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

Grace and Dignity on Either Side of the Tracks

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Good morning,

It is almost Wisconsin-cold here in the Upper Susquehanna Valley this morning, but it is still nonetheless manageable. I got up extremely early to deal with some issues and will be on the road again before the day is out. It is now Friday evening and I am back in Gettysburg. Driving about 500 miles today has taken it’s toll on me. Sometimes I’m rather astounded that I used to think road trips were fun. I did stop on the way back because I needed to take a break. I got something to eat and also took a nap at a rest stop. Some of the morning events reminded me of how little I know about some things. While I generally like to believe that I am someone well-informed that was not the case this morning.

As I observed and listened to what went on I realized how difficult things are for so many people. It forced me to reflect again on what I believe is the ever widening gap between those who have things and those who do not; the difference between those who worked hard to try to get something only to lose it and those who seem to get things with little or no work. It was actually part of the conversation I had this morning. Furthermore, and I should not be surprised, it is showing up in my little corner of the world as the university has decided to change how tuition will be charged and subsequently be collected. One can be sure that students were not included in the decision and, for the most part neither were faculty. What I understand is some were given the “opportunity” to attend a meeting on the Friday of Thanksgiving break. Otherwise, as a whole we were not given much notice either. From what we can tell the board of governors has decided that students can make up any budget shortfall. I could say much more about this decision and the process, but I will refrain, at least for the moment. At Bloomsburg this reduces the forecasted deficit, which seemed a bit sketchy to begin with from 1o million to about 3 million. I am waiting to get some final figures. What this will do to students, to programs, and to the state system does not appear to have been part of the decision-making process. The absurdity of it, at least at this moment, is beyond my comprehension. It will price many low income students and families out of the market, again widening the gap between those who can afford college and those who cannot.

The title of this blog posting is actually a quote from a story I heard this morning on NPR. It was a story about a children’s book and about a boy on a bus. The little boy with his Nanna lamented the things that he did not have, while his Nanna tried to help him focus more carefully on the things that he did have. I am generally not inclined to buy children’s books, but I might have to get this one. The author and illustrator, both Californians, wrote about things they experienced growing up. As I have noted in blogs past, I did not always have what I wanted but not once can I remember not having what I needed. I was actually very fortunate. As I consider the events of today, I am reminded about how decisions are made and so many people have little to no voice in those decisions. I know that I will be attending some meetings this week and into the semester. While I am not sure if anything can be done to reverse the university’s plan, I, for one, will go on the record to say it is unjust and not very well reasoned.

However, as I noted, I should not be surprised. Reflecting on some of the news stories over the last two weeks and the decision of the Koch brothers to spend almost one billion dollars on the next election, I need some assistance. Someone help me understand how that is democracy. Someone explain to me how buying an election creates trust in our system, in the people, or in the elected government. I cannot see it. It is manipulation. I cannot imagine the founders of this country believing that this would be what they hoped or believed could happen to their grand experiment. In fact, I heard the most fascinating address or lecture tonight about the state of politics in Pennsylvania. The bottom line in that address was basically that no one elected in the legislature needed anyone else nor did they feel beholden to them. Even though we were the only state to not re-elect an incumbent Republican governor, The election of Governor Wolfe was actually vote against the former Governor Tom Corbett and not vote for the Democrat. Our esteemed and knowledgeable speaker went on to note that the legislature is both the most Republican and polarized it has been in the last half century. It was actually a very fascinating and frightening address. Perhaps the last important point that directly affects those of us in higher education is that while the electorate wants something done to fund education that is mostly at the K-12 level. The entire thing was quite depressing when I think about it carefully.

That actually brings brings me to my point or focus in this post. A few years ago there was a somewhat vocal, but short-lived group of protests against the so-called one-percent-ers. While the initial argument was against so few having so much wealth, the protests were not focused entirely on that and too many others, in my opinion, jumped on the proverbial bandwagon; the consequence ended up with the initial message about unfairness or injustice becoming diluted. As the one-percenters unabashedly try to buy the next election, as a board of governors decides to put a burden, one created by an ex-governor, who took $90 million from higher education during his four years ~ something supported by the legislature ~  on the backs of students, the opportunity for many students to be educated within the Commonwealth becomes more unobtainable because of rising costs. The plethora of other consequences or fall-out from this decision is exponentially troubling, but I will leave that for another time. While there are certainly cases of the stereotypic millennial entitlement, there are many other students who work so desperately hard to take advantage of the opportunity to be educated. I know this to be the truth because I see it daily. In spite of the debt they must take on to receive an undergraduate education, many students work hard both in their classes and in extracurricular jobs, hoping to eventually graduate and make a difference in their lives. I think of some students I know quite well, ones who are prime examples of this. Paying meticulous attention to everything that concerns their education and working tremendously hard with such myopic focus, they actually miss some things they should not. However, I’m not sure it is possible to see the consequence of those actions at times. Even though I have felt the sequela of that perceived demand, and its aftermath, I guess if I step back, just maybe, I can understand why. Perhaps the sophistic elegance and grace used at times is more necessary than I’ve been willing to realize. I still don’t like it, but perhaps, at moments, I can at least comprehend it’s necessity.

While I am certainly not extraordinarily wealthy, I have to admit that I have a few worries. I have worked hard with 14 years in college, but I’ve also been fortunate. Without the care of many over the years, I would not be where I am. What I’ve tried to do is to give to others and return the good fortune that I have been blessed to receive. I grew up in a part of town or we were called river rats. It was a blue-collar and and certainly one of the poor sections of town. As I previously noted there were times growing up but I’m sure my parents struggle mightily to even give us necessities. But the people on my block and in my neighborhood worked hard. They asked for little, if anything, and they live their lives with grace and dignity. There is the saying about growing up on the wrong side of the tracks. I’m not sure I was on the wrong side, but, on the other hand, I’m not sure I was on the right side. Maybe I grew up actually on the tracks . What I am realizing is maybe it was to being on the tracks that forced me to keep moving. Because logically, if one stays in that place, the outcome would be to get run over, not a particularly wise not pleasant outcome.

When I realize that we all have our story, and no two are the same, I’m compelled to believe that each story has value. To fail to believe in the value of the other is to lose sight of the founding principles of democracy. When we fail to treat others with grace and dignity, we fail them, but more significantly we fail ourselves. This past week, in my Foundations class, we spoke about the value of each person’s language and what they bring to class. We talked about the difference between standard and nonstandard language. The language someone brings with them helps them understand who they are. It creates an identity. One of the many things that I am tasked to do is to move that language into academe. To help the student claim his or her place as someone hoping to become a scholar. Sometimes that’s a tall order. But more importantly I can only assist I cannot make someone do it. I know this from my own experience. I’ve also watched someone over the past year work tremendously hard to overcome previous choices. It is something they have done on their own. Most of the time, it has been a joy to watch.

Perhaps it’s because I still feel I am on the tracks at times that I work so hard to help others move from one place to the next. Well I’m not sure that I do it with all that much grace I do try to do it with dignity. That is all I can do. So it is almost 4:00 a.m. Perhaps I can go back to sleep. . . . I did sleep, but as is often the case I needed to go back, edit, proofread and then work on this some more. I am always amazed by what I find in my writing, especially when it is done at some early hour of the morning. What I see, not surprisingly, is even at that time, my brain goes faster than either my voice or my fingers. I miss things. I make illogical jumps. It is now Monday and I am facing student conferences, grading, revisions, and other things. Then there is the life outside of here that always seems to disappear. It is time to get organized yet again. So I am off to do just that.
As always thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin

Flying

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Good early morning,

On Friday afternoon, I allowed my Foundations students the opportunity to be outside for class as It was an in-class writing day. It was actually a phenomenal day weather-wise, which typified the week (which is surprising because it was fair week here), but as I made my way around the quad speaking to students, one of the things I noted was the semester was 1/3 over. I do not ever remember it seeming to go so quickly. The speed with which these past 5 weeks has gone by seems surreal at best. I have noted that sense of time passing by more quickly, but it seems to be in “warp speed” and I do not even like science fiction, but this is not fiction (and I like it even less). I wonder if it is I am aware more that the time I have left is limited. Is it that last birthday or is it more?

This weekend I was reading paper proposals, blogs, and other things students have handed in. I wish I could go back in time and be able to move through space and see what one was like in high school last year for my freshman. However, in all of upper level courses, as is often the case, I have some students who have been in a class with me previously. I should note that the previous class is generally a FYW class. My general practice is to have a “Writing with Sources” presentation with in the first week of class and using sources correctly and managing the formula (MLA, APA, CSM) is something I spend a significant amount of time on. So when I have one of them in class again and their work looks like no one ever taught them anything about citation, I am both stunned and somewhat disillusioned. From freshman to seniors, average students to strong, citation, and the formula for doing it correctly, seems to be a foreign language. I remember helping one of the more exceptional students I have ever met last year, last minute as he or she panicked at the impending deadline. I was sending pictures to show them formatting. I remember working diligently last year with a former student as that student attempted to help another. There seemed to be no recollection of what I had worked so hard in class to both teach the way to do it and stress the importance of doing so. It begs the question of why? It is because they grow up with a lack of being shown its importance or significance? That does not seem logical to me because every teacher had to attend college and the importance of citation is stressed. Is it that they do not think classes outside an English Department worry about citation, so neither should they? I know colleagues from other disciplines believe it is important, so that rationale does not seem to hold water. I know in at least some of the cases in my current class, the student was taught, but demonstrates little to no evidence that such instruction ever occurred, so then what am I to think?

I am left with something I referred to in my last post: have we created a generation of “everyone-wins-there-are-no-consequences-let-me-take-care-of-that-I-do-not-know-how-to-think-critically-why-should-I-synthesize-but-I-tried” dependents? “Houston, I think we have a problem.” I think was the line from Apollo 13. More accurately – Arne Duncan, American education system, school administrators, teachers, colleges, professors, and parents, I think (I know) we have a problem. I am a bit concerned about the world it seems we have created. I think being older and not having to be around to see what is coming might be a blessing in disguise. I am actually shocked at the self-centered attitude that seems to permeate so many of the people in my classes and this generation in general – all under the guise of “I merely changed my mind” or “it’s not what I want to do” or “it’s not convenient and stresses me out.” Welcome to being in a grownup world. Tonight in my class the idea of deadlines and being accountable or responsible for one’s actions, or lack thereof, seemed to shock people when I told them that because what they did affected others it was neither acceptable nor professional. The fact that I might question such behavior seemed like a shock, at least to some. Whether it is an assignment or merely a verbal commitment, simply  expecting follow-through or communicating should there be a change in plans is not an unreasonable point of view. Furthermore, finding such a lack in doing this as unprofessional or problematic is actually common sense; it is how the world works. It is what employers require. That is the kind way or rhetorically appropriate way to put it. After an earlier conversation, I decided to do some research to see if I was off base. What I have found was instructional and has two points I find particularly germane. This mindset of “what I decide is all that matters”, is commonplace (we are in trouble), and many employers and old people, like me, are rather stunned at this lack of dependability or a seemingly cavalier attitude toward any commitment, and second (and I wish I could say equally stunning, but I see it too often so I cannot) the 20-something is irritated by our questioning, and as such believes it is somehow our problem. As my closest colleague said, “They will get fired.” In fact, my research revealed the number of bosses or job recruiters who have fired new employees, or these new hires just quit was staggering. Yet, observing what I did today confirms this attitude as “the norm”. This teleological ethic again leads us societally toward some real problems.

It is amazing how a string of events, when analyzed, puts things into a much clearer perspective. I will have to ponder the idea of taking flight in yet another way. The title above has taken on even more significance as I have worked to write this. During the late summer, I flew to California with two people who have not flown a lot. The first flight was a propeller flight. One of the individuals was petrified and it was also a bit shocking. I have never experienced such a fear of flying in someone. While one might consider it amusing, in a bigger picture I really did not. However, I was shocked that a person who tries to appear as nothing could ever faze him or her was so completely frightened. I am not sure it is even possible to get them on another flight and I think a propeller flight is certainly out of the question. It is always surprising to me that just when I begin to trust something something seems to fly in and change or shatter that trust. I remember once writing in my notes “trust no one”. I know on the other hand living that way is a double-edged sword. To trust someone or to put trust into something sets one up for disappointment and hurt, even if they have claimed to trust you. While trusting someone might create this potential for hurt, to live one’s life without trusting can create s life of solitude, but a solitude that is really loneliness and possible disillusionment. There is a place of balance, but that balance is a tenuous place at best. The belief that the clock can be rolled back to an earlier place just because of change is naïve at best, but when applying a teleological method it seems both possible and appropriate. There are no consequences only moving on, but the belief that life offers such a possibility is quite misguided. I have had to learn this the hard way from things in my earlier life. Life is not like the movie Groundhog Day. If only it were – I would have wanted to end up with Andie McDowell too.

I do wish I could live my life in a totally conditional manner to believe that everything is a “what if” statement (not really). What if by merely deciding, there is a change; therefore, I can also change without regard to surroundings (be that things or people)? What if I could move in and out of any situation merely because I decided? What if I could disregard any commitments or have anything I said not really count, that everything is a do over if I so decide? What if . . . wait!! You can. We now live in a world where there are no absolutes, it is a Pomo world – I have experienced it at least three times in the last 36 hours or so. Maybe that is why I am feeling like we have moved toward the precipice of chaos. There is no sense of that old adage, one that I grew up with: “one’s word is their bond.” That must just be for old people, unfortunately (and it is in numerous ways unfortunate and fortunate) , I am old.

Thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin