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,


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 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

A Mid-Summer’s Night in a Dream

Hello on an early Wednesday  morning,

It has been some time since I posted, and if you know me that means that I need to get some order to my life. It could also be that I am trying to do too much. Someone who has known me 2/3 of my life, albeit from a distance most of it, knows me when I was just home from the service. The four decades that have passed allowed for many changes, but a re-emergence provides an interesting view.  What  had happened is a certain level of honesty, revealing the frailties of  the other, that sort of fill in the picture in a more unfinished, but rarely truthful form. There is an interesting freedom in that because there seems little to lose and so much more to gain. It involves taking a chance. It requires a level of trust for me that is a bit uncommon, but still possible. And yes, the very fact it is possible is an important realization. It has been a good thing to share and listen to the other. It has been also positive to reconnect with someone who had such a profound influence on a young, naïve, and searching young man. Over the past month so much has happened. I was back in Menomonie for Dan’s celebration of life, and it was a celebration. His ability to teach us even to the last moment was so quintessentially him.

The time in Menomonie was good. The Lacksonens are such a gift to my life and their honesty, graciousness and care have had more influence on me than they probably know. It was also good to spend time with Amy, Charles, and Simon. They too are like a lost family that I never knew I had, but was fortunate enough to be allowed into their lives. I always marvel at the ways our paths had crossed, but we did not know each other. Again, it has allowed for a connection that is far beyond some superficial creation. I also got to spend time with a couple of other people who are so important to the memories I have of that Wisconsin town that did so much to change my life. I am still being affected by those changes. However, it reminds me clearly that there is so little over which we have control and there are always external factors that come into play when we least expect it. To spend time with Lydia’s doctor and to consider him much more than merely her physician is quite another unexpected and certainly undeserved gift. I did get most of what I needed to accomplish done and before I knew it I was back in PA, but it was already June. That month has flown by, but I have continued to have doctors’ appointment and work pretty intentionally at managing my health. During the first week of June I was able to get a number of other things accomplished and get some semblance of order to things. There have been home projects, some car issues, and then trying to get some writing done. I have made progress on all fronts. There have been more times than I could have realized that I seem to make a couple steps forward to only seem to fall back a step, but I seem to have lessened my propensity for doing that.

The second week of June I got some work done on my Fulbright application, but there is still work to do. That is going to have to happen this next week and it has to be a priority. During the third week of June, I managed to drive down to Cape Charles, VA and spend a few days at the shore. I am fortunate enough to have a colleague who has a house there and is gracious enough to allow me the opportunity to hang out. This time, there was also work involved as we are working on an article together (something that has been in the works for years), but we are almost there with a draft. That has been good. I have a second project just about done, but again discipline and getting it completed. It will not take that much time if I just focus. Then in the midst of all of this, there was the change to move to an office with a bigger window, so I took that task on also. I got the great majority of that accomplished in about 36 hours, but need to finish the rest this weekend. There are a couple of things on my plate yet this evening, and some of it has come a bit unexpectedly, but that is how life usually is. What I am realizing once again is how blessed I am to have the life I do. I have a wonderful job and an amazing department. There are certainly differing personalities and there are what I refer to as spirited discussions at meetings, but with minimal exception, we walk away from those differences and maintain an outstanding sense of camaraderie through it all. There are certainly moments that some make that difficult, but that is humanity at its finest (or something). It is interesting what social networking does, and certainly there is a lot out there written about all of this. For me, FB, Instagram, Twitter, and other things (but the three listed are what I  use most), keep me connected with both the past, but offer possibilities for the future. During the last year much has been written about how our political situation has caused a lot of disunity and there have been significant pieces written on how all of this has caused splits in families and such. One of the people I most appreciate let me know they had quit following me because of some of what I had posted. I guess if I think carefully and analytically, I should not be surprised because some of what I have posted has been a bit edgy.

Somehow another week has passed and I am not done with this posting and the Midsummer Night (or the summer solstice) has come and gone. Indeed, the days are already growing shorter. Not that I am quite aware of it. I am not sure if I notice that it is getting light later or it is getting dark sooner. I think it is the latter, but I still miss the summer nights in the Upper Peninsula. It is one of those important realizations again. Everywhere I have ever lived has given me something that has made me a better and more well-rounded person. There is no place that does not offer something of value. Too often we merely take that space (and the people) for granted or as just merely what is, but we miss out on so much by doing so. When I left Pennsylvania in 1992, I never expected that I would return to the state. I was a Midwestern boy. Now it is the state in which I have lived the longest since I was a child. I am beginning a 9th year at Bloomsburg and it is the longest I have been at one job also. I have certainly been the itinerant, but somehow this place changed that. I must give my friends the Deckers a great deal of credit for that. They made me feel welcome and made me family from the beginning. I have watched them change so much since I came to Bloomsburg. Second, I am grateful to that Friday Afternoon Club as I call them. I was introduced to a group of colleagues with whom I am still connected. In fact, I was with some of them last evening. While there has been some metamorphosis in the group, that is normal and people come and go. I think that is the most fundamental truth in our lives. People move in and out of our lives, and sometimes that change is needed; even when it is a painful change. One of my frailties is I try to hold on to everyone, and through that I leave myself vulnerable to hurt. Even when I have let someone or something go, I always feel the loss. While I am not trying to list everyone or everywhere that has significance, certainly my educational experiences have been important. All of them. There are people from each place, but it is somewhat ironic to me that this is the place I probably have less connection than many other parts of my life. I need to ponder that more, but not at this moment. The role of my Dominican family cannot be understated either. It is amazing that it was 4 years ago yesterday that Jordan showed up in my class that first day. Little did I know what that would begin. I can certainly write an entire blog about the 5 of them and how much they have changed my life. Their willingness to make me part of their family is another gift. There is my first host family when I was a 23 year old traveling on an LYE team. They are still in my life and have become more important to me than I could have ever hoped or realized.

If I can single out one person who has most influenced me as I ponder, it would be my undergraduate advisor, Dr. John W. Nielsen, who recently turned 92 years old. He took me to Europe as a sophomore in college. I had not an inkling how much that 30+ days would fundamentally change my perception of the world and of what it meant to be educated and learn. He is the one who taught be to actually learn. Up until them, I did what all too many do . . . . memorize/regurgitate, and I could do it well when I put my mind to it, but there is so much more to becoming an educated person. I hope I can somehow emulate for my students what he did for me. His inquisitive mind, his keen ability to make you want to learn, his willingness to share his experiences, and his desire to do what he did because it was the right thing to do set a standard that few are able to match, and perhaps even fewer would understand. Things he taught me as both a Humanities major and as a student/citizen have shaped much of what I believe should happen even now whether I be in a typical classroom, online in the classroom, or in Poland (and other places in Europe). I was blessed to have the opportunity to visit with him a little over a year ago and his mind was as sharp as ever. It was an outstanding opportunity to be in his presence once again. I have received notes from past students and it is both gratifying and humbling when they offer some praise for whatever occurred in the class they attended. It is for me another type of calling, not all that different from that ordination that occurred almost 30 years ago. Where does all that time go?

There is a lot more I could write, but I think I would feel like I am babbling . . .  what I am noting is that much like Puck in Shakespeare’s amazing play, sometimes we are visited by things and I share Neil’s recitation from A  Midsummer Night’s Dream scene in Dead Poets Society. I offer these words:

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
If you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.

Sometimes we need to return to our beginnings. Sometimes it is when people from our beginnings come back into our life that we realize how it fits together. I leave you with one of my favorite songs by the great lyricist and musician, Kenny Loggins . . .  indeed, it is hard to explain how some things follow us throughout all our lives.



Good afternoon to you all and thank you for reading. I am blessed by the part each of you have played in my life. Bless you.