Learning Begins Again

Hello from my corner of the office,

It always seems to be the case that when I believe, or begin to believe, I have in some shape or fashion figured out what my life is about, the fastball of fate whizzes by my ear. Not only did I miss it, I am not sure I saw it to begin with. The only reason I really know it happened is that I hear the snap of the ball in the catcher’s mitt and realize holy crap something just happened. I think life is much more often like that versus you see it all clearly coming down that 60′ 6″ in slow motion so you can knock it out of the park.

In the summer of 1968, I was going into eighth grade and I weighed all of 75 pounds soaking wet, and holding rocks. While my older brother was heading into his senior year of high school, I do not think he had thought about issues of the draft, the military, or the consequence of not going to college quite yet. He was busy being a high school student and had a girlfriend named Darlene, and she and her family went to our church. Ironically, and as an aside, I actually went out with her younger sister, Janice, once at about the same time (or age). Northwest Iowa was not a particularly diverse area, nor did it seem that particularly political during this monumental summer. Yet, on the other hand, the entire country was much more political than a soon-to-be eighth grader understood, and because college was not yet on my radar, I paid little attention to college campuses.

Some research showed that Ames was more public in their show of shock in Rev. King’s brutal killing versus Iowa City, which actually surprises me. For those of you who are not familiar with the Hawkeye state, or know of it now because of people like Representative Steve King, Johnson County, the home of the U of I, is probably 80% Democrat. On the other hand, ISU, fondly known at one time as Tractor Tech, is a bit more conservative. Ames had multiple demonstrations on that Friday, fifty years ago. What I remember is sitting in our living room of our house, in our very white, middle-class, blue-collar neighborhood. I am not sure I had ever spoken to a black person in my life at that point. The only thing I really understood about race was I should and would never use the N word. My parents were adamant that such language was strictly forbidden. I am not sure I even knew why, but I knew the consequence of such an utterance would be quite swift and it would be extreme. So on that Thursday night as Walter Cronkite announced the killing of Dr. King, and coverage began to show almost immediately the rioting in cities like Kansas City and Chicago, neither that far away or unknown to me, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., my parents did speak to us about the issues of race and safety. I do not remember much of their lecture, with the exception of being careful and being respectful. I have forgotten that we were headed into Holy Week at that time. I am sure the parallels of being a martyr for the poor and downtrodden were made (and appropriately so). At twelve I did not understand the significance of Dr. King’s place in society or what his role in civil rights was. I think there was a parallel between Dr. King for a 12 year old, white, Iowa boy and the significance in 2008, of President Obama’s election for the same basic 12 year year old, white, Iowa, boy. In both cases, I remain quite convinced the loss of one and the elevation of the other was much more profound for a 12 year old black child even with the differences in communication and coverage.

In the weeks since I wrote this first section, it seems there continues to be those moments, specific instances of memory about the significance of dates. On the 11th, my Uncle Clare would have had a 122nd birthday. My adopted father would have turned 103 yesterday. While 103 does not seem that old, 122 does. That 122 spans three centuries. Almost daily my students remind me of how small the time period they understand really is. My uncle actually served in the First World War. I think he did not seem that old because we grew up just down the block and he was always part of our Sunday gatherings. His address was 2213 and ours was 2354 and on the same street. The walk to his place was a regular event. While he had a curmudgeonly personality, he also had a good heart. He possessed a colorful vocabulary that grew more prominently distinctive as he covered the septuagenarian and octogenarian years of his life, and location created no barrier for his very earthy outbursts. When 1968 came along. He was in his 70s and had been a widower for almost a decade. I made the inquisitive 14 year old mistake of once asking him if he was dating a person he had gone to lunch with a few times. Beyond calling me a “little son-of-a-bitch,” the rest of his answer would probably require a parental warning for this blog post. It would be restricted or over 18. The last time I saw him alive in the nursing home, he had injured his hand when he punched his roommate, and he was mighty proud of that. However, he was a genuinely grateful person when people helped him. I think what most astounds me is that in the almost century and a quarter from birth until death, the profound extent or degree of change, which had occurred beyond what most might deem even fathomable. From technology on the large scale to individual realizations about the change in our social fabric, the sort of seismic scale of difference in that time period is beyond the solitary person’s ability to process. I ponder how anyone can realize the magnitude of changes one experiences in a lifetime and simply, as a general rule, I do not believe we are capable of doing it. Moving to the second of the April family birthdays, what amazes me most about my adoptive father is how much we are alike, in spite of the fact that he was not my biological parent. When people tell me I was like him, I am honored and humbled. He was a good person, a caring person, and a person who worked hard and tried to make the lives of those around him better. He was giving and thoughtful. In spite of all, I know he was not perfect. I think he believed if you worked hard and “kept your nose clean,” as he called it, things would work out. I am not much different in my outlook. What I find most important it that he accepted people; he certainly did not always understand them, and he was most definitely a product of his time. There are ways I am sure he would be shaking his head at where we are societally. He was much more conservative than I am socially and I am more conservative than he was fiscally. It is an interesting juxtaposition.

As I noted at the outset, my head is most bobbled when I think I have things figured out, but find out perhaps not. Something happens to change my perspective of get my attention once again. There are two things in particular that have happened. The first I will address, though this does not mean I believe it to be the most important, is health things once again. After a bit of regular calling and trying, I was able to get into the dermatologist. I went in for a mole that was growing and on my back, and whose placement was annoying when I tried to lay down. It seemed reasonable because of the changes to get it removed. Well, interestingly enough, while the mole was removed, it was not all that problematic. However, while examining my back, the doctor decided some other areas were suspicious. So some lidocaine shots later and the removal of 5 areas of medical concern (three on my back, one on my collarbone area, and a small one on my forehead), and some serious subsequent holes where the removal was done, I have the heard back on the pathology of the problematic places. They are all cancerous and one of the areas on my back and the one on my forehead will require some additional work. The forehead area will require MOHS surgery, which I have previously done. The area on my back will be more invasive and done at a separate time. The issue with the back area is that I was informed that cancer is quite aggressive and they will probably have to cut an area and then it will require suturing to complete. That is the one that most concerns me. I have actually just spoken with the scheduling people and I am scheduled for both procedures on June 20th. I have to go back for some other follow up before that. While there is a side of me that is able to say, “just take care of it.” There is another side that says enough is enough. In the big picture, however, I know that once again, I am fortunate.

The second thing that has sort of boggled my mind is how life continues to provide opportunities for me to better understand myself and to imagine possibilities that seem to be outside what I had planned or what I believed could happen. One of my former students from UW-Stout, one who has been part of my life since the first day I began teaching there, once asked me why my life had transpired the way it had. I told her it was because I had more pressing things on my plate that needed attention than what I wanted or what I believed necessary. In her typical way, she did not allow me off the hook quite that easily and told me rather emphatically what she thought. It would be interesting to listen to her if I told her what was happening in my life at the moment. What is happening you ask? The most truthful answer is: I am not sure what is happening, but I am merely living it each day and blessed by what happens. It is not often that you find a thinker who thinks in the same manner, appreciates many of the same things, and is about process, which I am all about. That sort of work and conversation and helped me to consider writing and publishing in ways I have seldom imagined or been motivated to do. That is an exciting possibility. There is the same rather unique sense of humor and the ability to laugh both at myself and some of the things that seemed mundane, but also humorous to me. As I go through my days I am blessed by thoughts, hypotheticals, theoreticals, and actuals. It is so astounding that in spite of whatever happens, I know that I have a better, a more blessed, life. Conversations, texts, and late night phone calls have revealed more about myself than I could have ever anticipated.

As we head into the final weeks of the semester, there is always more to do than there is time, but it gets done somehow. I am excited to finish up the semester and see what the summer brings. I have had a couple things added to the schedule that I could just as well do without, but sometimes we have no choices in all of that. There is yet another hurdle to jump in terms of health, but I do not see this one as insurmountable. Then again, nothing is really insurmountable. Part of that is because I do not really see death as an enemy. I do not say that in an attempt to be morbid, but rather merely to say I am not afraid. At least, I have not been up to this point, and there seems to be no reason to change that position now. That is a topic for another blog. As I finish the year, and this blog, life is good and I am feeling loved and blessed. One cannot ask for much more. Somehow, this video, and the original Imagine Dragons’ video of this is outrageous, but I decided this video was what I wanted to post today.

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Managing it all; Understanding what really matters

50 foot woman

Dear Self . . . (Without the selfie),

It is time to get organized for the remainder of your existence. That is what it seems you need to hear. Being over-extended, struggling to focus, and consequently, feeling overwhelmed will not work long-term. It seems you are barely getting done what is necessary for the day let alone for the remainder of the week, the remainder of the month, and certainly not managing the semester at this point. It seems needing to sleep more and again, consequently, somehow not getting as much accomplished is what you have been reduced to being. There was the caring admonishment that if you were sleeping more you are actually helping yourself. You can imagine that is probably true, but you did not always need that amount of rest.

This weekend began with a wonderful little Friday’s soirée where a number of colleagues gathered in your honor. You have been so blessed to have such amazing colleagues and friends.  Today it is off to a birthday part for a little man 1/20 my age. Say what?? Yes, three versus sixty. That ratio stunned me and when thinking about the numeric differential,  you were stunned. For the most part, this past couple weeks your mantra has been, “How did this happen?” It seems the unpredictability of our futures has been something I have found myself pondering. It appears that you are always surprised by what might have been expected and the reality of what actually occurs. In a recent blog you noted that my life has not turned out as “planned.” The more important thing you have come to realize is you did not really have a plan when you were getting out of high school; in fact you were rather clueless(there are moments you still question that.).

The fact that you have worked for more than two weeks to get this blog done, much like your students. Hitting that block, so much that you actually started a new posting and it is up for view. As you know, the teaching of writing is often paradoxical or certainly autobiographic experientially. The very things you are teaching, you are learning, or more likely reminded. You  need to practice what you preach to your student. Indeed, you should never just finish a paragraph and leave it there. Perhaps it is old age, perhaps it is merely as you have noted many times. If you do not continue that train of thought you will lose it; if you are going to be honestly introspective at this point, it is probably a combination of the two. Today grading and pondering, some of that pondering related directly to the title. It is likely that the probable use this title again and again is just reality. As you are in your office (known by some as your living room and others as the museum), you are working on a myriad of things, but you need a break, so you write. It is amazing how this writing can calm your mind, your soul, perhaps lower your blood pressure and other positive imports. As you are typing, listening to “Heat of the Moment” by Asia on Pandora, you find your mind drifting back to your time in Iowa City as a junior honors student at the University of Iowa. Now you have an amazing great-niece there, which reminds you to ask her about the honors program. Working almost full time and going to honors classes, you learned so much when you were there that semester. It has caused you to think about someone you first met in Ames at Iowa State University, but then again in Iowa City. She was an amazing person and someone you still wonder about. There were other learning moments. Working at University Hospitals was an eye-opening experience. So much to learn even now. Every time you begin to consider that you have figured something out, you realize there is more . . .  every time you learn something you learn something you do not know . . . . are you feeling like you are working backwards . . . that is something understandable.

It is perplexing, maybe even more accurately that there is a certain being flummoxed by the fact that the idea of “what next” is constantly a companion . . . . A few nights ago, after stopping by my colleague’s house to drop something off and the reality of how much some things can change was so apparent. The last six years have been so significant in my life as far as my professional (and personal) development. A seventeen year old has changed so much in the six years you have been here. She is not that enjoyable at the present time and the relationship you had with her seems to be a thing of the past. Perhaps the most important thing you have learned in the past couple years, however, is to not take these things as personally as you would have. It is apparent that this change in you has been noted by said person though because she believes you have been self-centered. If she only saw the bigger picture. It is her own struggle with life in general that has caused her to pull away and choose to not be as outgoing as she once was. It is evident as you continue to age that God was wise when it was somewhere decided you would never be a biological parent. While being a surrogate parent has been an amazing growing experience, perhaps the belief that you are self-centered  is more accurate than you might believe. You do note often that you are content to go home and close the door. That is another one of those realities. I want to do more of that and there is feeling of needing to pull back. This is not in your nature, but Lydia used to encourage this regularly. There have been some moments lately you have wondered about being alone for the long haul. You have reached out to change that. One over the last year (eight years), and perhaps that was not one of your wiser moves. There seems to be little that can or will change. There are others that speak with you and you speak with them, but nothing seems to be possible there. Perhaps you are the newest generation of the Martin family to be “Uncle Clare”. There are certainly ways that is not a bad thing. He was actually quite intelligent and he had a good heart. He was a bit curmudgeonly at times, but he was also genuinely grateful for those who were around him and he was thankful for what he had. Still feeling badly that an airport connection issue caused me to miss his funeral. This week has been one unexpected thing after another. While productive, it seems that things have gotten thrown into the mix that were not planned. Your friend, Mr. Crohn’s has acted up more than once, another fever, and trying to stay head of getting whatever crud is going around in the class is one thing. Dealing with the project at home and trying to keep those affected happy (good luck on that) have become a much greater difficulty that I might have imagined when first moving in. It seems no matter what is done to demonstrate a sense of trying to understand, there is little reciprocation. It is apparent no matter what is done, it will not be enough or good enough. Then what was considered to be a non-working sewer shut off was no such thing. Therefore, spending time with Roto Rooter today was necessitated. There is nothing that ever really goes completely as planned. That being said, you know that you are still blessed by so many things.

As this is written there was yet another mass shooting/killing in Oregon yesterday. Have not listened to President Obama’s comments, but will do so yet today. Other things like committee meetings, observations, reports, documents, and only God knows, perhaps fortunately, what will come next. You have often noted that if you knew everything that was coming, you might have chosen a different door. There is no change in that feeling or consideration, but there is always the others side of those things you call AFGEs (another f-ing growing experience). It is a good thing that those are not literal things because you would be 50 feet tall (which btw prompted the initial picture for this posting). You might remember that this poster is in the men’s restroom in #Zanzibar back in Menomonie. Somehow thinking of Menomonie and some of the week’s connection to there again has caused me to ponder. There are those people we meet who amaze us and astound us, but we do not always communicate that well and then wonder what if we might have done things differently. You might remember the words of your “surrogate older sibling,” Judy. She once when you were staying at their house counseled you on those you have probably loved, but the timing was not correct. Perhaps truer words have not been spoken. There are a couple of those people. If I think of Ames, there was one. She was in the Alpha Phi sorority where you worked as a waiter. There were a couple of people in Iowa City, one you have already considered earlier in this post, and the second person was an amazingly beautiful person. There were actually two or three persons at Dana. One you are still in contact with, the other two you are not. It is interesting that the two you are not in contact with are probably friends even yet. There are a few other people, but again, the issue was timing. Yet, if you think about that carefully enough there are even a couple from the old neighborhood growing up. It seems as is often the case, a tangential thought sent this writing down yet another path. The beginning of the paragraph had to do with the fact that a number of people are again the victim of violence. Finishing up another meeting about an observation, there is yet one more meeting for the day. Waiting for the next meeting and writing, after reading a couple of news tickers and it seems the shooter (a 26 year old) had 13 weapons, all purchased legally. It begs a number of questions. If what was read earlier, just as a quick glance noted that the gun culture of this country has a disconnect. Nothing could be more accurate. It  is the ability to get weapons so easily (and you are aware that the qualifier in the statement will create difficulty for some) has to be part of the discussion. Again, there is no arguing this constitutionally. As you know, the constitution is exactly that. The right to bear arms is there, but there is so much more to the discussion. What happens to the discussion in so many ways because of special interests and money is appalling.

When does human life, and its value, which Republicans argue is so valuable, at any stage, trump (and it is a struggle to use that term anymore because of the bully with the same name) the “right to bear arms”. Again, there is no argument about the right, it is how the right manifests itself. Realizing we live in a culture here in PA, similarly to where previous residences in WI or MI were, where this ability (right) to own a gun was so valued, the conversation too often becomes an instant argument. That is not what is hoped for or desired. When does the ability to have a gun move into a more complicated discussion or want or need? Are they related? Some will say, “no.” While it is realized you would say, “yes,” perhaps the more likely conversation needs to be if not, perhaps they need to be. There will be, as you know, pro and con pundits deciding why this should be considered, but when will the society decide it is enough? When will life and protection of life (and you know some will argue that guns are for protection, which is true in some cases) created enough push back again the powerful NRA? There are lots of things to consider in that discussion. It seems we all need to take an inventory and decide what matters? We need to argue for the protection of life. Seems a bit disingenuous to be both pro-choice and for stricter gun control, but as  I tell my students, “While I am pro-choice, I am not pro-abortion.” Life matters. All life matters and when our culture seems to value an object more than life, we need to reconsider. Those are my thoughts as I turn now to get back to work.

So as always, thanks for reading,

Dr. Martin

Oh yes, a small post script: One last thought: the other day was National Coffee Day: it is still one of my favorite things. This little video was posting on FB lately, and in spite of some changes, I appreciate this.

Seasons Continued (pun intended)

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Hello at 12 :50 a.m.,

I am awake probably because I went to bed at 8:40 last evening. I read blogs and commented for a while, but I hit a wall and decided to sleep. I have set the alarm for 5:00, but today looks like a bit of a blur, and my brain is racing, so I will write for a while and see if I can fall back to sleep. One of thing I have noticed since my last trip to the ER after a coughing sleep week before last is my eyes are struggling to focus and see as clearly as they were before that episode. Frustrating and perhaps it is time to get to an optometrist. I guess I will have to make time for some more appointments. Next week it is time for my 3 month check up also. Always something to manage. ” It is the life.” In the words of Sr. Galán.

In my last blog began to speak about seasons and how seasons might be used as a metaphor for my life. If you read that blog you know I spoke most about spring and then finished up with some words about summer. I have pondered the summer idea since then and I still believe that the happiest time of my life was when I was three or four years old. What made it so? I think it was that time in my life when I knew I was truly loved. My grandmother, of whom I have spoken before, was my mother at that point in time. My sister and I were no longer living with our parents for variety of reasons, primarily neglect. And while I have never really remembered that time in my life, I remember vividly living at my grandparents house. What I know now is that, in spite of my grandmother’s issues she loved me with her whole heart. She loved me unconditionally and she loved me for the remainder of her days on this earth. Unfortunately, I think it was a love that I took for granted all too often. Part of that was immaturity; part of that was selfishness; perhaps, most accurately, it was youthful stupidity She passed away shortly after my 22nd birthday. I think I have noted before that there were mannerisms that were replicated by Lydia. Maybe that’s why she found her way into my heart in a way that few ever have. Maybe the first two years I was living next-door to Lydia might be the other summer in my life. Things at Stout were going seemingly well, and I so loved the little house in which I lived. Living between the Lacksonens and Lydia was an ideal situation. Indeed, it was a time that I was more than content, I was happy. I enjoyed my job; I felt valued at that point. I actually loved cooking breakfast for Lydia every morning and sitting down to a glass of sherry in the evening before I would go back to my house to sleep. The little house was a wonderful habitat.The other thing that I’ve realized about myself is this. While I give my love to others quite freely, there are very few people in my life that I have loved deeply and completely. The first is my grandmother. The second was probably Theresa, my second wife. The third would be Lydia. While there is a fourth possibility, the jury is still out on that situation.

So how would I understand the fall of my life? First, I must admit that autumn is perhaps my favorite season. The majestic tapestry of colors makes it hard to doubt the existence of a creator. The crisp invigorating mornings followed by the warm hazy afternoons, for me, provide the best of both worlds. Perhaps my love affair with the fall is also related to the return of a new school year with new academic possibilities. I guess what I’m realizing is that I connect the fall and the spring because of their common connection to a time of learning. Some of my favorite falls include the first fall I was in college at Iowa State University. I was excited by the town, by the classes and I remember walking from the towers to campus. 30,000 students in town made for endless possibilities. I remember a girl that I met her name was Barb. She was smart and beautiful. Ironically, I would reacquaint with her six years later at the University of Iowa. She is still a person whom I appreciate and admire. Another fall that I remember was probably my first year at Luther seminary the fall of 1983. Perhaps it was an important fall because it was the last time I was well. Or at least perceived that I was well. It would be that coming winter when I was first diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. I had spent the entire previous summer crashing Greek, cramming two years of classes into 12 weeks. I was living in the dorm, a place we referred to finally as Bock-person Hall. I was the head resident of that dorm. A much different job than being such a person in an undergraduate dorm. Those persons with whom I had done summer Greek became my closest friends. Such an amazing group of people, good and brilliant. I loved the St. Anthony Park area where the seminary was located, the old houses, the huge old trees, and the crisp and clean Minnesota air. In the six years I have been back in Pennsylvania, I think there has been the potential for such falls, but I’m not sure that I’ve had such a memorable autumn experience yet. Ironically I might have the most ideal setting ever. I work on an amazing campus that looks out of the mountains and that majestic tapestry of which I wrote has never been more apparent. The same goes for where I live. Sitting either on the patio or on my front porch, I can look out and I’m always amazed at the wonder of the world in which I live. Perhaps it is because I live alone. Perhaps it’s because I feel I have no one with whom to share this. However before you think I’m sounding desperate, just don’t because I’m not.

Perhaps the fall metaphor, is the most appropriate for me at this point. The majestic tapestry of which I’ve spoken reminds us through its colors the plants in this creation have reached their peak and provide for us unparalleled beauty. Indeed the combination of sun rain and carbon dioxide create something that we as humans are incapable of doing. And yet the peak season of color is fleeting. As I’ve driven across interstate 80 through the valleys in the mountains of this upper Susquehanna area, I’m continually astonished at how quickly, sometimes within 24 hours, things change. Yet, that seems to be how my life has gone, particularly this past year. If there’s ever been a year that epitomized the Tale of Two Cities, 2014 was that year. It was the year to expect the unexpected. It was the year that I could not have predicted no matter how good my crystal ball might’ve been. Some of the successes were significant. Some of the changes profound. If you have read my blog with any consistency, you’re well aware that some of the most precious things that I had are gone, or changed. Much like the colors of the fall the year reminded me that there is nothing permanent, everything is fleeting. Such a statement might sound cynical, but I do not mean it to be such.

So where am I? If I am correct, and seasons are not chronological, where do I honestly believe I am? In which season do I reside at the present? If I look outside my window there is little doubt that I am in the winter. I have spent three of the last four mornings with the snow blower; there can be little doubt that it is January and I live somewhere where snow is at least a semi-common occurrence. I do not mind the snow and, in fact, I rather enjoy it. I enjoy it for its beauty and serenity, and I enjoy it for its solitude. I enjoy it for the starkness, perhaps for even the harsh reality it brings to our existence. It is with a certain sense of gratitude that I ponder is pureness and its simple beauty. Take the time some late night or early morning to look out at the freshly fallen snow in the moonlight. I learned to do this in the Upper Peninsula when I was in graduate school. An average of 270 inches of snow each winter made it a little difficult to not come face-to-face with the stark reality of winter. I remember when I first moved there and someone asked me if I liked snow. I responded in the affirmative. And they repeated, “No, do you LIKE snow?” What I realized was if you didn’t like it or learn to like it you would not survive. The pristine beauty of the Keweenaw Peninsula in winter is unparalleled. And Lake Superior provides two things: a boat-load (a really large boat) of snow and actually moderate temperatures. However, for most of us, winter reminds us of the death of anything’s plants, buildings, and, yes, even people. If the metaphor is to continue does winter mean death in my understanding of the seasons? To say so seems rather cliché, and I don’t particularly like clichés. Perhaps rather than death, it might be reasonable to see winter from his actual dates 21 December for the 21st or 22nd of March. Winter moves us from one calendar year to the next, from an ending to a beginning. In my previous life is a pastor I’m reminded of the words that occur in the committal service spoken over an open grave. “This is the gate to eternal life”. It is only in our ending, that we have any hope for a new beginning. I’ve experienced those new beginnings throughout my life because of changes, moves, and new opportunities. Those times were winters, if you will. But somehow this time winter seems different, it seems more permanent. But I’m okay with that. Perhaps I am in the winter. I refuse to fear it; instead I will embrace it. I will embrace it for its beauty or the preparation it allows me. There’s no need for angst or desperation. I’m reminded of the words of Paul. And yet in the fullness of time, it came to me the least of all. I have things yet to do and I will embrace those opportunities as I always have. I will work to make sure that I complete the things to which I am obligated, to keep my word to those people to whom I’ve made promises. I’m grateful that I’ve been able to experience the four seasons both literally and virtually. Indeed I have been blessed.

As always thank you for reading. It’s now 2:30 in the morning. I believe I can go to sleep. I should note it is the next day and when I wrote this (actually spoke it), I found there were many more issues with it than I could have anticipated. I think I have edited out most of the issues. Thanks for bearing with me.

Dr. Martin