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)

Investments

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Good morning from the diner,

Today will be a day of grading and preparing for the end of the semester and beyond. It is also a day to catch up on some household items. Finally, it is also the first Sunday and the beginning of the Advent season. In the liturgical year, it is actually my favorite time. Advent, like Lent, is a season of preparation. It is also considered a season of hope. Hope is an entirely different topic, one on which I could probably do an entire posting. Nevertheless, it is a season that provides both memories and, for me, a sense of goodness in a world that at times seems irreparably broken. It is that sense of goodness that offers at least a glimmer of hope. While I believe we should (and I try to) give to others throughout the year, again, at least we pay attention to the needs of others a bit more intentionally. While there are more than enough stories about why this time is stressful, particularly within families, it also seems that generally attempts to remediate issues might occur at this time (in spite of some of my own experiences to the contrary). It is a time when we actually think carefully about what we have done in the past year and how those events have continued to shape who we are or move us toward some growth we hope to accomplish.

Those events in the past year are an investment of sorts. They signify the things or people on or in which we believed there was value. The question is always whether or not the investment was wise or sound. Not really that different from one’s portfolio, one looks and tried to determine the performance of those investments and then decides to either continue that position or change it. However, there is a difference when you are analyzing things or people and stocks or bonds. Investing in things or inanimate objects is more about what one values or deems important. The item itself is the passive or non-acting agent, and yet, is considered to have value (i.e. a house, a college degree-the piece of paper, one’s electronic gadgets). Investments in people are a bit more tricky. As something not inanimate, people are neither passive nor inactive. While some might seem as such and others certainly not, the decision to invest time or energy into another person (i.e. a spouse, a student, a family member, a friend or acquaintance) always has an inherent risk. Who people seem to be and knowing who they actually are is an imperfect science at best. Likewise, time and experience changes people, but I think those changes are more drastic the younger the person is. I see that everyday when observing my students. The differences one sees between freshmen and seniors is beyond extreme. The difference one can experience from semester to semester or week to week can be much more dramatic than one might ever imagine. I have, again, witnessed this first hand, even in the past few days.

Last night I had two experiences that epitomize the extremes of what I am noting. A former, and now graduating student, and her father came over for dinner last night. It was the first time I have met the father, but I was referred to as the “God-parent” (Bóg-rodzic). That was a compliment and it has been fun to watch Marysia grow over the years. I have been invited to travel to Poland and spend the New Year’s holiday with them. I am excited because it will be my first trip to Eastern Europe. On the other hand, I have tried to understand the philosophy of another and it is apparent that it is not as much a philosophy as it is simple selfishness. As I noted in a previous blog, I have to learn to see things for what they are and quit making excuses for others. I had the opportunity to speak with another last evening, a person I have helped with school issues and with housing. Their attempt to make it on their own is admirable, even though there are stumbles. It was insightful to read and observe their behaviors and listen carefully to what was said. The wisdom that I observed in that conversation was quite astounding. I know the importance of the investment I have made in the other, but that investment needs to be reconsidered not from what I get, but rather from what it has taught me about myself. I think that is the difference between investing in things that are passive or inanimate and things that are active or not inanimate. When we invest in the inanimate, the consequence is much more understandable, perhaps predictable. People, on the other hand, are seldom understandable and so we cannot see what we might receive from them as the investment. What I am sure of lately if we could only evaluate on what we might receive from the other, I would be bankrupt. What I believe we must see in our investment in others is what we learn about ourselves and how we might better ourselves from those experiences. It is similar in my teaching. While I invest a great deal of time, I cannot make a student learn; I cannot make him or her want to succeed. What I must realize is my investment is in my profession and in my own learning to do what I do better.

As we head into the last week of classes, I know it is a stressful time. Some people manage stress well and others (as I have watched this entire semester) do not. I am not consistent with how I manage stress if I am going to be honest. Sometimes I can take it in stride and manage quite well. Other times it can almost paralyze me. I think about some of the moments I had last spring as I tried to manage things here and in Wisconsin and it was overwhelming to me. I must say, in spite of some things I am currently trying to navigate this semester, I am doing pretty well. I did have another fever last night (or early morning), but they are certainly not as frequent as they were last summer. I also know it is much less stressful having come to the conclusion I have during the break and what I need to do during the next semester. I had a chat with one of the people I visited over the break and there was a question about why I feel the need to publish or move forward in my rankings. It was a fair question from the perspective of not being in the position of needing to publish, teach, or serve. It was a fair question to ask if that ranking was merely about salary. My desiring to publish and to advance is about demonstrating expertise in my field and demonstrating that what I do in my classroom has substance and credibility. I am not upset with the questions, particularly when the questions were asked out of concern for me in a bigger picture. It is nice to have someone who is contemporary ask questions. I must admit the questions and concerns are genuine and the treatment has always been respectful. I guess that is what being 50-something will do versus being 20-something. I see late-teens and 20-somethings everyday because of my job, and even if one seems older at times, he or she is still only 20 and their narcissistic behaviors are much more likely to be intact and functional than later in life. I think the difficulty is their feeble attempts to justify their behaviors, but again that is an issue of maturity. It is not the first time I have had to face that reality though this time might be a bit more difficult to swallow than other previous experiences. Again, this is where I have to come to terms with my understanding of what I hope to get or receive as an investment. If my investment is dependent on another person’s behavior than the investment is flawed or, at the very least, pretty damn risky. If I consider what I have invested as something merely meant to benefit the other and not myself – if I can be more unconditional in my expectations – then I cannot lose. Unfortunately, I expected something better and that is my own mistake. Some of that expectation was based on experience, but the experience has certainly changed and I think the true nature has become rather clear. That is not the fault of the other, it is my fault for believing that there was a capability to do what seems to be reasonable or honorable. I also understand that I am imposing my standard of reasonable or honorable, but I have come to those understandings based on almost 60 years of life and a lot more experience than many. It would be nice if things were free or we were as free to do as we’d like, but that is a misguided notion. It is merely a choice to act that way. However, I must remember my own phrase, one I once wrote: “prepare to pay”. Again, the cost of the investment has been high, but it was my decision to take the chance. While I probably did not see it as much of a chance as it has turned out to be, any time you put energy or care, love or commitment into another person on any level, it is taking a chance. I cannot blame anyone for my decisions and/or my stupidity in this case. Much as I had the choice to invest, I have the ability to divest. While it takes a lot for me to walk away, I am capable of doing so.

Yet, if I see it as only as a misguided decision or simple stupidity, then every good thing I have done would have been undertaken foolishly or somewhat idealistic. Ultimately, that is not how I see it. Giving of one’s self, of one’s time, of one’s dedication, and love to another is never to be considered foolish or wasted. I do not regret what I have done and for the help I have given, even when needed without their realizing it or unappreciated. I feel pretty decent. I took some chances and I learned. That is the investment. It is the learning. It is standing back and considering all the data and then realizing the true nature of someone. What is significantly more important is the learning I did about myself and how that might help me in the future. I know that I could have been a pretty reasonable parent. I know that I can see bigger picture and I also know my frailties when dealing with someone for whom I care deeply. All of those lessons have been valuable and will help me as I move on and forward. Finally, it is good to invest both in things and in people. If we do not do so, I believe we live a life devoid of hope, devoid of promise, devoid of possibilities. While I am learning that we only have some much time, that is the reality we all live with. Sometimes we are more cognizant of that limitation.

It is the season of Advent, a time for preparation and I am preparing to move on. I have learned in life that there is no constant and as I was reminded the other night when speaking with my 50+ contemporary, I only have so much life left. This Advent will be a special Advent for me and I do want it to be a season of hope and I am hopeful because I have learned so much. It is a season of caring and for the care I have given, I know that I have been true to my nature and to what my grandmother demonstrated in her life. For a season of possibilities and for Cassey and Becca, this will be an amazing week. For Brittany and Maria, it is your last week as an undergraduate student. You have grown so much since that first summer class. I am still grateful to all four of you because I still have some surrogate kids. Last week I received a wonderful email about what I do in class . . . the student ended with the following words: “Thank you for pushing me to be the best I could be, for showing me that I am far more capable than what (sic)I ever imagined. Thank you for making an impact on my life and my educational career. It was truly a blessing to be a part of your class, and experience I will never forget. I wish you a happy and healthy holiday season and pray that you continue to change other students’ lives like you’ve changed mine.” While I am touched and humbled by this, it too provides hope. There is a hope that after time, the investments made in any situation might be considered or realized as efficacious for both. Of course, there is no guarantee of that, and it is certainly not wise to need that response. I have learned that to about the 10th power or exponentially.

Yet the chance it might happen is at least one reason I have invested in students; that is why I invest in people in general. It is my sincere hope that what I offer, or give, or provide makes their lives better. When it does, I have invested wisely because it makes my life better.

Thanks for reading,

Dr. Martin

Flying

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Good early morning,

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin