A List of Oxymorons:

Hello from the side yard patio and fire pit of the Martin homestead,

There are a variety of reasons for me to use the introduction I have, as well as the title. In spite of the fact that I did take a week to go to the Dominican Republic, and even in spite of the fact I did relax at times, I worked their both on my own writing and on trying to get answers to a myriad of questions, thereby making sure I do not misrepresent anything that might be advertised on the travel website. The fact that I am writing now is related to work because I have learned that blogging clears my head and allows me to focus on the seemingly never ending stream of things to which we all must attend. Today I was in the grocery store. One of the morning regulars at the diner noted that life must be easy now because I had nothing to do. I smiled and answered cordially, “I wish I could explain why that is not the case because I will be doing some kind of work most of the summer.” But then neither she, who is not the sharpest tool in the shed, nor the editor of the local paper, whose only job since graduating from Bloomsburg University since 1974 has been at the Press Enterprise, seem to have a frickin’ clue about how hard faculty work or the hours outside the classroom are given on behalf of the students or the town. Something pretty terrible must have happened to Mr. Sachetti when he was a student to disparage his alma mater and every aspect of her at any available opportunity. And while I certainly realize editorials are opinions as well as the fact that he has a soap box from which he can toss things, the continual trash and “misstated information,” he offers is disingenuous when it is”factually suspect.” What he does is beyond unethical and provides plenty of examples for current students  or writers of what should not be done in a local paper. The biased way he has treated the faculty of the university by the partial and slanted slime he has published in the time I have lived here is unconscionable. I am sure the latest is merely a harbinger of what is to come. Finally, the third on the list is again a view of some who have I have foolishly allowed to put me into a bind on a number of different levels. We are all flawed and I certainly know this from my own shortcomings, but I seem to provide ample opportunity to allow others to prove their shortcomings because I wish to trust first and ask questions later.

Back to summer vacation. As I noted at the beginning of this post, summer vacation for most tenure-track faculty is the time when they can finally focus on research and writing or travel and research, which is necessary for them to move up the ranks to full professor. For some it is still time to teach and try to prepare for classes in the fall. For me, who came to create a program that would provide students with professional writing skills, a great amount of energy has gone into the development of that program. Every year when the above mentioned “journalist” chooses to publish our salaries he fails to explain the number of years the faculty listed labored in college or graduate school. He fails to mention that most faculty spent 40-60 hours a week on all the things that are required by a 4/4 teaching load. He fails to note that we have worked 33 months without a contract in the last 7 years showing up to work daily and working without fail to provide the 9,000+ students with a “quality education” (PASSHE language not mine). While I would like to go and travel again, I have four preps this fall, including a new one, one to help RNs get their BSN. Latest on that class is they want to open it to all healthcare students, which I think would be fine. I will have to rethink some assignments, but I think it is manageable. This past few days, including today, which is Saturday, I was in my office for over 8 hours working on syllabi and the course delivery tool for just one of the classes. It took me about 30 hours and I still have some work to do. Because I teach classes that deal with the use of technology and writing, the course is never the same from the previous iteration. This means new reading, rethinking and revising assignments and trying to keep up with the latest trends or scholarship in the field of professional writing and digital rhetoric. It means scouring data bases and new articles. I wish Mr. Sachetti would watch me for a week or two before school starts. I could hope he might provide a different view of the faculty. Instead, I think he has sold his soul to “el diablo de manga y sensacionalismo” like so many other pretend journalists. Before you think I do not realize some of the benefits and perks or options I have because of being in the academy, I do, but I also commit every ounce of my being to my job. Last week, because I worked with specific summer freshmen, instead of needing grades turned around in four or five days, I had 12 hours. Yet, I had them done. The fall will, undoubtedly demonstrate the bias of our local prince of print as he wields his poison pen or malicious manos on the keyboard to claim that faculty are spoiled, self-centered, and out of touch with reality as we argue about the quality education and demonstrate care for students. I have little doubt that he will again pull things out of context and twist information or facts to serve his own insecure purposes. Again I am forced to wonder what his alma mater did to have him turn such a deaf ear to the very faculty who taught him and conjour such contempt for the very institution that helps the town of Bloomsburg thrive.

Last, but certainly not least, my kindness to so many who I have helped, some in significant ways, had left me disillusioned and, to put it mildly, angry. I must admit that it is much my own fault because I want to help others as I myself have been helped. I certainly would not be where I am without the help of a great-uncle and great-aunt at one point. I would not be where I am if it were not for some people during my internship year or eve when I was first a parish pastor. I would not have made so painlessly if it were not for my seminary classmate, Karsten, to whom I finally have his assistance returned. If it were not for Lydia and how she has helped me that I would be where I am now. Over these past years I tired to give as she gave to me, but people promised so much and have returned so little on their promises. They have put me into a bind. Indeed, it is technically of my own making because I trusted their word. I am tempted to list names, but instead, I will show some class. One of my colleagues noted Ian the worst loan shark in the world. I think he is correct. What it has done has soured me on trusting much of anything or anyone. We’ll see what happens after this next week. . . . As is generally the case, it seems it is taking me longer to write this but I had hoped. Condition I probably need to do some editing because I’ve been a rather tough on people. I had planned to go into the office early this morning, but as the adage says, “best laid plans often go awry.” A detour for fluids took up part in the morning. It seems anything taken orally for hydration seems to play hide and seek with my insides. I am working with my nutritionist again to see if we can come up with a solution. I have worked on restricting the diet once again, and have been for awhile. I guess I am doing better over all, but it is still frustrating to me. Well, more work in the office today and trying to focus on the last pieces of a project. Meetings for the fall seem to have found their way onto the calendar on multiple days already. I think the oxymoron of which I first wrote for this post continues.

Back to playing Sisyphus. As always, thank you for reading.


90 Years of Life and at 92, I remember

Lydia_posed_3 sized

Hello on a late Friday morning,

I am in my office and have been watching some videos of the Kennedy (JFK assassination) and listening to audio tapes from Jacqueline Kennedy that were released much later. I have always been fascinated by that time in history. Perhaps because I was a little boy at the time and it is such a memorable part of my 3rd grade year. Perhaps because it is a time, albeit somewhat naively, that we believed in our government. There is so much that makes me wonder about the fate of our humanity. There is so much dissension and discord, but that is nothing new, and I know that. Perhaps it is the melancholia that is part of my inner self. Today I received the most wonderful message from a former college classmate, a person for whom I have appreciation and even more so, admiration. She is wise, caring, and brilliant. She is philosophical and understanding, perceptive and caring. It was certainly a breath of fresh aire (in a sort of Mannheim Steamroller way). Yesterday was a long day with the ending of the session and it has been a long week because of other things. There are times I have to learn that caring gets me in trouble. I am reminded of the words of Norman Maclean in the novella, A River Runs Through It: “It is often the ones we live with and love, the ones we care about the most who elude us. Even now when I look back . . . on my youth I long to understand what happened there . . . and why.” I wonder at times why my mind seems to never stop its pondering. I wonder why I imagine things that never were and wonder why not . . . . sort of in the way Teddy Kennedy eulogized his brother, Robert, in St. Patrick’s Cathedral on that June day in 1968, a speech often considered to be one of the most rhetorically profound.

I was told again that I take on too much, but it is way my brain works and my emotions follow. It is a way that a pattern seemingly reappears in my life, but I seem not to learn. It is merely stubbornness on my part or a character flaw that I cannot manage to overcome? Is all of this because I am merely trying to imagine myself as old? I wish my Uncle Clare were still around. It would be interesting to ask him what it was like to be alone for such a long period in his life, though he was 64 when he became a widower. He lived to be 91 or 92, I cannot remember for sure. As some have found out, and for that I am truly sorry, when I get too close to a situation or to people I have a tendency (or a habit) of running away. And yet, I am not completely sure why . . .  I certainly have ideas, theories or assumptions, but I am not completely sure that I can say unfailingly, “This is why.” Today in a caring and reasonable way, I was told to extricate myself from a situation. While it is hurtful to hear that, it is certainly for the better. For me, the struggle is not necessarily going away, but knowing whether it is done with a sense of merely a change or having the door shut on me. Time will tell. I must also admit that I have done the same to others, so maybe it is karma coming back to bite me. As there is a sense that while I am losing something I valued, I am also being saved. Hard to tell onto which thought I should hold. Perhaps it is because the need for help has changed, but that would be a bit cynical and unfair. It is something that I need to merely be glad I helped when help was needed and now that I am not needed to learn that does not mean I am not cared for. That is my difficulty. Is it too much again to be that honest with my frailties? Is it being too honest with my thoughts and emotions? Sometimes I wonder, but then again, I do not believe that I am that different that I am the only one to struggle with such issues. I am hoping that two things might happen in this writing. First, it helps me figure myself out, but more importantly that it might help someone else who struggles in the same way. I know that the need for being around people and the need for solitude is a constant battle for me. I am sure that some people from my earlier years might find it hard to imagine me wishing for a sort of hermit-existence. I remember my pastoral colleague once telling me the worst thing that could happen to me was that I might be locked in my office alone with no phone. You can ask people, now there are times that I leave my phone at home and I am not really accessible. I will say that I do not do it on purpose, but I never, or at least seldom, feel that missing that thing in my hand or pocket is some trauma. I am actually adding to this. It is now Friday night and after a trip to my nutritionist today, I am feeling like perhaps I have a way to handle the latest of health dilemmas. It is not a new dilemma, and in fact goes back into the 90s, but it does seems to be a more pertinent issue now.

Yesterday was a long day because I know what I am doing when I worked on grades and responses to people in a program I am deciding things about their lives. I take this seriously and I really take it to heart. I was that first generation college student who once squandered the opportunity to be in college and had to figure things out. I say regularly that my parents wanted me to go to college, but they had little idea what it meant to prepare me either academically or financially. This is not to speak poorly of them, but there was no point of reference. College and the idea that people needed to prepare and go was outside of their scope of knowledge. It was something about which they had little or no preparation themselves. I saw college as something rich people were able to do for their children and I was not that person. My father was 44 when he adopted a 4 year old and his 3 year old sister. When I graduated from high school he was wondering about retirement and had a wife with a multitude of health issues. It was for me to figure out and while I know now that I was not an incapable high school student, I was a lazy student, doing things well when I was interested, but I did not follow through long enough or well enough. No school was knocking on my door to ask me to come there and I had little idea of what I hoped to do or why. I am not that much different from the summer students I have just spent that last six weeks teaching and mentoring (and it is both). While there are certainly some students who squander the six weeks they are here, there are others who try to understand what is being asked of them and also try to manage it, in spite of their lack of preparation. When I consider the students from the summer, I had everything from seniors to 15 year olds. In the group of students, one earned an A and two managed to fail their summer class. The rest were in the B and C ranges and covering everything in that range. Some took a bit of time to figure out what was happening. One student has things figured out as a 17 year old in ways I do not think I have even yet. She took three classes and worked 20 hours a week. Because of her own writing, I know her background and she is doing most of this on her own. She has figured it out on her own. Remarkable is the epitome of understatement.

Today is the anniversary of Lydia’s birthday. She would be 92 today. She still permeates everything I do and imagine. Honestly I still have tears when I realize how much I miss her and how much I loved her. She is the one person in the past 16 or 17 years that found her way into my heart and from whom I did not want to run away. How did that happen? I still remember the day I first met her and looked at the little house. She was so sweet and adorable. I did not realize at the time that she was as lonely as she was because she was so self-assured. She was stylish and refined, and that Austrian accent,something I never had a problem understanding, was merely another endearing quality of the little two-digit-midget. I have told some that I put my life on hold for her, but now I am not sure that was true. We lived our lives as a little family that was gifted to us in the most unexpected way. In the twilight years of her life I became the son she was never able to have and she became more of a mother to me, and the best one of the three I have had. I can remember the sound of her voice out her third floor window when I came home late from school or somewhere else. “Michael, is that you?” “Yes, Lydia,” I would respond. She would then tell me she just happened to look out. What I knew is she had been watching because she wanted to know she was not alone. That is not what I expected when I first came to the circle. I did not know that I would be the person charged with taking care of her in ways I could not have imagined. She hated (her words) when people paid attention to her for a birthday or a holiday, but I think she secretly liked that people fussed over her. She had been alone for so long and it was important for her to not be lonely, even in her solitude. What I have come to understand is that she had an incredible heart and actually enjoyed giving to others. She and I are similar in that way, but she wanted to be in charge of how that happened. I think I am a mirror image of her in this also. As I have been working on things in my yard and around the house this spring and summer I have found myself with a broom and dustpan. She would be so proud of me. I find myself picking weeds and plucking up the random twig or branch. I guess she has rubbed off on me more than I expected. As I think of you on the anniversary of your birth Lydia, I miss you. I still love you more than I have words.

Es ist schwierig für mich zu glauben, dass du so lange weg sind. Es ist schwieriger für mich zu sagen, dass ich immer noch Dinge für Sie zu tun haben. Ich werde es in der nächsten Woche zu erledigen oder so. Ich wünschte, mein Leben würde verlangsamen. Ich bewundere noch, wie Sie alle geschafft, Sie getan haben. Ich habe das Glück, dass ich in der Lage war, mit Ihnen ein Jahrzehnt zu teilen. Ich bin auch jetzt durch Ihre Liebe gesegnet. Wie Sie wissen, zieren Sie Ihre Bilder mein Haus ihr und ich sehe dich jeden Tag. Ich liebe dich, meine Leihmutter.

As I consider our temporary place in this world, I am reminded of my favorite Rock n Roll band and one of its most well- known songs.

To everyone else, thank you for reading.


Civility and Community

Funny little man: Voltaire writing

Good afternoon from my porch,

As I begin this post, my spirit aches; my optimism, which is usually strong, is fragile; my disillusionment with our penchant for violence and revenge has weighed me down, and the words “liberty and justice for all,” which are foundational to our national fabric ring hollow and empty. How did we come to this place? From what abysmal chasm do we find ourselves crying out in the words of the Psalmist, “how long O Lord??!!”

Black men and police officers are dead. Wives, significant others, children, and extended family are left to pick up the pieces. Families of victims, yes, even the families of those who pulled triggers, are left to pick up the shards, trying to go in with their lives that have been shattered by the violence, either perpetrated or experienced. The locality in Minnesota is where I spent 5 years of my life in seminary. I know that little community and those streets. I have walked and driven them hundreds of times. It seems like someone took a time and place I remember fondly and sullied ( I use this word because it is more acceptable than the one which immediately comes to mind) it beyond repair. As the summer has continued, I  have not gotten more done on this post (it is probably the longest between blog posts in two years) and now as I finally return to it, both party conventions are in the books and we certainly have an upcoming election that will be unlike any other in our history. To most who read this blog and have a pretty good sense of where my political leaning fall, I would note that there are issues for me even when I say I am supporting Sec/Senator/former-First Lady Clinton. I struggle with the email issue for a number of reasons, and I certainly know that others used their email in unsecure ways, but I do believe her decisions regarding the choice to use a private server were misguided and foolish. I wonder how she came to implement such a choice. There I have noted that. I also believe her resume in unparalleled, certainly in recent history, as far as being qualified to be our president. I do believe that she could have managed the issue with the email better than she did, but I imagine she does also. I do not believe that she would intentionally work with classified documents (knowingly send marked classified information) in a unsecure way. If I am proven wrong there (and the Director of the FBI, who is Republican and was appointed by George W Bush, seems to believe there is not enough to make such a claim) I will rethink my position. I have watched YouTube video that have been edited to make her seem as the devil incarnate. If we want to “play that game,” @therealdonaldtrump’s encouragement of the Russians to continue to hack into our networks should certainly raise eyebrows (as well as some other things) as paramount to a kind of treason. In a war situation, I am sure he might be before a firing squad, which is what one of our elected leaders said should happen to Mrs. Clinton. My issue here is where we seem to have disintegrated as an American society. It is appalling to me that we have such vitriol on most every issue. Furthermore, when President Obama has raised concern about some of this (and certainly is justified as a black person) or questioned the National Rifle Association, he is considered anti-constitutional. When Donald Trump calls Mexican rapists, makes fun of disabled people, accused a female reporter of menstrual issues, wants to ban a complete religion, or any other kind of lying ignorance, which seems par for the course on a daily basis, people call him a patriot. What the French toast? I am stunned by the bigotry, the foolishness, and the xenophobic tenor of our country. I am stunned by the fact (and perhaps not as much as I wish I should be) by the red-necked, uneducated, white, male block that seems to give this unabashed ass such support. I know and respect some who are uneducated, but still support him based on what seems to be little more than Second Amendment protectionism and a whole-hearted buy in to seeing Hillary as the anti-Christ. While the British are probably still reeling from Brexit, most of the world is looking at us questioning, what the hell are you all doing? I know this from some of my travels and the reading I do.

As I move into the last week of summer classes, I realize how the summer has flown by and I am struggling yet to manage my life. I seem to get more tired quicker. I seem to get overwhelmed and almost paralyzed by what is on my plate versus merely soldiering through like I have done most of my life. I am still realizing that the loss of two people who were so important to me last year and then the loss again of someone much too young this year or that realization of losing a last biological parent, in spite of the fact that I had no real relationship with her, has taken more out of me than I ever imagined. There is the struggle of when I asked for some clarification I received little more than a dismissive and scornful retort. Some of the reality of what I have lost in the removal of such amazing people in my life has taken a toll beyond what I ever expected. Sometimes, the fragility of our existence seems to hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks and that has appears to be the case. I think it is in my own reality and depression. I feel like I cannot cope with as much as I have normally done. I feel like I cannot focus as well as I have done in the past. I feel like I fail people more than I help them at times. It is a frightening thing for me. The question becomes to where do I turn for the strength that I need. That is something that has escaped me as of late. I wish that there was so much more I could do to focus. I wish there was so much more I could do to be more productive. I wish there was so much more I could do to feel accomplished or successful.

A few weeks ago I spoke with someone I have known since I was 5 or 6 years old. Growing up next door, there was so much shared in the neighborhood in the 1960s. It is true that people were more invested in each other. I remember the number of children on the block was in its teens or twenties, but everyone watched out for each other. It was a given that if I got in trouble somewhere else, I would be in trouble when I got home. In fact, my mother would know about it before I got there. In this case, it is amazing that their mother is 100 years old. It is amazing to me that we have been in touch for over 50 years. We had the most significant chat we have probably had most of our lives. It is interesting how our lives and moved in and out of the realms of influence and connectivity, but somehow we have never lost touch. It is a blessing that means more to me than words and something I did not really expect. I think that is how real blessings are. It is the unexpected, the undeserved things that happen in our lives that are so wonderful. I think unfortunately too often what begins as a blessing or a help can become a burden. To paraphrase the Occasional Services Book, [w]hen our lives are the product of our humanity, that which begins as a blessing becomes a burden (27). It is more of a struggle than we anticipate. For me the difficulty is believing the best in the other. Wanting to believe that the loyalty I have is the same. Then there is my own fragility and feeling overwhelmed, which seems to happen when it is reciprocated. I get frightened. What I have realized is I feel out of control and concerned that I am unworthy or definitely not worthy enough for this reciprocation. What is interesting is the oxymoronic nature of what I am describing, and I understand that. It is that I am not sure what to do with it. Today, in typical fashion, I have tried to help another person, currently in the proverbial rock-and-hard-spot. What I expected and what ended up happening is remarkably different, but again that is no surprise. It is a typical lack of understanding of someone younger about the reality of those life moments that you hope happen only once in a life time. For those who have read the blog in the past, those AFGE moments. I want to get this blog finished and posted. The past few weeks have been difficult for me, but as I noted actually the loss of Lydia still has me reeling. She was such a force, but she also made my life more complete. I told someone last night, who has known me (and her) that I put my life on hold in a way for her, but it was not done begrudgingly or in some sense of obligation. It was done because together we actually had fun together. She made me smile (she could also exasperate me), and she genuinely loved me and I loved her. I miss that even now.

Over the weekend I spent a lot of time in my office,  but last night it seems I had another one of my spells. At least this time I was not alone. I think at some point I will probably pass like my grandmother. There are times I worry about that happening when I am alone, but then again, that would be probably best because no one has to experience that. All of this is certainly not to sound morbid nor fatalistic, but it is the reality of my life and the fact that I have significant health issues. However, I have had health issues most of my life, and certainly since I was in my late 2os. It was the one of the things my ex-wife, Susan, noted the last time we spoke face-to face (at least as married people). She noted she was tired of being married to a wimp. I do think I saw her one more time at Dana, when I went for a homecoming and had a student from Suomi College with me. In fact, the very things I thought about that student have come to fruition some 20 years later as he is now an ordained Lutheran pastor. Unquestionably, life is a remarkable journey. It is full of expectations, but unplanned occurrences. I have noted in the past that I am not sure what I imagined as probable. I am not sure what I believed I would or could become. There are times, I am not sure what I have become. I hear things and I am grateful for the chances I have had to have a positive influence. I know there are times I have also failed, and for those moments, I feel more regret that some might imagine. There are times I have acted in a ridiculous way that certainly hurt and undermined the good I have done. There are times my frailty and my lack of esteem or control have caused me embarrassment and the other harm. I think of times with Theresa, my second wife. I learned a lot through that experience and it has changed how I manage so much. There were two periods in my life where alcohol abuse caused me potential harm (and others) and there is more than one occasion where my living through that foolish night is a miracle. I guess this is my way of apologizing for those times I have been less than the person I should be. Again, it seems that my return to Pennsylvania has been good and created a period where I can say I feel I have done more helpful than harmful. I wish I could forgive myself as much as some others have offered me forgiveness. That is something on which I need to work. It is a matter of continuing to grow. It is about civility. That is where I started this blog. Civility in our discourse seems to be lacking on a number of levels from colleagues to the election. It is frightening, but I am on the only person I can take care of. I hope to continue to grow and improve in all areas of my life. It is all I can do. In the meantime, I offer this video of the hymn at the end, which gives me goose bumps every time I hear it.

To all, thanks for reading,