So Much Work . . . So Little Time

Melting

Hello from the Fog and Flame

It has been a crazy week.  The power went out on campus and they closed the university that afternoon. The temperatures have been in the mid 90s and it is humid. My air conditioners have been running continuously. In addition, the amount of work facing me right now seems insurmountable. I think I could do a 96 hour grading binge and I might be caught up, at least for the moment.

This morning there are two things on my mind. First, the Fog and Flame is a great place to come and it is a locally owned coffee shop. Last evening, some “probably intoxicated” person punched out one of the windows, creating a problem for the new owners. Now I am certain they have insurance or the building owner does, but why should they be responsible to manage the mess of a drunk, foolish, and probably angry person who does not know how to handle his alcohol. This is where I think “community service until infinity” should be adjudicated. Fortunately for the owners, I guess the person was caught, probably needs some stitches in his hand, and this will cost him some money. I think he should be required to go through an alcohol assessment, be required to do anger management classes (all at his own expense) and then be required to do some community service for the business. Those are my thoughts on breaking out a window at 11:30 at night,

The second has to do with President Obama’s address. While I had read something about President Obama’s speech about the Trayvon Martin case, I actually listened to his address this morning. How can we not be impressed with his measured and careful words? How can we not respect the argument he posited about the context of the case and what it means to wake up each morning in a society that claims equality, but does not honestly practice it? How can we not appreciate the way he noted that, in spite of the tragic events in Florida, we have made progress as a country? I am glad that I voted for such a principled and intelligent man, both times. Now, I know that some of my friends, and even people for whom I have a great deal of respect, will disagree with me, some even stridently. However, I also know that I do not wake up each morning as a black male. I do not know what it feels like to be stared at, judged by, and discounted because I have a different colored skin or because I speak differently.

Within the last month, I was in a public eating establishment in Bloomsburg and I listened to 4 elderly white men lament the president. There is a problem with my previous statement, they were probably not smart enough to use the word “lament” in a sentence and even worse they were racist and bigots. They spoke in a volume loud enough to be heard in most of the eating area and referred to our elected president using both the “F” word and the “N” word numerous times. I was actually stunned, in addition to being offended. I wondered two things: where the hell had I moved, and what year was it? Had I been time-warped into a pre-civil rights era? Unfortunately not . . .  the experience demonstrates quite clearly the relevance and the truth in the President’s address.

Second semester, Julian Bond, the noted civil rights leader, spoke on campus. He spoke both eloquently and forcefully about how far we still need to move to create a truly equal society. I walked out of his address realizing that my own “cozen comfortableness” needed to be reconsidered. It is so easy for me as an older middle-aged white person to believe we have just made progress and there is not that much that needs to be continually questioned. This is certainly not the case.

Well as I must turn to my own grading and writing, those are the things I am considering outside the scope of my daily chores. On another front of my ever-scattered mind, I had the opportunity yesterday to catch up with two of my former students: one who has graduated and the other who has left Bloomsburg. In both cases, I was reminded of just how fortunate I am. I have been so blessed to have such wonderful people cross my path. I have been privileged to meet them and have the opportunity to both teach and learn from them. It is a great job I have.

Thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin (Michael)

‘Houston, We have a Problem”

ImageHello from the Houston Hilton North,

I did not plan to be in Houston this morning, I had planned to be to my destination, although it was a circuitous way to arrive, I had booked the cheapest ticket I could, so I knew I would be in airports for the day. However, when I ended up on the plane that was 17th in line for takeoff from Newark things began to change. So in the words of the Apollo 13 astronaut, which was spoken so clearly by Tom Hanks, this morning I am blogging from Houston. I should finally get to my destination this afternoon. Unfortunately, I will get to do this again on Sunday, but I am hoping their are no traveling SNAFUs then. Otherwise, I will have a Monday nightmare on my hands for many and various reasons.

I was actually in the Houston area many years ago. It was when I was on the LYE team and we had made a north/south cross-country trek in Elmer, the Ford Econoline van. Both John and I ended up sick and we here headed from Birnamwood, WI to Nassau Bay, TX. I think I am relatively close to their now. Then I was 23  . . .  now, a lot older. I think it was a really nice area as I remember and I think we even played for some sort of wine and cheese function (party) of some kind. I think it was a fund raising things for a youth group.

Well, as I sat in my hotel room last evening trying to get organized, I read blogs. What I have learned about many of my students is when they are thoughtful and reflective, they are good writers. I have to ponder that over the weekend. I know they are struggling with this memoir paper and even with the map idea. Yet, when they think reflectively in their blogs some of their writing is very strong. What makes them comfortable in that venue. It is the length? Is it the topic (which they are allowed to choose as long as it is relevant to class)? Is it the repetition of being required to do it daily?

Before I left yesterday, on Wednesday, I spoke with the Interim Director of the Program. There are some concerns about the quality and commitment of a few students. I am somewhat stumped that a few seem to treat this as a six week vacation versus an opportunity to come to the university and have the opportunity to begin their education. Again, is it because they were psychologically under-prepared? Is it because a few merely are not ready for college? Is it because they have been coddled in the public school system (or is my perception of high school merely jaded and that does not happen?)? Or . . . . and I am just not sure why. I do want my students to succeed, but I also believe success is something we initiate; it is not thrust upon us. I do believe there are individuals who can assist out trek to become successful. In fact, I think very few actually do it on their own. However, for it to be lasting, there has to be discipline and consistency. There has to be a desire to reach for that which seems at times unattainable. I have had a few students ask if I knew I was going to be a professor someday. Never in my wildest dreams might I have imagined such a possibility in high school. Perhaps that was the problem. I had no dreams really. I had no idea who I was or where I was going. How do we provide that sense of dreaming in a manner that someone believes his or her dreams are possible? How is that ability and hope instilled in such a way that one merely see that dream as a challenge, and therefore, a reality versus an illusion? Something I guess I need to ponder today. I am hoping that I will always have a sense of dreaming and making those dreams reality, whether it be for me personally or in helping someone else achieve his or hers.

Thanks for reading.

Michael

The Longest Day

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Good late evening (almost midnight),

It has been a very long day. I left the house this morning at 7:00 a.m. and I got home about 11:25. I have taken a shower and now, to try to make sure I am putting in my “blogging time”, I am posting. This evening both sections of my Foundations of College Writing classes meet at 8:30 and we watched Robert Redford’s amazing version of the Norman Maclean’s novella, A River Runs Through It. I am not certainly how many times I have watched that movie now, but it has to be in the 20s or maybe 30s. Somehow this evening I was reminded of the very first time I watched it. I was flying to Miami during Spring Break of 1993, the first year I taught at Suomi College (now Finlandia University) to go on a 4 Day Cruise in the Bahamas. It was the first, and only, cruise I had, or have, ever taken.

More than the cruise, I remember we were reading the novella from Timo Koskinen’s class. I remember writing the final for that class and thinking about when the father was sitting in the woods with his Bible instead  of fishing; that scene along with the lines in the movie about words and I am reminded of the prologue to the Gospel of John: In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. I actually find it more comforting in Greek than English, but WordPress will not let me write it in the Greek script. However, I remember writing it in Timo’s final in Greek and talking about the importance of the word.

It is amazing what we do with words and what words can do. And yet, we have become so cavalier with them. We do not take the time to think of their power nor their importance. As my students work on their memoirs, the words they write and what they offer to their future children will create pictures and connections, stories and identity, reflections and understandings, both for themselves as they write, but also for that future audience, their children.

I was asked by a friend last week if I was every sorry I did not have children. I think that was more likely the case when I was in my thirties and forties, now, it is not really something I consider. I guess I feel like I reach out to enough people to be a surrogate parent that I have fulfilled that need. I am not really sure how much the need was really there. I have to think and ponder that a bit. What I do know is that when I see a family (and I know there are no perfect families) where there seems to be a strong center or nucleus and everyone has value (even if they do not always realize it), I feel the twinge of remorse, wishing I might have experienced that. Then again, I think my propensity to be alone would make having a family with kids and grand-kids something that I might find taxing.

I guess I am not sure and perhaps I do not need to figure it out, particularly now when I am tired and rather fuzzy as far as clear thinking (only because I am tired before you come to some other conclusion). It has been one of the longest days I have had in a long time, but as I look at what is on my plate over the next few days, the next few weeks, the next few months, it is highly probable that I will have some more days like this. Again, in my 20s-40s I seemed much more capable of doing those hours without feeling like I just got drop-kicked so something. It is that business that also keeps me from getting involved with other things. In fact, I believe I need to pull back from somethings even now if I am going to manage. I guess it gets back to the idea of focus and priorities.

I think I will ponder those things some more. In the meanwhile, in less than 8 hours I will be back in class.

So it is  . . . . the longest day. Thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin

 

Working ‘on” the Weekend

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Hello on Saturday afternoon,

We are in the middle of the long holiday weekend and I am quite sure my students think they are the only people in the world required to work ‘on’ the weekend. Well, they are not quite accurate. I have been working a good part of the weekend. I have blogs to read, to comment on, and to grade; I have Credit by Exam (CBE) essays to assess; and I have memoir paper intro papers to consider, and I need to manage some assignment issues for class on Monday. That does not count that I have some of my own writing to do.

Before someone believes I am playing victim, let me assure you that is not the case. I knew that being a professor in an English Department mean working more than a few hours a week. I actually love teaching Foundations class and helping students discover the importance of writing well and helping them move forward on that continuum. Writing is nothing new to them; they actually write quite often, but that writing is to a wide variety of audiences . . . and their purpose for writing is as varied as the audience.

I have spend a lot of time this weekend also reading various articles, which I have posted into the course delivery tool, in hopes that they will find there is a lot of information out there about the world in which they live. One of the best things I have done is take the time to read the news on a daily basis. I am always amazed by people who say it is not worth reading. It is for that very reason we should read. It is so important to understand the world in which we live. It is a complex and rapidly changing society. I do not want to be left behind. It is also important to read things with which we might not agree because it forces us to think and improve our own arguments and positions. When President Obama ran for office the first time, one of the things I most appreciated was when he said (and I am paraphrasing) that he needed to listen to people who disagreed with him.

It is hard to believe that we are only a weekend into the summer session; it seems longer then that for me. I am not sure if that is a good or bad things, but it is a reality, at least at the moment. I am really quite flabbergasted at how quickly everything seems to go . . .  I know logically a minute is still a minute, an hour an hour, and a year a year, but the words of my father are once again ringing in my ears . . . things will move more quickly the older you get. Forty years ago this week I was in my first week of Marine Corps Boot Camp. I do not think I have my boot camp picture on this computer, but I will look for it. Rather frightening what 40 years as done.

As I am sitting here and working, I am listening to the soundtrack from Jersey Boys. Their initial music is from my elementary years. If I were not teaching, I had a chance to go back to an all-school reunion this weekend. That would have been interesting. I have not really been one to go to those things. I did go to a twentieth college reunion about 10 years ago. I did actually enjoy it. What I know is this: time does march on. There is always an option to slow down and let it all pass us by, but I would not be content to do that. Perhaps that is part of the reason I am struggling with some things right now. While there are differences and some things are constant, so many things change and we cannot go back. The allegory of the stream is all too true, but that is for another time.

Well, back to working ‘on’ the weekend . . . thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin (aka: Michael)

Writing While Teaching Writing

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Hello from the corner of the Study;

It is interesting to me, in a disturbing way, that while I teach writing and understand the process well, I seem to struggle with my own writing. When I was in Wisconsin, it seemed that I could get things out for publication on a somewhat regular basis. That has not been the case since I came here to Bloomsburg. Perhaps it is because I have focused on other things, like a program or other things that have ensconced me into the community, but those things, while helpful, are not enough. I need to write; I need to publish. As one of my colleagues stated it:  “I need to get back in dissertation mode.” How true. Perhaps another fear is that I feel the field has passed me by . . .  while going to the Computers and Writing Conference was helpful, it helped me realize there are things I need to catch up on. The role of technology and writing does not, and has not slowed down a bit. In fact, it might be going faster. That is another fear. Do I have anything of relevance to say? I just need to sit down and do it. A colleague for whom I have the utmost respect is willing to help me, and we spoke while sitting and sharing a beer at Frostburg State University. Now I am afraid to send him the things I have written. They are old, Are they outdated, irrelevant? Amazing how the very thing I teach, and love doing so, I am afraid to do.

I read my students comments about getting started and give them strategies to do it and then fail to employ them myself. The other thing I have realized this summer is one of the persons for whom I have the most admiration and of whom I am in awe of because of his ability to compartmentalize and focus, is away from Bloomsburg and I am feeling pretty lonely, and perhaps even frightened.

So . . . what do to . . . perhaps I need to do what I tell my students . . .  sit down and do a bit at a time . . . . write and walk away and then come back. Perhaps I need to believe in myself a bit more, but that has always been more of an issue than most realize. Tonight or certainly tomorrow, I need to get this conference proposal out. Then I need to follow up on a meeting with another potential writing colleague’s thoughts and works and get that out. Perhaps after I get the first one done and off my plate the rest will be, or at least, seem easier.

In the meanwhile, I am going to do some blogging on these topics specifically. Maybe I will get some feedback from others through my hashtags that will create some sort of intellectual synergy and get me on the right track. In the meanwhile, it is summer session and I have 35 students who are looking to me for guidance and assistance . . . . i am on both sides of the blank stare again . . .  does it ever change?

Thanks for reading.

Michael (the one side) and Dr. Martin (the other side)

Summer School

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Good evening from my house on Lightstreet,

Today was the first day of class for the third session of summer school. It is a tough road when one is cramming 14 weeks worth the work into 6. Furthermore, when you have two classes as well as other requirements, it is even more difficult. What I learned as I listened to my students today is a strong desire to succeed, and some idea of what that means. On the other hand this is the need to have strategies for achieving that success. That realization or plan is still up in the air, and not surprisingly.

I remember how much I hoped I would succeed the first time I went to college, but I had little idea of what it required and the amount of work I needed to do to be more than merely another one of the 35,000 students at Iowa State University back then, Of course as I look back I had little idea of why I was there except like many today, it seemed the only way to make something more of my life. So much has changed since then. The pressure and the “supposed need” to complete a college education has never been higher, nor has the cost. What I am not convinced of, is whether the investment into an undergraduate education can be recouped. I think it is dependent on much more than whether you graduate with the appropriate GPA, whether you have the appropriate major, or whether you understand the basic ideal of what it means to be truly educated. I wonder if the being a first generation college student merely ratchets up those concerns. As those who know me best understand, I too was that first generation college student. As I have noted before, while my parents did impress upon me the importance of a higher education, they did not really do much to prepare or support me. I do not say that begrudgingly, but merely  as a statement of fact.

During the next few days, the whirlwind pace of the summer session will begin to become more apparent to the summer students. It will be a bit of a rude awakening, but regardless, it is there. In the next week, they will have a number of things to accomplish, including a number of genres and styles necessary to complete their writing assignments. They will be reading a number of different things. Both posted, as well as things that are in hard copy. There are different topics and different requirements. All of them require the student to think critically about the audience and purpose of that article. Even more they will have to begin to put together a sort of overview of what is being asked in the course.

All in all, the first day barely scratched the surface, but I was happy, at least generally speaking, with what I heard and observed in class today. It is after 10:30 and I have looked through email and such. Rachael and Jennifer, my great-niece and niece, respectively, will be leaving in the morning. It has been wonderful to have them here in my part of the world. The alarm is set for 3:45.

Thanks for reading.

Michael (aka: Dr. Martin)

Half-way Through

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Good Afternoon, 

I am sitting in a new coffee shop in Bloomsburg named “Fog and Flame”. One of my students just teased me saying, “just what you need, another coffee shop.” I guess there is a lot of truth to the statement that I am “a creature of habit”. I actually write the majority of my dissertation in a coffee shop. I have the majority of my office hours in coffee shops, and I guess there is something about being in the midst of things, while being in my own world at the same time. What I am realizing more and more is that I love my alone time. I am quite happy to go home and close the door, and even among all the people here, I am alone. 

It is the 30th of June, which means another year is half gone. It is amazing to me. This was an interesting year in that I graduated from high school 40 years ago, college 30 years ago, seminary 25 years ago, and left Michigan Tech 10 years ago, and I am in my 5th year at Bloomsburg. That is a lot of multiples of five. 

As I look around the room, my mind wanders and I wonder where people are in their lives and what seems important to them. Each face is a story, a narrative, one which has so many layers. Last week as I sat at Caribou (another coffee shop) in St. Paul I wrote some notes about what I saw and overheard. I had met with my longest childhood friend and his wife that afternoon and was waiting to meet a former student and her new husband. I pondered at what point does someone believe that life has passed them by, or does such a thing happen? 

In my notes I wrote (trying to think about the descriptiveness of the moment and something I want my students to manage) a woman in her 20s who seemed to be either studying or reading for pleasure. She was tan and attractive and sat there trying to soak up sun and manage her reading with sunglasses on. Her legs were alarmingly attractive, tan, long and sensuous. There was another group of people who were engrossed in a conversation about family and they seemed unhappy, maybe even angry. Again, I was surprised to find myself looking at the one woman’s legs; she also had amazingly attractive tan legs and the wedge sandals she wore merely accentuated that beauty. Yet, the tone of her voice and the anger in her furled brow made her rather frightening. Then there was me . . . . can I be classified as “late middle-aged” or has that passed me by too. I am graying, perhaps mostly gray, and while I had lost a great deal of weight after surgery last year, I could afford to lose weight again. That needs to be a goal of the summer. 

I pondered the idea of life passing one by  . . .  has it passed Lydia by as she now longer knows or remembers the present or the past? What a sad and terrible thing to observe. As I consider my niece, who is soon to be 40, is that middle age? I think perhaps it is. What about Rachael, who is 16: what does she expect her life will be? What I realize as I listen to my iTunes (The Brothers Johnson and “Strawberry Letter 23) I am reminded of when I was a student at Iowa State University and waiting tables for the new IowaState Chapter of the Alpha Phi sorority. There was a member there, who to this day, I will always think she was gorgeous. Her name was Karen, but to be fair, I will not provide her last name. 

As I realize I am half-way through another calendar year, I am also at the beginning or the end of so many other things, and then again, in some places. I am half-way through. There is so much to do before the end of the summer. I think I will be relegated to lists and checking those lists often. In the meanwhile, today will be spent getting things ready for the beginnings of a new summer session and for some new students, the commencement of a very new time in their lives. They are not in the place where it has passed them by, but rather in the place where they are hoping to not get passed by. It is my duty to try to help them succeed in managing that.

Thanks for reading. 

Michael 

(The Writing Professor)

Time is Flying

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Good Morning from the corner of Starbucks (the second one here on campus),

I had great intentions of writing more systematically for a couple of reasons: first, to merely get me writing, which seems so hard to find the time to do; and second, to have a chance to get thoughts out of my head and on “paper” in some organized fashion. However, the semester has seemed to get away from me. That is not to say that I have not gotten a lot accomplished, but it seems that I am doing what is immediately necessary versus feeling like I am getting ahead of the game. Presently, we are already at midpoint of the semester. That is mind boggling to me. The last time I posted here, we were in the second week of the semester.

There is a certain irony in my posting today, perhaps sort of a parallelism. The last time I posted, my amazing colleague, Dr. Gloria Cohen-Dion, had suddenly, and unexpectedly, passed away. Last night, the university campus here at Bloomsburg held a service to honor her incredible life and the amazing way she served so many people. There were a number of poignant moments, but two come to mind. The first was when Sam, Gloria’s husband, read a note sent from one of their grandchildren to Gloria, when that grand-daughter was at summer camp. The second was actually a couple of stories that Sam shared about how they met and their “decades-long-courtship” as I will term it. . . .

It is hard to believe that I began this post some 4 months ago and never got back to it. What I can say about the posting above it that the void that Gloria left in her department, for Sam, for her friends and surrogate family has been paramount. She was a force and the work she did in so many ways has such significant impact on those who were fortunate enough to have a corner of her existence.

She reminds me of the person that I care for back in Wisconsin. Lydia, like Gloria was both in life and beyond, is an amazing lady. She is in the last stages of a long fight with progressive dementia. I was back in Wisconsin recently and for the first time, she did not know me. The morning that happened I had to walk away so she did not see me cry. I have learned how insidious this disease is. I am astounded even more by what the brain does for us, and we do not realize it.

There were commercials on the radio when I was in the Midwest about the importance of what the brain does in the first five years of our lives. I am so overwhelmed when I think about how what happens so early in our development has such profound consequences. It would be interesting to find out more about that.

Well, that is all I have for the moment. I plan to start writing daily as I did one summer in California. It is a good thing for me to do. I promise the topics might be eclectic, but I am always thinking. The picture is of Lydia from about three years ago, shortly before she was moved. It is sad how much she has changed from then.

Thanks for reading.

Michael

Here Today . . .

gloria    Good Morning,

Some of you have followed previous blogging adventures that I shared on a blogsome site, but I have chosen to begin a new blog; one that is up to date and one that will focus on a number of different topics. Some of my favorite things are (and not necessarily in order of preference or importance) writing and technology, food and wine as well as the pairing of those two things, traveling, particularly on my Harley, politics, and understanding the meaning of life (for a small topic).

What I know is that I love to learn and there is so much yet to discover and understand during the time we are allotted here in this world. I was reminded of that very poignantly yesterday when a colleague of my was stricken while still in the classroom. Unfortunately for those of us left, she passed away, but I would like to believe did not suffer in those last minutes. She was a passionate educator and wonderful colleague. In spite of her small stature (probably under 5 feet tall), she had a commanding, yet gentle presence. She had a brilliant mind and a bigger heart. She reached out to students and colleagues alike. The picture above is of her on her wedding day.

Serving on the university curriculum committee with her, she was strident about the rights of the faculty and the important place students hold in the academy. Whenever I saw her in the hallway or on campus, she greeted me with a smile and a hug. I know that the heels she wore will not be easily filled and the voice and passion she share has left us all better for having known her.

What I know is that there was little warning, or so it seems, that when she sat down in her classroom last evening it would be the last thing she ever did. Yet, how apropos that the very last thing she did was what she loved to do, to teach. I am reminded of the scripture that tells us to “let the days troubles be sufficient for the day”. Indeed, we do not know what the morrow will bring. One of the most important things I have learned is if I have no control over something, I cannot, or at least, should not, waste energy on it. That has been a hard lesson for me to incorporate into my life, but I am learning. It has only taken about half a century.

What I do know is that many of my colleagues are grieving today, and that grief is important for the loss of GCD is a huge blow to the department, the college and the university. What I know is I am a better person for having known her. Bless you my dear colleague and thank you for the hugs and smiles.

Thanks for reading,

Michael