Slowing Down

APSCUF poster

Good early morning,

It is barely 4:00 a.m. And I have been awake a bit more than an hour. In the past couple of weeks I have been in bed more times than I can remember before 8:30 at night. It does mean that I wake up earlier than I might wish, but that is perhaps the schedule I need to adopt. What I am realizing – and I should note that I started this before a birthday this weekend – that I am slowing down. I am not sure I like that reality, but it is a reality that I must come to terms with. I think it started long before the last few weeks or even months, but I have tried to fight it, with little success. I am told I do not look my age, and I am sure that more will contend that I have never acted my age. That is probably more true and sometimes more of a detriment than I might care to admit. I think that has always been an issue for me. I am not sure the reason for that, though I do have theories.

This past seven years, I have fought with health things that are a consequence of the Crohn’s and those things have take their toll on me more than I would like to admit. The main consequence of Crohn’s for me has been an issue of hydration. I was battling this long before drugs like Humira or Remicade were available, so I did the 5AZA treatment of corticosteroids, sulfasalazine, and in large dosages. This began thirty years ago. It is hard to believe it has been that long since the first surgery. I had fought it for two years before that and now I know that I was probably born with it. Now it is 9 major surgeries later and more same day procedures that I can even count. In spite of all of that I have seemed to manage, certainly with ups and downs, but I have been able to hold onto my jobs and, in spite of other complications, it seems like my body figures out how to compensate and I keep plugging along. What I am trying to figure out is whether or not I am slowing down because of the cumulative effective of all of this or is it merely I am honestly aging. I certainly do not like to admit the aging part for the most part, but then again, I am blessed to have made it this far, particularly when I consider the rocky beginning that characterized my infancy.  I have to admit this morning as I was working on all the things I must do to manage the consequences of 9 surgeries, I wondered what it would be like to have a normal body once again. I wondered if the infamous genie did exist and told me I could have one wish, I think the wish would be to have a complete body and all my insides on my inside again. I cannot even remember what it was like to not have pain or have to manage the difference that that first surgery (which was actually the second and third) when I was the pastor in Leighton and traveled all the way to Arizona. I remember the consequences of that surgery and how it affected me and how my wife at the time reacted. As I have noted before, one of my friends (an astute English scholar) noted, I have gone from a colon, to a semi-colon, to a run-on sentence to a fragment. I still struggle to understand the why, but what I do know is that even now, I must be attentive to many things most people take for granted: water intake, salt intake, digestion, portions, to name a few. There are theories as to why someone contracts the various forms of an IBD. It is certainly an issue of a malfunctioning immune system; in addition, it is also more likely to strike someone who had a premature birth. It seems I cover both of those categories.

The consequence of the last twenty-five years has been difficult. What are the results for my identity? It affects my feelings toward my body because I am no longer whole, literally and figuratively. In the course of the 25+ years I have had extreme pain, unbelievable weight loss, and trips in and out of hospitals to the point that surgery is no big deal. I merely see it as another speed bump to manage. Through the years of prednisone, sulfur-based antibiotics, twice daily enemas, and every imaginable test possible to my altered GI tract, I have felt like the guinea pig or the specimen under the microscope; I have been both held up as a poster child for managing the disease through serious complications and told by an ex-spouse that she was tired of being married to a wimp. More often than not, I tried to hide my malady, afraid to speak out about it because I was ashamed and embarrassed. Somehow it did not seem “man-ly” to have to run to the bathroom or let someone know that I had a “bag on my side.” Indeed, when I stand in the mirror or the shower, this appliance is there to remind me of my limitations; it is there as a reminder that I will never be physically or functionally “normal”. We are not supposed to talk about things like this in polite company, but it has so affected my identity. It is interesting that I had hid this more than I could imagine most of the time. What I have realized is that through my hiding of myself, I have lost myself; I have eluded language, the very thing I study, to ignore my body. As Martin Buber once said, “the body does not use speech, yet it begets it” (qtd Frank 1995). Yet, most often personal narratives and stories are used to recover from illness, what happens in cases where there is no recovery? What happens when the illness steals me from myself? Who am I then? How can I get myself back? These are questions pondered in the consideration of this paper. What has occurred on some level is the dysregulation between the private and the public self; perhaps not all that different from a mental illness, trying to understand what is appropriate to share, and thereby, creating a more accurate self portrait is a constant struggle (Wisdom et al, 2008). Again, much like those who suffer mental illness, there is a dichotomous process in what I reveal to most and what I know as a constant companion. As someone who had the ileostomy twice as a temporary escort, those experiences prepared me for the permanency which occurred in October of 1997. Yet, if I had an opportunity to change that because of some medical breakthrough, I would be at the front of the line. Even as the words are written, I find it hard to imagine what life would be like without the ileostomy.

It astounds me as I write to realize how much of my life is controlled by this 4×4 wafer and 10” pouch. The struggle to be seen as more than someone with a serious illness confronts me emotionally more than most know. Another former grad school colleague once told me, “Michael, for everything you have been through, you should look like roadkill.” She smiled, and I merely said, “Thanks, Leslie; I think that’s a compliment.” Ironically it is the telling of the stories that some of the damage both emotionally and physically is repaired. It is in the telling of the stories of where one has been that they might begin to see the possibilities of where they might go (Frank 1995). Yet our society view of intestines or any other issue that has to do with our intestinal function has been required to remain behind closed doors. We can talk about cancer and all sorts of other personal things, but it seems that even yet whenever I bring up my diagnosis and life-long struggle with Crohn’s, invariably, there is someone in the room that knows someone or there is someone in the room who is struggling with this. What will it take for it to be less than being immodest or inappropriate? What will it take for it to be something more than spoken of in hushed voices. How will it be that I can ever see my own self as a complete person? I guess I have reasons to believe that I have slowed down, but more importantly, I have not quit. It is perhaps in telling this story here more completely that again I can fight this menace more confidently that it seems I have lately. People respond to our stories, through the stories we tell or illustrate, we begin to understand ourselves; we create an identity, and others begin to identify us. Those stories do not simply describe the self, they become the self. It is necessary for us to tell stories and understand the implications of the stories if we are to begin to repair what wreckage the illness has caused (Frank 1995). Illness can create a lack of agency for us as human beings. During the times my Crohns was particularly active, my life felt out of control; it was structured by the regiment of medication and the frequent trips to the bathroom. Looking back, I was living this wreckage of which Frank speaks. There was no alignment; there was no story because much like a person who is mentally ill, I merely existed. If I were to try to tell the story then, I am not sure there would have been coherence. I am able to tell it now because it is a distant memory; instead of being embarrassed, or angry, the very writing of this has helped me come to terms with my altered state. As a person with a PhD in Rhetoric and Technical Communication, I understand the power of words. We use words to persuade and identify; we use words to understand and make sense of our lives and our experiences. So why is it that for 23 or 24 years of my illness I worked as hard as I could to hide my disease, coming out, only when it was safe or required, or when it was to my advantage? Perhaps because I had not or could not manage the chaos this disease has created. Perhaps because I could not get those experiences of rejection by those from whom I most needed acceptance in my altered state; I reasoned if the people who supposedly loved me and knew me the best could not accept me, how could others?

Indeed, the wound of rejection was much more difficult to heal than any incision. As I look back, it was Dennis Clark, the professor from Arizona State who first visited me, that showed me I could be more than a person who was afflicted; it was the nursing students who I lectured in one of my previous teaching positions and their genuine and thoughtful questions, who helped me understand that I was more than an appliance; it is in the beginning of telling that I become connected to the past, but moving toward the quest for a future; as a former Lutheran pastor, and of Northern European descent, the role of testimony is not as established as in some other religious traditions, but the role of testimony is significant; it allows for a pedagogy of suffering as Frank calls it. This is not an opportunity to wallow in the sadness of my fate, but rather deals with the reality of my life in an honest and forthright way. It is the beginning of a new narrative of restitution (Carless), a narrative that replaces the narrative of chaos or the narrative of pain and rejection. Perhaps it is time to slow down and pay closer attention to my body, but that is difficult for  me because I feel like I am not doing my other jobs as well or as completely as I should. The consequence of this slowing down, or refusing as it might be, has also had consequences. Some things have gotten completed and for that I am happy. Other things, not so much, and for those things I feel more like a failure than people might know. One of the things I heard from a high school friend over the weekend was that I always had a smile on my face. It is amazing to know that because there was such difficulty in my household. I think it was that I was happy to be out of that chaos and stress. I was happy to be where I felt valued and cared for. Over the weekend I spend significant time responding to all the people who were kind enough to remember my birthday. I also slept more than I regularly do. Two people for whom I have a lot of respect and trust pushed me again on slowing down. While I hate to admit it, I am afraid I must do so. Perhaps I can get other things done finally and with less stress. I have never been one to quit or give up, and slowing down seems to be quitting or giving up, but perhaps I need to rethink that.

As always, I am grateful that you read this. I know that the last blog had almost two hundred views in a day. That amazed me. I merely try to get myself and others to think.

Dr. Martin

 

 

 

My Response to Faculty Vilification

Stop Writing

Good morning from my office,

I got home at 1:15 this morning and it is before 8:00 and I have been up since 5:30. I was at the diner this morning working the morning crowd to support the faculty of the university who are being confronted with perhaps the most egregious set of proposals in the history of the PASSHE system. As is the case locally, the editor of the paper, who is an alum of the very university and faculty he regularly attacks, has written his usual misrepresentation of the facts (I call it this because he includes only what serves his purpose) and called the faculty on the proverbial carpet yet again. This is the same person who regularly posts all of our salaries with little explanation behind them each year in the paper.

While the coverage in the Press Enterprise have been a little more even-handed, even those articles leave out a number of important points. Is it because of incompetent writing or not knowing how to ask the questions? I am unsure and I want to give a particular reporter the benefit of the doubt because I believe them to be sincere. However, after an editorial yesterday in the local paper, which was ludicrous at best, I have decided to respond. I am pretty sure the paper will not run the entire response because they will tell me it is over their word limit. It is probably impossible to make it to that limit because this editorial was unconscionable in so many ways. Therefore, I offer a copy of what I have written. I have also posted in on my Facebook page and sent it to the Raging Chicken Press.

Dear Bloomsburg University student, towns-person, and the “esteemed” editor of the Press Enterprise,

Indeed, you have heard much about a possible strike by the faculty of the fourteen PASSHE schools of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; you have received emails from Chancellor Brogan’s office assuring you that the System and the Board of Governors are bargaining in good faith to reach a fair and equitable contract; and you have once again heard from the editor of this newspaper that we are merely fear mongering and pretending to sacrifice your education (9/14/2016). Unfortunately, as often seems to be the case in the seven years I have taught here, Mr. Sachetti delights in vilifying the faculty of the university, the very university from where he received his degree. His reasons for doing this and the enormous energy he regularly spends to disparage this university and its faculty baffle me, but that is a topic for another time. Suffice it to say, someone must have hurt his feelings tremendously for him to champion such disdain so routinely.

What he fails to note in his editorial is that the primary reason your faculty, your fellow citizens of this town, have chosen to stand up for a more evenhanded contract is precisely because of you, the student. Some of the major sticking points, contrary to his assertion, are not about health care or salary; those points of contention are about the changes they want to make to the collective bargaining agreement, all 249 of them (yes, you read that correctly), and how those changes affect your education. Let me offer just three of those changes we believe to be most egregious and worth our not accepting their proposal. We will hold out because of what it would do to the quality and credibility of the degree you would receive from Bloomsburg or any of the other PASSHE institutions.

As has been the case in each of the last two or three proposals, they want adjunct faculty to increase their teaching to five sections with more preparatory for different classes added also. All of this with no pay increase, thereby cutting their salaries 20 percent. As important is it would create two-tiers of education within departments because of the increased work load in preparing for classes and grading assignments. The system rationale is they do not have as much to do as tenure track faculty, so it should be easy. What they do not say is that most of those faculty are working to finish their doctoral degrees and are looking for other positions where they have a sense of security because currently as an adjunct, they have no job security. Additionally, it takes away from the quality of instruction and is pedagogically unsound. Second, the administration wants the unfettered ability to move us from department to department and location to location at will. As a tenured faculty, hired specifically to create a Digital Rhetoric and Professional Writing program that is now one of the most comprehensive on the East coast, I work hard to support that program as well as teaching four sections a semester. However, you do not want me teaching your Principles of Accounting class or Organic Chemistry class because I do not know enough to provide a substantive learning experience for future CPAs or M.D.s. I, in fact, would feel guilty because I could not do an adequate job, and we should never be simply adequate. In addition, I do not want to drive to East Stroudsburg twice a week to teach a course there. I did not get four degrees to be a substitute teacher, moved around by the whims of those not in the classroom. Students, parents, and certainly future employers need to ask how my instruction in those classes would compromise the quality of the education for which a student (or their parent) has paid good money? Third, the system wants to allow people with no Masters or Doctoral degree to be the instructor of record for a class. I am quite sure you will not pay less tuition for that section than if your PhD-degreed professor is teaching. More significantly, what does this do to the credibility of your degree? How does that provide you the foundation you will need to be successful in your career, and 90% of PASSHE students stay in the Commonwealth so what does that do to the credibility of the workforce for the future?

Those are only three of the proposals that we are fighting against. This has nothing to do with salary or benefits so the majority of Mr. Sachetti’s recent editorial is moot. While he has tossed out figures and claimed a number of things about our intent and what we make, he has misspoken (and that is not surprising). He claims we only work 30 weeks a year, but he fails to mention that we work throughout the summer to publish or we go to conferences to stay current in our scholarship, a requirement if we want to become tenured or promoted. He fails to mention the incredible number of hours we spend outside the classroom advising, supporting undergraduate research, traveling abroad with students, without being paid a faculty wage during the Christmas break, or the amount of time spent each break preparing for the next semester

I do understand that I make a reasonable salary (and he will provide that for you in his yearly chart), but he does not mention that I have four degrees and fourteen years of higher education. He does not mention that I have been teaching college for the last 20 years. He does not mention that the money faculty pour back into this town daily, weekly, and yearly, make a significant difference in what is available here for each and every one of us. I have read his hateful and reproachful commentary on us for seven years and enough is enough. The real story is that the faculty of this university and the faculty across the thirteen other schools want a system that demonstrates a commitment to quality education and does not merely give it lip-service. We desire a fair and equitable contract that illustrates that we work and live in this Commonwealth, a contract that recognizes we have worked 33 months of the last 60 without a current contract, we continued to come to work every day, in spite of losing four steps. We have bargained in good faith and we have stood up for the integrity of providing an education that both our students and the people of this state deserve. I might note that I am still in my office as I write this and it is 11:22 p.m. and I have been on campus since 7:00 a.m. this morning. So while I certainly do not want to strike, I will. So how dare he??!!

Sincerely,

Dr. Michael Martin
Asst. Professor of English
Director of the Digital Rhetoric and Professional Writing Program
APSCUF Member
#APSCUF, @RCPress

If you are a parent of a student or a student it is time to stand up and let the chancellor or the local university president know that what they are proposing is unacceptable. Notice, I have said nothing about the health care or benefits. I care first and foremost about the quality of education we provide and the integrity I hold as an educator. If you have questions, please contact me and I will be glad to provide more information. I should also note that for some reason, the copied article has paragraphs in it when I am drafting, but somehow they do not show up in the post. I am working with this and trying to figure it out. I apologize.

Sincerely,

Dr. Martin

Remembering and Wishing

boot-camp-sized

Hello on a Sunday afternoon, an anniversary the 21st Century’s Day of Infamy for America,

I am in my office and working on a number of things, planning to be here more than most of today’s remaining hours. It is a typical weekend of catching up and working on a number of things. As I consider the day and what I was doing 15 years ago, it is easy to remember,  but what I think is more important (and perhaps as tragic as the day itself) is how in the following days as a country we came together and supported each other. In fact, I think it can be safely said that the majority of the world supported the United States in a manner that perhaps had not happened since the end of the Second World War. In the days that followed people spoke with other people they did not know. If someone could help another, they did it no questions asked. People reached out to another because it was the right thing, the humane thing, the reasonable thing to do versus to wonder and ponder first in suspicion about what the other might be thinking or planning. Congress even joined together on the steps of the United States Capitol in a bi-partisan manner noting that we are all Americans. Isn’t it amazing how much has changed in 15 years? Isn’t it sad how much we have lost from those days where cooperation and mutual goodness seemed to be the order of the day versus where we are now when one side calls the other side deplorable and the other side is simply racist, sexist, xenophobic, and certainly many of the terms being used. Yet then again both seem to lower themselves to the lowest common denominator that has epitomized this election?  In case you cannot imagine Congress actually acting in some other manner than their seemingly common acrimonious personality, here it is:

 

It is true . . . They actually stood there on the steps of the Capitol and sang together. President Bush’s approval rating was a 86%, which is a number almost unimaginable for any president. Rallying around a phrase of “United We Stand,” Americans of all ilks stood shoulder to shoulder willing to put race, gender, economic status, or political bent aside. In the Upper Peninsula, where I was in graduate school, people reached out to see what they could do, even if it meant going to spend time in NYC to help in whatever manner possible. The Red Cross in the days that followed collected 36,000 pints of blood in NYC alone. In the fall of 2001, 600,000 pints of blood were donated in the United States. Around the world, we also experienced unprecedented support. 200,000 Germans marched in solidarity in Berlin; and in Paris, the French newspaper Le Monde declared in their headline, “Nous sommes tous Américains.” Of course, in the Middle East, the reaction was not quite as supportive, but the history behind that area is much more complex. The reaction against Middle Eastern people in this country was also difficult. Dearborn, Michigan, a place I had worked and part of the state in which I lived was like a ghost town. The reaction against Muslim people or anyone appearing to be from the Middle East, to this day, is probably only paralleled by what happened to the Japanese during World War II.

Of course, the reasons we are in such a different place than those surreal days of September and October 2001 are complex or complicated, an intricate mosaic, if you will. The world changed dramatically that day. Note, I did not say the United States, I said, “the world.” In 2008 a book titled, How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America, chronicled the consequence of being Arab in the United States in a post-911 world. Needless to say, the espousal of a particular candidate that seems to lump every Arab/Muslim person into one large basket does not help our national xenophobia tension that has never really disappeared since that fateful day. Would the middle name of a President created the “birther controversy” in a pre-911 world? One cannot prove either way, but somehow, I cannot imagine such a thing. In some ways, and there is not enough room to prove all of this, though it would be an interesting things to consider rhetorically, I wonder the parallels between the psyche of the country post-Richard Nixon and the distrust that helped propel Jimmy Carter to office and the post-George W. Bush and the distrust regarding WMD might have done to propel Barack Obama to office. Hmmmm. I see an academic paper in the making. I think the complexity of the Bush years and the role of his vice president certainly affected the attitudes of many Americans toward the administration. In addition, I think the fact that the Legislative Branch of the government demonstrated an inability to work with the Executive Branch, probably not matched since Lincoln and the Civil War established a rancor and divisiveness that quickly snuffed out the good will that so was predominant in those weeks and months following the September 11th attacks. A multitude of scholarly articles that focus on a rhetoric of terror or violence illustrates this somewhat invidious climate that began to hang over our politics and our world. By the end of President Bush’s second term, our world, and now our crumbling economy, created a calumnious world where rancor replaced reliance, dubiety replaced dependence. In spite of that, there was a hopefulness as we elected a 44th president, or at least I thought there was.

More than people realize, there have continued to be attempted attacks on the United States. While I am wise enough to know that we do not know of all of them, in the remainder of the time during President Bush’s presidency, there were 16 confirmed attempts. Up to this point, during the presidency of Barack Obama, there have been another 14 . . . and those are only the ones confirmed. How many more have been either foiled, abandoned, or unreported? As I noted earlier it is a more confusing, multifarious world in which we exist. It is a country that has, for a second presidency, witnessed a dysfunction on our national political stage that seems to have outdone the one aforementioned. While I voted for the President both times, I will admit that I have been disappointed in how the last eight years have played out. However, while there is certainly enough blame to go around, it seems that the obstructionism that has occurred during the majority of the last eight years is unequalled in my lifetime. The tea-partiers, the self-serving national politicians, and the bigots, who now seem to have a voice on a national stage, together have created a toxic atmosphere that should frighten most anyone willing to imagine the consequences. What happened to the world of “United We Stand?” What happened to the world of “We are all Americans?” In the 15 years since that fateful day in NYC, Washington, DC and the fields of Pennsylvania, where I now again live, we have lost this sense of singular purpose to make the world a better one. We have lost this sense of purpose to make the world a safer one . . . I understand there are those who hope to wreak havoc or destroy a sense of interdependence. I believe in making sure that we are not being naïve; I believe in disrupting or the targeting of those who are determined to cause us harm, but there are so many people who do not intend us harm and still see America as something to aspire to. We have not lost our greatness, in spite of a particular slogan emblazoned on a bunch of red hats. I have students who are Latino/a and they are not in this country illegally, nor are they criminals or rapists. I have Muslim students who, though faithful in their beliefs, mean this country no harm and are wonderful people. I have black students who work hard to try to move beyond the ghettos in which they have grown up, but to believe that all black people are in the ghetto is another foolishness. I have rural white students who have also grown up impoverished, but hope their opportunity to attend college will create a different life than they have experienced. I am a first generation college student who grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood, but with a family, while far from perfect, provided values and a foundation that somehow gave me hope. Because of an amazing grandmother and her sister, I knew I was loved and that somehow it would be okay. While I have read the comments that because we are Americas for generations, we are not immigrants. Indeed, that is true, but that does not make our disregard and disdain for those who hope to come to this country, regardless the path of their journey, reasonable or helpful (and in spite of the term here, I understand there are limits).

I guess the question for me is a simple one, but with a complex solution. How might we get back to where we were in the difficult, but astonishingly cooperative days of that fall of 2001? How might we find the ability or the determination to make this world a more tolerant and hopeful place in all corners of this global community? Selfishness, xenophobic slogans or calling those with whom we disagree deplorable as well as disparaging any person or group after they question something is not the answer. I wonder what our ancestors would think about our current election? I wonder what our children’s children will hear when they find out how one of the two most distrusted party nominees in history somehow became our next president? While I certainly would never wish for another 911 tragedy in this country or anywhere in the world (i.e. France, Belgium, or you fill in the blank), I desperately wish we might return to the positive outpouring of goodness that followed that fateful day. I desperately pray that we might understand our common humanity and the need we have to believe in the goodness of the other be it in our own country or the larger world. Imagine the goodness, believe in the change. America . . .  use the light of that statue once again to proclaim both our greatness and our goodness.

As always, thanks for reading. The picture is my boot camp picture from the Marines when I was a merely 18 year old boy.

Michael

Realizing a Mistake and Blaming Myself

Hello from the acre,

It has been a busy day and a disconcerting one. Progress has been made in so many ways, but progress in the world of imperfection is always fleeting and tenuous. It seems that might be the situation, but one time or misstep does not negate the advances accomplished . . . but it does require an inventory to understand what created the newest problem. In the meantime the first step of powerlessness is painful apparent for all of us. Tonight along with the others who care, we wait and we pray. . . That has been a couple of Tuesday’s ago and indeed, the frailty of our humanity was illustrated once again, but as it the case we learn and continue on. I learned, as is usually the case, more about myself once again. Since I started this, the never ending reality of life’s marching on, and seeming to pick up speed, continues. School has begun,; the hope for some small semblance of order to the fall continues and I have spent the majority of my Labor Day weekend doing precisely that: laboring. The lack of planning from another has required the revision of a new prep, which was itself a sort of draft, now three times. I have spent close to 20 hours in just the last two days. However, at least I now feel like there is  something reasonable to work with. The first week of school is always a bit of a whirlwind, but this past week seemed even more so, it that is possible. The fall always gives me pause, but simultaneously a sense of hope and excitement. Many academics look forward to commencement/graduation. I look forward to the fall and the commencement of the new year. I remember in my undergraduate years having a fall convocation and I looked forward to that as much as anything of the entire academic year. This fall, however, has a sense of tension as we continue to work without a contract and little progress or sense of good faith bargaining by the State on our contract. We are four months from two years of negotiating and as has been the case, at least in my time here, the State drags things out interminably to make money off the faculty and then offers a simple unacceptable and egregious set of contractual options to make the process even more painful.

The weeks ahead are going to be stressful as we vote on the various campuses this week to authorize a strike. I am quite sure that vote will be supportive of moving toward a strike on the fourteen campuses of the system. It is my hope that will prompt a more serious negotiating posture from the system than has been exhibited up to now. Letting my students ask the questions necessary has been one of the things I have done as well as speak to students, colleagues, and townsfolk at the diner and elsewhere about the specifics of the sysrem’s disrepectful offer that is currently on the table. As I move into this fall, I thought about times and dates as I am often prone to doing. I am not sure if it that former history major or merely my penchant for reflecting and remembering. It was 30 years ago that I was in Big Lake, Minnesota as an intern pastor and I met such amazing people. During the past couple weeks I have reacquainted with high school classmates and some people I knew when I lived in Houghton. It is interesting how things have a way of coming back around. It is that coming back around that is really the focus of this blog. Particularly when I have lived a sort of itinerant lifestyle, it is easy to believe that once you are gone you can leave things behind, but that never really happens. We are influenced, and often affected more than we realize, by our former actions. I believe that coming to that conclusion is another way in which I am slowly becoming a bit wiser. As I consider this life I am aware of my mistakes and coming to terms with those mistakes has been a difficult, but important process.

A couple of weeks ago, somehow within the period of a week, I was asked three times if I had ever been married. I asked one of the people, after their inquiry, if there was something on my forehead I could not see that said I needed a date or something. What the heck?? However, it did get me to focus on the last 16 years since I was last married. For those who know me well, the fact that I was married twice is no surprise, for some of the rest of you, perhaps it is. I was almost 29 when I got married the first time. I had dated a person the last year I was in college and beyond. We were engaged for more than a year. We chose to get married because, at least from my much latter perspective, we believed we loved each other and we had dated and been engaged for quite some time and it was the next logical thing to do. What is interesting to me now is that I am not sure I was ever in love with her (and that is not her fault, it is mine). What I realize at this more elderly point of my life is that I was in love with the idea of being in love and I was in love with the idea of creating a marriage and family. I must admit that I failed at both things. There are a variety of reasons for that, but it is interesting to me that someone tried to talk me out of getting married only minutes before I was at the front of my home church waiting for her to walk up the aisle. I must admit that while I tried to be a good husband, the baggage carried because of earlier experiences in my life had never been dealt with and I was not a prince of a husband. While I am aware of things done on both sides of our relationship, I know that I could have been much more understanding and supportive than I was. I could have been more faithful than I was, and that is a difficult admission for me to make. While I am aware of things on the other side – so was she – and we failed each other in a number of ways. What I know now is I should not have married her and I am accountable for that choice. That decision had its issues and the consequence of those issues had/has affected me both at the time and even since. One of the things still haunting me the most is that her parents were really good people (and I hope they are yet, meaning I hope they are alive). Her father in particular was/is an amazing man. He is insightful, honest, hardworking, and the kind of person I would want in my life. By the time we were divorced, I was not feeling sad or disappointed, I merely wanted it done. That says a great deal and most of it is sad. In the 23 years since we have been divorced, I have spoken with her fewer times than the number of fingers I have on one hand. That too says something. I went on with my life and found myself actually in love with someone as I was almost turning 40. While she had been married before (and twice) so I knew walking into that relationship, and she certainly gave me more than one indication that I should have probably gotten out while I could have, I believed I could fix anything and we would be alright. That marriage was certainly done out of being in love with someone, but neither she nor I were in a healthy space. Again, I cannot blame her for the mistakes I made or the rather naïve belief held that I could make anything work. I remember my therapist telling me I was really good at high maintenance people. I am not sure to this day that is a compliment. What I know is again as I was hurt and felt like there was no winning, I struck out in ways I should not have. I have talked about that in earlier blogs and I paid dramatically for that mistake. Again, sometimes I still feel I am paying for it. I lost an ordination that meant more than words could have ever express. I also lost a sense of direction in a number of ways after that divorce (and in terms of finances and property, I lost a lot more). I always say that every thing I owned fit in a pickup truck and I did not own the truck. It is always easy to point a finger at the other person, but in both cases, I had my own mistakes and places or occasions for which I must take blame. What it has caused is this feeling that I am both better off and safer by being alone. Yet that too has consequences and there are times where the loneliness causes more pain than I let on. That loneliness has caused me to reach out – only then to pull back when I am afraid. By doing so I have hurt others and I know that. I am sorry for that pain, and those to whom this has happened, please forgive me. You know who you are; of that I am quite sure.

It is always dangerous to let another person into your life on any level because it changes the dynamics. Whenever another person is offered space in our lives it changes our lives and it makes us vulnerable. That is not a bad thing, but is certainly has repercussions. For me it is learning to limit their influence and the time I am willing to put into that relationship. Part of the difficulty has always been I jump in with both feet without considering the consequences for them or for me. I know I have spoke about the rather oxymoronic way I am simultaneously open to others and yet guarded beyond what is readily apparent. It is not necessarily something I mean to do, but as I examine most of my life, to say that that is a pattern I have developed would be a profound understatement. Again I think it’s important that I apologize to those I might’ve hurt, albeit unintentional. In addition, I find it interesting that I am much more frail about those relationships than I might have realized. Introspection is such a profound and frightening thing. It is even more frightening to write it all down, but in a cathartic way I’m hoping that it will help. There are still things that I must come to terms with, and that is, in part, what this blog is about. Today was one of my closest friend’s  birthday and tomorrow would be my best friend’s 60th birthday if he were alive. It was four years ago I sent him a letter telling him how important he was in my life. I did not expect that he would already be gone. Thursday would be my great Aunt Helen’s birthday. I think she would be about 110. That is an amazing number for me.

As most of you know we are two weeks of the school, and the days seem to blend together and fly more quickly. The initial meetings have started and I spent much of day responding and grading blogs. Between office hours meeting students and meetings, the day flew by. Tomorrow will be more the same and while it is only 9 o’clock in the evening and not quite that, my eyes are tired and my brain feels like mush. And now I realize that I didn’t close my car windows. So, my cathartic exercise is finished, at least for the moment, and I think I will finish up the night, brush my teeth and go to bed. However, not before I set an early alarm so I can get up a take more things off the list than I put on it. That is my plan. The initial picture is for my favorite Republican friends.

As always thanks for reading,

Dr. Martin