Randomness (Sort of)

shoes and gunsHello from a rather interesting coffee shop in Jim Thorpe, PA, 

For the second day of the weekend, I am back at work and trying to get a number of things off my plate and get myself a bit more organized. It is Father’s Day and I am realizing too things: first that it has been so many years so I have been able to greet my father with that familiar greeting (and I wish I might have done it more effectively than I had), and second, what allows someone to be a father? Is it merely a chromosome? If it is, then I am not a father nor a parent because I have never successfully given said chromosome. Yet, as those who have taken the time to read this blog with any consistency know that I have pondered the being a parent pretty extensively. As I have looked at pictures posted on Facebook today, I see so many #TBT pictures of friends from throughout my life posting pictures of that male person who holds the name “father” and the subsequent importance in their lives. What is important in this thought process for me today is what makes someone a good parent, for either gender? I never thought I would be a soon to be sexagenarian (rather ironic term considering the topic) and childless or single. Not that I probably had a very clear sense of where I would be at this point. I was not a child who had a very clear vision of who I was or where I would be. That might be the reason I am where I am. That sense of place or belonging comes back to the fore for me. What I do know is that I was afraid I would not be a very good parent, not because my adoptive father was a bad parent, but rather because I was not sure how I would manage the difficulties or the struggles and I was uncertain I was capable of being the person I should be. But who is that person? What do we expect of parents? Is it the same today as it was when I was growing up? I am not sure it is. There are a variety of reasons that I posit that opinion. 

I am continually amazed (perhaps because I am serving in this capacity, albeit at the other end) how we have seemed to vilify education and educators, but too often I hear about things that are supposedly the “teacher’s” or “educator’s” fault. Things that have to do with behavior or basic decorum. That word is an old word, but it is a word that it seems we need to resurrect. Since when did it become the public (or private) school’s job to teach a young person manners, or appropriate behavior, or respect, or (fill in the blank). This past semester, in a first year writing course, on the first day when I laid out my requirements for the students and worked my way through the syllabus and my expectations, when I told a student he only had three absences . . .  and I did not differentiate between excused or unexcused, he informed me that “[I was] a dick.” He said this in the classroom in front of the entire class. Heaven forbid that I would tell him how to invest his money or require something in “my” classroom. At a conference not long ago, a faculty person for whom I have great respect noted the following thing. In what other venue, do you “purchase a ticket to attend” . . . (see this another word for tuition for a moment)and then choose not to go? I am pretty sure if most of my students had purchased a ticket to the Electric Daisy Concert (EDC) or to Lady Gaga or to this summer’s Stones concerts, they would cancel life to get there and yet when we “require” attendance in our classes, I become a dick. As an aside, the student dropped the course, even though it was a required first year course. I was not displeased that he decided not to take my course. One of the places I have actually learned to be somewhat of a father figure is in those first year courses when many students are struggling to find their footing. I do not make things easier in terms of requirements, but I help them understand and meet the requirements. I love seeing the growth that occurs for most from the time they are a wide-eyed freshman until they become a bit of a wide-eyed college graduate, but one with a bit more maturity and respect. That word seems to have lost some things. And it is not always young people.

I am so glad I am in Pennsylvania and no longer in Wisconsin, where the state legislature and the governor continue to attack education at all levels. Recently, the governor proposed yet another 250,000,000.00 (yes, that much) to higher education, but is willing to give that same astounding amount to an NBA franchise. So somehow supporting 15 people (and I understand there are workers at the facility) is more important than educating 182,000 students and employing 32,000 faculty (2011 figures). This logic or lack thereof is stunning beyond comprehension . . . and this bozo believes he should run for president (I know he has not declared yet). If he would somehow get elected, much like the COs of the Vietnam era, I think I would merely go to Canada. I do understand the cost of education has gotten out of hand and I know that we all share that burden, but since when did become an educator seem to be more of a problem than a help. It seems to me that is where we are. My local paper finds it appropriate to run a spreadsheet of all of our salaries every year, but does not provide much as far as background and what sort of sacrifices we made to get to the doctoral level or how we continue to work to be the best or most expert we can be at what we do. Again, it seems we have little respect for those to whom we entrust the education of our future leaders and those who will eventually be called on to care for us. Instead we blame those same educators when their sons or daughters do not perform or follow through on what they are called to do. I remember getting a failing grade in chemistry when I was a junior in high school. My father called the teacher, but not to give that teacher a hard time, but to get to the truth of the matter than his number 2 son did not provide. The consequence of my failure was being grounded to my room for nine weeks. My father did not castigate the teacher for my failure. The one time in my entire tenure in public school that I ended up in front of the principal for a fist fight, I was petrified. I had not only gotten my ass kicked in the fight, I was pretty sure it was going to get beat, both in the principal’s office and later that night at home. How far we have come when it is the teacher’s fault or it is the system’s fault or we needed armed guards at school because of violence. How far we have come when it seems apropos to call a professor a dick or it is reasonable to have weapons on a college campus. It seems rather than progress, we have fallen back into a time when the idea of survival of the fittest is about who can bully the best, shoot the fastest, or influence with the most money. This is not to say there are not positive things in our society today, but when one looks at the news, somehow we have lost more than we have perhaps gained.

This brings me to the next point . . .  fill in the blank again . . . . Columbine, Tucson, Sandy Hook, Aurora, Charleston . . .  when is enough actually enough? Even on my own campus (or just off campus) students were shot last year. Since 1982, there have been 61 mass shooting in the country (Washington Post), and the great majority of those shootings occurred with legally purchased weapons. Another study counted 78 mass killings in about the same period (this study was done by Congress) and almost 550 people lost their lives. From 2000 to 2013 the incidences of these types of violence has more than doubled and six of the deadliest shootings in the US have occurred since 2007 (Washington Post). Again, note no where have I said get rid of guns. I began a conversation on FB today and responses from some of my more conservative friends, for whom I have a lot of respect because we came from the same college and learned many of the same things, have seemed to think I am anti-Second Amendment. I am not. In fact, I have noted this before in this blog. If you go back to that posting, I asserted that the question of gun ownership has to do with the issue of needing or wanting a weapon. The 2nd Amendment, again as previously noted is what allows us to even have a discussion about guns on any level. I think the entire question about availability and ownership is complex. What constitutes common sense questions and a common sense conversation? I think it is the same problem that becomes apparent when I ask my students what the goal of an argument is. They (and the majority of people)  will respond that the goal is to win. The actual goal of an argument is to get more information out and a better possibility of an appropriate decision made. However, we have such an adversarial precedent in how we manage so many things, it has become the way we seem to manage most everything. Hence, our loss of civility . . . And that loss creates a lack of respect and by extension, at least for me, a lack of care for life in general. I know those are some leaps, but I could break it down more, but tou would have the longest blog posting in history. 

As someone with a PhD in rhetoric, I am personally offended whenever someone says, “It is just rhetoric.” They have little idea how wrong they are. The use of rhetoric is fundamental to whom we are. It was once on the the basic elements of education. Perhaps if we returned to teaching rhetoric we might communicate more effectively and we might be more civil with each other. I learned more about that when I listened to a group of characters with power this evening who failed to be honest about their intent even though I told them they had already “revealed what they were going to do.” Within 5 minutes they did exactly what they had revealed. I know that at least one part of the quartet present is happy the variance was not allowed. Rhetorical strategies abound. I will manage things as it seems best to do. Amazing that things are decided the way and in the manner they are. Well, I am sure I will figure it all out. They are worried about 10 or 15 years down the road and if I am still alive when the majority of them are probably significantly older than I am. Go figure.

Thanks for reading.


Imagining what if?

Buenos días de Bloomsburg,,

Mientras yo estaba esperando que las cosas podrían calmarse un poco cuando el semestre terminado, el primer mes del verano se ha hecho nada, pero asentarse. De hecho, de alguna manera las cosas se han acelerado. La semana pasada ha sido una pesadilla tecnológica y esto ha tomado una semana entera para regresar a normal. Perdí tanto computadora como el acceso telefónico, entonces fui más o menos pegado. Asombroso como dependiente estamos en nuestra tecnología. Esta mañana desperté hasta un agujero de gas en la casa entonces yo tenía UGI para manejar esto antes de que yo pudiera hacer algo. Tengo mucho quiero hacer este fin de semana, pero soy literalmente una semana detrás en una clase de una 5 semana, entonces espero a ver lo que ellos harán y si ellos permitirán que yo siga. También quiero hacer un poco de trabajo alrededor de la casa principalmente en la limpieza del exterior y haciendo tan pequeño repintar después del invierno largo. Ha sido un poco loco y hay tanto también en el horizonte. Okay, this took some time and I think I will return to English. but this was good work. The following is a translation of what is above. While I was hoping things would calm down a bit when the semester ended, the first month of summer has been anything but settled. In fact, in some ways things have accelerated. The past week has been a technological nightmare and it has taken an entire week to get back to normal. I lost both computer and phone access, so I was pretty much stuck. Amazing how dependent we are on our technology. This morning I woke up to a gas leak at the house so I had UGI out to manage that before I could do anything. I have a lot I want to do this weekend, but I am literally a week behind in a 5 week class, so I am waiting to see what they will do and whether they will allow me to continue. I also want to do some work around the house primarily in cleaning the outside and doing so small repainting after the long winter. It has been a bit crazy and there is so much also on the horizon.

As I am finishing up the things in Wisconsin, I am forced to see how much my life has been changed because of a little character. She was a force and she told me from time to time that she would make sure I was okay. I told her the last days I saw her how blessed I was and how much she had changed my life. I do not think I can put into words how much she has changed what I expected in my life. As I have been working on the last pieces of what she set up, I am realizing the reality of what she has done. It is really amazing what she and many in her generation did. I wonder what a different world, a better world, in my opinion. They planned (and I know she is extraordinary in some ways); they saved and they invested and thought about later. It is because of that she and George accomplished what they did. I think even my parents did the same, but somehow, they did not instill in me the focus to do the same. I think there were times in my life where I worked to do so, but I was not consistent. That is probably one of my worst maladies. I need to be disciplined all of the time not just in fits and starts. It is not the easiest to be honest with your own failings, but it is essential if you are going to change them. It is always amazing to me that in spite of my successes, and there have been some important ones, I have a tendency to focus on the things I have not accomplished or the things that have somehow been outside the realm of what I would call successful. I have had one of those weeks. When I look around, I am not feeling unfortunate, nor am I even feeling unblessed, but I am feeling like I could have done so much more. More likely that I should have done so much more. What is the more? you might ask . . . perhaps it is because I feel I failed as a husband, twice. Perhaps it is because as we approach Father’s Day, it is because I never had a child of my own . . . and I know there are other ways to be a father and I feel I have done some of that. Perhaps it is because I am trying to figure out my purpose or I am trying to understand why some of the things that have happened in my three score years of life do not make that much sense to me. I understand that it is not always about making sense, but those of you know me, know I have to always figure out the “why” of something. I know that I began life with the deck stacked against me in terms of my health, and even because of those who brought me into the world, but, as I have also noted, I have been given many opportunities and helped by many people; not because I deserved help, but rather because of the graciousness of so many people.

So what is it that I am lamenting? What is it that I wished I had that I did not? Is it merely my humanness coming out and wishing that I had the things I do not? I wish it were that easy to pinpoint. I think it is something deeper. It is that sort of melancholy that seems to invade me from time to time and causes me to wish for more. It is not more stuff or more money or more success. I have too much stuff; I am blessed with certainly enough money; and as noted, I have been successful at some pretty amazing things. I am respected (generally); I enjoy what I do every day; and I have more than what I might have ever imagined. Still there is this longing for something else. There is this wish I think that I wish I had something else or someone else. I am really not sure which it is. I am often content to be in my house by myself and I have grown more introverted as I have aged. I have this sort of vagabond nature that makes it hard for me to be involved with people beyond a certain level or degree. While I am terrifically open on some fronts, I am tremendously cautious on others. It is sort of a oxymoronic way to manage things. In someways it is a sort of rhetoric of misdirection, which is the basis of my dissertation. I do not think I ever put that together until just this instance. I used to be much more comfortable in a crowd and with others than I am now. I used to be more self assured (perhaps then it was foolish to be so), but now it seems I am always wondering the “what if?” While I know quite well what caused my marriages to fail, and I know my part in those failures, there is a part of me that wishes I had not failed. That is a rather ridiculous wish, but it is there nonetheless. Then on the other hand, I have little reason that I would want to return to either person, and this is not to impugn their character because both persons have a number of very positive things and I was certainly part of the problem (they might argue the main part). It is interesting what I have learned in the time I have been single again. I am pretty sure that my first wife and I should not have gotten married. We were good friends and I think we knew each other pretty well. What I realize now is that we did not have the foundation that was needed to create a strong marriage. We had some of the things, but perhaps not the most important thing, or more accurately, I did not. I should not speak for her, but I am not sure now that I really loved her. I loved the thought of being married I think more than the person. That is my mistake, and it was a big one. In the case of my second marriage, I did love her, and, in fact, probably always will to some degree or in some way. There were other issues, on both sides.

In the fifteen years since, I have met a couple of people that I have appreciated and admired, cared for and wondered again, “what if?” Yet, I have not been as close as I probably needed to be though I did once think there was a possibility. I am still reminded of my former counselor’s admonishment at one point. He said, “Michael, if you are interested in someone, you should probably run as fast as you can in the opposite direction.” Not a stellar recommendation for any sort of future relationship. There are things I have learned or been forced to realize about myself. While I think I have moderated some of those tendencies, there is always the fear of falling into that particular pattern. There is so much that can be said about how relationships are managed (and I know that term itself will raise eyebrows), but when we are older, any person we are willing to spend any length of time with is a potential mate, if you will. There is the first question of whether or not I want to even go down that road again. It will take someone extraordinary. And then, lately, I have worried that I am going to end up like my Uncle Clare. I will be the person that people invite over for the holidays because they do not want you to be alone. I will be the Norman Thayer of On Golden Pond that I have always threatened to be. What will I be is not something that I question as much as what or who am I now? Who have I become? I think I am a good professor; I think I am a loyal friend; I think I am a caring and giving person. I am reminded that way back when I was doing my Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), I was told for the first time that I needed to develop a sense of humor and take things less seriously. At that time, I was working through a lot of things with my adoptive family and some of the many things that I have noted in my earlier blogs (especially last summer). I am not sure I was in the best place. Now in many ways, I am in a much better place, albeit a place that I could have never imagined or predicted. I have so many positive things. Maybe I just need to relax and be content. I wish I knew what that meant. I wish I could let things go and not worry about the next thing I still have to do. Somehow, I need to learn to let go.

What if I did? What might it be like? What I know is that overall, I cannot complain, and I should not. What I know overall is that I have been blessed and gifted in so many ways. For those reasons again, I cannot complain and I should not. What I know is that I have amazing friends, colleagues, and family, although most are far away. For those reasons I cannot complain and should not. Can I talk myself out of my lament? Perhaps . . . perhaps it is merely my own personal propensity for melancholy. Perhaps I am more a Dane than a Norwegian. Perhaps I need to read Soren Kirkegaard once again.  We’ll see.

Thanks for reading.



“Life is a Blank Canvas”

IMG_4090[1]Hello from my front porch,

It is a spectacular day and I have been working around the yard this morning. It is getting warm enough that I am sweating a bit, so I decided to sit in the shade of the porch and spend a bit of time reminiscing on the idea of Mother’s Day and the idea of honoring those around us. As I have noted in a couple of my latter postings, we do have a penchant for taking both time and people for granted. I am guilty as charged of the omission of telling another that they have an important place in my life. While my biological mother is still alive, I have not reached out to her in 12 years or so, and our last interaction was far from ideal. My adopted mother, about whom I have written on a number of occasions has been gone for over 25 years, and the person who became a mother, a partner of sorts, a friend, and one who probably affected me more than any other mother-figure has been gone for four months. Lydia was similar in age to my adopted mother, but they were both very different and ironically similar in some ways. It is something upon which I have reflected quite often and that was even before Lydia passed away. I continue to wonder about this different, unparalleled, and incredible person with whom I was blessed to spend almost 10 years. It has certainly been a time of adjustment. I am still trying to get everything managed and just got more paperwork in the mail this week.

I have reached out to some people today for this holiday, and there are a few more I should send a message or call before the day is completed. . . . It is hard to believe that life has continued to scoot by and I did not get this either composed or posed. Now I am sitting in Caribou Coffee in Menomonie and I am back to manage more of the things that I have been asked to care for. Yesterday I went to the cemetery and put flowers on Lydia’s and George’s grave. Today I will go to Chippewa and finish up the ordering of and paying for the headstone that will mark their final resting place. I meet with her attorney this morning to see how to finally complete things. In the mean while I am trying to pack my belongings that are still here, finish the paper that I need to present on Saturday and manage the online course I am taking to become QM certified as an online instructor. All in all, it is busy, but it has been productive. When I get back to PA, I have another conference to help participate and manage.

This trip to Menomonie is certainly a reality check of sorts. The stark difference that Lydia is gone and I am here to manage that estate and move my things has hit me hard at moments. As I began this posting some almost three weeks ago, (and it seems like a year versus three weeks)the feeling that one has lost a parent (again) is one of those life-changing moments. I have again reflected on the life that Lydia had (90 years) in a time that saw so many changes in the world, and particularly for her. From WWII and the unbelievable consequences of that war, both personally and even as a civilization, from her life in Europe to coming to the United States, her becoming an academic and living a commuter marriage long before most people considered such a thing. In many ways she was far ahead of her time and more of a feminist that many would consider. I am not sure she would have referred to herself as a feminist . . .  and while she was fiercely independent, she had a propensity for appreciating males much more than she did females. When I think about some of her mannerisms and idiosyncrasies, I still believe she had a sense of autism to her, but she was brilliant. Yet, I am reminded that if you moved something on a cupboard or in some place in her garage she would notice it and move it back. Her meticulous nature about so many things was unequalled. Her keen attention to detail was something about which I often marveled (and still do). What I realize now as I ponder things is her struggle with dementia began much sooner than I think any of us realized. I think of how she would repeat certain phrases or things. Initially I thought it was a quirk, but as I think back, in the latter stages of her illness, she did the same things, but to a much greater extent. So were those things a harbinger of what was to come?

During this week, there has been a sort of bittersweet sense of my visit for a number of reasons. Later this summer (toward the end of August), I will have lived in Bloomsburg longer than I lived in Menomonie. That is the longest I have lived in a place since I graduated from high school 42 years ago. I think about the changes I have witnessed in my own life and I think the two most profound changes I see are how I have been able to travel and see things. I grew up in a blue-collar family and vacations were not something we could afford very well, or at least that is how it seemed. We went on two family vacations my entire life. The one to the Black Hills of South Dakota is still memorable to me. However, the point is, I did not travel a great deal. In my adult life, I guess I have seldom sat still (at least geographically). The second change for me is the use of technology and how it has affected both our communication and our learning processes. I think that has been a very profound thing on me and it continues to be so. I am at a Computers and Writing Conference as I write this and, indeed, the fact that it is at Stout makes it really convenient and accessible. I am busy working on that paper as well as working on my own online course that I am taking. That online course has been terrifically time consuming, but I am learning a great deal.

The title of my posting is off the side of a Caribou Coffee cup, where I am sitting and writing this. It is ironic that I post from here because it was 12 years ago this coming fall that I first started to come to this Caribou. It is where I wrote a large part of my dissertation. It is one of the places in Menomonie that I most feel at home.  The feelings of wanting to hold on, but realizing the need to let go have caused me to struggle with sleeping. The need to pack my things and the struggle of actually doing it has been my constant companion these last days. There are pieces that have fallen into place and then moments of best laid plans gone awry. So the week has been a Tale of Two Cities personified. . . . It is now Tuesday morning and the truck is packed. I need to load the Harley, stop at the house insurance people and go to the bank. Then things in Menomonie are completed. I got in touch with a couple people yesterday who have been important to me professionally and personally during my time at Stout (thank you, Lexi and Sasha).  It will be an interesting drive back across the country and for the first time, with the exception of some details, I will not have a significant focus still here in Wisconsin. I still remember driving here from Houghton in August of 2003. I remember feeling that I had moved to the epitome of small town Americana with its summer bandshell concerts and pie sales, it’s farmers market and county fair. Those were my first week experiences. It seems the blank canvas was filled way beyond what I could have ever imagined. I have been blessed in so many ways by this Duodecim años period. I have been forever changed by the experiences, the people, and by the joys and less than joyful moments. But overall, as I will pull away from 307/311 Park Circle with a closing of responsibilities, I know that I will always love you, Lydia. From that first day I met you, you changed my life and you changed me. Vielen Dankt, meinen Mütter. Mit meinem ganzen Herzen, ich liebe dich.

Thanks for reading,