The Truth and Tragedy about Racism

Hello from back in PA,

As I spent the evening trying to catch up on the unending stream of craziness that seems to dominate the world, but what we call news, the irony of the day was as Starbucks closed its doors for a corporate training on what they euphemistically called implicit bias training while one of the top rated shows this season, the reboot of Rosanne was summarily canceled for a rather explicit bias and seemingly-untrainable tweet about Valerie Jarrett by Rosanne Barr herself. Earlier this evening I read a really thought provoking and painfully truth piece by Joy-Ann Reid, a political analyst, who today wrote, “Being black means constantly rendering yourself unthreatening to white people. [and she also states,] “To be white in America is to assume ownership of public spaces. To be black is to live under constant threat of removal” (NBC Think 29May18). Both of these statements will offend some; they will resonate with others; but regardless of how you respond, it is probably most important to search in your heart for the truth contained in them. As a 60-something while Anglo-Saxon Protestant male, there have been times where I wanted to argue the infamous reverse-discrimination card, but about four years ago, I wrote a blog about being confronted by a student and significant person about my privileged status. I remember feeling offended because I had worked hard to achieve what I had. I argued that no one gave me anything. Yes, while I had received help along the way, working as a GTI, managing a restaurant, and being a full-time doctoral student was no picnic and so I was not willing to be labeled as privileged. Certainly, I have received more help than some, but at least through school, I merely worked.

Now four years later, in a country where division and disrespect seems to be the rule rather than the exception, we have elected a President who seems to show little respect for anyone, anything, at anytime, and his election seems to be a direct consequence of the fact we had a black President preceding him. I also believe, in part, it was because the Democratic candidate was both female and named Hillary Clinton. I also believe those are all separate issues. President Trump’s remarks at Arlington National Cemetery were both discouraging and disgraceful. As I ponder the place we seem to stand as a society, as the melting pot created from the Grand Experiment, I am not sure I can give the founders of this country much credit for establishing a society where life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness included all people. Without a doubt, Abraham Lincoln stood tall, literally and figuratively, in an attempt to create a more equitable country with both the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment, but until the quest of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Legislation of the 1960s, there was not concerted effort to really accept the true racism of separate, but equal doctrine that was a fundamental element of our mid-20th Century America. I believe I was as naive as the next who somehow believed the election of Barack Obama signaled we have turned a corner for real. Finally, as a country, I thought we realized the racial inequality that held our country in our own collective stocks and put our democracy up for sale to the highest bidder. When President Obama used his office to ask us to thoughtfully reflect on the killing of Trayvon Martin in February of 2012, I again hoped his being a Black President might help us see the difficulty of what young black, Hispanic, Asian, or other non-white males endure daily. Unfortunately , after some initial reflection, it seems it accomplished little, or I might even go as far as to say it was probably counter-productive. I would add this was little fault of the President, but rather because we have such an untruthful and chicken-shit racist underbelly to our country that few are willing to honestly and thoughtfully call to task.

I have stated this before, but I think I write it with more emotion than I have in the past. If you see someone who looks, acts, speaks, worships, or loves differently than you and that is how you first view them, or you consider that to be the most distinguishable quality about them, you are mostly likely acting in a discriminatory manner. The person who can honestly say in their heart they do not notice or even consider the difference is a rare individual. For the great majority of us, we are more likely to be that implicit racially biased person, and that is if we are lucky. The present atmosphere in the country, where disagreement makes the other the enemy, means most of us have probably moved beyond the implicit to the explicit. When we hear about daily incidences of rancor, disrespect, and downright hatefulness from the White House to the neighbor, can there be any surprise that corporations are requiring an entire workforce to receive training about their innate (but actually taught) prejudices or a company that is part of the Magic Kingdom of Disney cancels one of its two most popular shows. What does it say when one of the most popular sit-com people of a generation can refer to the senior advisor of a President as the cross between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Planet of the Apes? Not only has what she tweeted reprehensible, the fact that such stereotypes are still promulgated is tragic beyond compare. It is those very stereotypes, the jokes, the whispered humor (which is anything but) that we allow to go unchallenged that keeps such bigotry alive. It is the stares seared into the psyche of our minority students in the small Pennsylvania town or warnings given when the monster truck show comes to the fairgrounds admonishing our black or biracial students to not be alone on the street that illustrates how pathetic our thoughts, words, or actions can be. It is when a avowed Nazi can run for Congress unopposed in Illinois, ironically both the Land of Lincoln and Obama, that should cause us pause as ask, what the hell are we thinking? . . .

It is now 24 hours since I was writing here and pretty well every news source has pontificated on the situation. SHS, who boggles me beyond compare, went on her own rant of why other forms of racism have not been called out to the same degree. I guess the positive is they did not support the egregious comments, but, as usual, deflected to argue something else was as terrible. I am continually stunned by the rhetorical strategy of the White House. Some will argue there is no strategy, but I will disagree. It is like being consistently inconsistent. The President calls our values, morals, and standards into question daily through his seemingly off-the-cuff tweets. Make no mistake, his questioning of all standards, standards which generally support a status quo as well as offering support for some sense of equality and justice, allows some of those who have been supposedly marginalized by this same status quo to believe a President listens to them and speaks their language. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The scripture of notes even the dogs get the scraps from the master’s table comes to mind. . . . Another day and another version of America or the global community doing a collective smh. If you do not know this acronym, which I did not until perhaps a year ago, it means shaking my head. The unprofessional or completely void of decorum comments about an ally or Prime Minister of our closest ally as well as showing up late (twice) as well as leaving early from something that affects every citizen in our country. Issues of trade, cooperation, national security, and most everything that requires international give-and-take seems to have been ignored by our President. Where is the line between “America First,” the established Trump Doctrine, and America as a global leader? Between withdrawing from international agreements and the suggesting the re-inclusion of Russia in the G-7+1, what has the President actually done? The global order is changing, and the move to globalization itself has created an interesting backlash. This is also an interesting sort of discrimination. The global identity has often been those who have (the United States, Canada, the EU, and, yes, Russia) and those who do not (third world countries-most of Africa or Latin America, still developing countries from the former Central or Eastern Europe, and other geopolitical places left behind for whatever reason), but that might not be the most significant malevolent consequence of globalization, nor the most complex.

What about a disappearing middle class in the haves and a much less likely possibility for those in the countries of the have nots? I believe many citizens in a number of countries of the EU or in parts of the United States have joined the bandwagon of the rising nationalism because they believe nationalistic philosophy somehow gives them voice. While there might be some truth to this, I do not believe in the long run, nationalism serves any one country. Furthermore, when nationalism becomes the rule rather than the exception, those who have power will have more power and the ideal of democracy becomes more difficult to maintain. While Hitler was elected as chancellor in 1933, his consolidation of power and what he did from 1933 until the outbreak of WWII upon his invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939 is well documented. Perhaps it is time many read. When power is consolidated, those on the outside become powerless. When countries are so busy working to protect themselves, everyone else becomes the other. Certainly what has been demonstrated lately is being the other is not a good place or position to hold. It still stuns me that the number of Latinos/as, blacks, LGBTQA, Muslim, dis/abled individuals, (and there are people in each of these groups) still believe that the policies put in place recently will not hurt them, from trade, to tariffs, to taxes.

Issues like the #MeToo movement,the #BlackLivesMatter , the #OscarsSoWhite, #RapeCulture, or #NationalAnthem all  demonstrate that we are on a verge of a very substantial paradigm shift, but to where are we shifting? What is positive in the conversation and what is not? This is part of the struggle. There is so much more that we need to ponder and understand. From where did some of the actions, the attitudes, and the practices we now find so abhorrent originate. I listen to a number of veterans most mornings. They are a good group of people, but I am quite sure that I am the only person who did not vote for our current President in that table of 10 or 15 people. Some of the things said will shock me from time to time, but what I realize more and more is that I am pretty liberal in a very conservative area. I am not liberal in my own practices, but more so in my attitudes. What I know is while I might not agree with them, I still respect them and their opinions. I can see beyond some of the differences, and I can still sit and even disagree at times. Most of my disagreements are posed and what about another possibility. I believe we have lost the ability to speak about the other whether it has to do with race, politics, religion, socio-economic class, education, ethnicity or any other thing that might create a difference. Rather than seeing difference as an opportunity for growth, our nationalistic, xenophobic, homophobic, sexist, or any other ism that elevates difference, we see the other as the enemy, something to discount, disavow, disrespect, discharge, and, somehow hope they will disappear. The resulting fragmentation of who we are as people is certainly not what I believe our heritage has been most held up to be. The words on the statue of Lady Liberty seem to have been ignored. The problem is very basic in understanding what it is, but incredibly complex when it comes to changing it. Most of us are afraid to admit, or too ignorant to realize just how racist most of us are. Until that changes, we are relegated to hashtags and outrage.

With that in mind, I offer this video and thank you all for reading.

Michael (the summer person who is not teaching for once)

Realizing the “real” of Reality

Good early morning,

Today was the first day of a new semester, the first day of a new academic year, a day of anticipation, excitement and beginnings. Yet, for others, it was a day of being frightened, of being overwhelmed, of wondering how they might merely survive (e.g. Living in parts of Texas or Houston at the moment having lost everything to the aftermath of Harvey; living in this country as someone impoverished to the point they know not where their next meal will be; or waking up in a country that for many seems to have lost its bearings when your skin or language or faith, or orientation does not fit what the outspoken supporters of someone elected.  or the elected himself, deems “what makes America great”). Yes, I realize that is a rather convoluted sentence, but it seems appropriate because to say that our present national persona is similar is a profound understatement.

If you return to my earlier blogs, there is certainly a sense of trepidation concerning how the presidency of Mr. (and now President) Trump would unfold. Yet, as I told my students about 10 months ago, I spent time in the Marines to make sure the peaceful transition of power from one to the next president would continue. In fact, contrary to what many might think, unless something that is abhorently egregious is proven regarding President Trump’s past actions, and profoundly illegal, I do not believe impeaching him will be in the country’s best interest. I believe such an event would only further exacerbate the tear in the fabric of our nation, which seems more tattered than many of the over-priced, thread-bare, jeans I see on so many students. What stuns me is how polarized we have become as a people, how uncivil we have become in our discourse not only in the national media or in our reporting, but more importantly among ourselves. But more significant than being stunned, I am saddened beyond words.

What is our national reality at the moment? Who are we as a nation? More importantly who is it we aspire to be?  I am not sure that is clear at present. When one wakes up each day to one group of the media encouraging what seems to be division and contempt for “the other,” and another group hellbent on proving every element of our current administration is clueless, the line from Apollo 13, which is certainly apropos for Houston today comes to mind. Please do not take my last statement to be some sort of blanket approval of what seems to be a daily “truth-is-stranger-than-fiction” actions of President Trump because it surely is not. However, those who see me daily, know I have little use for many things he has said or the manner in which he has said them. In fact, the emotion, which I find myself most being willing to admit, is embarrassment, and I do not embarrass easily.  The reality for me is simply this. We have made a profound mistake, and I am not speaking about the fact we have elected someone who seems inclined to throw tantrums, strike back an anything or anyone who disagrees with him, or acts in a manner that a attuned to nothing more than a schoolyard bully; I am referring more importantly to the underlying reality of who we might actually be as country.

This is a conversation that I have had with both my Republican and Demoncratic friends or acquaintances, and yes, it is possible to have both. It is, again, a conversation I have had with my conservative and liberal friends and acquaintances, my Latino/a, my black, my gay or lesbian friends and acquaintances, my immigrant or foreign friends – I think you get the picture. In fact, the other day someone asked me, somewhat pointedly, why am I so comfortable or seem to like people who are not American (and by extension, it seemed) or white? The question did not catch me completely off guard, nor did it seem inappropriate. The tone was, perhaps, a bit more accusatory than I might have liked, but the question is certainly understandable, and for a variety of reasons. I cannot explain them all in a single blog posting, and, therefore, I won’t even try, but suffice it to say that part of it is because an immigrant changed my life. It is, in part, because I have been fortunate to travel, both with students and on my own. It is because I have been blessed to be taught by professors who profoundly influenced my thoughts and ideas about history, culture, and faith. It is because the first person I remember calling a parent, who was my grandmother, loved unconditionally and was a living example of goodness. Again, it is because a former student, technically not even in my class, but one who is more like family pushed me, often beyond my comfort zone to understand my privilege as the older white professional person I am. I pushed back against her categorization at the time, arguing I had earned it, but such a statement is not completely true. Indeed, I have worked hard and accomplished some important things, but I have also been given abundant and underserved help along the way. My reality has been cushioned, insulated, and softened from what it would have been.

The consequences are quite evident in some ways. Yet, it is what I feel compelled to do for others that is, for me, most significant. This past Friday, unexpectedly, I had a conversation with a faculty colleague, one whom I have know tangentially, but because of a former mutual student, more completely than I might have. A chance conversation about something that has weighed on my heart deeply concerning that student became an unexpected focus. The words of my colleague were enlightening. Their ability to help me see somethings I knew more clearly as well as things I had not yet considered has provided me a sense of peace that was lacking. The reality in all of this, which now seems more apparent, is simple. If I give, hoping to receive in return, I am not really giving. There are two lessons here. First, it is not wise to give if you cannot afford to do so; and second, be more selective or thoughtful in one’s giving. Certainly, those to whom I have given felt comfortable enough to ask, and they certainly needed it when they asked. Reality again is I made the choice to do it. That is what I did, not what they did. I alone am accountable for that choice. What they have done since is their choice and their reality. How they have moved forward and how they understand that choice and their response to me now is also theirs. I need to let it go, regardless.

Another reality that has become profoundly real from all of this is we are flawed. As humans we are exceedingly selfish and self-centered. I remember a book I once used for a Major  Religions class. It was called The Compassionate Beast. The claim of the book was, as humans, we are incapable of being altruistic. We might claim our compassionate tendencies, but we are more likely the beast. It seems that is the reality of our nation at the moment. No longer do we light a torch for the “tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” as was done for our own ancestors be it a generation or five before. It seems we are much more willing to push the tired, the poor, and those who are huddled somewhere else. Before you believe I have no appreciation for immigration laws, that is not the case, but as with many other things the laws we enforce and the reality of the world in which we live seem to be from two different continuums or time warps. There is so much more to this question than merely a wall or a border crossing. There is so much more than simply a person who has tried to offer an opportunity for thblogs, Worde family. I think what boggles my mind, beyond anything I have every known, is that it seems our President has no compassion for anyone. If you can help him you will get some sense of importance, but that too is only there as long as you seem to be able to give him something. He has little sense of loyalty. If you anger him, he will publicly tweet you into exile, or you wish you were. While he speaks regularly about how important people are, it seems that the way in which he dismisses people or changes course demonstrates something very different. There are all sort of things being said; there are daily polls, prognostications, and pundits. They do not matter. What matters is something I spoke of in a recent blog and it is the power of language. What someone says matters and when that person has enormous power, what they say matters even more. When they have enormous power, how they say something also matters. I speak to my students all the time about the significance of words and audience. The more complex the audience, the more carefully things need to be measured. There seems to be a lack in this for our President. That is more than embarrassing or frustrating. It is not really something that is positive when the average person says well “see, I can relate to him or he relates to me.” Speech is power and to speak poorly is to give up power. I know some will argue this and so be it. I am not sure our President relates to the everyday person, in spite of anything he says. That is the reality that I am afraid is going to hit people much harder than they will ever see coming.

We are about one week into classes and I have not gotten this posted, but plan to do it before I leave my office. My new students are beginning their own blogs and with any writing comes some fear, especially when it is public. One of the best things the blog has done for me is force me to see beyond myself. The last three and a half years of blogging regularly has prepared me to be a better person, a better professor, and a better and more thoughtful citizen. I am grateful to all of you who are following me. The picture above is what I looked like when I first began teaching at the college level. A bit larger and grayer now, but I think also a much better professor. Thanks as always for reading and I hope you can, as my former colleague reminded us so often . . . hug the ones you love.

Dr. Martin

Understanding Complex Questions 

Good late morning from our classroom,

Today we have been transported from our dormitories to the 19th century and to consider once again the complex question of Judaism and how so many Jewish people are in Poland by the beginning of the Second World War. The understanding of Jewish identity in Western and Eastern Europe is dissimilar and the way Jewish people managed their identity in the two sides of the European continent is also varied. I remember last year when I first sat in on this amazing class; the breadth and depth of knowledge of Dr. Orla-Bukowska is beyond compare. She is a professor, respected world-wide for her knowledge of Jewish history and their unparalleled ability to maintain their identity in spite of being homeless for almost two millennia. It is wonderful to listen to the passion with which she speaks and the willingness she demonstrates in going above and beyond to share what she knows. As I listen to students asking their questions, it is evident that many of them are just as astounded by what is happening in class. In addition, the comments as they are walking the streets of Kraków, sitting at dinner, grabbing a cup of coffee, or gathering together in the two dormitories are just as appreciative. The energy she exudes in class, or when she stayed up until 3:30 this morning to turn around their proposals in a matter of a couple days further demonstrates just how fortunate students are to be in her presence.

The complexity of the Jewish question, for many, returns them to Hitler’s invasion of Poland in September of 1939, but that is all most Americans, as well as American students, know. Perhaps a few have taken the time to go to the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. and perhaps a few more have traveled to Europe and visited one of the main concentration camps like Dachau or Buchenwald, or an extermination camp such as Auschwitz, but there is little knowledge of, and even less appreciation for, the plight and mistreatment of the Jews that can be traced to Biblical times. As you might be a person reading this, how many of you, for instance, were aware that the Jewish people were expelled from England as early as 1290 or from Spain in 1492 and Portugal in 1497? How many of you know that in many places throughout the Mediterranean basin Jews were forcefully removed and often blamed for the Bubonic Plague, the Black Death that decimated Europe in the 1350s and beyond? How many of you realized that in 1939, 20% of the Jewish population in all of the world lived in Poland? These are some of the major facts students are learning in this class, but the tapestry that Dr. Annamaria, as some will call her, creates is far more beautiful that the coat of many colors.

Tonight (and it is late afternoon on the 5th as I write this), we will be traveling by bus to Prague, where we will spend the next couple of days. The bus trip there (and back) is long, but Prague is a beautiful city, and one that was spared much of the carnage and destruction of WWII. The history of the Jews in Prague is also significant and most of Saturday will be spent in the Jewish Quarter. Even that term has a significant and complex history. There is nothing about Jewish history that is simple; and there is nothing about the Jewish people, at least for me, I do not find amazing. After returning from Prague, student will also visit the Jewish Quarter here in Kraków, which is where Schindler’s Factory was located. Relatively close by, students will visit Auschwitz during their final weekend here in Poland. There are no words to describe either the museum, which is now housed in Schindler’s Factory nor Auschwitz, where more that 1.3 million people were exterminated in a span of four years, and most of them within the first 24 hours of arriving in this place of death. That is more difficult for me to fathom is that we did not learn from Auschwitz, genocide and ethnic cleansing and hate have not disappeared from this world. In fact, it seems the renewed sense of nationalism that has reappeared throughout the world does not bode well for trust and mutual respect. That too is a complex question.

It is ironic for me that the first time I came to Europe, I was a student just as the 40 who are here now. It was also during January and Ronald Reagan was being inaugurated as 40th president, it was also a tumultuous time in American politics, the hostages would be released from Iran as he was sworn in as an affront to Jimmy Carter. The world was in an economic downturn. Inflation was almost 11% and interest rates were almost 16%, a far cry from where we are now. Gas had gone above a dollar a gallon a year or two before, but had somewhat stabilized. Our dependence on foreign oil was strangling our economy and it is somewhat interesting that someone who came from Hollywood became president. It was the last time such an outsider somehow got to the White House. It was also a bit surprising for me to realize we are only 5 presidents beyond that time and it is 36 years later. Today in class we spoke about the  period that Poland was flourishing and independent. It was a period between the wars. As I have spoken with students here on the trip, it is interesting how often the election of the fall still comes up in their conversations. I have often noted, even before the election, that I was saddened by the fact that the tenor of the election was so embarrassing for their first foray into presidential voting.

It reminds me once again of my initial title; the world is always complex. It is good to try to simplify at times; it is good to step back, but critical and thoughtful reflection will always face complexity honestly. That is a foundational part of this trip. From managing money to managing time, from attempting to understand, be it class or that other language, perhaps one of the most important lessons of the trip for all of us is being willing to open our minds and our hearts to the other. As we begin a New Year, 40 students from Bloomsburg are being inundated with options to learn. It is a complex process, but a gratifying one. It is a once-in-a-lifetime, and you’ll-never-forget experience. Even as the oldest person on the trip, I am still learning, and it is not always simple.

Thanks for reading and soon off to Prague.

Dr. Martin

Watching, Listening, and Learning

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Good morning (at least it is in Kraków) and welcome to a blog cooperatively composed,

Alexandra Miller, a senior honors student who is studying ASL and Spanish,  is jointly working on today’s entry to provide a dual perspective on this trip to the cities of Eastern and Central Europe and the time spent in classes at the Polish School of Language and Culture. This is the 5th year for the joint venture between here and Bloomsburg University, and the number of students traveling to receive credits for their class work at Jagiellonian University has grown to 40, after a first year of about a dozen. Bloomsburg’s Dr. Mykola Polyuha has almost single-handedly grown this amazing venture in terms of contacts and logistics, and the Global Studies office has provided invaluable assistance. This year a significant continent of honors students are also on the trip.

The first thing many might ask is if they are required to speak Polish. While the classes are taught in English learning how to say things like good morning (dzień dobry), thank you (Dziękuję) and thank you (nie ma za co) are a good place to begin. Having some background in another language is certainly helpful according to Alex, who speaks both Spanish and German. She finds herself wondering about the connections between the different families of languages. Whatever the case, you will certainly be able to manage in English in major cities. It is always strange to not be able to read signs or understand things in the grocery store without a picture; however, when the Polish złotys are about 4.23 to $1.oo, there are two things happening. If currency conversion is something new, it takes some time to get a handle on it, but this exchange rate makes being in Poland very affordable. Alexandra, Clarissa, and I had dinner and a drink along with mineral water for about 30.00 total between the three of us. So . . . finding something to eat at a great price is commonplace. Second, when the Christmas Market is still in full force, the food at the street vendors is beyond anything you might ever imagine at the Bloomsburg Fair, and, not to sound snobbish, both better and cheaper.

The Christmas holiday and New Year’s Eve are quite an experience. First, Europeans celebrate the 12 days of Christmas for exactly what it is: the Christmas season. Encountering one of the most important events of the church year in a country that is 95% Roman Catholic certainly is different than the typical American season. Again, in our conversation today, a reflection of this difference was aptly stated as “while Christmas in America is about commercialism, Christmas in Europe is about culture.” People from around the world, but even more so certainly from around Europe come to Kraków for New Year’s Eve, cramming 150,00 to 175,000 revelers into the main town square. The friendliness of people and the number of languages you will hear screaming out Happy New Year in this relatively small space is unlike anything I have ever experienced and students each year walk away with life-long memories. However, there is more to this experience than food and people. Most days after breakfast, the 40 students and 3 faculty  here this year gather at the university for two classes, which meet for about 3.5-5 hours almost daily, including some Saturdays.

The first class, starting mid-morning is titled History 405 Jews of Europe and is taught by Dr. Annamaria Orla-Bukowska, a world renown social anthropologist for her work in this area. Her encyclopedic knowledge of the Jewish question will astound and captivate you. The second class, titled Russian 214 East European Film, Literature, and Culture is perhaps the more difficult class as the 16 films watched both inside and outside of class are in foreign languages (mostly Slavic), with subtitles. As we spoke at dinner among ourselves, the work to wrap our heads around what some of the films are saying or what we should understand certainly takes work. Certainly some of the challenge is language, but the film genre is so different from the typical RomCom or Drama/Action films to which we are generally accustomed, these films are realistic and much darker than some might find even comfortable. The professor for this class, Dr. Maciej Stroiński, is both avant garde and brilliant. He is considered to be one of the best film critics in all of Europe. Pushed to think a bit differently than many of the classes taken back in their own majors, students are asked within a few days to come up with a significant paper proposal for the Jews of Europe class, with at least a pretty thoughtful outline. In addition, they are to write two critical reaction papers. After returning to the states, there will be a 8-10 page paper due by the end of the month. Similar requirements are due in the East European Film, Literature and Culture course, with a major paper due at the end of the month. The film writing is perhaps the most difficult because very few students understand the significance of a post-Soviet understanding of the an individualistic or transnational Eastern Europe. From my experience last year, however, both professors are simultaneously academic and kind in their responses to the Bloomsburg students.

It is interesting to me as a writing professor to see how students, most of whom are strong students in their majors back at Bloomsburg (if I am not mistaken, all students on the trip this year have GPAs above 3.0), work to manage the compact schedule of academic requirements while trying to experience the remainder of the immersion called Kraków or Prague has. In addition, there is the reality that coming to Europe and spending time is a literal walk through a history book. For instance, Jagiellonian University was established in 1364. That means it has a few centuries on any university in North America. Trips to the Wieliczka Salt Mine in the next day or to the Jewish Quarter, Schindler’s Factory or Auschwitz are not something you ever forget. Too many times students believe that study abroad is too expensive or not worth the effort, but as the three of us spoke at dinner this evening, nothing could be farther from the truth. As I have walked around this city for the third time, and am working on arrangements to come back for an extended period, I have been once again reminded that there is so much that is happening in the world that matters, but we have little to no clue about.

What has happened in our own recent politics, or perhaps not as recent as we might think, actually mirrors much of what has happened in a number of countries here in Europe, and while I am certainly not a social scientist, nor a political scientist, it seems that our sort of xenophobic/right-leaning/nationalism is the consequence of something we use every day. Globalism is more than an economic phenomena; it is a social phenomena and the ability to reach across borders, continents, and time zones effortlessly has had consequences unforeseen and perhaps unimagined. That might be one of the most important things that students on the trip might learn. Whether it be Budapest, Vienna, (two cities added to this years itinerary), Kraków or Prague, most people are merely trying to make their way in the world, but a world that finds people from different cultures, languages, and religions reaching out on a New Year’s Eve or on an U-Bahn, or standing on the corner hoping for a world with less violence and more understanding. Sharing dinner with students who appreciate another language, having breakfast with our Russian Fulbright Scholar (did you know we had one at Bloomsburg right now?) or listening to students who are studying Russian are great reminders that the world is much larger than the drive from your home to school and back, or from home to a major city. We live in a complex and amazing world. 40 students and 3 faculty are living that reality each morning as they face both experiences and classes during this Winter break in Poland.

Dziékujé za przeczytanie i pozdrowienia z Polski.

Alexandra Miller and Dr. Michael Martin

Imagining the Other

20140530-043633-16593534.jpg  Good Morning,

I am often amazed at the body’s ability to rejuvenate itself. By the time I went to sleep last night, I think I was both brain-dead and physically exhausted. I did not wake up the entire night and I think it was around 12:30 or 1:00 a.m. , but I woke at 5:20 and I was up and on the road before 6:00. I am sitting at the Bloomsburg Diner counter on the “group w” stool (for those who get the reference, awesome).

It was an interesting week, but a good one. I have made it three nights without a fever. That is only the second time since the middle of May. It astounds me how our perspective on what matters and what can make us happy changes as our life situation changes. As I have gotten to know my Dominican family, and they have so graciously included me in their family, I have learned some valuable things by observing and listening to them. It is very interesting to see how families interact and manage their lives (and that includes their individual actions as well as their corporate actions). Both from having Melissa as a summer guest and from listening to each of them, I have learned how another family, and in this case (and I do believe it is both) another culture communicates. It was last night that a number of pieces seemed to fall into place in my mind.

Earlier this week, their version of “the family meeting” occurred at Martin’s Acre. While it might not have held a candle as far as duration, I do believe it was as productive as one occurring on Peace Street. I just realized another irony as I noted the street name. Hmmmmm. After my last posting, and while some of it related in a singular manner, more of it was about my frailties or habits, the conversation that ensued was perhaps one of the more productive to which I have ever been a party. The consequence was a renewed faith in what two people can accomplish if there is honest and open communication. A second consequence was a significantly lowered stress level.

I did not plan to be gone last night, but the remainder of the weekend should be pretty low key. I actually appreciate that quietness and that is certainly a difference from earlier in my life. On the other hand, the coming week will be anything, but quiet. Between birthdays, a really long day of driving Tuesday and a trip to the Philadelphia airport on Friday, the beginning of two very hectic weeks is upon me. I still want to go to Spain and I am not sure how to manage that. However, it does appear that a trip to the Dominican Republic in August is beginning to become more likely. Though a small conversation with Jordan and his mother causes me some pause because I feel badly about a larger more significant issue. Sometimes not knowing enough gets us in trouble; on the other hand, knowing too much can also be troublesome. I am still working studiously on my Spanish, but I feel like I am not progressing as quickly as I was. I want to listen and comprehend, but I feel like a pain if I ask for clarification. I just wish I knew more yesterday. There is my struggle with patience. Today, I need to just do some significant time with Rosetta Stone and with vocabulary cards. I think that is a way to manage the drive on Tuesday also. I think I will be keeping Jordan busy as he navigates.

It is now 24 hours later; I am still writing. I began the morning by cleaning up the kitchen, which I actually left unfinished last night. That is not typical, but I was tired. This morning I am cleaning and stripping beds and painting and mopping and all the other things needed. I actually enjoy most of it because I feel better when it is all completed. I am amazed how dusty things can get in only a day or two. I also have some things to pick up and get managed before I have people in the house this week. Melissa has been scanning almost 40 years worth the photographs for me to digitize them. I have also realized I have another project for her along the same line, but I have to go back to Wisconsin to get it all. I think that could keep her busy for the entire next year she is here, that is assuming she will want to do it.

The last three days or maybe four, I have felt pretty good. I am learning to appreciate those times, and I know I cannot take anything for granted, not that any of us really can. When I was in graduate school I took a class called “Rhetoric of Alterity”. It was a wonderful class taught by Dieter Adolphs and it considered the group of intellectuals that left Germany in the 20s and 30s as Germany was reeling under the weight of the war reparations and as Hitler came to power. As I was writing my dissertation on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, this made a lot of sense to me and it was profoundly interesting. While this might be a stretch for some of you to see how I get from that to what comes next, please bear with me. I wonder if when we are fighting within our bodies with an auto-immune syndrome if we are in someways similar to the refugees who chose to leave Germany in the 30s and struggled to understand who they were or where they belonged. When our body becomes the other, who are we? Where do we belong? These earthy shells in which we reside are amazing, complex, and miraculous, but they are merely a shell. As I noted a few posts ago, I have been doing some reading and I have also done some listening. I am sad I had other engagements and missed an event last night that would have addressed some of this again. I am still not comfortable with the idea that we are inside God. I think it sets up a situation where we have the ability to blame or shirk responsibility for that which we do, not necessarily  to the other person, but certainly to God. I believe if we are all deities, we have merely taken on a different form of pantheism and that is a problem for me. There is, of course, the other extreme that there is no God and then we are merely walking about in our temporal way until we become compost. Perhaps, in reference to my last post, that would be safer. When I was speaking with Melissa’s father about his next event, he showed me a few of his slides. He noted that God is experimenting. He asked me what I thought about such a statement, and I asked what he meant by “experimenting”? He said Melissa needed to be around to help with translation. That will have to be another event in an of itself because my immediate reaction to being experimented upon is not a positive one, and if it is God doing it, I am really not happy. Again, my immediate response is this makes “God capricious”. I want no part of such a God, but it would certainly make present circumstances easier to explain. Where in the midst of God experimenting does free will fit, and is it really free or merely a guise of freedom? If we are inside God, as argued, then are we merely in a bubble like a hamster? I do not write this to be smug or simplistic, but if God is not outside of us, there is no real compass or direction in which we are actually aware or required to go, it is all temporal. It really does not matter in the big picture. There is no “other”.  It reminds me of another one of Melissa’s writing characteristics. First let me say that she (and Jordan) are outstanding writers. Much better than most any student I have ever met, but she, almost always, writes “God” with a lower-case “g”. I am wondering now if this is intentional and part of her religious position or belief? Hmmmmm. As you can see my brain is spinning around inside my head as if often does. So am I spinning around inside or outside of God? This is my question and the thought of being inside of God still is not something I find easily digestible. Of course, with my Crohn’s there are lots of things I do not digest well.

Thanks for reading.

Michael