“An American Child”

Good early morning,

It is shortly after 5:00 a.m. and as is typically the case, or so it seems, I am awake and my brain is racing along with possibilities than what seems reasonably conceivable to me. What is reasonable might be the first question to ponder. As I get up most mornings, or more accurately awaken, I read three to five different news sources,  from ones referred to by “my” President as “fake news” to the one that should be called “the President’s friends.” Why might you ask? Because I think I need to listen to a variety of voices and then decide where I stand. One does not think critically unless challenged to do so. As I work with more than 70 freshmen writing students this semester, it becomes more and more apparent to me (and this is my own opinion) that our public school system is in dire straits. We are not teaching students to think critically; we are not teaching them to think beyond the obvious and analyze the learning situation; and finally we are not teaching them how to connect their learning to something else they are learning or to make connections across disciplines and situations. We seem content to teach them to memorize or to learn to jump hoops to manage the standardized test that somehow demonstrates they are capable. The consequence is students who are very nice and want to do well, but the tool box they have from which to draw their tools or skills is pretty sparse.

Yet, I find myself conflicted. Certainly we have a requirement as their professors. We are to take what comes to us and prepare them academically, socially, and critically to enter a world that is in a most precarious position (again, my opinion). The current fight between the reality of globalism and the somewhat knee-jerk reaction of nationalism (or nativism as it was called this past week) has two incredibly powerful philosophical ideas of what we how we are to proceed to manage this complex world that is interdependent, whether we like it or not. I have witnessed this not merely here in the United States, but when I was in Ireland last year the Brexit vote was in process. When I have been in Hungary or Poland, or read about some of the neighboring countries, the struggle to become an accepting world of the other versus keeping to ourselves is dramatically apparent around the globe. Just today in Egypt there is news of difficulties; Turkey has had its own issues and some of my former colleagues from Wisconsin have been affected by that. Students in our universities are unsure of their status because of issues in their own countries or the third iteration of a travel ban, which has been challenged again by Hawaii. What is the world we are preparing our students to enter? How do we understand it? What does our obsession with technology and how it is being used as evidenced on an almost daily basis done to how we understand ourselves, our world, or what we can believe to be real or truthful. The irony of the revelation that the Trump family themselves posted information from the Russian infiltrators, which was genuine fake news, did not go unnoticed by me or many others. The overwhelming propensity to jump on anything posted and use it within our own context or for our own partisan viewpoint has made anything posted suspect. What are the consequences?

The consequence is there is no trust. There is no decorum. There is little possibility for a national conversation, or forget national, even interpersonal one-on-one conversation with someone with whom you might have some fundamental difference in opinion (please note I merely said opinion). We cannot seem to have any opportunity to discuss most anything because we have to win; we have to prove we are right. The consequence is a fragmentation beyond anything I have witnessed in my life. And yet, I am that American child. What does that mean to me? It does mean I had opportunities that many in the world did not, and still do not, have. Even though I was on a third family by the time I was less than 5; even though my biological parents were probably not the most suited to be parents; even though I struggled as an adopted child for many reasons I have laid out in earlier blogs, I had opportunities many others did not have. What I know now, as I am older and as I noted there is more of my life behind me than ahead of me, is there have always been people who were kind enough to lend me a helping hand, people caring and generous enough to offer me opportunities that would not have been available without their help. I di grow up in a time that even blue-collar, poorer kids on the Westside of Sioux City, Iowa believed in possibilities. We believed in that American dream, and I am quite sure that most of our parents hoped we might have opportunities for success that went beyond what they had experienced. I have often said that I innately understood that my parents wanted me to go to college, but they did not know how to help that occur. They thought it mean merely get good grades, but even then they were not sure what constituted good grades. I think more they saw good grades as scholarships because they did not have the money to help me get to college. In fact, they had no idea what the cost was. I remember many years later (almost 10) when I was a senior in college finally and my mother could not understand why I had to work or seemed to be broke all of the time. When I told her how much it cost me per credit hour to take classes, she told me I was lying. When I showed her the costs, her response in utter disbelief was, “How can you afford to do that?” My response was, “How can I afford not to do that?” Costs back then are a mere fraction of what students are paying now. The investment in education is astronomical, and the competition for a position after college is certainly more extreme.

Yet, most of my students believe in that dream . . .  I believe the dream is a bit more difficult to imagine for students today. I believe the dream is a bit more illusive, but is that a good thing or a bad thing? That, I believe, depends on the person. When the dream is more illusive because of one’s social economic class it saddens me; when the dream is more illusive because of someone’s birthplace or status, the color of their skin or their gender, their sexual identity, it causes me pause because then the dream is limited to the few and in contrary to whom I was raised to believe we are as a country of opportunity. Again, before you want to jump on a particular bandwagon, I am not trying to stand in opposition to our laws or points that seem to be touch-points for argument. I could certainly argue that I am one of those who had to work much more intentionally to make my way out of a blue collar neighborhood. Again, before you think I do not respect the trades or unions, you have not read much of what I have written about my journey electrician father or older brother, or two nephews. You are not aware of my summer jobs working in packing plants, co-op fertilizer elevators, harvesting wheat, waiting tables or bartending for 2o years. As I write this I am sitting in a Starbuck now, in Chantilly, VA, guests of yet another culture of people who have blessed me. Egyptian/Sudanese and as I have watched the people coming in an out I have seen Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Black, and I am probably the minority. Those things actually do not frighten me, they give me hope.

What I believe being an American child gave me was hope. It allowed me to dream of possibilities and options. It allowed me to be proud of a country that seemed to be a beacon of hope not just for an adopted middle class small boy from NW Iowa, but for the rest of the world. My first trip to Europe as a student, as I have noted before, allowed me to see the world as a place to learn, a place to explore and realize how the centuries of history in the Vatican, in Aachen, Lubeck, or Copenhagen had a connection to what I was learning in Blair, Nebraska. What I realized in that trip, which was the consequence of the generosity of Harold and Dorothy Wright, was the world was a walking history book that need to be absorbed and learned. As I have been blessed to be on the other side now and take students to Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Germany, Austria, and Slovakia this time is to realize how much Central and Eastern Europe has to offer to my understanding of our changing world. I have mentioned more than once, I am not sure I had any idea what the future would hold for me, and even at this advanced age, I am not sure. What I do know is it has been quite a journey and one that I do believe being the American child offered me a sense of perspective and opportunity I might not have had. Because of the generosity of a little tornado, I am able to now help others. I am able to offer opportunities that go beyond what I knew at that age. It is ironic that it was not an American native, but one who came to America to continues to bless me so I can bless others. Amazing how life works . . . but it continues to do so. With that, I offer this video.

As always thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin (that Riverside child)

 Considering Success or Has it Returned?

Hello on an early Friday morning,

It has been a long week . . . starting out with a sinus infection, one of my patented fevers, and deciding to take a day and a half off as sick days, now for the second night in a row, I have managed to sweat through sheets and wake up freezing.  It is reminiscent of three years ago, and that scares me. I need to probably call my doctor and get in for a check up, but I am not sure I want the answers. What if what I suspect has returned? It astonishes me how much more I seem to need sleep than I used to – I am often in bed before 9:30 and while I might wake up, as I am now, I still get back to sleep and I am often sleeping  7-9 hours versus what was a life (at least from my mid 20s until now) of 3-4. What frustrates me is I still have enough work that if I were sleeping the lesser amount, I might be more caught up than I am. Certainly the early week’s unexpected day and a half hiatus from any meaningful work has taken its toll and the coming  weekend will need to be sufferingly sedulous. That is if I hope to make next week any less than unbearable. And it is not my classes, my time spent n class is sort of my personal oasis from the rest of the craziness that permeate any tenure-track or tenured faculty person’s life. Those three areas that make up our professional week have no limits or time constraints. The two outside the classroom sit there in front of you almost taunting you to attempt to thwart their impending time-drain on your daily calendar. They are the service items on your CV, or the extra-mile that so many faculty go to make a difference in a student’s academic or personal existence as they spend their four years (more or less) on campus and in our offices. They include the scholarly work that is both exhilarating and exhausting because you need to shoe-horn it in between all the other requirements.

As I am less than 24 hours from another commemoration of entering this world, I find myself pondering where I am and what seems to be different from even a few short years ago. Certainly, there are many ways or points by which one can make the comparison.  However like the theme of my Google Map, I think the “auguries of loneliness” phrase still fits my life quite aptly. This journey of a sort of melancholy can be examined by a consideration of the number 10. I think I might do a bit of it by each decade . . . from 2 to 62. Just this morning I was noting that hopefully someone would not remember what happened to them at the age of two – something for another blog posting. Amazingly, I do remember something about being two. By the time I was two, I and Kris, my younger sister was less than a year had traveled more extensively than we realized. I had traveled from Texas to California to Nebraska. Now we had been moved in to live my paternal grandparent’s house. It is the house I have in someways tried to model my home now after. That sort of hominess that comes from making what is natural to the home come alive. That house in the Leeds area of Sioux City was the last house on the hill located on Harrison Street, sitting on a small acreage as it was called then. I remember a breakfast of poached eggs, a half grapefruit, and a piece of toast that was toasted from bread made in their bakery. That breakfast is, to this very day comfort food for me, but more importantly, that house was a house where love reigned supreme, or it sure seemed so to me. It was the house where by two, I already attempted to dress myself and make my bed. Where I went down the steps from my bedroom and sat there waiting for everyone else to get up. See that sleep thing began much earlier in life. It was the place where my grandfather sat with me on the back steps showing me that I did not need to be afraid of the great-horned owl who visited us nightly. Looking back, it was a time where I felt safe and loved . . . What more can a two year old want?

By the time I was turning 12, life had changed drastically. After losing my grandfather shortly before my third birthday to cancer, and I remember him being ill, but certainly not understanding he was dying,  Kris and I would be adopted by a couple who were still family. My adopted father, of whom I have written often in this blog, and my grandmother were first cousins. As I noted can in my freshman classes today, explaining how they might approach an element of their Google Map/Memoir assignment, the day I left Leeds and moved to Riverside as an adoopted child was a life-changing event. There is much that has been written on his topic in former blogs also. By the time I was 12, what was evident is I would be one of the smallest and shortest people in my class. What was also painfully evident, though I did not understand it then, was my mother’s forced single-parenting because our father worked in Northern Minnesota 12 hours a day, and 7 days a week, made daily life in Riverside anything but ideal. On the other hand, there were some positive things. I had become one of the best trumpet players in a town of 100,000 people, and I was in both Sioux City Children’s Choir and the Choldren’s Community Theatre. While, I was not feeling really all that safe anymore, I did know that my grandmother was still there and I knew she loved me as much as ever.

By the time I reached 22, there were a number of events I remember that significantly impacted my life. My older brother had died tragically from the consequences of a construction accident. I had graduated from high school, enlisted in the Marine Corps, came home from experiences I never expected to have, did not understand who I was, where I fit, managed to flunk out of college, met the first girl I truly loved, and realized more fully that my adopted mother really didn’t like me. Does that sound disjointed? It should because that was my life. I had no direction; I was frightned and I felt like my life had little purpose. During that year (in fact, less than two weeks after my 22nd birthday) my grandmother passed away. I believe I cried harder that day than I have perhaps ever cried in my life. The one person who loved me unconditionally was gone. I felt a loneliness and fear I had never felt before. I was not even allowed in the house of my best friend because of my own immaturity and inability to handle another situation. It would take forty years to actually figure that all out, and thank God for someone giving me a chance to talk it all through. More about that to come. Again, not that far into my 22nd year, another potential tragedy served as a wake-up call, when a friend and work friend pulled a gun out one night. Suffice it to say, I grabbed the gun and it went off. He would end up in surgery to remove a bullet and I would end up rethinking the direction my life would take. What was missing at this point was that stabilizing force in my life . . . A person who truly loved me.

By the time I reached 32, the cascade of events that would influence where I might end up were so numerous, I could probably write a book about that decade alone. After wandering pretty aimlessly for a time, though some amazing skills were gained even then, I found my way back to college and even graduate school. I would be married and finishing seminary. I found that college actually “fit” so to speak. I loved learning and I loved the intellectual stimulation that courses and lectures created. I found that traveling and languages became a passion. I would end up working a great deal on my German and took Latin and Greek. Greek, after being the bane of my existence the first time I attempted ended up being something I loved and would end up teaching that summer before I was ordained as a pastor in the ELCA. Learning to be married was something I also worked at, but what I think my life would epitomize at this point was I was becoming successful professionally, but personally, not so much. Again, I think the lost of a grandmother even a decade earlier had still caused me more profound loss and sense of security than I had realized.

I feel in some ways like I am giving my typed version of the Zager and Evans song, “In the Year 2525,” for those of you who know that one-hit wonder, you will smile. If you really want to smile, look of the music video of that song on YouTube, the bustled-shirts, the pastel colors, the hair, and the sideburns are worth the look. What a terrible style we found appropriate at that point. By the time I was 42 my adopted mother would pass away. That was a difficult time for me. I would fail in a first marriage and be in a second one. So much can be said, and I have written about some of these things in the past. During the time I was in graduate school at Michigan Tech, my life was a whirlwind of events and health issues. The Crohn’s that I had fought since my late 20s seemed to be winning and the personal world that I had attempted to create with a second wife was crumbling and something that was much more traumatic that I had hoped for. In addition, my adopted father would pass, and if it were not for my schooling, I am not sure I would have survived. Schooling and weekly counseling by an amazing man named Don. I have told more than one person that those weekly sessions were my one hour of sanity. Little did I know what was still to come. I would become a troll as I followed my second wife to Oakland County Michigan and I would end up back in Iowa – back to Michigan – to Texas and back to Michigan, but this time back to the Upper Peninsula. The longing to be loved or feel lovable continued to be a struggle and what I realized in all of this was how much I felt my own inadequacies, and how devastating that was for me both personally and professionally. The words of not being worthy, good enough, smart enough, or whatever enough were my constant companions. I think I also, for the first time realized I would never be a father. That was more of a problem than I anticipated.

By the age of 52 I had achieved something I had never expected as that 17 year old who entered the Marine Corps because he did not know what else to do. I had finished by Ph.D, in Rhetoric and Technical Communication from Michigan Technological University and I held a tenure track position at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. I thought I had finally figured it out. While there were still health issues, I was single in a small Wisconsin town and thought I had finally achieved something. What I did not realize was there was still so much to learn. While I had learned more about church politics that I had ever hoped to know from my time as a parish pastor, I would soon learn that the academy was not really very much different. However, something new, or more precisely someone new entered my life. I gained a surrogate parent and somehow I would become the parent to her before it was all finished. What I have noted in my own piety is that I believe the position at UW-Stout had a dual purpose: first, it got me to Menomonie, WI, which was necessary for the second part yet to be explained; second, it also prepared me for the position I currently have, which is to direct a digital rhetoric and professional writing program, here in Pennsylvania. What I truly believe now is I was provided the position at Stout to meet Elaine and Tom Lacksonen, and by extension, Lydia. It is amazing yet how this little wisp of a person would change my life, yet again. When I talk to people about my life, which I seem somewhat fraught to do, and with more anxiousness than you might believe, they tell me I should be a few hundred years old. Yet, as noted above, I am only to the 50s of my life as I compose this chronological blog. Interestingly, Lydia took over my life; yet this is something I allowed/permitted/unwittingly encouraged. Even after leaving Wisconsin, my life was centered around trips that focused on her care and maintaining a promise made one more at Perkins as she devoured potato pancakes. Again, I have written much about her, so suffice it to say, “my life was Lydia’s life” for the better part of a decade.

Now I am 62 . . .  more changes seem to be on the horizon, but I am not totally sure what they are or how they will manifest themselves, but that is nothing new. I think what is new is they seem more significant, and I am not entirely convinced, if I were to write another decade of what has happened, that it will even occur. For the first time in my life, I think I can honestly say I am tired. I do not have the stamina I once had. I do not have the focus or ability to stay engaged hour after hour as I used to. This is frustrating to me, but is it perhaps my body trying to tell me something I do not want to hear. I am not afraid any longer to consider myself as getting old. This past summer at school, a colleague and I were watching the summer students and parents walk around. I asked in a pondering way, “I wonder what it means with the parents look young to me and the mothers are more attractive than their daughters?” His rather immediate response was “it means you are f-ing old.” Point well taken. This past year, as noted earlier, I had the opportunity to reconnect with that person from 40 years ago. Conversations, both through electronic media and phone ensued and I think it was the best thing that happened to me in a personal realm. It is amazing that we are such different people with so much life since then, but the conversations regarding our care for each other at that time will be held in my heart for the remainder of my days. We have not spoken lately, perhaps because neither have taken the time and life gets busy, but I need to reach out because I am grateful beyond words. All of which brings me to an important reminder or revelation that I need to remember in my own life.

We certainly go through seasons and phases and the relative importance of people changes. I know this, but it is always something with which I struggle. Yet, I do it to others as it is done to me, and I do not mean that it is intentionally done, but it is just the reality of things. One of my former students is living in my house during a five week pharmacy rotation. It has been a joy for that to occur. We have learned much about the other. It is her and I together in the picture above. She looks minimally different. Me . . . . well . . .  The past week has also been one of the times I am reminded of my fragility as someone, who matters beyond any words because of her care for Lydia, has seemed to retreat beyond what I expected. I understand busyness; I understand feeling overwhelmed. I understand rethinking something, but merely stating what needs to be said works better than avoiding. My fragility takes avoidance personally. That is my fault and I will own it. While I continually make progress in managing my fears, somehow they still find me. My newest, or latest more accurately, because it is certainly not new are the fevers that are back. My life is always a balancing act between healthy and less than . . .  but the wire upon which I travel is slender and frayed. I wish that were not the case, but it is. So as I countdown hours to another anniversary of arrival, I know that tomorrow will come and it will go. While there is little to physically show for that advancement, when I look at the 3 score and 2 years I have been here, it has been quite a journey. I am grateful to all who have played a role in making me the person I am at this point. I have been richly blessed and hopefully I have imparted to some significant degree as much for those who have been in my life be they in Wisconsin or California, Montana or Pennsylvania. With all of that, I offer this song. For those who have tried along the way and I was too stubborn or proud to listen, forgive me. I think this perhaps describes me too often. And still I miss her love . . .

As always thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin

 

SGS – Short Once Again

Hello from the GI/Nutrional Center at Geisinger,

I am currently waiting for a recopying of paperwork that I managed to misplace before I even got out of the hospital today. I am not sure how I managed that, but I did. I have been diagnosed with something called Short Gut (or Bowel) Syndrome, which is a direct consequence of the surgeries I have endured because of Crohn’s. It is primarily an issue of malabsorption of the intestinal tract. In my case, it is the combination of the removal of the large intestine (or total colectomy, which began in 1986) and the eventual removal of a significant portion of the ileum or part of the small intestine (which occurred completely in 1997, after reconstructing it in 1991 and again in 1993). For me the malabsorption is really no absorption because those parts of the intestinal tract are no longer present. The present treatment as it appears will include shots, vitamin supplements (of or for a number of things), a change in fluid intake, and a different diet. At least for the time being, I will not need parenteral nutrition (which would be vein feeding). The significant point in all of this is pretty simple. Once again, I have some sense of what is happening and why. Now I merely have to make the changes necessary to manage all of it. Most of my life has been about managing a situation where it seems things might have come up a bit shorter, smaller, or earlier than imagined.

Throughout high school and even into, and for most of, the service, I was the younger one, the shorter one, the smaller one, and probably, though difficult to say, the more immature one. All of those things had consequences for me. Being shorter created what might some call in today’s world bullying, but I saw it as a sort of teasing, and, indeed sometimes it had negative consequences. On the other hand it taught me how to cope; i learned how to manage difficult situations with both decorum and a sense of humor. That was significant because if I had been inclined to fight over most of it, I would have spent most of my childhood getting my ass kicked. My Great-aunt Helen once told me that I had developed a pleasant and pleasing disposition early in life (like before I was 2). Being shorter meant I was always in the front row in those group elementary school pictures. Being shorter meant that I was not going to be a basketball player and the fact I did not weigh three digits until I was senior in high school meant football was probably not a healthy choice. Instead, running and such were much more suited for my shorter, lighter physique. Then there was the fact that I looked even younger. Where I went to school, we had a junior/senior high school. Seventh (7th) graders were initiated, sort of like college freshmen and beanies back in the day. Looking as young as I did, I was still be initiated when I was in 10th grade. I remember going to a youth event for my church and being embarrassingly mortified when one of the older members of my youth group made fun of my minimal body hair when I was in 9th or 10th grade. Maybe that is why to this day, I have only been clean shaven twice since I was perhaps 23. I never really thought about that or made that connection. Starting school at the age of 4 seemed like a good idea to my parents, and probably to me, when I began kindergarten, but it had consequences when I got older, but was still one of the younger ones. Amazing that for the first third of my life, I was always that person: younger, shorter, smaller, and yes, still the immature one. That continued through my time in the Marine Corps. When I tried to enter the Marines, I did not pass the physical because I was too light. When I got to boot camp, I was named Private Chicken Body because I was so small. I was told if I lost weight I would be dropped to PCP (not a drug, but Physical Conditioning Platoon). Even when I got out of the Marines, I did not look like your typical veteran.

When I got to Dana, for the first time I was not the younger one, but actually one of the older. I was 24 when I entered as a freshman at Dana. While I had been to college before that first foray into higher education was less than stellar. When I started Dana, I was more immature than most realized, or more accurately, I was more frightened. I was afraid of failing again, and I was determined to not make the same mistake I had made previously. While those four years did a lot to shape the person I am today, there was still so much to learn. There was the need to believe in myself. There was the necessity of believing that I was worth something, that I was capable, that I belonged. Those maladies affected me more than most will realize. The maturity aspect of this is what I believe has been more inopportune for me than the shortness, smallness, or being younger. It seems, particularly into my 40s, that I was behind my peers. In my 20s that gap seemed to be 4 or 5 years, even when I was chronologically older. When I got into my 30s, and especially when I was a parish pastor, there was the necessity to catch up. In some ways, I did, but emotionally, not so much. This created more adversity. I remember having to work with so many people and so many things. I was theologically and practically prepared, but the little person, who was still such a profound part of me and that few saw, felt totally unprepared and inept. It created more problems that I have probably admitted in my personal life also. While there were ways I was ready to be married (and by that time I had been married for 5 years or so), there were other ways I really was not as prepared as I believed. There is an irony in that because while I was certainly older and more prepared in some ways, I was probably not any more prepared than she was, but I was viewed as older and wiser. It was not always true.

What I am forced to admit is that my immaturity certainly did things to doom that marriage. I know some who know both of us will say that I am being a bit hard on myself, and perhaps that is true, but I am not shouldering all the blame. It seems I must merely try to be more honest about my part in that failing. The other day I was talking about that period in my life and I have known for some time that while I believed I was handling things well, again, not so much. What I know is taking a position at Suomi at that time, while it seemed to be a good fit was anything but. Living in the dorm as I went through that divorce was problematic and even being in my own apartment the second year was less than ideal. Those two years also set a course with a bishop, to whom I referred in an earlier blog, that would be terminal for my calling as a pastor, at least in terms of ordination. Then I moved onto graduate school again, and toward a second marriage. The year between leaving Suomi and getting accepted to Michigan Tech was a brutal one, working as “the most educated server in the Keweenaw” did little for my self esteem, and probably damaged my liver more than I knew. I have often said all food and beverage staffs are dysfunctional families. That along with returning to being involved with the fraternity I had pledged as an undergraduate was a blessing and a curse to me. While I somehow managed grades and such, I did not manage responsible behavior and simply put, I tried to catch up on all the things I somehow believed I had missed. In terms of a rhetorical strategy, it did little for my ethos. Certainly, some probably thought me mentally ill or schizophrenic, and quite possibly, rightly so. I made mistakes in that time that I still regret. To get back to the theme for this posting, I fell short of what was expected and I was certainly a smaller person for it. By now I was into my 40s and honestly, I there were times I acted like an undergrad socially. Somehow academically, I did substantially better. Not surprisingly, I was in counseling this entire time. One might think a second marriage might have created a better situation, and in some ways, it did, but when the marriage created more issues, life was still a problem.

As I moved into the 21st century, I was still trying to figure out where I fit and who I was. That is a bit ridiculous for a person in their mid 40s, but it was who I was at the time. While again, I was successful in my professional life at this point, my personal life was in a shambles. In fact, my counselor at this point and I had this specific discussion. There is, as I noted a second marriage during this time, but I will address that in another blog at some point. I will say that I have had contact with my second wife recently and apologized to her for my failures. I am glad I was able to do that because it is about taking accountability for those choices. There are always ways to justify our mistakes, and certainly as humans we are prone to do so, but I think I am beyond that point. Simply put, I am a person who had (and still has) good intentions. The difference from the earlier Michael and the Michael of today is I allowed my immaturity and my things that I missed out on as a younger person to cloud my judgment. I wanted to experience some of the things I missed out on. With the older Michael, I somehow had my maturity  catch up with my chronology. I think perhaps the place that finally happened was in Menomonie, not in the first couple of years, but when I suddenly found myself caring for a new sort of adopted parent. I realized that I needed to do things better than I had earlier in my life. I needed to make up for what I felt was the failure of not being there for my own father.

I think I have always had some insightfulness into the needs of others and could see things that would help them, while failing to see the same exact thing in my own life. Again, somehow, my caring for the “little tornado,” as I still fondly call her, changed those things for me. Simultaneously, being in a new place professionally, and feeling a need to begin over, offered opportunities for me to finally close the gap. Interestingly, reconnecting with some and seeing things from a different perspective was helpful. Even in that reconnecting and exploring possibilities, I learned more about myself and what I needed if I am to care for myself. That was a new experience also. Most of my life I have probably vacillated between completely one side of the other, which is never good. What I am forced to admit it being short on one side or the other creates a situation that is seldom manageable. During the past 8 years I have been in Pennsylvania, I have finally closed the gap and I am probably where I need to be for the first time in my life. What I realize is I owe many people apologies for the failings, the mistakes, the inadequacies that permeated much of my life. I am sure I will make mistakes in the future, but it is my hope the failings will not cause others discomfort and struggles.

For the time being, it seems that I have a structure for my life and a structure for my health. Both things are helpful, and they are important. As I have told people, currently I have more doctors than I have fingers on one of my hands, but they are in touch with each other; as such I have an amazing team caring for me. During the past month, the care of others from students and colleagues to friends near and far, I am been blessed. Having the insight of a health professional who is also a dear friend has been my unexpected gift in all of this. The ability to ask questions and receive caring insight and advice has been both comforting and created a sense of security I am not sure I would have were the help not available. Speaking of other health things, as noted in a previous blog, one of my colleagues has passed on and the other is certainly in the closing days of his fight. Together they created a footprint on the English and Philosophy Department at Stout that cannot be replicated. In both cases, the loss is profound and life-changing, not only for their families, but for the scores of people they have touched across the country, and even the world. This is not hyperbole; it is the simple truth. As Dan has signed off on each of this letters to those of us honored to walk this journey with him, I leave you with this. Hug the ones you love. What amazing advice and what an important thing to remember.

While I have shared this video before, it seems appropriate in this time as I think of my mentor and treasured friend, Dr. Daniel Riordan.

 

 

To everyone else, thank you for reading and again, thank you for your thoughts and comments. I am blessed by you all . . . if I have offended or caused you harm in my earlier life, please forgive me.

Michael (Dr. Martin)

Memories of Days and Years Past

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Hello from the Fog and Flame,

It has been a morning of mishaps, but I guess that is to be expected as I am attentively, and somewhat in intensely, trying to make sure I have covered all my bases before the day is out. However, I need to relax and is often the case, my way to do that is to turn to my inner-self and write about it. However, before you read my blog this time, I am going to ask that you do what I am doing. If you have a pair of ear-buds or some other private listening device, please put them on or in and turn on your favorite Christmas or Hanukah music. As I write this, it is both Christmas Eve day and the beginning of Hanukah. The heavens and the calendars have united this year. Perhaps it is the harbinger of good things to come and unity can somehow find its way into other elements of our country and our world.

What are your first memories of Christmas? What made the season magical as is often the word used to describe this season, which is actually the season of Advent until tomorrow for the Christian? What made your Hanukah Celebrations memorable and how does Hanukah with differing dates change the anticipation for those who celebrate this Festival of Lights? My earliest memories of Christmas do not really begin until I was in elementary school. While I lived at the place by fondest memories of Christmas occurred, in spite of the fact I lived in that house until I was almost five, I do not remember Christmases there as a toddler. I do remember living there,  but I do not the holidays. I do remember all the amazing things that were created in the bakery as a small child and I know that the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas were tremendously busy. The pies and pastries, the amazing breads and various things that I somehow never tired of eating were setting out in every direction. What I remember about the Christmas holiday was spending a week at my Grandmother’s house beginning with Christmas, and usually until the end of the school vacation. Mornings of poached eggs, amazing toasted breads, and a fresh grapefruit were, and are, still my comfort food. Christmas Eve was always spent at church with multiple services and singing in choirs and we would open family presents between services. My mother was the most phenomenal Christmas cookie and candy maker and she would spend pretty much every waking moment from Thanksgiving to Christmas making more candy, cookies, peanut brittle, divinity, as she called it, Norwegian Christmas cookies, and anything you might imagine. Seriously, no one could touch her when it came to all of these Christmas treats. Christmas Eve meant getting to bed late, but not too late,  because Santa still needed to come and late nights jeopardized the visit. Christmas morning meant making oatmeal for breakfast and then packing the car to drive to Grandma’s house for a day of amazing food, a Christmas program of carols and music (me playing my trumpet, by older brother playing his trombone, and my sister, Kris, leading the singing of carols. This was our yearly gift to our relatives. Sometimes I must admit I did not want to do it, but at the end I was always glad I did. The Christmas dinner guests were my family of five, my Great-aunt Helen and her husband, Melvin, my Great-aunt Martha, who could still speak Norwegian, my Aunt Martha, my Uncle Claire, and sometimes, a few cousins. What I remember about the Christmas was my grandmother pulled out all the stops and was so happy that we came back to her house every year. She had an acreage and hills and tobogganing was a staple as well as games of hearts after dishes were done and somehow coming back to eat more, usually turkey sandwiches and more pie before everyone would leave, but that really began the holiday for my sister and me as we stayed at Grandma’s house for at least another week. I loved that house. It was not a rich or large house, but it was filled with love. From the old fashioned kitchen to the warm and toasty den, it was the place I felt safe; the place I knew I was loved. I was fortunate to have that through my high school years. I am not sure Christmas has ever been the same. That is not to say that there have not been additional memories that mean a lot to me.

When I was first married, Susan and I were pretty poor, but somehow I began to collect Dickens Houses for Christmas. Somehow they were all lost in a divorce. To this day, I am not sure what happened to them. I have always loved sitting in front of the Christmas tree in the dark with only the lights of the tree and music playing softly in the background. To this day, that has not changed. What has changed is that the holidays are special, but when I get to see the smiles and the excitement on face of others. A second important realization of Christmas for me was when I was in East Germany and Germany before Christmas in 1985. The German Christmas Markets and the fact that they celebrated Advent for Advent really impressed me, but merely as an issue of beauty, but as an issue of piety and appropriateness. Another significant Christmas memory for me was my second Christmas as a pastor in Lehighton, Pennsylvania, not far from where I live now. We did a special service for families called “The Animals’ Christmas” and everyone brought a stuffed animal to put in the chancel area. I did a monologue to my teddy bear and used the first Mannheim Steamroller’s Christmas music. It turned out well and when the lights came back up, parishioners actually had tears in their eyes. It was one of those times I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit at Christmas in ways I seldom have. I remember some Christmases in the Southern Black Hills of South Dakota with Susan’s family. Her parents were always terrifically kind to me and they are very good people. Christmas when I was a pastor was very different because of the amount of work that goes into Christmas services. Christmas Day when I was in the parish was a time to finally relax and decompress. If I was to consider the most important thing I have received from the Christmas holiday is finally a time when people seem a bit kinder, a bit more gentle and a time where perhaps they step back and realize what matters. While the giving and receiving of gifts is always amazing, it is the giving and receiving of care that really makes this time magnificent to me.

Two years ago today I was sitting vigil at the bedside of one of the most amazing people I have ever been blessed to know. She was actually somewhat Scrooge-ish when it came to Christmas and I think there a number of reasons for that, and not all of them are clear to me, but at this point I had sat by her bedside for about 5 days when it was expected she might live for 3. Instead on this day she laid there and pointed into the corner, speaking in Polish. I asked her George was there for her and she said, yes. I asked her if she was really to go, and she shook her head, rather empathically, I might add, no. During those days, I learned how important another family was, the Menomonie family that had supported me while I cared for her over the years. Then there was her COH family, the amazing workers, cooks, nurses, and administrators, many who had watched her battle with the terrible disease of dementia as this brilliant and forceful little tornado slowly lost her battle to know who and where she was. The one thing she never lost was her forcefulness, her amazing eyes and infectious smile. The vigil I held for that 8 days before I had to leave to fly to Poland taught me as much about myself as it did about others. To allow someone to leave when you desperately want to hang on to them is a difficult thing. I remember thinking she was waiting yet again to do things on her terms. During those days I merely worked on the computer in her room and played John Rutter’s Pandora station. To this day, it is my favorite Christmas station. For me, Christmas is the music; the profound way in which it is able to reach into the core of my being and remind me of the emotions and pull images from Christmases past unto the internal video screen that runs through my mind provides a sense of comfort that is unequalled by any other experience. . . . much like two years ago (and it is now late on the evening of the 27th if you are in Pennsylvania, but early morning on the 28th if you are with me in Budapest), I had to leave to travel. That traveling was to Poland and I would be walking around Krakow (as I will be in a day or two once again) and praying in St. Mary’s that George might convince Lydia that leaving this world for the next was both reasonable and preferable. In the past week I read an article about the increased mortality for ourselves during the Christmas holidays. Why is it we find leaving this world for the next during this sacred time of year? It is for that very reason, its sacredness? Is it because we know that the memories of this time are so significant for many of us? As I write this, it is about 5:40 a.m. and I awoke to the news that Carrie Fisher has left this world at 60. It is interesting how there is this sense of immortality among the famous, and I do not think I realized that she was a contemporary (at least chronologically) for me.

I know that remaining in touch with some of the beautiful people from COH is one of the ways I think we all continue to grieve and celebrate Lydia’s memory and the profound influence she had. I still do not believe she would hold herself in such esteem. She was always stunned that people would still (after 20 years) come up to her and introduced themselves to Professor Rutkowski. “Michael,” she would say, “I do not know why they still recognize me.” I still wonder if she did or not, but she was a force and I told her, always smiling, that I had no problem determining why she was recognizable. Aging is a cruel and uncompromising reality, but she fought it and beat it for most of her 90 years. It was not until those last three years or so (and I will blame it on the dementia) not on her aging. I remember how elegant she was, even after the first year she was in COH. She worried and was, in many ways, both cognizant and petrified of what was to come. She knew and yet she fought it gallantly. Even in her last days she wanted control of what was happening. She was only willing to go when she decided. I believe that is her most lasting legacy to me. She was a do-er and she decided what she was willing or not willing to do. This is not to say she did not have her fears (and some of them were abject or acute), like storms. I think she also worried more about others because of her size and her accent, which I found to be one of her most endearing qualities.

As I sit and compose at my computer again this morning, I am wondering what it was like for Dr. Nielsen when he had all the students with him year in and out. What students learn as they are on this trip is also somewhat fathomless, or should be. I remember the sense of walking through a history book. As Americans our understanding of “old” in terms of buildings, history, or time is so nascent. While those who know me, and my Marine Corps background, should be aware, I have a deep-seated patriotism for the what America does and stands for; however, I am also rather recondite when it comes to how long we have been a country and how dependent we are on the history of those before us. That is where I come back to the idea of memory and our own heritage, be it nationally or personally. Be it in the grand scheme or when it comes simply to my distinctive or particularized experiences of this time of year, I know that I am the cumulative product of the heritage and experiences which came before me. As I often say, none of us gets where we are without the help of another. As I consider once again the heritage of the little tornado  or the national identity of her town when later today and tomorrow I will be in Wien, her adopted home, I hope I might view and experience it with a sense of her elegance. I hope I might feel her walking beside me with her little Austrian accent and that purposeful walk. Lydia, even now, two years later, I am much of what I am and I am able to do much of what I do because you loved me.

Ich kann mich noch an den ersten Tag erinnern, als ich dich fragte, ob du Deutsch sprechen würdest und du sagtest kurz: ‘Natürlich bin ich ein Österreicher.’ Wenig wusste ich, dass meine erste Reise nach Polen und jetzt Wien ein Teil von wem ich werden würde. Wenig wusste ich, dass ich in der Lage war, Ihre Stimme immer noch zu hören. Heute, während ich durch deine Stadt gehe, hoffe ich, dass ich dich in meiner Nähe spüren und mich anleiten werde. Ich sagte dir vor zwei Jahren warst du jetzt mein Schutzengel, und es ist wahr. Du bist. Ich hoffe, dass das Sie lächelt und immer noch bereit ist, mich zu informieren, dass ich Ihr elendes Geschöpf bin. Ich liebe dich immer noch.

For a translation of the last part, I have written: Today as I walk through your town I hope I will feel you near me and directing me. I told you two years ago you were now my guardian angel, and it is true. You are. I hope this finds you smiling and still willing to let me know that I am your miserable creature. I love you still.

To the rest of you, thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin (aka: the wanderer)

 

You are kidding? What the French Toast? And “Time Passages”

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Hello at almost midnight on a Friday night,

The phrase of “when you least expect it, expect it.” something I used to say to others as a sort of admonishment or a tongue-in-cheek warning per se had come to roost today with an unbelievable vengeance. For the last two years, more off than on, I have had a sensitivity in one my upper molars, but with a tripe root canal and crown was assured that tooth could no longer be a site from which I should experience pain. There was just one issue, I had pain and the pain had become quite unbearable. So an emergency trip to the dentist after hours lead to a trip to an endodontist and an initial cut into my upper gum is leading to another more extensive cut into the gum and a surgery to seal root canals from the top down. However, that is next week’s fun and games. There is so much to manage before then. Yesterday I was speaking with one of my colleagues (one of my closest and longest-known colleagues) and he said when I retired it would take three people to cover what I have been covering. I am not sure that is entirely true, but it was quite a compliment. It does seem that things are only getting busier, they are not slowing down. However, I feel like I am falling short and should be doing more work. I think my reason for such a response is there is always more we can be doing. I also understand the dilemma in that statement, but we are not put on this earth to see how little we can do. That is certainly an option, but when we refuse to do our best, people have not sense of what our best is, and neither do we.

The other day I noted in my Facebook posting that I knew it would all get done, but I had no idea how. It seems the end of every semester is there. I am not sure how it happens, but it does. I wish the misperception that we only are contracted 17 hours a week was really the case sometimes. I do understand that this is the idea that we are only contractually obligated in a certain place at a certain time has a modicum of truthfulness, but that is certainly not how we manage our positions. It is as another colleague noted today (and as Martin Luther noted so eloquently over 500 years ago), there is certainly a difference between a job and a vocation. Dr. John W. Nielsen, with whom I had a wonderful opportunity to speak a few weeks ago, once noted the difference between a professor and a teacher. While teaching is about a classroom and how we impart knowledge, a professor is about a lifestyle and what we do with every ounce of our fiber. It is not what we do, it is who we are. During this past week there was a legislative assembly for the faculty union. While I know the view of unions (and understandably so) is varied, there is a lot a opinions regarding the efficacy of the union structure. If one returns to the reason for the development of unions to begin with, not as much has changed as we might like to believe. The reason for unions was to protect the right and safety of the worker. It was because of the greediness of the corporate structure, and, by extension, the greediness of humanity in general. News Flash!! Humans are still greedy, and more and more, the administrators at the top of educational systems (and the Wisconsin System in which I once worked, which is totally off the rails, and the Pennsylvania System in which I currently work seems to want to follow) have decided that education is a f-ing business. When the chancellor can say we are “leaner and meaner,” when he can tout that we are 900 employees less than 8 years ago, but employees refers to faculty, but he refused to refer to us as such, at least at that point, I am sickened. When he thinks somehow 12 credits a semester is enough before a credit-by-tuition kicks in (and it has worked well), when it takes 15 a semester to get to 12o in four years and so you have just raised tuition on the entire student body with no negative consequence (not just to enrollment or retention,  but for additional minors or other programs to help a student be more prepared for the 21st century world), I want to sit him down, buy him a Starbucks, even though I have no contract and continue to work,  and probably note, “It seems that you neither majored in math or economics.” While he has a degree in education, it is certainly evident by his latest remarks to the Pennsylvania House Budget-Appropriations Hearing, his move toward being an administrator that seems to focus on cost versus quality of education is painfully evident. I am saddened to hear this particular soliloquy about our system. As a faculty person, when the chief academic person of the system seems to be selling the faculty out, it is hurtful. I will admit he is rhetorically astute and says the right things in front of this committee, but there is so much behind what he is saying that is unspoken. I would also note that Pennsylvania has a legislature that is the least educated in the country. That does not bode well for appreciating a college degree or what it takes in anyway shape of form.

http://www.apscuf.org/blog/item/366-watch-highlights-from-last-months-budget-appropriations-hearings

In the meanwhile, as seems to be the case, the faculty will be made out from the local paper to the halls in Harrisburg to be the problem children. I do belong to a faculty union called @APSCUF, and I am proud of that membership. I know from working in Wisconsin where a governor and legislature gutted the teaching ranks what can happen. Many will say, “We want too much. We are the greedy.” We are unwilling to work with the system. I am sorry, but I disagree. In  our last contract we did not even get a cost of living raise in any year of the contract. We worked for 19 months without a contract. Now we have worked another 10 months without a contract. Where are we the greedy when we come to work each day and we work hard to educate, to work in and out of the classroom, and to make a difference in the lives of so many students? Illustrate or show me where I am being greedy. In the seven years I have been here, I have lost steps, which affect my retirement in three of them. Has that happened to a single administrator? I dare say, “NO!” I am not asking for the moon. I am not asking for less work. I am not asking for anything, save being treated fairly. Contrary to a chancellor’s or provost’s contention, I work more than 17 hours a week. I am, in fact, required by my State Legislature to fill out a semester report to show that I somehow work full-time and I  would love for them to follow me around for a week. I know that there are a number of sides to this issue. I know it is complex, but how can we be called a state system when less than one quarter of our funding comes from the state? Since when and how did education become such a thing that it is vilified and treated as an unwanted or ungrateful step-child? That is what it seems. The local paper editor deems it appropriate to post everyone of our salaries in his paper yearly. Certainly I make more money than many, but I have worked hard for my education and what I make certainly is less than many who have less education than I. Again, I am not complaining. I do not begrudge what anyone makes, but it does call into question our priorities. I am a huge Green Bay Packer fan, and will remain so, in spite of this next comment. I believe Aaron Rogers is a phenomenal quarterback, and he seems to also be a very genuine and good person. Yet, is anyone worth his upcoming salary of $19,250,000.00? Yes, you read that number correctly. Again, he has a contract and that is what he is deemed to be worth. Since when is football worth so much more than education. I am not asking for that kind of salary. In fact, if I made that in one year, I would retire, invest and give to charity. I would buy a college in Blair, Nebraska and reopen it somehow

On Friday we had a second meeting of faculty and President Soltz. I ended up getting quoted in the local paper and as I spoke with a number of faculty at a gathering yesterday, the prevailing attitude was one of cautious optimism. I would like to believe and take him at his word as another colleague noted, at yet, another meeting. If we are about educating students, which I believe the great majority of us are, then let’s get on the same page. I am all about accountability, but micromanaging and response that seems (and when that word is a general belief, there is a problem) capricious or misinformed, at best, the consequence is an atmosphere of mistrust. It is pretty much what I see at the federal level with our elected officials. It is this mistrust that leads to frustration or anger and that is what gives rise to the demagoguery of a particular group of people or a candidate who capitalizes on this fear. I am frustrated by a lack of critical thinking that seems to characterize our American public in general. Today . . . yes more time has past since I had the time to write . . .  is the primary in New York. I was up until after 11:00 trying to finish up my own taxes last night. I wonder what tomorrow’s headlines will say if the front-runners on both sides win? What will be the spin for the others? Everything is spun in some manner. Perhaps that is life in general. It is a passage of time we try to understand, and something we spin to feel better about that world around us and ourselves. With that in mind, I share a song I remember and appreciate.

Thanks for reading,

Michael

Critically Thinking in a Surface-Oriented World

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Hello from Bydgoska 19C,

My brain is whirling,  but my body is tired, so I might sleep a bit and come back . . . we’ll see what happens. Well . . . the typical happened; much like when I make a road trip and need a break, the power nap works very well. Though this was about twice the length of what I call the optimal nap (45 minutes or so), I am awake. Brushing my teeth and a little face washing always seems to do the trick. Today we continued to attend classes and some of the students are struggling with finding their bearings and as such, did a scenic walking tour around City Center Krakow today. The sociological view of Jewish emigration and identity is a very interesting class. It is also quite interesting that in my reading I have found a number of things I can use. We went to a second class today, which is a film studies class. We will watch a number of films in 9 different languages over the next three weeks. We watched on in class today, which was a bit bizarre and I watched the second assigned film this evening back here at the dorm on the computer. While I have watched foreign films before, I am analyzing then a bit differently. My immediate reaction to both of these films is they are not your typical American Rom-Com and you would not go to the movies to feel good or escape life for a while. It is not your typical American entertainment. There is an article accompanying these first two films assigned and that is going to hopefully help me see where the professor is headed. He is a very young and rather amusing person in the class. In addition it is evident he knows his craft and there is much more to what is going on than merely a surface sort of analysis.

It is the sort of surface analysis that is really the point of this posting. I remember back to high school when Mr. Littlejohn (I know it sounds rather Sherwood-ish in nature, but let me assure you there was nothing easy for the taking here), my chemistry teacher failed me for attempting to merely get by. I can still see him when he would get angry and pound the lab table with his fist and explain, “You have no drive! You must produce!” If there is anyone who when to Riverside Junior/Senior High School who had chemistry or physics and reads this blog, I am sure they can remember him. He was perhaps the first person who really pushed me to consider the option (really the need) to do more than phone things in, as my colleague, Dr. Decker, calls it. I think I actually had a string of teachers in that realm. I remember my 7th grade geography teacher giving me a C at midterm and telling me I should never have grades as low as that. I remember being embarrassed when she said that to me. In college, probably because I had already failed out of Iowa State University, when I got to Dana College, I knew I had to get to work. What I knew more keenly, however, was the simple fact that I had never really tried very hard. Even in the service when I got accused of cheating in Communications and Electronics School because I had a 100% average after three weeks, I had not really tried that hard. I merely memorized and did my work. Perhaps it was the Delvin Huttons in the world, my Greek and Religion professor at Dana, who first challenged me. Yet even then, with a C in a couple of his classes, I did not feel challenged I felt put upon. How dare he??!! Perhaps it was more telling when he said to me that I was not smart enough to take a summer Greek class that someone really pushed me to prove to them, but more importantly myself that I was capable. It was the Donald Juels, who wrote on a paper that he “hope[d] that I learned more in the class than was exhibited by my paper.” that finally pushed me in a manner that forced me to look at myself honestly and figure it out. There was someone at each level. When I was working on my doctoral degree it was Patty Sotirin, a person for whom I still have the utmost respect and admiration. As late a year ago she was still disagreeing with me and pushing me to consider other options on a paper. Her insight and accuracy into any given situation is unparalleled. What all of this says to me is pretty simple, without challenge, at least for me, I too am content to merely do enough, but who is my challenger now? Honestly, it has to be myself. I have to be willing to work harder, see clearer (more clearly), think profounder (more profoundly) . . .  (yes, I know there is grammatical structure issues, but I was working on the parallelism of the list — I can’t help it).

What are the consequences of not doing this? What are the consequences personally and beyond? The consequence personally becomes a lack of initiative. It becomes a loss of truly dreaming. It becomes a lack of curiosity and ultimately hope. Dr. Donald Juel, my New Testament professor, wrote in my PhD recommendation, which I was allowed to see after I graduated, that he did not know my best work yet, and probably neither did I still had not done it or something to that effect. He did say that I had a tenaciousness that he had seldom seen and that I was willing to work harder than most anyone. He did believe that I would see it. To this day, I am not sure I have. I do believe I work hard, but I have too many things going on all the time, and that is of my own doing. I claim to be the victim of my circumstance, but I am not sure that is as true as I would like to make it. I need to do more succinctly what I tell my students, prioritize and then have the discipline to follow those things. I think I go through phases where I do this well and then other times not so much. I wish I knew more about more things that is the problem, and while I know that seems to be a generalized statement, there is more specificity to it than appears. If you really know me, you know that I have this insatiable desire to learn and to learn about most anything. I am more of a cultural inquisitor than I realized. I want to understand the connections and that is why this current history class the students are taking (and I get to lurk in for free) is so fascinating to me. The question that creates a foundation to this course is why is it that a stateless minority has been able to maintain its existence and prominence in world history? She is referring to the Jewish people. What she has already forced upon me is an appreciation for their tenacity and a connecting between scripture and history that goes beyond anything I had previously considered. She did that in less than two hours and she did it simply and thoughtfully. There have been moments I have felt like an undergraduate student again, wishing I might have taken the opportunity to study abroad and work on issues of culture and language. I wish I would have not given up my Goethe Scholarship to study German in Bremen before moving to Pennsylvania the first time. I do hope to figure out how to manage coming back to Poland next summer and studying Polish for 6 weeks or so intensively. I would need to do some other work in the Spring to prepare, but it would allow me to do some other traveling and learning also. I have said on more than one occasion that if I would do my life again, at least educationally, I would want to learn five or six languages fluently and then study linguistics. There is a student on the trip who hopes to work as an interpreter at the United Nations. When she told me this, she almost apologized for her dream, and I told her to not ever apologize for having a dream. She is a strong and thoughtful young woman and that is what the world needs.

Too many people are willing to merely scratch the surface, and too many educators, bosses, or others are willing to let them. What does it mean to really strive for something? Most of our students have a better conceptual understanding of this than they might admit. Anyone who has participated in a sport or learning some art form (music, art, dance) and really put in their practice time to excel does understand reaching for more than merely going through the motions. This is where the practice of everyone needing to succeed has its problems. Some are merely better and some work to be better, but we need to be honest. This does not mean we need to be brutal or uncaring, but going to far to the side of needing everyone to win or embarrassing or hurting people through nasty demeaning behavior on the other is not what competition needs to be. The consequence of these extremes is exactly what has occurred and why should be surprised. If you encourage those who need the improvement to actually work to do it, most will step up to the plate. If you help them over the elevated bar, two things happen. They will put in more effort and they will appreciate that you helped them improve. I am often told you have to work hard to fail my course. I do not let people merely fall between the cracks, but as my ACT 101 students from the fall found out, and should have known from the summer, I do expect you to step up to the plate and do what needs to be done to be successful.

What are the consequences societally? We get people like Donald Trump bullying people and an absolutely horrendous number of people supporting his boorish behavior. Bullying is not thought-provoking, it is merely provoking. Insulting takes little intelligence, it requires an unbelievable amount of fear and arrogance. It allows assholes with power to merely scream, “You’re fired!” So why is it that so many are paying attention and following this sad excuse? Because his lack of decorum on the public stage is how many of them act in their personal lives. He gives them license to continue their own sad behavior. Xenophobia, or any phobia for that matter, comes from fear and ignorance of the actual facts. It is exactly what Dr. Orla-Buskowska has been showing us in her class the last couple of days. This license for a lack of decorum has other consequences. If such behavior is tolerated, and in the case of Donald Trump’s example, encouraged, no one is required to examine or analyze the issues. Difficult problems are not managed or understood, they are merely rolled over. The extreme of that behavior will be witnessed by the students first hand when they visit Auschwitz in a couple of days. And for those of you who want to say that I am comparing Trump to Auschwitz, I do not believe he has gone to that level, but a more logical extension of the extreme than one wants to consider would allow for such things. How does Trump’s call against Latinos/as or Muslims differ from what was done in the United States against the blacks (and too often still is) in the pre-Civil Rights time? How does it differ from what we did to the Japanese post-Pearl Harbor? These are the consequences of not looking deeper or analyzing more carefully. These are the consequences when we fail to really study and understand the complexity of the world in which we live. I for one do not want to live where we should once again create places where the last words one sees on the gate is Arbeit Macht Frei. The picture at the beginning of the post is of my father in WWII. He came to Europe in that war to fight the consequence of not thinking more carefully and being willing to merely accept what was being espoused.

Well, it is about 6:30 a.m. and I have been up for about an hour or more, but I have other work to do.

Thanks for reading, as always,

Dr. Martin

Juggling or Staying Afloat

 Good early morning,

For someone who does not really enjoy water, it seems that the metaphors regarding it are enveloping my writing as of late. I noticed this trend even as I have been writing announcements in BOLT (really D2L), the course management system we use here at Bloomsburg. I got home last night and was in bed by 8:40 because I seemed to be fighting off something most of yesterday. I do feel reasonable at the moment though it is about 2:00 a.m., and I am pretty wide awake (thanks, Katy Perry, for the song running through my head). . . . Maybe I’m not as awake as I thought because I’ve somehow posted this unintentionally. So I guess I will stay up and try to finish the writing, a bit more promptly than originally planned. Such changes can be a blessing and a curse, but nevertheless this posting will perhaps get completed in one fell swoop.

As the last four days have ended, in addition to the loss of the fraternity brother mentioned in the last post, four other people to whom I am close have lost immediate family members, parents or siblings. In some cases I knew those parents or siblings and in other cases not. I do not remember another time in my life I’ve been aware of so many people to whom I am close losing loved ones. I do remember a week when I was a pastor at a parish not far from here. It was one of those weeks where there is so much on your plate and of course it seems there’s not a moment to do anything else and there would be multiple funerals. Ask any parish pastor and I am sure that they will tell you the same story. For me that week was the week of Christmas and New Year’s. In fact it started Christmas Eve day, and it continued into the first week of January. If I remember correctly there were five funerals in that time. One person was maybe in his late 40s or early 50s. Two were sisters, both in their early 20s. I remember telling the one funeral director that he should just have an office in our parish. What I did learn from those times was that death is always painful. No matter what cliché you try to use, when we as humans come face-to-face with the ending of life we are at a loss through that loss. To the family of Justin, to Antonio, and to my Dana  and seminary friends, Deb and Wilbur, my words and my thoughts are certainly not enough in this time, but they are what I have to give you, and in my piety, the God in whom I believe sheds tears of sorrow with you. Please know that you are not alone at this time in spite of the distance. As you will juggle your feelings and emotions in these days and weeks ahead, there are those of us who will try to help you stay afloat. Please do not hesitate to reach out. I know this from my own experiences and I know how important those words and those touches are.

As I think I have already noted this fall, I was granted a quarter release time. For those of you who might not understand what that means, it means because of another project I have on my plate, I was provided a release from one section of teaching. However I was not given one less prep. It certainly helps because there are fewer papers to grade, fewer essays to read, and fewer blogs to manage. However the project I’m working on seems big enough that I’m not sure I ended up with less work in terms of labor. Once again I think I have more work than I had planned. This is not really a complaint because I enjoy most of what I do, but it certainly makes for long days. And this is where it seems that my age is catching up with me. I used to be able to come home and just keep working; now it seems my pillow has become my favorite friend. It seems between meetings, office hours, grading, and more meetings, my nose is still above the surface of the water, but I certainly hope no one kicks up a wave or I’m confronted by some swell. I’m not a good swimmer and I hate when water goes up my nose. Somewhere between now and Saturday I have another paper to finish. I think it might be a long couple days. I think what is interesting to me is that when I was in graduate school I thought somehow after the comprehensive exams and the dissertations life would get easier. Then it was after the probationary period and achieving tenure, life would get easier.  Or is it then after promotion, I think I figured out it’s never really easy if you’re going to do more than be average. The words of my father come ringing back. “Anyone can be average,” he said to his lazy 16-year-old; “that’s why it is.” It’s almost 45 years ago he first spoke those words to me, and I can still hear them as if they were yesterday. As I’ve said many times, he was one of the wisest men I will ever know. I think somewhere I need to find a picture of him and post it. As I have often said to others, one of his most characteristic features was that he was always smiling, and he had perfect teeth. In spite of the fact that I perhaps finally will admit I’m not average, I still believe I’m perfectly normal, whatever that means. I’m imagining that any of my students who read this would want to debate that point.

Over the last couple days I have the opportunity to speak through Facebook with one of my Dana classmates. He was actually ahead of me, but because I was well beyond a teen when I got there I think I older than him. He now lives in another country, the country of my ancestors actually and another place that I’ve always wanted to travel (if you’re wondering, the country is Norway). We spoke about the education we had received at that little liberal arts college on the bluffs of the Missouri River, barely into the state of Nebraska. We reminisced about our humanities courses and how much we learned from that class. We spoke about the director of the humanities program, Dr. John W Nielsen. How blessed we were to learn from such an amazing and brilliant person. He taught me about so much more than just classroom material.  He also taught me about life. What I’m realizing now is that one of the best decisions I ever made, as I traveled on that Lutheran Youth Encounter team, was to attend Dana College. But along with brilliant professors,  I had amazing classmates. Indeed, the Tom Kendallls, the Merle or Karen Brockhoffs, the Scott and Nettie Groruds or Shelly Petersons,  the Leanne Danahys and Kim Nielsens,  the Joanne Hansens or Barb Kalals, the Kip Tylers or Peter Bondes. There were wonderful people who stunned me with their intelligence and beauty like Pam Poole or Jill Rogert. These are the colleagues or classmates I first met and who blessed me in so many ways. I hope that my mentioning some of you by name is not too bold. It is by no means an exhaustive list. Choir with Dr. Paul Neve and the humanities staff changed my life. I am a professor because of that small college. I am a professor because Dorothy Wright and her husband helped me go to Europe as a sophomore. To this day I love choral music; it was an experience like no other to spend my spring breaks on choir tour, eating ham, scalloped potatoes, and green Jell-O (every single day for a week). As I lie here and type away on my iPad, there are so many memories from Dana. In spite of the fact that it’s over 30 years and that Dana as an institution closed after its 125th year, the generations of us fortunate enough to go there were provided with an education that will rival anywhere. For me, one of the best things about Facebook is that I am still in contact with that amazing group of people. And while there were people from the other institutions I have attended who have been important, that small college on the hill affected me more profoundly than any words could ever explain.

As is often the case I’m not sure this is where I expected this post to go. But I think of my freshmen students right now. Your business LLC is much like some of the groups I was in when I was a student. Oh shared experiences and the commeraderie you now have will hopefully mean more to you as time goes on. As you juggle classes, events, and other requirements, you will find that these people will help you stay afloat. Perhaps that’s the same for today: learn to juggle; manage to stay afloat. Both skills are invaluable. I’m not sure I’ve always realized that, at least consciously that is. Yet, I think I’ve always practiced it. For those of you who have been reading, and if in Bloomsburg driving by, hopefully the next few days will see significant progress on the barn project. As my colleague, Dr. Usry, said yesterday, “You have big equipment yard again.”. It is my hope that in a few hours I will once again have a driveway. A little less dirt and mud will not hurt my feelings. At is as it is now somewhere between 3:30and 4:00, the question becomes: should I go back to sleep or just stay up? Perhaps I should just get up take a shower and go to work. That would certainly be more productive.  Would it help my  nascent juggling skills? Might it help me overcome my fear of water, or will I merely look like someone foolish dog paddling in 15 foot swells? I’ll let you know what I decide, and by the way, the picture is of my father when he was in the service. He was in his late 20s in this picture.

As always, thank you for reading.

The non- juggling and non-swimming professor.