Is it Stars Aligning or?

Hello from Danville,

I am in the town where I do the great majority of my medical appointments waiting on a lunch appointment. I have noted from time to time that I have lived my life with not much of a strict sense of where or why. Suffice it to say there was no grand plan or scheme. That might seem counter-intuitive for a person so process driven, but I am quite sure the most significant things in my life came about in a sort of happenstance manner. Let me offer some events that seem to support that contention. They begin with my very birth.

Again, as previously noted, I came into the world at 26 weeks of gestation and weighing only 17 ounces. No one expected or planned such an entrance into this world. No one planned a move before 2 to the grandparent’s house, so much so that we (my younger sister and I) were taken from our parents after yet another phone call. I am pretty sure the only full family member I possibly have does not know of my existence. You do not plan such things. Quite assuredly, there was no plan, at least in my 4 year old mind, that I would be sent off to another family, albeit adopted, and begin with a new family name, trying with all the brain power my little pre-school mind could muster to understand why I had a new last name. Certainly, the next years brought many lessons; I worked as hard as I could to be worthy of the new house and family, but to the contrary, I was told that I did not deserve to be there. I was told I would not grow up to amount to much. I was told at times I was worthless. It was difficult to understand how I could find my way clear of that, but I found a resilience and stubbornness to manage. I was blessed to have others who counteracted that philosophy of nihilism. A grandmother, who loved, demonstrated, and taught me I had value. Parents of some of my childhood friends who made me feel welcome and valued. By the time I was ready to graduate from high school, again I had no real plan for my life. Adoption had given me some stability in spite of the abuse, but the age of those who adopted me was not conducive to their support continuing past my own age of 18. In fact, because I graduated from high school at 17, that support would end even sooner. I had already lived out of the house most of the summer before and the fall of my senior year in high school. So, on one morning I skipped school and found myself at the Armed Forces Recruiting Station in downtown Sioux City. Within a couple of months, I would enlist in the Marine Corps and, at least for the time being, I would have some plan for my life. Yet, the growing up that occurred in the Corps is drastic and the experiences I would encounter took me far beyond anything I might have expected in NW Iowa.

As I came back chronologically an adult, and perhaps grown beyond my years in other ways, a significant part of me needed to catch up. I did not understand much about who I was or how I fit into much of anything. It seemed that my life was caught between two worlds, as was most of my own inner being. A GI Bill certainly offered some opportunities, but I had little idea even yet why I would attend college or university. However, there was little other I wanted to do, and working at Walgreens or some other such dead end job was not what I hoped for myself. Perhaps what happened in those years beyond my service helped me more than I knew. What I do know is again, I found an outside support because there was no support in my Home of Record (HOR). To be completely fair, however, at least they did let me live there, and that offered stability again that was essential. My first foray into higher education was an abject failure on a number of levels. I did have a good time, but I wandered rather aimlessly around the streets of Ames. Perhaps the most important thing I learned there was to wait tables and to serve as a bartender. Those skills have served me most of my life and that has been a fallback more than once. As I have noted in other blogs, the year 1977 was a difficult one. The death of both my brother and my grandmother would devastate me, particularly when the woman who had given me a sense of safety and hope my entire life was gone. Looking back, she was only 64, the age I am now. That is much too young to leave this world. Somehow, either by the grace of God, and some encouragement from a best friend, I would find myself on yet another journey. This one would take me around the Midwestern part of the country, from as far north as Birnamwood, WI to as far south as Houston. Forty-eight thousand miles in 9 months with four other people would change my life. How all those changes would manifest themselves is still happening. The long and short of that year traveling in an 1978 Ford Econoline Van, which we named Elmer, introduced me to the hills of Blair, NE and the campus of Dana College. It was those four years that created the first foundation that was bedrock solid. Up to that point, I had little sense of why or how. When I told my first host family during the travel year that I wanted to be a hair dresser, they encouraged me to think a bit more broadly. If they are reading this, I am sure they are smiling. It was not the first, but the second trip to Dana and the meeting of Merle Brockhoff and Gary Beltz, of Mimi Kotovsky (I think that is a correct spelling) and Mary Rowland, who would change my life path.

What made Dana work for me? That is a simple and complicated answer all at once. It was simple because I was allowed to thrive and find support, both students and faculty. It was complex because I had much to learn and a previous failure at college to overcome. Singing in the college choir was invaluable. Working with the campus ministry teams continued to create networks of people. In the classroom, I had Dr. Jorgensen for Freshman Writing. I think it was the only semester he ever taught it, but I was in his class. All the lectures from various professors, each in their field, in that Humanities class as a second semester freshman was a turning point for me academically. My Intro to Religion class with Dr. Nielsen blew me away. His intelligence and ability to engage his students was like nothing I had ever experienced. I was hooked, but more importantly, I found a place I wanted to be. That was no minor issue. Again, colleagues like Michael (Mike) Keenan, Robert (Bob) Schmoll, who were both veterans, were invaluable to my being able to acclimate to a place where most students were the normal freshman age. Yet, some of those freshman classmates like Shelly (Peterson) Grorud, Leanne (Danahy) Bruland, and Monty Scheele accepted me and made me feel like I had value. They had no idea how important they were and to this day how much I appreciate them. A student named Pamela Poole and her friend were important to my first year also from the very first weekend meeting them. To be in touch with Pan to this day means more than she realizes. There was a young incredible and brilliant student, who did not even finish high school before coming to Dana; her name was Sarah (Hansen) Jacobs and she taught me to value so many things that influence me to this day, particularly classical music and its importance in our world history. She was a special person to me in a number of ways. Because I was older and had an wonderful roommate named Peter Bonde, I was introduced to some more senior level students. Barbara Kalal Hawkins is still a valued friend. Others like Lynn Hohneke, who was so quiet and yet wonderfully sweet and caring, and whom I remember coming over with some others one Saturday night to get me out of my room as I was once again studying, made my first year at Dana such a profound blessing. Those relationships would continue and others developed as I continued my time in Blair. A project in a European Cix class on the French Revolution with Kristy Swenson, one of the smartest people I ever worked with, and Dixie Frisk was a highlight of my academics at Dana. A wonderful dinner with Kristy afterwards at Tivoli is still etched in my mind. What has continued to amaze me is the enduring nature of those relationships. I am no into my 60s and some of the people I appreciate the most yet today entered my life when I was a student.

I think what is so profoundly unique is that characteristic of maintaining is something that crossed every facet of the campus. Whether it was the women who worked in Parnassus, the people in the business office, the registrar’s office, students from any class and most certainly the professors, the idea of family was not merely something that served as an appropriate sound byte. The idea of an experience, the Dana experience was something that became part of our DNA, if you will, and as such, it was not limited to the time we were students. As a Marine, and anyone who has served knows this, “Once a Marine, always a Marine.” I believe for a great many of us, something quite similar could be said about our Dana roots. Those roots run deep and true. They were cultivated by every single person we met while there. Shortly before Dana would close, I had created a letter of application and was putting together a packet to apply to teach there. While I am blessed to be here at Bloomsburg, and it would have been a terrible shock had I applied to have the college close a year later, I guess that is another way that my taking what comes rather than planning served me well.

Even while at Dana, I struggled with where I should go. Was I called to parish ministry? What about being an attorney? What about maybe being a professor? I remember walking to my commencement at Dana with my father. He asked appropriately, “What can you do with your degree?” With a double major and a double minor, I told him, “Nothing; but go to more school.” He was speechless, proud of his college graduate son, a first generation college student, but stunned at my answer. I was headed to summer Greek class in barely two weeks. Seminary would follow because I believed with all my heart that is where I was called. What I know now is it were merely another step along the way. It was that first couple of quarters at LNTS that I would find a new battle to fight. A fight that has consumed much of my life since; a fight that would change both my understanding of myself as well as how I believed others would understand me. Crohn’s disease or its consequences have been a major component of my life since 1984, less than a year following my graduation from Dana. That battle has taken me to the edge of life and beyond. It has changed my understanding of wellness, my understanding of things like masculinity, pain, and so much more. It has been the one constant in my life since that January, and I have battled and fought it on a number of fronts before realizing it is not something to fight, but rather something to embrace and understand. It was a significant element in the failure of my first marriage and my struggle with what it did to my body and its affect on my identity and belief that I could be desirable would be a manor consequence in my second. I understand that now.

Again, could I have planned that? Most certainly not. Would I have wanted to know its plan for me? Again, definitely not. In the times that followed I ended up in a second Master’s and eventual PhD because of some of those consequences. Leaving the clergy roster and trying to figure out what next was a difficult time. Again, not something I expected nor wanted to experience, but experience it I did. In the times since, I have found myself in both the Upper and Lower Peninsula’s of Michigan, Texas, back to Houghton and then Wisconsin. From Wisconsin I have returned to a merely 70 miles from where I was following seminary. I can say quite assuredly that is anything I planned. I can say without reservation, when I left Pennsylvania the first time I was quite sure I would never return. Yet, this is where I have lived the longest since graduating from high school. It is the place I have felt the most settled and successful. It is the place I have been continually blessed by wonderful friends, colleagues, and students. It is the place I finally feel like I have battled long and hard enough to no longer need to battle. That is not to say there are not things I still wish could be different, but it is probably the firs time since I was at my grandmother’s house at the age of 2 1/2 that I feel safe and happy. I did not plan any of this, but that does not mean I took no agency or advocacy for where I am or who I have become. How is it we get where we go? How much of it depends on us and how much is merely that whimsical hand of fate moving us? Is it God or something else? I am not sure I have an adequate answer to all of that. What I do know is I continue to move forward, sometimes with at least a modicum of a plan, but most often with a sense of merely wanting to do the best in whatever circumstance confronts me. I am not sure that will change. I do have some plans for this year. A sabbatical will have me back in Poland this next fall teaching at the second oldest university in Eastern Europe. I am busy making plans on both sides of the ocean to manage that time. Now people are asking when do you plan to retire? I am not sure if that is out of concern or hope. Again, that will take a plan . . . I am thinking about the options, but I cannot say I am planning anything at the present time. I am merely living the life I have been blessed to have. It is the blessings that have been part of my entire life that have often moved me from one place to the next, from one possibility to another. It is the blessings and love of so many that have kept me optimistic and willing to take on whatever comes next. I guess it is how I will continue to live. It has served me well thus far. The picture is from my senior year at Dana.

Thanks as always for reading. Thanks for the many blessings so many of you have been part of.

Michael

Higher Education Today

Hello from my kitchen,

There is a lot I need to accomplish and I am in the midst of preparing for another semester. While the use of Course Delivery Tools makes some aspects of managing a class, lectures, grades, and information easier, to do it well is laborious and a never ending proposition. Yes, on one hand I have been finished with the fall semester since about 11:47 a.m. on December 18th, but I was, and am, not finished. I started teaching a distance Technical Writing course on December 16th and complete it in January 19th. Second semester begins on January 21st.

A quick glance at the calendar would note there are not many free days. In addition, I do need to work through some new texts for two of my classes. While there may be a few professors who recycle things. In addition, I am working to manage a second appointment to the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine. This work is a connection to both my scholarship and my life in general. The latest two articles or conference papers as well as some currently in process are all related to issues of gender and being chronically ill with Crohn’s, one of the silent diseases, a category of things where someone can look healthy on the outside, but not so much on the inside. One of the things I have realized is that the integration of life and practice is central to what I do. It is also probably connected to my penchant for process. In terms of being a composition theorist I fall into the category of process composition also. I am a process and product person and sometimes in today’s world, students will come to me with a substandard assignment and want to argue, but I tried really hard. They do realize that the world they are headed into is product driven and being nice does not always keep a person employed.

I do not think that requiring a student to go above and beyond what is require to merely get it done is wrong. In fact, I would argue allowing substandard or “but I tried really hard” work to be acceptable is to set them up for failure. As I have noted more than once, I want them to think, analyze and always be willing to work a bit harder, a bit more critically. It is also amazing that the push to get them to think or analyze and question or go beyond what our society deems good enough is suspect. I am always amazed, but no longer surprised, when I hear others accuse me of proselytizing or indoctrinating my students to accept or adopt some liberal ideology. Particularly in our present political atmosphere (and that is an entirely separate blog post). What I have noted for them or even to some who have questioned whether or posited that every college professor is a socialist, is while I am more liberal socially than some, I am probably much more conservative fiscally than many. I am that middle of the road, pragmatist. This is not because I do not know where I stand, but it is precisely the opposite. I am the product of a union-bearing, New Deal democrat, father who grew up and graduated at the height of the depression (1933). He is a person who even today would probably accuse me of being a Republican. I am the brother of a sister who once quit a job because she could collect more unemployed than working and I blew a gasket on her, so to speak. I remember retorting to her decision rather unabashedly, “So I can pay for your lazy ass.” That did not set well in all sorts of ways from either side of the equation. What I realize now is there was more going on to her struggle to work than I realized at the time. I am the professor of a student who is currently, or so it seems, being bullied as she is on a trip because she is not white. This sort of news disturbs and confounds me. This sort of nationalism that is playing out across the world right now is frightening on all sorts of levels. From my own campus to the White House, from England to Eastern Europe, from almost every African country, the hate that is espoused under the guise of nationalism is something that will destroy the world in which we live.  I am a professor who will bend over backwards for my students regardless their ethnicity or economic background to help them succeed, but they, nonetheless, still have to do their work. I am told that students either love my class or find me too incredibly difficult, and I know that people have been told to not take my Technical Writing class because it is too much work. The requirements of basic writing, communication, and having standards are not wrong. If I had a dollar for every time I have been told “but your class is hard.” I could take a really nice vacation at some point. Standards and making a person work does not make it hard, it makes it labor intensive. There is nothing hard about thinking, it is merely something someone does or should do. In spite of having labor intensive courses, I am also told they have learned or thought more than ever before. I think that is why they pay the money they do, to be challenged and to leave as someone who is competent at what they should have learned. As I have noted at other times, I both expect and give a lot.

When I look back at my time as an undergraduate at Dana, as noted in my last blog, I sat at the feet of brilliance. I also sat at the feet of professors who demanded, but generally in a grace-filled manner, our best. I remember sitting in the larger third floor room in Pioneer Memorial and taking the freshman essay writing exam. You had to pass two of three writing exams to pass freshman composition regardless what you did during the semester. When I tell my students if you had more than a couple of errors per page (and I think it was actually only one) the writing was deemed unacceptable, they tell me that is ridiculous. Oh my goodness, standards and expectations! Our world is full of them.  I can tell you that it prompted us to do our best work, even in stressful circumstances. I remember a person falling asleep in the hum lecture during art slides (imagine that??) in the large lecture hall in the Dana Hall of Science and Jim Olsen telling us all to get up quietly and leave and we all left the student there. Imagine his shock. I remember the expectations of King Rich as he would smile in his gracious and eloquent way and say, “How wonderful.”, but you knew you had better do your work and do it well. It mattered not the class, from LARP to humanities, from New Testament to German, from the Pope’s Christian Thought class to Dr. Stone’s A&P, each and every professor I had gave their all in our classes and expected us to do the same. I am not sure I ever remember a class cancelled because the professor was ill. While I know that the humanities sequence was the bane of many a student’s life, it was, is, and will forever be the class that helped me be a scholar. Adrienne Rich. the feminist poet, addressed the graduates at Rutgers University some years ago and asked what it meant to “claim an education.” She noted that your tuition is not a guarantee of being admitted to the scholarly community that is there (this is a paraphrase of her words).  The way such a group of professors worked together to help us actually understand the world in which we lived was a novel approach. They were creating scholars and I cannot thank them enough. I cannot even imagine that happening today, unfortunately. Not that we do not want our students to be scholars, but the interdisciplinary nature of that one class would be difficult to replicate in today’s academy. They worked in concert to help us understand the connectedness, the complexity, and the awe of the world we had inherited from those before us. The importance of the liberal arts has waxed and waned throughout the ages, but a recent study showed that the long-term mobility, increased satisfaction, and even the monetary gain of those with the liberal arts degree outpaces that of IT or STEM graduates (Weise, Hanson, and Sentz, January 2019). Too often I think many who think more conservatively, find liberal, even when it refers to arts, is a suspect work to be viewed with disdain and suspicion. I have often wanted to created a bumper stick that says: Liberal, Christian, and Patriotic and see how confounded people might be. If connecting things and understanding that thinking and analyzing is a product of some liberal indoctrination, what does that say about being conservative. I believe college or university is about teaching people to think in general and come to their own conclusions. I actually like having students who disagree with me in class because if forces me to consider things more thoughtfully and find a way to understand why I might have the view I do. Teaching people to think beyond what they know is essential to creativity; it is essential to becoming a productive person.

One of the students for whom I have the most appreciation in the time I have been at Bloomsburg is a student who comes from a very conservative area in Pennsylvania. The student is from their own words (paraphrased more appropriately than written) was a person who was willing to tell people with whom they disagreed where to get off and how to get there. In addition, the person did all the things and played all the roles of the dutiful offspring in spite of their own internal struggle. They struggled to accept the views and actions of those around them while one part of them was in anguish. During the various times they ended up in my class as a professional writing minor, they began to learn to lean on their own inner-voice to come to terms with their sexuality, the struggle that belief held, and what they needed to do to be happy with who they were and are. This coming out was not easy initially and it is not easy for them even now, but when they graduated, they presented me with a certificate for being the person that allowed them to feel supported in their journey. I still chat with them often and they know they are welcome in my house at anytime. Yes, even as a former Lutheran pastor, which would for some seem in-congruent  I am proud of that certificate more than perhaps anything I have been given in my decade here at Bloomsburg. I did not indoctrinate or convince them to be or say anything, I merely accepted them for who they were and walked and listened as they proceeded through their journey of figuring it out. I remember being asked to speak at that event and I noted how my sister (one of three full or half siblings who are gay or lesbian) would be astounded at how far we have come in acceptance of and going beyond the idea of binary sexuality. In my sister’s case, that lack of acceptance contributed to what would result in her mental illness and premature death. Some of my more conservative friends would say that I am going against the Bible; they would say this is an abomination. One of our major denominations is struggling with this very issue as I write this. I am continually saddened by those who believe they can play God and know how God will judge better than God does. I had that very conversation with my father about my sister when he struggled with what he believed would happen to my sister in terms of salvation. Certainly there is more that can be written here, but my point is through both my college and seminary education, I have found that God is more compassionate than we are. At least I hope so.

It is difficult when sons and daughters move beyond their parents’ positions or understandings of the world in which we live, but I believe that is what is supposed to happen. If parents have done their jobs well, they work themselves out of a job. Again, that is what Dana and beyond taught me. The professors I had at Dana were profoundly faithful and good people, but they were also intelligent and driven to share what I think Luther understood as vocation. Does the work you do make a difference in the world and may the lives of other people better? If you go about your work in this manner than it is never merely a job, it is a vocation. Again, a word that is often maligned. If someone goes to a vocational high school today it is because they are not as smart or capable. I hear this regularly. I only went to vo-tech. People who go to Penn College of Technology are sometimes thought to be less intelligent or capable, but I can tell you that the beauty and comfort of my home is the product of some of their work. They are more intelligent and capable in those areas than I could ever hope to be. I am not sure where I learned to be as open to possibility as I am. I know that not all of it came from my own upbringing, and that is not to speak ill of my blue collar background. Those who have read my blog with any consistency will know that. Perhaps where I learned to be more open and accepting is because of that woman who served as a mother to me from about 18 months until I was almost 5.

I have written about my Grandmother Louise on numerous occasions in the past. I have referred to her as my hero, her home as the one place I remember happiness and safety. I have noted the similarity between her and Lydia at times, or the fact that some of the things in my own home today are connected to that early childhood home and memories of that place (sometimes consciously, but more often unconsciously). I think much of my acceptance and attempts to be gracious and giving come from her. Education is about giving and teaching. It is about offering insight and allowing the student to take it and figure it out. It is allowing them to become adults and citizens. That is what Dana did for me. That is what I try to do for my students now. If I can be half the professor those in Blair were to me, then Dana’s legacy does continue to live. It is appropriate that I remember my Grandmother Louise today because it is the 107th anniversary of her birth. I still miss her and I wonder what she would think of where I have ended up. I love her beyond words. This was actually one of her favorite songs.

I think of her often when I hear songs by Bread or Simon and Garfunkel, and I can see her standing at her bakery table decorating cakes and listening to and singing along with the music on the radio. Indeed her legacy also lives in me.

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

The Blessings (perhaps) of Memory

Good very early morning.

As is often the case, I have slept for a while, but I am awake after 1,036 miles of driving over two days and falling asleep at 7:45 earlier this evening. It is now a few minutes after midnight. The drive was long, but generally uneventful, which is also a very nice thing to say. Currently, I am in Chassell, blessed by the generosity of a mentor, and tomorrow is a day to take Micheal (spelled correctly) and Anton to see things that will hopefully be significant for one as a future place to call home and as yet another part of an American year for the other. During the trip here and back, they have been subjected to meeting former classmates as well as other people I am blessed to still call friends, to eating at some of my former haunts and places I worked, and walking the streets and pathways of a place that fundamentally changed my life.

Over two short, but incredibly, profound periods, I lived in the Keweenaw Peninsula and moved from what I believed I had been called to do to a something quite unexpected, but yet another calling nonetheless. When I arrived in Hancock in 1992, I would find myself in a professional situation that I realize now was untenable. Three full-time positions that created overlap that was unmanageable were not what I realized I would do, but I jumped into it full steam ahead. As I look at it now, I am painfully aware of how many ways I failed to do it well. Of course, going through an expected divorce at the time did little to contribute to my stability or capability to manage. Perhaps the distance made me believe I could manage this change, but looking back I realize I failed miserably. While I know I did some really good things in the classroom as a pastor, and even when I came to larger church relations issues, I stumbled in all three areas at the same time. What I realize now is going through the divorce consumed me much more than I could ever imagine. I think much of that realization came through watching an incredible friend, colleague, and someone I value beyond words experience a similar struggle. As I left that position I had little idea what I would do and I remember someone telling me as I headed back to the one thing I knew how to do, which was to bartend and serve, that I was probably the most educated waiter or server they had ever had, The next months, I headed back to the food and beverage industry and that’s a difficult time. While I did not drink a single drop of alcohol the whole time I was at Suomi, I still exhibited many of the behaviors that people who drink too much regularly do. I can see that so much more clearly now. However, once I began to drink again, it seems I made up for lost time.

Over the next year, there were way too many times the consequences of my drinking caused me problems; I would say that being involved with the person who would become my second wife would help keep me on track. As I waited tables again,   working at The Library, I had the fortune of waiting on a table of two couples. One of the women at the table that evening was a professor by the name of Dr. Carol Berkenkotter. The upshot of that meeting would be my interview in and being interviewed by various people in the Department of Humanities at Michigan Technological University. Accepted into a second Master’s program would lead me down a very different path, an eventual PhD and becoming a college professor. While my professional life was beginning to take shape my personal life was still struggling. It was during that time that I found myself in a relationship, which to this day still confounds me. While I had known this person when I was a campus pastor, I did not really get to know her until after I had left that position. She is smart, capable,  attractive, and profoundly complex. She is probably the person I loved as deeply as anyone I have ever loved. I have said many times in my life and even today if she showed up on my doorstep I would be a basket-case. I know that I would manage because I am much more thinking than perhaps I was. I remember a friend warning me to not get married (which happened before both times I was to become a husband). So many things happened in the four years we were married. I ended up in jail after pleading no contest to a domestic violence charge. The story is complex and my counselor, who told me he had work-shopped my case throughout the office, told me how ironic it was that I would be the one to end up in such a circumstance. Simply put, he noted I had been in an abusive relationship for some time. While I will not get into all of the particulars, it was probably a low point of my life. To call it The Tale of Two Cities is so far beyond an understatement there is little to try to explain. Even my counselor of 6 years continually asked what I was thinking. It is not easy to admit he said I was the smartest man he ever met that could be so clueless about women and relationships. What I must say, however, is I failed miserably and completely in my attempt to be a husband. I am not asking for pity or anything, but rather attempting to take accountability for my failure. We would leave Houghton and move to Oakland County and attempt to salvage and repair the damage done. I have spoken of my failings more specifically in other blogs, but the truth is I still could not manage the things like I should have. There are problems and some struggles both ways, but I am only responsible for my part.

I have learned much about myself since then. In fact, there is so much I manage much differently today. However, this would begin my third part of the Houghton puzzle. The move to Oakland County would not be as life altering as either hoped. When I went back to Houghton in 2000, a divorce was almost completed. The way I have often described that time is everything I owned fit in a pick-up truck and I did not own the truck. I would head back to Houghton on my own to finish my education. I continued to do counseling for the next three years. It is hard to believe it is almost 20 years ago all this happened. I had spoke with my ex-wife a couple of times, but the last time I had heard from her, in spite of the fact she had initiated the contact, she told me she never wanted to speak to me again. I spoke again with my counselor at the time and he asked if I was surprised. He had a way of making me looking at the complexity of most everything that occurred. I think I am still alive because of him. In fact, I know that is the case. Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned in that two decades is that I am comfortable at being on my own. Certainly during the past two years, things have occurred to make me wonder if I could be involved in a long-term relationship ever again. I think I’ve learned that I can be rather selfless, and I am able to care much more about the other person than myself.  and yet that is not always a healthy thing to do either. I am also much more thoughtful and committed to what I say I will do now. I have not always been as successful at that as I am now. What I know now about myself is simply I am content, at least the great majority of the time. I am much more matter-of-fact about my life; I am much more dependent on logic and thought than emotion and worrying about what if. Perhaps that’s what age has done. More likely it is that I have no immediate family or that I have had to manage more health things, which will continue to be part of my life.. All of the surgeries and all of the changes to my gastrointestinal track have created consequences, but I just learn to manage and keep going. I am simply blessed to be here, have a job I love, and live in a lovely house and do mostly what I want. Certainly, my position as an associate professor and as a program director keeps me more busy than I sometimes wish, but I actually love my work. The move this past year that has been in the process of being appointed as an Associate Adjunct Professor of Gastroenterology at the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine is a new thing that will push me to connect my health and my academics. As I tell my students often, being a professor is not what I do, it is who I am. It reminds me again of a time when I tried to explain the difference between a PhD and other degrees. Again I failed miserably in my attempt and my rhetorical strategy was a complete flop. To this day I’m not sure I’ve been forgiven for that.

As we finish yet another year and this time, another decade,  it seems that I wonder about where things will go and how long I will be part of this a bit more carefully than I did once upon a time. 20 years ago was the beginning the Millennium and I would have to work New Year’s Day because of Y2K, Cell phones were a new thing and technology was just really beginning to take off. There was no idea, at least generally of apps and all the things that permeate our lives. Little did we know where it would all go. Even now little do we know where it will go. The world seems so much more precarious today than it did at the beginning of the century. One decade ago I had just moved here to Bloomsburg and I was busy running back-and-forth from here to Wisconsin to take care of Lydia.

As I write this it was 22 years ago today that my father passed away. I can remember that morning as if it was yesterday. It was early and I would have to preach three church services yet that morning after receiving my phone call. Being in charge of my father’s estate would reveal a number of things and many of them difficult. Ironically I think it was also the beginning of the end for the marriage, which I believe we both desperately wanted to hold onto. It is always interesting to me how we can look back and understand to a more complete manner how foolish we were and how shortsighted. for the first time in about six years I’m not in Europe for a New Year’s Eve. Anton is out with friends and the driving 2100 miles in less than 96 hours has taken its toll on this aging body.  definitely the return to the UP has conjured up a number of memories. The memories are always simultaneously a blessing and a curse, but that is the nature of our frail, fractured, and imperfect existence. As I complete a decade, I’m not sure that I live through another one. What I do know is that I have learned from my mistakes, I have been blessed in so many ways and by so many different people. Even when things didn’t work out because of my failures. I can only hope to do better and learn. I wish all of you will read this peace and health as you move into a new year. I am grateful to so many people for the blessings they have given to this extraordinary life. Over the past days I have been reminded of all of the people we have lost from where I went to high school, including my own sibling. This song by Dan Fogelberg is an incredible song about our memories and this version was posted the day following his passing.

 

Thank you as always for reading. 

Dr. Martin

Being Thankful

Hello from my kitchen in the morning,

Hard to believe it is already Wednesday of our break. Harder to believe it is almost the end of November; and perhaps hardest of all to come to terms with we are finishing the second decade of a new millennium. I was speaking with Al, the person in charge of technology for my department (and building) and reminiscing over our experiences of Y2K. This morning I am realizing that the great majority of my freshmen did not live in the 20th century. Yikes!

As I sit in my kitchen, breakfast pretty well prepared, I am waiting for a 17 year old to manage to get up. In spite of the fact, we agreed on a 9:30 breakfast, he does not like to get out of bed, so I am being productive and working on this blog. Thanksgiving, being the latest day of the calendar it can occur, seems to usher in both Advent and the holiday season this year. It also brings back all those memories of holidays gone by, and causes me to ponder how differently I might understand the holidays and their significance at this point in my life. As a child, it marked a school vacation and Black Friday shopping. My parents put money away every paycheck to help have money for the Christmas tradition of buying presents. They never owned a shopping credit card. My father had one gas credit card, and that was it. Thanksgiving was an incredible meal, especially if we make the trek “over the river” (there were no woods) and went to my grandmother’s, sister’s house. I have noted on many occasions how those two were the most fabulous cooks.

While I have often lamented some elements of my being raised as an adopted child, perhaps the occasion of this Thanksgiving is a time to consider the fortune of being raised in the Martin household. As I realize now (and that is not a first time realization), I think there were different hopes from the two people who had a adopted a first child and then a pair (being my sister and me). In the late 1950s, having children and being a family was part of being successful and living the American dream. As I look at my parents, I am not sure parenting was appreciated equally or was the desire to be a parent on the same plane. Regardless, knowing all the things I know, I believe I was overall fortunate. I was speaking with my sister-in-law recently and she noted that my older brother and she considering adopting us (as a second adoption) to get us away from some of the struggles we had endured. Though I am sure if that attempt had been made it would have been an undoubtedly tense and ugly situation.

In spite the myriad of issues, we still had some relative stability. I had the essential things I needed to be healthy and cared for on the basic levels of food, shelter, and opportunity. I had extra things provided like private music lessons, the chance to participate in a variety of events, and both a good school and church family. I understand and perceive things so differently now. Perhaps most important, I knew that even when I was lacking emotional support at home, I had surrogate parents who gave me a lot. I had a church youth group where I found acceptance. I know now there are things I lacked and it is interesting that I find myself trying to provide that for Anton, even though he is only in my care for a year. Tomorrow that year is already 1/4 complete. Amazing that three months have come and gone. What I know is I have been so blessed by people in my life. Growing up in Riverside, I think of the Sopoci family and their basement recreation room, where I spent many an hour. I think of Sheldon and Janet Reese, who always demonstrated care for me, listened to me and showed me I mattered. Of course, Marge and Jake Goede were like a second family to me. I realize now how much my church youth group did to keep me healthy emotionally. In addition, as I got older and worked at my grandmother’s bakery, I was fortunate to be around a person who loved me deeply and unconditionally. That was the most incredible blessing perhaps ever bestowed. She taught me how to give and to treat others with kindness. She was always willing to go above and beyond in her giving to others. I would like to believe I emulate her to some degree.

As I moved beyond high school, I had so much to learn about the world. To my parents’ credit, and perhaps at times to my detriment, I was not very prepared for the Marine Corps – though you might ask, is that possible – or even life beyond. I would come back trying to figure out who I was, and being blessed by yet another family outside my own. A new pastor had come to Riverside Lutheran. Little did I know how impactful they would be. The eldest was not around, but the next three would be central to my trying to acclimate back to being a civilian. I know now that is much harder than one realizes. Fred, the pastor, became a surrogate father and did more to help me mature than perhaps anyone could have. Ruth, had more of a hate/love relationship with me (and my ’71 Chevelle) than one would hope. She petrified me, and simultaneously caused me to think about who I wanted to or should be. David is still a friend I treasure and Barb found her way deep into my heart beyond anything I had known. She was that first love, and I had no idea how to manage that. Trial and error would be an understatement, but I am thankful to this day. Nancy, the youngest was smart, kind, and did not know what to do with her brother and me together. I will forever be indebted to the Peters family. Even to this day, I realize the integrity of Fred and how blessed I am by him.

I would eventually go from Ames back home and that was a difficult time due to the death of both my brother and my grandmother. Somehow, on a lark, I was blessed again; this time to be offered a chance to travel and work for an organization called Lutheran Youth Encounter. This was also the time I was spending significant time with a 2nd cousin. She was a very good influence on me and again I was blessed by her love and care. The year of travel caused me to do a lot of self-examination, as well as a time to grow, and I enrolled in college. This was a second time, but this time would be different. I wanted (needed) to prove to myself I could be successful. It was the begging of a process that has led me through seminary, to the parish, back to the academy, eventually a PhD, and from Wisconsin back to Pennsylvania.

These previous paragraphs are rather broad strokes, but what is consistent is there have been people every step of the way who cared for me, who cared about me. I did not get here on my own. It has been because of dozens of individuals. Some have moved in and out of my life and I have lost touch or one side of the relationship moved beyond. Some have remained and some have re-emerged. Our lives are an astounding number of threads woven together, sometimes tightly, sometimes with some sense of order, but loosely. Other times, the threads become tangled, snarled, or even frayed. Yet they all matter because they illustrate the complexity of who we are.

As you know by my last blog, a superb teacher, professor, and colleague has passed. I have pondered his passing from a variety of views. He was only four years older than I. To be honest, that disturbs me; it frightens me a bit. On the other hand, he left a profound example of what it means to be here for his students. I hope I can work to carry on some of that in my own teaching in a more successful manner. Last week as we honored him and students spoke about him, I tried to imagine what he might say. I think he might say, “Awe, shucks! Thank you for your words.” And he would leave it at that. Dr. Riley was (and is) another reason to give thanks, both for the time he was with us – also by what he has left us. Before we return to classes, we will have a memorial service. The weather, as can often be the case “when the gales of November come stealin'”, and move us into December, does appear to be an issue. And yet, we will gather to give thanks for a colleague who taught us to never be complacent, to never quit striving to learn and implement new things. As I finish this we are completing a Thanksgiving break. In spite of the craziness in so many places, and inside the Beltway perhaps being the craziest, I find myself wanting to focus on being thankful. There are so many people not mentioned here, but you each matter. Bless each of you for your kindness and the gifts you have shared to make this small, adopted, struggling, boy from Northwest Iowa be able to grow, flourish, and be allowed to live a blessed life.

Thank you as always for reading,

Michael (aka Dr. Martin)

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

My Conflicted Love-affair with Alcohol

Good morning from the Acre,

I am back in Pennsylvania more about a month before my initial plan, but I believe it was a decision that needed to be made. As a person who plans more than some might believe, I can be flexible, but lack of control of my life or my schedule is more stressful than often imagined. As noted in a couple of my last posts, the summer has been a learning experience, and while not always pleasant, probably important in the bigger long-term. The first few days back have been a time of introspection and trying to understand how things that have been so enjoyable for most of my life seemed to be disconcerting and difficult. I have been a wanderer, a vagabond of sorts,  but perhaps it is that I have called one town home for almost a decade. This time 10 years ago (almost to the day, I was arriving in Bloomsburg on the motorcycle and embarking on a new adventure, a new position, and a new place to call home. In that decade, so many things have happened to cause me to become the person I am now. Certainly the work done to make Bloomsburg a home and place I feel a sense of belonging in is significant. While much of this has to do with the university, I have also established relationships and friendships outside, which continue to develop, and I have been able to create a space that is my safe haven. This summer work on that, which is significant, was part of my stress. It was the taking care of things vital to structural integrity that created a stress for me that was unlike anything I have ever felt. Perhaps part of the struggle is a feeling of selfishness or attachment to “stuff,” which is not something that has been typical of me. That is not to say I do not appreciate what I have nor that I do not take care of things. In fact, I have been teased for the energy put into caring for things at times, but that is more because I do not want to replace it or pay to get it again. Perhaps what most surprised me was a felt like a home-body for the first time in a profound way.

The week of introspection has caused me to consider another aspect of my life. From the time I was barely twenty-one, I began to work in restaurants. My first server position was in a restaurant in Ames, Iowa called Aunt Maude’s. It was a fine dining restaurant that had flaming desserts and entrees, we carved rack of lamb table-side and used a gueridon, not anything I had experienced in my NW Iowa meat and potatoes background. I also learned about alcohol in a different way, and actually a healthier manner than what I had done in the Marine Corps. I have noted in the past that my first experience with alcohol was literally a case of they poured it down me. It was not a positive thing. However, I did not learn from that. During my early 20s I bartended and waited tables and my abuse of alcohol was the rule rather than the exception. The consequences were some of the normal things, but the more unintended consequence was that I did foolish things. Not only would I spend money buying for others, but I got involved in some risky behavior that culminated in a friend pulling a gun on me and I grabbed that gun, which was loaded, and it discharged and shot him. There were two entrance wounds and one exit wound. This meant surgery would remove that bullet from his upper thoracic area. That no one was more injured than that was a miracle. That did get my attention, and I made some changes. Yet, both at Dana and later at seminary, while the bouts of over indulgence were not frequent they still occurred. What was it that made me drink to the point of excess? That is still something I am unsure I can answer completely. I think most often it was a need to be accepted, to fit in. I was often about 5 to 10 years behind (older) than the people I was around. That began when I returned to Dana as a 24 year old freshman. Perhaps it was if I could drink with the best of them, I could fit in. Regardless the underlying reason, I did some really stupid things. Once I became a parish pastor and campus pastor, that changed. There was about a 5 to 6 year period I drank sparingly or not at all. Then one day I decided after loosing a position to go to the bar. Unexpectedly, but by my own volition, I got trashed. That began about a 5 or 6 year period where I drank way too much again and while there was a bit of a respite in there when I had gotten married again, after that marriage I returned to graduate school and there were too many times I was well beyond legally intoxicated. Again, some of behavior during those times is something that is nothing to be proud of nor would I condone in others. It embarrasses me to this day. It is something for which I have made apologies and still feel like those apologies are inadequate. Simply put, the fact I have not died of alcohol poisoning on more than one occasion is by the grace of God. There is no logical reason I should be alive.

What is so incredibly asinine about all of that is I did my pastoral care and counseling classes in treatment centers. I remember one of my most dear friends speaking to me as well as writing me a letter about my alcohol abuse at one point. I still have that letter. I grew up with alcoholics in my life and both my siblings had significant drug and alcohol issues, to the point of treatment in one case. So what changed . . .  what is it that allows me to have an rather astronomical amount of alcohol in my house and not drink it. Somehow, I am able to see it as a way to enhance a dining experience rather than control it. Somehow, perhaps it has been watching what it has done to so many others and realizing what could have happened to me. What happens for me how is so different than what happened before. Where I once seemed to practice a theory of being able to drink with the best of them made it all better, now being around intoxicated people makes me uncomfortable. Being around someone who reeks of alcohol makes me queasy. As I noted above, I have been in Bloomsburg for 10 years. I have been intoxicated three times in that 10 years (which can be argued is three times too many). That is not to say I have only drank three times, but I have learned to be much more responsible. Can I offer a reason for that change? Not with some sense of complete clarity. Not even with the idea of it was intentional. I think rather it was a sense of what I did, or am apt to do, when I drink too much is problematic on a whole multitude of levels. Perhaps it is because I realize so much more completely now that being a professor, as I have said many other times, is not what I do, it is who I am. During the past year, I have witnessed, again, first-hand what alcohol abuse can do and the consequences of someone’s actions on those around them. It is painful to watch. It is more painful to know there is nothing you can do to change it. What I have come to realize is how our American culture glorifies the use of alcohol or sees it much like owning a gun, somehow we are entitled to be able to drink whenever or however we wish. Damned the consequence. Ironically the summer I spend working in the winery I drank less than other times. I think I owe that to both Peter D’Souza as well as Marco for helping me see the natural aspect of wine making and how it works to help create an entirely different food and taste experience for a meal. Even now when it comes to beer or cocktails, I am able to think about the art of the beverage and what it can do to help enjoy something socially versus I need to drink to get trashed or even buzzed. I love what food and beverage can do together, and I simultaneously hate what we do societally with alcohol. American culture does not seem to be able to promote social drinking. Drinking it about getting trashed. We have to pre-game before we go to the bar. We have to mix crazy shit like Red Bull and Four Loco. The results have been deadly. For instance, did you know that in 2010 31% of fatal weekend car crashes involved alcohol? That is 8 years after the 0.08 for DUI went into affect nationwide. Again, in 2010, 17,000,000 people admitted to driving intoxicated. If they had their own state, they would be the 5 largest state in the country (I did research on these statistics for this blog). Again there is this sense of we can chance it. Again, in the spirit of transparency, I received a DUI when I was lived in Wisconsin. I had a medical issue, and attempted to drive home (less than 6 blocks total). I got pulled over 72 steps from my house. That night cost me over 5,000.00. One of the things I learned in my mandatory classes was that a person will drive intoxicated a couple of hundred times before they are pulled over and actually charged. If that is accurate, it is mind-boggling, and petrifying.

So where does that leave me today? Yes, I have alcohol of various kinds in my house: beer, spirits, and wine and quite a quantity, but I can go days or weeks without drinking a drop of anything. I enjoy having a glass of wine with a meal. I enjoy a ice cold beer on a hot day, and I love experimenting with spirits to see what I can concoct that will taste refreshing and enjoyable. Yet it is an art a type of creativity that offers an opportunity to share socially in a responsible and enjoyable manner. I have somehow learned that one can be social, responsible and enjoyable all at the same time. In 2012, the alcohol industry made 162,000,000,000.00 (yes, billion) dollars (again, I looked this up through economic databases). I guess I do contribute to this amount. Where am I today as I write this? I understand why people might get intoxicated. I think most often it is to forget their own problems; it is because they have not dealt with some aspect of their past or because they do not like something about themselves. Perhaps it is an attempt to fit in. This morning I was speaking with a dear friend, who has a strong affinity for their ethnic heritage. They noted that that heritage is ensconced (somewhat of an oxymoron) with alcohol and that connection has resulted in their choosing to eliminate alcohol from their personal use. I have noted the propensity for the misuse of alcohol in my own family on many occasions in this blog. If I were to balance the misuse of alcohol on a scale to the appropriate use of alcohol in my experiences, either communally or individually, the misuse side of the scale would so far outweigh the appropriate use that you would wonder if there was any weight at all on the one side. So how do I understand this love affair? Indeed it is conflicted. Indeed it is frightening. It is such a delicate balance. How did I learn to balance? Embarrassment for my past actions is one of the greatest motivators, I believe. Realizing how much I have to lose should I lose that balance is another aspect. Somehow, for me the grace of God that has kept me alive or out of trouble or jail more times than I have fingers and toes, and even if I borrowed some of yours. I think being an example for others, and realizing the consequences and damage of some of my past, which still haunts me, has been a motivating factor. For so long, I struggled with my identity and feelings of inadequacy. I think I have managed much of that, or more importantly, I learned that alcohol does not fix that, it only complicates it. Using alcohol did not make me fit it more completely, it made me look more completely foolish. Using alcohol inappropriately enhanced inappropriate and embarrassing behavior and it damaged my relationships and my reputation. Some of that will never be repaired. To this day, I enjoy more than words can say how a great Mourvedre can enhance the spice and flavor of a good ribeye steak. I enjoy the amazing flavor of caraway seed and lime in an aquavit and tonic on a hot summer evening. Yet, it is the experience of the flavor and more than merely getting stupid.

Respect or healthy respect seems to be apt here. It is something lacking in so many areas of our societal fabric, and that, of course, is an entirely different topic. I think it is where I am, however. I have learned if you play with fire (and I have used things like Ol’ Gran Dad or 151 to flame desserts), you will get burnt. That adage is certainly true. I have been burned more than once, but it was not a burn that changed me, it was merely age and wisdom, and the observation of consequence, of both my own actions and the actions of others. I will always appreciate alcohol when used to enhance a meal or a social setting appropriately. As my former professor once said, I can appreciate alcohol, but he had no tolerance for drunken behavior. He is still an incredibly wise man, and he is entirely accurate. I have been prone to put a video at the end of my blogs that somehow connects to the topic, but almost all music videos about alcohol glorify it, so I decided on something that was about trying to make the appropriate choices and take the chance and make life better without being intoxicated. I love this video for the generational beauty in it.

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Fascinated or Consternated? Yes? No? Simply Regrouping

Dzień dobry z Krakowa w poniedziałek rano,

To był produktywny tydzień i czuję, że poczyniłem pewne ważne postępy w moim początkowym nabywaniu języka polskiego, ale nigdy nie jestem zadowolona, że to wystarczy (It was a productive week, and I feel I made some important progress in my beginning acquisition of Polish, but I am never really content that it is enough.). Those who know me are probably not that surprised. What I have been forced to realizing is that learning a language as an older human is so much more difficult than it was for me at a point earlier in my life (e.g. late 20s, when I crammed two years of Greek into a summer). There are the three components of language as I often noted for others. Much like a three- legged stool: vocabulary, patterns, and grammar. The first two are about memorization and the grammar is more about comprehension. When I learned German or worked to teach myself Spanish, this sort of pattern worked, though more effectively for German than in Spanish. It certainly worked for Greek and, maybe to a perhaps lesser extent for Latin. Hebrew was in a world of its own and while last summer this seemed to work generally for Polish, this summer has been a much different story. It has pushed my comfort level off the cliff and caused me fear and tears (and I mean that literally). So what is the difference in a year, particularly when last summer, while hard work, was so enjoyable?

These questions have consumed me this last week and a half and caused me to ponder the learning process in ways I never fathomed. There are a couple things that I believe have happened in the last 12 months to create this dilemma of feeling like a failure. First, I think both my ears and my eyesight have changed (and not degrees is improvement). Second, the grammar is more complex and while it is comprehendible, it takes more time to master and there is little time to manage that complexity. In other words, I am not as quick as I once was. Third, my own failure to review and reconnect with the previous work before arriving caused a lack of foundation, or more accurately the losing of the foundation I had. Each of these elements have created a perfect storm that has resulted in my failing to manage what I believed possible. What I have realized as the way I have learned in past is no longer effective. I am reminded of what Mr. Galán would note when I attempted Spanish. He said regularly, “You just need to speak and use it. You need to listen and try to understand.” He was (and is) correct. The problem becomes a much more complex and more of a struggle because I am afraid of making mistakes. My overwhelming desire to be perfect at it paralyzes me. So then the question becomes is there somewhere between using my grammatical life jacket and just jumping in the water and not being afraid when I cannot see the bottom. I use this metaphor because I know the actual fear of not knowing where the bottom is and how that paralyzes me also.

I do think I have come up with a plan. The first thing is to step back and review at my own pace the work I did last summer and to move forward with the additional work done over the last two plus weeks, which was significant. If I can create a firm foundation there, I believe I can move forward in a manner that I can feel positive and proud of. I do want to work from a couple different vantage points or entrances of sorts. I honestly believe there has been more deterioration of senses (which has affected acquisition more profoundly than expected) in the past year than I had any inkling had happened. It not only affected my classroom options, but also my studying. The most consequential seems to be the length of time I can continue to work at all of it, and that limitation frustrates me beyond words. Therefore, to compensate I must figure out something more efficient and effective. Then, and the director of the summer program, Dr. Prizel-Kania, probably can shed light on this for me, knowing what my ultimate goal to be, what is the best way forward. What I do know is that any lack in proficiency is no one’s particular fault. It is not about blaming, but rather accepting the reality of the situation. What I do know beyond a shadow of a doubt is the instructors I am blessed with did everything in their power to help me. My three instructors, Mikołaj, Dominika, and Sylwię are incredible at what they do. Likewise, the program works for the great majority of those enrolled, most who are in their 20s. I do know that learning a language is a special skill and I know being older offers different challenges. I am wondering if I recognize those challenges as I reflect on myself or if I am missing something. That has occupied my thoughts more than one might think since last Thursday (it is now Tuesday morning – about 4:00 am. for those of you on the East Coast). What I believe I need for my own sense of sanity is to get to a level of hearing and speaking that is comfortable, and I think there are some ways (outside of complete immersion in Krakow) that might offer such an opportunity. I think my own sense of inadequacy had more to do with most of my struggle this summer than anything else.

In addition, what I have come to realize is that learning a language you plan to speak (and maybe it is because I learned German so long ago and when I was dumped into an immersion situation with it, I was in my 20s) versus a language you read is something very different. The needs are different, but likewise the learning process is much more comprehensive. If I return to my stool imagery, I am not sure a three-legged stool will work, it is much more like a four-legged chair or perhaps table. The extra leg is needed because hearing and listening become important on a different level. Second, the idea of a table is that the area covered is much more extensive and it needs order and structure (perhaps more accurately, I need order and structure). That is another component of immersion that is, perhaps, contradictory to how learn most effectively. I need structure and order, which means I need time to think and assimilate. That is in part because I need to make sense of things, but also because I think it takes me longer and I am more frightened by feeling as if I have no control. This trip has been different from my previous trips for a couple of reasons. While I know my way around Krakow better than ever before, I have feel more isolated than I ever have. While I found a level of being comfortable in Moscow after a few days, I was not comfortable to travel on to St. Petersburg by myself. I felt vulnerable in a manner that I had not in many years. While some of that certainly disappeared here in Poland, something has happened to make me less content or calm than I have in the past. I am not sure from where that comes or how it occurred, but I do know that I do not like it. Earlier this summer I was sharing lunch with three former colleagues and the first of the three and I were waiting and I did what I always seem to do when I go into my colleague, Dr. Decker’s office. I align things and make things orderly (fortunately he humors me and merely tells me it will get messed up again). She noted my actions and asked me if I were an OCD person. I had never really thought about it (seriously, I had not), but I responded, perhaps I am. As the summer has continued, I have noted to the degree that is true. Holy Crap!!! So then I began to reflect and wondered from where that propensity had come, and how long had I been such.

I am sure my psychology colleagues would have a heyday with this, but what I realize is we were required to keep our rooms very orderly growing up. I did not struggle to do so. We dusted the house every morning (every day, but Sunday) and on Saturday we dusted, vacuumed and stripped our beds to be washed. I was not allowed to leave my room in the morning before the bed was made. It is still one of the first things I do in the morning. We were not allowed to leave clothes out on a chair unless they were folded and neat. I thought all of that was normal and that every house did things like that. I have long since learned that is not true, but those of you who know me, know I cannot even function if my space is not orderly and well kept. While there are moments I fall short of that, for the most part it is who I am. I do know that I go through streaks from time to time also. I am forced (yes, a strong word), but it is something I do to myself, to try to understand this need for structure and order. During my time here in Poland sharing the Air BnB with another person, who was there prior to my arrival and who will be there after my departure, I have been required to rethink how what I do affects the other in a different way. There are been some compromise (and most of that has to do with his smoking (and the managing of that habit), but one of the things I realized early was I was the intruder if you will. He had a pattern and my requests would change his pattern. My reason for asking for some leeway on the smoking is more of a health issue than control, but I struggled to even ask for that. What all of this tells me is that I will avoid conflict at all costs, even at my own detriment. The reciprocal nature of that is when I finally have had enough, my response is not proportionate to the issue at hand. Of course, as usual there are so many issues that are part of that puzzle. I know most of them, but managing them is something quite different. . . .

It is about two weeks after I wrote this initially and I am back in the States and have been for a week. It has been a week of decompressing and reflection. It has been a week to ponder and regroup. It has been a weekend of trying to wrap my head around the inability of our country to deal with violence and make some meaningful moves toward curbing the violence, the gun-usage, and the hate and bigotry that seems to be engrained in every region, section, state, municipality, and neighborhood of this land. How we got here is certainly a complex issue. How we move toward something different is perhaps more complex, but doing nothing accomplishes one thing: more shootings with assault style weapons and more people dying needlessly. Certainly it is a mental health issue; it is an anger management issue, but there are things we can and should do. I have written at length about all of this, so I am not going to iterate it, but damn!! 30 seconds and 9 lives lost because there was a drum magazine in a semi-automatic assault weapon. What more needs to be said if you think with any logic at all. That is undoubtedly exasperating, consternating, and simply pathetic. States have authority to make changes; so does the federal government. This senseless violence is a social epidemic and it needs to be managed and approached as such. It is a health concern in so many ways. I have nothing more to say, but the response to the Ohio governor by people in Dayton seems to cover it: DO SOMETHING!

In terms of my Polish I am doing something and working on making changes as I move forward to work on it systematically and regularly. I think that will work much better with my learning style. It will result in a foundation that is stronger and more effective. It was a tough and, at times, overwhelming summer, but I will prevail and manage this. Thanks to all who have reached out to me in the past weeks to check on me. I am grateful. As I write and finish this blog, it is the day that Lydia would have turned 95. I still love and miss her.