Half Way Through or . . .

Hello from my office,

The idea of hitting the half-way point of anything often causes a certain degree of reflection. Why is that? How did we ever come to the conclusion that half-way is significant. It must be sort kind of mathematicians’ covert conspiratorial attempt to make us all appreciate some kind of differential equations. Yes, Dr. Kahn, I am blaming the focus of this blog on you. Of course, it begs the question of what happens when there is no definitive end or boundary to what thing we might be considering? For example, when was the middle point of my life? I am pretty sure I am long past it. Yet, what about the person who tragically passes in their 20s? I am pretty sure the day my brother went back to work, after being home at lunch, he had no inkling he would never come home again. I wonder if Chad Bennington, the late lead singer of Linkin Park, did not think 20 1/2 was the midpoint of his life. When I realize that my grandmother only lived about 2 3/4 years longer than I have presently, it creates a sense of pause in me. When I take the time to realize I have lived longer than any of my siblings, in spite of substantial health issues, I am forced to ask how, and more importantly, why? Growing up, I never really considered the options my future might hold. I did not imagine why might be; I merely existed, and I have addressed that reality in other blogs.

Certainly it was a different time than it is now. Daily, I listen to some of the daily vitriol and wonder how did we get this point? Certainly some will argue it is the decline in family values; some will claim it is a particularly group’s fault or a philosophical change in how we understand things. This morning I was listening to a group of people and their support of some of the things that have happened stump me. They are not stupid, but what I realized is how deep the distrust of the other is in many of them. They are not that much older than I, but they certainly have a different perspective on the world than I do. This is the second time I have lived in Pennsylvania, and there is a connection of this covert racism (and sometime overt racism) that I have experienced here. The irony that it is here and is so prevalent in the state that calls itself the Birthplace of America to begin with does not go unnoticed to me. When I came to the Mahoning Valley in 1988, interviewing to be a parish pastor, I had to do what was referred to as a trial sermon. While I was at the parish that morning, I was told that a church council member had a KKK Rally on his farm just over the hill the week before. This stunned me beyond words. In the four years I was in Pennsylvania, during the first stint here, I saw KKK men in full regalia out 209 toward East Stroudburg in broad daylight. Again, I was stunned. While I had observed such pictures in history books or saw news clips, I could not imagine seeing them in real life, and particularly that far North (and I realize that implies a stereotype of the South). This past weekend, some of our summer students were victims of a racial slur (and while I am sure there was some trash talking back and forth), these students were followed back onto campus. This is not reasonable behavior, but again, I guess I should not be surprised. In this morning’s news, the NAACP just issued their first travel warning for the state of Missouri. The picture at the top of this post, is of a black man who owns a barbershop, which was vandalized and they wrote “Die N-word” on his windows. What makes this so egregious to me is the year I traveled on a Lutheran Youth Encounter team, my home church was in Blue Springs, MO, exactly where this happened. The racial undertones that are no longer so far under seems to be the consequence of a complete lack of respect for anything or anyone that is outside our own narrow prevue. The consequence is a society that works more to fuel the flames of bigotry and discontent. The consequence is a society that has no appreciation for what difference in culture, understanding, and possibility might bring. It is a society that propagates fear, extinguishes hope, and darkens the future for our children and grandchildren. I have noted the consequence of the loss of hope before. If there is no hope, the future does not matter because there is no belief, there is no care, about what might be down the road.

As I write this, daily there seems to be some question about what is true or not two at the very top of our democracy. As I was saying to people this morning, there is no way I would want to work for our President, and that has probably always been the case for anything in Washington, but for me, it has been elevated exponentially. It is stunning to me how there seems to be no consistency in message, expect perhaps for the left hand does not seem to know what the right hand is doing, but heaven forbid, they would be truthful about even that. I am honestly not trying to be overly political. For me it is a matter of embarrassment, and what does it to for the security of the world and the trust our allies might be able to have in our commitments. One of the things I have noted in my classes, and in previous blogs, is that when I do something, I am always the professor. It matters not where I am or who is around me, and the same goes for the President, or if you are a representative of the President. What you say carries weight and people listen, and perhaps more than they realized, people listen closely. I know that I am certainly not perfect, or even close, in every situation, but I do try to me genuine. I do not care that I have 14 years of college; that does not make me any better a person than those who are in my summer class as first-time students. It does not matter that I find myself in an upper-middle class economic situation, but that makes me no more important than the person (and often case a student) wondering if they will have enough to eat on a given day. What saddens me beyond words is the apparent growing lack of concern we have for the other as well as a increasingly malevolent attitude toward anyone different from ourselves.

This brings me back to my focus of 1/2 way. Our country, arguably the greatest democracy in history, seems to have lost its spirit, its heart, its goodness. Because I have an undergraduate in history, I am well aware of those times,  in our still overall nascent history, when we struggled to do that which is right or just. Our continued treatment of Natice Americans and the re-emergence (or unfortunate reassertion of bigotry) of maligning most any group who is not white, American born, and ready to contribute because they speak English is no longer welcome or valued. The consequence of this attitude will have repercussions beyond our wildest imagination. More importantly, it will instantiate a downfall and more expedient demise of what was considered the most significant grand experiment in world history. Hard to imagine what will be left if we continue on what seems to be a path of mass discrimination, a path of pitting one against the other. What I am quite sure of is we are beyond the 1/2 point of America as envisioned. The beacons of light are being extinguished in mass. The hope of generations and the words of Lincoln will be lost on a generation who cares neither for the past nor the future. Going downhill is always a quicker trip than the going up. It is certainly my prayer that America can still grow and prosper, to be the nation which others can look toward for hope, but I am concerned. Time to rewind; time to reconsider; time to re-establish a belief that we are about liberty and justice for all, regardless from where they come. If they want to come and join this land of immigrants, if they hope for opportunity and are willing to contribute to this land, I say, welcome. We are still huddled and there are still masses, but you are welcome. If not, perhaps we are further into the swan song for ourselves than we realize.

With that, I offer this from my favorite band, albeit without some of the original members.

Thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin

Full Circle

Hello from Caribou,

I have been here in Menomonie for the last 4 1/2 days and have a couple left to go. Not surprisingly, I have been here in my old haunt working away, where I have actually been quite productive. It is a great way to begin my day before 7:00 and sit here and focus for about 4 or 5 hours. I have completed a lot of administrative stuff done as well accomplishing a great deal while working to create my summer class. What I have realized looking at the enrollment for my two sections is I will be doing nothing but that for about 6 weeks. This means everything else needs to be completed before then. I have wanted to get together with more people while back here in Menomonie, but work will have to take precedence. Yet, whenever I get to the point I feel a bit overwhelmed (or a great deal overwhelmed), I need to do two things. Come up with a plan for the process and then get my head cleared out, which means it is time to write. . . .

We are into the middle of June and I made it back to Bloomsburg, but then slid away again to the Eastern Shore of Virginia (and Cape Charles) where I have spent four days both sunning and writing. The week I made it home to Pennsylvania, I got a number of things completed. Seems I might finally have the upper hand on some things, though not everything is done yet. . . Here is what happens when I start a blog, get sidetracked, compose other blogs, and eventually find my way back. Other times I would delete it, but to demonstrate a point to my two sections of Literature and Society, I am going to add to it and still post it to my site. What you can see is there is something about writing in the moment, but it is not always possible to find the words, the strength, or the energy to complete it at that same time. That does not mean you should throw it away as a failure, but rather come back to it.

That coffee shop in Wisconsin is where I did most of the work for your class. It is where I wrote the Syllabus. It is where I put the shell of all my work in BOLT together. It is where I worked on other things that needed to be managed. Finding a place where you can sort of disappear, even in the crowd, but do your work is essential if you are going to be successful here as a student. Then I went from Wisconsin back to Pennsylvania and then to Virginia. While it was a sort of mini-vacation, it was also a working vacation. I began work with a colleague on an article that has been three to five years in the making. Honestly, for the first time we moved beyond the talking to composing stage. What I am trying to help you see is simple: no one is (or very scant few are) able to sit down and compose anything of value in its entirety at one sitting. It does not happen, at least for me.  I certainly have times where I am more productive than others, but writing well over a long period of time is excruciatingly laborious. It requires a clear sense of where I am going and why? It demands incredible focus and willingness to keep at it. It pushes my brain, more often than not, to extreme exhaustion. Literally, it seems I can no longer think or put words together with any semblance of cohesion. I do not say all of this to scare you; instead I want you to know that your writing struggles are not unique to you. It is hard to write well.

Today your classes were like the Tale of Two Cities, the best and worst of times. There were really good questions and concerns raised, and there are some phenomenal students in both sections of class. I do know that some of you are feeling like you just got run over by a bullet train and it is not slowing down. Unfortunately, there is more truth to that than you might have realized. The work you are doing with Ms. Water’s in your Reading course should help you with your blogs. In particular it should help you with connecting the reading to writing a more thinking and analyzing style of blog entry. It should connect you, the reading, and your experience as a summer freshman. It was intentional on my part to connect the tending to some of your own personal experiences. That is the Literature and Society piece of the course, the purpose of the class laid out.

Remember last week when we first looked at the Hip Hop Reader, I made the assertion that all art is a reflection of the culture in/from which it is created. The literature you are looking at in these readers are short creative pieces where writers from a wide variety of backgrounds are reflecting on their own interactions within their cultures and considering how it creates a sense of connection or meaning for them. What are some of the cultural differences you have experience within a mere 10 days in Bloomsburg? Some of you have spoken about being homesick. That is not uncommon, and to feel homesick does not make you an incapable or immature student. It means you value that place and you love the people who are there. Not only are you in a different location, bit you have a boatload of requirements academically that are unexpected.

This summer is an opportunity (there is that word again) for you to establish yourself in a new manner. It is a change for you to determine on your own what exactly you are capable of achieving, but this six weeks sets a direction for the remainder of you let life. Hyperbole, you ask? I will assert (or argue) NO. How well you manage this summer will give you a pretty strong sense of just what you are each capable. That is an important realization. I know there are a handful of you who have not even begun to scratch the surface of your ability. The time for waiting is over. Completely, unequivocally past. To not step up now will push you into a corner that you will not enjoy. I do not believe a single one of you wants to tell their parents or significant other you failed and got sent home. It is not a good experience. Again, I have done it as I told you that first day of class. And today it is so much more expensive.

Full circle I wrote as a title. That was because I was back in Wisconsin where I first taught in a tenure track position, I am back in Pennsylvania, where I lived from 1988-1992. I believe my relatives lived here in PA five or six generations ago. Last year I made it to Ireland, where my relatives lived 500 years ago. We have a way of going full circle, and sometimes creating concentric circles at the same time. This blog started in WI, made it to PA, to VA, and now back in PA, but it survived because I held on to it. Sometimes, we know not where we go or how we get there, but we continue on. In my piety I do not believe that to be accidental. With that in mind I offer this song by the 1980s group Mister Mister.  You have to like those 80s styles . . .  oh my, but here is an interesting version with Ringo Starr.

 

As always, thank you for reading,

Dr. Martin

Erasing my Work

Good Friday morning from my office,

In an attempt to clean up the backside of my WordPress site and also to manage some changes, it seems I managed to erase the last posting. While it said it was local to my iPad and only a draft it seems to have removed it from the published section. I have looked on my phone and my computer, the other two places I compose and indeed, it has vanished. So . . . it is time to manage a new post. This will probably be a hodge-podge of things as that is what it seems my life is as I try to manage two sections of Literature and Society, finish two publication items, and complete a Fulbright application. All of which must be done this weekend at the latest. I worked on WordPress for more than an hour yesterday, just trying to get access. It seems that what used to take a second or two (receiving a verification code) is now taking up to a half hour. If you have been following my blog, through an address, I have a new address that has dropped the wordpress in the address. The URL is now thewritingprofessor55.com. It is my own domain and I am going to try to do some more work with this within an actual publication realm.

It is hard to believe, but the first week of the third summer session is already completed. I was in my office until shortly after midnight last night, grading blogs and working on other things, and I will be working on class stuff a good part of the day. There are so many personalities and stories in the summer cohort of students and their emotions, hopes, and dreams are all over the place. It is pretty easy within merely a week to see the different levels of commitment and drive, as well as to understand how their background in either the public or private educational system has affected their perceptions and their preparedness for this summer program. What is also evident is how some students are committed to making it, regardless of their background. I was impressed when more than a half dozen of them came into my office on the 4th of July, their day off, to request clarification or help. There are some terrific young people in the class. Many of them want to demonstrate not only to us here, but also to their families back home that they can do this. It is such a different thing than I went through when I first began college. What I know is that my parents were not really engaged in that process. Even when I first went, they did not seem to have any interest at all in what I would be doing.  I am not sure that influenced my performance, which was not good, but perhaps it did. The second time I decided to attend college, I knew I was on my own, but I also knew it was my dollar paying for it and that there would be little to no help. In fact, I remember my mother being angry because when I came home I was always broke and sick. She did not understand the immense amount of effort I put into my studies. She also did not know what it cost. She thought because I had a GI Bill it was easy. That GI Bill did not begin to pay for going to a private liberal arts college. When I told her how much it cost, she accused me of lying. When I showed her the costs in the college catalog, her question was, “How can you afford that?” It is amazing how our background, even now, has such an influence on our preparedness for college. It is more than just academic readiness; it is also social. It is cultural. This summer program is tough because we are not only working with students who are required to take two courses and condense all of that work into 6 weeks. I assigned a major assignment and worked on the requirements of the assignment over the last two days in class, but they are required to have it completely finished in a week. That is tough turn-around time, but there are few options to do anything else. A number of students did not get the easy work done even the first week, so this weekend will be a sort of make or break for the remainder of the session.

Today is my eldest nephew’s 45th birthday. How did that happen?? I remember that summer so well. I was working at my grandmother’s bakery and my older brother and Carolyn were living in Lawrence, Kansas. My parents went down to see them. That was when my father had a heart attack. I have written about that summer at other times. It was a growing up time for me. Of course, there have continued to be those times, and for anyone who thinks there cannot be significant growth times later in life, let me clue you into something. There are. It never really stops, and more importantly, I do not believe it should. If we are not learning and growing, we are not living. Indeed, you might be moving and breathing, but there is so much more. It is hard for me at times to realize how long some of my family has been gone. Rob’s father, my older brother has been gone for more than 40 years now; and it is almost the same for my grandmother because she and my brother died the same year. My mother has been gone for almost 28 and my father will be 20 later this year. My sister was already 9 years this past April. The assignment given to my students this week was to create a Google Map of their lives up until now, a sort of cross between an autobiography and a memoir. It will be interesting to see what they do. I have had good success with the assignment, and I need to give Moe Folk, a MTU colleague credit for turning me on to this possibility.

It is becoming more apparent to me how fast the days, weeks, and months continue to speed by, and that sense of picking up speed is something that I am certainly cognizant of. When I turned 60 a couple of years ago, I remember saying the second 30 years had gone by must fast than the first 30. Now it merely seems there is no slowing this train down. That idea has given me an idea for the music video at the end of this blog posting. Again, it reminds me of a much earlier time in my life, when I was stationed in Hawaii and I was such a kid. I was in the Marine Corps, but I was a kid, plain and simple. When I think of what I was tasked to do and the seriousness of that position, I certainly had the skills, but I was not sure I had the emotional maturity I would need. Learning that I did have that was quite a surprise to me, if I am to be honest with myself. What creates emotional maturity? What is it that allows some people to see the big picture and realize consequences much sooner than others. I have a student in class now that demonstrates that ability. I call it a 4o year only in a 20 year old body. Those people amaze me, but I also have great admiration for them. I think some of it has to do with personality. Some of it has to do with nurture versus nature stuff, but how does it all work? I was certainly not that person. In fact I might have been the exact opposite. I have noted some of this in earlier blogs, but it took a long time for me to get to the point where I believe my age and my maturity have finally equalized.

This morning I have worked to get some semblance of order to the next few days. I will have to do some intentional work over the weekend. There are things I need to get done both on the home front as well as in the office. I also want, (perhaps need) merely to get it off the list, to drive to Rhode Island. I might try to do that this weekend, though I am not sure how long it takes . . . map quest break . . . hmmmmm . . .  less than 6 hours. Doable. Maybe I will go tomorrow and get a motel for the night, do some work, find a nice restaurant. I need to check in with someone I know. If I remember correctly, they either have property or some substantive connection to Providence. Of course, they are cruising around Europe at this point. One of the things I look forward to most is traveling because for me it is another way to learn. There are so many places and things to do yet. I wish I was 20 years younger merely to have more time to do it all. First things though, perhaps we make it to Rhode Island this weekend. In the meanwhile, I am back in my office and reading and responding to the hard work of students this past week. Here is the song from a well-known group. The first time I saw them was in Hawaii in 1974, as they backed up the Guess Who. Steven Tyler was a brash of a personality then as he seems to be now. Still rocking   . . .  still “the same old song and dance.” This is at least in the same time period I heard them.

Thank you for reading as always and I hope you have a good weekend.

Dr. Martin