Pushing the Limits: Healthy Living is Difficult

Hello from Geisinger,

A 3:00 appointment has evolved into waiting for said appointment and then adding an MRI. So, three hours later I am still in the hospital and waiting for the MRI. That will be followed by another appointment with the orthopedic surgeon next week. I am not sure what all is on the horizon, but that has been how most of my life has gone. While I realize the amazingly miraculous life I have been able to live in spite of all of the complications, I must admit there are times I struggle to overcome whatever the latest complication tossed at me. A few weeks ago I was provided the incredible opportunity to speak to the medical students and faculty at the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine (GCSOM) as a presenter for their Grand Medical Rounds. As I prepared for my lecture/presentation, I will admit I was a bit nervous. These are the people who have observed, examined, operated on, rearranged as well as poked, prodded, and probed every imaginable part of my GI track, or are training and learning to do it to others. They are the people to whom we give enormous power in spite of the fact they are called practicing physicians. They are the people who understand us, at least in terms of the biology and physiology, but somehow might seem to forget that we are more than a specimen; that as a patient, we are a human. In my case, I am an ostomate who have endured 11 abdominal surgeries, struggled with complications because of their surgeries, which were my only option to live at the time, and now I am 64 and struggle with hydration, disconcerting biopsies, diabetes (as a Crohn’s consequence), liver damage (as a Crohn’s consequence), episodes of Gout (as a Crohn’s consequence) and kidney issues (also as a Crohn’s consequence). Are you seeing a pattern?

Each day I live I am pushing the limits because I have been told that the reason they do not know what do to with me is that most people who have experienced my complications do not live this long. Each day I live, I know that I have been given yet another gift of 24 hours and I need to manage those time blocks as well as I can. Each day I live, I wonder how it is that I have somehow managed all of this? In the month or so, the demands of a 4 Prep/5 Section semester has taken its toll on me also. In spite of eating quite healthy, I have somehow managed to put about 10 pounds back on. This is beyond frustrating for me. I think there are some rather radical options (and yet healthy) things on the horizon. The other thing is simply getting back to my walking. I did see something on MSN this morning about how a younger person lost 50 pounds in about 8 months, and it was a sensible process. For me this is not about merely losing weight, but it is about helping my liver, my joints, and other things that have been affected by the Crohn’s, the surgeries, and the regiment of steroids and such. When I was at the gastroenterologist recently (during the fall), his response to my history with IBDs and all of the complication was telling. He noted that my body is like an upside-down jigsaw puzzle, and while they can see the pieces, they are not sure how they all fit together. This analogy did not surprise me. The more interesting part is when he noted that they reason they do not know exactly what to do with me was because most people with all of my GI maladies do not live as long as I have. I guess that is both a blessing and a sort of worrisome statement all in one. As I have noted above, there are times I struggle with what a premature birth and the lack of knowledge of IBDs when I was a child have left me, but again there is something about all of those struggles as a child that prepared me for what would come.

As I have lived longer than any of my siblings (and 5 of 9 have left this world at a younger age), I am well aware that there are no promises of a tomorrow. What all of that as done is help me realize the giftedness that I have in each day. As I sit in Starbucks in the library, I cannot help but watch the variety of students, staff, and faculty that walk past the corner table where I sit up an office on a regular basis two mornings a week. I wonder what they will be like at my age. What will the world be like? What sort of things will they try to manage or what will college be like? I am quite sure it will not be like anything we see today. What I worry about more is the quality of life many will live. Much like a shrinking middle class, there are not a lot of what I call average people. It seems like they pay particular attention to their health or they are totally oblivious. The number of 20-somethings I see that are significantly seeming out of shape or overweight is stunning. As I watch the mount of sugar they put into things, I hear diabetes screaming from every cup of coffee or latte that is sold. One of the first blogs I wrote on a previous blogging site was titled “Freezing, Fashionable, or Flummoxed.” It was after standing outside this same Starbucks 10 years ago. A young lady had mittens on, a hooded, fur-lined, parka, short-shorts, and UGGs. I remember being stunned by all of it. Again, there are times I find myself feeling old . . . what I find to be appropriate dress in classrooms or on campus, and what I see many students wearing continues to push my understanding of professionalism or appropriateness. I have, in fact, add some requirements regarding attire to my syllabi.

The pushing of limits seems to be the norm in our daily culture than the exception. This occurs in fashion, in our speech and communication, and in what we seem to allow either ethically or otherwise. During the past week plus, I have listened to the Impeachment Inquiry Hearings. I feel a bit badly for anyone being called before the committee at this point. Many of them have reiterated they are not there to predict or push for an outcome, but rather to answer the questions and the way they are pushed and pulled by both parties are incredible and disappointing. The limitations of our ability to understand how our government works is an important consideration. We have little idea of how the upper echelons of the various agencies and the classified nature of much of what happens goes way beyond the common citizen’s purview. I think all of this is related to my initial thought or purpose of this post in that I believe what we have become, and what is currently happening in Washington, D.C., pushes limits in a variety of ways that cause our country’s fabric to continue to be more frayed and tattered. I remember as a child believing that the President or serving in the United States Congress was something to aspire to becoming or doing. The other day in my three freshmen classes I asked how many of them believed such a profession was admirable or something they would hope to do and not a single student raised their  hand. In my opinion, I do believe that many of my students are wondering about all of events in the Capitol, but they are not sure what to do with it. As I listen to all of it, even as a sexagenarian, and yes, as a person who has a political preference, I am not sure how it all will transpire. What are the limits of our willingness to accept what I believe is a questionable phone call and the withholding of aid? I think the issue of former Mayor Giuliani and his involvement in an international political process is problematic. I think what will happen is both rather predictable and important. As I listen to the inquiry, it is stunning to me how each party can couch their questions that ignore the former mayor on one hand.

If indeed, the President held up Congressionally approved monies to a foreign country for investigating a company, the 2016 elections, and by extension Vice President Biden (as noted by Ambassador Volker today as an adjusted understanding), I do believe the President will be impeached by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives. Furthermore, I do not believe the Republican-controlled Senate would convict President Trump, particularly when the benchmark for conviction is 2/3 majority. I do believe as legal commentary noted today, while there is extreme partisanship, there is still democracy. Our Constitution allows for inquiry, which is fact finding, the impeachment hearing, which I believe is a legal proceeding, and then the move to the United States Senate for a trial, which is under the administration of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. It is amazing what I learned way back in my 8th grade U.S. Government class. I must give credit to Mr. Flom, that amazing RHS and WHS history teacher who I believe I had for at least one class every year (and often both semesters).

As I move toward the end of another day, to be honest, I am tired. I find that the hours I used to be able to manage and the hours I can manage now are very different. Certainly, the limits have lessened. My endurance has lessened. At the beginning of this blog, I was being examined for possible hip surgery. Again, a consequence of my Crohn’s. This week I have attended four doctor’s appointments from podiatrists to neurologists. Again, my understanding of my limits, while frustrating is becoming more clear, at least in its cumulative effects. There is so much more even today to ponder. The neurologist came up with a couple of possible pathways forward, and decisions are made to try a certain regiment for the next couple of months. If that is not sufficient, there is a back-up plan. I guess the important thing for me is there have always been options. I do not always like some of them, but at least I have them. Throughout this blog I have considered the limits of the various elements of our lives. What is the best way to approach the limit or boundary? Those who know me would probably agree that I push them. I need to understand them; I need to engage with them. That is how I determine what to do with them. Limits and boundaries offer security, but they also allow an opportunity for growth. If we are unwilling to engage and see how they work, what sort of things might we have missed out upon? In my case, I think it would have been an incredible loss. My life would have missed so many experiences: from college to travel, from jobs to hobbies. I grew up hearing how I was not so many things. I grew up smaller, and at times bullied. I did not realize until lately how that would have (and has had) consequences. That will be a topic of a blog probably soon, for a variety of reasons. If I had not pushed the limits of this unique body, I am not sure I would have experienced much of what I have. With that in mind, it is time to get back to work and imagine the limits of some of my students’ writing. Here is my musical interlude that is about this season of thankfulness.

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

 Considering Success or Has it Returned?

Hello on an early Friday morning,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As always thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin

 

The Power of Words

Hello on the last day of my Summer Session,

My students are packing, considering their last six weeks and what they have learned, wondering what the fall holds for them. Some did their work well and some where capable of more, but didn’t manage as they could, some worked incredibly hard with a deficit from the outset, but there is always the entire gamut. What is most amazing to me is that within a few weeks of graduating from high school, these young people, many  of them still 17 are required to act in a manner that is beyond anything they have done, but with more significant consequences than they can even fathom. Then there is the entirely other issue that they are required to manage two classes, which are 15 week semester courses in the matter of 6 weeks. That is a tall order for most students, let alone a summer student who has been often been the recipient of what I call the  “merely-turn-it-in, be-a polite-student, fix-the-errors, and come-to-class” high school experience. When they see the syllabus and hear what is required, most think I am ridiculous in my expectations. Yet, it is amazing when they push themselves what they can actually do. The second lesson is realizing I will not give them a heads up every day telling them what to do nor will I accept late things without a penalty, if at all. It was a sort of six week academic boot camp, and unfortunately for some of theme having an ex-Marine as their professor made it that much more real.

During the past year, the conversation in many of my classes has focused on the power of language. That should not be surprising to anyone who has read my blog or to anyone who knows about my academic interests. I am fascinated by words, all of them, any of them, but also how they work in terms of how they affect audience(s) or how they work when it comes to creating ethos or identity. I once wrote, we use and study language to make sense of both ourselves and our world. It is both profoundly simple and amazingly complex. How do the words we use help us make sense of the world in which we live, and more importantly what is necessary for someone’s words to have a particular puissance. Sometimes it is merely the eloquence of their prose; sometimes it is the context in which the utterance occurs; and sometimes it is the consequence of their station or appointment. I often note that there are places I will not frequent in the town in which I live because nothing positive would come from my going in that establishment (e.g. a student bar or hangout, either of the two local strip clubs . . . and I can probably come up with others). My rationale is not only that nothing positive would happen, but it is because it matters not whether I am in my office at school or in town, I am still the professor. If I were ever to be arrested, the local Press Enterprise headline would not read “Bloomsburg Man Arrested,” it would say “Bloomsburg Man Arrested.” And it would run like some bawdy celebrity rag doing its best to make sure I looked as badly as possible. The point is simple; being a professor is not what I do, it is who I am. It never goes away . . . much to the chagrin of many of my students (and friends). There are parts of us who are basic to who we are. It might be called personality, propensities, consequence of experiences, or . . .  you fill in the blank, but we are certainly complex. I often tell my students I was both a pastor and a Marine and they can decide which part of me they would prefer. This morning I was having coffee with a colleague, and as he often does, he merely rolled his eyes and says, “Dr. Martin . . .” I respond as I often do . . .  I can only be who I am. Certainly my summer students know this all to well, as do some of my former students. As I often tell them when I attempt to describe my own self. I have reduced it to three words, or two specific characteristics. I am genuine and I work hard. I certainly am not perfect, and, in fact, I am a rather flawed human being. I am much more shy than many believe. I am much more fragile than I often reveal. I feel less capable that is often apparent, but, indeed, each of the three previous statements are more accurate of this aging curmudgeon than 90% of those who believe they know me would realize. However, I digress.

The power of words seems to continually raise its head. While I will not blame everything on the current administration, I do believe his (perhaps) off-the-cuff remarks or tweets are much more significant than some one to believe. One of the difficulties of being in a position of power, be it the professor or the president, depending on the person’s previous experience can be more of a sequela than one might expect. I know that I forget this at times, and that can be damaging to a student in my class. Unfortunately, at least from my perspective, I am not sure our President knows there is such a possibility and perhaps more egregiously does not seem to care. Concomitantly, we have the current escalation of a rhetoric of violence, be it concerning North Korea and Charlottesville. What do we say to a first semester student who did not live through selective service and has no idea of what would happen, as do any of us, should North Korea actually first something that has a nuclear warhead. China this week said if North Korea starts something they would be neutral . . . there is no neutrality in a nuclear war. One the other hand, they said if the United States starts something, they would defend the North Koreans. Fire and fury . . . which seems to be another plagiarism from Harry Truman, or any of the ramped-up comments of this past week have consequence, and more than merely a sort of tit for tat between a dictator and the surprisingly-elected most powerful person in the world. This is more than playing “my father can beat up your father.”  sort of school yard game. The consequence (seems there are a lot of consequences here) of hateful speech, regardless of who says it, or discriminatory doctrine, which does seem to characterize the current administration, is coming to roost in many and various ways. How does a 20 year old find it even humanly possible to believe running down people with a car has any sense of appropriateness? What do his parents think? What was he taught or how was life modeled for him? These are the questions that come to mind for me. I know people who live or lived in Charlottesville. I can guarantee, this is not what they want to be known for.

I remember being in Richmond last year and driving down Monument Road . . . I am not sure if that is the actual name of the road or it is just called that. The statues or monuments are amazing. Again, this morning in that same conversation previously mentioned, we spoke specifically about the commission that is in place there to consider what to do with all of that statuary. Richmond was the capitol of the Confederacy. The Civil War and all it stands for is part of our history. Words like slavery, mistreatment, racism, bigotry, hate, underground railroad, Stars and Bars, emancipation, or abolition are all part of that history. Each of these words mean something different, depending on one’s experience and perspective. We cannot sweep them away . . . we cannot pretend that what the founders of this country did when they themselves owned slaves did not have consequence. Where is the line between historiography and hate? I am not sure I always know. I do know that history like language is fluid. History is generally recorded by the victors. Words have power, but like anything that transverses generations, the understanding of that event or word is certainly affected by context. I noted for someone yesterday that while I was taught in early elementary school that using that certain N-word was never appropriate, I can say with more certainly than I wish that the father who adopted me, and for whom I have amazing respect, was much more bigoted than I would care to admit. On the other hand, he was much more left leaning in some things than I am . . . seems like an oxymoron, and that is not the only place we would demonstrate that complexity than some might realize. While I think he might argue I am a Republican because of some of my conservative leanings or practices, I am more liberal than he was on many social issues.

While I am all for being lawful and appropriate, I am also all about being thoughtful and attempting to understand the complexity of a situation. Those who know me well know I am a pondering person; I am a questioner. My Dean, who is so understanding and willing to listen sometimes just shakes his head at me. I am sure I give him more gray hair at times. I am the person who thinks outside the box and wonders. While I certainly do not deserve to be compared to this person, I am reminded of one of the most amazing rhetorical pieces of all times (this is the short clip; YouTube the complete address if you want, it is worth the 10 minutes it will take to listen to it). If I can come anywhere close to this in my own little corner of the world, I will know I have accomplished something. As I close my ramblings of the day, I have a simple request. Can we please listen before responding? Can we try to imagine the other’s situation before we discount their ideas, concerns, or hopes? Can we respect “the other” first, regardless of what they have done, rather than see them as the enemy? These are some of my thoughts as I am waiting for BOLT, our course delivery tool to come back on line. Thanks as always for reading.

 

I wish you all a thoughtful and blessed day.

Dr. Martin

 

 

Critically Thinking in a Surface-Oriented World

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Hello from Bydgoska 19C,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading, as always,

Dr. Martin

Farewell my Friend

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Good Sunday morning,

It is very early and I am awake. I left town yesterday because of the yearly block party (I refuse to use it as a proper noun – pun intended). It was a wonderful day in Jim Thorpe and a beautiful day to be walking around. Early yesterday morning, I got a call from Stephanie informing me that Peter, the life-long friend whom I have noted as of late, had passed away earlier Saturday morning, ending his battle with ALS. It is a bitter-sweet thing to say I am both relieved that he no longer needs to suffer, but I am so profoundly at a loss because someone who has been my friend since the beginning of my life, and someone even younger (albeit only a year, almost exactly), has left this earth. As I noted a few posts ago, this is a very different feeling than the feeling I had with Lydia. While losing Lydia is still part of my daily thoughts, she was 90 and had lived an amazing life. Peter was 58 years old. At one point I might have considered that old. That is undoubtably not my reality now.

When I went to see Peter three weeks ago, he noted that he never really expected to grow old. That statement caught me off guard, but I noted that he probably did not expect to have to battle such a vicious and uncaring disease as ALS. I want to talk about the memories of this most amazing, yet profoundly human, friend of mine. Our mothers were best friends all of our lives and our families did most everything together. Peter, James, and John (Biblical sounding) were the three Goede boys and Robert, Michael, and Kris (I am the Michael, not trying to state the obvious) were the Martin children. Peter’s mother was our church organist and our two father’s, Jake and Harry, pretty much ran Riverside Lutheran Church when we were small. To walk into my house and see Marge, Peter’s mother, at the kitchen table having iced tea with my mother was as common as breathing. To see our fathers working on something at church was a common as listening to Pastor Anderson or Ofstedal, our two pastors from childhood through high school preach every Sunday. If it was the 4th of July, we were at McCook Lake and the Ike’s Club to celebrate with fireworks and picnics. When I was 17 years old, Peter saved my life when I almost drown in that lake. If he had not swum across that lake, I am am quite sure I would not be writing this post and he would be joining me rather than I being one of the many who has lost him.  His older brother, John, was instrumental in really creating a strong church youth group  and that youth group was a significant part of my growing up. I remember when the famous Beatles song, “Let it Be” was the theme of our homecoming growing up. It was that song and Pete’s singing of it that got his voice noticed and began a life-long gig with the garage band, The Establishment, who were eventual inductees into the Iowa Rock -n-Roll Hall of Fame, that would in someways identify Peter for the rest of his life. Whether it was their gigs or his grandmother meticulously braiding his almost waist-length hair; whether it was traveling to another high school homecoming dance or a weekend in Spencer, Iowa, where we spent hours listening to the latest 45 trying to figure out the lyrics to “Rocky Mountain Way”, his voice was in the process of becoming legendary. Growing up I walked beans on their farm; I spent moments driving around in our cars; hanging out wherever we might decide like the Runza Drive-in on Riverside Blvd. When I left for the Marine Corps after graduation, our actual time together was significantly less than our childhood years, but eventually, I was best man in his wedding and he was the same in mine. When I ended up in seminary, Whitney, their daughter was born and I sang at her baptism. He would sing at my ordination and he sang at my sister’s funeral. Our fathers passed away within two months of each other.

Even though our lives when through a myriad of changes, there was never the need to figure out who the other one was or who they had become. I remember going to Whitney’s high school graduation reception and what he told me that day was a bit shocking, but he was even then taking a sort of inventory of his life and what had happened. Peter was an unequalled when it came to working hard and not giving up on things. In the early days of he band he would buy their PA equipment, taking out loans in his own name to make sure they had what was needed and he and Flood Music became sort of business partners. He was one of the first to get into the hardware/software/networking area and he did very well. Even when it required changing companies and learning a new gig or thing, he was up to the challenge. Yet, he was a human and sometimes the habits we learn early never leave us. There were things he battled and as with many of us, he could be his own worst enemy. I understand this malady all too well. A couple of years ago, I sent him a letter. It was a letter that I had written as I was recovering from complications of yet another surgery and a letter than reflected much as I am now. As I battled yet another serious health crisis, I called and read him the letter before I even sent it. I cried that evening as I cry now. I am now more than grateful that I took the time to write to him and to Stephanie at that time. I am glad that I took the time to visit him three weeks ago. I am grateful for the conversations we had that day and the opportunity I had to speak with Stephanie a few weeks before that. We take so much for granted.

Later today, I will spend time watching a student be inducted into the national honor society. Quite a change from the beginning of their college tenure, but what it demonstrates is someone not taking anything for granted, but realizing it takes work and that no one owes us anything. That is such a difficult lesson. There is no promise of a long life; there is no promise of success, even with hard work. Each day is a gift and coming to terms with that is something that takes most of us a long time to realize, if we ever actually come to that realization. Each time I am shocked or jolted into this reality, there is little that can be said. It is yet another forced realization. To use the word “forced” demonstrates that we are so easily lulled into complacency or a sense of expectation. We have our plans (and heaven knows we need to plan), but we have little comprehension, nor do we want it, that the line between life and death is much more tenuous than we care to consider in any regular manner or given moment. I think some of our occupations require us to do so (medical or health care workers), but generally we make our long-term plans merely believing that those things will happen. I am quite sure that neither Peter nor I expected to incur some of the things that we have in the 40 years since high school. I do think he expected to have Stephanie in his life, and I am grateful to her for being the amazing person she is. I know the last time he and I spoke he talked about how important his children were and how proud he was of them. His daughter and son, while I do not know them as well as I might wish, are certainly incredible people. They are successful, but more importantly, they are also good people. What I know my friend is that as I think about our lives, I would not be the person I am without some of the things we shared and all the ways our lives were intertwined growing up. You have taught me what true friendship is. We remained friends during your entire life. When I told you three weeks ago that I loved you, I meant that from the bottom of my heart. In spite of your fragile condition, you were as gracious as you could be and we had a nice day together. We laughed and we cried. The tears streaming down my face now are tears of relief. They are tears of sadness and also tears of graciousness, for gratefulness, that we had the opportunity for some sense of closure. I promised I would come see you as soon as school was finished for the semester, but that was not to be. Instead, I am honored and humbled for the opportunity I have had to share together with you our lives, sometimes on a daily basis, sometimes at a distance, sometime with a passage of time, but regardless it was a friendship that abided change of time, distance, jobs, and anything else that might have happened.

I am not sure what the schedule will be this coming week, but I know that I am headed back to see you again, sooner than I imagined. This time to be there for your children and for Stephanie and to share with all the people who loved you. As I write this, ironically, I am listening to iTunes and “Dream On” came on. Your voice and your ability to be the show person you were will always amaze me. I hope you have a wonderful stage on which you can share. I know your parents and grandmother are there to welcome you. I am glad you are no longer suffering, but I will miss knowing that you are there in Eagan. I love you, Stephanie, and I love you my friend.

Bless you.

Thanks for reading.

Michael (Peter’s friend)

P.S. I have to add that I have now heard “Let it Be,” “Stairway to Heaven,” and “Free Bird”. Thanks for the messages, my friend.