Trying to Make Sense of Our Illogical World

Hello after a quick trip to Cape Charles and “Life on the Half Shell” and now weeks beyond,

It is the end of the Bloomburg Fair week and Anton has had the week off of school. He has become a fair aficionado, but I guess that is something he can always take back to Denmark. It is quite amazing to me that we have finished 5 weeks of classes already and in a day or so, Anton has been here a month. The reality and accuracy of my father’s words are once again ringing in my ears. If you think time is going faster, you have no idea of what it will be when you are my age . . . and he was about the age I currently am. He is accurate that it surely seems to go by more quickly, and what I thought being he was so old when he offered those pearls of wisdom, as he was so apt to do, does not seem so old. Anton has learned an important lesson about the conservative nature of rural Pennsylvania this past week (albeit a bit surprising in terms of the degree of cluelessness of the pettifoggers he was subjected to). While walking around the fair, some of his CC classmates decided to inquire if he were Democrat or Republican. He wisely, and accurately responded, “I am Danish.” Unfazed by such an answer, they inquired a second time, “Yes, but are you Democrat or Republican?” He again tried to help them understand,  “I am Danish, and we do not have the same political system as you have here in the states.” This mystified our budding conservative politicians, and so they once again asked, “But are you a Republican?” He noted, as he recounted the episode, that he realized as a visitor to the states he did not want to argue or create a problem so he simply tried to explain Danish politics. When he noted that Denmark is a country of Democratic Socialism, our young Central Pennsylvania Republicans decided attacking him as a socialist was the thing to do. He recounted that for the next hour they decided it was their job to convert our Danish visitor to the incredibly wonderful ideals of our current Republican party. Again, Anton noted, he did not want to create difficulties, so he listened and listened, and listened . . . and got a painful lesson in the current state of American politics. To be fair to his classmates, I am not surprised they did not understand him, I am not sure that many adults would. More importantly, I learned how astute and thoughtful, how polite and intelligent my Danish, surrogate-son-for-a-year is. Anton notes regularly that he realizes that Denmark is a small country and most people do not really understand where he is from. Part of the reason I chose Denmark as a possibility was because I have been to Denmark, because I attended Dana College, and because I have a Scandinavian heritage (Norwegian, but still Scandinavian).

Since I last blogged, which was a blog that took more than a month to complete, about half that time has passed, but it seems that my life has been consumed by school and a 16 year old. Having Anton there to keep me in line has been a busy and rewarding time. He forces me to consider something besides work, and that is not a bad thing. Another difference is that I have been required, in a way mandated, to be more efficient and effective. I know this next week will push me to see how well I have started to integrate those differences as I have a ton of grading and commenting to do, an office to move again (because of a moisture and mold issue) and simply managing all the other things that are life. My alarm now goes off at 5:45 a.m. and breakfast is on the table at 6:15 a.m. One of the unexpected side effects is that I am also eating a healthy breakfast in the morning and it seems to keep my day on track and my mornings more positive. Managing things around the house, I find myself more focused and much more organized. Some things need to happen yet this weekend, but all in all, there is a sort of two thumbs-up atmosphere around the acre. Undoubtedly, I am relearning the need to prioritize and as I write this I am finding I can do this. During the first weeks that Anton has graced my home and me with his presence, I have learned so much. Anton demonstrates an incredible intelligence and insight, but he does it with a sense of inquisitiveness and grace. His smile is affable and his willingness to help is always present. One of the things I find most enjoyable is Anton’s ability to wonder about things. He understands the world and business in ways that belie his age (of almost 17). Then there is other part of being that age and male, or so it seems in my conversations with others. I can ask things and he is so cooperative, but then he seems to completely forget there was any conversation pertaining to said issue. As I have spoken with colleagues and even the parents of his friends, I am finding he is completely normal.

I am trying to remember if I was like that. If so . . . to my parents, I am so sorry. No wonder you might have been exasperated at times. I believe it probably more true of my time than I would like to admit. I know if my grandmother wanted it I was pretty attentive, but otherwise, I was a bit remiss in my work ethic. The other night we had a conversation and I heard again the interrogative, why are you so logical about things? I do not know that I was always that way, but the more I think of it, perhaps it has always been the case. I remember as a small child trying to make sense of what it meant to be adopted and wondering why I was told some of the things I was. I remember asking more than simply why about something. I have this insatiable need to understand. I am not sure how that developed or from where it came, but it has continued even until today. I am always asking why something is not possible. I know for some of my supervisors or for some in the administration, I create some consternation from time to time. Yet, that is not my intention; rather I am trying to see how we can get things accomplished more effectively or efficiently. I am trying to understand why so many are content to not really understand the why or the possibilities. During the fall, my students have made Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities real-life for me. They are the best and the worst of times, or so it seems. I think what amazes me most is how they react to the need to put in more effort, to think more critically, or merely even to do their work and follow directions. Yesterday it was something as simple as please cut up your paper in paragraphs and put it into an envelop and bring it to class. There was a method to putting it in an envelop and not having their peers see the paper in advance, but I ended up getting 9 additional envelops for one of my sections. From time to time this semester, be it at school or in the daily news, I find myself struggling to make sense of the things that seem to happen on a regular basis. Have we become so insensitive, so narcissistic, so selfish that we cannot begin to imagine the needs or perspective of the other?

Over the last couple weeks I have been a bit obsessed with either grading or reading (and making breakfast and dinner for a 16 year old). I have four books all looking at the rhetoric of racism  . . .  or the history and the rhetoric we use to further the racial tendencies that most of us refuse to acknowledge. When I raised the possibility of white privilege the other day, the response or look from some made it hard to ignore that some believe we are in a time of what some might call reverse discrimination. What I find interesting is they are not mutually exclusive, at least in my mind. I believe there is truth to the issues of age, gender, or religious discrimination. I believe there is also white privilege at the same time. I can both benefit and be harmed by the reality of what happens in our country. What I have found as I have aged is I am much more attuned to the hardships that others face through no fault of their own. When I see a black or brown student being viewed as suspect merely because of their color in a store it hurts me. When I see a person struggle because they are an American citizen, but they are bilingual because of their background and, in spite of their hard work still struggle with their language skills, I am embarrassed that we do so little to support them in their working to achieve their own American dream. I remember my great-aunt saying her prayers in Norwegian when I was small. I remember listening to other languages from my predecessor generational relatives because they were bilingual. Perhaps I did not know they struggled, but it seemed we were much more gracious then. I know there was discrimination, but I was taught to be tolerant. And contrary to your thoughts that I might have been the product of an academic/liberal upbringing, I was a blue collar kid from NW Iowa. I grew up in one of the poorer sections of town, at least economically more depressed than some because I did not live north of 18th Street; I did not live in Morningside, the Northside, or Indian Hills as it was called. I did not live in the Country Club area, but what I know is I had stability and amazing friends. I grew up with a family where my father worked 7/12s and often 8 hours away and I saw him perhaps 36 hours very six weeks or so for three or four years. Nevertheless, I grew up working part-time jobs when I turned 16 and I was not given everything I wanted.

Perhaps what I realize again is my father was also a logical person. You did what was necessary to make it work and you treated others as you wanted to be treated. My father believed in a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. He told me more than once there are no free lunches in the world and he worked hard. I think I have acquired those traits from him. As I listen to the people who occupy the inner sanctum of Washington, those inside the beltway, I find myself more and more appalled by their behavior and the rancor and vitriol that seems to be the rule rather than the exception. I believe they perhaps epitomize the selfishness and narcissism I referred to earlier. There is nothing logical about the way they behave. What is logical would be our decision to throw them out with the implementation of term-limits. This is not the first time I have argued this, and it will probably not be the last. Well, I could go on, but I have worked on this post for far too long without its completion, so I will leave you with this as we are headed into Halloween, which is also the anniversary of the reformation and Luther’s posting of the 95 thesis on the castle door at Wittenburg. What if we could come together like this video? Is it logical, perhaps not, but it should be.

Thanks 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

When Do You Actually Work?

Good morning from Kraków (at around 10:15 a.m.).

Because I travel, because some believe it is merely a vacation, because a former administrator argued I was only contracted to work 17 hours a week, I am often asked both when as well as how much (which is more accurately about daily frequency) do I work? I thought about my colleague who had spent the past few weeks in the Shenandoah Valley working on his poetry. As he walked around, as he took pictures, and as he listened to everything around him he was pondering his poetry and how he might put to verse what he saw, imagined, thought, or felt. Is that working? Is that being involved in his required area of scholarship? It most certainly is; it is part of his preparatory work. Yet, can he claim that as work time? For some, the question might be, more accurately, should he? For those, including me, who do not understand his writing process, I am not sure we are qualified to answer that question. This is part of the complexity of being an academic. Academe is not an office job; it is not a classroom job; in fact, I am not sure it should be classified as a job at all. I realize the necessity is being in a position and all the things that entails, from daily expectations to being paid. Yet what I continue to realize more profoundly than when I first stated this (and got reamed and never forgiven for), it is a lifestyle. It is not what I do, it is whom I am. The reality is the position and its influence on what happens in my life is never more than a thought away. Before you think I am lamenting this, please don’t and consider what it means to actually believe what I do for 50 or 70, or in a single class a week, which is more minutes than I like to write numerically, influences someone for possibly as long as they will live. Does that happen for every student? Not even close to reality, but are some students affected by what I have done long after final grades are submitted? Yes . . . And I know this because they have been kind enough to bless me with their words long after the class is finished. One such young person then (not as young now) reached out by text recently and told me what I did 15 years ago in Wisconsin was foundational in getting her to this point in her life. She was completing a Master’s degree. Not all the paychecks in the world could mean more to me than her text.

This post took a bit of a backseat to one that sort of came out of nowhere and then I tried to respond to all the people who took the time to respond to that particular post. It is Friday, the day after Independence Day, and our official Polish course began today. For couple of you, this will come as no shock, but the other day, as I was walking up Grodzka Street, one of the main streets from the City Center to Wawel Castle, I ran into the young man who has been our tour guide for the Bloomsburg students the last number of years. We were surprised on one hand to see each other, but overall perhaps not. Today when I got to class, he is one of my instructors. In addition, one of my two instructors from last year is my instructor again. What that means is I know both of my instructors, and ironically, have had then both on Facebook. This is probably a blessing and a curse because there is an elevated desire to do even better in the course than I did last year. It is also a bit advanced, so today was a bit overwhelming, and we do have class in the morning, on Saturday, but I do plan to work hard the entire weekend. In addition there are a couple of students who were in the opposite section last summer in the section I am in this summer. So there is a history there too.  Is this work related. I will take the easy road first; I could agree that it is not really such. I can make the argument that I have decided to try to teach in Poland and that the preparation to do so is entirely of my doing (and I know that argument will fly or resonate with some). However, on the other hand, I can wholeheartedly assert, as was done and scholarship demonstrates, that technical writing and communication is an international discipline that crosses boundaries and cultures. In addition, the continued growth of international companies and the need for intercultural communication makes such courses even  more valuable. Therefore, the invitation offered from UJ allows me to be involved in a way that is not typical at my university. It allows me to bring something back to my future students and enhances my teaching as a professor with an advanced degree in Technical Communication. As that is the case, all of the time I spend learning Polish, the time I use to better acclimate myself to Krakow is an investment in my teaching. Some of you will argue, nice justification, but when I am teaching here and working with my colleague in Bloomsburg and we are working with students back and forth in both universities, we are also preparing our students for a world that defies the nationalism that is presently occurring in both countries and helps them bridge bigger gaps, which again have incredible consequences.

In addition, while I am here, I have worked on a revise and resubmit for a book chapter, I am trying to finish a book for a book review, and I am working on an incomplete (online) for a student in New Jersey, trying to help them finish their degree. Therefore, there is always something that can be worked on. There is something that can be considered and even as I read and write, I am constantly considering how a particular news article is rhetorical and can be used in my rhetoric class, or how things that are argued about the church, scripture, or religion might fit into my Bible as Literature course. I do not count that as work time unless it specifically finds its way into a course and then I have to do additional work and thought in a preparatory manner before the class, but as some indication that at least initial thought occurs regularly, in the past week, I have emailed seven different articles to myself that I believe I can use either immediately in my summer class or into the fall. As I noted above, at least tangentially, I once got myself in some deep trouble when I noted that getting a doctoral degree was a “different animal” in terms of what it did. This was taken as disparaging someone’s degree in nursing, which if you know me, would be the furthest thing from true that one could fathom, but nonetheless, that comment came back to haunt me more times than I care to count. What I meant in it being a different animal was that it became my life, it was much more than what I would do, it would be what I become or who I am. Those that have been around me in the last year or two are acquainted with a t-shirt I love to wear. It simply states: Silently correcting your grammar. My students do not appreciate the shirt all that much, and a person for whom I have the utmost respect and appreciation for more reasons that can be enumerated noted the other day in a message “if I proofread the grammar in the post, I would get thunder-punched.” I have never heard that term, but I am sure I do not want that to happen. It is true that I read things written or tweeted by others, and I shudder. I listen to people’s speech from time to time and I am mortified by what I hear. I guess all of those sentence drills and diagramming  for Ms. Atwood, the later writing when I was in high school for Miss Barker, and I note the Miss intentionally because she was elderly (at least to high school students) and she had never married, but was quite proud of that fact. Yet, even now, I understand perhaps better than ever before the dynamism of language and how it reflects our culture, our thought processes, our values, and even our history. That is, in part, why I am here learning Polish.

So . . . when do I work? Regularly, often daily, but at the same time I find time to enjoy the world in which I live and, yes, travel. Generally I enjoy the travel. I appreciate what I learn just by watching and listening to people. I met an amazing couple at lunch (called Obiad here, and it is the large meal of the day) from Australia. While at one point, down under was on my bucket list, not so much anymore. However, we had the most interesting chat about the world in which we live. We spoke about economics, politics, which is almost a given when people find out I am an American and yes, for the rather obvious reason, and we talked about rich and poor. It was actually, an enlightening discussion and made dinner at the Hungarian Restaurant I chose for my daily adventure all that more enjoyable. By the way, Orsika, I have a Hungarian man from Budapest in my section also. He does not speak English, but speaks Czech and Slovak, so that will be interesting. His name is Gabor. Even discussions like that can find their way back into my classes at times. Sometime during the coming weeks, I do hope to have lunch with the director of the school because I have research ideas with her that I need to begin to ponder now if we are to work toward something a little more than a year away. I am currently in class about four hours a day, but I have scheduled and paid for extra time to work more effectively and efficiently on my pronunciation and listening skills. I can read and even write somewhat reasonably, but the speaking and hearing is more difficult for me. That does not count the 5 or more hours a day I will probably study and try to work diligently to do as well as I can in this course. I should also work on my Fall courses and updating and working on the course delivery tool elements of the courses. The more I get done in the next few weeks, the more reasonable my life will be when I returned in Pennsylvania in August. So . . . when do I work? regularly. When do I try to enjoy life? regularly. When do I need to have my head into the things my position as a college professor requires? regularly. I think you see the pattern. I do not really take a day off: I take hours off. I concentrate on other things, but my life as a professor is exactly that: it is – it is who I am and what motivates me. It is actually an idea position for the person I am, and yet I know that is, in part, why the day I had earlier this week occurred. Seldom do I really take time for me, just me. Seldom do I take the time to rejuvenate and completely walk away from the position. That is not necessarily a positive thing.

My students and others have called me a workaholic. Those who have cared deeply for me have questioned if I ever put work away. As I can see, even in my writing here, I do not. I understand the ramifications of this life all too well at this point of my life. I understand the being married to the job, if you will. Those are all things I need to ponder and try to come to terms with. That too was part of my struggle earlier this week. While I am sure I am in a much more positive space than Tuesday, this is most definitely a work in progress. For the moment, however, I am alone in my little Air BnB. I am 4,400 miles from home in what has become another home. I have cooked dinner and I am here with my computer and my books. The weekend will be focused upon and consumed by studiowanie języka polskiego. Am I working, I certainly am, but you can decide if it is really work. Hmmmmm  Polish line dancing (Kelli Ritter: this is for you.)

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

What to Do: the Sharp Side of the Doubled-Edged Sword

Hello on my first full weekend in Krakow,

Yesterday (Friday, the 28th) was the first day that I have not had to some home and jump in a shower from the heat since I arrived in Europe. Last week I was in Moscow on the hottest day they had on record in June since 1956. This week there have been brutally warm days here (37-39 degrees, which is pushing and over 100). Yesterday it was about 24 C, which is about 75, and it was almost cool. What we are hearing is the coming week will be very hot (and I am hoping we do not get to Paris temperatures or that our highways our melting like the autobahn in Germany. Being about 5 hours ahead of the Eastern part of the United States, I listened this morning to President Trump’s post-G20 summit statement. The only adjectives I have are incredible (and not in a sense of admiration) and embarrassing. The (in)ability to develop a cohesive sense of what is relevant and how to structure his speaking would cause him to fail most first year public speaking courses. His lack of communicative skill, particularly on the world stage, forces me to ask where are his writers? Is it merely he believes he can do without them? I simply do not understand. For me this is more about respect for the Office of the President than anything else. I have noted on more than one occasion, I do not believe him to be a stupid man, but arrogance can cause one to act in a stupid manner. There is the beginning of my reference to the title of this post. Power is certainly a double-edged sword and money the same. I believe Donald Trump is an unparalleled example and study of both. However, I do not want to go down that path too far. This blog is more my own admission of when I have had to face the dual-consequence of that double-edged sword.

There are people in my life, some who were of incredible significance, and, that for a variety of reasons, have moved beyond my life. There are times that I find myself believing it is a normal ebb and flow of things, and then they are those moments when I find that there is a certain accountability, where I am sort of convicted or found guilty of messing it all up. One of those individuals surfaced in the past 24 hours. It has caused me some consternation, but it is something that also causes me to ponder and try to determine how I should (or should not) respond. Certainly the psychology of all of this is complex. There is the need to make others happy, which has always been a blessing and a curse to me. There is my need to fix things, which, while I have made strong progress in managing, still haunts me at times. There is looking at the infamous what is my responsibility and what is outside of my control aspects of this situation. Regardless, there is a certain sense of loss (and this was a substantial loss actually) in what has transpired in the last about 4+ years. That has included the passing of two who were dear to me, but I was not included in that, but I understand those decisions.

Taking a chance on any relationship is a gamble, but it is a gamble that we fundamentally need to make as humans. We are social creatures (I am hearing the Writing with Sources quote in my head as I write this) and certainly the older I become the more I appreciate my solitude. That singleness is another of the most complex double-edged swords I experience. There would be no way I could be in Poland for six weeks because I am planning for six months, or at the very least it would be an exponentially larger undertaking. It would be often beyond what I would want to hope to manage had Susan and I have had children some 35 years ago when I was first married. Instead of feeling single, there are times I feel selfish. I am more set in my ways than I have realized. The struggle between being able to navigate my solitude, which allows incredible flexibility, and wishing there was another is something I have not figured out. That failure was brought to bear much more than I planned (not that one actually plans such things) this past spring. The FB message I received regarding my biological mother’s passing some time ago or the LinkedIn response from another relative in the past 24 hours seem to accentuate that malady only more deeply. I did note it as a malady. I certainly have some ownership in the fracturing of this relationships. Often that splintering is because I was (or am) incapable of managing some situation that has occurred and I do not know what to do. As a consequence, I retreat and avoid, afraid to cause pain (causing the very thing I tried to avoid). There are times I have tried to thoughtfully explain the reason I myself am hurt or disappointed, but that also resulted in some significant disintegration of the relationship. There are two side of attempting to manage (one being not so much), but the sword seems to cut from both sides. The more profound consequence has been that I need to control more than what might be either reasonable or healthy. It seems to be a pattern of late, and perhaps it is I am tried of feeling a bit used, be it changing schedules, expectations, or anything else for that matter. If I made a mistake in trying to help someone out, it seems rather than seeing that I tried to do something above and beyond, there is only an argument that I could have done it even better.

I have learned the art of appearing open and inviting when perhaps I am not nearly as transparent as it might seem. I have somewhat perfected the ability to provide insight while able to conceal. I think much of this might be a result of my health. That reality has become more apparent through the writing and the research that has been the focus of my life this past year. To walk a fine line of desiring to be normal with an abnormal GI tract is another sword I have tried to straddle certainly for the last 25 years. If one considers the image of straddling a sword, I think the probable result is self-evident. The pain has been palpable more times than I have fingers or toes. Over the past year, and particularly in the last few months I have been provided an opportunity to try to respond to my history with Crohn’s in a new way.

Some are aware of this new possibility and I am both excited and humbled by this chance to make a difference for others afflicted with some form of an IBD. Through more than half of my life I have struggled with a disease that is something that is related to our bathroom habits. While it is a disease of the gastrointestinal tract, certainly the one end of that alimentary canal is why we learn potty training as a child. It is something we are proud of at that point, but we really would rather not discuss again. There is the double-edged sword once again. What I know now is I was probably born with Crohn’s but its symptoms were not apparent to me as I was an elementary/high school student. It was not until January of 1984, shortly after my college graduation and my first year in seminary, the tell-tale blood in the stool would alarm and alert me to something much more insidious. Through 11 abdominal surgeries and countless other complications because of those surgeries, I have battled a number of things, and continue to find out even more consequences of the standard IBD treatment of the 1990s. Sometimes, perhaps more often than realized, we are placed in situations where the unexpected can occur. This was the case when I was contacted by a person from the Geisinger Foundation. I am still not completely sure how they found my name (other than I am in their patient database), but through conversations and meetings with both the foundation representative and eventually the former chair of Gastroenterology and others, including a team from the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation and the Associate Dean of the Geisinger School of Medicine, I have been appointed as an Adjunct Associate Professor in the area of Gastroenterology at the medical school. That is not anything I ever expected, but I have been asked to give the opening lecture and address at the Grand Medical Rounds for the medical students and faculty in September. In addition, I am working to build contacts with medical students and faculty to do research and writing into the importance of patient care for those who are diagnosed or suffering from some form of an Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).

That was something not even on the radar six months ago and again demonstrates the other side of what can happen from something that initially seems to have any positive consequence. As I have noted at times, and much of my own scholarship this past year has focused on living as an ostomate, I seldom imagined an efficacious outcome to all of the pain and embarrassment being a Crohn’s sufferer has placed on me. Again, as I once wrote, this is not me wallowing in a sort of self-pity, but rather the reality of wondering why or how someone would want to be involved with a person who is subject to what I call “ostomy moments.” I know that means I am focused on the 4 inch square wafer and the accompanying pouch, but there are times that it is difficult to do something other. It is something as a single person for the great majority of 18 years kept me from dealing with this complication. Even in spite of what some might say, I find overcoming the struggle required if I were to be in a relationship frightening at the least and mortifying perhaps at the most. While I can manage much of what this disease has done, being a single person and believing that another is willing to see beyond all of this is beyond difficult. That being said, I have made progress, but it is not a continual forward projection.

Much of what I am studying and considering at the present moment has to do with image, communicating image, and gender. The visual rhetoric of being chronically ill, which is what any IBD is because it is not curable, is complicated. Many of noted, I do not look ill. I do not act ill; and I certainly do not want to be seen as or considered to be an ill person . . .  and yet this wearable technology on my side is there because without it I would not be. The double-edged sword of being a person who was one of the first to do a surgery called an ileo-anal J-pouch anastomosis meant I was at the cutting edge (literally) of colo-rectal surgery. I had one of the best surgeons in the country to work with, and traveled from Pennsylvania to Arizona to work with him. The medication they used at that point was known to have serious complications and this was to give me a new lease on life, but it did not quite work out that way. Now 30 years later, I have different complications, all the consequence of what we knew and did then. Again, I do not feel badly, but I am a walking reality of that double-edged sword. The point is we all of these situations, but how we manage them is what matters. In my personal life, at least in some aspects as noted above, I do not always manage the best. Ironically in my health stuff, I believe for the most part I have. I am still learning, but that is the point of life, or so it seems – continually learning and growing. As I try to finish this I am reminded of the goodness I have been offered. As I write this, I am not sitting at home and moping or lamenting my life, I am blessed by it. I am in a beautiful place with beautiful people. What the summer will yet bring, I do not know, but I am glad to be here living it. I offer this video of an incredible artist. who lived the double-edged life of fame and talent, and unfortunately lost that battle. This song, which is a cover, was just released, but the beauty of the voice is something of which I will never grow tired. Enjoy.

Indeed, loving and moving beyond is worth the effort. Thanks for always as reading.

Michael

When Times Were Simpler . . .

Hello on a bitterly cold night,

As I lie here in my warm bed and my house is heated to a comfortable temperature, it is impossible for me to get the news headlines and stories out of my consciousness of people throughout the country who stand a real chance of freezing to death because they have no where to go to stay out of the cold. Then there are those who are indoors, but perhaps have little insulation and even less money for heat. The university has closed tomorrow because of the cold, requiring only essential workers to show up, keeping heat and other essential services available as students are still on campus and buildings and such need to be heated. As I crawled into bed I could hear the wind and I could actually feel the cold in the walls of my house (welcome to an old farm house). I have certainly done things to the house to manage some of that 1905 plaster and draftiness, but there are still issues. I have felt like it I was transported back to Wisconsin, Minnesota, or some of the previous climes in which you needed appropriate clothing and a hearty breakfast before heading out. Yes, it seemed that even though I survived that sort of cold, it was not nearly as dangerous, and I did not read headlines like I did this morning that a University of Iowa student died in that cold. Those things hit close to home for me. I was a student there and I have a great niece who attends there now. It is not some far away place (well it is in terms of distance at the moment), but it is a place I have walked around, a place I know all so well. News stories note the air temperature in Iowa City was about -21 at the time the student was found and the wind chill was -55. What a tragic ending for a student, a family and a community. I remember frost on the insides of windows when I was in the Upper Peninsula. I remember playing in the snow when it was very cold, or at least it seemed cold. Was it that I did not understand the complexity of that cold as a small boy? I remember driving across South Dakota and Minnesota in whiteout conditions and being a passenger in car on Eastbound I90 when the driver of the car slammed into the back of another car that just plain stopped in the lane of traffic because of visibility. Maybe it was I felt more invincible then. Maybe I have gotten a wee bit wiser in my older age.

Yesterday as I sat in my office, at one moment I looked out the window and it was cold and windy, but bright and beautiful. In less than five minutes it was snowing so hard and the wind was blowing just as hard and I could barely see outside the window. It was a crazy day and as I had to walk across campus, depending on the direction, there were certainly some marked changes in how difficult and painful that walk was. I remember cold and wind again as a child, growing up in the upper Midwest, we know about negative temperatures and wind chills. Some of the places I have lived since have somewhat typical wind chills of -35, which on a January morning is not uncommon. Where I went to graduate school, the average winter snowfall is 270 inches or so, or about 9 meters. That is serious snow blowing and shoveling, and to prove, perhaps for once and all that I am abnormal, I rather enjoyed all that snow. In fact, I just Facebook messaged someone about how I missed it as I looked at their pictures. Even as a 40 something, being out with the snow blower on winter mornings in Laurium, Michigan with Don, the retired school superintendent, and Mack, my media mogul neighbor, was like three little boys cavorting, while building snow forts. As soon as the sun was up, we were at it. It was simple and clean (though a bit noisy, and perhaps not as clean as I would like with our gas powered engines.). . .  the end of the week got to me with business and an office that had a ceiling leak and now no heat, so things were not simpler on the first floor of Bakeless. So, it is early on Monday morning and we are into February already. I want to try to finish this before I leave for an almost insufferably long day. It is my normal Monday (and that is for most semesters). A three hour Monday night course makes for a long day, particularly when I am usually awake before 6:00 a.m..

We are already into the beginning of the third week of the semester, and it does not get simpler for either professors or students about this time. We are trying to get students to perk up and engage and many of them are still in holiday break mode, sometimes sort of sleepwalking through their first few classes, hoping against all hope that they will not miss anything. There are a couple of things that contribute to that in terms of schedule also. Since we do not begin classes until Tuesday, the MWF classes miss a class in the first week and the shortened week makes it easier for students, and sometime professors, to buy into the so-called “syllabus week.” My students are not so fortunate, but I have found that while I enjoy teaching the winter term, the finishing of that class, while simultaneously beginning the spring semester is a bit brutal. I think that is where the simple got lost in childhood. As small children, and even as what they now call middle school, we have a rather Pollyanna-ish understanding of time. We have so much time on our hands, there is little that demands attention, and there is always tomorrow. Procrastination is instilled because there is little consequence for waiting or taking things a day at a time. In fact, we are generally encouraged to not be in a rush. Don’t grow up too soon. Allow yourself to relax, you have the rest of your life to work. Now before you get to upset, believing I am all about child labor, that is not what I am espousing. Where is the happy medium for teaching the value of time and still allowing someone to be their age? I think it probably varies from person to person (of course, says the man who has never had children).  I have noted at other times in my blog that my favorite and happiest times when I was a child were at my grandmother’s home. Perhaps it was because she made things simple . . .  not unrealistic, however. She was up early every morning to get ready to go to the bakery. Even when we stayed with her, she made us breakfast, which is today still my comfort food (two soft poached eggs, a piece of toast, and a half of grapefruit), and we were out of the little house on Harrison Street before the sun was up. She would stop at two grocery stores on the way to the bakery in the morning, both to front things (straighten her sections where the bakery items were sold), and to take inventory for that day’s anticipated orders. In addition, we would be at the bakery until almost 6:00 p.m. at night as she would sit at her office desk and work on the business aspect of being a bakery owner. We seldom got home before dark and the reverse of the morning would happen on the way home. We would, again, stop at the same two grocery stores to manage her inventory. As I grew, got my drivers license, and did delivery for her, I would do much of this on my own. So really, there was nothing simple about owning your own business, but her cheerful attitude and the inexhaustible storehouse of love she had and exhibited for my sister and me sure made it seem simple.

What amazes me as I write this is the profound change I have witnessed in my life. That is not unique to my generation and what has happened to the generations before me. Certainly the industrial revolution had 20th century consequences that were beyond the imagination, but as we continue with the technological revolution, which I believe we are still merely beginning to understand (e.g. AI or VR), I cannot even fathom what my students will experience in their lifetimes. About two weeks ago, the mother of my sandbox buddy, as we have often called other, lost her mother. She was 103 years old. That is an amazing age. She was born in the middle of WWI. She graduated from high school in the middle of the Great Depression. She has daughters who are now retired themselves. In the century of her life, she witnessed incredible change. However, did all we have done and created to make our lives more convenient make them simpler? I am not so sure it has. We certainly have gadgets to make our lives more convenient. I can tell my phone to turn lights off and on and even set them to a certain percentage of brightness. I have someone ring my door bell and tell who they are because I can see their picture. I can connect my computer to my other computer and my phone or my television. I can turn on speakers in my house to manage sound and music that comes from my phone or computer . . . and the list goes on. No, I have not gotten an automatic vacuum cleaner or a robotic maid (yet), but one never knows. The fact that I have only recently finally updated my phone was surprising to some and even though I call my residence the technologically savvy farmhouse, I still enjoy being away from it all at times. Those who know me are painfully aware that sometimes I leave my technology at home or in the office or in the car. Those who know me are sometime excruciatingly exasperated when I fail to get back to them in a timely manner because we are to be connected 24/7. Then there are other times when I am grading and commenting at 3:00 a.m. So is it all simpler. I think the jury is still out, but it is not looking good. We certainly have more access than ever. We can find out most anything by our handheld futuristic Alexander Bell devices. We are more connected to the world in which we live than my friend’s mother could have ever anticipated as a girl. Simultaneously, we are more isolated. Instead of speaking with someone in an interpersonal manner, we will text them. Instead of calling someone to come over, we will snap them or FB them, or Instagram them.

This past week I had a student come to me noting that they were surprised to be on academic probation. They had a difficult first semester to put it rather mildly. When I asked about their situation at some point I asked, do you have friends here? They answered, “No, I have no friends: I am alone.” I do not think they were being hyperbolic and that answer cut me to the core. No wonder they are struggling to do well if they are completely alone in the middle of 10,000 other people. No wonder they cannot succeed academically if they go back to their room and shut the door and stay in their room overwhelmed and all alone. There is much more I could say, but I need to be careful to not reveal too much, but this student is not unique. What have we created societally in causing students to believe the only way to succeed is to excel in college, and only if you are willing to spend 100K on something that guarantees nothing can you find happiness and success. That is ridiculous, but we have surely drank that Kool-Aid. And I say this as the college professor. That does not make life simpler. So, what are the answers to a simpler life? I think it is not simple, but I know that the time in my life that was most simple was when I knew I was loved and that someone had my back no matter what. Now, six decades later, I do not think the answer is much different. Perhaps I wish I realized that so much earlier. With that, I leave you this song. Those of you who know me well, know I have a sort of melancholy side to me, in spite of my general optimism. I leave you with this, one of my favorite songs.

As always, thank you for reading,

Dr. Martin

The War to End All Wars

Hello from a Starbucks in Selinsgrove,

Hiding away and working, but trying to imagine the feelings of not only the important players on the stage in France 100 years ago, but also the simple people, those in France where much of the carnage of a trench war was fought to the families who lost loved ones in a war that was fought to stop war. Were we as countries that idealistic a century ago? Certainly I write on the Centennial of that event with the privilege of hindsight, but did we have a more optimistic spirit a century ago? Did we simply believe the nationalism that was prominent that day would recede into a historical footnote and cooperation would prevail? Was the title of this blog something that was a sincere hope or merely a slogan for a weary and war-torn world? By the time I would be born less than 40 years later, we would already fight another World War, one that this time would encompass the globe. The nationalism of Germany, which occurred with perhaps some justification in light of Article 231, the Fascism of Italy and the imperialism of Japan certainly speak to the consequence of nationalism, which is certainly rampant today.

During the last five years as I have traveled to Central and Eastern Europe, the rise of nationalism in Hungary and Poland or the division in Ukraine has demonstrated that nationalism is alive (and as an oxymoron, well). Brexit in England and the, what I deem as troublesome, red MAGA caps are both examples of globalistic rebellion. Today, the French President Emmanuel Macron addressed the consequences of these current nationalistic moves that sweep our world. He said, “Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism” (11Nov18). He noted that such actions threaten the very democracy two World Wars fought to preserve (11Nov18). He went even further calling nationalism treason (Breitbart). I do wonder what those WWI veterans would think about the wars we wage now. Certainly the equipment would boggle their minds. The firepower and the way we use our strength and might. What would they think of the bravado of people like Kim Jung Un, who should be seen as an adversary, Rodrigo Duterte, who is an ally, but somewhat dubious, or Vladimir Putin, who certainly rules Russia with a stronger iron fist than our President seems to believe? What would they think of not only our military technology, but our personal technology and how it is used?

Before you believe I somehow see a century ago as preferable to now, I do not, and there are numerous and significant reasons to feel that way. I do believe the Americans, those perhaps born in the recent shadow of our own civil war, were, however, at least beginning to realize the need for a world who gave more than a rat’s ass about other countries. I also believe our government was quite imperialistic, but the consequence of being pulled into WWI would push some to see the significance of a need for at least some global care, and mutual concern. I also realize there were still a number of social and political battles that would take another half century to begin to confront. Many are still being confronted and perhaps we have backslid a bit or a lot, depending on your viewpoint. It is interesting to me that I find I am much more accepting of the other than I was as a child growing up in NW Iowa. I do not think it was that I did not accept, but I had little to no exposure to the other, and most of what I knew I saw on television. I did grow up knowing there were certain terms I was forbade to use, but I just this week in corresponding with an high school classmate, she noted the struggle one of our Native American classmates had and how it affected him for years following high school. I remember him well, and while I merely thought he was quiet, I had no idea he was so bullied because he did not fit our WASP neighborhood and high school. I do not believe I even had a black person in my school until I was in 12th grade and we had redrawn the boundaries of our city high schools. What I realize now is how we are privileged as whites, and even more so as white males. I remember writing a blog about this around four years ago. I wanted to defend my white privilege because I had worked so hard for where I was. There are some remnants of that thought process, but at this point, I mainly want to see all people valued and respected. I find myself believing more and more that when one of us is discriminated against, it hurts all of us. I find myself believing more and more that we need to see our place in the world as important, as significant, but not as the moral/political exemplar. In fact, it seems as if we are anything but presently, and that is not a comment pointed only at the executive branch of our government. As I have noted lately, the lack of civility and the unwillingness of our legislative branch to work in a bipartisan manner is unconscionable. I listened to a GPS episode in which Fareed Zakaria interviewed the French President after the commemoration of WWI, to which I referred earlier in this post. I find myself agreeing with most everything the French President asserted, and his contention that Europe needs to care for Europe and not see America as the primary fall-back for the EU made a lot of sense to me. I find President Macron’s approach to be moderated and thoughtful, but also realistic in the present world.

There is little doubt that the last two years have created some concern for our European allies. There is little doubt that the MAGA doctrine has had consequences that push the United States off the pedestal and has made the torch of the Statue of Liberty lose some of its luster, if you will. I am not saying that having all of NATO work together a bit more thoughtfully, both in terms of finances and non-financial resources, is wrong, but the manner in which the message has been delivered (tweeted, which is an entirely separate problem) has serious rhetorical issues. You cannot go around threatening the rest of the world and then believe they want to work with you or will trust you to work with them. Again, I find all of this a bit embarrassing, but it seems there is little our President finds embarrassing. Over the past few days, I have had both my Russian students and my American students ask me what I thought about our elections. I think the elections did little more than illustrate what any thinking person should already realize. We are as divided and polarized as ever. While I am a bit hopeful because we have a better checks and balances in our legislature, I am not convinced that the probably next (and former) Speaker of the House is the best way to proceed (and it pains me to say that). I believe she did a pretty good job as speaker the first time, but it seems that we are in such a different world now, and she is almost as polarizing as Sec. Clinton was. I have little doubt that President Trump will blame the House for everything he can for the next two years. If the Democratic-led House does not manage things that demonstrate a clear sense of caring for things that go beyond the beltway, I believe the damage that will be done to the Democrats will have generational consequences, but the immediate consequence will be an additional term for the current occupant of the 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and that causes me more concern than I even have words.

The reasons for concern are legion, and it is not by accident that I use that term. I do not think the Democrats have a good plan for the next two years or beyond, and no matter how carefully I look, I see little in terms of a plan that demonstrates how we can move the country forward in a manner that respects all of us. The lack of respect that has been revealed in the last two years goes beyond what I ever thought possible. I will also say that I do not believe President Trump is responsible for all of that. I read an article recently that points a finger (at least legislatively) at Newt Gingrich. I think there is a lot that rings true in that argument. I think there are certainly ways to govern that do not have to make the opponent the enemy, but somehow we have forgotten that, or perhaps we no longer believe it. I am all about being passionate about one’s beliefs or positions, but as I note for my students, the reason for argument is to reach consensus. One can point out the differences of a position without making the other out to be an idiot or the enemy. It seems the wars we wage today are class wars, and speaking of the French, that has disastrous consequences for them following their revolution of 1789. It was not called the Reign of Terror for no reason. It seems the wars we wage today are about education, location, or even occupation. We pit the educated (whom we now vilify or certainly those who teach are vilified) against those we deem uneducated. My father did not go to college, but he is one of the wisest people I have ever met. Education is about more than higher education (and I say that as a college professor). We seem to continually pit those in urban or suburban areas against the rural parts of our country. Again, seeing the rural folk as uneducated or parochial. Having grown up in NW Iowa, I know rural and many of those who live on or work on farms or in our agricultural sector or doing manual labor should not be treated as somehow less because they do not wish to have the hustle and bustle of the ‘burbs as a way of life. On the other hand, those who live in the ‘burbs or in the city have certainly valid concerns about what is happening in many of their neighborhoods and the violence that seems to plague our inner-city locales. I have both groups of students in my classes and I see how differently they understand the world in which they live and both hope to grow old. Then there is the issue of what someone does to make their life manageable. This is also complicated. From issues of job security to job availability, how do we make it possible for everyone to live a life that has meaning and quality. The complication of this question goes far beyond what I can do in a blog post, but it is significant. I see too many students who come to college and waste money and time. I seem too many people who are told that if you do not go to college you cannot be successful. Again, this might prove to be surprising for some.

I do believe there is a lot of positive consequences to a college education, but that is not just about a job. On the other hand, I do not believe that everyone needs to, or should, go to college. I do believe that working in the trades, which has a long history (and a successful one) in my family, is certainly a valid and thoughtful vocation, one that can make a difference in other people’s lives. What makes someone successful? What is success? It is more than money; it is more than prestige; it is more than collecting the most or biggest toys. There is so much I could say, but I need to do some other work, so I am off, but I leave you with one of my favorite scenes from my favorite move, Dead Poets Society. The amazing Robin Williams, as Mr. Keating, speaks to his students about the importance of thinking and learning. Perhaps we can all learn something from what is said here.

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

I do not want a do-over

Hello from the corner of my room,

I am sitting in the chair in my room, which is a comfortable and thoughtful place in my home. It is a sort of safe place too. I have learned that I am a person who needs a quiet and safe place. I am not sure I have always been cognizant of that desideratum, but I am pretty sure it has been a requisite from early in my life. While I have absolutely no inkling, memory, or shadow of any recall of life with my biological parents, their neglect probably affected my sense of security or my need for contact in ways I have never connected to any particular event. It is also interesting how it affects others. Certainly, it always seemed to have affected my sister more than me. There is an irony to that because if we were at our grandparents’ house by the time I was two, Kris would have been less than 9 months old. Yet, she was entirely more obsessed than I was when it came to finding those very parents who neglected and left us alone for hours. I also imagine part of that was because our adopted mother was so much harder on her than she was on either the older brother or me. It is quite logical that she hoped somewhere else might be safer and she would be treated better. Part of reason she is on my mind is the 10th anniversary of her passing will be here in only a few days. So much has happened in the decade since I got that stunning phone call at about 5:30 a.m. that Tuesday morning. Hearing my niece sort of blurt out that they found her dead on the couch is still more clear in my mind than I perhaps wish it was. More to say about that.

I did not know I would be leaving Stout and Wisconsin at that time. I did not know that I would come back to Pennsylvania and resettle myself barely over an hour from where I first became a parish pastor, which is 30 years ago. It is also even more than that when I address my initial graduation from high school or undergrad (which have a LCD of 5 also). I wonder how that can be the case that things in my life seem to happen in years that are in multiples of 5. In a mathematical purist way, the only thing in my life divisible by 5 is the year I was born. It is also the point that in terms of family heritage, I would become the only surviving member of my immediate family. So much has happened in a decade. Yet, I believe that is how life happens if we truly try to live it with all the hope and involvement we can.

That brings me back to the title and what I have been pondering these past few days. I imagine such rumination is the yearly occasion of impending graduation, the watching of another group of students, who a few short years ago were wide-eyed freshman. Yet, now they find themselves even more unprepared, or aware of complexities of life in a more profound manner, which can feel as if they are underprepared. However this present ocular unsophistication is more about accepting responsibility for themselves in a much grander, more consequential manner, and they are realize the safety net that is college is no longer an option. There is grad school, and a few move in that direction, but with a average debt load approaching $40,000.00 for undergrad, many to not believe that adding to that is a reasonable path forward. If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you will know that I have noted I did not expect to become a college professor. I have stated regularly I had little idea what I would become or do with my life, and certainly that has not changed (which may seem like a strange admission for someone in their 60s). And, in spite of where I am, or even the path it took to find myself as a tenured professor, there is little I would change. Veritably voiced, I do not want to go back, even knowing all I do, and try it all over again. I can wish that I had not been born with Crohn’s as they now believe I was. I can wish that I had lived a more non-peripatetic sort of adulthood. I could try to imagine how it would be had I somehow been given the opportunity to have actually fathered a child. Any of those changes would have significantly altered the life I have lived. Certainly, I ponder the what ifs as I noted in my last blog, but that does not mean I need or want to go back and do it all over. It reminds me of my first host family, Lee and Judy, two of the most phenomenal people I have ever been fortunate enough to meet. They are somewhat accidental in that I ended up on a Lutheran Youth Encounter team sort of last minute. They were my first host family, which is also more random than some might realize. For me, that randomness is anything but. It is the Holy Spirit doing what the Holy Spirit does. Intercession and intervention when we are mostly or totally unaware. What Judy would share on a later visit, much after that initial week, has always remained. She once noted that relationships have more to do with context and timing than emotion. Those were not her words, but the foundational belief in her words. As I have continued to age, I have understood the profound truth in what she said. Her advice or reflection, and my father’s warning about placing expectations on something, ring true for me and serve as thoughtful and careful warnings. Warning is not a pejorative term here, but a sort of safety net.

There have probably been consequences for that sort of shying away from any kind of relationship that involves something long-term. There have been other factors that have kept me in my own sort of tower, but I have generally been comfortable in that solitude. So again, would I change any of that which has already occurred? Not in anyway that immediately seems apparent to me. I have learned that sometimes the best things happen unexpectedly. That reality aligns with my father’s wisdom about all relationships. Whatever happens with happen. This is more accurate than l often imagined possible. Perhaps that is why I have lived most or my life without expectation. Perhaps that is why I am a firm believer in grasping onto the present and not imagining the future as much as some might think I do. I also realize a sort of incongruence, but one I can somehow find comfortability with, regardless the oxymoronic presence in this situation. Perhaps some of that living in the moment has been because of health issues. Some of it harkens back to the adopted child in me. There have seldom been guarantees in my life, and while I believe that is true for most, I was told that in so many words on numerous occasions. The impact of those words created more than one existential crisis for me. Yet I am blessed to be where I am and in how my life has evolved. I know this in ways I could not have imagined. One of the things I have managed is the ability to overcome most any difficulty in my life. To learn that there are always options and learning from our life challenges is an opportunity to move beyond whatever that obstacle might be. We always have a choice: to quit or move ahead. I have noted that there are moments I seem to learn a bit slowly. More accurately, I am being stubborn. If I allow myself to realize my accountability in any situation and go beyond. I am probably going to be alright. Listening to the counsel of those we trust is an important part of that learning. Sometimes those teachers, those sages, if you will, often insight and clarity when we least expect it. Sometimes we are offered profound wisdom from another when we did not even see it as a possibility. I have been blessed to have such a person (and there have been a number of them) throughout most of my life. What is needed from such a person is the ability to trust and believe in their intent, and the willingness to be vulnerable with or before that person. That has happened again in the most unexpected way and with a sense of timing that defies logic. Yet, what I am realizing is I should not be surprised. This is because it seems that most of the things that have created a positive outcome for me were not planned, or at least did not happen in a manner that illustrates a long term structure to create said outcome. Getting into Michigan Tech or returning after I left would be two examples. Meeting a present colleague at a previous institution, which would lead to a return to Pennsylvania, is yet another. Meeting someone as a sort of by chance encounter on a sideway during a summer day seems to be the latest thing that has me scratching my head by the initial randomness, and the subsequent path it appears to have taken. I am a firm believer that something larger than I watches over me in ways too amazing for words. God, Holy Spirit, guardian Angels, something other: not sure what it is, but for it I am grateful. It is for all of these diverse and random things that I need no do overs. It is for this sort of always in the middle of things that I have no desire to start again and imagine something different. What I am quite sure of is I am more than blessed and where I am at this point is beyond what any adopted little NW Iowa boy could have ever imagined. The two siblings with whom I grew up did not have the opportunity to see such a long life. Bob, my eldest brother, died at 26. While he was a father, something I have not experienced, I am often reminded that I have a number of surrogate offspring. As I write this, it is 10 years to the day that my full biological sister passed from this world. That was a stunning day for me and I remember over the next days trying to figure it all out. So much that contributed to her being barely in her 50s when she passed on. In the time since, I have faced the reality of being the only living member of the family with which I lived my childhood on more than one occasion. I have had family members reach out and some back away. Families are living, breathing entities that get caught out in their own individual lives and time and distance can do a number of things to those relationships that they claim are thicker. I am not sure they are as thick as we might want to believe. That is not a value judgement for me, but rather experience. Certainly adoption played a significant role in all of that for me.

What I know now is I am content. I am not sure where things are going, but I am blessed by the presence of others in ways I could not have imagined. I am blessed by having a job that means more to me than I can express in words. I have people in my life, both family and friends, that remind me of what is important. I have people who have taken the time to really get to know and accept me. There are no words to express my gratitude for that gift. I have learned so much in the last weeks and months, both about myself and what I might hope to yet accomplish. There are really no do overs, but what I know is I do not want or need one. As the amazing musical, Rent, notes so well: there is no day but today.

Thank you as always for reading,

Dr. Martin