Never Stopping . . . Or the Energizer Bunny Rides Again

Good early morning,

Going to bed at 8 o’clock last evening has had a consequence. It is 1:20 in the morning, and I was wide-awake as I can be. I had planned on a two hour nap, but somehow I slept almost four.  So since waking up an hour and a half ago, I completed some other work for our little travel company, because I do not feel I am wide awake enough to grade, I will/dictate//write another blog to do what generally do when I blog, clear my head and make sense of my world, if there is any making sense of this world at the moment.  I must admit it is hard to believe that I am finishing my eighth year here at Bloomsburg University. So much has changed since I first came out here that first May 8 years ago after having been hired and in a tenure-track position. I set up a bank account; I got an apartment; and I began to realize the change this would create not only for me, but for Lydia. Well I was quite sure I could manage the change for myself,  helping her manage the change was going to be something quite different. And quite honestly that scared me. As I finished my last semester at Stout, there was a sense of relief,  and a sense of excitement for what was yet to come for me professionally. There was certainly a sense of sadness and that I would be moving from the little carriage house and from the circle, from the Lacksonens become so important to me. There was a tremendous sense of guilt and trepidation that I was leaving Lydia behind. I also struggled with leaving Erica and knowing and how we supported each other and her life would be much tougher when she had to deal with Lydia on a daily basis. To be honest with you Lydia was not always the kindest, particularly when it came to females. To this day I am grateful to Nathan and his helping my move and beyond.

In the eight years that I’ve been in Bloomsburg, the changes have been monumental; they have been profound. I reconnected with the Deckers.  I know them so much better than when I was in Wisconsin, but  I think they would say the same. I watch Grace go from beginning middle school to being ready to enter college. Mary from elementary school to high school.  Max from starting school to middle school.. Caroline took her first steps when I was here that first May, and Rosie did not exist. Through it all somehow neither Mark or Gayle seem to age.  I am the other hand have aged significantly. How is that? How was it for two people they seem to age more gracefully than any other couple I’ve ever known. And while people still tell me I don’t look my age and that for all the trouble I’ve had with my health I look quite good,  I know I look significantly older and sometimes I feel even older than that. While the work here has been wonderful, and the position in the department rewarding,  there’s always more to do, but barely enough time. I’ll get back to that in a minute. The most profound change my life has been the loss of an entire handful of people. Certainly the most significant change was Lydia. I remember how difficult it was the first day Nathan and I moved her into the memory care unit at Comforts of Home. I think it was as dramatic for us as it was traumatic for her. While she had certainly faded and her struggle with dementia, that was only the beginning of what would come. I learned more about the complexity of that disease that I ever imagined possible. I met amazing people who care daily for those who cannot even remember their name. And some of those amazing people have become my friends. The amount of travel between Pennsylvania and Wisconsin over those four was far more than I ever anticipated, but I do not regret any of it. Memories of Lydia still surround me,  in my home and in my office. Seldom a day goes by when I’m not reminded of her.  I believe it was in the fall of 2013 when I received a call from my closest and best childhood friend, informing me of his diagnosis with ALS. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately I don’t know,  Peter’s battle with this terrible disease, while horrendous as it often is, did not last as long as some. To be honest, I was still reeling from Lydia’s passing when Peter would lose this battle. He was lost too early, somehow again it seems that I need to be reminded of the fragility of life and yet more unexpected and unfair manner. In both the case of Peter and now Rebekah, their losses were much more tragic for their families, but these losses have had a cumulative affect. And now again I’ve lost a mentor. My last blog speaks of him. Throughout my time here I’ve continued to have health problems, surgeries, unexpected diagnoses,  and more complications from Crohn’s than perhaps I have fingers.

All too often I’ve been hit with the cliché of if it doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger. Let me go on the record once and for all. Dammit, just quit it. I have no desire to be that strong. As I often tell people, if someone would’ve told me I could go through all this over 30 years, I would ask unapologetically, “Screw that, may I take what’s behind door number two?” And I’ve had to deal with how things more often and more intentionally and I just want to. I detest having to think about it. I detest having to make allowances for it. And I detest that it has control of my life and my conversations more than I would ever hope. It is forced me into situations and corners I don’t want to be in. . . .

How ironic this is where I was when I was last writing. It seems my title is either prophetic or fortuitous. Last Wednesday I had a cardiac stress test. While I thought it had gone relatively well (I was on the treadmill for over 11 minutes, and while there was some slight pain, I did not have to stop and I never got to the point where breathing seemed labored.). However, that is not exactly the case. It seems my heart was both adding and skipping beats in the echo afterwards. By the next morning my PCP was calling and cardiology was calling shortly thereafter. I had a follow up with cardiology in less than 24 hours (which was Friday) and tomorrow (Monday the 22nd) I will be having a heart catheterization performed early in the morning. While this is not something that comes totally out of left field because of my cardiac genetics, I will admit it is disconcerting. It is certainly my hope that getting things figured out will be perhaps a stent or two, but I am not hoping for anything more complicated, though I know that is a possibility. When I consider the genetic propensity for this, I should be surprised that I made it this far before having something trigger an incident. Speaking with a doctor for whom I have the utmost respect this morning, he, as seems to be the case more often than not, walked me through what is likely happening in my heart and why. What I always appreciate is he is willing to go in depth with me and push me to ask questions and figure out more about my own health. I imagine my diet is going to go through yet another change.

I have another blog to work on (more to edit and revise) yet tonight and there are other things I want to get accomplished. I am planning, though it might be wishful thinking, that this is going to be a couple day speed bump and then I can get back to things, though I am willing to assume there might be a new normal. I will also admit if we need up needing bypass surgery, I will be more than a little concerned, but I also know that has become more routine. I am hoping they do not have to do crazy things, and that includes sawing through a sternum. I have heard they can do it a bit less invasively, but I am not sure if that is available here at Geisinger. They are pretty advanced, however, and cardiology is one of the things they do very well. That is a comforting thing for me at this point.

What I am forced to anticipate, regardless, is my mortality. I am certainly not ready to cash things in and I am not trying to be morbid, but going into my heart is a bit more invasive for me than all the things they have done to my intestines. I remember when my father had a heart attack. He was 57 and this was before bypass and angioplasty. It was a very different world. What would I want people to know at this point. What I hope is that people from whom I might still need forgiveness might find it in their power to forgive. What I also hope is that people will know how deeply blessed I am by the friends and colleagues I have both presently and in the past. I have been richly blessed by so many and I am fortunate. I do not doubt this in any way. I have a wonderful job and I love coming to work. That puts me in a minority. I have tremendous people in my life. Earlier tonight I was speaking with a family I referred to as my Wisconsin family (and misplaced Iowa family). The three of them are so wonderful. He is the epitome of what every man should hope to be, intelligent, strong, gentle, and steady. If I could be half the person he is I would be astounding. She is the most wonderful and thoughtful person. She is talented beyond compare, inquisitive and sensitive at the same time and she as a beauty that sneaks up and overwhelms you. Then there is the next generation of the family. He is beyond brilliant. He is also incredibly talented both in academics and in sports. He can and should be one of the persons who can change the world if he focuses and harnesses the amazing abilities he possesses. Yet, more importantly, they have accepted me into their lives and that is the best gift of all. I am always stunned when I take the time to step back and merely look at what I have around me. So many people have reached out by phone, Facebook or other ways and for that, again, I am only say thank you.

Well, there is much more I could write, but I am going to stop and focus on a couple of other significant things I need to get done. Tonight I will leave you with this song to ponder. While I have posted it before, it is still my favorite song. While I have many pulling for me and I know that. I know there are prayers and other good thoughts and for those things I am grateful. However, tomorrow, I will be on a table and they will be working their way through my heart to figure out what needs to be done. At that point, I am dependent on their care and the grace of something much bigger than me. In the wind is the spirit and I believe in that wind and spirit. Indeed, “nothing lasts forever  but the earth and sky.” While I am certainly not desiring to become dust quite yet, I am ready.

 

Thanks as always for reading, and bless you all.

Michael

So Much More Than a Memory

Good early morning,

It seems to be that no matter the time I choose to call it a day, I will find myself awake at 2:30 a.m., pondering more than Trump’s tweets. Perhaps that is because he’ll soon be up composing the latest 140 character blasphemy or alt reality, while casting accusations of fakery at everyone else. Perhaps, at least tonight, it is because my modified GI tract has decided to work in warp speed. Perhaps, and even more likely, it is because I am feeling the loss of a mentor and the passing of a giant influence, to my very core, on whom I have become as a professor and colleague. Dan Riordan was the chair of the committee who hired me at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. It was his unique and indescribably affable voice that first reached out on the phone and asked me to come to a little town in West Central Wisconsin in April of 2003. It was Mary and he who welcomed me into their home for a Sunday evening dinner with Bruce Maylath, and it was Dan, who excitedly pointed out a pair of bald eagles in a giant nest over their bank, caring for the eaglets, whose squawking and less-than-majestic looks stunned me beyond words. Dan’s welcoming and kindly smile, his ability to make you feel comfortable from the first moment, made my first foray into tenure-track academia a comfortable experience versus another John Belushi lying on the floor in Animal House reprisal, lamenting the loss of 14 years of college. Dan and Mary graciously hosted me in their home that spring and summer as I moved my life from the U.P. to Wisconsin, and it was Dan who gave Maggie a reference so I could rent my first apartment. Dan even gave me a temporary job working on the latest edition of his textbook, providing me both experience and cash as a still struggling new faculty person.

During my first year, the adjustment to becoming a faculty member was difficult. What I know now was coming out ABD created more than a difficulty of time management. It created a difficulty, perhaps crisis, of identity. While I was still a student, I needed to transform into a professor, a respected faculty person. Simply put, I failed in a rather epic way. I was working hard to figure it out, or so I thought, but during that first semester, my Internet Writing class was, and perhaps still is, the most complete failure in any classroom situation I had ever experienced. There were some outstanding students in that class, and not only did I fail them (and there were mitigating circumstances), but my response for that failure was to blame them and take little blame myself. It was not a good rhetorical strategy, but more importantly, I created a dilemma for myself, one from which I would never really recover. If not for one specific Technical Communication student, who was a single mother with a young daughter, whose moral support meant more than she ever realized, I might’ve quit at the end of that first year. There was another student who begged to get into my first year composition course. She too was a wonderful student and someone with whom I am still fortunate enough to be connected. They helped me survive. However, at the end of the first semester, it was Dan who sat down with me in the Acoustic Café and offered insight and comfort as I reeled from the serious ass kicking that semester provided. While the second semester went marginally better, I made some foolish mistakes outside the classroom. Most of those mistakes and downfalls were the consequence of alcohol, both in Menomonie and back in Houghton. To this day I probably have not apologized as completely as I should for a stupid voice message I left during Winter Carnival. This is where my being the student in one place and a faculty in another created a predicament that would have long-term consequences. In the infamous words of Dean Wormer, “drunk and stupid is no way to spend one’s life.” This is not an exact quote, but truer words have never been spoken. Ironically, one of those students would become part of our advisement board, and rightly so, because she had been a brilliant student, was certainly an outstanding employee, and one who had actually helped me in the business place. I treated her unfairly when I said something in front of that very board, somewhat calling her out. She had every right to dismiss me as unfair and rude. I am sure to this very day, she is as brilliant and as valuable an employee was she was a student. She is a phenomenal person, and a person to whom I will never be able to make amends as well as I wish I could. Indeed, my first year in Wisconsin should be deemed a serious learning-lesson. And while I did recover on a number of fronts, somehow getting an outstanding teaching award 5 years later, there are still things I regret deeply.

The group of students Dan had created through his commitment to each and his superior ability in the classroom is still something to remember. As your  former student, Priscilla Fugar, also one of that amazing group who rightly took me to task, noted so aptly, you had this way of listening and hearing them (and us your colleagues) and then smiling and responding, “yeah, right.” I can hear it as clearly as if you were here speaking it. As we continued to develop programs, internships, and other ideas, you continued to look for new ways to learn, but also so teach, always giving back, not only to your students, but also to all of us, your colleagues. Through the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL), I got to know other faculty, some who became my most valued colleagues and friends. Dan, your insight of the Stout history and culture was unprecedented, but your willingness to help others understand it was invaluable. You understood the struggles of new faculty and unselfishly gave to so many. I not only watched it, I experienced it. Your desire to keep achieving and then bring it back for others is a rare gift and one I try to now emulate here in Pennsylvania. As you never “siloed” what you knew, you taught me the value of cooperation/collaboration and it is something that has influenced everything I have done here at Bloomsburg. Yet, that brings me to your influence and help, both in getting me here, 998.6 miles from Menomonie, but also how you supported me in these last eight years.

As noted, my first year’s missteps created an exigency from which there was no reasonable escape, and the position of a dean made any such consideration moot. As I went through the summer of 2008, again you were there in ways no one else would even consider. You listened and even in your amazement of what the dean had done, you reached out, noting that we should meet on a regular basis or schedule. You listened carefully and your responses were always measured and thoughtful. That year could have ruined me both professionally and personally because of the stress, but you were my sounding board, you were a life jacket for me. You helped me see beyond the immediacy of the circumstance. You helped me walk a tight rope and you provided a quite stellar recommendation for my eventual position here at Bloomsburg. When I left Wisconsin, you did not leave me. You were always kind in taking my phone calls, of reviewing my abstracts, and sharing your wise counsel, offering insight and support from the inexhaustible wealth of knowledge and experience, yet always in a folksy and unassuming manner that delighted in helping another. You took time to fly to Bloomsburg and offered yet again your valuable and unparalleled advice, serving as an expert evaluator of our nascent program. You were kind enough to stay at my house and share both your expertise and joyful company. While I did get the Dean’s office to foot some of the bill, and you made me promise to get reimbursed, I never kept the promise. The investment in the program and the chance to bring you to my new world was repayment enough. As you worked through the process of seeing and building a program, your willingness to speak with my  colleagues, being with my students, as you had done so many times at Stout, meeting with my Dean all made more difference than you could have ever known, but I was so proud to tell you when we had completed what we had and send you the emails. In some ways you became my experiential post-doctoral father. That is no simple thing. When I came back to Menomonie to manage issues, either visiting Lydia and then finishing up things after she passed, again you were always there. You cheered me on and the last time I drove back in January, within hours of returning from Europe, even as you faded, you welcomed me into your home (both of you). It became a sort of inclusio. It was an opportunity to bring something full-circle. I remember standing in your driveway after our wonderful two hour visit and I held my hands in front of me across the driveway as tears filled my eyes and I told you thank you and that I loved you. You told me you loved me back. What a gift of words, a gift of colleagues, but more importantly a gift of mentor to student and, if I can be so bold, a gift of wonderful friendship. It was followed up by the most wonderful email in which you complimented my spirit and humor. I believe I still have that email.

Dan, you are so much more than a memory, you have nurtured and created someone who has come far since that fall in 2003 when I was a fledgling and failing first year tenure-track ABDed professor. When I imagine possibilities, indeed, even now I will ask myself what I would imagine you offering as wise counsel? What are the insightful, piercing, probing, but important questions you would ask in your supportive and visionary manner? I was once told that if you profoundly touch 5 people in your life, you are a successful person. What happens with the number of students, colleagues, friends, and professionals is profoundly larger, exponential of the mere handful (and that is not hyperbole) What is the term we might use appropriately? I know how you would respond. It would be self-depricating, a sort of “shucks, how kind of you to say so . . .” I can see you tilting you head and smiling, but being as gracious and gentlemanly as always. As you have touched my life, as you have transformed me, you are so much more than a memory. If I can somehow even begin to be noted, to pattern my life within the classroom after you, I will be honored. I know that there are times I have considered assignments, and in fact, I have bounced some of those off you. You always smiled and again noted, “how neat; tell me more about that.” Again, the interest, the support, the willingness to push me in perception and pedagogy. Your work with the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning would come shining through, once again helping us to imagine the consequences of what we did to make our students better, more prepared, more thoughtful.

I am sitting in Fog and Flame, one of the coffee shops that has appeared since you were here. You would like it. I can see you at the table helping yet another person, taking time out of whatever you might need to do, putting another person first. Yet, there was that other side of you, the father and husband. The way your eyes would light up when you spoke of your children, your grandchildren, or Mary, your wonderful wife and partner of 50 years. You were more of a model there too than you realized. Your class as a father, grandfather, and husband taught us more than you know. As I have sat here and reflected, there have been smiles and tears, but most of all there is gratitude, an overwhelming sense of humility because I know I learned from one of the best. I hope to share with my students, with others who might follow me. While there was barely a decade difference in age, it seems that I found a master who belied his age. I found a friend who supported me in ways too many to count. I found a mentor and doctoral father who was able to meliorate this struggling, but well-intended beginning academic. Well done good and faithful friend . . .  I promise to keep working to take all you have so graciously given and become even better. I am so blessed that you called me to come to Menomonie and UW-Stout that April 14 years ago. While it is hard to let you go as we once again were in the month of April, it was time for you to finish your amazing journey. As I looked at that last picture of you and Mary, my heart was breaking, but her face said it all so well. We all struggle to let you go, but in my case, those are  moments of my own selfishness. We love you deeply and that will not change. You are much more than a memory because you did so much to change of us all. Not because you wanted to change anyone, you merely wanted to be supportive of us, regardless of our place in life. No person was unimportant, you listened and you cared. In the process, you not only changed us, you became part of us and we are better for it. Bless you, Dan; I love you. You were an amazing leader and you created a band of many who carry on for you.

Thank you to everyone for reading this.

Michael