“The Right to Die . . . The Will to Live”

Good Tuesday Morning from my office,

I am between classes and trying to write a blog post in a matter of 25 minutes. I was in WI this past week because Lydia, the neighbor for whom I care, had some significant health issues as she is sadly moving toward the end of life. When I arrived in Menomonie on Wednesday evening, she was still up and she was aware that I was coming to visit. She was sitting at her table, as is often the case, and looking at the magazine section of the previous Sunday’s New York Times. The title of the cover article for that week was the title of my blog post. While she did not have her glasses on, so I am quite sure she was not reading, the irony of the title and the situation, which necessitated my need to fly back, cannot be overstated. Long-story-short, she has stabilized, but I believe all the things that occurred this past week certainly took their toll on her aging body and mind.

Then to complicate matters of the quick trip, I was in the airport grading and trying to manage my summer classes and managed to miss my flight. Then to make it even worse, I did it twice, so the last flight of the night was also not available and I ended up renting a car and driving from Chicago to Bloomsburg yesterday, about 700 miles, which was also brutal. This morning in class I am working on helping them prepare for the final six days of class, and schedule their priorities and time effectively. I also need to do the same. It is hard to believe that this time next month, we are already into the first week of the fall semester. I think the month between now and then will be difficult. Then with Lydia’s impending health situation, there will be another layer of “what if?” added. Sleep, hydration, and discipline will be the call for the entire fall.

This past week I was reminded of what life is all about . . .  or at least required to reflect upon it. Reflection is the very thing I asked of my morning class and will be asking of my next class, which meets in about 8 minutes. Through their electronic portfolios, they are asked to reflect upon what they have learned and to decide how the artifacts they post demonstrate some sense of how they have met the student learning outcomes for the course. What was particularly clear to me this morning was this: we are not reflective, or nearly as reflective as we should be, about what we do, or why we do it. What might happen if we merely slowed down and took the time to think and analyze? Instead, we seem to be speeding up. We have to get everything done immediately. We need to know everything immediately (hence or affair with our technology). Before we can reflect we are on to the next seemingly important thing. We are awash in information,  but much like I was overwhelmed in those de-embarkation exercises on the ship (I was throwing up from being seasick), I am overwhelmed now by all the stuff (and I want to react much the same way).

Maybe, while I still have breath in me, I will to live in another manner. Maybe then, I will find the right to die much more peaceful.

Just some thoughts,

Dr. Martin

So Much Work . . . So Little Time


Hello from the Fog and Flame

It has been a crazy week.  The power went out on campus and they closed the university that afternoon. The temperatures have been in the mid 90s and it is humid. My air conditioners have been running continuously. In addition, the amount of work facing me right now seems insurmountable. I think I could do a 96 hour grading binge and I might be caught up, at least for the moment.

This morning there are two things on my mind. First, the Fog and Flame is a great place to come and it is a locally owned coffee shop. Last evening, some “probably intoxicated” person punched out one of the windows, creating a problem for the new owners. Now I am certain they have insurance or the building owner does, but why should they be responsible to manage the mess of a drunk, foolish, and probably angry person who does not know how to handle his alcohol. This is where I think “community service until infinity” should be adjudicated. Fortunately for the owners, I guess the person was caught, probably needs some stitches in his hand, and this will cost him some money. I think he should be required to go through an alcohol assessment, be required to do anger management classes (all at his own expense) and then be required to do some community service for the business. Those are my thoughts on breaking out a window at 11:30 at night,

The second has to do with President Obama’s address. While I had read something about President Obama’s speech about the Trayvon Martin case, I actually listened to his address this morning. How can we not be impressed with his measured and careful words? How can we not respect the argument he posited about the context of the case and what it means to wake up each morning in a society that claims equality, but does not honestly practice it? How can we not appreciate the way he noted that, in spite of the tragic events in Florida, we have made progress as a country? I am glad that I voted for such a principled and intelligent man, both times. Now, I know that some of my friends, and even people for whom I have a great deal of respect, will disagree with me, some even stridently. However, I also know that I do not wake up each morning as a black male. I do not know what it feels like to be stared at, judged by, and discounted because I have a different colored skin or because I speak differently.

Within the last month, I was in a public eating establishment in Bloomsburg and I listened to 4 elderly white men lament the president. There is a problem with my previous statement, they were probably not smart enough to use the word “lament” in a sentence and even worse they were racist and bigots. They spoke in a volume loud enough to be heard in most of the eating area and referred to our elected president using both the “F” word and the “N” word numerous times. I was actually stunned, in addition to being offended. I wondered two things: where the hell had I moved, and what year was it? Had I been time-warped into a pre-civil rights era? Unfortunately not . . .  the experience demonstrates quite clearly the relevance and the truth in the President’s address.

Second semester, Julian Bond, the noted civil rights leader, spoke on campus. He spoke both eloquently and forcefully about how far we still need to move to create a truly equal society. I walked out of his address realizing that my own “cozen comfortableness” needed to be reconsidered. It is so easy for me as an older middle-aged white person to believe we have just made progress and there is not that much that needs to be continually questioned. This is certainly not the case.

Well as I must turn to my own grading and writing, those are the things I am considering outside the scope of my daily chores. On another front of my ever-scattered mind, I had the opportunity yesterday to catch up with two of my former students: one who has graduated and the other who has left Bloomsburg. In both cases, I was reminded of just how fortunate I am. I have been so blessed to have such wonderful people cross my path. I have been privileged to meet them and have the opportunity to both teach and learn from them. It is a great job I have.

Thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin (Michael)

‘Houston, We have a Problem”

ImageHello from the Houston Hilton North,

I did not plan to be in Houston this morning, I had planned to be to my destination, although it was a circuitous way to arrive, I had booked the cheapest ticket I could, so I knew I would be in airports for the day. However, when I ended up on the plane that was 17th in line for takeoff from Newark things began to change. So in the words of the Apollo 13 astronaut, which was spoken so clearly by Tom Hanks, this morning I am blogging from Houston. I should finally get to my destination this afternoon. Unfortunately, I will get to do this again on Sunday, but I am hoping their are no traveling SNAFUs then. Otherwise, I will have a Monday nightmare on my hands for many and various reasons.

I was actually in the Houston area many years ago. It was when I was on the LYE team and we had made a north/south cross-country trek in Elmer, the Ford Econoline van. Both John and I ended up sick and we here headed from Birnamwood, WI to Nassau Bay, TX. I think I am relatively close to their now. Then I was 23  . . .  now, a lot older. I think it was a really nice area as I remember and I think we even played for some sort of wine and cheese function (party) of some kind. I think it was a fund raising things for a youth group.

Well, as I sat in my hotel room last evening trying to get organized, I read blogs. What I have learned about many of my students is when they are thoughtful and reflective, they are good writers. I have to ponder that over the weekend. I know they are struggling with this memoir paper and even with the map idea. Yet, when they think reflectively in their blogs some of their writing is very strong. What makes them comfortable in that venue. It is the length? Is it the topic (which they are allowed to choose as long as it is relevant to class)? Is it the repetition of being required to do it daily?

Before I left yesterday, on Wednesday, I spoke with the Interim Director of the Program. There are some concerns about the quality and commitment of a few students. I am somewhat stumped that a few seem to treat this as a six week vacation versus an opportunity to come to the university and have the opportunity to begin their education. Again, is it because they were psychologically under-prepared? Is it because a few merely are not ready for college? Is it because they have been coddled in the public school system (or is my perception of high school merely jaded and that does not happen?)? Or . . . . and I am just not sure why. I do want my students to succeed, but I also believe success is something we initiate; it is not thrust upon us. I do believe there are individuals who can assist out trek to become successful. In fact, I think very few actually do it on their own. However, for it to be lasting, there has to be discipline and consistency. There has to be a desire to reach for that which seems at times unattainable. I have had a few students ask if I knew I was going to be a professor someday. Never in my wildest dreams might I have imagined such a possibility in high school. Perhaps that was the problem. I had no dreams really. I had no idea who I was or where I was going. How do we provide that sense of dreaming in a manner that someone believes his or her dreams are possible? How is that ability and hope instilled in such a way that one merely see that dream as a challenge, and therefore, a reality versus an illusion? Something I guess I need to ponder today. I am hoping that I will always have a sense of dreaming and making those dreams reality, whether it be for me personally or in helping someone else achieve his or hers.

Thanks for reading.


The Longest Day


Good late evening (almost midnight),

It has been a very long day. I left the house this morning at 7:00 a.m. and I got home about 11:25. I have taken a shower and now, to try to make sure I am putting in my “blogging time”, I am posting. This evening both sections of my Foundations of College Writing classes meet at 8:30 and we watched Robert Redford’s amazing version of the Norman Maclean’s novella, A River Runs Through It. I am not certainly how many times I have watched that movie now, but it has to be in the 20s or maybe 30s. Somehow this evening I was reminded of the very first time I watched it. I was flying to Miami during Spring Break of 1993, the first year I taught at Suomi College (now Finlandia University) to go on a 4 Day Cruise in the Bahamas. It was the first, and only, cruise I had, or have, ever taken.

More than the cruise, I remember we were reading the novella from Timo Koskinen’s class. I remember writing the final for that class and thinking about when the father was sitting in the woods with his Bible instead  of fishing; that scene along with the lines in the movie about words and I am reminded of the prologue to the Gospel of John: In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. I actually find it more comforting in Greek than English, but WordPress will not let me write it in the Greek script. However, I remember writing it in Timo’s final in Greek and talking about the importance of the word.

It is amazing what we do with words and what words can do. And yet, we have become so cavalier with them. We do not take the time to think of their power nor their importance. As my students work on their memoirs, the words they write and what they offer to their future children will create pictures and connections, stories and identity, reflections and understandings, both for themselves as they write, but also for that future audience, their children.

I was asked by a friend last week if I was every sorry I did not have children. I think that was more likely the case when I was in my thirties and forties, now, it is not really something I consider. I guess I feel like I reach out to enough people to be a surrogate parent that I have fulfilled that need. I am not really sure how much the need was really there. I have to think and ponder that a bit. What I do know is that when I see a family (and I know there are no perfect families) where there seems to be a strong center or nucleus and everyone has value (even if they do not always realize it), I feel the twinge of remorse, wishing I might have experienced that. Then again, I think my propensity to be alone would make having a family with kids and grand-kids something that I might find taxing.

I guess I am not sure and perhaps I do not need to figure it out, particularly now when I am tired and rather fuzzy as far as clear thinking (only because I am tired before you come to some other conclusion). It has been one of the longest days I have had in a long time, but as I look at what is on my plate over the next few days, the next few weeks, the next few months, it is highly probable that I will have some more days like this. Again, in my 20s-40s I seemed much more capable of doing those hours without feeling like I just got drop-kicked so something. It is that business that also keeps me from getting involved with other things. In fact, I believe I need to pull back from somethings even now if I am going to manage. I guess it gets back to the idea of focus and priorities.

I think I will ponder those things some more. In the meanwhile, in less than 8 hours I will be back in class.

So it is  . . . . the longest day. Thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin


Working ‘on” the Weekend


Hello on Saturday afternoon,

We are in the middle of the long holiday weekend and I am quite sure my students think they are the only people in the world required to work ‘on’ the weekend. Well, they are not quite accurate. I have been working a good part of the weekend. I have blogs to read, to comment on, and to grade; I have Credit by Exam (CBE) essays to assess; and I have memoir paper intro papers to consider, and I need to manage some assignment issues for class on Monday. That does not count that I have some of my own writing to do.

Before someone believes I am playing victim, let me assure you that is not the case. I knew that being a professor in an English Department mean working more than a few hours a week. I actually love teaching Foundations class and helping students discover the importance of writing well and helping them move forward on that continuum. Writing is nothing new to them; they actually write quite often, but that writing is to a wide variety of audiences . . . and their purpose for writing is as varied as the audience.

I have spend a lot of time this weekend also reading various articles, which I have posted into the course delivery tool, in hopes that they will find there is a lot of information out there about the world in which they live. One of the best things I have done is take the time to read the news on a daily basis. I am always amazed by people who say it is not worth reading. It is for that very reason we should read. It is so important to understand the world in which we live. It is a complex and rapidly changing society. I do not want to be left behind. It is also important to read things with which we might not agree because it forces us to think and improve our own arguments and positions. When President Obama ran for office the first time, one of the things I most appreciated was when he said (and I am paraphrasing) that he needed to listen to people who disagreed with him.

It is hard to believe that we are only a weekend into the summer session; it seems longer then that for me. I am not sure if that is a good or bad things, but it is a reality, at least at the moment. I am really quite flabbergasted at how quickly everything seems to go . . .  I know logically a minute is still a minute, an hour an hour, and a year a year, but the words of my father are once again ringing in my ears . . . things will move more quickly the older you get. Forty years ago this week I was in my first week of Marine Corps Boot Camp. I do not think I have my boot camp picture on this computer, but I will look for it. Rather frightening what 40 years as done.

As I am sitting here and working, I am listening to the soundtrack from Jersey Boys. Their initial music is from my elementary years. If I were not teaching, I had a chance to go back to an all-school reunion this weekend. That would have been interesting. I have not really been one to go to those things. I did go to a twentieth college reunion about 10 years ago. I did actually enjoy it. What I know is this: time does march on. There is always an option to slow down and let it all pass us by, but I would not be content to do that. Perhaps that is part of the reason I am struggling with some things right now. While there are differences and some things are constant, so many things change and we cannot go back. The allegory of the stream is all too true, but that is for another time.

Well, back to working ‘on’ the weekend . . . thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin (aka: Michael)