What is in a Decade? (and I have not forgotten about hope)

Hello from my study. 

Somehow I thought I wrote an entire paragraph or two before I went to a meeting, but I guess I have lost it. I think it was because I had not saved and then closed some windows. That is not the first technological snafu I have accomplished or preformed today, so I guess I will error on the side of consistency. Earlier while speaking with colleagues on another Zoom chat, someone was speaking about their recent birthday and an age. Age is both a real and a symbolic thing. There are all of the clichés about age and there is the reality of how you feel. There are the actual experiences you have put into whatever length of life you have achieved and then there is the number and how people look at you as a consequence. When I applied for the tenure track position that I currently hold, I knew because of age, should I be hired, it would be my last academic position, or at least that is what logic told me. And that has been in reality what has happened. I did add some things this last year to that, and while they are in place, Covid has managed to put all of that on hold. Regardless, I am still working away and managing whatever it is I am asked to do, and I generally believe I am doing admirable work. I am never really satisfied or thing I am there. There is not a concept of coasting if you will. I have been blessed to land in a wonderful place, a place with great colleagues, generally thoughtful and good students, and presently a wonderful administration. All of those things matter, and I know that first-hand. 

When the decision was made (at least my part of the decision) to pursue other options, even though I knew it was necessary there was nothing simple about it. At that point, Lydia was beginning a steeper decline into the world of Alzheimer’s or dementia. Moving away from the Circle was not an easy choice; and yet, it was a necessary change. Running afoul of a Dean was not something I could overcome, and if I did not try to make a change, I would have certainly been on the one year clock. When you have no choices, you are much more likely to make a bad one. Fortunately, things occurred that ended with my chance to be offered the position at Bloomsburg. Much like others, this year for me has been, and will be, a momentous one. It began with Anton still here and I was about four months into being a temporary, but full-time father to a 17 year old. That was a phenomenal experience for a multitude of reasons, but suffice it to say, speaking with him this morning on FB video was a wonderful day to begin the day. He changed my life is so many, and positive, ways. Only a few weeks into this pandemic, when we were still quite naïve about where we would end up, Anton was called home. While it was a difficult time, I am glad he is home and now I merely need to get a whole boatload of things to him when we are allowed to be in the post office again. Of course, the second dramatic change was the lockdown of all sorts of things and moving toward remote teaching for all classes, which will remain for the summer, and for me, beyond. A third thing that has created a more prolonged and drastic change is the postponement of my sabbatical. That change was necessary because I was scheduled to teach in Poland. It appears most travel from the university, the country, and probably the world will be rethought as we move forward. While the postponement is not a difficult thing, it too has more long-term consequences. Because I am required to do an additional in-residence year upon my return, that means I will be working a year longer. That is not necessarily a change from what I planned, but it is working closer to 70. A fourth thing, because of my own health issues, it has been deemed prudent and necessary that I will continue to teach remotely through December. That is a somewhat RD condensed version of my 2020. If it sounds like I am complaining, I really am not. I am blessed to be here, to have a job, to do what I love to do, and to have incredible people who are willing to work with me. 

During this past semester I had to assemble and submit my 5 year review packet, which is required of all tenure track professors. Yes, we are still evaluated (and rightly so). That review, of course, signaled that I have been here at Bloomsburg for a decade. What is a decade? When we are 10, it is our entire life. When we hit 20 it signals we are no longer a teenager, which means a lot to some people. The age of 30 is traumatic for some, and that can be the case for either gender. Then there is that 40. We create black balloons, napkins and wonderful sayings like “Over the Hill.” There is the half century mark and then beyond. I think I have noted this before, but the birthday that was not a celebration or hard for me, though I did not know it that day (which is another story), was when I turned 25. No birthday has been quite as difficult. But the idea of decade hit me again, much like the proverbial ton of bricks because it prompted me to look at the last 10 years. I think it has been the decade where I have finally become comfortable and content, for the most part, both with what life has handed me, and there has been a lot, as well as who I am or have become. As I am writing this, I am on a couple of different threads about the importance of respect. One of my college classmates has asserted one of the common clichés about respect being earned. I do believe there is a modicum of truth in that, but there is an element of respect given from the outset when a person has expertise, office, or standing. I agree they must do the appropriate things to maintain (or if you want -earn) it beyond the initial giving. He has gone on to say respect is not necessary. At that point, I believe I must disagree. This actually gets me back to where I was about the person I am. As a rhetorician, both as an academic and as a human being, I believe in the fundamental truth that all communication is based on a thoughtful understanding of audience and then have some sense of purpose. 

When I tell my students I want them to question things, I want them to disagree with me; or when I say you need to use your brains to do more than hold your ears apart, I always follow it up with just do it respectfully. The rhetoric of respect is complicated. Respect at any level of our political system seems about as likely as finding a snow ball in the Mohave Desert. There has always been an adversarial relationship between the Presidency and the press. In fact, an article in the Harvard Law and Policy Review journal contains an article that considers the oppositional relationship. The authors note this is nothing new, but assert that the current administration has taken it to an entirely different level. In their words, “Although the adversarial relationship between the press and the White House is nothing new, there is little doubt that the current rhetoric is re-markable in its harshness and vitriol” (Brown, MacLaren 2018, p. 90). I think what is important here is the basic ideal of mutuality. We need a President, but we also need the press. When there is no press, we lose one of the most important checks and balances that the American public has. While I am not completely bailing out the Fourth Estate here (and Lord knows the 24/7 news cycle has thrown objectivity out the window), what we need to do is understand the reality of the press. First, all news is biased. Someone is paying for it. As a public we need to read (something that has fallen into desuetude), but more importantly, they need to read things that make them uncomfortable, things that make them question. Make yourself listen to opinions the cause you to cringe and question why? We are so fragile or frightened that we might find we are misguided or inaccurate. The struggle between the President and the press is not wrong, what is wrong is the tone. What is wrong is the consequence of the rhetorical strategy taken (at times by either side). Again, turning to Brown and MacLaren, they write, “‘Despite this adversarial tradition, this president’s tone is deeply distressing because of its outright dismissal of a historically core tenet of American democracy: that an “informed public opinion is the most potent of all restraints upon misgovernment.’ President Trump’s construction of the press as an enemy therefore looks less like a continuation of a familiar conflict, thrust into the fore by the internet and social media, and more like an attempt to remove a check on presidential power” (90). I would note that a simple search in the library database for articles concerning respect and the press are plentiful. Some of noted that President Trump seems to be more bashed by the press than previous presidents. While on the surface that might seem true, I am not willing to agree with that until I do some more research. I know the press was pretty brutal to President Clinton during impeachment, and I believe his moral intrepitude created his bashing. His own statement to the press about what he had or had not done would come back to  haunt him, or in fact, impeach him. President George W. Bush certainly got beaten up by the press when his “Mission Accomplished” banner on an aircraft carrier was not quite as accurate as he had hoped. The entire WMD fiasco caused him a gargantuan amount of disdain in the press. President Obama was beat on throughout his terms for a variety of things. What I would note is not of them claimed the press to be the enemy of the people. Fake News is a term, while not coined by President Trump, is most certainly high in his lexicon of single syllable responses. 

So to return to my decade in Bloomsburg, I have created a wonderful life here. I am blessed in spite of continued health related issues. I have a job I love going to daily (and it is pretty much that). I have been afforded the opportunity to travel and meet new people as well as create meaningful international relationships. I have a property that I love coming home to and working on. My home has been the home to a variety of people, everything from a respite when needed to a summer place, from a place of safety to becoming a parent to an international student. I have taken what I learned from Lydia and applied it to my yard and my property. I have been blessed by new friends, colleagues, or acquaintances. There have been some difficult lessons too, but through it all I have learned to step back and think, ponder, and realize what is important. September will be one of the profound birthdays. I will turn 65. At this point, I have lived longer than any of my siblings or half-siblings (I would note that 5 out of 9 have passed away already).Getting back to what I noted earlier, I am not sure what 65 is supposed to feel like, but I feel pretty darn good. As I noted in a Facebook post, I am lighter than I have been in six years, and almost 37 pounds down from my highest weight. I still have a bit to go, but I will make it. Yes, I am halfway through another decade, but I am happy to be here. I am fortunate beyond measure. I know there is a lot of things that are clogging the airwaves about how dire our situation is. Is it serious? I believe it is. Do I think we have a good strategy or cohesive one? Unfortunately, I do not. Does that scare me? Yes, and no. I can only do what I believe is best for me and the people I meet. I will do what I am supposed to do. I will mask, wash, manage my being safe-in-place to the best of my ability, but I refuse to live in fear. I believe we will see this decade as a decade of global responsibility to the other. I hope that is what we do. We are on the earth together, be it across the street, the country, or the half way around the world. If my travels have taught me anything, it is this: we are all human and we hope for a world that will be better than what we were given. I am not sure our actions demonstrate that hope as well as we should. I hope this time will push us to be respectful of the other and of the world (the natural world) and planet we inhabit. Perhaps we all need to think before we get all riled up. 

Thanks as always for reading. 

Michael

 

Published by thewritingprofessor55

I am a professor at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and the director of and Professional and Technical Writing minor, a 24 credit certificate for non-degree seeking people, and now a concentration in Professional Writing and Digital Rhetoric. We work closely to move students into a 4+1 Masters Program with Instructional Technology. I love my work and I am content with what life has handed me. I merely try to make a difference for others by what I share, write, or ponder through my words.

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