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