One More Time

Good early morning,

I have gone to bed for the day, but my brain seems to be in overdrive. It is
early morning now . Part of that is due to life’s circumstance, part of it is because of the night’s conversation, and, yet again, part of it is because of my reflecting on the death of Dr. Maya Angelou, one of the more influential voices of this time, or perhaps the last generation. I remember reading many of her pieces in both my second Master’s process and during my doctoral work. One of my best friends, and one who has allowed me to serve as a mentor, posted the following quote on her Facebook timeline earlier today. “Have enough courage to trust love one more time and always one more time” (Angelou).

Poets have the ability to reach inside our souls and reveal the thoughts or words we are too frightened to think much less speak. I am always amazed by the person who says ” I don’t need to read that poem or play or story or novel or . . . often to be followed by the idea that they cannot relate to it or it has no relevance to their life. I must again thank all the professors at Dana, who taught in the humanities program, especially Luella Nielsen and Norman Bansen, for helping me see that relevance. I think of my colleague now, Jerry Wemple, who takes the seemingly ordinary from the annals of his life and history and gives them relevance and beauty. There is beauty in each of our lives, real and profound beauty. Yet too often it goes unnoticed because we get caught up in “the other”.

Is it we get caught up through necessity, through a misguided sense of importance? What must happen for us to reorient our focus? I think that answer varies from person to person. Sometimes that impetus comes from within, but more often than not, I believe it is thrust upon us, either knowingly by others who care for us, or by a sort of crashing together of events or things, perhaps seemingly random, but maybe more determined that meets the eye. The how and why is not really as important as the what we do with that impetus, with that opportunity. What is perhaps more important, once again, is whether or not we can see the value in the event.

This is where the importance of rhetorical strategy and delivery take center stage. Too often the delivery or the circumstance in which the message is given or received can overshadow the significance of the message. There have certainly been times in my life where all the best intentions in the world could not allow the message being either offered or taken in have a “snowball’s chance” because either I spoke ineffectively or listened even more poorly. I have most undoubtedly been the victim of my own limitations this past semester. Amazing to see how one event (perhaps even somewhat salvific in nature) has caused me to reconsider a number of things . . . And that event is in the chance meeting of yet another, not in some profound news or information.

We are provided chances or placed in circumstances on a regular basis where we are offered the chance to make a difference. Too often we allow them to pass, either because we are unaware or because we are too frightened to do something. I have missed chances due to a number of reasons. Somehow, I have been given yet one more time, an opportunity. It might seem a bit of a stretch, but I am reminded of Eninem’s theme song from the movie, 8 Mile. Of course, when I worked for Chrysler in the Detroit area, I had the occasion to drive up and down that road. We have a chance an opportunity. Unfortunately, contrary to the rather specific lyrical line about “failure”, too often we do. But what is failure? Is failure permanent or something passing? If we learn from the past, from those things less than successful, have we still failed? Perhaps that is a topic for another posting.

One of the more profound things I heard last evening (and this has been a regular mantra) was “I try to be fair. I try to see all the sides.” What a wise thing, and an exceedingly complex thing, to do. It is certainly not something most do easily or if at all, and particularly when the issue strikes close. Too often our emotions cloud our vision or our ability to think. Clarity of either vision or voice is a struggle. However, it is amazing how this is the rule rather than the exception in this case. So yet, one more time, there is an opportunity for hope (esperar). I have learned the word in Spanish means both wait and hope. How appropriate. There can be no hope without a process and without hope there would be no reason to wait. Waiting, expecting, believing: each require patience; each can offer hope.

So one more time I will say thanks for teaching me. Thanks for mentoring me; thanks for tutoring me. I am glad to be a student of yours.

Thanks for reading. It’s 4:30 and time to sleep a bit.

Dr. Martin

Creating Memories

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Good morning on a cloudy and humid day,

This morning began early 4:23 a.m. to be exact. It seems an aspirin taken to manage a fever last evening decided to raise havoc with my stomach. So after a bit of puttering around the house this morning, including a load or two of laundry, I went to the diner for breakfast. I thought some food might alleviate the upset stomach. No such luck. I am afraid this morning is a harbinger of what is to come. I detest throwing up more than most anything in the world.

I worked on a number of necessary tasks yesterday and today will be more of the same. This afternoon I am meeting with a Lutheran Brotherhood (my old school term)/Thrivent agent to make sure some things are in order. I want to try to make sure that some day I leave no debts or problems for others to have to manage. This past week, the fact that my sister did not do this so well came back to haunt me. It is one of those moments when I am aware that I am almost 60 and then I am trying to figure out how I got this old. I know that 60 is not old, but when I was in my teens or even perhaps my early 20s, it certainly seemed a long ways away.

As those who really know me are aware, I am a process person. I have to figure out how things work and why they work that way. I wish I had answers for some of that now? “Why am I still here?” is one of those questions. I have been told by more than one doctor “you are a miracle”. I have never really felt that miraculous. Perhaps a bit of an anomaly, but that is I guess because I think that I think differently. I have been trying to figure that out. How and why did that happen? I think merely trying to live each day as a someone who wanted to make some small difference kept me most often from thinking about who I was or what I  was about. I don’t really think most of us are that different. We merely go about our lives.

That brings me to my focus (the title of today’s post). Some of my earliest memories are of my grandparents and living at their house as a little boy. The best memory is of breakfast and soft poached eggs, a half of grapefruit, and a piece of some kind of toast (from the various bread options from her bakery). What is perhaps the most important memory or realization of my living at or visiting my grandmother’s house was that she loved me, and she loved me regardless. I am still amazed by her capacity to love and give. She, in spite of her difficulties, never quit giving. I remember the summer I lived at her house between my junior and senior year of high school. I think I grew up more that summer than I have actually realized. I worked at the bakery from 5:00 or 5:30 in the morning until about 3:00 in the afternoon. Then I went to a second job and worked from 5:00 in the evening until midnight or so . . . and I did that 6 days a week. It is actually one of my favorite summers. I was all of 16 years old and I never felt like I was working too hard or had it rough. I bought my first car and I learned that hard work was an okay thing. I am not sure I always remembered those lessons as well as I might have.

In my elementary and into middle school (as they call it now) years, I think my best memories are being in the Sioux City Children’s Community Theatre and in the Sioux City Children’s Choir. A fellow member of both groups was a girl named Miriam Oesper. I thought she was the most beautiful girl in the world. She was the first person to kiss me. I was so amazed and frightened. She was an amazing person. I still remember her birthday (March 3rd). Her family moved to Des Moines (Urbandale to be exact) and I never saw her again. I did actually catch up with her by email a few years ago. Amazing how the memories and even the feelings of she must be wonderful were still there somehow. However, unlike some I know, if it is in the past, it is probably best to leave it there. There was also another person from that group and her name was Carolyn Wayman. She was another person I found to be wonderful: smart, funny, and beautiful. I have wondered from time to time about many of those theatre persons. I realize that experience was more important to me than I ever imagined.

When I came home from the service, there are memories, and perhaps the most important one immediately was meeting the Peters family. David and I still communicate until this day. His sister, Barb, was the first person I might have really loved. I remember this picture of her (it was a school picture) with the most amazingly beautiful long hair. I can still see it clearly. I also learned an important lesson to never like your best friend’s sister. However, emotions are seldom rational. There are certainly memories from beyond high school and into college and other places, but they sometimes seem to blur together and I am not sure that there is something that really jars my memory or emotions the same way. Perhaps my trip to Europe with Dr. Nielsen during the January interim class of 1981. Interestingly, again, when I think about the events, there are so many things that flood back . . . . Lutheran Youth Encounter (LYE) team, summer Greek class, East Germany, Oberammergau, Denmark, Garmisch Partenkirken, meeting biological relatives, college, graduate_school). Over the past week, I have connected with my cousin to chat about things. I noted her in my last post. She has been kind and texted me almost every day since our talk last week. She noted that I am the one who really understands her. She is one of the few who has always accepted me. The memories . . .  Grandpa’s, Firefall, The Marina, the white Buick Regal or the green Cadillac.

As I noted, I have a number of tasks to try to manage today and some time will be spent in my office organizing and getting things off my plate. I also have to go to the bank and get some more things managed there. I am merely hoping for a productive day. Over the weekend I had the opportunity to spend Memorial Day with Mr. and Mrs. Galán. I had the most wonderful food and the greatest conversation on a number of levels. At one point, Mrs. Galán and I spoke for about 45 minutes. She does not really speak English, though I think she understands more than most might think. My Spanish is nascent at best, but we were able to communicate and understand each other for the most part. It was actually quite amazing and it created another important memory for me. It meant a lot for me because it required me to use my beginning skills, but I hope that she realized how important I believe she is also. Too often I believe she is marginalized because of the language issues and that is not acceptable for me.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to create another memory. It was unplanned, but it was poignant. Muchas gracias por los 45 segundos en la mesa y la mirada en su cara. Gracias por sus palabras y sus rasgones. Soy bendito usted está aquí. Nunca olvidaré. Well, it is time to do some work. Thank you for reading and for those who have commented, thank you also. I am fortunate you are in my life.

Michael

Beset by Irony

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Good evening,

As I write this there is a group of students working on their Odyssey of the Mind project in the next room. I have watched the movie, The Last Samurai, for the umpteenth time, but it is a movie that inspires me. It inspires me to work to be a better person and to be someone who digs deep to try to improve. I wish I had the discipline that those amazing men must have had. I guess my being in the Marine Corps offered some of that. It is interesting that the Marines talk about honor, discipline and tradition. Once before I wrote about the Japanese group of warriors called Samurai. They have a code by which they lived called Bushido. It was based on principles and those principles , or that code, is something that I wish I could adhere to better than I do. These eight virtues are still the principles of Japanese culture in the 21st century. There is something to be said for a code of life based on honor and respect. To live a life of rectitude and loyalty is quite admirable. It is actually the respect the movie seems to have for the Japanese culture that most resonates with me. I am not a huge Tom Cruise fan, but I must admit there are times in this movie I respect how he goes about his craft. His work to use the Japanese language and demonstrate a sense for the Samurai culture was impressive. There is a scene at the end of the movie after the final battle, where Algeran (Cruise’s character) presents the sword of the Samurai leader to the emperor. The emperor, realizing some important cultural issues at hand, asks Algeran to tell him how this amazing warrior (played excellently by Ken Wanatabe) died. Algeran answers, “I will tell you how he lived.” Such an important statement. It is not who we are, it is much more about how we have conducted our lives that is important. Those who have children leave more than heirs, they leave examples of their life. We are the products of the lessons we have been taught.

I have thought about that a lot lately. What do we leave behind. As I noted in an earlier post, if I have no children have I lost out on a legacy? Yes, perhaps in the most profound way, but I do hope that things I have taught in my classes has an influence. I do believe I have had an important influence on at least one of my nephews or nieces. I am relatively confident that I have. I was once told if you profoundly influence 3 or 4 other people in your life you were successful. I am not sure I can claim that, but I would like to believe I have made some difference in the lives of my students. I have been told that my classes are difficult, but that when a student walks out of my class knowing that they learned something of importance. I think of it as he or she got the education they have paid for. This is important, especially when the cost of an education has become so prohibitive for many. The amount of debt they will carry for the next twenty years or more is substantial. What has a person learned in the time they are in college. It is certainly more than what their books offer. It is my hope they have begun to understand who they are and why what they do matters. So many are focused on only the piece of paper. College is so much more. Life is so much more.

So much of my life I have worried about what others thought or about what others wanted me to do. I am confronted with choices once again, but they are choices of consequence. They are choices of eternity, and again I can hear my colleague Dr. Lee arguing that idea with me. I have to decide the best course of action to take. I spoke with my cousin today. She is one of the couple people I trust implicitly. She is a person I love deeply. She is a person who has cared for me almost 2/3s of my life. She is a nurse in California. She has been there for me on two other occasions and I remember crying with her on the phone. Today there was a third time and she was as supportive and caring as she has always been. It meant a lot to hear her words. She is a wise woman and she has been through a lot, but in her own words, her plate is large and she can handle a lot. I am grateful for her counsel. While I have not made a final decision about the course of action I will take, I am certainly leaning toward a particular course. It is a course that allows me to take charge of my life. It is a choice that allows me to move forward with my own understanding of dignity.

What I know is I have a lot to accomplish yet and I will work diligently and intentionally to accomplish those things. I wonder what it might be to have some small measure of peace, a peace that I believe “we all seek, but few of us ever find” (The Last Samurai). I wish at times I was a better person, a more profound and intelligent person, a person who made some significant difference, but I know such ideas are a bit foolhardy. They are selfish and self-serving. I do believe I am merely a person who found his way into the world, a bit by accident when you consider my beginning. I am a person who has defied death in, through, or by my very birth. That along with some of the other things that have occurred merely remind me of the blessings I have received so many times and in so many ways. I am still blessed. I have friends, and I have a family, albeit an unexpected one. I have my extended family and I have amazing colleagues and a great place to work. All of those things together give me much more than many have.

I am not exactly sure what the next weeks and months will bring and, again, I am not sure what my decision about these newest issues will be. I will have to ponder and process. I am good at that. I am pretty comfortable pondering and wondering about the “what if” questions. As I have noted, that has always been part of my life. It will continue to be so. The picture is of me a few weeks before I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, which eventually turned out to be Crohn’s. It is one of the last “pre-IBD” pictures I have. My hair was certainly a different color back then.

As always, thanks for reading.

Michael

Laughing at Mistakes

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Good Monday evening,

I am in my study after a rather random weekend. As I noted in the last post, I did attend the Art Garfunkel concert Saturday night. While I went by myself, I did find out that another person I knew was headed to the concert also and she and her friend actually sat almost directly in front of me, we did catch up afterwards for a cup of coffee and a nice conversation. The concert was very nice, rather intimate, and, unfortunately, a bit short, but in spite of its length, it was certainly worth the time and the money. I still remember the first time I was listening with regularity to Simon and Garfunkel. I was in late elementary school or junior high and I had the Bridge over Troubled Water album. I think I had every track memorized and it is one of those albums that instantly puts me back into the time in my life. I think I was out of the service and back in Sioux City and I bought the Breakaway album, which is the only Garfunkel album I think I ever purchased, but, once again, I think I had every track on the album committed to memory. I think Art Garfunkel might have one of the purest voices I have ever heard.

While I was, at least, vaguely aware that he had suffered a vocal chord paresis a few years ago, I guess I did not really consider that fact when I found tickets available. I will say that his voice has certainly lost some of that phenomenal quality that I remember, it was still quite amazing and a combination of his songs, the songs made famous by the duo, and the intimate setting of just him and an acoustic guitar was quite impressive. What I did not realize what how important poetry was to him. I guess it makes sense as a song writer, but what he did throughout the concert was to interject the reading of one of his poems. There were two interesting elements here. First, each poem seemed to be scribbled on a  business size mailing envelope; and second, the poetry was very good. It was always introduced to provide some context and then he would just read it.

There was a certain vulnerability in his work both in that fact that his voice was not what it once was and that he shared such personal insights through his poetry. At one point that vulnerability took on a different aspect when he was in the middle of a song and he forgot the lyrics. It was rather amazing as well as a bit amusing. As someone who once did his own guitar and vocal gig, I know of this difficulty. That is why I always had the lyrics in front of me. I had no doubt that I would forget something and look monumentally foolish. He was about a third or more through the song and, at first it seemed that he had merely missed the timing and as such an entrance into a next verse. He got a bit of a puzzled look on his face, but soon that look became ever more concerned. After 45 second or so, he got up off the stool upon which he was sitting and looked at the crowd and simply spoke, “I forget the words.” Everyone clapped and was gracious as was Gunfunkel himself.  It was quite amazing to see such a famous person with 50+ years on the stage forget lyrics, but it also made it more real and honest. All-in-all, it was a very enjoyable and nostalgic evening.

As I noted in the title, I think it is necessary to be able to laugh at our mistakes. Perhaps more importantly, it is necessary to be able to admit them. If we learn from our failures, I am not convinced they should be called mistakes. I think they are learning moments or life’s lessons, and yet I hesitate to use those terms because they seem cliche. Yet, if we learn from our mistakes or take things in a different direction because of them, then they are still a positive thing. Perhaps we need to see them as strengths and weaknesses, but more importantly we need to be able to not only admit them, but be comfortable with them. Can we be comfortable in our own skin? Most often, I think the answer to that question, which is not intended to be merely pondered, is “no”. We are not comfortable when we feel that something reflects less than brightly or positively upon us. The consequence is we hide behind our frailties and our seeming inadequacies, most often afraid to consider or confront them. We ignore the things we should perhaps most often ponder and when we perceive someone else is pondering those things about us we either become defensive, soon to be followed by angry, or we merely avoid and run away. The consequence of that is a lot of unnecessary pain.

I spent more than an hour on the phone with a student about whom I care deeply this morning. At the end of two semesters and a summer in college, because of remedial work, he has less than a semesters-worth the credits and that GPA is abysmal. To go along with that he has probably 15K worth the debt, and people are trying to convince him he needs to come back to college. Certainly there are other factors that play into those decisions, but what is fair to the student? What is possible for this student? Who decides? Who will be honest with the student? Too many times, I believe the academy is selfish and self-centered. They receive financial aid for a student, but is the student really capable of doing the work? I think it is unconscionable and it is certainly not ethical. Of course, there are the stories or the reasons given for less than stellar grades. Too often it is everyone’s fault except the student. What a crock!! I know this all too well from my own beginning semesters of college. I was pretty damn worthless, at least as far as my performance as a student. I remember being sent home. It was something that needed to happen. In speaking with another person yesterday, we chatted about falling on our noses and then picking ourselves back up. That is an important thing to learn. It is such a fine line and it is different for each person. How much do you help and when do you allow them to fall? I am not comfortable with the one-size-fits-all approach, but it is something that most need to learn. Again, can you laugh at those learning moments, those AFGEs, as we called them in seminary? That acronym stands for “another F$*()$ growing experience”.

Well, today is the first day of my summer and I am working on a schedule and a plan for the weeks. The relaxation I spoke of in my last post is something to ponder for another time. I do want to build in some down time each day and I still have plans for the summer. However, another option has presented itself over the weekend that I want to manage. I am working through that at the moment. More on that as it transpires. I am not sure what I even have here today, but I do know that the weekend concert was a really significant event for me. It brought back childhood memories; it reminded me of our humanness and how we often take things for granted. No voice when you are a singer is an issue and Art Garfunkel picked himself up and did not quit. There is a lot to say about that. It is always interesting when we are hit with things that create substantive changes or require us to carefully consider our humanity.

Thanks as always for reading.

Michael

When does one relax?

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Hello from my office,

I have finished grading for the semester and turned in those grades, I have managed a couple of items that need to be managed to get ready for the summer and I actually have a bit of time where I could relax (whatever that means) and perhaps merely take some downtime. However, as soon as I consider such a prospect, I feel guilty. Why is that? Why is it not okay to take some time for myself? Is it because I struggle with ever doing things well enough? Is it because I generally feel that there is so much more that I “should” be doing? These are larger questions, and while they are related to the simpler questions or necessary things at the moment, they certainly do inform the larger questions of when have I done enough? What is enough? Who decides? I do feel like I should be getting even more organized and doing more work. Perhaps it is because sometime I merely seem to putz around with things. I get little things accomplished, but nothing of substance. I must admit, getting my tenure work done second semester was more than something small, but I just about had a meltdown doing that. Is it because I am older and I do not feel like I have as much time left?

I was chatting a bit about retirement the other day, but I am not even sure what I think about such a possibility. I told them I would probably drive myself crazy sitting around. I got at least a taste of that the fall of 2012 when I was on a medical leave from school. I realize the bigger issue for me is  simply priorities. I need to get certain things done and it is not a question of if: it must be done; second it is not a question of when: it is now. That pretty much prioritizes it. I think there is a certain irony because that task or need of which I am speaking is that I need to write. I am, of course, ironically, writing here, but it is the sort of writing that is about publication. I do have some things done, but I feel so inadequate about the quality of them. I am feeling better about the one about the program because I do believe that there are things there that set the professional writing program here and the process apart from most other programs. It has been pretty successful and I think that is because I have amazing support in the department and at the college level. I think that actually goes up to the Provost’s office, but I think it is a really significant thing.

As I have been working in my office this morning, once again I have been checking things off the list. One of the things I did was write a recommendation for a former student, a long-past former student. She is actually going back to the very program I was in. She is one of the most outstanding students I have ever known and I did not even have her in class. However she hung out with a number of the graduate students in the RTC program and she was exceptionally intelligent, and it did not hurt that she had an amazing wit and a total sense of irreverence. It was really a joy to write that recommendation. Sometimes we get asked to write ones that are a bit more difficult. I am always pleased when really committed students do well. I get almost as much out of their success as they do. That happened with another student this week as grades have come out. Dean’s List is no small accomplishment and with only a bit more hard work, I believe that graduating with honors should certainly be attainable. I did not do that in my undergraduate. I was close, but a Physiology and Anatomy course, which was a med school weed out course, and one which I took for “something to do”, doomed that chance for me. While I do not really regret it now, I sure did at the time.

I remember once telling a counselor that I double-majored, double-minored, worked 20 hours a week, did not do summer school and graduated in four years with a 3.74 (we needed a 3.75 for honors) and he asked if I thought that was normal. I said, “certainly.” He said, “probably not.” I did not think about it as any sort of abnormal thing, it was merely what I needed to do to accomplish what I had set out to do. Graduating with a major in History/Humanities and a minor in German/Religion was a far cry from thinking about working cutting hair once upon a time. I think of Lee and Judy Swenson in Newton, Iowa, my first host family when I was on the Lutheran Youth Encounter team. It has been an interesting journey since that summer of 1978. Interestingly, one of their children, who was four when I first met her is now a college professor also.

I guess the more important thing for me is to figure out how to manage the life I have. What happens when we find we are older than we thought (whatever that means)? What is old again? I have begun to believe Lydia is old, but I do not think I will ever make it to 90. I am not sure I want to do that seeing what I have saw over the past 3+ years. What I have had to ponder again is how do I manage the life I have. I have been told many times I am a miracle from the beginning I had. I guess that is true. But when it is your life, you merely manage what you have. When you learn things about your background or your life that have long-term consequences, it might be easy to blame or be angry, but I learned long ago that such anger is really bitterness and I have no time for such behavior.

I do hope to relax some or at least do some things I want to do this summer. I think this will be important for me. I was thinking about the movie, Bucket List, a couple of times lately. I have never really considered the need to make such a thing and I still don’t, but I do want to live without regretting things. I think that is why some of the changes in my life as of late are so important to me. If you have been reading for sometime, you know that I am learning yet another language (which I want to be fluent in yesterday), I have taken some chances with people and have been more blessed than I could have anticipated. It is a bit surprising to me how the meeting of people can make such a profound change, but I think it has been a good change. It is something like the change that Bloomsburg brought from Stout. I have said in the past three for four years maybe my reason to go to Menomonie was not to work at Stout, but rather to meet and care for Lydia. While Stout certainly prepared me for Bloomsburg, maybe the reason I came back to PA was because of the Decker family. Maybe it was about teaching in the summer where I think I have had some of the most profound effect on some students who questioned whether or not they were “college material.” Well, if someone comes here with even an average ability, if he or she works hard, it can be accomplished. Some might need more help than others, but there is a lot that can be accomplished with the correct situation and support.

Next week I have some doctor’s appointments along the second half of gum surgery. Before you shudder too much, the first half of the surgery was not too terrible. I am doing a laser process with the acronym of LANAP. It is pretty amazing. The biggest difficulty is merely managing only liquids and soft food for two weeks. More weight will magically disappear. Not a bad thing. Well, hard to believe it is Friday. Tomorrow night I am going to see Art Garfunkel. I am quite excited by that. Unfortunately, no food, but I am looking forward to the evening and the concert. All in all, things are reasonable. While I am not totally relaxing, I am not sure I know what that means. I’ll work on it over the weekend. Thank you as always for reading.

Michael

Carente de Sentido Común

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Good Morning,

It has been a long few days since I last posted. Late last week I made a quick (and somewhat brutal) trip to Wisconsin and back. I made it 2000+ miles in about 66 hours (and 36 hours of not really driving). The trip there was not that bad, but the last two hours of the return trip that was not the case. I had to stop at two rest stops and wash my face and try to remain coherent. A couple of rumble strips and a realization or two that I think my eyes had closed sufficiently frightened me. I tried to call one person who told me I could check in with him, but got no answer. Texts, of course, do not really work, so that did not really help me. Some would question whether I resemble the title of my blog, but sometimes you just have to do what you have to do. By the time I got home on Saturday evening my body was literally shaking and I could not make it up my steps to the bedroom. I actually rested in the chair in my living room for an hour or so before I could get my legs to work. I think that is the closest I have been to total exhaustion in a very long time. Amazing how once upon a time I thought road trips were fun. Perhaps there is some wisdom in my deteriorating brain even in its exhaustive state. Unfortunately, this also took its toll on my body in other ways. Three bags of fluids this time and, unfortunately, blood work revealed some larger issues. I was trying to get into the gastroenterologist in the near future. I guess I will get in a bit sooner. That is positive.

While I was in Wisconsin I was confronted by the consequences of health and aging in yet another dramatic fashion. There were more times than not (for the first time) that Lydia did not really know me nor was she cognizant of my presence, even though I was sitting right next to her. On a positive note, she did recognize me when I walked in on Friday. However, when the later events happened that day, I actually had to walk away because I began to cry. I have known this day is coming, but the reality of it for more than a moment was difficult for me to manage. I am always amazed that the students who do not really take the time to know me believe I am just a “hard ass” merely because I want them to do their work. What they do not realize is how much a really do care about most everything. As two of my non-traditional students at MTU once said, I am a smoosh. The second issue was all of Lydia’s property and the maintaining of all of it, which is my legal duty. I have tried to work with it in a way that I believed to be prudent and careful. I have allowed people to put in security and other things, which seemed reasonable, but most of it is not working as optimally as I want or believe it should for the money invested. It is not my area of expertise and the failure of it working or being managed is frustrating to me. I also understand that that management requires on-site work and that is not always easy. Then there is the maintaining of the house on a daily basis. I am too kind and willing to be put on the back burner than I should be. Then I end up angry, both at the situation and at myself. If I actually did follow through on some things I am afraid people would really think I am a jerk.

Another frailty that I was made aware of again is my nephew who is struggling with some health issues. He is the second of the five to have significant health issues. Both he and his older brother (while their issues are very different) struggle and will struggle with for the remainder of their lives. For the elder nephew, it is an issue of maintaining a sense of health with a device. I actually understand that more than he realizes, and as noted a the previous paragraph, I continue to fight it. Sometimes I get tired, and there are always questions about how to fight or combat. There is also the option to no longer fight and, at moments, even that seems like a reasonable option. Perhaps I say that because I am content with my life and believe I have accomplished most of what I hoped to do. Of course, there is the question of what do we set out to do? Do we even know? Is there some grand plan about what makes someone successful or not? Do we reach a point where we merely will allow what is to happen merely happen because it is the best plan? That is not to say that we should not plan or work with the cards we are dealt. In fact, I set up the appointment at the attorney this morning. I will have my ducks-in-a-row. Before you think I am being fatalistic, not completely . . . . more realistic. I still have plans and I still have hopes and dreams.

Yet that brings me to the third of the things that happened while I was in Wisconsin. Over the past 10 years, both Lydia and I have worked with a particular contractor regarding concrete and stonework. I have had another project on the back-burner with him for more than a year and I called him while driving back on Saturday. What I got on the other end of the phone call to the question of “how are you?” totally blew me away. He responded, “Do you really want to know?” and I answered, “Yes.” His response was that his 48 year old wife had passed way about 10 days before. I was stunned. In spite of all the time I had spent with him over the years, it was always professional and not personal. I did not know that his wife was both a firefighter and paramedic for the Eau Claire, Wisconsin Fire Department. In the spans of barely over two months, she went from becoming ill to dying of colon cancer (http://www.leadertelegram.com/blogs/christena_obrien/article_d75bfc38-d61d-11e3-a306-0019bb2963f4.html). I know this disease and I know what it does. While many can manage it with reasonable testing, when it occurs like this, there is little that can be done. When it ravages a body that is already compromised from an IBD or something, it is a very different animal. I am so sorry for Greg and his and her family. Yet, it reminds me again that our time is limited. We really do not know what lies around that next corner.

I think that is why I have tried to live my life to the fullest I can. While I have not really thought that much about it, as I ponder now I realize that I have been blessed in so many ways, from places and people, from experiences and opportunities, from the love and care of others. To each of you who have played a significant role both in the past or now . . . . simply, thank you. I am grateful and I am looking forward to more times to continue to create my own personal quilt or picture. I think that is my understanding of sentido común. While some might believe me to be lacking this essential element (and my father said that it was neither), I do believe realizing who we are and what we have is perhaps the most profound understanding of it.

Thanks for reading.

Michael

 

Another Semester ~ Another Year

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Good evening from the corner of my study in Bakeless,

It has been one of the more eventful weeks I think I have had in a while. A week ago I was headed to Hazleton, where I ended up spending the night with my adopted family. I had the opportunity to share some important information with them and then was asked to spend the night. I had a Dominican breakfast last Saturday morning that was amazing. I spent the next morning shopping and going to a Latino Farmers Market. I got to practice my Spanish pronunciation by merely trying to name all the fruits and vegetables, meats and cheeses, Batata, Yuca,  (of which I think I have both the sweet and the bitter) and some squashes. The rest of the weekend and into the middle of the week was taken up with three things: working on my tenure application, grading students work and managing daily class requirements, and working with my mentees (of which there are three formal ones and a couple more more informal ones). All in all it was a busy week. In fact, all of this seems much longer than a week ago.

I am always amazed when the end of the academic year arrives because regardless of how prepared I am, I never seem ready. This semester I walked into the semester more prepared than ever before. I spent days getting ready for what was coming and about 5 weeks into the semester, I felt like I was hanging on by my fingernails again. I am still not sure how that happens (at least I am not completely aware of how). I actually spoke with colleagues about it this semester and I got some interesting replies . . .  and while I know there is truth in what they tell me, I am not sure how I can actually change some of that. Perhaps the most insightful statement one colleague made about it was “I need to quit holding their hands.” I think this might be the most helpful comment. It is actually an important part of who I am, but I need to rethink that. Can I moderate it and not lose who I am? I have actually had to work on that in another way, and the insight that I have been required to consider from their observations has been a struggle. It is something I am working on, but it requires me to take a fundamental part of who I am and make changes. If I am going to be completely honest, I think their evaluation is correct, but figuring out how to change it or make it more appropriate is going to be a process.

As I spend the majority of the weekend in my office putting together supporting materials, grading, and working on other projects, it will need to be tremendously productive, but I know I can do that. I do believe I might have to take a ride on the Harley today. That is a way that I actually de-stress.  . . .  I have learned yet another thing about WordPress and its limitations. Yesterday, I knew I had this open on my computer at school, but I figured I could finish it at home and post it. Nothing doing. I wrote a complete posting twice and when I saved it I saw the post, but when I went back it was gone. It was not until it happened a second time that it dawned on me what was happening. So . . . this is the third posting of this. It is actually Sunday afternoon and I am back in my office. I will try to recreate some of what I wrote yesterday. However before I get back to some of those issues, I must say I had an enjoyable time, for the most part, last evening at the Fog and Flame. A colleague from the Communication Studies Department has finished his PhD and is leaving and he had a little gathering. I was speaking to another professor in that department and I think they had seven searches again for next year. I know she has been on so many search and screen committees that she is totally burned out. It makes it hard on both the faculty and the students and I know this first hand from both sides.

Music has always been a significant part of my life, from the time I was a little boy. I was in choirs or had some sort of musical gadget or listening device. I was in a city-wide children’s’ choir when I was still in elementary school and I was taking private music lessons from the 2nd grade. Yesterday someone asked me what my favorite group or favorite song was. The favorite group was not that hard for me to decide, and anyone who has been acquainted with me over the decades will not be surprised by this choice. It is Kansas, the band that really hit things in the middle 70s. It is the band whose concerts I have attended more than any other one, and it is certainly one of the bands that I believe I had every album they have done, particularly in their heyday. I also liked them because their music was more complex and interesting both melodically and certainly more difficult technically, but they were also always accessible. My favorite song is actually from their very first album and it is a ballad of sorts. It is melodic, but a bit haunting. It is symphonic is its timbre because of the violin and the piano, which has a sort of classical aspect to it. It is the first verse that I find particularly autobiographical. It actually relates to some of the deistic struggles that I have noted. In fact rather than typing the words, I think I will insert a link so you can listen to it, if you so desire (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fyn8IeOdxlY). This is the original version off that first album. It is how I most understand the nature of the third article. It is interesting to me that I am so comfortable with a third article though as a Lutheran person, one who has been taught to be second article dominant. Yet, that is not some charismatic idea of the Holy Spirit, but rather a very personal understanding of it. I think Rudolf Otto’s idea of the numinous is probably at work here for me. It is interesting to me that my humanities class from Dana College is back in the fore of the my thoughts yet again. In fact, I have used those notes on two occasions lately to assist my students today.

As I am finishing things up for the semester, I am grateful for three things (this is not particularly an order of importance, but rather the way they have come to mind): first, I am grateful for my colleague and friend, Dr. Mark Decker. I realize how much your presence in my life means to me. It was when you were gone in the fall that I really came to terms with that. In addition, the Tuesdays and weekly times were as important to me as they were to you. While I know your life will be much more structured and your time much more demanded, I hope we can find a weekly time to check in and at least have lunch or something. I am grateful for all you have done for me in so many ways. Second, I am grateful to my department colleagues, and in particular, as of late, the departmental tenure committee. They have been so supportive and gracious in their advice and support. I have been continually amazed by the difference between the department here and the department in my previous institution. There were good people at Stout, and I still believe that, but the atmosphere there is certainly different than here. Dr. Decker and I have spoken about that on numerous occasions. I have both supportive colleagues and amazing scholars here at Bloomsburg. The third thing, and certainly the most profound thing that occurred this semester began with a snowstorm and a snow-day. I had no idea what was in store for me. I am not sure I even know now, but I know that I have been blessed beyond compare. Twice this week I have had an opportunity to share time with Mr. Galan. Each time I speak with him I learn more; I understand more.

As I finish up “another semester ~ another year, as always, I am amazed at how quickly it goes by. This is the second year that I have been here the entire time a student has been. It is always a bit shocking to see how much he or she changes from their time as freshmen until they are walking across the stage to receive their diploma. It is a wonderful thing to behold. It is a gift to be able to have some small influence on that process. That was the other thing that happened this week. I received an award (as an honorable mention) for the Outstanding Innovative Teaching Award here at Bloomsburg. I knew I had been nominated and I did have to fill something out to be considered. Well, I guess it was a good thing because I got a very nice certificate and there is an email and announcement to the president and the provost. Coming as I am turning in my tenure materials is certainly serendipitous. Well, it is time to go back to grading. The picture here is a picture of me when I was a freshman in college, it was scanned (and heisted) earlier this semester. It seemed like an appropriate option as one can see what I looked like when I was writing those notes for my “hum classes” I  have been sharing the past couple of weeks.

As always, thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin