Remembering Two Brilliant Siblings and Fifty Years

Good morning from the Acre,

It has been a productive and eventful week, though not always in the way I had planned or expected. We have finished the third week of classes and things are not (nor expected to) slow(ing) down. Students are beginning to settle down and focus a bit better than their initial week’s attentiveness also. This is all par for the course. On the personal front, there is some more work being done on the house and that has been planned for a while, but both managing the pieces and deciding how to proceed always take more time than I ever expect. That is a good lesson for me, however; a reminder that we seldom have control over external factors, and it is best to roll with the proverbial punches. That is the second part of the personal story for the week. This past Tuesday I went to the upper yard to take care of an issue that was a consequence of winter (at the moment, we have no snow). Coming down through the yard to the far end of the wrap-around porch, I found out a bit too late that things were both more slippery and much muddier than I suspected. By the time I realized what was there my feet were above my head and I body slammed myself into the soggy, muddy, cold, but nonetheless, still hard ground. After the obligatory lying in the mud that covered half of me, while I did a mental inventory of what hurt, I determined that except for some embarrassment and what would become aches and pains, I got up and trudged into the house. Fortunately a couple of people were here and I walked straight to the washing machine and threw everything in. A shower and nightshirt later, I was back at it. A bit sore, but doing okay. The remainder of the day was uneventful, but about 5 hours later I realized I was dealing with the bathroom much more frequently than usual (sorry if that creates images you would prefer not to have.). My modified digestive system, which, of course, allows more space in my abdomen than I often remember, seems to have shifted from the fall. Much like a kinked garden hose, it seems my intestine twisted created a blockage. I can assure you, such things are unpleasant. Suffice it to say, it was an intensely painful and excruciatingly uncomfortable next 8 or so hours. I was wiped out enough that I actually took a sick day and stayed in bed all day Wednesday. I slept, got up and drank more fluids, continued by restroom trips and slept more. I did get some soft poached eggs in Wednesday night and Thursday was pretty soft food also. It is now about five days later, and I am still gimping around with a pretty sensitive stomach. All in all, however, we avoided a worse fate, and I am back at the normal daily routine.

Today I awoke thinking about the two siblings with whom I grew up. I note them this way because there are more half-siblings out there, but that is an entirely different storyline, complicated, painful, and rather overwhelming if I really think about it. So most of the time, I choose not to. My older brother, who was about 5 years older than I was an unbelievably talented person. When I was small, I wanted to be just like him. He was mechanical, precise, methodical, patient when you would least expect it, and driven to succeed in ways I could only dream of. He was good at math and science, a phenomenal musician, and would excel at anything he put his mind to doing. I remember as the younger brother admiring most everything he was capable of doing. He was the most amazing model car builder I have ever met. He would analyze every piece, considering how to paint them in advance, how to sand the pieces of any excess plastic so they fit perfectly, and how we had the patience to wait after getting one task done and letting it set before beginning another. He would often build two or three at a time so he could be working on another model as the other was in process and needed to set up. I remember when he worked on waxing our toboggan before we would take it out for the winter. He used Johnson’s Paste Wax and a cloth before he would use the electric drill with a buffer pad on the disc. That toboggan glistened and it was faster than anything on the hill. No matter what he did, he would do it above and beyond what anyone could imagine. The more amazing thing was the rather matter-of-fact demeanor he had as he went about all of these things. He did not seem to believe anything was that extraordinary. As a small boy, I watched with captive interest when he spend time in our basement playing with his Lionel and American Flyer trains. He had a gargantuan train board that was a village with trestles, roads, building, mountains and most anything you could imagine and he would have the trains running in both directions. I could sit and watch him for hours, always hoping he would let me run the controls for even a few minutes. Sometimes, he allowed his pesty little brother to play and I would be the perpetual over the moon for that evening.

The one thing we did do together from time to time was our music. He was a much more famous trombone player than I would ever be as a trumpet/cornet player, eventually inducted with the other members of his band into the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Yet, by the time I was in sixth grade, I was the first trumpet, first chair in a city-wide orchestra in a town of 100,000. I was inspired by my high school brother to try to be as amazing as he was and he both encouraged and supported my hard work. As we spent time in high school band together, it was the one time I began to feel I could make him proud of that little brother. In the time after he left for college, got married, became a father, and eventually an electrician, there were many twists and turns, but he was a profoundly passionate person about anything he did. He would eventually follow our father’s footsteps and work toward becoming an electrician. Then one January afternoon, shortly after lunch, he fell off a ladder at work and would suffer a traumatic brain injury from a fall that did not seem so incredibly terrible. Unfortunately, he hit his head on a sharp corner of something. He would live for an additional five weeks and never come out of the coma. He passed only a few months after his 26th birthday. It was 42 years ago on the day I began this blog. As I consider him how, he graduated from high school 50 years ago this coming June. He was a brilliant student in math and sciences and an astonishing musician, something that gave him great joy. Yet, he was also a father of three young children and the husband to a woman who was as talented as he was. I am blessed to still have his children and his wife in my life as I write this. So much has happened in all of our lives since then, but something remain . . . for me that constant is the admiration I have for the incredibly talented and passionate older brother.

I have noted my sister at other times (and she was, contrary to him, a biological sister). She was fourteen months younger than I, but probably closer to my brother than to me (and I believe the same could be said for him.). I think she too, as noted in an earlier blog, was intelligent beyond words or measure, but she struggled mightily with how to manage that ability. She too was musical. She had a very lovely voice, an alto, and she was a talented piano player. She could sit down and with a bit of practice play most anything her teacher gave her to play. As I think back, I am not sure what she really enjoyed about school in terms of academic interest. She could do most anything, but she needed to be convinced by herself that it was worth her effort, and that was regardless the subject. When we were in elementary school she was in hot water at least one or twice a year when grades would arrive because there was something she had not done. This was both to her consternation and to the exponentially higher level of my parents. In fact, twice rather than to deal with our mother’s wrath for poor grades, she ran away. That raised a different issue about the two of us, who were siblings. She always had an deep-seated need to find our biological parents, something I really never experienced. That issue would affect her for the remainder of her life in various ways. The other thing that I believe vexed my sister was her sexuality. She came out to her immediate family by the end of the 1970s, which was long before this was considered a typical process in anywhere. As a person who had twice been awarded the Outstanding Soldier of her base, being a lesbian in the service was not something acceptable. Her way of managing that dilemma was to leave active service. The consequence of that decision had more far-reaching effect that I believe she had ever anticipated. It was not something we understood either.

What I know now was my sister was bipolar (I also understood this while she was alive) and this would eventually cause her to be placed on SSD. I helped her at that point. However, I believe both the issue of sexuality and mental health were something she had faced even in her middle school and high school years, but at that point our society was neither prepared or willing to be able to help anyone facing such dilemmas. Those issues kept her from reaching her potential because she was consumed fighting battles to merely exist and try to be herself. She was a phenomenal artist as well as a creative spirit that went beyond what most could comprehend. In spite of her struggles at 39 she made the decision to become a mother. While I did not know this was part of her thinking or conversations, I remember the phone call and conversation when she called me that April morning in 1995, telling me I was to become an uncle. Kris had an incredibly loving heart that merely wanted to love and be loved. Most of her life she battled this need because of her choice in whom she was attracted to, but I think more profoundly, if affected her ability to feel loved, particularly by her own family. This is not a unique things for those who identify as LGBTQA, but identifying as outside the heterosexual norm as early as the 1970s was even more significant. What I know as she continued her life, her becoming a mother was the thing she was most proud of. I think she wanted for her daughter the possibilities she never was given the change to experience: things as simple as love, acceptance, the ability to become whomever you felt compelled to be, and a child who knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that her mother loved her. All things she had lacked growing up.

The thing that also made Kris’s life more difficult was she seldom took the easy path to accomplish anything. I have noted from time to time that she did not do the different drummer path, but created her own band path. I think she would actually be proud of that characterization. Her rebellion against any force that tried to corral her would characterize the rest of her life. Unfortunately, one of those habits, the addiction to nicotine, would become her undoing. When she passed away at the age of 51, she had smoked two-packs plus of cigarettes for years. An autopsy revealed she had already suffered a previous heart attack. In addition, she had chronic COPD and severe artherial sclerosis. All of those factors would lead to her being found dead on an early April morning. She was a beautiful woman who had a perceptive ability to empathize beyond any level most could understand. She was intelligent, reflective and capable also beyond measure. She was artistic and a strong writer. I wish she could have realized all her gifts and how she had so many more gifts that most ever knew.

In the case of both the siblings I was fortunate enough to call my brother and sister, they were lost before their time. There are times I try to understand why I am the one still here. There are times I feel guilty for the way I have been blessed to be able to live my life and have opportunities beyond anything I have ever earned. I have often said, and believe with most every fiber of my being, they were the more talented of the three of us. I was merely fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. Before you think I am fishing for something, I am not. I do not believe I am incapable. I do not believe that I have not worked hard. What I do believe is I wish they had an opportunity to live longer than they did. I wonder what they would think. I wonder what it would be like for us to be in our 60s and reminisce about a life that had made it through six decades? I wonder what we would like about our lives and how we would relate to each other at this point. Would I be the sort of outsider of the three? I think I was always the sort of anomaly, but how would that all work out? What I know on this week of a passing anniversary is that I miss them both. It is a bit lonely at times. I know that the relationships I still have with the children of my siblings (some closer than others) is an important part of my life even though I am still away and alone. It remembers me that there is something more to my life and that I did have two wonderfully talented and brilliant siblings.

After all I wonder how it all works from time to time and I realize I have no answers. As I worked on this blog posting I listened to the music of the phenomenal and troubled artist, Whitney Houston. She was such a talented vocalist. She reminded me of both Bob and Kris, and I leave this video of hers for you to ponder. It is not the most known of her incredible repertoire, but it seems appropriate as a sort of inclusio.

Thank you always for reading.

Dr. Martin (the other sibling)

“An American Child”

Good early morning,

It is shortly after 5:00 a.m. and as is typically the case, or so it seems, I am awake and my brain is racing along with possibilities than what seems reasonably conceivable to me. What is reasonable might be the first question to ponder. As I get up most mornings, or more accurately awaken, I read three to five different news sources,  from ones referred to by “my” President as “fake news” to the one that should be called “the President’s friends.” Why might you ask? Because I think I need to listen to a variety of voices and then decide where I stand. One does not think critically unless challenged to do so. As I work with more than 70 freshmen writing students this semester, it becomes more and more apparent to me (and this is my own opinion) that our public school system is in dire straits. We are not teaching students to think critically; we are not teaching them to think beyond the obvious and analyze the learning situation; and finally we are not teaching them how to connect their learning to something else they are learning or to make connections across disciplines and situations. We seem content to teach them to memorize or to learn to jump hoops to manage the standardized test that somehow demonstrates they are capable. The consequence is students who are very nice and want to do well, but the tool box they have from which to draw their tools or skills is pretty sparse.

Yet, I find myself conflicted. Certainly we have a requirement as their professors. We are to take what comes to us and prepare them academically, socially, and critically to enter a world that is in a most precarious position (again, my opinion). The current fight between the reality of globalism and the somewhat knee-jerk reaction of nationalism (or nativism as it was called this past week) has two incredibly powerful philosophical ideas of what we how we are to proceed to manage this complex world that is interdependent, whether we like it or not. I have witnessed this not merely here in the United States, but when I was in Ireland last year the Brexit vote was in process. When I have been in Hungary or Poland, or read about some of the neighboring countries, the struggle to become an accepting world of the other versus keeping to ourselves is dramatically apparent around the globe. Just today in Egypt there is news of difficulties; Turkey has had its own issues and some of my former colleagues from Wisconsin have been affected by that. Students in our universities are unsure of their status because of issues in their own countries or the third iteration of a travel ban, which has been challenged again by Hawaii. What is the world we are preparing our students to enter? How do we understand it? What does our obsession with technology and how it is being used as evidenced on an almost daily basis done to how we understand ourselves, our world, or what we can believe to be real or truthful. The irony of the revelation that the Trump family themselves posted information from the Russian infiltrators, which was genuine fake news, did not go unnoticed by me or many others. The overwhelming propensity to jump on anything posted and use it within our own context or for our own partisan viewpoint has made anything posted suspect. What are the consequences?

The consequence is there is no trust. There is no decorum. There is little possibility for a national conversation, or forget national, even interpersonal one-on-one conversation with someone with whom you might have some fundamental difference in opinion (please note I merely said opinion). We cannot seem to have any opportunity to discuss most anything because we have to win; we have to prove we are right. The consequence is a fragmentation beyond anything I have witnessed in my life. And yet, I am that American child. What does that mean to me? It does mean I had opportunities that many in the world did not, and still do not, have. Even though I was on a third family by the time I was less than 5; even though my biological parents were probably not the most suited to be parents; even though I struggled as an adopted child for many reasons I have laid out in earlier blogs, I had opportunities many others did not have. What I know now, as I am older and as I noted there is more of my life behind me than ahead of me, is there have always been people who were kind enough to lend me a helping hand, people caring and generous enough to offer me opportunities that would not have been available without their help. I di grow up in a time that even blue-collar, poorer kids on the Westside of Sioux City, Iowa believed in possibilities. We believed in that American dream, and I am quite sure that most of our parents hoped we might have opportunities for success that went beyond what they had experienced. I have often said that I innately understood that my parents wanted me to go to college, but they did not know how to help that occur. They thought it mean merely get good grades, but even then they were not sure what constituted good grades. I think more they saw good grades as scholarships because they did not have the money to help me get to college. In fact, they had no idea what the cost was. I remember many years later (almost 10) when I was a senior in college finally and my mother could not understand why I had to work or seemed to be broke all of the time. When I told her how much it cost me per credit hour to take classes, she told me I was lying. When I showed her the costs, her response in utter disbelief was, “How can you afford to do that?” My response was, “How can I afford not to do that?” Costs back then are a mere fraction of what students are paying now. The investment in education is astronomical, and the competition for a position after college is certainly more extreme.

Yet, most of my students believe in that dream . . .  I believe the dream is a bit more difficult to imagine for students today. I believe the dream is a bit more illusive, but is that a good thing or a bad thing? That, I believe, depends on the person. When the dream is more illusive because of one’s social economic class it saddens me; when the dream is more illusive because of someone’s birthplace or status, the color of their skin or their gender, their sexual identity, it causes me pause because then the dream is limited to the few and in contrary to whom I was raised to believe we are as a country of opportunity. Again, before you want to jump on a particular bandwagon, I am not trying to stand in opposition to our laws or points that seem to be touch-points for argument. I could certainly argue that I am one of those who had to work much more intentionally to make my way out of a blue collar neighborhood. Again, before you think I do not respect the trades or unions, you have not read much of what I have written about my journey electrician father or older brother, or two nephews. You are not aware of my summer jobs working in packing plants, co-op fertilizer elevators, harvesting wheat, waiting tables or bartending for 2o years. As I write this I am sitting in a Starbuck now, in Chantilly, VA, guests of yet another culture of people who have blessed me. Egyptian/Sudanese and as I have watched the people coming in an out I have seen Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Black, and I am probably the minority. Those things actually do not frighten me, they give me hope.

What I believe being an American child gave me was hope. It allowed me to dream of possibilities and options. It allowed me to be proud of a country that seemed to be a beacon of hope not just for an adopted middle class small boy from NW Iowa, but for the rest of the world. My first trip to Europe as a student, as I have noted before, allowed me to see the world as a place to learn, a place to explore and realize how the centuries of history in the Vatican, in Aachen, Lubeck, or Copenhagen had a connection to what I was learning in Blair, Nebraska. What I realized in that trip, which was the consequence of the generosity of Harold and Dorothy Wright, was the world was a walking history book that need to be absorbed and learned. As I have been blessed to be on the other side now and take students to Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Germany, Austria, and Slovakia this time is to realize how much Central and Eastern Europe has to offer to my understanding of our changing world. I have mentioned more than once, I am not sure I had any idea what the future would hold for me, and even at this advanced age, I am not sure. What I do know is it has been quite a journey and one that I do believe being the American child offered me a sense of perspective and opportunity I might not have had. Because of the generosity of a little tornado, I am able to now help others. I am able to offer opportunities that go beyond what I knew at that age. It is ironic that it was not an American native, but one who came to America to continues to bless me so I can bless others. Amazing how life works . . . but it continues to do so. With that, I offer this video.

As always thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin (that Riverside child)

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

A Conscious Decision or the Consequence of Many

Dzień Dobry from my little room in Garbarska,

It has been a productive day and a day where I decided to focus on my own work rather than the needs of the group. That is not always an easy thing for me to do, but it is something I should learn to do more often, or at least more effectively. One of the syllabi for the Spring is completed and the course shell for the course will be done yet today. The specific act of solitude today is also something that is relatively new for me. While I have noted for some time that I have learned to appreciate, perhaps even crave, my alone time, there are moments I ponder the consequence of it also. Over the past few days, as those on Facebook can attest, I have posted a couple of scanned photos from my earlier (and some have reminded me “much earlier,” – thanks Michele Meier) lives. I note lives because I am often questioned about how I have done so many different things. I guess I have not really considered it all that different, but rather a sort of a continuum. There is always the need to be looking at or preparing for what is ahead and simultaneously we are reminded of our past and connected to what has made us who we are.

The past couple days I have begun to take stock of what matters most to me, what it is I most value, but also to ponder those things that might have been. I am not sure if it is a growing old thing or if it is wondering at times how it is I am where I am (well I do not it is some of that because I am certainly not where I expected to be, but I do not say that in a regretting or lamenting manner). If I were to address the things that are most surprising to me, the first is this solitariness that characterizes me personally. It is more than merely being single, it is a matter of wondering at times where I belong or where I fit. I have always been, and certainly more than most realized, including myself, the lonely-in-the-middle-of-the-crowd person. I have fit in many places, but often felt like I fit in no where. Generally, it is not something that bothers me, at least, when I am not thinking of it, but there are times like now when I wonder what might happen to me, and for whom that might be an issue. This is certainly not a call for pity or others to tell me I am valuable, so please do not worry. One of the things I have been able to do in three score and one years is understand my strengths and weaknesses, and be pretty comfortable with who and where I am. I guess this is more a pondering of what if something different might have occurred.

If you have read this blog with any consistency, you are probably aware that I get in these rather pensive moods, where I need to figure it out, even when, perhaps, there is nothing to figure out. I can see Melissa staring at me now and then shaking her head. It is that melancholy underpinning that seems to be part of my make up. While I did not get married until later, even then, what I know now is perhaps I was not ready to be married, but is one ever?? What would it mean that you are ready? What I know now is that my first marriage to Susan was done because I thought it was the next reasonable thing to do. That is not her fault in any way, it is mine own. I do believe perhaps the happiest time of being married to her was when we were first in Omaha Village and actually pretty broke, but we depended on each other and I think we believed things were as they were supposed to be. Yet, what I know is the summer before the wedding my CPE unit had raised serious doubts for me in if I could ever be a good husband or father. Perhaps I should have postponed and thought more. There was also my own struggle to understand what it meant to love someone in such a way. I know what I often told couples as a pastor, that the love they had the day of the wedding, which seemed so amazingly complete, was not nearly enough to see them through the remainder of their lives. It is something that has to mature, be tested, and endure. I can say that, but can I do it? I am not sure I learned how, but then again, it is by example or is it from something inside of you? Yet, there was, as many know, a second marriage to Theresa, and if I ever believed I was in love with someone, it was her. She pushed me away more than once, but I returned on both ends of that marriage. Many, to this day, call me a bit deluded for staying involved as long as I did, but then again, I am at fault for a number of things in the failure of that marriage.

Yet, significant time has passed since being involved in either situation. In fact, from the time that I left almost 17 years. In my blogs I have noted that sense of did I expect to be here at this point in my life, and the answer is a pretty unequivocal “no.” Yet, what did I expect, or do we have the right to expect anything? I want to offer a shout out to a few people who give me hope. My undergraduate classmates, Keith and Kathy, Paul and Lisa, Scott and TC, Mark and Kay, they have all made it, so to speak. I know there have been health issues and significant things that I am sure have tested them, but they provide a sense of hope for me. I admire each and everyone of them. I am not sure how I would even begin to think of being married to someone at this point. I did spend significant time here in Pennsylvania with someone I have known for 30 years now. She is a wonderful and beautiful person, but both the distance and commitments seemed to be hurdles larger than we could manage. I wonder if I was perhaps meant to be a single person. Certainly the last decade and a half has taught me how to be on my own and manage it. Certainly a job that consumes me (and I am always astounded by my colleagues who manage families and the academy) does not seem to offer much option to take on something else, and yet there are times I believe it would probably create a better sense of balance than I currently have.

Perhaps it is really a combination of circumstances, inability, limitations, and a lack of knowledge or skill. There are two or three people in my life that have so totally amazed me, and that somewhat complete astonishment has continued over the decades; the four person fits that category, but I have already confessed that failure. One goes back to early in my life, one from when I was in college and one after being gainfully employed. In each case, I can imagine the proverbial growing old with them, but such an imaginary journey is not a reasonable expectation for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, none of them live in Pennsylvania. I also think there is an issue of imagining the person as you remember them versus what might be their present reality. There is only one case where I believe I have a reasonable understanding of the other, but there is still an issue of distance and the need for someone to make a significant change, or that one occurred. All of those things would be hanging on to a dream, and that is certainly not reasonable. I wonder if sometimes, my baring my inner most fears causes others a sense of fear or vulnerability. For me, I do not feel vulnerable, it is freeing to ponder and wonder all of this through my fingers. What it seems to me is that as I have entered this decade, one that I am not completely sure in a more profound manner I might not finish, I find myself reflecting more on the what ifs of my life. I have noted if I could go back to school, doing it over, I would probably go into linguistics and cultural studies (focusing on languages). That is not something I grew up ever imagining. I was never encouraged to know another language or consider life outside of Iowa. There are times my Midwestern heritage still stands strong and I miss the friendly nature of those who I grew up or where I lived in both Minnesota and Wisconsin. It has been too long since I have made my way back to Sioux City. I did make it to about an hour away late last March. I want, desperately, to get back there, perhaps at the end of the academic year and before summer school.

I also have noted the significance of having a very different understanding of what seems important, even paramount, to me and how that differs from earlier in my life. I have learned that I am more of a walking oxymoron that I have perhaps realized. While I am profoundly patriotic, I am more globally influenced and enamored than I was ever aware. While I love to travel and learn, I am wishing, even as I sit here in Poland, once again learning phenomenal things, I would be more content at this moment sitting in my house. I want to learn more and more and keep working, but there are moments, where I wish I could merely retire and relax. I wonder if all people my age wonder some of this. Perhaps I am not as far out there as I sometimes think. Well  . . . so how do I answer my question. I am sure that where I am is a consequence of a decision, or a couple of major ones. It is also the consequence of things that were, and are, part of my flawed humanity. It is my humanity and its flaws that still stupefy me at times. I wish I could manage all the flaws, which seems contradictory of me saying I am comfortable with my weaknesses. What it says is I understand the some of the reasons for the flaws, but I wish I understood them more completely. Perhaps it would be possible to change some of those things, but for the time being, it simply is.

It is now late evening and I am about to sign off, but I had the most wonderful dinner this evening with Robert and Katazyna. I am very blessed to have them here in Kraków when I come here. It was wonderful to see the progress made since two years ago and it was wonderful merely to catch up and spend time. I am looking forward to seeing them again. In the meanwhile, I will continue to ponder and wonder some of my what ifs and merely keep on. As that is what we do.

Thank you for reading.

Michael, the solitary one.

Honoring my Father

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Hello after a day in Harrisburg,

While the state capitol of Pennsylvania is certainly different than most capitol cities I have wandered around, I enjoy it as the political junkie I am and because of the faculty union of which I am proud to be a member. It has been a sort of change for me because, in spite of growing up in a union family ~my father was a strong and adamant supporter of the union movement in the United States and a member of @IBEW231, I understood the reasons for labor unions, but I had a relatively benign attitude. There were times when I struggled to understand his commitment to this labor movement. I remember while in high school, there was a pretty violent strike in my town between the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and Iowa Beef Processors (IBP) packing plant, which was the largest beef meat packing plant in the country at the time. This included brick throwing, fire bombing and other serious harassment. I remember asking him why supporting the union and standing up was such an important thing. He was passionate about those who would have crossed a picket line. I had never really witnessed an angry tone, but it was clearly there in what he had to say at that time.

What I know now, some 43 years later was that he had a reason to stand up for the fairness and appropriateness of a contract and what it meant to be treated with equity and fairness. While I certainly understand that there are two sides to every argument, and there are certainly two positions from which to begin when viewing this argument about our teaching contract (or perhaps there are five -the state system, who desire to be known as the SS, the faculty, including both permanent and adjunct, the students, including current, future, and former, parents of said students, and tax payers of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania). I am sort of stunned by some of what is happening, but that is because I still believe in logic and the collective good will of people. This is no longer unfettered idealism, but the simple believe that when people sit and speak appropriately and respectfully, things can be accomplished. However, I guess you need to begin from a place where there is some logic for that to happen. When I look at all of the pieces of our current labor situation, there are certainly some illogical pieces. This is why my father was so unwavering about the need for union protection. When management has power, the purse strings, and sees everything in terms of the bottom-line, there is an unequitable situation from the outset. I have been accused of having a problem with authority in the past, and those of you who have read this blog know that has been a statement that I have noted more than once. However, as I have continued to age, what I realize is that I have a problem with the abuse of power. This is what is happening in our current situation, that abuse and what seems to be an unwillingness to negotiate in good faith, as is easily argued. Today as I sit and write this, we are actually 10 days from going on strike and there have been no negotiation for the last 10 days, and none currently scheduled for at least four more. Yet administrators have received their yearly raises. All of this is while the faculty have worked for almost 16 months without a current contract. The state system negotiating team has refused to come to the table during the last 10 days. Yet we have a Chancellor who is willing to readily take his $8,000.00+ raise, and when asked by students about that raise this past week, standing face-to-face with these students, had little he could provide in response, but in a FB live meeting with students claims to be working diligently to avoid a strike.

This is the same Chancellor who has done work within the Florida system to create a business model of education. On the surface it seems to be a good plan, but when little is done to promote faculty leadership or support advancement in building that enhances life in the classroom, there is an issue. He is a 5th grade teacher who, from all the research I have done, has done little or no teaching since he became an administrator and has never been in the college classroom as an actual professor. Yet, he seems to be able to understand what it means to be a college professor. The foolishness of such a possibility is unconscionable. It is stunning to me that he can in good conscious argue some of the things he has about our work or our classrooms. Again, I understand the need to be fiscally responsible, but for him to fail to ask the state legislature for any additional money, especially when we were gutted by the previous administration, is beyond wrong. I did not know that I could be so passionate about all  of this, but I am infuriated by the smugness with which he faced us this past week. There as so much more I wanted to say, but I wanted to be appropriate and professional as I stood in front of the Board of Governors, the Chancellor, the University Presidents, and my own provost. I will say that I have a significant amount of respect for those offices, and in the case of my two administrators, in spite of being turned down for sabbatical this past week, I still believe in their integrity. I know that some of my colleagues will shake their heads by my stating this, but I will try to stand up and yet be respectful. I would like to believe that is age and a sense of growing wisdom. I will say that the sabbatical rejection was a bit of a shock and a sort of kick in the teeth, but there are certainly worse things. To the President’s credit, he has asked me to sit up and appointment with him, and, for that, I am grateful. . . .

It is a week later and I am just getting back to this I had not saved it on my tablet and I did not want to begin again. I am in Jim Thorpe and grading, which I have been doing for about the last 5-6 hours, but I need to let the other computer charge a bit, so I am back to the blog, and, as is usually the case, that might be a good think to clear my head out before I get to the next task. I should note that we are now four days from a strike and there is little progress in our negotiations. I should also note  that both sides have declared a moratorium on commenting about the effectiveness or where they are in the process as of later today. This was because there was little accomplished in yesterday’s negotiations, and in the 16 day hiatus since the last bargaining, the state merely returned with the same offer we had turned down. I will leave up to you as a reader to ascertain what such a move might indicate. I will admit that I am concerned in ways I have never been because of the ominous tone of a system and their seeming total disregard for students. I cannot imagine how the very university president, of whom I spoke appreciatively, can be a major player in this position. If it is merely because he does not need to worry about the consequences because he is going to retire, I would be deeply disappointed.

This past week it seems that every day brings out something in our political landscape that can only create more disillusionment and a pondering that is summed up by the acronym of “what the French toast?” I have said more than once this past week that it causes me embarrassment to be an American. I find myself agreeing with people on both sides of the aisle at time. However as I noted in a Facebook posting earlier this today, yesterday, or I have no clue as it seems that everything is crashing in at once.  The New York Times has some amazing columnists and op/ed writers. Their ability to get to the core of a situation and say some of the things most are thinking, but seem incapable of verbalizing, or writing, astounds me. In two different pieces today, For my colleagues, friends, former students, and present students who struggle with Hillary Clinton, I can understand some of that struggle, but the issue is more complex than you might know without some serious consideration. Amy Chozick has an outstanding piece in today’s NYT laying out some of this as well as any piece I have read. In another article, Ezra Klein, writing for Vox, does a fantastic job of asking what the consequences of ignoring the stories about Donald Trump say about us as a nation. I should note that both pieces are implicated related and worth your consideration. If you have an Apply phone you can find them easily on your news feed.

This coming week it will be difficult for a number of reasons. There is the issue of a potential labor action and what the consequence of actually having that a reality does to all involved. Yet, there is a time to stand up, this is what my father told me back in high school when I questioned the labor situation as noted in the early part of this post. There is standing up for something more important than myself. This past week I had the opportunity to sit down with someone I have taken to task more than once in this blog. I had the opportunity to meet with Mr. James Sachetti at the Fog and Flame. He agreed to an invitation to have coffee and I must say that my understanding and perception of him has been wrong. That is not to say that we do not see some important things in the same way, but my conversation and interaction with him was completely cordial and enjoyable. He was attentive to what I shared and willing to share his viewpoint and his background. I walked away from that hour-plus conversation with a  respect and appreciation that has been before missing. While I will not agree with everything he might write, nor will he with me, I can say that I respect and appreciate his position in ways I would not have imagined before our meeting. I am grateful that he took the time. It is another place where I believe I have made my father proud. He often said, “Speak to the person rather than about them.” He, as usual, was (and continues to be) correct. On another front, I will be standing up for myself in a manner that is hard for me. I am generally a giving and generous person, but too many have taken advantage of that generosity. It is time for me to stand up and ask them to be accountable. That is difficult, but it needs to be done.

As we move toward Wednesday, I am uncertain of what will occur. As we move toward an election, I am unsure of what will occur, and even when we have spoken at the ballot box, I am unsure what will happen. We have become a nation of whiners, of selfish and self-centered idiots. We fail to think critically and analyze thoroughly. We are content to allow others to think for us. The consequence has been devastating. Those with money and power have taken over our country and the average person seems powerless to make a difference. We have abdicated our responsibility because of our unwillingness to think. We have allowed those like the recently retired CEO of Wells Fargo to make decisions that affect so many of the common folk while they line their own pockets. This is just one example of how the powerful screw the other 99%. In spite of my background as a former Lutheran pastor, I am more universalist than some might find comfortable, but there is something to be said for respecting others and living a tolerant lifestyle. I do not think this is a far reach from the Biblical words that admonish us to love God with our heart and soul and mind and our neighbors as ourselves. And on that note, I think there is enough to ponder for this posting. If you are reading this or found it because of a tag or handle, please share it to those who stand up for quality education in this Commonwealth.

To all who take the time to read my thoughts, please know I am grateful. Thank you, Dad, for teaching me so well.

Your grateful son,

Michael