So Much More Than a Memory

Good early morning,

It seems to be that no matter the time I choose to call it a day, I will find myself awake at 2:30 a.m., pondering more than Trump’s tweets. Perhaps that is because he’ll soon be up composing the latest 140 character blasphemy or alt reality, while casting accusations of fakery at everyone else. Perhaps, at least tonight, it is because my modified GI tract has decided to work in warp speed. Perhaps, and even more likely, it is because I am feeling the loss of a mentor and the passing of a giant influence, to my very core, on whom I have become as a professor and colleague. Dan Riordan was the chair of the committee who hired me at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. It was his unique and indescribably affable voice that first reached out on the phone and asked me to come to a little town in West Central Wisconsin in April of 2003. It was Mary and he who welcomed me into their home for a Sunday evening dinner with Bruce Maylath, and it was Dan, who excitedly pointed out a pair of bald eagles in a giant nest over their bank, caring for the eaglets, whose squawking and less-than-majestic looks stunned me beyond words. Dan’s welcoming and kindly smile, his ability to make you feel comfortable from the first moment, made my first foray into tenure-track academia a comfortable experience versus another John Belushi lying on the floor in Animal House reprisal, lamenting the loss of 14 years of college. Dan and Mary graciously hosted me in their home that spring and summer as I moved my life from the U.P. to Wisconsin, and it was Dan who gave Maggie a reference so I could rent my first apartment. Dan even gave me a temporary job working on the latest edition of his textbook, providing me both experience and cash as a still struggling new faculty person.

During my first year, the adjustment to becoming a faculty member was difficult. What I know now was coming out ABD created more than a difficulty of time management. It created a difficulty, perhaps crisis, of identity. While I was still a student, I needed to transform into a professor, a respected faculty person. Simply put, I failed in a rather epic way. I was working hard to figure it out, or so I thought, but during that first semester, my Internet Writing class was, and perhaps still is, the most complete failure in any classroom situation I had ever experienced. There were some outstanding students in that class, and not only did I fail them (and there were mitigating circumstances), but my response for that failure was to blame them and take little blame myself. It was not a good rhetorical strategy, but more importantly, I created a dilemma for myself, one from which I would never really recover. If not for one specific Technical Communication student, who was a single mother with a young daughter, whose moral support meant more than she ever realized, I might’ve quit at the end of that first year. There was another student who begged to get into my first year composition course. She too was a wonderful student and someone with whom I am still fortunate enough to be connected. They helped me survive. However, at the end of the first semester, it was Dan who sat down with me in the Acoustic Café and offered insight and comfort as I reeled from the serious ass kicking that semester provided. While the second semester went marginally better, I made some foolish mistakes outside the classroom. Most of those mistakes and downfalls were the consequence of alcohol, both in Menomonie and back in Houghton. To this day I probably have not apologized as completely as I should for a stupid voice message I left during Winter Carnival. This is where my being the student in one place and a faculty in another created a predicament that would have long-term consequences. In the infamous words of Dean Wormer, “drunk and stupid is no way to spend one’s life.” This is not an exact quote, but truer words have never been spoken. Ironically, one of those students would become part of our advisement board, and rightly so, because she had been a brilliant student, was certainly an outstanding employee, and one who had actually helped me in the business place. I treated her unfairly when I said something in front of that very board, somewhat calling her out. She had every right to dismiss me as unfair and rude. I am sure to this very day, she is as brilliant and as valuable an employee was she was a student. She is a phenomenal person, and a person to whom I will never be able to make amends as well as I wish I could. Indeed, my first year in Wisconsin should be deemed a serious learning-lesson. And while I did recover on a number of fronts, somehow getting an outstanding teaching award 5 years later, there are still things I regret deeply.

The group of students Dan had created through his commitment to each and his superior ability in the classroom is still something to remember. As your  former student, Priscilla Fugar, also one of that amazing group who rightly took me to task, noted so aptly, you had this way of listening and hearing them (and us your colleagues) and then smiling and responding, “yeah, right.” I can hear it as clearly as if you were here speaking it. As we continued to develop programs, internships, and other ideas, you continued to look for new ways to learn, but also so teach, always giving back, not only to your students, but also to all of us, your colleagues. Through the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL), I got to know other faculty, some who became my most valued colleagues and friends. Dan, your insight of the Stout history and culture was unprecedented, but your willingness to help others understand it was invaluable. You understood the struggles of new faculty and unselfishly gave to so many. I not only watched it, I experienced it. Your desire to keep achieving and then bring it back for others is a rare gift and one I try to now emulate here in Pennsylvania. As you never “siloed” what you knew, you taught me the value of cooperation/collaboration and it is something that has influenced everything I have done here at Bloomsburg. Yet, that brings me to your influence and help, both in getting me here, 998.6 miles from Menomonie, but also how you supported me in these last eight years.

As noted, my first year’s missteps created an exigency from which there was no reasonable escape, and the position of a dean made any such consideration moot. As I went through the summer of 2008, again you were there in ways no one else would even consider. You listened and even in your amazement of what the dean had done, you reached out, noting that we should meet on a regular basis or schedule. You listened carefully and your responses were always measured and thoughtful. That year could have ruined me both professionally and personally because of the stress, but you were my sounding board, you were a life jacket for me. You helped me see beyond the immediacy of the circumstance. You helped me walk a tight rope and you provided a quite stellar recommendation for my eventual position here at Bloomsburg. When I left Wisconsin, you did not leave me. You were always kind in taking my phone calls, of reviewing my abstracts, and sharing your wise counsel, offering insight and support from the inexhaustible wealth of knowledge and experience, yet always in a folksy and unassuming manner that delighted in helping another. You took time to fly to Bloomsburg and offered yet again your valuable and unparalleled advice, serving as an expert evaluator of our nascent program. You were kind enough to stay at my house and share both your expertise and joyful company. While I did get the Dean’s office to foot some of the bill, and you made me promise to get reimbursed, I never kept the promise. The investment in the program and the chance to bring you to my new world was repayment enough. As you worked through the process of seeing and building a program, your willingness to speak with my  colleagues, being with my students, as you had done so many times at Stout, meeting with my Dean all made more difference than you could have ever known, but I was so proud to tell you when we had completed what we had and send you the emails. In some ways you became my experiential post-doctoral father. That is no simple thing. When I came back to Menomonie to manage issues, either visiting Lydia and then finishing up things after she passed, again you were always there. You cheered me on and the last time I drove back in January, within hours of returning from Europe, even as you faded, you welcomed me into your home (both of you). It became a sort of inclusio. It was an opportunity to bring something full-circle. I remember standing in your driveway after our wonderful two hour visit and I held my hands in front of me across the driveway as tears filled my eyes and I told you thank you and that I loved you. You told me you loved me back. What a gift of words, a gift of colleagues, but more importantly a gift of mentor to student and, if I can be so bold, a gift of wonderful friendship. It was followed up by the most wonderful email in which you complimented my spirit and humor. I believe I still have that email.

Dan, you are so much more than a memory, you have nurtured and created someone who has come far since that fall in 2003 when I was a fledgling and failing first year tenure-track ABDed professor. When I imagine possibilities, indeed, even now I will ask myself what I would imagine you offering as wise counsel? What are the insightful, piercing, probing, but important questions you would ask in your supportive and visionary manner? I was once told that if you profoundly touch 5 people in your life, you are a successful person. What happens with the number of students, colleagues, friends, and professionals is profoundly larger, exponential of the mere handful (and that is not hyperbole) What is the term we might use appropriately? I know how you would respond. It would be self-depricating, a sort of “shucks, how kind of you to say so . . .” I can see you tilting you head and smiling, but being as gracious and gentlemanly as always. As you have touched my life, as you have transformed me, you are so much more than a memory. If I can somehow even begin to be noted, to pattern my life within the classroom after you, I will be honored. I know that there are times I have considered assignments, and in fact, I have bounced some of those off you. You always smiled and again noted, “how neat; tell me more about that.” Again, the interest, the support, the willingness to push me in perception and pedagogy. Your work with the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning would come shining through, once again helping us to imagine the consequences of what we did to make our students better, more prepared, more thoughtful.

I am sitting in Fog and Flame, one of the coffee shops that has appeared since you were here. You would like it. I can see you at the table helping yet another person, taking time out of whatever you might need to do, putting another person first. Yet, there was that other side of you, the father and husband. The way your eyes would light up when you spoke of your children, your grandchildren, or Mary, your wonderful wife and partner of 50 years. You were more of a model there too than you realized. Your class as a father, grandfather, and husband taught us more than you know. As I have sat here and reflected, there have been smiles and tears, but most of all there is gratitude, an overwhelming sense of humility because I know I learned from one of the best. I hope to share with my students, with others who might follow me. While there was barely a decade difference in age, it seems that I found a master who belied his age. I found a friend who supported me in ways too many to count. I found a mentor and doctoral father who was able to meliorate this struggling, but well-intended beginning academic. Well done good and faithful friend . . .  I promise to keep working to take all you have so graciously given and become even better. I am so blessed that you called me to come to Menomonie and UW-Stout that April 14 years ago. While it is hard to let you go as we once again were in the month of April, it was time for you to finish your amazing journey. As I looked at that last picture of you and Mary, my heart was breaking, but her face said it all so well. We all struggle to let you go, but in my case, those are  moments of my own selfishness. We love you deeply and that will not change. You are much more than a memory because you did so much to change of us all. Not because you wanted to change anyone, you merely wanted to be supportive of us, regardless of our place in life. No person was unimportant, you listened and you cared. In the process, you not only changed us, you became part of us and we are better for it. Bless you, Dan; I love you. You were an amazing leader and you created a band of many who carry on for you.

Thank you to everyone for reading this.

Michael

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)

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

Respect is Fundamental

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Hello from back in Pennsylvania,

Yesterday was a long day (it is now Tuesday morning and I am washing bedding for the second time in two days) but those are my Monday’s. While I did get a number of things covered, there yet feels like there is more to do than I seem to have the energy or strength to do and this frustrates me beyond measure. I am hoping to be caught up with my grading before heading off to Virginia. I wanted to go there on Friday night, and if I can get some coverage on Saturday for something, I will leave then; otherwise, it will be Saturday. I promised a former student I would come to see them at some point and if I do not get that done pretty soon, traveling will be much more arduous and it is not my preference to wait until Spring. I had two students stop by today and share with me how important I had been in their tenure here at students and then I had a Communication Studies student send me a very appreciative email and ask me to present to their Communication ​Day. He wrote, “On another note, I have always had a lot of respect for you not only as a professor, but as a person. It was you who I met with before anyone else when I wanted to change my major/minor. I think of you as an extremely knowledgeable and brilliant person. . . . Despite my major being Communications and all of the professors I have been in contact with, I have considered you to be my most influential professor throughout my two years of being your student.” I am humbled by such words. Of course, not every student considers me in such a way. It is a small campus and things travel. Another student, one I know first hand to be capable in so many ways, when asked about me in the last days, by a mutual acquaintance, responded with the exclamatory remark (loud enough for others to hear), “F&$@%#, Dr. Martin.” ~ probably not the first time a one syllable word has been attached to my name, and perhaps not the last time, but this particular incident illustrates so much more. The sad part is that I heard about it from more than one person. It provided yet another piece of evidence of just how far things can move from one place to another. As I thought about it more carefully, I realized it is not a problem for me. it actually reflects more unfavorably on this particular student, especially because many of the people who heard it know the bigger story. Perhaps, I could be benevolent and say it was the altered state the person was in, yet again, that allowed for such blatant disrespect, but that would be but an excuse and give the person yet another out. Something that is typical of him or her. A person is who he or she is regardless their intake of something used or taken. That altered position merely lowers their ability to filter what they would do anyway, regardless their state.What that means, more importantly, is I am not feeling particularly benevolent in this situation.

What is sadder is I too know the bigger story and as I noted in my last blog, each person succeeds, or falls (even literally fails), on their own terms. There are two things that are fundamental to who I am. If you want to see me upset, merely be disrespectful or dishonest. In addition, if you are lacking basic honesty, you lie about foolish things or lie period, and if you are disrespectful, I will probably decide to steer clear. If those things are lacking, for whatever reason, be it a basic flaw in their character or simply a phase, my desire to work with that individual is severely lessened. While I am eternally grateful in this case for some things, what has happened as of late has done a great deal of damage to any chance that I might trust in the future. However, that is not something over which I have or need to take control. This is one of the things I am learning to do, and though it is a hard lesson for me, it is a valuable one. Letting go is not characteristic of who I am because I see it as quitting, or at least I have in the past. In this case, it is necessary; it is healthy, for both parties, but sometimes I am such a slow learner. I was warned from the outset, but I did not listen. Again, my believing I could fix it. Learning sometimes is painful. Yet, I will never close the door on a person completely, but if they shut it, they will need to re-open it. That is a difference in me at this point. Again, it has been a painful lesson, but one that is indelibly imprinted at this time.

While I must admit I have not always been as respectful as I could, as I have aged, I have come to value it more and more. Whether it is to act with dignity or some sense of decorum myself or in how I treat others, it is something that was instilled in me early. I wrote about much earlier in this blog in a post about “being a gentleman”. I remember when I was an academic advisor to the Greek system at a previous institution. One particular fraternity had a horrendous reputation because of the way they treated women. I spoke with them at a meeting and told them if I had a daughter I would not allow her anywhere near their house. They argued that it was not all of them. I noted that it would take all of them to change that reputation and that it would take years to repair the damage those few had created. Reputations are so hard to build and so easy to lose. I know this from earlier in my life and mistakes I made. Sadly it didn’t matter what my intentions were; what created the image or the reputation was what people thought. Even if their thoughts were inaccurate, the damage had been done. Much more than people realize this is something I consider all  the time. It is why I do not go into certain establishments in this town. The damage to my reputation, the respect I would lose, from my students and my colleagues is not worth the chance. It’s sad that wisdom comes so late in life.

That being said, I know I’m not perfect. In fact, I am far from it. Someone with whom I’ve recently reacquainted has told me too many times “I’m too good to be true.” I have worked to dissuade them of such an opinion. Such a belief sets me up for nothing but failure. Is actually impossible to live up to what they have created in their mind. And as I often tell people I need no help in getting in trouble. In this case, I think is because they’ve been treated so poorly that being treated with any ounce of kindness seems amazing. That too is sad. After being treated so disrespectfully, it seems that it is impossible for him or her to have respect for their own person. It takes a long time to undo such damage, but it must start from the inside. One must believe that he or she is worth respect because every person is. In fact the person who acts with disrespect toward another has no respect for himself or herself. Or perhaps more likely what they deem as respect for themselves is really foolish pride. Perhaps that is the reason for that well-known saying “pride goeth before the fall.” While I would never wish for someone to fall or be hurt, sometimes it is the only option. While deep down I guess I’ve always known this, it is hearing another person’s “story”, their narrative, and watching the continued move forward from a pretty extreme flirting with an abyss, that it has been crystallized for me. That has been one of the important learning moments for me during this past year or so.

To respect one’s self, yes, even to have a sense of pride, is fundamental to who we are and it is necessary for any hope we might have of being successful or being content and happy. Perhaps that is why I am where I am in my life. It is been a long and arduous road to get to this place. It is why am making some of the changes I am making. It is as I stare at my own sense of the abyss. It is my desire to be content, to be happy. For me, part of that is in respecting others and being respected in return. The simple statement from a student to says he respects me and he’s learned from me or that I made a difference, that is the ultimate statement of respect. I am blessed and humbled to hear such things. To each of those who I’ve mentored or made some small difference, thank you for letting me be part of your life. Whether you are in my life now or in the past, you matter. It is now 5:00 a.m.; sheets are washed, bed is made. Now I can go back to sleep for an hour or two.

To the others, thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin

Letting Them “Succeed” on Their Terms

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Hello from OSCLG,

I am walking out of one of the more poignant and touching presentations I have ever attended. While it was not an auto ethnography, it was a narrative and an amazing story about the relationship forged between and advisor and a doctoral student. It allowed me to consider the role we have in students’ lives in a different way. It also came back as I discussed the presentation of the text messages that were the basis of the presentation at the conference.

I should note it is the next morning, and early at that. I am already though security and sitting at my gate and the time is 4:45 a.m., one more reason that it is probably good that I ended up presenting on my own. I went to bed last night around 8:00 p.m., realizing that it would be an early alarm. I had actually almost fallen asleep when I heard a text message from a former Stout student, now living in San Francisco. She inquired to see if I was actually in town. When I responded affirmatively, she was a bit upset that I did not let her know in advance that I was going to be in town. She was one of my favorite students at Stout, a bit non-traditional, but an extremely hard worker and one of the most affable students I have ever had in class. It ended up that we spoke on the phone and when she found out that I had been in the ER at UCSF, she was even more bummed because she said she could look out her window at the hospital I had visited only 30 hours before. The irony in her reaching out and what I was presenting, as well as considering how to move forward, was more than I could imagine. In our conversation, both by phone and text, she noted she still “valued the opinion of Dr.Martin.” She asked about the skills sets that I believed were important and asked about returning to pursue another degree. What occurred in that conversation was the realization that what advice was given (in this case 7 or 8 years ago) resonated in such a way that it made a difference, but it also helped her realize that I had her long-term success at heart. When she was a student we met in Eau Claire once for breakfast and I once visited where she worked during her evening shift. We were known to have coffee together from time to time. The boundaries of mentor and friend perhaps blurred at moments. Now I am a friend and still a mentor rather than a mentor and perhaps a friend.

What I learned listening to the presentation yesterday was that it is more typical than I have thought, or more significantly been taught to believe (a former dean comes to mind). What are the things and who are the persons we advise? Last night before finally going to sleep, I ordered four books that I will be trying to read during the coming break. Titles like:The Compass of Friendship: Narratives, Identities, and Dialogues, Friendship Matters: Communication, Dialectics, and the Life Course (Communication and Social Order), and two additional books on family. I am actually looking toward the reading and working on my scholarly agenda. I am also realizing that I need to probably jettison some more things currently on my plate. I will focus on three things: my teaching and classes, the program and developing it, and my scholarship. Personally, I need to simply manage the issues at hand. Again, some things are evolving and a trip back to Wisconsin will help me take care of that. Helping two or three students with graduate school applications and statements are a priority as they have deadlines. I should note as I look out the window, cruising along at about 35,000 feet, I am always amazed by the beauty and the stark harshness of the Rocky Mountains. I cannot help but think of the scores of people who traversed this expanse on their way West. I am reminded of a movie I saw with the Deckers when I visited them in Utah.

I am looking through the program from the conference once again and the importance of communication and gender in the health area is still something that intrigues me. I am reminded of my conference paper last year and how the Wisconsin Department of Health requires no training in communication to work with cognitively impaired (primarily Alzheimer’s and Dementia patients) people. The significance as well as the dilemma of communicating with the elderly is something that will create even more tremendous difficulties if we fail to address such problems now. The increasing percentage of elderly with some kind of dementia or impairment is not going to recede anytime soon. This really moves me toward the title for today’s blog. As I continue to work with students, I am often asked how they are different from that first fall (1992) i taught college. It is true they are different, but in spite of the implication of the question, which usually seems to be somewhere in the realm of “are they less prepared?” or “are they poorer writers because they text?” or . . . You can fill in the seemingly negative spin on some question. I do not believe students are generally poorer or less intelligent than their generational predecessors. They are actually more rhetorically astute than many; they are actually more comfortable writing than many; and they area actually much more aware of their world and its issues than their parents or grandparents. They also have a tolerance and inclusivity that is merely part of their attitude about their surroundings. So in many ways, they are perhaps more prepared than I was. What I think is missing for many is the ability to think critically or to integrate their learning. Many seem incapable of seeing how, for instance their lack of preparation, might have larger consequences. A couple years ago I had an advise who dropped a class almost every semester, or did poorly (a D or F) in one class every quarter. They came to me with their transcript to make sure that an audit would make sure they could graduate (I should note that I just broke another pair of reading glasses and the elderly man next to me loaned me his). When I looked at her transcript, I noted the two characteristics and she was shocked that this was a potential problem. First there was the fact that she was probably at least a semester and a half behind because of dropped or failed courses (about 11 or 12 grand). There was the issue that her GPA languished at a level of about 2.5 (which is not good enough in today’s world), and there was what I thought when I saw her transcript, which was simply, I will not hire you (that is a whole lot more money invested, but not wisely). Yet, I am not sure that she understood her dilemma; she was graduating so she had succeeded. But had she? She had succeeded on her terms, so she was content, at least that is what I am led to believe. Yet, in spite of what a president might say, and I respect him deeply, or a provost might say (and I have great appreciation for who she is), merely allowing every 18 year old in college because of potential seems frightening destined to failure and scores with unmanageable indebtedness. If you have been reading my blog, my assistance in helping a student get into a different school than Bloomsburg was doing the very thing I seem to be arguing against. So, is it that each case needs more critical scrutiny?

I am forced (not all that unwillingly, I might add) to agree with Sr. Galán that our public education system is in trouble. I do not think Common Core will fix it. I do not think it is up to teachers and administrators. I think more often it goes back to the parents, to the family. Making education a priority in the household means taking an active role in someone’s education. Working with that son or daughter and knowing that their attitude as well as yours will make a big difference in that child’s learning. I know in college they are chronologically adults, but most are not. Most freshmen are overwhelmed with their newfound freedom and academics get what is left over,. Sophomores often have bad attitudes and my analysis of transcripts generally show that second semester freshman or sophomore year GPAs plummet if that is going to happen. Juniors are beginning to think a bit more clearly, but what they often realize is their past academic transgressions are killing them in many and various ways. Finally, seniors are usually able to see the handwriting on the wall and understand the significance of getting more then a piece of paper. At the moment, I am only aware of one person who has actually learned his or her lesson early enough to turn things around to the point of being on their way to graduating with honors. That is no small achievement. It is quite phenomenal.

You might notice that I have put the word succeed in quotation marks in my title. That is because success is a quantifiable term, but not a term that is easily defined. It is because we want to quantify it that it is so problematic. What I deem success is based on life experience and my own failures or learning moments. What I always want is for my students, or anyone I care for, to succeed , and that is actually in all areas of their lives. However, I cannot force them, push them to succeed, and sometimes it might go as far as that I cannot even demonstrate that their success matters. That is certainly difficult for me, but I am learning. Mentoring is an art, but not a perfect one; caring is an art too, but one that can certainly cause pain. On the other hand, it creates moments of immense joy and love. What I have realized once again is that I have been blessed with an amazing life, a wonderful position, great colleagues, generally hopeful and good students, and friends that make my life pretty wonderful. I can only live my life the best way I know. I am grateful for those who have taught me so much this past year. Well, it is almost 2,500 miles later and Philadelphia is close. The picture is of my front porch railing. Amazing what fences, real or imagined can do . . .

Thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin

Another Semester ~ Another Year

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Good evening from the corner of my study in Bakeless,

It has been one of the more eventful weeks I think I have had in a while. A week ago I was headed to Hazleton, where I ended up spending the night with my adopted family. I had the opportunity to share some important information with them and then was asked to spend the night. I had a Dominican breakfast last Saturday morning that was amazing. I spent the next morning shopping and going to a Latino Farmers Market. I got to practice my Spanish pronunciation by merely trying to name all the fruits and vegetables, meats and cheeses, Batata, Yuca,  (of which I think I have both the sweet and the bitter) and some squashes. The rest of the weekend and into the middle of the week was taken up with three things: working on my tenure application, grading students work and managing daily class requirements, and working with my mentees (of which there are three formal ones and a couple more more informal ones). All in all it was a busy week. In fact, all of this seems much longer than a week ago.

I am always amazed when the end of the academic year arrives because regardless of how prepared I am, I never seem ready. This semester I walked into the semester more prepared than ever before. I spent days getting ready for what was coming and about 5 weeks into the semester, I felt like I was hanging on by my fingernails again. I am still not sure how that happens (at least I am not completely aware of how). I actually spoke with colleagues about it this semester and I got some interesting replies . . .  and while I know there is truth in what they tell me, I am not sure how I can actually change some of that. Perhaps the most insightful statement one colleague made about it was “I need to quit holding their hands.” I think this might be the most helpful comment. It is actually an important part of who I am, but I need to rethink that. Can I moderate it and not lose who I am? I have actually had to work on that in another way, and the insight that I have been required to consider from their observations has been a struggle. It is something I am working on, but it requires me to take a fundamental part of who I am and make changes. If I am going to be completely honest, I think their evaluation is correct, but figuring out how to change it or make it more appropriate is going to be a process.

As I spend the majority of the weekend in my office putting together supporting materials, grading, and working on other projects, it will need to be tremendously productive, but I know I can do that. I do believe I might have to take a ride on the Harley today. That is a way that I actually de-stress.  . . .  I have learned yet another thing about WordPress and its limitations. Yesterday, I knew I had this open on my computer at school, but I figured I could finish it at home and post it. Nothing doing. I wrote a complete posting twice and when I saved it I saw the post, but when I went back it was gone. It was not until it happened a second time that it dawned on me what was happening. So . . . this is the third posting of this. It is actually Sunday afternoon and I am back in my office. I will try to recreate some of what I wrote yesterday. However before I get back to some of those issues, I must say I had an enjoyable time, for the most part, last evening at the Fog and Flame. A colleague from the Communication Studies Department has finished his PhD and is leaving and he had a little gathering. I was speaking to another professor in that department and I think they had seven searches again for next year. I know she has been on so many search and screen committees that she is totally burned out. It makes it hard on both the faculty and the students and I know this first hand from both sides.

Music has always been a significant part of my life, from the time I was a little boy. I was in choirs or had some sort of musical gadget or listening device. I was in a city-wide children’s’ choir when I was still in elementary school and I was taking private music lessons from the 2nd grade. Yesterday someone asked me what my favorite group or favorite song was. The favorite group was not that hard for me to decide, and anyone who has been acquainted with me over the decades will not be surprised by this choice. It is Kansas, the band that really hit things in the middle 70s. It is the band whose concerts I have attended more than any other one, and it is certainly one of the bands that I believe I had every album they have done, particularly in their heyday. I also liked them because their music was more complex and interesting both melodically and certainly more difficult technically, but they were also always accessible. My favorite song is actually from their very first album and it is a ballad of sorts. It is melodic, but a bit haunting. It is symphonic is its timbre because of the violin and the piano, which has a sort of classical aspect to it. It is the first verse that I find particularly autobiographical. It actually relates to some of the deistic struggles that I have noted. In fact rather than typing the words, I think I will insert a link so you can listen to it, if you so desire (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fyn8IeOdxlY). This is the original version off that first album. It is how I most understand the nature of the third article. It is interesting to me that I am so comfortable with a third article though as a Lutheran person, one who has been taught to be second article dominant. Yet, that is not some charismatic idea of the Holy Spirit, but rather a very personal understanding of it. I think Rudolf Otto’s idea of the numinous is probably at work here for me. It is interesting to me that my humanities class from Dana College is back in the fore of the my thoughts yet again. In fact, I have used those notes on two occasions lately to assist my students today.

As I am finishing things up for the semester, I am grateful for three things (this is not particularly an order of importance, but rather the way they have come to mind): first, I am grateful for my colleague and friend, Dr. Mark Decker. I realize how much your presence in my life means to me. It was when you were gone in the fall that I really came to terms with that. In addition, the Tuesdays and weekly times were as important to me as they were to you. While I know your life will be much more structured and your time much more demanded, I hope we can find a weekly time to check in and at least have lunch or something. I am grateful for all you have done for me in so many ways. Second, I am grateful to my department colleagues, and in particular, as of late, the departmental tenure committee. They have been so supportive and gracious in their advice and support. I have been continually amazed by the difference between the department here and the department in my previous institution. There were good people at Stout, and I still believe that, but the atmosphere there is certainly different than here. Dr. Decker and I have spoken about that on numerous occasions. I have both supportive colleagues and amazing scholars here at Bloomsburg. The third thing, and certainly the most profound thing that occurred this semester began with a snowstorm and a snow-day. I had no idea what was in store for me. I am not sure I even know now, but I know that I have been blessed beyond compare. Twice this week I have had an opportunity to share time with Mr. Galan. Each time I speak with him I learn more; I understand more.

As I finish up “another semester ~ another year, as always, I am amazed at how quickly it goes by. This is the second year that I have been here the entire time a student has been. It is always a bit shocking to see how much he or she changes from their time as freshmen until they are walking across the stage to receive their diploma. It is a wonderful thing to behold. It is a gift to be able to have some small influence on that process. That was the other thing that happened this week. I received an award (as an honorable mention) for the Outstanding Innovative Teaching Award here at Bloomsburg. I knew I had been nominated and I did have to fill something out to be considered. Well, I guess it was a good thing because I got a very nice certificate and there is an email and announcement to the president and the provost. Coming as I am turning in my tenure materials is certainly serendipitous. Well, it is time to go back to grading. The picture here is a picture of me when I was a freshman in college, it was scanned (and heisted) earlier this semester. It seemed like an appropriate option as one can see what I looked like when I was writing those notes for my “hum classes” I  have been sharing the past couple of weeks.

As always, thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin