So Now You’re on Vacation

Hello from Kraków, Poland,

I am sure you are now convinced by my salutation that I must surely be on a vacation to the EU, eating more than my share of pierogis and drinking Polish vodka. Well, one of the three is correct. I am doing my level best to consume as many kinds of pierogis as possible, but when I am not doing that, I am taking an intensive Polish language class by the immersion method: four hours a day in class and five days a week including a four hour class this past Saturday. Therefore, with the exception of a couple of glasses of wine in the first two weeks, pije nie wódkę (and my instructor would be proud that I remembered to use the accusative case that changes for feminine nouns).

Why? you might ask would I choose to take an immersion class in Polish when I have no Polish heritage? Why would I choose to spend 4 weeks cramming in a language that is probably harder to pronounce than any language I have taken (and I have taken five not counting this one). I am not a language and cultures professor; I am an English professor, who directs a Professional Writing and Digital Rhetoric program. While there is certainly a personal interest in all of this, it is a step in a long-term research project that I am intent on doing.

One of my research areas, which began in graduate school and continued when I taught in Wisconsin, is to understand how technology affects the writing process. I am indebted to Dr. Cindy Selfe and later to Dr. Daniel Riordan for sparking this interest for me. The past four years I have traveled with a number of students in a Study Abroad program to Jagiellonian University, where I have been fortunate to meet a number of scholars here. The Director of the School of Polish Language and Culture has graciously invited me to teach here for a semester, or possibly even a year. While I would teach my classes in English, being competent enough to speak with my students in Polish as well as make my way around the city in daily situations using the native language would certainly be appropriate.

What would I research and what might I teach? First, my research question is related to technology and the differences one finds between the United States and most other countries, but in this case, specifically Poland. Second, experience in my travels here have demonstrated there are differences in how technology is used in the classroom. It has raised questions: are the differences determined infra-structurally? If not, are there pedagogical choices or reasons, and again if so what are the consequences? Another question concerns how we prepare students who might be traveling either direction? These are questions that will require time and commitment in my Bloomsburg classrooms as well as preparation for my eventual residency in Kraków. The classes being proposed are things I also teach in Bloomsburg: Writing for the Internet and Writing for Multiple Media.

As noted, my classes will be taught in English. Yet I am not in front of students all day and I need to make my way through a daily life while living here. In addition, it would certainly behoove me to be able to converse with my students in their own language. Those are two reasons for beginning my Polish studies, studies that will need to be incorporated into my life on a regular basis for the next two years. This means I will hope to improve those skills even after returning in August and continue to increase my fluency before a second and perhaps third immersion class, all before I would begin. While I am here I see small evidence of progress daily, and yet I can say today was a kind of “hit-the-wall” day. By the end of today’s four hour class, I felt like my head was going to explode. Amazing what an afternoon nap did. I am going to spend a couple hours on Rosetta Stone this evening to help my struggling pronunciation. Tomorrow will me a day-long study session and Sunday will be a small break to visit a friend, who lives here outside Kraków. Then in the afternoon I will be back at it. I want to be completely prepared for Monday’s exam. Yes, I have to do exactly what I tell my students. I need to work at it regularly, intentionally, and seriously. So am I on vacation? I guess it depends on your definition of vacation. I am busy studying; I am thoroughly engaged in learning this new language. Yes, I am in an incredibly historical and beautiful city on the Wistula River. Walking two miles each way to and from class each day is an experience in and of itself. Today I heard five languages spoken in less than 50 meters. So I am vacationing. More importantly, I am involved in preparing for my classes, engaging in my scholarship, and expanding the reach of what we do as professors teaching at a PASSHE university. I am proud of what we do. I am proud to represent my department, my college, my university and our system.


Dr. Michael Martin

Pages and Chapters . . . How do we Measure?

Hello from the corner chair,

I have a lovely chair in the corner of my room. I think I should probably spend more time here than I do. It is a comfortable place and it has wonderful lighting, especially in the morning when the sun comes streaming into the bedroom windows. It is a chair I can sit and rest and ponder in. My room, while the largest of the three upstairs rooms is not in anywhere really huge, but it is a decent size to not feel confined or cluttered. The walls are a sort of medium dark sage color and the color makes the space quite welcoming. The chair is a padded somewhat high back chair with just enough space to sort of lean back. There are times I believe a small footstool might make things more comfortable, but I am not sure if I want to add anymore pieces to the room. Perhaps you ask why I might focus such energy on a simple corner chair in my room, but it is about realizing what makes us feel comfortable or safe.

One of the things I have spent a lot of time trying to do with my spaces is make them comfortable, inviting, or safe. I think there are many reasons for that, but most of all it was because I struggled for a sense of safety as I grew up. I have spoken (or more accurately written) about that in various posts, but even in my office at school students, colleagues, and others have commented that walking into my office is like walking into someone’s living room. As I look at some of the various artifacts, coffee cups from various countries, books from various times in my life, art pieces from places I have lived or collected, each thing tells a story. From travels to places lived, every item has meaning and significance. Each time I look at a particular item adorning my office space or my home I am taken back to that page. Sometimes the memory is about a brief moment or merely a day. Other times it is about a year or more, a significant time of growth and change in who I was and would become.

I think perhaps the most interesting think I now realize is I am not sure I have ever had a sense of who I would become. It has more often been about who I am in the moment, and how might I become something more, something better, someone more helpful, more able to make a difference. I am trying to imagine what the past four or five years have accomplished. I know I have seemed to finally catch up with what I imagine life is for someone my age and where I have imagined (for whatever that is worth) should be. The where here is not about location as much as it is about a sort of proverbial having my ducks-in-a-row. One may ask, and rightly so I might add, why it took me so long. I tease on one level that I am a slow learner. I have also noted, and my good friends, Lee and Judy, can attest to this, that I am not one to go about things in the generally regular manner. Those two things have made my life interesting to say the least. In addition, there are two other things that created a somewhat different trajectory for my getting from point A to B. I think having no children of my own certainly keep me from needing to assume that mindset or responsibility that someone else’s life took priority over mine. There are both the evident and not so evident consequences of that for me. The second is managing the health concerns that seem now to have been part of my entire life. I certainly had symptoms as a child, but did not know that my seemingly ever present canker sores in elementary school or before were the harbinger of something much more serious. Along with being profoundly premature, underweight, I imagine bordering on being a probable victim of malnutrition my first two years of life all played a significant part in my underdeveloped immune system and being a poster child for developing an IBD, or in my case Crohn’s.

While I have attempted in the past to measure my life and experience by decade, I think there is a different way, a sort of episodic division. Yet, that requires a sort of recollection that tries to make sense of a life that often seems nonsensical. Yet, here is my attempt. The nonsensical part of my life begins at birth. How and why am I still here? Weighing a mere 17 ounces at birth is extraordinary even now in a world of NICs and of advanced medicine. When I was born there were incubators. There was little understanding of things like prenatal vitamins, fetal alcohol syndrome, or the consequence of smoking during pregnancy. In fact, I was born when thalidomide was used for morning sickness, so I am fortunate to have avoided that possibility. A mother who was 15 at conception had little understanding of what she was in for, and probably little understanding of the consequence of multiple pregnancies before she was 19. This was following by cross-country treks and an eventual removal from the birth home for my sister and me before I was 2. The next three years included the death of my paternal grandfather, who served as my surrogate father, shortly before I was three and the alcoholism of my grandmother who now had two small children, a business, and facing all of it as a widow in her mid 40s. That would lead to another home before I was 5, albeit to a distant relative, and that new home would have even more consequence for the person I would become.

I believe my life with the Martin household has had more profound denouement and import than I am capable of understanding even today. While that might sound a bit ominous, and there are certainly elements of that ominicity, not all the results of growing up in the two houses in Riverside were negative. In fact, let me begin with the positive. I know that Harry and Bernice, the Martins wanted my sister and I to feel safe. They wanted us to have an expectation, some guarantee, of a place that would be there daily, monthly, yearly. This was important because up to that point we did not have that experience, and whether we could articulate such a need as a four and three year old, I am sure there was more apparent in our actions and responses than we realized. As noted in other blogs, receiving private music lessons, singing in various choirs and other options like attending summer and winter children’s theatre workshops offered me both socialization, but an appreciation for the arts that continues to this day. While some of my struggles with my upbringing have been written about at length, I would like to focus on the positive things that have come out of my being adopted. While I also do want to disparage my younger half siblings, I know my adoption offered me opportunities they did not have, from everyday schooling to going beyond. Certainly my parents did not understand what it meant to prepare me for going to college, at least they understood and encouraged its relevance for a contributing to a better or more opportunity-filled life. I am quite sure I have not always pictured my growing years in this way.

The next episode is probably a relatively short one in the picture of a three score plus soon to be three years, but it was a time of gut-wrenching reality checks. It was the period that includes my time in the service and my floundering around afterwards until I ended up on a Lutheran Youth Encounter team and then enrolled as a student at Dana College. During that time I was a poster boy for impressive success and astounding failure. There was little in between. I listened to very few and ignored the wise counsel of most. I drank too much; I smoked an unbelievable amount of pot; and I ignored people who had been my foundation for all my life, most importantly my grandmother. I went to and dropped out (got kicked out) of college. I should have or could have ended up dead more than once, and most importantly, I was forced to face the loss of people I loved, and for which I was totally unprepared. I did well in the military, but came to understand that military life was too regimented, not because of the routine, but because I saw too many Staff NCOs who could not seem to think for themselves. I wanted to use my brain more than what I deemed possible as an enlisted Marine. Do not get me wrong; I do not regret being in the service and it still serves me well to this day. Yet, I needed more. Yet out of the service, I had no structure and seemed to discard most of the discipline I had learned. I must give credit to a few people for seeing me through that time. First, it was my sister-in-law, Carolyn, who had her own struggles of trying to parent three small children as a 25 year old widow. To this day I am grateful to her. Second is a family, and each of them played a significant role in my survival, though they did not realize it at the time. The Peters family had come to Riverside from Germany, though there were NW Iowa roots. Fred was called to be the pastor of my home congregation. He ended up being called upon in more ways than one to be my surrogate father, and he did that task marvelously. Ruth, his wife, was a force to be reckoned within her own right, and she probably did me more good than I ever realized. She had more of my respect than perhaps anyone I ever met. David become an important friend and even though I was older, his ability and intelligence inspired me. His friendship sustained me then and his presence remains in my life until this day. Barb is the one I was the closest to in terms of personality and demeanor. I am not sure I always realized that. She was smart, funny, talented, and simply gorgeous. She was the first person I ever loved, but I had no idea how to be a boyfriend. Much happened, though not as much as some might have believed, but I know that to this very day she will always be that first-love person. I have been richly blessed that we are Facebook friends after all of these years. The third person is actually a second cousin, Diane, who had a profound effect on my making a choice to clean up my life. They were in Sioux City and a Sunday meal which turned into an amazing friendship and spending time with all of the Wiggs that would change my life in many ways. If it were not for Carolyn and the Peters family and Diane, only God knows what might have happened.

A year of travel and the meeting of four others and the staying with amazing host families still influences me today (the mention of Lee and Judy above).

I think the next episode would have to be my formal post-secondary education that has gone beyond what I ever expected, but it has both changed and become my life. I think I will save that. As I write this I am in Kraków, Poland taking an intensive four-week Polish course and I need to study for the remainder of the day. So I will sign off and pick up again soon. There is so much it seems as I reflect on even the significant things.

As always, thank you for reading.


Sent from my iPad

Drive-ins, a 70 Gran Torino and My Schwinn String Ray Apple Crate

Hello on a Father’s Day morning,

Yesterday I was out on the Harley riding to a college graduation party of one of my traveling students. She was on the Poland trip 2 1/2 years ago. I took the scenic route, or what the GPS on the Harley calls the twisty route.

Somehow the last 24 hours have been a walk down memory lane of sorts. As I followed a spotless white 70 Gran Torino, with chrome dual-exhaust, glass packs, and raised-white-letter tires, my on ride yesterday I also passed a functioning drive-in. What a throwback in time. My thoughts moved both to Clint Eastwood’s classic movie from a decade ago and memories of my 71 Chevelle that my father once lamented that we was not sure what was worse, the mufflers or the music. My memories of the drive in included those Friday or Saturday nights as a small child where we went to the screenings with our jammies on so when we fell asleep before leaving, my parents could tuck us in with much less hassle. I remember my going to the drive in when I could drive myself and having a much different experience than when I was a child. Somehow, I did not want to be in the front row or by the snack bar, contrary to the sketch by Cheech and Chong (how many of your remember that piece?).

It is often noted that life was simpler then? Was it? What constitutes a simpler life? That is a phrase I hear often: things were simpler then. I am not so sure there is truth in a comprehensive sort of way, but I do think we might have imagined a simpler possibility because we were more focused on our own personal, parochial, localized vision of our world. Going to the drive-in was great entertainment and it did not cost you that much. You could bring your own snacks and pay no more than the price of an entrance fee, which was determined by car and not the number of people, at least, I think that is how it was. The price of a gallon of gas in 1970 was .36 cents a gallon (before you flip, if you adjust for inflation, it is about 2.19 per gallon, so it was not that much cheaper and mileage of less than l0/gallon might get you to rethink that. I am always a bit shocked by the incessant need of many people to return to their youth, or even their younger days, and I do believe those are separate wishes. I would not want to be 13 or 14 for any amount of money offered. Those who knew me then know I was one of the smallest, if not thee smallest, for my age. That certainly had some drawbacks. What I would say is I was probably bullied, but I did not really feel that way at the time. I certainly received my share of teasing and being sort of physically tossed around because of my size. People did not really hurt me, though I ended up in more than one embarrassing situation from time to time. The second option noted would merely allow me to experience some of the nostalgic things, but not be that difficult age. That is why I have included the list that is the title of this post.

Cars were a significant part of most 16 year old’s world, certainly that was the case in Northwest Iowa in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It amazes me how different the attitude toward getting a license or owning a car is today. I was stunned when a few years ago three of my graduating seniors (from college, mind you) did not have their drivers licenses. They spoke to me about job internships and how to manage transportation. I encouraged them to get a license as soon as possible. My first car was a 1964 Impala. While it was not a super sport, it did have a 327 c.i. engine and would move right along. Well enough that I receiving two speeding tickets in less than two hours. My mother was not pleased. My second car, out of the service, was a 1971 Chevelle SS with a 454 c.i. engine that could pass anything but a gas station. My pastor’s wife once asked, why I found it necessary to noise pollute the neighborhood? I do not think she liked the Chevelle that much, and she was even less pleased that I took a serious interest in her 16 year old daughter. I think it is most assuredly true that she might hold at least some small remnant of a grudge even today 40+ years later. I think what made things seemingly less convoluted is we had two ways to communicate: phone or interpersonal communication of the face-2-face variety. I think it made things much less likely to be overlapping or misinterpreted. The last on my list above was the Schwinn Stingray Apple Crate. That bike was my pride and joy. I rode it everywhere, around most of the town of 100,000. It had a back sissy bar that was higher than my head. With reflectors and other trappings, I felt pretty rachett (yes, I actually used that term). The point of most of this is simple, pun intended. To paraphrase a movie that considered this same time for me, though I would have been an elementary student, “Simple is as simple does.” It is us who choose to make our lives complicated. We take on more than we should. We create dilemmas because we find it impossible to say “no.” We clutter our existence with stuff, literally and figuratively. In each case, rather than simplifying, we confound even our best attempts at relaxation or leisure.

So are things really more difficult? We have more options to communicate and stay in touch with people who matter, but we seem more isolated and lonely than ever before. We have access to more knowledge than any generation in history, but we seem to have no idea what we know or need to know. We have, at least in the States, managed to so fragment our society that difference is believed to be wrong, and the different is observed with suspicion and disdain. Disagreement create enemies rather than debate and an increase in understanding. It is no wonder things seem more difficult. We cannot or will not attempt the most rudimentary of human attributes: to listen, to think, and to care.

For those reasons, maybe going back to when I was a senior in high school, 45 years ago might need renewed consideration. Here is a video to ask something about other things we might ponder. It seems this is becoming a very apropos song in these times.


Thanks for reading as always,

Dr. Martin