Lucha de Probabilidades

APSCUF poster

Buenas Días,

I had an excellent day today in spite of the fact that I got to by office by 7:15 a.m. and it is 9:15 p.m. and I am still here. I do plan to leave shortly, though I might try to be back at 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning. While tomorrow is supposed to be a day where I am not on campus, I currently have 5 meetings, so I think I will be here for quite a while. Fortunately, they do not begin too early, though I do have a 7:30 meeting at the diner, so I will be up one way or the other. Today I went to my Spanish class and have gotten it scheduled so I can be there both class periods. It was really enjoyable, and while I felt a bit rusty on some things, other things I had learned on my own came back pretty quickly. What I noticed today is that when I was called on my pronunciation was pretty strong. That was a good feeling and I think someone, who regularly kicked me on some things, might have even been slightly impressed.

While I have been working on some important things and made some major life changes to manage some of those things, I have found out how fragile I am and how much I need to be really disciplined in what I am doing. My latest trip for testing revealed that the stress of the holidays and beyond, and the travel, probably did not serve me well. I think my failure to manage my diet as well as I had been doing also was a contributing factor. That being said, now I have to redouble my efforts. It is something I can do. I think we are always playing the odds on things. Sometimes intentionally and other times unaware. I am always stunned when I see people who really seem to take their fitness seriously and then I see them smoking cigarettes, for instance. It is times like that I realize that the addiction to nicotine must be exactly that. I cannot imagine that someone honestly wants to affect their body in such a negative way when working so hard in other ways to maintain or enhance it. Yet there are other ways I believe we harm ourselves because of the lifestyle we either feel compelled (perhaps almost in a VD way) to lead or because we merely do it without thinking. Because I started the semester in such a dismal condition, I have felt like I have been playing catch up from the outset of the semester. From more than a week before the semester began until late last week, the number of times I have been in bed before 9:00 p.m. is probably greater in that month than the entire previous year. It is what I had to do merely to maintain and make it through my classes.

Now I am working to catch up and get ahead of things. I actually feel like I have more on my plate right now than I did last spring when I was starting to prepare for tenure. That is a bit frightening and disconcerting. . . .  Welcome to Friday. I have been in front of people most of the day and it is Wisconsin cold out, so that is my day. I did not make it in here as early as I wanted, but I have been productive nonetheless. I have worked on tutoring an ESL student who works tremendously hard at learning and mastering English. It is actually fun to think about why things work they way they do. Today I got a picture (or actually a poster) that is being hung up around campus for the faculty union. It is the picture that you are seeing at the beginning of the post. It is a bit surreal, and it was also taken before I lost some significant weight, so I look like a fat toad, sad as that is.

I have been working on this post for a week and I’m still not done. I guess that explains how my week has gone. I am not sure the coming week or two will be any better. What I am realizing is that the odds I have been battling in more areas than most realize have taken their toll on me more than I wish to admit. While I have gotten things accomplished, the sum total have not been enough. I am reminded of one of my father’s saying, ” The faster I go, the behinder (sic) I get.” That seems to be the story of my life. However, some of it is of my own making, I am not merely a victim here. I am a bit frustrated with the insinuation, especially by one who should know better, that somehow we only work 17 hours (though it was noted as contracted) per week. I am reminded of another conversation in which it was noted that if we teach in the summer or do summer work related to publishing or other things, it was our choice. Again, it is my interpretation, there seemed to be no appreciation or belief that some of those decision felt more obligatory than optional because of things like tenure or promotion. I think of how sometimes it seems we are squeezed by both sides. The local paper, as they feel obliged to do yearly, printed all of our salaries in the local Sunday paper. Again with little explanation of how those salaries are determined or what work went into the degrees to earn those salaries. So now some people, as I expected, comment in the local paper that only our salaries are the reason for increased tuition. Then the administration notes we are contracted not even part time. So between the two extremes, it seems we are vilified. So I try to focus on two things: first, I hope to support my colleagues. Second, I work hard to support my students. Those are the two groups that really are affected by what I do or don’t do. I know when I hear something positive about my teaching that means more to me than just about anything. When I was awarded an outstanding teaching award at my previous institution that was probably one of the best things that happened in all six years. I know that the great majority of my colleagues work tremendously hard. Parece que estamos a menudo en combate contra las probabilidades o simplemente un siglo XXI versus de Sísifo.

Well, I think it is time to head to school. I have sat at the diner for more than an hour. Somehow I have again misplaced my office keys. I am not sure if I left them in my office on Friday or they are in my jacket at the dry cleaners. I did not hang them up and so I am afraid it will be a day or two yet again before they reappear, as magically as they disappeared. I have a great deal of grading to manage, but just keep plugging (all outside the 17 hours). Perhaps our Snyder Amendment papers need to go to more people on campus. I was looking back at my blog from a year ago. It is a bit boggling to see what was accomplished in the past year. The changes that occur are always merely part of our daily lives, but when you look back at them collectively, they seem so much more monumental. I have learned so much about myself during this year. I think it is that learning that helps me be more comfortable with the decisions I have made and where I am at this point. . . .

Good morning, it is yet another day and about 4:28 a.m. and I am still in my office. I will admit to an hour nap on my floor about 12:30, but otherwise I have been working steadily and getting things accomplished. It will be a long day as I have things pretty much straight through from 7:00-4:30 today, but I will make it through. I am actually feeling pretty reasonable at the moment. That is actually the reason I am typing on this and hoping to finally get it posted before the morning hits (or the normal morning). It is yet another case of understanding the obstacles to accomplishing what needs to be done. I always struggle with how much to respond to students’ work. I could merely put in grades, but that is not going to help their writing. There is so much more. I do have to figure something out, but I believe that the only way to become a better writer is to write. If I assign it then I need to look at it carefully and try to respond in a way that is effective for the student and yet efficient for me in the bigger picture. I am not sure I have ever learned how to do that. I am sure I am not the only English (or any language for that matter) professor who feels the pain of this dilemma. It is interesting how each step of the way, from graduate school to getting that position to getting tenure to . . .  you always think it has to be easier on the other side, and then you find out it is not really that much different. The papers are still there and they require as much work. I actually enjoy teaching composition and seeing the light actually go on. I love when a student who did not like writing suddenly decides it is not that horrific after all. I am excited when a student comes to the realization that writing has value. I feel accomplished when someone sees that the passion I have for what I do is actually inspiring and the result is their wanting to work more diligently. It is pretty simple to make me happy. Just do your work.

As we are into the fifth week of the semester already, I think I might be able for the first time to see that I can get on top of all the things that are out there. I might have to put in a couple more days like this one, but it will pay off. So in the meanwhile, I will keep working on all the things that are necessary for later in the day. I hope that wherever you are and from wherever you might be reading this that whatever odds you are facing, you know that the battle is worth it. There is so much that matters in the world in which we are living, working, and existing. In some ways it is always a gamble. With that thought in mind, I will leave you with one of my favorite artists (amazing that he has been gone for over 7 years). His narrative style and amazing instrumentals were something I so appreciated and still do. Thanks for listening to one of my favorite songs of Mr. Fogelberg. Ironic that I found it in two languages.

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Verstehen, Comprender, Understand

Hello from the acre,

I want to get a few lines written before I fall over from both mental and physical exhaustion. I should note that those two things probably affect my ability to manage the word that makes up the title of this post – all the same word; just different languages . . . . After an hour or two of sleep . . . The English word means “to know the meaning or something” (Cambridge) or “to know how a person feels or behaves in a particular way (Cambridge). In Spanish one has a bit of a different sense. One might use the two words “hacerse entender” and in German one might use the phrase “sich verstehen auf “. Not surprisingly to me both the Spanish and the German seem to get at the root of what it really means to understand something. I do not believe understanding is purely a intellectual function. One can ponder, mull over something, but true comprehension is based on the reflection upon both thought and experience. Someone often says to me “at no time did I say a particular thing” and then will assert that because it was not said that either something is assumed or that he or she has no effect on that determination. If life were only that simple. If that were the case that we could only be connected to our words and not our actions (and I already know this will be argued). Yet, since so many people have a tendency to communicate poorly the consequence would be a general failure of any possibility of “verstandlich“. We would be in quite the predicament. And that does not even begin to cover the issue of speaking falsely or perhaps less egregious, but equally difficult, stating something, but not being able to follow through. That, of course, gets into the work of Sisela Bok and her amazing books, one titled Lying and the other titled Secrets. I had to read both of them for my comprehensive exams in narrative ethics. The issue of intention is certainly part of this. The problem there is we cannot always get at intention either readily or easily.

I think the important thing to realize about the ability to come to an understanding is that it takes time and it takes experience, but it is, at times, also clouded by emotion. I am reminded of Luther’s explanation of the third article of “The Apostles’ Creed”. He said, ” I cannot by my own effort or understanding . . . ” I am aware that the issue Luther is addressing here is quite different, but his words are helpful for my post. I do not believe we ever come to even our own imperfect, less-than-total comprehension of something without a careful consideration of both language (words spoken, written or heard) and a cadre of experience with that speaker. And yet, unfortunately even those two things together can be trumped by the reality of the contextual circumstances of any given moment. Those circumstances and all the pieces that create that specific instance can forever be overshadowed by a myriad of external factors and what results is an estrangement between two (or more) people) honestly trying to understand the other. This is a different context of “the other”, but ironically the consequence creates that same “other”. One feels marginalized or misunderstood. One somehow believes that something is stacked against him or her. Even as a white person, I know that feeling (Again, any extended parenthetical here has been added because I am trying to either provide a revision that is an attempt to provide a better rendering of what the context and my hearing of something was and is. Second, as my blog I realize I am writing, as I have from the outset, both what I find important and significant to me as a person who wants to understand both things in close proximity as well as their connection to this world I inhabit.).

What I have come to realize this past week is that I am more like someone or more accurately he or she is more like me ( I am older) than previously determined. Going on autopilot, doing what is easiest or almost out of necessity managing only what is essential becomes the rule. I remember feeling that sense of the tail wagging the dog, but that is why I try to organize and plan. I know even when I do it well there are things that certainly will create chaos. An extra meeting, a forgotten appointment, a loss, yet again, of my keys (I could do an entire post on this), and then my own desire to do everything well – and hating when I fail. You get the picture. What I know, in spite of falling into the trap, at the end of the day what happens is we only have so much time and so much energy. If we have done the best we can, we cannot get down on ourselves, even when we have a propensity to do so. We cannot fail to reach out and demonstrate to another what or who actually matters. This week the number of people who were kind enough to remember me was staggering. I am so blessed. Being taken to lunch by one of my best friends. In spite of the stress, one taking me to dinner and, in spite of limited resources buying me a present, means more than any words can express. For another to share a birthday with me when it was their golden birthday, and to have time in their crazy day with all that happens and then to purchase something for my well-being is a gift beyond words. For three people to drive thirty miles to bring me a birthday cake and share time with me was such a wonderful way to complete my day. I had over 200 people contact me. I am blessed beyond words and humbled that I have so many people in my life.

Last week I wrote about privilege. What I know is that I am passionate about learning; I am passionate about justice; I am passionate when someone I love seems or appears at times to be hurt by a system, by people, that or who seems to differentiate because of language or ethnic background. Yet, one cannot throw away a system. Nihilism was argued as an option at one point, but it does not work. Meaningless creates a sadness that cannot be overcome and destroys our human spirit. One can determine a system is flawed; one can work to fight back against a system; one can work within the system to make small changes. I am reminded of the prayer of St, Francis. Perhaps it is apropos here. “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” I do wish to demonstrate that not all of America is bad, that there could be worse things than being an American citizen or living in this country (and I know they know this, but we have spoken about the why I perceive this). The very education received and the scholarships earned are part of that that same system. I do wish to demonstrate that not all white people marginalize the other. Some of us hope to make a difference. It was the reason I voted as I did the last two elections. All is not lost. It is possible to understand if we listen, if we take time to care. If and when we let people into our lives we really do begin to understand them; we can make the difference so we find that place to accomplish “entender “, to “sich verstehen auf

Me disculpo por no ver o entender el estrés. Por dificultades comprender sus necesidades, perdóname. Gracias por su presencia en mi vida. Trataré de ser más consciente y más comprensivos.

Thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin

Wondering if . . .

Scan 418

Hello from my room after a long day (or few days),

The picture is a picture scanned from the many in an ongoing, but unfinished scanning project. The project for which I am grateful and been a walk down the various roads of my life. This picture is of Copper Harbor Michigan, where I spent time during graduate school. It is one of the prettiest places I have ever been. As I write and ponder this morning, I am reminded of a drill instructor saying about the word “if”. I will not recount it or recite it here as it is far too crass – yes, even for me – to put it in print in my blog. While I have been working hard to manage health issues, the last few days I seem to be losing the battle a bit. Sunday while out shopping a loss of blood literally had me throwing clothes into the garbage and trying to manage my remodeled body with no supplies. It is the second time in a bit over a week that I have found myself in such a predicament. Today, in spite of classes and meetings from 8:00 a.m. until finally making it home at 10:40, I continue to lose blood today. However, I have managed to be close enough to facilities that it was minimally disturbing. I am already feeling like I should put my sleeping bag in the bathroom for the night. It is meekly managing the rigors of my semester when my Crohn’s Disease has decided to be particularly active. Not really the week I wanted this to occur, not that any week is particularly a week that I would prefer this.

I wish that were all that was plaguing me at the moment, but there are other things to manage. I was actually looking forward to a birthday, but I am not so sure at this point. I have been thinking about a biological mother today, it is only an hour until the actual day that I arrived, albeit a bit early, but nonetheless, I did arrive. I do think my the time I finish posting it will be that actual birthday. Today I wrote to a mother of a two year old and wished her “happy birth-day”. I have often wondered if the mothers shouldn’t be the ones celebrating? They did all the work. They struggled through the labor and the pain. For my mother, she was still a child. I would imagine she was petrified. This was not something she was anticipating with joy and longing. She was barely sixteen. And I was extremely early, so even the day was not anticipated. I am pretty sure that my 17 ounce delivery had her wondering if she could manage. I am sure those around her were wondering if I would make it. I wonder if she wonders about me now or even on this particular day when her life was eternally altered?  Meeting her in my 20s and again in my 40s did little to create any sense of a parent/offspring relationship. I wonder if she regrets this? I wonder if I should wish for something I seem destined to never have. At one point I lamented this loss, but now I have learned that I am probably better off with things as they turned out.

I am a person who generally seems to be wondering if one thing is related to another. I have worked hard to trust some things in my life, but as I have noted in other postings, trust is not something that comes naturally, I have been surprisingly or uncharacteristically, at least for me, seeming to trust again, but a breaking of confidentiality has shaken that trust. It is unfortunate, but I have learned it seems to be what I can expect. Even when the breech was noted, a rationale for depending to whom the information was given should make a difference. I might, in a more benevolent moment, be willing to consider such an option. However, it seemed more like a way to justify the behavior. Perhaps it is a cultural thing. I am wondering if I have misunderstood some things. I guess that is a bit difficult for me at this moment, especially in light of my last post. For me it is about expectations and honesty, following through on commitments. I was actually speaking with a couple people about that last post and both Marco, one of closest friends as well as the second, who is an administrator at the university (and one for whom I have a great respect), told me that it was good to push that conversation and thought process. I know deep down that is true. Whenever there is stereotype employed, pushing to reveal the injustice on either side is important. Yet, I am wondering if it was. The events of the last days seem to indicate something else, again creating a further sense of “the other”. Perhaps it is merely avoidance; perhaps it is because of other changes. Whatever it is, it has me wondering if . . . it has been a while since a need for a meeting of the minds (again this parenthetical has been added to provide some later remediation where it is felt I have been unfair or inaccurate in the depiction of what I wrote. The meeting of the minds as I called it would occur a little over a week later and there was significant emotion and disagreement with some of what I have written.)

At this point I am writing on my birthday. I am quite awake and I am wondering if this might be a last birthday. This is not stating a desire for such an occurrence, but I am wondering if when people reach a particular age they ponder such a thing. I am pretty sure my brother never anticipated his last birthday to be 26. I am quite sure my sister did not anticipate her last birthday to be 51. Events have certainly pushed me into the mode of wondering if, but doing so would be giving up. That would neither be prudent nor characteristic of me. All in all what I know is reaching the completion of another year is reason to celebrate. This past year has brought things and people into my life that has made me stronger, happier, and yes, more vulnerable. As my wise father said, “those you love the most can (will) hurt you the most. I have also been cared for and loved like I never knew possible. I guess the one thing I can trust is that the love is sincere. Regardless the attitude that is prevalent . . .  it is more important to see the bigger picture. Sometimes I lose sight of that. Perhaps it is when I get tired. Perhaps it is when I feel I am losing a battle that I intend to win.

As some of you know, I have been doing some work on the house. It was quite amazing to see that an entire state highway was blocked for that work at my house yesterday. Finally after waiting almost two months (actually more) a gas line is being installed to the house. Of course, it did not go as simply as thought and now a good part of my yard has been excavated. I am hoping when I get home tonight I have a sense of what work I will need to do to repair the damage. At least there is still time to plan grass before the end of the season and hopefully I will not have a mud hole for the remainder of the year. There are other things to manage, but I am realizing I am in the midst of pulling an all-nighter. Appointments and classes will cover the day. In the meanwhile I have to figure out where I left my keys yet again. They could be in the dean’s office after yesterday’s meeting or they might be at the car dealership. At this point, I honestly have no idea. It is an ongoing problem, like for 30 years! My kingdom for some of Lydia’s medication.

Si mis preguntas daño, que no era la intención. Realmente quiero entender para ser más capaces de ver nuestros defectos. Si tienes algo que decir en respuesta, por favor hágalo. Si es necesario copiar, pegar, comentar y sentarse y hablar, bienvenida la conversación. Siento que la necesidad está ahí, así que estoy pidiendo desde hace tiempo. Sería el mejor regalo de cumpleaños podría tener. (The use of my Spanish here is something I have done from the outset of my learning it and it’s use has multiple purposes.)

Gracias por leer.

Dr. Martin