Considering Success or Has it Returned?

Hello on an early Friday morning,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As always thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin

 

A Mid-Summer’s Night in a Dream

Hello on an early Wednesday  morning,

It has been some time since I posted, and if you know me that means that I need to get some order to my life. It could also be that I am trying to do too much. Someone who has known me 2/3 of my life, albeit from a distance most of it, knows me when I was just home from the service. The four decades that have passed allowed for many changes, but a re-emergence provides an interesting view.  What  had happened is a certain level of honesty, revealing the frailties of  the other, that sort of fill in the picture in a more unfinished, but rarely truthful form. There is an interesting freedom in that because there seems little to lose and so much more to gain. It involves taking a chance. It requires a level of trust for me that is a bit uncommon, but still possible. And yes, the very fact it is possible is an important realization. It has been a good thing to share and listen to the other. It has been also positive to reconnect with someone who had such a profound influence on a young, naïve, and searching young man. Over the past month so much has happened. I was back in Menomonie for Dan’s celebration of life, and it was a celebration. His ability to teach us even to the last moment was so quintessentially him.

The time in Menomonie was good. The Lacksonens are such a gift to my life and their honesty, graciousness and care have had more influence on me than they probably know. It was also good to spend time with Amy, Charles, and Simon. They too are like a lost family that I never knew I had, but was fortunate enough to be allowed into their lives. I always marvel at the ways our paths had crossed, but we did not know each other. Again, it has allowed for a connection that is far beyond some superficial creation. I also got to spend time with a couple of other people who are so important to the memories I have of that Wisconsin town that did so much to change my life. I am still being affected by those changes. However, it reminds me clearly that there is so little over which we have control and there are always external factors that come into play when we least expect it. To spend time with Lydia’s doctor and to consider him much more than merely her physician is quite another unexpected and certainly undeserved gift. I did get most of what I needed to accomplish done and before I knew it I was back in PA, but it was already June. That month has flown by, but I have continued to have doctors’ appointment and work pretty intentionally at managing my health. During the first week of June I was able to get a number of other things accomplished and get some semblance of order to things. There have been home projects, some car issues, and then trying to get some writing done. I have made progress on all fronts. There have been more times than I could have realized that I seem to make a couple steps forward to only seem to fall back a step, but I seem to have lessened my propensity for doing that.

The second week of June I got some work done on my Fulbright application, but there is still work to do. That is going to have to happen this next week and it has to be a priority. During the third week of June, I managed to drive down to Cape Charles, VA and spend a few days at the shore. I am fortunate enough to have a colleague who has a house there and is gracious enough to allow me the opportunity to hang out. This time, there was also work involved as we are working on an article together (something that has been in the works for years), but we are almost there with a draft. That has been good. I have a second project just about done, but again discipline and getting it completed. It will not take that much time if I just focus. Then in the midst of all of this, there was the change to move to an office with a bigger window, so I took that task on also. I got the great majority of that accomplished in about 36 hours, but need to finish the rest this weekend. There are a couple of things on my plate yet this evening, and some of it has come a bit unexpectedly, but that is how life usually is. What I am realizing once again is how blessed I am to have the life I do. I have a wonderful job and an amazing department. There are certainly differing personalities and there are what I refer to as spirited discussions at meetings, but with minimal exception, we walk away from those differences and maintain an outstanding sense of camaraderie through it all. There are certainly moments that some make that difficult, but that is humanity at its finest (or something). It is interesting what social networking does, and certainly there is a lot out there written about all of this. For me, FB, Instagram, Twitter, and other things (but the three listed are what I  use most), keep me connected with both the past, but offer possibilities for the future. During the last year much has been written about how our political situation has caused a lot of disunity and there have been significant pieces written on how all of this has caused splits in families and such. One of the people I most appreciate let me know they had quit following me because of some of what I had posted. I guess if I think carefully and analytically, I should not be surprised because some of what I have posted has been a bit edgy.

Somehow another week has passed and I am not done with this posting and the Midsummer Night (or the summer solstice) has come and gone. Indeed, the days are already growing shorter. Not that I am quite aware of it. I am not sure if I notice that it is getting light later or it is getting dark sooner. I think it is the latter, but I still miss the summer nights in the Upper Peninsula. It is one of those important realizations again. Everywhere I have ever lived has given me something that has made me a better and more well-rounded person. There is no place that does not offer something of value. Too often we merely take that space (and the people) for granted or as just merely what is, but we miss out on so much by doing so. When I left Pennsylvania in 1992, I never expected that I would return to the state. I was a Midwestern boy. Now it is the state in which I have lived the longest since I was a child. I am beginning a 9th year at Bloomsburg and it is the longest I have been at one job also. I have certainly been the itinerant, but somehow this place changed that. I must give my friends the Deckers a great deal of credit for that. They made me feel welcome and made me family from the beginning. I have watched them change so much since I came to Bloomsburg. Second, I am grateful to that Friday Afternoon Club as I call them. I was introduced to a group of colleagues with whom I am still connected. In fact, I was with some of them last evening. While there has been some metamorphosis in the group, that is normal and people come and go. I think that is the most fundamental truth in our lives. People move in and out of our lives, and sometimes that change is needed; even when it is a painful change. One of my frailties is I try to hold on to everyone, and through that I leave myself vulnerable to hurt. Even when I have let someone or something go, I always feel the loss. While I am not trying to list everyone or everywhere that has significance, certainly my educational experiences have been important. All of them. There are people from each place, but it is somewhat ironic to me that this is the place I probably have less connection than many other parts of my life. I need to ponder that more, but not at this moment. The role of my Dominican family cannot be understated either. It is amazing that it was 4 years ago yesterday that Jordan showed up in my class that first day. Little did I know what that would begin. I can certainly write an entire blog about the 5 of them and how much they have changed my life. Their willingness to make me part of their family is another gift. There is my first host family when I was a 23 year old traveling on an LYE team. They are still in my life and have become more important to me than I could have ever hoped or realized.

If I can single out one person who has most influenced me as I ponder, it would be my undergraduate advisor, Dr. John W. Nielsen, who recently turned 92 years old. He took me to Europe as a sophomore in college. I had not an inkling how much that 30+ days would fundamentally change my perception of the world and of what it meant to be educated and learn. He is the one who taught be to actually learn. Up until them, I did what all too many do . . . . memorize/regurgitate, and I could do it well when I put my mind to it, but there is so much more to becoming an educated person. I hope I can somehow emulate for my students what he did for me. His inquisitive mind, his keen ability to make you want to learn, his willingness to share his experiences, and his desire to do what he did because it was the right thing to do set a standard that few are able to match, and perhaps even fewer would understand. Things he taught me as both a Humanities major and as a student/citizen have shaped much of what I believe should happen even now whether I be in a typical classroom, online in the classroom, or in Poland (and other places in Europe). I was blessed to have the opportunity to visit with him a little over a year ago and his mind was as sharp as ever. It was an outstanding opportunity to be in his presence once again. I have received notes from past students and it is both gratifying and humbling when they offer some praise for whatever occurred in the class they attended. It is for me another type of calling, not all that different from that ordination that occurred almost 30 years ago. Where does all that time go?

There is a lot more I could write, but I think I would feel like I am babbling . . .  what I am noting is that much like Puck in Shakespeare’s amazing play, sometimes we are visited by things and I share Neil’s recitation from A  Midsummer Night’s Dream scene in Dead Poets Society. I offer these words:

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
If you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.

Sometimes we need to return to our beginnings. Sometimes it is when people from our beginnings come back into our life that we realize how it fits together. I leave you with one of my favorite songs by the great lyricist and musician, Kenny Loggins . . .  indeed, it is hard to explain how some things follow us throughout all our lives.

 

 

Good afternoon to you all and thank you for reading. I am blessed by the part each of you have played in my life. Bless you.

 

Michael

Show me the Way

Hello from my upstairs,

It has been a day of reflection and a day of feeling I am too far away from where I  believe  I should be. As I was telling my colleague, Mark, this morning as we shared our thoughts about Dan and Mike, or Drs. Riordan and Levy, a bishop might have demanded the resignation that removed me from a clergy roster, but he could not, did not, and cannot take away the profound and central part of my piety and soul that still has me providing pastoral care to so many people I meet. Certainly, I no longer wear the funny turned-around shirt and I’m no longer called, or referred to as, Pastor, but perhaps, just perhaps, some of the most significant and poignant ministry I have done has occurred in the Bible as Literature course, happened when I emotionally supported or demonstrated care for a struggling student, or lived the gospel in the manner that made someone reconsider God rather than ignore, or run from, God. In fact, it was 19 years ago this past week I was given a new commandment by an earthly person, one who enjoyed playing God, demanding I resign and forfeit my ordination. I certainly did some things to make him question, and for that I am accountable, but as many have said, he did not have to do things the way he did. Ironically, I had tried to resign the clergy roster only two weeks prior, but he would not accept it. I know now it was because I had taken his power away if I resigned on my terms and he couldn’t allow that. I have been asked more than once to consider applying to be reordained or reinstated, but having the title of pastor or the ability to do sacraments once again is not something I need, if I am to be fulfilled. There are certainly times I wish someone would just show me the easiest way to move forward, or as I tell my students, “please just give me the recipe card.” All too often that’s what we what. But there is a simple and profound problem with getting a recipe card; we are prone to blame whomever it is giving the card, especially when things don’t work out exactly like we thought. What does it actually mean to be shown the way?

I spent a good part of the day doing schoolwork @FogandFlame. When I was by myself I had my earbuds in and I can just disappear into my work. Part of the time was spent however again being somewhat of a surrogate father or providing some sense of pastoral care without ever really mentioning God. It’s not really that I am particularly brilliant or even very amazing, but I think I’m honest and genuine and the advice I give for the most part is accepting and pragmatic. It’s not a matter of rocket science it’s a matter of being honest with the situation and accepting accountability for the choices we make. I believe many times it is merely showing a person’s pathway, making it clear to them that there are options.  To help them believe they have a right, even in the midst of difficulty, to make a choice that is hopefully in their best interest and in the interest of those around them. seems to be the right thing to do. Too often we are paralyzed, unsure if there is the best option, and by our paralysis we lose our own way. This happens way too many times. One of the things I most admire about my former colleague and forever- mentor, Dr. Daniel Riordan, is how he has managed his diagnosis with prostate cancer from the very beginning. He faced, and fought, this disease gallantly, honestly, and on his terms, to the best of his ability. Through his letters, his emails, his posts, and his indutibly beautiful spirit he has shown many of us the way to move forward and live life as it is meant to be lived. In his fabulous gift of photography and his willingness to share it with others, he reminded, and will continue to remind, us of the beauty, which is often directly in front of us on a daily basis. I still remember the first time coming to Dan’s and Mary’s house I was introduced to the newest hatchlings of bald eagles. I remember looking out from their amazing view what a town that woukd change my life. I have often said that the job at Stout prepared me for my job now. My being in Menomonie introduced me to Lydia and the consequence of Lydia can never be overstated. Little did I know the way I was being shown. I should note that the Riordan house was always a point of refuge for me, and that has been a wonderful gift. Mary and Dan are an amazingly wonderful couple. It was apparent, even the last time I was in their house this past January how much they loved and supported each other.

This morning I wished a belated Happy Birthday to someone who turned 23 years old. It reminded me of when I was 23 and I wondered momentarily what I was doing. It is an easy year to remember because of the consequential nature of it. That was the year I traveled on a Lutheran Youth Encounter team called Daybreak. It was the year I was blessed to meet the Swenson family, my first host family. Through breakfast conversations and return visits, somehow I did not quite follow my intended path, or the one I was imagining at the time. Indeed, Lee and Judy Swenson persuaded me to consider other options. Perhaps the most important thing they taught me was about family and sharing and the willingness to open themselves up to other people. To this day I am grateful for their involvement in my life. And yes, for more years that I want to admit (and only because it will reveal age),  we are still friends. We still chat on the phone and those conversations are so treasured. Hard to believe the four-year-old I first met is now also a college professor just as I am. I do not want to tell you how old that makes me feel. I am pretty sure that is not what either one of us saw at that time. How do we determine the way? I am a firm believer that life is not deterministic. While I am certainly a cause and effect person, a process and product person, as I’ve grown older I’m quite sure that there’s more left to chance than we could ever imagine. Is that a bad thing? I’m not sure it is, but it certainly creates many more questions. For us as individuals, perhaps it is a reminder that we have less control than we think and we should exert less control over others then we often want. For me, what is more frightening is what it does to us societally, or as a country. By our votes we give power, and yet we have very little control. I already know that someone say we can just vote differently next time, but two years is a long time, and four years might change the course of history. What is the way and how are we shown a reasonable path when there are so many visions? And of course everyone wants to believe theirs is correct. Theirs is the way, just ask them.

Well, I have laid in bed working on this a bit longer than planned. I need to get some more things off my plate. I have gotten up, cleaned up and now back to @FogandFlame. As long as the day is productive, the week will go well. I have a number of student conferences this week for my Freelancing class and I need to do some things to prepare for that. Then there is just the grading that still needs to happen. Grading is such a difficult thing. I am reminded of the conversation with and for students that tries to help them understand the difference between evaluation and assessment. Students are so grade driven, they forget that classes and education are about learning and competency. When I ask students the difference between education and work I get some interesting answers. Education is for the sake of learning and understanding; it is not about skills, it is about what you have incorporated into who you are. If someone is learning, comprehending, analyzing, the grade will generally take care of itself. There is no one way; there is no recipe card. When students ask what I want them to do or implores me to tell them what to do, there is an issue? When they are more interested in the number of words, pages, or sources, they are asking for a recipe card. They want someone to not only show them the way, they want someone to walk it with them. That is an interesting struggle between being independent and dependent. That is an entirely separate issue and something that seems to be an oxymoronic process for most of my students. Of course, we did not have the communicative options students now do. I remember the last time I spoke with my Grandmother. It was from a phone booth just outside of Atlantic, Iowa, late in the morning as I pulled over on my motorcycle and called her because I had failed to stop and see her. Of course, I did not know this would be my last words with her. There is that uncertainty again. We have no way of knowing what lies ahead. How do we know the way forward? Perhaps it is not the path, but rather the direction.

What I am painfully aware of today is the tenuousness of life and that those who are alive ahead of me are fewer in number than those who are behind me . . .  I am not elderly, though there are moments, and I am certainly beyond middle aged, so what am I? How do I understand the way or the direction forward? I know that I have some things squared away and in place, but there is still more to do. To whom do I turn for direction and advice? This is a tougher question than some might imagine because I am using giving advice rather than taking it (I can already hear some of you, so stop!!), but truthfully, the position of being an advisor, of being a surrogate parent, of being the elder, and of having a number of experiences has created a sort of interesting position for me. How do I reach out when I am uncertain, and to whom? I guess that will be the thing to ponder today, but for now, it is back to work. In the meanwhile, here is another video that offers some sense of my dichotomous struggle with being part of the church and being tired of the institutional aspects of this needed community. I guess it is not surprising that I find Bonhoeffer so compelling for many reasons.

As always, thank you for reading my blog. I have appreciated your comments and what you have shared with me . . . you all show me the way more than you know.

Bless you,

Michael

Remembering and Wishing

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Hello on a Sunday afternoon, an anniversary the 21st Century’s Day of Infamy for America,

I am in my office and working on a number of things, planning to be here more than most of today’s remaining hours. It is a typical weekend of catching up and working on a number of things. As I consider the day and what I was doing 15 years ago, it is easy to remember,  but what I think is more important (and perhaps as tragic as the day itself) is how in the following days as a country we came together and supported each other. In fact, I think it can be safely said that the majority of the world supported the United States in a manner that perhaps had not happened since the end of the Second World War. In the days that followed people spoke with other people they did not know. If someone could help another, they did it no questions asked. People reached out to another because it was the right thing, the humane thing, the reasonable thing to do versus to wonder and ponder first in suspicion about what the other might be thinking or planning. Congress even joined together on the steps of the United States Capitol in a bi-partisan manner noting that we are all Americans. Isn’t it amazing how much has changed in 15 years? Isn’t it sad how much we have lost from those days where cooperation and mutual goodness seemed to be the order of the day versus where we are now when one side calls the other side deplorable and the other side is simply racist, sexist, xenophobic, and certainly many of the terms being used. Yet then again both seem to lower themselves to the lowest common denominator that has epitomized this election?  In case you cannot imagine Congress actually acting in some other manner than their seemingly common acrimonious personality, here it is:

It is true . . . They actually stood there on the steps of the Capitol and sang together. President Bush’s approval rating was a 86%, which is a number almost unimaginable for any president. Rallying around a phrase of “United We Stand,” Americans of all ilks stood shoulder to shoulder willing to put race, gender, economic status, or political bent aside. In the Upper Peninsula, where I was in graduate school, people reached out to see what they could do, even if it meant going to spend time in NYC to help in whatever manner possible. The Red Cross in the days that followed collected 36,000 pints of blood in NYC alone. In the fall of 2001, 600,000 pints of blood were donated in the United States. Around the world, we also experienced unprecedented support. 200,000 Germans marched in solidarity in Berlin; and in Paris, the French newspaper Le Monde declared in their headline, “Nous sommes tous Américains.” Of course, in the Middle East, the reaction was not quite as supportive, but the history behind that area is much more complex. The reaction against Middle Eastern people in this country was also difficult. Dearborn, Michigan, a place I had worked and part of the state in which I lived was like a ghost town. The reaction against Muslim people or anyone appearing to be from the Middle East, to this day, is probably only paralleled by what happened to the Japanese during World War II.

Of course, the reasons we are in such a different place than those surreal days of September and October 2001 are complex or complicated, an intricate mosaic, if you will. The world changed dramatically that day. Note, I did not say the United States, I said, “the world.” In 2008 a book titled, How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America, chronicled the consequence of being Arab in the United States in a post-911 world. Needless to say, the espousal of a particular candidate that seems to lump every Arab/Muslim person into one large basket does not help our national xenophobia tension that has never really disappeared since that fateful day. Would the middle name of a President created the “birther controversy” in a pre-911 world? One cannot prove either way, but somehow, I cannot imagine such a thing. In some ways, and there is not enough room to prove all of this, though it would be an interesting things to consider rhetorically, I wonder the parallels between the psyche of the country post-Richard Nixon and the distrust that helped propel Jimmy Carter to office and the post-George W. Bush and the distrust regarding WMD might have done to propel Barack Obama to office. Hmmmm. I see an academic paper in the making. I think the complexity of the Bush years and the role of his vice president certainly affected the attitudes of many Americans toward the administration. In addition, I think the fact that the Legislative Branch of the government demonstrated an inability to work with the Executive Branch, probably not matched since Lincoln and the Civil War established a rancor and divisiveness that quickly snuffed out the good will that so was predominant in those weeks and months following the September 11th attacks. A multitude of scholarly articles that focus on a rhetoric of terror or violence illustrates this somewhat invidious climate that began to hang over our politics and our world. By the end of President Bush’s second term, our world, and now our crumbling economy, created a calumnious world where rancor replaced reliance, dubiety replaced dependence. In spite of that, there was a hopefulness as we elected a 44th president, or at least I thought there was.

More than people realize, there have continued to be attempted attacks on the United States. While I am wise enough to know that we do not know of all of them, in the remainder of the time during President Bush’s presidency, there were 16 confirmed attempts. Up to this point, during the presidency of Barack Obama, there have been another 14 . . . and those are only the ones confirmed. How many more have been either foiled, abandoned, or unreported? As I noted earlier it is a more confusing, multifarious world in which we exist. It is a country that has, for a second presidency, witnessed a dysfunction on our national political stage that seems to have outdone the one aforementioned. While I voted for the President both times, I will admit that I have been disappointed in how the last eight years have played out. However, while there is certainly enough blame to go around, it seems that the obstructionism that has occurred during the majority of the last eight years is unequalled in my lifetime. The tea-partiers, the self-serving national politicians, and the bigots, who now seem to have a voice on a national stage, together have created a toxic atmosphere that should frighten most anyone willing to imagine the consequences. What happened to the world of “United We Stand?” What happened to the world of “We are all Americans?” In the 15 years since that fateful day in NYC, Washington, DC and the fields of Pennsylvania, where I now again live, we have lost this sense of singular purpose to make the world a better one. We have lost this sense of purpose to make the world a safer one . . . I understand there are those who hope to wreak havoc or destroy a sense of interdependence. I believe in making sure that we are not being naïve; I believe in disrupting or the targeting of those who are determined to cause us harm, but there are so many people who do not intend us harm and still see America as something to aspire to. We have not lost our greatness, in spite of a particular slogan emblazoned on a bunch of red hats. I have students who are Latino/a and they are not in this country illegally, nor are they criminals or rapists. I have Muslim students who, though faithful in their beliefs, mean this country no harm and are wonderful people. I have black students who work hard to try to move beyond the ghettos in which they have grown up, but to believe that all black people are in the ghetto is another foolishness. I have rural white students who have also grown up impoverished, but hope their opportunity to attend college will create a different life than they have experienced. I am a first generation college student who grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood, but with a family, while far from perfect, provided values and a foundation that somehow gave me hope. Because of an amazing grandmother and her sister, I knew I was loved and that somehow it would be okay. While I have read the comments that because we are Americas for generations, we are not immigrants. Indeed, that is true, but that does not make our disregard and disdain for those who hope to come to this country, regardless the path of their journey, reasonable or helpful (and in spite of the term here, I understand there are limits).

I guess the question for me is a simple one, but with a complex solution. How might we get back to where we were in the difficult, but astonishingly cooperative days of that fall of 2001? How might we find the ability or the determination to make this world a more tolerant and hopeful place in all corners of this global community? Selfishness, xenophobic slogans or calling those with whom we disagree deplorable as well as disparaging any person or group after they question something is not the answer. I wonder what our ancestors would think about our current election? I wonder what our children’s children will hear when they find out how one of the two most distrusted party nominees in history somehow became our next president? While I certainly would never wish for another 911 tragedy in this country or anywhere in the world (i.e. France, Belgium, or you fill in the blank), I desperately wish we might return to the positive outpouring of goodness that followed that fateful day. I desperately pray that we might understand our common humanity and the need we have to believe in the goodness of the other be it in our own country or the larger world. Imagine the goodness, believe in the change. America . . .  use the light of that statue once again to proclaim both our greatness and our goodness.

As always, thanks for reading. The picture is my boot camp picture from the Marines when I was a merely 18 year old boy.

Michael

Critically Thinking in a Surface-Oriented World

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Hello from Bydgoska 19C,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading, as always,

Dr. Martin

Believing the Best

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Good early morning,

It is 3:29 a.m. and I have been awake for a bit . This past week has been a whirlwind. I am supposed to be in Kentucky right now, but that took a back seat to other more pressing things. Hurricanes disrupted travel, and delayed connections meant sleeping in an airport before I would ever get to a conference. Tuesday I realized I had a basement full of water and Thursday it was discovered that what was thought to be a dead former sewer line was actually still being used. So sump pumps, dryers, Roto Rooter,  and dehumidifier are the companions for the week. It is raining steadily and I can hear the wind as it rattles my windows like an Alfred Hitchcock movie. I did not end up with so much of a blockage that things backed up, thank goodness, but if my contractor who happened to come into the house had not given me a text, I would have not realized the impending problem until it was a much more unfortunate situation.

This is the second time this past week I have been awake or up at this time. This time I woke up, but earlier this week I was just going to sleep after a long conversation. That conversation took personal turns I could’ve never imagined. It was an important conversation, which I believe was prompted by a series of times of talking, listening, and wondering that have occurred for more than eight years. It always amazes me that I have a degree in communication, but sometimes I communicate very ineffectively; sometimes in my humanity I make choices that cause me pause. When what I have done causes another to hurt or question, I genuinely hurt in those times or occasions when I am party to that hurt or confusion. In this instance I’ve created confusion for myself also. I am genuine, or try to be such, but when I feel that I have been less than or I have damaged my own reputation through my actions, it is terrifically difficult for me. I am often too willing to offer my hand, especially when I care deeply, without considering consequence. As is always the case, time will tell exactly where it all stands. . . .  it is later in the morning and I am now in my office working. I had hoped in spite of the craziness to get to the OSCLG Conference this weekend, but the weather created enough delays and difficulties that I would have not gotten there until today. Somehow going for barely 24 hours and what that would do to my body made me reconsider. That reconsidering is even a step in the right direction because I generally just go and do whatever it takes and suffer the consequences later. As I once told someone, I am not a consequentialist when it comes to my ethical stance.

As I sit in my office, it is still raining and this morning earlier I was listening to the news and seeing the eerie parallels between the cargo vessel missing in the Bahamas because of Hurricane Joaquin and the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. It was forty years ago next month that the great iron ore carrier broke up and sank in Lake Superior. The haunting phrase of that song that keeps playing through my head is “Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours” (Lightfoot)? I also thought of the movie, The Perfect Storm.  In fact, in honor of those from both the Edmund Fitzgerald and the Andrea Gail, I offer these videos from YouTube. The first is in honor of the Edmund Fitzgerald, which ironically was the name of a restaurant where I worked while at MTU:

And a second video of what it would be like to be in a fishing boat out in an actual storm. Rather frightening . . . where is the love of God at moments like this? (As an update, they are pretty sure the El Faro has sunk.)

Again, we want to believe the best. We want to trust and sometimes that trust puts us in situations we do not expect, situations where we are outside our comfort zone and we do not know exactly how to navigate the waves or the storm. . . . Those storms can overwhelm and frustrate us. Over the weekend one of my fraternity brothers, Major Justin Fitch, US Army (ret.) lost his long battle with colon cancer. This hits particularly close for me, for a variety of reasons. He is (or now was) the age I was when I began my significant fight against Crohns which has taken me down numerous paths. Why is it I am still fighting and someone,  who dedicated himself to others in ways I can only hope,  has lost his battle much too soon? His strength and perseverance, his willingness to see beyond himself, and the example he is set for others, is unparalleled. It is the third time, that I am aware of, that the Michigan chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon has lost a brother too soon to cancer. Here is a little of his story:

http://activeheroes.org/2015/10/remembering-justin-fitch-active-heroes-board-member/

While I am unable to go back to Wisconsin this week for his service to all the brothers and family who will gather there, you are in my prayers. I remember being there with brothers when the chapter lost the DeCleene brothers. Those bonds were and are strong as I see people from around the world remember Justin. Too often we hear only the negative things about Greek organizations, but there is so much more. I saw that at MTU and I still see it now. I remember the words and care in particular of my brother A.J. Lee. To this day, he is one of the people I most admire. Both he and Justin are people in whom you can believe and witness the best. So much to do this week and to try to finish up. I have student conferences today for a Bible as Literature course and my Foundations students are working on peer reviews. Last night I had class, but also had the opportunity to listen to a reading and meet Phil Klay, the 2014 National Book Award winner, as he presented excepts from his book, Redeployment. It was quite phenomenal and the insight he gave about writing was wonderful. He is an United States Marine (retired) and as such I had great appreciation for him on a variety of levels. A nice contingent of my students were there and I think they heard some important things about writing and the importance of reading. Mr. Klay gave credibility to many of the things I say in class.

It is hard to believe we are half of the way through the semester and while there is much accomplished, there is still so much to do. I have another paper to present this coming weekend. There seems to be little down time before the next thing is upon me. The yard project continues and I am just wishing it could be completed. I do think some significant work will be done this week. It has kept me running up and down the street more than I would like. Weather has begun to change and it certainly seems more like Fall. The evenings and mornings are crisp, but the afternoons have been delightful. We did get significant rain last weekend from the low and the hurricane, but nothing like South Carolina. I think they are struggling with what we did four years ago. As I noted earlier in this post, the weather is certainly powerful. I remember when I was in graduate school in the Upper Peninsula. The power of Lake Superior is actually awe-inspiring. To this day, I love the season and the beauty of that peninsula. From the amazing almost continuous light of the mid-summer to the harsh reality of 270+ inches of snow in the winter, they are equally beautiful and breathtaking. The colors of the fall along the portage and the tapestry of the rural-scapes can only be created by something more amazing than any human touch (the picture above is from that portage.). Spring does not really exist much, so it is a sort of three season place. If I could bring that lake here, I would. On the other hand, the beauty of this state is also quite astounding. The hills, trees, and the sort of mountains (certainly much more elevationally diverse than the Midwest) are quite inspiring.

Well . . . the writing has once again cleared my head. I am ready to face the plethora of things that are facing me for the day.

Thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin

Realities

UP Snow Meter Good early morning, It is about 2:30 a.m. and I am awake and thinking. I received a message today(technically yesterday) that a former teaching colleague, and co-Vietnam veteran, passed away. He was only a couple years older than me and we actually served in Vietnam at a similar time. However, he was in the bush where I was in the city. He was affected by his exposure to Agent Orange, and was receiving some level of disability from the government for that because the cancer he developed was traced back to that exposure. I will be thinking of his wife and family later this morning as they lay him to his final resting place. Tonight my students in the Writing in the Professions class did their final presentations and had their clients present with them on their projects. I am always amazed by the strong work and the reflections that come out of these presentations. I am not amazed that they do such strong work because there are some phenomenal students. It is their work experientially as well as collaboratively that always provides some of the surprises because I have an opportunity to see how they put theory into practice. They learn valuable lessons about time management, the importance of seeing how their specific role fits into a team situation, and how to communicate in a professional manner with real-life clients. Following their presentations, I spoke with them about what I saw in their client-based projects. Because they had two such projects this semester, they did not have the time to move beyond a particular scope. This was part of their learning process. In many cases (in fact, in every case) their work has created a strong foundation for some follow-up work. Again there were clients both in town and within the university. I am always grateful for clients who are willing to work with my students to help provide these opportunities for experiential learning. Following their presentations, the class went to Turkey Hill and we met together for appetizers and socializing. The realty of another semester coming to a close and that some of my students in the minor are graduating is also an important piece of my thought-processes. There are three students in that class graduating in merely 12 days. I know for some of them that is frightening. I do not remember feeling anxious about my undergraduate graduation even though we were in a similar job market. That was because my reality was that I had been accepted to graduate school and was headed towards my first masters degree. I do remember when I left my first position as a campus pastor and instructor, I had for all practical purposes been fired. I refused to work with the restrictions they wanted to place on the position and they said they would not renew a contract. The reality was I was a person with eight years of college and two degrees, and I was bartending and waiting tables again. I remember being told I was probably the most educated server Perkins ever employed in Houghton, Michigan. Yet it was the next serving job at The Library (now called The Library and Brew Pub) that put me in contact with Dr. Carol Berkenkotter and a conversation led me to the Rhetoric and Technical Communication program at Michigan Tech. Waiting on her one night provided a second opportunity to apply (hence reapply) with some direction and I was accepted into that RTC program. The reality here is one never knows how a chance meeting with someone or how a particular consequence might create a new pathway.

Well, the bedding is out of the dryer and it is about 4:15, so I am going to make the bed and try to crawl back in it for an hour or two. Back at school and meeting with colleagues and students as well as trying to get things prepared for my 2:00 class. This morning I had a chance to finally catch up with an education colleague. She is one of the most amazing professors, from what I hear as I have never actually observed her, but I could not imagine anything different. More than that she is simply a wonderful colleague and one I am blessed to have in my circle of significant people. My reality the next few weeks it there is no downtime. Until the semester is completed and all the grading is in, there is no break. I also plan to drive back to Wisconsin on the 13th or 14th of December for a bit more than a week. There is always the reality of weather during this time of the year and while that does not frighten me, I am much more realistic about it than I was once upon a time. Another example of what I would like to call wisdom. Sometimes that wisdom seems to escape me, but I do believe I am improving. Yesterday was a reminder of another reality in my life. It was an anniversary of sorts (it was also my mother’s birthday, so happy birthday. She would have been 94 years old.). It was on that date in 1986 I had my first abdominal surgery for Crohn’s Disease. It is hard to believe that since then I have had 9 surgeries and other complications, but I am still going. I am fortunate. I have had amazing medical care for the most part and there have been a number of people who have been there to support me. Again, the reality is I am blessed. I have spent most of my life believing that we always have two simple choices. We can quit or we can pick ourselves up and keep going. I have spent most of my life doing the latter and I do not plan to change that pattern. During the past 6 months there have been some struggles, but they are manageable just as everything else has been. When I think of the battles that Crohn’s and I have waged over three decades, there has been an ebb and flow of which of us seemed to be ahead, if you will. Most of the time, I am going to assert that I have been more in control of it than it has been of me. There were times in the mid to late 80s where I must admit it controlled me more than I controlled it. There seems to be a pattern where about every 5 or 6 years it seems to want to reassert its power, but I have been able to beat it back. So it is again, I am pretty sure the latest battle is a consequence of the Crohn’s though the events of the last couple days have forced me to consider another option, that option being that I was also in Vietnam around the same time as my departed former colleague.

This morning I spoke with another special person in my life. She is a graduate student at Michigan Tech now and was an undergraduate all those years ago when I was there. She has been through a lot, but she has persevered and she is doing well. I am so proud of her. She is fabulous and brilliant. I am going to spend a couple days in Houghton during the break also. It will be wonderful to be up there again. I love that place. When I spoke with her today, we actually “FaceTimed” for the first time. There was a lot more snow there than here, but that should not be surprising for a place that gets an unbelievable amount of snow. I love the beauty of the winter there, however; it was actually much colder in Wisconsin than it generally is in Houghton. The reality of that place is the lake provides a respite from the bitter cold, but also creates more snow than anyplace I have ever lived. Quite amazing. Last January when I was up there, they had already received more than 180 inches of snow. It was still beautiful. I smile when my Dominican friends shiver at a little snow and cold in comparison. However, the same can be said for most Pennsylvanians. Again, the reality is you deal with wherever you are placed and whatever nature deals you. I will admit I am not sure what I would have done had I lived in Buffalo a week or two ago. If you have ever driven between Houghton and Copper Harbor, the picture you are seeing should look familiar. As you can tell, the snow is an important part of the culture there. They even have this meter to “celebrate” that snow.

Well, my latest reality is that I have an enormous amount of work to do, but this writing actually focuses me and helps me move forward. So now I am back to the work at hand. On Thursday I am delivering a presentation at the Communication Studies day about some of my research, so I have some work to do for that. If I am not grading that will be my focus. The other reality is phase three of managing my almost leaking bathroom pipes is being attended to, so when I get home today some of my house will again be torn apart. I am hoping this is the last of all of that.

Thanks for the good thoughts that so many have been sending and I wish you all blessings in return.

Thanks for reading as always,

Dr. Martin