Imagining a Different Reality


Good Morning,

I am sitting in my car waiting for someone after already having a conference call this morning, working with contractors this morning, and delivering people to a particular location. That is only the beginning of a long list of items I need to manage today. Today is catch-up day as there are no classes. I will be, however, busy. I began this blog the other day, but as you can see I did not get very far. What I wanted to focus on for this blog was my reaction to the Google Maps that my students presented late last week. I was quite impressed with some of the things that were in their maps, though I would admit some of them might have worked a little more diligently on their presentation specifics. All too often we do not realize the things we have in front of us on a daily basis. There is so much to the story of each of us that is not apparent when we merely look at the surface. There is so much to each of us that is part of our fabric and provides a sense of identity, but yet goes unnoticed. The pressure that many of my students feel on a daily basis comes to the fore in a variety of ways, but it takes thoughtfulness and attentiveness to begin to extract and interpret it.

We have been reading the John Irving novel, The Cider House Rules; perhaps more accurately, they are supposed to be reading. They will have some long hours over the next few days if they are to cover the assignment. That is one of the brutal parts of the summer. Things come so quickly and there is hardly time to absorb what is coming as it comes so quickly. Irving has such a descriptive way of seeing the world in which we live and he certainly is not afraid to take on elements of our lives that we do not speak about in proper company. It is what I believe compels us to keep reading. I remember the first time I assigned the text, having not completed it myself, and when I got to a particular scene in the first 100 pages or so, I was stunned at what I had assigned for my students to read. As I read the book, I found myself appreciating the candor of Irving’s style and the way he forced me to think about some issues that actually have some relevance to my life. As I am writing here and trying to imagine things about the world in which we live, sometimes I find myself hopeful and other times I find myself cynical. . . . literally a number of days (now into double-digits) have passed since I got to work on this. That might be longest in a while that I have not blogged. Between teaching, working on the Credit by Exam (CBE) essays and other work, it seems there are not enough hours in the day, but I also know my ACT 101 students are living that reality, so I doubt there is much sympathy from them on that. Back to the idea of being somewhat cynical about the world in which we live. As I was at breakfast this morning at the diner, again I am reading that 5 people were killed in one place in Oklahoma. It seems that daily we are hearing of multiple homicides because of the anger of a single person. Is the world actually more violent or do we merely have more ways to be provided this disturbing information? It is now because we are seeming on an endless string of what seems senseless that the media is making us more aware? I am not sure what to think, but I am convinced that we are on a path of seemingly senseless violence that I believe has to cut to the very core of what civil people would hope their world to be. I would be petrified to bring a child into this absurdity. Even as I write this yet another theater shooting has occurred. . . . It is Friday morning and I am working with two student groups to get them ready to present something at their banquet next Wednesday. It is interesting to me how their thought processes work as they move toward something. These are strong students and they are certainly thinking, but they struggle with analysis and the consequences of choice. It is a basic inability to make connections. This does not mean they are incapable, what it means, or at least I think, is that they have never been pushed to do so, and as such they are being asked to do something or accomplish something with little or no previous experience. This is the sort of thing that amazes me and I wonder if I was the same. From what I remember, I am pretty sure I was. In fact, I believe in many ways, I was slower then than they are now.

Thanks to mi familia de la dominicana, I am more inclined to pay attention to Latino/a issues and I have worked much harder to include bilingual aspects into this summer course. I wish my Spanish was more advanced than it is. En esta clase de verano tengo estudiantes puertorriqueños, estudiantes dominicanos, estudiantes colombianos, y estoy seguro que hay otro estudiante de un pais latino, pero he perdido la pista de  cual es. Creo que le voy a preguntar a uno de ellos que trabaje conmigo este año que viene en mi español y trabajar como mi tutor. El estudiante no es dominicano, pero lo que será interesante es ver si veo algunas diferencias. Sospecho que si habran. Lo que me estoy dando cuenta una vez más es que intento hacer demasiado con muy poco tiempo. Este es uno de mis malos habitos y me mete en problemas, sobre todo conmigo mismo, pero a veces con otros tambien. Me han dicho varias veces que este es un problema que yo mismo me busco.  Esta realización ha convertido mi verano muy triste en lo que me ha echo anticipar el otonio para tener menos trabajo.

It is almost 12:30 and there is a lot on my plate today. Soon I will be taking the students I have here at the Fog and Flame back up to campus. Then I need to run some errands and then it is back to the CBE work that is necessary to complete by next week. . . . how it is another week has gone by and I see more behind than every. Some of it is because of the time I have spent on my summer classes. I know that it takes more time that I can give during the academic year, but it is an important thing because I believe we are asking so much of so many who are not prepared for what is coming. In what manner are many least prepared (and I do not limit this to the summer, but the condensed format exasperates this deficiency)? It is having study habits or any kind of discipline that prepares them for the elevated demands of college writing (or any class for that matter). Studies show that the NCLB program and the propensity of “teaching to the test,” which seems to be the norm rather than the exception for many systems has left most students unprepared for any sort of critical thinking, analysis, and lacking the ability other than merely jumping through a hoop, which is seldom more than memorization/regurgitation. I know when I tell them that most of them have never really written a final paper in their English classes, they look at me as if I am from outer space. At least I am hoping that is why they look at that way. There might be other reasons. That is for another time. However, I must note that twice this past week I have been referred to as “that old white guy.” I am not beyond being called middle aged. When I consider my biological reality. It is a truism. I am certainly not in the middle years of my life any longer.

That brings me back to the idea of a different reality. What would my life be if I had not moved to Menomonie, somewhat at the last minute? I was not really looking for a job when that option was shared with me by my chair, Dr. Robert Johnson. It started a cascade of events that eventually led me to Bloomsburg and where I am not. So many people get caught up in the idea of if it were possible to go back to an earlier point in their lives or if they might do things over again. I think I have noted that I would not wish for such a thing, and I believe that is still where I find myself today. There are certainly too many things that have been painful, but those things are part of who I am. They are certainly part of the reason I find it pretty easy to be empathetic and to desire to help another person. There are too many times (even yet) where I have felt, and still feel, more on the outside looking in than most might imagine. I am that lonely-in-a-crowd person. I am not lamenting that, just stating how I see things. What I realize each day is that we are given a gift. It is the gift of time. This past soon to be six weeks, I have 21 remaining students who have had to pay for an opportunity to come to class. I understand it is hard to see the opportunistic aspect of something when you are paying a lot of money for it. Nonetheless, it is an opportunity, one which I believe the President of the university laid out quite well for them the other night. The money they have spent for the summer can be replaced, perhaps not immediately, but it can be replaced. In fact, they can even make more money than they might have had before, but the one thing we cannot replace is the time that is gone. There is no option to relive something. I am realizing that time is the most valuable commodity we have. I wish I might have realized that as clearly as I do now much earlier. Then I might have made better use of the many hours or days I wasted be it being lazy, being stupid, being intoxicated, or being a number of other things that I could have probably done better. The reality is this. Life is . . .  what we do with that gift is entirely up to each of us. Certainly others influence us and there are many things that influence our realities, but when we are put into the corner and have to look out, how we manage it is entirely up to us. I am grateful to so many people who have influenced me. I know more than I have ever known, but what I know most is how little I know and how blessed I have been. Here is a song that sort of spells it out for me at this point.

This is a song that means as much to me as perhaps any song I have ever heard. Thanks for reading and listening.

Dr. Martin

A Week to Remember

  Hello from the diner,

The past week we have been told by numerous prognosticators that this was a historical week. Indeed, we have had two decisions that have revealed the change in our society and how publicly attitude about very significant issues can evolve. But what makes something historical? What makes someone evolve in their opinion? What creates a groundswell that causes something to paradigmatically shift? Usually it seems to take substantive time, and for those waiting, I am sure the passage of time seemed painstakingly slow. What does surprise me on one level, and yet again when thinking more carefully, causes no surprise, was the rapid change in position among politicians and others about the Confederate Battle Flag. Amazing that one event caused such a tremendous change in our collective response. This is merely my pondering, and I realize the following statement will be controversial, but could the focus on the symbol, which is complex, be a way to take away the focus on yet another act of violence that was committed using firearms? While I am certainly aware of the mixed use of events and the rhetorical strategy of misdirection (I wrote a dissertation on it), I too am amazed at how 50 years of what seems to be an inappropriate use of the “Stars and Bars” came to such a collective “oh my, what have we done.” in barely over a week. Maybe the fact that we live in a media-driven society (and I would include social-media-driven) and the fact that our current president is black and has spoken out more publically, in spite of the disdain on some, perhaps because collectively a large enough segment of people have said, “Wait! It is time to question more vehemently!” created this perfect storm of sorts. First, and probably to the shock of some of my more conservative friends, I am not saying that the flag of General Lee’s Army of Virginia should be stricken from our collective national consciousness. Second, I am not saying that we should not allow it to be flown in places like museums or on historical places where not having it there would be disingenuous. I also know these previous statements are open to debate, but the intent is to say there is still appropriateness when this is done as a historical issue and not as a way to further an agenda of white supremacy. I also know some will argue I am asking to have my proverbial cake and eat it too. What I am trying to say is there is complexity in this issue.

The killing of nine black persons merely having a Bible study by a 21 year old, who professes such hatred and bigotry, is certainly cause for us to question that history. It is cause for us to re-examine how it is that 150 years after a war to address equality we still have so much hatred and disrespect based on little more than a difference in melanin. As I have noted, more times than I wish I needed to, why is it that we fail to appreciate or even attempt to understand the other. Again, this past week, I have both read about, and experienced personally, what I would deem to be “an unethical use of power.” In the personal situation, a small group, whom I understand are appointed to oversee speciifc issues and a solicitor again whom I imagine is hired, decided something based on hypotheticals and a pretty blatant misreading of a criteria. This seems to have been done because of their disdain for a specific group of people and how they have taken it upon themselves to be gate keepers. It mattered not what I planned to do would not include this non-grata group of individuals.

Another big issue of last week was the Supreme Court and while considered to be a conservative court, especially with John Roberts as Chief Justice, they issued two rulings that affect the fabric of our national identity in a monumental manner. I was a little shocked that they ruled on behalf of the administration concerning the Affordable Care Act. I was stunned that the vote was 6-3. The language of opportunity and right is part of this discussion. The president has noted that this judgment of the. Kurt affirms that health insurance is the right of all Americans. I am, again to the shock of my conservative friends, not totally comfortable with the use of the term “right” in this instance. I need to do more thinking or hear a better argument to convince me this is a right. I understand that was not the issue at hand in the cases before the court, but the use of that term following the decision is troubling to me. I will continue to ponder. The decision about marriage,which would have been the decision I thought might have been more likely to be beyond the 5-4 vote wasn’t. Yet, it did pass. Amazing what the roles of church and state still cause in this country. It is also interesting what people say about church and state and separation, but there is nothing in the constitution that uses that phrase. I am always amazed by what people pull out of context and see as some kernel of truth upon which they base way too much of their philosophy. I am dismayed at what I believe is the shallow way that most people consider so many of the complex issues that are part of our societal fabric at this point. How did we become such a society that is willing to merely hear things and not listen, to accept things and not ponder, to fail to question things as the truth, regardless of however ludicrous it may seem? Perhaps it was because I was in the service as a 17 year old. Perhaps it is because I have always been the person to question most everything. The way in which things are decided and the power of the United States Supreme Court awes me. While politically the three branches of government were meant to be a checks and balances system, it seem that the power of the president to appoint that justice is probably the most important thing a president does. Certainly the Senate in its ability to approve or reject that nomination is also powerful. The fact that a particular justice might be on the court for decades and the tenor of the court is so influenced by the specific make up its members that it boggles my head. What an amazingly powerful position. I do not remember paying as close attention to the final decisions of the court in the way I have this year in my entire life.

It is now been sweet and I have not finished my blog posting. It was the first week of teaching and, therefore, even thought I have not been writing blogs, I have been reading them. My students have begun their own blogs and I thin they are working pretty diligently to get things accomplished. As is the case in my life, more often than not, something comes along and makes what I thought would be a reasonable project a bit more difficult. I have found out that the properties back in WI and the lot lines what were thought to be and what actually exists on the deeds does not match up quite as expected. In fact, there are some significant issues. More work to do this summer.

In the meanwhile we are upto the July 4th weekend. I am going to Gettysburg today with Rachael and tomorrow I am having a sort of holiday/birthday cookout with my Dominican family. I also want to catch up on the other things I need to get finished up. The end of the summer will be here before we know it. I am still waiting on the building project. Hopefully something’s will shake out in the coming week. I need to do some other shopping today and as it always seems to happen, I have misplaced one of my wallets again. I think I have an idea, but that search will have to happen today also. I am thinking about my friend, Peter, today also. As I noted in a previous blog, the 4th of July growing up was spent with the Goedes at the Ike’s Club. I have a college colleague who has lamented the loss of these sort of family events. I think they still occur, but as our families seem more fragmented and separated, the idea of family reunions and such might be more the exception than the rule. While I am inclined to agree that the lost of the family unit like we grew up with has a consequence, I am not sure it is the root of all the evils we are facing. I am willing to say its effect is far-reaching however.

If my students read all of this, they might wonder if I too am going to write something relevant to class. Yesterday I asked them to consider this phrase (more accurately, a sentence): “the machine is us/ing us.” This is the title of a short video that was created by the Kansas State cultural anthropologist, Michael Wesch. Technology permeates and controls our life, and I am not merely talking about our hand-held devices. I am talking about our daily basics that we take for granted.: water, electricity, heat, transportation, and those other utilities that we called necessities long before FB called itself a social utility. Yet, the predominance of hand-held, data-rich, and seemingly unlimited-access phones, pads, and tablets have changed how we access, view, and comprehend the world as well as how we understand ourselves. What made this week different, a week to remember? For me it was people, places, and things, but the majority of it was discovered on my iPad.

Thanks for reading,

Dr. Martin