When is Acceptance Merely That?

Good early to mid-morning,

I am on the road, having been up early and getting some school work done before heading back to Bloomsburg, but a stop at Cracker Barrel for an egg sandwich will be on one stop on the 5+ hour drive. I am continually amazed at how life is simultaneously predictable and anything but. I should know that by the day is complete I will drive about 11 hours, a rather circuitous route, but necessary. It has been a productive grading time and I am plugging away. I am always amazed by what I see in people’s writing, so including my own (both astounding and pathetic). I think what stuns and alarms me is the rather insouciant care given to the writing and speaking we engage in regardless the rhetorical situation. At the least, I find it vexing that some many people simply do not seem to care about those things that were a daily part of an educational process when I was growing up (grammar, spelling, syntax, structure, or basic correctness), at the other extreme, I find it simply lazy and flat out embarrassing and unacceptable. The struggle is not merely with students, it is with colleagues, professionals, and I imagine it is safe to say, with society in general.

The past two years I have served on two committees where attention to detail is paramount. I must also admit, the final product does seems to be a bit of a moving target, one that is somewhat at the whim or prevailing winds of the powers that be. On the other hand, the amount of energy put in by people on the committee is legion, and I use that in terms of per number of hours. Therefore, it is a bit ungentlemanly to throw anyone under the bus. Perhaps part of this is that people get frustrated, which is true, but too often people throw their hands up and just throw the universal f-bomb and say let someone else figure it out. It is exponentially easier to push off the things we find difficult or laborious, but the consequences of this philosophy are much more profound than merely shirking one’s duty. It undermines critical thinking, thoughtful analysis, and the possibility of finding out just how capable one is. It creates bad will between individuals and always seems to push extra work on the other. It does not matter whether it is a student or someone else at another level of education or professionalism. I also understand procrastination, feeling overwhelmed, or merely just plain tired. The necessity and importance of taking the time to think critically, however, should be understood, as well as the standard for daily living, but it does not seem that is even possible, as either understood or expected.

This gets back to my initial concern: when my faculty colleagues are willing to accept plagiarism in papers, and give students not just a passing grade, but an exceptional grade, how can I hold students accountable for a standard without seeming ridiculous? How might I argue the ethics of giving appropriate credit when others seems to ignore it as some sort of pesky insect, only swatting at it in passing because it is noticed or pointed out? As I asked my students to revise, the struggles they had to understand, let alone perform they take was not completely unexpected, but it was nonetheless, disheartening. Revision is difficult. I need to work on an article now because of revision and I need to find a few days to run away so I can focus on exactly that.

The idea of merely accepting is a consequence of allowing something less than what is reasonable or desirable. I think the same goes for our national character at the moment. The lack of civility and decorum in both our national conversations and our individual interactions continues to stun me. Not that it is happening, we have all grown accustomed to the vitriol, but the degree to which it has permeated the fabric of our country is something we will pay for in generations to come. The lack of critical thinking and merely accepting the first thing we hear or the latest sound byte has already had considerable and consequential results (is that a redundant term??). I believe the very fact that we managed to elect our current President is directly related to the inability or unwillingness of people to consider cause/effect or to think a bit more carefully. Now, before you think I can only diss our Commander in Chief, please think a bit more critically. I do understand why so many people struggle with Sec. Clinton as a candidate. I also think she got a bit before herself and believed her Presidency was a foregone conclusion, particularly when she was running against then-candidate Trump. If people have learned anything from that election, I think it is that one should never take things for granted. Yet, that is what many do, more than realized. What is the difference between planning for the future and expecting something from the future? I do believe one should plan and be prepared, but too often, we believe that planning means what we want should be the result of our planning. There are so many things beyond our control. I am reminded of that on a daily basis it seems. I can grade; I can create a schedule; I can even pay for things in the future to create more than merely abstract possibilities for my plans, but when it comes right down to it, I have little control over anyone by myself, and I have even less control of what happens in the world around me. While there might seem to be some contradiction in what I am saying, I do not believe there is. We need to be actively involved in our lives and what happens to us. That is the reason we have a brain, but too often we try to control so much more than we should or are actually able to influence or affect. Merely playing the victim to circumstances is too often what students and we as humans do in general. How do you learn the difference and more importantly, how do you manage that fine between acceptance and still being involved? How do you know when to step up and question and when it is reasonable to merely accept that is how something is?

We have reached that time in the semester when students will begin to realize all the things they have not done so far will catch up with them sooner rather than later. I realize on this side too. It is busy; it is overwhelming, but there is no choice, but to keep working. Well there are other choices, but I am not sure I want those consequences. Over the weekend, I did get a lot done, but not even close to all of what I needed to get done. I have noted with my colleagues who have a spouse and children, I do not know how they accomplish all of that. Sometimes, I am very happy that I can go to my house and simply shut the door. Even now, while the weekend was more hectic and crowded than I actually knew how to manage, I find myself fluctuating like barometric pressure during a storm front. I am grateful to my neighbor and incredible handy-person for helping me repair (rebuild) my dresser in my bedroom. Amazing what we found when we tore things apart. I am quite sure my dresser is stronger and better than it was out of the factory at this point. It was also enjoyable to work with him. He is a veteran Navy pilot, and salty in his own way, but he has a way of cutting through BS, much like my father. He is not old enough to be my father, but certainly an elder brother. I am sitting in my office and trying to manage a list of things, but getting up around 3:30 this morning has taken its toll a bit. I am struggling to focus and stay away. That is, in part, why I am working on a blog. This forces me to focus and perhaps it will roll over into the other things I need to do. I did get a number of those things that have been on the list for a while checked off, but that means other things did not get done as quickly or aptly as I would like. It has been a hectic few days, and I realize how much commotion and things that clutter my space overwhelm me.

It causes me to question other things. Over the weekend I went to two events: first, the 11th Annual LGBTQA Fundraiser. It was a wonderful event as is usually the case; the second was the opening night of the new production at the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble. The play was titled The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime and the primary actor was a young man named Stephen Fala. Incredible and stunning are the two words that come to mind. Oops @)%*T#! I hit publish rather than update.  More to come. . . . I sometimes wonder, and it is not that difficult to imagine, what it might have been like to be a person with a learning disability. I do have physical disabilities because of my Crohn’s, though many might question that categorization. I know that I am fortunate being as premature as I was in 1955. I am still somewhat stupefied by the fact that I did not have more complications from a 17 oz. birthweight. I remember as a child having family friends who had a child who had severe mental disabilities. Back that time, he was not even living at home. What it causes me to remember is how incredibly fortunate I am to have the capabilities I do. As I sit here my office, I look at the abilities of so many capable people and I see such a variety of effort put forth. I know from my own life, it took some time to realize that putting forth a strong effort was not only reasonable, it was necessary.

Well, I have other necessary things to manage: grading, bills, medical stuff, and a boatload of other things. All in all, it will be another busy week, but it is all good. Indeed, it is more than a feeling, it just is. The one band I wish I would have been able to see in concert back in the day, and it reminds me of when I first attempted college. Enjoy.

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Full Circle

Hello from Caribou,

I have been here in Menomonie for the last 4 1/2 days and have a couple left to go. Not surprisingly, I have been here in my old haunt working away, where I have actually been quite productive. It is a great way to begin my day before 7:00 and sit here and focus for about 4 or 5 hours. I have completed a lot of administrative stuff done as well accomplishing a great deal while working to create my summer class. What I have realized looking at the enrollment for my two sections is I will be doing nothing but that for about 6 weeks. This means everything else needs to be completed before then. I have wanted to get together with more people while back here in Menomonie, but work will have to take precedence. Yet, whenever I get to the point I feel a bit overwhelmed (or a great deal overwhelmed), I need to do two things. Come up with a plan for the process and then get my head cleared out, which means it is time to write. . . .

We are into the middle of June and I made it back to Bloomsburg, but then slid away again to the Eastern Shore of Virginia (and Cape Charles) where I have spent four days both sunning and writing. The week I made it home to Pennsylvania, I got a number of things completed. Seems I might finally have the upper hand on some things, though not everything is done yet. . . Here is what happens when I start a blog, get sidetracked, compose other blogs, and eventually find my way back. Other times I would delete it, but to demonstrate a point to my two sections of Literature and Society, I am going to add to it and still post it to my site. What you can see is there is something about writing in the moment, but it is not always possible to find the words, the strength, or the energy to complete it at that same time. That does not mean you should throw it away as a failure, but rather come back to it.

That coffee shop in Wisconsin is where I did most of the work for your class. It is where I wrote the Syllabus. It is where I put the shell of all my work in BOLT together. It is where I worked on other things that needed to be managed. Finding a place where you can sort of disappear, even in the crowd, but do your work is essential if you are going to be successful here as a student. Then I went from Wisconsin back to Pennsylvania and then to Virginia. While it was a sort of mini-vacation, it was also a working vacation. I began work with a colleague on an article that has been three to five years in the making. Honestly, for the first time we moved beyond the talking to composing stage. What I am trying to help you see is simple: no one is (or very scant few are) able to sit down and compose anything of value in its entirety at one sitting. It does not happen, at least for me.  I certainly have times where I am more productive than others, but writing well over a long period of time is excruciatingly laborious. It requires a clear sense of where I am going and why? It demands incredible focus and willingness to keep at it. It pushes my brain, more often than not, to extreme exhaustion. Literally, it seems I can no longer think or put words together with any semblance of cohesion. I do not say all of this to scare you; instead I want you to know that your writing struggles are not unique to you. It is hard to write well.

Today your classes were like the Tale of Two Cities, the best and worst of times. There were really good questions and concerns raised, and there are some phenomenal students in both sections of class. I do know that some of you are feeling like you just got run over by a bullet train and it is not slowing down. Unfortunately, there is more truth to that than you might have realized. The work you are doing with Ms. Water’s in your Reading course should help you with your blogs. In particular it should help you with connecting the reading to writing a more thinking and analyzing style of blog entry. It should connect you, the reading, and your experience as a summer freshman. It was intentional on my part to connect the tending to some of your own personal experiences. That is the Literature and Society piece of the course, the purpose of the class laid out.

Remember last week when we first looked at the Hip Hop Reader, I made the assertion that all art is a reflection of the culture in/from which it is created. The literature you are looking at in these readers are short creative pieces where writers from a wide variety of backgrounds are reflecting on their own interactions within their cultures and considering how it creates a sense of connection or meaning for them. What are some of the cultural differences you have experience within a mere 10 days in Bloomsburg? Some of you have spoken about being homesick. That is not uncommon, and to feel homesick does not make you an incapable or immature student. It means you value that place and you love the people who are there. Not only are you in a different location, bit you have a boatload of requirements academically that are unexpected.

This summer is an opportunity (there is that word again) for you to establish yourself in a new manner. It is a change for you to determine on your own what exactly you are capable of achieving, but this six weeks sets a direction for the remainder of you let life. Hyperbole, you ask? I will assert (or argue) NO. How well you manage this summer will give you a pretty strong sense of just what you are each capable. That is an important realization. I know there are a handful of you who have not even begun to scratch the surface of your ability. The time for waiting is over. Completely, unequivocally past. To not step up now will push you into a corner that you will not enjoy. I do not believe a single one of you wants to tell their parents or significant other you failed and got sent home. It is not a good experience. Again, I have done it as I told you that first day of class. And today it is so much more expensive.

Full circle I wrote as a title. That was because I was back in Wisconsin where I first taught in a tenure track position, I am back in Pennsylvania, where I lived from 1988-1992. I believe my relatives lived here in PA five or six generations ago. Last year I made it to Ireland, where my relatives lived 500 years ago. We have a way of going full circle, and sometimes creating concentric circles at the same time. This blog started in WI, made it to PA, to VA, and now back in PA, but it survived because I held on to it. Sometimes, we know not where we go or how we get there, but we continue on. In my piety I do not believe that to be accidental. With that in mind I offer this song by the 1980s group Mister Mister.  You have to like those 80s styles . . .  oh my, but here is an interesting version with Ringo Starr.

 

As always, thank you 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

Writing to living or living to write

   Good Saturday morning,

I am trying to manage, arrange, and accomplish all the things that need to be done and have my life in some semblance of order by one week from today. That is my desire and, depending on the moment, such a goal seems modestly obtainable. There are the other moments it seems to be but a pipe dream of the most exponential level of difficulty. As I sit in the corner of Dunkin’ still realizing the changes in my life in the past month, I waver between smiles and tears. When I spoke with Chandra this morning we spoke about the struggling to grip the reality of the morning and the moments where reality seems to be suspended. It is at those moments I find the need to write. 

The interesting and oxymoronic daily routine we commonly call life seems to confound me at times. I am not sure if it because I do not think about things as clearly as I could or if it is because I ponder then too much. It is probably a combination of things and it depends on both the day and the thought process. Maybe it is because there is more truth to a diagnosis I was given in January of 2003 than I would like to admit. I do know I struggle to be consistent in my behavior and my management of life at times. I also painfully cognizant that I take things to heart more than I should from time to time. Learning to let go of the things I cannot control will be something I will always fight. . . . It is now almost 10:30 Monday night, but I am a few hours ahead of EST. I am at about 32,000 feet over the coast of Wales on an Aer Lingas flight to Cork. I was planning to rent a car, but there was an issue, so I am rethinking that. I think if I can get a ride to first nights accommodations, I can walk to the bed n breakfast where I will stay the remainder of the week. I do not really have a plan for the next few days other than get caught up and try to do some writing. Part of the method to my madness on this trip is both what I have been told as well as ancestry.com notes that County Cork is part of my heritage. The article I have been bouncing around for years is about the rhetoric of place. As such, it is entirely apropos that I should write about place on location of my ancestral roots. . . . Two days have past and I have been working on school things and also merely wandering around Cork. It reminds me of my first visit to Poland – just enough to get a flavor and creating a yearning to return. I am merely walking about today. Hard to believe I am on a plane again in less than 48 hours. I love the accents here and I want to come back in the summer. As I have traveled more internationally in the past two and a half years, I am continually impressed with the genuine goodness of so many people. It is easy to become a bit disheartened by some of the lunacy that seems to be permeating America’s own politics, even those campaigning for the nation’s highest office. I am old enough now to remember when political office was something a young person could, maybe should, aspire to. I think that is, in part, at least for me, that I hoped then President-elect Obama had brought back, and while I am certainly not asking him to shoulder all the blame for where we are politically, I believe all branches of the government, as well as the American populace must bear some of the guilt for the monster that has become the 2016 primary and campaign. It has been somewhat eye-opening to listen to the people I have met in Ireland speak about what they see. Their responses have been measured, but their looks are also of almost asking, “Really???” The violence that has occurred at rallies and now the cancelation of them over the weekend, has not really occurred since the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. It would be an interesting political examination of conparing the two reactions. The seemingly-liberal student response to Vietnam and the police an the seemingly-conservative (not sure what term to use) response to our current government appears to use similar tactics. I wonder if these older conservatives were the same liberals of the late 60s? Dr. Strine, it would be an interesting research project and article. 

I should note it is now again a Saturday morning and a week has passed by more quickly than I hoped. I have struggled this week to understand why, even as a veteran and patriotic American, again I seem to be more comfortable outside my country than in it. I am reminded of a line in the movie, The Last Samarai, when Algeran is asked what America had done for him to hate this country so (a paraphrase). I certainly do not hate my country and I am most cognizant of the profound structure created by our founders, structures that allow for the very variety of tactics used in the above mentioned campaign. To have two Cuban-Americans, at one point two women, a Jewish Democratic socialist, or a black neurosurgeon throw their energy into taking on a presidential campaign is certainly inspiring on one level. Yet, there is some disillusionment with the tenor of the campaign and the sound-byte culture that seems to characterize our politics. What happened to actually answering the questions posed? What happened that canned-answers are what we can expect? What happened to thinking and really knowing the issues? I know these are not new questions that I am posing? Is it merely my idealism shining through yet again? Is it my wishing that the good in people might “trump” the foolishness, the ridiculousness, the bullying? It is the lack of decorum and the complete disdain for rhetoric as an Aristotlean art that dismays me. 

This actually gets me to the title of my blog. It is through writing I reflect; it is through writing that I think the most clearly; it is through writing I believe to understand both the world and my place in it. It almost hurts me when my students say they so dislike writing. It is because writing forces one to think more carefully, more completely, more engagingly? What I realize more and more is that my writing helps me critically understand this complex and shrinking world. People in the Dominican Republic, Poland, the Czech Republic, Ireland, or the Unoted States are not really as different as one might think. We all desire contentment. We all desire opportunity. We all wish for a world where we might be valued. It is what I hope for. It is what I think about. It is why I write. Off to London and then NYC shortly. Time to post.
Thank you for reading,

Michael (aka: Dr. Martin, the wanderer)

Juggling or Staying Afloat

 Good early morning,

For someone who does not really enjoy water, it seems that the metaphors regarding it are enveloping my writing as of late. I noticed this trend even as I have been writing announcements in BOLT (really D2L), the course management system we use here at Bloomsburg. I got home last night and was in bed by 8:40 because I seemed to be fighting off something most of yesterday. I do feel reasonable at the moment though it is about 2:00 a.m., and I am pretty wide awake (thanks, Katy Perry, for the song running through my head). . . . Maybe I’m not as awake as I thought because I’ve somehow posted this unintentionally. So I guess I will stay up and try to finish the writing, a bit more promptly than originally planned. Such changes can be a blessing and a curse, but nevertheless this posting will perhaps get completed in one fell swoop.

As the last four days have ended, in addition to the loss of the fraternity brother mentioned in the last post, four other people to whom I am close have lost immediate family members, parents or siblings. In some cases I knew those parents or siblings and in other cases not. I do not remember another time in my life I’ve been aware of so many people to whom I am close losing loved ones. I do remember a week when I was a pastor at a parish not far from here. It was one of those weeks where there is so much on your plate and of course it seems there’s not a moment to do anything else and there would be multiple funerals. Ask any parish pastor and I am sure that they will tell you the same story. For me that week was the week of Christmas and New Year’s. In fact it started Christmas Eve day, and it continued into the first week of January. If I remember correctly there were five funerals in that time. One person was maybe in his late 40s or early 50s. Two were sisters, both in their early 20s. I remember telling the one funeral director that he should just have an office in our parish. What I did learn from those times was that death is always painful. No matter what cliché you try to use, when we as humans come face-to-face with the ending of life we are at a loss through that loss. To the family of Justin, to Antonio, and to my Dana  and seminary friends, Deb and Wilbur, my words and my thoughts are certainly not enough in this time, but they are what I have to give you, and in my piety, the God in whom I believe sheds tears of sorrow with you. Please know that you are not alone at this time in spite of the distance. As you will juggle your feelings and emotions in these days and weeks ahead, there are those of us who will try to help you stay afloat. Please do not hesitate to reach out. I know this from my own experiences and I know how important those words and those touches are.

As I think I have already noted this fall, I was granted a quarter release time. For those of you who might not understand what that means, it means because of another project I have on my plate, I was provided a release from one section of teaching. However I was not given one less prep. It certainly helps because there are fewer papers to grade, fewer essays to read, and fewer blogs to manage. However the project I’m working on seems big enough that I’m not sure I ended up with less work in terms of labor. Once again I think I have more work than I had planned. This is not really a complaint because I enjoy most of what I do, but it certainly makes for long days. And this is where it seems that my age is catching up with me. I used to be able to come home and just keep working; now it seems my pillow has become my favorite friend. It seems between meetings, office hours, grading, and more meetings, my nose is still above the surface of the water, but I certainly hope no one kicks up a wave or I’m confronted by some swell. I’m not a good swimmer and I hate when water goes up my nose. Somewhere between now and Saturday I have another paper to finish. I think it might be a long couple days. I think what is interesting to me is that when I was in graduate school I thought somehow after the comprehensive exams and the dissertations life would get easier. Then it was after the probationary period and achieving tenure, life would get easier.  Or is it then after promotion, I think I figured out it’s never really easy if you’re going to do more than be average. The words of my father come ringing back. “Anyone can be average,” he said to his lazy 16-year-old; “that’s why it is.” It’s almost 45 years ago he first spoke those words to me, and I can still hear them as if they were yesterday. As I’ve said many times, he was one of the wisest men I will ever know. I think somewhere I need to find a picture of him and post it. As I have often said to others, one of his most characteristic features was that he was always smiling, and he had perfect teeth. In spite of the fact that I perhaps finally will admit I’m not average, I still believe I’m perfectly normal, whatever that means. I’m imagining that any of my students who read this would want to debate that point.

Over the last couple days I have the opportunity to speak through Facebook with one of my Dana classmates. He was actually ahead of me, but because I was well beyond a teen when I got there I think I older than him. He now lives in another country, the country of my ancestors actually and another place that I’ve always wanted to travel (if you’re wondering, the country is Norway). We spoke about the education we had received at that little liberal arts college on the bluffs of the Missouri River, barely into the state of Nebraska. We reminisced about our humanities courses and how much we learned from that class. We spoke about the director of the humanities program, Dr. John W Nielsen. How blessed we were to learn from such an amazing and brilliant person. He taught me about so much more than just classroom material.  He also taught me about life. What I’m realizing now is that one of the best decisions I ever made, as I traveled on that Lutheran Youth Encounter team, was to attend Dana College. But along with brilliant professors,  I had amazing classmates. Indeed, the Tom Kendallls, the Merle or Karen Brockhoffs, the Scott and Nettie Groruds or Shelly Petersons,  the Leanne Danahys and Kim Nielsens,  the Joanne Hansens or Barb Kalals, the Kip Tylers or Peter Bondes. There were wonderful people who stunned me with their intelligence and beauty like Pam Poole or Jill Rogert. These are the colleagues or classmates I first met and who blessed me in so many ways. I hope that my mentioning some of you by name is not too bold. It is by no means an exhaustive list. Choir with Dr. Paul Neve and the humanities staff changed my life. I am a professor because of that small college. I am a professor because Dorothy Wright and her husband helped me go to Europe as a sophomore. To this day I love choral music; it was an experience like no other to spend my spring breaks on choir tour, eating ham, scalloped potatoes, and green Jell-O (every single day for a week). As I lie here and type away on my iPad, there are so many memories from Dana. In spite of the fact that it’s over 30 years and that Dana as an institution closed after its 125th year, the generations of us fortunate enough to go there were provided with an education that will rival anywhere. For me, one of the best things about Facebook is that I am still in contact with that amazing group of people. And while there were people from the other institutions I have attended who have been important, that small college on the hill affected me more profoundly than any words could ever explain.

As is often the case I’m not sure this is where I expected this post to go. But I think of my freshmen students right now. Your business LLC is much like some of the groups I was in when I was a student. Oh shared experiences and the commeraderie you now have will hopefully mean more to you as time goes on. As you juggle classes, events, and other requirements, you will find that these people will help you stay afloat. Perhaps that’s the same for today: learn to juggle; manage to stay afloat. Both skills are invaluable. I’m not sure I’ve always realized that, at least consciously that is. Yet, I think I’ve always practiced it. For those of you who have been reading, and if in Bloomsburg driving by, hopefully the next few days will see significant progress on the barn project. As my colleague, Dr. Usry, said yesterday, “You have big equipment yard again.”. It is my hope that in a few hours I will once again have a driveway. A little less dirt and mud will not hurt my feelings. At is as it is now somewhere between 3:30and 4:00, the question becomes: should I go back to sleep or just stay up? Perhaps I should just get up take a shower and go to work. That would certainly be more productive.  Would it help my  nascent juggling skills? Might it help me overcome my fear of water, or will I merely look like someone foolish dog paddling in 15 foot swells? I’ll let you know what I decide, and by the way, the picture is of my father when he was in the service. He was in his late 20s in this picture.

As always, thank you for reading.

The non- juggling and non-swimming professor.

A Day in Infamy

Stop Writing

Good morning on Monday of Finals Week,

I am quite sure for graduating seniors this last set of undergraduate finals has a very different feel to them than the first semester freshmen who are experiencing the week for the first time. I remember attempting to take finals after by brother passed away the previous week. It was a terrible experience. Of course, the fact that I had not been a stellar student in the weeks before did not help. I also remember when I had 23 credits one semester and had 9 hours of finals back-to-back (Greek, German, and Latin). That was not a stellar day either.

It seems that each generation has those moments in their lives that some event occurs and they will remember where they were. It is hard to believe that my freshmen students were only 5 years old when 911 occurred. While they probably remember something about the day, they did not understand the significance of it, or at least in a larger picture. I do remember November 22, 1963 even though I was only 8 years old. I know my father, who would be 99 years old remembered Pearl Harbor as did any person alive that fateful day in 1941. It is, of course, the basis of the title for this blog. I think while I remember President Kennedy’s assassination and I remember clearly the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and  Robert Kennedy  (I was in what is now called middle school), the 8th of December 1980 was another one of those moments for me. I was a sophomore at Dana College and an impromptu humanities event (Hum Event as we called them) was held because John Lennon has been shot and killed outside his Dakota Apartment Building in NYC. Like every kid of the 60s, I remember the British Invasion and the Beatles were part of our musical DNA at that time. I think what I remember more about Lennon was his break from the group and his solo career and his outspoken and, at least what seemed to a Midwest Iowa kid, his outlandish behavior. Today I think he would be considered tame though I do believe he would still stand up and speak out against injustice and corporate greed, which again seems a bit oxymoronic because his money was made through the corporate music industry.

These past days I have been pondering the violence that has seemed to permeate everything we do. I have been listening to NPR, which, for those of you who know me, is not surprising. I have listened to a reoccurring theme in a number of commercials that say something to the effect of “if you see something out of the ordinary speak up”. This theme is to respond to the violence that seems to be present in every place and part of our society: the streets, the schools, the malls, the churches, add whatever comes to mind). While I am well aware that guns do not kill people, but it is the person using it and most of the other 2nd Amendment right arguments, I have a significant problem with the simple fact that I believe this culture of the “constitutional right” to own a gun seems too often to find its way into the debate, arguing that is why we should not limit ownership of type of weapon, the capacity of the magazine, or anything that seems to say “you can’t . . . “. As a former Marine (notice I did not say ex-Marine), I know all too well what an armor-piercing round can do to an ammo can let alone a human being. I know the accuracy of an M14 or an M16 or a 45 caliber pistol. I have fired them all and quite well.

While I know this will be controversial to some, it is merely my opinion. Simply put, I do not believe the average person has need of a firearm of any sort. Again, I did not say anything about their right to own it, but why do most people need it? I also know the issue of protection and that if lawful people cannot have guns then only the crooks have them. First, of all that argument is crap. Law abiding people do have guns and the crooks still have them and the consequence is simply that more people have guns. As a college professor, I am glad, at least for the moment, students are not allowed to have a carry and conceal option in a Pennsylvania classroom. That is not to say I am worried about being a target, but again, I do not believe that carry and conceal is a sensible law for the average person. Why in God’s name do you need to be packing a pistol as you walk down the street? It is kind of like angry drunks. I bartended long enough to put up with what I call “asshole drunks” and in a college town there is way too many cases of alcohol + testosterone = dumbass. You can substitute estrogen for testosterone in the previous equation too. Angry drunks do not need to be drunk to be a jerk. They already have that skill; alcohol merely raises their jerk-ability quotient exponentially. So it is with people and guns, it seems that many times guns are used in anger. I do not need to cite figures here. I am merely speaking from common sense. I grew up with an uncle who had an arsenal in his house, but he taught me to respect firearms at a young age. While I never questioned his right to own a gun, I never felt the need to own one myself and after seeing what happened with weapons as a Marine, I had even less desire to have a gun. While again, I understand some people might have a desire to own a firearm, I think the question of why they want it is important. For what reason do you think you want a firearm? For what reason do you think you need a firearm? Those are very different questions. The issue of wanting something is generally bases on a desire or a wish, or maybe as a way to prove something. The issue of needing something is that there is a belief that one’s life is missing something of importance or necessity without it. The 2nd Amendment is not a reason to justify either of these positions; the only thing the 2nd Amendment does is allow either the want or need to be legalized. I have spent a good portion of my life in rural areas and where I now live they actually cancel the public school on the first day of deer hunting season. I remember how stunned I was by that the first time I lived in this state. They said it was safer so school buses did not get shot at. Really? You cannot tell that it is big and yellow? Sometimes, the stupidity of people boggles my mind. I guess I am a bit more simple that I would like to admit. Or maybe things merely need to make sense and most people do not. That leaves me in a quandary. What I do know is when I was in grade school  or middle school or high school, we did not worry about people having guns in the hallways or lunchrooms or any place like that. A fight between two trying to prove their masculinity after school was about the extent of the violence. We did not have to worry about armed guards or whether teachers needed guns. Am I merely showing my age? No, I think we are talking about something more fundamental. We are talking about respect for one another. Last night I actually appreciated something I heard LeBron James say after a game. When talking about the societal issue of violence, he noted it was a human issue. I could not agree more. I do not care about your gender, your race, your ethnicity or any other variable. What I want to know is can you be respectful? Can you treat people with decency? I have brought this issue up in other contexts in this blog. When you fail to treat other people, any person, with a sense of decency, the consequence is a poorer, sadder society. We do have a duty to the society in which we live to treat people decently. I am well aware that some argue against any sense of this and demonstrate that through their actions. I fundamentally disagree with them. I understand that is a choice also, and that is free will, but to think we have no duty, no co-requirement or any other synonym that shows an interdependence would mean there is no societal sense of decency or justice. It seems that is perhaps why some of the idiocy that has become more commonplace is happening. If we have no sense of moral or legal responsibility, if we can do as we please and merely say it is who we are, the consequence is what we have: a society of mistrust, a society of greed, a society of violence. When enough people think they have no reason to consider how their actions affect the other, I am afraid we will find out what anarchy truly is. I believe it is this very attitude that creates situations like those that have covered our headlines of late. When enough individual claim free will gives them Carte Blanche to do as they please, I fear we will see more acts of complete selfishness.

Well, I am in the middle of grading and the initiative is long and arduous. I am always amazed on both ends of the spectrum when it comes to the grading and what students have actually done with the opportunity to come to the university. It is much like the issue of wants and needs. Some believe they need to be here (and I understand that concept). It astounds me when they believe that, but then do not take advantage of the opportunity to do the work and excel, that is not potential that is discipline. There are those who merely want to be here and their reasoning could be based on a variety of things. However, I am afraid that I consider their philosophical justification a bit more dubious. All-in-all, what I know is the next days I will evaluate and assess and, at the end, I will assign a grade that I believe has been earned. I do not enjoy this part of the semester, but it is a necessary evil. I know that some have done the work they need to do and that finals are merely review. I also know that some of them are trying to make up for 14 weeks of slacking (or at least some slacking in there). For those individuals, the week is brutal and taxing. Even if you have done your work, you care and you do stress. I know this is the case. For some of them, grades will be their day of infamy. That is a reality check. As I finish up the semester, it has been eventful. While there were hopes and dreams for each person, the reality of where the semester ends is always a bit unexpected. While I think I have done pretty strong work in the classroom, my grading and timeliness has not been up to par. I think the other battle I am fighting has taken its toll, but that is my reality. Today, in spite of water and doing what I should, my body hurts. In spite of that, I have a lot to manage and there is no respite, so I will keep going. I am hoping that I might catch up with some people I have in good faith helped out and have somehow not followed through. I am realizing that I believe the best in people too often.

This is not a complaint; it is merely the reality that I am experiencing. I am so blessed to be here. I am hoping to continue to be so. In the meanwhile, it is back to reading and grading.

Thanks for reading as always,

Dr. Martin

When does one relax?

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Hello from my office,

I have finished grading for the semester and turned in those grades, I have managed a couple of items that need to be managed to get ready for the summer and I actually have a bit of time where I could relax (whatever that means) and perhaps merely take some downtime. However, as soon as I consider such a prospect, I feel guilty. Why is that? Why is it not okay to take some time for myself? Is it because I struggle with ever doing things well enough? Is it because I generally feel that there is so much more that I “should” be doing? These are larger questions, and while they are related to the simpler questions or necessary things at the moment, they certainly do inform the larger questions of when have I done enough? What is enough? Who decides? I do feel like I should be getting even more organized and doing more work. Perhaps it is because sometime I merely seem to putz around with things. I get little things accomplished, but nothing of substance. I must admit, getting my tenure work done second semester was more than something small, but I just about had a meltdown doing that. Is it because I am older and I do not feel like I have as much time left?

I was chatting a bit about retirement the other day, but I am not even sure what I think about such a possibility. I told them I would probably drive myself crazy sitting around. I got at least a taste of that the fall of 2012 when I was on a medical leave from school. I realize the bigger issue for me is  simply priorities. I need to get certain things done and it is not a question of if: it must be done; second it is not a question of when: it is now. That pretty much prioritizes it. I think there is a certain irony because that task or need of which I am speaking is that I need to write. I am, of course, ironically, writing here, but it is the sort of writing that is about publication. I do have some things done, but I feel so inadequate about the quality of them. I am feeling better about the one about the program because I do believe that there are things there that set the professional writing program here and the process apart from most other programs. It has been pretty successful and I think that is because I have amazing support in the department and at the college level. I think that actually goes up to the Provost’s office, but I think it is a really significant thing.

As I have been working in my office this morning, once again I have been checking things off the list. One of the things I did was write a recommendation for a former student, a long-past former student. She is actually going back to the very program I was in. She is one of the most outstanding students I have ever known and I did not even have her in class. However she hung out with a number of the graduate students in the RTC program and she was exceptionally intelligent, and it did not hurt that she had an amazing wit and a total sense of irreverence. It was really a joy to write that recommendation. Sometimes we get asked to write ones that are a bit more difficult. I am always pleased when really committed students do well. I get almost as much out of their success as they do. That happened with another student this week as grades have come out. Dean’s List is no small accomplishment and with only a bit more hard work, I believe that graduating with honors should certainly be attainable. I did not do that in my undergraduate. I was close, but a Physiology and Anatomy course, which was a med school weed out course, and one which I took for “something to do”, doomed that chance for me. While I do not really regret it now, I sure did at the time.

I remember once telling a counselor that I double-majored, double-minored, worked 20 hours a week, did not do summer school and graduated in four years with a 3.74 (we needed a 3.75 for honors) and he asked if I thought that was normal. I said, “certainly.” He said, “probably not.” I did not think about it as any sort of abnormal thing, it was merely what I needed to do to accomplish what I had set out to do. Graduating with a major in History/Humanities and a minor in German/Religion was a far cry from thinking about working cutting hair once upon a time. I think of Lee and Judy Swenson in Newton, Iowa, my first host family when I was on the Lutheran Youth Encounter team. It has been an interesting journey since that summer of 1978. Interestingly, one of their children, who was four when I first met her is now a college professor also.

I guess the more important thing for me is to figure out how to manage the life I have. What happens when we find we are older than we thought (whatever that means)? What is old again? I have begun to believe Lydia is old, but I do not think I will ever make it to 90. I am not sure I want to do that seeing what I have saw over the past 3+ years. What I have had to ponder again is how do I manage the life I have. I have been told many times I am a miracle from the beginning I had. I guess that is true. But when it is your life, you merely manage what you have. When you learn things about your background or your life that have long-term consequences, it might be easy to blame or be angry, but I learned long ago that such anger is really bitterness and I have no time for such behavior.

I do hope to relax some or at least do some things I want to do this summer. I think this will be important for me. I was thinking about the movie, Bucket List, a couple of times lately. I have never really considered the need to make such a thing and I still don’t, but I do want to live without regretting things. I think that is why some of the changes in my life as of late are so important to me. If you have been reading for sometime, you know that I am learning yet another language (which I want to be fluent in yesterday), I have taken some chances with people and have been more blessed than I could have anticipated. It is a bit surprising to me how the meeting of people can make such a profound change, but I think it has been a good change. It is something like the change that Bloomsburg brought from Stout. I have said in the past three for four years maybe my reason to go to Menomonie was not to work at Stout, but rather to meet and care for Lydia. While Stout certainly prepared me for Bloomsburg, maybe the reason I came back to PA was because of the Decker family. Maybe it was about teaching in the summer where I think I have had some of the most profound effect on some students who questioned whether or not they were “college material.” Well, if someone comes here with even an average ability, if he or she works hard, it can be accomplished. Some might need more help than others, but there is a lot that can be accomplished with the correct situation and support.

Next week I have some doctor’s appointments along the second half of gum surgery. Before you shudder too much, the first half of the surgery was not too terrible. I am doing a laser process with the acronym of LANAP. It is pretty amazing. The biggest difficulty is merely managing only liquids and soft food for two weeks. More weight will magically disappear. Not a bad thing. Well, hard to believe it is Friday. Tomorrow night I am going to see Art Garfunkel. I am quite excited by that. Unfortunately, no food, but I am looking forward to the evening and the concert. All in all, things are reasonable. While I am not totally relaxing, I am not sure I know what that means. I’ll work on it over the weekend. Thank you as always for reading.

Michael