college for 125 years (and also a seminary at one point), but the cost of higher education, the managing of a small college in the times of enrollment struggles, and a variety of other things resulted in its closure ten years ago. What is still important for those who claim Dana as an undergraduate alma mater seems to be two things: the affinity we have for the college and for each other, and our still growing understanding about the incredible education we received as students there.

First, while I do not post my age here, in the spirit of transparency, I will be 65 this week. It is one of those birthdays that create all sorts of considerations, emotions, and simply a response of “how the hell did I get here?”It is one of those ages where we need to do some things. I have an appointment (teleconference) with someone from our local Social Security office on the actual day of my birthday to apply for Medicare. Do I feel differently? Well . . . yes, and no. I have had 8 doctor’s appointments in the last few weeks, some significant and mildly concerning, others routine. Gastroenterologist, ENT doctors, balance clinic specialists, PCP, MRIs and technicians, Urgent Care . . . as I have noted more than once, growing old is not for sissies. Of course, I guess coming into the world at 17 ounces and 26 weeks in 1955 had to create some long-term possibilities or probabilities. Perhaps, the thing I feel most genuinely as I reach this milestone, a point where many say, “It is time to retire.” is I feel blessed. I remember asking my father how it felt to be retired (He was 69 when he retired)? He said in his typical, but rather matter-a-fact manner, “I am not really sure; I am so damn busy, I don’t know how I found time to go to work.” That response neither shocked nor sounded atypical for the journeyman electrician who worked 7/12s when I was in elementary school for almost three years.

Earlier this evening as I zoomed into the meeting with the Debate and Forensics team here at Bloomsburg, it was interesting to see the events they are working on for the upcoming tournament as well as the entire Collegiate Forensics Association (CFA) year. I am humbled by the way they work together for the good of each other, but how at the same time they are not afraid to push each other to improve and think outside the box. It is thinking about the world they live in and how they might offer insight through a variety of events through tournaments to communicate and learn from each other, from other colleges or universities, and how they might learn to be better citizens, questioning and debating the important issues of their time. It is something that requires thought, research, analysis, rhetorical strategy, and continual revision and reconsideration. I believe it is one of the things that will most prepare them for life. Some ask why I spent the time because I am not their faculty advisor, and as such, I receive no release time, no financial support, and no extra time in the day for the time I spend with them. I do it because it helps prepare them not only for their tournaments, but also for how to think, communicate, and change the world around them one event at a time. I know that sounds idealistic in some ways, but it is more about practicality that some might realize. One of the things I like most is helping students to even ponder a topic. That requires some careful thinking. It requires a sense of audience and purpose (hence, rhetorical). And perhaps most importantly, it requires students to step outside of their comfort zone and believe they can do something they have never considered doing. This is probably the most important thing I learned at Dana College.

When I arrived at Dana College the fall of 1979, I was six years out of high school. I was a Marine Corps veteran, and I had managed to flunk out of college already. I was just off a year long traveling stint with a Lutheran Youth Encounter (LYE) team, which was how I found Dana to begin with, and our team’s two visits to Blair exposed me to some incredible people and a beautiful space located on the bluffs of the Missouri River. We were welcomed as a team and made to feel as if our visit mattered and that was even more so the case in our return visit. I met people like Gary Beltz, Tom Kendall, Jim Borden, Kip Tyler, Barb (now) Boltinghouse, Merle Brockhoff, Mary Rowland. Each one of them were significant in affecting my decision to apply for admission. Then there was Richard (George, Rick) Schuler, who worked diligently with me, staying in contact with our itinerant travels as we meandered for 48,000 miles in nine months. When I got to the campus, I was nervous. I was a 24 year old freshman, which meant I was a bit of an anomaly from the get-go. I was already known because of my previous year visits, and then there were the stereotypes that many placed on pre-seminary students. I was no stellar high school student, and the academics of the classroom were beyond a distant memory. Yet, I would begin my fall courses and I would meet some incredible classmates through choir with Dr. Paul Neve and in my daily classes. My involvement with campus ministry teams offered yet another place to feel at home. I met people like Kim Nielsen, Shelly Peterson, Leanne Danahy, Monty Scheele, Tom Jacobson, Danette Johns as well as reacquainted with those previously noted. While I asked to have no roommate, somehow that did not happen and I was blessed to room with Peter Bonde, one of the best things that could have ever happened. Through him, I met people like Jules, his future wife, Barbara Kalal (now) Hawkins, Paulette Strecker, and the list could go on.

That first semester was a whirlwind, and I had classes that stimulated and amazed me. The lectures were engaging and the passion of my professors was something I had never experienced. Surprisingly (and I know that even more so now), my freshman composition professor was Richard Jorgensen. Yep!! He actually taught a semester of freshman composition. I think I forced him to use a least a pen or two marking my papers. Of course then there is the fact I would eventually major in history and I had him every single semester (now we are taking a complete package of red ink pens). I met other people in my classes, Kristi Swenson, Sarah Hansen, Bob Schmoll, Michael Keenan, Nettie Grorud, and Lori Neve to name a few. There was an upper level student named Sandra Barnum, whose father was the director of admissions, if I remember correctly. I thought she was one of the most beautiful and intriguing people I had ever met. Of course, I never told her that! Each of them helped me acclimate to being a student and I found I could actually excel. This was not anything I had every experienced. I ended my first semester with a GPA of around 7 (out of 9). It was not great, but it was much better than anything I had ever done. I had an incredible interim class on the Civil War with Dr. Jorgensen, and then it was into second semester. The second semester, I was excited to return; I wanted to know what was next in store. The class next in store for me was Humanities (HUM) 107 as well as a Latin Seminar. Quite simply: that class, that series, changed my life. It was the foundational learning experience upon which I believe everything I now do is based. That is a strong statement, but hear me out.

This semester, this remote learning semester, in this pandemic world, we all, regardless of age, are being asked to dig deep and consider who we are as well as what the world is we are existing, meandering, surviving in. For my freshmen students, their senior year did not end up as expected, their freshmen year is nothing like they hoped, and the world has been turned upside down. It is at times like these we need to understand who we are? What is our identity? It is upon that question I have focused their first year writing class. Understanding one’s self is a large and complex assignment and it is certainly not figured out in a 14 week Foundations of College Writing course, but it is worth starting there. That is what the Humanities sequence did for me. It allowed me to examine my world, but also to see what the present world (that late 1970s-early 1980s world) was about. More importantly, the program, created and supported by so many Dana faculty, provided us the tools to do more than merely glimpse at our Western Culture. We were immersed in what that culture meant to all the world, but also how all the world influenced our culture. Through units, lectures, study guides, events and access to an incredible set of mentors, we were allowed to think, analyze, and synthesize. We were not told what to think; we were taught how to think. That lesson, that gift, has never left me. Few knew how highly regarded the Humanities program at Dana was. It was one of the best programs in the country (I know this because I researched it when I was coming to Dana). It was one thing to know that upon arrival; it was another thing to experience and live it. Those three semesters, those required events, and the ability to study in Parnassus was where I learned how to learn. It is where I began to understand not only who I was, but what it meant to be a global citizen. Those things sound almost idealistic to a fault at this point; however, they are anything but.

As noted, some of my classmates have a pretty serious conversation occurring on my timeline. There is passion and some descension. In light of our current world, that is not surprising, but there is also listening and pondering, and that is more in the spirit of what we were offered at Dana U, as some of us fondly referred to it. When I was a student at Dana, it was a difficult time in terms of budgets, workloads, pay, and sabbaticals. I look at all of that much differently as a professor myself. Knowing all of those things from the other side, it is even more incredible how our professors worked through all of that with no appearance of anything wrong. I knew a bit because I was a 24 year old freshman, but I also knew the staggering number of hours our professors put in on our behalf. They never wavered in their commitment to the students. The same can be said for those in many of the administrative positions, those who made sure we had all the things necessary for living and thriving on campus. What I know at this point in my life is simple. We were provided living, breathing examples of what it meant to profess, to mentor, and to care about the students who attended their class. In spite of the ever-present concern about whether or not there would be enough money to be open yet another year, the Bansens, the Olsons, the Stones, the Johnsons, the Neves, the Brandeses, the Nielsens, or any professor’s name you care to add, showed up each and every day to provide and offer us the most phenomenal education we could ever hope to receive.

Forty-one years after my arrival as a student and living on Fourth North Holling, I am in touch with some of those classmates, and yes, those professors. Some of us have followed in their footsteps, students who are now named Drs. Jeff Langholz, Ruth Mirtz, Terri Pedersen Summey, and I know there are others, but it is late and my brain seems empty. I know for me, I hope to be half the professor they were and if I succeed, I will feel accomplished. What did I learn? Too much to put into words. So much that I am still realizing what it all meant. Most importantly, I learned to dream and believe that the liberal arts we were immersed in has unparalleled value and it has created a foundation that has served me in every aspect of my being. For that, there are no levels of gratitude that can, or will, ever repay those Saints we sat among. As I reach this milestone of 65 (as it is about 18 minutes after midnight), I am humbled. While this is not the Dana choir, it is the musical arrangement of what we did in every concert, and it is one of our sister colleges. It is one of my favorite musical memories and I can still hear voices of Monty Scheele, Tom or Peter Jacobson, Amy Nicols, or Elizabeth (now) Brockhoff and it brings me immeasurable joy.

Thanks always for reading.

Dr. Martin

The Interconnectivity of Freedom

Hello on a hot September day from the Acre,

It seems that the daily news has done a great deal to separate who we are as a society and it is easy to blame the news, and that goes across the spectrum. One of the things I tell my students regularly is simply this: all news is biased. That is reality. Someone is paying for that particular outlet to continue to broadcast. They are beholden to their stakeholders, their primary financial landlines. While NPR is the only public system, there is still a bias. The struggle becomes how it is possible to find the closest thing to truth in the cacophony of completing voices? It requires listening to multiple voices; it requires a willingness to listen to things that make you uncomfortable. This is seldom something that we enjoy, and in these disparate times it seems we simply refuse to do so. However, there is a consequence for our failure to listen to, ponder over, imagine the truth in things we would rather not hear.

Argument is nothing new; it is also not problematic when argument arises, regardless the argument. I know that is, perhaps, a statement that most will struggle to accept, but much of that is because for most, the goal of their argument is the foundational problem. When I teach argumentation, one of the questions I ask my students,”What is the goal of an argument? Without exception, someone will answer “to win.” That is a common answer; it is a common perception about argumentation in general. It is, for the most part, how we are enculturated. Most importantly, it is wrong. First, it is because we see argument as something negative, and second, too often the way people argue it to attack personally (and that has become more the rule than the exception). Furthermore, all argument is based on reason, which implies that all argument has a fundamental principle of using logic (logos) and language (again logos) that functions in a logical manner. Imagine a scenario in your life – and most all of us have been in this situation – where you are arguing with someone about something. And the argument has disintegrated because it seems there is no possible mutually agreeable result. Now you begin hollering at the other and this continues; and not surprisingly it escalates, but you realize you are no longer sure what your initial point was. At that point it is no longer really an argument, but has evolved, and often fallen apart. It is now a shouting match. Instead of using logic or language, we have transformed this interaction to an emotional confrontation. Generally any logic or reason is overshadowed by the passion of the moment. This is not to assert that you should be passionless about a position that evolves strong feelings, but when pathos overtakes logos, many times the result is less than ideal. The propensity for us to fall into the trap of passion as we assert options in our current hyper-polarized world is well beyond likely. The need for either side to jump when the other gets a little testy or push boundaries seems to be the action du jour.

I will agree that our President has a particular rhetorical strategy he (and he is incredibly effective at) employs. It is not difficult to see if one will simply step back and observe. It is a divide and conquer. While we were polarized before President Trump was elected, it does not take unparalleled powers of observation to see that polarization has been put on steroids. The passion or disdain for all things Washingtonian was well into its adolescence before the 2016 election. What has happened since has moved it from something still coming into its own to a full-blown cultural phenomenon. There is no adolescence at this point. This is the equivalent of being an olympic athlete. Polarization is foundational to our national fabric at this point. Anything governmental currently evokes such rage (ironically the title of Bob Woodward’s just released book) or fury that many find it impossible to have any type of civility when our national status becomes a discussion point. It doesn’t matter if it is what used to be (pre-pandemic, that is) the water cooler conversation, the latest post to social media, or now, even a comment about the day’s events (which are crazier by the hour), the potential for a struggle, which more often than not is a stasis point, the consequence is going to most certainly less than ideal.

I am amazed how people now feel the need to either rattle that infamous big-dog’s cage, or we try to tip-toe around issues that should be discussed. This all or nothing mentality means things that are appropriate to discuss, even when they are uncomfortable, results in tip-toeing around the obvious issues that plague us (pun intended). I too have posted some things that have pushed limits, and I will apologize that I could have used better judgment. The desire for something better on a number of levels sometimes fires me up and my passion gets in front of my brain. It is part of my human failings, of which there are certainly more than one. What creates more difficulties than most anything is when we lose respect, or an openness, for the other: the other person, the other opinion, the other possibility, the other faith, the other gender (or cis-gendered and all identification – and before you jump on me for this liberal bias, I wish my sisters (three of them, who were/are lesbian) could have been treated more fairly in their lives. Again, just this week I found myself frustrated with people who could not follow arrows in a store to help maintain social distancing. When I stood there staring at the four, because I had no place to go (perhaps I could have backed my way out of the aisle, but I was trying to get my errand done and leave), they stared back. When I pointed to the arrows on the floor, the college student said in a dismissive tone, “I don’t think it really matters.” I responded calmly, but still staring, “I think it probably does.” The second student then told me, I needed to be six feet away from them. Now, ponder this: if they had not come the wrong way down the aisle, the social distancing would have never been a issue. I wanted to say this, but it was evident there was little I could say that would not merely elevate an already problematic situation. If I had continued to argue, I am sure a cell phone would have come out to capture whatever occurred and nothing positive would come of that. So I merely walked away.

While I was fuming, I needed to let it go. They did not care about their missteps because they clearly stated it did not matter. When the student then noted the social distance issue, that was a red herring and there was nothing to do with his line of reasoning. Simply: he was being a jerk and trying to assert some sort of power in a situation where they, while in the wrong, desired no accountability for their actions. My students know this about me quite well. There are three things that will cause me to respond with some passion: dishonesty, disrespect, and abuse of power. The first erodes trust; the second creates walls between individuals, and the third takes advantage of the other. Why do they know? Because when I teach argumentation I note these things. All this aside, what seems to be at issue for so many right now is the idea of individual rights and freedom. While there is much to be said about both things, there are a couple of points I believe worth raising. First, the interconnectivity of the global health crisis on things like the supply chain, the job market, the stock market, on international travel, on global companies interaction with their foreign offices, on retail and the consequence of closing stores, restaurants, bars, as well as the increasing and staggering numbers of infected people or people dying, is profound, and what has happened globally in only 6 months or so has most of us reeling. As someone in higher education, I know that everything occurring right now in the academy is antithetical to what students are to experience as they go away to attend the university for the first time. I know that what we did when we were told to show caution at 18 is really no different than what students are doing now. However, there is a difference: what we did might have gotten us in trouble, our hands slapped, or perhaps some misdemeanor police record. The lack of caution now, by anyone, not just the college student, can be possibly long-term debilitating, or worse, it can be lethal, either to the infected or the people infected by them. Anton, my exchange student was sent home early, but it was weeks, if not months before he saw his grandparents in person. While he wanted to see them, he recounted it to me like this, “I want to see them, but I do not want to kill them. I’ll wait.” He was able to demonstrate that patience, even after being in the United States for 7 months. That is impressive and just how selfless he is. I still miss having him here. This time last year we were trying to get it all figured out. He was barely here, but he had finished his first week of classes successfully. He could find his classes; he was making friends; he received band magnets, snapchat addresses, and phone numbers; and he already had six girls wanting to go to dinner with the Danish boy before Homecoming. Quite successful, I would say.

I am quite sure of two things at this point: regardless who we elect in November, the virus will still be here, and probably co-mingling with this year’s version of whatever the yearly influenza will be. Second, the polarization that is hyper-manic in this country right now will not suddenly disappear. There is much more about this I could say, and I certainly think, but suffice it to say, it would be more partisan than I care to be. This is not to say I am avoiding, but rather it is not the purpose of my blog, and as I have noted with, particularly, my Technical Writing students on almost a daily basis: audience and purpose is where you must begin to understand your rhetorical situation and how to create documentation that works. What I do hope and pray is somehow we can believe that where we are currently is not a good path. Division, dissension, anger as well as bullying, lying, and villianizing the other does not serve our local, national, or global interest. If we are going to provide a world that offers a place where all honestly have some opportunity, it is all connected. We are, to use the Biblical adage, our other’s keeper. We are interconnected, and when we work for the betterment of all, freedom can occur. It is not a political freedom; it is not an economic freedom; it is not an educational freedom; it is a freedom of the spirit. It is the belief and practice the all people have value, regardless their differences. Certainly, some will argue this is my liberal idealism. Some will say I am pollyannaish. No, I believe it takes me back to my days as a parish pastor. Whatever you do to the least of these . . . It matters to me. It would be easy to be angry and shout, and God knows, there are times. Yet, I want to believe I have been blessed to be a blessing. Sometimes I fall; but most often, I merely try to make someone think, ponder, and maybe see something a bit differently. That is my goal.

It is my identity if you will. As always, thanks for reading. Please stay safe and well.

Dr. Martin

Procrastination: A Mental or Emotional Block?

Hello from my office in the house,

I am going to head to the university shortly, mask in hand, and lock myself way in my office. There are multiple reasons for that, but suffice it to say my technology at home and I are fighting. Technology is winning, which is usually the case. It is into the third week of school already and I can honestly say I have not procrastinated much of anything since the semester began. While it has not been a normal beginning to a school year in hardly any aspect, I have found that I am invigorated nonetheless and I am working away. Yesterday I spent about 16 hours with maybe an hour off the entire day. Today is not quite as crazy, but I think I will still have about 12 or 13 hours before I call it a night. One thing that is evident is everyone, on both sides of blank stare, are working hard, but it takes so much more time to manage and do a remote class well. It is not simply putting a bunch of material in a course delivery tool and then let it go. First, the anxiety of the students is exponentially increased because they do not see me. Then there is the fact that I am not a babysitter or hand-holder. I expect people to merely do their work. I will help them if they will reach out, but I am not going to chase them. I simply will not. I am well aware of the requirement of offering some extra grace (I am a former Lutheran pastor, remember) and providing a safety net to some degree, but dang, it requires some dedication and discipline on both sides.

It is Labor Day, but it is a work day this year here at Bloom. Saturday I worked for about 12 hours on classes and yesterday was the same. Today will be similar. I think of my trolling college classmate, who honestly believes I have a “cush” job with no bosses and everyone (and I think he would like to claim even from the Midwest, he personally) pays my salary even though I do nothing to earn it. I would love to have him follow me around for even a week. I think (or perhaps not) he might have at least an inkling more respect for the hard work that goes on here in the academy, even though we are all liberal hacks to him. Yet, I try my best to be respectful to his cultish Trumpisms. Difficult, but I keep trying. And yes, there might be a modicum of truth to the idea that I am calling him out here.

As we are into the fourth week of class already, I can say I have procrastinated less than perhaps ever in my life. Much of this is due to necessity. As most of you know, I was supposed to be teaching technical writing in Krakow this fall, and leaving for UJ later next week was the plan. Covid effectively postponed those plans all the way back in May. Yet, I did not have classes actually assigned here for fall semester until two weeks before classes commenced. While none of them are new preps, three sections of Foundations of College Writing remotely is an entirely different issue. First, I have argued that most freshmen are not ready to take remote classes because they do not have the discipline to manage them. I hoped that their experience in the Covid Spring might make that less likely, but I headed into the fourth week, I am not sure. There is certain some moaning, wailing, and gnashing of teeth happening. That is on both sides of the equation. I take no joy in the failure of any student. My general response, my question I ask myself is simple. What could I have done better? One of my former students once said, “You have to work hard to fail your class.” Another, who did fail, said, “That is the best class I ever took and failed.” I was not sure how to respond to that. Suffice it to say, everyone is pretty busy at this point, and I am not procrastinating. Yet, one of the things I have learned about myself is the more I have to do, the more productive I am. This fall seems to have put that adage on steroids. Oh my goodness.

It is ever so easy to put things we would rather not do on the back burner, or perhaps not even allow them on the stove. I am certainly guilty of this from time to time. I think it requires us, however, to understand why we avoid certain things. There are certain things I do not like, but there are times I will do them to procrastinate things I dislike even more profoundly. What is it about those chores, requirements, obligations that create so much angst for me (us)? I think most often it is because we have failed, or, at the very least, feel we have failed, at that particular thing before. Perhaps we have been shamed or hurt by someone because of that perceived failure. I think in my case, there are two things that will paralyze me. First, I wish someone taught how to manage my life and my finances when I was growing up. I am not trying to blame anyone, but that was not something that happened. Money was never talked about. Money was almost a sacrosanct topic, perhaps even taboo. My grandmother did try to help when I was living with her the summer before my senior year in high school. Yet I would move back home and when I left for the service almost a year later, I understood little. The first time I got myself in trouble financially, like many do, I had no idea what to do. Of course there are those taboo topics you never discuss: politics, religion and money. I have gotten over the first two as is well evidenced in this blog, but that third, not so much. I have learned a lot, but I still wish I knew so much more. I know now communication is key.

The second thing paralyzing me is when I feel I have fallen short of expectations, regardless of whose expectations they are. I certainly know from where this difficulty comes, and I have made progress, but it is always a struggle. I see any falling short as failure. I also know this is not rational, but emotions run much deeper than logic. I think the first step is to be able to forgive one’s self. That is not an easy thing to do. Forgiveness is one of the greatest, most significant powers we possess. When we refuse forgiveness, either to ourselves or the other, the consequence can be devastating. I am reminded how my advisor, and brilliant professor, Dr. John W. Nielsen once admonished me, stating, “Michael, your theology of grace works fine for everyone, but yourself.” A few weeks later as I stood in the VA hospital in Omaha, NE, staring in the mirror at my emaciated body after losing 30 pounds in barely 30 days, how correct he was. That was the beginning of journey with Crohn’s that has now taken me into my 60s. I was in my late 20s at the time. The stress of the constant fear of failure was incredibly hard on my body. It is another area I think I should research some more diligently, somewhere in my extra time.

This morning it is Labor Day, usually a holiday, but because of our compressed schedule, we are working. I would be working anyway, but it is actually not a holiday on campus this year. El dia trabajo is the May 1st for most Spanish countries and some of the other European countries. I am not sure how we ended up with September, but it is. I remember my father’s reverence for this day. I understand that reverence much more completely at this point in my life. It is interesting how some of the things what were so dear to him resonate with me much more at this point. In a conversation with a dear, dear friend a bit ago, we spoke about the idea of work ethic. That was modeled for us by our parents, and through that modeling, it was sort of just infused into us like an IV. It was expected. I think of my first job at my grandmother’s bakery. While I ate more than I was worth, I am sure, I do know I worked hard for her because I did not want to disappoint her. That was the worst thing I could have done. Eventually I would deliver bakery goods, help with other things needed, wash more pans, and help deliver wedding cakes (as well as set up and any touch-up decorating). When I was between my junior and senior year in high school, I worked from 5:30 in the morning until 3:30 or so in the afternoon. Then I would drive to my other job (working at a greyhound racetrack) from 5:00 until midnight, and I did that six days a week. Sixteen year olds today would not be allowed to do that, but what I realize now is I learned a lot about hard work that summer. Yet, I am not sure those lessons always stuck with me. I have not always been that hard worker. I think there are spurts, fits and stops.

The times I have been the most productive, hardest working were once I started my life as a student at Dana College. I am not sure what motivated me to be the dedicated student I had often failed to be earlier. I think it was the professors who inspired me, prompted me to love learning. It was that first trip to Europe, where I really understood what it meant to learn. Learning is being a sponge. It is absorbing and pondering what is happening. There is little memorization. When you are learning and absorbing, there is no time for procrastination because you will drown in the wave of experiences. It would be overwhelming and impossible. The feeling of dread or being afraid of all that is happening is reasonable, but keep paddling. I know presently some of my students seem to be barely floating, but that is when you ask for help. Let someone toss you the life preserver. When I got to seminary and eventually to grad school, I never took the easy way. I was almost always working and going to school full-time. It was the only way I would survive financially or perhaps even emotionally as I look back. I never had the free meal ticket, but I do not regret that. I learned I was more capable and had more initiative than I had ever imagined. While there were things I did not do because there was no time, I have few regrets.

We will generally avoid the things that cause us pain, but perhaps the better thing to do is no longer allow them events or tasks to hold that power over us. If we can take control of things we will be better for it. If we can change ourselves, beginning with the person in the mirror, then the change is real. With that in mind, and continuing to demonstrate to my class how the identity things works, here is the Glee regional performance with the incredible songs from the Jacksons. Thanks as always for reading and don’t procrastinate, watch the video.

Again, thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin

A New Academic Year – An Incredibly Strange One

Hello from my home office,

It is the first day of my eleventh year at Bloomsburg. It is the first day of the COVID-dictated return to campus and a time of unprecedented angst. I decided to write for a bit because I am required to update a variety of software on campus to my university issued laptop, and the only way to manage that is to VPN in and then let it run for an hour or so. I had been so engrossed in working to prepare for today, I had not actually turned my laptop off for almost three weeks. I guess that makes sense because it was about three weeks ago I finally got a fall semester schedule. Since that time it has been the sort of nose to the grindstone and I guess I never really simply closed it all up, but kept plugging away and all hours of the day as I am apt to do. Well, my good friend, and tech guru for the campus let me know I had not actually logged off for almost 21 days, which does not allow anything to update, and keeps caches at capacity. I know this, so as so many now say: my bad!

While I know how to manage courses, and I know how to teach online both in terms of technology and pedagogy, the pedagogy continues to change. I know I am going to sound curmudgeonly here, but it seems like we need to make more and more allowances for students lack of preparation at the high school level. Their lack of critical thinking skills and their propensity for being overwhelmed when pushed outside their comfort zone seems to be at an all-time high. And then, my compassionate side kicks in and says, but this is an unprecedented time and I need to make more allowances. Those two sides of me, the one my chair refers to as Sgt. Martin, and the other which would be the more grace side of Luther’s dialectic, also known as the former Pastor Martin seem to be in the epic battle of good and evil. I have had three students reach out this morning with fair questions and through a Facetime call with one, blog issues were remedied. I know the next couple days will be following email closely and trying to respond in as timely a manner as possible. . . . we are now into the second week of school and the time in front of my laptop is beyond what one might imagine. I began this morning at 8:00 after working until about 10:30 last night. I will admit, I did listen to the First Lady’s address tonight, though listening and trying to work at the same time. I will also note that she has grown into her position and her address tonight was impressive. I did not agree with every single point, but I think she spoke in a way that was relatable and thoughtful. It was hard to not see compassion and care in much of what she said. I think some will want to hate just because. I am not one of those people. At this point it is almost 11:50 p.m. and I am still working. I want to get a blog post out as I have asked my students to do the same for tomorrow. School, the university, what we want to do as a university or even what a university education does seems so counterintuitive to what is currently happening. College is a time to leave home and enter a new scholarly community, one where you can speak, listen, interact, socialize, eat together, and enter into a variety of relationships in new circumstances. This pandemic has changed all of that. While I have taught online/remotely all the way back to my time in Wisconsin, doing it all this semester with three freshman writing courses will be a challenge. I have cut some work and one does not know, there might be more, but everything you imagine in your first week of class, sitting in front of a group of new wide-eyed students is gone. The hearing of the streams of students walking stairs and coming into class is gone. When I have been on campus, the quad looks like a ghost town rather than the second week of school. The difference is stunning. Honestly, I cannot adequately explain what it does to me emotionally. I have loved my time teaching in the academy and the first day of school has always been a highlight of my existence (from the time I was in elementary school). When I was on campus for a few moments a week ago this past Monday, my eyes welled up in tears. It depressed me beyond anything I anticipated.

So more importantly, what to do? I am teaching remotely, but so far, in spite of long hours, the great majority of my students are involved and thoughtful. As typical freshmen, some struggle with the basics, but it is because they want to do it correctly. Some of my upper class-level students are still trying to come to grips with the reality of our Covid-ravaged educational process. While we have made some profoundly incredible transformative moves to manage face-to-face, hybrid, or remote options, it is the basics of meeting students and making sure they are given the assurance they have someone in their corner that still matters the most. I have been speaking on the phone with actual calls, texting as students attempt to reach out, or sending and responding to emails literally hours a day to help them feel more secure or hopeful as the semester is now up and running. Trying to manage what it means to live on campus with all the restrictions is difficult, and honestly some are not managing. That too has consequences as some were cited in town for violating state guidelines. Our President, the Provost, and others on campus have worked tirelessly to manage the reopening of campus. Some have not played by the rules to put it kindly. Earlier this evening I listened to a video from our President where he specifically used the words beg and implore to get students to manage their masks, socially distance, and practice appropriate hygiene, both on campus and in town. He was thoughtful, measured, and succinct in the consequence. It is probably our new mantra for the coming days: Mask Up or Pack Up. That puts it out there pretty clearly. Again, I understand this is antithetical to what coming to college is all about, but these are not normal times. There is little that makes this normal. Again, this is not a political statement, but rather an observation. We are in a time of unprecedented health worry; we are in a time where the call for racial justice/social justice is louder than it has been in a half a century and it is more than black or brown people calling out for it; it is a time where climate change, and again, I am blaming no one for the cause, but merely stating I believe it is real, must be dealt with or it will have unparalleled consequences for every aspect of our lives, healthwise, economically, globally, militarily. There is so much about the world that seems upside down and it can be disconcerting and easy to lose one’s bearings. In fact, I have been in conversation with someone tonight I consider a dear friend, but they went ballistic over something that I am still not sure how the one thing got attached to the other. I am still stunned over what happened, as much as how it happened. Ultimately, it makes me sad and hurts . . . perhaps some sleep will help. What is evidenced to me more and more everyday is the vitriol and anger that is on both sides of this political shitstorm (I know that is a tough term) that is a November election. I have never been so disillusioned on one hand and engaged on the other. It is like my body is a mirror image of what is happening in the country.

So . . . to something different . . . and yet it relates to all of this above. I have focused by Foundations class on the topic of identity. What makes us who were are? What helps us to come to terms with whom we are? Leaving home for college the first time is a time of identity seeking. It is a time to see where we fit into a larger family that is not our biological family, but rather our human family. It is time to realize that we are a citizen of a larger world and that world is a bit fragile at the moment. I think it has been fragile for a while, but the fragility is out front and center currently. LIkewise in my technical writing class, they will need to consider what they have to offer through analyzing job ads and creating appropriate documentation to apply, but often that takes the time to do some introspection and figuring out who you are and what you have to offer. That is a frightening thing to do. I often note that first semester freshmen and last semester seniors are not that different. They are all scared s$&^less, but for different reasons. Yet it comes back to understand how four years or more of college have changed you, matured you, readied you for a world that is not all that accepting or forgiving. That is a rather herculean task. So identity is an important concept, but even for me, as I reach a different kind of a milestone.

It is beyond unbelievable to me that I have another birthday just around the corner, but this is a much more rather time-stopping reflecting one. How did I get to this point? Certainly by plugging along, but more surprisingly again some pretty crazy odds. I am humbled that I have made it this far, but I am also grateful. I have a job I simply adore. I have had wonderful people come in and out of my life, but I have been blessed by all of them in someway at different times. Indeed, it is a strange and rather eerie fall semester, but I am still able to interact with incredible young people who always give me a sense of hope. It is certainly not what I planned, but I am fortunate for how it has turned out. I think it is about believing in possibilities and hoping for good.

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Honest and Fragile

Hello on a late Friday night,

It has been a bit of a crazy week, or more likely a crazy month. Our new academic year begins on Monday, in about 60 hours or so. A month ago I was trying to get my flexible schedule for the fall semester approved. It did not seem to matter that I had procured a doctor’s letter almost three months before; it did not matter that my doctor, in an attempt to abide by HIPPA regulations noted I had multiple chronic issues that would be severely complicated should I contract COVID; somehow a chancellor and the system’s interpretation of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines trumped (and I use this word intentionally) medical right to privacy. There are other issues in all of this, but suffice it to say, I made it possible for my doctor to list the specific things that would provide me a safe teaching schedule for the fall. However, I still had no schedule. This not only meant I was not sure what my specific classes, duration of said classes, or number of sections or preps were, but with no schedule, I could not be added to our Course Management System (CMS) because I had no classes, but neither could I actually order books through the bookstore because I had not idea what to order. Finally, with about 2 1/2 weeks to go, and a couple more phone calls, I got a schedule. It is a bit brutal as I will have 100 writing students in writing intensive sections, but technically there are only two preps and nothing new. However, as I am inclined to do, I try to change my first year writing classes up to some degree. Teaching them completely online is certainly one change for the fall, but I also decided to develop an entirely new theme. Fortunately, I had decided some of that early summer, so I have been developing a number of things since June. At this point between developing a new syllabus, with significant policy changes because of the remote delivery as well as working on the CMS, I have almost 70 hours in the last 10 days. Fortunately, the second prep, technical writing, has been taught as a fourteen week remote class already, so there is not a great deal of change. I had syllabi out to students a week ago, so that took some pressure off. However, it will still be a crazy weekend.

I have decided to focus on what it means for an individual create or understand their identity they have at this point in their life. One of the things I regularly tell my students is my classes (and this goes for all of them) are a cultural rhetoric class. When that is connected to a first year writing class, it means I want them to understand the world in which they live and be able to think about it critically and then be able to write about it, and write about it in a scholarly and educated manner. One of the reasons I believe identity is so important in this present time, particularly for freshmen, is quite simple. Leaving for college is a life changing time. In spite of the accusations of a college classmate, who has decided to troll me hardcore, I do not indoctrinate my students. I try to do exactly what our professors at Dana College did. I want them to learn to think and analyze; I want them to question, but I want them to come to their own conclusions and then be able both to articulate and support their positions and understandings or arguments about their world. Identity in this world is a bit fragile because our world is such a drama show at the present moment. Their senior year did not turn out as they planned; most had no high school graduation, or certainly not one like they expected. As the come to college, the universities are struggling to figure out how to open in a manner that is both true to what the college experience is and simultaneously safe in our pandemic world. These two things are incongruent for a fundamental reason. College is about gathering, speaking, interacting, listening and living in new situations. It is about finding one’s self in the midst of the academic rigor of classes as well as living, eating, and socializing in an entirely new community of people. COVID has turned all of this upside down. If I remember the figures even close to accurately, 52% of Bloomsburg’s classes are remote; another 23% or so are being taught in a hybrid delivery plan and the remaining 25% are going to be done face-to-face, but that is not anywhere near normal even if they are in a classroom. Creating a 36 sq. ft. space around each student in a room creates a profound change in classrooms. In addition, there is no walking up to a student and violating their 36 ft space. There is no turning around in classes; there is no handing things in or back. And everyone is required to wear masks. This is not teaching, at least for me. I think I can do a much better job remotely. Welcome to life at most universities or colleges this fall. All of this is being honest, and it is simultaneously showing how fragile the academy is in this pandemic.

As I noted above, a college classmate has been kicking me for some time. In his latest post on my timeline, he used words like rogue, pawn, fool, an idiot in jester’s clothing followed by saying no disrespect meant. Kind of difficult to not feel disrespected, but then noted I was a socialist. This is in addition to past assertions that I do not have any bosses, that I do not work hard because I am not required to do so, and that I do little more than indoctrinate students with my liberal garbage (garbage is my word). I did just see that he has offered some sense of an apology on my timeline now. I will have to go back and see what he says . . . now he is trying to merely see if I have somehow so drank the blue Democrat kool-aid that he finds as nothing more than socialism. I will have to ponder what I might respond, but that is for later. It is interesting that so many believe that somehow caring for the other must be socialism. What stumps me perhaps more than anything is how many professing Christian people seemed to so have hardened their hearts about the plight of the other. I am more than merely fortunate and blessed to be where I am. I have accomplished more than I could have ever dreamt, but it was not all handed to me, I had to work for it. And I do not provide this as a hope for pats on the back, but in the time I have been here, I have loaned out more money that I will never see back than most might ever imagine. Over the past 5 months I have made dinner for over 120 people or families and delivered the great majority of them. Why? Because I am a nice guy? No, because I have a pretty simple philosophy in life: if I make other people’s lives better, I make my own life better. That is not altruistic because I do get something back. I feel better, but it is something I believe is worth doing. I would not be where I am if people did not help me along the way. That is reality. Very few of us have not gotten help from others at various times in our life. To give back is not socialism; it is being the person I believe my faith calls me to be. So, there is another attempt of my being honest, but sharing all of that also opens me up to perhaps another critique and that scares me. Hence again, my fragility.

One of the things I wish is that I would, or could, have been more honest with so many as I grew up, and perhaps simultaneously more honest with myself. And yet, my seminary professor’s words come hearkening back, “Honesty without love is brutality.” It seems too often this is the route of honesty we manage or, perhaps, prefer. If we disagree or believe someone wrong, particularly when their attack or their difference is directed at us personally, our fragility informs our attempt at honesty. The consequence is an honestly angry response, but in a way that is anything but honest. This is particularly the case when we have been hurt, or if the person is in a position of power over us, be it a parent, an older sibling, a scarier person, a boss, or even someone more popular. Their words, especially if they are hurtful, regardless the accuracy of them, damages our psyche or our ego. There are so many times I listen to conversations between parents and children when I am in a grocery store, walking, or even when it is a random encounter and what I hear stuns me. Sometimes it hurts me and I am not even the person at whom the words were directed. The important question in these instances is who is demonstrating fragility? One of the things I learned from Anton last year was to listen more carefully and speak more consciously. I am still realizing, beyond words, how incredible he is (and was while he was here). He questioned regularly, but always with some sense of fairness and decency informing his question. He was an honest (and is yet) person with a sense of truthfulness I have seldom witnessed in anyone, and he was 16 when he arrived on the acre. He was a thinker about things much larger and more significant than you might believe a high school person could be. Because of the honesty I believe we both practiced or exhibited with the other, there was little fragility needed or felt. What he taught me is still resonating and I am still coming to terms with how much he influenced who I have become. Not bad when you consider he was 16/17 and I am at retirement age. He certainly did teach the proverbial old dog some new things, and for that, I am beyond grateful. As the Labor Day weekend is coming, I will realize more poignantly how much I still miss him. Again, the love I have for him and his family is strong. I was supposed to be there this past week as he left for his first day of school in Denmark and I am so sad that could not happen.

Being honest and caring will always leave us fragile and open to being hurt. My father, the sage he was, again once said to me as I was reeling from a divorce, “The people you love the most are capable of hurting you the worst.” He was not implying that they want to or should, but that is the consequence of being vulnerable. I remember falling head over heels with someone during the spring of my freshman year at Dana College. She was an exceptionally intelligent, extraordinarily attractive, and a stunningly alluring person. She was personable in spite of being rather introverted, and had a wit and humor that could draw you in. I did not know what to do because I had not found someone so amazing for some time. What was more astounding is she was also interested in me. That is not usually the way things go. The remainder of that semester was like walking on clouds for me, and yet as she was leaving for the summer and headed to the Southwest to visit her father (her parents were divorced), she noted we should take the summer off. She was kind and actually thoughtful about our situation and during that summer their was little communication. When she returned in the fall, we did not pick up exactly where we had left off, but it was a sort of shadow dance with each other. There were difficulties because Dana was a small campus and we had some classes together. Then there was the dilemma that I was a friend with her freshman roommate also. Sophomore year, she had a Danish exchange student as a roommate, one who also became a friend. Somehow, perhaps because of our own honesty, perceived honesty, or incredible disillusionment we were dating again. That fall semester was a crazy time because I had 23 credits, not that I signed up for, but that I was taking or sitting in on. Somehow, we managed to be together again. While we were perhaps never officially together, we were also not officially apart. So much for honesty, but the increased level of fragility was more than palpable. We would study together, eat together, walk around together, but at the same time act as if we were not together. Emotionally, what I remember is I was a mess. She was the first person I ever imagined being married to, but I had no idea why. Again so much for honesty. Needless to say, we did not last, but to this day I still wonder about her and believe she was one of the more talented and beautiful people I ever met. I am sure she is an incredible mother and teacher in her life now.

It is hard to believe that in slightly less than a month I will turn 65. It is hard for me to believe that is possible, and the reasons to be astounded that I have lived this long are legion. Yet, here I am. I have lived longer than my grandmother, my hero. That fact really sort of kicks me each time I think of it. Often times, I find myself questioning how I have survived so many things. Many times, I still try to figure out who I have become. More than the terms hurled at me like some biblical stoning by my former classmate, I know a great deal more about me than many might believe. I am honest with myself to a greater degree than perhaps ever before. That is why I am not as apt to be quiet about some things. It is because I know why I believe as I do, and most of my positions on almost anything are based on a sense of decency. Scripture does not tell us to be kind only to those who are kind to us. Scripture, in fact, explicitly tells us to care for those less fortunate than ourselves. I find it harder and harder to judge people, even when I disagree with them. I am not smarter because I have more degrees or education; I am not better because I have a house or things that others do not have; I am not more talented or capable than anyone else because I can speak multiple languages or play multiple instruments; and I am not more astute because I have been able to travel and make friends or acquaintances across this country or even the world. None of those things gives me any privilege; what those things do is give me a greater responsibility to care for others who have not had those opportunities and try to provide the same for them. That is probably why I ended up being a professor. Caring about and creating opportunities for my students is what I am called to do; it is my responsibility. That is what I believe I am honestly required to do, but it is an obligation I see as a blessing. My fragility shows when a system meant to offer that cannot or does not. My fragility shows when I see students who foundationally do not have the same background and they must struggle more to merely get across the threshold. My fragility shows when I know I could have done better, but have somehow failed a student because I could not reach them adequately.

For those in Denmark, som det har været typisk for nylig, har min skrøbelighed været på fuld vis, da jeg har gået eleverne på McKinley High School i Glee forsøger at navigere gennem at komme gennem gymnasiet. I slutningen af ​​deres første år vises ærligheden og skrøbeligheden af ​​både dem og Mr. Shuster i denne sang. Jeg kan huske, at jeg så filmen som barn. Det var et kulturelt markant show (As has been typical lately, my fragility has been on full display as I have walked again with the students of McKinley High School in Glee try to navigate getting through high school. At the end of their first year, the honesty and fragility of both the Glee Club and Mr. Shuster are on display in this song. I remember watching the actual movie, with Sidney Poitier as a child. It was a culturally significant show.).

Thanks for reading as always.

Dr. Martin

Wishing I Could be Three Again

Hello from the study,

It has been an interesting 5 months. It is, almost to the day, that amount of time we started a Spring Break and the fear of COVID was becoming more of a reality. Since that time, the world has been turned upside down and that is a profound understatement. A CBS news report that was updated on March 14, 2020 noted there were 32 deaths in the United States. Five months later, we are at 162,000 and increasing about a thousand a day. We are at 5.05 million cases, and there is still no vaccine and there is still more we still to not understand than we do. I am not pointing fingers; I am not blaming; and I am certainly not trying to be political in these comments. I am saying that we live in a different world, and yet, I am not sure what that means because I have little ability to understand all the consequences. I am not a medical professional; I am not an economist; I am not a global anthropologist; I am merely a person who, while educated and someone who I believe is thoughtful, is simply trying to find my way in a world that is both implicitly and explicitly changed from when I left for a spring break back in March of this year.

The reality of COVID hit me a bit differently last week when I woke up in the middle of the night with a fever and maintained a fever through the next day. Because of some of my underlying issues, a call to our regional medical center verified I should be tested. So I had an appointment and then had a wait time of 24-48 hours. While I did not feel excruciatingly terrible, the stress of waiting for results was palpable. Fortunately, the news received Sunday evening was my test was negative. I still have some symptoms that show me there is something going on, but I will have to work through it. If the symptoms continue, I would consider a second test. While I intentionally try to stay away from statistics and gloomy, doomsday, predictions, there is little doubt we are living a global version of the tail-wagging-the-dog. Again, I am not blaming anyone; I am not trying to question why something was done or not done; it is merely pretty apparent that this virus has a virility that is different than most anything we have faced before. This morning, while driving to drop off a book, I heard a news item about two women (one in her 30s and the other in her 50s), who both tested negative, eventually tested positive and 4 months later are still struggling significantly with the consequences of being afflicted with COVID. The story was not sensationalized because of where I listened, but it was certainly frightening. There seems to be not specific rhyme nor reason to why some things happen to some and not to others. It will take time and a body of evidence to see what the best course is. As for me, I seem to have my own pattern over the past few days and we will see what happens.

As I have been working on school things, I have made good progress, but there is still so much to do in BOLT, our course management system (CMS) or things I want to manage. I am trying to layer things in a different manner because I have learned clearly there are a number of things necessary to meet as many as possible in the most efficient way possible. One of the things I have noted from the outset is what we will have societally on the other side of this is also something beyond most of our cognitive capabilities. I do believe the realm of higher education will be forever changed. The role of moving toward distance/remote teaching, which is a current push, and something that was being pushed before March, will be in overdrive now. What it will do in terms of residential college life is profound. What it will do in terms of helping a student move from high school to the professional world will be forever altered. Consider this: even if you went to college 40 years ago or 10, part of college is leaving home, living in a new community, learning how to manage your life beyond the walls of your own bedroom or with your parents managing all of your requirements. Part of college is being exposed to new ideas, new options, new possibilities. Part of college is figuring out who you are and what you want to do for the rest of your working years. Everything being required as we return to the new year flies in the face of that. It it antithetical. It honestly turns it all on its head. That is what is happening and we have no idea the consequence. However, I can assure you, there will be consequences, and consequence is not completely pejorative. Certainly, remote learning puts a great deal more responsibility on everyone in the class, and there is something good about that. However, the isolation and change in terms of socialization will be something significant.

This moves me to the initial things I have pondered as I moved toward this blog posting. Again, I have a couple others even started, but life seems to get in the way of those thought processes; emotions seem to push me in a different direction; questions about the why of something haunt me much like the words of the narrator in Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. At the end of the story, the narrator, who is death, notes they are “haunted by humans.” I think I am more haunted by our human condition and what seems to be a growing lack of societal compassion. I continue to struggle to understand how we can be so callous about the other. Even more than the first time I watched Glee, the tears have streamed down my face as I am working through the series again. I am using some of it in my first year writing class as one of their assignments is to create a memoir in the form of a Google Map they will someday give to a future son or daughter. One of their books, which I am going to allow either as a Kindle or even an audio book, is Naya Rivera’s memoir Sorry, Not Sorry. It is rather well written and it certainly has the sassiness of Santana Lopez. As I took at the characters a second time and how their identity is developed in the series, as well as the significant societal issues the series deal with over the six year run, it is really a testament to both the creators and the actors how they made their characters come to life. As I noted above, college is a time to begin to understand one’s self. It is a time to move beyond the protection of one’s family, using their experiences as a foundation that supports them in their quest for moving into real adulthood. From where is that foundation most firmly grounded for someone. For me, I realize even more so now that it occurred when I was between the ripe old years of 2 1/2 and 3 (to almost 4). It is the time I wish I could return to somehow, knowing at least some of what I know now (and I realize returning there from a month shy of 65 seems a bit extreme). Why there? A reasonable question. It is the one time in my life I think I was truly happy and I felt safe. That is it.

I do not ever remember living with my biological parents. My sister and I were picked up by my paternal grandparents after being left alone on multiple occasions by our parents, even though I was less than 2 and my sister was probably 6-8 months old. After one particular instance, according to what I was told, my grandparents told my parents they could not have us back. By this time, my mother, who was not yet 19 was pregnant a third time and my father, from what I know, was headed to Huntsville, the well-known Texas State Penitentiary, for some relaxation time. I am not exactly sure what prompted his incarceration, but I do know it would not be the last time he spent time as a ward of a state. While my grandparents owned a bakery, I have vivid memories of living at their house as a toddler. Many aspects of my own home at this point are reminiscent of the acreage my grandparents owned (they had about three to four acres of land) at the edge of an area of Sioux City called Leeds. I have not always made this parallels consciously, but I realize from time to time through observation and even some experiential processes, there is more of them here yet today than I have intended. Perhaps that subconscious parallelism is because it is a time I remember with such appetency. It was the time in my life I felt the most loved and valued. One of the first pictures I remember of me as a small child was sitting on the gargantuan baking table that ran almost the entire length of the humongous main back area of the Scandinavian Bakery. I am sitting in the middle of the table with my own little rolling pin rolling out dough with the biggest smile on my little face. I remember sitting inside the huge mixing bowls of the floor mixers and being pushed around the table like a race track. I remember (even years later) playing with the old-style adding machine, amazed by the sound of the clicking keys and the tape upon which all the printed numbers were. It is a wonder I did not become an accountant.

My grandfather worked both at the bakery and at the Sioux City Stockyards, which was one of the three largest the country in terms of size, but I think was often the largest in terms of receipts. I remember walking the catwalks between stalls with him as he moved cattle around. I remember that he could wrestle a steer if need be and I thought he was the strongest man in the world. He also sat on the back porch steps with me at night, helping me overcome my fear of the great-horned owl that would perch itself on our telephone wire. I was both mesmerized and frightened by the sound and the size of this majestic bird. So many nights he sat with me and would talk to me about the owl. I do not remember anything he said, but I do remember he told me there was no reason to fear this incredible bird. I remember them making homemade ice cream and I remember sitting on laps in the den of their house, which to this day is one of the favorite spaces I was ever blessed to be comforted in. I remember the wonderful couches and the green-shaded lights that were on wooden bases. I remember the small black and white television that sat diagonally on the small corner table, which we would watch. I remember sitting on laps and being read to. What I remember feeling most was that I was loved and safe in this little house. It was not a ostentatious dwelling, but it had a wonderful living room and dining room. It had a country-sized kitchen much like I have now.

The kitchen was a place of amazing food, wonderful smells, and each meal that seemed to be prepared with both thought and care. To this day, by comfort food is two poached eggs, a piece of toast, from fresh baked bread, and a half of grapefruit. My grandmother was a firm believer in a wholesome breakfast. I have the egg poacher; I have a toaster and generally only by pretty stellar bread; and grapefruit, while I am not supposed to eat it with taking a statin, still finds its way from time to time on the acre. I learned to love all vegetables, I learned to not eat sugar, and because my grandfather worked at a stockyards, some kind of protein was always a main course. I remember an outdoor fireplace where they grilled out. Those of you who have visited the acre do not have to think very deeply to see the parallels. I guess in many ways I have worked hard to reinvent my three-year-old safe haven. Love and safety . . . it is those two things that I believe are essential to anyone having hope. It is those two things that offer a sense of possibility, that allow someone to be themselves without fear or trembling. It is those two things that seem to be most lacking in our society at present. I spoke earlier this evening with a former student and now friend and we chatted about the idea that too many are unwilling to hear the other, to offer the other an opportunity to share without judgment. I have a student now who along with their parents are friends.They have almost diametrically opposing views to me in terms of our political leanings. And yet we can speak, respect, and appreciate the other. We can even rib each other about this upcoming election. I have listened to the student, who is committed to doing well and works diligently as both a student and a Community Assistant in the dorm, as they have been concerned about being ostracized by others because of their conservative views. Those fears have created tears for this student. That is not okay. It is not the way we want our world, our country, our state, or even our campus to function. I have stood up for their right to believe and vote as they will. Even as I disagree, I respect them. Much to some of the disbelief of those who want to argue I am indoctrinating them with my liberal point of view. I want then to feel the same safety I felt as a three year old. What I realize is the amazing gift my grandparents gave me through their love and bringing me into their house. My grandfather, who smoked Pall Mall straights, would die of lung cancer before I was three. That would eventually create a cascade of events that would lead to an adoption. Regardless of all those changes, those three years at 4547 Harrison Street in Sioux City created a foundation that still shines through me today. I care about people and I want them to feel safe and wanted regardless their ethnicity, their intelligence, their gender, their religion, their preferences, or their politics. I wish sometimes I could relive that time because I felt loved and safe in ways I perhaps never have since.

As I have worked on my class and considered the idea of identity as a foundational principle of my first year writing class, my re-acquaintance with Glee has continued. The tears continue to stream as I watch how that choir room becomes the safe place for the New Direction members. Many songs that demonstrate that care and acceptance, but one I saw again recently reaches out in ways that I think demonstrate acceptance that goes beyond the simple. Enjoy . . .

As always, thank you for reading and to my students for the semester who find this, welcome.

Dr. Martin

Don’t Stop Believin’

Hello from the study at home,

I am always amazed by the response of people, the way people interact, communicate, or even reflect on their own selves (and this is about me as much as anyone else). Sometimes I believe my propensity for reflection is the well-known, need-to-be-cautious, and proverbial double-edged sword. It offers the opportunity, the possibility to imagine things; it provides me creative stimulation in almost every area of my life. It provides me with the desire to always improve, to refuse complacency. All of these things are positive, and generally they have been the driving force behind any success I have achieved. And yet, there is that counter-balance, the thing that has established a certain level of melancholia that never seems too far away in my daily life. A questioning that makes me also imagine what if somethings had not happened? What if I had grown up in a biological family instead of an adopted one? What if somehow I was carried to term might I have avoided the affliction of Crohn’s Disease and the long-term consequences of 11 abdominal surgeries or the drug therapies that have created some of the serious repercussions that now are part of my life? It is wrong to imagine what if? It is somewhat futile to engage in such, should I say, folly? There are those times where my desire to opine might be ineffectual at best and perhaps somewhat lame at worst. There are some who might assert that such a dream is little more than fantasy and such things are more hurtful than comforting. Is it all true?

I will agree it creates some hurt or longing for something else, but I am not completely convinced such pondering is wrong or completely malevolent to myself. When I see families that seem to manage that infamous nuclear grouping, more than hurt it provides me hope. When I see how two people can love each other when there are times of economic stress, can support each other in the struggles of juggling multiple schedules, or demonstrate a commitment to family above all else, I simultaneously wish I might have experienced more of that growing up and feeling hopeful because I see, and believe, it can still happen. In the last couple days a teacher, coach, and eventual district administrator, and the husband of my one of my childhood neighbors passed away. They were married for between 56 (almost 57) years. That is incredible, and her commitment to him as he disappeared through the terrible disease of Alzheimer’s never wavered. Commitment like that is grounded in believing in the goodness of the other regardless how much they have changed, what they say, or how incongruent their actions are. And yet the pain of losing your life-long love, piece by piece or day by day, is excruciating. There is nothing that can prepare you for the disappearing act that occurs before your very eyes. It is difficult in this time to be so far away from a family that was so much a part of my growing up and as COVID makes normal possibilities of mourning no longer normal. It is difficult to believe that we might get back to a time when we can gather in the ways we have been accustomed to assembling in this significant time, with little understanding yet of what is beyond.

What is required to believe in another person or even in possibilities? This is a difficult question. When I was speaking with a good friend earlier today, a former student, and incredibly talented person, and an even more amazing mother, we chatted about the necessity of resilience. There are a number of words that are synonymous, but I appreciate resilience because of what it means literally . . . from the Latin root resilire, which means to rebound or even more accurately to leap back, and while some might consider that a sort of recoiling, I prefer to see it has leaping up and forward. I have mused at times it would be nice to have a summer job of boring; merely to find out what it would be like. It would be so much easier to have that sort of simplicity, but then again, I am pretty sure I would get bored with being bored quite quickly. Why is it there seems to be that I must always be doing something? In fact, a former student just noted in a response to another on my Facebook timeline that they wished I would slow down. There are times I wish that also, but there is more to that than I would like to admit. When I was in graduate school, both before a hiatus to work on a marriage as well as after, it was a difficult time. I think my PhD earning colleagues would agree it is one of the more stressful times in a person’s life. I have noted more than once, I was in counseling the entire time I went to Michigan Tech. I refer to it regularly as my one hour of sanity a week. When I returned to Tech the fall of 2000, my divorce was about a month from being finalized; I had lost everything I owned; and I was subletting a furnished little cabin on the portage. Fortunately, I was able to get a job, had an incredibly supportive committee, and finally, I had a focus. I also had some super graduate school colleagues from both my first stint as well as new ones to be involved with as I found my way back to Houghton. So, I was a full-time student, a full-time Graduate Teaching Instructor (GTI), and I worked pretty close to full-time in a restaurant. I also slept about 3 1/2 hours a day, though I would try to get one somewhat normal 8 hours at least once a week. This would not have been quite as taxing if I was in my twenties, but instead I was in my forties. During a particularly difficult time, when I was sent to the nurse practitioner for some support at the direction of my counselor, she asked me,

“When was the last time you slept 8 hours?” My question back to her was,
“Do you mean 8 hours straight?” And when she said, “Yes.” I responded,
“Thirty years ago.” Thinking I was joking, she said, “I am being serious.” I responded,
“So am I.” She was rather flabbergasted at that and then had more questions. Because of my own background, I knew where these questions were headed, and I was not pleased. When asked a series of questions, I knew precisely where the NP was headed, and to be honest, I was not very compliant. Regardless, she got what she needed, and wanted to put me on medication. I had been against the sort of diagnosis du jour for quite some time and I was certainly not going to change my feelings about that after a series of questions. Because of a bigger picture at the time, I did end up on some medication to help me sleep, and to be honest, it helped. However, after a few months, I continued to work with my counselor and decided that cognitive therapy was probably more conducive to my maintaining a modicum of healthy living. While I could give you a run down of all the things occurring in my life at that time, I won’t. Let’s just say, I was struggling, but somehow, thanks, primarily to my counselor at MTU, I was able to pull through. Why tell you this in this blog? Because it pushes me to finally admit why it is I seem to be able to go most times like the proverbial Energizer bunny, and yet at other times struggle to manage daily tasks or keep my calendar or daily life organized. Why was it at the age of two I was already making my bed or dressing myself and sitting at the bottom of the stair landing waiting for others to get up. It compelled me to see that Kris, my sister, and I had more in common than I want to admit. The NP diagnosed me as Bipolar II. When I was told this in graduate school, I rejected it. In fact my response to her was an exclamatory, “F you; you can kiss my ass.” Neither professional or helpful. I took Zoloft for a period and I actually slept 8 hours straight more than once. This admission for me is still difficult. Now I take no medication and work mostly through diet and trying to be healthier in my basic lifestyle, and yet, there are times I know her diagnosis was correct.

It gets back to my title for the blog. It is easy to be sidetracked, to lose perspective, to stop believing in the possibilities or the dreams we have dreamt. Possibilities and dreams provide hope, and hope is something we desperately need as we face this uncertain world. Sometimes, and presently maybe often, it is necessary to step back and look beyond ourselves. This is a fundamental – and necessary – human characteristic, but it is easily overshadowed when we have been enculturated to believe that individualism is the overarching requirement of freedom. I understand this is an opinion, but I believe that the mandate of individualism at all costs equals freedom is a misunderstanding. Freedom is about the ability to love and care for the other. It is about giving a damn about something larger than yourself. Recently when I was asked why I am willing to see the other person as equally important or how I became a person who wanted to accept the other versus reject them because of their difference I think my response caught that individual off guard. My answer was that the person’s own family taught me that lesson when I was in elementary school. One of the family members was profoundly mentally handicapped, to the point of being institutionalized. That child was brought back home on a regular basis. The disabilities were physical, mental, and verbal. The consequences were extreme and for someone 8 years old, it was overwhelming and frightening. However, as we would visit each time they came home, we learned to interpret expressions, movements, and sounds. We learned that they were an individual worthy of respect and love as much as anyone else. I learned to not be afraid. I learned to accept and I learned that our interaction was profoundly important for them also. It was an important lesson that has stuck with me. It caused me to look beyond the obvious to believe there was more to this individual than I could ever imagine. It prepared me to be able to accept others throughout my life in a way I could have never probably be capable of doing.

What is required to believe in something? The variety of things we choose or, perhaps, need to believe in, are myriad in number, and what is required in times of uncertainty is probably even more obtuse, more difficult to ascertain. I wish I had an easy answer, but I most certainly do not. Believing in this case, at least for me, is closely connected to hope and trust. When things do not work, when we seem to have little control, it is easy to lose hope, to have our trust shaken or even shattered. That is simultaneously precisely the moment when we must continue to believe in the possibilities. It is the cost of discipleship as Bonhoeffer said. Believing in troubled times is neither easy nor accomplished without struggle. Much like the grace of God, it is not cheap to believe when most all around us seems more dystopian than not. I refuse to give in to those who would have us believe we cannot do better. I refuse to allow myself (though there are moments) to continually accept that we are a country willing to separate families, abuse authority, and act in a manner that rejects the words on the tablet in the arms of a Statue in New York harbor. I will continue to believe we are a better people than that. We are, and should be, a people willing to care about the health of our elders, our marginalized, our vulnerable, our neighbors. Don’t stop believing there are options which can move us forward in a manner allowing and understanding the inner-connection of individual rights and national identity. Don’t stop believing in the call of freedom that belongs to us individually, but is so much more profoundly apparent when we work together. As I have been wont to do lately, what made the incredible twelve Glee individuals successful in the show was their ability to overcome their individual significant trials and work for the better angels they collectively brought (I am referring to their characters more than their personal lives). In spite of all of it, they did not stop believing.

As I move toward another semester, it will be unlike any semester I have taught. Because of my own health issues, I am required to teach remotely. Because I was not supposed to be here, but rather in Poland this fall, I have a schedule that has been finalized rather last minute. I will have three sections of Freshman Writing (75 first semester freshmen online). Anyone who has taught any first year writing class knows the importance of community in that class and the laborious nature of acclimating freshmen to the jump in expectations is significant. Doing it remotely will require even more time, but it is as it is. The fourth section this fall is Technical Writing. It is my hope that we will be able find a space and process that will provide them with the best experience possible. I believe that can happen, but it will take dedication and hard work from all (and yes, that includes me). I believe it the power of community and hard work. It has served me well for almost 65 years most of the time. Well . . . off to do some of that work. The version of “Don’t Stop Believin'” here is the version that was sung during the two-episode 100th show of Glee. Wherever you are, “don’t stop” . . . . keep going. This version and what the show accomplished for so many people keeps me believin’, and as I often do, it makes me cry, but I love the care it demonstrates.

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Nobody Said it was Easy

Hello from the acre on a cloudy, but busy, day.

This morning as I went to water the garden, which up until now my fence seemed effective, two of my tomato plants and a squash planted has served as sustenance for my roaming deer. I am not sure if the two tomato plants will recover and the squash plant is not too damaged, so I was out with the deer-be-gone bottle attached to the hose. Hopefully it will do the trick. I also sprayed the yard and everything around for about 20 feet, so we will see what happens. In addition, I had plumbers here this morning to manage servicing both toilets in the house as well as the hot water faucet in the downstairs bathroom. For the first time since I have lived in the house, I think everything is working up to par. That is a great thing. I should also note that both of the service plumbers wore a mask as did I while they were here. I also went on a cleaning frenzy in my kitchen, watered plants indoors, and have now sat in on a Covid Response Presentation from Geisinger Health System over the last little more than an hour, which was profoundly informative. Last, and certainly not least, it seems I have a bit more of an idea of what my classes will be during the fall. The story behind all of that is an entire post in and of itself, but I will refrain. Suffice it to say it has been taxing (and that has nothing to do with the fact that tax day this year was July 15th).

I continue to be more profoundly affected than I expected by the death of Naya Rivera and my listening to the music of the show has been a way for me to mourn, or pay tribute, in my own private manner. I felt some of that when Cory Monteith passed and again some when Mark Salling, so I do not know if it is a cumulative thing or it is because I feel even worse because Ms. Rivera was able to provide entre for so many others because of her ethnicity and the character she played as well as like the others, she was incredibly talented and lost far too soon. Perhaps it is also that it appears her passing was the consequence of trying to save her son. Each time I write that, focus on that aspect, I have literal shivers in my body. What I realize in the case of each of these incredibly talented individuals all the fame, success, or other consequences of being on a groundbreaking show did not make their lives easier. Perhaps, in fact, it can be argued it did exactly the opposite. Making in the neighborhood of 80,000 dollars an episode, which is where some of them were, is a responsibility. It requires someone in their mid-20s to mature, manage, and understand things few are prepared to understand. And while the success is perhaps admirable, there is little doubt it causes monumental changes in every aspect of that individual’s daily existence. Our consumer society flashes around them like an unlimited candy-store, and now they can buy most anything they want. Yet, it is fleeting. While the main characters on the show are well-known, and they have experienced something few do, how long does it last? More importantly, can it be replicated when the the final episode is done? I do not think any single one of that cast (who were not already established and beyond their twenties) has been able to see themselves as simply the person for whom life merely continues. It is not easy to be seen as something different than or other than a member of the show choir, New Directions, from McKinley High School. The cost of fame is steep; the responsibility is never ending. Is that reasonable, I would say, “Certainly not!” But we foist this because of our national obsession with the biggest star, the most incredible athlete, the most (you fill in the blank).

It also got me thinking beyond. As I noted in the last post, there was a time when life was simpler. Simpler was have a sense of security it seems; it was knowing that you could count on coming home and it would be there; it was believing that your parents would take care of the things you needed, and even if things were a bit tough, you were not aware because they would not let you know of their struggles. Yes, we learned about the things of the world; we were aware of the difficulties in the bigger world; and yet, most importantly, we did not worry about them because of the list that precedes this one. Whether or not we were aware of the larger struggles, we somehow believed that it would all be okay. Yet, why can I write this? That is an important thing to consider and ponder. I am able to write it because I grew up in a white, blue-collar, basic, middle-class family. As I noted in a recent blog, I did not worry about the discrimination many of the black and brown people lived with on a daily basis; in fact, I had no clue what they dealt with. I need to be honest about that. Life was not simple for them; they all lived in one section of my town, but I did not realize that. More importantly, we seldom stopped in that section of town. I realize now what that means. I realize so much more now about how I believe we worked to make our own lives simple, or at least I thought so, and yet we seldom worked to imagine the life of the other. It was not a conversation that would have even occurred to me. What I am so much more aware of now is easy is a relative term. It is what we believed we should have, what we were entitled to, what supposed hard work and keeping our noses clean, as my father would say, would accomplish. What makes life easy? This is not an easy question.

What I realize now, at least for me, easy is about contentment; it is about a sense of peacefulness; it is about believing in the possibilities or being able to chase a dream. Easy does not come easily, however. As we get caught up in accumulating, seldom are we content. When we believe there is more to do, more to accomplish, more to complete, seldom are we at peace with ourselves or those around us. As we are worried about living out or dream or seeing possibilities as simply that, merely a possibility and not a requirement, it is easy to lose sight of both. If we only understood more profoundly the consequence of choice at an earlier age, then, perhaps, we might find it more possible to see where we might go or what we might achieve. Again, what happens when someone is born into a situation where the ability to accumulate is not likely? What happens when strife because of a lack of basic essentials makes peace merely a concept? What happens when dreams become more a realization of what will not happen? Even in my own part of town, where there were few who probably lived much more than from paycheck to paycheck, there were some who struggled to even have a regular paycheck at all. I had a Sunday School teacher whose husband made probably little more than minimum wage or certainly struggled to make a living wage. It was all the more difficult when they had 5 or 6 children who ranged from late teens to barely in school. They seldom had a working automobile and they lived on a dirt street and often they walked to church through the rain and the mud. And yet, my Sunday morning teacher seldom complained, always had a smile on their face, and would give to another when they barely had something for themselves. To this day, I marvel at this individual. I believe they are still alive and in their 90s.

I have noted in a number of blogs that I seldom dated in high school. During my senior year we had newly built schools and a reorganized school district. Where I attended my senior year, the majority of minority students in my town attended that same school. During my senior year, I had a number of classes with one particular classmate. She was intelligent, personable, thoughtful, beautiful, and black. I did not really think of her as a black student, I saw her as a friend and someone who made me laugh. One day she asked me if I would like to go to a movie. I was stunned, not because of her ethnicity, but rather because she was so beautiful and I was not that amazing. It took me less than a second to accept. When I got home that night I told my parents I had a date. They were also stunned, but for a different reason; I only when out maybe three times my entire time in high school. My dad even allowed me to use their second car. I did bring my friend home to meet my parents, and they were cordial, but when I got home that night, my father told me that I needed to sit my ass down. Yikes!

He asked me, What I was thinking?
I asked, innocently, “What?”
His response, “You went to the movie with a black girl.”
My response, to which he was not amused, “She was?”
Again, he told me in no uncertain terms that was not acceptable.
My response, even then, was, “She is my friend. I would have probably been okay had I stopped there, but those of you who know me, know that was not the case. I told him that I would promise to go out with her three or four more times before I would propose to her. He was not amused. I tell that story because I did not consider my parents as racist, but through that as well as a later statement by my father that stated, “I have known black people, but I have never been friends with one.” told me just how bigoted that generation was. Indeed, life could never be easy when that is what the average white, middle-class, person held as a common attitude.

As I noted in my last blog, the passing of Naya Rivera has been a difficult and emotional thing. As I have pondered the rationale for that, I believe what has been so significant for me what how this amazing six year run of the show so honestly considered the complexity of what many people face in their daily lives and dealt with it in a forthright and thoughtful manner. There is nothing easy about growing up, and as we are in the midst of a global health crisis, any misperception that it will get easier is a pipedream. I have gotten a regular stream of phone calls over the past couple weeks from students asking my thoughts and advice about what might happen concerning our coming semester. I have been thoughtful and honest with them. I tell them what I have a sense of, but also remind them that I am not part of a university committee who are considering the complexity of what coming back to Bloomsburg entails. I also advise them to contact their landlords if they are living off campus. I remind them that communication is essential if they are to prepare for whatever the fall might bring. For those who are coming to college for the first time, I can only imagine what might be going through their minds. For those who are about to graduate, their senior years are much more complex than they imagined as freshmen three years ago. For those who have been teaching or working at the university, life as it was seems unlikely to return anytime soon, if at all. Indeed, no one said it would be easy, but I am quite sure we were not prepared for this. We need a strategy, but we need that at a university level, at a system level, at the state and the federal level. Such a take will never be easy when what we are attempting to manage is nothing like we have tried before. It will never be easy when we seem to have a national situation that is fragmented and seemingly dishonest. There is no easy silver bullet, and, again, to believe there is will do little to confront Covid’s complexity. Leadership is not something that can only be initiated publically, it is well-evidenced these past five months that it will take each of individually doing our level best to get in front of this deadly situation. Anything less is a failure and cheapens each individual life we have lost. Again, this is not about easy, it is about what is right, what is moral, and what is necessary. Finally in honor again of the loss of a mother and a talented person, I offer another song from the series Glee.

Thank you as always for reading; I wish you each health and safety, a sense of peace and hope.