From where does it all come?

Hello from a quiet office and empty building early in the morning,

I have been in my office working on some needed things since about 2:30 and it is almost 6:00 a.m. Amazing what I can get done when no one is around. I remember when I used to go to my study when I lived in Laurium, MI and work on things for my graduate classes. I often spent a good part of the night studying and working. I miss that study room actually. I got a lot of work done there and perhaps some of the most productive times in my academic life were in that house on Woodland Avenue. It seems that life was a lifetime ago, but some of the important lessons I learned there have remained. Hard work is essential if you are to be successful. The things my father offered as handy facts have shown themselves to be more profound than I could have ever realized.

So . . . a different day and a different location, a bit south of Pennsylvania. For the fourth time, I am back in the Dominican Republic. I have been here once a year for the last four years. It’s time I’ve learned more things about the amazing people call Dominicans and their island. What I have found this time is somewhat disheartening. I suspected this to be the case, but now I have some actual numbers. All the smiley people, who work so very hard to make a dream vacation in reality, work both virtually and almost literally for nothing. This is not for the people they do it for, but rather how much they are paid for  working often 12 hours a day. This time I’m not as awed by everything as I was my first time here. Please,  don’t give me wrong; for the person looking for the ultimate vacation, I do not think you can beat it. Even when minor things pop up,  and they always will because there is no such thing as perfection, but every single person I’ve asked for help has bent over backwards to accommodate me. Or little dose of reality on this trip, seems to be a door to our sweet that hates key cards. I know to leave them away from the phone, but I’ve gone through five of them in two days. Now they just shake their head and I just look like an old white guy.

As I work on this blog is Saturday, but I only know that because I booked the calendar. In someways every day here is the same. I get up, eat breakfast, take a walk along the beach, go to the Tower, where Wi-Fi is the best, manage my other life, and figure out what I must actually do, which isn’t that much, and go through my day. The things I hear the most are: Buenos días, ¿como está? which in Dominican Spanish has no “s” gracia mi amigo y excelente.  ¿Si no dices muy bien a su ¿como está? Puedo garantizarle que quieren arreglarlo. It really is living in a dream for a week, or a long weekend. What is evident because they continue to build and add options. It seems my retirement will  be working with a travel company. I really do want to create options for people who think they could never do such a thing, to make dreams come true, and memories that will be a highlight.

What amazes me is why am down here both enjoying and working, for checking the news the craziness that is an administration, seems like a never ending merry-go-round and I’m not sure job security is an oxymoron. A number of people,  for whom I have great respect, voted differently than I did, many claiming that the fact he was not a politician was a good thing. From my perspective, it seems our President wants to run the White House like a reality TV show, or as his company where he is the boss. It seems, thus far, that hasn’t worked so well.  And I don’t care if it is the alt right or the alt left, something carriedto the extreme generally doesn’t work too well. But when extreme is usually created as an response to the other. One of the many things that has surprised me about living in Pennsylvania is the number of confederate flags, a more above the radar actual appearances of people wearing KKK regalia, and an over racism I never saw growing up in Iowa. Of course, Iowa now has Steve King as a representative, which is beyond gauling to me. Even though I was long gone from there long before he ever came to office, I find it embarrassing. The amount of hatred, intolerance, and prejudice is beyond anything I have ever witnessed in my life. As noted by others, hate is learned; it is not inherent. Why are we so afraid of “the other?” More often than not what I have one from the other is to learn more about myself. When I learn more about myself, I realize more oh and thoughtfully about my strengths and weaknesses. To me this is always positive. Sometimes painful, but if that’s the case, it. probably things to happen. All in all this latest trip to the Dominican Republic has helped me realize the many privileges I have, but also the responsibility I have for the other.

Being an American does mean something to me. It also means that I have a responsibility to care for those who are less fortunate than I am . . . it is both a faith thing and a patriotic thing for me. With that in mind, I share a song from the group who still amazes me by the complexity of their music, albeit 40 years ago (in spite of the note it is 35 year ago, this video is 5 years old . . . indeed I am not a math major, but . . . )

Thanks for reading,

Michael

Realizing a Mistake and Blaming Myself

Hello from the acre,

It has been a busy day and a disconcerting one. Progress has been made in so many ways, but progress in the world of imperfection is always fleeting and tenuous. It seems that might be the situation, but one time or misstep does not negate the advances accomplished . . . but it does require an inventory to understand what created the newest problem. In the meantime the first step of powerlessness is painful apparent for all of us. Tonight along with the others who care, we wait and we pray. . . That has been a couple of Tuesday’s ago and indeed, the frailty of our humanity was illustrated once again, but as it the case we learn and continue on. I learned, as is usually the case, more about myself once again. Since I started this, the never ending reality of life’s marching on, and seeming to pick up speed, continues. School has begun,; the hope for some small semblance of order to the fall continues and I have spent the majority of my Labor Day weekend doing precisely that: laboring. The lack of planning from another has required the revision of a new prep, which was itself a sort of draft, now three times. I have spent close to 20 hours in just the last two days. However, at least I now feel like there is  something reasonable to work with. The first week of school is always a bit of a whirlwind, but this past week seemed even more so, it that is possible. The fall always gives me pause, but simultaneously a sense of hope and excitement. Many academics look forward to commencement/graduation. I look forward to the fall and the commencement of the new year. I remember in my undergraduate years having a fall convocation and I looked forward to that as much as anything of the entire academic year. This fall, however, has a sense of tension as we continue to work without a contract and little progress or sense of good faith bargaining by the State on our contract. We are four months from two years of negotiating and as has been the case, at least in my time here, the State drags things out interminably to make money off the faculty and then offers a simple unacceptable and egregious set of contractual options to make the process even more painful.

The weeks ahead are going to be stressful as we vote on the various campuses this week to authorize a strike. I am quite sure that vote will be supportive of moving toward a strike on the fourteen campuses of the system. It is my hope that will prompt a more serious negotiating posture from the system than has been exhibited up to now. Letting my students ask the questions necessary has been one of the things I have done as well as speak to students, colleagues, and townsfolk at the diner and elsewhere about the specifics of the sysrem’s disrepectful offer that is currently on the table. As I move into this fall, I thought about times and dates as I am often prone to doing. I am not sure if it that former history major or merely my penchant for reflecting and remembering. It was 30 years ago that I was in Big Lake, Minnesota as an intern pastor and I met such amazing people. During the past couple weeks I have reacquainted with high school classmates and some people I knew when I lived in Houghton. It is interesting how things have a way of coming back around. It is that coming back around that is really the focus of this blog. Particularly when I have lived a sort of itinerant lifestyle, it is easy to believe that once you are gone you can leave things behind, but that never really happens. We are influenced, and often affected more than we realize, by our former actions. I believe that coming to that conclusion is another way in which I am slowly becoming a bit wiser. As I consider this life I am aware of my mistakes and coming to terms with those mistakes has been a difficult, but important process.

A couple of weeks ago, somehow within the period of a week, I was asked three times if I had ever been married. I asked one of the people, after their inquiry, if there was something on my forehead I could not see that said I needed a date or something. What the heck?? However, it did get me to focus on the last 16 years since I was last married. For those who know me well, the fact that I was married twice is no surprise, for some of the rest of you, perhaps it is. I was almost 29 when I got married the first time. I had dated a person the last year I was in college and beyond. We were engaged for more than a year. We chose to get married because, at least from my much latter perspective, we believed we loved each other and we had dated and been engaged for quite some time and it was the next logical thing to do. What is interesting to me now is that I am not sure I was ever in love with her (and that is not her fault, it is mine). What I realize at this more elderly point of my life is that I was in love with the idea of being in love and I was in love with the idea of creating a marriage and family. I must admit that I failed at both things. There are a variety of reasons for that, but it is interesting to me that someone tried to talk me out of getting married only minutes before I was at the front of my home church waiting for her to walk up the aisle. I must admit that while I tried to be a good husband, the baggage carried because of earlier experiences in my life had never been dealt with and I was not a prince of a husband. While I am aware of things done on both sides of our relationship, I know that I could have been much more understanding and supportive than I was. I could have been more faithful than I was, and that is a difficult admission for me to make. While I am aware of things on the other side – so was she – and we failed each other in a number of ways. What I know now is I should not have married her and I am accountable for that choice. That decision had its issues and the consequence of those issues had/has affected me both at the time and even since. One of the things still haunting me the most is that her parents were really good people (and I hope they are yet, meaning I hope they are alive). Her father in particular was/is an amazing man. He is insightful, honest, hardworking, and the kind of person I would want in my life. By the time we were divorced, I was not feeling sad or disappointed, I merely wanted it done. That says a great deal and most of it is sad. In the 23 years since we have been divorced, I have spoken with her fewer times than the number of fingers I have on one hand. That too says something. I went on with my life and found myself actually in love with someone as I was almost turning 40. While she had been married before (and twice) so I knew walking into that relationship, and she certainly gave me more than one indication that I should have probably gotten out while I could have, I believed I could fix anything and we would be alright. That marriage was certainly done out of being in love with someone, but neither she nor I were in a healthy space. Again, I cannot blame her for the mistakes I made or the rather naïve belief held that I could make anything work. I remember my therapist telling me I was really good at high maintenance people. I am not sure to this day that is a compliment. What I know is again as I was hurt and felt like there was no winning, I struck out in ways I should not have. I have talked about that in earlier blogs and I paid dramatically for that mistake. Again, sometimes I still feel I am paying for it. I lost an ordination that meant more than words could have ever express. I also lost a sense of direction in a number of ways after that divorce (and in terms of finances and property, I lost a lot more). I always say that every thing I owned fit in a pickup truck and I did not own the truck. It is always easy to point a finger at the other person, but in both cases, I had my own mistakes and places or occasions for which I must take blame. What it has caused is this feeling that I am both better off and safer by being alone. Yet that too has consequences and there are times where the loneliness causes more pain than I let on. That loneliness has caused me to reach out – only then to pull back when I am afraid. By doing so I have hurt others and I know that. I am sorry for that pain, and those to whom this has happened, please forgive me. You know who you are; of that I am quite sure.

It is always dangerous to let another person into your life on any level because it changes the dynamics. Whenever another person is offered space in our lives it changes our lives and it makes us vulnerable. That is not a bad thing, but is certainly has repercussions. For me it is learning to limit their influence and the time I am willing to put into that relationship. Part of the difficulty has always been I jump in with both feet without considering the consequences for them or for me. I know I have spoke about the rather oxymoronic way I am simultaneously open to others and yet guarded beyond what is readily apparent. It is not necessarily something I mean to do, but as I examine most of my life, to say that that is a pattern I have developed would be a profound understatement. Again I think it’s important that I apologize to those I might’ve hurt, albeit unintentional. In addition, I find it interesting that I am much more frail about those relationships than I might have realized. Introspection is such a profound and frightening thing. It is even more frightening to write it all down, but in a cathartic way I’m hoping that it will help. There are still things that I must come to terms with, and that is, in part, what this blog is about. Today was one of my closest friend’s  birthday and tomorrow would be my best friend’s 60th birthday if he were alive. It was four years ago I sent him a letter telling him how important he was in my life. I did not expect that he would already be gone. Thursday would be my great Aunt Helen’s birthday. I think she would be about 110. That is an amazing number for me.

As most of you know we are two weeks of the school, and the days seem to blend together and fly more quickly. The initial meetings have started and I spent much of day responding and grading blogs. Between office hours meeting students and meetings, the day flew by. Tomorrow will be more the same and while it is only 9 o’clock in the evening and not quite that, my eyes are tired and my brain feels like mush. And now I realize that I didn’t close my car windows. So, my cathartic exercise is finished, at least for the moment, and I think I will finish up the night, brush my teeth and go to bed. However, not before I set an early alarm so I can get up a take more things off the list than I put on it. That is my plan. The initial picture is for my favorite Republican friends.

As always thanks for reading,

Dr. Martin

The Fundamentals of College (and Life)

 Hello from my office,

We are back to the last week of classes and the finals the week following. This semester has gone much more rapidly (at least it seems to be the case) than any other semester since I first taught the fall of 1992. It has hard to believe that I have been doing this for this long a period of time. Today is the last day of the semester, so yet again it is a couple days since I began this post. Today I met with a student, who like many first year students, the shock of the elevation of expectations and the lack of preparedness from high school is much greater than ever imagined. It is not just that lack of preparedness that concerns me, it is the fundamental lack of critical thinking and the lack of study skills that shocks me. I asked the student about their studying and if they believed everything they had done should have prepared them. They said, yes, but barely passed an exam, twice. When I asked where the problem might be, they could not come up with an answer. In addition, they were somewhat content with where they stood. I understand to some extent the response, “it is what it is.” What I am not sure of is if they were trying to merely move forward, or they had somewhat given up, or they just did not even care. I am hoping it is the middle choice, but I am honestly not sure.

I must also say I do not put the entire weight of this on the student’s shoulders. They certainly have some responsibility, but our system, both public K12 and now the university must bear some of the fault. I see so many freshman under prepared. In this particular group of summer students, we structure them to the maximum in the summer and naively believe they have learned to manage their time and academic demands in six weeks. So in the fall they are left to their own to try to figure it out. Many of them fail miserably. The consequence is academic probation, a grade point they might never recover from, and a sense of disillusionment, where once they believed in a dream of moving beyond where they come from. Of my 22 summer students, it will be interesting to see how they have done. The seven or eight I am continuing to mentor show an overwhelming sense of struggle. Only one is where I think they should be. I wish there was an easy answer to this issue, but there isn’t. It would take a number of systemic changes. Yet, I guess if a couple figure it out there is some sense of achievement or success. It is my idealism wanting everyone to figure it out.

Since starting this post, another shooting, another connection to ISIS/ISIL, another reason to wonder what had happened. Again there is no easy answer and whoever becomes the next president (and I hope it is almost anyone but Trump-well not quite) will have a significant problem on their hands. When I first heard reports of the shooting and got names, the Arabic nature of the names automatically had me wondering. That reaction demonstrates the consequence of 911 and the incidences since then. How is this different from what happened to the Jews in Germany or the Japanese in the United States post-Pearl Harbor? It isn’t and I am mortified that I am in this position. I have Muslim students, one in particular who is like my own child, who are normal,  hard working, and would never want such terror to befall their neighbors and friends. How did one faith that was basically built on prayer and giving become so violent for a particular element of the followers of Muhammad? I do not see a call for violence in their five pillars of faith.  Of course, the same can be said for many who proclaim the Christian faith for whom the golden rule is a fundamental tenet, but certainly do not demonstrate such behavior and treat those who are either different or believe differently with such disdain or hatred.

While I did not experience either of those extremes anytime lately, it is always interesting for me to see how so many are so kind or close when they need something, but otherwise they act quite differently. Students are so predictable. It amuses me on one hand and saddens me on the other. The end of the semester panic (or acceptance) that their poor choices for 14 weeks cannot be fixed by extra credit, tears, or avoidance. The belief that it is just something to do over when they have simply thrown away 1000s of dollars. Part of it is immaturity. Part of it is learned selfishness. Part of it is our willingness in our public schools to give something for nothing. Merely show up, stay out of trouble, and turn in something and you can have an A or B. I am witnessing the consequence every semester. That is not to say there are not strong or smart hard working students, but the overwhelming belief that I should go to college merely because I should is misguided. Not everyone should go straight out of high school. Perhaps most shouldn’t. All I know is the fundamentals of discipline and priorities, which are necessary to succeed in college are not fundamental to many of my students. The consequences are consequential: difficulty in finding a job and significant debt for a piece of paper that guarantees nothing.

Just my thoughts. Thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin