Considering Success or Has it Returned?

Hello on an early Friday morning,

It has been a long week . . . starting out with a sinus infection, one of my patented fevers, and deciding to take a day and a half off as sick days, now for the second night in a row, I have managed to sweat through sheets and wake up freezing.  It is reminiscent of three years ago, and that scares me. I need to probably call my doctor and get in for a check up, but I am not sure I want the answers. What if what I suspect has returned? It astonishes me how much more I seem to need sleep than I used to – I am often in bed before 9:30 and while I might wake up, as I am now, I still get back to sleep and I am often sleeping  7-9 hours versus what was a life (at least from my mid 20s until now) of 3-4. What frustrates me is I still have enough work that if I were sleeping the lesser amount, I might be more caught up than I am. Certainly the early week’s unexpected day and a half hiatus from any meaningful work has taken its toll and the coming  weekend will need to be sufferingly sedulous. That is if I hope to make next week any less than unbearable. And it is not my classes, my time spent n class is sort of my personal oasis from the rest of the craziness that permeate any tenure-track or tenured faculty person’s life. Those three areas that make up our professional week have no limits or time constraints. The two outside the classroom sit there in front of you almost taunting you to attempt to thwart their impending time-drain on your daily calendar. They are the service items on your CV, or the extra-mile that so many faculty go to make a difference in a student’s academic or personal existence as they spend their four years (more or less) on campus and in our offices. They include the scholarly work that is both exhilarating and exhausting because you need to shoe-horn it in between all the other requirements.

As I am less than 24 hours from another commemoration of entering this world, I find myself pondering where I am and what seems to be different from even a few short years ago. Certainly, there are many ways or points by which one can make the comparison.  However like the theme of my Google Map, I think the “auguries of loneliness” phrase still fits my life quite aptly. This journey of a sort of melancholy can be examined by a consideration of the number 10. I think I might do a bit of it by each decade . . . from 2 to 62. Just this morning I was noting that hopefully someone would not remember what happened to them at the age of two – something for another blog posting. Amazingly, I do remember something about being two. By the time I was two, I and Kris, my younger sister was less than a year had traveled more extensively than we realized. I had traveled from Texas to California to Nebraska. Now we had been moved in to live my paternal grandparent’s house. It is the house I have in someways tried to model my home now after. That sort of hominess that comes from making what is natural to the home come alive. That house in the Leeds area of Sioux City was the last house on the hill located on Harrison Street, sitting on a small acreage as it was called then. I remember a breakfast of poached eggs, a half grapefruit, and a piece of toast that was toasted from bread made in their bakery. That breakfast is, to this very day comfort food for me, but more importantly, that house was a house where love reigned supreme, or it sure seemed so to me. It was the house where by two, I already attempted to dress myself and make my bed. Where I went down the steps from my bedroom and sat there waiting for everyone else to get up. See that sleep thing began much earlier in life. It was the place where my grandfather sat with me on the back steps showing me that I did not need to be afraid of the great-horned owl who visited us nightly. Looking back, it was a time where I felt safe and loved . . . What more can a two year old want?

By the time I was turning 12, life had changed drastically. After losing my grandfather shortly before my third birthday to cancer, and I remember him being ill, but certainly not understanding he was dying,  Kris and I would be adopted by a couple who were still family. My adopted father, of whom I have written often in this blog, and my grandmother were first cousins. As I noted can in my freshman classes today, explaining how they might approach an element of their Google Map/Memoir assignment, the day I left Leeds and moved to Riverside as an adoopted child was a life-changing event. There is much that has been written on his topic in former blogs also. By the time I was 12, what was evident is I would be one of the smallest and shortest people in my class. What was also painfully evident, though I did not understand it then, was my mother’s forced single-parenting because our father worked in Northern Minnesota 12 hours a day, and 7 days a week, made daily life in Riverside anything but ideal. On the other hand, there were some positive things. I had become one of the best trumpet players in a town of 100,000 people, and I was in both Sioux City Children’s Choir and the Choldren’s Community Theatre. While, I was not feeling really all that safe anymore, I did know that my grandmother was still there and I knew she loved me as much as ever.

By the time I reached 22, there were a number of events I remember that significantly impacted my life. My older brother had died tragically from the consequences of a construction accident. I had graduated from high school, enlisted in the Marine Corps, came home from experiences I never expected to have, did not understand who I was, where I fit, managed to flunk out of college, met the first girl I truly loved, and realized more fully that my adopted mother really didn’t like me. Does that sound disjointed? It should because that was my life. I had no direction; I was frightned and I felt like my life had little purpose. During that year (in fact, less than two weeks after my 22nd birthday) my grandmother passed away. I believe I cried harder that day than I have perhaps ever cried in my life. The one person who loved me unconditionally was gone. I felt a loneliness and fear I had never felt before. I was not even allowed in the house of my best friend because of my own immaturity and inability to handle another situation. It would take forty years to actually figure that all out, and thank God for someone giving me a chance to talk it all through. More about that to come. Again, not that far into my 22nd year, another potential tragedy served as a wake-up call, when a friend and work friend pulled a gun out one night. Suffice it to say, I grabbed the gun and it went off. He would end up in surgery to remove a bullet and I would end up rethinking the direction my life would take. What was missing at this point was that stabilizing force in my life . . . A person who truly loved me.

By the time I reached 32, the cascade of events that would influence where I might end up were so numerous, I could probably write a book about that decade alone. After wandering pretty aimlessly for a time, though some amazing skills were gained even then, I found my way back to college and even graduate school. I would be married and finishing seminary. I found that college actually “fit” so to speak. I loved learning and I loved the intellectual stimulation that courses and lectures created. I found that traveling and languages became a passion. I would end up working a great deal on my German and took Latin and Greek. Greek, after being the bane of my existence the first time I attempted ended up being something I loved and would end up teaching that summer before I was ordained as a pastor in the ELCA. Learning to be married was something I also worked at, but what I think my life would epitomize at this point was I was becoming successful professionally, but personally, not so much. Again, I think the lost of a grandmother even a decade earlier had still caused me more profound loss and sense of security than I had realized.

I feel in some ways like I am giving my typed version of the Zager and Evans song, “In the Year 2525,” for those of you who know that one-hit wonder, you will smile. If you really want to smile, look of the music video of that song on YouTube, the bustled-shirts, the pastel colors, the hair, and the sideburns are worth the look. What a terrible style we found appropriate at that point. By the time I was 42 my adopted mother would pass away. That was a difficult time for me. I would fail in a first marriage and be in a second one. So much can be said, and I have written about some of these things in the past. During the time I was in graduate school at Michigan Tech, my life was a whirlwind of events and health issues. The Crohn’s that I had fought since my late 20s seemed to be winning and the personal world that I had attempted to create with a second wife was crumbling and something that was much more traumatic that I had hoped for. In addition, my adopted father would pass, and if it were not for my schooling, I am not sure I would have survived. Schooling and weekly counseling by an amazing man named Don. I have told more than one person that those weekly sessions were my one hour of sanity. Little did I know what was still to come. I would become a troll as I followed my second wife to Oakland County Michigan and I would end up back in Iowa – back to Michigan – to Texas and back to Michigan, but this time back to the Upper Peninsula. The longing to be loved or feel lovable continued to be a struggle and what I realized in all of this was how much I felt my own inadequacies, and how devastating that was for me both personally and professionally. The words of not being worthy, good enough, smart enough, or whatever enough were my constant companions. I think I also, for the first time realized I would never be a father. That was more of a problem than I anticipated.

By the age of 52 I had achieved something I had never expected as that 17 year old who entered the Marine Corps because he did not know what else to do. I had finished by Ph.D, in Rhetoric and Technical Communication from Michigan Technological University and I held a tenure track position at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. I thought I had finally figured it out. While there were still health issues, I was single in a small Wisconsin town and thought I had finally achieved something. What I did not realize was there was still so much to learn. While I had learned more about church politics that I had ever hoped to know from my time as a parish pastor, I would soon learn that the academy was not really very much different. However, something new, or more precisely someone new entered my life. I gained a surrogate parent and somehow I would become the parent to her before it was all finished. What I have noted in my own piety is that I believe the position at UW-Stout had a dual purpose: first, it got me to Menomonie, WI, which was necessary for the second part yet to be explained; second, it also prepared me for the position I currently have, which is to direct a digital rhetoric and professional writing program, here in Pennsylvania. What I truly believe now is I was provided the position at Stout to meet Elaine and Tom Lacksonen, and by extension, Lydia. It is amazing yet how this little wisp of a person would change my life, yet again. When I talk to people about my life, which I seem somewhat fraught to do, and with more anxiousness than you might believe, they tell me I should be a few hundred years old. Yet, as noted above, I am only to the 50s of my life as I compose this chronological blog. Interestingly, Lydia took over my life; yet this is something I allowed/permitted/unwittingly encouraged. Even after leaving Wisconsin, my life was centered around trips that focused on her care and maintaining a promise made one more at Perkins as she devoured potato pancakes. Again, I have written much about her, so suffice it to say, “my life was Lydia’s life” for the better part of a decade.

Now I am 62 . . .  more changes seem to be on the horizon, but I am not totally sure what they are or how they will manifest themselves, but that is nothing new. I think what is new is they seem more significant, and I am not entirely convinced, if I were to write another decade of what has happened, that it will even occur. For the first time in my life, I think I can honestly say I am tired. I do not have the stamina I once had. I do not have the focus or ability to stay engaged hour after hour as I used to. This is frustrating to me, but is it perhaps my body trying to tell me something I do not want to hear. I am not afraid any longer to consider myself as getting old. This past summer at school, a colleague and I were watching the summer students and parents walk around. I asked in a pondering way, “I wonder what it means with the parents look young to me and the mothers are more attractive than their daughters?” His rather immediate response was “it means you are f-ing old.” Point well taken. This past year, as noted earlier, I had the opportunity to reconnect with that person from 40 years ago. Conversations, both through electronic media and phone ensued and I think it was the best thing that happened to me in a personal realm. It is amazing that we are such different people with so much life since then, but the conversations regarding our care for each other at that time will be held in my heart for the remainder of my days. We have not spoken lately, perhaps because neither have taken the time and life gets busy, but I need to reach out because I am grateful beyond words. All of which brings me to an important reminder or revelation that I need to remember in my own life.

We certainly go through seasons and phases and the relative importance of people changes. I know this, but it is always something with which I struggle. Yet, I do it to others as it is done to me, and I do not mean that it is intentionally done, but it is just the reality of things. One of my former students is living in my house during a five week pharmacy rotation. It has been a joy for that to occur. We have learned much about the other. It is her and I together in the picture above. She looks minimally different. Me . . . . well . . .  The past week has also been one of the times I am reminded of my fragility as someone, who matters beyond any words because of her care for Lydia, has seemed to retreat beyond what I expected. I understand busyness; I understand feeling overwhelmed. I understand rethinking something, but merely stating what needs to be said works better than avoiding. My fragility takes avoidance personally. That is my fault and I will own it. While I continually make progress in managing my fears, somehow they still find me. My newest, or latest more accurately, because it is certainly not new are the fevers that are back. My life is always a balancing act between healthy and less than . . .  but the wire upon which I travel is slender and frayed. I wish that were not the case, but it is. So as I countdown hours to another anniversary of arrival, I know that tomorrow will come and it will go. While there is little to physically show for that advancement, when I look at the 3 score and 2 years I have been here, it has been quite a journey. I am grateful to all who have played a role in making me the person I am at this point. I have been richly blessed and hopefully I have imparted to some significant degree as much for those who have been in my life be they in Wisconsin or California, Montana or Pennsylvania. With all of that, I offer this song. For those who have tried along the way and I was too stubborn or proud to listen, forgive me. I think this perhaps describes me too often. And still I miss her love . . .

As always thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin

 

Realizing the “real” of Reality

Good early morning,

Today was the first day of a new semester, the first day of a new academic year, a day of anticipation, excitement and beginnings. Yet, for others, it was a day of being frightened, of being overwhelmed, of wondering how they might merely survive (e.g. Living in parts of Texas or Houston at the moment having lost everything to the aftermath of Harvey; living in this country as someone impoverished to the point they know not where their next meal will be; or waking up in a country that for many seems to have lost its bearings when your skin or language or faith, or orientation does not fit what the outspoken supporters of someone elected.  or the elected himself, deems “what makes America great”). Yes, I realize that is a rather convoluted sentence, but it seems appropriate because to say that our present national persona is similar is a profound understatement.

If you return to my earlier blogs, there is certainly a sense of trepidation concerning how the presidency of Mr. (and now President) Trump would unfold. Yet, as I told my students about 10 months ago, I spent time in the Marines to make sure the peaceful transition of power from one to the next president would continue. In fact, contrary to what many might think, unless something that is abhorently egregious is proven regarding President Trump’s past actions, and profoundly illegal, I do not believe impeaching him will be in the country’s best interest. I believe such an event would only further exacerbate the tear in the fabric of our nation, which seems more tattered than many of the over-priced, thread-bare, jeans I see on so many students. What stuns me is how polarized we have become as a people, how uncivil we have become in our discourse not only in the national media or in our reporting, but more importantly among ourselves. But more significant than being stunned, I am saddened beyond words.

What is our national reality at the moment? Who are we as a nation? More importantly who is it we aspire to be?  I am not sure that is clear at present. When one wakes up each day to one group of the media encouraging what seems to be division and contempt for “the other,” and another group hellbent on proving every element of our current administration is clueless, the line from Apollo 13, which is certainly apropos for Houston today comes to mind. Please do not take my last statement to be some sort of blanket approval of what seems to be a daily “truth-is-stranger-than-fiction” actions of President Trump because it surely is not. However, those who see me daily, know I have little use for many things he has said or the manner in which he has said them. In fact, the emotion, which I find myself most being willing to admit, is embarrassment, and I do not embarrass easily.  The reality for me is simply this. We have made a profound mistake, and I am not speaking about the fact we have elected someone who seems inclined to throw tantrums, strike back an anything or anyone who disagrees with him, or acts in a manner that a attuned to nothing more than a schoolyard bully; I am referring more importantly to the underlying reality of who we might actually be as country.

This is a conversation that I have had with both my Republican and Demoncratic friends or acquaintances, and yes, it is possible to have both. It is, again, a conversation I have had with my conservative and liberal friends and acquaintances, my Latino/a, my black, my gay or lesbian friends and acquaintances, my immigrant or foreign friends – I think you get the picture. In fact, the other day someone asked me, somewhat pointedly, why am I so comfortable or seem to like people who are not American (and by extension, it seemed) or white? The question did not catch me completely off guard, nor did it seem inappropriate. The tone was, perhaps, a bit more accusatory than I might have liked, but the question is certainly understandable, and for a variety of reasons. I cannot explain them all in a single blog posting, and, therefore, I won’t even try, but suffice it to say that part of it is because an immigrant changed my life. It is, in part, because I have been fortunate to travel, both with students and on my own. It is because I have been blessed to be taught by professors who profoundly influenced my thoughts and ideas about history, culture, and faith. It is because the first person I remember calling a parent, who was my grandmother, loved unconditionally and was a living example of goodness. Again, it is because a former student, technically not even in my class, but one who is more like family pushed me, often beyond my comfort zone to understand my privilege as the older white professional person I am. I pushed back against her categorization at the time, arguing I had earned it, but such a statement is not completely true. Indeed, I have worked hard and accomplished some important things, but I have also been given abundant and underserved help along the way. My reality has been cushioned, insulated, and softened from what it would have been.

The consequences are quite evident in some ways. Yet, it is what I feel compelled to do for others that is, for me, most significant. This past Friday, unexpectedly, I had a conversation with a faculty colleague, one whom I have know tangentially, but because of a former mutual student, more completely than I might have. A chance conversation about something that has weighed on my heart deeply concerning that student became an unexpected focus. The words of my colleague were enlightening. Their ability to help me see somethings I knew more clearly as well as things I had not yet considered has provided me a sense of peace that was lacking. The reality in all of this, which now seems more apparent, is simple. If I give, hoping to receive in return, I am not really giving. There are two lessons here. First, it is not wise to give if you cannot afford to do so; and second, be more selective or thoughtful in one’s giving. Certainly, those to whom I have given felt comfortable enough to ask, and they certainly needed it when they asked. Reality again is I made the choice to do it. That is what I did, not what they did. I alone am accountable for that choice. What they have done since is their choice and their reality. How they have moved forward and how they understand that choice and their response to me now is also theirs. I need to let it go, regardless.

Another reality that has become profoundly real from all of this is we are flawed. As humans we are exceedingly selfish and self-centered. I remember a book I once used for a Major  Religions class. It was called The Compassionate Beast. The claim of the book was, as humans, we are incapable of being altruistic. We might claim our compassionate tendencies, but we are more likely the beast. It seems that is the reality of our nation at the moment. No longer do we light a torch for the “tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” as was done for our own ancestors be it a generation or five before. It seems we are much more willing to push the tired, the poor, and those who are huddled somewhere else. Before you believe I have no appreciation for immigration laws, that is not the case, but as with many other things the laws we enforce and the reality of the world in which we live seem to be from two different continuums or time warps. There is so much more to this question than merely a wall or a border crossing. There is so much more than simply a person who has tried to offer an opportunity for thblogs, Worde family. I think what boggles my mind, beyond anything I have every known, is that it seems our President has no compassion for anyone. If you can help him you will get some sense of importance, but that too is only there as long as you seem to be able to give him something. He has little sense of loyalty. If you anger him, he will publicly tweet you into exile, or you wish you were. While he speaks regularly about how important people are, it seems that the way in which he dismisses people or changes course demonstrates something very different. There are all sort of things being said; there are daily polls, prognostications, and pundits. They do not matter. What matters is something I spoke of in a recent blog and it is the power of language. What someone says matters and when that person has enormous power, what they say matters even more. When they have enormous power, how they say something also matters. I speak to my students all the time about the significance of words and audience. The more complex the audience, the more carefully things need to be measured. There seems to be a lack in this for our President. That is more than embarrassing or frustrating. It is not really something that is positive when the average person says well “see, I can relate to him or he relates to me.” Speech is power and to speak poorly is to give up power. I know some will argue this and so be it. I am not sure our President relates to the everyday person, in spite of anything he says. That is the reality that I am afraid is going to hit people much harder than they will ever see coming.

We are about one week into classes and I have not gotten this posted, but plan to do it before I leave my office. My new students are beginning their own blogs and with any writing comes some fear, especially when it is public. One of the best things the blog has done for me is force me to see beyond myself. The last three and a half years of blogging regularly has prepared me to be a better person, a better professor, and a better and more thoughtful citizen. I am grateful to all of you who are following me. The picture above is what I looked like when I first began teaching at the college level. A bit larger and grayer now, but I think also a much better professor. Thanks as always for reading and I hope you can, as my former colleague reminded us so often . . . hug the ones you love.

Dr. Martin

From where does it all come?

Hello from a quiet office and empty building early in the morning,

I have been in my office working on some needed things since about 2:30 and it is almost 6:00 a.m. Amazing what I can get done when no one is around. I remember when I used to go to my study when I lived in Laurium, MI and work on things for my graduate classes. I often spent a good part of the night studying and working. I miss that study room actually. I got a lot of work done there and perhaps some of the most productive times in my academic life were in that house on Woodland Avenue. It seems that life was a lifetime ago, but some of the important lessons I learned there have remained. Hard work is essential if you are to be successful. The things my father offered as handy facts have shown themselves to be more profound than I could have ever realized.

So . . . a different day and a different location, a bit south of Pennsylvania. For the fourth time, I am back in the Dominican Republic. I have been here once a year for the last four years. It’s time I’ve learned more things about the amazing people call Dominicans and their island. What I have found this time is somewhat disheartening. I suspected this to be the case, but now I have some actual numbers. All the smiley people, who work so very hard to make a dream vacation in reality, work both virtually and almost literally for nothing. This is not for the people they do it for, but rather how much they are paid for  working often 12 hours a day. This time I’m not as awed by everything as I was my first time here. Please,  don’t give me wrong; for the person looking for the ultimate vacation, I do not think you can beat it. Even when minor things pop up,  and they always will because there is no such thing as perfection, but every single person I’ve asked for help has bent over backwards to accommodate me. Or little dose of reality on this trip, seems to be a door to our sweet that hates key cards. I know to leave them away from the phone, but I’ve gone through five of them in two days. Now they just shake their head and I just look like an old white guy.

As I work on this blog is Saturday, but I only know that because I booked the calendar. In someways every day here is the same. I get up, eat breakfast, take a walk along the beach, go to the Tower, where Wi-Fi is the best, manage my other life, and figure out what I must actually do, which isn’t that much, and go through my day. The things I hear the most are: Buenos días, ¿como está? which in Dominican Spanish has no “s” gracia mi amigo y excelente.  ¿Si no dices muy bien a su ¿como está? Puedo garantizarle que quieren arreglarlo. It really is living in a dream for a week, or a long weekend. What is evident because they continue to build and add options. It seems my retirement will  be working with a travel company. I really do want to create options for people who think they could never do such a thing, to make dreams come true, and memories that will be a highlight.

What amazes me is why am down here both enjoying and working, for checking the news the craziness that is an administration, seems like a never ending merry-go-round and I’m not sure job security is an oxymoron. A number of people,  for whom I have great respect, voted differently than I did, many claiming that the fact he was not a politician was a good thing. From my perspective, it seems our President wants to run the White House like a reality TV show, or as his company where he is the boss. It seems, thus far, that hasn’t worked so well.  And I don’t care if it is the alt right or the alt left, something carriedto the extreme generally doesn’t work too well. But when extreme is usually created as an response to the other. One of the many things that has surprised me about living in Pennsylvania is the number of confederate flags, a more above the radar actual appearances of people wearing KKK regalia, and an over racism I never saw growing up in Iowa. Of course, Iowa now has Steve King as a representative, which is beyond gauling to me. Even though I was long gone from there long before he ever came to office, I find it embarrassing. The amount of hatred, intolerance, and prejudice is beyond anything I have ever witnessed in my life. As noted by others, hate is learned; it is not inherent. Why are we so afraid of “the other?” More often than not what I have one from the other is to learn more about myself. When I learn more about myself, I realize more oh and thoughtfully about my strengths and weaknesses. To me this is always positive. Sometimes painful, but if that’s the case, it. probably things to happen. All in all this latest trip to the Dominican Republic has helped me realize the many privileges I have, but also the responsibility I have for the other.

Being an American does mean something to me. It also means that I have a responsibility to care for those who are less fortunate than I am . . . it is both a faith thing and a patriotic thing for me. With that in mind, I share a song from the group who still amazes me by the complexity of their music, albeit 40 years ago (in spite of the note it is 35 year ago, this video is 5 years old . . . indeed I am not a math major, but . . . )

Thanks for reading,

Michael

The Power of Words

Hello on the last day of my Summer Session,

My students are packing, considering their last six weeks and what they have learned, wondering what the fall holds for them. Some did their work well and some where capable of more, but didn’t manage as they could, some worked incredibly hard with a deficit from the outset, but there is always the entire gamut. What is most amazing to me is that within a few weeks of graduating from high school, these young people, many  of them still 17 are required to act in a manner that is beyond anything they have done, but with more significant consequences than they can even fathom. Then there is the entirely other issue that they are required to manage two classes, which are 15 week semester courses in the matter of 6 weeks. That is a tall order for most students, let alone a summer student who has been often been the recipient of what I call the  “merely-turn-it-in, be-a polite-student, fix-the-errors, and come-to-class” high school experience. When they see the syllabus and hear what is required, most think I am ridiculous in my expectations. Yet, it is amazing when they push themselves what they can actually do. The second lesson is realizing I will not give them a heads up every day telling them what to do nor will I accept late things without a penalty, if at all. It was a sort of six week academic boot camp, and unfortunately for some of theme having an ex-Marine as their professor made it that much more real.

During the past year, the conversation in many of my classes has focused on the power of language. That should not be surprising to anyone who has read my blog or to anyone who knows about my academic interests. I am fascinated by words, all of them, any of them, but also how they work in terms of how they affect audience(s) or how they work when it comes to creating ethos or identity. I once wrote, we use and study language to make sense of both ourselves and our world. It is both profoundly simple and amazingly complex. How do the words we use help us make sense of the world in which we live, and more importantly what is necessary for someone’s words to have a particular puissance. Sometimes it is merely the eloquence of their prose; sometimes it is the context in which the utterance occurs; and sometimes it is the consequence of their station or appointment. I often note that there are places I will not frequent in the town in which I live because nothing positive would come from my going in that establishment (e.g. a student bar or hangout, either of the two local strip clubs . . . and I can probably come up with others). My rationale is not only that nothing positive would happen, but it is because it matters not whether I am in my office at school or in town, I am still the professor. If I were ever to be arrested, the local Press Enterprise headline would not read “Bloomsburg Man Arrested,” it would say “Bloomsburg Man Arrested.” And it would run like some bawdy celebrity rag doing its best to make sure I looked as badly as possible. The point is simple; being a professor is not what I do, it is who I am. It never goes away . . . much to the chagrin of many of my students (and friends). There are parts of us who are basic to who we are. It might be called personality, propensities, consequence of experiences, or . . .  you fill in the blank, but we are certainly complex. I often tell my students I was both a pastor and a Marine and they can decide which part of me they would prefer. This morning I was having coffee with a colleague, and as he often does, he merely rolled his eyes and says, “Dr. Martin . . .” I respond as I often do . . .  I can only be who I am. Certainly my summer students know this all to well, as do some of my former students. As I often tell them when I attempt to describe my own self. I have reduced it to three words, or two specific characteristics. I am genuine and I work hard. I certainly am not perfect, and, in fact, I am a rather flawed human being. I am much more shy than many believe. I am much more fragile than I often reveal. I feel less capable that is often apparent, but, indeed, each of the three previous statements are more accurate of this aging curmudgeon than 90% of those who believe they know me would realize. However, I digress.

The power of words seems to continually raise its head. While I will not blame everything on the current administration, I do believe his (perhaps) off-the-cuff remarks or tweets are much more significant than some one to believe. One of the difficulties of being in a position of power, be it the professor or the president, depending on the person’s previous experience can be more of a sequela than one might expect. I know that I forget this at times, and that can be damaging to a student in my class. Unfortunately, at least from my perspective, I am not sure our President knows there is such a possibility and perhaps more egregiously does not seem to care. Concomitantly, we have the current escalation of a rhetoric of violence, be it concerning North Korea and Charlottesville. What do we say to a first semester student who did not live through selective service and has no idea of what would happen, as do any of us, should North Korea actually first something that has a nuclear warhead. China this week said if North Korea starts something they would be neutral . . . there is no neutrality in a nuclear war. One the other hand, they said if the United States starts something, they would defend the North Koreans. Fire and fury . . . which seems to be another plagiarism from Harry Truman, or any of the ramped-up comments of this past week have consequence, and more than merely a sort of tit for tat between a dictator and the surprisingly-elected most powerful person in the world. This is more than playing “my father can beat up your father.”  sort of school yard game. The consequence (seems there are a lot of consequences here) of hateful speech, regardless of who says it, or discriminatory doctrine, which does seem to characterize the current administration, is coming to roost in many and various ways. How does a 20 year old find it even humanly possible to believe running down people with a car has any sense of appropriateness? What do his parents think? What was he taught or how was life modeled for him? These are the questions that come to mind for me. I know people who live or lived in Charlottesville. I can guarantee, this is not what they want to be known for.

I remember being in Richmond last year and driving down Monument Road . . . I am not sure if that is the actual name of the road or it is just called that. The statues or monuments are amazing. Again, this morning in that same conversation previously mentioned, we spoke specifically about the commission that is in place there to consider what to do with all of that statuary. Richmond was the capitol of the Confederacy. The Civil War and all it stands for is part of our history. Words like slavery, mistreatment, racism, bigotry, hate, underground railroad, Stars and Bars, emancipation, or abolition are all part of that history. Each of these words mean something different, depending on one’s experience and perspective. We cannot sweep them away . . . we cannot pretend that what the founders of this country did when they themselves owned slaves did not have consequence. Where is the line between historiography and hate? I am not sure I always know. I do know that history like language is fluid. History is generally recorded by the victors. Words have power, but like anything that transverses generations, the understanding of that event or word is certainly affected by context. I noted for someone yesterday that while I was taught in early elementary school that using that certain N-word was never appropriate, I can say with more certainly than I wish that the father who adopted me, and for whom I have amazing respect, was much more bigoted than I would care to admit. On the other hand, he was much more left leaning in some things than I am . . . seems like an oxymoron, and that is not the only place we would demonstrate that complexity than some might realize. While I think he might argue I am a Republican because of some of my conservative leanings or practices, I am more liberal than he was on many social issues.

While I am all for being lawful and appropriate, I am also all about being thoughtful and attempting to understand the complexity of a situation. Those who know me well know I am a pondering person; I am a questioner. My Dean, who is so understanding and willing to listen sometimes just shakes his head at me. I am sure I give him more gray hair at times. I am the person who thinks outside the box and wonders. While I certainly do not deserve to be compared to this person, I am reminded of one of the most amazing rhetorical pieces of all times (this is the short clip; YouTube the complete address if you want, it is worth the 10 minutes it will take to listen to it). If I can come anywhere close to this in my own little corner of the world, I will know I have accomplished something. As I close my ramblings of the day, I have a simple request. Can we please listen before responding? Can we try to imagine the other’s situation before we discount their ideas, concerns, or hopes? Can we respect “the other” first, regardless of what they have done, rather than see them as the enemy? These are some of my thoughts as I am waiting for BOLT, our course delivery tool to come back on line. Thanks as always for reading.

 

I wish you all a thoughtful and blessed day.

Dr. Martin

 

 

Half Way Through or . . .

Hello from my office,

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin

Full Circle

Hello from Caribou,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

As always, thank you for reading,

Dr. Martin

Erasing my Work

Good Friday morning from my office,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Martin