What to Do: the Sharp Side of the Doubled-Edged Sword

Hello on my first full weekend in Krakow,

Yesterday (Friday, the 28th) was the first day that I have not had to some home and jump in a shower from the heat since I arrived in Europe. Last week I was in Moscow on the hottest day they had on record in June since 1956. This week there have been brutally warm days here (37-39 degrees, which is pushing and over 100). Yesterday it was about 24 C, which is about 75, and it was almost cool. What we are hearing is the coming week will be very hot (and I am hoping we do not get to Paris temperatures or that our highways our melting like the autobahn in Germany. Being about 5 hours ahead of the Eastern part of the United States, I listened this morning to President Trump’s post-G20 summit statement. The only adjectives I have are incredible (and not in a sense of admiration) and embarrassing. The (in)ability to develop a cohesive sense of what is relevant and how to structure his speaking would cause him to fail most first year public speaking courses. His lack of communicative skill, particularly on the world stage, forces me to ask where are his writers? Is it merely he believes he can do without them? I simply do not understand. For me this is more about respect for the Office of the President than anything else. I have noted on more than one occasion, I do not believe him to be a stupid man, but arrogance can cause one to act in a stupid manner. There is the beginning of my reference to the title of this post. Power is certainly a double-edged sword and money the same. I believe Donald Trump is an unparalleled example and study of both. However, I do not want to go down that path too far. This blog is more my own admission of when I have had to face the dual-consequence of that double-edged sword.

There are people in my life, some who were of incredible significance, and, that for a variety of reasons, have moved beyond my life. There are times that I find myself believing it is a normal ebb and flow of things, and then they are those moments when I find that there is a certain accountability, where I am sort of convicted or found guilty of messing it all up. One of those individuals surfaced in the past 24 hours. It has caused me some consternation, but it is something that also causes me to ponder and try to determine how I should (or should not) respond. Certainly the psychology of all of this is complex. There is the need to make others happy, which has always been a blessing and a curse to me. There is my need to fix things, which, while I have made strong progress in managing, still haunts me at times. There is looking at the infamous what is my responsibility and what is outside of my control aspects of this situation. Regardless, there is a certain sense of loss (and this was a substantial loss actually) in what has transpired in the last about 4+ years. That has included the passing of two who were dear to me, but I was not included in that, but I understand those decisions.

Taking a chance on any relationship is a gamble, but it is a gamble that we fundamentally need to make as humans. We are social creatures (I am hearing the Writing with Sources quote in my head as I write this) and certainly the older I become the more I appreciate my solitude. That singleness is another of the most complex double-edged swords I experience. There would be no way I could be in Poland for six weeks because I am planning for six months, or at the very least it would be an exponentially larger undertaking. It would be often beyond what I would want to hope to manage had Susan and I have had children some 35 years ago when I was first married. Instead of feeling single, there are times I feel selfish. I am more set in my ways than I have realized. The struggle between being able to navigate my solitude, which allows incredible flexibility, and wishing there was another is something I have not figured out. That failure was brought to bear much more than I planned (not that one actually plans such things) this past spring. The FB message I received regarding my biological mother’s passing some time ago or the LinkedIn response from another relative in the past 24 hours seem to accentuate that malady only more deeply. I did note it as a malady. I certainly have some ownership in the fracturing of this relationships. Often that splintering is because I was (or am) incapable of managing some situation that has occurred and I do not know what to do. As a consequence, I retreat and avoid, afraid to cause pain (causing the very thing I tried to avoid). There are times I have tried to thoughtfully explain the reason I myself am hurt or disappointed, but that also resulted in some significant disintegration of the relationship. There are two side of attempting to manage (one being not so much), but the sword seems to cut from both sides. The more profound consequence has been that I need to control more than what might be either reasonable or healthy. It seems to be a pattern of late, and perhaps it is I am tried of feeling a bit used, be it changing schedules, expectations, or anything else for that matter. If I made a mistake in trying to help someone out, it seems rather than seeing that I tried to do something above and beyond, there is only an argument that I could have done it even better.

I have learned the art of appearing open and inviting when perhaps I am not nearly as transparent as it might seem. I have somewhat perfected the ability to provide insight while able to conceal. I think much of this might be a result of my health. That reality has become more apparent through the writing and the research that has been the focus of my life this past year. To walk a fine line of desiring to be normal with an abnormal GI tract is another sword I have tried to straddle certainly for the last 25 years. If one considers the image of straddling a sword, I think the probable result is self-evident. The pain has been palpable more times than I have fingers or toes. Over the past year, and particularly in the last few months I have been provided an opportunity to try to respond to my history with Crohn’s in a new way.

Some are aware of this new possibility and I am both excited and humbled by this chance to make a difference for others afflicted with some form of an IBD. Through more than half of my life I have struggled with a disease that is something that is related to our bathroom habits. While it is a disease of the gastrointestinal tract, certainly the one end of that alimentary canal is why we learn potty training as a child. It is something we are proud of at that point, but we really would rather not discuss again. There is the double-edged sword once again. What I know now is I was probably born with Crohn’s but its symptoms were not apparent to me as I was an elementary/high school student. It was not until January of 1984, shortly after my college graduation and my first year in seminary, the tell-tale blood in the stool would alarm and alert me to something much more insidious. Through 11 abdominal surgeries and countless other complications because of those surgeries, I have battled a number of things, and continue to find out even more consequences of the standard IBD treatment of the 1990s. Sometimes, perhaps more often than realized, we are placed in situations where the unexpected can occur. This was the case when I was contacted by a person from the Geisinger Foundation. I am still not completely sure how they found my name (other than I am in their patient database), but through conversations and meetings with both the foundation representative and eventually the former chair of Gastroenterology and others, including a team from the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation and the Associate Dean of the Geisinger School of Medicine, I have been appointed as an Adjunct Associate Professor in the area of Gastroenterology at the medical school. That is not anything I ever expected, but I have been asked to give the opening lecture and address at the Grand Medical Rounds for the medical students and faculty in September. In addition, I am working to build contacts with medical students and faculty to do research and writing into the importance of patient care for those who are diagnosed or suffering from some form of an Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).

That was something not even on the radar six months ago and again demonstrates the other side of what can happen from something that initially seems to have any positive consequence. As I have noted at times, and much of my own scholarship this past year has focused on living as an ostomate, I seldom imagined an efficacious outcome to all of the pain and embarrassment being a Crohn’s sufferer has placed on me. Again, as I once wrote, this is not me wallowing in a sort of self-pity, but rather the reality of wondering why or how someone would want to be involved with a person who is subject to what I call “ostomy moments.” I know that means I am focused on the 4 inch square wafer and the accompanying pouch, but there are times that it is difficult to do something other. It is something as a single person for the great majority of 18 years kept me from dealing with this complication. Even in spite of what some might say, I find overcoming the struggle required if I were to be in a relationship frightening at the least and mortifying perhaps at the most. While I can manage much of what this disease has done, being a single person and believing that another is willing to see beyond all of this is beyond difficult. That being said, I have made progress, but it is not a continual forward projection.

Much of what I am studying and considering at the present moment has to do with image, communicating image, and gender. The visual rhetoric of being chronically ill, which is what any IBD is because it is not curable, is complicated. Many of noted, I do not look ill. I do not act ill; and I certainly do not want to be seen as or considered to be an ill person . . .  and yet this wearable technology on my side is there because without it I would not be. The double-edged sword of being a person who was one of the first to do a surgery called an ileo-anal J-pouch anastomosis meant I was at the cutting edge (literally) of colo-rectal surgery. I had one of the best surgeons in the country to work with, and traveled from Pennsylvania to Arizona to work with him. The medication they used at that point was known to have serious complications and this was to give me a new lease on life, but it did not quite work out that way. Now 30 years later, I have different complications, all the consequence of what we knew and did then. Again, I do not feel badly, but I am a walking reality of that double-edged sword. The point is we all of these situations, but how we manage them is what matters. In my personal life, at least in some aspects as noted above, I do not always manage the best. Ironically in my health stuff, I believe for the most part I have. I am still learning, but that is the point of life, or so it seems – continually learning and growing. As I try to finish this I am reminded of the goodness I have been offered. As I write this, I am not sitting at home and moping or lamenting my life, I am blessed by it. I am in a beautiful place with beautiful people. What the summer will yet bring, I do not know, but I am glad to be here living it. I offer this video of an incredible artist. who lived the double-edged life of fame and talent, and unfortunately lost that battle. This song, which is a cover, was just released, but the beauty of the voice is something of which I will never grow tired. Enjoy.

Indeed, loving and moving beyond is worth the effort. Thanks for always as reading.


Gratefulness 40 Years in the Making

Cześć w chłodniejszy poranek z Krakowa,

What I have said is “hello on a cooler morning” from the sort of intellectual capital of Poland, the former capitol city, Kraków. It is actually by 7th time to this city of a little over a million people. With sites like Wawel Castle, the picture at the top of this post, Kazimierz, the Jewish quarter of the city, Oskar Schindler’s factory and the second oldest university in Central Eastern Europe, each day is a living, walking-tour through 8 centuries of history (or more), but the importance of Kraków as a trading, political, and religious hub begins in the 13th century. Each time I return, I am amazed by some source of beauty and what seems to be of significance that I might have missed on a previous visit. My trip to Kraków comes on the heels of 5 days in Moscow, a first time for me to be in Russia, and before I begin another Polish language immersion for 7 weeks. In 1980/81 I traveled to Europe for the first time, allowed the opportunity by the yearly interim travels of Dr. John W. Nielsen, and the generosity of Harold and Dorothy Wright, who unexpectedly and through no deserving on my part, paid my way to participate on that class, appropriately titled “Auguries of Loneliness.” There was so much to learn on that trip and part of it was health things, which I now know were a precursor to what has happened since.

That trip was more than merely reading Hemingway and Mann for me; it was infinitely more than traveling to places I had only observed or pondered in our Humanities art or religion lectures. It was a life-altering experience; it was an awakening to learning how to learn. It was a realization that America, in its youthful arrogance, was much more a product of millenniums of progress than we might care to admit. From sitting in a pub with a shot of aquavit and an elephant beer to walking through St. Peter’s Basilica, from listening to the music of Buxtehude, the Danish/German organist at the Cathedral in Lûbeck, to tromping through the snow in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, my life was going through a daily transformation that provided an astounding foundation for the person I am today. When I went to Europe as a sophomore student at Dana, I was not a typical sophomore, I was 25 years old and I had already spent time in the Marine Corps. As I have previously noted, if it had not been for a couple other veteran students (Mike Keenan first comes to mind because we both ended up on 4 North Holling as freshmen), I am not quite sure how that first year might have gone. Yet, as a person beyond the typical college age, there was so much to learn both intellectually and academically (and they are not the same), but I did not realize what that even meant at the time. It was more than memorizing and then regurgitating what I had studied. It was so much more about synthesis and integration and understanding that we are products of our historical and cultural background. That is what professors like Drs. Nielsen (all three of them), Olsen, Brandes, Bansen, Jorgensen, or Stone would teach me. That is what Hum events, a student church council, and choir tours would engrain in me.

This summer I am back to Kraków for yet another visit. While more of them have been in the role of the Pope and bringing students, this one is again (for a second summer) about being a student and taking a Polish language immersion class. It is about preparing for an event that is still more than a year away. I have been invited to teach technical writing at the School of Polish Language and Culture at Jagiellonian University. The university is the second oldest in Eastern/Central Europe and the alma mater of Nikolas Kopernikus (Polish spelling), and Pope John Paul II. It is overwhelming to consider that I am walking in the same hallways as such people and being offered the opportunity to teach in the spaces. I am reminded in a world that has become increasingly nationalistic that the faculty of this university were all imprisoned when Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. The Jewish Quarter in this town is next to Oskar Schindler’s factory, and the town of Oświęcim is nearby (you know it by it more infamous German name: Auschwitz). After education, travel and cultural immersion are, I believe, the best way to spend one’s money.  Through the immersion of being in that place, the cultural experiences and learning the language of the other helps one begins to understand how they think and what they value. That realization came from sitting in Bodil Johnson’s German class for me. It came from the struggles I remember in Dr. Delvin Hutton’s Greek course.

I remember the day I received a message that Dorothy Wright wished to speak to me in Parnassus. I walked from Holling to PM and trudged up the to the second floor late afternoon on a rather blustery fall day. Dorothy pulled me aside to sit at one of the tables and told me she had known my grandmother. If you have read this blog with any frequency, and one post just recently, you know that my grandmother was (and is) my hero. Dorothy and she were acquainted somehow (I think Eastern Star). She inquired about my going to Europe with Dr. Nielsen for interim. I had attended the interest meetings, but because I was paying my own way through college, there was no way I could afford the $1,500.00 the trip would cost. When I informed her that I had decided not to go, she asked if finances were an issue. I told her (somewhat lying) that it was one of the issues. In reality it WAS the issue. Then she informed me that she and her husband, Harold, were willing to pay my way. I was dumbfounded. I asked her if I could think about it for a day. She said, “Certainly.” And I was allowed to go. I do not think my feet touched the ground all the way back to Holling Hall. The Wright’s generosity changed my life. Through that interim class of 1980-81, both the places and some of the people, I was transformed into a person who wanted to be a sponge and learn everything I could. I have often noted that trip is what encouraged me to believe I could eventually go on an get a PhD and (want to) become a professor. This past year, through the generosity of yet another amazing woman, I was able to endow two travel abroad scholarship funds where I presently teach. One is in the name of that latest benefactor and the other is in honor of Harold and Dorothy Wright.

I was in Blair one day in early June for only a few hours. I did stop to see Dorothy, who is still alive and quite well. I wanted to thank her in person for what she had done for me almost 40 years ago. We, as Dana alumni, speak regularly about what was (and is) called the Dana Difference. Harold and Dorothy Wright are a prime example of that difference. They reached out to a young man who was not a typical student, but who was, much like many others, trying to figure it all out. If it were not for an incredibly brilliant man, who began at Dana and obtained his PhD from Oxford, and his willingness to do all the tedious and laborious work to arrange such interims, 100s of students would be less culturally aware than they are. Dr. Nielsen’s insatiable passion for teaching others both in the typical and the global classroom is still affecting me. He set the bar high for those who want to emulate what he did. There is a bit of an irony that 46 years ago to the day as I write this, I was taking my first plane ride to MCRD (Marine Corps Recruit Depot) in San Diego, California. Certainly my time in the Marines would shape many of the attitudes and practices I still hold today. However, there have been so many plane trips since then. Dr. Nielsen took me on my first trip to Europe. This trip is my thirteenth, and has included five days in Moscow to visit the Russian student I had in class this past year. While it was only a layover, I was also in Finland for the first time. Beginning next week, I will be taking Polish (a second immersion class) 5 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 6 weeks. The plan is to do the same next summer. While I will teach the fall of 2020 in English, I want to be able to communicate on a normal level with my students in Polish.

Slavic languages are inflection languages meaning that the endings of the words are changed to reflect how the word is being used in the sentence (a quick example in Polish is the word for cheese. Ser is the word for cheese, but to denote something with cheese it would be serem). It has not been difficult to understand the grammar for me, but there are seven cases instead of four and there are sounds that our English-speaking mouths are not used to creating. There are also sounds that my 60+ year old ears have some difficulty ascertaining. That is part of the fun. While I can say simple things from my first foray into the language, it is my hope that the summer course will create a more profound foundation usage of this language, one that overlaps Czech, Slovak, Russian, and Ukrainian. Grammatically there is a lot of similarity, but the Latin versus the Cyrillic alphabet creates an additional learning curve. I am also grateful to my Bloomsburg colleague, Dr. Mykola Polyhua, who has been so gracious in creating the foundations and relationships I now have here. Gratefulness is not something that occurs once and disappears. It is something that becomes part of who we are. It changes us, and allows us to hopefully change the lives of others. What I know as I am into my 60s is I have learned so much, and yet there is still so much to learn. I was thinking about it as I walked the streets of what is called Stare Miasto (Old Town) today. If all goes according to plan I will turn 65 when I am in Poland next year for a six month trip of more language and teaching. Some ask me when I am going to retire. It is one of the questions I guess people feel compelled to ask as they see my white whiskers and grey hair. I have no plans, at least presently, to do so. I am so blessed to be able to do what I do and love doing it. Again, the very fact that I can say any of that is because of Harold and Dorothy. Their generosity changed my life. I had no idea that a requested meeting in Parnassus would be so life-changing, but it has been exactly that . . . and for that I am grateful beyond words. As I work at the table in my little Air BnB, I am still astounded by the fact that I am able to be 4,400 miles from my home doing what I love to do and having a job that allows and encourages me to do so. Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, where I teach and direct a Professional and Technical Writing program, has been so supportive of my work and continues to be so. It is yet another place to which and whom I am grateful. I feel undeserving of such blessings, but somehow, I have been blessed beyond measure. I hope to be half as much a blessing to others. My thoughts about a sort of paying it forward as they say. Somehow this song came to mind.

Thank you always for reading.

Dr. Michael Martin


Understanding (and Maybe Accepting) Limitations

Hello from Helsingistä Suomi,

Another layover has allowed for another cultural experience in yet another country. This one has a bit of significance because it was a Finnish Lutheran Junior College that provides the entree into the path that would lead me to the academy. So many mixed emotions when I consider the Upper Peninsula and my experiences there. That is, to a significant degree, the impetus for my working title for this blog. Too often we ignore limitations, be they physical, emotional, or spiritual. At least in my case, I want to believe I can handle anything, in whatever realm, thrown at me. I know this is neither logical nor realistic, but too often I regard a limitation as weakness rather than perhaps the protection it is meant to be. Perhaps some of that attitude began before I even knew what was happening. While I do not remember my birth, being born at 17 ounces had to create some struggles, particularly in a pre-NICU world. Certainly spending my first few months in an incubator must have been somewhat less appealing than a walk in the park. Yet – I am reminded of a conversation with my Great-aunt Helen who said I always had a positive and caring attitude as a small child. She said I seldom cried or was angry about things. I think my adopted childhood pushed me to push back against imposed limitations, especially ones that were untruthful and hurtful. It is that push back that is both my greatest strength and my most profound weakness. It is the oxymoronic element of my character that probably vexes me like no other.

We are given limitations or have innate limitations both externally and internally, but it seems our human nature is to push back against, or simply refuse to accept that boundary no matter how helpful, significant, or appropriate or might be. Is it pride? Is it fear of failure? Or is it our need to control our own destiny? Perhaps it is some of each in most cases. What I do know when being truly introspective, is my need to be in control had much to do with my disdain for this boundaries or a certain scorn of myself seeing said boundary as some kind of inability to manage. Again, it is not surprising to realize how childhood experiences affect our abilities in dealing with these restraints, becoming an additional impediment itself, but the degree to which they affect is a bit stunning. I think I have always had a propensity for being a little cautious. There are certain times or situations I am not willing to step outside my comfort zone, and then I took a motorcycle trip at 22 from Iowa to California on my own. There are those who question the travel I do, especially on my own, but I see that as a learning opportunity and that is central to who I am. Yet, I have found myself I bit more cautious on this trip already than I have been in the past. I think it takes me a bit longer to become comfortable than in the past. Perhaps that is wisdom also. One can certainly hope that is the case.

I think, most importantly, there is a need to analyze (there is that word again). Too often we dismiss, haphazardly, opportunities for possible growth as well as increased understanding of the other because we fear the unknown, that which is different, that which is outside our normal scope of daily life. In spite of my openness to travel, I too fall into this. I would have done on to St. Petersburg this week, but I was uncomfortable in spending three or four days on my own in Russia. Most of it was because of my currently limited (mostly non-existent) aptitude for Russian. I made good progress in my 5 days simply figuring out some words, but my 5/5 teaching load in the spring made my time to acquire a minimal working knowledge of Cyrillic impossible. I do know my limitation in this case, and I want to believe this was wisdom, but I must also wonder if I am merely attempting to justify my fear of being a solitary older person in a foreign place?

Instead, it is almost noon on a Tuesday and I find myself in the main market square of Kraków, sitting at an outdoor cafe where the server came up to me and welcomed me back and was, to some extent, surprised when I said, “Good to see you Andrew;” Asking him how he was in Polish. Of course he asked if I wanted the chicken sandwich in English and I ordered in Polish. So much more comfort. As I write this morning I have purchased a new SIM and I am trying to get more comfortable with my BLU phone. An earlier version was so basic it did not have enough memory to allow to function adequately in terms of technology. I spent the morning going beyond limitations and comfort and used our this phone to manage a variety of issues. Amazing how our creaturely habits, including the simple act of keyboard and touch affect us. The degree to which I am, and I use the adverb “substantially” intentionally is somewhat flumoxxing to me. I am a habitually OCD person that is for sure. Strange the degree to which habits provide comfort for me. That is one of the reasons I am going to a cooking class this week. More on that soon. Off to another immediate task.

It is now Thursday and I am still on my walking tour of Krakow; this time it is a return to Kazimierz and a pierogi cooking class. The class was a three hour class where the perveyor is an amazing young woman who is journalist, a traveler, a foodie, and studying to become a witch. Now there is going beyond limitations, if you will. The class, which was in her Kazimierz apartment, was both enjoyable and informative. We made onion, potato and cheese pierogi. There were two of us attending the class, so we got some amazing individualized attention, and the pierogi recipe was from her grandmother, and perhaps great-grandmother. What I learned it the ingredients are pretty simple, but finding the cheese they use here might be a bit of a stretch. It is a bit like cottage cheese, but not as watery. All in all, it was a great way to spend a few hours. I got almost 7 or 8 miles in walking today, and I ate pretty healthy. I had a small egg sandwich for breakfast and then some of the pierogi we made. For dinner I had a small bowl of cold cucumber vichyssoise, seasoned nicely with mint and dill and then an asparagus salad which herbed greens and a poached egg. It was quite delightful, and pretty healthy, if I say so myself. I love trying things and learning about food options. Speaking with Karina, our pierogi aficionado, she had quite a story to tell us about her apartment building. It is owned by a Jewish man, who was the only member of his family to survive the Shoah, and is currently 100 years old and living in Israel. As a journalist, she is headed to Israel soon to interview him. She also spoke of this forested area where she met both this sort of moonshiner person and her tutoring witch. Sounds like quite the place. People fascinate me, which leads me back to the idea of limitations. How do we emotionally deal with limitations? That is what I find myself pondering. I think like most things that discompose us, we generally get our proverbial underwear in the bundle when we are told no. Today I heard three little children empathically saying to their parents, “Nie! нет, and No! I heard it in three languages, but the tone was the same. There was frustration and anger . . .  Limitations work that way whether we are 2, 22, or 52.

As I noted in the title, there are two aspects to the concept of limitations: there is the understanding the reason for them and there is the ability to accept (or manage) them. Understanding them is more difficult than what might initially seem to be the case. Why are the limitations there? Again, it is a physical limitation that merely need some work to manage? Then it is a temporary thing, and we have some control. It is an emotional thing? This is a bit more complicated because we have to come to grips with from where those emotions come and what causes them to affect us in such a manner. This can be both more time consuming and frightening. Finally, as I noted above, there is what I might call a spiritual limitation. I think this is more of an ethical issue. Again, this too  is infinitely more complex because understanding your ethical methodology takes some serious introspection. Again, there is the temporal aspect of our dealing with limitations also. Is it a temporary thing or is a much more permanent issue? What are the options if it has a more permanent nature? There are so many things that can play into this. However, the important thing, it seems, is understanding the fundamental nature of the obstacle and then realizing how our response and attitude, our belief and ability plays into that obstruction. Ove the past year I have watched how a particular limitation or malady affects both the individual and their friends, family, or acquaintances. I know from my own life, how health limitations are simply realties that must be accepted . . . . in my life with Crohn’s and the consequence of being diagnosed in the pre-Humira (or other biologics) period, there were a set of options and I tried even the most cutting-edge options at the time. It did not work. Now, 30 years later, I am working with the limitations of those treatments. Can I be frustrated? Perhaps. Can I be disillusioned? Perhaps. Can I be angry? Again, perhaps, but with what result? It changes nothing. What I have chosen is to live my life the best way I know how . . . it see that I even have a life as a blessing. As I have noted in my blog from time to time, I was “dealt,” if you will, a seriously stacked deck, and it was not in my favor, but somehow, I have been fortunate enough to work with some phenomenal people in every aspect of my life. Somehow, regardless the complications, I have never been told, “I am sorry; there is nothing we can do.” It is because of those experiences, that limitations seldom confound or make me fearful. There are merely challenges. The next challenge is to manage my summer here in Poland as well as keeping abreast of the things in Pennsylvania. Each of us will face a variety of limitations, but they do not have to frighten us or make us angry. They are certainly more than merely life-lessons, but there are that also. Over the next seven weeks, I will be working on Polish and I can tell you that my older ears will struggle at times. My brain is not as quick and sharp as it was the summer I crammed two years of Greek into 12 weeks, but the method and the requirements are the same. Work hard every day; believe in my ability to overcome my age; learn as much as I can, and have some fun doing it. I am always impressed by those who take chances. They are willing to think outside the box. I want my life to be outside that box and I keep trying to make that happen.

Thanks as always for reading.


Remembering Elegance and Grace

Good early morning,

It is around 4:00 a.m. and I have been awake for a while. I am always amazed by the changing of the seasons and how it affects both my mood as well as my ability to reflect, be it on the day, the larger picture, or life in general. When we face the shortest day of the year, the Winter solstice, I am reminded of both the positive of the season and the hopefulness of the season of giving. For the academy, it is the beginning of the break from both college and public school; it is the beginning of the excitement for small people that will end up on a Christmas morning for those who celebrate this holiday. It is the beginning of the Christmas season and that continues on until January 7th for my Orthodox friends, students, and others when they celebrate Christmas (ironic I am in an orthodox country as I revise this). When I was growing up, that time signaled when I would soon be spending a week or more at my Grandmother’s house for part of the Christmas holiday. I think that week was as important to her as it was fun for my sister and me. I think it was a week for my older brother where two younger and annoying siblings were away and he had a respite and the house to himself. I don’t think I ever really considered that until now. I think it is the memories of those weeks at 4547 Harrison Street between Christmas and New Years that most affected the person I would become, the person I am. When I get to the summer solstice, or the first day of summer, (and I am presently in Moscow and it is light by 3:30 a.m.) I am reminded up my time in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and being around the portage, up in Eagle Harbor or Copper Harbor. It was light by 4:30 or 5:00 a.m. and light until 10:15 at night. I loved those long days. Even the spring solstice provides a sense of hope for me, the days are getting longer and I am no longer leaving for or coming home from work in the dark. As I write this it is around 5:00 p.m. in Moscow and it has been incredibly warm.

Over the past few days, I have thought of relatives and of my Grandmother Louise Lynam in particular. I have noted her on a number of occasions in this blog, I am not sure I have ever written a blog just about her. She has been an integral part of my life for most of the 60+ years I have been alive. A portrait of her sits on my desk in my office to this day. It is an 8×10 picture that was probably colored or tinted after the fact. I believe it is a picture taken in her late teens and possibly a picture that was created when she went to college at what is now the University of Northern Iowa, I believe then Iowa State Teacher’s College and the Normal School for the State of Iowa. I think she hoped to be a teacher, but having graduated from high school in 1931, the depression made it impossible for this South Dakota farm girl from remaining in college and she returned to the farm. She was the youngest child I do believe. I think she was also perhaps the free spirit in the household. Not long ago, within the past month, I was back in Sioux City. The home I remember as a small child is no longer there, and the acreage she had behind her house is all developed. No more toboggan riding on snow-covered hills. I wonder what she might think of what I have accomplished from time to time and I do wish there was a way for those still here to communicate with those no longer in this realm (yes, I know some argue there is). I guess I want it to be more simple. Let me buy the Starbucks and let’s sit and chat, both to reminisce and to listen to her counsel. What I remember most about her is she never hollered at anyone. She was seldom angry, but rather expressed her displeasure through disappointment. The worst thing I could have heard from her was “I am disappointed in you.” She is still more of an influence on me 40+ years postmortem than I might have imagined. She is the one who taught me to be polite, to be gracious, and to approach my daily life with hopefulness rather than a gloomy outlook. I know that she regretted not being able to care for my sister and me for the remainder of her days. When I analyze all of that it forces me to face the sort of concentrically growing circle of alcoholism and its consequences. Fortunately, she was able, through AA and Eastern Star, to overcome her difficulties and from the time I was 7 or 8 she never drank again. Cigarettes were a different story. Perhaps the reasons I am thinking of her is she died at the age I will obtain my next birthday. That brings another thought to mind. She had been grandmother since her 40s. Perhaps I should not be so surprised when people now tell me I remind them of their grandpa. Hmmmmm.

It has been rather indescribable five days. While the original plan was altered in a variety of ways, sometimes the most unexpected gifts occur when we merely allow. I met one person I had heard so much about and she is astounding; intelligent, committed, personable and beautiful (and that is more than merely appearance). I met another young man who was gracious, incredibly informed and knowledgeable, and also accommodating and gracious. I think he made things much easier for Ana. It was fun to observe the friendship the three of them share. Ana was the behinds-the-scenes tour director, as well as our front and center, but I think she has such a tremendous weight on her shoulders right now that I probably taxed her more than she needed or expected. I certainly hope her next two weeks go as well as she could ever hope. I know she is a planner and when things end up reconfigured it is not the easiest for her. The last couple days I tried to make things easier for her, but I am not sure I succeeded. Nevertheless, it was an unforgettable visit for a number of reasons.

As I travel on to Poland, I am excited to return to Kraków, but it is a bit strange to go on my own. That is a first time ever. The first time I went knowing I would met with Maria’s father and Katarzyna as they were waiting for me (Maria was there also). It was her gift in a way that I would meet Mykola Polyuha. That would change the course of my life and how I understood the world. Then I was there with a group (working with Mykola) for 4 visits. The last two occasions, I was there with Ruth. This time it really is me on my own. That is not so fear-inducing because I now have a basic fluency in Polish (which will be my focus to review from now until July 4th). While I appreciate my solitude more and more, I still have some angst about being somewhere alone. That was part of the reason I chose not go on to St. Petersburg alone, though it has been at the top of my bucket list for decades. Both a new place and my inability to communicate in Russian was a bit overwhelming to me. I do hope to come back, but we’ll have to see. I still also want to visit Ana’s parents in Kaluga. I know that Kraków will be comfortable and I am excited to see some people I know from previous visits. I am blessed to be in such a wonderful city with amazing acquaintances.

Over the past few days there were a number of things that reminded me of my grandmother. While younger people here do wear jeans or slacks, they are so meticulous in their appearance. So many women wear dresses or skirts and many of them are long, but they have such class, grace, and elegance, even in 95 degree temperatures. They wait to cross streets at appropriate times, and while more smoke than I would hope, they snuff out their cigarettes and place them in a trash receptacle. Even when people are walking, running, riding a bicycle or scooter, they wear nice clothing. I think we as Americans could learn a thing or two. Those thoughts have went through my head continually. What if we took the best behaviors from each culture and sort of created the paragon of appearance and behavior? Perhaps we might have a world where people took better care of themselves and we are more polite and apropos. I think each time I travel I realize both the complexity and simplicity of the world we all traverse. Patience and manners are universal, and they make us better people. My grandmother had both, not only when it came to dealing with others, but also with herself. She read and pondered things. She believed in thinking positively. She loved unconditionally and that was perhaps the most wonderful thing she taught me. I wonder what we might speak of today. I smile when I remember the times I spent at her house or at the bakery. I feel content when I think about being in my upstairs bedroom in her house and I can, to this day, recall the smell and feel that embracing atmosphere. I have seldom felt that, but people tell me I have created something similar in my own home. I give her the credit or any understanding of that or being able to recreate it. There are some parallels in where I live (which I call the Acre) and what I remember from her house. To have even an inkling of what she had humbles me. I wish I might have had her in my life a bit longer. I remember a couple of letters she wrote to me in my early months as a United States Marine. I was so young and naive, but she was so proud and she understood what I had faced growing up and did even then. The honesty in those letters caused me to cry then and overwhelm me even now.

Well as I am ready to sleep in Moscow one last night, I am grateful to Ana, her friends, and her parents for welcoming me. It has been a short week I will remember forever. Once again this new experience had enriched my life and my helped develop my understanding of our incredible world. Kraków, I will be there for almost two months. I have a lot to do, but I am looking forward to it. The work commences. To all, as usual . . . спасибо за чтение и моим друзьям и новым друзьям: до свидания до следующего.

Dr. Martin or as my grandmother called me Michael (Мацкл)

Доброе утро из Москвы

Hello from Center City Moscow,

I was blessed to have Ana and Basil pick me up at the airport yesterday. I experienced both the trains and the subway (underground) in my first couple of hours. After a wonderful dinner and conversation last night (and a gift of meeting the infamous BFF of Ana, also know as Dascha) it was off to bed. I told Ana I would be awake as soon as it was light and I was prophetically accurate. I was awake quite a bit before 5:00 and finally got up around 5:30. The first thing I did was look for a morning coffee shop. I walked for about 25 minutes using Google maps and actually found a Starbucks by surprise. They also have the little cups I am looking for, so it was quite a efficacious discovery.

This morning as I walked, as is often the case, I am always stunned by the reality of another culture, particularly as I am experiencing it for a first time. As I told my dinner hosts last night, remembering the conversation of Anastasia, Drs. Polyuha, Vandivere, and myself, I was taught as an elementary child to fear the CCCP. The Soviets were the big bad boogie man. How foolish that was. Certainly, there were political differences and the Cold War was a reality. Yet even today we both (Russians or Americans) know little about the complexities of our daily governmental undertakings. As average citizens we go about our lives and try to make sense of what confronts us on a daily basis. I believe, especially after having been blessed with Ana’s presence this past year, that American parents and Russian parents want the same for their children – to help them establish happy, healthy, and successful lives. It is not something that requires the proverbial rocket scientist on either side of the political divide. The many conversations with Ana this past year were both interesting and instructional. Cultural education is such a different form of learning than reading a book. One can feel quite young, even when they are well past middle-aged. Some might ask if this is related to my “day-job” – indeed it is. To visit one of my students in her home country and to work with her and her parents to keep a connection between Bloomsburg University’s Global Studies Office is a good thing. One of the things I hope to ask Ana about today is is there are other students she would suggest we speak to. Certainly when I return to Kraków, I want to work on a number of things about creating new opportunities.

Each experience I have changes my understanding and how I interact with the world in which I live. This time in Moscow will allow me to attend Ana’s graduation from college here. I will attend and have attended both of her commencements. That is yet another experience. Quite a metamorphosis from a day trip to Jim Thorpe on a Labor Day weekend less than a year ago. . . 24 hours have passed since I began this missive, and the amount of time spent walking and exploring this astounding city of over 12 million was extensive. I walked for over 17 miles yesterday, and to say I have only scratched the surface is beyond an understatement. I walked through Red Square and around the city center; we walked through a sort of woods where you could hear little of the city noise and took a riverboat ride for close to an hour on the Moscow River. I rode the longest escalator in the world (that is what I was told) yesterday. It is 130 meters long and it has an elevational rise of 65 meters. It was quite amazing. Everywhere you look there is architectural things that only begin to speak to the incomparable history this city must have. Art, dance, literature, and drama is evident everywhere you look. I saw more than one statue to honor Aleksandr Pushkin and mention of the actor, Mikhail Semenovich Shchepkin and did some reading on the Maly Theatre. My music history classes have come harkening back and names like Prokofiev, Rachmaninov, and Shostakovich (yes, I left out the most famous on purpose) come to mind. As I walked around Ana and Basil spoke in Russian and occasionally I had some idea about what there conversation was, but I was left, for the most part, to ponder Russian history, and Moscow in particular, in my own head. I wondered as I noted many of the posters of dramatists, and their lives ending shortly before the revolution of what might have happened in the early to mid 20th century? Ana noted the amount of renovation that has occurred in the city both during her time in college as well as during the year she has been gone. I wondered if all the crosses on top of buildings in the Kremlin were there in Soviet times or how the Cathedral of Christ the Savior was maintained during the years between 1917 and 1991?

What is most important to me as I pondered is the importance of this city and its cultural influence on the world in general. Once again, I am reminded of cultural diversity and what it adds not only to the world, but how it can profoundly change our own individual views if we merely take the time to imagine. I certainly understand the significance of politics and how they play such a central role into forming impressions and understandings, but each culture, their language and history is so astonishing to me. As I looked and merely immersed myself in the experience of this city, my mind was consumed with wonder and trying to imagine the Moscow of the 19th century. I wonder what most Russians think of their country as the predominant force of the Soviet Union. I think more conversations with Mykola are in order.

. . . Another day and morning have passed and I have been rather non-stop. On Thursday I walked more than 17 miles. I think that is a record since was was perhaps 22. It was also the hottest day in Moscow for June (I think that is what they told me) since 1956. Yesterday, in comparison was a slacker day and I had a rather pedestrian mileage of almost 9 miles. This morning I have gotten in 2.6 in my first three hours. My legs and feet are aware, I can tell you. It will also be another very warm day. Back to my conversation about Moscow, Russia, and our understanding (or lack there of) for a country which has an astounding, complex, and fascinating culture. There is an incredible amount of music, art, drama, and literature that comes from Russia. Much of what we understand about Russia comes from the October Revolution of 1917 and the creation of the Soviet Union. Yet my conversations with people who grew up in Russia during that period have shown me the Soviets were much more thoughtful about how they taught and spoke about us than we taught or spoke about them. The sheet size of the current Russian Federation predicts a lot more diversity in people’s than many Americans take the time to realize. From the far Eastern reaches where the people are much more Mongolian and Asian than what we typically understand a Russian person to be. There are areas to the south and west that one would believe they are in the Arab world, and then there is Moscow and area.

What I have noticed in my few days around Moscow is how infinite numbers of people walk and most everyone gives thought to and takes care of how they appear. I have not seen a single pair of yoga pants in the 10s of 1000s of people I have seen in my time. Dresses, blouses, skirts, and well-kept from head to toe is the norm. Gentlemen are much the same. I have observed more attractiveness from 20s-60s than I could ever imagine. If we would try to take such good care and think about how we appear a bit more. I must also note that I see more young people smoking here than in America, so there is a bit of an oxymoronic character to all of that. Today is a bit of a quiet day and I am focusing on what it to come in a couple of different ways.

Last evening Ana and Dasha took me to an area called Moscow City to a restaurant on the 86th floor of a building. It was, and will be, one of my more memorable dining experiences of my life. I had traditional Borscht to begin and then for a main course it was a Wine Beef Stew and a side of grilled asparagus with hollandaise. A wonderful Bordeaux style wine and a classic Russian/Ukrainian dessert of warm milk and a biscuit complete the delightful gastronomic experience. A walk around Moscow City, an architectural wonder of the city, completed the evening. The picture gracing this post is of the complex. As is always the case I am continually reminded of the beauty found in each part of our world and the cultural significance that each place offers. The present nationalism that seems to be prevalent flies in the face of such exploration and opportunity. I hope I can, in my own small way continue to speak out for the wonderful diversity we offer if we will only take the chance to see it. This song from Sting, on his album, Dream of the Blue Turtles, with its motif from Prokofiev (which I have posted before) seems appropriate here as I complete this post.

As always, thank you for reading and до свидания

Dr. Martin

Managing Change (Управление изменениями)

Hello on a rainy, foggy, and unseasonably cold Mother’s Day Night,

Yesterday the weather was sunny and through two outdoor graduations, I managed to get a significantly sunburned face. With the wearing of sunglasses a good part of the day, I look like a raccoon, but as a negative or reversed color order. It is the time of year where the weather can change drastically more than once in a day or two, or even on the same day. . . . As is often the case a week has passed and I am just getting back to this. The beginning of the week was taken up by both grading and getting my students to JFK on this past Tuesday. As I write this I am back in NYC working on getting my visa to visit Russia in June. I am at an agency, but there seems to be little rhyme nor reason to the process. I might be the only native English speaking person and I am not sure my Polish is going to be of much help. Russian language is certainly the order of the day, at least in Suite 703 on 7th Avenue.

The past week had been a bit of an exercise in health management and solitude, of which both were needed. As I drove into the city, after getting up a 3:00 a.m., it still took almost 4 hours to get into the city (50 minutes in the Lincoln Tunnel alone). I am continually stunned by how busy my life seems even though school is complete. A pending book review, hopefully receiving an R&R of a book chapter, working on a summer incomplete for a student, managing daily chores both on the Acre and in life in general. What I have realized is that I seem to go in a sort of fits and starts manner. I think there is more to a struggle and diagnosis once given than I would care to admit. Yet another blog post. The long story short is a diagnosis that vexed my sister and petrified me. Yet, while it seems to be the diagnosis du jour, there might be more to it than I want to admit, or certainly face that reality.

Yet I often seem to have times of incredible productivity and then a period of a week or three where I seem paralyzed and manage to accomplish little or nothing. However, when my back is in the corner, the discipline that was part of my Marine Corps training comes alive and things get done. It has always been that way, though I think my sense of obligation is much more attuned to avoiding failure or embarrassment now than earlier in my life. It is an interesting time for me. While there are changes on the horizon, I am not feeling that I need to rush anything. I am pretty content to manage life as it presents itself. I think the idea that we need to develop some momentous plan to get ready for the next phase of life is not realistic. That is not to say we should have no plan nor should we fly by our proverbial seats. Yet, if we need to plan every aspect to the most minuscule detail, do we fail to experience other possibilities. I think that is the case, but where is the balance or the line to maintain a semblance of order? I am a person who seems to float (and I use that word intentionally) between working on the big picture and then rotating toward the specifics. I am not particularly strong in doing both simultaneously. When I move to the details I can get caught up, overwhelmed, and somewhat paralyzed. I do have colleagues who seem equally adept at both as well as simultaneously doing them. I am in awe of that.

At this point I am on a road trip and visiting friends and spaces from my past. Over the weekend, I surprised a wonderful young lady, and friend’s daughter at a graduation party. This morning a student I met my first year of teaching at Suomi College. He eventually went to Dana and Luther and is now a parish pastor. Somehow, I think I had some influence on some of that. Certainly the Dana part. As I type this, I am waiting to meet three individuals from my past here in Houghton. The most common denominator is restaurants and food. Yet, one was also in a technical communication class as a non-traditional undergraduate student when I was a GTI at Michigan Tech. She has the most astounding giving spirit of most anyone I have ever met. The second was my boss and owner of two restaurants I was blessed work work at when I lived here. She is an incredibly talented person in so many ways. Someone I admired more than she really ever fathomed. The third met through the second when I first returned to Houghton in 2000. She is simply one of the most elegant and beautiful individuals I have ever met. I was fortunate enough to get to know her when I worked at a restaurant called Steamers. I think she is often misjudged because of her beauty: one of the simple (and unfortunate) truths of the mistreatment of and our society’s attitude toward females. As I read much of what she posts and the photography she creates, she is beautiful in so many ways that most fail to take the time to consider. It will be a wonderful lunch. . . . And so it was. What a nice chance to hear and listen to each of them and to catch up on some things that were an important part of my life when I lived in Hancock and Houghton. Even now as I write this, little incidences from the recess of my memories come to the fore. It is less than 24 hours later and about 6:45 a.m. I am back in Menomonie, staying once again with my most gracious former neighbors where I can sit, look out the window, and from my seat, I can see my former bedroom window and most of Lydia’s second and third floors. Again the memories and the reality of the changes that 10 years have brought. It will be early this August when I mark 10 years ago I left Menomonie as a permanent resident. Up to that point, living in this little town on the Red Cedar was the longest I had lived in one place since high school. Now that place is Bloomsburg. My blog has been full of Lydia and memories of her. I think the more important thing to note currently is no matter how central people are in your life, our lives move on.

Some of that need to move on comes as a rite of passage and that is what occurs in my life every May as students graduate. Some of the impetus to move on can occur because our life situation changes. I spoke with a friend, colleague, and incredible woman this morning who is planning to do some of that sort of closing of a chapter and attempting to create something new. Not in any sort of French-Revolution-baby-with-the-bath-water manner, but as a way to establish who she is as the single individual after the loss of a larger than life spouse. I listened to the need to do this and the wistfulness of living life on the other side of a long life together. Managing change is central to our human identity because as our circumstances are altered, so is our understanding of self. I have noted that change in the following statement. Things I believed significant when I was 30 somehow seem less so and then I imagined unimportant at that age seem to be rather paramount now. I would like to believe some of that is merely growing a bit wiser, but some of it was stupidity, arrogance, or selfishness if I am to be more circumspect. An example has confronted me a number of times just today. It is a magnificent late spring/semi- summer afternoon now in almost mid-June. Yes, it has taken me a month to get this written. A 3,700 mile road trip, other work, and again (in the spirit of accountability) some simple laziness has affected my writing process.

Today the number of motorcycles cruising past the house probably is equal to the number of fingers and toes I have, but I have not felt more than a passing wistfulness for the Streetglide. The decision to become a person who is post-owning was a good one. It was both a financial and a health decision . . . And more one of health. A cortisone shot in my hip told me that trying to manage 900+ pounds was no longer a smart thing. $120.00+/month for insurance when I put less than 3,000 miles in 24 months was also a determining factor. On my recent road trip I got similar mileage in the car I would have gotten on the Harley. All those things confirm this was a good choice. I did find riding both relaxing and freeing, but I am also relaxed as I sit on my deck or hangout on my patio. Hence, focusing on my health seems to be a good plan. That has been the central focus in a variety of ways, especially the last two to three years. Again changes from the Crohn’s and as a consequence of aging have compelled me to pay closer attention. Those are changes and they certainly require some continuous managing, thoughtful moderating, and intentional modifying. Some have asked me if the rather profound changes are difficult. My general answer is a simple not really. There are moments, but when considering the other option without the changes, the answer is still not really, or more accurately NO. As I move into the summer, there will be changes and yet some of the same. I will see a former student, but in a new place. I will return to Poland, but have new possibilities and new planning to undertake. I will consider what the next two years will bring and how reaching the age of 65 will affect me should that happen. Life is in a constant state of flux. Sometimes the changes are minuscule and seem to be unimportant or inconsequential. However, that is seldom the case. They accumulate and the sort of concentric rings can provide an undoubtedly altered reality if we analyze their cumulative impact carefully. Sometimes we are confronted by profound changes and we are overwhelmed by the prospect of their consequence. Yet life continues and new norms are created. Again, surprisingly, we find there is more constant than change. Perhaps the names, faces, and places are changed, but we are still fundamentally consistent and uniform. The significant element in all of this is ourselves. How will we manage the new opportunities? That is what they are. Too often we focus on the abrogating nature of something different. We, too often, focus on our fear of the unknown rather than believing in our personal resilience. Change is part of our humanity; it is what can offer hope. It is what can allow for growth. It is what provides for our own metamorphosis into a more successful and fulfilled life. Here’s to embracing the change.

Thank you for reading,

Dr. Martin