Three Score and Three

carpe diem

Good early morning from the acre,

It is about 4:40 a.m. and I went to bed last night after a wonderful dinner  out and then coming home to commenting and grading. I woke up a short time ago and after lying in bed rather wide awake, I decided to get up and work on a blog and then get back to commenting and grading the same. I am always amazed by how little critical thought and careful analysis seems to go into people’s writing. It is not that they are incapable of doing so, but it seems more to be the case of rushing to fulfill an assignment and check it off the list, particularly if it involves the need to write. I have looked at 20 or more blogs and the great majority of them have no paragraphs. It is sort of one long continuous sentence, stretching along the page like a vapor trail from a jet out across the horizon of a summer sky. Unfortunately, generally it is not quite as impressive, nor as understandable. Often there are some flashes of insight, some glimpse of a pretty intelligent possible topic or path of reasoning, but too often it is not followed up. Too often it is not analyzed in a manner that demonstrates much more than the aforementioned “I just need to check this assignment off the list.” There are some who genuinely put some thought, some systematic care into their writing, and I so enjoy those times because it pushes me to think also. Why the majority never get there is a complex issue, but suffice it to say if one is never pushed to think critically, one is seldom required to analyze the content and synthesize that learning into something more than a multiple choice question or a fill in the blank, professors will continue to get the stream-of-consciousness-but-I-did-the-assignment-why-didn’t-I-get-an-A? responses that too often populate my followed box here in WordPress.

Last evening, I was taken to dinner for a pre-actual Birthday dinner, as that day was still a few hours away. More than once this past week, some of my closest friends asked what I wanted, and then informed me that I was a difficult person for whom to shop. In addition, I was asked why I did not really seem to look forward to a celebration of my birthday? The difficult person for who to shop did not catch me completely off guard, but being a person who seems to eschew birthday celebrations did catch me a bit by surprise. I pondered if that were true, coming to the conclusion that perhaps that is the case. I do know that when people surprised me for my 60th, I was pleased, but more humbled than anything. I think knowing that people were willing to take time out of their Friday evenings to specifically come and help me celebrate a day was the best present I could have received. It is probably true that I do not really need much. In fact, I am trying to remove unwanted items from my space at this point. I even long for that time when I first moved back to Houghton into the little cabin on the portage that was furnished and I barely had enough dishes or other things to cook or feed myself. Where there was more space in my cupboards and closets than there was “stuff.” I remember people telling me I was a minimalist, and my response was “But I have what I need.” I am not sure I even had all of that, but I was pretty content.

I am in the process of cleaning up some spaces, both literal and figurative ones, but it feels good to do so. I am hoping by the end of the month to have a list of things completed, and most of it has little or nothing to do with my daily work. However, completing this task so I can focus on the things I need to do on a weekly basis and plan for the times out of school accordingly will still make my life more orderly and less stressful. I am always amazed by those who have families, children,  or other duties, but still manage to be a professor. I am not sure what it is that I do differently, but I seem too often all consumed by the work and responsibilities that are my 9-to-5 position. Those of you who know me will see the irony of that statement immediately. As I move into the morning and imagine the day, I am not really sure what all in on tap, but I know that I want to walk into the week on an level playing field or at least not behind the proverbial eight ball as most of the Big 10 found itself yesterday. Speaking with others yesterday, it is amazing the clutter we collect in our lives. I am still debating a garage sale or large boxes to Salval or Goodwill.

Ponder for a moment if you will; think back in the memories of your lives and what was the happiest of birthday celebrations for you? I am not sure I have one specific birthday, though the one mentioned above sticks out. Perhaps that is because my memory is not sharp enough to remember earlier points in my life. I remember some stupidity on some birthdays from yesteryear, but I am quite sure that is not how I wish to spend my given day at this point. I think in a collective sort of way, what I remember about birthdays most from growing up was the amazing birthday cakes that would come from my Grandmother’s bakery. We always had our own specifically decorated cake, and then there was a half sheet cake, decorated in corresponding colors for everyone else. Grandma was a fabulous cake decorator, which is quite amazing, as I am realizing she had some arthritis in her hands. I am not sure what age I was, but I remember her buying me a 20″ Schwinn bicycle for a birthday. I might have been six or seven. I remember scratching the front fender in some of my rather futile attempts to ride without training wheels. I was devastated and cried as I looked at the scratched paint, and I think I had also dented the very tip of it. I am not sure if I ran into the picnic table, the garage, or the house. Yes, it is true; learning to ride on two wheels was a difficult task for me. All the sort of rite of passage birthdays for me are rather unmemorable. I am old enough that 18 was more significant than 21, but I was in Marine Corps boot camp, so I was careful to make sure no one knew it was my birthday. For that 21st birthday, I was in my first weeks of college at Iowa State.  The 25th birthday I was a sophomore at Dana College, so as you can see there was a bit of a hiatus from education at that point. I do remember a 30th where I was back in seminary, and I remember being in married student housing and I think there are even some pictures from that event with the appropriate “over the hill” wrapping paper, and a pancake breakfast that had pancakes that resembled 30. The 40th was one of those less than stellar moments in my life, even though I had returned to graduate school at Michigan Tech. By 50, I was finally finishing the route of various degrees and I had a decade/dissertation celebration at the Decker’s residence when they were still living in Menomonie. I noted the 60th above, so now I am a bit older. What do I have to show for the life I have lived?

As always there are a variety of ways to view such an existence, but for me I think what I can show this has been no easy path, but I am also not complaining. Not to sound cliche, but first of all, I am here. In spite of consistent and significant health issues since my late 20s, I have maintained and I am doing quite well. I think I am healthier today than I have been for a number of years. That has led to my being more content, more settled. In spite of some new health news that has created new challenges, I don’t feel overwhelmed or sorry for myself. In fact, the challenges have led me to precisely the opposite. I will manage them and be even healthier. I have had the opportunity this past year to travel and be a student again. I think learning for me is the most rejuvenating and satisfying thing I can do. Being immersed in another culture, even one that is not technically part of my heritage, is something that is a highlight of this 60+ years. Have I begun to consider retirement? I have, but it is not something I feel compelled to do or something necessary. Would I like to slow down a bit and perhaps putz around and do only what I want? I imagine it at times, but I think I would get bored. If I were to do it all over again, would I change much? Probably not, not even the health stuff. I think the health issues have resulted in my being grateful and feeling blessed more than my feeling afflicted or being dealt a bad hand. Perhaps it was the thoughtful, brilliant, and sort of fatherly neurologist, Dr. John Carlson who helped me understand it best. When he looked at all of my charts and heard about my birth story, he said the fact that I was a normal functioning cognitive individual was quite miraculous. That was perhaps all I needed to hear. As I was telling someone yesterday, my great-aunt Helen once told me that even as a two year old, I was happy-go-lucky, ever smiling, and wanting to be helpful. I am not sure I am always smiling, but I am generally happy. I might be a bit more understated in my emotions than I once was. I might be a bit more introverted than I once was, but most importantly, there is no “was” to me. I am. I have a job that I find fulfilling and meaningful. I have colleagues, friends, and acquaintances who make my life more interesting and enjoyable. I live in a place where people still care about the other, and though I am often surprised by some of what I read or hear, many people are genuinely good and reasonable.

So what might I change? What do I wish I might have done differently? Do I wish I had been a father? Perhaps, I think I really did miss out on something there, though some people have helped me overcome that omission: Becca, Cassie, Shiama, Ashley, Melissa, Becky, Jordan, Jeamie, Monica . . .  I think you get the picture, but they can all be sent home. I wish I would have learned more languages and traveled more earlier in my life. I wish I might have gotten my education done a bit sooner. Perhaps I wish that I might have grown up or matured a bit sooner. It seems I was often trying to catch up. I have had a somewhat itinerant life, but it has generally served me well. Perhaps, I need to say something like this. For those I have offended or hurt, for those I mistreated or harmed, please accept my most sincere apologies for my failures. For those who have blessed me, assisted me, cared for me, and there are so many: from the bottom of my heart, thank you. I am blessed to make it to another milestone day. I am truly blessed and I hope I can be as much of a blessing as you all have been to me.

With care, and thank you for reading,

Michael

If I had Known . . .

Good morning from my office,

As a way to catch most up concerning the outcomes of appointments and tests, I think I will offer information here. Thank you, first of all, to all who have inquired about the continuing issues of managing the Crohn’s and its consequences. I have been to more doctors’ appointments (yes, the plural is accurate in both cases) and there are more doctors’ appointments yet on the horizon (again accuracy in the plurals a second time). The easiest way to explain everything that seems to be sort of crashing in upon me at the same time is this. First, the removal of a large intestine in 1986 and 30 plus years of not having the main water absorption organ in my body has caught up with me. Second, the removal of the J-Pouch, which was created after the colectomy, which was a significant portion of my ileum, a part of your small intestine, as a consequence of that surgery never really working, has created a different absorption problem, that being primarily B complex vitamins. Together, both the combination of these issues and their cumulative effect on my body (and that includes extensive parts of my body (e.g. organs, blood supply, nervous system . . . you get the picture)) had me in much more dire straits than I realized. Fortunately between my CPC, a phenomenal neurologist, an outstanding gastroenterologist, and some thoughtful nurses and PAs in December, I might have the best chance to be honestly healthy I have been since the beginning of all the surgeries over 30 years ago.

So what have they done, or are they doing? As of yesterday, I am getting B complex vitamin shots on a daily basis for two weeks. Then I will go to once a month for the rest of my life. My last blog gives some idea of why this is so important. Second, I have another test (MRI) of my mid small intestine coming next week to make sure that the Crohn’s is not currently active. Third, I am meeting with a GI nutritionist to see what is the best way for me to get some other vitamins and minerals into my under-absorbing body. I could go back to the U.P, steal copper and chew on it, but I am not sure that is a good plan. I am now taking 50,000 units of Vitamin D a month, Folic Acid, a statin, and aspirin daily to manage the other issues that have been deemed problematic because of this absorption, or lack thereof, issue. The shots are not difficult (I got one last night and another this morning). Taking pills is not one of my favorite things, but again, it is not that difficult. There are two issues to which I need to attend once again. I need to lose 30 pounds (and 40 would be better), and I need to get my blood pressure back down. It is once again up above where it should be. Some good news included the levels that point to kidney issues, which popped up in December for the first time, seem to be back to normal. The next, new, issue is a cardiac issue. It appears my heart is beating too slowly and that too seems related to the B complex vitamin issues, which is again related to surgeries because of the Crohn’s. It seems my body is adverse to absorbing most everything, which causes me to wonder how it is I need to lose weight. How can it be I have gained weight when I cannot absorb, but then again lack of energy and an increased amount of sleep might be the culprit. Seems a logical question, without a logical answer beyond what I have just offered. Yet that has often been the case with the somewhat  normal, and profoundly abnormal, way I have been required to manage my modified digestive system. As I noted in my last post, there has been little that seems I can do to change what my body will or will not do. I should probably be astounded that I have made it as far as I have.

What I sometimes wonder is what if they had diagnosed me with Crohn’s in elementary school, when they believe I probably contracted, though I am not sure one contracts it; of course, there is the doctor who told me I was probably born with it. In some ways I would be more comfortable with that as my reality. If one has it from birth, it just is. One can still question the why, but as I have learned, there is still much that is not known about Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBDs) and their causes. Immune issues seem to come up the most often. Of course, there is a question about what treatments might have been available to me (or more accurately for me because it would have been my parents’ job to help me manage something). I do wonder, again as I have noted, what it would be like if they had been able to keep my body intact. That seems to be the most significant or problematic topic or puzzle (we’re  back to that) currently. Yesterday, I had three doctors call and it was actually very satisfying to tell the neurologist that his appointment time and conversation with me might have been the best two hours I had ever spent in front of a medical professional. The care, detail, and willingness to answer and explain was like nothing I had ever experienced. For the first time in over thirty years, I believe I have a clear sense of how all the parts of the body interact and why the surgeries that I have endured were not the end of the story. Logically, I knew that, but I am not sure I have ever really considered what might happen. “It astounds me as I write to realize how much of my life is controlled by this 4×4 wafer and 10” pouch. The struggle to be seen as more than someone with a serious illness confronts me emotionally more than most know” (Martin 2011). When I wrote these words I was still coming to terms with my personal struggle. I also wrote, “So what is my identity? Who am I? I am a [61] year old male who was born prematurely and that early arrival had consequences; it might have more of which I am not even aware of at this point” (Martin 2011). This is surely the case as I spent almost 20 minutes placing doctors, nurses, and other specialist appointments into my calendar last night. It is surely the case when the majority of phone calls received today were from scheduling people at Geisinger (I think I had 5 calls today). The consequences are currently daily trips to the doctor’s office for injections, taking more medications, and wondering how to manage an HSA that seems to ask for more documentation that ever, all under the guise of blaming the IRS. When I was working on my comprehensive exams, one of the books I read was an astounding book by Arthur Frank, titled The Wounded Storyteller. There are moments I feel that is what my blog has become as of recently. I am able to accept the reality that I am affected and wounded by the fact that I am missing more intestine than I have left. “It is in that wounding I am reminded that I am still capable, or more accurately that I can still fight this with all my might. It is in suffering that I know that I am present  . . .  I am a person with an insidious and chronic disease. It is fighting to control me,  but differently from times earlier in my life, where I let it control me, now I refuse. It is taking more time than I wish, but for the moment I will give it its due, but I am coming back. I believe through these injections and managing motility, I will once again beat it back.

I am pretty sure that it is best that I did not know where all of this would lead because I am not sure I was strong enough earlier in my life to stand strong. As I noted once again in that paper, the role of telling all of this is a sort of testimony and the role of being able to tell a story, particularly a story of illness does allow  one to suffer, not in loneliness, but in a pedagogical way, a teaching way. Perhaps that is not surprising because I am both a storyteller (ask my students) and I am a teacher, but not a memorization person. I am one that pushes people to analyze and think about their situation. I am a firm believer we are all teachers in our own way, just like ministry can occur in many places outside the Sunday sanctuary. When we use a negative experience pedagogically, we are not allowed to wallow in sadness, but we are managing reality forthrightly and honestly. The narrative, the story, changes. This narrative as noted by another author on the chaos of illness speaks about a narrative of restitution. Restitution is paying back for what which has happened. Certainly, the trail of what has happened between my partner-in-life, Crohn’s and me is long. It has been an epic battle and the battling continues. Earlier in my life, the narrative was of embarrassment and rejection. I refuse to allow such a narrative to take hold of me ever again. It is ironic that I continue to address my personal, and intensively private, intestines in such a public place, but again, it is what I teach. How do we use computer mediated communication or our own social identity to come to terms with our personage? It is through this writing that I begin once again to make sense of what is a chaotic body-self dualism. The first time I struggled with the consequences of surgery in a most public way, someone who should have been supportive was incapable of doing so. I did not understand. In my frailty, I could not understand their reaction. What felt like rejection when I needed acceptance perhaps more than ever before was profoundly injurious, but that injury was not as readily apparent as my altered self. However, before I am too hard on the other, it is important for me to realize I could not accept myself at that point. Part of that was how weakened I was from fighting Crohn’s when it was decimating my body. At this point, it is not the Crohn’s, but the consequences of it. While some might not see a difference, I do. If both were problems at the present time, I think this would be exponentially more difficult.

So if I knew what 30+ years would have offered would it have been easier? No way . . . I can say with even more certainty that I do not believe I would have been strong enough to endure it, knowing it ahead of time. What I know even now in the throes of more issues that I still believe this is manageable. This is another battle . . . it is a war, and at some point, I even know I will lose, but I am okay with that. I am just not ready to lose yet. In fact, I am still making plans and putting plans into motion that will affect the next three or four years. In other words, I do not plan to allow these latest struggles to derail the desideratum I am working hard to create. There is much more I could write, but I think it is time to get to the work that is insistently calling for my attention. I would like to give a shout out of thanks to my friend for listening to so much of this story and much more this past week. You have inspired me to hang in there and keep trucking along. Generally, I am able to do this pretty well on my own, but it has been nice to share and for the gift of your insight. I offer this song on your behalf. Well back to Hobbit-land! 🙂

To the rest of you, thank you as always for reading.

Michael

 

 

 

 

Do Prahy a zpět (To Prague and Back)

Good chilly morning from back in Kraków,

Since last writing, the itinerate Bloomsburg students and professors traveled by bus to the capital of the Czech Republic, Prague (Praha), and early this morning returned to Kraków. It was the coldest it has been for any of the 5 years (around -5F) and this morning in Kraków it is about -22C, which is about -8 on the Fahrenheit scale. That is quite cold for here. At breakfast this morning, our breakfast person, who was in his mid 20s, said this was the coldest winter of his life. While we know to bundle up in the cold, that process is very different when you are walking around a city center for 6 hours or so. It also has a different effect when you have been traveling on a bus for about 11 hours and you got up in the morning after a nap of about 3 hours or so. Yesterday as Dr. Polyhua and I were going to visit the Charles Bridge Museum, I got a senior discount on admission, so I am now officially able to note the importance of needing my sleep.

We left Kraków on Thursday night about 7:00 p.m. on the bus Prague-bound. It is amazing how many game of 20 questions can be played between various groups of students on an 11 hour bus ride. After a quicker-than-most-wanted turnaround, we were up and out to visit the castle complex in Prague, where there is a metro and a subway, the exchange of money and a pretty tight schedule did not allow for availing ourselves to those options and so after a quick breakfast this past Friday morning, we forest-marched our way across part of Prague to meet our tour guide at Prague Castle (parts of it built as early as the 9th century) for a tour. We toured the castle, which had stricter than usual security because the President was on the grounds, managed to get across the bridge in spite of the swarms of people, toured various parts of the city, including the Jewish section . The picture gracing this posting is the Prague Castle taken from the market square at sundown. The temperature was not as chilly as this morning, but it was certainly cold. Twice we made a small detour to spend a bit more time inside; however, in spite of a few with sniffles and some a bit worse, it is a hearty bunch and we walked up and down the steep hills of Prague learning the complex and eventful history of this capital city of the very center of Europe. While in the past the tours have occurred over two days, this year our tours were back to back after a break for lunch because sunrise of Friday begins the Sabbath and most of the sites we would have visited the second day would have been closed. The good and the “less-than” for some tired a chilly explorers was Friday was long, but Saturday would be a more free day for small group discovery.

Prague is a beautiful city, but it certainly caters to tourists and we happened to be there on Epiphany, the 12th day of Christmas, so the market square was still bustling on Friday with all of the things you could imagine, as well as a couple of surprises like three wisemen and real camels. In case you are unaware, which is not the case for many students, the Czech Republic is known for its beer, and particularly a pilsner, but between tours a quick lunch just outside the main square with 8 of us offered the possibility to sample both amazing food and beer. Spicy goulash with potato pancakes and a Kasteel Rouge (a cherry flavored beer that was not as fruity as a Lambić) was amazing. The fruit is hearty and flavorful, and while it might seem a bit heavy, managing to walk over 11 miles and up more than 20 flights of stairs burned off more calories than consumed, or at least my legs and the holes in my belt seem to indicate such a result. Experiencing the culture of the different places never grows tired, and as you listen to the dates of when things were established, you cannot help but be awed. When guides speak of things more recent, they are speaking about 3-5 centuries old; often when they speak of the old part of things, it is possible that it is as much as millennia since it was first started.

Students are amazed by both the ability of most people to speak two or three languages as they are by the differences from country to country, which are in close proximity. That is what, of course in part, creates both the likelihood and necessity of being multi-lingual, but it also begins the process of understanding why students from Europe, who might study at Bloomsburg University, have a much more astute worldly view. As humans, in spite of our ability to see beyond ourselves, the hectic pace of living seems too often to close us off to the astounding opportunities for growth that cross our paths. Speaking with students, listening to their conversations, and watching their faces, taking trips like this, and many of the others offered by the Study Abroad Office, make it impossible for us to not be changed by the immersion of learning which occurs on a 24/7 basis. As noted in an earlier post, from street signs to conversations, from transportation to food, everything you take for granted on a daily basis as you walk from your dorm to the commons, from classroom to town, while attending school at Bloomsburg is called into question because you are mandated to rethink it all. That is the gift of taking the chance and traveling for a January term or summer session.

This particular program, however, carries 7 credits, 6 of which come, as previously noted, from the second oldest university in Europe. The time spent on those credits is significant, and, for instance, before leaving on Friday paper outlines were returned, with comments from Dr. Orla-Bukowska about their proposals. Another round of consideration with one of the three of their Bloomsburg professors, and students were given their outlines back as we sat in a rest-stop on the Czech and Polish boarder. The classroom is not merely four walls, the classroom is daily living and the experiences crammed into each 24 hour period. Managing things like colds, sniffles, or even worse than what seems to be a common cold sometimes means a person takes a day off and sleeps to regain their energy and there has been some of that, particularly over the last couple of days. Again, those events are not uncommon because the days seems to blend together and the temptation to stay up and experience every minute of the day is hard to ignore. The consequence for many, even when we do go to bed at a reasonable time, is the days blend together. I have had to think more than once, and ask myself thoughtfully, what day is it?

One of the things an individual traveling abroad will quickly learn is to make sure you are ready for the unexpected. Because we had a bit more free time yesterday, and because of the cold, the decision was made to return to Kraków a couple of hours earlier than the original itinerary had noted. This was to help a couple of those who were still trying to shake whatever bug was thumping them to get a bit more sleep back in our dorms in Poland. Things were proceeding nicely, including even a rest stop at a McDonalds (I do not think I have ever seen so many Big Macs and French fries in one place and I am guilty of ordering both also – a first in all my times in Europe), and with about an hour to go and getting ready to go through a toll gate, a car attempted to pull into the lane occupied by our bus. In fact, this vehicle tried it numerous times. Finally, the occupants of the car came up with some hair-brained idea they could push the bus out of the way with their little Volvo. Needless to say, the plan was misconceived and after their mirror hit the bus, they pulled in front of the bus and the father in the vehicle got rather animated in his responses to the driver (and anyone else who might care to listen). Long story, short: for the next two and a half hours after wreckers, Policija, watching the SD card that buses have loaded for just such things, and a very angry family in a Volvo, in spite of their own stupidity, we were finally on our way. Our bus driver, Marek, was calm, collected and professional the entire time. It is the second year he has driven for us. 40 students actually cheered him as he was finally able to take us on our way. However, so much for getting back earlier than our proposed itinerary. By the time we were back in either Bdygoska or Dom Professorski, it was almost 1:30 a.m. As these trips and even my own first journey to Europe as a sophomore in college has taught, on any study abroad trip is it is impossible to plan for every contingency. So today is a free day, at least as far as scheduled events. Some will sleep a bit more; some will work on their papers and their reaction papers that are due for both classes, and some will visit places in Kraków like Schindler’s Factory, which is now a museum. I will work on my Polish language lessons, and syllabi and BOLT for my next semester classes, all of which are coming much too soon.

Thank you for reading and Do widzenia,

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.

Imagining the next Chapter

 Hello on a Sunday evening,

It is the end of the weekend and while I got some things accomplished, it was somewhat a weekend of socializing with colleagues, some former students, and establishing some more formalized relationships with some wonderful people I have known mostly from a distance. It was a weekend where I was concerned by weather in the Carribean because of people I now know there as well as a weekend where I imagined what next weekend in Cape Charles might be like. I continually find myself imagining possibilities. I guess that has always been one of my pastimes, perhaps an escape, but more likely a way to plan what might, could, or even hopefully should happen. I realize “should” is an interesting choice of language here.

Today I listened to two of my present students try to understand the twists their lives seem to be taking and their wondering about or imagining the next chapter. One former student has left a job, another is leaving grad school, and yet another is working on her wedding. So many changes for so many people. However, I know that none of that is really surprising. It is merely life. There are no recipe cards; there are few real promises, and even fewer certainties. The coming week will be a week of completing tasks on one hand and beginning some new ones on the other. That too is life. There is always something that comes to the fore and things that fade into the shadows, perhaps to be forgotten or more likely to reemerge at some later moment. I have learned the reality of this painful process at times with people in my life. I think we have a way of wishing things could have turned out differently than they did and sometimes try to reconnect with those former emotions and hopes when there is no way we can return to that previous place. I am realizing that things move forward for a reason. In the words of Ecclesiastes: there is a time and place for everything under heaven.

A week has passed and I am still considering this post. As I finished the last of the previous paragraph, I am spending the weekend in Cape Charles, VA. It is a wonderfully quaint little hamlet on the Eastern Shore. I spent time both yesterday and today on the beach, at the shore. That is not something I grew up doing (the consequence of being a Midwesterner). Over the past years I have read by students’ blogs about their shore excursions and I did not really understand the attraction, and while I believe the NY, NJ or MD beaches have their appeal (I did visit Cape May a few years ago), this beach was peace, calm, and serene. I attended, was a surrogate host of a group gathering last evening and was one of the most enjoyable evenings because of the cast of characters in a very long time. You can look at my Facebook page for more pictures. The group of people was fabulous and the conversation and sharing was unparalleled. I have spent at least a couple hours each day sitting out at the shore and just relaxing. It is such a quaint little town and everyone cares about everyone. It reminds me of when I grew up and people knew each other, not a nosy way, but in a neighborly way that made sense and you knewthat they cared. It has been over 50 years since I’ve seen map. I also got to know Brad better and he is such an amazing man. He does so many things for our first year students. He puts in countless hours, making sure the students know what they need that they will be able to graduate. I referred to him as a non-native local this weekend. He provided much insight and made me more comfortable.

I had planned to get a number of things done today, yet somehow that did not happen. I guess when I get back to Bloomsburg tomorrow evening there will be work to do. I actually did take the weekend to relax and I slept more than one might imagine. In some ways that leads me to the title of this blog. I don’t think I really thought about a birthday as much as this upcoming one since I was 25. I do not want to say that I’m old; I certainly don’t want to act old, but somehow I’m beginning to feel old. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I think imagining the next chapter of my life is reasonable. Trying to imagine what I might do and where am I be, and establishing some sort of plan to get there is important. However, there is much to be done before that can happen. There are other things I’m trying to imagine also, but there’s much to figure out.  As I write this I’m imagine tomorrow will be a bittersweet day for Stephanie, Whitney, and Dane. Tomorrow would be Peter’s birthday. It’s hard to believe that it’s almost 6 months since he passed away. It’s harder for me to believe that it’s been nine months since Lydia passed. There’s so much that happens in life on a daily basis and all too often fail to recognize the significant and meaningful moments which profoundly affect us. We’re so caught up in our hamster wheel, merely trying to manage keeping our feet underneath us. Actually many of the people this weekend helped me see things differently. They seem to appreciate what they have and understand what is important. I think sometimes I still get caught up in trying to figure out what’s important. In the big picture what really matters? While Cape Charles is a nice place, I learned the truth and what Mark had stated. Is the people that make Cape Charles what it is. Yes, the friendships and genuine concern for the person rather than what they have. As I have stopped to consider what I do each day, I guess in many ways that is how I do my job. I don’t consider a job, I consider it a vocation, a calling. Once upon a time I had a call as a pastor. In many ways I feel the call that I have had to the college classroom as important and perhaps more significant than when I served the church. I certainly do not mean that in an irreverent manner. The work I get visitors pass it was made and unbelievable impression upon people. But that is the Holy Spirit doing what it does.  Ironically, the semester I’m teaching a Bible as Literature course. I told my students last week that somehow this class forces me to consider my own faith. God works through them.

Indeed the current chapter of my life has me in the classroom, developing a program, and working to accomplish what I was called to do. It is both of the demanding and a rewarding position. I have been so blessed in the six years I’ve been at Bloomsburg. As I begin my seventh year there is much to do and much I hope to accomplish. Yet I am imagining what happens next. What yet do I want to do? What do I want to accomplish? There is the difference between what I want and what I need. For the moment suffice it to say I’ve had a wonderful weekend. I actually relaxed; I slept, enjoyed, and learned new things. Tomorrow we will drive back and I will think about what I need to do for the coming week. I will consider the loss of my friend and realize that yet another person I’ve loved did not make it to the next milestone. As I prepare to celebrate this next birthday, the beginning of a new decade, I do imagine what next. Perhaps I’ll be content with what is because when I consider that, there is very little I can ask for an even less that I need. I have friends; I have an amazing family. Most importantly, I can’t imagine anything better. So tomorrow I will return the plums for your back to work. Living among amazing people and working with even more amazing students, I am a lucky and blessed man.

Thank you as always for reading my blog.

Michael

Endings and Beginnings

Hello again from about 34,000 feet.

We are on our way East, jetting along from Phoenix to Philadelphia. The five-day trip to Eldorado County is now an experience gained for Melissa and Jordan and another chapter in the 7 years of episodes to a place I find the most relaxing on earth. I am so richly blessed to have met Marco almost 8 years ago on a Saturday afternoon as I went to visit Miraflores the first time. Little did I realize that the following summer I would return for an extended stay and that my life would be permanently changed because of this Renaissance man. Not in my wildest of dreams might I have imagined that I would bring two young people who have also become so significant to me that I have been even more changed and blessed.

I am hoping that in spite of the three hour time difference, which made the days seem longer and the sleep schedule more tenuous, they will both remember this trip as an experience that was well worth the time, even though the turn around before classes begin is ridiculously short. From the first night when Melissa inadvertently “face-timed” me to Jordan’s arachnophobia and their marveling at the difference in landscape, I have my own memories. I was pleased that they both met some of my closest friends and that Melissa might have created some long-range options for herself.

As noted it is the place I am most able to let go. I am not sure if it is the terroir or something more. It is certainly the ability to gaze across the hills and valleys of the vineyards and to feel the sun beat down and warm every inch of my being. It is the gentle morning breezes and the quietness of the vineyards as the sun makes it’s ascent to a midday zenith. Perhaps it is even the memories of that first summer. The reacquainting with a person from that first summer was certainly unexpected. It was both extremely pleasant and exceedingly sad. Ann is still beautiful and caring; she also continues to live a life so much less than deserved, but that is because of choices made or not made. I am hoping both through conversation and encouragement, she will find the strength to do what she should; what she must. It is the end to living in a manner in which one is the victim and the beginning of working toward living, not merely existing.

I think that is the most important lesson I have learned this past year. I have begun to take much better care of myself. I have begin to realize that much of what I professed in my words and believed in my head, I was not practicing with my heart. The very thing I have told others about giving to yourself before always giving to others, I could not seem to put into practice. I felt, and at moments still do feel, selfish. I have realized for instance, in spite of the care and feelings I have about someone, I must realize that I am important and care for myself first. To not feel guilty about that is something I am learning to do. Amazing that it had to take a relationship with another family to understand that. Then there is Jacqueline. She and I had some long conversations about this when I was in the Dominican Republic. I think she would have been proud about how I handled the week, for the most part. It is the end of a trip; it is the end of the summer, and what a summer it was. It began with fevers and taking on new challenges. It was followed by pneumonia, which has taken the remainder of the summer to conquer. It included a visit to Corning, NY and a house becoming a home. It involved some crash-course experiences in using my nascent Spanish skills and realizing that I can listen, speak, and comprehend. It included a trip to NYC and the most expensive parking ticket I have ever gotten. It contained visits from California, Wisconsin, and North Carolina. There were trips to York, Pennsylvania and back and there was the continued journey of eating more carefully and the purging of my cupboards of processed food by the most hard-core purger one could ever meet. It has ended by taking journeys with two generations of the same family. It has been a time to grow personally in ways I could not imagine. While I did get some miles in on the Harley, not as many as I would like. I will try to remedy that to some extent while the weather still cooperates.

It is the beginning of a new year of school. It is the recommencing of schedules and expectations. It is the finishing of some documentation and the need to get even more organized. It is the picking up and starting over on some other things that will hopefully end in the creation of a major. I am hoping that academic internships will continue to grow and the value of being paid will become common sense. I also realize that getting people to understand how and why things like assessment are not evil. It does take time and it leaves a trail, so to speak, but it allows us to be more reflective. That is not a bad thing. I am always excited to begin a new semester. Growing up, the beginning of a new school year was one of my favorite times. I am not sure if it was the change of seasons, the chance to be in new classes, or that my birthday would be soon coming, but I think it was mostly the opportunity to learn new things. It is, in some ways, reminiscent of Luther’s understanding of daily dying and rising again. You have in that a continual ending and new beginning. It is a new opportunity to have something commence. It is the changing or becoming what we can be. It was actually something that was part of an earlier flight conversation. Am I the person I was seven years ago, when I first stayed at Miraflores? “May Gneto!” (this is the transliterated spelling of the Greek phrase) certainly not! I do have some of same values; I have some of the same personality traits, but seven years and the subsequent experiences have profoundly changed who I am, even what I prioritize and what I believe. Anyone who has followed this blog would probably be aware of some of those changes.

At this point we are a little over an hour from Philadelphia. In a little bit longer than two weeks I have traveled 8,000 miles. That is amazing to consider. However, more than the miles traveled were the experiences gained. The Dominican Republic was like nothing I have ever experienced. I am still missing the amazing people who worked so hard at “El Cocinero” and the joy they brought to each day. I will go to Allentown to the restaurant here. While the food will be similar, and there will even be a couple familiar faces, the experience cannot be replicated. I am looking forward to a new one, and so it is. Each day is an ending and a beginning, not in some cliché or maudlin way, but rather in a truly transformative way. It is unfortunate we seldom take the time to see it that way or to make the necessary changes from lessons learned. Perhaps that is the most significant thing I have realized in this calendar year. That learning is due to a number of things, but it has been predominately because of the presence of one person on my life. Thank you for your honesty; thank you for your example; thank you for teaching me.

To the rest, thanks for reading as I end a summer and begin a new academic year.

Dr. Martin

Making Changes

IMG_1090 Good morning,

I know I had a draft of another post saved, but at the moment, it has disappeared. I actually when out for breakfast this morning and trying to eat something that is not processed or does not have sugar in it is quite the dilemma. The change in my diet and lifestyle is taking some significant discipline and thought, but as it is with most things, changes take time to manage. I can make the change, but for it to become “the norm” is something substantially different. I think this is especially true when it comes to our diets. We are so programmed to just eat. I am reminded that in my home growing up , at 5:00 p.m. it was dinner time. That time was almost sacrosanct. Furthermore, it did not matter if you might have snacked an hour before, you sat down and ate, and you cleaned up everything on your plate. No questions asked.

It is hard to believe that the beginning of the school year is barely three weeks away. Again, there will be changes: new students, new schedules, a new office, perhaps a new status . . .  each of these things constitutes some kind of change in my life. However, I am not the only one who experiences such a phenomena. We are constantly in a state of flux, or so it seems. What is constant? Is it that nothing is? I was told the other day”you’ve become stronger and wiser over the past few months . . .”. Those are significant words and they mean a lot to me. It is interesting sometimes what pushes us to be stronger and wiser, but most often it seems that such a change comes from adversity, from struggle. I am reminded of a sign that now hangs outside my office. “May your dreams be bigger than your fears and your actions greater than your words” (Anonymous). We are either held back because of those fears and paralyzed because we refuse to take control of our lives. I must admit that most of my life certainly a propensity of mine has been to worry about the welfare of others, to my own detriment. That might work for a while, but at some point it causes resentment and anger. I know this first hand. I have become more discerning about what I will do and how I will help as well as when and why. Even when I think back to college I was the person who would help others sometimes resulting in the creation of my own perilous circumstances. I has taken me a long time to understand, or perhaps more accurately believe, that I should make sure that I am cared for. It has always seemed selfish to put myself first. Now, lest you believe that I am turning into a self-centered jerk, please to not fear. That is not the plan. I merely am working on things that are necessary for my self care before always putting the other person first. I have been reminded by a number of people this summer that I need to do that. I have always understood the logic of it, but putting it into practice takes some work.

Speaking of changes, there are others for whom I care a great deal that are going through their own changes, and they are significant. I am always amazed at how time creates changes in us. How what we perceive at one point in our life evolves into something much different. The consequences of those changes can be painful. That is what I am witnessing at the present time and my heart hurts for all affected by the impending change. I understand the reasoning, at least to some extent, but that certainly does not make it any easier. There is also the reality of the unknown when changes are undertaken. The more extensive the change, the more likely that the unknown is more frightening. I think that is what I am seeing at this point. I am also affected by the change, but there is only so much I can do, or perhaps, even should do. I think it will be a lot of using my ears and eyes and sitting back and waiting. That is also not in my nature to sit back, but learning to do so will be another important lesson for me. In many ways it is analogous to the pebble dropped in the pond and the concentric circles that emanate from that initial circle. As I often remind people, we do not live in a vacuum. As much as it might be easier, there is no such possibility. I am also reminded of something I used to tell people when I did pre-marital counseling when I was a parish pastor. I would take these starry-eyed couples that being married would be the most difficult and time-consuming job they would ever have. In my smart-ass so of way, I would also ask them how she knew that this was whose underwear she wanted to pick up for the rest of her life? Or how did he know that she was the person he would love regardless of what she asked or how she might change? Almost without exception, they would stare back with wrinkled noses and say that I was not being very romantic. So much of life is not romantic. That is reality. I have written about my father and his wisdom many times. This is another example of that wisdom. He said that each person in a marriage needs to be willing to give 150%. He went on to explain that sometimes one of the individuals cannot give what he or she needs and the other needs to pick up the slack. Yet, if the same person always picks up the slack, there will be problems. After my divorce from Susan, he noted that we had not worked together well as a couple. At first I was a bit irritated at that comment, but when I pondered and analyzed, he was absolutely correct.

Well, what I have been reminded of this summer is, as noted, there seems to be very little that is constant. And yet, in spite of the changes, there are things that connect all the changes. There is a connecting thread if you will that connects us to our past. It is those connecting points,if you will, that help us understand who we are and what truly matters to us. It is interesting to me that I am still figuring that out. I am blessed that a couple people have really pushed me to become more introspective and search myself and figure out what I need to do to better care for myself. Again being pushed from a number of directions to do so has been a pretty strong impetus, but I am grateful for yet another learning moment. Merely having the opportunity is a gift. The other day I was over at the Decker’s house and I got to catch up with Grace a bit more. She was in a playful mood and so enjoyable to be around. Bantering with her was really a fun time. She is almost 16, and an entirely normal 16 year old in some aspects. She is much smarter than she believes and she is also kinder and more approachable than she wants others to know, but that is part of her figuring out who she is. I am sure glad I do not have to go back to those times in my life.

Another change was I got the courage to speak with someone I have considered speaking to for at least three years. I have to give Melissa some credit for that. She pushed me more than she might realize, but it was a gentle and caring push and it was what I needed. So the consequence was an enjoyable afternoon. Well, I could write paragraphs yet, but there is a certain point now where that would be procrastination because I have work to do. Time to get to it. Syllabi need to be changed; BOLT courses need to be changed; my life continues to change. Later this week I will be traveling and I will try to blog from that location. Another place: another change.

Thanks for reading.

Michael