Understanding One’s Heritage


Hello from somewhere close to Charlotte, NC,

As seems to be normal, I am writing this as I am moving at 500 mph and sitting 30,000+ feet above the earth in the 6th row. We got out of Wilkes Barre shortly before the Vice President was arriving. I know we are close to Charlotte because we just did that “hit the brakes” in midair, so you know they are starting to slow down before hitting the runway at warp speed. I am continually amazed each time we land and they apply the brakes in such a way that it seems if we were sans seatbelt there would be no option but to be propelled forward so that we will all be in the first class section of the plane. I am on my way to the Conference on College Composition and Communication in Tampa, Florida. I am delivering a presentation on incorporating experiential learning into my upper level professional writing classes. It is interesting to me that I have been working with this concept and practicums or internships for 12 years (and before that if I include graduate school) and in the past 5 years it has really become a serious buzz word.

I am now on my second flight and got a couple of people contacted and some emails and messages as well as an important telephone call managed during the 45 minute layover. As I got on the second plane, the number of academics on this plane is outrageous. In the row in front of me, behind me, and with me are probably 90% filled by people headed to Cs. It is actually my first time at Cs; I had submitted things back in graduate school, but I was never accepted. I am quite enamored with the opportunity to present there, and somehow going to Tampa after the winter we have had is simple a bonus at this point. It will be a bit of a whirlwind of a trip, but I do plan to get some work done in my room. I will have a lot of things I want to work on yet tonight after arriving, but I am reminded of one of my MTU mentors? She would present two or three conference papers at a conference and be writing them while she was there, and she could write circles around me anyday, anytime.

Yesterday I ordered another version (language) of Rosetta Stone. I ordered the software in Irish. I spoke with one of my colleagues and he noted there is a Strong movement to revive the language,so I might have jumped aboard the train at the best time possible. I have noted issues of my heritage at other times as I have blogged and I must offer some appreciation for the Galans as they have really influenced my focus on issues of culture and heritage. It is interesting how their family considers that heritage differently, mostly  generationally, but I do not think they are unique in that generational response. It was interesting to me that questions of opportunity showed up on Facebook again from some of the other non-Caucasian students in the past day. It brings to the fore another significant question. What do the terms equality, justice, or opportunity mean? Who decides? What do these terms imply? Again, to whom? And how are those terms defined, by concept or action? Those questions are all for another blog post I think.

Where and when did the idea of becoming an American mean that someone was required to give up or discard their national ethnic heritage? I know that each generation has struggled at times to fulfill the dream of coming to this country and find acceptance. I have enough historical study in my background to know that even my own heritage, one of primarily Irish and Norwegian, struggled to find acceptance in this country. I actually want to do a bit of study on this before I write more here, so I think I will take a break from this post. The break has gotten longer than I anticipated. It is a week or more later, but managing all the pieces seems to be bit crazy. I am actually back in the Midwest at the moment, but it is for not much longer than that. I have come back to visit my life-long friend, Peter. It will be an emotional, but important day. Visiting him, a person who knows my background as well as anyone, is another example my heritage. What is our identity? Who are we and how do we become that person? It is somewhat ironic that this is something I asked my students all the time. Understanding exactly who we are and what that means requires critical thought. It requires us to be honest with ourselves and sometimes that is difficult. It forces us to look into the mirror and in the manner of speaking to leave herself naked and vulnerable. In our nakedness we are unprotected, but I believe we can be cleansed. It is in our vulnerability that we can finally be honest and rid ourselves of our flaws. Cleansed and remade we can move forward with hope and confidence. To some, this sounds perhaps a bit maudlin or idealistic. It is anything but that. To be honest with ourselves and take stock of who we are is tremendously difficult. It requires that we meet our flaws, our failings, our foibles. To know that I’m going to see my friend, my lifelong friend, for probably the last time is shocking to me at this moment. Once again I’m forced to face my mortality. . . . I got to spend 5 hours with Peter yesterday and, out of fairness to him, I will not say much about the progression of his struggle with ALS. I will say while I was not surprised by what I experienced, the reality of seeing him in person was terrifically painful. I am grateful for every minute we spent together. It is shocking to see someone I have known my entire memorable existence in the throes of losing his life. Again, the stories we were able to share go back to our elementary years and throughout most of our growing up. The time into our early 20s was a transforming time for both of us and we went our separate ways because of geography, but somehow we always managed to reconnect and appreciate that history.

Heritage is history; it helps create an identity and offers an opportunity for us to reflect on who we have become, but also how we have become that person. One of the things I have often wondered is how much DNA has a part in our history. We hear stories of those who have been adopted or removed from a family and yet there are uncanny similarities between the removed and their biological roots. I have found some ironic similarities between my biological father, with whom I have spent less than probably a total of 72 hours with my entire life after the age of two. He was in the Marine Corps (as was I), but I never knew that. I know that he went to college at one point and did extremely well. He studied English and Spanish and it is eerily similar that I have become an English professor and have such an interest in languages in general (and I am working on Spanish pretty diligently as I write this). I know he was married twice as was I. I know he traveled a bit as have I. Those are the things I know and while I have never really tried to find out  much else, I think it is a bit komisch or raro for us to have such an overlap. One of the most important things for me in my heritage is to understand what I value and from where those values have come. Some of it is certainly the consequence of an upbringing and the geographical places that have influenced me. It is a bit strange that I have seemed to gravitate toward a particular element or nationality of my rather mixed ethnicity. I know that I have Norwegian, Welsh, English, German, some Native American, and finally Irish. It is the Irish upon which I want to focus. I am not entirely sure I can place a finger upon why that is, I merely know it is. I think it has to do with some of my melancholy nature. I think it is perhaps because it is the particular trait or background that has been traced furthest from the present. Perhaps it is because I have a sense that what I might find there might help me understand myself. I am not sure I have yet figured it all out. Some might question why I think I need to do so, but others will not find that need surprising in the least. I think perhaps some of it is because I have often felt like I had to fight and work tremendously hard for whatever I have achieved, and I would not I am not upset by that because those lessons have served me well. I think it is perhaps because I feel it is that particularly part of my background that has caused me to always see that one needs to pick one’s self up and refuse to quit regardless the situation.

Over the past weeks I have thought about the past year and how much has changed. At this point last year, I was in the last part of trying to write my tenure application for its first review and I was terrifically stressed. It was a difficult time and there seemed to be more than I could handle, but it got accomplished. There was a trip for Lydia and somehow she managed to pull through. There was finishing up a amazing year and learning much about another culture and family. There was the change in diet and health that has had significant consequences in how I have managed my life for almost a year. Today, a major part of the reason I came to Bloomsburg was approved at the university curriculum committee and hopefully a second piece will be ready for approval in the next week or so. That is the revision of the minor, the addition of two classes and the hope that a certificate will be approved before the end of the semester. It has taken 5 1/2  years of work, but it is accomplished. I am grateful to Dr. Dan Riordan, my former colleague and mentor. He continues to serve as a mentor and friend to me and I could not me more fortunate. I am grateful to my colleague, now assistant department chair, and amazing friend, Dr. Mark Decker for his insight and support before I even got to Bloomsburg and the vision he had. Finally, I am grateful to my colleagues in the English Department here at Bloomsburg University for their insistence that we create an interdisciplinary program and a program that would support the department as well as add to it. Both my former chair, Dr. S. Michael McCully, and my present chair, Dr. Tina Entminger, have been supportive beyond measure. There is still more on the horizon, but the cooperation of many people at a number of levels have made this growth possible. I think all of this is part of my heritage also. It is always interesting to reflect on how things occur and all the components necessary to make something happen. Two years ago when I thought I had some things figured out, I found out that was not the case. It took more time, more conversations, and more thought and investment to get to this point. It simply took patience and time. That might be the most important lesson I learned in all of this. What I also learned is that I have the skills to get something accomplished and bring to reality something that was a concept at best when I arrived.

Lydia, I hope you can see this is why I had to leave Menomonie the summer of 2009. I know that was a traumatic change for you (it was for me too). When I think of people back there I need to thank for this, what I know is there are numerous for a variety of reasons. I need to thank Erica Mathieson who was willing to live in the little house and try to manage Lydia and the things Lydia did that were difficult both generally and sometime very personally. I need to thank Tom and Elaine Lacksonen, who are still dear to me for all they have done over these years. I need to thank Nathan and Theresa Langton and Caddie and Maggie for all the time and effort they have put into helping care for Lydia and the house during the last 6 years. I am grateful to Amy Fichter and Charles Vandermuelen for their friendship and the gift they are in my life and how they are always there to support me whenever I find my way to Menomonie. I am feeling relieved and even a bit exhausted as it is now 10:30 and I am still in my office. I think I might go home for a bit of a nap and then be back bright and early. There is still grading and there is Spanish to work on. It has been a bit since I have posted, but it might actually make it to press tonight. Next week I will be back for some tests, but I am hoping that I have turned a corner in a positive direction. I think there are things that need to be considered here also, but I am headed to Jim Thorpe over the weekend to ask some questions. In the meanwhile, it is back to work or maybe to sleep for a nap and then back to work. It took two weeks to get this done, but thanks for waiting.

Thanks for reading.

Michael, Dr. Martin, adopted person, colleague, friend, surrogate parent, and any other subjectivity I can imagine (Thanks to Dr. Patty Sotirin for that reading I had to do on Anthony Giddens).

Published by thewritingprofessor55

As I move toward the end of a teaching career in the academy, I find myself questioning the value and worth of so many things in our changing world. My blog is the place I am able to ponder, question, and share my thoughts about a variety of topics. It is the place I make sense of our sometimes senseless world. I believe in a caring and compassionate creator, but struggle to know how to be faithful to the same. I hope you find what is shared here something that might resonate with you and give you hope.

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