Gratefulness 40 Years in the Making

Cześć w chłodniejszy poranek z Krakowa,

What I have said is “hello on a cooler morning” from the sort of intellectual capital of Poland, the former capitol city, Kraków. It is actually by 7th time to this city of a little over a million people. With sites like Wawel Castle, the picture at the top of this post, Kazimierz, the Jewish quarter of the city, Oskar Schindler’s factory and the second oldest university in Central Eastern Europe, each day is a living, walking-tour through 8 centuries of history (or more), but the importance of Kraków as a trading, political, and religious hub begins in the 13th century. Each time I return, I am amazed by some source of beauty and what seems to be of significance that I might have missed on a previous visit. My trip to Kraków comes on the heels of 5 days in Moscow, a first time for me to be in Russia, and before I begin another Polish language immersion for 7 weeks. In 1980/81 I traveled to Europe for the first time, allowed the opportunity by the yearly interim travels of Dr. John W. Nielsen, and the generosity of Harold and Dorothy Wright, who unexpectedly and through no deserving on my part, paid my way to participate on that class, appropriately titled “Auguries of Loneliness.” There was so much to learn on that trip and part of it was health things, which I now know were a precursor to what has happened since.

That trip was more than merely reading Hemingway and Mann for me; it was infinitely more than traveling to places I had only observed or pondered in our Humanities art or religion lectures. It was a life-altering experience; it was an awakening to learning how to learn. It was a realization that America, in its youthful arrogance, was much more a product of millenniums of progress than we might care to admit. From sitting in a pub with a shot of aquavit and an elephant beer to walking through St. Peter’s Basilica, from listening to the music of Buxtehude, the Danish/German organist at the Cathedral in Lûbeck, to tromping through the snow in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, my life was going through a daily transformation that provided an astounding foundation for the person I am today. When I went to Europe as a sophomore student at Dana, I was not a typical sophomore, I was 25 years old and I had already spent time in the Marine Corps. As I have previously noted, if it had not been for a couple other veteran students (Mike Keenan first comes to mind because we both ended up on 4 North Holling as freshmen), I am not quite sure how that first year might have gone. Yet, as a person beyond the typical college age, there was so much to learn both intellectually and academically (and they are not the same), but I did not realize what that even meant at the time. It was more than memorizing and then regurgitating what I had studied. It was so much more about synthesis and integration and understanding that we are products of our historical and cultural background. That is what professors like Drs. Nielsen (all three of them), Olsen, Brandes, Bansen, Jorgensen, or Stone would teach me. That is what Hum events, a student church council, and choir tours would engrain in me.

This summer I am back to Kraków for yet another visit. While more of them have been in the role of the Pope and bringing students, this one is again (for a second summer) about being a student and taking a Polish language immersion class. It is about preparing for an event that is still more than a year away. I have been invited to teach technical writing at the School of Polish Language and Culture at Jagiellonian University. The university is the second oldest in Eastern/Central Europe and the alma mater of Nikolas Kopernikus (Polish spelling), and Pope John Paul II. It is overwhelming to consider that I am walking in the same hallways as such people and being offered the opportunity to teach in the spaces. I am reminded in a world that has become increasingly nationalistic that the faculty of this university were all imprisoned when Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. The Jewish Quarter in this town is next to Oskar Schindler’s factory, and the town of Oświęcim is nearby (you know it by it more infamous German name: Auschwitz). After education, travel and cultural immersion are, I believe, the best way to spend one’s money.  Through the immersion of being in that place, the cultural experiences and learning the language of the other helps one begins to understand how they think and what they value. That realization came from sitting in Bodil Johnson’s German class for me. It came from the struggles I remember in Dr. Delvin Hutton’s Greek course.

I remember the day I received a message that Dorothy Wright wished to speak to me in Parnassus. I walked from Holling to PM and trudged up the to the second floor late afternoon on a rather blustery fall day. Dorothy pulled me aside to sit at one of the tables and told me she had known my grandmother. If you have read this blog with any frequency, and one post just recently, you know that my grandmother was (and is) my hero. Dorothy and she were acquainted somehow (I think Eastern Star). She inquired about my going to Europe with Dr. Nielsen for interim. I had attended the interest meetings, but because I was paying my own way through college, there was no way I could afford the $1,500.00 the trip would cost. When I informed her that I had decided not to go, she asked if finances were an issue. I told her (somewhat lying) that it was one of the issues. In reality it WAS the issue. Then she informed me that she and her husband, Harold, were willing to pay my way. I was dumbfounded. I asked her if I could think about it for a day. She said, “Certainly.” And I was allowed to go. I do not think my feet touched the ground all the way back to Holling Hall. The Wright’s generosity changed my life. Through that interim class of 1980-81, both the places and some of the people, I was transformed into a person who wanted to be a sponge and learn everything I could. I have often noted that trip is what encouraged me to believe I could eventually go on an get a PhD and (want to) become a professor. This past year, through the generosity of yet another amazing woman, I was able to endow two travel abroad scholarship funds where I presently teach. One is in the name of that latest benefactor and the other is in honor of Harold and Dorothy Wright.

I was in Blair one day in early June for only a few hours. I did stop to see Dorothy, who is still alive and quite well. I wanted to thank her in person for what she had done for me almost 40 years ago. We, as Dana alumni, speak regularly about what was (and is) called the Dana Difference. Harold and Dorothy Wright are a prime example of that difference. They reached out to a young man who was not a typical student, but who was, much like many others, trying to figure it all out. If it were not for an incredibly brilliant man, who began at Dana and obtained his PhD from Oxford, and his willingness to do all the tedious and laborious work to arrange such interims, 100s of students would be less culturally aware than they are. Dr. Nielsen’s insatiable passion for teaching others both in the typical and the global classroom is still affecting me. He set the bar high for those who want to emulate what he did. There is a bit of an irony that 46 years ago to the day as I write this, I was taking my first plane ride to MCRD (Marine Corps Recruit Depot) in San Diego, California. Certainly my time in the Marines would shape many of the attitudes and practices I still hold today. However, there have been so many plane trips since then. Dr. Nielsen took me on my first trip to Europe. This trip is my thirteenth, and has included five days in Moscow to visit the Russian student I had in class this past year. While it was only a layover, I was also in Finland for the first time. Beginning next week, I will be taking Polish (a second immersion class) 5 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 6 weeks. The plan is to do the same next summer. While I will teach the fall of 2020 in English, I want to be able to communicate on a normal level with my students in Polish.

Slavic languages are inflection languages meaning that the endings of the words are changed to reflect how the word is being used in the sentence (a quick example in Polish is the word for cheese. Ser is the word for cheese, but to denote something with cheese it would be serem). It has not been difficult to understand the grammar for me, but there are seven cases instead of four and there are sounds that our English-speaking mouths are not used to creating. There are also sounds that my 60+ year old ears have some difficulty ascertaining. That is part of the fun. While I can say simple things from my first foray into the language, it is my hope that the summer course will create a more profound foundation usage of this language, one that overlaps Czech, Slovak, Russian, and Ukrainian. Grammatically there is a lot of similarity, but the Latin versus the Cyrillic alphabet creates an additional learning curve. I am also grateful to my Bloomsburg colleague, Dr. Mykola Polyhua, who has been so gracious in creating the foundations and relationships I now have here. Gratefulness is not something that occurs once and disappears. It is something that becomes part of who we are. It changes us, and allows us to hopefully change the lives of others. What I know as I am into my 60s is I have learned so much, and yet there is still so much to learn. I was thinking about it as I walked the streets of what is called Stare Miasto (Old Town) today. If all goes according to plan I will turn 65 when I am in Poland next year for a six month trip of more language and teaching. Some ask me when I am going to retire. It is one of the questions I guess people feel compelled to ask as they see my white whiskers and grey hair. I have no plans, at least presently, to do so. I am so blessed to be able to do what I do and love doing it. Again, the very fact that I can say any of that is because of Harold and Dorothy. Their generosity changed my life. I had no idea that a requested meeting in Parnassus would be so life-changing, but it has been exactly that . . . and for that I am grateful beyond words. As I work at the table in my little Air BnB, I am still astounded by the fact that I am able to be 4,400 miles from my home doing what I love to do and having a job that allows and encourages me to do so. Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, where I teach and direct a Professional and Technical Writing program, has been so supportive of my work and continues to be so. It is yet another place to which and whom I am grateful. I feel undeserving of such blessings, but somehow, I have been blessed beyond measure. I hope to be half as much a blessing to others. My thoughts about a sort of paying it forward as they say. Somehow this song came to mind.

Thank you always for reading.

Dr. Michael Martin


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

Walking in the Other’s Shoes

70e349a3df0c42efbd7e47ce883a8e82-70e349a3df0c42efbd7e47ce883a8e8Good early evening from my office,

It is always interesting to see how people respond to the plight of their fellow humans. How is it we can be both the most caring, empathetic of all creation, and simultaneously the most cruel and ruthless? How is it we can teach our children how to respect, act graciously, and use their manners and as adults exhibit precisely the opposite? I remember the infamous parental phrase growing up: “Do what I say and not as I do.” As if that oxymoronic sentence made up for the contradictions that screamed out loud to our wondering eyes and ears. That saying, it seems to me, has come back to roost. Did we really believe that those who watched us would not learn more from our actions than our words? Did we believe that the habits we exhibited would not stick with our sons and daughters, our nephews and nieces, our granddaughters and grandsons more profoundly that any platitude we might have uttered? I am quite sure if any of us were to think more carefully or critically, to analyze more thoroughly or completely, we would come to the conclusion that the infamous cliché of actions speaking louder than words would be there as the third ghost in The Christmas Carol pointing out the error of our ways and perhaps offering one last chance to atone for our failings.

Of course, it is easy for me to lay out such a dictum when I have never been a parent. It is easy for me to look at the students in my classes and see the good people they are, but often how woefully under-prepared they are to do college level work as I read their blogs, intros or other assignments. I see their eyes and their furrowed brows and I feel their fear of possible failure and certain struggle more than they might know. One of my students asked thoughtfully and honestly today how was it that I managed the course load I did as an undergraduate student, managed the other things I was involved in, and somehow managed to graduate pretty successfully? It was a fair and important question. My answer was also honest and simple. I had failed the first time. I got sent home and I was embarrassed. When I went back to college I was scared. Plainly put, I was not sure I could actually do it. I had never pushed myself in high school and in the service when I did well, people were amazed and actually thought I had cheated because nothing in my academic record implied I was capable of anything beyond what was deemed average. I remember once being put in the corner and screamed at and told I was stupid, only to find out I had a 100% average in a Communication and Electronics (Field Radio Operator School) course. I was petrified. I would note that I did not end up with a 100%, but I did do exceptionally well.

Again, please do not put me up on some sort of pedestal for what I have noted in the last couple blogs; please do not hold me up as some paragon of goodness, for I am anything but. I am simply a person who has learned from his mistakes. I am a person who has realized painfully how what he has done at times has hurt or created difficulty for others. For those things, I am often ashamed and struggle with the guilt dealing with the proverbial error of my ways. As I have often noted in my blog, somehow it seemed to take me longer to grow into what or where I should have been for my age. There are probably more reasons for that than I am able to figure out, but at this point, I know only a couple of things. I try to do the best I can at most anything I attempt, and second, when I fail, I do not blame someone else. The consequence of that, I believe, is that I try to be more gracious with where I find the other than I might have been at some time earlier in my life.

Graciousness, forgiveness, and empathy are perhaps three things that seem to be sorely lacking in our society at the present time. It is always interesting to listen to both sides of an argument, and there have certainly been both sides of the current Supreme Court situation spoken about on campus over the past few weeks. I would note this first. While I have my viewpoint, and certainly some of my students know what that is, I try carefully and intentionally to respect their view point also. I understand the power dynamic of a classroom, but college is where people should be allowed to speak their mind and figure out both what they think as well as why they think it. I understand well, having grown up in Iowa, attending school at a small Lutheran liberal arts college in Nebraska, the more conservative viewpoint on things. I grew up where hard work and “keeping your nose clean” was not merely a saying, but it was expected. I grew up with a father, who might be honestly more liberal than I am. I am certainly more conservative than my sister (who was a biological sister) was. At this point, I know why I believe what I do. Some of it is because of my upbringing; some of it is because of my education and personal experience, but all of it is because I read, I ponder, and I think. I do not simply accept the latest sound byte that is trending, and I can be persuaded to consider something different. Why? Because I do not know everything, and I do not see all the angles of something. What frustrates me is not a difference of opinion, or even an argument over a position. What frustrates me is when someone is not willing to speak about an issue in a civil manner. What hurts me is when someone I respect is not willing to return that respect. What does it mean to be gracious? It has to do with compassion and mercy. These are not merely nouns, they are verbs. How do you comport yourself? How are you able to act when you are accused of something or questioned? How are you able to respond to the needs of another? Compassion and mercy are something that only we as humans seem capable of understanding, and not only what the words mean or how to employ them, but the consequences when we fail to do so. Forgiveness might be the most powerful thing we have in our relationships with our fellow human beings. What does it mean to forgive, and not only in a religious sense of the word, but in a community building, societal managing, interpersonal understanding from one to another? How doe it feel to say “I am sorry” to another and not receive some sort of forgiveness or absolution for the failure we have confessed, so to speak? I do not believe we can be merciful or forgiving without empathy. Empathy has to do with tenderness; it has something to do with our ability or capacity to imagine ourselves in the other person’s position or situation.

It seems to be we are severely lacking in all three of these things in terms of how we treat others in our country and the world at the present time. We have become predominately selfish. Some will say I have worked for everything I have and I should not have to share, but that is not what we were taught even as children. Before you want to run down some anti-socialist rabbit hole: stop. That is not what I am trying to argue. What I mean is the opposite of being merciful or compassionate; it is being unwilling to imagine the plight of the other. To care only about ourselves. That is selfish, and the consequence is division. Compassion is to have some empathy for the struggle of the person next to us, but that does not mean the other has no accountability. Yet, what is a reasonable expectation, and can we give care to the other versus only taking care of the other? The second thing we have become is fearful, and fear is often followed, and quickly I might add, by anger. The fear we have come to demonstrate of the other is palpable. It is unmistakable to such a degree that we have gone down a different rabbit hole, if you will. The recoil of the United States, Great Britain, and a number of other European Union countries should create serious alarm. While that is the case for some, the anti-globalism that President Trump espoused at the United Nations last week should disquiet us. It should serve as a tocsin for us, but too many see it as a positive thing. There is a lot more reason for us to work together as a world order than to turn our backs, but that does not seem to be where we are.

Most of us are not in the one-percent (hence the one-percent), and acting  as we often do creates division, dissension, and conflict. We want to believe we are so important or better than the other, but are we? Yet, we do not see the consequence of this. If we are divided and unwilling to work together, the one-percent keep their power and their money and we are given what is left over, and that is not nearly enough for the 99%. Think about it (and that is precisely what the one-percent does not want to happen). If we are so busy fighting among ourselves, we have no chance of changing what is problematic. We will continue to lose the middle class; we will fight to somehow manage the spoils, and spoiled and rotten they are. Most of us will never walk in the one-percenter’s shoes. Nor do I want to do so. I would be much more content to have a country that cares, a country that leads by an example of goodness and charity. I would much rather somehow help someone a bit less fortunate to become more fortunate. I would rather see the smile on their face and feel the warmth in my own heart. Some things can only change if we are willing to do the heavy lifting and commit ourselves to creating a more just and thoughtful world. In spite of the present situation in our government, perhaps we can make small differences in our own spaces. My former graduate department chair referred to them as small potent gestures. Perhaps that gesture needs to be more than flipping off the person with whom we have a disagreement or a struggle. Perhaps the gesture is to walk both metaphorically and literally down the street with each other shoes one (and if they do not fit, perhaps the pain of that is what you need to realize. I am reminded again of the Phil Collins song about paradise. The world seems to be anything but. However, maybe we can create a small sense of it by our graciousness, our forgiveness, our empathy. I would like to also to say thank you for your incredible kindnesses in response to my last posting.

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Critically Thinking in a Surface-Oriented World


Hello from Bydgoska 19C,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading, as always,

Dr. Martin

In the midst of Wonder

boot camp

Good morning from my office,

It has been some time since I wrote and while I have another blog posting drafted and quite a bit done on it, there has been something come to the fore in the past couple of days and so I am going in that direction. As has been the case most summers, I have taught a Foundations of College Writing course for a group of students who are conditionally admitted to the university. Their ability to remain as a student in the fall and beyond is dependent on their summer performance and grades. While there has been some issues with the decisions made to allow the student to matriculate or leave, what is most evident to me as I have worked with many of them is how under-prepared they are when they get to Bloomsburg.

First of all, let me note some things about the university where I work. Bloomsburg is an open enrollment university, which means if you apply here and you have a high school diploma and a modicum of ability, you will probably be accepted. The other day I was speaking with a colleague and I think the percentage of persons accepted was above 85%. That does not mean that there are not good professors, or demanding professors, or professors who are strongly versed in their fields and expect students to step up and do their work. What it does mean, however, often in the areas of math and writing, many students might need some remedial work before they are ready for that first college level course. However, that being said, the students I have in the summer are enrolled in the first level college writing course. Second, I should note that some of the most industrious and brightest students I have had in my 6+ years here came out of those summer classes. During the summer program students are required to follow a seriously regimented schedule, which is probably necessary for them to manage cramming a 14 week schedule into 6, but during the fall, there is a significant difference. They are required to meet with a mentor on a regular basis, but some of those mentors are students (which can be a substantive problem if they need some serious academic guidance) and they are required to do a mere two hours of tutoring a week. From what I can tell, there are not any other really demanding hoops through which they must jump.

As we are now into the 12th week of the semester, there are significant problems for some of them. They believe that their lack of creating priorities and discipline to manage those priorities is catching up with them. The more important issue is that they do not know how to study. Even when they sit down to try to manage their work, they have little idea how to do it effectively or efficiently. Most of them have only  12 credits and many of them have a remedial class, but they cannot seem to manage the expectations and requirements of what I would call a relatively easy semester. Again, I am well aware that what I consider to be easy and what they believe to be easy can quite different. One student in particular spent so much time working a job early in the semester and then got a second job (not two at the same time), but is now scrambling to manage the end of the semester. Others take 3 hour naps a couple of times a day. Going to that early class and then going back to the room and sleeping until lunch is not a optimum schedule when it comes to managing your work. I told all of them they would need to plan to spend 40-50 hours a week in class or studying, but I am not sure they believed me. Consequently most of them are getting kicked. What I am realizing is this; in spite of great intentions, I am not sure we are offering the support they need to manage after their summer classes. They are not able to manage the requirements because they do not have the discipline and they certainly do not have the study skills. Most have good intentions, but they have little sense of what it takes to actually manage what they are being asked to do. This is the consequence of their public education.

What I am wondering is what is happening at in their middle school and high school classes. There is also an issue of determining what support they have at home for their studies. Even though I have noted things about my own public school education in earlier blogs, what I know now is my parents just expected me to do my work. There was little actually support for doing it and I think I had a more stable home than many of my students currently have. I once got a failing grade in chemistry when I was a junior in high school. That was the one time it really hit the fan with my father. He was not usually the disciplinarian in the house and he grounded me for nine weeks. When I tried to argue that punishment with him he actually grounded me to my room for nine weeks. It was probably a precursor to Marine Corps boot camp, which reminds me: today is the 240th anniversary of the Marine Corps. 1775 at Tun Tavern near Philadelphia was the founding of this branch of the service. It is also the 532nd birthday of Martin Lutheran and the 40th commemoration of the loss of the ore carrier the Edmund Fitzgerald. Each year for extra credit I give my students a chance at extra credit to come up with these three things that are related to me. I do not think a single student has every gotten all three.

What are the expectations of parents today when it comes to their children’s education? This is an long-reaching question. From before they enter kindergarten until they have made it through college, parents have a responsibility to help their sons and daughters manage their education. For me this does not mean they do it for them, but they support their success. It means when a student (a child) is not doing well, there is some intervention, and not blaming the school or the teacher, but trying to figure out what is needed as a team to raise the possibility of success. The farther the child goes into the system the more significant the consequences. Yet, if there is no strong foundation by the time the student gets into college, they are in remedial classes. Recently, I was speaking with a person who is back teaching after sometime away from the classroom. I will not reveal the location or the grade, but it is in early elementary school. I was told that they are required to give lessons to these young students on how to tie their shoes!! Are you kidding me? How the hell did that become the public school system’s job. Since when did it become the teachers job to teach how to dress or how to manage hygiene or how to behave with some sense of decorum (teach basis manners)? That is a parent’s role and responsibility. I know these statements are troublesome, but when I grew up, my parents would have paddled my butt for misbehaving at school when I was small. I would have gotten grounded as I grew older. I would have lost privileges eventually. I was grounded to my room as I noted earlier. My father did call my chemistry teacher, but not to chastise him for my grade. He called to get an honest picture because I was not as forthcoming as I needed to be. I did not want to take responsibility, accountability, for my lack of work.

For many of my summer students, navigating the pond of financial aid, scheduling, studying, and merely living away from home is more than most of them can handle. I have already noted the issues with studying and managing time (which is a phrase I hate), but the issue of learning to schedule and follow through with appointments and managing the finances of college costs is like speaking a foreign language to most of them. It is not that they do not ask the questions, it is they do not know what question to ask? That is a very different issue. I was a little older when I actually started college, so I had already learned to manage my life, at least to some extent. As I have noted at other times, I flunked out the first time I went. I was not a bad high school student (with the exception of the one quarter of chemistry). I was a typical high school student. I did enough to get by. I will say they did not hand out As or Bs as they do now. I got more Cs than I wish I might have. I graduated from high school with around a 2.8. Nothing amazing. Going to the service was a shock for a 17 year old little naïve and squirrely NW Iowa kid. It was a nothing short of a total frickin’ wake up call. I actually put my head under my pillow the first two nights in boot camp at MCRD in San Diego. There were times throughout the entire 80 days I was not sure I could make it. I was above average there, but barely. There was a lot more growing up yet to do. That is life. It is a continual growing process. It is a continual kick of accountability. I am now into that sexagenarian decade and it has not changed. The difference is I am no longer surprised when I get kicked. I am no longer ready to first blame someone else for my problems. I will admit that even at this age it is not enjoyable to be accountable, but that is the way the world works. It is always difficult to hear that. When I note for students that their investment of 100K and a piece of paper guarantees nothing, the look on their faces is one of shock, one of wonder. I remember a student a few years ago when I noted the reality of this asking why I wanted to depress him.

What are the answers to some of these questions? Are there answers or more appropriately, are there solutions? I believe the answer, as it usually is, is complicated. While I feel I am sounding old, it seems the loss of family support, or a nuclear family (an unfortunate term) creates a significant piece of this issue. When we are opening the doors of the university to students dramatically underprepared, we need to consider carefully how we best support them. I am not saying opportunities should not be offered, but throwing someone into a pool and forcing them to swim is brutal . . . and the failure rate can be tragic. So it is here with our students. I am sad for them because I believe we hurt them more than help them. There are so many considerations and it takes a lot more than merely a room, some food, and a list of classes if they are going to thrive in this foreign environment. There have been times this semester when I try to assist student that their hearts are certainly in the right place, but they look at me as if I am speaking a foreign language, and to them, and I am. Again, it is much like why we hire attorneys when we are considering needing to work in the legal system. We have neither the expertise nor the language to navigate this unfamiliar terrain. I was no different on one level, but I was 24 years old when I began my studies in earnest at Dana College. I had a GI Bill that was also helpful. It was also different to be among so many who were typical small liberal arts types. I had been around a lot more than them. Even though I questioned my academic ability at the time, I was able to navigate most of the rest of the requirements. I learned that I was capable, but I had an amazing support system at that small Nebraska college. I had outstanding professors who took a personal interest. I had a group of friends who cared about me and I cared about them. To this day, I am still learning how much Dana College did to prepare me for the life I now have.

As I have worked through helping almost 100 advisees or summer freshmen just this semester I am blessed, but a bit overwhelmed. I want students to success. I am in the midst of wondering how we got to this place. I am both blessed, but frightened as I work on this. Well, back to some other projects. To give you an idea of how small, young and naïve Pvt. Martin was, I have included my boot camp picture. Somehow it seems appropriate on this Veteran’s Day. Smiles, laughs, or snickers allowed and understood.

Thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin

El lado melancolía de la esperanza 


Buenas Domingo Dias,

es un día al grado, pero ha sido una mañana y pensar que lo que me parece que gastar una gran cantidad de tiempo haciendo aquí últimamente. Recuerdo que uno de mis ex estudiantes señaló que tengo un lado melancólico a mi personalidad y de acuerdo con ella. Aquellos de ustedes que están siguiendo mi blog con alguna regularidad probablemente notará, al menos, que siempre me pregunto al tipo de ¿qué pasa si? tipo de pregunta. Todavía me pregunto cómo tengo esta sensación de tristeza, a pesar del hecho de que todavía estoy aparentemente contenido y agradable para la mayoría de la gente que conozco. De hecho, cuando Lydia me preguntaba cada mañana cómo estaba, me generalmente responder, ‘No tengo problemas. ‘ Ella respondía con su ceño fruncido típica y luego decirme que yo era demasiado amable o demasiado feliz. Sin embargo, no estoy seguro de si estoy del todo feliz. Me gusta la gente y me gusta ver y aprender de la gente, pero me parece que llegar nunca al lugar donde estoy relajada y totalmente satisfechos con dónde están las cosas. Casi siempre me siento que hay algo aún por hacer, o más exactamente, algo que debería estar haciendo. Creo que es esa sensación de no estar terminado o todavía necesitan hacer algo de manera más eficaz, más eficiente, más bien, que es mi más potente némesis. Me hubiera gustado que me podría encontrar ese lugar donde yo puedo decir, ‘Está bien. ‘ De nuevo, si has leído los blogs escritos anteriormente, usted sabrá de dónde viene esta enfermedad.

Creo que la consecuencia más importante de esta sensación de ‘debe hacer mejor’ es que yo no soy capaz de dejar ir o relajarse. Además, yo no celebro los éxitos de mi vida; No me tomo el tiempo para ser tan agradecidos por todo con la que he sido bendecido. Eso es triste, y yo lo saben (o yo no estaría escribiendo sobre ello), pero parecen incapaces de superarlo. Hay muy poco que realmente me abruma, ya sea positiva o negativamente. Eso también podría ser una consecuencia de esta necesidad de seguir luchando por la mejora, por algo mejor. Parece que hay un poco de diferencia de ‘verano de mi corazón descontento ‘en los últimos tiempos. Creo que es, en parte, el paso a una nueva década. He encontrado a mí mismo preguntándome qué si yo hubiera trabajado más temprano? ¿Qué pasa si yo tenía mi proverbial ‘mierda juntos’ antes? ¿Tendría todo resultó diferente? Esto no quiere decir, en manera o forma que no soy afortunado o agradecido. Más bien, se preguntaba si yo podría haber sido capaz de ayudar o hacer más. Una vez más, me doy cuenta de que eso significa que estoy haciendo la pregunta de ‘¿es siempre suficiente?’ La semana pasada fue una semana donde me sentí como si estuviera colgando de mis dedos y las uñas se inclinaban más de lo habitual. Incluso le dije a mi jefe de departamento que me sentí abrumado y es muy raro que tengo que admitir ese tipo de cosas, incluso si ocurren con más frecuencia que quisiera admitir.

Ayer hablé con un par por quien tengo el mayor aprecio. Han pasado por mucho para trabajar juntos (incluso conseguir juntos) como pareja. He aprendido más de la lucha que están teniendo con uno de los hijos. Me encontré a mí mismo diciendo cosas mucho más difícil en la medida como una respuesta a este joven de lo que hubiera creído. Yo estaba dispuesto a decir que tiene que salir de la casa si él no está dispuesto a hacer cualquier cosa para mejorarse a sí mismo. Creo que hay mucho que ha hecho de la historia antes difícil, pero no puedo cambiar el pasado. Sólo pueden hacer frente a la actual.Aprendí de nuevo cómo es posible que alguien que ha llegado al país de manera legal y trabaja duro para convertirse en parte de este tejido cultural que llamamos América es tratada como menos porque no son blancos. Es desalentador para mí. Es una de esas cosas en las que quiero levantar mi voz aún más de lo que tengo y decir ‘prestar atención! Todas las vidas son importantes. Sé que hay conversaciones sobre aspectos específicos y puedo apreciar los hashtags, pero en última instancia, cada vida tiene valor. Tenemos que entender eso. Necesitamos creer eso, y entonces tenemos que practicar eso.

Good Sunday Monring,

It is a day to grade, but it has been a morning to drive and think, which what I seem to be spending a great deal of time doing here lately. I am reminded that one of my former students noted that I have a melancholy side to my personality and I agreed with her. Those of you who are following my blog with any regularity will probably note, at the very least, that I am always wondering the sort of what if? sort of question. I still wonder how I have this sense of sadness, in spite of the fact that I am still seemingly content and pleasant to most people I meet. In fact, when Lydia would ask me every morning how I was, I would generally answer, “I have not problems.” I think it is that sense of never being finished or still needing to do something more effectively, more efficiently, more perfectly that is my most potent nemesis. I do wish that I could find that place where I can say, “It is okay.” Again, if you have read previously written blogs, you will know from where this malady comes.

I think the most significant consequence of this feeling of “must do better” is that I am not able to let go or relax. In addition, I do not celebrate the successes of my life; I do not take the time to be as thankful for all with which I have been blessed. That is sad, and I know this (or I would not be writing about it), but I seem incapable of overcoming it. There is very little that actually overwhelms me, either positively or negatively. That also might be a consequence of this need to keep striving for improvement, for something better. There seems to be a bit of difference to “summer of my hearts discontent” as of late. I think it is, in part, the move to a new decade. I have found myself wondering what if I had worked harder earlier? What if I had my proverbial “shit together” earlier? Would it have all turned out differently? This is not to say in way shape or form that I am not fortunate or grateful. Rather, it is wondering if I might have been able to help or do more. Again, I realize that means that I am asking the question of “is it ever enough?” This past week was a week where I felt like I was hanging on by my fingertips and the fingernails were bending more than usual. I even told my department chair that I felt overwhelmed and it is very seldom that I will admit such things, even if they happen more often that I care to admit.

Yesterday I spoke with a couple for whom I have the greatest appreciation. They have gone through so much to work together (to even get together) as a couple. I learned more of the struggle they are having with one of the sons. I found myself saying things much harder as far as a response to this young man than I would have believed. I was willing to say he needs to get out of the house if he is not willing to do anything to better himself. I think there is so much that has made the earlier story difficult, but one cannot change the past. They can only deal with the present. I learned again how it is that someone who has come to the country legally and works hard to become part of this cultural fabric we call America is treated as less than because they are not white. It is discouraging to me. It is one of those things where I want to raise my voice even more than I have and say “pay attention!” All lives matter. I know there are conversations about specifics and I can appreciate those hashtags, but ultimately, every life has value. We need to understand that. We need to believe that, and then we need to practice that.

Okay . . .  I am going to finish this post in English. I have worked hard on my writing and understanding of Spanish, but I need to do a lot work on my speaking and listening yet. I wish I was fluent. It takes practice and time, it is the time and the place I need to be where I am forced to work on it with no options but to learn. Again, I have come a long ways, but I want more. I want to be better. I am not satisfied. What does it take to be satisfied or content. I have noted this once before in a blog, but I find myself here again. I think that is probably why I am told regularly I might have the tightest shoulders and neck that anyone has ever seen. When I was in the Dominican Republic a little over a year (see a blog in August 2014 titled “Michael Jackson and Chocolate,” I think), the masseuse that worked on me said I should go to a massage therapist once a month or so. If I did that I might help myself, but the purpose of this blog is actually to consider the reason for the stress to begin with. I think the issue is simply that I cannot find a sense of contentment. I do believe contentment leads to comfort and relaxation, which can lead a person to being genuinely happy. I think it is the issue of being genuinely happy. There are many who pretend to be happy, but it is a facade. I would not say that what I do is a facade, and in fact, I try my best to be genuine. I think it is that I think too much. Yet, I am not sure that one can do that. Perhaps it is that I think too much about what I can do little, but wish I could do more. Might it be, by so doing, that I set myself up for disappointment, disillusionment, or worse? Sometimes this is what it seems, or definitely feels to be happening. I am realizing two things as I sit here and type. It was on this date in 1973 that I graduated from Marine Corps Boot Camp. It was also on this date, four years later that my hero, my Grandmother Louise, passed away. The graduation from boot camp was quite a thing for me because boot camp was difficult for me. There was certainly more than one time that I was not sure I would survive those 80+ days of training. I was not an amazing boot camp participant. I will say that I was pushed to my limit, but to be honest I survived, but there were times that “barely” would be the appropriate adjective. The day I received the call that my grandmother had passed away, I was devastated. She, as, once again, previously noted, taught me more about manners, about being a gentlemen, about love than any person I know, or have ever since met. Lydia would be the other person to be considered in the same sentence or thought process. These two women have done more for me and done more to shape me (there is also my adopted father, Harry Martin) than any other person. There are times I have cried in my life, and I would even admit that those times might only be rivaled by John Boehner, but I sobbed at my grandmother’s funeral. It might be the hardest I have ever cried in my life. To this day, it is hard to verbalize how much I loved her. She is one of the persons I hope might be proud of what I have accomplished.

I do wonder what those forbearers, those ancestors of mine might thing. Recently, I joined, but I am not sure why or what I think I have learned. I need to spend more time, but then again, there is that word . . .  I need more time in everyday, but  I am quite sure I would not get more sleep. I have been sleeping more, and one of my more understanding or insightful friends have merely noted that it is something I need. However, I hate admitting that. . . .  I think I have either wandered or regressed. What is melancholy? I tell me students to not merely use the dictionary and put it into their paper and therefore I will not use that . . .  but the synonyms of pensive or lugubrious come to mind. For me, there is a reason, in spite of the fact that for many others it is not obvious. A year ago I was struggling to understand the concept of privilege and how that privilege created a chasm between me and someone for whom I had unparalleled appreciation. I have learned that sometimes you need to let people go and in the distance both learn. I think what I do is hang on to those I have lost and I mourn that loss more than most might realize. I realize that the normal changes in our lives create the reality of both loss and opportunity. Yet, I desire to hope. I think listening to Pope Francis this past week I have learned a great deal about the idea of hope, hope that is based on understanding, believing in the power of human dignity, and an unfathomable deep and abiding faith. I wish I might have been in a position to see him in person, even if it were from a distance. I think he is a Pope that I do want to see. It is a combination of his Jesuit background as well as his native Spanish that also intrigues me. It was fun this week to listen to some of his words and being able to understand some of the Spanish I was hearing.

Hope is something we all need as humans. We need to believe that there is a possibility of something better, but I think too often we are shattered by crush of our daily lives to see the future. It is interesting to me that we have more access to information and the ability to understand our world than ever before, but the consequence is we become overloaded, overwhelmed, and ultimately over stressed. Yet, hope is fundamental to our life. The couple of whom I was speaking earlier in the post and I had a conversation about this very thing yesterday. When people have no sense of hope their actions in the present are very different. They do not think or worry about the future because they see no sense or purpose in so doing. Therefore they fixate on the present and that becomes a selfish wanting in the here and now. I see this in many, but fortunately, I see something different in many of my students. Their hard work, their inquisitiveness, and their belief that what they are doing matters gives me hope. Perhaps there is hope for a future. Students today are much more open to diversity, to inclusiveness, and to accepting the other than my generation. Those things give this melancholy spirit something to hold on to, to believe in, to pin myself to something more than a pipe dream . . . thank goodness.

As always, thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin

Thinking Carefully; Wondering Broadly


Good Morning from the diner,

As I write this I have reminisced and realized that on this date, my Great-aunt Helen, probably one of the more elegant women I have ever known, would be celebrating a birthday today. I need to do some searching on a year, but I am imagining she would be around 108 or so. In addition, four years ago today the reality of a flood in Bloomsburg was terrifically apparent. That flood crested at 32.75 feet and the consequence of the flood is actually still felt here in town. The third significant thing that occurred in my life was a pretty serious motorcycle accident. I ended up with two skull fractures, serious facial surgery, and even more significant hand surgery. My little finger on my left hand is a veritable hardware store. I was fortunate and have been fortunate in so many ways. This past week I feel like I am still trying to get my feet firmly underneath me and some sense or semblance of order to the semester.

That semblance is still struggling because it is now the weekend and I had begun this on Tuesday. Part of that might be that I have been technologically challenged again this week. First I misplaced my phone and then it seems it needed to be reset again. It is just now, Sunday that it is working reasonably well again. This is the third time I have had to completed restore it. That little process takes about 3 or 4 hours. I need to get a hold of a number of people as I just got their texts and or other attempts to get a hold of me. I need to put in perhaps one of the most labor intensive weeks that I have had in a long time this coming week. Along with other things that have occurred, I was elected the chairperson of the Evaluation Committee this week. That will also be a labor intensive thing, but I will manage it also.  It is hard for me to believe that 14 years have passed since the fateful September day in 2001. What is harder for me to imagine is what the world was like before that time. It is almost like we were in a world of naiveté . . .  and looking back with 14 years of hindsight, we certainly were. There are two substantive differences that I have noticed personally. Because I have flown as much as I have, the reality of flying today and the fact that there is nothing really enjoyable about it is a difference to me. I used to look forward to the idea of being on a plane. Those days are long past, and it is not merely the cramped or overcrowding . . .  it is the way that we are treated in general. We have become numb to the cattle-like herding that seems indicative of most airline travel. We have learned to manage lines, inspections, questions, and a general sense of mistrust like that is normal. It is normal, but the very fact that it has become the norm is undeniably sad. The second thing that has changed for me (personably as an observer) is the way that we have learned to mistrust others as a general course of action. As groups like ISIL (ISIS) or Al Qaeda or other Islamic terrorist groups continue to skew the image of Islam in the world, the unfortunate consequence for all Islamic people is they are viewed suspiciously. I have amazing students who are Turkish, Egyptian, Sudanese, or other predominately Muslim countries and I cannot imagine what they must put up with daily because they choose to wear a hijab or because they look either Middle Eastern or North African. These changes in the world, while I understand them, cause me more sadness than anger or suspicion.

I remember the day following 911 and a student in my second semester composition course at Michigan Tech noted in my class unapologetically, “You deserved what happened yesterday.” This student from the UAE was unbowed in his opinion and the uproar that occurred in the class and my attempt to focus on what he said as well as wonder a bit more broadly was one of the more delicate rhetorical moves I have ever had to make in a class. I remember the project we did in that class that semester and the amazing work those students did to manage a response that focused on the community of caring and giving that was created out of that tragic day. There was a sense of caring globally that was outstanding and unparalleled. I wish we had more of that yet now or that we might have held on to it. There are a number of places where it seems not only have we lost it, but we are in a much more dangerous position that perhaps anytime in history. The first place I would not for that disharmony is in our nation’s capitol. I understand this is only my opinion, but I think the founders of this country would appalled, or quite sad, that their grand experiment has seemed to be reduced to such rancor that it seems that even the most mundane piece of legislation has become a marathon to complete. I cannot imagine they would be impressed that Donald Trump finds it appropriate to speak about Carly Fiorina’s face as if that were a politically reasonable way to manage a campaign. While I am all for spirited debate and appropriate arguments, and even being passionate about what one argues, the reality of the present campaign pains me more than words can express. Donald Trump is nothing more than a rich kid, sandbox bully. I might even be willing to allow that he has some intelligence, but use that first rather than after the fact. That is my soapbox rant for this blog.

In the days that I worked in graduate school after 911, I worked on a project for one of my mentors. That was a project that looked at the images of 911 as well as some of what we might call remix songs. One of them that still moves me is what I am posting here.

I cannot watch this even fourteen years later and not have chills up and down my body. I have not gotten over to see the 911 Memorial in NYC yet, but I need to do that. I am reminded that so many people’s lives were irreparably changed that day, but so was a national fabric, in fact, the world fabric. What creates such hate among people? I am forced to think carefully and wonder yet more broadly to try to find such an answer to such a difficult question.  I cannot imagine what that day must have been like for all of those in Manhattan and the boroughs of New York City. I know how shocked we were in the rural and seemingly protected Upper Peninsula. I have found another video that as I watched it brought tears to my eyes.

If you might take a moment to think about your own attitudes and your own change in perception since that day, it might be a good thing. Who are we as people? What is our purpose as people? From where does the hatred for one another because of difference in skin color, religion, socio-economic class, or orientation come? What makes one person better or more entitled than another? These are the questions that permeate my thoughts as I consider the post 911 world? What allows a person’s religious beliefs to trump their political or civic responsibility? What happens when people proof-text and use the Bible to uphold their bigotry or self-righteousness? What happens when we believe we have the right answers and, therefore, the answers or views of another are considered wrong, or unchristian, or something of less value than ours? We end up with a world of mistrust and hatred. We end up with a world that marginalized the other.

During the coming week I will turn 60 years old. I am not exactly sure how I have ended up where I have. When I graduated from high school as an small, naïve, and wide-eyed Midwestern boy going into Marine Corps boot camp, I had no idea that I would be were I am today. When I met the first girl I really liked as an adult barely out of the service, I ever realized how much another person could influence my life. As I traveled on a Lutheran Youth Encounter team member, I had no idea that the persons I met that year would be part of the remainder of my days. As I arrived at that small liberal arts college in Nebraska, I had no idea that so many of the people I met and the things I learned would create such an amazing educational foundation (and that is about life as well as academics). Since that time, I have been involved in education pretty much non-stop, I have learned that everything I do has a teaching element to it. It is who I am. I love to help others learn and improve their lives. I have become a pondering person, one to generally thinks more carefully and wonder more broadly. What are the consequences of our actions and how does what we do affect others long after we are no longer there? I did not think that turning 60 would be that monumental. The only other birthday that I have found significant in my life was 25. Somehow, it seems this one might outpace that one in terms of personal impact. I am not entirely sure, but I am realizing that I am thinking about the remainder of my life more carefully and, yes, perhaps, more broadly than ever before. What I know for sure is there is nothing promised and there are no guarantees. That is also a consequence of 911 for me. We have no idea where the end is. I am realizing that my grandmother, my hero, only lived to be four years older than this coming birthday. My mother only eight years  longer. I am not sure I have ever thought of entering a decade that might be my last, but I am realizing that is a more likely possibility than the previous decades. I am not trying to sound fatalistic, but rather, I am being more cognizant of the fact that each day is a gift and there is a lot more to consider. I also realize I have a lot I would still like to do. So . . . . with that in mind, it is time to get to it.

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin