A Wonderful Job and Some Amazing Students

Hello from my little office on the acre.

Many times it seems we have a tendency to only verbalize the negativity we see and feel. I am not sure if it some makes us feel better or if we believe people will somehow feel sorry for us, but I think we are profoundly mistaken on both accounts. I am guilty of this at times also, but I think I generally try to find the positive in most everything I do and in most things I experience. I have a smart ass saying (those of you who know me have undoubtedly heard me say this at times). I believe all learning is positive; when it goes well it is positive; when is sucks, I am positive I do not want to do it again. So there you have it. When I was a seminary student, we were required to do a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) and, of course, we were required to take a number of pastoral care and counseling classes. When someone had just finished their upper level pastoral care and counseling course or had finished a unit of CPE, you would hear some specific phrases (known as active listening responses) come out of their mouths (e.g. It seems I heard you say . . .  or did I understand you to say . . .  or when you said this, _________) and we would respond in our best pastoral voices, “Shut the F up!” There you have it: pastoral care at its finest. While that is all true, what it helped us all realize is that we are not really good listeners. Another acronym we came up with, particularly after a really difficult day in clinical or perhaps after failing a Greek or Hebrew exam was that was another AFGE . . . . which stood for Another F-ing Growing Experience, and certainly life is full of those. I smile as I think back on those times because I was fortunate to have some of the most outstanding seminary classmates: Tim Christensen, Karsten Nelson, Steven Blenkush, Kathy Vitalis Hoffman, Tim Quarberg and Sandy Van Zyl, Sue Volden Gunderson, Wilbur and Deborah Holz, and the list could go on. To this day, 30 years later, I am blessed by their presence in my life. Some certainly more than others, but I am still in touch with them. I am amazed that it was 30 years ago (plus a few months) that I found my way to Pennsylvania the first time. It was a bit of a shock for this Midwestern boy, and a much greater shock to my former wife. Being a pastor’s wife was not quite what was expected and I certainly did not always do the best job of being a husband when I was trying to balance being a clergy person to the 3rd largest Lutheran church in the NEPS and being a husband. I had a lot to learn.

It is hard to fathom that I have been back here, but this time in Northcentral Pennsylvania for almost 9 1/2 years. It is the longest I have lived in one place since I graduated from high school. When I left Pennsylvania in 1992, I was pretty sure I would never come back to the Keystone State, not I am not quite sure I will ever leave. Not that this is a bad thing, but it is certainly not where I expected my life to go. However, I am here at Bloomsburg for that long, and I must say it has been the most amazing and wonderful experience of my life – and I think I can say that both personally and professionally. That has been a pleasant surprise. It has also taken some hard work, but anything worth holding on to is worth working for. Sounds too cliché, but it is certainly true in this case. When I came to Bloomsburg the summer of 2009, I was excited and petrified. I was also feeling tremendously guilty for leaving the little tornado in Menomonie. The move was precipitated by both my inexperience as a tenure track professor and a dean who had decided I was the bane of his existence. Nonetheless, because of a wonderful previous Stout colleague, who would become a present colleague, and even more astounding friend, I was given a new lease on my academic career. While there have been moments of doubt and frustration, the overwhelming feeling I have had since coming to Bloomsburg is simply to be blessed. The department is full of incredibly talented and thoughtful people. They are both strong in the classroom, but there are some prodigious scholars in their particular fields, from Renaissance Literature to a Writing Center and from American Literature to Creative Writing. I still feel like a duck out of water sometimes with my Professional Writing and Rhetorical background, but there has been progress. On the larger scale, I have been involved in committees from the department to the college to the university level. I have learned so much and been fortunate to be exposed to so many remarkable scholars across the university. In my work with the union, I have been put in situations where I am asked to look at issues of labor and fairness and learned the complexity of people’s lives. Every day there is something new to consider and ponder . . .  and yet that is not even what I do most of the time.

As with any faculty person at a comprehensive university, the great majority of my time is spent in the classroom, preparing for the classroom, or grading what comes out of the classroom. Yet still there is more . . .  there is advisement, there is more counseling that one might think as a student struggles to figure out more often than not why they are in college in the first place. I am not sure we have done this generation of students much good by insisting that college is the only way to become a happy, successful person. There are some people who either are not ready for college at 18 or others who should consider other options. Many of the students, however, are merely trying to understand and do the best they know how. Most of my students are good people. Most of them feel an almost staggering level of pressure to perform well . . . and understandably so when someone somewhere is ponying up 100K for their undergraduate degree. That is a breathtaking amount of money for a possible piece of paper that might find them a job. Yes, you read that correctly. There is no guarantee. Yet, they come, much like the mantra in the movie, Field of Dreams.

This semester I have five preps and five sections. That is an overload in more ways than one, but the classes are not full, so overall, it is pretty manageable, and two of the classes are distance, which is an entirely different experience. Much more could be said about that, but there is a time and place for those classes and my Technical Writing class this semester is such a time and place as I have primarily nursing students who are in clinical two days a week for most of the day and beyond and then have a full class schedule besides. This semester, even though we are only into the third week, I have been really pleased with the level of engagement and commitment of the students across the board. It has been one of the best semesters I have experienced in that way. Many of the students are “claiming their education,” which is a foundational article I have them all read. I thought about discarding it because I have been using it for a while, but I hear again and again how it makes students rethink their educational process, which is the intent. So for now, it stays as a required reading. The nicer thing of having a few less students this semester is that I have been able to write more thoughtful and insightful response to their blogs and I hope to do the same with the work they will be turning in.

During the Winter Term, I wrote pretty copious comments on their work for my distance technical writing course and people were please with what they heard and what happened in the class. I have found it you will take the time to let students know you are really paying attention to their work, even when you raise the bar, they will generally rise to the occasion. I was able to do that well, while at the same time traveling around Poland, Italy, and Spain. It was really rather enjoyable. I would get up in the morning and have things commented on before they were up. Then when they looked at things there was usually something there on a daily basis. It worked well. Students are complex people, no different than their professors. We have lives outside the classroom also. The difference is that we are supposedly better as we grow older of balancing things. That is not always true. Furthermore, if we think about it logically, when they do not do something, they affect themselves, perhaps a group from time to time, and then there is some disappointment I imagine from the people who have sent them to college, hoping against hope, they will succeed. When we fall on our noses, which does happen at times, we affect 50, 70, 150, 250 people. Failure to answer an email or grade something in a timely manner is much more overwhelming and disconcerting for our students than we sometimes realize.

What I know from just three weeks into the semester, I have been blessed with some extraordinary students this semester, but that is not a one time thing. I have some magnificent students every semester. I have had wonderful students, whose ethnic background is Columbia and speak English as a second language. I have had a student who is has now earned a doctorate in pharmacy, and is Egyptian and Sudanese. I have been blessed with students from rural Pennsylvania with graduating classes of 50, and they come and work hard and conscientiously hoping to make a difference. I have been blessed to travel to Poland, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia, who are studying political science, nursing, biology, business or Russian and they grow up so much in the three weeks they travel. I am blessed to have had students from Spain, Greece, Sudan, Russia, and other countries and I feel sometimes they teach me more than I could ever teach them. I had no idea when I was growing up that I would become a college professor. In fact, I do not think such a thought even crossed my mind until I was in my early thirties. Then when I realized that was where I might actually go, I was probably as petrified as I noted at the beginning of this post. I was not smart enough to be a college professor. At least that is how I saw it. Now I lay awake at night and wonder about why rest is a verb most often even though we call it a noun. I wonder why we cannot do some things that would make life so much easier. I wonder what I can do to merely be better tomorrow than I was today. Why? Because my students deserve that sort of pondering. I am so extraordinarily blessed to be at Bloomsburg in a department of phenomenal colleagues and in classrooms with curious and fundamentally good students. Here is my idea about all of that. I am always trying to imagine things, so in an appropriate way, in spite of the fact I have used it before, I offer this (it is however a re-mastered video from their collection).

I hope you enjoyed pondering and thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin

What Does It Take?

Hello from about 35,000 feet and above the Colorado/Utah border, perhaps a little west.

It has been some time since I’ve made a cross-country trek, either by air or land; in fact, it is the closest I’ve been to Placerville since shortly following Lydia’s passing. I believe that is the longest stretch of time away from the vineyard since I was first there in 2006. Such a realization prompts me to think about the trips made, but also the time that has lapsed or how many things have changed from the simple and individual/personal, and the more significant and globally, if you will. While I have flown to the west a number of times, I think it is the first time I have been on a trans-continental flight from coast to coast with no intermediate plane-change. It is a 5 hour 23 minute flight and it has been for the most part smooth, though we are hitting a bit of turbulence as I am writing this (I should note that I have proofread and edited this because doing it on my phone was a bit more laborious that thought, and by what I see, not as successful).

Ironically, I found my way to Placerville-and even Tahoe eventually-because I had come to a conference about 12 years ago right now. The conference was in San Francisco and I drove up to Placerville, and the vineyard called Miraflores, to visit a sort of distant relative and her husband and their daughter. It was the most amazing day trip and I met some of the most wonderful people. Two of those people have become important friends. Marco is truly a Renaissance person, and is now married to an equally wonderful woman, named Belinda. Together they have created the most wonderful family with two of the most stunningly beautiful children that I believe I have ever met. The second person is Fernando. He is hard working, gracious, and brilliant in both what he has learned and how he understands. Since then, I have also learned a lot more about wine and how amazing it is not only as a beverage, but as the management of a simple (or maybe not so simple) fruit. I remember during the time immediately following that visit, I was fortunate to take Peter D’Souza’s “Wine and Spirits” course. I actually sat in and donated wine the second time I took that same class. Wine is a completely natural product and if you choose to minimize residual sugars and ferment methode ancienne, you have gotten back to basics about as close as perhaps possible. Wine offers the possibility of making dining an experience versus merely a meal. I remember the first time I compared how the wine tasted unadulterated, or with a clean palate and then what you received from the wine when paired with food. I was stunned that you might use a bold and hearty red wine with a grouper, for instance. Of course, I need to add that the grouper was blackened and served with a raspberry buerre rouge sauce. It was heavenly and it began an culinary affair between that gulf coast fish and me that continues to this day. Understanding or pondering our relationship with food and beverage is a complex, and generally misunderstood science/consideration/hobby/need. The reasons for our poor, or often unhealthy, interactions are a combination of simple lack of knowledge, more significantly our being too lazy to find out, and finally a lifestyle that screams more is better and faster is okay. So we gorge ourselves on processed sugars, even when the brand says “Nature’s Promise” and a label check illustrates 25+ grams of sugar per serving. Those of you who know me, know I love to eat, but not just for the sake of eating. I am all about eating for the experience.

As I have traveled to Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Austria, Slovakia, Ireland or most anywhere not in the States, going out to eat is something you do for an evening. It is an event. My students are often ready to dine and dash, not in the criminal way, but in a behavior that demonstrates a lack of etiquette or a lack of manière formelle appropriée. The difference in both portion and pace allows for such a much more appetizing experience as well as a more enjoyable interaction with everything and everyone. Think for even a moment. How often are you looking at your watch, flagging down your server or demonstrating visible frustration when you food does not arrive on your schedule? We want to “relax” by going out to eat and having our meal prepared, but we simultaneously stress out because we want to control their kitchen. It makes no sense. I think the sort of “eating as a habit or requirement” is an additional difficulty for us. Growing up we had specific times you were to be at the table to eat. Breakfast was the only one with flexibility, lunch and supper (dinner) were 12:00 and 5:00 period. If you were late, too bad. Even Sunday’s noon meal time was sacrosanct. Two of the biggest arguments my mother and I ever had were because of that time commandment. What was interesting in retrospect was my father could have been out an hour before and eaten, but it was 5:00 p.m. so you ate again. There was nothing about being hungry, or so it seemed; you ate because it was time to eat. It was a chore, an obligation or a habit, and for me, realizing that I was struggling with IBDs long before I knew what they were, eating was anything but pleasant. Learning that dining could be and memorable experience, a healthy and enjoyable opportunity is something that I am still learning.

. . . It is Sunday about 5:23 a.m. and I am sitting on the plane waiting to depart Reno and fly the first leg to Denver. I was blessed to work with a really brilliant colleague, who understands theory as if she were reading a children’s literature book. Our presentation went well and I am looking forward to the next step of writing the chapter for the book that is hopefully following. The OSCLG Conference is always a good group of people and the presentations thought provoking in a manner that compels one to look at the significance of communication in our polarized climate. I also got to see two of my mentors from graduate school, Drs. Patricia (Patty) Sotirin and Victoria (Vickie) Bergvall. They are both outstanding scholars, but more amazing people. For them to say that our presentation was important and shows promise was quite a positive reinforcement.

I am again flying, but in an aisle seat, so it is not quite so stifling or uncomfortable. In light of my post’s focus, I am unfortunately admitting that the food at the conference was not that amazing. While the food at the SF conference four years ago was superb, this food did not quite match up. Yesterday, however, I did take a bit of a respite from the conferencing and found my way down to Miraflores. What a nice thing to be back in the vineyard again. They were in the middle of crush and harvest was about two weeks from being complete. Victor happened to be there and it was nice to see him. Fernando is now in charge with Marco in Italy and there was a little barrel tasting and the Cabernet was stunning. Smooth, great black cherry fruit and a delightfully smooth finish. It will be stunning. The best thing is they have started to work with a shipping company so I can get the wine at the door. I will need to follow up with Cantiga. I think some of my best food memories have been in Placerville. The summer I spent there was stunning and I learned so much about the oenology, the viticulture of the Sierra Nevada area, and all the complexities of getting a block of grapes from vine to bottle. I need to check on Ted sometime and see if he is still bottling, making some kick-butt hot sauces and other things. I am still grateful for how he taught me to make quesadillas. Sometimes a simple twist moves a food from the category of blasé to something close to exquisite. It was his combination of cumin, coriander, and cardamom (a somewhat surprising spice usually used Scandinavian cuisine), that shocked a relatively simple Mexican stable into my nightly go-to, and better yet, it was quite healthy.

As I wing my way back East, I am reminded of the profound changes the past 12 years have sort of bestowed upon me. I was living in Wisconsin and had finished what had been perhaps my most successful year at UW-Stout. I felt like maybe the dark cloud that had enveloped my first couple years had dissipated. I had move into the little carriage house and between work and Lydia, my life was busy, but good. I had endured another surgery a year or two before and felt like I was healthier than I had been for some time, maybe since my initial diagnosis with UC, which was now properly diagnosed as Crohn’s (Preparing to land in Denver and we are bouncing as we approach on final descent). My neighbors on the other side, both Stout faculty and a couple who epitomize good parents and incredibly faithful souls sort of adopted me also. Yet, within a couple of years, there would be significant changes and I would find that being on the market for a new position would be necessary. A move to Pennsylvania after a year of playing both sides of a coin would ensue and a new life close to an old place would follow. Health things, as I have learned since my late 20s would create more needs and different concerns, but somehow I have been blessed and through a variety of doctors and other avenues, I think I am probably as healthy as I have been for a long time. As important, and in someways more so, I have been pretty successful professionally. I guess that is most apparent to me in that I am beginning my 10th year in the same location (the longest I have remained stationary geographically since childhood). So much has happened in that there are no longer relatives in Riverside or the Northside of Sioux City. I certainly have important and people dear to me in Menomonie, but Lydia has been gone almost 4 years. I have renewed some friendships in PA and lost some. I have been blessed by new people, and I have been fortunate enough to travel in ways I could not have imagined. I have met people from across Europe and learned anew that while our place in the world is certainly important, we are not as significant as we have been led to believe, and we are probably not as influential as we once were.

This morning, as I drove from Tahoe back to Reno, I listened to an hour program from the BBC, examining the global economic crash of 2008. I wondered what Lydia would have thought of how it all shook out. Her memory was waning and the dementia was ramping up during that time. What enthralled me was the comprehensive and expansive consequence of the collapse on a global scale and I learned more completely about the difference between Keynesian economic stimulus theory versus austerity. I would have loved to listen to Lydia address that practice and why it is or is not the thing to do. The program is a three part series and something I think I need to get a hold of an something to give a listen. While it might seem I have strayed from my initial point, and in addition my title of “[w]hat does it take? Perhaps the picture of the balancing dancer will clue you in that my seemingly wandering post has not gone totally awry.

Something I am still working on, and trying to master more than as simply a concept is balance. Somehow, in theory, it does not seem difficult. Imagine the extremes and try to find the place in the middle. One can eat in a healthy manner and still eat in a way that offers the experience about which I wrote in the initial part of my blog. One can find a place between being incredibly OCD and not managing anything in a organized manner. One of the things I believe has happened at Miraflores was finding the space between spending exorbitant amounts of capital on making the best wines in the Northern California region and focusing those resources in a more systematic way that did not compromise quality. That seems to have happened. Marco spoke about the winery being taken to the next level. I need to speak to Victor about a project. Listening this morning to the BBC I learned about the balance of spending and tightening when there is an economic crisis. I think I should chat with Nakul about a possible article on that. The initiating and practicing of balance is a balancing act in and of itself, and too often, our human nature gets in the way of common sense that would allow for balance to be a more incorporated life philosophy. What does it take to practice balance, it takes some of the things I spoke of in my previous post. It takes patience and a willingness to step back and think. It requires us as individuals to consider the needs of the other and how our needs affect more than ourselves. It obliges us to realize the difference between needs and wants. Too often we mistake our wants for needs. What I realize now, as some quite a bit older than I was, as a high-schooler, is that I always had what I needed growing up, but I did not always have, or immediately get, what I wanted. I did not comprehend the value of those lessons until much later in life. It was yet another example of balance. I was also afforded some special opportunities: private music lessons, involved in a special audition-only children’s choir (as an update-I have board the plane for AVP, and while we pushed back from the gate on time, 27 minutes later we are still waiting to take off). I am starting to fade from being up at 3:00 a.m two of the last three days. Again, that is the age showing me the difference yet again.

I think the simple idea, but difficult to employ, practice of a balanced life is something that was probably apparent more than I knew and certainly necessary more than I realized. Oh, if I had only understood and practiced it sooner. Maybe age and experience are what it takes.

Thank you again 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

Learning Begins Again

Hello from my corner of the office,

It always seems to be the case that when I believe, or begin to believe, I have in some shape or fashion figured out what my life is about, the fastball of fate whizzes by my ear. Not only did I miss it, I am not sure I saw it to begin with. The only reason I really know it happened is that I hear the snap of the ball in the catcher’s mitt and realize holy crap something just happened. I think life is much more often like that versus you see it all clearly coming down that 60′ 6″ in slow motion so you can knock it out of the park.

In the summer of 1968, I was going into eighth grade and I weighed all of 75 pounds soaking wet, and holding rocks. While my older brother was heading into his senior year of high school, I do not think he had thought about issues of the draft, the military, or the consequence of not going to college quite yet. He was busy being a high school student and had a girlfriend named Darlene, and she and her family went to our church. Ironically, and as an aside, I actually went out with her younger sister, Janice, once at about the same time (or age). Northwest Iowa was not a particularly diverse area, nor did it seem that particularly political during this monumental summer. Yet, on the other hand, the entire country was much more political than a soon-to-be eighth grader understood, and because college was not yet on my radar, I paid little attention to college campuses.

Some research showed that Ames was more public in their show of shock in Rev. King’s brutal killing versus Iowa City, which actually surprises me. For those of you who are not familiar with the Hawkeye state, or know of it now because of people like Representative Steve King, Johnson County, the home of the U of I, is probably 80% Democrat. On the other hand, ISU, fondly known at one time as Tractor Tech, is a bit more conservative. Ames had multiple demonstrations on that Friday, fifty years ago. What I remember is sitting in our living room of our house, in our very white, middle-class, blue-collar neighborhood. I am not sure I had ever spoken to a black person in my life at that point. The only thing I really understood about race was I should and would never use the N word. My parents were adamant that such language was strictly forbidden. I am not sure I even knew why, but I knew the consequence of such an utterance would be quite swift and it would be extreme. So on that Thursday night as Walter Cronkite announced the killing of Dr. King, and coverage began to show almost immediately the rioting in cities like Kansas City and Chicago, neither that far away or unknown to me, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., my parents did speak to us about the issues of race and safety. I do not remember much of their lecture, with the exception of being careful and being respectful. I have forgotten that we were headed into Holy Week at that time. I am sure the parallels of being a martyr for the poor and downtrodden were made (and appropriately so). At twelve I did not understand the significance of Dr. King’s place in society or what his role in civil rights was. I think there was a parallel between Dr. King for a 12 year old, white, Iowa boy and the significance in 2008, of President Obama’s election for the same basic 12 year year old, white, Iowa, boy. In both cases, I remain quite convinced the loss of one and the elevation of the other was much more profound for a 12 year old black child even with the differences in communication and coverage.

In the weeks since I wrote this first section, it seems there continues to be those moments, specific instances of memory about the significance of dates. On the 11th, my Uncle Clare would have had a 122nd birthday. My adopted father would have turned 103 yesterday. While 103 does not seem that old, 122 does. That 122 spans three centuries. Almost daily my students remind me of how small the time period they understand really is. My uncle actually served in the First World War. I think he did not seem that old because we grew up just down the block and he was always part of our Sunday gatherings. His address was 2213 and ours was 2354 and on the same street. The walk to his place was a regular event. While he had a curmudgeonly personality, he also had a good heart. He possessed a colorful vocabulary that grew more prominently distinctive as he covered the septuagenarian and octogenarian years of his life, and location created no barrier for his very earthy outbursts. When 1968 came along. He was in his 70s and had been a widower for almost a decade. I made the inquisitive 14 year old mistake of once asking him if he was dating a person he had gone to lunch with a few times. Beyond calling me a “little son-of-a-bitch,” the rest of his answer would probably require a parental warning for this blog post. It would be restricted or over 18. The last time I saw him alive in the nursing home, he had injured his hand when he punched his roommate, and he was mighty proud of that. However, he was a genuinely grateful person when people helped him. I think what most astounds me is that in the almost century and a quarter from birth until death, the profound extent or degree of change, which had occurred beyond what most might deem even fathomable. From technology on the large scale to individual realizations about the change in our social fabric, the sort of seismic scale of difference in that time period is beyond the solitary person’s ability to process. I ponder how anyone can realize the magnitude of changes one experiences in a lifetime and simply, as a general rule, I do not believe we are capable of doing it. Moving to the second of the April family birthdays, what amazes me most about my adoptive father is how much we are alike, in spite of the fact that he was not my biological parent. When people tell me I was like him, I am honored and humbled. He was a good person, a caring person, and a person who worked hard and tried to make the lives of those around him better. He was giving and thoughtful. In spite of all, I know he was not perfect. I think he believed if you worked hard and “kept your nose clean,” as he called it, things would work out. I am not much different in my outlook. What I find most important it that he accepted people; he certainly did not always understand them, and he was most definitely a product of his time. There are ways I am sure he would be shaking his head at where we are societally. He was much more conservative than I am socially and I am more conservative than he was fiscally. It is an interesting juxtaposition.

As I noted at the outset, my head is most bobbled when I think I have things figured out, but find out perhaps not. Something happens to change my perspective of get my attention once again. There are two things in particular that have happened. The first I will address, though this does not mean I believe it to be the most important, is health things once again. After a bit of regular calling and trying, I was able to get into the dermatologist. I went in for a mole that was growing and on my back, and whose placement was annoying when I tried to lay down. It seemed reasonable because of the changes to get it removed. Well, interestingly enough, while the mole was removed, it was not all that problematic. However, while examining my back, the doctor decided some other areas were suspicious. So some lidocaine shots later and the removal of 5 areas of medical concern (three on my back, one on my collarbone area, and a small one on my forehead), and some serious subsequent holes where the removal was done, I have the heard back on the pathology of the problematic places. They are all cancerous and one of the areas on my back and the one on my forehead will require some additional work. The forehead area will require MOHS surgery, which I have previously done. The area on my back will be more invasive and done at a separate time. The issue with the back area is that I was informed that cancer is quite aggressive and they will probably have to cut an area and then it will require suturing to complete. That is the one that most concerns me. I have actually just spoken with the scheduling people and I am scheduled for both procedures on June 20th. I have to go back for some other follow up before that. While there is a side of me that is able to say, “just take care of it.” There is another side that says enough is enough. In the big picture, however, I know that once again, I am fortunate.

The second thing that has sort of boggled my mind is how life continues to provide opportunities for me to better understand myself and to imagine possibilities that seem to be outside what I had planned or what I believed could happen. One of my former students from UW-Stout, one who has been part of my life since the first day I began teaching there, once asked me why my life had transpired the way it had. I told her it was because I had more pressing things on my plate that needed attention than what I wanted or what I believed necessary. In her typical way, she did not allow me off the hook quite that easily and told me rather emphatically what she thought. It would be interesting to listen to her if I told her what was happening in my life at the moment. What is happening you ask? The most truthful answer is: I am not sure what is happening, but I am merely living it each day and blessed by what happens. It is not often that you find a thinker who thinks in the same manner, appreciates many of the same things, and is about process, which I am all about. That sort of work and conversation and helped me to consider writing and publishing in ways I have seldom imagined or been motivated to do. That is an exciting possibility. There is the same rather unique sense of humor and the ability to laugh both at myself and some of the things that seemed mundane, but also humorous to me. As I go through my days I am blessed by thoughts, hypotheticals, theoreticals, and actuals. It is so astounding that in spite of whatever happens, I know that I have a better, a more blessed, life. Conversations, texts, and late night phone calls have revealed more about myself than I could have ever anticipated.

As we head into the final weeks of the semester, there is always more to do than there is time, but it gets done somehow. I am excited to finish up the semester and see what the summer brings. I have had a couple things added to the schedule that I could just as well do without, but sometimes we have no choices in all of that. There is yet another hurdle to jump in terms of health, but I do not see this one as insurmountable. Then again, nothing is really insurmountable. Part of that is because I do not really see death as an enemy. I do not say that in an attempt to be morbid, but rather merely to say I am not afraid. At least, I have not been up to this point, and there seems to be no reason to change that position now. That is a topic for another blog. As I finish the year, and this blog, life is good and I am feeling loved and blessed. One cannot ask for much more. Somehow, this video, and the original Imagine Dragons’ video of this is outrageous, but I decided this video was what I wanted to post today.

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

A Mid-Summer’s Night in a Dream

Hello on an early Wednesday  morning,

It has been some time since I posted, and if you know me that means that I need to get some order to my life. It could also be that I am trying to do too much. Someone who has known me 2/3 of my life, albeit from a distance most of it, knows me when I was just home from the service. The four decades that have passed allowed for many changes, but a re-emergence provides an interesting view.  What  had happened is a certain level of honesty, revealing the frailties of  the other, that sort of fill in the picture in a more unfinished, but rarely truthful form. There is an interesting freedom in that because there seems little to lose and so much more to gain. It involves taking a chance. It requires a level of trust for me that is a bit uncommon, but still possible. And yes, the very fact it is possible is an important realization. It has been a good thing to share and listen to the other. It has been also positive to reconnect with someone who had such a profound influence on a young, naïve, and searching young man. Over the past month so much has happened. I was back in Menomonie for Dan’s celebration of life, and it was a celebration. His ability to teach us even to the last moment was so quintessentially him.

The time in Menomonie was good. The Lacksonens are such a gift to my life and their honesty, graciousness and care have had more influence on me than they probably know. It was also good to spend time with Amy, Charles, and Simon. They too are like a lost family that I never knew I had, but was fortunate enough to be allowed into their lives. I always marvel at the ways our paths had crossed, but we did not know each other. Again, it has allowed for a connection that is far beyond some superficial creation. I also got to spend time with a couple of other people who are so important to the memories I have of that Wisconsin town that did so much to change my life. I am still being affected by those changes. However, it reminds me clearly that there is so little over which we have control and there are always external factors that come into play when we least expect it. To spend time with Lydia’s doctor and to consider him much more than merely her physician is quite another unexpected and certainly undeserved gift. I did get most of what I needed to accomplish done and before I knew it I was back in PA, but it was already June. That month has flown by, but I have continued to have doctors’ appointment and work pretty intentionally at managing my health. During the first week of June I was able to get a number of other things accomplished and get some semblance of order to things. There have been home projects, some car issues, and then trying to get some writing done. I have made progress on all fronts. There have been more times than I could have realized that I seem to make a couple steps forward to only seem to fall back a step, but I seem to have lessened my propensity for doing that.

The second week of June I got some work done on my Fulbright application, but there is still work to do. That is going to have to happen this next week and it has to be a priority. During the third week of June, I managed to drive down to Cape Charles, VA and spend a few days at the shore. I am fortunate enough to have a colleague who has a house there and is gracious enough to allow me the opportunity to hang out. This time, there was also work involved as we are working on an article together (something that has been in the works for years), but we are almost there with a draft. That has been good. I have a second project just about done, but again discipline and getting it completed. It will not take that much time if I just focus. Then in the midst of all of this, there was the change to move to an office with a bigger window, so I took that task on also. I got the great majority of that accomplished in about 36 hours, but need to finish the rest this weekend. There are a couple of things on my plate yet this evening, and some of it has come a bit unexpectedly, but that is how life usually is. What I am realizing once again is how blessed I am to have the life I do. I have a wonderful job and an amazing department. There are certainly differing personalities and there are what I refer to as spirited discussions at meetings, but with minimal exception, we walk away from those differences and maintain an outstanding sense of camaraderie through it all. There are certainly moments that some make that difficult, but that is humanity at its finest (or something). It is interesting what social networking does, and certainly there is a lot out there written about all of this. For me, FB, Instagram, Twitter, and other things (but the three listed are what I  use most), keep me connected with both the past, but offer possibilities for the future. During the last year much has been written about how our political situation has caused a lot of disunity and there have been significant pieces written on how all of this has caused splits in families and such. One of the people I most appreciate let me know they had quit following me because of some of what I had posted. I guess if I think carefully and analytically, I should not be surprised because some of what I have posted has been a bit edgy.

Somehow another week has passed and I am not done with this posting and the Midsummer Night (or the summer solstice) has come and gone. Indeed, the days are already growing shorter. Not that I am quite aware of it. I am not sure if I notice that it is getting light later or it is getting dark sooner. I think it is the latter, but I still miss the summer nights in the Upper Peninsula. It is one of those important realizations again. Everywhere I have ever lived has given me something that has made me a better and more well-rounded person. There is no place that does not offer something of value. Too often we merely take that space (and the people) for granted or as just merely what is, but we miss out on so much by doing so. When I left Pennsylvania in 1992, I never expected that I would return to the state. I was a Midwestern boy. Now it is the state in which I have lived the longest since I was a child. I am beginning a 9th year at Bloomsburg and it is the longest I have been at one job also. I have certainly been the itinerant, but somehow this place changed that. I must give my friends the Deckers a great deal of credit for that. They made me feel welcome and made me family from the beginning. I have watched them change so much since I came to Bloomsburg. Second, I am grateful to that Friday Afternoon Club as I call them. I was introduced to a group of colleagues with whom I am still connected. In fact, I was with some of them last evening. While there has been some metamorphosis in the group, that is normal and people come and go. I think that is the most fundamental truth in our lives. People move in and out of our lives, and sometimes that change is needed; even when it is a painful change. One of my frailties is I try to hold on to everyone, and through that I leave myself vulnerable to hurt. Even when I have let someone or something go, I always feel the loss. While I am not trying to list everyone or everywhere that has significance, certainly my educational experiences have been important. All of them. There are people from each place, but it is somewhat ironic to me that this is the place I probably have less connection than many other parts of my life. I need to ponder that more, but not at this moment. The role of my Dominican family cannot be understated either. It is amazing that it was 4 years ago yesterday that Jordan showed up in my class that first day. Little did I know what that would begin. I can certainly write an entire blog about the 5 of them and how much they have changed my life. Their willingness to make me part of their family is another gift. There is my first host family when I was a 23 year old traveling on an LYE team. They are still in my life and have become more important to me than I could have ever hoped or realized.

If I can single out one person who has most influenced me as I ponder, it would be my undergraduate advisor, Dr. John W. Nielsen, who recently turned 92 years old. He took me to Europe as a sophomore in college. I had not an inkling how much that 30+ days would fundamentally change my perception of the world and of what it meant to be educated and learn. He is the one who taught be to actually learn. Up until them, I did what all too many do . . . . memorize/regurgitate, and I could do it well when I put my mind to it, but there is so much more to becoming an educated person. I hope I can somehow emulate for my students what he did for me. His inquisitive mind, his keen ability to make you want to learn, his willingness to share his experiences, and his desire to do what he did because it was the right thing to do set a standard that few are able to match, and perhaps even fewer would understand. Things he taught me as both a Humanities major and as a student/citizen have shaped much of what I believe should happen even now whether I be in a typical classroom, online in the classroom, or in Poland (and other places in Europe). I was blessed to have the opportunity to visit with him a little over a year ago and his mind was as sharp as ever. It was an outstanding opportunity to be in his presence once again. I have received notes from past students and it is both gratifying and humbling when they offer some praise for whatever occurred in the class they attended. It is for me another type of calling, not all that different from that ordination that occurred almost 30 years ago. Where does all that time go?

There is a lot more I could write, but I think I would feel like I am babbling . . .  what I am noting is that much like Puck in Shakespeare’s amazing play, sometimes we are visited by things and I share Neil’s recitation from A  Midsummer Night’s Dream scene in Dead Poets Society. I offer these words:

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
If you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.

Sometimes we need to return to our beginnings. Sometimes it is when people from our beginnings come back into our life that we realize how it fits together. I leave you with one of my favorite songs by the great lyricist and musician, Kenny Loggins . . .  indeed, it is hard to explain how some things follow us throughout all our lives.

 

 

Good afternoon to you all and thank you for reading. I am blessed by the part each of you have played in my life. Bless you.

 

Michael

So Much More Than a Memory

Good early morning,

It seems to be that no matter the time I choose to call it a day, I will find myself awake at 2:30 a.m., pondering more than Trump’s tweets. Perhaps that is because he’ll soon be up composing the latest 140 character blasphemy or alt reality, while casting accusations of fakery at everyone else. Perhaps, at least tonight, it is because my modified GI tract has decided to work in warp speed. Perhaps, and even more likely, it is because I am feeling the loss of a mentor and the passing of a giant influence, to my very core, on whom I have become as a professor and colleague. Dan Riordan was the chair of the committee who hired me at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. It was his unique and indescribably affable voice that first reached out on the phone and asked me to come to a little town in West Central Wisconsin in April of 2003. It was Mary and he who welcomed me into their home for a Sunday evening dinner with Bruce Maylath, and it was Dan, who excitedly pointed out a pair of bald eagles in a giant nest over their bank, caring for the eaglets, whose squawking and less-than-majestic looks stunned me beyond words. Dan’s welcoming and kindly smile, his ability to make you feel comfortable from the first moment, made my first foray into tenure-track academia a comfortable experience versus another John Belushi lying on the floor in Animal House reprisal, lamenting the loss of 14 years of college. Dan and Mary graciously hosted me in their home that spring and summer as I moved my life from the U.P. to Wisconsin, and it was Dan who gave Maggie a reference so I could rent my first apartment. Dan even gave me a temporary job working on the latest edition of his textbook, providing me both experience and cash as a still struggling new faculty person.

During my first year, the adjustment to becoming a faculty member was difficult. What I know now was coming out ABD created more than a difficulty of time management. It created a difficulty, perhaps crisis, of identity. While I was still a student, I needed to transform into a professor, a respected faculty person. Simply put, I failed in a rather epic way. I was working hard to figure it out, or so I thought, but during that first semester, my Internet Writing class was, and perhaps still is, the most complete failure in any classroom situation I had ever experienced. There were some outstanding students in that class, and not only did I fail them (and there were mitigating circumstances), but my response for that failure was to blame them and take little blame myself. It was not a good rhetorical strategy, but more importantly, I created a dilemma for myself, one from which I would never really recover. If not for one specific Technical Communication student, who was a single mother with a young daughter, whose moral support meant more than she ever realized, I might’ve quit at the end of that first year. There was another student who begged to get into my first year composition course. She too was a wonderful student and someone with whom I am still fortunate enough to be connected. They helped me survive. However, at the end of the first semester, it was Dan who sat down with me in the Acoustic Café and offered insight and comfort as I reeled from the serious ass kicking that semester provided. While the second semester went marginally better, I made some foolish mistakes outside the classroom. Most of those mistakes and downfalls were the consequence of alcohol, both in Menomonie and back in Houghton. To this day I probably have not apologized as completely as I should for a stupid voice message I left during Winter Carnival. This is where my being the student in one place and a faculty in another created a predicament that would have long-term consequences. In the infamous words of Dean Wormer, “drunk and stupid is no way to spend one’s life.” This is not an exact quote, but truer words have never been spoken. Ironically, one of those students would become part of our advisement board, and rightly so, because she had been a brilliant student, was certainly an outstanding employee, and one who had actually helped me in the business place. I treated her unfairly when I said something in front of that very board, somewhat calling her out. She had every right to dismiss me as unfair and rude. I am sure to this very day, she is as brilliant and as valuable an employee was she was a student. She is a phenomenal person, and a person to whom I will never be able to make amends as well as I wish I could. Indeed, my first year in Wisconsin should be deemed a serious learning-lesson. And while I did recover on a number of fronts, somehow getting an outstanding teaching award 5 years later, there are still things I regret deeply.

The group of students Dan had created through his commitment to each and his superior ability in the classroom is still something to remember. As your  former student, Priscilla Fugar, also one of that amazing group who rightly took me to task, noted so aptly, you had this way of listening and hearing them (and us your colleagues) and then smiling and responding, “yeah, right.” I can hear it as clearly as if you were here speaking it. As we continued to develop programs, internships, and other ideas, you continued to look for new ways to learn, but also so teach, always giving back, not only to your students, but also to all of us, your colleagues. Through the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL), I got to know other faculty, some who became my most valued colleagues and friends. Dan, your insight of the Stout history and culture was unprecedented, but your willingness to help others understand it was invaluable. You understood the struggles of new faculty and unselfishly gave to so many. I not only watched it, I experienced it. Your desire to keep achieving and then bring it back for others is a rare gift and one I try to now emulate here in Pennsylvania. As you never “siloed” what you knew, you taught me the value of cooperation/collaboration and it is something that has influenced everything I have done here at Bloomsburg. Yet, that brings me to your influence and help, both in getting me here, 998.6 miles from Menomonie, but also how you supported me in these last eight years.

As noted, my first year’s missteps created an exigency from which there was no reasonable escape, and the position of a dean made any such consideration moot. As I went through the summer of 2008, again you were there in ways no one else would even consider. You listened and even in your amazement of what the dean had done, you reached out, noting that we should meet on a regular basis or schedule. You listened carefully and your responses were always measured and thoughtful. That year could have ruined me both professionally and personally because of the stress, but you were my sounding board, you were a life jacket for me. You helped me see beyond the immediacy of the circumstance. You helped me walk a tight rope and you provided a quite stellar recommendation for my eventual position here at Bloomsburg. When I left Wisconsin, you did not leave me. You were always kind in taking my phone calls, of reviewing my abstracts, and sharing your wise counsel, offering insight and support from the inexhaustible wealth of knowledge and experience, yet always in a folksy and unassuming manner that delighted in helping another. You took time to fly to Bloomsburg and offered yet again your valuable and unparalleled advice, serving as an expert evaluator of our nascent program. You were kind enough to stay at my house and share both your expertise and joyful company. While I did get the Dean’s office to foot some of the bill, and you made me promise to get reimbursed, I never kept the promise. The investment in the program and the chance to bring you to my new world was repayment enough. As you worked through the process of seeing and building a program, your willingness to speak with my  colleagues, being with my students, as you had done so many times at Stout, meeting with my Dean all made more difference than you could have ever known, but I was so proud to tell you when we had completed what we had and send you the emails. In some ways you became my experiential post-doctoral father. That is no simple thing. When I came back to Menomonie to manage issues, either visiting Lydia and then finishing up things after she passed, again you were always there. You cheered me on and the last time I drove back in January, within hours of returning from Europe, even as you faded, you welcomed me into your home (both of you). It became a sort of inclusio. It was an opportunity to bring something full-circle. I remember standing in your driveway after our wonderful two hour visit and I held my hands in front of me across the driveway as tears filled my eyes and I told you thank you and that I loved you. You told me you loved me back. What a gift of words, a gift of colleagues, but more importantly a gift of mentor to student and, if I can be so bold, a gift of wonderful friendship. It was followed up by the most wonderful email in which you complimented my spirit and humor. I believe I still have that email.

Dan, you are so much more than a memory, you have nurtured and created someone who has come far since that fall in 2003 when I was a fledgling and failing first year tenure-track ABDed professor. When I imagine possibilities, indeed, even now I will ask myself what I would imagine you offering as wise counsel? What are the insightful, piercing, probing, but important questions you would ask in your supportive and visionary manner? I was once told that if you profoundly touch 5 people in your life, you are a successful person. What happens with the number of students, colleagues, friends, and professionals is profoundly larger, exponential of the mere handful (and that is not hyperbole) What is the term we might use appropriately? I know how you would respond. It would be self-depricating, a sort of “shucks, how kind of you to say so . . .” I can see you tilting you head and smiling, but being as gracious and gentlemanly as always. As you have touched my life, as you have transformed me, you are so much more than a memory. If I can somehow even begin to be noted, to pattern my life within the classroom after you, I will be honored. I know that there are times I have considered assignments, and in fact, I have bounced some of those off you. You always smiled and again noted, “how neat; tell me more about that.” Again, the interest, the support, the willingness to push me in perception and pedagogy. Your work with the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning would come shining through, once again helping us to imagine the consequences of what we did to make our students better, more prepared, more thoughtful.

I am sitting in Fog and Flame, one of the coffee shops that has appeared since you were here. You would like it. I can see you at the table helping yet another person, taking time out of whatever you might need to do, putting another person first. Yet, there was that other side of you, the father and husband. The way your eyes would light up when you spoke of your children, your grandchildren, or Mary, your wonderful wife and partner of 50 years. You were more of a model there too than you realized. Your class as a father, grandfather, and husband taught us more than you know. As I have sat here and reflected, there have been smiles and tears, but most of all there is gratitude, an overwhelming sense of humility because I know I learned from one of the best. I hope to share with my students, with others who might follow me. While there was barely a decade difference in age, it seems that I found a master who belied his age. I found a friend who supported me in ways too many to count. I found a mentor and doctoral father who was able to meliorate this struggling, but well-intended beginning academic. Well done good and faithful friend . . .  I promise to keep working to take all you have so graciously given and become even better. I am so blessed that you called me to come to Menomonie and UW-Stout that April 14 years ago. While it is hard to let you go as we once again were in the month of April, it was time for you to finish your amazing journey. As I looked at that last picture of you and Mary, my heart was breaking, but her face said it all so well. We all struggle to let you go, but in my case, those are  moments of my own selfishness. We love you deeply and that will not change. You are much more than a memory because you did so much to change of us all. Not because you wanted to change anyone, you merely wanted to be supportive of us, regardless of our place in life. No person was unimportant, you listened and you cared. In the process, you not only changed us, you became part of us and we are better for it. Bless you, Dan; I love you. You were an amazing leader and you created a band of many who carry on for you.

Thank you to everyone for reading this.

Michael

SGS – Short Once Again

Hello from the GI/Nutrional Center at Geisinger,

I am currently waiting for a recopying of paperwork that I managed to misplace before I even got out of the hospital today. I am not sure how I managed that, but I did. I have been diagnosed with something called Short Gut (or Bowel) Syndrome, which is a direct consequence of the surgeries I have endured because of Crohn’s. It is primarily an issue of malabsorption of the intestinal tract. In my case, it is the combination of the removal of the large intestine (or total colectomy, which began in 1986) and the eventual removal of a significant portion of the ileum or part of the small intestine (which occurred completely in 1997, after reconstructing it in 1991 and again in 1993). For me the malabsorption is really no absorption because those parts of the intestinal tract are no longer present. The present treatment as it appears will include shots, vitamin supplements (of or for a number of things), a change in fluid intake, and a different diet. At least for the time being, I will not need parenteral nutrition (which would be vein feeding). The significant point in all of this is pretty simple. Once again, I have some sense of what is happening and why. Now I merely have to make the changes necessary to manage all of it. Most of my life has been about managing a situation where it seems things might have come up a bit shorter, smaller, or earlier than imagined.

Throughout high school and even into, and for most of, the service, I was the younger one, the shorter one, the smaller one, and probably, though difficult to say, the more immature one. All of those things had consequences for me. Being shorter created what might some call in today’s world bullying, but I saw it as a sort of teasing, and, indeed sometimes it had negative consequences. On the other hand it taught me how to cope; i learned how to manage difficult situations with both decorum and a sense of humor. That was significant because if I had been inclined to fight over most of it, I would have spent most of my childhood getting my ass kicked. My Great-aunt Helen once told me that I had developed a pleasant and pleasing disposition early in life (like before I was 2). Being shorter meant I was always in the front row in those group elementary school pictures. Being shorter meant that I was not going to be a basketball player and the fact I did not weigh three digits until I was senior in high school meant football was probably not a healthy choice. Instead, running and such were much more suited for my shorter, lighter physique. Then there was the fact that I looked even younger. Where I went to school, we had a junior/senior high school. Seventh (7th) graders were initiated, sort of like college freshmen and beanies back in the day. Looking as young as I did, I was still be initiated when I was in 10th grade. I remember going to a youth event for my church and being embarrassingly mortified when one of the older members of my youth group made fun of my minimal body hair when I was in 9th or 10th grade. Maybe that is why to this day, I have only been clean shaven twice since I was perhaps 23. I never really thought about that or made that connection. Starting school at the age of 4 seemed like a good idea to my parents, and probably to me, when I began kindergarten, but it had consequences when I got older, but was still one of the younger ones. Amazing that for the first third of my life, I was always that person: younger, shorter, smaller, and yes, still the immature one. That continued through my time in the Marine Corps. When I tried to enter the Marines, I did not pass the physical because I was too light. When I got to boot camp, I was named Private Chicken Body because I was so small. I was told if I lost weight I would be dropped to PCP (not a drug, but Physical Conditioning Platoon). Even when I got out of the Marines, I did not look like your typical veteran.

When I got to Dana, for the first time I was not the younger one, but actually one of the older. I was 24 when I entered as a freshman at Dana. While I had been to college before that first foray into higher education was less than stellar. When I started Dana, I was more immature than most realized, or more accurately, I was more frightened. I was afraid of failing again, and I was determined to not make the same mistake I had made previously. While those four years did a lot to shape the person I am today, there was still so much to learn. There was the need to believe in myself. There was the necessity of believing that I was worth something, that I was capable, that I belonged. Those maladies affected me more than most will realize. The maturity aspect of this is what I believe has been more inopportune for me than the shortness, smallness, or being younger. It seems, particularly into my 40s, that I was behind my peers. In my 20s that gap seemed to be 4 or 5 years, even when I was chronologically older. When I got into my 30s, and especially when I was a parish pastor, there was the necessity to catch up. In some ways, I did, but emotionally, not so much. This created more adversity. I remember having to work with so many people and so many things. I was theologically and practically prepared, but the little person, who was still such a profound part of me and that few saw, felt totally unprepared and inept. It created more problems that I have probably admitted in my personal life also. While there were ways I was ready to be married (and by that time I had been married for 5 years or so), there were other ways I really was not as prepared as I believed. There is an irony in that because while I was certainly older and more prepared in some ways, I was probably not any more prepared than she was, but I was viewed as older and wiser. It was not always true.

What I am forced to admit is that my immaturity certainly did things to doom that marriage. I know some who know both of us will say that I am being a bit hard on myself, and perhaps that is true, but I am not shouldering all the blame. It seems I must merely try to be more honest about my part in that failing. The other day I was talking about that period in my life and I have known for some time that while I believed I was handling things well, again, not so much. What I know is taking a position at Suomi at that time, while it seemed to be a good fit was anything but. Living in the dorm as I went through that divorce was problematic and even being in my own apartment the second year was less than ideal. Those two years also set a course with a bishop, to whom I referred in an earlier blog, that would be terminal for my calling as a pastor, at least in terms of ordination. Then I moved onto graduate school again, and toward a second marriage. The year between leaving Suomi and getting accepted to Michigan Tech was a brutal one, working as “the most educated server in the Keweenaw” did little for my self esteem, and probably damaged my liver more than I knew. I have often said all food and beverage staffs are dysfunctional families. That along with returning to being involved with the fraternity I had pledged as an undergraduate was a blessing and a curse to me. While I somehow managed grades and such, I did not manage responsible behavior and simply put, I tried to catch up on all the things I somehow believed I had missed. In terms of a rhetorical strategy, it did little for my ethos. Certainly, some probably thought me mentally ill or schizophrenic, and quite possibly, rightly so. I made mistakes in that time that I still regret. To get back to the theme for this posting, I fell short of what was expected and I was certainly a smaller person for it. By now I was into my 40s and honestly, I there were times I acted like an undergrad socially. Somehow academically, I did substantially better. Not surprisingly, I was in counseling this entire time. One might think a second marriage might have created a better situation, and in some ways, it did, but when the marriage created more issues, life was still a problem.

As I moved into the 21st century, I was still trying to figure out where I fit and who I was. That is a bit ridiculous for a person in their mid 40s, but it was who I was at the time. While again, I was successful in my professional life at this point, my personal life was in a shambles. In fact, my counselor at this point and I had this specific discussion. There is, as I noted a second marriage during this time, but I will address that in another blog at some point. I will say that I have had contact with my second wife recently and apologized to her for my failures. I am glad I was able to do that because it is about taking accountability for those choices. There are always ways to justify our mistakes, and certainly as humans we are prone to do so, but I think I am beyond that point. Simply put, I am a person who had (and still has) good intentions. The difference from the earlier Michael and the Michael of today is I allowed my immaturity and my things that I missed out on as a younger person to cloud my judgment. I wanted to experience some of the things I missed out on. With the older Michael, I somehow had my maturity  catch up with my chronology. I think perhaps the place that finally happened was in Menomonie, not in the first couple of years, but when I suddenly found myself caring for a new sort of adopted parent. I realized that I needed to do things better than I had earlier in my life. I needed to make up for what I felt was the failure of not being there for my own father.

I think I have always had some insightfulness into the needs of others and could see things that would help them, while failing to see the same exact thing in my own life. Again, somehow, my caring for the “little tornado,” as I still fondly call her, changed those things for me. Simultaneously, being in a new place professionally, and feeling a need to begin over, offered opportunities for me to finally close the gap. Interestingly, reconnecting with some and seeing things from a different perspective was helpful. Even in that reconnecting and exploring possibilities, I learned more about myself and what I needed if I am to care for myself. That was a new experience also. Most of my life I have probably vacillated between completely one side of the other, which is never good. What I am forced to admit it being short on one side or the other creates a situation that is seldom manageable. During the past 8 years I have been in Pennsylvania, I have finally closed the gap and I am probably where I need to be for the first time in my life. What I realize is I owe many people apologies for the failings, the mistakes, the inadequacies that permeated much of my life. I am sure I will make mistakes in the future, but it is my hope the failings will not cause others discomfort and struggles.

For the time being, it seems that I have a structure for my life and a structure for my health. Both things are helpful, and they are important. As I have told people, currently I have more doctors than I have fingers on one of my hands, but they are in touch with each other; as such I have an amazing team caring for me. During the past month, the care of others from students and colleagues to friends near and far, I am been blessed. Having the insight of a health professional who is also a dear friend has been my unexpected gift in all of this. The ability to ask questions and receive caring insight and advice has been both comforting and created a sense of security I am not sure I would have were the help not available. Speaking of other health things, as noted in a previous blog, one of my colleagues has passed on and the other is certainly in the closing days of his fight. Together they created a footprint on the English and Philosophy Department at Stout that cannot be replicated. In both cases, the loss is profound and life-changing, not only for their families, but for the scores of people they have touched across the country, and even the world. This is not hyperbole; it is the simple truth. As Dan has signed off on each of this letters to those of us honored to walk this journey with him, I leave you with this. Hug the ones you love. What amazing advice and what an important thing to remember.

While I have shared this video before, it seems appropriate in this time as I think of my mentor and treasured friend, Dr. Daniel Riordan.

 

 

To everyone else, thank you for reading and again, thank you for your thoughts and comments. I am blessed by you all . . . if I have offended or caused you harm in my earlier life, please forgive me.

Michael (Dr. Martin)