When Customer Service Isn’t

Hello on a Thursday afternoon,

It is a bit overcast and a little breezy, but still feels like we have finally put a winter season away. It was neither a cold nor a bitter winter, but it was nonetheless long and taxing. There were no significant snowstorms nor did we see any bone-chilling-hide-indoors sort of temperatures, but it seemed to be a season of interminable length. I am not sure if it was the incessant humidity that penetrates anyone or anything foolish enough to stay outside, or if was the uninterrupted cloudiness that would make SAD sufferer beg for a sun lamp and be required to do 100,000 units of Vitamin D a week. Regardless the consequences of the winter without end, the change has occurred both in the calendar and now in the air. As we heard into an Easter Weekend, I am reminded of the years I was a parish pastor and how by the end of Easter I was so tired I could barely think. I am back on my porch merely enjoying the breeze and the chance to let my brain decompress. It is that time of the semester where there is something to do in every waking moment and it is probably the time to not think about trying to get any extra sleep. It is like the sprint of the 800 meter race. Can you pace and push yourself to the limit the entire race? Part of the craziness is as students are getting ready for their own pushing through the race, graduation, the end of the semester or another option might (and usually does) cause come stress, but there is that sense of accomplishment. While there is always some degree of making it through another academic calendar, there is stuff to do immediately following the semester (grading), but there are other things that need to be managed the next week. I remember getting in trouble once for telling someone that a doctoral degree (and the same is for any terminal degree) it is not something you merely do with your degree, but it is who you are. It can consume you more than many realize. That is not a complaint, though some might believe it sounds like such, it is merely a continuing and deepening realization of how truthful that statement was. I remember when I was a parish pastor sending Susan home to South Dakota for a vacation around this time of year. It was easier for all involved because the number of services during that Holy Week were enough to take up almost all my fingers. I barely got more than a shower in and a lot of coffee at the time.

I remember at the end of 1991’s Lenten season I would be heading to Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, AZ for the second and third of what would be more abdominal surgeries. I would fly from Allentown to Phoenix to meet with a colo-rectal surgeon who was considered one of the best in the country. Dr. Robert Beart, now of the Colo-rectal Surgery Institute was my surgeon and considered one of the best surgeons for those needing surgery because of IBDs in the country. It was a frightening time for me, but I was existing on steroids and Azulfadine, which was the first level treatment for UC and Crohn’s in the past. It is a drug also used for treating Rheumatoid Arthritis. What I am realizing as I do more research because of some of my own issues, that both the steroids and the Azulfadine can have consequences for the liver. Seems that is my situation on both accounts. The liver is an amazing organ, and so much complex than I realized, but again that seems to be the case for most of what has occurred and how our body manages things. As I read things about my liver and the various things I have done to manage Crohn’s for 35 years, it is a bit frightening, but as I often note, I am still here and I have options that I can manage. I guess that makes me a pretty normal individual. I am actually excited to see what we might do to manage things and I am fortunate to work with some incredible people yet today, so bring it on.

The last few days I have gotten some walking in, and while I am supposed to be doing that, I have received some unexpected assistance in my daily regimen. Last Tuesday, after being told my regular auto maintenance people could not work on my car, I was required to take it to a BMW in the Wilkes Barre Area. I have an extended warranty, which I purchased when I got the car, but trying to get them to cover any of the repairs was more vexing than one might have expected (or should have expected). They did not want to cover anything because I was at an auto-repair place less than 40 miles from where I purchased the car (38 to be exact). Somehow it did not seem to matter that my dealer sent me there or that I was not told that I could only take it to the dealer where I purchased the car. That was the first snafu. The repairs needed were expensive, and after doing some checking, along with the BMW service people telling me they were not allowed to work on it, they told me what my bumper-to-bumper warranty did not cover (a strange understanding of bumper-to bumper). On Wednesday and Thursday morning I spent a significant amount of time on the phone between Scott Township and Wilkes getting things squared away. I was told  by my BMW dealer that the car should be done on Thursday late, but certainly by Friday afternoon. So I planned Friday. I have called the dealership more than 10 times (and the times I actually spoke to the service person was less than half that number). On Friday afternoon, I was informed that the car would not be finished until Monday and there was no communication from my local dealer to the Wilkes service people. Thus, they we telling me I would have to pay for the entire repair (which is to be almost $2,500.00). Suffice it to say I was not impressed. I knew the car had been released to the BMW for warranty work. I knew there had been communication about this (at least with me). When I noted this with the service person at the BMW dealer, he told me he had no idea, and gave me no particularly thoughtful rationale as to why my car would not be done until Monday. So I was back on the phone and I know the service and warranty people here have left a message for them in Wilkes. So . . .  the saga continues. My frustration goes back to basic organizational communication (hmmmmmm . . . . one of my doctoral areas). I see scholarly article coming out of this. On a second front, I took my snow blower into the place I purchased it because it had a significant issue after the last major snowstorm. It was taken in the 2nd week of March. I received a call asking for my permission to purchase a part (around 150.00, which is still significantly cheaper than the 700.00 the snow blower cost new). I returned their call and gave them permission. I received a second call and so I went to the facility and again provided permission. Last Thursday as I was in the throes of my wonderful car experience from the snow blower facility asking for my permission. I noted that I had provided permission twice, including in person. The response was I need to speak to a specific person. Really? I message from co-workers does not count? I even told him the cost of the part, which he noted was correct. Then as if I needed a cherry on the top of this sundae, he let me know he would be leaving the next day for 6 weeks paternity leave so he would have to send it out. Oh my . . . I am trying to figure out the rationale for such lamentable customer service. So . . . hard to say what I will hear next.

It is now Monday morning. There are 11 days of classes left. The sprint is in full stride. I got to my office about 6:30 this morning and there are a couple pressing things to manage and a number of things I need to just get them completed. Nothing difficult, but time consuming. It is amazing what I can get done before 8:00 a.m. when no one is in the building. I love those times when I can merely dive in and work. There is so much more I would like to say about so many things, but because time is fleeting and there is little I can do, just keep the head down and manage my breathing. My time of running distance in the service is coming back to me. Yesterday, which is 420 has more significance to me than what has become the tradition understanding of Munchie Day. It was my parents anniversary and they would have been married 79 years yesterday. Those who have a marriage that lasts that long because of longevity and unfailing love are splendid people to me. It is an unparalleled thing to realize that the other is so important that you will compromise and keep doing it to maintain that bond that initially caused you to believe the other was worth spending the remainder of your life with them. I have people still ask me (which I find a bit stunning because I failed to maintain two marriages) what I believe it is that keeps people together. I think my answer has been fundamentally the same, but I think my response is a bit more articulate at this point. I think it is the underlying capability to remember you love someone beyond compare on the days you do not like them at all. That is the foundation of being able to compromise.

Today it is three years since Prince Rogers Nelson passed away. I remember first hearing his music. He was quite the notable artist for a number of reasons, but his popularity (at least while alive) was probably at its height when I was in seminary in the mid-eighties. The fact that I was in St. Paul and he was from the Twin Cities area made it possible to run into him in spite of his sort of exclusivity (in a reclusive manner). I remember being in downtown Minneapolis one day having lunch and he was coming out of the restaurant as I was going in. His white Rolls Royce with the purple top was there waiting for him. I remember being shocked by how slight his stature was, especially when his music persona was so incredibly large.  It is with that memory in mind that I offer the following video. Somehow that too leisurely part of the song fits my idea of customer service. To all who are managing the end of the semester, I wish you the best as you finish up. To both colleagues and students, hang in there and keep working at it.

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

REO, Starship, Fleetwood Mac and Memories of Holling Hall

Hello from my front porch,

It is a beautiful day in North central PA, and after a morning of meetings with students and grading, I am taking a break to enjoy my porch. I did some initial flower planting of Hyacinth bulbs, and now I am waiting for the UPS delivery and for a former student to stop by. One of the requirements of this new issue with my liver is to continue to lose the necessary weight to provide my liver the best chance to regenerate. That means cutting back to approximately 1,700 calories a day and walking at least five miles a day. I am working on the calorie plan, mostly to understand what consuming only 1,700 calories entails, and then figuring out creative and tasty ways to do that. The walking element is not difficult, but it is time consuming. However, after about three hours of grading this morning, I did manage to get 7 laps in around the quad. That is almost 2 miles. With the other walking today, my trusty phone tells me I am up to almost 3 miles for the day. I really quite enjoy a rather pedestrian sort of walk. I do not try to speed walk or set any sort of amazing distance; it is to manage a steady and comfortable pace. Most of the time I wear my Wi-Fi earbuds in an just enjoy whatever I choose to listen to, be it classical, folk or classic rock, and even at times country. If it were not for the grey hair and white beard, I might pass for one of the students and their technologically saturated lives (at least I can hope that is the case). Over the years, I have added a pretty wide variety to my repertoire of listening. I have give Sarah (Hansen ) Jacobs a great deal of credit for my interest and continuing love for classical music. I remember as a sophomore in college how she would give me clues about a particular piece as push me to see who it was by understanding the style and characteristics of a particular piece. She would provide hints. I remember her offering me classical Greek passages also as I was struggling my way through Dr. Hutton’s first semester Greek course. She was a sort of precursor to Dr. Brandes and my music history classes and certainly a bit more personable and enjoyable that the Greek class. Over the past few days, spring as definitely sprung here and I have been working in my yard. BTW, it is a couple days later since I began this post. Today was a day of cleaning, moving things, rearranging, and organizing. I need to be much more intentional about this. As I cleaned and organized, the duplicates I found of things are beyond what one might imagine, and there is a level of ridiculousness in all of that the defies logic in more ways that I probably have fingers and toes.

One of the things that happened on my walk the other day was a playlist that sort of warped me back in my first couple of years as a student at Dana College. I knew of REO Speedwagon before I was a student there, and certainly owned their two albums, You Can Tune a Piano and Hi Infidelity. I remember two students my sophomore year who lived on the floor where I was an RA. Bret O’Reilly and Frank Polich. Frankie, as he liked to be called was a serious Kevin Cronin fan (one of the latter lead vocalists for REO). That group and the others in the title were part of my life as a student at Dana. I can remember my junior year roommate playing “Time for Me to Fly” out the window of my third floor Holling Room. I will not offer the reason, and while I found it amusing at the time, it was a bit brutal. To this day, however, my favorite REO tune is “Ridin’ the Storm Out.” A second song that morning kept me right back at that little Lutheran liberal arts college. Jefferson Starship (and yes, originally Airplane, but definitely more pop than the Airplane was) certainly covered a wide-range of genres from the psychedelic of the 60s, when Grace Slick epitomized the Haight-Ashbury scene, to their more pop sound of “Jane,” which was a song without either Slick or Balin. I think “Jane” managed to keep the group relevant as things were changing. Slick would come back and iterations of the band continue even now, but the 1985 release of “We Built this City,” provided the sound of Starship to an entire new generation of listeners. The next song to be offered as I walked the quad was from the group Fleetwood Mac and their Rumours album. I did not realize that was their 11th album, but I listened to this album so many times that first year I was on 4th Holling Hall with my roommate, Peter Bonde. I did not know nearly as much as I do now, but I sure did appreciate their music. To this day, I find Lindsey Buckingham’s guitar picking astounding. When I later learned about the drama in the group, it was even more (and still is) phenomenal they could put out such a significant group of songs with the stress they had to be living in. Perhaps that album epitomizes just how much passion their is in good music. Passion is such an important part of our humanity.

Music has this unparalleled ability to transport us back to the place we were when we first heard the song. As I listened to these songs, I remember names and faces, and ironically since I posted some of them have commented on the FB page, one of the places I posted this. What this means is I am editing. It seems again, I have done some of my best proofreading after posting. I remembered floor shirts and intramural football games; and I remembered how music was my saving grace as I worried about whether or not I was smart enough to be in college. I remember playing my guitar for weekly campfires for Campus Ministry teams. I remember being blessed to have friends who still reach out. I remember David, a person on our floor from Kansas who would hang out in our room as he tried to get his bearing about him in being a college student. I was so fortunate to have a roommate that first year even though I thought I did not want one. I remember being welcomed by some wonderful people. The memories of travels to Wahoo, NE for a concert, a 25th birthday party thrown in my honor and classmates who stunned me in so many ways. I am still blessed to be friends with and to maintain those friendships through various social media outlets as noted, but those friendships are so much more dear to me now.  I wish at times I could go back to that little campus on the hill. That is an entirely different story for another time. One of the nice things about being able to remember Dana for what it was is how the people there honestly changed lives, and that was not only because of the outstanding faculty, but it was the incredible classmates I had in my classes. There were so many capable and intelligent people in that little college. Yet, music was central to most of it. Between my stereo, my love for music that was more complicated than a 1/5/4 chord progression (and groups like Kansas would fall into that category), and then my opportunity to sing in the college choir for Dr. Paul Neve was something that affected my appreciation for the diversity and complexity of music in so many ways I had never known. I remember sitting in the cathedral in Lubeck as I traveled during an interim and listening to the music of Buxtehude. This experience was heightened and more profound because Buxtehude had lived in that very town, the town known as the Queen of the Hanseatic  League, something that occurred with the rebuilding of Lubeck in the middle of the 12th century. I remember how I learned to appreciate Scandinavian chorale music from my time at Dana. It is something that gives me both pause and comfort to this day. I remember some incredible voices from my classmates from little towns like Fairbury, NE or from little Iowa towns. What I realize is the three semester class that was the highlight of my college career, and also the bane of the existence of others, was my Humanities course. What it taught be was to synthesize the world in which I lived. That is still the case today. As a child of working class parents, and please know that I am grateful beyond words for those parents – particularly when they adopted me, I knew very little about art, classical music, poetry, literature, or world history before the 20th century. I knew about going to church, working hard, basic meat, potatoes, and carrots, and jello salad or things at church potluck dinners. I knew about bakeries and working in a bakery and working summer jobs. I was exposed to some music between Sioux City Children’s Choir and church choirs, but I had little idea about how I would ever manage to go to college. In fact, I remember a serious argument my mother and I had because of the cost and her lack of knowledge of said costs. Yet, to this day, music, and practically any genre, is basic to my daily existence.

As I think about the first couple of years at Dana, my living space was in Holling Hall. The first year I lived on Four-North, the home of the Raiders. The second year I was on Two-North, where I was an RA. That was an experience of all experiences and my third year, I was on Four-South until I transferred to the University of Iowa. My last year, I would come back to Dana and stated out in Holling again, but would move to Rasmussen Hall, which to this day, I know it was a difficult, but necessary decision. That semester in Rasmussen was perhaps one of the best times of my life. Studying Physiology and Anatomy with two floor mates and another young woman was outstanding for a history and humanities major. My RA saving my life, probably literally when another young man had a breakdown is still appreciated. Living on campus was an important part of daily life at Dana, and I believe integral to understanding the culture of that small campus. It was always a bit different being an older student, even though the age was not tremendously older. Yet in an exceptionally traditional Nebraska place, being 24 as a freshman was outside the ordinary. I think that is why music was so important to me. It kept me both grounded in my past, but living in the present. When I was a freshman, there was a Navy veteran on my floor. He introduced me to Jimmy Buffet and Moosehead beer. I appreciate Jimmy Buffet more than the Moosehead these days, but that is no big issue. At the time, I found Moosehead beer quite stunning. It was so much better than domestic swill. Today, I consider and remember Dana with a certain wistfulness. What I received there as a student and what students received for 125 years is no longer available. It is ironic as I write this some of the things I learned in my Art History lectures comes flooding back to me as the Notre Dame Cathedral is burning in Paris. I remember being in Paris in January of 1981 and seeing this magnificent structure. I remember learning about flying buttresses. What a tragedy this is. I am reminded of a smaller fire, but nonetheless devastating to those who were fortunate enough be in Old Main, the central architectural building on the campus when I was a student. There are so many important memories and experiences that shaped the person I have become personally, intellectually, and professionally. Yesterday, my father would have turned 104 years old. Hard to believe he has been gone for more than two decades, but much like the memories that I noted here, it is as if he lives on also. When people tell me I am a lot like him that is a profound compliment.

As I move forward through another day, it is hard to tell what will spark a memory of the times that formed and molded the person I have become. What I know is I am the product of so many things: music, people, places, experiences. Each have contributed to the tapestry known as Michael Martin. Hard to tell what will create yet another design or layer. Yet, I am blessed to have time to create yet something that is a blend of the old and the new. That is the way things work. For the time being, here is a song from the past, and a shout out to my Navy classmate from my time at Dana. The picture above is from today and speaks to the fact that nothing is spared from the elements that create the world in which we live: fire, water, air, and earth. To those who have reached out in response to our mutual Dana memories . . .  to my Dyak friends, my college choir friends, and those who mean more than I have appropriate words, thank you!! Seems apropos that Jimmy Buffet grace this post, so to my Navy classmate, thanks for the introduction.

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Running, Jogging or Limping toward Spring Break

IMG_1616Hello from my office,

It is about 8:30 and I still have some work to finish up, especially some recommendations I have promised students by the morning, so that will be my next task. I have been meeting with students or in class most of the day. I do not have classes on Thursdays and because of conferences this week (over 40 of them), I have canceled Friday’s Foundations classes. So, I am effectively done teaching until after Spring break. When I was in college, I never went on a Spring Break excursion. There are two reasons for that: first, I was usually on choir tour when I was at Dana College; and second, even when I was at the University of Iowa my junior year, while there was no choir tour, I worked. I was not a student who either had the money nor someone to foot the bill for me to find my way to a Revenge of the Nerds II or some other __________ (you fill in the blank) style of a Spring Break extravaganza. Even now, I plan to stay here in Bloomsburg for the most part and work. I have three significant projects to get off my plate as well as get all my grading caught up. It will certainly be a working break, and I am okay with that. I do want to have the end of the semester go as well as possible for both sides of that “blank-stare-equation”.

It has been a long day and I have been chugging Gatorade like it is going out of style. Dehydration is a significant issue for me and it has certainly reared its ugly head in the last 24 hours. It is so frustrating to continually battle some of this, but more importantly, I am here to battle, so this is not a complaint (at least not completely) and I am certainly not lamenting my life because I am so fortunate to have the life I do. However, what I am sure of is that, not all that different from my students, is I am tired and therefore, appreciate any sort of respite from the usual requirements of a week.

As I met with my students today, I was reminded of how diverse they are, and this is not a comment about their ethnicity. It is about their educational backgrounds (and more specifically, their writing history). I have some unbelievably talented students and strong writers in all of my classes. I have some exceptionally intelligent students who are not in my classes at the moment, nor have they been in the past, but they are phenomenal students. They value the opportunity they have here at Bloomsburg and they are doing everything they can in their power to “claim their education”. I think one of the best things I have ever been fortunate enough to read about being in the academy is this particular article. It is one based on the address Adrienne Rich gave at Rutgers University some time ago. Rather than seeing the university as the next educational mill, she argues that if one is to “claim” this opportunity to be educated, he or she must consider that “they are joining a scholarly community” (Claiming an Education 2). Certainly some of the students I met during the last three days have understood or latched onto that concept. It is difficult to maintain focus on it all of the time, and I for one certainly know that. However, I think it is one of the most fundamental concepts someone can have if they are going to invest wisely in their education.

I wonder at times if what I do really matters, and I am not searching nor am I fishing for compliments, so please do not go there. It is when I feel like everything I have said has somehow fallen on deaf ears or even more sadly that the student is almost defiant (and yes, I mean that word versus a misspelling of definite), almost daring me to make them learn, or write more effectively, or somehow believe that writing has value. I had some of that tonight and it was difficult for me to maintain a sense of decorum, but I did. I am reminded of my former pastor once telling me that I would do well in college unless I just F$!#@*ed off. What I know now is he was correct. His name was Fred Peters and he was my pastor when I first got out of the service. I think he kicked my back end harder than my father ever did, and I needed it at that point.

So what actually lit the fire under my proverbial ass, and got me to do my work? It was another amazing professor (actually two of them) at Dana College. Dr. John W. Nielsen, the director of the Humanities program, and Dr. Richard S. Jorgensen, my history advisor, together taught me to love learning. What an amazing gift they provided me. I think that up until then I merely did what was expected, if even that. I was content to be what my father noted with disdain “average”. I did not really know what I was capable of, even in spite of my work in the service that had been pretty good work. The demons of my background kept me from believing that I had much to offer. Those demons might not be as powerful now, but they are still, nevertheless, demons. I think there were two specific events in my sophomore year at Dana that fundamentally changed my life. The first was the opportunity given to me by Harold and Dorothy Wright when they paid my way to go to Europe with Dr. Nielsen in January of 1981. The second was the entire Humanities program at Dana College, which was a three semester course. I learned “how to learn”. Between walking the streets with Dr. Nielsen in Copenhagen, Rome, Florence, Barcelona, Aachen, Frankfort, Garmisch Partenkirken, or Paris and listening to his wise counsel in the first class coaches on the eRail, I found that learning was being a sponge. It was soaking up everything possible. The humanities course had prepared me to walk through that European history book. I think perhaps the other thing that changed my life was learning another language. I am still working on adding more. I love to hear other languages and I am so enamored by how language works and how it reveals who we are. I am so envious of those who speak three or four languages fluently. So it is time to learn some more.

That is part of my plan for the next months. I am going to learn Spanish. I am going to make myself be able to at least communicate and be able to comprehend. I want to learn the grammar and the patterns and the vocabulary. It is my hope that I will not sound completely like a “gringo” as I work on my pronunciation. If I do, I am sure someone will let me know. Well, it is time to get back to the recommendations. If you are going somewhere fun during break, have a great time and please do not let me know.

Thanks for reading as always.

Dr. Martin